World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Ruth Bahr-Irmgard

LIFE STORY of IRMGARD RUTH BAHR (NEE WEBER)

·

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: IRMGARD RUTH BAHR
Location of story: Various

 


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Irmgard Ruth Bahr, and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Bahr fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
==================================================


On the 8th January 1911, a second daughter was born to Heinrich Karl Weber and his wife Emeline nee Hens. It was on a Sunday at 5.00p.m. Her name is Irmgard Ruth. The other daughter was Liselotte (Lotte) Wilhelmine, born 3rd March 1907- again on a Sunday. There was a third girl in the family - Mary Julia - born 25.6.1904. She was my father's daughter, her mother died in childbirth.

We had a happy childhood, my mother was very loving to all of us. Mary was only 11 months old when my parents married. She had been living with her grandparents who were in there 70's, and Father had to find a mother for her quickly. Mary needed more care then we did when we were young, Mother told us. Father was very strict, especially with Mary, who was often ill, missed school and wasn't up to standard and had to twice repeat the same year. Lotte and I could have gone to High school but that would have brought criticism from some relatives from Mary's mother's side: So we all had secondary education.

Lotte was very clever at dressmaking and went to High school to learn all about textiles, pattern making, dressmaking and tailoring, and obtained a master's degree.
I went to Commercial College for 2 years to do my 'O' levels, passed and was the only student not required to do the oral exams. Of course I learnt everything necessary for office work. I liked maths best; I got a job immediately and had to work one year as an apprentice (everyone had to do an apprenticeship for 3 years or even longer).

Soon I was doing the bookkeeping (second book-keeper). Later, during the war, I had to take over the wages clerk's work as well, as she had joined the Red Cross. I stayed on for 15 years, until I married in 1942.

Mary went on to a Domestic School to learn all about housekeeping, cooking etc, needlework and sewing. Her first job was as a companion housekeeper.

In Germany, children went to school from 6 to 14 years of age, schooling was free, but not the books, not even a pencil. High school and further education had to be paid for. I wanted to say that our education was very good, the same as in High school only no foreign languages. I had 2 years commercial English which was not much good to me in England, one learns. a language best in that country.

Mary married first, Lotte next as was the proper way of things, I was the youngest and married last.

It was the height of the war, we lived almost in the Ruhr district. We were bombed day and night. I went on holiday with my mother to a small village near Hamlin in September 1941, and we stayed in a small guest house which also billeted German soldiers who oversaw English and French P.O.W's. A soldier befriended us, Fritz Otto Bahr. We were married on the 15th August 1942. This was attended by my father, some of my relatives and a few close friends. No relatives of Fritz could attend and my sisters could not be there either, Lotte had her first child 3 days later. The wedding was 2 hours late - there was an alarm, but no damage. During the night, another attack but no damage nearby. As my husband’s parents had a farm near Danzig, and many of his relatives lived there, he begged me to move east, because they lived undisturbed by the war. I resigned from my job and moved out of my father’s flat on October 1st 1942. My mother had died on 15th October 1941, aged 56 years. I still can't forget her, she was such a good mother.

In Danzig - Oliva, I first lived with my sister-in-law Jutta, her husband Ernst was an officer and not in the trenches. They had 3 sons and a daily maid. My husband was often on leave and I became pregnant. That suited Jutta, because I now did all the shopping and as a mother-to-be and one child in a pushchair (hers), I need not queue for anything. I helped mostly with needlework, mending and babysitting when she visited her husband. She had just returned on the Thursday, I did the shopping with 2 children in tow on Friday. Early Saturday, 3rd July 1943, Jutta took me to a private clinic and my first child was born at about 11.00 pm, a son called Hartmut Fritz Albert, father and grandfather’s names.

Jutta was pregnant again and in September, she asked me to look for a place of my own. Her baby was due in December, I was then evacuated to a small village schoolhouse in Danebrau in November 1943,in what is now Poland. One and a half years later, my husband came on leave and saw his son for the first time. He had come from Russia; they were near Moscow. In July he had to go back, but his train did not go to Russia, but to a camp in Silesia, where the soldiers were trained for 6 weeks in the use of rifles and combat. Up to then, my husband was, because of his age, behind the lines - catering.

