Donauschwaben in den USA

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Our Parents, Deportation to Russia

Part III of a Series

By Hans Kopp


The Deportation of my Parents, As Remembered


          Do you know why our parents were deported to Russia? Think for a moment. Because they were at home, they were not in anybodies war and were innocent of any involvement of what they were accused of by Stalin, the Allied and ultimately Tito.

          Then my mother returned home and my grandfather had already come home by then. My father was still out there somewhere. Finally, a few days before Christmas of 1944, my father returned home with several other men from our town, they had been taken to the Baranja to dig fortifications for the Russians, as we learned from him later. I was overjoyed by the return of my father. It brought great relief and happiness to our family and we had hoped our lives would now continue on a normal path.

          Christmas Eve 1944, it was a memorable Christmas Eve. It was the last time our family was together in our home, in our hometown, in our church celebrating the birth of Christ. What a privilege it was for me to serve as an altar boy during the last Midnight Mass celebrated by our community and by our family in Batschsentiwan. The church was packed with people that night. There was no room left to sit or stand. Hundreds of people who could not get into the church stood outside, they would not leave, they just wanted to be close to God, to hear His word and to find hope and comfort in it. Serving Holy Communion seemed to never end that night. It was a night filled with sorrow and tears. It was a night filled with fears and uncertainty. It was a night filled with prayers and faith in God. It was a night I relive every Christmas Eve during Midnight Mass.

          The joy of my fathers’ return did not last very long. On December 27th the town crier (Trommelmann) announced that all men between the ages of 17 and 40 and women between the ages of 18 and 35 had to report for duty at the soccer field by noon. The soccer field was ideal for the Partisans’ plans since it was fenced in with a high wooden fence. Exactly what duty they were to report for no one knew. After all the people summoned were present at the soccer field, (most came out of fear), the Partisans, with machine guns, positioned themselves at the exits of the field so that no one could leave. Patriotic speeches were made by one of the Partisan commanders telling them everyone had to work from now on and contribute to the welfare of all people. Then they were registered in groups of thirty and taken under guard to the Hotel (Gasthaus) Schönberger and other places overnight. Their relatives were told to bring them food and clothing for thirty days. The unfortunate misconception was that they would be coming home after this thirty-day work detail was completed; thus the families only packed old work clothes and very little bedding and other essential need for a longer stay.

          On December 28th 1944, the first group of men and women from Batschsentiwan, among them my father, were marched to Apatin under gunpoint by the Partisans. My mother was fortunate, she was sent home. However, her luck lasted only two days. Since she was among the people registered previously, she was summoned to the city hall with the excuse she would receive a release form, stated, it was required by the law. What actually had happened when the first transport of Donauschwaben arrived in Apatin, the main gathering place for the transports to Russia, was that the Russians realized that they did not have enough people to fill their quota. Therefore they ordered additional people from our town to fill it quickly since it was close by and all the people in town were of German ancestry. Instead of providing a release form for my mother and the other people of our town as promised, they were taken to the Jugendheim (Youth home) which was located right behind the church and held overnight.

          Early in the morning on December 31st I went to church with my grandmother to serve as an altar boy. Father Johann Pintz was celebrating mass that morning. Suddenly, Partisans with machine guns and rifles with mounted bayonets, stormed the church interrupting the service. To the horror of the congregation, they manhandled Father Pintz and pulled him by his arms and legs toward the main exit of the church and outside. Like lightning, panic and fear spread through the congregation as the Partisans began to hit several people with their guns as they ordered us to leave the church. They closed and locked the doors behind us. It was the last time the citizens of our town set foot in this church, the last time a church service was held in this house of God.

          My mother and several other women witnessing this horrible event from a window in the Jugendheim sent messages through the window to the people outside. When I received word that my mother was at the window I ran around to the back of the church to see her, but it was too late. As soon as the Partisans saw the women at the window they were chased away. Others informed my grandmother that the people held at the Jugendheim were to be taken to the train station soon. We rushed home and prepared food and clothing for my mother. As we began to hurry back we were made aware that the people were already on their way to the train station.

          We changed direction and headed directly to the train station. We were just in time to give my mother a bundle of food, clothes and a blanket. Then she was loaded into one of the cattle cars. Slowly the train started to roll out of the station and I ran behind it. The train stopped, and as I began to catch up with it, rifle fire whistled past my ear. I fell to the ground and a Russian soldier came running toward me. I could hear someone shouting, the soldier stopped, turned around, and ran back to the train. The train was ready to move out again. As I started to run closer to the train I saw my mother. She had seen me all along and kept calling, “Hansi, Hansi, do you have your pocket knife with you? I do not have a knife with me!”

          Yes, I had my pocketknife with me, the pocketknife I had wished for and received just a few days earlier for Christmas. I ran up the grading as close as I could get along side the now slowly moving train. As I reached out to hand her the knife, I touched her hand for a last time. As the train moved faster, I fell exhausted to my knees with my hands on my face on the ground. I wept and wept and wept and felt an indescribable emptiness in my heart as if I knew I might never see her again. When I raised my head I could see the train disappearing in the distance through my tear-filled eyes.

