The Occupation and its Offspring Lost Red Army Children Search for Fathers

By Irina Repke and

Part 2: A Painful Reunion


In Herbert P.’s family, too, his father was a taboo subject. His three young daughters even failed to squeeze information about "the Russian" from their grandmother. On one occasion the three girls did try to get their grandma to say something, says Herbert P., but the old woman immediately started to cry and that was the end of the conversation for many years to come.

Only once did she ever talk to Herbert P. about his real father. "It was on my 14th birthday," he recalls. "She took me aside and told me through her tears how she fell in love after the war with a Russian officer named Nikolai whom she met as a young woman at a village dance when she was working as a maid on a farm."

On the day he was leaving, Nikolai gave the mother a photo of himself with the words “To my dear Rosa, in memory of our friendship” written in Cyrillic lettering on the picture. The photo turned out to be more or less a birthday present for Herbert P., who was born exactly nine months after the soldier had given the picture to his mother.

After his mother died three years ago, Herbert P. approached the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Graz for help in trying to track down his father. In June, war researcher Barbara Stelzl-Marx passed on Herbert P.’s video to the producers of the Russian TV program "Schdi menja -- schdu tebja" ("Wait for me, I’m waiting for you") where it was broadcast a few weeks ago. Senior citizens in Russia love the program, and Herbert P. is holding out hope that someone might contact the show's producers with information.

Embarking on the Search

Renate W. of Berlin waited for many years after her mother’s death before embarking on her search. Early this year, she wrote to a Russian Military Archive to initiate a search for her father, who was stationed with the Red Army in post-war Berlin.

Her father was an officer named Kostan, who was based at the Soviet military headquarters in East Berlin at the time. Renate W.’s sole link to her father is an old black-and-white remembrance photo from 1946. Yet she was able to tell the archivist in Moscow that Kostan spoke excellent German and “did not look like a soldier.” Apparently, he always came to the tiny apartment where Renate's grandmother, mother and aunt lived in civilian clothing. He often brought presents of food, and visitors often took him for a member of the family.

But Kostan disappeared in December 1946 -- six months before his daughter, Renate W., was born in June 1947. Looking back, she reckons her parents were “very much in love” and that they might well have stayed together. But marriage would have been impossible at the time following a decree issued in 1946 that forbade all marriages between Soviet citizens and foreigners. The law wasn't repealed until 1953, and anyone who got married illegally was guilty of high treason in the eyes of the Soviet Union and subject to harsh penalties.

As a rule, once a man had disappeared, the woman he’d loved and the children he’d fathered never found out what had happened to him. Nor could any woman claim alimony from the Soviet Union. The Russians had already taken precautions in 1944 by issuing a decree stating that illegitimate children were not related to the men who had fathered them, therefore no one had to pay anything.

Even harsher treatment was meted out to women and girls who were charged with espionage or sometimes even “incitement to desertion” on account of their love affairs with Red Army soldiers -- as happened to Annemarie Krause in 1948 when she lived in the village of Thum in the Erzgebirge mountains on the Czech border. She had fallen in love with Maxim, a tall young sergeant of 21 who came from Moldova, between Romania and Ukraine. Annemarie, who was 16 at the time, had grown up in a fatherless household. She lived with her mother and grandmother, neither of whom had any objections to her relationship, not even when she became pregnant. Her daughter Verena was born on Oct. 6, 1947.

Devastating Consequences

Maxim was thrilled about his baby and wanted to stay in Germany. The day after the birth he went to his commanding officer and asked to be discharged from military service. His enraged superior apparently bawled back: “What, stay in Germany? I never heard of such a thing!” Maxim was confined to barracks and placed under strict observation. He then started to plan his escape to the West, with devastating consequences for his new family.

Annemarie Krause is now 76 years old, but she can still remember clearly that sunny day in September 1948 when she returned home from shopping. There were Soviet soldiers everywhere in the village's main street. As she turned onto the street where she lived she had to pass by tight rows of armed men in uniform. There were more guards standing in the front garden of her house and that was as far as she got.

Soldiers had already arrested her mother and an aunt. One soldier had pushed baby Verena into a neighbor’s arms. Only days later, Annemarie Krause was sentenced by a military tribunal to 25 years in prison “in the name of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." She was taken to the infamous Bautzen prison, nicknamed “Yellow Misery” on account of its yellow brick walls, then to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which had been converted into a prison, and finally to the notorious Hoheneck prison for women. Meanwhile, her mother looked after her “Russian Baby,” the reason for the nightmare.

After a hunger strike in the prison, Annemarie finally received amnesty and was released, together with other women prisoners in 1954. When she arrived back home in Thum, she heard a rumor that Maxim, the great love of her life, had been shot.

In addition to genuine love affairs like these, there were many “relationships of convenience” during the Soviet occupation. Maria Schubert, for example, whose husband Gerhart was stuck in a prisoner-of-war camp, had an affair with a Russian officer who was helping her family. However, before long, the young woman was forced to abandon her home town of Friedrichswartha in Poland’s German-speaking Silesia region. She fled, already heavily pregnant, over the border to Westphalia in western Germany.

When her German husband returned home from Russia, he threatened to divorce her. The rest of the family didn't want anything to do with a Russian soldier’s child, either. In the end, the mother lied to the court and said she had been raped and didn't know who the father was. Her son Jürgen was born in July 1946 and was immediately put in a home for newborn babies after his mother and stepfather disowned him.

Jürgen Schubert only found out where his mother and her husband were living when he was 16. He wrote to his mother immediately but her reaction was cold and dismissive. Finding his real father became more important than ever to him, but he was unable to uncover much information. Finally, a former neighbor of his mother’s told him what had really happened all those years ago. But his mother’s family isn’t interested in hearing the real story behind the so-called rape. They avoid all contact with the “Russian Child,” who has long since reached manhood.

Finding the Truth

Annemarie Krause and her daughter Verena had to wait for the GDR to come to an end before they could finally find out the truth about what happened to the man the mother had loved so much. Both women had always refused to believe the rumors that Maxim, the soldier who was Verena’s father, had ended up being shot. After searching in vain for several years, Russian Television finally agreed to take up the search and both women were invited to Moscow.

Almost as soon as they touched down in Moscow, mother and daughter from Germany found themselves on the stage of a Russian TV show. A film was shown on a screen behind Verena Krause with pictures of her mother as a young girl and herself as a baby. Then came an old black-and-white photo of a Soviet soldier, then a picture of a grave.

Although the commentary was in Russian, Verena understood immediately and began to cry. Finally, eleven stepsisters and brothers appeared on stage -- tracked down by the television people -- at which point, she says, she was “completely dazed.” They told her later what had happened to her father after she’d been born. The Russian military didn’t execute Maxim, they sent him back to the Soviet Union where he married and had a family. Later, when Maxim set out to look for his daughter, he lost his job. Until he died, he was regarded as a renegade by the authorities.

One year after appearing on the show in Moscow, Verena found herself standing beside her father’s grave on a remote hillside next to the village in Moldova that Maxim was forced to leave when he was 14 in order to fight in the war against Germany.

She read the inscription on the tombstone: “Milik Maxim 1925-1990.” The other visitors in the cemetery had brought tables, chairs and food with them and, in accordance with local custom, had sat down next to their relatives’ graves.

Verena Krause didn’t have anything with her, but the local people invited her to join them. Someone placed a glass of champagne in her hand. Then she said, very softly, “Cheers, Maxim.”

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