In Juliana’s footsteps…

Juliana’s story begins with the incredible meeting of two Russian prisoners of war in Franconia, Bavaria in the turmoil of 1943. This is a story that many of you know and many of you have heard me tell. But because we have just been to Neustadt, seen the brewery, found the schloss, met the Baron and trod where Juliana’s small feet trod as a child, I will tell you the story again, in the words of my mother Juliana, as she told it to me.

Francesca (me) and Juliana (my Mum) August 1982

Valentina Busarova, my Grandmother, was a beautiful 18 year-old student from Novorossisk in Russia, near the Black Sea. She was not only beautiful but clever too. She had won a scholarship to study at the University of Krasnodar. But Operation Barbarossa was already underway. She left her home town in 1942 to travel to her university and a few days later her mother and brother were killed in an air-raid in Novorosissk. She rushed back but her mother had already died, hit by shrapnel at the entrance to the air-raid shelter and her brother Sergei died a few days later. Novorossisk fell and Nanna was captured by German troops and taken, along with many other able-bodied Russian women, to work in the German factories and farms.

Francesca, Valentina, Juliana and Max - UK, 1984

She fared better than most. She had studied German at school and  was able to speak to one of the German soldiers, a man by the name of Hans Burkart. She reminded him of his younger sister, Maria. He wanted to help her and told her that his family owned a brewery in Bavaria, in Neustadt an der Aisch – the largest such brauhaus in Mittel Franken, no longer brewing since 1998. He said that she could go and work for them and pretended that she was Volksdeutsche (German diaspora) to arrange for her to be transferred there.

Burkart Brewery

Burkart Brewery

Nanna lived with the Burkart family and worked for them as a domestic. They treated her well and she ate with them at the same table. She became friends with Maria, whom she corresponded with until Maria’s death a few years ago. Hans sadly did not survive the war, he survived the fighting but died on the retreat back from the Russian front.

Meanwhile my Grandpa, Fyodor Rusakov, was an officer in the Red Army. He too had been captured and with other Russian prisoners of war had been sent to work as a farm labourer on the outskirts of Neustadt. Here he met Nanna in 1943.

Grandpa, Francesca and Juliana - 1980

It being a Russian officer’s duty to escape capture or fight to the death, my Grandpa and a comrade escaped. Both, however, were recaptured and sent to the infamous Flossenburg, a concentration camp on the Czech border. By this stage, unbeknownst to my Grandpa, Nanna was already pregnant with my mum, Juliana.

Nanna was then sent in 1944, when Juliana was only a few months old, to work for a Baroness in a schloss called Sommersdorf, more than 50 km south of Neustadt.

Schloss Sommersdorf

Schloss Sommersdorf

Nanna worked for the Baroness Von Crailsheim in Sommersdorf Schloss through the bitter winter of 1944 until the end of the war. Circumstances at the Schloss dictated that she hide Juliana in a small bathroom while she cleaned and served each day. Juliana was a tiny, malnourished baby. Nanna had little food to eat and because of this was unable to breastfeed. Juliana was on the verge of starvation until the local nuns suggested that my Nanna feed her crushed apples.

When the war ended Juliana was just 16 months old. With no family and no home, Nanna picked her up and walked all the way back to Neustadt. (This was a journey that we have now retraced some 66 years later, albeit on our bicycles).

Abby and Francesca in Neustadt main square

Abby and Francesca in Neustadt main square

Back in Neustadt, some months later, she found my Grandfather – or he found her, with Juliana in her arms. He had been liberated from Flossenburg by the American army. By an extraordinary coincidence, the US army division that liberated my Grandpa comprised one of my Dad’s great uncles – Sonny Corrigan – from the Irish side that had long ago emigrated to the US.

After the war Nanna and Grandpa lived with Juliana and then Nina too in Neustadt until 1949. In an effort to make ends meet, Grandpa drove trucks for the American army and Nanna found work in a lemonade factory. They planned to return to Russia but were warned against doing so by those who had heard that POWs, considered traitors by Stalin, were either shot at the border or taken to the Siberian gulags.

