Stories told in ‘Silent No More’ by retired SCSU professor
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
While the Holocaust of World War II — the extermination of six million Jews by Nazis in Germany — is an event in history which is widely taught and commemorated by monuments and museums around the world, the same is not true for the ethnic cleansing of German peoples from the countries of East Central Europe in the years following the war.
“It is not very well-known,” said Dr. Erika Vora, retired St. Cloud State University professor. “It’s been underreported.”
Vora spoke to the Morrison County Genealogical Society, Monday. She described how 15 million ethnic Germans, mostly women, children and the elderly, were forcefully evicted from their homes and expelled from the countries where their families had lived for hundreds of years — Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Eastern Germany.
“They were the victims of total dispossession and flight, of murder, forced labor, slavery, torture and rape,” Vora said. “All this suffering was one of the most bitter revenges history has had.”
This was done by the Soviet communists who occupied these countries at the end of the war and in the decades after.
Unlike the Bataan Death march which American and Filipino prisoners of war were forced to endure in the Philippines, the death marches of East Central Europe in the 1940s are not well-documented.
“The Brünn death march in Czechoslovakia happened May 29-30, 1945 — after the war in Europe was over,” Vora said. “More than 20,000 women, children and elderly were marched 56 kilometers. There were many such misery marches.”
The Kantz death march of 18,000 souls near Wrocław (Breslau), Poland was one of the others.
Vora was a baby in her mother’s arms when she, her three older sisters and their mother were expelled from their home in Poland in January 1945.
The family lived as slaves to a Polish farm family for more than two years before they were helped to escape to West Germany, one at a time.
Many of the victims of the expulsion were transported into slavery in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). An estimated two million people did not survive.
“They were the victims of revenge,” Vora said. “There has been nothing written of this worst form of ethnic cleansing.”
Vora wrote about her family’s experiences in the 2010 book “The Will to Live.” Her newest book, “Silent No More,” includes the stories of 30 women and three men.
“It was women who were left at home with children and the elderly during the war,” Vora said. “These three men wanted to give witness to what the women survived.”
After maintaining silence for so many decades, Vora at first found survivors reluctant to tell about their experiences.
“They all didn’t want to tell about it; they kept silent all this time,” she said. “They only told me after I told my family’s story. We all cried together.”
Vora calls the storytellers the “last witnesses of living history.”
“They wanted to make sure their experiences are not lost forever,” she said. “I want to give voice to their experiences. That’s why I wrote this book.”