'Deported to the Bărăgan 1951 – 1956'
('Deportiert in den Bărăgan 1951 – 1956')
Produced by Walther Konschitzky, Peter-Dietmar Leber and Walter Wolf
Published by 'Haus des Deutschen Ostens' in Munich in 2001
Extracts translated by Diana Lambing
Introduction (page 7)
The past century will also go down in history as the century of expulsion. The Banat Swabians were victims of deportation twice over: To the Soviet Union in January 1945 and to the Bărăgan Steppes in June 1951. They were events which shattered the foundations of the communities and which brought unspeakable sorrow to many families. They have made a deep impression in the collective memory of the Banat Swabians and have to be repeatedly drawn upon when looking for answers to 'where to and from'.
On the 50th anniversary of the deportation to the Bărăgan Steppes, the 'Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben' and the 'Haus des Deutschen Ostens' in Munich both commemorate this tragic event of our history via an academic symposium, an exhibition, a reunion of the former deportees and a memorial service. We honour the memory of those who died during the deportation; we remember the sorrow of the deportees and we give a warning for the future, not to use expulsion and deportation as a political means.
One of the first major tasks undertaken during the first year of the founding of the 'Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben' was to make the general public aware of the deportation to the Bărăgan. In Geneva and New York, Munich and Bonn, their representatives spoke out in the halls of power, pointing out the injustice. The Bavarian 'Landtag' (State parliament) had already on 25th September 1951 condemned the deportation as 'the forcible expulsion of tens of thousands of people from their homes' and as 'a total mockery of all human and divine rights'. The 'Bundestag' (German parliament) asked the 'Bundesregierung' (Federal government) on 17th October of the same year to protest to the whole world and to prefer charges against the United Nations.
It remains our task to keep alive the memory of these tragic events. I am sure that the commemorative events in Munich on 13th May 2001 will form an important contribution towards this.
A deportation during peacetime (pages 10 to 12)
Bărăgan – April 2001. Fifty years on, an image of pure innocence: The Lamb at the Cross. Hesitant, almost shy, it draws closer to the overturned memorial stone in the cemetery of the former exile village of Răchitoasa, close to the Danube. A dozen lambs, and more, follow it into the thick undergrowth, which the ewes circumvent. There are only a few crosses left standing; a few lie between the prickly bushes, others lie broken in pieces; here and there a name, the inscription 'Ruhe sanft' (Rest in Peace) still clearly legible. The baby lambs play with the tender new shoots; they do not yet pick them to eat. It is a picture of peace. A peaceful image, and the deep green grass in the meadow, where the exile villages once lay, grows over the dark history, about which the young shepherd knows nothing. "Well, you must be right", he says. "If there are crosses here, then there must have been a village here, too." Slowly, his flock moves on under the pendulous dark storm clouds. Life goes on, even in this spot where today there is no house, no tree and no path to indicate that Răchitoasa, or Giurgenii Noi, once was here; a village that fifty years ago in April did not yet exist.
Banat – June 1951. The heavy military equipment had been silent for already six years by then, but it was not 'peace' that had taken its place in this country. The defence lines which were becoming more and more fortified along the south-western border of Romania were visible signs of this; a solid chain of bunkers, the likes of which had never been seen during wartime. It was called 'a protective barrier against Tito and the revisionism of communist Yugoslavia'. But the inhabitants of the Banat – Romanians, Germans, Serbs, Hungarians and Bulgarians – didn't understand the heated ideological power struggle which had flared up between Stalin and the potentates of his socialist satellite states on the one hand, and Tito on the other. Nor did they understand the meaning of the accompanying propaganda through loud hailers. Only the Serbs in the Banat grew increasingly afraid of becoming caught between the millstones of the international socialist fraternal feud.
The German population had other worries at the time: Innumerable families had been torn apart when fleeing to the West in the autumn of 1944; many prisoners of war had not yet returned home; the wounds ran deep from the dispossession of the Germans in Romania – the loss of political rights and the consequences of their collective guilt as former collaborators of Hitler's Germany hit them hard. Also the wounds from a deportation: Four months before the end of the war, in January 1945, about 70,000 Banat Swabians, Transylvanian Saxons and Sathmar Swabians in Romania were deported to labour camps in the Soviet Union and were only released at the end of 1949. But they had had to bury nearly one in five of their fellow sufferers during their years of exile, in a camp cemetery somewhere along the Don or in the Urals – overworked, starved, frozen, overcome by grief. That was the first time the people had heard of the terrible word 'deportation' and had experienced in tragic circumstances what it meant. Tens of thousands remained affected by it for life.
In June 1951, people in the Banat were once again being picked out by the military and herded to the railway stations for a second deportation – this time a deportation during peacetime – and they knew what to expect. Thousands of those affected had survived five years of forced labour in Russia and now they were being herded into cattle wagons for a second time; many amongst them were convinced they were going back to the coal mines in Kriwoj Rog in the Ukraine or to the ore mines in the Urals. They were relieved when they realised it wouldn't come to that; the second deportation of the Germans in the Banat was going to be different: A compulsory resettlement in no-man's land, about which some knew only that it lay on the other side of the Carpathians and that it was known as 'Romania's Siberia'.
The trains stopped in the Bărăgan Steppes in the south-eastern part of the country and the people were dumped onto open arable land. Just abandoned. Nobody had reckoned with such inhumanity. Here, they were to establish eighteen new villages, together with the remaining 'politically untrustworthy elements' from the Banat; with Romanians, Serbs and Bulgarians; with Romanians from Bessarabia and Bukowina; with Macedonian Romanians and with Oltenians. They were to construct the villages from nothing. Far and wide no tree, no bush, no well. That was the Bărăgan in 1951, land of exile since the 19th century. Freedom of movement was limited to within 15 kilometres (10 miles).
The children often ran that far, chasing after the dry prickly balls of thistles – the only form of heating material – which the wind blew across the dusty earth. Like everything else, these thrived magnificently in the fertile soil of the Bărăgan, which felt familiar to the Swabians from the Banat heath land, but which left those from the southern border regions near Siberia in amazement. No, they had never seen such wheat, or such long cobs of maize in their region. And they brought in rich harvests for the State, which had dug no wells for them, couldn't supply them with the wood needed for the roofs of the mud huts or for the roof trusses of the houses built of compacted clay, not to mention any heating material. The tumbling thistles were much sought after and whoever could, would gather whole barns full of them, ready for the cold winter when the icy Crivăţ wind from the north-east raged across the dead flat landscape and buried whole villages under snow drifts several metres high.
The Baragan thistle (pages 12 to 14)
You will have to go a long way to find the 'Ciulinii Bărăganului', as Panait Istrati describes it, if you look for it today. It has almost died out in this part of the country where today there is barely an inch of spare land, for as the small towns have hardly any jobs to offer, agricultural land is precious. "For many of us here, it's the only thing keeping us alive", says Hedwig Ion, née Gilde. At the edge of a canal dam where the village of Lăteşti – Borduşanii Noi once lay, I spot a ball of thorns. "That's it!" says my companion, "I haven't seen one for years." I take it with me and as we pass by the ruins of a once beautiful former estate, I see an even bigger and prettier one roll across the path. "Another one!" I take this one, too. "Why?" asks the young man at the entrance to the Dacia. "For our exhibition in Munich, instead of flowers." There is a long silence in the car. Then Hedwig Gilde remarks that this is a good idea, as the only heat she ever felt as a deportee child in the mud hut and in their home-made house built of clay, had come from such thistles.
She tells me that she was brought here from Gross Jetscha at the age of thirteen, together with her parents, but that she grew up with her grandparents. It isn't easy for her, but she carries on: Her mother was deported to Russia in 1945; her father was already in a Russian prisoner of war camp. Their two camps weren't actually that far from each other, but they didn't realise this at the time; only when her father came back from Russia in May 1951. A few weeks later the family was picked out and taken to the Bărăgan. This is where Hedwig spent the last years of her childhood and her youth in poverty. It had been quite different at home before the war. The first threshing machine arrived in the Banat in 1941 - presumably the first in the whole of Romania - and this was used in her father's fields. Adam Gilde had had a brand new one brought over from Austria and it had cost him a whole year's income.
That was the undoing of him and his family. When the deportation was lifted at the end of 1955 and everyone was allowed to return home in the spring of 1956, Adam Gilde and his family were amongst the few who were sentenced to a further twelve years in the Bărăgan. Hedwig Gilde was nineteen at the time. "When I heard that news..." She begins to weep, and who can blame her? "That was the hardest time of my life, when everyone else was allowed to go back to their Swabian villages; when all my friends and all the young Banaters had left the Bărăgan, and I had to stay here... and this is where I stayed until today." The extension of the DO-status hit Adam Gilde hard, too: DO stands for 'domiciliu obligatoriu' – compulsory residence.
During our journey through the former exile places, I compare every picture I take to the accounts being given by my companion. It is only now that I realise the enormity of the landscape and of the history of the abduction of our fellow countrymen. This is oral history, and I am becoming less and less sure of being able to convey through my pictures the story which I am being told. Will our exhibition at the grand commemoration in Munich be able to achieve this? Much is left unsaid.
For forty years, nothing was allowed to be said publicly about the deportation in the country in which it took place; about this despotic political act. Even those people affected spoke only rarely about it, their fear was so deep-seated. I remember the answer given when I once asked an elderly man from Neupetsch about this dark chapter of the Bărăgan whilst I was recording his life story on a tape recorder. Peter Seeler was very quiet. He said, "We don't talk about that, young man, not if we don't want to end up there again." But then he did speak about it, and so did his wife, Susanna Seeler. Their short accounts of the Bărăgan appeared in an anthology about the destiny of the Banaters ('Dem Alter die Ehr') published in Bucharest in 1982.
Throughout the land, there was a whole generation who never heard a single word about the abduction and the compulsory relocation between 1951 and 1956; about that painful period of Romania's recent history; about the injustice inflicted, which in political speeches - rare enough anyway, and always glossed over in the phrasing – was described as 'a mistake during the revolutionary process of the socialist reorganisation of the country', without calling the deportation by its proper name, or making good the injustice they had been aware of. The subject was suppressed.
It is no wonder then, that after the political upheaval in 1989/90 it was thrust into the focus of public attention in the Banat so intensely. A group of students even devoted themselves to the subject. Meanwhile, seven books about the Bărăgan deportation have been published in Temeswar in Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian, and in Germany Wilhelm Weber, commissioned by the 'Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben', gathered extensive documentation about this tragic event in the Banat Swabian contemporary history and which up until then had only appeared in book form in Heinrich Freihoffer's factual novel 'Sklaven im Bărăgan' (Slaves in the Bărăgan). However, in the representative organisations for public awareness in the Banat, as in Germany, the abduction was never portrayed as anything other than what it really was, i.e. what every deportation is according to international law: A crime against humanity.
