My great-grandfather's name was Detmar Ihnen Detmers. He was a builder who built houses and caskets and he came from Münkeboe in East Frisia. He turned 81 years-old and then, in 1959, he died of bladder cancer. He was buried at the cemetery in Münkeboe and he was given a headstone with his name on it. He shares the grave with the remains of six further people. People who were still children when they died and people who were already women when they died. Their names are not on the headstones. His two wives, Elsche Detmers, nee Henning, who died of tuberculosis at a young age, and his second wife, Auguste Detmer, nee Siekmann, who, as the deaconess, tended to his sick wife until she died. Auguste, however, died at 67 in the aftermath of an accident when Detmer Ihnen fell on her from a tree in the garden. Three of Detmer's children and one granddaughter also preceded him into the grave that bore his name: Three sons, all of whom he named Ihne and none of whom lived past three years of age. And one of my grandmother's daughters, who was stillborn. She was never given a name.


My grandmother was born in the house with the garden where my great-grandfather fell on my great-grandmother. On March 28, 1917, she saw her first glimpse of the light of East Frisia. A spot of land between the Ems and Jade Rivers, flat and wide with slanted trees and straight windmills that defy the wind constantly blowing in from the ocean. The land belongs to the clouds and the cows and they belong to the farms with the low-hanging eaves and they, in turn, belong to the people with the wooden blocks who have their own language and like to drink tea. More precisely, 2.5 kilos per person per year; that is ten times than beyond the moors, further south, in Germany.


When the moors of the south and the ocean to the north still surrounded this piece of land, Rabold was in charge, the Great Frisian King. After that came Charlemagne and with him the Christian religion, which Luidger and Willehad disseminated. Then there were the Redjeven, the justices and councilmen, then the Hovedlinge, the chieftains, the the counts, the dukes, the Prussians. And then, Emperor Wilhelm and then the Führer.


When my grandmother was born on this piece of land and was not yet entangled in the political events and did not yet have high blood pressure from 2.5 kilos of black tea per year, Lüdde, Anni and Minni were already there. The aforementioned Auguste Detmers, nee Siekmann, former deaconess, found herself in the position in which she never planned to be in her life; pushing my Grandma Elli, named for her father's first wife, Elsche, out of her body. It became common practice to keep the memory of recently deceased family members alive by naming newborns after them, thus replacing them. Now, Detmer had an Elli again.


Elli married Adolf Jansen Müller. Adolf was also the child of a second wife. This was old Altje Müller, who brought her bastard son Klaas into her marriage with Johann Müller, who in turn, already had four children from his first marriage: Johann, Bole, Herti and Hima. Altje and Johann had five more children together: Johanna, Maria, Adolf, Okkeline and Etta. Altje was certain that Adolf would also be a daughter and wanted to name her after herself, but it was a boy, so the name Altje became Adolf. That was 1914.


30 years later, my father was born. They called him Adolf too. That was 1944. Adolf Detmer. His father Adolf Janssen was on the eastern front during the war, so Elli had an Adolf again. Adolf's children found this name odd to uncomfortable in different degrees. But Adolf, himself, did not. This name stood for his father and not for the Führer, as he explained. He explained it again, 25 years after his birth, when structural parallels between fathers and leaders in his generation became a more frequent topic of discussion. Adolf, however, did not participate in these discussions and thus held on to his positive feeling about his name.


Between 1940 and 1948, my grandmother lived in Engerhafe, a small town on the western edge of the East Frisian Geest in the Municipality of Südbrookmerland. The chieftain, Keno tom Brook, had his headquarters in a castle very near there. His son, Ocko tom Brook, expanded his influence throughout nearly all of East Frisia, but the freedom-loving East Frisians didn't like that, nor did the competing chieftains. Thus, on October 28th, under Chief Focko Ukena, it came to the "Last battle on the wild fields". That was 1427. 506 years later, the East Frisians, and not only them, had a new chieftain with another name; now he was called the Führer. On August 28, 1944, he ordered the construction of the "Frisisan Wall" to protect the entire North Sea coast at two positions against pending invasion. Walls were planned on the coast, shelters built directly on the dike and cannon stands and tank trenches in the back country. The tank trenches were to be four to five meters wide at the to and 50 centimeters at the bottom. And they were to be dug three meters deep into the ground.


