By Amanda R. Curtis, Staff Writer
“I missed those sandwiches when they were gone,” said Annelies Dunning as she recalled pieces of her childhood during an interview last month. Those sandwiches were just a small way Ann learned to survive during the hard times of her childhood after World War II.
Born in Germany in December of 1940, Ann was raised with her brother and sister by their mother during the time after WWII, who was able to bring her embroidery work home with her. During the war, her father was drafted and transferred to Russia to fight on Stalin ground. While a few letters were received, a visit home was most desired by the family. He was scheduled to take leave during Christmas of 1942 but traded it to a fellow soldier whose son was terminally ill.
During the time before his now February 1944 leave date, the Russians had the German Army completely encircled and the German government had to quit dropping in supplies so that the Russians wouldn’t confiscate it.
While on leave, the man who was given the early leave went to visit their family and shared survival stories from overseas. One of those being of how they utilized the horses once famine struck. The next would be taken out and freezing winter elements.
Soon, Ann’s mother received a letter encouraging her to stay strong and to take good care of the kids, because he didn’t think he was going to make it home. Shortly after, the general of that Sixth Army surrendered to the Russians. Unknown whether he died on the march up to Siberia or charred, Ann’s daughter went looking for closure. After researching on the Internet, she discovered a mass grave in Russia where he’s buried. Even with a desire to pay her respects, Ann says, “Never will I visit Russia.”
With her homeland of Sudetenland in a seemingly constant custody crisis, the property finally belonged to Czechoslovakia. Upon transferring of the deed, the Czechs decided they wanted to rid the land of all Germans.
“They usually came in the middle of the night,” said Annelies. “They would knock on the door, look around and take whatever [they pleased].” She recalled the family radio, bedding and other belongings being taken but her mom being able to save her brother’s accordion by hiding it.
The month following the end of the war in 1945, Ann’s mother was ordered down to the court house. With Annelies in hand, her family was given 24 hour notice to pack 30 pounds for each person and get to the platz. “30 pounds is not that much.”
Leaving behind her grandmother, aunt, uncle and baby cousin, Annelies traveled with her mother, brother and sister to the meeting platz. Once there, they were ordered to go into the woods, “and they started shooting. And, we ran like crazy.”
Traveling down the side of the railroad tracks, they ran into her uncle who had come to look for them. With him leading the way, the family traveled at night, slowly making their way back to their home place where a communist friend of her dad’s vowed to help them. “I don’t know what he did, but he said you can go around now to the grocery store and stuff like that, and you don’t have to be afraid.
Shortly after they got comfortable being back home, orders for her grandma, aunt, uncle and baby cousin to leave arrived. Ann’s mother would not allow them to leave alone, so the entire family packed their 30 pounds each and met at the center where they stayed for a few days before being put onto a train for weeks.
“What they would do,” she remembered, “was go through these little farm towns, stop and call people’s names. You’d get off the train, and there would be the mayor and a farmer to pick you up. Then, you’d get to work for them and they’d take care of you. They needed workers so bad on the farms because all the guys died [in the war].”
Metzeltin is the town Annelies’ family wound up in where they waited in a dance hall barn until being placed on a farm. Working the fields and milking cows was her new normal from four to six years old. “They [farm owners] didn’t want their kids to play with me,” she recalled.
She doesn’t seem to harbor any hard feelings, though, because instead, she was able to sit with her grandma and friend and listen to their stories, learning about the good old days, “and that just fascinated me. I knew how to knit, crochet and embroider by the time I was six. And, I always got a piece of strawberry cake.”
As she continues to recall the struggles of her childhood, food was rationed,baths were weekly and feet were calloused. “I wanted a bicycle so bad,” she said as she remembered having to walk to the next town to go third grade. In fifth grade, she wound up having to walk five miles to get to school.
Walking to school alone was dangerous then as it is now. “I was twelve when that guy who did the food rations started molesting me,” she recalled. He used the lack of food, her hunger and giving heart to take advantage of Annelies. “He gave me a whole bowl of cherries. And, I said ‘that’s nice.’ I was so innocent. My mother never talked to me about sex or anything.”
Promising all the cherries she could want, this continued until cherry season was over. Then, it turned into “a big sandwich with lunch meat.” Being used to margarine and salt sandwiches, Ann was glad to be able to have lunch meat at school like the other kids. When a detective and her mother met her at home after school one day, the sandwiches, cherry bowls and child predator disappeared from her life.
In 1963, she came to the United States where she used her experiences oversees to become a florist. She is now happily retired with five children, ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Find the full-length video of Annelies Dunning’s story of survival on our Lewis County Herald Facebook page.