History of Europe

Arrested, Tortured:Malchow's Victims of the Werewolf Tragedy

This part of post-war history was kept secret in the GDR:thousands of children and young people in the Soviet occupation zone were falsely accused of having belonged to the Nazi organization "Werewolf".

by Kathrin Matern

A commemorative plaque for these young victims of political purges was unveiled in Malchow on the day of national mourning 75 years after the end of the Second World War. Because many of them were not only accused:they disappeared, were arrested by the Soviet secret service. Many died in interrogation cellars or special camps.

Arrested by Russian soldiers on suspicion of being a "werewolf"

Karl-Heinz Vau was arrested by Russian soldiers in December 1945 and later died in Sachsenhausen. The family didn't know about it for a long time.

Horst Vau from Neubrandenburg had an older brother:Karl-Heinz. He last saw him 75 years ago. At the end of 1945, Karl Heinz Vau was only 16 years old when he was arrested by Russian soldiers in the Penzliner dance hall. He is said to have fought underground against the Soviet Army for the National Socialist "Werewolf" organization.

Horst Vau says that as a young boy he only knew little about the circumstances of his brother's disappearance. But he remembers:"Grandpa brought us the news the next morning, it was a weekend. My mother and father were of course horrified!". The war was already half a year over and life was slowly starting to normalize. But in December 1945 and at the beginning of 1946, 13 young people from Penzlin disappeared without a trace. Among them are Horst Vau's big brother Karl-Heinz and his friend Erwin Wendt.

Disappearance a lifelong wound

Horst Vau last saw his brother 75 years ago. Only after the fall of the Wall was there any information about his whereabouts.

The deep despair of the mothers has not been forgotten to this day. For 82-year-old Horst Vau, the memory remains a lifelong wound that will never heal. Back then, the seven-year-old was always sitting by the window playing with wooden cars, when the door opened regularly and Erwin Wendt's mother, who was arrested together with Horst's brother, came in. "She always came to us and then my mother and Ms. Wendt shed tears. And that was actually what triggered me to start investigating my brother's fate."  At that time, the women did not speak publicly about their worries and fears, only behind drawn curtains and closed doors. The silence about the arrests lasts for decades.

Even the families were silent

For a long time, Birger Birkholz also knew nothing about the fate of his uncles Horst and Heinz.

Also in the family of Birger Birkholz, born in 1965. 20 years before his birth, his uncle Heinz disappeared in Malchow. For more than half a century, even within the family, Birkholz remembers:"It was always the case that there was a picture in my grandparents' living room. It was of Uncle Heinz. It looked very similar to my father. And I used to always I thought that was my father. It wasn't talked about. There was a picture there and, yes, Heinz was no longer there." But Birger Birkholz does not let go of the fate of the unknown uncle. He has also been researching this chapter of his family history from Malchow for several years.

33 boys and girls arrested in Malchow

The young people were interrogated in the Villa Blanck in Malchow.

At the end of the war, Malchow was occupied by the Red Army. Between 1945 and 1946, 33 boys and girls are arrested by the Soviet Secret Police (GPU). Shortly before the end of the war they are said to have been so-called werewolves - recruited by the National Socialists with the aim of continuing the fight in the already occupied areas. Birger Birkholz, the nephew of the then teenage brothers Heinz and Horst, tells us that there is fear, even in the Birkholz family.

His uncle Heinz even turned himself in to the Soviets at the time:"They were actually after Heinz at first, but he had fled and couldn't be found. Then they took his younger brother Horst. As a hostage. And they said:'If Heinz gets in touch, then Horst will be released.' Heinz then turned himself in. Only Horst was not released, but both were arrested." The brothers' mother had asked Heinz not to hide any longer in order to get the younger Horst released. After all, her sons hadn't been guilty of anything. That's why she blamed herself all her life, says grandson Birger Birkholz.

Thousands of youth are victims of political purges

All in all, after the end of the war in the Soviet occupation zone (SBZ), thousands of minors became victims of political cleansing, according to Anne Drescher, the state commissioner for dealing with the SED dictatorship in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. To this day, relatives of young people who disappeared at the time turn to the state commissioners for help in clarifying their fate. Exactly how many young people were affected cannot be said with certainty today. Estimates assume at least 10,000, but possibly also 20,000 cases between 1945 and 1950.

According to Drescher, almost every place in today's Mecklenburg-West Pomerania was affected in the months after the end of the war. Young people born between 1927 and 1932 were picked up from everywhere. One accusation:They are said to have belonged to the last combat reserve of the Nazi regime. In 1946, more than 3,000 young people were arrested in the SBZ alone on suspicion of "werewolf" activity. In fact, the young people were not partisans at all. According to Drescher, the Allies had very different views of the so-called "werewolf" myth, which right-wing extremists still use today. The western victorious powers would have recognized very quickly that the youth in the war-weary German population in April 1945 could hardly be mobilized for the "Werewolf" organization founded by Heinrich Himmler in September 1944.

