My Father:

Erich Otto Albert Bonneß

  • Oldest son of seven siblings (four sons and three daughters)
  • Born on February 17, 19–
  • In Sternin, Kreis Kolberg-Körlin
  • As a child, he moved with his parents to Damgard, Neu Quetzin, and Zernin.
  • Profession: farmer in Zernin

My Mother:

Hedwig Helene Elwine Ramm

  • Oldest daughter of three siblings (one son and two daughters)
  • Born on May 4, 19–
  • In Neu Bork, Kreis Kolberg-Körlin
  • Profession: farmer in Zernin

In 1931 Hof inherited from his father Hermann Bonneß (The house where I was born)

Photographs were taken during a visit in 1976 by my father and Wilfried in Poland (our residence was demolished by the Polish residents in 1995)

Residential house from the streets and courtyard side

Residential house and stables from the back

At that time the following siblings of my father were living on the farm:

  • Erna born. on November 11, 19–, she married on March 5, 19– to the farmer Otto Maaß
  • Richard born on May 30, 19–
  • Willi born on August 14, 19–
  • Elfriede born on June 21, 19–

The siblings were married at that time and left from the farm:

  • Ida born on February 7, 19–. She married 19– the farmer Otto Maaß (not related to the husband of Erna)
  • Otto born on October 11, 19–. He married 19–. the Hoferbin Margarete Mallwitz.
  • Our grandfather Hermann Bonneß also lived on father’s farm as an Altsitzer.
  • Grandmother Helene, born. on April 14, 18–, died shortly after the birth of her daughter Elfriede.
  • She was not 45 years old. Grandfather did not remarry.
  • He worked the farm alone with his son Erich and daughter Erna (until her marriage).
  • The other children helped on occasion.

Richard and Ida Bonneß are missing in the photograph. Grandmother Helene was no longer living anymore. She died shortly after the birth of Frieda (nobody in the photos is still alive).

Some of father’s siblings were already married and wanted, as was customary at the time, their compensation. Financially, father had not enough cushion as heir to the farm (due to the World War and economic need in Europe). Nevertheless, he had to pay the desired compensation to his siblings. This inevitably led to over-indebtedness of his farm. He was now urged to find a wife who could also bring money into the marriage. In 1938, my dad got to know my mother through Heiratsvermittlung (matchmaking, a marriage brokerage).

My parents married on November 4, 1938 in the church of Alt Werder, Kolberg

Mother had hidden family and marriage photos in the attic of our house. They were probably destroyed during the invasion of the Russians.

After the wedding, mother suffered from the fact that her dowry was used only for the debt relief of the farm. Some siblings from father did not make it easy for mother to settle in this family. She had a good and intimate relationship with her grandfather.

Outbreak of World War II, September 1, 1939. German troops cross the Polish border.

March 1940: German troops occupy Denmark and Norway. Two of my father’s brothers had to go to the front (Richard Bonneß and Willi Bonneß). Mother’s brother Herbert Ramm also had to go to the front.

On October 4, 19– my brother Wilfried Rudi Martin was born.

From now on, fear and worry about the future overshadowed my parents’ happiness. Luckily, father did not need to join the Wehrmacht, because he contributed to the supply as a farmer. The levies on cereals, crops, and livestock were specified and monitored. All farmers in the Reich had great problems with ordering their fields as many young men had to die so senselessly at the front, as well as my father’s brothers Richard and Willi.

My grandfather, Hermann Bonneß, died on April 10, 1941, at the age of 67 years old in Zernin.
He died 6 months before my birth. He had not experienced the death of his sons Willi and Richard.

The Germans began their attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941.

Father’s second youngest brother, Willi Bonneß, married before he had to go to the Russian front. A few weeks later, my father received the news that his brother Willi was killed in action on July 14, 1941 in the USSR.

On October 2, 19–, I came into the world.

Martin Erich Kurt Bonneß, photograph from October 1944.

The first years of my childhood were otherwise normal. When I was about 2.5 years old, I spilled a pot of boiling milk over my neck and chest from mother’s stove. I suffered severe scalding on my throat and chest area.

On July 15,1944, my father’s brother Richard was killed at Saint George in France.

Prisoners of war were obliged to do forced labor in agriculture. Also father was assigned two prisoners, a soldier from France and a young woman from the Ukraine. These were two very nice people who had to help my parents with their daily work.

At the top, prisoners of war: a soldier from France and a young woman from Ukraine. Father’s brother Otto and father cut peat.

Kurt Maaß, my cousin, son of father’s sister Ida, fell in Russia. He was only 18 years old. The father of Kurt Maaß, Otto Maaß, the husband of Ida, father’s oldest sister, also died in Russia.


Otto Maaß with his sons Erich and Kurt (Kurt was my godfather). Erich Maaß (left) died on September 18, 19– at the age of 39 due to a motorcycle accident. He left behind a wife and four children.