On that August 28, 1944, Elli lived on the east side of the church, a bit to the left when you turned. It is an old church; a single-nave, high building from the 13th century that stood and watched the "Battle on the wild fields" with indifference. On the north side of the church, across the street on the pastor's garden grounds, an auxiliary camp to the Neuengamme concentration camp was constructed in December, 1944. A stone's throw away from the house on the east side of the church. 2,200 men were penned up in five, unheated barracks, in which there was only space for the three-story beds which two men per straw sack each shared. The meagerly clothed and starved prisoners had to put up the fence that locked them in and build the guard towers used to guard them. Then, every morning at six, they marched to the train station in Georgsheil, rode to Aurich in open goods carts and walked through Aurich to their workplace. There, they dug the up to three-meter-deep holes in the wet clay earth, stood up to their knees in water for hours and were exposed to rain, sleet and storm winds in their torn rags. Those who collapsed were beaten until they continued working or didn't. During the march back every evening, the survivors had to carry their dead and half-dead comrades. Because they had no strength left, they dragged the emaciated bodies behind them by their feet, the heads banging against the cobblestones over and over. The rags slipped over the faces and no longer hid the starved bodies.


That is what my grandmother saw. She watched this trek. And never forgot it. She spoke about it time and again. Soon, the residents of Engerhafe quickly went into their houses if they heard the wooden shoes on the street. The residents also moved to Aurich. They couldn't bear it. This image and the stench.


Elli had a baby and a small child, a husband on the front and a daughter in the grave. Back pain from cutting peat as a child, high blood pressure and red eyes from crying. And fear. A bicycle with rags around the rims, the belief in the good Lord, the belief in the German nation. A young Adolf, if the elder did not return, and the conviction that the other Adolf would somehow make things right.


188 men did not survive the three months in the Engerhafe concentration camp. 68 Poles, 47 Dutch , 21 Latvians, 17 French, nine Russians, eight Lithuanians, five Germans, four Estonians, two Italians, one Slovenian and one Dane, one Spaniard and one Czech. The first ten were interred in five wooden boxes, the next only with a piece of cardboard to cover them, wrapped in wire and the rest were buried in paper sacks or completely naked. The first were buried 1.70 meters deep, the last only 40 centimeters. In the beginning, a German guard adorned the graves with little wooden crosses he had made himself. He was forbidden to continue. Then there were no more individual graves, only mass graves. Two days after the last person was buried next to the church, Elli celebrated Christmas and little Johann, her first son, heard the question, "People, where are you going?", which the pastor called several times in church and called back, annoyed: "Where are YOU going?" The 2,000 prisoners were brought back to Neuengamme. There, or on the death marches on which they were forced toward the end of the war to cover up the concentration camps, or on the Baltic Sea on the steamer, Cap Arcona, their lives were taken.


Adolf Janssen did come back. A wound saved him. Elli and Adolf lived with Johann, Adolf and Auguste in Engerhafe and then in Emden. All three children later turned their backs on East Frisia. Elli remained and graves remained and names. Adolf Janssen died of stomach cancer on July 9, 1978. Elli's brother, Lüdde died in 1979, Minni in 1988 and Anni in 2001.


In 2005, Elli stood, leaning on her cane, 88 years-old, at the cemetery in Engerhafe with her granddaughter. She did not go in to the small area separated by boxwood trees. In the middle was a hedge in the shape of a cross.


Elli stayed outside and looked into the evening sky. The grandaughter read the names.


Bertulis Veinsberg, Gerrit Paul Edzes, Chaiw Jorkelski, Anton Skuda, Raymond Hermel, Josef Nowak, Israel Kowalis, Jan Michalski, Konstantin Spirikow. 


And Elli waited.


Turis Krimus, Juri Lüü, Johannes Murs, Antoni Klosinski, Henry Eppler Sørensen, Isaak Kukies, Ignatz Velionaks, Eugenjusz Dzerner, Hirsch Kagan.


And Elli said: Give me the car keys, I can't stand here anymore.


Eugenjusz Nowinski, Karlis Helfers, Maks Mateski, Dirk Dorland, Saul Izer, Karls Lanowsnis, Albin Chmielewski.


