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Researching in Germany - advice for non-German speakers

(17 Posts)
SockYarn Sun 26-Jul-20 10:42:13

Have also posted in Chat for general advice...

Bit of a long shot and a long story.

My grandparents lived in a very rural, agricultural part of Scotland. During the War, several German/Austrian Prisoners of War were accommodated in a "Working Camp" which is now an agricultural college. These prisoners were billeted to local farms to help out. One of them was billeted to a farm local to my granny/granddad and they became friendly - friendly enough that after the war was over, the prisoner returned to Germany and sent them a Christmas card which my parents still have, and a photo.

Grandparents are long dead so I can't find out more from them, but I would love to track down this man's family and find out his story. I can get the card/photo from Mum and scan it in. I was thinking about sharing on social media but the main drawback is that I don't speak any German and we don't know where this man came from. Also I know that German privacy laws are tighter than in the UK.

Is there a general interest in digging up family history stories in Germany as there is in the UK? Any good websites or forums you can direct me to? And any other tips or information!

Danke! (and that's the sum total of my German, apart from being able to say excuse me, do you speak English).

OP’s posts: |
Chookmum20 Sun 26-Jul-20 20:54:50

Good for you. Which war was it?. Scotland hosted POWs from both WW. I dont know what the rule was around logging prisoner details. But if you have a name , then you could ask the local council where that POW camp was and ask them if they have archive records. I live a few mins away from. WW1 pow camp in Highlands. In the local museum there is some knowledge about some of the soldiers. Also in the area where the camp was, if its near a community, ask if there is a community council or a local historian who has information that may lead to furrher connections. Good luck in your search. I hope you track down this bit of history that was connected to your family

SockYarn Sun 26-Jul-20 22:19:06

Second World War. Not sure of dates within that window. Have posted in a German genealogy group have been told that after ww2 all pow records were returned to the home country of the prisoners - advice is to email the national archive in Berlin.

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SockYarn Mon 27-Jul-20 07:50:04

Also to be clear I know the name of the camp and the number - the site is still there but in another form. They also must have had considerable freedom during the day as my ggrandmother ran the village shop and got to know this bloke when he'd come in to buy cigarettes.

There is of course the possibility that he remained in the UK after the war, or went to America/Canada. Who knows.

OP’s posts: |
Prokupatuscrakedatus Mon 27-Jul-20 18:10:31

Have you tried

They have lots of specialist subsections (like MN) and can always find someone who answers in English.

Do you have ascan of the card?

SockYarn Mon 27-Jul-20 19:03:21

I haven't a scan of the card - have asked mum to look it out. She doesn't "do" technology but I'm going to visit next week so will get it then.

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Prokupatuscrakedatus Mon 27-Jul-20 20:54:20

A photograph of both sides will do, too.
The camp and the number - there should be lists.
It's a challenge ...

SockYarn Mon 27-Jul-20 21:10:20

Hah, you don't know my mum - she has a nokia brick phone which is never switched on and wouldn't know how to take a photo....

Have asked her to dig out what she has. I have been in touch with the local Archive which confirmed what I had been told that all records had been repatriated to Germany post war and what is held in London is the top level stuff about building the camp and policies rather than nitty gritty about prisoners.

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Prokupatuscrakedatus Tue 28-Jul-20 15:16:10

Try to get everything possible and then we'll see ....

SockYarn Sat 01-Aug-20 09:40:00

Update. Spoke to mum, she doesn't have the photo. But I've DEFINITELY seen a photo. She thinks her brother in law, husband of her late sister may have it, and will ask.

Have found out a lot more though about the general system for POWs here in the UK. it's not something we hear that much about, most of the stuff out there is about British POWs in Germany. German/Italian prisoners were graded according to their political beliefs and not necessarily their ranking in the military. Your hardcore, committed nazi was classed as Black. Then there were grades of grey, through to a "white" class which was your bog standard German conscript who had no choice over whether to get involved or not. These are the group of people who were allowed to do things like the person my ancestors knew - going around to local farms, unsupervised, and buying fags in the local shop.

