Whilst still building their own houses, every family had to send a member to work in the nearest grain, rice and cotton fields, and to harvest these for the State economy. This work was very poorly paid. Jobs in the cow sheds and pig sties were better paid, as were mechanics and tractor drivers in the State workshops and in the agricultural machinery and tractor stations. There were also jobs in industry, if the factory was no further than 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the village. It should be pointed out that many deportees also held responsible, and even leading, positions in all these concerns, even though they had been regarded as an unreliable element back home in the border zone.
Each family also had its own large garden in which, because of the fertile soil and their knowledge of how to work it, all kinds of vegetables could be grown which contributed considerably to their nutrition. There was a limited amount of the most important food items available in the cooperative shops – not always enough to go around – mostly those which were rationed and were redeemed against food ration cards. Of vital importance was the supply of paraffin which was essential for the paraffin stoves and the old paraffin lamps. If there was no paraffin, they turned to candles, but then cooking was a problem because there was usually a shortage of fuel for heating. They used the roots, foliage, stalks and cobs of maize, plus straw and dried thistles which tumbled along the ground like little bushes being driven by the wind and which were gathered and piled up in heaps. They called them 'Windhasen' (wind hares or rabbits). Where there were bushes or trees, they used twigs or wood for heating. But that was only in the beginning, as long as they managed to secretly cut down branches and trees along the roadsides and in the protected plantations under cover of dark during the night and take them back to their huts, and later their houses. It was, however, forbidden and carried a harsh punishment. After a while, wood and coal for fuel could be purchased from further afield. But this was not the case for everyone.
Mail was censored, often 'lost' or spoiled or withheld, so many letters never arrived. Parcels from relatives back home were often not handed over, or parts of them were missing. Visitors from outside were forbidden. They did take place secretly, though, but people ran the risk of being punished and sent back home on the next train if they were caught. There were no newspapers. Radios which they had brought with them were confiscated by the police and were distributed to the cultural centres of the indigenous villages which did not yet have any. The people were totally isolated and only seldom heard news from outside. As working slaves they were to live in as primitive conditions as possible. The many restrictions contributed greatly towards this.
Procuring drinking water in the Bărăgan was a problem for survival. In many of the 18 villages, no wells – or very few – could be bored because the ground water level lay too deep down. People often had to fetch the water from afar; in some places it had to be purchased, or they had to make do with water from the Danube and its tributaries. It was barely drinkable and also a health risk unless it had been boiled. When it rained continually, the streets and the roads between villages became so sodden because there were no tarred or concreted roads and people could only walk in rubber boots, and only carts with three or four horses pulling in front could get through.
During the very cold winters, a blustery north-easterly wind blew almost constantly. This wind, known as the 'Crivăţ', demanded respect from even the indigenous people who were used to it. Even more feared, though, was the 'Viscol', the snowstorm which often rendered whole streets unrecognisable with snow drifts and buried houses completely under snow. Many houses were snowed under in this way during January and February 1954, so much so that the people couldn't even get out of their houses. They were dug out by neighbours whose houses hadn't been affected as badly by the snow drifts. There were cases of roofs being crushed by heavy layers of snow which caused a lot of damage.
The deportees suffered great financial damage from the currency stabilisation at the end of January 1952. Their money lost its value overnight. The village of Brateş, known better by its first name, Frumuşiţa Nouă, in the Pruth lowland, was struck the hardest because the Pruth dam burst in August 1955 and the village was flooded. The high water destroyed all the mud houses, and the people, who had lost almost everything, only managed to save themselves with difficulty. In the beginning, the indigenous people from the neighbouring villages avoided contact with the deportees, who had been described to them by the authorities, and especially the Party activists, as criminals and enemies of the State. Once they had become convinced of the opposite, though, and had got to know the deportees better, they enjoyed talking to them and were mostly friendly towards them.
In spite of all the inhospitality and the trials of Nature, and the restrictions and harassment by the authorities, these people, cut off from the rest of the world, still carried out their traditions. They would celebrate family parties, organised Kirchweih festivals and dances, established music groups and football teams and laid out football pitches for themselves. The school's pupils were taught by highly motivated teachers from the ranks of the deportees, so that many pupils were accepted for higher education and went on to High School, although the authorities tried to stop this.
On Sundays, prayers were said and hymns were sung in certain houses, led by women. Only very rarely could a priest, who had travelled in secret, hold a Mass. Such opportunities when a priest was available were also used to conduct First Holy Communion, late baptisms of children and the consecration of graves, as burials were usually conducted without a priest.
In cases of death, families had to sort out the coffin, the laying out of the body, and the burial by themselves as there were no undertakers or gravediggers. The cemeteries were mostly situated far from the edge of the villages.
To begin with, the general public took hardly any notice of this deportation. The Deutsche Bundestag (German Parliament) did discuss the case in a debate on 17th October 1951, but could not help anyone in any way. It was only after the death of Stalin when public protests grew and Romania was reminded to observe human rights in the face of her attempt to be accepted as a member of the United Nations, that the fate of the deportees in the Bărăgan changed. After a fresh review of the situation, the relevant authorities of the Ministry of the Interior began to release people from compulsory domicile during the second half of 1955. But only very few of the released families were allowed to return to their home villages in the border zone. The rest had to look for somewhere else to live. Most declined this proposal and didn't return home until 1956 with the majority of the freed deportees. Those who owned more than 50 hectares of land had to spend several more years in the Bărăgan and the last ones didn't return home until 1963. All costs relating to the journey home had to be paid by the returnees themselves. In this way, the State made money out of them twice over, as the railways belonged to the State.
Once back home, nearly everyone had to fight, sometimes for years, to get their own houses back, which had in the intervening years been taken over by Romanian migrants or State concerns and offices and had fallen into bad disrepair. Some never achieved this and had to rent accommodation, or at best were allocated an apartment. Political convicts moved into the houses in the Bărăgan left empty by the deportees returning home. They were mostly intellectuals who, because of their anti-Communist views, had until now worked in the labour camps on the Danube-Black Sea canal and after their release had been sentenced to compulsory domicile. Once they too had been released, the houses fell into disrepair, so that only piles of mud could be made out on the sites of the former villages, due to the houses caving in. They became almost levelled to the ground due to over-farming. In only very few of the exile villages are there any houses left standing and these are inhabited by Macedonian-Romanians who raise sheep, and by Bessarabian-Romanians. The cemeteries, too, have disappeared and many descendants of the people buried there have, over the years, dug up the mortal remains of their dead and interred them in their cemeteries back home.
And so a chapter of Romania's Communist tyranny had come to an end. Although there was later talk of rehabilitation (although we had committed no crime), and of claims against rehabilitation, nothing could be changed. Even the statement given after 20 years by the Party and government leader of Romania that 'a series of measures had been taken which unjustly affected many working Germans' and that the Party had 'taken measures to end these injustices', as well as the current democratic government of Romania expressing, through their Foreign Minister, 'deep regret and sorrow for the mass deportation of Romanian-Germans in the post-war years,' cannot rectify what happened. The financial damage, and above all the spiritual damage which these Communist measures caused, remain like a nightmare for tens of thousands of those affected. For most Banat Swabians, the feeling of being strangers in their own country was strengthened after the many humiliations, dispossession of their property, the deportation to Russia and the recent compulsory domicile in the Bărăgan Steppes. For many, the decision to leave as soon as possible the country which had become alien and unstable, and to emigrate to the land of their forefathers, already began to form.
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Pages 40 to 42 list the Banat villages and towns affected by the deportation - see list at top of page.
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Analysis of the number of Germans deported from the border zone to the Bărăgan Steppes, and those who died there by Wilhelm Weber (pages 48 to 53)
The most argued and discussed problem about the Bărăgan deportation was the decades-long unawareness up until the 1990s of the true number of people deported, and the number of new villages built by them in the Bărăgan Steppes.
When inspecting the archival documents of the former Party and State organs who were involved in the deportation, many new facts were learned which are now available in the publications promoted by the Society of former Bărăgan Deportees.
This is how we learned for the first time that 12,791 families with 40,320 individuals were deported to the Bărăgan Steppes. They came from 297 villages within the former Banat and Mehedinter border zone, and lived in compulsory domicile in the 18 new villages built by themselves.
Understandably our fellow compatriots continually ask about the number of Banat Germans deported who, together with other fellow sufferers of different ethnic backgrounds, had to leave their homeland in such a brutal and inhumane way and share this hard, unjustified fate.
Now that we have the real figures today, I will not refer to figures given before we were able to inspect the true numbers in the archives. This however was only possible once the Communist regime was removed and the great political change took place in Romania.
I have already mentioned in other places that all previous, very differing numbers given about the numbers of Germans deported are not based on official documents. Authors of well-known publications on the Bărăgan deportation confirmed to me that lack of official announcements from the Romanian authorities meant we had to rely on the statements made by those people affected. We tried to build up a picture of the scale of the deportation from the personal experiences of former Bărăgan deportees who were allowed to leave for Germany after their release from compulsory domicile. Based on the information in such reports, and from projected figures, we arrived at numbers which, by today's viewpoint, were set too high and which differed greatly between authors who wrote on the subject.
This all goes back mainly to the reporters who, limited by the conditions and restrictions in Romania at the time, could not get a general overall view, but only a limited local view, and who could therefore not give any concrete information about the campaign as a whole. Owing to circumstances at the time, it was impossible to get any definite numbers.
In books which have appeared in the Romanian language since 1994, there is no information about the ethnicity of the Bărăgan deportees. Their numbers are only given in the book published by the Serbs about the deportation of the Serbs. That is why I spoke to the Chairman of the Society of former Bărăgan Deportees, in order to find out the number of Germans affected. As he could not give me an answer, and told me that both the authors of the book about the Serbian deportees had researched the numbers themselves, I undertook to do the same myself and began to compile a questionnaire.
Although not all the villages with a German population in the former border zone are organised into home village associations (Heimatortsgemeinschaft) within the framework of our 'Landsmannschaft' [welfare and cultural association for Germans born in the eastern areas of the former Reich], we could still send out the questionnaires to the chairmen and representatives of 64 home village associations, which represented villages with a large german population in the past in the border zone. The forms were successfully completed and revealed a lot of new facts.
It appears from the replies from these home village associations, as well as from reports on the Bărăgan deportation in 30 home village monographies, that barely one quarter of the deportees came from the german ranks of the border zone population. The claim that the majority of the deportees were Germans, however, is applicable when compared to others affected in proportion to the size of the population.
The following table shows the results of the questionnaire in alphabetical order which I managed to set up using the information from the 64 home village associations, as well as the village monographs, showing the numbers of deportees and those who died there:
Albrechtsflor 174 - 6; Alexanderhausen 48 - 5; Baratzhausen 34 - 1; Billed 506 - 59; Birda 76 - 0; Butin 2 - 0; Bogarosch 295 - 28; Bresondorf 5 - 0; Denta 11 - 0; Detta 109 - 2; Deutschsanktmichael 9 - 0; Deutschstamora 66 - 3; Dolatz 96 - 6; Gataja 10 - 0; Gertianosch 63 - 4; Giulweß 43 - 2; Gottlob 236 - 9; Grabatz 224 - 16; Großjetscha 388 - 36; Großkomlosch 98 - 3; Großsanktnikolaus 32 - 6; Großscham 59 - 1; Hatzfeld 486 - 45; Johannisfeld 253 - 24; Keglewichhausen 161 - 12; Ketfel with Kleinsiedel 72 - 3; Kleinbetschkerek 184 - 18; Kleinjetscha 145 - 7; Kleinomor 12 - 2; Kleinsanktpeter 69 - 2; Kleinschemlak 33 - 0; Klopodia 27 - 0; Knees 76 - 0; Königsgnad (Tirol) 61 - 3; Lenauheim 496 - 36; Lowrin 274 - 14; Lunga 18 - 0; Marienfeld 160 - 9; Morawitza 78 - 10; Moritzfeld 20 - 3; Nero 66 - 0; Neubeschenowa 170 - 20; Neuburg (Uiwar) 120 - 5; Neu- and Großsanktpeter 86 - 7; Neusiedel(Uihel) 15 - 0; Obad 10 - 0; Ofsenitz 54 - 1; Orawitza 14 - 0; Ostern (Kleinkomlosch) 436 - 8; Perjamosch 377 - 21; Perkos 40 - 3; Pesak 3 - 0; Sackelhausen 224 - 16; Sarafol 40 - 2; Triebswetter 527 - 20; Tschakowa 59 - 4; Tschanad 199 - 25; Tschawosch 52 - 3; Tschene 66 - 1; Tolwad 117 - 0; Ulmbach 229 - 33; Warjasch 341 - 24; Wiseschdia 115 - 3; Wojteg 48 - 5 (plus from another 75 villages with a german population from the border zone, 796 - 53). Number of Germans deported is 9,413, including 629 who died in the Bărăgan.
Apart from the 64 villages in the above table which are organised into home village associations here in Germany, there were another 75 villages in the former border zone with a german population of more than 10 people, giving a total of 9,660 according to the 1940 census.
The result of the 1948 population census could not be used to calculate the number of deportees from these villages as most of those deported to Russia from the 75 villages, plus the prisoners of war, were missing from the census and only returned home between 1949 and 1951. It was therefore more realistic to use the 1940 census and the 20% loss co-efficiency of the german population of Romania through the war, escape to the West, and the deportation to Russia, supported by the experts and historians.
Based on this, the calculation showed that 796 Germans were deported from those 75 villages. The total number of Banat Germans deported to the Bărăgan was therefore 9,413, out of which 629 died during the years of their compulsory domicile
If one analyses and compare figures in the table, then we find that there is a big difference in the number of people deported from villages with a similar-size population and similar economy. For example Alexanderhausen with 48, and Ostern with 436 german deportees.
It was also established that in some villages with a smaller and less wealthy population, not only proportionally but also numerically more people were deported than from villages with a greater and wealthier population. One can compare Marienfeld with only 160, and Johannisfeld with 253 Germans deported.
Significant in this respect is also the comparison between Hatzfeld with 486, and Triebswetter with 527 Germans deported. Although the german population of Triebswetter was less than half of that of Hatzfeld, more Germans were deported from Triebswetter than from Hatzfeld.
These inconsistent proportions prove our initial suspicions that the same criteria were not applied everywhere. The suspicion by many former deportees that often personal interests, envy, or even revenge, influenced the decision of those who were responsible for the compiling of the lists of deportees is thus also substantiated. So people and families who did not fit into any of the categories were put onto these lists and had to go instead of others. Some were also put on the lists so that the belongings they left behind could later be appropriated, just as other people and whole families whom the authorities deemed unacceptable were ruthlessly placed on the lists, removed from their villages and deported to the Bărăgan.
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Archival items with information pertaining to the Bărăgan Deportation by Wilhelm Weber (pages 54 to 61)
The efforts by the Society of former Bărăgan Deportees, founded soon after the political changes in Romania to answer all questions about this contemptible campaign against human beings, was warmly welcomed by those affected and by the wider public in general. The first opportunity to view documents which had up until now been kept secret was at the previously mentioned memorial exhibition 'In Memoriam Bărăgan' initiated by the Society of former Bărăgan Deportees and held in the history section of the Banat museum in June 1993.
Most of the archival documents from the Temeschwar State Archives contained a lot of previously unknown information on the events both during and after the deportation. But the reports by the Party officials who had been delegated to each of the villages affected by the deportation also shed much new insight, as well as the systematic evaluation and the summary of these informative reports by the District Party Committees.
As well as these synthesis reports by the District Party Committees, the reports by the Commission, which was in charge of registering, evaluating and putting into three different price tariffs all the agricultural inventory and the animals left behind, were very enlightening. Especially critical was the paper by the Regional Party on the actions of the militia. Of particular interest were the reports, papers and shorthand notes taken during these sittings of the highest Party organs. One of these important sittings took place still during the deportation, and two took place immediately after.
Only one day after the star of the levying, on the evening of the 19th of June 1951, the top Party officials of the region met for a working session with Alexandru Drăghici, the representative for the Ministry of the Interior. According to the shorthand notes taken at this meeting, he had expressed anger that many unforeseen flaws in the political and organisation preparations for the deportation had cropped up. Under the chairmanship of the First Secretary of the Regional Party Committee in Temeschburg, organisational faults were admitted at that meeting. So, for example, many deportees could not be paid for the belongings they had left behind because the Commission responsible for this worked irresponsibly, and in a number of places profiteered and embezzled. It was also established that Commissions forbade the deportees to take goods with them in order that they could take the items for themselves later.
A few hours after the last transport had left the Heimat railway stations, a second sitting of the Regional Party Committee took place on the 22nd of June 1951, and on the 2nd of July 1951 a meeting for Party members took place. Extracts from some of these documents, information sheets and accounts have been published in books on the subject which have up until now appeared in the Romanian language.
We know today from these accounts that apart from the Securitate, militia and border troops, many Party activists, State officials, members of the Ministry of the Interior, and many other ministers, took part in the deportation. As co-ordinator, Minister of the Interior, Teohari Georgescu, and his representative, Alexander Drăghici, together with his staff, organised and carried out the deportation.
We can see from the documents that officers of the Securitate had to test the mood of the population some time before the event, and established that people felt generally intimidated and fearful. These feelings of fear were stirred up more and more by the Securitate in order to break down any existing possible resistance and to stop any spirit of solidarity from being allowed to develop.
From information from the Securitate we can see that they, too, knew exactly what was going on within the ranks of the ethnic minorities. They knew that fear set in when signs of a new deportation were thought to be recognised. This first happened after police officers began checking deportation lists under the pretext of checking personal identity cards during house visits. In a report from the 15th of June 1951, it was stated that it was on such house visits that the secret of the deportation had been raised by thoughtless remarks by the police. From this, rumours spread of a deportation of Germans, Serbs, or the refugees from Bessarabia and Bukowina.