          I do not remember how and when I did get home. One thing I do remember though is the fact that I was frozen stiff. Two women from our neighborhood, Mrs. Michel’s and Mrs. Reinhardt were with my grandmother and they were talking about the departure of their loved ones with the latest train. I think they knew the destination for the transports was Russia. They speculated as too what the New Year would bring for us.

          The New Year would bring uncertain times and many hardships, but no one did they suspect that shortly into the New Year we would be taken too from our homes, never to return. I do not remember if we wished each other a happy New Year that day. My grandmother took me and sat me on top of the warm cast iron cooking stove, kissing my tears away and she asked; why I was crying as if she did not know, “I want my Mommy to come home,” I replied in tears. She gave me an understanding hug along with the last Christmas orange. The tears subsided but the pain and the anguish I felt in my heart did not.



My Father Remembers Russia


          When my father arrived in Apatin on December 28th 1944, they were moved into a warehouse and held there for several days. At that time my father had no knowledge that may mother too was somewhere in close proximity of him to be deported to Russia. Thinking that she was at home with their children gave him some comfort. On January 2nd 1945 they were loaded into cattle cars. The freight train loaded with thousands of Donauschwaben departed Apatin at about 10:00 O’clock in the morning and moved out in the direction of Russia, although they did not know that at the time, it became clear to them when they crossed the border into Romania.

          It took two weeks for the freight train to arrive in Kharkov, Ukraine, the final destination for some of the men and women, among them my father. There were no provisions made for food distribution or hygiene while on the train. People had to eat what they brought from home. If they didn’t bring anything to eat they starved, or were at the mercy of their companions. The only water available to them was from the snow collected when the train stopped. To provide for their daily needs, they cut a hole in the floor of the railroad car. There was no privacy, since about 30 men and women were cramped into a car. Prior to their departure, some, but not all of the train cars had bunks installed with wooden blanks double-decked. It was clear to them that they were used to transport Russian soldiers to the war zone. There was a small stove in the car to boil water and provide heat for them. The men had to collect firewood when the train stopped, if no firewood was found they had to freeze. No wonder many people became ill while still on the train. Several men spoke of escaping, however, the bitter cold and the exposure to the elements made this impossible. A short distance before Kharkov several train cars were disconnected. The people on that part of the train were taken elsewhere, among them my father's cousin, Anna Haberstroh. He never saw her again as she died on the way home from Russia when she was released because of illness. Now her tree year old daughter Maria was an orphan.

          Upon arrival in Kharkov, men and women were placed in separate barracks. They were grouped into details to clean up Kharkov. Their duties included separating reusable from non-usable building materials at bombed out building sites. After a few weeks in Kharkov, the tragedy began; most of the provisions people had brought with them were now depleted. Food was scarce in Russia even for the Russians. The food provided in the camps by the Russians was neither enough nor was it of any nutritional value. The result was devastating; people became undernourished, sick, and began to die. The cold of the winter added to their demise. Unfortunately, the Russian Commander was able to buy the cooperation of several men among the ranks of the laborers to spy on their fellow men. There was a Judas among them. Later he too was betrayed and lost his life. The spy criticized two seventeen-year-old boys, whom he felt did not work hard enough. The boys, Toni Brandecker and his friend Michael Geppert, only 18 years old, were summoned by the Commander and punished and locked up in a hut without heat, light, food or water. They froze to death a short time after they were taken there.

          My father recognized early, that conserving his strength was extremely important in order to survive. He worked as little as he thought he could get away with. The same man turned my father’s name into the commander for not working hard enough. My father was brought to the commander to answer the charges. My father was fortunate; his punishment was; to join fifteen other men with similar wrongdoing and work on a night shift in a nearby sawmill. Ironically, this turned out to be a blessing and perhaps saved my father’s life.

          It provided my father with his first opportunity to exploit the Russian system. As a member of the heavy-duty detail he managed to eat twice by going through the meal line with his work detail and a second time with the regular men. A second opportunity he recognized was the black market. The Russian public was very much deprived of building materials as well as firewood for their homes. They would do anything to lay their hands on the sawmill products and as a result the black market flourished. It was a daily routine for my father and his companions to sell lumber to the Russians public. Since they included their guards in the deals it was easy to move materials out from sawmill at night. The money he earned allowed my father to buy food and other items at the nearby bazaar on his way back from work. Standing in the meal line twice became unnecessary. There is no question that what my father and these men did, including the Russian guards, was extremely dangerous. However, their survival was the only thing that mattered. They did not want to die of starvation, so they took the risks.

          When my father left home he carried two pictures with him, a family picture and a picture of my brother and me in our First Communion sailor suits. These two pictures were his prized possessions during his stay in Russia. They reminded him of his family and gave him the necessary willpower and strength to fight for his survival in a hostile environment. Those two pictures are the only original pictures we have of our family.

