Everything Pedde

   S J Pedde Canada   S.J. Pedde

Events That Shaped Me

I discovered early in life that I didn't like being told what to do, especially when what was expected of me made little or no sense. I was anti-authoritarian in a major way. I was respectful of my parents but every other source of authority was suspect. That included school and church. Most of all, I was wary of political philosophies that caused diminished individual liberty. Why?

I listened to my father, Julius Pedde (1904-1998), tell stories of his childhood among other Germans settled in Radzymin, Poland and his family's political exile when he was a small boy to Siberia. The Russian Czar didn't want Germans in Poland siding with Germany during World War I, so he had them shipped, via cattle trains, to one of the coldest and most remote places on the planet. In Siberia, they lived in a sod hut with two rooms. One room was for the animals and one for the family -- the seven children out of fourteen who survived and their parents.

The family and other Germans were ultimately allowed to return to Poland.  There, Julius eventually met and married Emma Kaczkowska. Two children were born to them, Wanda (1931) and Bruno (1933.) Bruno died in 1934 and Emma died in 1935, leaving my father with his young daughter Wanda and no wife.

In 1937, my father married Alma Schmigelski (1914-2002.) To them were born Edgar (1938) who died as a baby, then Albert (1942) and Erwin (1944). Adolf Hitler's Nazis invaded Poland from Germany and before long World War II was underway.  The Allied forces led by America, England and Russia got involved in the fracas and it was only a matter of time until Russian troops advanced from the east. Frightened Germans still living in Poland fled towards Germany. They preferred to face the Americans and English rather than the Russians.

Julius and Alma joined the flight westwards and got separated along the way. Alma had with her Julius' daughter Wanda, sons Albert and Erwin, sister-in-law Frieda and her daughter Ingeburg. The group travelled on foot through the winter of 1944-1945. Sometimes they managed to hitch a ride from kindly strangers with horse and buggy. Occasionally a train ride was possible, although schedules were undependable and destinations often unpredictable. On one occasion, Alma and her group managed to board a train heading in the right direction. As she was about to step aboard, a Nazi officer forced her, at gun point, to leave behind one of the two suitcases she carried. That suitcase contained much of what Alma needed to care for her two young sons. 

Albert and Erwin got sick from the hunger and cold. By the time the group reached Graal Müritz in northern Germany, the two boys were so sick that they were immediately taken to a children's clinic.  While there, a nurse who had taken Erwin for a walk, inadvertently left him outside overnight in a baby buggy. He contracted pneumonia. Then Albert was diagnosed with meningitis.   Alma was not allowed to visit Albert after that. She and Wanda stood outside the building looking in through the window. Albert, who was the older of the two boys, saw them and screamed in German: "Mommy! Mommy! Please come help me. I don't want to die." The memory still brings tears to Wanda's eyes so many years later. Both boys died in the clinic and were buried in Graal Müritz. Albert was a little over three years old, Erwin was less than one year old.

The Russians continued to advance from the east.  Alma and the rest continued to flee towards western Germany and ultimately ended up just north of Hamburg where they were finally able to rest as World War II came to its conclusion.  There, in a village called Groß Steinrade, I was born in July of 1945. We lived briefly in a fire station and then moved to nearby Heidmühlen, where we waited for my father to find us.  Many families which were separated during the war never reunited again.  My mother always had faith that my father would find us.  He finally appeared one day, after bicycling around northern Germany for months, from one Red Cross centre to another, looking for any refugee list with my mother's name on it. It was a bittersweet reunion. After being separated from my mother for months, Julius found that he had lost two sons, Albert and Erwin, and gained another, me.

As I grew up, I listened to these stories with a cold fury that escalated over the years. It was very clear to me that wars and atrocities were not caused by the average citizen who was trying to make ends meet and make the world a better place for themselves and their children. No, the blame should be directed to those political ideologies which subjugate the rights of the individual to the interests of the state. Because my father happened to be in Siberia during the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, he had a unique perspective on both Russia's communism under Vladimir Lenin and then, years later, Germany's fascism under Adolf Hitler. My father was a simple man and not given to pontificating and elaborate analysis on the human condition. He never quite articulated the message that I gleaned from his stories but it was evident that he understood what I will say here:  totalitarianism is totalitarianism. The only difference between Communism and Fascism is the rhetoric. The net, practical result of each political/philosophical system to the populace is a complete lack of respect for the individual and the freedom to do what you wish, when you wish, with whom you wish, under circumstances that you alone control.  

The bigger the government, the worse it is for the citizenry.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for all you had to endure. You are gone, but your example, your lessons and your courage live on. I fervently hope that we never have to endure anything quite so horrible as you did.