Juliana in Neustadt aged 2

Juliana in Neustadt aged 2

So instead they remained with Juliana attending the local kindergarten and witnessing the birth of her little sister Nina. The family continued to scrape together what funds they could, as Europe began to reshape. Eventually the family had enough to emigrate to Australia. Mum recalled Grandpa cycling from Neustadt to Wurzburg to organise their papers (bicycles are a recurrent theme!).

At age 5 Mum boarded the Wooster Victory, an old British troop carrier, in Naples along with her sister and parents – I think Nanna was by now pregnant with Aunty Vickie. Mum remembered Nanna pointing out the walls of Rome to her from the train, eating watermelons and the red fezzes of the Suez canal.

Grandpa, Victor, Vicki, Nina, Nana (pregnant with Anne) and Juliana - Australia, 1950s

It has been an extraordinary pilgrimage to undertake as part of our bicycle adventure. Thank you, wonderful Abby, for coming all the way down from Berlin to Neustadt and Sommersdorf to visit us and for helping us find Maria Burkart’s cousin, the Baron and the schloss. We would not have managed without you. Maybe Sam would have sniffed out the old Brauhaus, but that would have been it.

Many of you know that my mum died in December. I know she would have loved to have heard our tales, maybe even to have accompanied us at some point (although certainly not on a bicycle!) and I so wish we could tell her about our adventures now.

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16 Responses to In Juliana’s footsteps…

  1. Cith says:

    My love!
    So wonderful that you could go and retrace your mum’s steps and those of your grandmother too! The story has come alive for me (I hadn’t heard the Sonny connection before!) so I know this has been so meaningful for you. And great Abby could be with you to share it with you both. I;m so proud of you baby.
    Big kisses, hope to catch you on skype this week if you get to take a break from tearing up europe – you’re not messing around are you. Chewin up the miles.
    Love, pants, and all that

  2. Hannah Blom-Cooper says:

    This is a fantastic tale and really brought home to me just how certain our 21st century lives are in comparison to the uncertainty your Nanna, Grandpa and Mum experienced. I am happy that you have retraced this tale and collected these photos as the next generation will find these events even harder to believe. Louis is asleep now but I will read your post to him tomorrow. He is bound to have lots of questions like only a 5 year old can….

    Lots of love to you two
    Home Team HQ

  3. Francesca E. Blom-Cooper says:

    What a wonderful journey for you to make and the first I’ve heard of the story. So many stories during those years and to have you and your Mum and family as a part of them makes them so much more poignant. The photos are all wonderful. I am certainly enjoying being on this journey with you and GBC (aka Sam). Stay well, happy and filled with local wine and cheese…or beer.

    Love to you both,
    Francesca BC

  4. Emma Secher says:

    Well that certainly left me with a tear-stained face! Such a brilliant thing to do, Cesca and so beautifully told. Lol to you and Sam

    PS Oscar now has a bike (though his feet don’t yet reach the floor)! xx

  5. Nina (Little sister!!!) says:

    What a wonderful story Ceca!! Even I didn’t know the extent of it!! I am sitting in the Pistoia library (Italy) with tears running!! Terrific that you traced our footsteps and could show such lovely photos!! Am soooo thrilled that you are doing what you are doing and keep on pedalling!! Around about when do you think you will be cycling thru Croatia??
    Much love to you both
    Nina and David xxxxxxxxxxx

  6. Ian Aitkenhead says:

    Hello and best wishes to you both – a beautiful story, and one of what I’m sure will be many, many memorable moments on your trip.

    LB-C’s asked me to contact you through this site (and I couldn’t find a more direct way than by leaving a comment on your post – do feel free to delete this when you’ve read it!) to ask whether you know yet where you might be on 27 March so that he can book his passage to meet up with you, and whether you could call him or send him a message through me about that…

    With best wishes for the next stage of your adventure,


  7. Anika says:

    Hello Francesca. I really enjouyed reading that. What a history!

