Josef Wagner

* 1937

  • “That’s why I went back on my own and got out of the train in Ústí, and from there I took the tram (it was still in service) all the way to Neštěmice. Today, this suburb is part of the city proper. Then I walked a kilometre to my own village. Everything seemed quaintly small. I felt like I was in a dream, intoxicated. I had no idea, was I was asleep or awake? All these new houses stood there, but there weren’t that many more, like today. Today the village looks completely different. And so I went to my house, the house of my birth, and rang the bell. Mrs Čespivová opened the door, she was still living there. I tried to talk to her half in Russian. Her first question was: ‘Is your father still alive?’ I answered: ‘Yes, he’s alive.’ ‘And does he want to return to Czechoslovakia?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘He doesn’t want to go back to Czechoslovakia.’ ‘So, what is it you want?’ To that I answered: ‘I want to take a look around, without memories, that’s all, because I spent the first eight years of my life here, well almost all of them.’ And so she let me. There were some other tenants living there, so I couldn’t look into their flats. But I was allowed to take a stroll in the garden. And next I remember passing through the village to the church, which was closed. Then I walked over there, to the pointy stone, we used to call that place “on point”. It was just a rock, pointing upwards out of the rocky cliff slope, where our family used to have our photograph taken. I have photos of me sitting next to it with my older brother. And then I went back again, well I liked it there. Later on I visited with my children and wife.”

  • “At the end of July 1946 we were told, it was on Mum’s name day, because I remember that date exactly, 29 July, my mother was called Marta and at that time we received a message from the National Committee, saying on 1 August early in the morning, it must’ve been around four or five in the morning, gather in the town square to be evacuated, evacuated meaning create an area free of Germans, that’s how we understood it. (…) And then, as I already said, early in the morning with gathered in the square. We somehow knew that we would also be deported some day. That year, from 1945 to 1946, things were slowly going downhill and there was less and less to go around. First they took our house, then our flat, our furniture and we knew that one day we’d be subject to that call we could hear resounding in the streets: “Good day, Germans out!” And on the first of August it happened, they drove us to Všebořice by truck. Všebořice is a borough of the city Ústí. There was a large displacement camp there and they checked all of us there again. The made sure that we had actually handed in all the things we were supposed to hand in, in 1945. They also checked large bundles stored in the warehouse and I remember they even cut open several duvets because of the things hidden in them and the feathers were flying everywhere. With my mother they discovered she hadn’t handed in her earrings, the gold earrings Dad gave her. At the checkup they just ripped the earrings out. That’s what happened in Všebořice on 1 August 1946. At the time, we were allowed to take 50 kg of luggage. (…) In the end you couldn’t take much, especially for the children. They forgot to take my toys. So for a few years I didn’t have any toys, that was a bit hard. From Všebořice they loaded us into cargo carriages and sent us to Bad Schandau. In Bad Schandau we had to switch to another train. The Czech train headed back and our transport continued once again in closed cargo carriages, we called them cattle-cars and we didn’t have any way to carry out bodily functions or anything else. So you had to it when the train stopped, although us children could pee directly out of the train so of course that wasn’t so terrible, but altogether the journey was very uncomfortable.”

  • “It could’ve been 1941 or 42, most likely 1941, when my mother woke me up one summer morning, pulled me out of bed and took me in her arms. That’s why I think I was about three, more likely four years old. And at the front of our house a procession of Jews were walking past. They were probably on their way to a concentration camp, but I don’t really know whether they went to Terezín or somewhere else. My mother just held my hand silently and I understood that those people were suffering. They were guarded by soldiers who would sometimes hit them with the stocks of their rifles, some were barely hobbling along. My mother didn’t comment, she just showed me. Later, she told me that they were Jews. I’d only known one, I’d only heard the term ‘Jew’ once before.”

  • “There was more of a problem in 1944, when the bombing of Ústí started. They built an air-raid shelter in our cellar. Each of us had our own gas mask, even me as a kid. Next we carried water down into the cellar in case of fire and were given a small hand pump. Outside they put up a white arrow, the sign for an air-raid shelter. I’m not sure if this would’ve been any help, but I remember the air-raid sirens. First of all came the pre-siren, warning us that something might come and when you heard the main siren you had to go down to the cellar. There were times, when I heard them dropping bombs in nearby Ústí, that I was really scared. That was the first time I understood that war, a thing I had considered to be completely normal, was probably actually a bad thing. I also remember the Christmas of 1944. It happened on Christmas Day, I was already lying in bed and Christmas Day was when our family gave out presents. As I said, I was already asleep and suddenly my mother woke me up in the middle of that Christmas night and dragged me out of bed, woke me up and we had to go to the air-raid shelter. I remember how, wrenched from my sleep and probably late to bed anyway, I was shivering down there and was deathly afraid. Thankfully nothing happened to us. And even at school, at the pre-siren we had to gather and stand to attention in front of the building and then we went towards the woods. The woods were supposed to be our safe haven, we were meant to hide there. We also had to cross the field each time and one time the main alarm came too early and a plane flew low above our heads. They told us to lie down in the furrows and the planes whizzed above our heads. We were alright that time, but we were so terrified we were shaking. I remember that was in winter. Yes, that’s how it was, in February 1945, when they bombed Dresden. We were able to see the fire burning in the reddened night sky and it always meant: ‘That’s where Dresden is burning.’”

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    Dresden, Německo, 14.06.2021

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“Good day, Germans out!” we could hear in the streets

Josef Wagner in 2021
Josef Wagner in 2021
zdroj: natáčení

Josef Wagner was born on 18 September 1937 in Ústí nad Labem, but he lived with his parents in the nearby town of Mojžíř. He was born into a German family, but does not have his nationality on his birth certificate. His mother was from a Litoměřice region hops-farming family, her father was a master builder with his own firm. Both spoke Czech. His father fought in the war, but was wounded four times and so regularly returned home. During the war, little Josef experienced fear of air raids and had a sense of the propaganda throughout society alongside the quiet disapproval of his grandparents. After the war, the family lost their apartment house and his father’s business. His father found work in Ústí, under the Czechified name Vágner. The family was forcefully displaced on 1 August 1946. They continued from the Všebořice camp, across the borders into the Soviet occupation zone and the Eggesin internment camp. After a difficult start in Ahlbeck, the family, together with Josef and his two brothers, settled permanently in the town of Neustrelitz. Josef became a construction engineer, married a German from East Prussia. He lived his whole life in the GDR. He managed to visit his childhood village for the first time in 1962. He thinks that the rise of extremism is proof that we’ve learned little from the past.