Das Wolga Journal, No. 8, December, 1927
"Refugee Camp Frankfurt on the Oder" by Dr. Rothermel
In short words, rapidly and energetically, he gave his instructions, then he was once again outside and I accompanied him on his rounds.
"You have come straight into a witch's cauldron," he told me. "The most important questions of the refugees are evenly distributed among these points: clothing, work, emigration and the dismantling of the welfare service organization. The relief doctors, the greater portion of the Sisters and camp employees have been dismissed. The government must balance its expenditures by making drastic cuts. And then there is unemployment, frankly, the people have had almost all opportunity and desire for work forced out of them. Recently an order came from the government commissioner that everyone who finds work, even if only temporary work, is to have their Camp Identification Card and Food Card taken away. These people will receive no more food and are also not allowed to reside in the camp any longer, and they are not allowed to return in the future. Now-a-days we experience the case where some of the Volga Germans who have found good jobs in the neighborhood are being displaced by Polish workers. As they are not "Reichsdeutsche" [Native born] they receive no government support. They would be starving in the streets in a few days, if . . ." The Doctor suddenly became quiet as an excited, violently gesticulating man approached us.
Employer-Employee Relationships in the Camp.
"Doctor," called the man, "it has happened again. Today I received money from the administration to pay for the basket weaving of last week. How much would you think I received for a man's weekly wage? Forty million," the man cried out.
"However, I gave the money back to them. They will not make a joke out of us," he added, breathing heavily.
By my computation, at the 40 million rate a man would have to work for 20 years in order to make enough money to buy one cigarette. [The reader should not think this an exaggeration or an untruth. This was during the time of terrible inflation in Germany, where money had almost no value at all. One should not forget that a dollar was equal to four trillion deutschmarks at that time. 40 Million deutschmarks had no value at all in American money. -the author].
"What does it mean?" I helplessly asked my guide.
"Devastation," he answered darkly.
We silently continued on our way. Over us the sky had become still more grey and darker. After some minutes we stood before the Barracks Housing the Sick of the Camp. The sight of the cheery rooms with their freshly scrubbed floors and clean beds, the immaculately shining operating room and the patients dressed in tidy blue smocks bespoke convincingly of Dr. Rothermel's untiring efforts for the health and hygiene of the refugees.
At the start of the arrivals of transports in the autumn of 1921, my guide explained, "The state of health of the Volga Germans was very unsatisfactory. About 60% of them were getting sick, more than 12% of them died. Hunger and the strain of their escape had taken almost all of their strength. Most fell victim to spotted fever, a great many also to tuberculosis. Now, in this regard, a great improvement can be seen. We have achieved great success, particularly with our lung patients."
In the meantime we had once again walked out into the open. A small crowd of children came up accompanied by their teacher. They greeted the doctor with joyfully flashing eyes.
"The children here with us are doing relatively better. They attend a camp school and have an excellent teacher providing for their instruction," he said, while his hand toussled the curly hair of an impish Volga German boy.
"This magnificent fellow is a truly outstanding singer. He sings every song as loudly as the entire group." It was the youngest Weckesser. Suddenly a fearful shouting erupted around us. "Most of our little Volga Germans have an extraordinary gift of voice," he added, laughingly.
After some paternal admonishments by the doctor the small crowd dispersed.
Dr. Rothermel attended to his duties and I continued on by myself. Slowly darkness began to set in, a cold wind blew in from the fields tearing the last yellow leaves from bedraggled bushes and driving them whirling, along the wet barracks road. Indistinguishable shapes emerged from the side streets deeply bent over under the weight of heavy bundles of wood. Men, women and half grown youths carrying wood for heating from the nearby woods.
Soon they also disappeared. Freezing and helpless, I wandered around between the dark barracks. No humans were to be seen. The only light there was came through the cracks of shuttered windows. From one window a gloomy ray of light shone on me, I quietly opened the door.
Inside the Barracks.
At first I was unable to recognize anything. The dense smoke intermingled with heavy odors made it hard for me to breathe. Gradually my eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness; I saw grey horse blankets hanging in front and to the right and left of me. Behind them the rough voice of a man sounded and the shrill distraught words of a woman and the crying of small children. Carefully I lifted the edge of a blanket and stepped into a room of about 5 steps long by 4 steps wide, packed full of people. Instead of walls there hung the same grey horse blankets up to the height of a man. On both sides of the tiny window two bunks had been built, one above the other. Fastened to the lower bunk was an infant's crib made of rough wood. In a corner an old woman squatted before a glowing iron stove and stirred a large pot of steaming, bubbling, watery soup. Here there were 4 families living. There are no words which could even approximately express the bleakness of their miserable condition - worse even than in a rickety Russian "Chata" [Hut] far, far away, out on the steppes of the Volga, of which all here again speaking. But, "Dear God, show us a way out," the unfortunate inmates groan.
[one of the photos displays all of the misery of this terrible life. Look at the iron stove in the middle and to the beds built one on top of the other just to the left. Some of the people in the photo are now in America, Gottfried Eurich in Chicago, Gottfried Gorr in Maywood, Illinois, and so on, . . . - the author.]
The indescribably miserable housing conditions are well known to competent authorities. I would like only to cite the words of Town Councillor, Dr. Bruno Müller, Frankfurt a.O, in his article "Evacuation of German Refugees, Frankfurt an der Oder", Land Reform Yearbook, Booklet 3, August 1923, publishing house Gustav Fisher, Jena, who describes housing conditions in the Homecoming Camp.
He says, "Before the war one took the overcrowded back alley houses of large cities to be the saddest of accommodations, however they are a paradise compared to the premises which we make available to our kinsmen now in the Homecoming Camp. If I hadn't seen it for myself I would not have believed that an area hardly as large as a room in a modest home actually accommodates 3 or 4 households. In such barracks we spoke with an old German Russian who once owned a large property and 70 head of cattle and who now, driven out by illness and famine, owns only the clothes on his back."
Practical consequences were not take into consideration because only those weak and lacking means attempted to escape from the emergency.
This translation provided courtesy of Hugh Lichtenwald.