The logistics needed in the Displaced People camp Wildflecken were mind blowing, especially in the first year. In addition to receiving thousands of refugees, repatriating hundreds, and the day to day aspects, Kathryn Hulme and her team had to organise the ‘winterization’ in Wildflecken – the preparation for winter. This meant dealing with the Mayors of the surrounding villages to provide the camp with a percentage of their farmer’s produce and securing supplies from the US Army. This exercise was made even more impossible as the US Army decided to encourage repatriation by offering a fortnights food ration to repatriants. Getting this supply compensated by the Army was a long and arduous process.
At a certain point in 1945 the team receives American Red Cross Prisoner of War boxes with cheese, tuna, sugar, chocolate, Spam and cigarettes amongst other things. There were a huge quantity of these boxes as there were far less American prisoners of war than predicted. These packets had to be unpacked and the items sorted and stored in the warehouses for the winter. The camp went into revolt – the DPs wanted their boxes immediately. Understandable after years of hardship and often starvation. Another vulnerability was the boxes falling into the hands of the black marketeers. Eventually she finds a group of young polish scouts to help with the unpacking of 375.000 individual items. And her understanding of what these people had gone through reaches a next level when she asks why they are able to sort and assemble the packages at such speed. She learns that they had been child labourers in the factories.
There was life, and there was the fight to survive, but there were also deaths. Child mortality was quite high due to the undernourished state of the mothers, sickness and general war stress. Unwanted pregnancies was a problem too. And people died from disease and old age. The cemetery is where they found their last resting place between 1945 and 1951. 428 children and 116 adults.
The only part of the camp that we could visit was the place where these people are laid to rest. The trail is about a one kilometer long and ends at a dirt road circling the military camp. There are a couple of warning signs, warning you off military property, but keeping the earlier signpost in mind stating that the road was ‘frei’ up to the cemetery we continued on. Following this road down brought us to the ‘Polenfriedhof’, the polish cemetary. It does not look like the old cemetery as it was renovated in the seventies after being in a total state of abandonment.
A path winds to the cemetery at Wildflecken. It winds deep into the forest. Along the way are columns hewn out of massive rock. This is the ‘way of the cross of Nations’ trail. Markers which beg one to pause and reflect on war and its atrocities. Every 100 meters or so a column rises with information about the loss of lives in the first and second world war.
I have more pictures of the wildflecken cemetery, contact me if you would like to see these.