Recently I reviewed Weeds Like Us, Gunter Nitsch's story of his family's experience in the immediate aftermath of World War II as they fled their home in East Prussia. It is a gripping story of gritty perseverance and survival written from Gunter's perspective as a young boy. Gunter now lives in Chicago and was kind enough to respond to my questions about his book.
Dialog International: Why did you write Weeds Like Us?
Gunter Nitsch: If you read about a
war in the history books, there comes a point where the war is “over” and one
side or the other has won or lost. But,
especially for the civilian population on the losing side, the trauma of war
continues long after the peace treaty is signed. Whenever I saw pictures of
refugees on the nightly news, it struck me how little the average viewer
understands of what it means for a child to be uprooted from his home and to suddenly
lack adequate food, shelter, medical care, and schooling. Although I was living
comfortably with my family in Scarsdale, New York.
GN: People have expressed
surprise at how vivid my memories from that time still are, although anyone
who’s been through a similar experience as a child would understand why. Still
there were gaps which needed to be filled in. Strange as it may seem, no one in
my family ever talked about the years under the Russians and I wanted to get
their input. As far back as twenty years before I began to write the book, I
began collecting materials by interviewing my mother in Cologne
Then, in 1998, to fill
in any remaining gaps, I took a trip back to the former “Ostpreussen” (East
Prussia), now part of Poland and of Russia, and to Germany, to revisit all the
places where I had been between 1939 to 1950 -- Königsberg, Langendorf,
Schippenbeil, Heiligenbeil, Pillau, Bieskobnicken, Palmnicken, Goldbach,
Berlin, Plötzin, the Magdeburg railroad station, Uelzen, Oldendorf and
Bodenteich. Before leaving
I even managed to locate and interview my old friends Sigrid and Horst from Langendorf; Ruth Egger (the “frog lady”) from Goldbach, and Gudrun Neumark from Plötzin. I found the sister of my friend (and gang leader) Werner Teschner still living in the remnants of the Ammo.Camp. While I was in Bodenteich I stopped by the tidy brick house of my former teacher (and torturer), Mr. Schlemmer whom I found crumpled up in a wooden wheelchair eating cling peaches with his hands.