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Memoir: Günther Faure

HomePublicationsMemoir: Günther Faure
When I was born in 1934, my mother (Stella von Harpe) and my father (Arnulf Faure) lived in Kohila (Koil) about 20 kilometers south of Tallinn (Reval). My father was an agronomist and managed the estate, which included a paper mill. The house we lived in was attached to one of the large farm buildings and was located close to the tracks of a narrow-gauge railway that connected the paper mill to the main line of the Estonian railroad system. Our circumstances were primitive by today’s standards, but I certainly did not know that at the time and enjoyed an idyllic life in the country.
During the late summer of 1939 my mother enrolled me in the Estonian kindergarten where I became aware for the first time that all was not well with the world. The Estonian army was mobilized and carried out large-scale maneuvers. The teacher talked to us about the danger of bombs being dropped from planes. She showed us a large poster that illustrated how a person could avoid being hit by shrapnel by lying flat on the ground. As a result, we watched planes that occasionally flew overhead and worried that they might drop a bomb on us. Later in the fall of 1939 we saw a military truck on the main street of Kohila and my mother told me that the soldiers in it were Russians.
My next memory is of packing up our toys in a lockable cabinet. I remember that my mother put my favorite rubber ball and several chocolate bars into this cabinet with the promise that I could play with the ball and eat the chocolate when we arrived at our new home. Of course, we had no idea where our new home would be. All we knew was that we had to leave our home in Kohila and move to a different country as a result of the war that had broken out in Europe. When we passed the house of Mrs. Holm on the way to the railroad station, my special friend and benefactor, she came out of her house and we embraced for the last time. She eventually emigrated to Brazil and lived in Rio de Janeiro where she died many years ago.
The harbor in Tallinn was jammed with Baltic families who were waiting to board the cruise ship “Ozeana” that was to take us to Germany. The grown-ups were worried because the Russians were rumored to have placed mines across the entrance of the harbor and there was talk that Russian torpedo boats were going to sink our ship in the Baltic Sea. Perhaps for that reason, all lights were turned off when our ship left the harbor under cover of darkness. My brother Frank and I were put to bed in a stuffy stateroom and did not witness how we left Estonia where our ancestors had lived for many centuries.
When we woke up the next morning, our ship was out of sight of land and had run into stormy weather. We made our way to the large dining hall where breakfast was being served. The ship was rocking so badly that we had trouble walking in the hallways and many people were seasick. The air in the dining hall reeked of vomit. I recall that we stayed to eat and then went on deck to get some fresh air. My mother was not feeling well, but I played with a girl of my age (Gitta von Lilienfeld) and did not get sick. We chased each other in the hallways and played hide-and-seek. It was the beginning of a friendship that has endured to the present. Gitta now lives in Bavaria and I visit her whenever I am in Europe. In addition, her daughter Verena is married to my son John and they live in Florida.
After about two days at sea we arrived in the harbor of Stettin in Germany. We were asked to come on deck to watch a military parade that was put on for our benefit. After that, we boarded buses and were taken to a large building where we spent the night. In the evening I watched a movie for the first time and was completely absorbed by it. Perhaps that was meant to lessen our anxiety concerning our future. It certainly worked for me.
Eventually, we boarded a train that took us to Poznan (Posen). We traveled at night on hard wooden benches illuminated only by blue emergency lights. I was very tired but could not sleep because of the stuffy air in the crowded compartment. Occasionally, we passed small villages, but the train did not stop until we reached our destination. In Poznan we were taken to a large hospital on the outskirts of the city. We were now in western Poland, which was to become the so-called Warthegau, named after the Warthe River, which is a tributary of the Oder River. We slept in the hospital beds and played in the wide hallways. All of the adults had to be registered by the German authorities, which took about three days. I had an anxiety attack on the day my mother suddenly disappeared in order to get registered. My father was housed elsewhere and was not with us at this time.
Finally, we were told that we would be taken to the town of Sroda (Schroda) located about 30 kilometers southwest of Poznan. We arrived in buses and assembled on the large market square. It was a cold and cloudy day in November of 1939. The Baltic families who had been brought to Sroda were assigned to various estates in the county. Finally, it was our turn. A black covered carriage pulled by two horses took us to the estate Szlachcin (Adelstet) where we were greeted by the owner, Mr.  Stablewski as though we were his guests. We spent the winter of 1939/40 at Szlachcin and almost forgot the ominous political developments of that period. In the spring of 1940, we left the estate because my parents were divorced. The Stablewski family was evicted from their home and we were told that they moved to Warsaw where they owned a house. When Gitta and I returned to Szlachcin in 2004, the estate had been broken up and the palace had fallen into disrepair. The present owner, who is restoring the house to its former grandeur, told us that Mr. Stablewski was arrested by the Gestapo and that he was tortured and killed because he was accused of supporting the Polish resistance.
We fled the Warthegau in the winter of 1945 on a farm wagon and eventually arrived in the principality of Schaumburg-Lippe near Hannover. However, our final destination turned out to be London, Ontario, where we arrived in June of 1952. Canada and the United States of America have become our new home where we and our descendants can live in peace.