There is almost no family in Germany who has not been affected by the war. In my family too, one son did not return home ´- my cousin Sebastian Eitermoser.
My aunt would often sit at the window waiting for the news that her son had survived the war. In 1952 a returnee reported that Sebastian had died in 1944 in a camp north of Moscow. Hope had to give way to the harsh reality that she had lost her last son without reason after two of her children had died in infancy. I was allowed to grow up in this family and today I realise how much attention I enjoyed in place of the son they lost.
A letter dated 15 January 1997 to my cousin Rosalie Asböck, Sebastian’s adopted sister, informed us that Sebastian had died in the region of Yaroslavl on 26 February 1945. No more details could be given. On that January day I began to interest myself in everything that was connected with this young man, especially as I knew many details about his youth from stories. I made several requests to the authorities for papers from this time. With the years, I was able to reconstruct the part of his life from when he was called up on 16 December 1942 until his despatch to Romania in 1943.
Further requests were fruitless. After a trip to Russia in 2002, through Yaroslavl and Rybinsk, I made myself more familiar with this area. Because I had had no success in finding Sebastian’s grave and the German archive appeared to be exhausted, I searched websites with the few key terms I had that could help me further.
I sent several e-mails to Yaroslavl and Rybinsk and two months later, in April 2003, I received a reply Ekaterina Ivanovskaya from Yaroslavl, a member of a local Protestant community. She was very interested in my cause and offered to help me. So began a lively correspondence.
Mrs Ivanovskaya visited several archives within her reach that held papers from the time of the war. Following Russian legislation however archives may only be entered with the consent of the relevant authority.
So I made a request in German that Mrs Ivanovskaya translated into Russian.
As luck would have it, the translation and its original got into the hands of the deputy at the State Duma, the parliament of the Russian Federation, Alexander Sisov. He immediately signed legal papers allowing Mrs Ivanovskaya to look through and copy all the available documents that could give clues to my cousin’s whereabouts.
One thing led to another. The central archive of the defence ministry of the Russian Federation in Moscow referred me to the state military archive and this put a huge amount of documentation at my disposal.
These records began on 3 September 1944 when Sebastian surrendered to the Russian troops in the Romanian city of Baken and was taken into captivity. The document also described his route into camp 259 in Rybinsk near the village of Malachovo, 300 kilometres north-east of Moscow.
A short time later I found accurate maps of the cemetery. Every grave was recorded in the greatest possible detail. The cemetery was divided up into squares with continuous numbering. From the countless squares, one can tell that many soldiers found their last place of rest here.
At the end of July 2003, another stack of extensive documents arrived from the state archive in the Yaroslavl region that Sisov had had made from the old records.
A harrowing piece of text brought certainty that Sebastian Eitermoser had died on 26 February 1945 in camp 259 in Malachovo. In the list of POWs it states that he was buried in grave 12, in square 2, and that after 25 years the burial site was used for another purpose.
The information centre at the inner administration informed me later that an exhumation was not possible. At the start of August, I received another detailed letter from the administration of the city of Rybinsk. Mayor Eugen Nikolaievitsch Schvischkov was having a survey carried out and a drawing made of the site. Sebastian’s grave was accurately identified. After the necessary preparations for a trip to Russia, my wife and I travelled there in 2004 to give Sebastian our final respects.
In Moscow we boarded the train that took us to Yaroslavl. The next day we drove together with Ekateriana Ivanovskaya to Rybinsk. There we were gently told the history of the camp and relationships. The POWs were divided into groups and made to build houses, among other things. The building of the sluice system on the Volga at Rybinsk was a particular achievement. Later that day we looked at the plant as well as the houses, which still stand out today regarding quality and building style. The authorities in Rybinsk and Yaroslavl are restoring the foundations.
We arrived at the village of Malachowo which only has a few buildings. From a distance we could see a large iron and brass cross protruding above the high grass. Our guide took us up the hill. It was staggering to stand at the place we had searched for for so long. We stopped short. The senseless war, the human suffering, death and the many meetings that had made it possible to find the burial site filled our thoughts.
The international POW convention states that the cemetery may not be used as a field or building ground. The hill, on which we stood and which the iron cross crowned, was made out of a large section of the cemetery at the start of the 1980s, after this period of protection. The skeletons of dead soldiers were piled up in this place and once again covered with earth. Our guide took us down a path that went along the old camp wall and ended in a column with an ancient grille.
We were at the place that the plans from the ministries and the city administration of Rybinsk marked: Grave 12 in square 2. No crosses mark the burial sites, there were simply too many. Here we put down flowers, for Sebastian and for all of them, who were resting here and had perhaps not yet been found.
With the reassuring feeling that we knew where my cousin had found peace, we said goodbye to the Ivanovsky family who had done so much for us and to a country that had pulled us into its spell.”