We can go no further to retrace our mom's flight from the Russian invasion. This is where our journey ends. On the shore of the Frisches Haff Lagoon. A little town called Heiligenbeil.
From "Where Hoffman Told His Fairytales" Page 254...
From their accommodations, Gretel and her group had a good view of the vast stretch of ice that was the lagoon. However, it was now February, it had been raining and there were signs of early thawing. The sky was clouded over that morning which meant that vehicles traversing the ice would be somewhat concealed from low-flying enemy planes which were known to target civilians. Gretel knew that not only was the weather conducive for the perilous crossing, it was also one of the last few days such a crossing would be possible.
Still, Gretel couldn't help shuddering when the horses finally took their first steps on the ice. She knew it was risky, but it was their last resource. They had been advised to keep a considerable distance from the wagon ahead.
With each step of the horses the mainland was left further behind, and was soon out of sight. All the refugees could see was an interminable white surface of ice. The Frisches Haff Vistula Lagoon was 20 kilometres wide at this spot. They would need one full day before they could hope to reach the shore of the Nehrung Spit.
THE REST IS HISTORY AND YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THE DANGEROUS CROSSING IN THE EXCERPT ON THE PAGE IN THIS BLOG CALLED "THE FLIGHT".
As the five of us stand on the shore of the lagoon and look across the open water on this hot summer day, it is hard to imagine the number of wagons, filled mostly with women and children, that had to cross the lagoon. Under enemy fire from circling Russian fighter planes. Over ice that was melting below their feet. To another shore that brought little hope and no certainty. All of them leaving family behind. After a few minutes of silence we got back in the van and headed back to the hotel. Our search for the past was over, but really it was just beginning.
Now we are in Germany and over the last few days we have met several cousins, and they all have their own stories to share about their escape from Ostpreussen and the Russian invasion. Our cousin Alice, who was about 15 at the time, followed in a wagon with her family about a day behind our mother. Her family made it across the lagoon as well, but soon after they were stopped by the Russian army, striped of all their belongings including their horses and wagon and were forced to return to Ostpreussen by foot. They could not escape. They were destined to be one of the millions evacuated in later years.
So many stories. So little time here in Germany to learn them all.