It has been a long time coming. Only now, fifty years after the conscription and compulsory resettlement, with the countrywide commemoration by the 'Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben' and the 'Haus des Deutschen Ostens' in Munich, and also through this brochure. We hope that the words and pictures will at least be able to roughly convey what innocent people had to endure: Heavy injustice and unspeakable grief. The Bărăgan thistle can be a symbol for this, too.
The fate of the Germans in the Banat after the coup d'état on 23rd August 1944 up until the deportation to the Bărăgan Steppes (pages 91 to 98)
As a national minority, the Banat Swabians always found themselves in a difficult position. A Banater publicist appropriately described the situation as follows: 'There can hardly be a tribe in south-eastern Europe which has been more affected by the war and its consequences than the Banat Swabians. As a minority in a country of a different nationality, the Swabians were abandoned again and again to the political and chauvinistic despotism during times of political unrest, which ranged from harassment in cultural and educational policies, restriction of development opportunities in public life and political de-nationalisation, to deprivation of rights and life threats, e.g. abduction. In their unenviable situation as loyal citizens on the one hand and with their affection towards the German motherland on the other, the Banat Swabians were always given difficult decisions to make in times of destiny during their history.' (Hans Bohn: 'Verlorene Heimat' – Temeswar 1993, p. 56)
In the mid-1940s and the early 1950s, they could no longer make such decisions independently. As a result of the events of 23rd August 1944, they had to obey the decisions of others and were no longer able to determine their own fate. On this date, a life of suffering began for the German Romanians which, with persecution, deprivation of rights, dispossession and deportation, led finally to the loss of their homes. The last independent decision they had had to make was whether to flee from the approaching Soviet army, and thus give up their homes, or whether to stay. There were no plans for an organised evacuation.
We hear about the number of refugees who headed for the Hungarian and Yugoslavian borders in their long columns of wagons, from the accounts of personal experiences published in the many village monographs which have been published in the meantime, and from other sources. We also learn that not everyone crossed over the Theiss and the Danube rivers; that many turned back or were attacked and robbed by Tito partisans. For some, things were much worse. As recorded in the Gertianosch monograph, one such column of wagons was attacked by partisans at Tschesterek and the women and children were separated from the men. The latter group (250 in number) - amongst them the veterinary doctor Dr. Weber, lawyer Dr. Ortinau and vice-notary Linzer from Billed - and men from Gertianosch, Kleinjetscha, Sackelhausen and other villages, although they were Romanian citizens and not soldiers, were all shot in Grossbetschkerek.
Those who stayed on in their villages were left to the mercy of the tyrannical Romanian State authorities. Immediately after the coup, the Germans had to hand over all weapons, radios, motor vehicles, bicycles, cameras and other belongings. They had to register at the police station and sign a commitment, in which their German ethnicity was also noted, which demanded that they report to the police within two hours when ordered to do so. This register was later used for drawing up the list of names of those to be deported to Russia. At the same time, a wave of arrests began, beginning with all ethnic German officials and German mayors. In every village with German inhabitants, three leading German personalities were ordered to be arrested, including school teachers and other respected members of the community. Then followed the arrests of editors of German newspapers, prominent businessmen, tradesmen, doctors and priests. Via various prisons, they ended up in either the concentration camp at Târgu-Jiu, the prison camp at Slobozia or at Turnu-Măgurele.
Before the arrival of the Russian troops in the Banat, everyone tried to hide their belongings to protect them from being stolen. Hiding places were made in chimneys, in attics and other places; many valuable items were walled in or buried. Apart from the measures against the Germans ordered by the State, there were riots in the towns and especially in the German-inhabited villages. Bands of plundering robbers attacked the villages and took whatever they found. Some Germans were killed during these attacks; for example in Kleinsanktpeter there was a case where Georg Engelmann stood in the way of some thieving gypsies and was killed by them (Stefan Heinz: 'Kleinsanktpeter-Totina, 1843-1993, p. 170) Although the Russian commanders wanted to maintain order and discipline in their troops, this didn't always happen, so people were robbed in the streets, houses were plundered and girls and women were raped. In many villages people were shot, too. The famous and respected lawyer and vice-mayor of Temeswar, Dr. Franz Schmitz, was murdered in a maize field on the Ketfeler meadow by two shots in his neck by a number of young Serbs from Ketfel dressed in Russian uniforms. People knew who the perpetrators were, but they were never brought to account. It was the same group that had murdered the teacher Neidenbach from Kleinsiedel, and the inn-keeper, Gärtner (Ebenda, p. 142-144). Michael Hahn and Anton Mayer were victims of attacks in Billed. The bodies of the elderly couple, Anton and Elisabeth Götter, who looked after the fields, were found in the Billed vineyards where they lived in the field watchman's house (Franz Klein: Billed Chronik 1765-1980, p.457). Many village monographs contain accounts of similar shootings. In the Lovrin Heimat book, the murder of the director of the brickworks in Pesak, Dr. Michael Reitter, is reported who, together with his wife, was shot by the Russian advance guard who billeted themselves in the brickworks (A. P. Petri: Lovrin Heimatbuch, 1979, p.203). Things were very violent in Sanktmartin near Arad, too. In this village's Heimat book, the following description is to be found: 'The front quickly moved on, but on the following morning, 14th September 1944, all hell broke loose. Not a single horse was left in the stables; they simply took all the horses and wagons. Pigs, geese, ducks and chickens were killed, too, and above all they plundered the wine cellars. A terrible looting set in and in many houses not a single cupboard was spared. In the evenings, the hunt for girls and women started, which is why they didn't dare go out onto the streets any more and mostly hid indoors, disguising themselves as old women and hiding their faces with black headscarves pulled forward. When the Russians withdrew, the villagers were left completely at the mercy of the rabble, who robbed and plundered unhindered, wherever there was anything left to be found in the houses, yards or stables.' (Anton Karl & A. P.Petri: Sanktmartin Heimatbuch, 1981, p. 156) In Warjasch again the Russians, for no particular reason, took the village judge, Franz Müller, as their first victim and shot him (Nikolaus Engelmann: Warjasch Heimatbuch, 1980, p. 123). Only rarely did the older men who had remained in the villages (the young ones were all soldiers) manage to get a kind of citizens army together and, unarmed, chase off the looters. Another campaign which again only affected the Germans was the deportation of all boys and men between the ages of 16 and 45, and girls and women between 17 and 32, to labour camps in the Soviet Union in January 1945. It left the small Swabian villages in the Banat in total despair, grief and hopelessness. Many children were now left without a mother, either, and had to be brought up by grandparents, relatives or neighbours until one of the parents returned home from the deportation to Russia or from the prisoner of war camps. How the 35,000 people, and more, fared during the deportation, and how many never returned home and lie buried in Russian soil, can be noted from the village monographs and Heimat books. Many who returned home with the hospital transport, or who ended up in the Russian occupied zone in Germany, died soon afterwards or else were left with various ailments.
A fresh blow, which again only affected the Germans, followed the Decree Nr. 187 of 23rd March 1945, which planned the total dispossession, without any compensation, of all the German farming community and landowners. The fact that the German farmers were dispossessed of their fields, cattle, agricultural equipment and their houses, and that they had to take in the so-called Romanian colonists and give up their living space, has been reported several times in general. But how this was carried out in practice and under what belittling and inhumane circumstances such a procedure of confiscation was for the German owners, can best be described by the contemporary witnesses of the time. In Volume III of the 'Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ostmitteleuropa' (Documentation of the expulsion of the Germans from eastern central Europe), which deals with the fate of the Germanness in Romania, it is established that with this land reform not only is the basis of one's livelihood of the German farming community destroyed, but at the same time also the unity of the German farming villages by the importing of non-local colonists. Amongst other villages, the following are cited: Lenauheim in 1941 had exactly 2,421 German and 52 Romanian inhabitants, but in 1948 only 1,717 Germans and already 1,718 Romanians. Hatzfeld in 1941 had 7,245 German and 859 Romanian inhabitants; in 1948 only 5,489 Germans but 3,422 Romanians. In county Temesch-Torontal alone, 54,612 German owners were dispossessed of 205,607 hectares of land, i.e. 357,205 Jochs (about 507,230 acres).
A terrible fate also awaited those who escaped but who were overrun by the front, and those who ended up in Soviet occupied areas. They were forced to return to the Banat, were repeatedly robbed en route, lost everything, and upon their return home found themselves in front of their houses which were now occupied by colonists. They had to look elsewhere for accommodation and work.
Following the dispossession of the farmers, it was the turn of commercial enterprises and businessmen, and on 11th June 1948 of all industrialists and any businesses still left in private hands. These dispossessions affected not only the German owners of businesses, but of all others, too. All schools, boarding schools, pharmacies, blocks of rented flats and hospitals were taken into the State's possession. This is actually how the class war – propaganda of the communist ideology – began. In December 1948, the Romanian Workers Party Politburo passed a resolution with the aim of ideologically re-educating the German population. The newly founded 'Deutsche Antifaschistische Komitee' (German Anti-fascist Committee) was to carry out this re-education. In 1949, the Party began to put pressure onto the field-owning farming community to merge into agricultural collectives. The farmers' resistance was broken with ever-increasing higher quotas of grain and other agricultural products to be handed over to the State. The former German landowners had no problem with this this time, as they no longer owned any land anyway. They worked as day labourers, or as employed agricultural workers in the fields and in the State cow sheds, or in the agricultural machinery and tractor stations, as factory workers in the towns or as builders and odd-job men on the State-owned building sites.
The German language daily newspaper 'Neuer Weg' (New Way), which first appeared on 13th March 1949 as the voice of the German Anti-fascist Committee of the Romanian People's Republic, was given the task of representing and explaining the policies of the government and the Romanian Workers Party, in order to win over the German population to the aims of socialism and communism. On the other hand, it also became an important mediator for culture, art and literature, thereby contributing towards the preservation of the German identity in Romania. On 7th September 1950, the six years of lack of political rights ended and, with the granting of the right to vote, the Germans once more gained their citizens' rights. They also had schools again teaching in their mother tongue, a German theatre in Temeswar, books in the German language appeared again and people were allowed to speak in German quite openly. One set-back was the increasing persecution of priests from 1950 onwards, mainly from the Catholic Church. Many canons, deans, priests and nuns were sentenced to many years in prison, including Bishop Dr. Augustin Pacha.