          Several people attempted to escape from the camp. Almost everyone was recaptured a day or two later. Those recaptured were returned to camp and brutally beaten by the soldiers to set an example and to discourage further attempts by others. My father, discouraged by others failures, abandoned his plans to escape. Fortunately, for him and our family, he was released from Russia and returned home on the first transport of sick people. As more and more people became ill, the Russians made plans to return the sick, since they became useless for them and they did not want them to become Russian statistics. On October 1, 1945, the first transport was to be sent on its way. When my father learned of the transport, he purchased a large quantity of tobacco at the bazaar. Hour’s prior to his doctor does examine, he made several Majorca’s for himself, (a Russian cigarette wrapped in newspaper). He smoked one after the other and inhaled very heavily to speed up his heart rate and raise his blood pressure. He complained that he was very ill. The doctor verified his high heartbeat and high blood pressure and gave him a pass to return home. My father’s scheme worked.

          Again, men and women were placed together on freight trains and shipped out without food or other kind of provisions to sustain their lives. My father’s efforts on the black market allowed him to save about 3,000 Ruble. He used this money to purchase food for himself and his friends, mostly people from our hometown Batschsentiwan and the neighboring town of Apatin. One of the well-to-do farmers from back home promised my father, “For every Ruble you give me, I will give you a fat pig when we get home”.

           After most of the money was gone, he had to find a new way to obtain food. This is how the scheme of selling my father’s new underwear he had purchased at the bazaar in Kharkov, started. When the train stopped at a station my father offered his underwear to the Russians in exchange for bread. After the bargain was completed and the bread was handed to my father, his friends pulled him to the rear of the train compartment without giving up his underwear. This scheme worked several times. The last time he traded his underwear he bargained for a bottle of vodka with which they celebrated what they thought was their return home.

          Soon after they left Russia and traveled through Foschini, Romania, my father's second cousin, Josef Prokopp, died. He was buried in a bombed out crater by my father and Franz Weißgerber, another relative, near the railroad tracks where the train had stopped for several days. After the train traveled through Hungary and made an attempt to enter Yugoslavia, it was stopped. The Yugoslavian Government did not want to allow the Germans to return to Yugoslavia. The only thing the men and women on the train wanted is to go home and resume their lives. It took three days before the Donauschwaben were allowed to reenter their homeland. They were taken to Belgrade and from there to Novi Sad (Neusatz) where the real disappointment came. Instead of returning home, they were separated into two groups, those who were able to work and those who were ill and not able to work.

          My father lined himself up with the group of people who were ill and unable to work. His friend, Josef Kirchenmeier, warned him that the sick would be taken to Jarek, one of the infamous death camps. He switched to the group of people able to work. They were lined up like slaves at the market so that Serbians looking for help could select them. When my father was asked by one of the farmers if he knew how to milk goats he said; “certainly”, even though he had never milked one before in his life. To be a goat herder was to be close to a food source and not have to work hard. This appealed to my father and he was sold to a farmer from Novi Sad. My father worked for him from November 16, 1945 until May 1, 1946.

          During his stay in Novi Sad he was able to locate his brother with the help of a Catholic priest from our hometown. The priest managed to get a letter from my father to my uncle and also obtain one from my uncle in return. From my uncles letter, my father learned that we were in Gakowa and that my mother was taken to Russia. The news that we were in Gakowa, known by then as the “town where the people die”, was heartbreaking for him. More heartbreaking for him however was the news that our mother was not with us. He feverishly planned to reach us in Gakowa. He asked the farmer for two weeks off and requested an advance pay and a travel document. With the advance and travel document in hand he set on his way to Gakowa.


My Father's Arrival in Gakowa


          Upon my father’s arrival in Gakowa, he was taken prisoner by the Partisans at the town’s entrance and taken to the cellar prison; from here he was able to get a message to us. When we heard of my father’s arrival in Gakowa my brother and I rushed to the prison to look for him at the window of the cellar. My brother called, “Fatr, Fatr!” (“Dad, Dad!”). We saw movement in the cellar and a man appeared at the window that eagerly stretched his neck to see who was outside. What we saw was a strange, unshaven, unrecognizable man in dirty clothes. Was this man our father? My brother and I squeezed as close to the window as possible. “Franzi! Hansi!” we heard a voice from deep down the cellar. I recognized his voice and was sure now; it was my father. I stood in awe and could not stop gazing at his face. A happy overwhelming feeling filled my heart which was so indescribably wonderful. I had never felt anything like that before in my life. We could not touch each other. I just kept staring at his face behind the window and hoped that this warm feeling that filled my heart would never stop. Our father begged us for news of the family. My brother commenced to tell him that our mother was taken to Russia, but he already knew. Then he told my father that our grandmother was beaten to death. I don’t know if he knew that.

          My father remembers our reunion from a different perspective, from the other side of the window. When he heard my brother calling, one of the men in the prison said to him, “Hans, your children are here”. He got up from the floor and rushed to the window as quickly as he could. What he saw was shocking. He saw the thin, undernourished faces of two children whose fur hats were pulled down over their foreheads, dressed in their First Communion suits, which were torn and stained. The words that came from my mouth, as I stuck my head close to the window, pierced his heart. “Vat'r hoscht nix zum esse mitgebrunge” (Father did you bring something to eat?). He still remembers those words, and he told this story to my children time and time again. Certainly he had brought food with him, but the Partisans took everything away when he was arrested.

