Grethe and Waldemar Heym with their youngest daughter, Gudrun, at Marienwerder in West Prussia, 1934 © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
Waldemar Heym (*1883 in Neuguth, West Prussia, † 1967 in Celle) and his wife Grethe (*1894 in Löbau, West Prussia, † 1983 in Celle) lived with their five children, Gudrun, Hartmut, Ursula, Brigitte and Eva, in the West Prussian town of Marienwerder (today Kwidzyn, Poland). Grethe and Waldemar were both teachers.
Historical view of Marienwerder in West Prussia; Photographer: unknown, around 1930
Waldemar Heym was a passionate ethnographer and archaeologist. He carried out extensive archaeological excavations in the region. His deep connection to his homeland led him to begin establishing the West Prussia Local Heritage Museum in Marienwerder in 1925; he eventually became its volunteer director. The bishop’s castle in Marienwerder now hosts the city’s museum (Muzeum w Kwidzynie), which has incorporated part of the collections from the former West Prussia Local Heritage Museum.
Gudrun Martin’s photo album from 1944 © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
Gudrun Martin began collecting family photographs in albums when she was a child. The photographs show her parents, siblings and grandparents. There are also images from everyday life with friends and neighbors. When Gudrun fled in January 1945 with her mother and her siblings from the advancing front, she took the album with her as a reminder of her homeland. The family left Marienwerder on a sled, headed for the house of Waldemar Heym’s sister, Meta, in Weissenfels in Saxony-Anhalt.
The last days in Marienwerder in West Prussia, 1945 © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
Waldemar Heym could not escape at first because, as an auxiliary policeman in the city, he was not allowed to leave. He helped to organize refugee transports to the west at the Marienwerder train station. He left the city on his bicycle as soon as he could; he traveled through Danzig and Berlin on his way to Weissenfels, where he was finally reunited with his family in April 1945. His diary contains detailed descriptions of his flight.
The first days in Weissenfels, 1945 © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
Waldemar Heym noted, “Finding food is becoming an art form. Grethe stood in line from 8:00 to 13:30 waiting for potatoes, but in vain. I once had a bit of luck begging from a farmer. We really are beggars. Gudrun and I scooped up barley that a farmer had spilled. We let the farmers insult us and call us names. We all want to fill our bellies, once and for all. We can’t find fat. Grethe is becoming an artist in the kitchen, making something out of nothing and getting everyone full.”
A small book of recipes Christmas gift 1945 © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
To feed his family in these difficult and uncertain times, Heym, a former teacher and museum director, worked as a gardener and planted his own vegetables. A caring husband and father, he collected recipes in a small booklet that showed how to prepare food with simple ingredients, even in these “times of great hardship.” He gave the book to his wife Grethe for Christmas in 1945.
“Potatoes and shortages are king here” (“Die Kartofel, der Mangel steht hier Pathe”) © Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation Donation by Gudrun Martin; photographer: Thomas Bruns
A few recipes, such as Thorner Pfefferkuchen-Katharinchen (gingerbread cookies), indicate the family’s West Prussian heritage. The booklet reflects the hunger and malnutrition of the time immediately after the war. At the same time, however, it testifies to the art of improvising when in need. The book’s cover inscription reads: “Potatoes and shortages are king here,” which means that potatoes are the main ingredient for many of the dishes.
Move to Celle in 1959 © Stiftung Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung. Schenkung von Gudrun Martin; Foto: unbekannt
Waldemar Heym returned to teaching from late 1945 to 1959. He had a difficult time finding his way, though, in his new surroundings in Weissenfels. When he retired, he and his wife Grethe moved with their two youngest children, in the context of a family reunification, to their daughter Ursula in West Germany. They found a lasting home in Celle, where the community had begun in 1953 to adopt those expelled from Marienwerder.
Reconciliation; Photographer: Justyna Liguz
Until he died in 1967, Waldemar Heym wrote about West Prussia’s cultural heritage and remained closely connected to his old homeland. The same was true of his daughter Gudrun, who often visited Marienwerder (Kwidzyn). The local museum there (Muzeum w Kwidzynie) invited her in 2006 to transcribe her father’s handwritten museum files. In 2015, the museum’s director, Janusz Cygański, opened an exhibition together with Gudrun Martin about Waldemar Heym and his work in Marienwerder.
The Waldemar Stone; Photographer: Justyna Liguz
Waldemar Heym’s work as an archaeologist and regional researcher also came to be appreciated in Poland. A glacial erratic (a rock carried great distances by glacial ice) and a street leading to it were named after him at a site where Heym conducted important archaeological excavations from 1928 to 1930 in Klein Stärkenau (Starzykowo Małe). Heym’s research continues to enjoy a great deal of respect among Polish experts in the field.