Donauschwaben in den USA

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The Chaos Begins


The Final Years in my Home Town, Batschsentiwan


By Hans Kopp


          It was a sunny day in Batschsentiwan when one day in 1941, people from all directions in our town gathered in the huge square in front of the city hall just across from our church, to see what all the commotion was about. From the distance one could see the Hungarian troops marching from the direction of Sombor toward our town. Several of the children from our neighborhood went to Mount Calvary, a build up structures of perhaps 20 meters high. It had the Stations of the Cross on both sides in front of the raised structure where Catholic Church functions were held on many occasions. From the top of platform of Mount Calvary one could see the columns of soldiers marching in front of their equipment on the country road leading from Sombor to our town.


My hometown was the charming town of Batschsentiwan (Prigrevica Sv. Ivan, Yugoslavia) located east of the Danube River near the cities of Apatin (Abthausen) and Sombor. Today it is known as Prigrevica, located in what is today’s Vojvodina, Serbia the former Batschka, Hungary. The town is named for St. John the Baptist (Saint Ivan) and for the province of Batschka, which was named after the fortress Básc.


          Our town, like all the towns of the “Ungarländischen Deutschen” (German-Hungarians) was part of Hungary since the settlement of our ancestors after the War of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation against the Ottoman Empire, freeing Hungary from the 150 year occupation by the Turks. Therefore it should be to no ones surprise that the people had closer ties to Hungary then to Yugoslavia because most of them were born in Hungary prior to 1920. But after WWI this territory of Hungary became part of the new country of Yugoslavia under Serbian occupation.


At the conclusion of the First World War Serbian troops marched into Southern Hungary, to occupy the Batschka and other Hungarian regions, although they had no right to do so under the Versailles treaty and were ordered to honor the boundaries prior to WWI by the agreement of the allied nations. As a result the Batschka and other Hungarian territories did become part of Serbia during the ratification of the piece treaty at Trianon in 1920 for the sake of piece, but piece at what price?


          Life changed dramatically for the “Ungarländischen Deutschen” when their homeland was annexed to the new country. They lost their inherited rights from the time of their settlement in Hungary 250 years earlier, although the treaty at Trianon reserved equal rights to all minority groups; however this was a mere myth. Rich farmers who had purchased land throughout the years in none German neighborhood communities where disowned, their land expropriated under Alexander’s Agrarian Reform and given to the poor, but non to poor Germans only to the poor of Serbian nationality. The German minority had to accept Serbian judges in their community courts, take an interpreter if they did not speak the Serbian language and were discriminated against. The judges were biased and simply ruled in favor of the Serbians, when lawsuits would involve Germans and Serbians. A German could not expect to win even if he was in his right.


What would hurt the German communities most, however was; the closing of their schools and forcing their children aspiring to higher education to go to Germany and Austria, because of language differences, where they would be exposed to the “National Socialistic Movement”. This circumstance was critical as one would see later in the political development of Yugoslavia, as the young men and women learned what freedom meant in Germany and Austria, which they could not enjoy in Yugoslavia where they were discriminated against as a minority. This was a huge mistake by the new government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia not only against human rights, but also was economically devastating as it would show after WWI which would carry over into WWII and years after.


          Freedom is precious to all mankind. This holds true for the Germans living in Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia, the regions of the former Hungarian Kingdom, the Austria-Hungarian Monarchy after the equalization treaty of 1867, who were so unfairly treated by politics after WWI and later even more so after WWII. The citizen’s of German extraction of these countries, who never had a say in the determination of their fate became the brunt of the hatred by the communist, especially the Communist Government of Yugoslavia.




          As the Hungarian troops were coming closer, young women waited with flowers in front of the city hall to welcome the troops promising our freedom from oppression once again in our region with a population of a multi ethnic background. Therefore the enthusiastic welcome with cheers and flowers should be clearly understood as it was well justified, since we all felt Hungary was our homeland and were free again.




