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Escape to freedom

Glencoe woman fled East Prussia in the nick of time in 1945.

Fleeing East Prussia on April 22, 1945, was very dramatic for Marianne Dreier (Lutz) of Glencoe. “I wondered if I would be alive tomorrow,” she said as she reminisced about the Russians taking over East Prussia and forcing all Germans to escape the onslaught during World War Two. Despite having detailed evacuation plans for some areas, authorities of the Third Reich, including the Gauleiter of East Prussia, Erich Koch, delayed action until January 20, when it was too late for an orderly evacuation, and the civil services were eventually overwhelmed by the huge number of those wishing to evacuate. Coupled with the panic caused by the speed of the Soviet advance, civilians caught in the middle of combat, and the bitter winter weather, many thousands of refugees died during the evacuation period. The Soviets took complete control of East Prussia in May 1945. A large part of the German civil population, about 2.5 million managed to evacuate, though about 25,000-30,000 were killed during the Soviet offensive. Marianne goes on to explain how she left East Prussia and eventually made Glencoe her home. . “The war broke out in 1939. My father was in the German Army. So my mother was left with four children to raise and protect them. We lived in East Prussia in a town called Pillau (the name was later changed to Baltiyskin 1946). Things got really bad in 1940. In January, 1945 the city that we lived in had a prison for polish prisoners of war. It was a camp actually. One night, we were removing mines. There was an explosion when mines had fallen off of the truck. The city actually blew up. Our house was damaged so bad we could not get any electricity or water. We couldn’t live there anymore. And we had to wait until the next morning to see what was done during the night. My mother said let’s go and see what actually got damaged. We went to the prison camp and what I seen there, I just didn’t like it. There were people hanging in the trees and were dead, their arms were missing. My mother said, no, we could not live here. This was quite an experience for a young child to go and see this. Since we had no place to live we went to the police station and we could only stay there a couple of nights. We had a relative of my dad who had a boat. My mother contacted this friend of my dad and he said, “yeah, you come.” He had a small boat and we lived there for quite awhile. Then we tried to go back to our home but we couldn’t live there because there still was no electricity or water. Then my mother decided she did not want to live on this small boat. She went to her mother’s place about five miles from the city where we lived and there we stayed for a number of months. The worst part was when we were in this small town, by my grandmother, the Russians had what we called Christmas trees. It was bright lights that would light up the sky so they could see where they could drop the bombs at night. They would drop the bombs only at night. A lot of people were killed by these bombings. There was a big castle with bunkers in this small town and when the bombing started we would run to this big castle for safety. We were always up at night. We always had to keep our clothes on. Most of the buildings were destroyed. And then the White Russians came from the Ukraine. We called them White Russians because they were scouts and they were all dressed in white uniforms. They had white caps and white big coats. They talked to my mother and they said: “you need to get out because you have four small children.” My brother was the oldest one, he was 13. The Russian said, “you have a baby yet (he was about a year old). And if you don’t get out now, you might not get out when the Russians come.” They knew the war was going to come to an end and the Russians were closing in. So, my mother said, “oh, no, no, no, no.” Then one night she decided she was going to go, so she packed up my brother in the baby carriage, took a little suitcase and that was it. And then we left. On the way to the town, the only way out was across the Baltic sea to Denmark. There was no other way out because the Russians had surrounded the area. My mother decided it was best that we go. The soldiers told my mom, “You make sure you dress like an old woman because of the way things were taking place.” My mother was a young woman and was very good-looking. So she borrowed some old clothes from her mother and an old scarf, she covered her face and then we left. Marianne was eight years old at the time. We left East Prussia on April 22, 1945. It was pretty close to the end of the war. We had to walk the five miles and it was cold. It was cold, really cold because East Prussia is like Minnesota. So some times we met German soldiers and they took us along on the truck but they were always bombed by the Russian airplanes. We had to get off of the trucks and go into the ditch because if we stayed on the truck we would have been killed. There were people with animals with carts behind them. We saw the animals that were shot by the airplanes lying in the ditches. This five mile walk was terrible and we didn’t even know if we were going to make it to our destination. When we got there we had to go to the harbor. We had known that ships had left, not to go to Denmark but north to northwestern Germany, and we knew some of them were sunk by Russian ships. One of the ships was the Wilhelm Gustoff that was hit by three torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30, 1945. She sank in under 45 minutes, taking possibly as many as 9,400 people with her — probably the largest loss of life in a single sinking in maritime history. Marianne, her mother and 3 brothers boarded the ship called Urundi. It was a troop transport ship. There were a lot of people there with the idea to get out. We had to wait and they were constantly shooting from airplanes. People, especially little kids, were dying from shootings and falling into the water and that was it. My mother was really scared and worried that she would get hit and we would be sitting there with a little baby. Finally, we were shuttled out to the Urundi because this ship could not get close enough. They had a small ship like a tug boat come and take us out to the Urundi. My mother said, “just hold on, hold on”. We finally got out to the ship and we left on April 22 and there was so much misery. There was German soldiers and women and children. There was about 2,000 people on this ship. So the quarters on this ship were really tight. Of course, when you live that close with people, there was lice. Everybody was infected with lice. It was just one thing you couldn’t help. And we did not get much to eat because there was not enough food on this ship for this many people. One day my mom asked me to go upstairs and get hot water so she could wash the baby. Here, the German soldiers on the top deck, yelled torpedo, torpedo. And the torpedo came. We sat there and thought this was the end. But it wasn’t. The torpedo went underneath the ship. The force from the torpedo, shook the ship. Looking back, I do not understand how a torpedo could force the ship to shake. Maybe it was a couple of