Mennonite Life logo

2018, vol. 72

Family Responses to the 1930s and 1940s in West Prussia

by Joachim Wieler

Joachim Wieler is professor emeritus at the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt (Germany) and a part-time lecturer at Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). This essay is based on a presentation he gave at the conference Mennonites and the Holocaust, March 16-17, at Bethel College.

Often, when the issue of the Holocaust was discussed in the past, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl insisted for himself and for younger Germans like me that we were exempt from any guilt, “due to the mercy of our late birth’ (die Gnade der späten Geburt). That, to me, may amount to being “not guilty’ in jurisdictional terms but it is not a justification for shirking responsibility for the future recurrence of another Holocaust in any part of the world. And I am saying this not because I have a German passport but because I have lived for several years in North America and travelled rather substantially all around this wonderful globe.

Most of us are probably familiar with or will have heard more about the traditional commitments and basic beliefs of Mennonites that date back to the time of the Reformation. These traditions and deep-seated beliefs and practices were reasons for the persecution from which they retreated or fled to one of the core territories of Mennonite life in West Prussia and the delta of the Vistula River where it flows into the Baltic Sea. They lived there for more than three centuries. Not quite that old is the family tree of our forefathers and –mothers, Thiessens und ihre Nachkommen (Thiessen 1977). Their lives can be traced back to the 17th century.

According to the title of my presentation, I will primarily share my childhood experiences and what I found out about my father’s family during the first half of the last century. Being born in 1938, exactly one year before the outbreak of World War II, I cannot start exactly at the beginning of the Nazi period but with at least a few remarks about some basic political and cultural changes that took place in the three centuries leading up to it.

The Mennonites, with their knowledge of water control and also with special privileges at first, helped to drain the wetlands of the Vistula Delta that lay below the level of the Baltic Sea. During 300 years of assimilation, and what we like to call “integration’ today, many of them seem to have adjusted to differing degrees and became increasingly enculturated and perhaps even integrated into Prussian culture and politics. Then a significant movement began when Mennonites in West Prussia gradually lost some of their earlier privileges, particularly exemption from military service. A good many of them did not give in to the rising demands of the Prussian government because they – according to one of their most basic beliefs – were determined not to carry arms, join service in the military or buy themselves out financially. Instead, a great many Mennonite families welcomed the invitation by Catherine the Great to move on and resettle in the Ukraine and greater Russia.

The decision in the family on my father’s side to remain in Prussia may have been a first step in their further assimilation to Prussian rule and general life. My father became one of the “Mennonite German soldiers’ of West Prussia that Mark Jantzen writes about in his book Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion and Family in The Prussian East, 1772-1880 (Jantzen 2010). My mother comes from a clearly Polish background, which may be an indication that her family had adjusted to Prussian rules and traditions when much of the Polish territory was divided earlier among other countries. With the wedding of my parents in 1931, my mother joined the Mennonite church and in the long run – in my opinion – became a truly convinced and believing Mennonite.

From here on, I will follow more or less the content of my book contribution, Mennoniten in der NS-Zeit (Wieler 2017), beginning with the background of my father’s family, then with his sisters, my father and his letters from the war front in France, a brief intermezzo by my older brother, and then some closing remarks on the aftermath.

Today, the occasion is one of necessary commemoration, because forgetfulness in itself is the next catastrophe. To talk about my family during the Nazi period is not an easy job but I want to do it. I have the written consent of my brothers to do so. And I want to assure you that this is a very personal testimony that I do not want to generalize. Hopefully, as it is the theme of my contribution to this conference, it does not represent all the “family responses’ to the 1930s and ’40s in West Prussia. Hearing about and observing historical developments more discoveries and even publications of this sort are most likely to surface.

Not a treasure box – but the contents were well guarded for a long time and surfaced only in 2004 after my parents’ generation had passed away.