The “Ungarländischen Deutschen” renamed “Donauschwaben” in 1920 by Robert Sieger (Geographer from Graz) and Dr. Hermann Rüdiger (Scientist from Stuttgart) and defined by the Foreign Department in 1930, during the Weimar Republic of Germany, acknowledging the German origin of the “Ungarländischen Deutschen” in the present and former Hungary. The Weimar Republic of Germany realized that, left unassisted and divided among Romanians, Yugoslavs and Hungarians, the “Ungarländischen Deutschen” would not be able to resist assimilation attempts and as an ethnic group would disappear and with them a culture of values worth preserving. This collective name “Donauschwaben” would identify and better describe the Germans, whose settlement region now divided among three states and whose ancestors settled in Hungary during the three “Great Swabian Migrations” 1686-1787.




          Was it because the “Donauschwaben” yearned for their freedom from Serbian oppression that they were included in the punishment by the Allied Nations when being declared; “Collectively guilty of war crimes”? I was 9 years old at the end of the war and it is unthinkable that a 9 year old boy would have had something do with the war to be rubberstamped; “War Criminal”. It is even more absurd declaring unborn babies in a mother’s womb as war criminals.

This declaration of collectively guilty of war crimes is a crime in itself and allowed to unleash a rage of hatred among the Serbs against their citizens of “German Nationality”. Even more devastating for the Germans was; it gave the Serbs the unprecedented privilege to expel their citizens of “German Nationality” from their homes, place them in starvation camps, slave labor camps or even murder them at will without having to answer for these crimes to any human rights laws. The suffering brought on by them on innocent people must be described as inhumane and should have been condemned by all nations seeking their freedom and human rights.


As you know and everyone else knew; “the guilty of such crimes accused by the Serbs would be gone long time ago”. Not only from Yugoslavia, helpless innocent citizens of German nationality, who had no say on their own behave in the political determination in any of the countries they lived, were subsequently drawn into the war innocently by shear circumstances.


 Now the Germans were expelled their homes and exposed to hatred and revenge by Serbian nationality group, but also by such revenge seeking nations such as Czechs, Slovaks, Poles even Hungarians and Romanians, the former German allies. I had to experience this hatred myself by Hungarian teens as 11 year old in Bácsalmás, Hungary in 1947 after I had fled with my family from the death camp of Gakowa to Hungary, where I was brutally beaten by a Hungarian by one of the teenagers while tenting a cow for a Hungarian farmer in exchange for food.


However; to the defense of our former Serbian neighbors I must add, that not all the Serbians were hostile to us. They themselves saw that great injustice was committed, but often were frightened that the unrelenting rage of the criminal elements among the Serbian population, who threatened their own, would reach them and severely punish them. Jet if it would not have been for those former neighbors among the Serbian population the death toll of 1/3 of the Donauschwaben population in Yugoslavia would have been even much higher.  




In April 1942, the first young men from our town of Batschsentiwan were drafted into uniforms and marched out of town. As so many other children did, I too marched alongside the soldiers to say good-bye especially to my uncle, Adam Haberstroh, who was one of them leaving never to return. My uncle, a barber, was among my favorite uncles and I loved him, since he would always take the time to play with me during his visits at our house, after cutting our hair or shave my father and grandfather.


Already in July of the same year, the tragic news reached us that he and two other young men from our town had died. The train compartment, in which they were riding to the front in Russia, had been exploded by a land mine. The first blood was shed. My aunt, Anna Haberstroh, was a widow now dressed in black. She went to the cemetery daily although my uncle’s body was never returned home. She stood by a graveside marked with a wooden cross bearing his name. I was curious and wanted to see his grave too. When I got there I saw my aunt standing in front of the grave sobbing. She told me that my uncle was not really in the grave. I did not understand why she went there every day, although his body laid thousands of miles away, somewhere in Russia.




