Recollections of an officer of the chief administrative district in Zeyer [Kępiny Małe].
Johannes Jahn, farmer and farm owner in Zeyersvorderkampen. (see the original text)
This document has been translated and reworked with additional family history added
by Mark Rabideau.
The District of Zeyer was located in the northeast corner of the Free State of Danzig, in the area that included the towns of Grosses Werder, Zeyer, Stuba and Schlangenhaken. The district followed the Nogat River, starting at the village Zeyer to the Vistula Lagoon estuary. The total area of the District was about 2510 hectares (~6200 acres) of which 480 hectares (`1200 acres) were the village of Zeyer, Stuba with the village of Neudorf was about 610 hectares (~1500 acres) , Zeyersvorderkampen about 1020 hectares (~2500 acres) and Schlangenhaken another 400 hectares (~1000 acres). The total population of the district was roughly 1735 inhabitants of German descent and origin. The population was exclusively engaged/ employed in agriculture and related professions.
Up until 1945, the farms located in the area were in good condition. The majority of the farms and agricultural property holdings were small to medium sized. The lands of Zeyersvorderkampen were particularly favorable to dairies; the larger farms historically were also devoted to rapeseed, wheat, and sugar beet cultivation.
While Zeyer and Stuba were built-up areas, Zeyersvorderkampen and Schlangenhaken were so-called scattered settlements. Zeyer was considered to be the oldest settlement in the district. School texts chronicled settlement in the Zeyer village area as early as 1200; followed somewhat later by the village of Stuba. Zeyersvorderkampen, which consisted of several islands in the Nogat delta, was settled much later, around 1730. The town of Schlangenhaken was newest settlement in the district, it came into existence in 1929. Schlangenhaken was settled in the uncultivated areas of the Kampen Nogatmündung by order of the Danzig Senate.
Milk production was the key agricultural commodity produced in the district. Even during the war (WW2), a modern dairy under private ownership was located in Zeyer; while a cooperative dairy was located in Zeyersvorderkampen [Papatschen cooperative was partly owned by Richard Senger].
A third dairy, with offices in Stuba, was shut down during the war and merged with the dairy supplier in Zeyer.
In the commercial sector, there were four shops located in the village Zeyer including, grocery and hardware stores; one wind mill; a restaurant with bakery operations; a dry goods store selling clothing, footwear and dry goods. Additionally, there was a bakery and an inn (guest house).
Commercial enterprises in Zeyer included: a dairy, a butcher, a wheelwright, a blacksmith and two container manufacturers. The public sector in Zeyer included government buildings, two schools, two customs officers houses, a post office, a parsonage, and three village offices and a fire station.
The Zeyer Lutheran Church was located on the opposite bank of the Nogat in Elbing County.
On January 21, 1945, the first Russian tanks arrived unexpectedly in Elbing, just 8 km away. The population of the administrative district Zeyer received notification that night from the district office in Tiegenhof to immediately evacuate the area. Although the evacuation was prepared for in theory, it did not go according to the pre-arranged plan. The original plan was to evacuate across the Vistula but because early that morning all the roads had become congested and overrun by the fleeing population, that evacuation plan was impossible. Additionally, the rural population found it very difficult to leave their farms. At the same time, the German Wehrmacht had hurriedly constructed a front along the Elbing River behind which people felt temporarily secure. Only the population of villages of Zeyer and Stuba fled towards Zeyersvorderkampern and Schlangenhaken.
During that same time, the entire livestock of the region had been driven off by Räumkommandos (Jeeps, personnel carriers) and grain reserves had been taken, as well. All that remained in the area were food stuffs capable of feeding the population for a short time.
The church came under artillery bombardment during the course of the fighting on February 3, 1945 as did the Zeyersvorderkampen dairy, three taverns, two dry goods stores, the forge and public buildings including: a school, five town buildings and the fire station.