The day before the deportation began, all those taking part had to be trained in order that the campaign ran smoothly. For this reason, the imminent deportation was explained to the activists of the Regional Party Committee of the Romanian Workers' Party, and many other Party officials and chosen Party members and, on top of that, each person was given their specific task by Isac Martin, the Prime Secretary, and an official of the Central Committee, named Felicianu. At the same time that these instructions were going on, another 2,500 people were being trained for other tasks at five different places on the 17th of June 1951. As envoys from the Central Committee and the Ministry of Agriculture, under the leadership of a certain 'Banu', the ministerial adviser, Cotoară, and the General Director of the Agricultural Ministry, Danilov, were entrusted with a special mission. They had to train the gathered confidantes in the drawing up of inventories; the taking over and the paying out for the goods left behind by the deportees, and give each of them their tasks. Afterwards, neither the above-mentioned Party people, nor the other 2,500 persons mentioned, were allowed to leave the building in which they were in. On the same evening, they were taken to their places of action in order to begin their allocated tasks in the early hours of the morning.
To make the reporting easier for the Party officials allocated to each village, a questionnaire was drawn up with the most important points to be reported:
1. Compilation of an inventory of goods left behind.
2. Taking over of the goods.
3. Party political work and actions of the main organisations.
4. Order of events when loading the deportees.
5. Situation at the railway stations. Provisions and health problems.
6. Departure of the transport.
7. Mood and general condition.
8. Attacks or situations of conflict.
9. Cases of Party members and prominent personalities who have been picked out for deportation.
10. Loading of animals.
From these lists, numerous local reports were made by the reporters in the villages which were analysed, for example, by the District Party Committee of Gross Sankt Nikolaus on the 19th of June 1951, and which led to the following 10 points being established:
"1. The compiling of inventories was carried out in an orderly manner. Commissions had been trained to carry out this work only. All the goods had been handed over to the State Agricultural Concerns and the Peoples' Councils. The handing over took until the morning in Bogarosch and Lenauheim. There is one locomotive missing in Valcani.
2. The guidelines were maintained. The Commissions, accompanied by the Police, went to the villages. The inventory was carried out in the houses, and the houses were then sealed up. In Albrechtsflor, the agricultural implements and the animals were handed over straight away to the State Agricultural concern. In Pesak, lack of instructions led to unauthorised trading.
3. The Party political work is carried out by Party activists, Union members, and the Women and Youth organisations. In some villages, Party meetings were being held at the time. Good results were achieved. The villagers of Lenauheim are obliged to look after the gardens of those with no owners and to deliver the harvest to the Peoples' Council. Working parties have already been set up for the barley harvest.
4. Generally, the loading was done quickly and with no incidents where there were enough wagons in place. However, there are still 100 to 200 wagon s missing in Bogarosch.
5. In most cases, measures were taken to help those people who were still at the railway stations. They received water, milk for the children and feed for the animals. Medical personnel and doctors were sent there. The people stayed in the shade. There is a lack of water in Lenauheim. Nobody is sick. There will be two births during the journey. Measures should be taken so the people can get water in Temeschburg.
6. The first transports have already left during the night from most places; the rest will be leaving during the following night. Everything went well.
7. The mood has settled. The people are not so afraid since the explanations.
8. There were no incidents overall, and no orders were broken, except in Pesak where three of the deportees wanted to escape. Owing to a lack of military forces, only one soldier was present, and so people tried to hand over goods to neighbours, but that was discovered and stopped.
9. There are the following cases: As already mentioned, Johann Kleitsch and a woman from the UFDR (Union of Democratic Women of Romania) were put in the 'big farmers' category. In Warjasch, a Party member, a 'medium farmer' who left with his son-in-law, as well as a Peoples' Council representative. In Lenauheim, two Party members – Moraru Ion, a Bessarabian and a Secretary of the UTM (Union of the Working Youth), whose father is a 'big farmer'. In Bogarosch, four Party members: Broască Dionisie, Petar Stavri who is also Representative of the Peoples' Council, Pop Ion and, by mistake, Secelean. Out of the three Party members, one is the son of a 'big farmer' and the other two are Macedonian Romanians. In Albrechtsflor the Party member Mateiaş Ioan and the German (poor) Kron Franz, also representative of the Executive Committee of the Peoples' Council, but who was out of the country from 1940 to 1944. There are discrepancies in Pesak with the family of a Party member,Faun Ioan. He was appointed to the Party Region (to help with the deportation). His father, a 'big farmer', had already been loaded, together with his family. But the wife refuses to travel and wants to wait for her husband. He is a good comrade. Presumably the District Party Committee wanted to stop his deportation with this comment.
10. A ramp was built in Albrechtsflor to load the furniture and animals. Following this, everything went to plan. 50 wagons are still waiting. There are difficulties in Bogarosch because of missing wagons. The loading was carried out very quickly in Lenauheim because a large loading ramp had been built. If there had been enough wagons available, they could all have already left. There were 10 extra families in Lenauheim who wanted to move elsewhere of their own accord anyway. The loading will be completed by tonight and arrangements would be made in Temeschburg to ensure that they have plenty of water for the journey."
On the following day, the 20th of June 1951, the wording was similar in the summarized report from the same district. It was stated that some of the animals had been handed over to the State, and the houses of the deportees had been sealed up. One sick man had died. In Altbeschenowa, some people with heart problems had been accommodated in a tent. In Marienfeld, mothers were sleeping with their small children inside a building. The mood had generally improved and they felt calmer. Explanations were given to those left behind, in order that they go back to work in the fields. One militia pupil, Stancu Geza, escaped, but was re-arrested. The same problem with the Party members as on the previous day; because they had been put into some of the categories of those who were to be deported according to the directive, their membership of the Romanian Workers Party didn't help them, and they were deported to the Bărăgan, together with their family members.
At this point, a few local reports by such Party officials who were delegated to villages with a part-German population in the Detta district should be re-stated here. For example, a 'comrade' Belanco reported from Deutschstamora at 8.30 p.m. on the 18th of June 1951, the day of the levying, the following: "The compiling of the inventories and the taking over of the goods left behind waarried out satisfactorily. Difficulties arose because only thee Commissions had come, instead of eleven. They then didn't have enough forms, so these had to be replaced by hand-written forms. The mood is satisfactory. Party members and Collective farmers were especially helpful. The mood is good amongst the ranks of those collected [this is how deportees were referred to in these reports]. We are talking in most cases about people who are used to being relocated. The militia are dealing with the goods. The loading is difficult as 90% of the wagons are missing."
Lăzărescu Petru reports the following from Kleinomar at 10 p.m. on the same day: "The matter [by which he means the levying and the transport from the houses to the railway station] had been completed without any difficulties by 4 p.m. The meeting of the Party organisation will take place tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. The mood is tense. The people feel tormented. Many are of German nationality whose relatives have to leave. The mood of the deportees is good; they followed orders without resistance. The goods left behind will be guarded by Party members and representatives of the Peoples' Council. There are also militia patrols. Because the Commission responsible for taking over the goods has no treasurer, it was left to the State Bank, or the treasurer of the Commission from Detta or Denta to pay out the money to the people." The following report was sent by Szekler Johann from Gataja at 7.16 p.m.: "We are currently still loading up. It will be finished within two or three hours. The campaign has gone without any incidents or problems up until now. The mood of those left behind is generally good. It hurts some people, but they don't show it. With the deportees, it is mostly only the old women who complain. The goods are being looked after by Party members, and members of the main organisations. A militia man is staying on at two or three places. The Commissions still have to pay out for the goods. If the militia agrees, the meeting with the village Party organisation will take place this evening still. If not, then early tomorrow morning, as there should be no more traffic in the village in the evening."
Similarly worded reports are given by a delegate named Fedoranici from Tschakowa, as well as the delegate Weiss Geza from Ofsenitz, and Schulz Ladislau from Tschawosch, amongst others.
One other example should be mentioned. The reporter, Obradov, states on the second day, the 19th of June 1951 at 9.30 a.m. from Johannisfeld, where 253 Germans are amongst the 402 deportees, the following: "The campaign ended at 3 p.m. But there are still around 120 wagons missing. Up until now, two transport trains with 30, respectively 20, wagons have departed, and 14 wagons during the night. The rest of the people are waiting at the station. The campaign went satisfactorily. The mood of those left behind is good. They agree to this campaign. Those to be deported are remaining calm. The Commission is still compiling inventories. The militia and representatives are guarding goods. The State Agricultural Concern and the Peoples' Council are seeing to the goods. No violations were recorded. There was one death at the railway station. A sick old man died. The people and animals waiting at the station are suffering greatly from the heat. Many of the chickens have already died."
Those were the texts from some local reports, which were similar to those from nearly all the other villages which had followed the 10-point questionnaire. Interesting details can be discovered from the paper which was presented on the occasion of the Regional Party Committee meeting held by the First Secretary on the 22nd of July 1951 and in which the actions of the militia organs during the deportation were subjected to critical analysis.
First, it was said that the militia had fulfilled its duty actively and with the appropriate attitude. Despite this, incidents happened which led to critical remarks. The militia lacked initiative and decisiveness in many areas. There were militia organs who did not take enough care with the collecting and storing of the goods. There were cases reported like the one in Marienfeld where a militia lieutenant's attitude was too conciliatory towards the deportees. The militia organs were accused of making some damaging decisions and for failing to keep a vigilant eye on the class enemy. Some were also accused of damaging the proletarean moral, thus a poor and honest farmer in Breştea had to go, instead of a 'big farmer' with the same name. Similar cases were also reported from Hatzfeld, Neubeschenowa, Checia, Gertianosch and other places. In Tschawosch and Perkosowa, the militia and border guards took furniture for their own homes. In Birda, they had a pig slaughtered and they, together with the border guards stationed there, consumed it. In Ulmbach and Gross Sankt Peter, the militia got drunk on the wine which had already been locked away, and they tried to rape the wife of a farmer, into whose house they had forced their way into. In Triebswetter, two young militia pupils who were drunk tried to rape a woman, and in the ensuing fight, one of them shot the women in the foot. In Gherman and Igris, militia organs condoned the theft of corn and flour. In Marienfeld, militia man Craioveanu talked the leader of the Farmers' Front into collecting signatures to keep the 'big farmer', Roşu Petru, from being deported. The highest Party officials denounced the militia organs for these and other violations, but in the end they praised them for their vigilance and their prompt intervention at any sign of hostile behaviour. But that is a contradiction to the criticism they voiced.
At the Party's staff meeting on the 2nd of July 1951, an informative report on the course of events of the resettlement campaign of the 'enemy elements' from the zone bordering on Yugoslavia was given. First, the report told of the measures taken a few hours before the beginning of the deportation to prepare the Party members and other trustworthy persons for their tasks. It was full of self-importance, as it was stressed that everything had gone in a well-organised manner. But even at this sitting, the fact that despite the supposed good organisation, mistakes had been made which could not be hidden. It was critically noted that in some villages, the 'big farmers' had been informed about the campaign and had prepared themselves for it. The Commissions, too, who had to compile the inventories of the goods left behind, were not always at the place on time, or there were too few of them. It was also noted that some rounded down the sums of money to be paid out and took the remaining money for themselves. Although this deportation was a very serious and really sad matter for those affected and their families, it should be mentioned at this point that there were also people who agreed to it and looked forward to it, for when the deportation was made known, the Chairman of the Peoples' Council in Schag was so happy about it that he got drunk and, on his own authority, announced the deportation in his village, not realising that Schag lay outside the zone which was to be deported.
In conclusion, we can establish that the situation reports and analysis by the representative organs, as well as the reports by the top officials, mostly contain the same information. Praise and criticism of the organisation and carrying out of the deportation alternate with each other. But in the end, everything ended in praise. It was presumably intended to convince those who took part, as well as outsiders, to believe that everything went very well.
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A long-awaited Resolution by the Council of Ministers, but which did not keep to its promise by Wilhelm Weber (pages 62 to 64)
The Council of Ministers' Resolution Nr. 2694 of 7th December 1955 regulated the release and the return home of the deportees, as well as reimbursement for their houses and land.
It stated that all persons who had been forcibly re-settled, in accordance with the Council Of Ministers' Resolution Nr. 3265 of 1951, were allowed to return to their places of origin when the above-mentioned Resolution of 7th December 1955 came into effect, and would be reimbursed for their fields and houses.
The matter, however, was much harder to carry out than the Resolution stated. In any case, the Resolution promised more than was practicably possible, i.e. in cases where the fields to be returned had in the meantime already been incorporated into the Collective Economy's agricultural land, the returnees from the Bărăgan should receive fields from the State reserves. But this was to be done only after the harvest of summer 1956.
If one reads the following regulation of this Resolution, then it becomes clear what ulterior motives and cunning was behind it all. The regulation states, namely, that the Collective Economy was being advised to treat and accept the Bărăgan returnees, upon their application, just the same as newly-joined members, whether or not they were allocated land. (The land they had formerly owned had been passed on to the Collective Economy anyway, as a result of Communisation.)
First, the Council of Ministers' Resolution guaranteed reimbursement for the fields left behind as a result of the deportation, and then it led on to difficulties and problems in the procedure, thereby finally pointing the way the returnees had to go, i.e. to join the Collective Economy. So with the Bărăgan deportation they had not only removed the supposed class enemies, but also any opposition to the agricultural collectivisation in the former border zone where the deportees had originated from. This deportation also served as a deterrent, and made those who remained behind more submissive and hence were more willing to join the Collective Economy later.
All this was a planned campaign disguised by the State who used it as 'a sweetener' for the people embittered and intimidated by the deportation, to make them become members of the Collective Economy. There was no other way anyway for most of them, than to become a Collective farmer, or to become an agricultural worker in the fields of the State Agricultural Collective.
For the German returnees from the Bărăgan, this Resolution was important insofar as it brought them the long-awaited release from the forced resettlement. Their own fields had already been confiscated in 1945, so there could be no talk of reimbursement for them and, with few exceptions, they saw their future earnings in the Collective Economy for the time being.
As far as the return of their houses went, this Resolution promised those whose houses had been totally ruined and had become uninhabitable, to give them other houses of similar value from the State's property portfolio, or 50% reimbursement with a longer repayment deadline to enable them to rebuild or repair their former houses to a habitable standard again within two years. In those cases, the People's Council should give those people affected somewhere to live for as long as they needed until they could move back into their own renovated houses. If the houses were occupied by State concerns or institutions, the houses should be cleared and given back to the former owners.
Decree 81 authoritatively stated that the German Bărăgan returnees in 1956 would once again own their own houses which had been confiscated in 1945, with a few restrictions.
If one analyses this Resolution Nr. 2694 of 7th December 1955 and compares its regulations with the real-life experiences of the returnees, whose personal experiences were quite different, then the Resolution has proved to be a lie.
There could be no more talk of a return of the fields in 1956 once all agricultural land, with the exception of a few hectares for the State's reserves, had been incorporated into the Collective or State Economy's field ownership.
The return of the houses occupied by the State concerns and institutions didn't work out as easily as it seemed. Many of those affected former house-owners had to look around for accommodation themselves and often had to drag their case through the courts for years before they could move into their former property, if ever at all.
Many of the returning deportees also still hoped to find some of the furniture or household goods they had left behind in their houses. The furniture they had taken with them to the Bărăgan had suffered considerable damage from the heat and the rain when they were out in the open and in the huts. The furniture was so damaged that much of it was now only suitable for firewood. But the hope of findings any remaining furniture remained unfulfilled. The Tschakowa Heimat book gives a detailed report about what had happened to the items left behind. Today we know that what happened in Tschakowa was similar to what had happened in all the other villages. The overriding number of these items did not go back to their rightful owners.
The excerpt from the Tschakowa Heimat book relating to this problem reads as follows: 'The houses were used as public buildings such as schools, old people's homes, the Collective Economy and for the District Administration. The remaining houses were left for 'commendable comrades' to use. Today we know that the animals were driven out from the deportees' yards to a collection point, from where they secretly vanished within a few days. Household items, clothing, and anything not nailed down in the deportees' houses, were scattered to the four winds. The 'Hotel National' (later the arts centre) was the collection point for the deportees' inventories. The goods were piled up in the hotel's rooms, especially in the ballroom. Delegates from Temeschburg – representatives of the 'working class' – made inventory lists of valuable furniture, items of art, musical instruments and clothing. Everything could be found at this collection point, but only for a very, very short time. Some of it was stolen; other items officially disappeared and were replaced by less valuable items. Anything that was left was sold off by the watchmen. The bigwigs of the Romanian Communist Party, and the officers of the State Security Service, took a lot of it. Lucian Micu remembers how Benedek, the Director of the State Dairy in Temeschburg, picked out a new piano, a very nice dining table set in walnut veneer and a set of leather chairs, all belonging to the deported Serbian Sandrovic family, and had it all delivered to the town. The 'Comrade Secretary' of the Communist Regional Party Committee, Traian Heghes, had Lucian Micu deliver two truck loads of armchairs, a library and display cabinets from the home of the deported Serbian lawyer, Dr. Mladen. To give the appearance of legality to the whole process (for which read 'robbery'), a Bill of Sale was signed. The prices were ridiculously low and the money was never handed over to the deported families anyway.'
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Pages 65 to 169 will be translated in due course.
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Passion by Margarete Ehling from Perjamosch and Răchitoasa / Giurgenii Noi (Pages 170 to 174)
The month of May, and the summer of 1951, was a hot one. Every day the men, women and youths would make their way to the field,s which the local authority had handed over to them, three or four kilometres (about two miles) away, with rucksacks on their backs and carrying hoes, sickles and scythes in their hands or across their shoulders. In return for the fields, they had to plant the forest for the community, which they still own today, on the Marosch between Grossdorf and Perjamosch. This terrain is made up of firm, loamy soil, a large part of which was the common grazing ground for the village until the end of the war. The work was hard, continuous, and on top of that was the long walk by foot twice a day. The older people often didn't get back to the village until dusk, and then they would quickly cook something to eat, and see to the domestic animals, such as chickens, ducks and goats. For the latter, a juicy meal would often be brought back from the fields. To possess a cow at this time was a luxury which only few could afford. The hot sun burned the people who literally 'earned their bread by the sweat on their faces'.