This pretty and almost Amish-looking decorated box probably comes from the Gdansk area at the mouth of the Weichsel, or Vistula, River and the “Grosses Werder.’ In a moment, I will tell you what I found in the year of the second millenium – that is 55 years after the end of World War II! The box encapsulates a very brief history of our Mennonite background. It belonged to my grandparents or perhaps their predecessors who, for three centuries, had settled there in one of the Mennonite core areas in West Prussia. More precisely, it comes from Tiegenhagen and later Tiegenhof, where the family of my grandfather, Abraham Wieler, lived for good many years.
(the drawing, right, was done from memory by my aunt Marianne). He was a preacher and one of the elders of the Mennonite church in Tiegenhagen from 1909 until he passed away in 1916 (Tiegenhagen. Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland. Wikipedia 2016 – Elders of the Tiegenhagen Mennonite Church). According to the family story, all the neighboring church bells were ringing when my grandpa was buried. I am saying this not to brag but to note that he probably was a respected Mennonite preacher and elder, and that his family, forefathers and -mothers were well integrated and respected among those Mennonites who had adapted themselves and stayed in Prussia instead of following other Mennonites to Russia when their basic pacifist believes were at stake. This appears to me as the divide that explains significant differences between the two groups of Mennonites. This cannot be elaborated here in depth. But the long story of assimilation, adaptation and integration into the Prussian world, or resistance and migration onwards for deepseated reasons, is thoroughly researched and described by Mark Jantzen in the afore mentioned and well reviewed book Mennonite German Soldiers (Jantzen 2010; review: Foth 2017, pp. 134-137). There are also detailed German books of importance regarding this issue (Lichti 1977 and Penner 1978).

The family “box of treasures’ was taken along by my grandmother and her daughters when, at the end of January 1945, the Red Army approached from the East and began to encircle Gdansk and large parts of West Prussia. My grandmother and my two aunts escaped at the last minute towards the West. One wonders what they took along on their trek and why that included a stack of documents that clearly show how Prussian and pro-National Socialism the family had become. My mother, being Protestant and with a mixed Polish/Masurian/Prussian background, also fled with us five children from Marienburg when we heard the thunder of the Russian artillery that had reached Elbing a few miles to the east. We saw Dresden burning, and months after the war moved to the northwest of Germany, where we rejoined some of our relatives in the late fall of 1945. We lived for five years with up to 1,800 refugees in an old and partly destroyed military compound. My father returned from a Russian prisoner of war camp in 1949, and in 1950 we moved to Bavaria, where we finally reunited not only as a family but were also welcomed again into an established Mennonite congregation. After a lot of help from relatives in the United States, from Mennonite Central Committee and through the Marshall Plan, for which I am still most grateful, we lived a more or less normal life again. (The so-called “Wirtschaftswunder’ in Germany was not only helpful and kept us thoroughly occupied but also seems to me the beginning of another catastrophe that may be catching up with us again in the form of forgetfulness.)

Back to the contents of the box
After my grandmother, my father and his two sisters died, the box and some other documents were given to my mother. After she passed away, the box and some additional materials – including the keys of my grandparent’s house – were given to me, shortly before the year 2000. I was told that I was probably the most interested in historical documents because I had done a fair amount of historical and biographical work on social work during the Nazi period (Wieler 1987, 1989, 1995, etc.). But I am not writing this for that reason but for the fact that I became more sensitive and critical through professional research on social work than through ongoing discussions in my own family on Mennonite beliefs and convictions. Now I wish that we had talked more and that I could have asked the right questions.

During the conference “Mennoniten in der NS-Zeit in Münster in 2015 (recorded in the Mennonite World Review, fall 2015), I was only citing from the letters of my father during Germany’s attack on France in 1940. I will do that again, but the family picture will not be complete without some other details of the larger picture. I found receipts of donations by my grandmother to the war effort during World War I

and also several times during World War II. And the following certificate 
shows that the family had later followed the suggested procedures of certification to prove that the Wieler family was in tune with the selective criteria of the “Reichsbund of the German Family, the Party and the State.“

My fathers sisters were also well integrated and liked by all of us and the neighbors. I personally and as a child did not have an inkling of any inappropriate behavior or action on the part of my family during the Hitler regime, but they hardly ever talked about details during and after this time period. In retrospect however, and having gained more knowledge and undertstanding of the time, their work fitted well into the Nazi doctrines and I was utterly surprised, particularly about what I found in the box about one of my aunts and about my father. I will begin with the easier part.

Tante Lieschen, Elise Wieler, was midwife with body and soul
She was the older of my father’s sisters, born in 1901. Being a midwife and delivering children (in German to “untie’ or “deconnect,’ to “entbinden’ a mother from a baby) is a most important function. Her engagement for me, personally, was my entré into this world. Tante Lieschen came from Tiegenhof to Marienburg to deliver me in the apartment of our rental home. So nothing can be wrong with delivering babies! But it might be forgotten that having a lot of children was one of the top priorities in the ideology of the new regime.

