Sent to the 'Altreich': Case Study of Martha Salecker

Staff of the Wilkowischken post office. Martha pictured directly centered. Date unknown, likely 1920-1930

Staff of the Wilkowischken post office. Martha pictured directly centered. Date unknown, likely 1920-1930

Last week, I received a treasure trove of documents from a researcher I hired to search additional EWZ records for me at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. In previous posts, I’ve explained the significance of the EWZ records for those with ancestors who lived outside of the Third Reich during WWII--and the very real atrocities caused by the EWZ’s policies and goals as a result.

My researcher (who I am happy to recommend to anyone looking to search EWZ records and much more at the NARA) provided me with documents that will provide extremely important insight into the experience of my Salecker ancestors living in Lithuania during this time--some of which may be the subject of future blog posts here. But one individual in particular, Martha Salecker, is the subject of this post; and for good reason. Martha wasn’t trusted by the Nazis and, as a result, her experience provides a great example of how the EWZ process had real consequences to those trying to resettle during this time period.

I’m able to provide greater detail about Martha on this blog for one reason: she appears to have never married and never had any children. As such, I feel comfortable giving details about her situation and the correspondence between EWZ and SS officials.

Before we get into the ‘meat and bones’ of this post you’ll need to bare with me--we need to learn a bit more about Martha Salecker, my 1st cousin 3x removed. And I’m really excited because she seems to have been quite an amazing woman.

Marie Martha Salecker was born on the 13th of July, 1896 in Kaupischken (today Kaupiškiai) Lithuania to Friedrich Saleker and Anna Walinska. Friedrich Saleker, my great-great-uncle, was born near Wischtyten, not too far away from where he and his wife and daughter Martha lived in Wilkowischken. His wife Anna was born in Galkamie (though which Galkamie is unknown; another blog post perhaps) and while Anna’s father’s name appears to have been Polish/Prussian (Walinski) her mother’s maiden name (Budwicz or possibly Budwait) appears to be of Lithuanian origin. Remember that for later.

I actually had no idea Martha even existed, until I came across her EWZ Kartei. Her parents had come here to Cleveland in the early 1890’s and had a son who died in infancy. They then seemed to disappear. I had assumed they went back to Lithuania, but had no proof--until of course I came across their daughter Martha. Another proof point that those researching their German/Prussian ancestors in this region will benefit greatly from searching the EWZ records.

I came across Martha’s EWZ Karti which had an interesting note: “politische Bedenken” which in English translates to ‘political concerns.’ What could this mean?

Note from Martha’s EWZ-Card

Note from Martha’s EWZ-Card

Since I had found the EWZ summary card and the EWZ ‘health card’ (aka the ‘G-card’) the only clues I had were on the card themselves. First, we see that she was a postmistress at the post office in Wilkowischken--and she had been in this position since 1919. She was clearly well-trained at her job. Her summary card notes that she has courses in telephone use, and has experience operating a large telegraph operation. It is noted that she can speak German, Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish--which makes quite a lot of sense considering where she lived and what her job was. Someone receiving or sending telegrams in this region would need good knowledge of these languages.

Skill summary from Martha’s EWZ-Card

Skill summary from Martha’s EWZ-Card

Another clue was her education. Unlike her other Salecker cousins from Wischtiten, it was noted that she had 4 years of “Russ. Volkschule” or in English, a Russian elementary school--her Salecker cousins’ cards stated “Lit. Volkschule” denoting that they attended Lithuanian schools. That’s because Martha was older than her ‘Lithuanian’ cousins and therefore her teachers were likely Russians hired to do that job by the Russian Empire.

I had doubts that these two reasons would likely put her into the “politically unreliable” category. Surely there were other ethnic Germans like her, who attended Russian schools and held jobs within Lithuanian or Russian civic positions that were not inherently political--like Post Offices. Then again, we can certainly appreciate that the Nazis took any chance to claim someone was politically questionable--there is no doubt in that.

Why did it matter that she was “politically unreliable” in the first place? This is important, because for those ethnic Germans wishing to be relocated through the EWZ from outside the Third Reich usually ended up in 1 or 2 places: the East (“Ost”) or the old Kingdom (“Altreich.”) According to EWZ/Nazi policy, those who were more ‘ethnically pure German’ were considered ‘better’ and so they would be relocated to the East where they were supposed to have better opportunities and in many cases, have a chance to be relocated back to Lithuania--which was ultimately the goal of many Lithuanians who ‘volunteered’ for relocation. Those who the EWZ believed were less desirable or not as ‘ethnically pure German’ would go to the Altreich where many were placed into camps to become ‘Germanized’ [Nazified] so that they could be integrated into ‘German life’ like their more ‘pure’ counterparts. A bizarre and tragic reality of Nazi ideals.

