Richard Senger- The Long Road

In late winter of 1944/45, the Senger’s farm was overrun and occupied by a command of the advancing Russian armies.  The family furniture and possessions were stolen by non-Germans;  the lives and history of the Senger family were unalterably, irretrievably changed.

Only the Senger farm and two other farms in the village of Zeyervorderkampen remained standing following the Soviet invasion and bombardment and artillery attacks which accompanied the destructive attack.  Ultimately, the Senger farm was left as the sole ‘undamaged’  farm in Zeyervorderkampen. At first, the farm was used to house Soviet commanders; ultimately, possession of the farm, lands, buildings and few remaining possessions were given over to a Polish family.

By the middle of 1945, it was no longer the Senger family farm and lands. The farm had been confiscated by the occupying communist troops and retribution was never offered by either the invading armies or subsequent settlers; nor was any accepted by Richard when it was finally offered by the post-war German Federal Republic government. To his mind, there was simply no compensation adequate to cover the loss of his family’s lands and history. Ultimately, the German government did provide Richard a pension for both his WW1 and WW2 ‘participation’.

Richard Senger circa 1947

Richard Senger circa 1947

Having lost ownership and possession of his farm to the Russians in 1945, Richard was forced, at gun point and under explicit threat of death,  to work as an involuntary servant (knecht) or ‘slave’ on his long-time farm. During this time, his wife, Frieda, was captured, incarcerated, and forced by the Russians to leave their home and was interred as a slave laborer in the Gulags of the Central Asia in Chelyabinsk ITL (Work Improvement Camp). Frieda was arrested and enslaved by the Soviet Army on March 17, 1945 (Her 47th birthday was two days later on 19 March 1945.). These hardships and travails were to continue for more than two years.

During this same time period, unbeknownst to Richard, his son (Erich Senger) was interred in an English prisoner of war camp; his daughter (Luise) had survived the war’s end and was working in the American Zone of Germany, in Bavaria.

Finally one day in June of 1947, at the age of 68, Richard could tolerate his situation and servitude no longer.  He resolved to leave or die trying. To his mind he had nothing to lose; so far as he knew he had already lost everything except his life.  He packed his few papers and possessions into a coffee can and set off on foot, to reach the West German border.  As he left what had been his farm, Russian soldiers shouted, pulled their rifles, took aim at his back, and threatening to kill him. Unwilling to suffer his situation any longer, he walked on into his uncertain, unknown future.

He trekked alone on foot across ‘the new’ communist Poland, and then through the ‘new’ communist East Germany. During the weeks and months he walked, he survived by eating uncooked potatoes and vegetables he gleaned from harvested fields. In Poland, his official identification papers and bank books were confiscated by ‘officials’ at the checkpoints he encountered. Finally after an almost 600 mile ordeal, Richard arrived at Murnau in Bavaria (the American Zone).

Shortly after his arrival in Bavaria, Richard began a search for his son Erich via open letters he placed in German newspapers. He only searched for his son Erich because he thought Erich might have survived the war; he was certain that Frieda (Richard’s wife) had died in the Gulags and that Luise (Richard’s daughter) had been ‘lost’ in the final defense of Munich (where Luise was serving as a Lieutenant in Munich’s Air Defense with Deutsche Luftwaffe- Luftkommando 7.). Fortunately, Erich, having returned from his incarceration as a British (Prisoner of War) PoW in 1947, read one of his letters and they were reunited.  During late 1947, Luise found and rejoined her family through the good offices and assistance of her employer- the American Army.

Late in 1947, his wife, Frieda weighing a mere 60 pounds, returned from her two plus year ordeal in the Russian gulags. Miraculously, the family had found each other.

Along with their son Erich, the Sengers built a new life for themselves in Bavaria. While in 1950, Luise went on to live with her American husband (Fred Rabideau) and their soon-to-be new family in the United States.

a composite of verbal stories related by Luise Senger Rabideau to her children Linda & Mark, as well as Russian, German and American Documentation