The statement which is always there for a debate by the Serbians; “all the German men in our region volunteered for the German Army”. This statement was not only made by the Serbs but also by the allied nations of the time. Thus all Germans were declared “collectively war criminals” regardless where they lived and regardless whether they supported Germany in their war effort or not. We need to take a look at the truth which is always brushed aside by none-German historians who do not want to except facts, but distort them time and time again to justify the actions taken in revenge against their citizens of Germans descent. In my research over the years I interviewed many former German soldiers from Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania and none of them had volunteered and when asked how many of the troops were volunteers among them the answer may surprise you when I was told; “very few”.


The National Socialist leadership made it understood, that the Germans called “Volksdeutsche” (to distinguish them from the Germans living within the borders of what was then Germany the “Reichsdeutsche”), residing in Eastern and South Eastern Europe were not legally bound to serve in the German Army, but also led them to belief that they were obligated to pick up arms because of their binding heritage to their German ancestry and the occupation of German territories by foreign nations. (In case of the Donauschwaben who lived in Hungary prior to WWI it was Yugoslavia and Romania occupying Hungarian territories). In 1942 the governments of Hungary, Croatia and in 1943, Romania, were pressured into treaties with Germany, allowing the men of German descent living in these countries to be drafted by these nations and be transferred and serve in the German army as rubberstamped “Volunteers”, primarily in the “Waffen–SS, a volunteer army.


During the fall in 1941 after the fall of Yugoslavia and their declaration of being independent, the German troops took on the administration of the Western Banat, Yugoslavia as autonomic region; this obligated them to protect the Western Banat and its citizens from terrorist activities, as required under the Geneva Convention. To protect and defend their homes against the terrorist activities and aggressions the Western Banater “Volksgruppe” (Volksruppe) formed the “Price Eugene Regiment” toward the end of 1941 with draftees from the Western Banat. This was permitted under the “Law of Nations” in accordance with the “Haager War Degreed”. However, by order of Berlin the unit was transformed and became the volunteer “SS-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen” against the will of the Western Banater “Volksgruppe” and the same time they all were rubberstamped as volunteers.


These troops saw actions against the Tito terrorist partisans and as well known from history, they worked against the common enemy of the legal government of the Yugoslavian Kingdom during the time Yugoslavia was declared neutral. Tito’s accusations that the Donauschwaben were traitors against their own country were therefore unfounded, untrue and unjust, however, effectively used as an excuse later to justify the criminal actions by the Yugoslavian Tito Partisans against all their citizens of German descend.


The “SS-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen” who found action in Bosnia, was exposed to many difficulties. The Western Banater Donauschwaben serving in this unit had not enough training nor did they have the experience to be successful in the mountain of Bosnia. The Partisans hardly ever retained prisoners. The soldiers of the Prinz Eugene Division captured were executed in the cruelest ways, in fact criminal according to the Geneva Convention. According to the oral testimony given in an interview with me by Alexander Lermer, a young medical student at the time attached to the German medical core at that time and I quote; “we found horribly mutilated bodies of German soldiers. We found bodies without arms, legs, heads and missing sex parts. Their bellies and chests of their bodies were opened and they were left to bleed to death”.




There was a small group of National Socialistic followers in our town, which saw it as their duty to paint the “Victoria” sign on every house during nights, to impress their affiliates and show that everyone in this town was a National Socialist. The Victoria sign was a symbol formed by a “V” perhaps about 24 inches high with a swastika on top and oak leaves branches on both sides of the “V”. Every morning when this sign was painted on our house during the night, my grandmother became furious as she had to go and whitewash over the sign only to see it up there again the next morning. Each day she went out furious again and again whitewashing over it. When my brother visited our home town in 1972 he found the sign on the bricks of an unfinished house. It appeared no one had removed it and no one had ever finished the house either.


One day in 1943, I remember my father allowing me to accompany him to his hemp fields he owned near the Mostonga Rive. I still picture myself running barefoot through the rows of giant hemp plants with mud between my toes as the hemp plants loved the swampy soil. On several occasions, I accompanied my father to the hemp curing and refining areas and watched the hemp being processed into the finest raw material our town was famous for, of which a large variety of products were made.