Another interesting note is found on the back of Martha’s EWZ summary card: “Wünscht in Königsberg angesiedel zu werden” or ‘wishes to be relocated to Königsberg.’ Clearly, Martha wanted to be relocated to the East, either because there were opportunities, friends, or family there for her. It’s interesting to note that none of the other Salecker cards I found had anything written under this section, other than to be relocated to specific barracks within the relocation camps where their siblings were also placed.

Note about Martha’s desire to be relocated to Königsberg from the back of her EWZ-Card

Note about Martha’s desire to be relocated to Königsberg from the back of her EWZ-Card

Her cards were clearly stamped with a “III”which was then crossed out and stamped with a “II”--meaning that it was determined she was less desirable (the EWZ categorized resettlers as either III for most desirable II for less desirable and I for unacceptable.) I consulted some researcher friends at this point, who all hypothesized that perhaps her status was influenced by her education and her job at the Lithuanian post office. Without the rest of her EWZ file, that’s all we had to go on.

The researcher I hired at NARA in Washington D.C. provided me with the files from Martha’s EWZ application and her citizenship file. Within these records were copies of countless letters between various EWZ and Nazi organization regarding her status. It turned out to provide exactly the answers I was looking for. Furthermore, it showed that Martha, and her stepfather, desperately wanted to leave the Altreich for the East. Ultimately, the EWZ and the SS wouldn’t budge.

This correspondence shows a timeline of events that surrounded Martha and her stepfather Christian’s attempt at appealing their classification as ‘A-cases.’

21 Jun 1941 - Interviewed in Litzmannstadt and assigned A-case

22 Jun 1941 - Resettled to camp Kirchberg (located near Litzmannstadt.)

20 Jun 1942 - the SS Oberführer of the RKFVD  in Berlin sends a letter to the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt, requesting a review of Christian Kläs’ application.

Letter from the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt from the 9th of July, 1942—in very poor condition

Letter from the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt from the 9th of July, 1942—in very poor condition

9 Jul 1942 - EWZ office in Litzmannstadt sends a letter to the RKFVD staff headquarters in Berlin referencing letter from 20 Jun 1942, noting the decision to assign them as an A-case can’t be changed to O because Martha’s mother was of mixed heritage (German-Lithuanian). Her stepfather [Christian] also has no employment. The EWZ office requests that the resettler [Christian] be made aware of this decision.

18 Jul 1942 - RKFVD staff headquarters in Berlin writes to the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt referencing a letter from 9 Jul 1942. Stating that a request has been made to reassign the case from A to O.

Letter from the EWZ inspector general to the RKFVD from 9th March, 1943.

Letter from the EWZ inspector general to the RKFVD from 9th March, 1943.

9 Mar 1943 - Letter from the EWZ inspector general in Litzmannstad to the RKFVD staff headquarters in Berlin stating that Christian Kläs cannot become an O case because of Martha’s political concerns and because he has no profession.

9 Jun 1943 - RKFVD in Berlin sends letter to head of EWZ operation in Litzmannstadt explaining that both Martha and Christian have good employment records from job in Thugaria. They request details about the political concerns and ask to re-evaluate the decision as they may wish to override it.

6 Oct 1943 - RKFVD staff headquarters in Berlin references their letter from 9 Mar 1943 and 9 Jun 1943. Sends a request for decision from the head of the EWZ operation in Litzmannstadt.

11 Dec  1943 - Response from EWZ Littzmannstadt regarding Pagabla association is attached.

27th of December, 1943 letter to the RKFVD

27th of December, 1943 letter to the RKFVD

27 Dec 1943 - Letter is sent to the RKFVD staff headquarters in Berlin referencing letters from 9 Jun 1943 and 6 Oct 1943. They state that Martha is politically unreliable because of her membership in Pagabla.

10 Feb 1944 - RKFVD office in Kassel provides a good work report regarding Martha and Christian to the RKFVD staff headquarters in Schweiklberg.

10 Mar 1944 - RKFVD responds to 10 Feb 1944 letter from RKFVD in Kassel. Restates she is politically unreliable.

We first discover that the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt explains to the  RKFVD (Reichskommissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums or Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood) that Martha cannot be an O-case because her mother is of mixed heritage. An unusual reason, considering that almost all of the Salecker family in Lithuania, was of mixed heritage. Martha’s grandfather, Johann Andreas Saleker was married to Maria Renkiewicz--who was of Polish/Lithuanian heritage. Yet none of these Saleckers had such a reason noted anywhere on their EWZ records. It then states that Martha’s stepfather Christian, was unemployed. That seems hardly surprising--he was over 70 years old.

The RKFVD continues to correspond with the EWZ office in Litzmannstadt to better understand Martha’s situation--a great example of governmental and military bureaucracy. It appears the RKFVD was confused by her assignment, because she was well trained, had a good employment record and was, likely in their observations, an O-case in reality. Eventually, nearly a year later in 1943, the EWZ office reports to the RKFVD that Martha belonged to the Lithuanian association “Pagabla” which is why she is so politically unreliable.