Early on Monday morning, 18th June 1951, around 4 a.m., there was a loud knock on the door. We were all startled and thought that the house was on fire. Our father hurried to the door and unlocked it. Two soldiers stood there with rifles and bayonets, and ordered, in Romanian, to "Get ready! You must leave!" Father came back into the room, his face as white as chalk, and said, "Children, pack my things - I have to leave!" With tears in his eyes he looked at us and said, "They are taking me with them." We all began to cry; we had only just buried our mother two weeks earlier. When our mother had passed away, we were so distraught that we began to cry at the thought of losing our father as well. I asked my father what should we pack; what were we allowed to pack? He replied in a broken voice, "I don't even know myself!" I went out and asked the soldiers, who then told me, "You can take everything that will fit onto a cart." "So, are we all going?" One of the soldiers took a list from his pocket and read, "M.F., M.E., M.M., M.E., M.A." I felt a huge relief and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I happily went back to the others and was able to tell them that we would be staying together, and that we all had to go. Packing was no longer so difficult. We didn't know where we were going, but the thought that we would at least be together allayed our greatest fears. We still had to explain to our visitors that M.E., our mother, had died two weeks ago and that we were now only four people. They made a note of this. We were to have everything out in the yard within an hour. We weren't allowed to go out into the street, nor was anyone allowed into our house. About three hours later two horses and carts arrived, each with a soldier as a driver. We loaded our belongings, but a lot was left behind. One of the soldiers took a bicycle, said something to the other one, and left the yard. After a good half hour he came back, accompanied by another two horses and carts and we were allowed to load these up, too. Four carts – us walking behind the last one – this is how we left our parents' house, exactly as we had done two weeks earlier, walking behind the hearse containing our dear, good mother, and just like in September 1944 when fleeing to the West. Loaded carts drove from all the houses, travelling in convoy to the railway station.
When we arrived, we realised that all the railway wagons had already been loaded, so we had to unload onto the station area. There were many, many families. We got the feeling that all the Germans were having to leave. The locomotives whistled during the night - there were always two on the long goods trains – and the first transport set off. On Tuesday morning, empty wagons again stood on the sidings and we had to load up. Our sister Marjan, who was married and didn't have to leave, brought us some warm breakfast. Two aunts came as well and brought freshly baked bread and a sack of potatoes with them, which one aunt had quickly harvested from our garden. The parting from our dear relatives was hard. We knew neither the time of departure, nor our destination. Late in the afternoon we were moved from the sidings to another track. My sister came by again with my one-year-old niece, and brought some warm food, but nobody felt like eating. They were painful hours of parting. When we set off, she remained standing and waved until she disappeared from sight in the road. Late in the evening, a soldier went from wagon to wagon and said that as soon as the train stopped, we had to lock the doors, as there had already been cases of civilians shooting at the trains. It was nothing more than intimidation, so as not to let us see or hear anything. Then the locomotives arrived during the night and we set off. It was the second transport. Another transport was to leave the following night, and then this action would be over for us.
We travelled speedily by day and by night. We and our belongings were hurled back and forth. We travelled eastwards with short stops. At certain intervals the wagons had small look-out posts. Military guards sat in these, armed with rifles and bayonets. We were transported like prisoners. When we approached Bucharest, our guards suddenly no longer had rifles, and nor did we go through the main railway station. As the journey after Bucharest still headed east, we thought that our destination must be Russia. The military guards also carried rifles again. The region became sparser and poorer, like steppes, and was dreary. We could see no green grass anywhere. It was Friday, 22nd June, late in the afternoon, when we stopped at the small railway station of Gura Jalomiţei. No village, no houses to be seen anywhere – only the station building. This is where we had to unload. Trucks and military vehicles stood ready to take us further. By the time we had unloaded, it was already dark. In spite of this, we loaded our belongings onto the trucks. When several trucks had been loaded, we were told to get into them. I quickly asked the driver if we were going to a village or a town. After a short pause, he said that we would be driving for about an hour before we reached our destination. It was no longer unusual for us to know nothing and to be told nothing, and to no longer have a mind of our own. It had been our lot for years to be treated as third-class citizens.
In the distance we saw lots of lights and we travelled on in this direction. My sister said, "Look, there's definitely a small town there. Wouldn't it be good if we were going there! There are loads more job opportunities in a town than in the poor little villages we've passed in the last few hours." Our convoy of trucks drove past the supposed town – they were stables and the camp of a large government estate – and were directed to a place by a soldier. There, we stopped. In the truck's headlights we could see that it was a field full of stubble. Dead tired, and glad to no longer be shaken back and forth, we made a camp and soon fell asleep. I woke up during the night and at first didn't know where I was. I lay on the sofa and above me was a clear, starlit sky. Then I was suddenly wide awake and the whole thing seemed to me like a drama – so ridiculous that I had to laugh out loud. My youngest sister jumped up and asked, quite frightened, "What's the matter, Margret?" She thought I had flipped. But when I replied, still laughing, "Isn't it just absolutely stupid to just dump us here with everything out in the open?!" She breathed a sigh of relief and said, "I can't see that's anything to laugh about."
What we now faced, however, was anything but a joke. We sat in the field of stubble, exposed to the hot sun. There were no trees or bushes here, nor water, which is what we most missed. The Danube, which saved us from dying of thirst, was two kilometres (a mile) away. But the water at this time of year was lukewarm and tasted dreadful. For weeks we hoped that we would be taken away and accommodated somewhere. We could hardly believe that so many elderly people and small children remained abandoned. Police and Party functionaries came by daily and said, "You have a house plot here" – the house number was written on a stake – "and you must build your house here." "Well, if we have to build, then we must have building materials." "Yes, the State will supply materials", said one of the policemen. "You'll be given timber for the roof, doors and windows." But as you need a lot more than three items to build a house, we left things for a while. The Danube, our provider of drinking water, now also became our beach and workplace. We did the washing in it and dried it on the banks; we gathered wood which had floated by and we caught frogs. Those who had cows and horses brought them to the river to drink. The banks of the Danube at this spot had never been as busy as this before. We all shared the same fate; we felt like one big community. In those first days, the hardest of all, a feeling of solidarity was formed as we had never experienced before.
Our initial accommodation was little huts made from our furniture and covered with blankets and towels. Then we went to cut rushes, which we set up in rows to form walls. Later, we cut willow on the Jalomitza river banks, and chopped wood, with which we built a sturdy room. Time passed, but nothing became of the promised building materials. It was clear to us that we wouldn't survive the winter in these huts. It didn't rain much that summer, but when it did rain, we would crouch under a table or inside a wardrobe. It was a hot summer, so the sun quickly dried everything that had become wet from the rain. After five weeks we became serious about building. Two or three families would get together to build. First of all, wells were bored. We found water two metres (6 feet) below ground, but unfortunately it was as salty as seawater. We couldn't use it for drinking or for cooking, and anyone who washed their hair in it couldn't have been surprised at the resulting stiff and sticky mess of hair. That is why the Danube remained our water provider all through the years, and because of the long distance away, water was a precious commodity. The building of our mud houses was the hardest and most difficult work. It was so hard, that old people, who no longer had the strength, were driven to suicide in desperation. The authorities then began to realise that they were asking the impossible of the old and the sick. They were put onto a list. Using 'voluntary workers', wooden posts were set up, panelled with lath and bound with damp earth. Houses with three identical rooms for every two people were built in this way – the 'old people's homes'. In the same way, with us being ordered to work 'voluntarily', the school, community hall, police house and a shop were built. Just like many others, we built our house with clay bricks. For weeks on end from dawn to dusk we fabricated bricks, as we needed thousands of them for our mud houses. Everything was made with clay mud; the mortar which bound the bricks was made with clay. The plaster, inside and out, was made with clay. The ceiling, the floor, the oven and the cooker – everything was made from clay. The hardest work was cutting the materials for the roofs. For weeks on end we worked in the marshland along the Danube, cutting reeds. We stood up to our knees in the marsh – and this was at the end of September, even though it was already really cold in the mornings. The reeds were cut above the roots with the sickle. We carried them in bundles above our heads about 800 to 1,000 metres (half a mile) through the water to the river bank. Both hands were needed for the work and so the vermin in the water and the mosquitoes in the air would torment us so much that we wished those people whom we had to thank for our stay here would stand in the marsh for two weeks with both hands tied. They would have truly atoned for their acts!
These hard times passed, too, and those who couldn't cope had to cover the roofs of their houses with straw. These straw roofs had the disadvantage of the rain dripping into the houses as soon as it had stopped raining outside. But most of the houses were covered with reeds. It was already so cold in the huts during October nights that we were freezing. Mice, too, had made their home in the huts. On the first day of November, All Saints Day, we moved into the house. The walls and ceiling were still damp, but we preferred the damp accommodation to the cold. We then heated it well, using sticks from cotton bushes. The State farm had planted many hundreds of hectares of cotton. We were allowed to cut down and collect the harvested cotton sticks and roots. The fields were also cleared in this way. The wood contained oil and burned wonderfully. From this warmth, our houses dried out inside, but the roofs became torn and the wind blew through good and proper – but perhaps to our advantage, because the damp from the clay was sucked out through the tears and we remained healthy. In December, the snowstorms arrived, which often caused great damage. In one of the mud huts, which was about 10 x 3 metres (33 x 10 feet), we held services on Sundays, as an elderly priest had been deported along with us. Vestments for Mass, a chalice and consecrated wafers were received in several parcels from Temeschburg.
Midnight Mass was held at midnight on 24th December. A table covered in a white cloth acted as an altar in the hut; two candles burned and the youngsters sang Holy Mass. As there was only room for about 60 people inside the hut, most people stood outside in the snow. It was a peaceful, clear, starlit white night. The last carol, 'Silent night, Holy night', was sung by everyone with great devotion. Accompanied by tears, it rang out into the night. We felt the poor birth in the stable, the outcast into the cold night of the tiny, and yet so godly, child. Now it was Christmas! And even if it was only for a few hours, we experienced the joy and peace of this Holy Night as never before.
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Terminus Dâlga by Ernst Stoffel from Hatzfeld and Dâlga (pages 176 to 180)
In the spring of 1951, local authority employees and soldiers visited houses in Hatzfeld, checking occupants' personal identity cards and making notes of their names and ID numbers. The news spread quickly and an oppressive feeling fell over the population of Hatzfeld, for these lists of people's names were only being drawn up within an area 25 kilometres (15 miles) wide along the Romanian-Yugoslavian border. The majority of those listed were Germans, but Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians and others were also included. We felt insecure, as we didn't know what all this meant. We heard from commuters who worked in the district town of Temeschburg that a large number of cattle wagons were parked at the goods wagons station yard there. We gradually began to fear more and more that preparations were being made for a deportation and that the cattle wagons had been put at our disposal for this.
Spring passed by, and the thing we feared came to nothing. The registering of the 'lists' continued until the end of May. Now my own family's ID cards were also being checked and we, too, were registered. We now had the feeling that things were only being delayed and we really began to believe that they wanted to deport us. But nothing more happened which suggested a deportation and the people grew calmer again. But the fear of a deportation still remained with us and hung in the air. Life carried on in this vein for a while.
My family which, like all German farmers in Romania, had been dispossessed since the beginning of 1945, carried on working in the fields we had leased, in lieu of 'around half' of the produce harvested. We were busy hoeing the maize fields at the time, but the barley and the wheat were already ripe and would soon be ready to harvest. When we drove out to the fields early in the morning, their golden colours shone; a glorious feeling for someone whose family had for generations worked the land and whose tradition is steeped in agriculture and the soil. It was a feeling of joy and gratitude to see God's reward of your own handiwork. Preparations for the harvest were being made everywhere. An old reaper-binder was found from somewhere and, with a lot of effort, was set up ready to work in our yard. The harvest could begin on the Monday, as planned, as Sunday the 17th of June was a day of rest. It would be the last for a long time for us. Nobody foresaw how fateful that night would be for many families.
During the Sunday, the security forces strengthened considerably. Tension reached its peak amongst the inhabitants. When we came out of the cinema on that eve of the 18th of June 1951, there was an eerie silence on the streets as we walked home. I could only think: Something's about to happen... We all thought the same.
The Securitate officer who wanted us to let him in at 1.30 in the morning announced that we had to be ready to leave within two hours. All our documents were confiscated. One soldier was left behind to guard us; the others carried on their rounds with the security officer. With a heavy heart and feeling powerless, my parents and we began to pack. The flour had been stored in sacks anyway, and we tied our clothing up in sheets. One of my older sisters went to the neighbour and asked the security official on duty there about the amount of baggage allowed to be taken with us. He explained to her that every family had been allocated a whole cattle wagon for their goods. So we filled our wagon up as full as possible. Another neighbour friend who had just come back from the fields said he would be happy to take a wagon load of furniture to the railway station. A third wagon was lent to us by the security officials. At 2 p.m. a commissioner came to seal up our house. He told us that we were allowed to take some animals with us: Two horses, one cow, two pigs, a goat and five chickens, together with the necessary animal feed. A fourth wagon was lent to us by another neighbour. The commissioner who sealed up our house paid us minimal 'compensation'. Guarded by soldiers, we left our home for an uncertain future. We were busy loading up all night long. Everything that we could take with us, including the chickens, both pigs and the goat, were loaded into our cattle wagon, while the two horses and the cow were put into an additional wagon together with other people's large animals. Our transport – the last one to leave Hatzfeld on the 19th of June at 12 noon – contained about 60 cattle wagons. During the 18th and 19th of June 1951, a total of five transport trains containing people and animals left Hatzfeld for the five exile villages where the Hatzfeld people would spend their compulsory domicile. There were around 500 Germans. Romanians, Hungarians and Serbs accounted for roughly the same number, too, in the 150 or so wagons, so we can therefore assume that about 1,000 people from Hatzfeld shared the same fate. My younger brother, who was studying in Temeschwar, looked for our wagon at the station and we managed to say 'farewell' to him. Luckily he was saved from our fate as his name had not been entered on the list and he was allowed to keep his identity card.
We travelled for two whole days and nights. On Thursday the 21st of June we reached Bucharest, and after a short stop we carried on further to Dâlga. This was the name of our terminus. We got off and look around. About 100 or 150 horses and carts had been commandeered from the whole surrounding area to take the people and their belongings to their assigned destination. We set off with three carts once we had finished unloading at around 4 p.m. We passed through harvested wheat fields. After about 20 minutes, a 'guide' stopped us and drove us to the spot we had been allocated, and told us to unload our belongings. Every family was allocated a plot of land measuring 2,500 square metres. It was already dark by the time we had gathered our goods around us and were able to get them into some sort of order. Then we settled down to sleep, surrounded by our animals. On the following day we were told that we would be given materials by the Dâlga building site supervisor to build a hut. My father and I went there and were given eight boards, 16 nails and a rush mat. With this, we began to build our hut. Luckily we were allowed to use the wheat sheaves, which were still on our plot, as roofing for our hut. Two days later, we had built ourselves an emergency accommodation. We built a cover for the animals to protect them from the constant searing heat.
Once we had built our temporary home, we were able to sit back at last and consider our new situation. The following day we were all called together and the authorities intimated that it was our job to work on the State's agricultural land. The first prerequisite for work to run smoothly was that every family had to build their own house. Building materials would be supplied, but each had to build their own house themselves. A work force was needed for such an agriculturally under-developed region as the inhospitable Bărăgan Steppes. The deportation was also used, as we later found out, to subdue those who had remained back home: 'If you don't join the Agricultural Collective, you will share the same fate.' There was a reason for this threat, as in the village of Dâlga, for example, the public buildings were positioned at the edge of the village. The future village centre was going to be there as Dâlga, with the help of new deportees, would grow double in size. But things never got to that stage.
We accepted working for the State, as we wanted to think things over, but we all ignored the order to build our own houses. The most pressing problem was the acquisition of drinking water. Three or four families would get together and dig a communal well. Five metres (16 feet) down, we came across good, palatable water. July passed by and nobody had begun to build their house. We gradually realised that there was nothing left but for us to start building our houses. Two or more families would begin working together. My family had decided to get together with the neighbours and build the walls. By the end of August we had built the walls for our neighbours' house, too. The next job was to build the roof truss and cover it – in our case, with reeds. Every family endeavoured to get their house ready to move into as soon as possible. But as every family was also committed to working for the State's cotton harvest, as well as erecting the public buildings, their time was spent more and more on duty labour. Often there would be only one person left to work on the house, which considerably delayed the completion of the building. Then, at last, we finished. We moved into our house at the end of October. It was high time, too, as it was already bitterly cold in the huts at night. The following winter was harmless. God looked down on us, as we had wonderful weather right up until late January 1952. When winter was over, we began working on the State's land again. We worked on the gardens around our houses so we could grow our own vegetables. Families without children didn't have any difficulty getting food, but those with several small children often found it hard. The biggest problem was the old people who were unable to work. Some of them could be accommodated in the four old people's homes. Many of them lived in great poverty, alienated from their belongings or from the support of their former village community.
During 1953, life in our village grew almost back to normal. We began to accept the situation we were in and to arrange things as though we were going to spend the rest of our lives here. A band was formed, which played on Sunday evenings at the dances in the large community hall. The youngsters got together for the 'Reih' (youth group).
Then winter arrived again. A hard frost announced an imminent snowstorm. The 2nd of February 1954 was the memorable day when the great snowstorm struck. The wind raged relentlessly for three days and nights, driving masses of snow before it. The snow began to gather and to slowly, but firmly, accumulate by the smallest obstacle. Mountains of snow piled upon each other up to five metres (16 feet) high. Houses were immersed in snow up to their rooftops. We could barely step outside the door. We could only feed our animals meagre rations. After three days, the storm slackened temporarily before starting up again and raging for another six days. Overland traffic was brought to a standstill for two months. The railway lines were cleared with special clearance equipment. Winter passed by slowly, and then a new danger threatened. Because the Earth's surface warmed up quickly, the snow began to melt very rapidly and huge amounts of melted snow began to accumulate. We were unlucky inasmuch as our house was set in a small, almost unnoticeable hollow. The water threatened to make our house cave in. We hurriedly began to dig a ditch with pickaxe and spade to divert it away from our house up to the road. There, we dug a hole and continuously transported the water to an excavation a few metres away. The danger was averted and we fell, exhausted, onto our beds. Luckily, a change of weather arrived the next day and it became colder for a short while, so that the snow melted only slowly
I got married in the spring of 1955 and moved into my wife's house. In the summer, news spread that we were to be released. A Commission came to Dâlga, bringing lists of those to be freed. But not all deportees had the same luck. Some had to be taken to other places in the Bărăgan Steppes to work on the State's land there. It was the few families who had once owned more than 50 hectares of land and who had to stay in the Bărăgan. After four and a half years of exile, most people were free to go home. Every family had to sort out their return journey for themselves and to get hold of the necessary railway wagons. We ordered an open wagon for the couple of hundredweights of maize, which was the remuneration from the State for our working one hectare 'for a quarter part', and for the maize straw, some clover hay and our stock of wood. We began our journey home at the end of January 1956.
