War victims on the Ems in peace time, 9 May 1945



After the devastating air raid on Wangerooge of 25 April 1945, the Dutch surviving forced labourers wanted to go home as soon as possible. The first days after the raid sporadic anti aircraft fire was heard. After that it remained silent. From 5 May on the heavy thud of the shelling on main land Germany had stopped. The attitude of the guards towards the German speaking Dutch became more communicative and in this way they heard of Germany's surrender on 5 May 1945. This only increased the desire to get home. A handful of Dutch had walked to the harbour at Westanleger which was quite far from the central village of Wangerooge, via the narrow gauge rail. They hoped to find a ship that could bring them home.

There were some ships in the Westanleger. They were the Dutch coasters Lelie and Noordster, the barge Joanna and the tanker Macedonia. The Noordster had sustained some damage to the hull which was repaired in an improvised way with tarpaulin and beams. The ship was not able to sail independently however. Therefore the captains of the Noordster and the Lelie had decided to join both ships together and fix them in place with mooring ropes. In this way it was assumed that the tarpaulin cover would hold.While they were still busy with this, they were confronted with groups of forced labourers from Holland. Mrs.J.Westers-Dost, wife of the captain and owner of the Lelie, remembers: "They asked if they could travel along to Holland.We were willing to help them but how were we supposed to do that? We still had some cargo in the hold.The damaged Noordster lay alongside.It would be a difficult journey anyway.We did not know how the Noordster would hold. How could we manage this in a safe way? If anything were to go wrong we had so many untrained sailors on board. It was a huge problem."

The presence of large numbers of forced labourers was not new to the crew of the Lelie. In the past years the ship, loaded with building materials, had visited the port of the island several times. On all East Frisian islands there were forced labourers and the crew knew that these were treated differently according to their nationality.If they got the chance they would give the prisoners some water or food or would take post with them.Mrs. Westers-Dost: " These people looked very dirty all the time.Don't forget the tremendous pressure under which they had to work. Their housing and plumbing was probably inadequate.We gave them some buckets of water so that they could refresh themselves. They were terribly hungry. Sometimes we managed to give them some of our food."


Fast military raid in enemy territory
Indication for shooting targets with grenades. Both from artillery and armoured artillery.

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Monument in Delfzijl in memory of the war victims of the Joanna, 9 May 1945.
(Source: Staat in Eemsdelta)

Air raid on Wangerooge, 25 April 1945.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Westanleger, the little harbour of Wangerooge with the narrow-gauge railway.
(Source: Insel Rundgang)


Article by:
Peter ter Haar
Article by:
Peter Kimenai
Published on:
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