Later the same year it was early morning when the first of several hemp factories went up in flames. I remember seeing the thick, dark smoke rising into the sky. I rushed to the site of the fire; many other people and children did too, to see the furiously raging flames which were so devastating. No one could do anything about the fires; they kept burning until there was nothing left standing. I had no idea about politics then, nor did I understand what impact the destruction of the hemp factories would have on our community.


Many years later, I learned that the factories which exported hemp to Germany were sabotaged and burned to the ground, while the factories exporting hemp to England and France were left standing. Politics had finally caught up with Batschsentiwan, but politics at what price for the communist government of Yugoslavia in years later? Our town with a population of 6,300 was considered the richest towns in the Batschka, if not in all of Yugoslavia, according to Leopold Rohrbacher, who writes in his book; “Ein Volk ausgelöscht” (A people erased) and I quote; “Die reichste Gemeinde in der Batschka und vermutlich auch des ganzen Landes war Sentiwan (Prigrevica Sv. Ivan)”, (the richest town in the Batschka and probably in the entire country was Batschsentiwan).


After the destruction of the factories we see the owners move with their families and workers to Germany, where they rebuild their factories with the help of the German government, while Batschsentiwan never did recover from this destruction and today the town is poor with a population of only 2,500 people, mostly immigrants from Kosovo and other part of Yugoslavia who never could manage to bring Batschsentiwan back to its splendor to be the number one hemp manufacturer of Yugoslavia, nor could they produce agricultural products to contribute to Yugoslavia’s export, like the Donauschwaben did before the war.


The high-flying bombers crossing over our town could be seen more and more frequently now. The humming noise of their engines created many fears, fears that could be sensed even by us children. The fears grew stronger and stronger as the planes began to drop leaflets of various types. People claimed that the leaflets were poisoned and that we dare not touch them. Although this may not have been the case, we did not want to take the chance and touch them. Empty containers were also dropped from the sky. One of them fell on the roof of a house in the neighborhood and although no one was hurt, it created anxious moments for everyone. Our town was never bombed during the war, however the fears of such bombings always existed and shelters were to be created but never were done.


One day my father took me to our cornfield. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, two airplanes appeared in the sky chasing and firing at each other. We dove to the ground and watched the dogfight. After the planes passed several times, one began to smoke and finally burst into flames. It came crashing down to earth a good distance from us. The winner of the fight disappeared in the direction it had come from. We could not tell who the winner was; what we could tell is that the war had come dangerously close, too close.


When we installed electricity in our house during the spring of 1944, my father purchased our first radio. We would listen to music and the news. The news was not good; it was always about the coming war, a war that would change our lives forever.




In September of 1944, the last men from Batschsentiwan were forced into uniforms starting with age 17 to age 50 as described in a letter by Regina Hercher to her daughter; “without uniforms, trumpets or fanfare, armed only with rifles, the men marched out of town to the train station to be taken to an unknown future”. On one of the box cars, the men were greeted with the slogan; “Wir alten Affen sind die neuen Waffen” (us old apes are the new weapons). When the train was set into motion our men were rolled out toward the Russian front which would soon be near Budapest and placed with their rifles into combat against the tanks of the Red Army. Many of our men were never seen again among them my Uncle Franz Hack.


During the same time a hasty organizational meeting took place outside of our town, on the road between Apatin and Batschsentiwan. The topic was made known; “fleeing from the oncoming Russian Red Army”. The urgency was made clear and created fear among all present at that meeting. Most people of our town, which were God fearing people, listened to father Pintz’s advice; “stay at home, we shall overcome”. After all the general impression was, that we had done nothing wrong to justify leaving, leaving the security of our homes our forefathers build with their bare hands and the sweat on their brows 250 years ago.


Only 120 families from our town placed the bridle gear on their horses, loaded their wagons and left their home under the protection of the German army. I still see one of our neighborhood families from down the street passing our house and their daughter, a school friend, waving good bay to me. It was a crucial mistake as all of the people who stayed behind about 5,250 would be exposed to the hatred of the Red Army and the Serbian terrorists “The Tito Partisan”. Twenty-five percent (35%) (More than 1,500 of those exposed) of our citizens who stayed behind would perish during the next 3 years.


