Another place that I managed to get close to, back in 2019—but still didn’t get to visit—was the former Stablach
, East Prussia. Once known as the Gartenstadt (Garden City), what’s left of the town sits in a forested area between two rivers in the southern area of the Kaliningrad Oblast near the Polish border. Now forlorn and neglected, dotted with ruins, connected via bad roads lined by stately linden and chestnut trees, it’s sparsely inhabited by relocated Russians.
Stablach was first established in the mid-thirties and by 1939 it had almost three thousand inhabitants. Back then, this entire rural area bustled with growth. Construction of the nearby Berlinka Autobahn had slowed down, while energy was redirected towards constructing support networks for the military. Stablach became an important military training centre for the SS and others in the Wehrmacht. A new church along with new homes were built for military staff, with plenty of room for the Aryan soldier’s dream family and their gardens. Another priority was a new prison, hastily erected by the first crop of Polish prisoners in 1939.
My mom lived in one of the newly erected barracks built for the munition factory workers. Being about eighteen kilometers southeast of Kreuzburg
(now Slavskoye), which I did get to see, I could imagine my mom cycling on nearby tree-lined roads to visit her aunt and uncle. My mom had been recruited—like many single women—to work in Stablach’s ammunition factory. By then the prison (Stalag1A
) would have been filling up with Poles, Belgians, French and fellow Germans.
The place is now, as part of the Kaliningrad Oblast, called Dolgorukowo. Supposedly the church was not damaged during the war and later used by the Russians as a horse stable, a cinema, and has now become a cultural centre. I’m curious about what this cultural centre shares.
There’s so much more to explore and how I would love to go back! My mom left the Stablach munitions factory in January, 1945 when the Soviets were closing in to finally destroy the madness of the Third Reich. It’s been so fulfilling for me to retrace her steps, especially as she moved closer towards the hell of the Second World War. I hope my new book will bring these times to life.