And Elli took the car keys.


And left.


Edward Gregorek, Cornelis van Drie, Stefan Szanawski, Badislaw Jenarcik, Roger Levy, Kazimierz Milczarek, Alphons Derknideren, Roman Wyganowski, Josef Ambroziak, Israel Meierowitsch, Peteris Avotnisch, Wladislaw Stepien, Akim Fiodorow, Tadeusz Blazejewski, Sebastien Kinberg, Andries Schipper, Wladislaw Capanda, Edward Prus, Daniel Weijs, Hendrik Olofsen, Augusts Sniedze, Janis Musikants, Wisold Pyzek, Kasimir Kieszskowski, Johann van Wijngaarden, Tomasz Edward Gruca, Witold Jerzy Rzadkowski, Jerzy Dybowski, Jazeps Stankewitsch, Tadeusz Sassek, Henryk Godlewski, Arie Kiesling, Jacob Lodewyk Hamming, Marten de Vries, Janis Camans, Jaamis Kwiesis, Nicolas Boyard, Antonio Messarotti, Omer Marechal, Johannes Flapper, Siemions Valtins, Peter Josephus Vranken, Otto van Noggeren, Louis Raymond Bouchet, Lambertus Schuitema, André Albert Coste, Jozef Wozniak, Theo Stok, Feiwa Cosne, René Levij, Ladislaus Jasinski, Manuel Canto Luisa, Leon Wojciechowski, Willem Petersen, Adrien Bessas, Heinrich Rieck, Josef Abramowitsch, Hendrik Vermeulen, Louis Marie L. Arband, Hendrikus Muldery, Elmars Stumbergs, Willem Klaassen, Lammert Wever, Josef Tewzak, Leon Karaluch, Felix Wieclaw, Willem Heine, Rients Westra, Bronislaw Waleka, Edward Bogacki, Jan Elibert van der Helden, Israel Smorgonski, Rudolf Sejkora, Timofej Salij, Michel Malerzyty, Henryk Laszkiewics, David Koton, Solomon Kulkes, Owsicj Prusak, Vladislaus Vilecoskis, Sander de Beun, Witold Piotrowski, Fiodors Strogonows, Stanislaw Golaszewski, Dirk Zuidam, Georges Richemond, Peter Verbeek, Gustaaf Baccauw, Harald Cimsetis, Virgilis Carniel, Bronislaw Krol, Aart van Someren, Konstantin Kujawski, Janis Skutuls, Oscher Levin, Janusz Magierza, Geurt van Beek, Pansili Jurjew, Maarten ter Vrugte, Leendert Serier, Cornelius Bak, Louis André Guiot, Willem van de Pol, Adolf Sientniks, Nikolay Wlassow, Johann Dracht, Tadeusz Skrzypezak, Jan Wisniewski, Georges Charles Raillard, Theodors Baumanis, Mieczyslaw Tcharzewski, Matwey Sklas, Michel Kultis, Arwed Wikard, Ottis Witola, Michel Grange, Josef Lyakowski, Henryk Lukasik, Miecyslaw Lebroda, Frederik Kroeze, Henriyk Krysiek, Gustave Weppe, August Chlebek, Claas de Vries, Eduard Randberg, Leyba Brenner, Jakob de Graaf, Stanislaw Mastaleiz, Jan Skrzeczyna, Louis Vincent, Herbert Strobel, Cornelius de Roij, Roger Edmond Peres, Henricus Rutgers, Johannes Gortzak, Wladislaw Golaszewski, Bronislaw Miesiel, Aleksander Taraneks, Reijer Kleyer, Wladislaw Tchorek, Johann Meyboom, Jan Hoefmann, Roman Rulkowski, Eugeniusz Weijcmann, Ewald Neumann, Franc Sovdat, Jan Dawidowski, Jakob van Etten, Jan Klasztozny, Gijsbert van den Top, Adriane Mandel, Arkady Lardrow, Erich Siebert, Wladimir Dmytrow, Pieter van der Weij, Stanislaw Pietrzyk, Afanasi Dimitriew, Gerrit Hellendorn, Elgasz Chajes, Stanislaw Sawicki, Creslew Ochmann, René Godelier and Joseph Denoyette.



Translation: Charlotte Milstein



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