          After hearing those words my father swore he would do whatever it would take to obtain food so that his children would never have to starve again. Later that same day, my father had to appear in front of Commander Grabic who told him he had to return to Novi Sad. He ordered an escort to take my father out of town without being able to see us. On his way my father met a farmer from Bereg, a town near the Hungarian border who offered him work as a bricklayer repairing his water well (Schwenkelbrunnen).

           The farmers promised to pay my father upon completion of his work, so that he could purchase food and bring it to us. After my father completed his work, the farmer asked him to do more work for him and told him that he would pay him the following week. This was unacceptable for my father, who worried about us and wanted to bring us food as soon as possible feeling time was of the essence. My father left that night and took some clothes from the clothesline as payment. He traded the clothes the next day for food and returned to Gakowa on hidden paths to avoid being captured. It was not hard for my father to find us since we had told him where we stayed. When he stepped through the door of our room everyone was ecstatic and happy to see him. He embraced his mother, my aunt, her children and us. Our excitement grew even more when we saw the food he had brought. As little as there was, to us it was heaven. Of course none of us wanted to move from his side until finally my brother and I fell asleep peacefully one in each of his arms.

          After my father was talking to our street coordinator, Josef Lehrmann, who did ask him to make himself available for the daily working details that formed at city hall. My father was placed in charge of a work detail immediately because of his command of the Serbo-Croatian language. His assignment was to go out to the wheat fields and pick up the wheat the harvesting machines left behind.

          My father became a very popular person in a short time. He permitted his work detail to skip work and go begging for food to take back to camp. Of course, not much work did get done. In the days that followed everyone wanted to be on detail with my father and this was understandable. When my father reported his progress to Commander Grabic he highly exaggerated. When Commander Grabic learned hardly any work was accomplished he became furious and demanded to see my father. But my father was nowhere to be found. In his effort to find my father the commander made an announcement that all citizens of Batschsentiwan were to meet at city hall where they would be set free and receive the required travel releases to return home. There was no truth to the announcement and it was clear that it was only made to lure my father from his hideout. My father, who recognized the seriousness of the situation early enough, had left Gakowa traveled in the direction of Sombor and Batschsentiwan to see his brother.


My Mother Remembers Russia


          An estimated 1,400 men and women of German descent from Batschsentiwan, Batsch-Brestowatz, Bereg, Neudorf, Bukin, Kernei, Kolut, Obrovac, Parabutsch, and Tscheb and several other towns rode the second freight train that left Apatin on January 2, 1945 at 1:30 in the afternoon in the direction of Russia. My mother knew my father was among the people loaded on one of the compartments of the train that day; however she did not know which one nor was she given the opportunity to contact him and let him know she was here too. All her desperate efforts to contact him failed due to the lack of cooperation from the guards.

          There were approximately 40 to 45 cars on which an average 30 to 35 people were loaded and shipped out to the Ukraine. They were confined into a compartment without facilities or comforts. At the Russian border, they changed to a wide track Russian troop transport train. This exposed them to a new plague, lice. The train they transferred to served the Russian army and was infested with lice. There was nothing to eat on the train except for what they brought from home. Most of the bread supply disappeared after ten days. They traded bacon with the Russians for bread at the train stations they passed. The Russians loved the bacon. They also loved to sing and never seemed to sleep. Their singing could be heard everywhere the train traveled. At first it seemed monotonous, but when one listened closely, the feeling they expressed with their songs could be sensed. Hunger was a constant companion as the train took them deeper and deeper into Russia. As the conditions on the train became more unbearable, many men and women became ill. Two women and one man died prior to them arrived in Antratsit and were laid to rest near the railroad tracks.

          The train arrived in Antratsit on January 19, 1945, but they stayed on the train overnight. The next day they were unloaded from the train and walked to a labor camp. The camp was on the former property of a large farm estate located about 11 kilometers from the coal mine shafts. There were six buildings that suffered heavy damages as the war front ravaged the area for ten months. The housing complex was surrounded with barbed wire. Its exit was only wide enough for one person to pass through at a time. This made it easy for the guards to check the prisoners.

          Upon their arrival at the camp, they had to clean up the rooms and repair the buildings in order to make them half way livable. This meant boarding up windows with wood, building wooden bunks to sleep on and installing stoves to heat the rooms. One of their problems was the lack of space and as a result three people had to sleep in one bunk and in three shifts. This was extremely uncomfortable having to sleep perched like sardines in alternating positions head-feet-head, although women were separated from the men. When the cleanup was completed on February 9th they were grouped into work details to clean up the coalmines. When some individuals complained about the poor conditions that existed, the commander’s reply was, “Dein Hitler hat alles kaput gemacht” (Your Hitler destroyed everything).