German war of annihilation "lowered inhibitions"

Throughout the Soviet Zone, young people disappeared into interrogation cellars run by the Soviet secret service.

The Soviets, on the other hand, were much more skeptical. "The NKVD (Ministry of the Interior and at times the political secret service of the former USSR, editor's note) and in the SBZ the Red Army, they were very, very careful there," said the state representative. "We have to imagine that from the perspective of the history of the time:The Red Army experienced how the Germans fought the war of annihilation in their country have carried out. With millions of dead, with destroyed inner cities. Then, in the final days of the fighting, they experienced fierce resistance that bordered on the fanatical. And that lowers the inhibition threshold a lot." Even young people were defamed, denounced and often picked up because of rumors in the towns and villages. At the time, the families did not find out anything about their whereabouts.

13 young people die in the basement of Villa Blanck

Everywhere in the SBZ and also in Mecklenburg there were interrogation chambers and cellars of the Soviet secret service NKVD. In Malchow, the Soviets used the former Villa Blanck. Birger Birkholz's two uncles were also held and interrogated here in January 1946. 13 of the young people arrested in Malchow die in the basement of the villa. Today the house is a holiday property. Some of the formerly imprisoned returned to this place after decades and after the end of the GDR. To deal with the horror, like Detlev Putzar, who has passed away in the meantime. As a 16-year-old he was tortured here and imprisoned in the Untermassfeld prison until March 1951. There are only drawings that document what is happening in the camps and interrogation cellars, such as those by the artist Wilhelm Sprick, who died in Sternberg in 2018, who was initially held in secret service cellars in Waren and Röbel and was sentenced to long prison terms by the Soviet military tribunal in Schwerin in 1946 was convicted.

Tribunals and death sentences for extorted confessions

At that time, young people were sentenced like adult criminals. Because according to the Russian Penal Code, people over the age of twelve are of full criminal responsibility, according to Anne Drescher. During the interrogations, confessions are extorted by torture, interrogations are often conducted at night and in Russian. "In the tribunals and trials there was no defense counsel, no lawyer was called in. There was no evidence. The only evidence that was available in most cases was the interrogation protocols and the confessions of those who were questioned," says Drescher. "And the detention and this 'confession production' ran until the protocols were signed."

With serious consequences:Heinz Birkholz was sentenced to death and executed in Güstrow in August 1946. His brother Horst Birkholz is sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Bautzen by a Soviet military tribunal.

Karl-Heinz Vau is to be sent to an internment camp for twelve years. In March 1948 he died in the Soviet Sachsenhausen special camp. His parents die without ever knowing where their eldest son has gone.

Declaration of silence and surveillance by the Stasi

Around 8,000 of the young people convicted in the SBZ survive imprisonment in prisons and camps. After their release in the GDR, they have to sign a declaration of silence and are monitored by the Stasi. Many of the survivors go west, including Birger Birkholz's uncle, Horst. He spent 97 months in Bautzen. To this day he lives near Krefeld. His nephew hardly found out anything about his story in the GDR. "There were few opportunities for contact," says Birkholz. "Telephone, all that, wasn't feasible. And in this respect the issue was on the one hand uncertainty and on the other hand possibly also a small feeling of guilt."

Late rehabilitation only after the fall of the Wall

A memorial stone in Malchow already reminds of the post-war tragedy.

It was only after decades of silence that the families were informed when the Russian archives and the Stasi files were opened after the fall of the Wall. Thousands of convicts are being rehabilitated by the Russian state, including Karl-Heinz Vau and Heinz Birkholz, according to state representative Anne Drescher:"They weren't guilty, they came to these camps completely innocently. They suffered for something they didn't do And of course they also demanded rehabilitation so that they would not appear in public as Nazi perpetrators or as criminals and criminals."

Silent commemoration 75 years after the end of the war

The names of all young people arrested in Malchow should in future commemorate the victims of the "Werewolf" tragedy.

Today, in front of the former Villa Blanck, a memorial stone commemorates the "Werewolf" tragedy in Malchow. reminder and admonition at the same time. Commemorative events are held here regularly. The 82-year-old Host Vau, who lost his brother Karl-Heinz to the Stalinist harshness, says:"And then there is another promise that we made to the dead. That we living would give them a voice again." Horst Vau made sure that the names of the young people from Malchow are not forgotten, including those of Heinz and Horst Birkholz. Now a plaque with all the names commemorates the 33 girls and boys from Malchow who were arrested long after the war was over. None of these youths were really Nazi "werewolves".