It was positively reinforced with praise and medals, or “Mother Crosses’ (Mutterkreuze – bronze for four, silver for six and gold for eight children. I happened to be the fourth child, and my mother later gave me that medal and laughingly encouraged me to show it to my students in seminars when “zero population growth’ was on the agenda). Boys were particularly welcome at a time when the growing war effort called for soldiers. I am sorry to say this because I do have two wonderful daughters. I remember that my father talked – jokingly, I am fairly sure – about wishing for an entire football (soccer) team but not necessarily soldiers or an army.

Tante Lieschen had a lot to do and was known well known in the community (“wie ein bunter Hund,’ as we say in German). When, many years later at a big wedding in Winnipeg, I was wondering why I had been placed with four or five strangers around the table, we discovered we were all delivered by Tante Lieschen in West Prussia. That was a planned surprise and an indication, I would say today, that population growth even had an international dimension – at least among Mennonites.

My aunt did not talk much about the Nazi period but more about her many trips in all seasons, day and night, with rain and snow, to deliver babies. I did not find much information by or about her in the box and after the war. When many of the victims of Nazism were waiting for a new life in so-called DP (displaced person) camps, my aunt worked in the former KZ Bergen-Belsen for the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and continued to deliver babies – mostly of Jewish women.

Tante Marianne was a social worker, and “Volkspflegerin’ under Nazi rule
She was born in 1914, the year World War I broke out. At about the age of 20, she studied social work at a Protestant Welfare School in Gdansk, which renamed itself or had to change to the new term “Volkspflegerinnen-Seminar of the National Socialist Welfare Organization (NSV)’ (Reinicke 2012). The NSV was a large new NS-welfare organization which had incorporated much of the unacceptable and soon liquidated charity organizations, i.e., the social democratic Arbeiterwohlfahrt (Workers’ Organization, AWO) and the very open Deutscher Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband, DPWV, with a wide range of membership of social services as well as of personal membership. Many individual members of the former services joined the new NSV (Kramer 1983). The Jewish Welfare Organization (Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland, ZWST) was not liquidated but forced to take care of their own clientele while they were increasingly excluded from public welfare services. It was surprising to me that, after graduation as a social worker in 1937, my aunt did not join the “milder’ NSV, but rather the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP.

She worked within the framework of a large “City-Country-Program’ (Stadt-Land-Verschickung) of the NSV, because more children suffered in large and heavily bombed cities and were sent out into the country for recovery and general safety.

After the war, Tante Marianne worked on a farm for several years because she rejected the possibility of so-called “Entnazifizierung.’ I was told, but not by her, that she did not feel guilty because she had not done any harm to anyone during the Nazi terror. Later in the 1950s, she found employment in public social services on the county level, in institutional care for girls and young mothers, and in private recuperation services for mothers (Müttergenesungswerk).

Tante Marianne was the first one in our family to visit West Prussia and all the significant places of Mennonites. She also went to the concentration camp of Stutthof. Since the more recent German Yearbooks of the Mennonites (Jahrbücher des Mennonitischen Geschichtsvereins; and also according to my own research), we know that prisoners at Stutthof had also worked on surrounding Mennonite farms. I read my aunt’s travel notes but found no comment on how she felt during or after visiting the concentration camp that was so close to where we had lived.

My father’s letters (Feldpostbriefe) from the Blitz’ in France
The circumstances leading to my father’s joining the Wehrmacht did not start with the beginning of World War II but much earlier. In order to understand his motivation and rather lengthy military career, let me give you a quick briefing ­– not to justify anything but to understand the circumstances. ­His father died rather suddenly in 1916 during World War I. My grandmother had a newborn baby and my father was in the middle of puberty. From hearsay, we know that my grandmother had great difficulty with him but, as it goes, also vice versa. Family difficulties at home led my father to a boarding school in Gdansk and then to apprenticeships in farming and farm management. After World War I, with the general unrest in Germany and the rampant inflation, the situation became even more precarious. My father was unhappy with his work situation, and in 1925 he volunteered for the new Reichswehr (Wehrmacht), the so-called “Hunderttausend-Mann-Heer’ (limited to 100,000 men). That guaranted a “secure job even in uniform,’ and a small but decent income. With his commitment for 12 years, he felt secure enough to start a family at the age of 28 and the family grew.

