It all started with Google. In fact, with Google.no, the Norwegian version of the search engine. Often to my frustration, Google and its results change automatically based on the location you are in.
This time however, I intentionally used this search setting out of pure curiosity and typed in: “Demmin”.
To those of you who have never heard of that name before, “Demmin” is a small city in the North-East of Germany and it is also the place I was born, the place that my family is from and that I call “Heimat”.
And, to my utter surprise, I found a book. A Norwegian book, written by the Norwegian author Trude Teige called ‘Mormor danset i renget’— “Granny danced in the rain”. A family and love story that spans across decades and European borders. It combines Norway’s gruesome history around the “tyskerjentene” with the dark days of the mass suicide in Demmin around May 1945. The month when the Russians arrived from the east and took revenge on the German population.
Even before the Russians had set a foot into this small city, the stories of their plunders, rapes and killings further east had already arrived in Demmin and in May 1945 women, and men often together with their children killed themselves by drowning in the local rivers and lakes, by taking poison, hanging themselves, cutting their wrists or even shooting themselves. The total number of people that lost their lives in these days can never be determined, but estimates are around 1000.
One can now only speculate why this mass suicide actually happened here. A contributing reason is possibly Demmin’ s geographical location surrounded by the three rivers Peene, Trebel and Tollense. When the bridges were destroyed by the last German soldiers on their way out of Demmin, it was often the sheer fear, combined with being trapped on an island- like location that offered no easy route to escape. But, it was mainly the fear of what might come when the Russians arrive and take revenge for the gruesome deeds of the SS in the East. And, it is also important to remember and imagine that their leader Adolf Hitler was dead and with him their ideology, pride and future. A future that they were not willing to be living in.
Trude’s book captures this fear, the shame and hopelessness, the utter despair, the destruction and the pain. Yet, it finds a way to turn all this around into small stories hope, love and of understanding and empathy.
In Norway the book was very well received and brought the topic “tyskerjentene” back into the news. Even to Erna Solberg, Norway’s prime minister. “Tyskerjente” (the German soldiers’ girlfriends / women ) is what Norwegians called women that had fallen in love with a German at the time of the war.
These women had their hair violently cut off so their appearance allowed them to be publicly shamed. They were ostracised by their own country and its people, losing their nationality and forced to become German citizens.
It is said that between 2000 — 3000 of women got married to a German, most of them in 1945, however, the actual number of those who were called “tyskerjentene” we may never be able to determine. Significantly though, not a single Norwegian man who was in a relationship with a German woman at the time, was ever defamed in this manner.
Many Norwegians are therefore still waiting for Erna Solberg’s official apology and condemnation of how these women were treated by the Norwegian authorities.
That however, has still not happened.
Unfortunately this book is not yet translated into either German or English but I am hoping it will be. If nothing else, it might help people understand this still scarred place “Demmin” more, as it feels as if it has never really managed to shine and come back to its former glory after the atrocities of WW2, the biggest mass suicide ever recorded in Germany followed by an era of being governed by the Soviet Union.
I thought it was time I should also let Trude know about my interest in this story and my personal connection. Initially I was hesitant but then I thought I had to share my excitement, seeing that there are not too many “Demminer” living in Norway.
I wrote her a message on Facebook and to my delight she wrote back to me within a short time frame. She was willing to talk to me and we are now in contact as I am intrigued to find out how Trude came to write about “Demmin” and this only rarely talked about era.
How does Trude as a Norwegian feel about researching this topic and how many of those fictional episodes in the book has she heard from people that she met?
But most of all I am interested in meeting Trude. The woman behind this book who is portraying this small place I call my home with different eyes and has put her heart, a lot of passion, time and human touch in it.
I am therefore truly thankful to Trude for opening my eyes and triggering my thoughts on this topic, something that without her book might have never happened.
My grandma was 3, my great grandma 30 when this happened.
This is therefore also my story and the story of my family.