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Geislingen: Does the past exist, if no one remembers it?

On the morning of May 22, bypassing Stuttgart, the regional capital of Baden-Württemburg and its largest city, also the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, we took the most direct route to Geislingen an der Steige ,the small town where I had spent nearly three of my earliest years in a refugee camp after WW ll. (“Steige” can be translated as “steep incline,” and is a reference to an important trade route from the five lower valleys up to the plateau of the Swabian Jura mountains that has connected the Rhine Valley to the Mediterranean since the fifth century.
Geislingen memorial - photo by Enn Raudsepp

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when more than a million refugees were on the move in Europe, Geislingen became the largest DP camp for Estonians with 4,400 residents. One of 69 such camps established by the U.S. Army and run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO), the camp occupied three of the town’s districts in houses from which the German residents had been expelled by the U.S. Army. There is some indication that those districts were chosen deliberately due to their heavy support of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party in the 1930s.

I had no idea what to expect. I was six months old when we arrived in Germany from Estonia, and only 4 years and nine months old when we left in December, 1948. Almost 75 years had passed since then. I had no real memories of the place, only a few scattered images put into my head by the handful of photographs my parents had managed to preserve. I had no idea which houses we had stayed in, other than that there were two of them in two different districts — six months in Rappenäcker and 2 1/2 years in Wilhelmshöhe on Karl Strasse, a long street that climbed up one of the hills.

(Read more: Estonian Life No. 25 2022 paber- and PDF/digi)

Written by Enn Raudsepp, Montreal

Geislingen view from above - photo by Enn Raudsepp

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