Helene Palm’s family was unwilling to evacuate their ancestral village of Vossenack, but the fighting made it impossible to stay. When they finally felt forced to flee, their escape route took them to Sachsen (Saxony), where they had to live through the onslaught of the Soviet Army and once again had to fear for their lives. When they returned in 1945, they found their home in ruins.
In 1944 18-year-old Helene Palm lived with her family in the village of Vossenack when the war came to Huertgen Forest. As many locals, her family hoped the front line would pass the village fast. As it turned out, Vossenack was in the frontline for four months.
When the fighting broke out, the Palm family hid in the cellar. In the following weeks they tried to escape moving down the village from house to house, from cellar to cellar. One night they tried to hide in a cave south of the village. But they had two little children and a sick baby amongst them and could not stay there.
Finally, German soldiers took them to the station in Zerkall. They barely made it. Dead civilians – often familiar faces – lay in the corners of the station, victims of Allied bombing and strafing runs.
From Zerkall, Helene’s family escaped across the Rhine. They hoped to get shelter at an aunt of the family east of Cologne. But the aunt rejected them. Six-month-old baby Helmut caught meningitis.
In a lumber mill in Sachsen the group of eleven desperate people found a place to stay. Baby Helmut was taken to a hospital but didn’t make it. When they finally found some rest, the Soviet Army invaded the area and the Palms had to live in fear again. Especially Helene and two other girls of her age had to hide every night from the Soviet soldiers.
By selling their last belongings they managed to make their way into the American zone one year later. They found their home in ruins. Until 1951 Helene and her family had to live in a provisional home made of burnt wood and debris.
The Vossenack Cemetery was constructed on a strategic site, Hill 470, by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) during the years 1949 to 1952. Today the cemetery contains the graves of 2.347 war dead. Among those are 35 men who lost their lives during post-war operations as members of a ‘Ammunition Search and Removal Team’.