A Warnham resident has written a book on her experiences as a refugee at the end of the Second World War.
Refuge From a Broken Land is an autobiographical account of how Brigitte Ziegler and her family fled their hometown of Interburg, Prussia (modern day Chernyakhovsk in Russia) just hours before the invading Russian forces in January 1945.
The book also outlines how her native Prussia went from being a powerful independent kingdom in the 18th century, to an integral part of the German Reich, before finally becoming a Russian exclave.
The family travelled across Prussia before arriving in a small village in southern Mecklenburg in East Germany, which at that time was under communist rule.
During this time, her father was captured by the Red Army and was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia.
He did not return until Christmas 1949 – with profound psychological damage.
Brigitte, aged 76, said: “The years in Communist East Germany were considerably harder than life under the Nazis had been.”
unable to join school
Later, she and her family escaped to West Germany in 1953 – thus making her a refugee in her own country for the second time.
Arriving in the ‘Golden West’ of Germany as penniless refugees was not easy for the family but thanks to her ‘courageous and hard working father’, life gradually improved. Still, sacrifices had to be made.
Brigitte was unable to attend higher education due to the schooling she had received in East Germany which was not recognised by the then West German government.
Speaking about her new life there, she said: “The joy of being free to think and speak and do in a democratic society made everything so much easier.
“Yet, there were sacrifices to accept there as well and my book goes into all those feelings in greater detail.”
She had been writing the book for the past five years.
Although the current refugee crisis began long after she had started writing, it further encouraged her to finish the book.
Indeed, Brigitte did not shy away from drawing parallels to the current crisis and her own experiences.
She said: “When I arrived in West Germany, we were unwelcome. There were millions of us and we were starving.
“Nobody wanted to feed strangers in their house.
“There certainly was tremendous resentment towards refugees.
“The effect of being a refugee never goes away.
“It caused me to have the feeling that I’m always on the outside rather than a part of wherever I am.
“If the refugees from Syria do not feel they are welcomed, it will badly affect them.
“I think that Germany now remembers how many of its people were refugees after the war and that’s why they’re now taking in so many from Syria.”
She added: “We were real refugees, just like the Syrians are.
“It’s amazing the collections and generosity when they are collecting for the refugees.
“England still receive refugees extremely well. You cannot fault them.
“English people are quite exceptional in that way.”
‘I still feel like a refugee’
Brigitte still returns to Germany to see her family and even to where she still calls ‘Prussia’.
“I have returned to Prussia and visited the town of my grandparents. Although it is now Poland, I felt totally at home.
“I’m a happy person now. I love being in England and I have a family here, but somehow the feeling of being a refugee is still inside me.”
Brigitte is still seeking a publisher for her book, but has won high praise from the industry for her personal writing.
Jonathan Burnham, a friend and senior team member of a large publishing company in America, said: “The writing is so evocative and alive and there is a real sense of emotion and place and relived memory. It is remarkable.”
She will be holding a launch party on February 6 at Warnham Park.
To buy a copy of Refuge From a Broken Land, priced at £9.99, Brigitte can be contacted by telephone on 01403 252581 and on email firstname.lastname@example.org.