THE LAST WOLF CHILDREN
Published by National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/07/forgotten-wolf-children-world-war-ii/
“It’s not that I have a hard time remembering, it’s just that I don’t want to,” Gisela says, as she bursts into tears. She doesn’t want to remember because, in those days, at the age of 14, she saw her own grandmother starve to death and Russian soldiers shoving guns in her face as she grieved.
There is a name for people like Gisela Unterspann – kids who were roaming in east Prussia between 1945 and 1948 during one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in history. Wolf Children – because they often slept in the woods. During those three years, 100,000 people died from epidemics and malnutrition. Children were often the ones who survived, being fed the last bread from a starving mother, who the children then had to bury. Gisela wants to forget all the horrible things she witnessed but she can’t. “It just stays with you like a scar. It looms over you,” she says.
Elfriede Müller, born in 1934, became a refugee when she was 11 years old. While in hiding, she witnessed her mother and brother were taken by the Soviets and sent to Siberia to work in a forced-labor camp. Elfriede’s mothers wouldn’t return to Lithuania until 1990, several decades after their separation, only to pass away three years later of cancer.
Reinhard Bunti, born in 1936, became a wolf child when he was 10 years old. “My heart is German, but I’m Lithuanian.”, he says. His mother told him on her death bed in their bombed-out house in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad): “You have to survive, go to Lithuania.” He went there all alone with nearly frostbitten feet in a cargo train in cold December.
Erna Schneider, born in 1936, became a wolf child when she was 9 years old. She was seperated from her mother when Erna was deported by the Red Army in a cattle train. One stormy night in a train station she managed to escape and fled into the forest. Later she found out that all the children who stayed on the train were taken by boat to Russia which was attacked. All of them died.
Gisela Unterspann sits in her little house in a tiny village in rural Lithuania with a population somewhere between 10 and 100 people - nobody really knows. A run-down gravel road connects the inhabitants to the outside world. It is peaceful here. Quiet. Only chickens who scratch for seeds and a car now and then disturb the silence. Back then, her life became a living hell when the red army came into her hometown at the age of 14.