I only got one letter, I knew then he was not back in Russia but should fight on the western front. He received one letter from me and I didn't know then that I was expecting another baby. All his relatives had said, "You must have another child, in case Fritz does not come home." He was P.O.W. in England until Christmas 1948 never having fired a shot. He heard through the Red Cross that he had a daughter nearly 2 years old.

I had a very bad time while pregnant, vomiting for almost 6 months, I was so giddy that I had to hold on to the walls and furniture in order to move round. The district nurse did my shopping and even went by train with me to the next town to arrange a home-help for me. The lady found I was the sister-in-law of her friend Friedel Bahr; was on my own and having another baby. It was arranged that I go to a nursing home 4 weeks before confinement and my son would go to a nearby children's home. Most refugees lived alone with no doctor or clinic nearby. To be on the safe side, mothers came in early and had some care before birth.

Towards the end of January 1945 I went to a doctor in the next town (Hartmut came with me). He didn't want to book me in a clinic. The birth would be much later, he told me. He insisted but I wouldn't change his mind.
It was father in law's 70th birthday, the third of his single sons had fallen in the
war and was to be highly decorated, his parents were to receive the medal. I was
to visit them, a farmer took us in a cart to the railway station. The train was due to leave at 8.00 a.m. but did not leave till noon. The waiting room was packed with
people 'No one is allowed to board' it is the first refugee train from Bromberg'
But I went to the train and begged them to take me and my baby to Danzig, as I
had an appointment in the 'Storkhouse'.

"Is the baby ill?" I asked. He didn't look very well, it was bitter cold. The winters are cold in Poland at the end of January. They let me in, standing room only and packed so tight, no one could fall over. Danzig was the terminus, so I got out, there was no train to the East, was I mad? The Russians are coming and we all knew what that meant, plunder, rape and even murder. The station was packed to the ceiling with boxes, parcels, prams and people wanting to flee to the West, again no trains.

I made my way to Jutta whom I had stayed with before, as she still lived in a suburb of Danzig. She could not believe the story I had to tell. Next morning, Saturday, I tried to ring my neighbour to hear what was happening, but could not get through, the lines were cut. I wanted to go back home to fetch clothes and valuables, as I had only one change of clothes, so I had to stay. On Sunday, came orders from the council that women and children were to be evacuated. Be ready with only 1 suitcase which we could carry.

Jutta’s husband phoned because the Russians were marching towards Danzig; she should pack as much as she could handle and come with her 4 sons as quickly as possible to Berlin. He had rented one room for her. So on Monday evening, she went with her parents and sons to the station, she was lucky that a military train was leaving. She begged to board it as 'an officers wife with 4 sons and pregnant'. She got away, but told me I could stay in her flat as long as I wanted. Nothing further was heard about evacuation, but Danzig was bombed and burning as there was a lot of very old wooden houses. I was nearby and wanted to flee. A neighbour helped me to the local station. No trains were running, but on the track was a Red Cross train waiting, some babies were born in the night. The Station Master was helpful, he was expecting a local train with wounded soldiers. He told me to ask one of the waiting wounded soldiers to take me 'as his wife', which I did, I was running with a soldier on crutches through knee deep snow along the tracks to the train which had been stopped way out of the station to prevent the train being stormed. The train was puffing and hooting. I lost my soldier, but reached the train and nobody wanted to let me in. I fell and help came and I was lifted into the train full of bunks with soldiers. There were no seats, so I had to stand all day, walking backwards and forwards to quieten Mutz (still in nappies).

During the night I sat on the floor, but we had food and we were going away from the enemy. The journey from Danzig to Berlin normally takes about 5 hours, but this time it took 5 days. It was a nightmare, the soldiers were groaning and asking for water, which they couldn't have because of internal injuries. One was dying, but couldn't because nobody could give him absolution. In Stettin, an ambulance waited to take him to hospital, I also got out because I was very unpopular with my crying baby. "Woman what are you doing outside? Do you want to be killed? Get back into the train." I went into a different compartment.