Just when those who had returned in the spring of 1951 from the deportation to Russia, and from the prisoner of war camps, the sorely tried Banat Swabians were beginning to believe in a gradual improvement in their situation, something happened which no-one had reckoned with in the summer of 1951, namely another deportation. This time it was not to Russia, but to the Bărăgan Steppes of Romania. And so began another period of suffering for thousands of Banat Swabians. But it was not only they who were affected this time, as it had been in 1945 when only Germans were deported to labour camps. Out of 297 villages in the Banat border zone and south-western Oltenien, 12,791 families numbering 40,320 individuals – Romanians, Germans, Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians and others – were deported to the Bărăgan Steppes. They had to single-handedly construct eighteen villages and live under forced domicile conditions for years. Up until the mid-1990s, the ethnic mixture of the deportees remained unknown. Only after the removal of the communist rulers could this be ascertained through the relevant archives, and the number of families and persons deported be determined. All previous accounts of the numbers of Germans deported were based not on official documents, but from the evidence of those affected and on projected figures. Today, we know that around one quarter of the deportees were from the German population living in the border zone. Exact numbers, often with names, are recorded in the village monographs. The chairmen of the village associations of communities affected by the deportation were helpful in supplying the precise numbers of Germans deported. The statement, then, that the majority of those deported were Germans is correct, when compared to the proportion of the population of other ethnic groups affected. The largest number of Germans deported from one village came from Triebswetter (527 people), followed by Billed with 506 people, Lenauheim with 496, Hatzfeld with 486, Ostern (Kleinkomlosch) with 436, Grossjetscha with 388, Perjamosch with 377, Warjasch with 341, Bogarosch with 295, Lowrin with 274, Johannisfeld with 253, Gottlob with 236, Ulmbach with 229, Grabatz with 224 and Sackelhausen with 224 Germans. If we compare these, we can see that there were large differences in the numbers of deportees between villages with the same size of German populations and similar economic proportions. I would cite Alexanderhausen as an example, with only 48 Germans deported, and Ostern with 436. We can establish, too, that in many villages with a smaller and less well-off population, more people were deported than from villages with a larger and better-off German population. We can compare Marienfeld with only 160 and Johannisfeld with 253 deported Germans. Although the number of Germans in Triebswetter was considerably smaller compared to Hatzfeld, 527 Germans were deported from Triebswetter and 486 from Hatzfeld. These inconsistent proportions prove that the same criteria were not applied equally to all the villages. Thus, the assumption made by many former deportees that often personal interests, envy or even vindictiveness influenced the decisions made by those responsible for the drawing up of the lists for deportation, is strengthened. This is why people who belonged to none of the deciding categories were put on the lists and had to go in place of others. Certain people were also deliberately put on the lists in order that the things they left behind could be appropriated, just as people and families who were not liked by the local authorities were removed from their respective villages by placing their names on the lists and packing them off to the Bărăgan.
How those people who ended up in the Bărăgan coped with life, what work they did, who took their place and how they returned home, is recorded in the relevant documents and in all the monographs of the affected villages, and in personal accounts published up until now.
* * * * * * *
Compensation(pages 124 to 132)
Just as a duck has to dive in search of its food, so I too have to keep delving deeper and deeper into the tiers of my life. I am searching for something that is neither tempting, nor has it ever shone from within. And yet it should not be the bitter dregs from the depths of the memory, but should still retain the taste – 'sperrig', original and unmistakeable. My delving means rewinding back fifty years to the night when my childhood was snatched away from me at the age of eleven.
The hammering of the rifle butts against the front door. Then in the room – the soldiers' rifles aimed at us. An officer hastily read out from a script. I didn't understand anything. I only understood that we now had to leave. Go away. They didn't want us here any more. Me, shivering in my thin nightdress by the bedroom door. I was trembling inside. I saw my brother also inwardly trembling. My sister, only three years old, clung to my mother's skirt and wailed. Her wailing accompanied our feverish dismantling and packing and wouldn't stop, and carried on throughout the entire journey into the unknown in the cattle wagon and the truck. Rifle at the ready, the guard at the wagon door. The map on father's knee, his indix finger groping around an unknown region. "If we go past the big bridge across the Danube at Cernavoda, then there's no stopping", he said. "Siberia." I looked at him aghast. My sister's puffy little face, the faint traces of tears, the groaning voice. I had only one thought: She must not die.
The Bărăgan. The schism between freedom and bondage runs deep. There are hundreds of miles, and a ten-mile travel limit, between them; the relentless heat in summer, and the Crivăţz (the icy north wind) in winter, with oppressive masses of snow. A harsh climate. In between lies nothing. No tree, no water, no house. Only loose soil swirling around, and the gleaming, glaring sun. A cotton plantation with pale pink and yellow blossoms, upon which piles of furniture lay around, as though they had been spewn out of the depths of the earth. I was wearing a white blouse, a dark blue pleated skirt, and a red scarf around my neck. My best and favourite clothes. My brother and I had only been admitted into the Pioneers (Scouts) organisation a few days previously, along with other top students. After much to-ing and fro-ing, we were eventually admitted. Our 'unhealthy' social origins, and the handicap of being the first top student to be awarded the red scarf, lay in the balance. Then they decided after all to reward the good results. I flaunted the scarf around the small town like a jewel I had won. But I wasn't to wear it for long. The policeman, who had the say in our new settlement, announced after only a couple of days that deportee children were unworthy of the red scarf and were no longer allowed to wear it.
As free as a bird
There was no law relating to what happened to us. Anyone who is not protected by law is as free as a bird. "Free to be shot down", said our father. He should know – he was a lawyer until he was declared unworthy of representing the new regime in 1948. Where we were now, rights and duties no longer held equal weight. We only had duties. We children, too. Gathering corn; working in the market garden on the large Danube island, the 'big Balta'; working on the construction of the public buildings, and later in the market garden on the Danube-Black Sea canal. I helped mother hoeing maize and cotton, gathering peas and picking cotton. Because of his physical constitution, our father was not suited to field- or ground-work. My thirteen-year-old brother drove the ox cart and the State tractor and fed the threshing machine during threshing. We were dependent on the work as we had brought no food with us, apart from a little flour and fat. There were no reserves, our parents had no income. Everything they owned had already been taken by the State in 1948. They had already had great difficulty in buying shoes for us in the years prior to the deportation.
We worked for a piece of bread and a bit of jam. Our fellow countrymen – used to substantial nourishment – called it 'Bărăganer ham'. For months, we lived amongst furniture out in the open. Everyone in the 'village' drank from a single well, situated 4 kilometres (2 miles) away, until the rotting corpse of a newborn baby was found in it. How desperate the young mother must have been, to have come from the maternity clinic in Feteşti, only to abandon her child to the well, rather than to a life of hostility. From then onwards, we drank water from the Danube, which inhabitants from the neighbouring villages brought to our village in barrels on carts pulled by small horses. We bought it by the bucket. It tasted bad – of mash, of Zuica – and it was luke-warm and didn't quench our thirst.
Anyone who did not now build a house...
The first autumn was approaching when we, like everyone else in the settlement, started to build accommodation from nothing. We burrowed ourselves into the earth like moles. We were constructing an underground bunker. Our father remarked that Louis XIV recorded, with consternation, in his diary during a trip through his country, that there were still people who lived in pit holes. That was several centuries ago, though. But there was nothing with which to cover the bunkers. Farmers who owned their own horses and carts smuggled timber in the boxes on their carts for their own houses. But we were totally helpless. On 23rd August, the great national day of 'The Liberation of Romania by the Glorious Soviet Army', the heavens opened after several months of drought. A cloudburst such as had never been seen before, and which lasted the whole evening and night, left huge ponds, filled the half-finished bunkers with water, and washed away furniture, cupboards and sacks. This was the final straw for everyone. The following morning, a crowd, prepared for anything, gathered at the timber yard which was guarded by armed soldiers on horses. "We are only doing our duty!" they screamed at us from a distance. But the rebels cleaned out the whole timber yard. Everyone dragged boards, planks, beams and slats away through the slippery mud. And yet no shot was fired, and there were no court summonses either. The event was merely recorded.
There were five steps leading down into our newly-dug out bunker. It was pitch dark inside, smelled of earth, and the field mice soon made themselves at home in it. It felt like a grave. On 1st November we were able to move into the house made of stamped earth and a thatched roof. The cotton plants looked like Christmas decorations. For weeks, the flight of the migratory birds had been heard from the paradise of the Danube delta. Anything that had wings rescued itself from the unknown, feared winter. Pale claws, growing longer with each day, loomed from the walls of our house, groping towards us; the chaff was sprouting in the plasterwork which was mixed with horse dung. Everything that hung on the wall rotted and decayed. We moved back into the smaller room for the winter. On the large dining table, mother prepared our meals and made practical clothing for us out of old clothes we had brought with us, and our father corrected school books and we did our homework. On the stove in the corner, mother melted snow during the day, taken from the snowdrifts which reached as high as the house and which barred our way out. Instead of sweets, we ate roasted sunflower seeds. We ate because we were imprisoned, because of the cramped conditions and out of helplessness. We heated the bulky farm stove with straw or with tumbleweed thistles; the tumbling thistles in the autumn, when the first wind thrust its way throughout the land, making the earth feel as if it were moving! The prickly goblins performed their whirling, crazy dance everywhere on the streets, behind the house and under the heavy autumn sky. They ran to the Danube, as if in a panic, and threw themselves into the water which sprang from the Black Forest. We gathered them with pitchforks into large grey stacks.
Should children be allowed to be deported? Should they be used for forced labour? In the name of what sin can they be denied learning? And this in a European country! The school, which was built of stamped earth and covered with reeds, couldn't be opened until later on, on November 10th. I still had two years of elementary school to complete and only had to change the language of the lessons. Despite the majority of the deportees in our settlement being German, lessons were held in german only in the lower four classes, which were taken together. Lessons in classes five to seven were held in romanian. With that, the children's education was over. My parents' greatest worry was about my brother's education. He was always sent secretly to relatives or acquaintances in far-off villages, hoping that he would not be noticed. He was always discovered and sent back. The sight of a group of three people hurriedly approaching the settlement; a little boy escorted by two soldiers with bayonets erect – and all because he wanted to learn – made an impression on me, just like an insect set in amber.
