For decades Heinrich Evers was regarded as “missing in the East 1944”. This is what it says on the back of a bracelet pendant which belongs to Lara Rading's grandmother. “I still remember exactly how some years ago I looked at the individual pendants with the zodiac signs on the front of this bracelet, which my grandmother often wears. All members of my family are ‘immortalized’ with a small round pendant, and on the back of this one pendant there is this one sentence: ‘missing in the east 1944’. When I read this, I asked my grandmother for the first time what it meant, if they had never heard from my great-grandfather again, and what that meant for her,” says the 16-year-old student from the Dresden Kreuzgymnasium.
The second key experience about what happened to Heinrich Evers took place one and a half years ago. “I saw a documentary about the Second World War on television with some family members. My grandmother fought with tears at the pictures of soldiers retreating in the East. When the pictures of returnees from the war were shown on the screen, she left the room with the words ‘I can't watch that, I always think of my father'’ So this part of German war and post-war history was suddenly upon me. Who was my great-grandfather? What may have happened to him?”
In early 2019, both experiences prompted Lara Rading to make the search for missing persons from the Second World War and the work of the GRC Tracing Service, using her great-grandfather Heinrich Evers as an example, the subject of a school essay. Lara's grandmother Marita Landwehr, née Evers, was five years old at the end of the war in 1945 and never consciously met her father Heinrich Evers. As a soldier in the Second World War he was three times at home in Dissen in Lower Saxony on leave from the front. But Marita Landwehr only knows this through the few photos and stories of her mother. “My grandmother has no conscious memories of her father and grew up without him,” says granddaughter Lara.
Although the grandmother had already made inquiries to the GRC Tracing Service in 1974 and 2013, the findings never went beyond the fact that Heinrich Evers was captured by the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front in June 1944 and presumably died shortly afterwards. Only the new inquiry in spring 2019 lead to a breakthrough. On 5 March 2019 Lara Rading received an answer from the GRC Tracing Service. It states that in recent years the Tracing Service has received files of German prisoners of war from the archives of the Russian Federation: “Among these, after extensive research, we were now able to determine documents from the Russian State Military Archives (RGVA) – prisoner of war file and index card – for your relative Heinrich Evers.”
This file, written in Russian, shows “that Heinrich Evers was taken into Soviet captivity in June 1944 in the Vitebsk region, Belarus, and was registered in Camp No. 112 on 15 January 1945. To the best of our knowledge, camp no. 112 was located at that time in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr province, Ukraine, with the central administration located there. Heinrich Evers finally died on 24 March 1945 of third-degree dystrophy and was buried in the associated camp cemetery in Berdychiv.” Cause of death third-degree dystrophy means: Heinrich Evers died of starvation in the camp.
Lara Rading is more than satisfied with the results of the new inquiry: “For after all these decades my family and I finally have certainty and a place where my great-grandfather was buried. It is at the same time a piece of German history, because thousands and thousands of people were affected by the Second World War in the same way as my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother and my grandmother. And it does not only concern German history and the past, but also the present, because even today there are wars all over the world and people are missing – searched for – and not always found.”
The pendant on her grandmother's bracelet will soon receive a new engraving. It will no longer read “Missing in the East 1944”, but “Died on 24.3.1945”. Besides, Lara and her parents will probably visit the grave of Heinrich Evers in the Ukraine.