HC Deb 22 January 1947 vol 432 cc56-8W
104. Mr. Molson

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a full statement upon the circumstances in which a refugee train from Western Poland arrived on or about 28th December at the frontier of the British zone containing 16 Germans who had been frozen to death and 57 others suffering from frostbite; and whether any representations have been made to the Polish Government.

Mr. J. Hynd

I think the hon. Member is referring to a train which arrived on 21st December at the boundary of the British zone containing Germans expelled from the Polish Administered Territories. This was the second of the two refugee trains which arrived shortly before Christmas containing a large number of casualties from exposure caused by the very cold weather which arrived unexpectedly early this year. These trains carried a high proportion of elderly and infirm persons.

The first train, which arrived on 15th December, contained four dead and 109 cases of frostbite. The refugees in the train said that they had been ordered by the Polish authorities to report at the collecting centre in Poland on 7th and 8th December, that no accommodation was available for them and that they had to wait in the rain and sleet until entraining on 11th December. The journey itself was unduly prolonged because the locomotive broke down inside the Russian zone and there was some delay before it could be replaced. The cars on this train were totally unheated.

On the second train 16 people died and there were 53 cases of frostbite. A number of further deaths which have since occurred must be attributed to the conditions of the journey.

In both cases the food supplied for the journey was totally insufficient. It was supplemented as far as resources allowed at the Polish-Russian frontier, and by hot coffee supplied during transit through the Russian zone.

Everything possible was done for the casualties and other passengers by the British liaison team at Kohlfurt, the frontier station between Polish administered territory and the Russian zone. In the case of the second train, the British officer at Kohlfurt was able to remove 12 of the refugees to the small local hospital, because they were unfit to travel. He also obtained additional coal for the eight stoves on the train and put on a warmer wagon. The three German doctors on the train were instructed to keep a constant look-out for cases of frostbite and the German railway officials through the Russian zone were requested to give a quick passage. The only alternative to allowing the train to proceed would have been to disembark the refugees in the open which would have meant that they would have suffered still greater hardship and more casualties.

Protests were made to the Polish authorities, and while the second train was still on the way, we decided to suspend further movement. The Polish Government was so notified on 23rd December. In spite of this decision, the Poles have despatched one more train load of refugees, but in this case the train was heated and no casualties due to cold have been reported The Polish authorities were informed once again that no more trains could be accepted until we were satisfied that conditions were suitable.

I should like to make absolutely clear that in regard to these trains we consider that the Polish authorities have not carried out the movement of these Germans in a humane and orderly manner, as was required by the Potsdam Agreement. The question of what further representations should be made and steps to be taken to prevent similar disasters occurring in the future are now under active consideration