In the name of the red scarf
Spring arrived late. Father came home from school one day with a newspaper cutting. 'Today's people – architects of a new life' was the heading of the piece of literature taken from the magazine 'Der junge Schriftsteller' (The Young Writer). Father thought that I could write a piece about the Pioneers (Scouts). Pioneers are, after all, architects of a new life. I shook my head. I didn't want anything more to do with that rolled-up, lifeless thing in my drawer, that flame-red silken triangle, that I was being tempted with. But my thoughts did begin to revolve around it. I now began to feel quite differently towards it than before. I felt closer to the inner nature, the deeper meaning of it, and the break, which for me was the revocation of the scarf. I had been chosen for my progress and had been favoured with attentiveness, admiration from my peers and praise from my parents. I would have been able to achieve not only learning, but other wonderful things, too. But the time for my great deeds was to be short-lived. A little story began to grow from the red scarf. It was about a little Pioneer who put his life at risk by saving a nearby collective stud-farm from a conflagration whilst at a holiday camp. I saw myself in the role of this youngster and I surpassed myself – in the name of the red scarf, against incapacitation and humiliation, I grew with my unfulfilled deeds. Whilst I was writing the story out neatly on squared exercise book paper, I drew, without hesitation, the title above it – 'Der Rote Halstuch' (The Red Scarf). When I was writing the sender's address, I remembered I wasn't allowed to give my own address. So I wrote my name, but gave the address of an uncle on the envelope. The uncle lived in a town which he had been allowed to move to as he was a doctor, and there was a shortage of doctors in the town. I thought no more about it, or of telling him about my manoeuvre. So when a three-man delegation looked him up months later to tell him that a big prize, a prize for literature and also a cash prize, awaited me, he hastily told them there must be some misunderstanding. He gave them my real address – the Borduşani-New Village settlement address. The men left, irritated. The Committee for the Guidance of Young Writers awarded me a consolation prize in the form of a year's subscription to the magazine 'Der Junge Schriftsteller' (The Young Writer). And, it is said, they expected further new literary works from me. One single copy of the magazine did indeed reach me. But I could no longer write. A writer's block paralysed me for years.
"What good would it do?" I answered my father when he asked me whether I wouldn't like to go through the school books of the eighth class – the first year of the Lyceum (High School). "So you would become a different person to the kind they want to make out of us here." "Where would I get the school books?" "I will write them for you", said my father. Without any hesitation, I set to work. When he applied for me to attend the High School, a surprisingly positive reply came back from the Ministry. I could complete the High School work in Feteştier via a correspondence course. My brother had lost two years of school education. Was the motivation of this ban on education the way of forcibly barring the future of the younger generation? Now, all the young people wanted to learn. Study courses were formed; some teachers took over the lessons and our father taught us in most subjects. He had to accept responsibility, in front of the police, for the continuation of the courses – in secret if necessary – despite the ban announced at times. I have my mother to thank for my physical rescue, and my father for my psychological rescue. Also the teachers at Feteştier High School who didn't actually teach us, but who willingly examined us, and who acknowledged our efforts, as well as producing the physical work for our schooling, and who made no distinction between the regular students and the deportees. There were wonderful people during inhumane times.
Can lack of physical freedom crush spiritual freedom? Just like my father, I, too, had found a way out: A spiritually protective wall which made everyday life bearable. But when I observed the young man – I reckoned he was about 35 years old – who had moved into the neighbouring house some time ago, I began to have my doubts. He would walk up and down in front of his house, his hands folded behind his back. Ten paces forward, ten paces back. Never more, never less. The mechanical movement fascinated me, as did all puzzles. Like the secret mechanism of chiming clocks. I wanted to solve the puzzle of the man who was locked in the realm of the pendulum of his own gait. I discovered much later that he had been assigned to our village as a compulsory resident after ten years imprisonment. A sort of 'reprieve' for the former youth leader of the Iron Guard Party. Now, the stubborn pendulum movement of his ten paces was self-explanatory: In a cell measuring ten paces long, for ten years the only possibility was ten paces forward, ten paces back. There would probably be no more free paces for him. For doesn't freedom end at the point when one loses the ability to understand its eternity?
There was soon talk of Mrs Antonescu being brought to our village, too. Mrs Codreanu, previously a teacher of french, now worked as a cleaner at the school. Several former ministers and 'Legionaires' also turned up in the settlement. I didn't understand: Were we now to be treated equal to them? Had their sins become smaller now, or were we all equally great sinners, an equal danger to mankind? Gradually, more and more striking young faces began to mingle amongst the inhabitants of the settlement. They were Yugoslav members of the Comintern who crossed the Danube at night, hoping to be accepted in the neighbouring socialist country. They were first put in prison and then later in our settlement – a penal colony with the harshest living conditions.
After Stalin's death in March 1953, a gradual relaxation set in, signs of change: A release – the Serbs first, and then the other deportees – was initiated. The dossiers (personal files) were checked. Hope, may we trust in you? What we didn't know: A reprieve, without rehabilitation, was awaiting us. Not even after 25 years.
It may sound contradictory: The feeling of security, of being in good hands in the community of those who have been deprived. The respect for one's property – nothing was ever lost, even though everyone's belongings lay out in the open fields for months. The basic principle: You can't steal as much from the State as much as it has stolen from you. The disregard for human dignity by the village authorities. Children like grown-ups. Grown-ups like old people. The dead buried in un-consecrated ground. Seldom enough, but healthy, nutrition based on vegetarianism. The carrying out of work as re-educational measures – the youngsters, too – would prove itself useful in every future situation in life. The cohesion and nurturing of the folk traditions of the Germans. The inferiority of western civilization in the Steppes. The acknowledgement of the superiority of the patriarchal way of life of the village inhabitants along the Danube: The Lipoweners, whose basic way of life is fishing, and the Romanians with their home-spun clothes, sparsely furnished houses and non-grafted fruit trees. Wonderful human contacts and experiences. The strange and sparse beauty of a region which defied the pompous planting plans of the minister, Ana Pauker. The settlement action which proved to be a political mistake and which would end with the levelling of the deportees' villages.
Nineteen years ago, I received an enquiry in my home in Munich. One of those tiresome letters with an application form attached. A labrynth of questions and answers. Official proof of the political custody between 1951 and 1956 had to be produced. After almost thirty years, I did not want to look back down into that deep well of my childhood. But then, I had to do it – I'd mentioned those five years in the Bărăgan in my curricula vitae in an earlier leaflet. Data records don't tolerate gaps. Everything had to be carefully recorded in order to be available at the touch of a button. An eerie feeling, this dissected life which is yet still whole. My new identity. Now I had to account for it. In Romania, they knew everything about me. Didn't have to prove anything, couldn't deny anything, everything had been recorded in a dossier, in those shadows which followed me everywhere.
Landesversorgungsamt Bayern (Bavarian Regional Care Authority). Pilgersheimerstrasse (street). My finger stumbles over the jumble of streets on the town street plan. Too big and too much of everything. I walked to the Underground. Went, accompanied by the sixteen-year-old girl with a frightened look and who had shot up in height, which I had been in 1956 after the release from the deportation. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Knew that she couldn't dance. She'd never learned to dance. Neither could she laugh out loud. But you can survive with dancing and without laughter. The girl wore a two-piece made from shabby dark-blue worsted with a white collar. One could tell, just by looking at her, that it had served as a man's suit in better times. There was something shy, something coy in her gait. As though she wanted to evade a hand raised to hit her. She had large, chapped, reddish swollen hands and the heavy, clomping gait of a farmer. She never expected to become ladylike. The somewhat older official had a shelf full of files in front of him. Looked at me steadily over his spectacles. Leafed through my papers. "So, no internment. Can't be categorised as someone returning home, either, in the meaning of the HKG. You don't fulfil these conditions." "I haven't claimed for anything." "What do you actually want?" "The BfA needs written confirmation of my compulsory residence." I used the abbreviation so as not to stumble over the words: Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte (Government Insurance Institute for Employees). "From when to when? Where?" The official knew. He nodded and carried on leafing through. "You must have been very young", he said. "A child, really. What crime did you commit?" It was a question without the intonation of a question, wrapped in the hint of a smile which tarried around his harsh mouth. The look on the official's face reminded me of the time I was eleven years old, in a place one couldn't even know about, or whether we would be kept imprisoned there forever. "We can confirm that you were deported to the Bărăgan Steppes from 18th June 1951 to March 1956 because of your German ethnicity and political unreliability." I looked at the man, who meant to be kind to me. He meant 'enforced residence'; I thought, 'my youth'. "The information about two acknowledged years of the imprisonment and political custody will be delivered to you. From the age of fourteen onwards."
On the way to the Underground, I touched on those hazy times. Compensation? The youthful years written off long ago. And the years of the other 45,000 deportees? They weren't all German. I felt privileged. I won't be compensated in the country I was deported to. I will be compensated because I am German. Because here, I can be one.
Everything was confused. Com-pen-sa-tion. One word, so unexpected that for the moment it didn't mean anything to me.
The bed in the middle of the field (pages 145 – 146)
It was Whit Sunday 1951 and beautiful weather. Brigitte was still in her pram and they were going for a walk; first to Gabi's family, who also lived in Orschowa, and then much further out to the football pitch where there was a match taking place. From the stands, they could see lots of large military trucks driving into the village and they wondered what it all meant. The following night they were awoken by loud banging on the windows. There were several policemen who briefly informed them that they had to leave and that they only had a couple of hours to dismantle the household and to pack the most essential items as quickly as possible. Nobody was allowed to leave the house, no-one was allowed to visit them, and it was strictly forbidden for them to contact anyone, even family members. A soldier with a rifle and bayonet in his hands watched over them constantly as they made their preparations.
Fritzi filled a large box with all the tools that were in the house. Brigitte's wooden playpen was used as a pen for the chickens. Crockery, bed linen, pillows, blankets and clothing had to be packed in a hurry. A wardrobe, a kitchen cabinet and a divan (sofa-bed) were carried out. They even had to pack the washing which had been soaking overnight, and Brigitte's wet and dirty nappies. They couldn't possibly take the watchdog they had at the time with them as it was an unruly, vicious dog and so a vet had to be called to put it to sleep. A lot of Trudi's furniture and personal belongings were still in the house, and her piano too, and that made everything more complicated. To stop this ending up in the wrong hands, father went to the police – again under constant supervision – and declared in writing that he had taken his belongings and that the rest belonged to his sister, Trudi. At the time, Fritzi's mother was in Bucharest visiting Trudi, who was expecting her second child, and so the grandparents – two old people – stayed behind without any help, with no pension and with no means of earning a living. The military trucks arrived, everything was loaded, and off they drove to the railway station. They saw other trucks on the way with German families driving in the same direction.
On arrival at the station, they had to re-load all their goods into a cattle wagon and then the doors were bolted from the outside, and the train began to move. Neither before nor during the journey could they find out where they were being taken to; whether they were to be imprisoned, or what kind of fate awaited them. Ladislau Stibansky, who had also joined the German army voluntarily, was also in the same cattle wagon as my parents and Brigitte, together with his wife and Paul Meier, who had also been in the Waffen-SS, had lost a leg in Berlin and was still single. They were locked up in this cattle wagon for more than two days, with no food or water, and they couldn't even go to the toilet. Only Brigitte was provided for as mother still breast-fed her. It was during this journey in the wagon that Brigitte learned to walk.