them. But, I saw the torpedo after it was under the ship go out to the sea. I spilled the hot water and had burned my fingers. That was very painful. Well, we came to Copenhagen with the idea of getting away from the Russians. My dad was in the German army and Germany had occupied/invaded Denmark in 1940 and my dad was there. We did not know where he was. We were transported to some refuge. But first of all the baby was sick. It had the measles. They took us to like barracks and we stayed there in Copenhagen until the war was over. We were moved to a town called Aarhus and we lived there for three years. Those three years were terrible. We didn’t know where our father was and we really didn’t know where we were. In the meantime he had been wounded in Berlin. He was shot in the shoulder and it came out the other side. He said if the wound had been more bigger he would have never made it out because he could still stand. So he left East Germany and he went to West Germany and he got the help as he was put into a hospital until he was well. In the meantime, my baby brother had been put in the hospital and we could visit him. We were actually free. After May 5, 1945 and the war was over, big fences were put up. We could visit my brother but only with a couple of Denmark or Danish soldiers. They escorted us to the hospital with a gun. My brother was in the hospital for three years. The medical care was not very good so he had to stay there. When we lived in these barracks at night, the bunk beds were one, two, three high and the mattresses were filled with straw. You can imagine there was bed bugs, lice and all kinds of bugs. This was terrible living there because there was maybe 15 people in one room with these bed bugs. We did receive food, bread, sugar, some butter and once a day we did receive soup. That was our main menu — soup. Mother was very good. She would give up her food so her children had something to eat. My older brother he would go to the fjord (like a big lake) and he would go fishing. He made himself a fishing stick and some hooks and put some worms on to catch fish so we would have enough to eat. A lot of people died because they did not get enough food. There was a cemetery by this town of Aarhus where all small children and babies were buried that had died during that time. There were about 7,000 of us there. It was rough staying there because at night people tried to flee. But they got shot and we could see the bodies in the morning. People in Denmark were not receptive to the immigrant Germans because we were the enemy. Germany had invaded Denmark. Going to the hospital to see my brother was terrible. He was there for three years until November of 1948 when we left. After three years of living in Denmark, we went back to West Germany. My dad had gone through the Red Cross because he had heard people had evacuated East Prussia and had gone to Denmark. He contacted the Red Cross and that is how he found us. My dad came by train and picked us up and moved us to Hameln, West Germany. We lived there a number of years because my father was working for the British. We lived in a 1-1/2 room apartment for the six of us. After years went by, my dad got a better job, we moved to a different town with better living conditions in a better house. In 1955 my dad decided that we were going to immigrate to the United States because he felt his children had a better future in the United States than in Germany. It took one year to get this all taken care of because we had lost all of our papers. Because of the war there were no birth certificates, baptism certificates . . . none. We had to go before a judge and swear we were the people who we said we were. My dad had his birth certificate but my mom and the rest of us did not have our birth certificates. It was very hard to prove that you were born there. In October, 1956 we boarded a troop transport ship and traveled for 10 days to the United States. My older brother stayed in Germany. We had an aunt living there and she took him in. But he came to the United States later. The seas were very rough and most of us got seasick. We arrived in New York on Oct. 24. We didn’t know if we had a house or a place to live. We knew dad had work. When you immigrated you had to have a job over here. He had a job with Juul Construction in Hutchinson. We were assigned to Minnesota because there were a lot of German people here already. We had a green card you get when you immigrate and you had to report every year in January that you live here legally. The people that came and picked us up at the train station in Minneapolis were Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Goebel on Oct. 26, 1956. They could speak German. We thought it would take five minutes to get us to Hutchinson but it took an hour and a half. I was crying along with my brothers because we did not know where we were going. Marianne was 19 years old when she arrived in Hutchinson. Peace Lutheran Church had rented a house for us that was completely furnished. We were sponsored by the World Lutheran Relief Foundation. Marianne said, she and her brother, Juergen, who was one year younger than her, had plans to go back to Germany because that is where their friends were. Then we sat down and talked about it and decided, no, we could not leave our parents here alone. So we stayed. Financially, we could not go back to Germany. As time went on we got to know the language and got to know young people. We realized it is not bad over here and we decided to stay. When I see some people immigrating from different parts of the world, they think the United States owes them something. No. You owe this to yourself to get work. Know the language first. That is the most important thing. If you don’t speak English you cannot communicate with the people and go find work. My youngest brother, who was 12 years old, went to school here and he went through some bad, bad things. He couldn’t speak the language so the kids were teasing him. They were sending him to the wrong rooms, the wrong bathrooms. But he said after he graduated that maybe that was a good learning experience. He wasn’t going to let these kids get the best of him. He went to the University of Mankato and he became a professor there.” They all became United States citizens except their mom and dad. Marianne’s dad, Gustav passed away in 1988. Her brother Guenther went back to Germany, got married, and died in 1990. In 1994 Marianne’s mother, Johanna and brother Juergen died. Her youngest brother, Winfried, who became a college professor, teaches engineering, and lives in Janesville, Minnesota. Marianne married Ray Dreier in 1957. Ray at the time was working for Goebel Fixture Company in Hutchinson and now he has his own cabinet shop in Glencoe which he purchased from Guenther Behrens. Ray and Marianne have three children: Bernhard, Ursula and Tamarra and they have given them two grandchildren, Scott and Ashley. Marianne has been back to her home country six times and is planning another trip this year in August with her daughters Ursula and Tamarra. Tamarra currently is in the National Guard. With all that went on in her lifetime, Marianne firmly believes God had his hand in all of this.

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