I have been in touch with the German national archive in Berlin, but have been told on another forum to expect a long wait, and that there's not much that can be found without a DOB.

I think my next step is to look around for some local FB groups for the area we think he's from. My local group regularly has posts from people looking for information about the local area, or people who once lived here, and usually someone knows something about it.

And keeping my fingers crossed that uncle has kept the documents which I know my aunt had - he is one of those people who have no interest in heritage/history so may well have chucked it. shock

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Prokupatuscrakedatus Sat 01-Aug-20 14:32:13

Thanks for the update -
if he was classed as category white there may well be only that in the archives. I checked on my grandfather and his brother and the result was - well, basically - cannonfodder. And the wait is long, especially now.
Can you gather the family stories remembered about him? Sometimes that gives a hint to a location or his unit and then you might find a local group.
The community I linked to has local, regional, international and specialist groups on every possible aspect of research and life.

SockYarn Sat 08-Aug-20 17:14:31

Another update. I have posted various places, including the German forum linked to which gave good advice. They directed me to the German Red Cross website which I have emailed regarding records.

As a bit of a punt I emailed a local paper in the region where we think he came from. A journalist emailed me back, she doesn't speak much English but her husband is British and they are interested in printing the story in an attempt to find the family in Germany. We do know he definitely returned to Germany, as my Mum was born in 1945 and clearly remembers letters arriving through her childhood, although thinks these might have petered out when her grandmother died in the late 1950s.

Agree that this lad was quite probably low-level cannon fodder. Drafted into the military, captured and quite pleased to be in a POW camp with the freedom to work on farms, make friends with the locals and buy cigarettes in the local shop. Had he been high-ranking, or even sold on the Nazi cause, there's no way he would have had that freedom.

I'm hopeful that the local newspaper story will turn up somebody who knows the family. Will let you all know how it goes!

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Prokupatuscrakedatus Sat 08-Aug-20 18:46:56

That is great news - please let me know how things turn out!!

The red cross is still active to place people and reconnect them with their families and clear up the fate of individuals, even today they occasonally reunite siblings that have been separated during the war and spent their whole lives apart.

LeslieYep Sat 08-Aug-20 19:20:12

My gran has a similar story. Lived in a rural part of Scotland and became friends with a German boy working the lands as a POW.
His name was Harry and he went back to Liepzig. My gran believed that once home he would be in prison or doing hard labour. We also have a photo of him.

SockYarn Sun 09-Aug-20 09:35:16

According to Wikipedia there were 211,000 POWs working on farms across the UK at the end of the war, so probably a very common story. Most of them were here until the end of 1946 - my mum was born in 1945 so there is the possibility that he knew her as a baby.

He obviously also spoke decent English, or was a very fast learner. My granny, and her mother, were of the generation when you left school at 14 and went straight to work, so definitely weren't foreign language speakers. And certainly not German! So either my POW was more educated, very quick on the uptake, or was here for a significant period. Long enough to pick up the language and master it to a high enough standard to write letters back to the UK. Wonder how he managed with the local accent....

It's all very interesting. Most of the stuff online about POWs is about the experience of Allied prisoners, far less the other way round. The way my mum remembers her own relatives talking about this person he was welcomed with open arms, the locals needed young, fit lads to work on the local farms and seemed to recognise that he wasn;t the "enemy", just an ordinary German caught up in the War in the same way as people from their own village had been caught up.

And from the POW's perspective what's better - being a POW in rural Scotland and working on a farm, or being shipped off back to Germany to resume fighting? I'm sure it wasn't all sunshine and light for him but the alternative was pretty awful too. Apparently a lot of the POWs caught early on were shipped to Canada.

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Prokupatuscrakedatus Sun 09-Aug-20 09:51:18

Most of my folk (I checked at the document center) would have been happy to be caught (UK, US or French that is) and most of them were either from a farming background or at most one generation down (miners). So they would have been useful.

Ellmau Sun 16-Aug-20 00:44:41

Red Cross archives might be able to help too:

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