The train stopped several times and more and more wagons were added, but the doors remained bolted from the outside during the entire journey. After two days and two nights, the train halted somewhere. There was no sign of any station anywhere. Military trucks were waiting on a track in the field, and now everyone had to unload their belongings again and put them onto the trucks. After a short journey, the truck stopped and my parents were ordered to get out and to unload everything. All around, as far as the eye could see, there was no sign of any village, not the tiniest dwelling, not a single soul – only fields of cotton and here and there small clumps of trees which were supposed to keep the wind at bay. The next truck stopped a few yards further on and these people had to get out, too, and unload their belongings onto the field.
Apart from acquaintances, who had travelled in the same cattle wagon as my parents, other people from Orschowa were being dragged away at the same time. Many other Swabians from the Banat, whom my parents didn't know, came with the same railway transport. They had brought far more household goods with them, plus large animals such as cows, horses and pigs. There were also people amongst them who had already spent five years in the Russian deportation.
Evening came. My parents put the only bed they had brought with them onto the field and they spent the first night on it, the three of them, with Brigitte in the middle.
Friedrich Bolaritsch (an excerpt from the chapter 'Űber meinen Vater' – About my father –from his book 'Wege des Schicksals', published in 1998 by Verlag Elfriede Wild)
"We don't have any cupboards that will fit into these rooms!"(pages 147 – 153)
In the spring of 1951, a 'Securitate' officer visited various families in the village and registered the family members, allegedly for statistical purposes. The people affected were worried, but as time went by, they forgot about it. But when, at the beginning of June, all the railway stations in the border zone started filling up with cattle wagons, we knew something was up – but what?
At the time, I was working and living in Temeswar, so I didn't really realise what was going on. One Saturday – it was the 16th of June – I travelled home to Warjasch and noticed on the way that military soldiers were getting off the train in certain villages. About thirty got off in Warjasch. Then, we younger people grew quite frightened. The deportation to Russia was still fresh in our minds. That night I slept at an aunt's, who was a widow, and I somehow felt safe. The night passed quietly.
At daybreak the following morning I cycled back to Temeswar. The following night we could hear loads of trucks driving by, which was unusual at the time. I later found out that it was the military and the inventory commission who would later register the property we had left behind. On the Monday, Temeswar was like a ghost town. The trains were put into place in the village stations. What was Josefstadt without its people?! We village children wandered around the town, asking everyone we knew and whom we saw, what was going on? Nobody knew anything specific. Around midday, my neighbour from Warjasch, who was a soldier at home on leave, and was thus allowed out of the village, visited me. He brought me the news of a compulsory relocation.
My family would also be affected. I was of course shocked. Why us? Which of us was an enemy of the State? I wasn't guilty of anything, and assumed that my mother and grandmother, and even my great-grandmother, were all innocent. My father had died in Russia. I didn't get reflect any further – I had to go with them! I packed my things and hurried to the station to wait for the transport from Warjasch. My friend stayed with me the whole night and helped me pack and carry everything. On Tuesday morning the transport, which included my family, arrived. The station was cordoned off; I could only get on the train by making a detour, and without my luggage. I reported to the transport commandant and told him that I wanted to go with them. The man had his heart ion the right place. He looked at me and said, "Don't be stupid! Go home – I haven't seen you!" When I then pointed out my family to him, he only said, "O doamne!" (My God!) and went with me to the waiting room to collect my luggage. Then I shook my friend Peter's hand again and was from now on "one of them".
We had one wagon for ourselves, and my married sister had another one. In ours, we had piled up some furniture and household goods and had set up sleeping arrangements. In the other one were the animals (one horse, two cows, three pigs and some fowl), animal feed and agricultural implements. In the afternoon, the transport set off. The railway network was totally overloaded. It was a colossal task, transporting this huge mass of people who had been torn away from their homes. The journey dragged on; we stopped several times – in open countryside, too. At these particular stops we had the chance to see to our animals. The trains often stopped in meadows, in fields of hay or clover, when the 'travellers' could collect feed for their animals. I don't know if that had been requested by 'those at the top', or whether it was out of sympathy by the train drivers. In any case, we had no scruples when taking other people's property, as we had to fend for ourselves. We also filled a barrel with water whenever we could, which was very important in the searing heat.
We travelled for four days. In Kronstadt, the commandant showed me a map of the town of Slobozia and said that we were being taken to that area. There was fertile soil there and we would do well. Then I thought that now we, too, would be 'colonists', just like those who now sat at home in our houses. The big disappointment, of course, came when we were dropped off in open fields and didn't get any houses like those settlers did who came to the Banat after the war. People talk about Bässl Lissi sending Vetter Hans to look for a place to stay, somewhere where the tall cupboard would fit into. He came back and said, "Lissi, we don't have any cupboards that will fit into these rooms!"
Our family was offloaded in Perieţi. The local carters had to help us transport our belongings. That's when Nikolaus Laut took over the commando and judiciously did the best he could in our situation.
The Warjasch people had all their house plots in one row. They were in a field which was marked out with future streets and every house plot had a stick with a number on it. The layout of the village was bordered by an acacia wood on three sides and the Schiauca-See (a lake) on the fourth side. We really had the best spot out of all the new villages, particularly as Perieţi railway station was close by (the Ploieşti – Slobozia – Constanţa line).
My sixty-year-old uncle, together with his mother and daughter, were also in the transport from Warjasch. That would have been a typical Banater family at the time, as many young people had died during the war and the deportation to Russia, or had remained in foreign parts. We found a house plot near to us for our uncle. In the 'village' there were people from Kleinsanktpeter, Ketfel, Kleinbetschkerek, Alexanderhausen, Deutschstamora and Großscham, as well as from Warjasch, and from a few Romanian villages in southern Banat.
We began to build huts for ourselves as protection against the weather. This we did by digging out troughs about 70 centimetres deep, 5 metres long and about 3½ metres wide (2'4" x 16' x 12'6"). We got timber from the acacia wood and rushes and reeds from the Schiauca lake. The acacia wood was destroyed that year. It was completely cut down. It was pleasantly cool and dry in the hut, when it wasn't raining. We later built a porch in front of the hut so we wouldn't have to eat out under the blazing sun.
In the middle of the village was the so-called 'Şantier', a store with a few tools and some building timber, and the police were housed in a second shack. That's where they had called us one day to explain that we had to build our own houses as we would be staying here. As the winters were very cold, we should get a move on. To the question, "What shall we build them with?" came the reply that there was plenty of earth and water here; we should mould clay bricks. The State would supply windows, doors and timber for the roof trusses. We should 'understand' that they would look after us.
We realised that we would have to build our own accommodation if we weren't to go to the dogs and freeze here. So we formed a group of thirteen families and began to mould clay bricks. The group was led by Nikolaus Laut. After only a week, though, we realised that the work was going too slowly and that we wouldn't have any houses built by the beginning of winter. So we decided to stamp (compacted clay) the walls of the houses, just as our ancestors had done in the Banat. First we had to convince the store supervisor that it was quicker to build in this way and also that the houses would hold up. The supervisor was always drunk and just kept rabbiting on about his 'răspundere' (responsibility), but we finally managed to persuade him into giving us boards and posts for the framework and we began with the stamping. Our work became the norm and soon you could hear the booming of the stampers from dawn to dusk.
There were two types of houses; a small one ('casa mica') and a large one ('casa mare'). Families of up to three people had to build small houses and larger families the bigger ones. The ground plan had been determined by a technician. We were allowed to build a large house for my mother, grandmother and myself. My sister got a small one. The larger houses had two rooms, each 3 x 4 metres (9'9" x 13') and a kitchen of 3 x 1.5 metres (9'9" x 4'10"). The smaller houses had one room of 4 x 4 metres (13' x 13') and a kitchen of 2 x 2 metres (6'6" x 6'6").
The stamping was a lot quicker than building with clay bricks. Even just moulding the bricks was very time consuming and laborious. Nevertheless, stamping was also hard work. There were only seven of us men amongst our group of thirteen families who were under 40 years of age – the others were all women and old men. We younger ones only seldom did the stamping, as it was 'easier' work. The men had to dig out the earth and fill the frameworks. Nikolaus Laut proved to be a good organiser. Our skin became brown and dry from the heat and the wind.
There was no drinking water in the village, so in the evenings we would drive to a well in the fields and fill a barrel with water. We also took back grass for the animals and whenever possible we'd pinch some maize, too. We had no reservations in doing so as Communism had already turned us against the concept of 'mine' and 'yours'.
Apart from the living accommodation we also had to construct the public buildings – a village hall, a school, a shop, a village out-patient department, and the police station. Everyone had to work one day a week on these buildings. As we were now stamping, the clay tiles we moulded at the beginning hadn't been used. We wanted to build a stable or a shed with them later, but this all came to nothing as the bricks were taken away by the police. Apart from the public buildings, four houses for old people who were no longer capable of building a roof over their heads were built by the community.
When the houses were finished at the end of August, a heavy storm occurred and we were afraid that the walls, which were not yet dry, would cave in. This did partly happen. Ours withstood the storm, but there was a lower-lying spot in the village where the rainwater built up and caused about fifteen houses to cave in. The people who had built there had to start all over again on higher ground.
Once the walls were completed, we needed reeds for the roofs. There was nothing left in the lake, as we had used them all for building the huts. There was another lake, the 'Amara', about 8 kilometres (5 miles) away from the village. That's where we cut the reeds and rushes. Then the roof trusses were built onto the houses and the final bit of communal work was the building of the lofts. In September we began to 'smear' the houses (plastering the rough building with a layer of clay).
It was in September, too, whilst still living in the original hut, that great-grandmother died. We were given some boards for the coffin by the Şantier. The carpenter, Burger, built this. My friend Franz Schmidt and I dug the grave in the 'old village' cemetery (the indigenous Romanians' village). We'd both already dug a grave earlier for Nikolaus Laut's mother. Seven people from the 'new' village were buried in this cemetery. Later, another cemetery was made for the new village. My grandmother is also buried there. Amongst those displaced people was a student of theology. He blessed our dead. It was at such times that we truly realised just how foreign and abandoned we were. No bells ringing, no gravedigger, no hearse.
Summer had passed and it was already quite cool in the huts and yet the houses were still not dry. In the meantime, we had to spend more and more time working on the public buildings, and the State farm also needed workers for the cotton harvest. Every morning, the police would go through the village, driving us to work. This carried on for a while. One evening – it was already October – I arrived home totally frozen and said to mother, "We're going to move into the house now, whether it's dry or not!" With the stove in the room and the stovepipe going out of the window, we could at last manage to have a little warmth. Luckily a dry winter followed so we could often dry our bedding and clothes outside, as the dampness in the walls made everything musty.
The houses were finished and the food supplies had gradually dwindled so now everyone had to look for work. I found a job as a metal turner at the State machine and tractor station in Andrăşeşti which was 8 kilometres (5 miles) away. I was there the whole week long and could only 'go home' on Sundays. I found a place to sleep in a common room (a dormitory) which had twenty double bunks. We ate in the works canteen. When spring came around again I could cycle home daily.