The deportation to the Bărăgan Steppes was a hard stroke of fate for us. We had lost the foundations of our lives – the land – which we had worked for generations, through the dispossession in 1945. Six years later we were deported to the inhospitable Bărăgan Steppes to work the fields there and to build houses. For those people who had been forced to work in the labour camps in Russia from 1945 to 1950, like my sister for example, this bitter experience meant a total of ten years in exile. Back home, we had to start again from scratch. In 1956, the previously confiscated houses were returned to the owners and we tried to find our way in the new reality of socialist Romania. The numerous humiliations we had had to endure meant that, after the experience of the deportation, we felt like strangers in our own town. Many families decided to leave Romania. My family, too, moved to Germany in 1964
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Fear without end by Elisabeth Pierre from Billed and Brateş / Frumuşiţa Nouă (Pages 181 to 186)
Memories of the Bărăgan Deporation in 1951 by a mother
This has to be told! The events must be placed on record so that our children, and our children's children, may read about it. Hundreds of mothers want this. But what should we write? There is the night of terror when these quiet, hard-working, peace-loving people were unexpectedly and violently roused in the middle of the night, the militia's hands grabbing the property of these innocent people and a journey into the unknown awaiting thousands of people.
It was 1951, when we would normally have expected some semblance of peace. The war and the deportation to Russia was already part of the past. And on the 16th of June, the villagers waited impatiently and in vain for their family members who should have been returning from work in the town. The train was nearly two hours late. When it finally arrived – enormously long – there were Russians amongst the 30 wagons, and in every third wagon was the militia. There was a lot of confusion when people got off, and the arrivals immediately asked, "What's happening in the village?" There was absolutely nothing happening. "But you've come from the town. What's it all about?" we from the village wanted to know. Nobody knew anything. The feeling of unrest spread. The military troops drew up. One division marched to Grossjetscha, another to Kleinjetscha, and more than 100 men remained in Billed. They were billeted in the Romanian school. Meanwhile, no-one was allowed to buy tickets! The following day was a Sunday – we were all out of our minds! In spite of this, many of the villagers took part in the German school's end of year celebrations which had been planned for the morning. And there, we listened to poetry about unity and freedom and equal rights. Then, Sunday afternoon arrived and discussions went on. Nobody knew what it all meant. "They will obviously keep order. But everything is in order anyway, so there's no reason to have guards for this!" And so the last evening began and the sinister night crept closer. Hardly anyone found any peace or could sleep. Then the militia's boots clattered up and down the streets, dogs were barking, and in neighbours' yards orders were ringing out. Daylight dawned and we noticed movement and disquiet everywhere. Pieces of furniture were being loaded onto hand-carts and at every gate there was a soldier with a rifle who let no-one into the yard. No-one was allowed to leave the yard, either. And from time to time, more militia appeared. They lit up the house numbers with their torches – they looked as though they wanted to jump over the fence. We were trembling and despondent. Memories of the fighting in the streets years ago came flooding back. At that time, too, we had hardly dared to peep out of the half-closed shutters. It is 4 a.m. when we realise that all the neighbours' yards are occupied and all the neighbours are moving. Were we to remain spared in the end? We hope so, as they are bound to stop this hustling and bustling before daybreak, and so we go back to bed. But the worry keeps us awake. What a night! When morning comes, it is like a relief. Now we might find out what it's all about. How nice it would be if they could finally leave us in peace!
My husband wants to sit 'in peace' in his favourite spot, on the bench in our lovely floral garden. And the grandchildren settle down around us. It is 11 o'clock. Then, to my horror, I realise that a militia patrol is coming towards us and into our house. They appear like a flash out of the blue, wave a piece of white paper at us and read out an order: According to a decree from the Ministry, Mr. and Mrs. S. must be at the railway station with their furniture within two hours. The family will be put into wagons there. How and why is this necessary? Nobody can, or will, tell us.
Our personal identity cards, the 'Buletine', are taken from us straight away. A soldier is posted by the door, one in the yard. Nobody is allowed in any more; nobody is allowed to ask any questions or to say 'goodbye'. In great confusion, and totally scandalised, we pack the most necessary items; the rooms have to be cleared and will be sealed up. We couldn't understand. In the twinkling of an eye, our beautiful home, everything that we had worked for over the years, had been destroyed. We rushed around desperately. Household goods were packed. Meanwhile, hundreds of other people were doing the same thing. The 18th of June 1951 was the day human rights were buried. Nothing was left of our precious freedom. Equal rights now only meant obeying sheer force. Everyone lost everything.
After difficult goodbyes, we drive to the railway station in a heavy goods vehicle. We don't get very far. As far as the eye can see, there are sad, unfortunate people. We reach the ditch by the meadow. We lie down and wait for three days and nights out in the open. Even people who are dying have been brought out. They lie motionless on the ground. One great-grandmother sits in a deckchair and appears to be unaware of anything. She later dies during the train journey. When we arrived, she was wrapped in a linen cloth and was the first person to be buried. One other, a competent grandmother, lies on the grass, numb. She, too, died.
Things were very difficult until we were transported in the wagons. That happened on the 21st of June. Our dear children and our three precious grandchildren stood helpless in front of the train. In front of us the bayonets and the military; behind, the children and grandchildren. It is just indescribable. Christa is 7, Hansi 9, Franzi 11 years old. The things they had to witness! When I looked at them, all three of them were trying to choke back the tears. What was happening to Grandma and Grandpa? The children are crying, and we are innocent but defenceless. But that didn't bother the executors! They bellowed out their orders over our heads. And then the train set off. "Auf wiedersehen! Auf wiedersehen!" (See you again!). Yes, but would we ever see each other again? They stood on the bridge and on the railway embankment and called out after us. And the train with the cattle wagons worked up steam faster and faster. Then we reached Temeswar. Here, we stopped and several officials came towards the wagons. Then we passed Lugosch, and then Kronstadt. The whole day long, we travelled through lovely countryside – Predeal, Sinaia. Sometimes Red Cross nurses handed us a cup of milk or tea. Postcards which we wanted to send were confiscated by the accompanying guards. We came to an endless steppe and saw furniture standing in the open fields. Was that a fright! No, that just couldn't be possible – we will at least get to a camp! Our train carried on through Brăila and Galaţi, as though possessed. There was the Bratesch-See (a lake). But where will this all end? And during the night, our train suddenly stood still. This was just as frightening. Gypsy carts appeared and loud voices bellowed out, "Get out!" But we didn't move. It was terrifying to be driven from the four walls of our wagon out into the dead of night. Our pathetic belongings were carried out into the open. And then we saw the little railway building: Frumuschitza. Where was that? And we had to place our trust in the gypsies. Our belongings were packed onto their little carts. But five carts hardly sufficed for loading our 'possessions'. We could keep an eye on one cart, but from the others the ham, the liquor and the accordion vanished. Everything was hidden in the roadside ditches. Only later did we establish what had been lost, and by then it was much too late to do anything about it. Mirrors shattered and our wardrobe fell off the cart. A road led in the direction of Bessarabia. There, the river Pruth was the border. For the time being, though, we all had to get off the carts. Everyone was inoculated and we were all given four yellow pills each against malaria. At 4 a.m. we drove towards the sunrise. It was the 24th of June, a Sunday, a sunny day. And so many people were crying and were so desperately unhappy. This region in the Bratesch lowlands had been drained in 1948.
But how much longer are we travelling for? Everywhere in the land there is wheat. There are house plots being measured out. The ox-carts stop. The furniture is unloaded. Then the gypsies drive off. We stood there, our furniture waiting for us. The heavens above us had nothing to say, either. What had we done to deserve this, to be ceremonially dumped out in the open? Why had old people and children had to leave their homes and their villages and be taken to a strange land and made homeless? We were indescribably tired, shattered and defeated. We placed the beds together. Then the effects of the injection set in: Nausea. I thought my final hour had come; in the searing heat, not a spot of shade anywhere. And across the whole world, it was now Sunday! I sat there with the children and let them write on a piece of paper 'It's Sunday, holy Sunday! It's Sunday for all hearts and Sunday too for all pain... holy Sunday far and wide.' It was a distraction... until the mosquitoes arrived, and the damp morning dew. That was our first night beneath the sky of this hostile steppe land. Beneath us, the ears of wheat; around us, the growing corn; above us the stars and the wind; inside us, the fear and the uncertainty. This was all a new beginning, and often also an end.
(The above pictures show the Pierre's first night's accommodation in the Bărăgan Steppes; the house they later built; children from Billed in Brateş; wash day in Brateş in summer 1951; temporary hut accommodation next to an unfinished house wall; the same hut with the shell of the house to the left and a kitchen to the right, in June 1951; the same house shell; Elisabeth Pierre with a young child in Brateş; Billed women receiving their mail from the postman on his horse and cart in Brateş; laying out and burial in Brateş. All photos by Ing. J. Pierre)
Large families now begin to cobble together some sort of accommodation out of their pieces of furniture. We two elderly people are helpless and have neither nails nor boards. We simply spread a tarpaulin over the beds to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes (see picture under 'The motives for the Deportation' above). All our belongings, as well as our food, remain out in the open. I keep thinking of Robinson (Crusoe) who was also forced to live so primitively. And, just like Robinson, we have to gather experiences and get used to the unavoidable. The 29th of June was a Feast Day: Peter and Paul. It is our wedding anniversary. There is no way we can even think about it. Years ago, we drove to the railway station in a coach decorated with flowers and on our honey-moon Budapest, Vienna, St. Pölten and Maria Zell beckoned us. This time, we are sitting in the Bratesch swamp and cannot help ourselves.
At 4 a.m. the sun rises. Then everything has to be done as quickly as possible as by 7 a.m. it is already unbearable because of the strong wind, and by midday there is not a spot of shade anywhere. No time to eat or rest awhile. I sometimes shut myself in the wardrobe. It was the only place where I could find any peace, and shelter from the wind and heat. Amongst the problems to be solved was the procurement of drinking water. The only well to be found far and wide was two kilometres (one mile) away. There were always 40 or 50 people queueing up, waiting to draw water for themselves. Later, the water was brought to us in barrels. Then we could buy water on the street corners. It had already been chemically treated then and was barely palatable. During those days and weeks we saw not a single leaf, no blade of grass, no flowers – only reeds, reeds and more reeds! There were no birds in this region, either. It seems that we were the first living things sent to test the surroundings.
Our arrival at night enabled me to send a postcard home. Our place of domicile was on the postmark. So we suddenly received – what a joy that was! – news from home. And a week later we even received a parcel! After three weeks of heat and wind we managed to get hold of two long wooden poles which we laid along the edges of the wardrobe. Now we could hang the tarpaulin over it, like a roof, and so make ourselves a hut. Two carpets formed the door, and so we almost had a house. But a cloudburst taught us a lesson. Water streamed down the cupboards; the flour and the semolina were ruined; the linen in the trunk; the bed linen – everything was soaked through. Afterwards, everything dried out in the sun. I once had to spend the night alone because my husband had business in Galatz. That evening, it rained, and a cloudburst seemed to be looming that night. Where should I begin? There was already water everywhere. I got some straw and spread it over the ground to soak up the water. Only in one corner was it still dry. I clutched the matches in my armpit. Shoes and slippers were on a stool. In the morning, the matchbox was the only dry spot in the 'house'. Such rainfall became more frequent and the incentive to build houses became more and more urgent. We didn't actually want to do this. We already had our own large houses back in our own villages. We only had to return there. With a lot of effort and money, we had to procure our own building materials from Galatz. With these we built a wooden frame. These were covered with reeds and filled with mud. We sold our rings and the wristwatch. All the same, the so-called 'house' cost us 46,000 Lei. And on the 2nd of October 1951, the time came for the reed roof to be laid across the walls. After 100 days in the steppes, we had our own house. The roof wasn't finished yet; the stars peeped in, and there were neither window frames nor door frames. And the way we coped was the same way everyone else coped, too. The new village was called Frumuschitz Nouă at first, and then later Bratesch. It was laid out in a regular way and covered two square kilometres (one square mile). 700 house plots lay along the straight streets in which eight nations lived together: Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Croatians, Macedonians and Jews. Through communal work the buildings for the village hall, the school, the police and the surgery were built. It had to work – there was no way out.
Although we were happy to be living under our own roof in winter, this life was still very primitive and hard. Bitterly cold winters and heavy snowstorms, which often lasted three or four days, meant nobody was able to leave their house. Just the opposite, in fact – windows and doors were snowed up and the snow had to be shovelled away every day. Foodstuffs such as water, bread, milk and eggs were hard frozen in the kitchen. Whilst we were still living in the huts, we accompanied the first person to die on her way through fields of sunflowers to a piece of land cleared of weeds, where we buried her. Quite unexpectedly, my husband became a victim of these in humane conditions and died on the 30th of August 1952. It was the greatest tragedy of my life. The number of graves steadily grew. Alone and abandoned, I spent the next three years full of worries, often inconsolably watching the sun rise over the river Pruth, asking "How much longer?". On the 1st of September 1955, this question was at long last answered. I was free, but only after having jumped all the hurdles the authorities put before me, and all the trials of Nature thrown at us. In the spring of 1954 we were evacuated with great difficulty to the neighbouring villages because of the danger of flooding, but were able to return after three weeks. But the damage the river Pruth caused in August v1955 was incomprehensible to us poor people and came to be the bitterest experience of our forced domicile. For weeks, there was talk of the rising water level, which is why many volunteers helped with the reinforcement of the dam. Shoulder to shoulder, many workers slaved away day and night, but even this human power was unable to stop the forces of Nature. On the 26th of August 1955, the terrifying news came that the Pruth had broken through the newly-fortified dam at 1 a.m. that night and everyone was fleeing as best they could. But it was difficult to move possessions without carts. People were running around like headless chickens and nobody knew what to do or where to go. Those who had their own horses began to pack. The prices of ox and carts from neighbouring villages were going up. I had to be patient. This was rewarded with a piece of luck. A Russian truck driver, who was with a military unit which had been transferred from the Russian side of the Pruth to the Romanian side in large boats, loaded my belongings into his vehicle. He drove carefully along the country road which was overflowing with dilapidated vehicles, and old and sick people who lugged along behind them on foot. My few belongings were unloaded into a yard in Şiviţa, where I lived for 10 days. Those who wanted to leave with the next cart loads were already having to battle with the water, and latecomers called out in desperation for help from the abandoned streets. We couldn't believe that by the next day our village of Bratesch lay four or five metres (13 to 16 feet) under water. Everything had gone. Four years of laborious work had been destroyed. Impatient and in desperation, I lived in this pathetic, neglected yard with my sofa as my bedchamber, and my suitcase containing my most necessary items, beside me. I would have been able to sleep there without any fear, but the nerve-wracking conditions such as hundreds of mosquitoes, and then the horses, cows and geese which were free to wander around the yard, and who pulled at my blanket one after the other, kept me from sleep. Apart from that, my pillow was thoroughly wet from the morning dew and had to be dried out every day.
In this most difficult of situations, and in my greatest desperation, there came a glimmer of hope. Exactly three years after the death of my husband, on September 1st 1955, I was freed – just me alone! Was it a miracle, or a gift from God? Anyway, it was high time! At the beginning of September, I, with the help of my daughter, arrived in my beloved Heimat. During the winter of 1955/56, everyone from our village was released.
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18th June 1951 by Johann Funk from Gottlob and Bumbăcari / Dudeşti Noi (Pages 203 to 209)
A mild summer's evening spread across the peaceful land, but despite this, a sense of danger hung in the air. Night descended silently upon the village.
I lay on the bed half-dressed. My tired eyes wouldn't give in to sleep. All my senses were alerted to the night. It must come today – that great, unknown dread which nobody knew but which had already been here somewhere for some time, foreboding and awaited. It had to come today! Hours became an eternity. Dogs barked in the village. I went out into the yard. Nothing! Nothing? Then why was I so restless? Why this agonising wait? Time slipped by, dark and leaden.
But there was someone, standing there on the corner! And on the street behind the house? They were soldiers! I recognised the sound of their heavy footsteps. So there was something!
My two dogs began to bark. "Quiet, Tasco, Bimbo! Come inside! It's nothing!"
I went back to bed. Don't know how long for. I waited. What else could I do? But I felt that whatever was about to happen was too big, too terrible for me to be able to do anything about it. I felt a dull tiredness; I felt stifled, but prepared.
3 o'clock in the morning.
Heavy footsteps beneath the window. The gate creaked and the dogs immediately went for it. This was unusual, as they gripped tightly, foaming with rage. Faithful boys. Then Bimbo whimpered. A boot had probably trodden on him. That made him even angrier. I saw shapes darting around the yard. Bayonets flashed. The time had come.
A rough voice bellowed out, "Everyone out of the house!" Rifle butts hammered against a door. Hurrying footsteps along the gangway. I kept quiet. I was unable to think. What was it all about? The rifle butts kept on hammering against the door and the rough voice kept bellowing out its order. There was something strange about this roar. There was something hidden in the voice. Was it cruelty? Fear? An end had to be put to this bellowing. I went to the open window and called out, "Hello Comrade, here I am!"
The men outside couldn't see me, but having been startled, they jumped and ran off in leaps and bounds, followed by the raging dogs. It was almost comical. Slowly, and with rifles aimed, they slunk back around the corner. I stood waiting in the gangway, hands in my trouser pockets.
Mother had switched a light on across the way. So I went over, behind the soldiers. I saw from their uniforms that I was dealing with the militia and security troops. I asked them what they wanted. Instead of being given an answer, I was ordered to bring every living being out into the yard. But a light was to be kept on in every room. And then they noticed that I still had my hands in my pockets. "Hands up! Don't move! Out into the yard!"