Arriving in Berlin, I left the train, nobody could stop me. The train was going to Dresden, I wanted West not East. I had elephant feet - very swollen legs and feet through my pregnancy and standing all day. I tried to go to a friend of mine who lived in Berlin, but we had to stay in the station (underground), with straw mattresses and a soup kitchen. After a few days, I was able to travel. A train was arranged to take the refugees westward to live in villages, it was Rueterberg on the Elbe and Elde where we arrived during the night.

First the school; here they wrote down everybody's particulars and where we would get a room. I begged to be sent quickly because of my condition (7 months pregnant, my feet and baby Mutz). Reluctantly they housed me and my guest family were very welcoming. They had waited up for me, gave me hot sago soup (a favourite of mine), had warmed the bed, tucked us in and we all went to sleep. My room was not good, a wash scullery, wash-boiler, concrete floor and basin, water and an outside loo, but the people were friendly, husband and wife and daughter of about 20. I fetched my food from the school and milk from a farmer.

In February 45, 2 doctors came to examine all refugees. My baby would be due in 6 weeks or later, I was told (he was a Swede), but it started during the night. I waited till morning, it was too late to take me to hospital where I had been booked, I was seated in an open farm cart with hot water bottles and blankets. What a ride; it was bitter bitter cold, the road was full of pot-holes, snow and icy tracks and I was shaken around, but we made it to Doemitz. Hartmut stayed with the family, whose name I have forgotten, 4 weeks in a proper home. The clinic was a big house in the care of refugees with some medical experience. Some expectant mothers saw me arrive and asked what I wanted there, I asked for a bath, because I had not had a good wash for over 6 weeks: "The water isn't warm enough," I insisted and had a nearly cold bath in a concrete washbasin. One hour later at 2p.m. a lovely, healthy daughter was born, Reinhild Irmgard Emeline, after her mother and grandmother.

That same night, the hospital in the town which I had been booked into, was bombarded with several dead. I heard years later in England, that a friend (an ex P.O.W.) lost his wife on that night, she had lived next to the hospital. Of course I had no baby clothes, but the Red Cross helped out. Because of the primitive conditions I became ill with puerperal fever. I was away for 4 weeks.

Meanwhile a better room had been organised for me, but my new hosts were not friendly. The woman had previously refused to take in an 80 year old lady and her daughter. She was a communist. "Why did you leave your home? If you had stayed you would not be in this dilemma. The Russians are good. All these lies, it is all propaganda."

She had to take me in, but.... and then a baby. She did not cry often, luckily I could breast feed her, otherwise she would not be alive, because there was only 1 litre of milk per week for those under 1 year, and when the Russians came, there were no rations at all. Because I did not work in the fields (I would have had to leave my babies under a hedge, rain or shine), I hadn't even a pram! To get food, I went over the harvested fields, picked up small and damaged potatoes and gleaned ears of corn, these I took to the miller. He gave me flour and the Buergermaster’s wife baked some bread. Twice a month the Buergermaster killed a pig at night and we refugees fetched a small portion, again very early in the morning I got some skimmed milk from a farmer. I collected wild mushrooms in the forest and harvested asparagus from the fields. The farmers were too frightened to do this themselves, so gave the refugees permission to harvest. I never went on my own because of the Russian soldiers. We heard that the Russian soldiers had freedom of the town for the first 3 days of occupation. They could take whatever they wanted to keep or send home, and of course, they raped the women and girls from the age of 10. Not only once, no they queued again and again, 10 or more soldiers and the same woman. When they came nearer, we heard from other villages that the men (husbands & fathers) had hidden their women in the attic behind wooden partitions (lumber rooms), nailed down the doors and took food during the night. After 3 days one could complain. We also heard of rapes in our village. I myself, thank God, was spared because I had 2 babies, the Russians love children.