At the end of his military commitment in 1937 as a so-called Zwölf-Ender (a capital male elk with 12-point antlers), he began a work-study program as a Fluss- or Strommeister (a specialist for river and water control. This, as mentioned earlier, had to do with Mennonite tradition, because the “Grosses Werder’ was partly lower than the Baltic Sea and the delta of the Vistula River. Over several centuries, in particularly the Dutch Dopsgesindte had been experts and were instrumental in drying the entire area). My father never reached the higher ranks in the military hierarchy as pictures in publications may indicate. But uniforms usually look more impressive or flashier than, for instance, the plain clothes of humble and courageous pacifists, or the loincloth of Jesus.

However, just when he could have started with his civilian work, so that my mother would have had a husband near her and we as children could have had a father around, World War II began in our immediate neighborhood. The bridges across the Vistula, just about 10 miles from us, were blown up by Polish troops and the German battleship Holstein fired on Polish territory, the Westerplatte in Gdansk. My father, at that time a reserve officer and second lieutenant, was back in uniform and mostly gone again for the next 10 years. 

After the occupation of Poland and the extension of the war to England, my father and his platoon were sent to France in 1940. From there, he wrote the following letters. They were written during the invasion of France between May 10 and June 1940, addressed to his widowed mother Anna Wieler and his siblings near Gdansk. It is clear from the content, though, that they were also written to the entire Wieler family. However, we only found them more than 60 years later in the above-mentioned box. They were contained in an envelope marked “Destroy’ but that obviously had been spared.

Please brace yourselves. When I first read them, I was shocked and almost fell off my chair. Fortunately, they were written mostly in the German script, “Sütterlin,’ and it took time to decipher them.

This helped me keep my composure and stay calm. Some of the wording and colloquialisms remind me of our usual and sometimes rather loose family language. For instance, when we children were hurt: “Don’t whine like a Jew...’ (“Weimer nich wie ein Jud...’). When we children were too loud: “Be quiet! We are not in a Jewish school...’ (“Seid still! Wir sind doch nich in ’ner Judenschule...’). When we were impatient: “Please, no Jewish haste!’ (“Bloss keine jüdische Hast!’). At the beginning of the war with England, we sang: “Bombs on England...’ (“Bomben auf Engeland...’), and after the attack on France: “Get out of Metz, Paris is larger!’ (“Raus aus Metz, Paris is größer...’).

I’ve translated my father’s letters into readable type. Those passages that shook me up most appear here in boldface. They are translated at full length but abbreviated to some extent for my conference presentation: Abs.= sender; Obltn.= first lieutenant Hans Wieler; Fpnr.= postal number, 22900

An Frau Anna Wieler, Platenhof b. Tiegenhof, Reichsgau Danzig – Wpr. (West Prussia)

Poststempel (= postal date 15.4.40) (written) X, den 14.4.40

Dear all!

Those nice holidays have ended again. I have seldom had such nice hours in the family circle. The journey to my second home among the soldier comrades went very well. In my train compartment to Berlin I was by myself and then 3 men joined me. The newest message reached me along the way. I would have liked to change my course directly in the direction of Norway [and, in the fight with England, the occupation of Norway]. This news is reassuring and we deeply believe in our victory. The Lord is blessing the fight of our soldiers with visible success. It is very quiet around us. If we all pitch in we willl reach our goal very soon. Triptrap [my father’s assistant or Bursche] is also very healthy and has just returned from his vacation. He sends heartfelt greetings to you all. Now and with God’s great mercy and help stay healthy and full of courage. With all my heart I send you greetings and kisses, yours Hans. Heil Hitler!


Abs. dito, Poststempel 15.5.40. An Frau Anna Wieler... X, den 12.5.40

Dear all!

Finally, we are on our way, for without a beginning there is no end. We are all proud to participate in this fight [Kampf] for our great German People [Volk] under the leadership of our victorious Führer. This fight will certainly be the most difficult but also the most blessed lesson of my life. May the Lord help me to pass the test. We are all full of victorious confidence. Everything goes well for my soldiers and also for me. The weather here is fantastic. With greetings and kisses to you all and from my whole heart, yours Hans. Heil Hitler


Abs. dito, Poststempel 22.5.40. An Frau Anna Wieler... X, den 21.5.40

Dear all!