Three rifles were aimed at me. I went out into the yard. Now they came towards me, so close that I could feel the bayonet points on my chest and in my back. I was searched for weapons and, to be quite sure, they pulled my trousers down. So there I stood in the yard, dressed only in a shirt, with my hands held high. Two of them stayed to keep guard of me while the third one went into the house. He stood in front of the door, stuck the rifle barrel into the room and ordered everyone to come out. Even Father, who was paralysed, was to come out. He screamed and raged at the bedroom door in a way one wouldn't even yell at an animal in its stall. In spite of the bayonets, I now screamed back too, that Father would only be able to stand up with God's help, whereupon the soldier disappeared into the room and searched every corner. What was he still looking for? Mother had to carry a lamp in front of him and he searched through all the other rooms. He prodded all the beds with his bayonet, tore open all the wardrobes, behaving like a madman. Finally, he drove Grandfather out into the yard, too. He had to stand next to me, hands above his head, surely for the first time ever in all his 90 years.
I stood there like that for ages. The guy in the house was doing a thorough job! My arms had already become numb, but I slowly began to be able to think straight again. When I was at last allowed to drop my hands, I immediately had to go into the house. There, I saw the militia man in the light for the first time. My God! He was only a boy! His rifle was almost bigger than he was! His eyes flickered uneasily, his face was clearly filled with fear and heavy drops of sweat ran down his face. Now I understood that he had been trying to gain respect through his hysterical screaming. The other two were soldiers from the border patrols who had been taken on by the security service just for this campaign. They stayed more in the background while the young lad began screaming violently again. Yes, my dear boy, if I hadn't seen that you were a snotty-nosed brat, then yes – but not now, because I can scream, too! I told him that he was to quieten down, that I wasn't deaf, and if he had something to say then would he please take on a different tone of voice. I was full of rage and felt like grabbing his throat.
He wanted all documents, identity papers and suchlike. He shoved them all into a special envelope. Then he aimed his rifle towards me again – perhaps he was afraid his words would provoke a particular reaction – and then he announced: "According to Resolution Nr. 200/1951 by the Council of Ministers, you are to be evacuated from the Temeschwar region and resettled in another part of the country. Every family will have a wagon at their disposal. You will be permitted to take the following with you: Furniture and household utensils, two horses or a pair of oxen, one cow, goats or sheep, seven chickens or other poultry. You have three hours to pack and then everything must be in the yard ready to go!" I blacked out, and it was only my mother's anxious questions which brought me back to reality. I explained what was being asked of us. My words struck like hammer blows. My parents had worked and saved their whole lives long, and now everything was being taken away from them! Could such a thing be possible? Mother looked at me with huge, uncomprehending eyes; Father sat on the bed, his face set in a smile of disbelief. Evacuated! This was our destruction. This was the death blow!
Again and again for the past six years we had been deprived of our rights, robbed and subjugated. They had even taken away life's essentials, regardless, with no mercy. But through hard work and the unbroken will to live, we always picked ourselves up again and found a new way to survive. But this time our roots were being cut off. This time, we were losing the ground beneath our feet, and that meant the end!
Was this really the end?
The soldier's voice tore us away from our thoughts. He told us to hurry up, as he wanted to take us away in three hours' time.
Everyone, everyone, even my sick father, my old grandfather – everyone was to leave. Only the house itself was to stay. Then he left, as he had other people in the area who were to be evacuated. Only the two soldiers were to stay behind. They had drawn back and had been watching the goings-on. I spoke to them and one of them was very concerned that perhaps his own family back home could be in the same position, too. They strongly condemned what was happening to us. Nor had they been told what they were needed for when the insignia of the security troops had been sewn onto their uniforms. They were visibly shaken, but they couldn't change anything.
It was 3 a.m. We looked at each other helplessly. We wanted to start packing, but none of us knew where to start. With tears in her eyes, Mother looked from one corner to another where things were lying or standing which we couldn't just leave behind; things which were dear to all of us and which had been acquired through honest hard work. But there was no mercy; there was no time to even think about such things. We began to pack everything haphazardly into suitcases and boxes, and gradually our work began to take on some semblance of order. I dragged bundle after bundle, boxes, cases and sacks out into the yard. Everything, everything that I could carry I dragged out. Then it all became a horrible muddle. The yard was full of things and I still kept running back indoors; here was still something, there was still something – we wanted to take as much as possible with us.
Meanwhile, the sun had come up and the first rays revealed a miserable, chaotic picture, unworthy of the century in which we lived. But it was true, all too true!
The militia soldier soon came back. He began shouting again and the sweat ran down from his forehead in big drops. We were to be faster with our packing as he wanted to lock the house and seal it up in five minutes' time. He stank of fusel oil and reeked of alcohol. But at least we could have a few words with him if he wasn't having one of his 'attacks' at the time. Then he went with me to my room. He saw some bottles of brandy and old wine on top of the cupboard. Yes, this was something for him. He became very talkative already after a few swigs, as the brandy was strong – very strong! The two soldiers outside also had a drink.
As always happens with drunks, the man now became very talkative. He wanted me to know that he wasn't a Romanian, but a Hungarian, and was of course a very good person. No, he wouldn't harm anyone, but I had to understand that an order is an order! He couldn't change anything either. Meanwhile, the brandy was taking its effect and then he began to yell again like the devil himself. I let him carry on and dragged our stuff out into the yard and tried to win some time. The three hours had, of course, long since passed.
The streets were empty, as nobody was allowed out of their house. Guards stood in front of some of the houses and on the street corners. I would have liked to have given some of my belongings to other people, as it was obvious we couldn't take everything with us. Towards midday, the ban on leaving the house was eased somewhat, and so a work colleague was able to come over to my place. He had some news from the village. Through him I learned in passing who else was affected by this action. From his description it must have looked pretty sad in the village. I begged him to come again with more news if possible. The hours fled by and I had gathered a great heap of bundles of all sorts of things in the yard; the gangway was full, and yet there was still a whole lot of things we would have to leave behind. The amount of stuff one house can hold!
After a while, the militia soldier came back again and the fuss started anew. He screamed like someone possessed and was already totally inebriated. The best cure now, therefore, was the brandy bottle. He carried on drinking. Then he began to become business-like. My room had to be finally cleared. The furniture which stayed behind would be recorded and then the room would be locked up. The other doors were locked during one of his many fits. It took a lot of effort to get my sick father out into the yard. The rowdy bawler demanded something to eat. He, and of course the other two, were given bread and bacon. After only a few mouthfuls, he ran off again.
Father painted a particularly sad picture. There he sat, under the huge mulberry tree, and saw the whole miserable scene around him. He didn't say anything. All the distress and despair, all the anger and frustration at his disability and the uncertainty of the future, lay in his wide-open eyes. He had grabbed hold of his stick so hard in his left hand that his knuckles were white. I pitied his helplessness. It was nearly midday by the time the militia man came back. Now, my parents' room was to be locked up, too. God knows where the key was – I couldn't find it. But the soldier interpreted this as me not wanting to hand the key over on purpose. He tried to hit me over the head with his rifle butt, and I had great difficulty keeping the raging animal away from me and avoiding his beatings. The other two came up straight away and tried to grab hold of him and calm him down. A nasty scrap ensued and I suddenly had a fist on my nose. I didn't know where the blow had come from, and did nothing to avoid it. My nose began to bleed heavily. It was a very difficult situation. "Kill him!" my father screamed at me, and that's exactly what I wanted to do. The militia soldier had fallen down and lay there, unmoving. His rifle lay in the flower bed, but as I went to grab it, the other two were there and stopped me. It was good that they did so, as I would have beaten him to death with all my strength without any hesitation. To prevent any further trouble, the two took the fellow, snorting with rage, and led him away. It wasn't long before an officer arrived and I had to describe the course of events. The two soldiers confirmed my statement, and my blood-stained shirt was proof enough. The officer promised to punish the man, as the soldiers had been forbidden to use force. The sun burned in the cloudless sky and everything seemed quieter in the village. My friend brought me more scanty news again. Everything was too confused anyway to be able to build up any clear picture. As my parents' room was not locked, I began to bring things out again one by one. It was impossible to take everything with us, but I didn't have the heart to leave so many things behind. It was awful, this bolt from the blue, to just leave these things. But I would rather spoil them all than leave them to unknown hands. Oh, the things that were happening on this sad day. I passed some items over the fence to the neighbour. But what should I do with the goat, the pigs and, above all, the bees? I wanted to totally destroy these. An artificially provoked mass plundering should destroy all the hives. For this reason, I got a large pot of honey water and stood it exactly in front of the stand in their flight line. Normally, the bees would have had to fly to it and a mass extermination would have occurred, whereby the hives would be mostly destroyed. However, Mother Nature was against my plan. On this day, on the 18th of June 1951, there was so much natural best quality honey around that my dear little bees literally scorned my pot and flew out into the far field. When I took my pot away again hours later, I hadn't picked up a single bee. It was amazing luck, as bee-keeping was one of my parents' main ways of life. If my plan had succeeded and the bees had been destroyed, it would have been a terrible loss for my parents. Time dragged on. The officer came back with another militia man who would arrange the transport. This new man wondered why I wanted to take so much luggage with me. I was only one person! After some to-ing and fro-ing , and after he had read the order for my family once again, it became clear that I was the only person to be taken away from this house – not the whole family. Nothing could have made me happier that day. Now our house and home was saved. But for me, I now had a clue of what was happening, and in this way my father's life had probably been saved, for he would never have survived – or at least not for very long – this evacuation. The horses and carts stopped by the gate; they were to take us to the station. But as one cart was more than enough for me, the other two were sent away.
Out of all the tangle of bundles, boxes and cases lying around the yard, I had to sort out a few belongings for myself as quickly as possible. How I rummaged and searched! I sweated and cursed, but at the same time was glad that my parents could stay at home. I learned from the new militia soldier that his predecessor had been arrested in a heavily drunken state and would most probably be tried by a court martial. He would certainly receive a severe punishment. I wholeheartedly approved.
After a lot of searching around, I finally got the most necessary items together. If we had known from the beginning that only I was to be deported, then everything would of course have run much smoother. We must accept our fate. Even though all of this had been very hard and terrible for my family, and because of the unworthy conduct of the militia soldier the transport had been postponed, it later turned out that this delay also had its good side; for while I had been dealing with this fellow, two transports had already left the railway station. They were destined for places with particularly hard conditions. The last transport, of which I was part, remained for another three days at the station owing to a missing locomotive. During this time, Mother brought me a few more necessary items which I had either forgotten or not been able to find. It was very hard saying goodbye to my parents, my homeland and everything that was dear and precious to me. I had already often had to leave home for an unknown fate. I had never lost courage, but in those days I had always left my healthy father back home. Now it was quite different. It was especially hard to say goodbye to my sick father and my mother who was weighed down with worries. Right now, when they most needed my help, I had to leave again! What would become of them? Tears rolled down my old man's cheeks. Did he know that he would never see me again?
Then off we trotted to the railway station.
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Five years of the Bărăgan by Jakob Ballmann from Billed and Ezerul / Cacomeanca Nouă (Pages 210 to 214)
On the first morning after a night out in the open, our bedding was damp from the night dew. After walking around the whole muddle, we were able to get an overview of where the deportees had come from. Most of them sat around apathetically, but their faces still expressed disbelief, as though this were all just a bad dream. We had acquired neighbours during the night – Germans from the border zone village of Tschawosch, from Billed, from Neubeschenowa, from Marienfeld and from Albrechtsflor. The street parallel to ours was made up mostly of Germans from Moritzfeld. In between, we could hear Serbian, Hungarian, Czech and Macedonian-Romanian being spoken.
Our new plot had been marked out with wooden stakes in each corner and measured an area of 2,500 square metres, equivalent to approximately half an acre. We could hardly envisage a village being built on this field of stubble. But we didn't have time to brood over this, as reality beckoned. To begin with, we enlarged our emergency accommodation, set up the cooker and removed the surrounding wheat stubble as a precaution, which would also serve as out fuel for the time being. The women busied themselves with the children and with the cooking while we two men, namely my father-in-law and I, began to dig a new home in the ground, because above ground we were exposed to the hot sun and the constant wind. I went to look for drinking water and discovered a well in a valley about a mile away. As this was the only well around for about 2,000 people, we soon only managed to draw muddy water. It was cold at first, but heated up so much during transport that it was almost undrinkable. Many people, especially the elderly, became sick with diarrhoea, and there was no medication. To make the mud settle and to cool the water, I dug a hole three feet deep and placed our buckets of water on top of each other in it. It was later boiled, and it was only in this way that we drank it. The children didn't like the taste, but there was no other way if they weren't to grow ill, and we had to make do with this for several days. After a while, we received deliveries of drinking water obtained from the Danube from the town of Călăraşi, 12 kilometres (8 miles) away.
The person responsible for the new village was housed in a wooden barrack to begin with. That's where we used to hear the latest news. One of us would go there every day to perhaps come back with good news. My four-year-old daughter always went with us and ran barefoot through the stubble and was always as happy as a sandboy. One day she came home and told her mother that our new village was called 'Kakamenka' – really 'Cacomeanca'. Her mother replied, "Yes, yes, Kaka, what are you talking about?"and for the first time we all laughed. (Kaka = poo). It was a kind of release and gave us new courage. We found out from the authorities that we had to build houses for ourselves and shouldn't think about going back to the Banat, and that anyone who didn't hurry up and get on with building would end up with no roof over their head in the winter.
Our new huts were two spades deep underground. We built a solid roof out of acacia branches which we gathered from the nearby belt of woodland, covered it with carpets, over which we then laid branches and straw stubble. Then we anchored it all with string and rope so the wind wouldn't blow it away. We soon got into a daily routine. My mother-in-law had to walk along the main road with the cow to the meadow. My wife did the housework and looked after the children. My father-in-law and I built a hut for our cow, horse and ten chickens, which roamed freely during the day, but which always stayed close by. The belt of woodland had meanwhile been stripped bare and so we had to find wooden supports from further away. It was on such a trip that we were caught with the timber by the mounted police who roamed around this area. With one hand tied to the stirrup and the other pulling the timber behind us, we were handed over to the police chief in our village. He already knew me, as he had recently gathered all the teachers in the village together and told us that we had to organise the building of a school, otherwise we would not be employed as teachers again. In front of the mounted police, he accused us of being Tito sympathisers, criminals and robbers of State property. We already knew this litany. Hardly had the police left, he sent us home, saying only, "Don't get caught in daylight again!" We took this to heart and in future only went under cover of darkness to look for building materials, just like professional thieves. I wondered why we had got away so lightly, but in October, when school began, one of the police chief's sons was in my 6th class. I reciprocated by treating him leniently, too.
Months passed by and nobody wanted to build their house, even though timber, windows and doors had arrived. But after one terrible storm, when all our belongings had got soaked through, we quickly began building, as nobody wanted to go through another night with umbrellas over the prams and 'Waidling' over their heads.
To get the building work done quicker, we formed a working party. One of our neighbours was nearly 80 years old but was so experienced in matters of building and in mother crafts that his expertise more than made up for his old age. The other neighbour, who had lost a hand, worked twice as hard with the good one. Our work plan proved to be a good one. My father-in-law dug out the earth. I carried it in two buckets to the wall. Vetter Klos brought the water and very skilfully emptied the bucket with one hand. Old Vetter Toni tamped the damp earth mixed with straw and twigs onto the wall in a steady rhythm. Our little daughter kept us supplied with fresh drinking water. Meanwhile, wells had been bored on the street corners. Only at 22 metres (70 feet) down did we find good, pure drinking water. There was a housing above the well, with a roller and a rotary winder, a bucket and a chain. A life-threatening problem had been solved.
(The above picture of a Bărăgan well is taken from page 106 of 'Zweites Grabatzer Heimatbuch - Band II')
We had the work well under control, when an event interrupted our flow and nearly brought it to a standstill for a while. Our cow ended up in a field of clover and stuffed herself full, resulting in a swollen stomach which put pressure on the heart and could have led to the death of the animal. Because there was no vet around, my father-in-law, in desperation, stuck a sharp kitchen knife into the swelling and the cow was saved temporarily. But the wound festered and the milk dwindled and grew bad. Our little daughter got diarrhoea again, lost her appetite, lost weight and grew apathetic. It was high time to look for a paediatrician, but there was only one in Călăraşi. The police chief was understanding and let my wife travel to Călăraşi with an escort. There, there was a competent paediatrician who healed the child and so our fears were allayed and we carried on with the house building. As I had to do socage work on the school building, my wife sometimes worked with me. After a while, we were ready for Vetter Toni to assemble the roof truss on the ground, and we lifted the individual pieces onto the walls. Everything fitted like a glove. Then we tied a symbolic bunch of dried acacia branches to the apex of the roof with a red rag. Luckily, the authorities didn't notice it. We had begun work on all three houses in our work party at around the same time, so that no-one was at a disadvantage, and we finished them all at a similar time, too. We moved into our house in mid-November 1951, which had previously still been covered in reeds. We cut these reeds in the so-called 'Balta', the Danube's flood plain. We stayed there for a week. In the light of the camp fires, we often saw the glowing pairs of eyes of the marsh wolves, which began howling quite close to us. Banging metal instruments loudly soon got rid of them. Pigs with long snouts inhabited this marshy area. Old inhabitants took their pigs, which had meanwhile multiplied in number by the young pigs which had been thrown into the Balta, home with them in the autumn. The meat of these semi-feral pigs wasn't to our taste. We bought piglets in the autumn and fattened them up in our own way, with maize harvested from our gardens, and tied to a chain, leaving them to graze.