Life in the village gradually 'grew normal'. Many had found work. Women, too, could work as animal keepers in the local State piggeries. Far and wide, these jobs were taken on by our people. These people, too, could only come home once a week
The so-called commission came by frequently on behalf of the State to interrogate us. The first question was usually, "Why are you here?" As if we knew! We hadn't been convicted! If we answered truthfully, "I don't know", then we were told that we were enemies of the State, traitors, 'chiabur' (large landowners), saboteurs, or things like that. Then we would be asked about our parents and grandparents, about their assets and political activities. We were often asked, "Do you speak a foreign language?" I once said, "Yes, Romanian." I was then told, with a clip on my ear, that Romanian was my 'limba materna' (mother tongue) and that German counted as a foreign language here. As unpleasant as the commission was, their appearance always brought us new hope of a change in our fate. The rumours were always the same: "We are going to be released. We'll soon be going home." The rumours were, of course, always followed by disillusionment.
Nevertheless, we young people were full of the will to live. On Sundays we would hold dances in the community hall and we later also held cultural programmes. The children could go to school. Lessons were taught in Romanian, of course. We had good teachers; they were displaced people, too.
The winters were very cold and the 'crivăţ' (an icy north-east wind) blew incessantly. This wind reached speeds of up to 150 kilometres (95 miles) an hour and blew almost constantly during the winter, without a break. In January 1954 we were snowed under for five weeks. The snowdrifts were higher than our houses and we had to dig out our neighbours several times, or else be dug out ourselves.
In January 1956, the ongoing rumour of our release became a reality. Up until this time, our identity cards had been stamped with the letters 'DO' for 'domiciliu obligatoriu' (compulsory resident) above the photo. This entry allowed the freedom of movement within a radius of 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the village. Police checks and raids were the order of the day. If anyone was caught outside their area, they would be fined, imprisoned or beaten, or sometimes even a combination of these punishments.
After our release, we received new identity cards and were allowed to go back to the Banat. But there was no free ride this time. The cost of the return journey had to be met by the people themselves. The crush for the trains was, of course, huge. How could it have been any different? Bribery was natural. I had to pay 690 Lei for the wagon and another 500 Lei to the station master as a 'favour tax'. My monthly wage at the time was 480 Lei. On 20th February 1956 we could load our belongings. As our train, which consisted of seven wagons, was leaving, we once again had to lend a hand to get it out of the sidings. We were happy to help, as this time we were going in the right direction. Further 'favours' had to be made to the railwaymen at the marshalling yards in Ploieşti and Kronstadt. At last, the journey carried on trouble-free until we arrived at Warjasch five days later.
It was evening and, to our surprise, a whole crowd of fellow countrymen were waiting for us at the station. Everyone helped, so that within three hours all our belongings had been unloaded and taken away. Three families were living in our house. They cleared one room for us. There were only two of us now – my mother and I. Neither of the two grandmothers ever saw their home again.
I wanted to be one of them (pages 154 – 156)
I am writing this in the year 2001. I am a 75-year-old woman. Fate has decreed that I sit alone in my apartment. I am reading the book 'Und über uns der blaue endlose Himmel' (And above us the endless blue sky), reading the experiences of my fellow sufferers and I feel again the worries and the burdens of those times. But now, after half a century, I want to free myself of this burden and, as far as I possibly can, publish my experiences from those days, as I have no other opportunity to talk about it.
Yes, I too, at the age of 25, belonged to the deportees, to those who were to pay for a wrong which they weren't even aware of. There was no reason for this deportation – we had already lost everything in 1945. On that summer night when my parents were taken away from their home, I wasn't in the village. When I heard that they were amongst those sentenced, I could easily have hidden myself. But as I couldn't find any peace, I followed them. I found them at Perjamosch railway station, in a cattle wagon with a horse and a cow, with all sorts of household goods, helpless and in despair. I handed over my identity card and from then on I was one of them, too. My parents were glad; whatever was going to happen, we were together and together we would cope. We didn't actually know where we were being taken to, or whether we would ever be coming back. I had decided to go with them and I no longer considered running away.
I can't remember how long we were in that dirty wagon any more. I see only the images of a journey which, with each day and night, took us further east. Not Russia again! That fear never left us. At some point, the never-ending rattling of the wheels stopped. I woke up from my sleep. We had stopped. The railway station was called Dudeşti. Nothing moved. Hours passed. Daybreak arrived. Still nothing happened. Was this the end of the journey? 'Dudeşti' is not Russian! A worrying question seems to have been answered. We waited the whole day long. Something's got to happen! At last, the orders were given. We were to unload.
We were put onto a truck with all our belongings. Everything was mixed up. We had to move quickly. My parents had to look after the animals we had brought with us. They followed with the cow and the horse. The vehicle, covered in a cloud of dust, suddenly stopped – we had arrived at our destination. I didn't expect much – a hut maybe... And when the dust had finally died down, I knew how foolish that expectation had been. Around us there was nothing - as far as the eye could see, a field of ripened wheat, a blue sky above and a merciless sun. A policeman yelled at me, "Unload! What are you waiting for?!" I began to cry. Unload where? I can't do it by myself! Then the driver said to me, "Quiet, I'll help you." Afterwards, I sat on a big pile of boxes and sacks out in the open, and to the right and left of me, strangers. I waited for my parents – what else could I do? Waiting seemed like an eternity then. But I knew that time hadn't stood still when the sun dipped in the sky and evening slowly drew in. I was afraid my parents wouldn't find me. It grew dark. At last they arrived, and with them came a huge storm cloud.
We tried to build a shelter out of our luggage in the dark, with bits of furniture and a carpet. The following morning, our neighbours marvelled at our home-made hut. It offered some protection from the sun. But when the first summer storm came, the wind took everything. We sat on the beds and held bowls over our heads. Everything we had was wet. We lay there, exposed to the sun, out in the open – no roof, no tree, no bush, no water - only heat, dust and dirt. That was the image of our new home. The water situation was bad. The only well was two kilometres away and, owing to the great demand for drinking water, was usually empty. So we would go out at 3 o'clock in the morning for water. We were ordered to dig wells and build houses. But who could do that, and with what? What we could do was dig hollows in the earth.
When people got their ID cards back, there was a clear 'DO' (domiciliu obligatoriu) – compulsory resident – stamped on it. The authorities couldn't find my card. There weren't any written documents either which could verify my deportation. Once again, I was an outsider. Then I decided to escape.
I managed to get to a neighbouring village. There, I disguised myself as a Romanian farmer's wife and managed to travel back to the Banat by train. As Grosssanktpeter was in the strictly controlled border zone, I had to be very careful. I borrowed a bicycle from some country folk in a neighbouring village and cycled home under cover of darkness. I couldn't go to my parents' house as there were already Romanian colonists living in it. My 80-year-old grandfather couldn't help me much. My relatives were afraid, too. In the village, I was officially regarded as a deportee, therefore had been removed. In the end, relatives of a friend from another village took me in. But they, too, were afraid of being found out. Eventually I could no longer bear the continuous game of hide-and-seek and so I decided, for a second time, to return voluntarily to the Bărăgan.
On the way back I was caught by the police in Buzău. I was arrested. Research proved that I had been removed from the Banat but that I hadn't been named as a deportee in the Bărăgan lists. I belonged neither here nor there. Prison seemed to be the only place I belonged. A policeman told me that, too. In the end, I was allowed to put in a request, asking to be 'allowed' to live in the Bărăgan voluntarily. It was approved and under the escort of two armed soldiers I entered Bumbacari, where my parents and the hovel awaited me. Finally, I received a new identity card with the stamp 'DO'. Now, at long last, I belonged and – what I of course did not know at the time – it was for eleven years.
After three years of hard work on the cotton plantation and in the socialist State's fields, I was hoping for a return home and I got married. By doing that, however, my road to freedom was barred. My parents were allowed to go back to the Banat in 1956. I had to stay on, as my husband had not been freed. I spent another six years in the mud hut village where many political prisoners were taken after the departure of the Banaters. They were billeted in the now empty huts. We 'indigenous' people quickly made friends with the 'newcomers' and helped them as best we could. They were mainly people who already had between five and ten years of hard labour behind them and had been hit harder than us.
The years passed. I bore two daughters under the hardest of conditions. Life went on. Luckily we were all healthy and knew how to get by with the little we had. Eleven years passed like this before I could enter my parents' house again. How wonderful it is to return home. Only someone who has been homeless for years and years could ever understand.
"...and then I borrowed a child"(pages 157 – 159)
When we were dragged off to the Bărăgan, I was 20 years old and had an 8-month-old child. Everything was crammed together in the transport's cattle wagon – household goods, a cow, a pig, a couple of chickens, some hay, and lastly our family; my parents-in-law, my husband, my baby and I. After camping out in the open for two days at the railway station, as there had been problems with the evacuation, and the child suffering terribly from the heat and mosquito attacks, we finally set off.
We were locked in the wagons for days. Only when the train occasionally stopped did the guard come and open the doors and let my husband out to fill the bucket with water from the station well. The terribly arduous journey had weakened my child considerably and I could only watch his suffering with despair. It was no better at the end of the journey; blazing heat, hardly any drinking water, no roof over our heads. Diarrhoea and fever weakened the child visibly.
The hastily dug hovels in which we now lived did offer some protection from the blazing heat of the sun, but not from a cloudburst. The rainwater gathered within seconds in the hollows and made everything soaking wet. As terrible as all this was, it was nothing compared to watching my child grow weaker with each day. I lived through hell every day. There was no respite from fear. I had to do something.
In the end, I walked 8 kilometres (5 miles) to the next Romanian village, knocked on a door and begged for help. When they opened the door, I asked the people if I could use their name and address so I could write to my mother, who had stayed in the Banat. The people felt sorry for me and agreed. I wrote to my parents, saying that they should try and come to me and take the child back home so he could be taken to a doctor. They could send a reply to the address I gave them; I would call on the family every week to pick up any news. Once I had written the letter, I crept to the station, hid behind a bush and waited for the first train. When it pulled in, the police were already in position, watching the platform. I noticed that someone was looking out from the mail wagon. I took heart, jumped out from my hiding place, ran to the mail wagon and begged the official to please take my letter. With thumping heart and my knees trembling, I crept back to our hut. I was so happy to have managed to send a letter home. Now I waited for the rescue.