Today you will receive a sign of life from me again. Concerning our wellbeing, I’m glad to write to you that all of us are faring well. We are enthusiastic about the success of the Army [Wehrmacht] even though that there were considerable demands on us. I have never marched as much as I have done lately. Again, the Führer has chosen the right intervention for us and the Lord is visibly on our side. One day after the other we have wonderful weather. We are sleeping in God’s free nature as in beds and the birdies of Uncle Hermann [the war planes of Hermann Göring, chief of the German Air Force at that time] who claims the lion’s share of our successes, are humming above our heads just like bees.

Now, all of you stay healthy und full of victorious confidence. With greetings and kisses from all my heart, yours Hans. Hail to our Führer!


Abs. dito, Poststempel 29.5.40. An Frau Anna Wieler...

Frankreich, den 28.5.40

Dear all!

Today on this historical day for my family my thoughts from the front are returning to the place where, nine years ago, I entered into a new phase of my life. And what great things have happened during these past 9 years. Who would have thought on our wedding day that we would move towards such a great time and that our children would be born under the influence of this time. No one of us would have thought of this. Every morning we should thank our loving Lord that we can experience it and participate and contribute with our own deeds.

Besides your duties on the home front you will probably listen a lot to the radio. I can only imagine that considering the speed of developments. We in our struggle for the freedom of all Germans [das deutsche Volk] can only see a small part and we are burning for information concerning the overall situation. That which is deep in our souls is the unconditional trust in our leadership [Führung] and the unshakeable victory for our justified and honest fight. Those who not believe in our victory does not believe in God, that is as solid as rock. From now on I am writing alternately to M. [Marienburg] and to Pl. [Platenhof]. You can exchange the mail as quickly as you can so that you are up to date approximately every five days.

Now, stay healthy and full of victorious confidence. With greetings and kisses from my whole heart. Yours, Hans. Heil Hitler!

(Above the page and upside-down: Triptrap also sends greetings. As far as eating and drinking is concerned we are living here literally as in the saying: Like a little God in France [wie klein Gott in Frankreich].)


Abs. dito, Poststempel 2.6.40. An Frau Anna Wieler...

Frankreich, den 1.6.1940

Dear all!

The day before yesterday, I received mother’s loving letter with great joy. It was only a short letter but I know that it was meant well because the good old pen was not at hand. I looked at your lines and noticed with how much effort you wrote with a new fountain pen. I am very glad about every sign of life that I receive from home just as you are the other way around. From Tuta [his wife, our mother] I also received mail twice.

My comrades and I are faring very well – thanks to God’s gracious help. We are turning into real natural human beings. We live, fight and sleep under the starry sky and more than ever we feel close to God. All soldiers who are fighting here for their fatherland, are performing worship [Gottesdienst] in the truest sense of the word. The weather is always great. There are days when it is cooler and cloudier. We are stationed here near a brook that we turned into a swimming pool by damming it up. At the same time I’m preparing myself for my later [civilian] work.

Now, and with God’s help, stay healthy. With greetings and kisses, yours Hans. Now we will take on the British [wir werden dem Tommy auf die Pelle rücken]. Heil Hitler!

(Upside down on top of the page: Many greetings to the neighorhood.)


Abs. dito, Poststempel 10.6.40. An Frau Anna Wieler...

Fr., den 7.6.40

Dear all!

(Some remarks about an incident that cannot be defined within this correspondence, and are therefore left out)

What do you say about the successes of our Wehrmacht? I imagine that you don’t say much but think all the more and thank our Lord, who in the struggle of our Führer and his soldiers has so visibly blessed us. The Führer’s daily addresses [Befehle] for the Wehrmacht and the proclamations to the entire German People [Volk] were formulated in such simple and yet great words that only our Führer can find. And that can only be found by someone who has been completely accepted by God [von dem Gott ganz und gar Besitz ergriffen hat]. 

I see our flag before me blowing in the wind in our garden. And while the bells were ringing I feel that your prayers for us will be heard by God. I’m telling you not too much when I say that I feel healthier in body and soul [gesundheitlich und seelisch] than ever before. When our Lord so visibly accepts our prayers and blesses them with success, we are obligated to thank him. But we can express our thanks only if we do it according to the basic words pray and work’ for Führer, Volk and Fatherland and carry out our duties and obligations [die Pflicht und Schuldigkeit tun].