Lessons in school began in the autumn, with a few problems initially. The Macedonian pupils caused us teachers difficulties because they had no respect for other people's belongings. But those pupils affected practised self-justice and we turned a blind eye, and within a short time this problem was solved. The principal, a Bărăgan Romanian, was a teacher with a red Party book, who only drew his salary from us and didn't bother about anything else. When we got to know each other better, we realised that he was a bigger reactionary than us deportees. What we merely thought, he expressed quite openly. He later procured many teaching aids for us and every one of us teachers made a concerted effort and everyone enjoyed working at the school a lot. We soon set up an accordion group; a German, a Romanian and a Serbian folk dance group, and a good school choir. From 1953 onwards we were allowed to perform in other places. I remember such a performance in Cuza-Vodă. We played the 'Alten Kameraden' ('old friends') march with four accordions and some good, home-made percussion, as an entry march for the dance couples. The principal there wanted to know what the march was called. I quickly translated 'Alte Genossen' ('Vechi tovarăşi' - 'old comrades'). If they had known! Despite this, I gave him a copy of the music, but I never found out whether they ever played the march.
We came to terms with our fate. We lived without newspapers or radio, with no theatre or cinema, from one day to the next, but the longing for home remained at the forefront of our thoughts and during the wet autumn and winter months we were in an especially melancholy mood, and someone, somewhere, would often express their longing through poetry. Some of the poems would be set to well-known melodies and were soon sung by all the Germans in the Bărăgan.
The winter storms were very much feared and often caused a lot of damage. Deep snowdrifts hindered walking and we often didn't know what we were walking over. Once, my neighbour suddenly sank up to his neck in the snow right next to me and complained that he had knocked his feet but couldn't feel any snow beneath them. I got my orientation and realised, to my horror, that he must have landed on the roller of the well, and that beneath him was a 22 metre (70 feet) drop into the well shaft. Fearing for his life, he had to wait until I could fetch help and free him from his dangerous situation with the help of ropes and ladders laid across diagonally. Since then, we always travelled in threes, tied together with a rope. During winter, there was no work for us in Cacomeanca (later renamed Ezerul). During the other seasons, some worked in agriculture, or on building sites, or regulating the Danube's riverbed and the water depth. Many women worked in the surrounding cotton fields, but also in the large house gardens. Without their energy and their untiring work, especially bringing up and looking after the children, we men would not have coped and would have often lost courage. Our return home turned out to be more complicated, so we didn't arrive at our home station until March 1956, but thankful that we still had our health and the will to rebuild our lives.
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Bărăgan without end... banished for 12 years by Anna Kraus from Moritzfeld and Ezerul / Cacomeanca Nouă (pages 226 to 228)
I was dragged off to the Bărăgan on the 18th of June 1951, together with my parents. It happened to many other families, too. There was a mixture of nationalities: Germans, Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and former refugees from Bessarabia and Bukowina. Cacomeanca Nouă, later renamed Ezerul, was the destination. The name existed, yes – but there was no sign of any housing – just bare fields of stubble. The fear and terror was immense. What now? Stunned, we had to face the inevitable. We had to build our own mud houses. A village of around 328 houses was built. In our need, everyone helped each other. Old friendships were kept and new ones made.
We were just putting the roof on, when father had a heart attack. On top of everything else, we now had the worry of father, who was seriously ill. How could we carry on? Amongst us deportees, there were also doctors who helped father. One of father's friends finished the roof. We were frightened to death. The first year was very bad. Then we began to utilise our 25 ares of land (0.6 of an acre), which every house had around it. We planted maize, whose crop flourished really well, and we had to work in the fields for the State agricultural concern. Later, we planted a vegetable garden in front of the house and built a fence out of maize stalks. Little by little, we managed to procure some poultry and also a pig. We wanted to add a shed, so we made bricks out of mud. We also built an oven out in the open. First of all, we trod the earth to make a firm base, and then we piled up brushwood and twigs, which we covered with a coat of mud, and then we lit it. The mud coating was now like fired clay, and so the oven was completed. Necessity is the mother of invention! Five years passed before the first Commission came to Ezerul, and to all the other new villages. The Commission checked for families who should be released. A few lucky families were amongst them. Not us, though! Father wanted to know why, and he asked the Commission. He wanted to know why we were still being kept back. He was shown the door, and we never did find out the reason.
(The above picture is of Anna Kraus in her vegetable garden in Ezerul, including peach trees)
We were only allowed to move within a radius of 15 kilometres (10 miles) of the village, as we were in compulsory exile. One by one, more and more families were released. We still weren't. All our friends and acquaintances moved away, feeling sorry for us and saying that they wouldn't forget us. We remained in never-ending bitterness. I kept on lodging appeals and couldn't believe that every one was being refused. Years went by doing this. More and more families moved away. The day came when there were only eight families left living in the village, who had actually all been freed, but who didn't know where to go, as the Bessarabians and Macedonians weren't allowed to return to the Banat.
Political prisoners, who had been released from the Danube - Black Sea canal, came to Ezerul to spend the rest of their sentence in compulsory domicile, as there were plenty of empty houses here. After a while, some of them were taken away in a black car. That was upsetting for us, too. Father suddenly got gall-stone colic and had to be taken to the hospital in Călăraşi. But how? Luckikly, some people managed to get hold of trucks and I begged them to take father with them to Călăraşi, which they did. After a while, he got over this crisis and he came back to Ezerul. Then one evening, a car stopped in front of our house. We were terrified and went as white as a sheet, as our first thoughts were that it was now our turn. I barely had the strength to open the door. It turned out to be a medical orderly from the hospital, an acquaintance who wanted to know how father was getting on.
To make life easier, we bought a goat, and father got hold of two bee colonies. I did sewing for the villagers. Mother was our quiet, but steadfast, support.
During the winter months, a violent snow storm always set in. It came from Russia and was called the 'Viscol' and it usually raged for three days and nights. I was once on my way home from Călăraşi, 15 kilometres (10 miles) away, when this snow storm broke out. I was sitting in a Bessarabian's one-horse carriage, which was going the same way. The storm was very strong and the road was already partly snowed under, so that the man had to dismount and lead the horse by the reins. We made very slow progress and with a lot of effort. The horse was sweating, but despite that, a thick sheet of ice built up on its back. We arrived back at Ezerul with enormous difficulty. My driver could barely speak, and could only mumble. His wife asked me if he was drunk. We had almost frozen to death.
Meanwhile, the authorities and the militia had already moved across to the old village of Cacomeanca. We had to report there in person every week. It slowly started to feel rather eerie, living almost alone in the village, especially when gypsies tried to move into Ezerul. We were very afraid. Thank God they didn't stay long, because they didn't like the place. Mother grew very quiet; she couldn't bear our situation any longer. The doctor thought I should prepare myself, as mother would only survive for another two years at the most. We were shocked.
Even though we weren't aware of being guilty of anything, our applications to lift our compulsory exile remained unanswered. It was already 1961 – unbelievable! Ten years had passed since our deportation. It became harder and harder for us because everyone for whom I had done sewing work had now moved away. What were we to live on? Then we heard about a new confectionary factory opening in Călăraşi. I tried applying again, but this time as a seamstress at the factory. It worked! I rented a room, but my parents remained in Ezerul. I still had to report to the police station in Cacomeanca every week. I took my new job very seriously and I was declared as the best worker. We worked in three shifts. I carried on lodging appeals, now pointing out my work at the factory. At last I managed to get my parents moved to Călăraşi, too, but we still weren't free. Our relatives in the Banat sent me a bicycle to make it easier for me to get to the factory, which was quite far. Father always stood waiting for me at the fence.
My sister, who was married in Germany, did a lot for us. Our relatives in our home village also tried hard to help us and they came to visit us several times. These were rays of hope in our lives which kept us from total despair.
It was the 26th of August 1963 when the police stood at the door and told father to report to the police station. We panicked. After a long, worry wait came the relief: We were free! After 12 years of compulsory exile should we laugh or cry? I did both.
It took another year until we were allowed to leave for Germany. As a result of the family getting together, we arrived at my sister's in Ostlutter on the 7th of August 1964. My leaving the country had only been permitted as an accompanying person for my sick, elderly parents. Our joy was indescribable. Our parents lived for another happy 12, respectively 13, years. And me, I was relieved to be a free person again. The secret of our release was only made known to us later, i.e. my sister and her husband were given an address in Bonn, which could be helpful to our release. After repeated pleas and explanations of our situation, those in Bonn agreed to look at our case. They put two lawyers onto the case – one in Nuremberg for Germany and one in Bucharest for Romania. My brother-in-law and my sister were in constant contact with the lawyer in Nuremberg. I got to know the lawyer in Bucharest personally after our release, as he asked me to visit him. That was a moving moment. A second way of procuring our release had been set in motion. My sister and brother-in-law wanted to buy our freedom in exchange for some machines. That was no longer relevant, though, as we now already had our freedom, and they got their money back. The village of Ezerul was razed to the ground and the land on which it had stood was given back to the Satet agricultural concern, which since then uses it as arable land.
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My youth and schooldays in the Bărăgan by Adelheid Wilz née Kolbus from Hatzfeld and Dâlga (Dâlga Nouă) (pages 233 to 245)
It was Sunday the 17th of June in Hatzfeld. The recently successfully completed school year of 1950/51 was ending with a big sports festival. Everything was going like clockwork. The boys and girls lined up in rows and in teams, and carried out their exercises with perfect military precision. It was a feast for the eyes to see all the children from the 5th to the 7th classes dressed in white against the green grass. Everyone did their best and with enthusiasm. Nothing could dampen this beautiful sunny day in the Heimat. Who would have guessed that this would be our last day at home?
As we were merrily making our way home from the sports day, our path passed by the railway station. As far as the eye could see, an unusual number of goods wagons were standing there with the military and the police. "What's all this about?" we asked ourselves. Slowly, our mood dampened. We felt there was something in the air, but we didn't know what. Along the way, we met relatives and acquaintances and it was assumed that something bad was about to happen to us. A family acquaintance leaned out of the hospital window and urgently advised my mother to go to Temeschburg as quickly as possible. She should do so, she must do so immediately because of the children. He didn't tell us why, but stressed that if she didn't do so, she would later regret it. He had suddenly decided to go to the hospital; she would find out the reason later. Mama thought it over. "What does it all mean? What is going to happen to us? Another deportation to Russia, like in 1945?" What did they want with a sick woman, a war widow with three young children of nine, 12 and 14 years old, who didn't come into the category for forced labour? The many unanswered questions weighed on her mind and frightened her. So we went home feeling uneasy and waited to see what would happen.
In the middle of the following night we were awakened by banging and noises. Soldiers and police stood at the door and demanded that we leave the house as quickly as possible. We were further told that we could take with us as much as we wanted to and were asked how many horses and carts we would need to transport our household goods. We were denied any further information. Mama's whole body was shaking, marked by the great many misfortunes she had suffered over the years: Father killed during the war as a German soldier; dispossession; numerous house searches and dismissal from her job because in the eyes of the authorities we were classed as 'big farmers and Hitler supporters'.
Totally sapped of strength, she could not overcome this emotional shock, and fainted. She was not in a position to carry out the orders of the uniformed men or to organise the packing of the household goods. So we were only allocated one cart and there was nothing left but for us three sisters to gather our belongings and to load the cart with the help of the soldiers. We first caught a few chickens and several ducks in the yard and crammed them into boxes. Two goats and a dog were added to the cart. My little sister, Gerda, quickly slaughtered a few chickens, which we also took with us, and brought dolls, dolls' furniture and some of our Sunday clothes to the cart. I had a weakness for porcelain and books, so I began to pack books and porcelain, which looked lovely and shiny to me, in newspaper. I didn't stop to think whether it was of any use to do so. Annelene, my older sister, was more practical. She was more concerned about the furniture, so two beds, a table, chairs and the sewing machine, as well as bed linen and other linen, went onto the cart. The main part of the household was left behind, as well as the remaining domestic animals – horses, cows, pigs and small animals. The worst thing, though, was that it was just before harvest time, so we had few provisions and only a little money, so we were dragged off to foreign parts without any means at all.
We didn't know if other relatives, such as our grandparents and uncle, who always helped us out in emergencies, suffered the same fate, as we were forbidden to communicate with each other. Gerda was brave as, under the pretext of having to get water from the well at the street corner, she ran to our grandparents. So we found out that they, too, were being deported. After hours of packing and loading onto the cart, we set off for the railway station; mother at the front on the cart, crying, and we children walking behind, like prisoners, and being gawped at by lots of people. When we arrived at the station, we were allocated a wagon and the police threw our belongings into it. The floor of the wagon was covered with straw and dirt, but even more terrible for us was that we didn't know where we were going. So began our journey into an unknown future. Travelling for days in the cattle wagon with animals, with no food or drink, hit us hard. The journey seemed endless and the fear of the unknown petrified us. The Romanian Red Cross was waiting at some of the railway stations, handing out free water, biscuits, bread and powdered milk, whose terrible smell and taste I can still feel today. I couldn't drink this milk, I'd rather stay hungry. At last, the train stood still in Dâlga. With rifles at the ready, the militia ordered us to get out and to unload. It was a dark night; the wind was blowing, whipping up the warm rain. We four sat in the dark on our belongings at the station, crying, and waited for a cart to be allocated to us. We asked ourselves what we had done wrong that we should be punished so harshly.
All our belongings were then put onto an ox cart and taken away. We couldn't believe our eyes when we were unloaded onto a field of stubble. As morning drew near, and we grew aware of our immediate surroundings, we saw piles of household goods all around us, and cattle lying around. Then, for the first time, we realised that this was where we would be staying for the time being. This is where we would have to build huts as temporary accommodation. For this, we were given six large and six small boards. It was surely coincidence that we had unloaded right next to three related Kolbus families, and also the Schulz, Wagner, Jones, Hoffmann and Wild families from Hatzfeld. Once they had put up their makeshift huts, they helped us build a shelter to protect us from the rain, wind and sun. We greatly appreciated the help they gave us in our need during those days and in the following years and we will always remember them as good, helpful neighbours.
Shortly after erecting the huts we were taken by surprise by a downpour of rain which left the whole of Dâlga under half a metre (18 inches) of water. Woe betide anyone who had dug their shelters underground because of the unfamiliar scorching heat! The water flooded in un hindered. When the rain stopped, we girls and boys ran around the village and, with childish curiosity and for fun, looked at the catastrophe caused by the rain. We had never seen anything like it. Furniture, cupboards and clothes were floating around in the water. An old teacher and her mother were sitting under an umbrella on a table in their hut. They had escaped from the water, couldn't tread anywhere without getting wet feet, and were wailing and moaning. It would have made a good picture! We children had fun, and felt sorry for them. Another diversion which fascinated us children was when a cow or a goat ate too much wet green grass, and then grew too bloated to be saved. If the animal could no longer be helped, it had to be slaughtered. Then half the neighbourhood got together, and Mr. Kornelli, the master butcher, slaughtered the animal on the spot and divided the meat for a small cost. As painful as the death of the animal was for the owner, so were the neighbours glad, as it meant they had something good to eat for several days. Even horse meat was not turned away. Everyone was grateful for any fresh meat given to them, as this meant a special treat, which was a rarity. Provisions couldn't be put aside, as we had no means of keeping food cool in the summer.
The government ordered all families to build a house before the winter, so we began with the preparations, i.e. we made mud bricks and dried them in the sun to use for the brickwork. Other families tamped mud walls in communal groups, just as the first settlers had done 200 years earlier. Timber for the roof truss, windows and doors were delivered according to plans for each house. Every day, we saw new mud houses developing and the new village of Dâlga began to take shape. Once the houses had been built, people began, one b y one, to look for a job with the State, as there were no other job opportunities. People were needed mainly for farming, raising cattle and working on building sites. Our mother had a job right from the start, selling groceries in the cooperative society. She was responsible for the fair distribution of groceries to all the inhabitants of the village. This soon proved to be a difficult job. As all basic foodstuffs such as bread, milk, sugar, flour, oil etc. were rationed, but were often delivered in insufficient quantities, this provoked a jostling crowd and arguments every day put of hunger and need, which was very nerve racking. There were times when Mama couldn't cope with this severe pressure every day, was unable to help the people, and would faint. Then the people would come and call us. We ran as fast as we could, pleaded and prayed until she opened her eyes again. After a while, Mama realised that she couldn't take this pressure long-term, and looked for a job on the State farm. There, she was an exemplary worker and was much appreciated within her working group, as well as by the management of the State farm. It was especially hard for my older sister Annelene as she, barely 15 years old, had to work on building sites. The carrying of bricks and mortar affected her back badly and she suffered a slipped disc, from which she still suffers to this day.
Most of the deportees were employed in the fields as day labourers, where we children also earned our first bit of money, hoeing or picking cotton. We were very proud of this, as we could improve the family income somewhat. In the afternoons, I often went with the goats to the meadow, when I always took a bag with me for grass for future stocks. The goats played an important role in feeding the family with their milk and their meat. Despite great difficulties getting supplies, we never went to bed hungry. Meanwhile, we learned that all our relatives from Hatzfeld had been deported to different villages in the Bărăgan. We missed grandma and grandpa a lot, as they had run the whole household during the past few years. After repeated appeals to the Ministry at the time, we managed to have our grandparents moved to us shortly before the winter. We hoped that if they were with us, they would be able to help us; but at the beginning there were many health problems. Grandma had to go to hospital for a while, had an operation, and the recovery didn't follow as quickly as we had hoped. Once she was back to normal health again, grandma was once again the backbone of the family. From the crack of dawn until late evening she worked selflessly and tirelessly. She knew only duty and responsibility. Grandpa suffered badly from chronic asthma and indescribable homesickness. He, old Quint and Servobatschi sat day after day in front of the house, watching the trains travelling West and asking themselves, when would they be allowed to go back home. None of the three men lived to see the journey home. Grandpa's death upset us greatly. The funeral, without a priest, was very sad and miserable. We placed a sealed bottle with a name tag in it into the simple wooden coffin, to prevent any mix-up when transferring the body later. After we were released, we buried our grandpa again with a religious ceremony in his home town.