I was lucky. The letter arrived and my mother immediately set out on her way. The journey passed through Transylvania to Ploieşti and further on to Urziceni. There, she got caught in a checkpoint and was grabbed by the police. She had to get out and buy herself a return ticket, watched by the militia, and get into the train travelling in the opposite direction. However, my mother wasn't going to be put off her plan. She travelled to Ploieşti, changed trains, and eventually ended up in Bucharest. There, she asked several taxi drivers to take her to Andraşeşti, the village where the Romanian family lived and whose address I had given in my letter. The taxi drivers said that they wouldn't drive to that area for all the money in the world. If they were caught, they would be sent to prison. After much begging and pleading, one finally dared to make the trip and asked for money for the journey. The driver used detours, as it was too risky on the main roads. Ten kilometres (six miles) before the 'new village', he stopped. He didn't dare go any further. This should also be the meeting place in two days' time when my mother would be going back to the Banat. He promised to be at the spot on time. My mother even had to pay for the return journey in advance.
Now she reached our penal camp. In the darkness, she ventured around the huts and asked after us. When my mother suddenly stood before me, I knew that my child was saved. We immediately prepared for the child's return journey. Two days later, late in the evening, we made our way to the meeting place arranged by the taxi driver. We waited. Hours passed. The sick child could barely cry any more. His whimpering was lost amidst the sound of the incessant rain. I beseeched God. The car didn't come. Soaked through, we turned back to our hut. I was in total despair.
On the following day, we discovered that there was a gravel road somewhere nearby and that a bus ran between the Romanian villages, and that there was no police control expected. We made our way there. My mother managed to travel on the bus as far as Ploieşti. She got as far as the Banat and immediately looked for a doctor there, which saved my child's life.
Meanwhile, it was late autumn and it grew colder and colder. Every week, I walked the 8 kilometres to the good Romanians and sometimes there would be a letter waiting for me there, telling us about our dear little boy and that he was now better again at home. The mail staff on the train also quickly took my letters back.
Christmas was drawing near and we were still being made by the police to go out to the cotton harvest. Our fingers grew stiff from the cold, our gloves were wet and our hands hurt. Damp and cold seeped through our shoes. The thought that my child was now well made all this easier for me to bear.
The guards kept coming and making checks to see if we were all still there. They had the list of deportees with them and we had to show our identity cards. That made me nervous every time because my child wasn't there! The neighbours who lived four houses away from us in our row always came running to tell me that the police were on their way. Then I would run through the garden – I should really say 'through the weeds' – and 'borrow' a small child from some good acquaintances from another row. And so the fact that my little child wasn't there was never noticed during the checks. After the roll call, I ran back with the child. By the time the checks were being made in the other row, the child was back with its parents.
My child had now been safe with his grandparents for six months. But my short-lived piece of luck suddenly changed. The police in the Banat discovered 'the kidnap of the child' and my mother was forced to come back to the Bărăgan with the child. She now knew the way there. She managed, without being caught, to bring my strong and healthy little boy back to me – even if it was into 'imprisonment'.
Eleven a.m. on Sundays was time for compulsory registration (pages 160 to 163)
1951 was of course the worst year; we were living out in the open and had to build our own houses. Mother was missing from our family – she had been dragged off to Russia and had already died of starvation in 1947. My maternal grandmother was also deported to the Bărăgan with us. She was, however, ill. Unfortunately, the doctors in our village (Salcîmi) couldn't help her. In July 1951, three weeks after our arrival in the Bărăgan, we had to take her to the hospital in Călăraşi which was 40 kilometres (25 miles) away. We weren't allowed to travel by train. Luckily, I got permission from the police to take her there in the horse and cart. Of course, we had no maps and it was difficult trying to find our way across the fields. We set off early in the morning and found a Romanian village after 20 kilometres (12 miles), where I was given further directions. By evening, we were in Călăraşi. We spent the night out in the open. The following morning, I handed my grandmother over to the hospital staff. It was very hard for me leaving her behind alone in the hospital but I had to go 'back home'. I was consoled by the fact that at least she now had a roof over her head. Whilst at the hospital, I heard that there was a village, Cacomeanca, near Călăraşi where deportees from the Banat were living. So I drove past there. There were fellow countrymen there and we exchanged experiences of building hovels in the earth and ways of surviving. I was the first person to have found the way to our compatriots.
In August I collected my grandmother from the hospital and she came back to the hovel, where she died a few weeks later on 11th September 1951. Now a cemetery had to be laid out for the first casualty of the village, for Magdalena Hügel. She was a Catholic. However, there was only a Romanian Orthodox priest who himself had been sentenced to compulsory relocation. This priest understood our need and came to bury my grandmother. What was important was the person; the religion was, at that time, a minor detail.
From 1952 onwards, life once again took on a form of normality. The younger ones got together and eventually a village was built up out of the collection of huts. When at last in 1955/56 the release from our imprisonment was due, our world fell apart. We helped the neighbours to our left, to our right, across the way, and the ones opposite, to pack and to take them to the station – but we had to stay behind. Salcîmi would not let us go. It was like the devil's curse. Everyone was allowed home, except for us. We were desperate. Nearly a year passed until all those released had left. For us it was perhaps the saddest year. Most of our tears were shed during this time.
In all the deportee villages in the Bărăgan, there were a few families who shared our fate. There were four families in our village that had to stay behind. It was particularly hard for us as our household consisted of three men - my father who was 49; my brother who was 18; and I who was 23 years old. One day, we were summoned by the police. There, we were told that from now on we had to register every Sunday morning at 11 o'clock and that we always had to be available at our work places. Apart from that, it was made clear to us that we should banish all thoughts of escaping, as prison would await us. The conditions of our imprisonment thus became tighter, as though we had suddenly become criminals. We were at a loss. Every year, I wrote three or four petitions ('cerere') to the Ministry of the Interior in Bucharest and begged to be released. All the petitions were rejected.
In 1955, I got to know my future wife, Maria Wünschel – she came to visit her aunt in the Bărăgan. In 1957, the Ministry of the Interior granted me authorisation to travel to Albrechtsflor for 14 days in order to marry. In the old Heimat, I was told that I was not allowed to marry in a registry office in the Banat. What to do? We secretly married in church on 12th October. The priest was frightened. He knew that he wasn't allowed to marry us unless we had been married in the registry office first, but he did do so, luckily. The witnesses were the church sexton and the priest himself. On 8th November, we married in a registry office in the Bărăgan. My brother got married in 1960.
My children were born in 1958 and 1961. We had small children, but there was no longer any doctor or nurse in the villages. They were only here until 1956 when the majority of the deportees were released. When the children grew ill, we had to beg to be able to travel to see a doctor. If we hadn't been able to get to Bucharest for serious cases, and to get medical assistance there, our children would not be alive today.
The maintenance of the buildings which housed the militia, the school and the shop, also became the responsibility of the few deportees left in the Bărăgan. We had to look after these buildings as so-called 'voluntary work', which left us hardly any time to go about our other regular work on the State farms.
Between 1958 and 1959, half of the deportees' houses were torn down. Only the village centre was kept. For that reason, many people had to change their accommodation and move to the village centre. Luckily, our family wasn't affected. At that time in Salcîmi, apart from the few Banaters, there were Romanians from Bukowina and Bessarabia, and other Romanian families who also stayed on voluntarily after their release. They were mostly refugees whose home villages were under Soviet occupation and for whom it was impossible to return home. Political prisoners were also housed in many empty dwellings, as at that time the Communist repression had robbed countless people of their freedom and the prisons had already for some time been unable to house all those convicted.
Today it seems almost inconceivable: For twelve years up until our release we lived in the most primitive conditions and with standards of hygiene that you wouldn't expect even an animal to live in and – what was particularly painful – without any friends or relatives. The blow came in March 1963, when we were released. Going home at last! But where were we to live? We knew that we couldn't go back to our old homes as they were occupied by the State farmers. We only wanted a small room with a kitchen, at least as much as we had had in the Bărăgan. We would have been content with that.
The Albrechtsflor Communists (there were, unfortunately, also fellow countrymen amongst them) simply said 'no' and refused us any accommodation. They wouldn't let us move into any empty accommodation, although there was enough around. Even today, I still have to describe what was done to us as a disgrace. My family and I could move in with my parents-in-law. My brother Oskar lived out on the street with his belongings for a week before he found somewhere to rent. When my father, who was at the time still in the Bărăgan, heard this, he decided to stay in Salcîm. He waited until 1968 to return home, when he could afford to buy himself a small house. But when he finally arrived back home he was already ill and could no longer walk.
After all these experiences there remained only one thought: To Germany into freedom! I could not stop thinking about it. In 1978, I managed to escape across the border into Yugoslavia. However, I was caught and sent to prison for five weeks. In the end, I was deported to Germany. My brother was unlucky. He wanted to leave Romania that same year and in the same way, but was captured at the border and sentenced to 18 months to be served in a Romanian prison. He didn't get to Germany until 1985.
Time passes and is supposed to heal all wounds. The fear and the humiliation which we experienced during our twelve years in the Bărăgan will stay with us for ever.
Rucksack and eating utensils lay ready (pages 164 to 167)
On 28th May 1951 I was released from Russian captivity. Six long years of camp life were finally over. I was back in Dolatz getting my first taste of freedom when I was invited by friends in the neighbouring village of Detta to a performance of 'Dreimädelhauses', which was being staged. Of course I accepted straight away, as 'was kann der Sigismund dafür, dass er so schön ist...' ('how can Sigismund help being so handsome...'). A visit to a real theatre after six years imprisonment!. I took my father's bicycle and set off. The performance of the operetta was an intoxicating experience for me. The journey home, however, was less intoxicating and became the road to Hell. But first things first:
It was a beautiful summer's night. I said goodbye to the friends in Detta and got on my bike, ready to cycle back to Dolatz. The moon was generous and proffered me light. It probably sympathised a little with all homecomers. I had a choice of two ways home; the short route through Hopsenitz or the longer one through Banlok. I remembered the words of Professor Johann Wolf: 'We always choose the shortest route in order to arrive at our destination quicker', and so I decided to take the road through Hopsenitz.
As I quickly cycled past the Fuchsenwald (Foxwood), to my amazement I was met by men in green uniforms and with rifles across their shoulders. In front was an officer who called out for me to hurry up, and behind him were soldiers. This unusual meeting had at first no consequences for me; I was neither stopped nor asked to identify myself. Naturally, I made sure I got home as quickly as possible. I arrived home, tired after the 15 kilometre (10 mile) journey and went straight to bed. I could have hardly dropped off, when somebody shook my bed and shouted at me in Romanian, "Scoale-te!" (Get up!). I tried to go back to sleep. Perhaps it was just a dream. But then came the next order, "In numele legii... trebuie sa părăseşti zona!" (In the name of the law... you must leave this zone!). Law, zone, my mother's desperate crying, my father's voice – everything was spinning around in my head! This couldn't be a dream. Suddenly I was wide awake. I looked into my father's eyes. We looked at each other tearfully. I could only say, "Father, I've been back home for 21 days, and now it's already starting all over again?" My father, who had lived through the First World War, tried to console me, saying "Just wait a bit...". The bellowing officer opened a briefcase and checked his lists. It seemed odd to him that only one person in our house was on his lists. But it was correct. Only I was to be taken away. He then gave me a few instructions, ending with the sentence, "Take everything you need!"