          The knife I gave my mother as she left Batschsentiwan became her most important and most guarded possession. She carried the pocketknife in a small bag strung around her neck. It became her talisman of luck, something to hang onto and to remember her family by, during her four-year ordeal as a slave laborer in Russia. Upon her return from Russia she returned the knife to me. This small pocketknife became my daily companion until I lost it unfortunately in the early 1970’s.

          In general, the laborers were not mistreated, although one of the guards named Wolgow was brutal and enjoyed beating them. The shortage of water was the biggest problem since all the waterlines were destroyed during the time the war front moved through. Therefore, water had to be hauled to the compound in a bathtub loaded on wagons or sleds, during the winter. It was understandable that personal hygiene and washing clothes were almost impossible and this promoted the multiplication of flies, lice, and bedbugs. These pests later caused a fierce typhus epidemic. Controlling the pests was a daily struggle, especially the bedbugs. My mother took containers in which she poured oil and placed them under the legs of their bunk so the bedbugs could not climb up the leg. It was of some help but did not stop the bedbugs completely. They climbed up the wall to the ceiling and then dropped themselves down on peoples’ faces.

          Work details were organized into various groups according to skills and job classifications. There were three shifts a day to get the coalmines ready. Men and women were scheduled in the shifts to work six days in the mines and the seventh day doing other types of work. They were rotated from first shift, to second shift, to third shift every three months. On the eve of the first work day, the camp commander spoke of their duties and just and fair treatment using Lenin’s philosophy: “Those who work well, shall eat well.” Their diet was anything but what the Commander had said. It consisted mainly of watery soups and bread. The tomato soup was prepared with water and pickled green tomatoes. When the pickled tomatoes were gone, they received pickled cucumber soup. When the cucumbers were gone, laborers went into the fields and picked various weeds to cook. The weeds tasted better in the soup than the pickled tomatoes or cucumber, despite their bitter taste.

          During the summer, it was somewhat better because beans and potatoes were added to their diet. The mainstay of their diet consisted of Sowjetski Hljeb, a bread that was wet and heavy. The bread was rationed according to the job classification and one received either an 800 or a 500-gram slice. Despite the poor quality of the bread, laborers would have been extremely grateful if it was available every day. During the long winter months, the supply truck often never reached the camp because of deep snow. The commander lived up to Lenin’s motto and paid the laborers. If they worked, they received payment every day but you also had to buy your meals every day.

          The pay laborer received was not always enough to pay for the daily meals. This presented a problem when one became ill and could not work and therefore did not get paid. In May of 1945, my mother’s wages were well below her living expenses. She was forced to sell some of her much needed clothing and necessities to pay for meals. My mother sold her shawl and other pieces of clothing. The moral of the story was simple: “Do not get sick, if you get sick keep working, and if you can not work, die!”

          Since survival was top priority and the pay was not enough to get by, creative ways were found to survive, such as selling their daily bread ration to the Russians at the bazaar. They paid for meals in the morning and were issued three meal tickets. Bread was only available in the morning with the soup. Soup was served at noon and in the evening; this was the extent of their meals. They took the slice of bread they purchased in the morning to the bazaar to offer it for sale to the Russian public. If a good sale was made they could purchase a meal for another day. If the money was not enough to pay for the meals they starved another day and waited for the next pay. Can you envision the site of our mothers and fathers standing at the bazaar holding a slice of bread in their hands and offering this their only slice of bread to the Russians? It was heart breaking. It is difficult to perceive how once proud men and women humbled themselves in order to survive. For many the effort was in vain. The men and women of the labor camp existed under these extremely poor conditions for two years.

          There was little opportunity to go out to the Russian public and beg for food, since the prisoners were closely guarded most of the time. Once, my mother managed to go begging, however all the food was taken away from her at the gate. A Russian woman passed their way one-day with apples she had bought at the bazaar and offered an apple to one of the laborers. In no time was she surrounded and all her apples were gone. The Russian woman paid dearly for her kindness, but it is beyond understanding what hunger does to a human being.

          On the free day or seventh day they performed other types of duties, one of which was stealing. Stealing from each other was a part of Russian life. Sometimes they helped with the harvest. Several times they were taken to potato fields to dig up potatoes. Even during winter when the ground was frozen. They would hide a few good potatoes in their pants by tying the bottom of their pant leg in the hope they could bring them into the camp and bake them on their stove they were a rare treat.

          Actually, the “go stealing details” were welcome, since they presented at times the only opportunity to find food. The food obtained on these details made a big difference in their effort to survive. To no one’s surprise they were required to steal raw materials, such as wood and cement that was needed in the coalmines. It may sound strange, but the Russians stockpiled materials without releasing them. Perhaps it gave the impression that there was a lot on hand. In addition the bureaucracy worked so slow in supplying materials where they were needed, that the commander had no choice but to order them to be stolen in order to get his work done.

          Usually a guard took workers to the storage sites and then he ordered them to get the material from the storage stockpile, while he waited at a distance until the men and women had shouldered the materials and returned. Then he marched them with the loot to the coalmines to unload it. Once my mothers group was spotted and everyone had to run away. My mother was the last person and the man pursuing her was able to get his hand on her shawl and tear it away from her. He presented it as evidence against her the next day to the camp commander. She was called into the office of the commander where she was reprimanded and placed on the hard labor detail as punishment for something he had ordered her to do.