During the occupation there were checks in the night. Russian soldiers and a German came into the bedroom, looked under the bed etc. and, "Oh a baby," then tiptoed out again. With other women, they stayed the night. I have forgotten to mention, during the last few weeks the war had also reached where I was, on the Elbe. This was later the division between East and West. There was a lot of low flying and I slept in the cellar on a pile of potatoes. The soldiers told me, "The war will be over soon, try to stay alive." A big bridge over the Elbe at
Doemitz was bombed, so the enemy could over-look the road on our side. I had to go to town to get my rations. The lady lent me her bike. "Bring it back," she said. I had to watch on one side of the gap until there was a lull in the shooting, so I could cycle over quickly before the shooting started again. I managed safely, and brought the bike back, while my babies were safe in the house.

Be ready with only 1 suitcase which we could carry. Juttas husband phoned because the Russians were marching towards Danzig, she should pack as much as she could handle and come with her 4 sons as quickly as possible to Berlin. He had rented one room for her. So on Monday evening she went with her parents and sons to the station, she was lucky that a military rain was leaving. She begged to board it 'an officers wife with 4 sons and pregnant'. She got away, but told me I could stay in her flat as long as I wanted. Nothing further was heard about evacuation, but Danzig was bombed and burning as there were a lot of very old wooden houses. I was nearby and wanted to flee. A neighbour helped me to the local station. No trains were running, but on the track was a Red Cross train waiting, some babies were born in the night. The Station Master was helpful, he was expecting a local train with wounded soldiers. He told me to ask one of the waiting wounded soldiers' to take me 'as his wife' which I did, I was running with a soldier on crutches through knee deep snow along the tracks to the train which had been stopped way out of the station to prevent the train being stormed. The train was puffing and hooting. I lost my soldier, but reached the train and nobody wanted to let me in. I fell and help came, I was lifted into the train full of bunks with soldiers. No seat, so I had to stand all day, walking backwards and forwards to quieten Mutz (still in nappies). During the night I sat on the floor, but we had food and we were going away from the enemy.

The journey from Danzig to Berlin normally takes about 5 hours, but this time it took 5 days. It was a nightmare, the soldiers were groaning and asking for `water,' which they couldn't have because of internal injuries. One was dying, but couldn't because nobody could give him absolution. In Stettin an ambulance' waited to take him to hospital, I also ,got out because I was very unpopular with my crying baby.. Woman what are you doing outside? Do you want to be killed? Back into the train. I went into a different compartment. Arriving in Berlin I left the train, nobody could stop me. The train was going to Dresden, I wanted West not East. I had elephant feet - very swollen legs and feet through myPregnancy ' and standing all day, I tried to go to a friend of mine who lived in Berlin, but we had to stay in the station' (underground) straw mattresses and soup kitchen. After a few days I was able to travel anA train was arranged to take the refugees westward to live in villages, it was Rueterberg on the Elbe and Elde where we arrived during the night. First the school. Here they wrote down everybody's particulars and where we would get a room. I begged to be sent quickly because of my condition (7 months pregnant, my feet and baby Mutz) Reluctantly they housed me and my guest family were very welcoming. They had waited up for me, gave me hot sago soup (a favourite of mine) had warmed the bed, tucked us in and we all went to sleep. My room was not good, a wash scullery, wash-boiler, concrete floor and basin, water and an outside loo, but the people were friendly, husband and wife and daughter of about 20. I fetched my food from the school and milk from a farmer.
of February 45, 2 doctors came to examine all refugees. My baby would be due in 6 weeks or later, I was told (he was a Swede) but it started during the night. I waited till morning, it was too late to take me to hospital where I had been booked, I was seated in an open farm cart with hot water bottles and blankets. What a ride. it was bitter bitter cold, the road was full of pot-holes snow and icy tracks and I was shaken around, but we made it to Doemitz. Hartmut stayed with the family, whose name I have forgotten, 4 weeks in a proper home. The clinic was a big house in the care of refugees with some medical experience. Some expectant mothers saw me arrive and asked what I wanted there, I asked for a bath, because I had not had a good wash for over 6 weeks: "The water isn't warm enough' I insisted and had a nearly cold bath in a concrete washbasin. One hour later at 2p.m. a lovely, healthy daughter was born. Reinhild Irmgard Emeline,after her mother and grandmother. That same night. the hospital in the jown which I had been booked in was bombarded with several dead. I heard years later in England, that a friend (an ex p.o.w) lost his wife on that night, she had lived next to the hospital. Of course I had no baby clothes but the Red Cross helped out. Because of the primitive conditions I became ill with puerperal fever. I was away for 4 weeks.

