"My heart is lighter now." - Heidi Büttner was able to clarify the fate of her father.
The fate of her father Waldemar Jahr, who went missing in the Second World War, haunted the now 81-year-old Heidi Büttner for many decades. “Waldemar Jahr was a sergeant of the motorized troops who was taken captive in Slovakia by the Russians on May 10, 1945.” At least that’s what it says in legible handwriting on a postcard that Heidi Büttner’s mother Ilse Jahr sent to the Tracing Service of the German Red Cross in November 1947. “We always prayed for my father to come back, and I often dreamed about him at night. As a child, you always hoped he would return,” recalls Berlin-born Heidi Büttner, née Jahr, who has lived in Eichwalde in the Dahme-Spreewald district of Brandenburg since her marriage in 1961.
Yet the wish to see each other again never came true, nor did Heidi Büttner’s inner restlessness ever subside. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, she submitted her own tracing request to the GRC Tracing Service in 1995; at the time, the media had reported that the Russian archives had granted the GRC Tracing Service direct access to files on former German prisoners of war – but to no avail.
She made a new attempt in the summer of 2019 and contacted the National Association of the German War Graves Commission, which, however, had no information of its own and referred the matter to the GRC Tracing Service. This time Heidi Büttner was luckier. On October 9, 2019 – almost 75 years after the end of the war – she received a letter from the GRC Tracing Service that brought clarification: Russian archives showed that Waldemar Jahr was registered as a prisoner of war in the special hospital No. 1631 in Subowa Polyana in Russia – southeast of Moscow – and died there of dystrophy as early as September 18, 1945: As with many other German prisoners of war, hunger and malnutrition were the cause of death. Heidi Büttner now also knows that her father was buried on September 20, 1945 in a cemetery belonging to the special hospital in “square no. 2, grave no. 28”. She also received a copy of the still existing Russian prisoner-of-war file.
What went through her mind when she held the letter from the GRC Tracing Service in her hands? “At first I was stunned. I was happy when the message arrived. But it was a subdued joy, the message still had to sink in, and that took days”, she says. “My heart is lighter now. I can think of my father differently now.”
And yet she only has a vague recollection of her father, who worked as an employee of the Reichsbank in Berlin. At the end of the war Heidi Büttner was only six years old. “My father was strict, he came from a family of officers and volunteered for war service,” she says. There are different accounts of how Waldemar Jahr became a prisoner of war. One war returnee claims to have seen him in the Odessa camp in the summer of 1945, another said that he fell ill with dysentery in the autumn of 1945 in the Tula camp. Unfortunately, the Russian file does not provide any precise information in this regard; it was created by the administration of the POW camp only after Waldemar Jahr’s death. An inquiry made in 1959 by the GRC Tracing Service to the Russian Red Cross was answered in the negative.
At the end of the war, Heidi Büttner herself experienced some turbulent months in what was then the district of Arnswalde, southeast of Stettin in present-day Poland. As the situation in the capital Berlin became increasingly difficult due to the numerous air raids by the Americans and the British, her mother left the family home in the Berlin district of Oberschöneweide with her four children in September 1943 and moved to the supposedly safe Kratznick. When the area there was taken by Russian troops in February 1945, the mother and her children temporarily took refuge in the forest. “Here we lived under three fir trees for ten days and eleven nights with a daily ration of two slices of summer sausage and spring water,” recalls Heidi Büttner. Since then she too knows what hunger means: “Our mother later told us that my twin sister and I had arms as thin as broomsticks.”
In June 1945, the family managed to escape secretly to Berlin by cart. To their great joy, their house in Berlin-Oberschöneweide was spared from the heavy destruction of the war. “That was a tremendous gift,” says Heidi Büttner. But what the family did not know at that time: Waldemar Jahr - then 40 years old - only had a few months to live.