I had never heard of such an association in my research. It was the help of a fellow researcher who suggested I consult Inga Puidokienė’s article Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinde in Kaunas 1918-1940 which was published in the Annaberger Annalen in 2013. The entire article can be read online in German here.

The article discusses a general history of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Kaunas from 1918-1940. It highlights the ongoing conflict between ethnically Lithuanian Evangelical Lutherans and those of German ethnicity. There was a struggle early on, because Lithuanian Lutherans felt they were not being treated equally as services were held in German instead of Lithuanian. However this inequality stretched beyond just language, but culturally and politically--as almost all of the community and religious leadership in the Lutheran parts of Lithuania, were held by Germans. Puidokienė explains that Pagalba (which translates to English literally as ‘assistance’) was the name for the Association of Lithuanian Lutherans and was established in Tauragė in 1923.

In its early days, Pagalba was trying to promote the Lithuanian language, and Lithuanian leadership in the church. However, it also tried to subdue German influence throughout communities to try and bolster the image of Lithuanian Lutherans. It had support of the Lithuanian government which made the association official in 1925. It seems that overtime, Pagalba began to radicalize, even proposing the idea of a separate Lutheran church organization for Lithuanians, with a completely Lithuanian leadership. Today, this seems fairly reasonable but it was considered quite controversial at the time, considering this region of Lithuania was so linked with Germany. By the 1930’s, the German community was growing more and more frustrated at Pagalba’s efforts. In 1930 the association had its own newspaper and started to publicly support Lithuanian nationalist politics. In 1934, the organization began to extend its reaches beyond Kaunas, supported by educated intelligentsia in the area. Eventually, the association was considered a radical nationalist organization that was losing support even among Lithuanians. By 1936, the Lithuanian government completely banned Pagalba all together.

I have been unable to find any documentation proving Martha’s membership in Pagalba--so we don’t know the reason for her involvement or the intensity of that support. Considering Martha lived in Wilkowischken almost all of her life, she probably joined sometime in the 1930’s when, as Puidokienė writes, the organization started to broaden its reaches. Martha worked in a Lithuanian post office and had done since 1919--a government position. She worked with other native Lithuanians and it’s not hard to assume that she had sympathies to the Lithuanian community’s struggle to have a voice in their own religious organizations and in community leadership. Perhaps this is why she joined.

The EWZ likely discovered her association with Pagalba from a local informant who would have been present during her examination. EWZ officials sought politically reliable individuals within these communities to inform them on any ‘dirt’ of local inhabitants. Perhaps there was someone in Martha’s community that didn’t like her, and decided the EWZ should know about her membership in Pagalba. Perhaps she had to reveal it herself--we simply don’t know.

With this association in their arsenal, I believe that the EWZ took this as an excuse to bolster the fact that Martha was from a mixed marriage. Even though this was a stretch, and certainly not a consistent policy. It’s well known that the EWZ relocated and gave citizenship to those who were ‘fully Lithuanian’

After receiving her A-case classification in Litzmannstadt, she was sent to nearby camp Kirchberg. At some point, she was sent to the town of Weida--a small village located south of Leipzig. There she (and her stepfather Christian) worked in the post office where she was highly praised for her work as a postmistress. It appears that as late as 1944, she and her stepfather were still trying to get back to the East but it appears that it was never allowed.

Germans in the ‘Altreich’ generally treated the ‘Deutsche aus Litauen’ as being foreigners. They spoke differently, worked differently, and had a different set of culture and customs which were a mish-mash of Prussian, Lithuanian, and Polish. Many of them were considered unreliable because most Germans had very strong anti-Russian feelings and even though these individuals held Reich citizenship, they were still highly suspect by the majority of ‘Altreich’ citizens.

We don’t know what happened to Martha after 1944. Did she ever make it back to Prussia or Lithuania? Chances are pretty low--when the war ended, those living in the East were fleeing from the Red Army and the other allied forces. Most headed to Displaced Persons camps within Germany in the American or British zones. In actuality, Martha may have fared better than her relatives who were sent to the East. Many who fled lost their lives, were raped, or captured and sent to Siberian prisoner camps.

It is possible that Martha’s fate may be documented in records from the Displaced Persons camps after the war--likely held by the International Tracing Service (ITS.) For now, that’s all we know of Martha’s history. I don’t have any substantial documentation of Martha’s true loyalties or her politics. I have to imagine she felt caught between two worlds--and frustrated at the position she was thrust into. Clearly a skilled and passionate worker for the Lithuanian government, she supported her Lithuanian roots and the Lithuanian community she lived in. Yet, she seemed to show equal love for her German/Prussian roots which were equally as deep, seeking to relocate with her family in East Prussia during the war. Her story continues to amaze and frighten me. Surely, this is not the last (I hope) we’ve heard from Martha Salecker.