Now, stay healthy and full of victorius confidence. With greetings and kisses from my whole heart. Yours, Hans. Heil Hitler!

(On the left side of the second page: Triptrap, my true companion, also sends greetings.)


Abs. dito, Poststempel 17.6.40. An Anna Wieler.

Fr., den 14.6.40

Dear all!

Today you shall have a sign of life from me. Thank God, we are doing extremely well in every way. Throughout this campaign here in France it has only rained twice. Otherwise we have always had wonderful summer weather. You can hardly notice the difference between the black people who are present here in large numbers and us. A few days ago I had a nice swim in the river Aisne. While I was bathing two French planes appeared but where quickly chased away by our anti-airforce guns [Fliegerabwehr-Kanonen].

The second blow that we dealt to the Frenchman [“Franzmann,’ a derogatory term for the French people] happened in a tempo that we could hardly follow. I think that the French will last only for a few days, particularly since the Italians are joining us in attacking them strongly. I can imagine that the Tommies [the British] will increasingly feel anxious [or, sarcastically: dass der Arsch auf Grundeis geht], for when their ally has gone to pot [im Eimer ist] it will be their turn. With cool calculation the Führer takes one after the other and saves the best pieces for the very end [zum Abgewöhnen].

At the moment I am mostly leading my platoon of my in the side car of a motorcycle. And there are lots of interesting things to observe. When you see all those units of the Werhmacht pass by you you have the impression of great and forceful power, joyful confidence and belief in victory. Yesterday, we were at a war monument for French casualties of WWI and with a grandiose view of the battlegrounds [Schlachtfelder] of 1914-18. We drove along heroes’ graveyards and when we pass German cemeteries, I will visit the old and faithful comrades and will tell them: You won after all!

Now stay healthy and in a happy mood. With greetings and kisses to all of you and heartily, yours Hans. Heil Hitler!

(On the side of the page and below: Hearty greetings from Triptrap.)


Abs. dito, ohne Umschlag und Poststempel. An Anna Wieler...

Burgund, den 28.6.1940

Dear all!

Now, after the ceasefire negotiations with France have been ratified, you shall have a sign of life from me. Even we as soldiers are living as in a dream and can hardly believe what has happened during these last few days. We knew that we would be able to beat the French [den Franzmann in die Sohlen jagen]. But that the French would and had to lay down their weapons 6 weeks after the attack was even unthinkable for us experts. It was possible only because the the ‘Great Ally’ was with us and our Führer. The Führer himself expresses this in other words in his declaration to all Germans [an das deutsche Volk].

My comrades and I continue to be in the best of shape. We are almost more than healthy and in happy spirits. Our Lord has so visibly been with us. We are stationed now on a large pasture with our tents in a big open square. In the middle of the square on a 25 meter tall mast, visible far around, is flying our swastika flag. We are feeling as if we are in a tent camp of the H.J. [Hitler Jugend, Hitler Youth]. There is no lack of youthful pranks. Our hearts are forever young.

And now with God’s help, stay healthy. With greetings and kisses to all of you and heartily yours, Hans. – Hail to our Führer! – Enclosed a little something. Bon appétit.


Abs. dito, Poststempel 24.6.40. An Marianne Wieler, Platenhof b. Tiegenhof...

Dear sister Marianne!

This year I am sending best wishes for your birthday from the south of France. May the Lord let me congratulate you again personally next year. For your new year of your life I wish you most of all good health and that you will reach the goals that you set for yourself.

The day before yesterday I received your lovely letter from Koburg [Coburg] with heartfelt thanks. I am glad that you have the opportunity to get acquainted with other people and landscapes. Since I’ve misplaced the envelope I’m sending this letter to Platenhof. But several times, I thought about you today.

As far as we are concerned I can say, and thanks to God, all of us are healthy and in good spirits. In the past few weeks I have participated in the biggest event that our generation has been assigned to. We as soldiers never doubted our victory. But we did not believe that we would bring the French to their knees in such a short time. Sometime one thinks that the whole of Germany is on the march here. Today the ceasefire negotiations under the chairmanship of our Führer takes place. You can count on it that the whole of Germany [Grossdeutschland] in the west will be larger than before the war.

Please greet all loved ones from me and be greeted and kissed from your brother Hans.

(On the side: Hail to our Führer Wolf Hitler!)