    Keep on keeping on!

    All my love

    Anika xx

  8. Martha says:

    How amazing to keep the story of Julianna’s early childhood alive by retracing her footsteps and those of your Nana and Grandpa. What a resilient couple they must have been.
    I hope you raised a glass of beer to them all.
    Keep peddling and hope to catch you on skype for a chat soon.
    Much love to you both,

  9. Michelle Templeton says:

    Juliana’s story is really incredible and it’s wonderful you and Sam were able to retrace her footsteps. I could hear her voice telling the story along with yours. Thank you for sharing this, dear Francesca! We Seattle Templetons are with you in spirit every mile of the way and we all send you and Sam lots of love xo

  10. It’s very moving to read this story. You already mentioned it to me during our Breda city-tour. I myself was born in 1945 in the Netherlands and I still remember the poor circumstances of my childhood. I feel very grateful when I realize how Europe is now. In my own very lifetime the continent has changed from a place of hatred and death into a prosperous region where people of different cultures work closely together, even have one currency. I’m a proud European.
    Eveline has her own wartime story. Her mother’s house, sitting very close to the bridge across the Hollands Diep (the largest bridge you crossed when you were cycling to our house), was completely bombed away in 1944. As an 18-year-old girl she and her family were evacuated and to a little village near Breda, where she met a young man etc. etc.
    Let’s hope Europe will remain successful and united, as again dark clouds rise over the horizons.

    It seems that you are riding the same route as we did last summer. Did you visit Salzburg and Graz? If so, how did you cross the Tauernpass? I consider it quite a thing, cycling in these winter circumstances. But you seem to be tough enough, even enjoying the snow along the way.

    Keep rolling and enjoy the “liberation”,
    Breda, The Netherlands

  11. John Wright says:

    Dear Francesca and Sam,
    What a fantastic journey you are undertaking. I have forwarded this link to your cousin Michelle who will love to read about our family history and see those great photos. Juliana certainly would have loved to have been there with you while retracing her steps. I believe she would have given the biking a go too though!
    Have loved your whole story and all the pictures. Very entertaining reading and viewing.
    Love Anne,John, Alex and Stefan

  12. Michelle Remin says:

    Dear Francesca,
    What an adventure!! Sounds and looks like you are having a fantastic time.
    I loved reading Nana and Pops’ story…I actually have the biggest lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. We are all so very lucky to have had and still have such strong, determined, hard working and spirited grandparents. I have spent a while searching records and it is so interesting. You can even access the Wooster Victory ship records and Flossenberg camp records where Poppas name and DOB appear but am a little stuck…did Poppa have a brother? Nina may know…Hi, love and hugs to you Nin and David if you read this xx. Enjoy the next stage of your adventure Francesca and I look forward to reading your next post. Love and hugs to you too xx

  13. Jmaes Templeton says:

    That is a great story. Thanks for sharing. I think about Juliana all the time.

    Keep on trucking we’re following along with you here in Seattle.



  14. Sarah Nader says:

    Hi fellow Eden Camp Nuaiba breakfast tahina loving travelers,

    Seems so surreal to read your blog and connect the dots to our amazing stay in Eden together. So grateful to have spent apart of your journey with you on a little piece of heaven, Nuaiba.

    Sorry we did not have a final coffee / morning together my ride wisked me off– enjoy the rest of your journey. It is truly inspirational and amazing what you are doing–will think of you often.

    Will always remember waiting for the moon, while hammering out conspiracies!

    Keep shining
    Sarah Nader

  15. Ahmed Ebeid says:

    Its was a pleasure getting to meet you guys. You certainly have friends now Egypt and I hope as your trip goes on you make more friends along the way. People like you help bring us all together…slowly but surely.

    Good Luck on your trip and pls come back to Red Sea one day.

    Be Safe,

  16. Pingback: Australia – Unclad in the Lucky Country | Odycycle

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