Brown stuffed teddybear

Precious Cargo

The little teddy bear is fashioned from an old brown child’s coat and dressed in knitted red trousers with braces. It shows clear evidence of its more than 70 years of life. Its inner lining has come loose and it cannot sit up without support. This teddy was safely carried in the backpack of then-three-year-old Heidrun Böhm as she fled from Dresden to Bad Driburg in the vicinity of Paderborn. It was her most valuable possession, a homemade gift from her mother, and her steadfast companion and loyal friend for many years.

More precious cargo was carried in the luggage of a young married couple fleeing from Brandenburg in March 1945. Alongside silver cutlery and table linen, the couple used this seemingly ordinary wicker basket to transport their three-month-old baby. The parents carried their child on foot in the wicker basket from Jüterbog to the North Sea, where they believed they had distant relatives. Lorries belonging to the German Armed Forces gave them the occasional lift along the way. Upon arriving in Büsum on the North Sea, they were unable to find their relatives. A local villager took them into his home. To this day the wicker basket remains in the ownership of the family, which ultimately settled down in Bielefeld.

Like these two families, millions more fled westward amidst the turmoil at the end of the Second World War with little more than hand baggage and the clothes on their backs. Thousands lost their lives along the way. Others were separated from their families, with some managing to reunite upon reaching their destination.