          As some of the men and women became severely ill, the Russians sent them home. Before the transport was able to get under way, a typhus epidemic broke out and the Russians quarantined the entire camp. The quarantine started in October of 1945 and ended in January of 1946. As a measure against typhus, everyone was shaven bald and an extensive pest cleaning procedure with poisonous chemicals was put in place. This was the extent of what was done. Proper nutrition and medical aid were never provided to control the typhus. The sleeping conditions on cold wooden planks did not help either.

          During the days of the quarantine, my mother and my uncle, Franz Greif, made a daily trip to the barbed wire fence just to be a few steps closer to home. Desperation and grief drove them there, where they allowed their thoughts to travel to their loved ones. During the quarantine the daily death toll on average reached ten people. My mother became infected with typhus and my Uncle Franz Greif visited at her bedside to give her moral support during this difficult time.

          When the quarantine ended, there were less than 900 people of the 1400 brought there still alive. My mother kept a list of 67 people from Batschsentiwan who lost their lives during her stay in Russia. The actual death toll from our hometown, during the five-year period that Antratsit was in operation, was 88.

          Among those people was my twenty-three year old aunt, Susanna Drescher. She died in May of 1945, exactly one year after she was married. She was still in mourning at that time for her husband, Nikolaus Drescher, who died on the battlefield in July of 1944 shortly after their wedding. My uncle, Franz Greif, was another relative who lost his life in his prime at age thirty-four. He owned a butcher shop and having had no children of his own he liked me very much. The affection was mutual and I visited him frequently. My reward for visiting him was always a big piece of his fine sausage.

          During our stay in Gakowa, my Uncle Hans Eibach had an opportunity to go through our former homes and search for pictures. He found photos of my grandparents (Kopp), the wedding picture of my Uncle Michael and Aunt Katharina, and the wedding picture of my Uncle Franz Greif.

          Not far from the camp in Antratsit was a cemetery where German soldiers who died here were laid to rest, which the workers had to pass each day on their way to the coalmines. It reminded them daily of the battles that raged here during the war. The graves in the cemetery had simple crosses with the soldier’s helmet on top. The cemetery for the laborers was located near the camp. In the beginning, friends and relatives of deceased coalmine workers were allowed to decorate the graves of their loved ones with a cross and flowers. One day, tractors with tillers came, turned the land over, and potatoes were planted on the gravesites.


Anna Burghardt Remembers Her Escape



          With the extreme conditions and no hope for improvement, many people risked their lives to escape. Most of them did not make it very far and were caught shortly after. The punishments were brutal beatings in front of their fellow workers to discourage others from trying to escape, nevertheless, it did not stop people from trying again. My mother knows of several people from our hometown who successfully escaped. Anna Burghardt was one of the heroines who braved an escape together with her sister, Regina Stadlhofer, and Anna Kurin.

          Prior their escape, the women traded their excess clothing for food and cash. They left the camp in Antratsit one evening in August 1945 in an attempt to eventually reach home. They traveled at night and rested during the day avoiding drawing attention to them. Their first object was to put some distance between themselves and Antratsit. They used the stars as a guide on their way. Five days into their journey, they were spotted and captured by the Russians and taken to a POW camp where German soldiers were kept.

          Fortunately, they had come too far to be returned to Antratsit. Eight days after their capture, they were able to escape from this camp and continue their journey home. Traveling at night brought on additional hardship, and Anna Kurin turned herself in to the Russians, as she could no longer cope with the difficulties of the trip. Anna Burghardt and her sister pressed on. With luck, they blended into the Russian scene and purchased train tickets. It took until mid-November, traveling on foot or train, to finally reach the Romanian border.

          They were captured again by border guards and taken to a holding camp for the winter. The women were given plenty of food and did not have to work, nor were they mistreated. On March 1, 1946, Anna and her sister were taken from the holding camp to Stalino (Doneck). Here they found themselves among 300 men and 50 women, some of them would-be escapees who had been recaptured. Among the people brought to Stalino were Eva Blechl (Müller) and Regina Haumann (Hermann), who had also escaped from Antratsit with Micheal Reitenbach. Once in Stalino, Anna and Regina worked in a large factory. The work was easy and the food was sufficient, however, they were not spared from a typhus epidemic that took the lives of Anna’s sister Regina and Eva Blechl. Anna was transferred from Stalino to Nepopotrofsky (Dnjepropeptrofsk) and from there later to Krwasok (Krivoj Rog). She was released in November of 1949 to Austria. Anna never regretted her escape from Antratsit, which she termed the worst camp with the worst conditions, and the highest death tolls she experienced.


