The Destiny of a Displaced Girl

MARKED FOR LIFE: Aldona Zigmantiene (left), can not get peace from thinking about how her life could have been like if she had not been given away to a Lithuanian farmer when she was eight years old. Erika Sauerbaum-Kaziuriene (right) is a good friend and supporter.
Aldona Zigmantiene (68) had to short legs and could not run fast enough, 60 years ago. That has weighed her down ever since.
JONAVA, LITHUANIA Erika Sauerbaum-Kaziuriene (today 79 years old) had always known that there lived another German in Jonava, the small town cituated an hour ride from the capital Vilnius. But it was dangerous to be curious in the Soviet times.

In 1993 a friend of Erika pointed out the other German. By coincidence they were both visiting the cemetery one day. Erika approached the women and asked:

“Excuse me, but are you a German?”

Aldona replied quickly:

“Do I look like one?”

The two friends burst out in laughter of the story about how they first met, and since then have been friends. Actually, they smile for the first time during the whole interview; because they have been telling about their past, and their stories are far from merry.

“I will come and get you”

In 1947, Aldona’s mother was laying in Königsberg, seriously ill. A friend of the mother took eight-year old Aldona with her to Lithuania for some days to beg for bread. Everything went as planned, until they should return home.

“The train was leaving, and we had to run after it. Mother’s friend jumped onto it, but I was too small to manage the same. I fell, and the train was going faster and faster away from me. The last thing I heard her scream to me, was that I should run back to the people we spend the night at. She would come and pick me up, she said.”

Aldona has to take a small pause. She has a clump in her throat, and her eyes are shiny.

A bitter betray

Little Aldona went back to the people they had slept at the last couple of nights. But there she could not stay long, so they took her to a childless farmer, in the outskirts of Jonava. There she grew up as a farm hand and a servant for that farmer.

”Once I was in the church, when I was 14, I met this woman: ‘I have to give you my apology, because I have made a big mistake’, she said to me.”

It was the woman who had given her to the childless farmer six years ago. Her mother’s friend had actually returned to take her back. But this woman had lied to her, said that it had been an explosion and that Aldona had died.

“I have carried that certainty whit me all my life; that everything could have been different; that I could have grown up in Germany as a child, not as a small worker, together with my family.”

Both Aldona and Erika, who interprets her Lithuanian story into German, have shaky voices. It is a hard story to tell. The bitterness and the frustration have bothered Aldona since that day in the church.

Found the brother…

As one of the few Wolf Children which have not forgotten the German language, Erika helped her fellow members of the Wolf Children organisation to fill out forms and search after relatives in Germany. She also helped Aldona.

“Suddenly, a guy from Stuttgart came forward. That would appear to be her old brother. To prove that he was her brother, he told a story in one letter.”

He wrote that Aldona, once in her childhood, had fell down and hurt the corner of her mouth.

“Take a finger and let it stroke from just below your nose and down to the right corner of your mouth. There you will have a scar, he wrote. And that was correct”, tells Erika.

… and the house, 50 years later

Aldona’s brother could also give her the address of where they had lived in Königsberg.

So, one day in the mid-90s, a minibus full of Wolf Children went to Kaliningrad to find their old homes. Equipped with a Russian street map, the older Wolf Children filled in the old German street names, and that way they managed to find the street of Aldona’s childhood.

“When we found her street she said ‘go further, further’. Then we stopped outside her house. Nearby it was situated some trenches from the war, untouched. Aldona walked up to them and said; ‘It is here… it was here I fell and hurt my cheek that time’”.

They rang on the door, and a young Russian woman opened the door. They were invited in for tea, and Aldona could take a tour through the house. Forgotten memories were rushing to her head.

Asthma and minimum pension

Aldona always knew she was German, and not Lithuanian or Polish. But the German language she forgot, as she was not allowed to speak it.

“On the other side, she did not have anyone to talk German to”, Erika inserts.

Only four grades in Lithuanian school were Aldona able to finish, as her labour force were demanded in the collective farms and the state-run glass wool factory.

For her life of hard work, she is rewarded with asthmatic problems and a minimum pension.