What does a former prisoner of war need? His rucksack and the never-to-be-forgotten eating utensils. I didn't know where I was going. But in the blink of an eye I had made my decision and I whispered to my father, "Father, as soon as I'm out of this country, I'm leaving. I'm going to escape, come what may.
In front of the house, I met up with the Romanian priest, Father Balcu. He put his hand on his heart and said only, "Doamne ajută!" (God help you!) and shook my hand. He said to the guard, "This boy is innocent."
Meanwhile, the whole village was up, and everywhere things were being packed in a hurry. Vetter Lois, who was the driver delegated to transport my luggage, said, "Are you going too, Stefan? You've only just got back from Russia!" We went to the railway station at Tolwad. There I sat on my suitcase, one of the poorest of our village, with no father or mother, no wife or child, and began to hatch my plan for escape.
The next station was then the field of stubble at Lăteşti, not far from Festesti on the Danube. I ended up here with my fellow countrymen, out in the open, and tried to do what everyone else did: To survive. I did all my work. I wasn't choosy. The years in Russia had taken a lot from me, but they had also given me something which would be useful to me here. I found my way around. One of my jobs was digging bunker accommodation. Together with Dominik Parison, Peter Moll and Andreas Rattinger, we dug many such dwellings, including one for Dr. Farkasch from Detta.
Because I was a single person, I was first put with the Parison family. In the end, I had to decide to either build myself a house, or to escape. On 23rd August 1951, the sky suddenly grew dark and never-ending rain set in. Within only two hours, everywhere was flooded. The houses built of clay, which had only just been finished, all caved in. People now also lost the only provisions they had left. After this natural disaster, a high-ranking policeman and two officers came by helicopter to look at the situation. When they got out of the helicopter, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by men with pitchforks and sticks. The situation was clear, and the grand men immediately got back in and flew off. To our amazement, the prisoners' revolt had no repercussions. No-one was arrested or punished.
The scenario with the helicopter gave new impetus to my escape plans. That same evening, I had a discussion with Dominik Oberkirsch, the son of our former mayor back in our home village. We decided to escape, and without delay. We got as far as Ploieşti by hiding in a railway wagon intended for the transport of crude oil. From there, we managed to get to Temeswar on goods trains by bribing railway employees. Dominik found a job in agriculture. He went underground in a village near Temeswar. And so the 'class enemy' was working illegally as a tractor driver, but at the same time doing useful work for socialism. I found a hiding place with Transylvanian friends whom I knew from my prisoner of war days in Heltau near Hermannstadt. I hid with the Polder family for a few days, and then with the Roth family and then with the Lutsch family. I found work picking apples in the orchards. This is where Brigadier Bărcanu, a refugee from Bessarabia, sorted out a new pass for me, as my old one obviously had the 'DO' (domiciliu obligatoriu – compulsory resident) stamp on it.
Autum passed and the year drew to a close. I was content and everything seemed to be alright. Shortly before Christmas, I received a letter from my father via a circuitous route, saying that I was being hunted by the police. I worried a lot about my parents, and that they would be taken hostage and brought to the Bărăgan. Should I go back to Lăteşti? Or why not straight to the centre of evil, to the Secret Service Centre in Bucharest? On 20th December 1951, I stood before the gate of the Ministry of the Interior in Bucharest and asked to be let in. I wanted to put my case. I had committed no crime, I only wanted to live in freedom. Was it fear? Was it the courage of desperation? Was it indifference or youthful folly? Whatever it was, I dared to walk straight into the lion's den. And via the shortest route, into the lion's hell of that time - the notorious construction site for political prisoners: The Danube-Black Sea canal. I wanted to know absolutely why I had been deported to the Bărăgan; why I wasn't allowed to live in freedom. The powers that be in Bucharest answered my question with their sentence: One year of forced labour.
I was put into convicts' clothes and taken to Cernavoda. There, I bumped into my uncle, Franz Stumper, who had formerly worked as a furrier in Temeswar. My workplace was now the Cocîrleni quarry. The banks of the Danube were built up with stones from here. In the spring of 1952, the high tide tore through the poorly secured stones, plunging them back into the depths. The whole job had to be started all over again. After a year, I was released to my 'new home' in Latest. I stayed there until the general release from deportation in 1956, got married and started a family.
Many years have passed since then. I found answers to many questions in Life, but the question I put to the powers that be that day in Bucharest still remain unanswered to this day.
A strange encounter in Ploieşti (pages 168 to 171)
In the second year, you could see from our clothes how damp it was in the earthen huts, and how heavy the field work was that we did. Mending our things was, however, no long-term solution. We did have vouchers for food and clothing, but there were hardly any goods to be found in the less than modest village shops in the Bărăgan. Andres Kühn heard at his workplace that there were confectionery goods available in exchange for vouchers in Ploieşti. But how were we to get there? It was about 100 kilometres (60 miles) to Ploieşti but our travel restrictions only reached as far as the next village. The temptation to go shopping in town again was huge, and so we discussed it amongst friends. A group of brave people was quickly found. We took the village policeman into our confidence and he even agreed – for a small 'favour', obviously – to accompany us on the journey. Perieţi railway station was on our doorstep. We boarded the train and headed for Ploieşti, full of confidence. Everything went smoothly. We got off at the southern station. But there, we were met by a street raid. We tried to escape through the side streets, but the police were everywhere. Our own little policeman was obviously no match for this contingent of State power. He couldn't save all of us. He had to make sure that he himself got out unscathed, too. I can only remember him whispering to me to follow him. I did, of course, and suddenly we were standing in a side street and managed to get around the barricade to the railway station unchecked. We carried on and ended up in a street with beautiful town residences. My protector suddenly opened a door and pushed me into a fairly dark hallway, saying that I should wait here until he came to collect me. Then he disappeared. The whole thing happened so quickly that I had no time to be afraid. But here, in the dark entrance hall, I was frightened. I didn't know what was going to happen. If only I had stayed with the group. Leaving was out of the question as all Hell had let loose that day in the streets of Ploieşti. 'Enemies of the State', as they were called at the time, were being hunted. All suspects were herded to an improvised camp near the station. This is where – as I later found out, of course – my fellow compatriots, who had wanted to go shopping with me, were taken, too. They had to spend the whole day and the following night fenced in out in the open until they were allowed to travel back to Perieţi.
I stood in the dark hallway and fretted. More than an hour passed by – but it seemed like an eternity at the time – when a woman suddenly appeared from the dark and said to me, very quietly, "Come with me. I know what to do." She spoke German with a peculiar accent which I couldn't work out at the time. She took my hand and led me into an apartment. Now I realised that the young girl was a maid. The lady of the house now stood before me and spoke to me in German. It was like being in a dream. A few steps further on, people were rushing around and here, in this sunny apartment, I was received in my mother tongue and was invited to stay. Where was I? It was the home of the Jewish family, Dr. Rotberg. I was in a Jewish house for the first time.
I can hardly describe the friendliness with which I was met here. I spent the night here, and the next day I went shopping with the Rotbergs. I found a coat for myself and a suit for my husband. However, I couldn't really enjoy my purchases properly as I didn't know what had happened to my friends who had been snatched at the station. While Mrs. Rotberg was bringing me back to her apartment, Dr. Rotberg made enquiries about the fate of my traveller friends. Thanks to his connections in town, he managed to get Andreas Kühn, who was one of our group, released and brought him back to where I was. The next day, when the situation at the station had quietened down again, we both travelled back to Perieţi, where people had obviously been very worried about us. The others were also released and sent back.
The friendship with the Rotbergs lasted many years. They visited us several times in the Bărăgan, and they also came to visit later when we were back in the Banat. When we left the country to move to Germany, and the Rotbergs emigrated – presumably to Israel – we unfortunately lost contact.
Baptism in the Banat
It was during the third year of our enforced stay in the Bărăgan, in August 1954. My youngest child, who had been born there, was already two years old and not yet baptised. My greatest wish was to celebrate his baptism at home in the Banat in a real church. As a long absence from the heavily guarded village would be noticed, an agreement first had to be reached with the police. My husband, who worked on a vegetable farm, supplied the chief of police with copious amounts of everything that a vegetable farm could produce in late summer. The promise of an 'added extra' of two litres of Banater plum brandy, on completion of a successful journey, finally 'convinced' the protector of law and order of the legality of my intentions. He even supplied me with written approval to leave the village. But I had yet to experience just how far the policeman's power would reach, and what validity my pass would have in the Banat, over 500 kilometres (300 miles) away.
So I set off on my way with my two children and a fellow female compatriot. We travelled by train via Ploieşti and Kronstadt to Arad. My father was already waiting for us, equipped with identity cards from Kleinsanktpeter compatriots. Then we travelled onwards by rail to Sekeschut, a neighbouring village of Kleinsanktpeter. From the station we then went to some fellow countrymen where we dressed in everyday Swabian clothes so we fitted into the Banat scenery. At dusk, Josef Gängler took us to Kleinsanktpeter in a one-horse cart across the fields. It was on a Friday evening. Of course, I didn't dare venture out onto the village streets. I stayed in my mother's house which was right at the edge of the village, and I was happy to be so close to my goal. Father Josef Pettla was obviously part of the secret plan.
But the following day, the police were already at the door and they arrested me. My travelling companion, Marianne Kühn, who was staying with friends in the village, had been seen and was betrayed. Unfortunately, there were informers amongst our fellow men. We were first taken to Keftel police station and on the following day to the prison in Grosssanktnikolaus. The two children were also taken there; the boy was five years old and the girl, two. I spent the night with the two children in one room. Marianne Kühn was locked up in a larger cell in the cellar, together with gypsies who had been arrested for theft.
I explained at the trial that I didn't want to actually escape from the Bărăgan, but that I only wanted to have my younger child baptised. I had the impression that they sympathised with me as my father-in-law was allowed to travel back to Kleinsanktpeter with the children. There, upon my wish, my parents immediately set the wheels in motion for the baptism. I consoled myself with the thought that at least the point of my journey had been achieved, even if I couldn't be present at the baptism. Afterwards, my children were brought back to the prison and we stayed there for a total of three days.
In a summary trial I was ordered to pay a hefty fine. My mother and my father-in-law were also fined. I was sent back to the Bărăgan, where a further sentence awaited me. At a trial I was threatened with a three-month prison sentence, which was eventually changed to a fine after one of my relatives got a female lawyer, who practised in Großsanktnikolaus, to intervene. Luckily, my mother and my parents-in-law managed to scrape the money together in the Banat. The fines paid totalled the equivalent of about the sum of money earned in one year by an agricultural worker.