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Labor Action, 13 June 1949


Herman Matzkowitz

A Document by an Ex-Stalinist Refugee –

East Prussia Under the Russian Heel


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 24, 13 June 1949, p. 4.
Translated by R. Gould.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The accompanying document was transmitted to Labor Action by a responsible correspondent in Europe. We take the liberty of quoting from the letter which came with it:

“Enclosed is a statement from an East Prussian refugee, which my wife got hold of and which I have translated from German to English. She and her family fled from the same place earlier, but they have spoken with many who came later, and all that they have pieced together would indicate that the enclosed statement is accurate. She does not know the man who wrote it; she dug it out of a file of such statements by refugees collected at a ‘bunker’ at the Hamburg Main Station – where people could stay three days at the expense of the city, and where they were invited to deposit ‘statements.’ So far as we know, no one has used these statements journalistically.”


I, Herman Matzkowitz, born in Kreuzberg, November 5, 1899, was a sawmill worker in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, with the Anders Company, Schoenflisser Allee. During 1945 and 1946 I lived in Koenigsberg, under Russian occupation.

After witnessing the terror in the town and the innumerable crimes of the Soviets against the simplest rules of humanity, I would like to state voluntarily the following things, to which I am prepared to swear formally. Prior to this experience, I was a convinced Communist.

In October 1942, I was sentenced by the Nazi government to three years; imprisonment for making treasonable statements. For example, I had said: “When the Russians come, all Nazis will be executed.” I was imprisoned at Rhein, East Prussia. As the Russians were threatening this province, the prisons were thrown open in January 1945.

Then I went to Koenigsberg, but I couldn’t find my family. They had already fled. For a short time I worked for my old company again. I was drafted into the Home Guard, but was released again when they found that I was not “worthy” of this duty.

On April 7, 1945, the Russians entered Koenigsberg-Ponarth, the southern suburb where I lived. They evacuated us civilians to Loewenhagen, but upon showing my prison documents I was allowed to return home. I reported to the 5th Russian Kommandantura in Koenigsberg, where I was straightway appointed mayor of Ponarth.

According to a census of May 1, there were 90,000 Germans in Koenigsberg (normal population 360,000), which increased to about 100,000 during that month due to an influx of older men being released from prison camps.

Heads and Potatoes

As soon as the Russians entered the town, they arrested all Nazi Party members, as well as anyone else who had any vague connection with the Nazis; they were taken to concentration camps at Metgethen, Labiau and Insterbutg. Also political prisoners were being held in the city jail with eight men to the cell designed for one.

We German mayors often had occasion to visit this prison where we saw their living conditions and their oppression. During the month of May alone, more than 1,500 of the men in this prison either died or disappeared, from an epidemic of typhus and at the hands of the GPU [Russian secret police].

On June 20, 1945, we twelve German mayors, including the newly appointed Mayor Laue, were obliged to witness a mass execution of more than 1,000 political prisoners on the Erich Koch Square. They were executed by chopping off their heads at the block. Of this group, only two were reprieved at the last moment and given ten years at hard labor; one of them was Herr Flach, the assistant superintendent of the Anders Company.

Inasmuch as the food situation was already catastrophic since April, we mayors begged the Russian occupation authorities to permit the German population to plant potatoes and vegetables in their gardens. (Hitherto the Germans had been confined to their houses, the garden plots being some distance away). This was allowed and the people began to work, but by the end of May the Russians confiscated everything, even the seed, and posted guards over the garden plots. Only we mayors, identified by white armbands, were allowed to harvest some vegetables and potatoes.

The Four Horsemen

Toward the end of June 1945 an epidemic of typhus, caused by starvation, broke out in Libau, Latvia, and spread to Koenigsberg. This plague, from the very first, took a toll of about 300 victims per day. In October this figure fell for a time to 50 per day, which reflected a somewhat improved food situation, with the potato crop becoming available during this month.

Nothing was done on the part of the Russians to relieve the starvation among the surviving population, until the end of 1945. The rations were 200 grams (three small slices) of bread ration, because the ration card but that. Many could not buy their bread ration, because the ration card cost ten rubles (and twenty rubles for jobholders). The reichsmark was no longer in circulation; German paper money was lying in the streets. The daily bread ration of 200 grams cost one ruble, which was often beyond the means even of people who had jobs. Such persons were promised their pay in rubles, but usually they got none. Only we mayors were sure to get our pay (360 rubles per month).

There was no other food in Koenigsberg to be bought, nor were any businesses or craftsmen’s shops open. Sometimes people gathered horsemeat from the veterinary hospital. However, this could be done only at the greatest risk; it meant putting oneself at the mercy of the Russians. Half of the women who went out to fetch horsemeat never returned. Almost every day – as I myself witnessed – they were violated and murdered.

No Children Under Four

Inasmuch as people cannot live on 200 grams per day, they traded their last belongings to the Russians for something to eat. The preachers Beckmann and Mueller, both of whom had earlier suffered punishment for being anti-Nazis, begged the Russian military authorities for permission to gather potato peels from the Russian barracks. These potato peels were divided up into little portions and rationed to the people. There were no more small children under four years old, nor old people in Koenigsberg. The only well-nourished people were pregnant women living with Russian soldiers. The high mortality rate reduced the population from 50,000 in the fall to 32,000. I was able to confirm the correctness of these figures, inasmuch as I, as mayor, was in charge of giving out bread ration cards.

On November 6 and 7, 1945, which was Red Army Day, the Russian soldiers were given the full right to do as they wished: men were beaten, most women were raped, among them my 71-year-old mother, who as a consequence of this died at Christmas time. Again at Christmas, soldiers were given freedom of the town and most workers were locked in prison for a few days, including the mayors.

Shortly before leaving Koenigsberg in February 1946, I went with the two pastors, Beckmann and Mueller, to visit a children’s hospital. The little children looked like starving children such as you see in the newsreel. Rev. Mueller begged me to tell the outside world about this situation. From the 1st to the 15th of February there was no bread. Since I could not bear this inhuman situation, any longer, I looked for a way to escape. I succeeded with the help of some railwaymen, whom I gave 15 Allied marks to take me with them to Allenstein in the Polish part of East Prussia. Here I was robbed of everything I had by the Poles, but I managed to get along by train, standing between the cars, all the way to Berlin. I am now at Hamburg looking for my family who were last seen in Braunschweig.

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