Meanwhile a better room had been organised for me, but my new hosts were not friendly. The woman had previously refused to take in an 80 year old lady and her daughter. She was a communist Why did you leave your home? If you had stayed you would not be in this dilemma. The Russians are good. All these lies, it is all propaganda' She had to take me in, but.... and then a baby. She did not cry often, luckily I could breast feed her, otherwise she would not be alive, because it was 1 litre milk per week for those under 1 year and when the Russians came no rations at all. Because I did not work in the fields (I would have had to leave my babies under a hedge, rain or shine) I hadn't even a pram! To get food,

I went over the harvested fields, picked up small and damaged potatoes and gleaned ears of corn, these I took to the miller. He gave me flour and the Buergermasters wife baked some bread, twice a month the Buergermaster killed a pig at night and we refugees fetched a small portion, again very early in the morning I got some skimmed milk from a farmer. I collected wild mushrooms in the forest and harvested asparagus from the fields, the farmers were too frighten ed to do this themselves so gave the refugees permission to harvest. I never went on my own because of the Russian soldiers. We heard that the Russian soldiers had freedom of the town for the first 3 days of occupation, they could take whatever they wanted to keep or send home and of course raped the women and girls from the age of 10. Not only once, no they queued again and again, 10 or more soldiers and the same woman. When they came nearer we heard from other villages that the men (husbands & fathers) had hidden their women in the attic behind wooden partitions (lumber rooms) nailed down the doors and took food during the night. After 3 days one could complain. We also heard of rapes in our village. I myself, thank God, was spared because I had 2 babies, the Russians love children. During the occupation there were checks in the night. *Russian soldiersand a German came into the bedroom, looked under the bed etc and "oh a baby" and tiptoed out again. With other women they stayed the night. I have forgotten to mention, during the last few weeks the war had also reached where I was, on the Elbe. This was later the division between East and West. There was a lot of low flying and I slept in the cellar on a pile of potatoes. The soldiers told me, the war will be over soon, try to stay alive'. A -big bridge over the Elbe at
Doemitz was bombed, so the enemy could over-look the road on our side. I had to go to town to get my rations. The lady lent me her bike "bring it back" she said. I had to watch on one side of the gap until there was a lull in the shooting, so I could cycle over quickly before the shooting started again. I managed safely, and brought the bike back, while my babies were safe in the house.

After the war we were first occupied by the Americans. - I saw my first black man while I was breast feeding my daughter, they burst into my room. "Oh is that your baby?" they said. They left soon but one of them had taken a piece of meat out of my cooking pot and stamped on it. The next were the British, they were gentlemen and a woman was safe. They left on the 1 st July and promised to take us with them, but did not. Then came the Russians - to stay. I have written about them before. - >

I stayed in Rueterberg until Nov 45, I did not have enough to eat so I made my way to the border with another lady, with children. A short train ride then we walked towards the border, there was a queue a mile long, 5 abreast. "you have to go back, the border has been closed for 10 days now" we were ordered. But we didnI want to go back and wondered where the next crossing was. There was a commotion, the Russians had given permission for women with small children to cross over to the British zone. I had a pram with only 3 wheels and hurried to cross, suddenly a woman who I had previously pleaded with to help me, snatched my baby son from me and ran across the border with him, Harkmut or Mutz as I called him was crying. "Mama, Mama" I was very frightened that I could be prevented from crossing, the Russians could say "That's enough". My friend had a son and a daughter of 10 years. The Russians would not let this girl cross "She is a young woman" Her mother begged and pleaded and at last they relented and we were all safely over. We were loaded onto a lorry and taken to a collection lager Uelzen. I had something to say to the baby snatcher!!.

