German POW reunites with sister after 80 years

Thu Oct 7, 2010 10:22am EDT
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By Dave Graham

DUMFRIES, Scotland (Reuters Life!) - When Heinz Roestel was separated from his younger sister Edith aged six, he little thought it would be nearly 80 years before he saw her again.

Nor did the German ex-soldier expect that when he did, he would be lying in a Scottish hospital bed using an interpreter to communicate because he had forgotten his native tongue.

Parted when their mother died, Heinz gradually lost all contact with Edith after he joined the Wehrmacht as a teenager, was captured in the Netherlands and finally ended up in a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Scotland in 1945.

Originally from Hindenburg -- now Zabrze in southern Poland -- Roestel is one of thousands of POWs who stayed in Britain after the war because they fell in love, found work or lost their homes when Germany's eastern border was shifted west.

Historians say the integration of the POWs, who included Manchester City goalkeeping legend Bert Trautmann, helped heal the wounds of the war and pave the way for closer ties with continental Europe. Yet their fate has often been overlooked.

Roestel, 85, settled in southern Scotland and had given up hope of seeing Edith again by the time she tracked him down to the village of Penpont this summer. Shortly before she came over from Germany, he suffered a stroke but he still recognized her.

"She looked like my mother," Roestel said from his hospital bed in Dumfries. "She was very pleased to see me. When you've not seen someone for 80 years, you'd be the same."

"I didn't have a place to stay in Germany back then," added Roestel, whose father died during the war. "I would have had to go back to the Russian sector, so I decided to remain here."   Continued...

<p>Former German soldier Richard Michalek, 85, discusses his experiences as a German prisoner of war (POW) at his home near Thornhill in southern Scotland October 4, 2010. Thousands of German POWs settled in Britain after World War Two, helping the two countries put the past behind them, but their fate has largely been forgotten today. REUTERS/Dave Graham</p>