In the Coal Mines


          It took workers one and a half years to make the coalmines operational. There were a total of seven shafts leading underground. The working conditions in the coalmines were dangerous. There was very limited safety gear available and safety measures taken for their protection because of shortages. Worst of all was the lack of gear to assist breathing. The miners had to work while sitting or lying down because of the small areas they were confined in. When one of the men, Hans Stranger, was crushed to death, the Commander held a big speech. He accused Hans of negligence and pointed out what would happen if they acted irresponsibly in the coalmines. There were slogans posted all around that read “Davaj Ugalj” (make more coal) and “Ugalj hljeb promisl jenosti” (coal, the bread of industry). Each day before entering the mineshafts, they were reminded to produce more coal than they did the day before. Below in the shafts, they were driven to produce more and more coal with the words, “Davai! Davai! Robota!” The Russian coal miners were exposed to the same drive the Germans were.

          The men had the more difficult tasks. They set off explosives and dig under extreme conditions, while the women loaded the coal on trolleys. My mother’s duty was mostly above ground unloading cement and lumber from the trains. She was also detailed at times as a break handler to run empty trolleys down the mineshaft. It was a very dangerous occupation for women and Barbara Schubert, from Groß Betschkerek, suffered a severe accident while on a trolley run down mineshaft 20B. She lost her balance and was thrown directly in front of an oncoming trolley, which ran over her body, crushing her rib cage and breaking several bones. That she survived the accident, and came out of the coalmine alive to tell about it was a miracle. Needless to say the accident crippled her for life. At the end of the day, everyone was allowed to bring pieces of coal back to camp. The coal was used for heating the soldiers’ housing, for the kitchen stove, and for their own barracks.

          German men and women worked side by side with Russian men and women. The Russian men and women, mostly young Ukrainians, assigned to work in the coalmines, had not come on their own free will. These young Ukrainians however were permitted to live in Krasnyy Luch as free citizens and had privileges the Germans laborers did not have. They received more pay, received more to eat and were allowed to raise vegetables for themselves during the summer. They were the main purchasers of the clothing and the bread our mothers and fathers were forced to sell in order to survive. They loved the pleated skirts of the German women, since two and sometimes three dresses could be made from one.

          The first transport to leave Russia was on September 12th, 1946, and the second transport left the camp on November 13th 1946. The people in poor health were sent on their way without any provisions making it difficult to survive. Many of them died on their way to freedom. They were forced to leave all their extra clothing behind, even the clothes they managed to purchase at the bazaar with their own meager earnings.

          It is noteworthy to mention that an occasional letter from people who wrote, in the hope that one of the letters might find its way to Antratsit, actually arrived there. The letters were sent in a variety of different ways and the news they brought was heart breaking. From these letters it was learned that everyone was expelled from their homes and taken to death camps. The letters included lists of relatives and friends who died in the death camps. As my mother tells me, most of the news received was very sad and extremely difficult to bear. A letter from Eva Seidl (Wahl) found its way to her husband Nikolaus. A note on the very bottom of the letter red: “Hans Kopp is here.” This was the first news my mother received about my father. She was thrilled to learn her husband had returned from Russia and was with their children.

          The remaining people in the camp were moved to a new camp and given better food and housing. Conditions became relatively tolerable from this time on. Some of the food they received was canned food from the United States. My mother brought one of the empty cans to Austria. The can once contained Spam from the Hormel Food Co. She used the can as a button container. The rations of American food were small and rare and usually not more than a teaspoonful three to four times a month. My mother told me the spoonful of Spam was the most delicious food they received during their stay in Antratsit.

          A Russian photographer was allowed into the camp to take pictures of people. My mother posed for the photographer along with her friend Barbara Schneider (Ott). Truly his photograph shot a masterpiece that expertly captured the expression of their faces. The faces tell the whole story of women in enslavement. The picture was taken during their third year in Antratsit. My mother’s face (lower left) looks carved of stone, as if all life disappeared from it. Her eyes are staring into a distant emptiness without a glimmer of hope. One can detect without mistake the strong determination and will power in her eyes. Her determination and willpower to survive at all costs kept her alive, so that she too one day would be free and reunited with her family. Barbara’s shows a trace of submission to her fate and perhaps the acceptance of the situation placed upon them by the cruelty of war. The faces that were once full of laughter, joy and happiness were now faces of stone, the faces of Antratsit.

          When I saw the picture for the first time I recognized the material of my mother’s dress. It was the pleated skirt she wore when she was taken from us. I always liked the skirt when my mother wore it at home. Now a dress and a skirt were made from it and the trim on the dress across the chest was made from the trim on the bottom of the skirt. The dress my mother’s friend wore was also made from one of my mother’s pleated skirts. These dresses tell us how people managed to make better use of the clothes they brought from home.

          Finally on July 17th 1948, it was my mother’s turn to be loaded on a transport train with the destination of East Germany. Twenty-six other people from our hometown, eighteen men and eight women, were with her on the train. My mother also recorded the men and women who returned with her from Russia, next to those who died there. We received word from her after her arrival in Dresden and sent word for her to come to Salzburg. My father took the bus to Salzburg to meet her and bring her to Obertrum. So as not to miss the arrival of the bus, my brother and I went to the bus stop early, hours early, to wait patiently.