Local horse stocks were taken over by the army. At the onset of battle, destruction of the buildings in Zeyer was limited to those on the edges of town. Initially only 3 properties were burned to the ground. However, very many buildings suffered heavy damage from artillery shelling and gun fire. But, the greatest destruction to the Zeyer area occurred after the area was occupied by Russians and Poles.
After the occupation, those who were left behind in the area no longer had any way to escape, since the Russians had already pushed through the province of Pomerania to the Baltic Sea.
On March 8, 1945, the German army was forced to retreat from its positions on the Nogat. The remaining civilian population was forced to withdraw to the Vistula Spit, where they were met by ships, mostly brought from Denmark. A small portion of the population in Zeyer could not bring themselves to leave their homes and awaited the arrival of the Russians. Most of those remaining people were working class families, the elderly as well as farming families [including Richard and Frieda Senger, ages 66 and 46 respectively.].
Based upon statements from a number of the survivors of the fall of Zeyer, those who were later expelled by the Poles; we know the following. After the arrival of the Russians in Zeyer on March 9, 1945, the entire remaining population was rounded up. All men between the ages of 16 and 60 were transported to the east [for incarceration in Soviet Gulags- concentration camps]. A number of the remaining survivors were held for questioning by the Soviets and ultimately tortured to death [possibly including Hermann Recht whose body was found near that time in the Nogat river]. Shortly after the arrival of the Russians in Zeyersvorderkampen the first murders began. The following were executed by the Russians for no known reason:
- Farmer Franz Thiessen (aged 7O years)
- Farmer Adolf Block
- Hulda Janzen and her daughter Klara Eichhorn with 1 year old son/ grandson
- Mr. & Mrs. A. Mierau
- 18-year-old Christine Wichert
- Anna Braun of Zeyersvorderkampen
- four-members of the family of farmer Fritz Dudenhöft
- disappearing without a trace were Mr. & Mrs. Rathke Zvk
All women who remained were forced to be available for the pleasure of the Soviet troops, until the Soviet troops were withdrawn. [On the 17th of March 1945 Frieda Senger was indicted by the Soviets and assigned to forced labor camps- concentration camps. She was released in 1947. Between 1945 and 1947 Richard Senger was a forced laborer on what used to be his farm. During this same time, the Wedhorn family was expelled, incarcerated or sent into Soviet concentration camps.]
What remained of the population of Zeyer was forced to go to Elbing to try and find food, as none was provided them [by the victors].
As the Russian troops withdrew and the first Poles moved in as an adventurous, unruly rabble. They looted houses of anything that remained from what the Russians had left behind. The Russians took all surviving animals and the best furniture. Agricultural implements and machinery were gathered by the Poles, bartered and taken away. The Vistula and Nogat dikes were breached or blown up thereby flooding the entire countryside. The withdrawing Russians built bridges and walkways as needed from the materials remaining of destroyed homes and buildings. Under the management of the Poles, the devastation continued. Buildings were abandoned due to lack of heating fuel or power; according to reports, many houses were also left without windows and doors.
The loss of life continued as many committed suicide. The remaining German population lived in Poland under the worst possible conditions; they received far too little food and were forced to do hard labor every day under severely abusive conditions.[Thereafter] Germans were outlawed. The new [Polish] residents could do with [the Germans] what they wanted. Under these brutal circumstances, the forced 1947 German expulsions were initiated. [This includes the same time frame during which 68 year-old Richard Senger began his walk on foot to Western Germany. ]
Old, frail people; women with young children were forced to walk the 15 km [9 miles] [from Zeyer] to Tiegenhof in the freezing cold. In Tiegenhof [Nowy Dwór Gdański], they were loaded into open rail cars bound for Marienburg [Malbork]; any baggage weighing more than 30 pounds was taken from them. From Marienburg, the journey continued to Halle in the eastern zone [Soviet Zone] of Germany where the deportees usually were force relocated. Numbers of deportees did not survive the hardships and died.
In the villages [Soviet style] collective farms were established because the Poles were not able to manage the farmlands privately.