The Second World War became more and more horrifying, and the German troops began a very costly retreat. Soviet troops invaded East Prussian territory. On January 23, 1945, transports of refugees, soldiers and wounded began from East Prussia and the ports of the Bay of Danzig. By the end of the war, about 2 million would be evacuated. About 14,000 refugees were killed in sea transports.

Mother, Martin, Wilfried, and father. The photo was taken in January 1945, before the Russians took Kolberg!

Many of our relatives tried to leave our homeland in the countryside before the arrival of the Russians. By the same sea route to leave, fleeing people also came to Zernin. A young woman with two sons, ages 10 and 12, was quartered at my parents’ farm. Her husband had fallen. Her parents also died during the escape. These two boys played a lot with us.

My parents and all the villagers were stuck in a bad situation, they were not allowed to leave their farms since this had to be arranged by the NSDAP. To leave the villages prematurely could be punished with the death penalty. One had to wait until it was too late. Where else could one go? Everywhere was the front. Without adequate food, at -15 °C, without hope.

On March 4, 1945, Russian troops occupied Zernin. Many inhabitants fled. My father, who had been temporarily in hiding, was captured. At the edge of our village, a prison camp was built by the Russians. Here were all remaining in the village: men and prisoners of war, including my father (250 prisoners behind barbed wire). The prisoners had to stay until they had harvested the grain, after which they were taken to Russia. Very many refugee treks marched in the direction of Kolberg in the hope of being able to leave the embattled territories with a ship before leaving the city for the Russians. There were still 75,000 refugees in the city. The fight was everywhere; the city was bombarded by blanket coverage from groups of Panzers and Katyusha rocket launchers (Stalin’s organ). Kolberg was encircled and besieged on March 4.

The remainder of the inhabitants of Zernin (mostly women and children and us) had to leave our village. No one knew where to go (neighboring villages or in the woods). After the fall of Kolberg on March 18, 1945, some of the German inhabitants were allowed to return to Zernin at short notice, except in the farmsteads where the Russian military had lodged. For example, on our farm, the Russian commandant held his officer’s quarters.

The remainder of the inhabitants of Zernin (mostly women and children and us) had to leave our village. No one knew where to go (neighboring villages or in the woods). After the fall of Kolberg on March 18, 1945, some of the German inhabitants were allowed to return to Zernin at short notice, except in the farmsteads where the Russian military had lodged. For example, on our farm, the Russian commandant held his officer’s quarters.

(see the book “Kolberg – Übrig blieb verbrannte Erde,” which translates to “Kolberg: Scorched Earth Remains”)

After the occupation of Zernin:

We children clung to our mother, then 38 years old. She was nevertheless, in our eyes maltreated, raped and then chased away with us. The 12-year-old son of the woman who was quartered with us was shot out of pure lust for murder because he wanted to help his mother, who was also raped. His 10-year-old brother also had to watch everything, the multiple rapes of his and my mother and the murder of his brother.

When the deadly shots were fired, none of the battered women knew whose children were killed, because during the rape they heard the screaming and whimpering of us children, which fell silent after the firing. What must have gone through my mother’s soul in that blink of an eye. This brutal crime committed in our barn, two defenseless mothers before our children’s eyes and the accompanying murder of the elder son left a trauma in our children’s souls. Then they were chased away from the farm. There was rape, abuse, murder and looting everywhere. Mother, who was physically and mentally injured by the multiple rape on her own farm, wandered around with us children for days. We could have gotten caught between the fronts. The front around Kolberg was everywhere. Every minute we were in mortal danger. We had nothing to eat and drink. Since mother was not given the opportunity to take clothes with us, we froze pitifully. It was a very cold winter. Mother was constantly fearing death, Wilfried and I, we were luckily still too small to understand everything that was going on around us.

Since mother could not return with us on our farm, we found short-term a lodging the next day with our neighbor’s family, Paul Otto . Here, too, mother was raped again by the newly arriving soldiers. Mrs. Otto had to suffer the same fate. Her husband, Paul Otto, he had resisted the Russians to protect his wife and mother from the rape, but he was shot. Here, as with the mother of the 12-year-old boy, the rape continued although one mother had her dead son in our yard and the other body, her dead husband, lying next to him. All farms of the Zernin residents were vacated by the Russians. We did not have any furniture and other belongings, as they were later loaded onto trucks and brought to Russia.

Ida Ramm (mother of my mother). There are no pictures of my mother’s father (they have were taken from them by Russians and destroyed).

Further reading and this end of this narrative be found in Martin’s first part of his story, “Martin Bonneß: Childhood and Years of the War.” Repetitive sections were removed for more concise reading.

For the original text in German, please refer to Martin’s prepared PDF on his parents, family, and the expulsion.

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