           As the clock on the church steeple slowly ticked away the minutes, our excitement grew, we could no longer wait, and walked down the street far enough to be able to see the bus coming down the hill from Salzburg. When we saw the bus in the distance we ran back to the bus stop where my grandmother, my uncle and aunts were now waiting also with many friends to give her a warm welcoming reception. The bus came around the corner and stopped directly in front of us. The excitement had reached its peak. The door opened and a woman rushed toward me. I stood there stifled and stunned questioning who is that woman rushing toward me and embraced both my brother and me. My mother squeezed me on her bosom. I could hardly breathe and had to gasp for air but it didn’t matter. I had my mother to hold; it was the greatest feeling in the World. I had missed her, missed her dearly, for four long, painful years. Now that I held her so close, I felt everything was all right again, and did not hear the cheers from the large crowd welcoming her.

          The camp in Antratsit was closed on November 23, 1949. About four hundred survivors were on that last train arriving in Frankfurt/Oder, East Germany, a few days before Christmas according to, Michael Benzinger, one of the last men to return. Banners of the communist regime greeted them and invited them to stay in East Germany but no one did. On Christmas day the group arrived in Hof-Moschendorf, West Germany. What a wonderful Christmas gift, freedom.



The Deportation of 73,000 Donauschwaben



          In late fall of 1944 Stalin requested labor forces from Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia to rebuild his cities and coal mines. The Allied Nations granted his request for a time period of five years. From the countries of Hungary and Romania each 30,000 and Yugoslavia 13,000 Donauschwaben were deported to Russia on Christmas 1944. Selected were the Donauschwaben men and women in their prime, the women between the ages of 18 and 35 and the men between the ages of 17 and 40. When the deportation in December 1944 and January 1945 began, not all of the settlement areas of the Germans in Hungary were occupied by the Red Army.  At the time none of those Donauschwaben were effected.

          The Donauschwaben were taken by cattle cars during a three week long, cold journey to Russia. Some of the men and women could not endure the cumbersome journey without food or heat and perished. They were laid to rest along the railroad tracks in the vast land of Russia. After their arrival in the far reaching regions of Russia mostly the Ukraine, they were housed in bombed out houses or barracks and provided with a very limited food rations mostly of poor nutritional values. They were forced to work in coalmines, factories and on other types of slave labor details. Of those 73,000 deported Donauschwaben 12,000 died of malnutrition or disease, mainly Typhus.

          Under documentation of the expulsion and deportation of Germans from South East Europe, the Donauschwaben were exposed to worst faith among Germans and had to endure the brunt of the hatred of the Tito Partisans. According to the report from Bonn 1953-1962 and reprinted in Munich 1984 pages 111-113 one can read as early in December of 1944, Stalin requested the working force which was prior to the conclusion of the war.



     Picture shows my mother Katharina Kopp (foreground) and her friend Barbara Ott in 1947 during their third year as coal mine workers in Antratsit. 

     Reading from their stone faces one can only imagine what they had been through and their shear hopeless and helpless situation they found themselves in.


     Picture shows Anna Uhrich of Filipowa who became an author to write about her memoirs of the coal mine camps.

     Picture shows men and women of the Banat at a Russian coal mine camp. Their black faces indicate that they just came out of the mine.


     Picture shows women from Batschsentiwan in Antratsit the coal mine camp in which my mother was deported for 4 years.



     Picture shows four men from Batschsentiwan in 1947 with their coal mine lanterns.


     Picture shows a group of men and women from Apatin in a Kharkov slave labor camp in Russia. My father was one of the people who were deported to Kharkov. Perhaps close by.


     Picture shows women from Batschsentiwan in Antratsit the coal mine camp in which my mother was deported for 4 years.



     Picture shows a group of women and a man just arriving in Germany after their release from Russian slave labor camps. When looking at their faces one can tell the tremendous hardship they must have lived through.


     Picture shows women arriving at some of the last groups released from Russia in 1949. One can recognize several happy faces. Look at the right of the picture a mother is reunited with her daughter what a happy moment it must have been for both of them.


     Picture shows the faces of the Bauer Sisters from the Banat. The picture needs no comments; their faces tell of the hardship they are enduring.


     Picture shows a group of women the town of Kernei waiting in line to be processed after their arrival in a refugee camp in Germany where most of our men and women were taken.  

         Our women were often used as mules, to plow the fields as it is seen here among other undignified tasks they had to perform.

     The strain of the women pulling the plow can be readily seen in their faces.



     The identification document of Katharina Kopp from the USSR her number was 61948 a mere statistic.


     Interesting to note for those who do speak German is the ironic statement which refers to her home country.


       Kopp Kathia geboren 1914 ist aus dem Kriegsgefangenenlager entlassen worden und befidet sich auf der Hemireise nach____Heimatlos_______.


     As one can see Kriegsgefangenen is crossed off.

     To translate this in English it means Kopp Kathia born 1914 released from the prisoner of war camp and is on her way home to_____Homeless_______.


     We also see that the “prisoner of war” is crossed off.  


All Pictures Courtesy Hans Kopp



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