With this last letter, the military action of my father and his men in France ended – at least temporarily. My oldest brother Hermann remembers the return of the entire unit to Marienburg. With a celebrated parade and with my father high up on a horse, he also seemed to be very impressed and proud of what happened (H. Wieler 2009, S. 12, and a photo aus Fieguth 1985, S. 281). 

These experiences, literally as well as symbolically on a high horse, seemed to mark the highest point in my father’s military career. To my knowledge, not another letter exists from my father’s continued duties during the rest of the war. He was involved on the eastern front in Russia and at the end became a prisoner of war just a few kilometers away from where he was born in West Prussia. But for him, the war actually ended in 1949 after four years in a Russian POW camp in Morshansk 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow (actually not so very far from the territories that some of the much earlier Mennonite neighbors had moved to from West Prussia).

But still during the war, there was an intermezzo that seems to be important regarding my oldest brother who had already joined the Hitler Youth (HJ). I was not aware of his memoirs until he wrote them down in his unfinished “Chronik des Hermann Wieler,’ in German and part of the records at Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein Weierhof. Here I will cite only some notes from it in my brother’s own voice, so to speak.

Brother Hermann’s intermezzo in a Nazi educational institution in Stuhm

“Probably in the fall of 1941 my mother registered me with the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt in Stuhm, approximately 10 kilometers away from Marienburg.’ (There was also a Mennonite institution in the Pfalz, the “Weierhöfer Schule,’ that was similar to the National Political Educational Institutions and much later documented in detail by Steffen Wagner in the yearbooks of the Mennonite Archives in 2011).

“Since it was a boarding school organized in a rather military fashion, I cannot really understand to this day why I was supposed to go there at the age of 9. My mother probably wanted me to benefit from an educational experience that is described in the box further below. My mother and the Platenhof relatives were generally adjusted to and convinced of the National Socialist system but not my father. As far as the Nazi party and membership was concerned, he was in my estimation more of a Mitläufer (‘someone who runs with the others’). He was a committed soldier.’

“As for me, it probably began in Platenhof. When I was a child, I was not fond of water and being constantly washed. So I was threatened: Wait until you become a member of the Jungvolk (the youngest group in the Hitler Youth), then you have to wash yourself under a pump. Furthermore and as part of my responsibilities during school holidays in Platenhof, I had to fetch the milk in a small milk bucket from the dairy farm of the Quirings. At one time, there were 30 uniformed 12-year-old Hitler youth sleeping in the barn for one or two weeks. I observed their camp life with morning parades, marching, cooking and eating together, singing and playing. I wished I could be part of all that. But perhaps it has also to do with the fact that, after the occupation of Crete in May of 1941 by German parachutists, I wanted to become a professional skydiver and parachutist [Fallschirmjäger] myself.’

NPEA Stuhm
Literature: Heinz Boberach, Jugend unter Hitler, p. 90, Droste Verlag Düsseldorf, 1982. The National-Political Education Institutions – in short, NPEA – were founded 1933 in Prussia. They were the extension of three former Institutions for military cadets in Potsdam, Plön and Köslin, which, until 1918, had educated (or, perhaps better, “trained’ or “conditioned’) 10- to 17-year-olds as potential officers. And those “schools’ were continued as public institutions for education [Staatliche Bildungsanstalten]. Twelve more such institutions were established by 1935 in Germany. Stuhm near Marienburg was one of them. In an application, the goal of the NPEA is described as follows: “Through wide and diverse but also hard and year-long education to offer the entire German Volk men who fulfill the demands that are necessary for the coming generation of leadership [die kommende Führergeneration].’ Officers, especially, might be generated for the country, which is why the Chief Commanders of the Wehrmacht were interested in using their influence in defining the training content and the application procedures and also being granted a number of spaces for sons of military officers.

“After a few weeks my mother received a note from the NPEA in Stuhm: Since the intellectual and physical expectations of the boy were not fulfilled the admission will be discontinued’ (H. Wieler 2009, S. 22). Instead, he joined the Jungvolk of the Hitler Youth. In his chronicle, he describes many details in the HJ, including Hitler’s visit in Marienburg. (H. Wieler, p. 22).

Brief reflections on our family responses
These were some of our family responses to the complex circumstances and to some of the personalities that had a strong influence on our family. But I am not saying this in order to deny our individual and collective responsibility (I also want to underline especially the remaining potential for a healthier kind of “response-ability’).