My father and several of his friends who had no intension to be; “a last minute soldier” and knew it would be certain dead if they would be inducted, simply went into safe hid outs. But there were a few “National Socialists Judas’s” in our town who betrayed their fellow citizens. This caused a scary time for the women of our men in hiding, including my mother. The wives of the men were arrested by the military police, marched to Sombor were they were interrogated and threatened; “should their men not come forward within 24 hours, they, the women would be executed”.


The women took the news to their men who came forward and were marched out of town, knowing they could much better to protect their loved ones, if they could be home at the crucial time, when the Russians came. There was no transportation available at that time for them which became a fortunate circumstance. While waiting for transportation, they had to train playing soldiers. During their training at the sergeants’ command; “deep flying air planes from the left or the right”, they had to dive into the mud in front of them as it had rained the day before. This night they were wet and freezing cold and perhaps everyone had the same idea, because they all seemed like on a command, ready to desert.


I still wonder what did happen to the staff the next morning when it became known that most of the men were gone. The men knowing that the Russian were close and that no one could come looking for them, walked back to their hideouts again which would soon be behind the Russian front and they were right, because the Russian were within sight.


Now that the German troops had left, a strange feeling was sensed like the feeling one has when it is quiet before the storm. Now, the women were alone with their children, since most men were gone and the schools were closed. New adventures and opportunities presented themselves and got us into trouble more than once.


From the destroyed interim airport nearby on the Hutweide (community meadow), we scavenged all sorts of items. We had everything from an American colt revolver to a Russian machine gun. We children played our own war games. We piled rocks over the top of black powder and exploded the pile. We were lucky not to be hit by the debris. Our mothers and grandmothers tried their best to control us, but could not until one Sunday morning, our friend, Franz Tiesler, who now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, accidentally exploded a “Dumm-Dumm-Bullet” in his hands, leaving him crippled for life. I can still picture Franz sitting on the wagon; his hands bundled in linen, his mother at the reins, taking him to the hospital in Sombor. I could not resist going to the Tiesler house to see the blood and pieces of flesh smeared all over the front door. It was an ugly sight.


On November 1st 1944 the Red Army stormed through our town. During these chaotic days we often found safety hiding among the grapevines in our backyard, while my mother hid in the attic and my father still remained in his hideout. The women had to disappear from the view of the Russians out of fear of being molested or raped should they fall into the hands of the Russians. Warnings of rape, molestation, and mistreatment by the Russians preceded them; thus these precautions became an absolute necessity. As I learned later many women in our town were raped, among them a mother with her 11 year old daughter in the same room at the same time according to Anna Blechl statement, a midwife from Batschsentiwan in the publication; “Der Leidensweg der Deutschen im Kommustischen Jugoslawien 1944-1948” published by the “Kulturstiftung  der Donauschwaben” in Munich Germany.


After a day or two the Russian returned and began to loot our home. We were warned about the looting and stowed away as much food in hiding places as we could. However, there was plenty of food and clothing we could not hide. In the storage loft there was still a lot of wheat and feed corn stored we could not hide. Toward the end of the war we had four horses Jultschi, Furi, Linda, and Bandi, and a two-year-old colt. In our stables there were three cows, two caves, and five or six pigs. The Russians took all of our horses and all of our cows, the caves and pigs. Much of our clothing, smoked bacon, hams and sausages not hidden away were gone.


The Russians returned with wagons to load our grain and drove off with it. The chicken, which roamed freely in our backcourt, became a target for the Russians too. When I think about how the Russians hunted our chickens across the manure piles, losing their footing and ending up in the manure, it brings a smile to my face despite the seriousness of the times.


