BOOK REVIEW: ‘Inge’s War’ — collateral damage and silence amid trauma
A poignant family history sheds light on the lives of the Germans who fled the Red Army
Halfway through Inge’s War there is an almost unbearably poignant image — row upon row of empty prams on the edge of Pillau, a port in East Prussia, abandoned by frantic mothers boarding ships to take them to the West in the final, chaotic months of World War 2. They were, writes Svenja O’Donnell, “an accidental memorial to East Prussia’s last generation”.
It’s one of many arresting moments in O’Donnell’s account of the life of her grandmother Inge Wiegandt, and in particular her traumatic flight from her hometown of Königsberg in 1945. Her book is part of a growing body of work devoted to the experience of the Vertriebene, the estimated 12-million people who fled Germany’s eastern regions as the Red Army advanced. Aware that the hardship they endured was dwarfed by the horrors of the Holocaust, many of them took a vow of silence. But over the years, interest in this extraordinary migration has grown, as has curiosity about the rich, complex culture they left behind.