Sunday, 13 May 1945

Pertrix battery factory: return to Poland

"There was a whole group of Poles, and we, that is my Papa and I, joined them. We walked, not knowing the way. We were hungry and exhausted. It was very important for us to leave Berlin and the German country in general as soon as possible. We arrived in Poznan, where a train with many wagons stood at the station. The Russian military took various machines from the factories and took them away to Russia. They accepted us in a wagon which already contained a dozen soldiers who were supposed to guard the machines... Fortunately we arrived in Warsaw. Only ruins remained of Warsaw, there were no streets, no houses. There we found out that the Germans had signed the surrender."
(Memories of the former Polish forced laborer Janina Łyś)

Janina Łyś was born on 3 December 1923 in Mokre near Zamość (today eastern Poland). She spent her childhood in Lublin, where she attended a private grammar school. In the summer of 1939 her father is drafted into military service. He returns at the end of 1942, just as the German authorities are beginning to deport the non-Jewish population of Zamość and the surrounding area to Germany as part of the "General Plan East".
Janina and her parents are deported to Germany for forced labour. In the Wilhelmshagen transit camp, the family is assigned to the Pertrix battery factory (Quandt Group) in Berlin-Schöneweide. From now on they are accommodated in a barrack in the Adlershofer Straße (today: approximately Bruno-Bürgel-Weg 84). Janina Łyś has to work daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a conveyor belt, where she fills electrolyte into battery cases. The work is extremely dangerous and she is refused working gloves. Janina is trained by a Berlin Jewish woman who disappears a few weeks later. The Poles from the region Zamość had been brought into the factories as replacements for German Jewish women deported to the death camps.

The food situation in the camp is very bad. But sometimes Janina can buy some vegetables from her low wages. During air raids, the forced labourers in the camp can only protect themselves very poorly in splinter protection trenches. Still in 1943 Janina's mother is sent back to Poland because of illness.
Shortly before the end of the war, at the beginning of April 1945, Janina Łyś is abused by a master craftsman who threatens to report her to the Gestapo for refusing to work. She resists and warns the man to report him to the Russians after the Soviet invasion. This threat apparently has an effect and the master refrains from it: The fear of the approaching Red Army is already very great among the German population in spring 1945. A short time later Janina experiences the liberation in Schöneweide.

Some of the former forced laborers from Poland later report that in the spring and summer of 1945 they set off for home on foot, by bicycle or, with a little luck, on the back of a truck or freight train. Janina Łyś is one of them: Together with her father she now makes her way on foot to Poznań. From there they travel by freight train via Warsaw to Zamość. However, quite a few Poles refuse to return: they reject the new communist system in their homeland or do not want to return to the Eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union. While the majority of the Displaced Persons (DP) from the Soviet Union are still repatriated in 1945, some of the liberated Poles try to emigrate to North America. Many reach West Germany as "homeless foreigners".

Janina Łyś marries in 1945 and lives with her husband and children born in 1948 and 1954 in Danzig and Warsaw. As a result of her work at Pertrix, she suffers from health problems throughout her life.

(Sources: Memorial report by the former Polish forced labourer Janina Łyś of 9 July 2014, Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre; "Marked forever. Die Geschichte der 'Ostarbeiter', published by Memorial International, Moscow and Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, Ch. Links Verlag: Berlin 2019)