Fortunately, the Russians could not catch all of our poultry. The only animal we had left now was our two-year-old colt. How strange it was to walk through the empty stables, the empty courtyards, through an empty house. We were left with the vegetables we kept in underground storages such as beets, potatoes, carrots and parsley; and a large container of lard that my grandfather had hidden, ironically, in the pig stall. The Russians missed taking some of the pickled vegetables out of the basement. They did not find our bread we had stored in empty wine barrels or the bacon and ham we had hidden in the chimney of the summer kitchen. Also, luckily for us, several small sacks of flour, as well as dried prunes and clothes hidden by my mother survived their search. My mother had hidden some of our clothes so well that even we could not find it after her deportation to Russia.


After the initial war front went through and several days after the Russians arrival in our town, they demanded that all able bodies remaining in town report to city hall with shovels and picks. These demands were made under threats against the lives of our citizens. Out of fear of being executed, people came out from their hideouts and reported for duty. Each day, about 900 people were marched 15 kilometers or more into the surrounding areas, to dig foxholes and fortifications for the Russians. These work details included my mother, my father, who had returned home from his hideout and grandfather. This was the first exposure of our citizens to the Russians and Tito Partisans and their cruel and inhumane treatments, however it would be only a prelude of our; “Leidensweg” our road of suffering.


Finally the Russians reached Apatin (Abthausen) and the Danube. On November 21st, my mother was marched by the Partisan to nearby Apatin located on the Danube, for labor duties. There she managed to escape together with my aunt, Anna Haberstroh, and our neighbor, Regina Reinhardt. They took shelter in the hayloft of my grandmother’s sister, Elisabeth Schiebli and her husband Anton, who lived in Apatin.


During the following battle, the night sky was glowing red and the ground shaking from the shelling of the Stalin Organ; a multi barreled gun, guns, and the bombing by planes, while my mother hid in the hayloft in Apatin. We heard thundering sounds from far and near, announcing the retreat of the German troops and the attempted river crossing of the Russians. My grandmother, brother, and I lay between the rows of grapevines in our vineyard behind our house, petrified and shaking for hours. I clung to my grandmother and to the ground, hoping and praying that our lives would be spared.


Apatin, once the center of the colonization of the Donauschwaben two hundred fifty years earlier, had now become the center of the Russian’s Danube crossing. Although unsuccessful, thousands of soldiers lost their lives and the blood they shed made the Danube flow red. Actually the Russian never were able to cross the Danube at Apatin.


Then there was that strange silence again, like before a storm but somehow it felt different this time, as if there was something changed or missing and indeed there was. It was as if time was suspended and we were somewhere in limbo. Somewhere in outer space and it would be only a matter of time and we would crash down to earth, to reality, which we could not possibly comprehend it would be. The big question looming; what will happen next? What will happen to us? Where are my parents and where is my grandfather? Could we resume a normal life? When we found the courage to go out on the street again, we found as if the earth had opened itself in front of us. The many foxholes that were dug for the Russian defense by our men and women during the days we were in hiding left gaping holes everywhere.


Fortunately, our town did not end up in the middle of the war zone so that very little damage was done as the war front moved through. I could not wish away the sad feeling dwelling in my hart, as I walked along an empty street. From this day on, our town would never be the same; from this day on, our lives would never be the same. They had changed forever.




Some of the battle weary Russians returned to our town and to our home. My mother had returned home during that time and had to retreat to her hideout in the attic again. Soon after my mothers return, my grandfather had returned home, but there was no sign of my father. My grandparents, forced to entertain the Russians in our house, had to serve them food and wine. What happened next was horrible. Through the open door of my grandparent’s room I saw the drunken and noisy soldiers abuse my grandmother, while they forced my grandfather to watch. There was nothing he could do without jeopardizing all of our lives. Again and again he had to go down to the cellar to fetch more wine. At that time I was to young to understand, I had no idea what was happening to my grandmother; tragically, it became only too clear to me in later years. Afraid, I waited anxiously in my room for them to leave.


My mother, who heard the Russian soldiers from her hideout in the attic was petrified and often in tears, hoping and praying she would not be discovered. My grandfather had removed the access ladder from the attic, in the hope that none of the soldiers would think anyone was up there. When I walked down into the cellar to get some food for my mother after the Russians had left, I was hit by the strong odor of spilled wine. It was so strong I almost fainted. My grandfather had opened all the faucets on the wine barrels to drain them. By doing so he hoped that this would keep the Russians from returning and it did.