There were hundreds of refugees at Uelzen. We were given an iron bed with a straw mattress and a blanket, these beds were so close together that you could just squeeze through. But we were given food, and as a nursing mother I was given milk: My milk also came back. I didn't like it here, because several people became sick, and when my bed neighbour got typhoid fever and the doctor did not vaccinate me, I moved out and made by way further West on my own.

I knew my father and sister had been bombed out and did not have a contact address T went to some friends in Schwerte. It is a small town, and Herr Mohn was a well known retired train driver. I found them at their old address, the house had been hit by a bomb, but not badly damaged. There was a great housing shortage after the war, and the refugees from the East also needed a roof over their heads. When people had too many rooms they had to give them up to the needy. My friends had to give us 3 rooms to a lady with 2 adult daughters and had only a kitchen and bedroom for themselves. I could stay and slept on a sofa in the kitchen, Mutz slept in bed with my friends for 2 weeks while I did my best to obtain accommodation. But I had to go to a refugee camp. Sadly we went. The Mohns gave me money "Write soon and let us know where you are" A train full of refugees left Schwerte. I had no desire to get too far from civilisation and got off the train the first time it stopped for water and coal. I couldn't go through the proper exit so got out through a little door for the staff.

Next visit was the police in Altena in the Sauerland, what in Britain is known as the little black forest. It is very beautiful. They took our particulars, name and dates of birth, as I had no papers I was issued with an identity card, and was sent to a small refugee camp Buchholz'. These barracks had previously housed Russian p.o.w's, 2 rows of huts one board thick and a big room divided into 2 by lockers for 2 families. It was primitive, just a bed and 1 or 2 chairs, hot in summer and very cold in winter. Christmas was coming. We all enjoyed the festivities, entertainment, good food and presents from the Red Cross. It was a cold winter and the Sauerland is cold. End of December Reinhild was coughing and had a fever, so I took her to the hospital, where she was well looked after for a long time, because the children had chicken pox no visitors were allowed, and no one was allowed to go home. I took this opportunity of visiting my father in Wuppertal. He had been bombed out and lived in his garden hut and slept on a garden chair. Just as I was leaving a policeman came to tell my father that his eldest daughter, Mary was dying. She had come from what is now Poland in a truck of refugees, walking to the middle of Germany where she was taken to hospital and asked to be brought to Wuppertal. The Russians: had clubbed her husband to death in front of her and her 2 children, and she was then raped. She was suffering from T.B. My father refused to see her in hospital. I went next day, did not take my son, I was instructed to sit not facing my sister and had to be disinfected when I left. She could see her children only through a window. They were in a children's home. She diet next day. I stayed for the funeral, not many mourners.

My father, my son, her 2 children with a minder, one sister in law who later adopted Doris (Her daughter) and I, but no vicar. One just came from another grave, and I begged him to say a few words, but no, he had no time. We said the lords prayer and went home, and I returned to Buchholz the day after. My baby could now walk: She was a beauty and everyone made a fuss of her. One nurse took her home in a pram at lunchtime to give her an : airing. I was allocated 2 small rooms, they were much better as the wardens had lived in these. My neighbour was a widow from Danzig with 2 daughters, she had been there when the Russians came. She told me she had put her 12 year old to bed surrounded by dolls and pretended she was ill. A soldier came in "Young girl for the commandant" "My daughter is only 10 years old and ill" "She has to come" "Please no" The other daughter was 20 years old and went instead. Another neighbour let her 12 year old go "Go they won't hurt you" but next morning she found her daughter dead in the cellar. T"ej- Soon after I had contact with Jutta she lived in the American zone, I had given her Mohns address in Schwerte. She had lost this, but one evening was looking at the moon thinking, then it clicked Mond' that is the name, Schwerte she knew. The postman found the right address. I visited Jutta and her family, her husband Ernst was back and was engaged as an interpreter by the Army because he could speak English. Life was better in the American zone, more rations. But soon life also improved for us.

 

Pr-BR