The new school was built by team work. The path to the school was difficult for us children to negotiate during the wet seasons because, as it was not made up, the wet mud stuck to our shoes. I only had one pair of boots, which were too large for me and which often got stuck in the mud. The boys at school often teased me about my big boots by shoving their fist into the leg of the boot from behind, which made everybody laugh. I attended the 6th and 7th classes in Dâlga, and as we already felt like grown-up girls, we held the 'Reih' (a get-together) every Sunday at one or another's friend's place. Boys and girls met there regularly and there was always a plateful of cakes available. We joked, flirted, laughed, played games – sometimes even with kisses –or went for a walk. It was always good fun; there was always a lovely, friendly atmosphere. We weren't depressed or unhappy. Those of us from Hatzfeld didn't know this tradition, but we enjoyed joining in. After the 7th class, I was allowed to attend the dances on Sunday evenings at the arts centre. It's a puzzle to me, even to this day, where the musicians got to know the new German pop songs, as we were isolated and weren't allowed any radios. Every now and then, a Romanian cultural group from Bucharest, which was not very far away, would come and perform folk music, ballads, songs and dances. So we would spend a pleasant evening in the State farm canteen. Once, a Romanian film called 'Ciulinii Bărăganului' (The thistles of the Bărăgan) was made on the former estate of Bojaren Cămărăşescu. We fieldworkers were asked to be extras in the film. Equipped with hoes, rakes, sickles and scythes, we represented the dissatisfied farmers of Bojaren. We didn't any need costumes, masks or make-up – it was just purely natural. For us, it was a pleasant and interesting change from our everyday life; we could get a taste of filming for a day and see behind the scenes. I saw the film years later in Temeschburg. (The film was released in 1958 and was nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival. It was based on the novel by Panait Istrati.)
(Above pictures, left to right: A 'Reih' in Dâlga; Adelheid and Annelene visiting a cousin in Dropia in 1952; the May tree for Annelene in 1954; Annelene's May tree party in 1954)
Picking grapes on the former estate of Cămărăşescu in Lehliu was a lot of fun. As there was little fruit around, the grapes were a delicacy which we particularly looked forward to. We could occasionally buy melons in the village, if we had any money. Some melons were so huge that they filled a whole basket and weighed about 15 kilos (over 30 pounds). During the time I was working in the fields, I got to know the food served in the Ferma canteen. Oh, how hungry we were, waiting for the cart to arrive at midday with our lunch. What tasteless food, and served on unappetising, bent and dirty aluminium plates! Beans, potatoes, vegetable tops and maize porridge again and again, and always tasting as bad. It got slightly better when chefs from the Banat took over the cooking in the kitchen. Sometimes football games took place, when there was the chance for us to meet boys, which girls of our age enjoyed a lot. We celebrated birthdays too, as well as the boys returning from military service. One night, we were awakened from our sleep by a serenade. It was for my sister Annelene from her admirer, Erich, and his friends. They sang the lovely song 'Gute Nacht mein kleines Mädchen, gute Nacht auf wiedersehen, schlafe süss in deinem Bettchen, wenn am Himmelszelt die Sternlein stehn...' ('Goodnight, my little girl, goodnight, farewell, sleep sweetly in your little bed; when the stars are in the firmament...'). She lit three matches, as was the custom, thus saying 'thank you'.
Another unforgettable surprise was the 1st of May 1954. When we awoke in the morning, there was a large, beautifully decorated May tree for Annelene standing by the front door. None of us had suspected anything, nor had we heard anything during the night. The tree stood there for a week and we held a May tree party in our house. Friends, neighbours and acquaintances were invited. We ate, drank, sang and danced until the early hours of the morning. It was a successful celebration.
In 1954 we had another natural disaster. The cold, hard winter in January and February spared no-one. The snowstorm blown by the Crivaţ wind drifted such huge amounts of snow from the North-East to our region, the likes of which we had never seen or experienced before. One evening we grew worried because Mama wasn't home yet. It grew dark and the wind howled. She fought against the biting wind in the darkness, trying to find her way home. When we saw here, covered in snow and half frozen to death, we embraced her in our arms with tears in our eyes. She fell onto the bed, exhausted, and immediately fell asleep. Many houses, including ours too, were snowed under, even covering the chimney. Grandma and grandpa quickly brought our two goats, and the chickens in a box, from the stall into our only room. Gerda immediately removed the frozen clumps of ice from the bodies of the animals. From that time on, we could no longer go out. It wasn't very easy having the animals with us in the room. They, too, had to '...' sometimes, and it was our job to put 'it' in the chamber pot, which didn't always work! Because our house was completely snowed under, we lived without daylight and, to add to the annoyance, the clock stopped as well, so we didn't know whether it was day or night. It was completely dark all around us. Nobody heard our calls, or the banging; the wall of snow around our house was too thick. After many hours which seemed like an eternity to us, we heard sounds of shovelling outside. Once again, it was our good neighbours who freed us from our castle of snow via a tunnel.
Heating was a problem during the cold seasons. There was a lovely avenue of strong acacia trees along the street in front of our house. On some evenings, we would select a tree and then chop it down and saw it into pieces when it was dark, and take it home. You could see the tracks the following day. We were threatened with punishment, but nothing happened in the end. We had no choice. We had to procure the animal feed for the two goats, too, in ways which were not allowed. Grandma and I would go to the nearby cornfield as soon as darkness fell and we were always careful not to be seen. If a shape appeared in the distance, we trembled all over and ran away.
Another job we disliked doing was gathering cow and horse dung, which was thinned with water and used to wash the earthen floors inside the house. It stank terribly to begin with, but the smell disappeared with time.
As there were six of us (three generations) living in a room of 20 square metres (215 square feet) plus a kitchen, it wasn't always easy to find room to do our school homework undisturbed. The years passed by and the 7th year finals drew near. We asked ourselves, what would happen now? How would we carry on? Meanwhile, I already had an easy job. I was engaged in the office, working out the field workers' wages. I was amazed at the time that I could already do this by myself after training. One day, Professor Veith, who came from Königsgnad and who taught years five to seven at the school in Dâlga, came to see us 7th year graduates and advised us to do a correspondence degree course for the Lyzeum (High School). He promised to help us with it and to get the necessary books. Professor Veith spoke eleven languages and his motto was: 'You are as many people as the number of languages you speak'. He didn't need long to persuade us; we saw the sense in his suggestion for our future. He taught us in the subjects of Mathematics and Romanian. A Romanian priest, who had been working on the Danube canal as a political prisoner, and who now lived in Dâlga in compulsory exile, helped us with French. Studying after work was harder for me than I thought it would be. My free time was now reduced considerably. Sometimes I didn't have the energy or the inclination to study after a hard day at work. Exams were taken twice a year at the Lyceum in Călăraşi, a town bordering on Bulgaria. But we were only allowed to move within a 15 kilometre (10 mile) radius of Dâlga. The first time we went for the exams was a cloak-and-dagger operation. We simply disappeared from home, hoping the authorities wouldn't notice our absence. In Călăraşi, Professor Veith had sorted out lodgings for us with a very nice, intellectual Romanian family. Another time, he found us a place in the new village of Olaru. I was billeted with a family from Königsgnad. They treated me like their own child and a member of the family. At the end of the week, I was worried whether I could pay for the cost of lodging and meals. To my great surprise, the grandmother of the house asked only for a litre of cooking oil if I should ever come again. Of course, the next time I came I brought two litres of cooking oil and a kilo (2 lbs) of sugar, but by no means did that cover the cost of my stay. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of this helpful and hospitable family who had two daughters somewhat older than me. How I would love to say 'thank you' again to them today! Călăraşi meant something new to us; it was connected with a feeling of freedom. We felt like the other High School students in town, only we didn't wear a school uniform. On the day after the exams, we went to the cinema or for a walk in the park; swam in the Danube or hired a boat together and rowed along the embankment. It was just lovely to be so free, and also free from fear. At the end of the exam week, life went back to normal again. We were shaking on the way home from fear of being caught, or that our disappearance from Dâlga had been noticed. Our absence in the village was discovered once; we had presumably been betrayed by a spy. On our arrival home, the police at the railway station immediately took us into custody and kept us detained for half a day. The boys had to sweep the yard and chop wood, and the girls had to clean and tidy the office. They also threatened us by saying that we wouldn't get off so lightly next time. The next time we went for the exams, therefore, we had to be more careful. My colleague, Mathias Kolbus, and his Romanian friend told me of a new way which they had once tried out. We went on foot late in the evening to the neighbouring railway station at Bogdana; from there we went by train to Ciulniţa, and then carried on walking along the railway line and across fields and meadows. Bleary-eyed and tired, we reached Călăraşi at 8 o'clock in the morning, just in time for the exams. Meanwhile, we discovered that permission was required from Bucharest for future exams. Once, this permission didn't arrive in time. We forged the document with a home-made potato stamp. Although it was a bad forgery, we were lucky – it was accepted by the school.
(Above pictures: Pupils from Dâlga celebrating after the exams in Călăraşi)
Germans, Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Bessarabians and Bukoviners all took part in these correspondence degree courses. We all got on together and helped each other when we could. Fear, and a common goal, had united all nations.
At last came the day we were to be freed. The rumour spread like wildfire. It was the end of August 1955 when my family, one of the first, received the good news. Now we had to go to Bucharest to fill out forms and to order a goods wagon for the transport home. Because we were one of the first families to be released, a lot of the rules hadn't yet been settled and put into action, so we came across great difficulties and resistance in the beginning. The biggest problem was that we weren't allowed to go back to Hatzfeld, let alone our own house or our grandparents' house. We were still classed as 'enemies of the people, constituting a danger to the public'. But where would we go now? Who would take in a family of five women? Then grandma remembered some distant relatives and a war-time friend of grandpa's who lived in Freidorf. So we travelled to Temeschburg and from there on to Freidorf. I suddenly heard someone speaking German in the tram. I couldn't believe my ears, and an inner feeling of joy and of home came over me. It was very hard for Mama to ask our relatives to find accommodation for us, but she was met with people willing to listen and to be of help. It was the Wild, Burian, Wilhjelm, Pappert and Perzel families who helped us find accommodation, unload the household goods which had meanwhile arrived at Temeschburg, and transport them onwards, of whom we think very highly.
School had already begun three weeks earlier. All three of us absolutely wanted to join the new school year. Once again, we came up against difficulties. We were not accepted at the Lyceum in Josefstadt, whose Principal was Herr Fridolin Klein, and which was closer to Freidorf and had lessons in German, because of our 'unhealthy political origins'. The Principal simply would not talk to Mama. Heavy-hearted, we made our way to the German-speaking Lenau Lyceum, and there we were met by the Principal, Herr Dr. Feichter, who was willing to listen. Gerda and I could begin lessons the following day. He would even have accepted us at the Internat (Boarding School), but Mama didn't have the money for it. Annelene was able to attend evening classes. I was very happy to be back on the school bench. I took my school work very seriously and conscientiously right from the start. Every day at school seemed like a Feast Day to me; I couldn't understand friends who were 'tired of school' and who were longing for it to be over. On the recommendation of Professor Franz Quitter, one of my father's war comrades, I even received a scholarship in the second semester.
Dr. Feichter took on all the pupils who had been released from the Bărăgan and who had the prerequisite schooling, and who wanted to continue with further education at the Lenau Lyceum. Some attended day- or evening classes at the Lyceum; others came as silent bystanders in order to prepare themselves for their final exams.
One day, my Bărăgan past caught up with me. I was happily dancing away without a care in the world, just like we used to in the Bărăgan, at one of the usual Sunday afternoon dances organised at the school. At 8 o'clock on Monday morning, the Principal, Dr. Feichter, stormed into our class and gave us a sermon, reprimanding us for our decadent dancing. I was so stunned, baffled and surprised, that I didn't know what he meant at first. I had of course been living in a different environment for the past four and a half years, and it showed!
We weren't granted the privilege of living in Freidorf for long. We lived in a basement flat, and when the snow began to melt in the Spring of 1956 after a winter of heavy snow, the groundwater level rose and within an hour our flat was under water. Now we had to move into the Perzel family's summer kitchen as an emergency. Imagine: Five people in a room 10 square metres (107 square feet), three of them pupils who should be studying! The situation was intolerable and three weeks later we could at last to go home to Hatzfeld, where we were allowed to live in one room in a small house. Later, we got an additional room in our own large house.
The fear which had been instilled in me during my terrible experiences in my youth also influenced my later working life. I trembled with fear every time I was called to the political personnel office because of my past. This went on until 1968, when a general rehabilitation of the victims of political persecution took place.
I would like to think of the years in the Bărăgan as proof of a saying by Friedrich Nietzsche: 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' So I have learned to appreciate the good things in life, and to deal with, and overcome, the hard things.
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The deportation, seen through the eyes of a schoolgirl and her mother by Irene Enea née Tatutz and Ottilie Tatutz née Werner from Iablaniţa and Olaru / Roşeţii Noi (pages 246 to 248)
I had completed my fifth year at school when we were deported to the Bărăgan on the 18th of June 1951. I remember my parents' desperation: What should we take with us, what should we leave behind? A soldier stood on the front doorstep, and another one at the gate of the yard. I felt very depressed because my parents were speaking only very little, and very quietly to each other at the time. I wanted to get out of the house, but the soldier wouldn't let me. My mother saw this and she called me into the next room and said to me, "If you want to go out, you must ask the soldier politely and tell him that it's urgent." I followed my mother's advice and the soldier let me go. I ran across the yard in the garden. I suddenly heard the neighbours' children at the garden fence softly calling my name. I happily went over to them and they asked me why we had to leave; whether the Russians were taking my mother again? They looked at me with sad eyes and I remembered how my mother had been taken away late one evening in 1945 by policemen. The neighbours' children had held my hands tightly as I cried, because my father had voluntarily gone with them to Turnu-Severin and I had had to stay home by myself. The following day, the oldest of the three children had said that the Russians had taken my mother away so they could shoot her. But she came back after eight days with my father and told me how she, together with several other women and their babies, had lain on a concrete floor in a cellar. They were all to be transported to Russia to rebuild what the German army had destroyed during the war. My mother was freed at the last minute before the transport left for Russia because my father, as head of the family, was Romanian.
My mother called me back into the house from the doorstep, and so I left my little friends without saying anything.
Our carts were all loaded by 4 a.m. The neighbours had gathered in the street, even though the soldiers kept pushing them back into their yards. Women came up to us, crying, with bread and cheese for the long journey, destination unknown. More and more people came into the street, crying as though they were taking part in a funeral. I couldn't bear to watch any longer and hid my face under a blanket. My mother covered me up. I snuggled up closely to her and fell asleep.
The wives of the coach drivers called out, crying "We won't let our men leave!" But the men shouted "We won't drive our teachers out of the village; that would be a disgrace to us all!" My husband was very agitated, running back and forth all the time. He brought a few chickens tied together and put them next to me on the cart. After a while, we heard cartwheels rolling. We didn't know that several more families were to share our fate that night. The ox carts soon reached us. They all came from the top of the village. There were seven families and they all stopped behind us. Many of the villagers ran behind the cart shouting, and that led to the dogs in the yards barking and howling. The officers of the men on guard were pressing to drive on, but nothing moved because the coach drivers from the first carts had run off. The commotion was so great that people could hardly hear each other. Soldiers had to drive the oxen on, but the animals shied away from them and moved backwards and side wards. There was a muddle. The five officers with pistols in their hands were at a loss as to what to do for a moment. They threatened, but didn't shoot. One officer called out after my husband. I sensed something bad about to happen and began to cry. But when my husband came back, he called out loud to the crowd, "Dear neighbours and fellow citizens, I implore you to understand! Your men are only going to Tamna railway station and will be coming back as soon as they have unloaded us. You know, of course, that whenever anything goes wrong in our community, I am to blame. Please look after my family this time! Your behaviour is doing us no favours; it will only make things worse for us if your men don't come and drive the oxen. My family might have to walk to the station, and then all our belongings, which we need so badly, will have to stay here." The women went to fetch their men and when they returned, the trek started moving. The whole village had been woken up and the flustered crowd didn't get much sleep that night.
Our belongings were unloaded at Tamna railway station, and towards evening we were loaded into cattle wagons, which were anything but clean. After two days and nights, we arrived at Călăraşi railway station. Here, we were met by a lorry which drove us 15 kilometres (10 miles) away from Călăraşi and three kilometres from Roşeţii to a field of ripened wheat. This is where we had to unload.
We gathered ears of wheat in this field, tied our few chickens and the cockerel, which we had taken with us at the last minute, together, like on a chain, and put them in the wheat field. It was a very hot day. My mother and I set up our dining table and covered it with towels and blankets, thus quickly making a tent. I crept under the table straight away and was very thirsty. My father had gone to look for water already a while back. He crossed the whole region but found no well.
After us, there were more and more trucks arriving and unloading people.
Water was the first and most important problem for us in Olaru. My mother, with a jug in each hand, got together with several women who were all on the search for water. After quite a while, they came back with their jugs full, but the water was warm and didn't refresh us. I was always very hungry and still ask myself to this day how we possibly could have survived those years in such dreadful conditions.
We children also had to help build the school voluntarily. It was the only place we children met up and spent time together. Every day, we received a small piece of bread and jam from the Red Cross. I had very poor and insufficient nutrition during this time; fruit was the main thing missing, and vitamins. In spite of this, I still cried a lot when my father gave away his violin and my mother her accordion, for a few litres of oil and a bit of sugar. These were followed by our wristwatches, camera etc. We managed to help ourselves out a little with this trade, but ever since then, the music and joyfulness of my parents has been silenced for ever in our house. I remember the professors, especially Professor Raia, with a lot of respect. He taught me Physics and Chemistry and conveyed all his knowledge to me. It is thanks to him that I love these subjects and that I am now a Professor of Physics and Chemistry myself. I studied the 8th and 9th classes by correspondence degree course in Călăraşi, where I had to prove that I had worked. Our workday began in the morning when it grew light, and ended in the evening when the sun went down. The distance to the workplace was often seven kilometres (four miles) or more, so I would return home dead tired in the evening. How and when was I supposed to study? I needed to sleep! But ambition burned in our hearts. We children of the Bărăgan had grown up and knew what we had to do in life.
We were released in 1956, but we weren't allowed to go back to our own house, and so we were forced to keep moving around, continually looking for a home. Now in my old age, Germany has mercifully taken us in as emigrants of German origin from Eastern European states, so now at last we have found peace, freedom and a home.