I discovered that there was no food left in the cellar storage, with the exception of a few sour pickles and peppers in the pickling crock and the bread stored in an empty wine barrel accessible only from the back. If my parents and grandparents had not had the foresight to build secret storage spaces we would have been left without food to eat. Later that day, I climbed into the attic to bring food and water for my mother. What a reunion it was high up in the attic. I will never forget how she took me in her arms while violent shivers shook her body like a tree in the wind. She held me close, as both of us sobbed allowing our tears to flow freely. Then she asked; are they gone? Yes, I said for now, and again she pressed me against her bosom. My mother stayed in the attic for several more days, before she came down.


Our basic diet now consisted mainly of bread for breakfast with a lard spread and tea or water. Since the cows were gone we had no milk to drink nor could we make butter. For lunch we had soup with noodles. My grandmother fried the left over noodles with pieces of ham for the evening or the next day. For a change we had dried prunes cooked with noodles or potatoes and ham. In the evening we had bacon and bread with an occasional egg. Although I didn’t realize it then, we were better off than many others of our citizens in our town.


Most certainly, the labor details the people of our town were taken too were extremely dangerous and life threatening for them, this I learned from my uncle, Michael (Michl Vetter), my father’s brother. He was forced to transport ammunition to the Russian front with his horses and wagon. Many of the men were conveniently executed after they delivered the ammunition. The lives of Hans Schrodi, a relative of my uncle’s wife, and Hans Müller, also from our town, ended tragically this way. My uncle was able to escape this ordeal by jumping off his wagon into a riverbed to hide, while his horses with the loaded wagon moved on without him. Unfortunately, he became ill from exposure to the cold. As a result he suffered severe health problems several years later, crippling him for life.


Finally, a couple of weeks before Christmas, my father returned with several other men from our town. We were 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. No one questioned the motives of returning all of our people to their homes. No one suspected that there was a motive behind this action, as we would become aware on Christmas morning.




Only days after my fathers return, a Russian soldier pounded on our front door. My father did not open the door in the hope that the soldier would go away. When the banging on the door became louder and more forceful, my father went to open the door. In came an angry soldier with a machine-gun in his hands, stopping in front of my father threatening to shoot him. The soldier was very surprised though to see a young man in front of him, he told him that he was ready to kill the person that refused to open the door for him. The soldier entered our room and sat down at our dinner table to dine with us as my father had invited him to join us. Again, my father’s ability to speak the soldier’s language saved our lives. My father and the soldier seemed to have a cordial if not friendly conversation. Later, the soldier waved me over and showed me a picture he had pulled from his pocket. It was a picture of his children. This soldier visited us several times till his unit moved out a few days later.




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. Sadly I have to say, this was not the only Christmas I would relive year after year. The tragic death of my grandmother during the following Christmas of 1945 would become an unforgettable nightmare.


On December 27th the town crier (Trommelmann) announced that all men between the ages of 18 and 45 and women between the ages of 18 and 30 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 were then registered in groups of thirty and taken under guard to several 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.


Now it would became clear very quickly why our men and women were allowed to return home for Christmas. The reason so that they could be rounded up and counted easily in preparation for their deportation to Russia which would include both of my parents. As history tells us at the Potsdam Conference the Allied Nations granted Stalin’s request to assemble labor forces from Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania and deport them to Russia for a period of fife years. The Russian would periodically return sick workers back to avoid them being listed as Russian casualties should they die. Because of this reasoning by the Russians the dead toll is lower as it actually is, since it does not include those people which died on the return transports, Like Josef Prokopp, a distant relative my father helped burry near the railroad in Romania on their return home and my aunt Anna Haberstroh who was ill and could not be saved when she arrived in Frankfurt on the Oder, in East Germany.


Continued in:

Our Parents Deportation to Russia


Human Misery, Life in a Death Camp.”



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