At sundown on the 21st of January a refugee train left Osterode on it's way north towards Elbing, from where it would have turned westwards towards Berlin. This one left a few hours before the train which would carry the Baltutt family. On this train was the family of young 19-year-old Anna Badziong. She recalled:
It was in the evening of Sunday, January 21, 1945, at Osterode’s main train station, that my family and I got on board a train. I was then 19 years old. Because of the constantly nearing front this train was fully loaded with refugees, and it wasn’t until Monday, the 22nd of January 1945 that it arrived in Mohrungen. There it stood waiting for many hours. During this time I got off and looked up and down the tracks for another train. On one of the spurs I found an open boxcar in which there were laying a number of frozen old people. The sun was Going down before the refugee train finally got under way. Because of enemy action it had to stop multiple times on the way to Grünhagen.
The village of Grünhagen in the Prussian Holland district of East Prussia lay westwards of the railway line headed northwards towards Prussian Holland, 7 kilometers distant. Its train station was actually located southwest of the town proper. Surrounding the town were hundreds of family farms which used Grünhagen as a supply center and local market.
Around 11 pm on January 22st a German Army hospital train filled with wounded soldiers had pulled up to the platform of the Grünhagen train station and halted in order for the train drivers to inquire of the station master what conditions existed on the railroad ahead. Because the Soviet Air Force was in the air looking for targets of opportunity, even at night, all trains were moving or standing with minimal illumination, and this one was no exception. No one thought to set out watchers along the track in either direction to warn oncoming traffic of the hospital train standing at Grünhagen.
And it happened that the refugee train that had left Osterode at sundown on the 21st, and that had stood at Mohrungen for most of the day, was also approaching Grünhagen around 11 pm in the deep darkness. All trains in the region were operating without signals, and were supposed to be traveling under "visual rules", meaning very cautiously and slowly. But the operator of this train was not following the rules: he was moving at a speed not appropriate for the conditions. The train's driver must have seen the end cars of the hospital train suddenly loom out of the darkness, but there would have been no time to come to a stop. It plowed right into the standing hospital train.
Anna Badziong reports:
At Grünhagen our train collided with a military hospital train that was standing at the station. There were many dead and wounded. The last cars of the hospital train and the first cars of our train were rammed together. After the collision my family and I went to the train station itself to await a rescue train. Men of the Volkssturm (People’s Forces) tried to use the telephone system to request another train to take the refugees further, but the phone lines were down.
The trailing cars of the hospital train and the locomotive and leading cars of the refugee train took the bulk of the damage. The refugee train's locomotive was of course destroyed, but so were several of the following cars, with many killed and wounded. There were also many killed and wounded in the trailing cars of the hospital train.
The survivors from the damaged hospital cars were transferred to the undamaged ones. It was during this process that the second refugee train from Osterode arrived, barely stopping in time to prevent another collision. Otto Baltutt and the other able-bodied men were called out to help extricate and transfer the wounded. While the refugee train was no longer capable of moving forward, the same could not be said for the hospital train. The undamaged portion of the hospital train was able to leave the station around 2 am on January 23, 1945.
After the Baltutt family departed from the scene of the train wreck, heading towards Prussian Holland, most the survivors of the wrecked trains and the many of the passengers on the second, unwrecked train from Osterode, started gathering in and around the train station buildings. Others dispersed, including some who began walking back to Osterode or Mohrungen, and others who began trekking northwards towards Prussian Holland, like the Baltutts. But by most estimates there remained from about 4,000 to 7,000 refugees standing by at the train station's immediate vicinity, waiting for the hoped-for replacement train. It never arrived.
All these refugees waited in the early morning hours in the dark and cold (it was about –20° C to –25° C or -4°F to –13°F), wind-whipped snow). And then the Soviets arrived. Anna Badziong reports:
As the early morning light broke, in the fog I saw two tanks approaching, which then separated and came at the station from two sides. In the tank coming from the direction of Prussian Holland I saw 2 Russian soldiers in German uniforms. Everyone waiting at the station believed that these were German tanks, until it became clear that they were Russian, followed by Russian troops carrying rifles and machineguns.
Another eyewitness, Erwin Kreft from Saalfeld, reports as follows:
It was already light; suddenly there was a tank on the road next to a curve. It fired once; the shell must have exploded farther away in the forest. Then the tank started to move again and more tanks with linen cloths around their cannons appeared near the curve on the road. I counted 5 tanks; small tracked vehicles filled with soldiers were driving between the tanks. They were still quiet because the German soldiers among the refugees did not budge. Well, it was rumored that those could only be German tanks. The soldiers climbed out of the tracked vehicles and ran across the fields to the abandoned first refugee train, which was about 200 to 300 meters away from the crowd. And then everyone saw that those were Russians. Panic broke loose; everyone ran about; it was total confusion. Women were screaming for their children and children were screaming for their mothers. Many ran for the forest that was located a few hundred meters away. I ran, too, and stumbled trough the deep snow across fields and through corral fences trying to reach the forest. Many mittens were hanging on the barbed wire fences. Their owners had lost them while climbing through.
The attack was unnecessary: there was no-one shooting at them, and there were so many obvious civilians standing around in the open. Anna Badziong described the attack, and what happened to her family:
The Russian tanks and troops began firing at the people waiting at the station and those refugees still in the train. The people who had sought shelter in the wagons were much worse off than those who had hidden behind the rail embankment. I received wounds to my left arm and fingers, and a piece of shrapnel struck my left breast, where it still sits today. My mother was shot in the belly and died two days later. Two of my brothers and a sister were killed outright – only my youngest sister, 14, was unhurt in the attack. All this was especially tragic, considering that my father had died three months previously, and two older brothers had been killed in the war.
After the shooting stopped, there were at least 140 dead, with more to follow from their wounds. The wounded were treated in the station under primitive conditions by a 42-year old nurse named Kaminski. Another nurse, who wore religious vestments (a nun or deaconess), was struck by one of the tanks and died two days later. With no bandages available, linen sheets from the railway supplies were torn into strips to bind wounds – some of those who were lightly wounded sought other places to stay, such as with family members in the area, while the badly wounded stayed in the station buildings. The main station building consisted of an equipment room, ticket office, and waiting room. Next door stood two residences for station personnel. Every room was overcrowded.
The Russian troops passing through behaved themselves variously. Some treated the refugees neutrally or kindly, while others were rough and cruel. Many times the wounded were required to take their bandages off to prove they were actually wounded (by this time the Russians were already starting to take adults into custody for forced labor). Anna Badziong said that the Russian Cossacks were the worst; many were drunk and they would indiscriminantly beat refugees with their rifle butts, or even shoot them — their officers would then intervene and take them away. The Russians did set a watch over the station, and none of the refugees remaining were permitted to leave for a week, and so there were problems obtaining food. Occasionally, these guards did provide some food for the refugees.
In all this, there was a need to dig graves for those who had died, and a mass grave, shallow due to the frozen ground, was dug and the victims of the train wreck and the Russian attack were buried.
Once the Russians left off from guarding the station, the refugees were able to move about the area in the search for food, or move on to wherever they thought best.
Because of agreements among the Allied Powers that took effect once the Soviet Army took the area from the German Army, the ground is now under Polish administration, and no Germans remain. Grünhagen has a new name, Zielonka Pasłęcka, as do the other towns mentioned in this narrative. Osterode kept its name, now spelled and pronounced slightly differently: Ostróda. Prussian Holland (Preussisch Holland in the original German) is now Pasłęk. And Mohrungen is Morąg.