(Above pictures: Ottilie Tatutz in Olaru; Irene Tatutz amongst plants used for making brooms in Olaru; Irene Tatuitz with three friends in Olaru; the Tatutz family in Olaru in 1952; Ottilie Tatutz on the right, in front of the Lăzărescu's house in Olaru)
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Memories of the beginning of the Bărăgan deportation by Richard Weber of Temeschburg and Grossjetscha (pages 250 to 251)
There had been talk about it for some time. So much news was reaching the ears of the villagers from the office of the newly-founded District Council in Grossjetscha, where 'Comrade' Botezatu, the newly-appointed Chairman of the Council, supported by Comrade Trendler, 'Vice-Chairman' and Party Secretary, ruled as despots. This time there was talk about a new deportation. Some people, including my colleague Franz Keller, teacher of Mathematics at the German Elementary School, even rumoured about a deportation to Russia. Keller said, "There'll be no peace until they've sent us all to Siberia."
I had been teaching Natural History and Physics/Chemistry at the German Elementary School in Grossjetscha since the 3rd of November 1950, and was living with Adam Martini's family.
The preparations for the 1950/51 school prize-giving day were in full swing, but were considerably spoiled by the so-called 'rumours'.
"Herr Lehrer (teacher, sir), please get up, you have to go to school. Today is prize-giving day at school." My landlady, Frau Martini, woke me up with these words on Sunday morning, the 17th of June 1951. She added, "But I must tell you that the village is full of soldiers. Last night, a whole regiment moved into the village. They're saying the deportation is beginning!" I tried to cheer her and said that the army might be here for manoeuvres. However, I felt uneasy with the news. I packed all my things in a suitcase, said goodbye to my landlords and went to school. There was confusion and despair everywhere. We went ahead with the prize-giving, but brought it to an early end because of the situation. Afterwards, all the teachers gathered in the staffroom to discuss the situation, as we had meanwhile learned that Grossjetscha was surrounded by the military and that nobody was allowed in or out of the village. But I desperately wanted to go home to Temeschburg and asked the Principal, Anton Weber, to make out a written 'delegation' for me, instructing me on behalf of the school to collect the teachers' wages from Temeschburg. I was given these written instructions, signed by Principal Anton Weber and School Secretary Miklovicz, and stamped with the school seal. Kitted out with this, I immediately set off on foot towards Billed railway station. I intended, if there was time, to look up my brother, Willi, who was a teacher in Billed and was also married there.
There was a military post at the outskirts of Grossjetscha, by the cemetery towards Billed. Luckily he let me pass when I showed him the document from the School Principal. The railway sidings at Billed station were full of goods wagons. They all had 'Bun pentru cereale' written on them ('good for grain'). We were supposed to assume that, because it would soon be harvest time, these wagons really were meant for the transport of grain. But the people weren't fooled, and feared a deportation, similar to the one in January 1945.
The train came in shortly after I arrived at Billed railway station, so I didn't have time to look up my brother and talk to him, which I later much regretted. Arriving home in Temeschburg, I realised that my parents had heard nothing about the rumours or the actual events. Monday passed without any particular incident, too. On Tuesday the 19th of June, early in the morning, a man called Alexius from Billed, who worked in the spirit factory and who passed our house on his way to work, brought a letter from my brother Willi. Mr. Alexius told us what was happening at Billed station and that my brother had secretly passed the letter to him and then disappeared again. From the wording of the letter, we understood that the deportation had begun during the night of Sunday/Monday and that he, his wife, her sister, the aunt and his parents-in-law were all amongst the deportees and that they had been camping out in the open at the railway station since Monday and that they were being guarded by the military and Securitate. He assumed they would be put into wagons that same day and be transported. The train would probably travel eastwards through Temeschburg. There, I met up with our former paediatrician, Dr. Peter Feiler, who had been summoned to emergency doctor duty. When he heard what had brought me to the station, he handed me his doctor's bag and passed me off as his assistant. Only in this way could I walk up and down the trains standing in the station with him, unhindered. No person was allowed to approach the trains or to make contact with the deportees. I met many acquaintances, but unfortunately not my brother for, as we later heard, his train didn't leave until early in the morning of Thursday the 21st of June, and it sped through without stopping. That was one of the last trains which took the deportees from the border zone to the Bărăgan Steppes.
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My secret visits to the Bărăgan by Richard Weber of Temeschburg (pages 252 to 254)
It was February 1953. My brother, together with his wife, sister-in-law, their aunt and his parents-in-law, were in compulsory exile in Dâlga in Romania's Bărăgan Steppes. They weren't allowed any visitors from the Banat. Any secret visitors who were caught by the militia had to leave immediately and go back on the next train. As I had the opportunity of attending an agricultural exhibition in Bucharest, I decided to travel to Dâlga in the Bărăgan for a few days, too.
This village was situated about 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Bucharest, and slightly north of the Bucharest to Constanza railway line. Because it was very risky to get off the train at Dâlga station – there were military patrols for every incoming train – my brother advised me to travel on to the next stop, Bogdana, six kilometres (3 miles) away; also, because a Hungarian he knew, named Kohut, was the stationmaster there. Unbeknownst to anyone else, this man had relatives who were detained in Dâlga. My brother told me that travellers arriving at Bogdana station were also checked by the militia, so I should be careful and tell them that I was a relative of Mr. Kohut, who had been told of my forthcoming trip by my brother. I should also beware of his Alsatian dog, which attacked all strangers. As a precaution, my worried mother gave me some chicken bones to divert the dog's attention. This, by the way, was amusingly commented upon by our relatives in Bucharest, where I stayed overnight.
The journey from Bucharest to the Bărăgan went without any particular incident and I was able to get off at Bogdana, as planned, with no checks made. While the militia men were busy attending to other travellers, I confidently walked past them and straight into Mr. Kohut's office and introduced myself. He led me to his apartment and said I would have to be patient until the field was clear. After about 30 minutes, the new arrivals and the militia men disappeared. Then Mr. Kohut accompanied me to the railway crossing nearby and showed me the way to Dâlga, which ran almost parallel to the railway line. The snow was quite deep and it was devilishly cold. I had two suitcases and a rucksack. So I began my six kilometre trek towards Dâlga. I didn't feel particularly happy, as I had once heard that wolves caused trouble here during the winter. After about half an hour, I sensed there was something moving in the distance – a black shape. I went hot and cold all over. I couldn't help thinking about the wolves. If I stood still, the black shape stood still, too. If I moved forward, the black shape moved again, too. I wondered what I should do. In the end, I decided to bravely walk on. The black shape came closer and closer, growing larger all the time, but I still couldn't tell what it actually was. It was only when I got to roughly 300 metres away from it that I realised there was no way this could be a living thing. After a few more steps, I saw that it was a wooden post that had been scaring me! Happy at this harmless outcome, I hurried on and covered the rest of the distance within a short time. And so I reached my goal; a house at the outer edge of the village where my brother and his relatives were having to live in compulsory exile, bearing their uneasy lot.
I made a second trip to the Bărăgan at the end of January 1954. This time, my brother was waiting for me at Bogdana station with a 'Şareta' (a two-wheeled cart). I had heard a regional radio announcement over the loudspeakers in the train, saying that a snowstorm was expected in the Bărăgan. I knew that such Bărăgan snowstorms could be devastating, but I didn't worry about it too much. I arrived in Bogdana in the afternoon and again went to Mr. Kohut's office until the militia men had left the station. My brother meanwhile had hid with the cart behind a shed opposite the station building so as not to be seen by the militia men. Before climbing onto the 'Şareta' and my brother covering me with a 'Şuba' (a long sheepskin coat) though, a strong wind began to whisk up the falling snow in such a way that we couldn't see ten paces in front of us, and the snowflakes on his face had frozen to ice and were so painful that we had to protect our faces with the coat collars. It was impossible for us to find our way in this snowstorm, but the horse set off in a fast trot and found its way to Dâlga by itself. My brother still had to take the horse and cart back to the piggery and then come home by foot over snowdrifts already over a metre (3 feet) high. The welcome was wonderful, and after a meal we talked for a while before going to bed. During the night I was awakened by a strange noise. It sounded like motorcycles driving round and round the house, but because I was so tired, I fell asleep again without finding out where the sound came from. In the morning, I realised what had caused the noise during the night. The snowstorm had covered the house in snow, right over the roof. After the thaw, we could open the front door, but in front of the exit the snowstorm had built up an insurmountable wall of snow. Both room windows, and the smaller kitchen window, were completely snowed up. Cut off from the outside world, we couldn't get rid of the snow, so we would have had to shovel it into the house in order to make an escape tunnel. We couldn't do that, of course, so we just had to hope for help from outside. After a few hours, this wish was fulfilled and the neighbour, a good acquaintance from Billed, shovelled to free a window. Now we could climb out and dig a tunnel to the front door through the snowdrift. The second important job now was to get rid of the mass of snow on the roof, so the weight of it wouldn't make the roof cave in. Being the youngest and the lightest, I was the one chosen to go up onto the roof. I was dressed in a headscarf and an apron so I wouldn't be recognised as a stranger. So I climbed onto the roof and began to push the snow off it. After a while, I saw over a heap of snow a militia man making his way towards our house. I immediately sat down and slid down from the roof. Once down, I told my people why I had had to get off the roof so quickly. My brother's father-in-law immediately hid me in their cellar. Hardly had the cellar door been shut, when I heard the militia man's voice, asking about the damage. After he had been given, and finished drinking, a glass of 'Schnapps', he went on his way and we could carry on. More snowstorms followed this one during the next few days, so all rail traffic was stopped and trains stood out in the open country, snowed under, and the travellers were either kept in their wagons or in emergency accommodation nearby and were given food by the State. The emergency situation meant that I had to stay in Dâlga for three weeks. For days we could hear the sound of the huge snowploughs freeing the railway line from the snow. My brother accompanied me to the station on several days to ask when a train would be going to Bucharest. We had to leave early in the morning while still dark, climbing over numerous heaps of snow to even get there. It took nearly half a day just getting there and back. It was only after some time that the stationmaster could tell us that only one train would be leaving Călăraşi, coming via Ciulniţa and stopping at this station. As the time of arrival was uncertain, we spent nearly five hours at the station on the appointed day, waiting for the passenger train to arrive. It had barely set off again when the next snowstorm began, but it could no longer hinder my return journey.
(Above: Richard Weber from Temeschburg with his sister-in-law and her sister in Dâlga)
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An unaffected man experiences the deportation to the Bărăgan from Baratzhausen by Stefan Heinz-Kehrer (pages 256 to 258)
Life for the Germans in the Banat seemed to be getting back to normal by 1951. The bad post-war years were over. Most of those deported to Russia had returned home in 1949 and by 1951 many prisoners of war from the East and the West had found their way back to their homeland, either legally or illegally. Those who had to come back earlier, and who had had to work in the coalmines, were now home, too. Peaceful times were ahead… or so it seemed. But appearances are deceptive.
From the 10th to the 12th of June 1951, people noticed something unusual: In all the railway stations in the western part of the Banat, there stood long rows of empty goods wagons, the reason for which nobody could understand. The wheat harvest hadn't begun yet and it was still a long way off to threshing time, so what were all these superfluous wagons for? Rumours spread; questions were asked – all on the quiet: What is supposed to be loaded into these wagons for transport? People maybe? Who – and why? An oppressive feeling hung over the villages.
Although prize-giving day for the schools wasn't supposed to be until the 24th of June, the Romanian teacher and I decided to hold the day on the 17th instead, just in case. The celebrations took place in the arts centre, in two languages, and everything ran smoothly. When it was all over, – it was Sunday – the dance for the village youths began. Josef Marker and his small, but very good, 'Schrammel' band played both Romanian and German dances. The German youngsters of the village danced the 'Hora' just as well as the Romanians. There was no tension in Baratzhausen; everyone got on and worked well together, especially in the Paprika culture, thus benefiting both sides. The Germans had been dispossessed, yes, but there was as yet no Collective; both the indigenous Romanian farmers and the incoming colonists – about 20 Macedonian-Romanian families – had opposed collectivization.
The dance didn't go on for too long; only until about 10 p.m., and then the village went quiet.
At about 4 a.m., people were woken from their sleep, at least in the main street. Army boots, studded with nails, clattered along the pavement. What was going on? My wife and I didn't dare switch on the lights. We silently stood at the window and peeked through the curtains. We couldn't see anything, nor could we hear anything any longer. Had the noise gone? What we didn't know was that the village was surrounded by soldiers, too! We got up early - it was daylight - and I went to the front of the house; I lived in the teacher's apartment in the school. I don't remember who it was who walked past me and said, "They're taking people! Whole families! And not only Germans, but indigenous Romanians, too, and all the Macedonians! All of them! And the few Romanian families originating from Bessarabia. They've been given seven hours to pack. Every family is getting a whole wagon. They can take their most important household goods with them; furniture, bedding, implements, work tools, cows and pigs, too, and animal feed, and of course all their provisions. They will be loaded into wagons at Gelu (Ketfel) railway station, five kilometers (3 miles) away."
Already during the night, as soon as they had arrived, officers assigned their troops to enter the yards of the people named on the lists, but who were not to be woken. They had to wait until the people themselves got up, ready to begin the day's work. When these people came out of their houses, they were faced with bayonets. The shock was enormous. Women screamed out, but were silenced. The soldiers had been well instructed; they were fighting troops of the State Security forces – the 'Securitate'. When our children got up – they were 10 and 14 years old then – we already knew which of their friends had to leave. But we had no answer to our children's question, "Why?"
Men and women who only two years previously had returned home from Russia now feared that they had to begin the whole bitter experience again with the whole family. "Why? What for?" was the gnawing question, to which nobody had an answer.
At Gelu-Ketfel railway station, deportees from four villages had gathered: From Ketfel (Serbs and Germans); from Kleinsiedel (nearly all Germans); from Kleinsanktpeter-Totina (69 German people and 60 Macedonian families); and from Baratzhausen (10 families with 34 Germans, and 20 Macedonian families).
The loading of the wagons took more than two days. The people had to camp out in the open overnight, together with their belongings and domestic animals. I was tormented by the question, how many of my Totinaer compatriots had been affected – maybe even members of my own family?
But how was I to get into the camp at Ketfel station when it was surrounded by soldiers? As two of my pupiuls from the 4th year were amongst the deportees, and I had written their school reports, I went to the station and explained to the guards that I really had to get these reports to the children. They let me into the camp with hundreds of people, and it wasn't long before I found both of my sisters, together with their husbands and five children, two of them babies; a total of 69 Germans from this tiny village. And above all, the gnawing question: Where are they all going?
There was a suicide in Totina, too. An elderly compatriot from Serbian Banat, who had survived the Tito extermination camps, escaped to Romania in 1949 and had been taken in by a widow, hanged himself when he was ordered to prepare for the transport. It was only after the transport had left that we discovered the destination: The Bărăgan Steppes.
Two weeks after the transport, military work battalions moved into western Banat and began building bunkers and other reinforcements along the Yugoslavian border, in three main rows, as far down as the Danube. To enable them to build these bunkers 'undisturbed', all 'unreliable elements' had to be forcibly relocated.
Life for the deportees from Baratzhausen carried on in the Bărăgan; two marriages took place, four children were born and a young woman died shortly after giving birth to her first child.
Soon after this major action, which had also shattered those who were left behind, a campaign was begun to establish a collective economy. There was no more opposition; the fear of similar reprisals was too great.
The Bărăgan deportation, which came out of the blue six years after the end of the war, left deep wounds which never healed, and led to people endeavouring to emigrate to Germany.
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The Bărăgan by Brigitte Hehn – Reflections seen from the younger generation's viewpoint (pages 259 to 262)
If our grandfathers and fathers, who lived through both World Wars, the banishment to Siberia and the deportation to the Bărăgan, only to lose everything that they had hoped and strived for during their lives, then a crime has been committed against us, the post-war generation, too: We have been cheated of our own history.
There are several versions of Romania's history: One is a simple account of historical events; another is a more detailed and extensive account, tailored to suit the age of the student. The history of Romania was basically the history of the Romanians. The Banat Swabians were, like all other ethnic minorities, only mentioned in passing without being discussed any further.
So anyone who wondered about their ancestors was referred to sporadically published newspaper articles, or to books, or to whatever their families could tell them.
This is how I learned about the snowstorms in the Bărăgan already during my early childhood. If grandma preferred to tell me the tale of Red Riding Hood, then grandpa could tell much more adventurous stories from the war years and the Bărăgan years. And somehow I felt the same gripping tension and emotion, surviving the bomb attack which my grandfather had survived under a Serbian apple tree, as the moment when the wolf devoured Red Riding Hood.
So grandpa's tales had the same status as all the other fictitious stories, and when I had grown out of fairy tales, and grandfather still carried on relating the same old stories, there came a time when I grew so weary of them, that I couldn't stand listening to them any more.
Years later, I found a yellowing exercise book with unfamiliar handwriting in an old suitcase in the attic. It was a diary from the Bărăgan. I read it and suddenly realised that what I had in my hands was a piece of Banat history. I remembered grandfather's stories again, which were no longer just stories, but terrible facts, so close within reach as though they had only just happened. I realised how valuable this all was to me. An abridged excerpt from the diary reads:
Brateş, May 1955 – Our peaceful, happy family life was unexpectedly ruined; destroyed for ever within an hour. We were snatched away and loaded into wagons and thrown out into the open at the end of the world. How horrified our daughter back home was when she received the first postcard from us, the postmark spelling out the region we were in, i.e. beyond Galaţi, next to the village of Frumuşita. And what a joy it was for us when we received the first postcard from our Banat home and when, a week later, I took delivery of a parcel from the postman's cart, when my husband even took a photograph of me!
My husband died after only one year and I was left on my own. I had to fend for myself now, and so I thought I could become a voluntary postmistress for a couple of the streets. I went from house to house in the mornings and collected the letters which people wanted to send to their families back home. I then took these to the post office and posted them; at the same time, I took delivery of any letters, newspapers, cash remittances and parcels for those people who, because of work had no time do so themselves. People were very happy when they saw me coming. They would call out from afar, "Is there anything for me?" Then they often invited me in, even if I didn't have any mail for them, as chatting was also important to them, for as the saying goes: 'We get the daily news from the barber and the postman.' The people had grown to like me so much in the meantime, that they often liked to give me something to eat; a piece of bread, cake, eggs, milk or vegetables, so I could live from one day to the next. I've now been working already four years as the postmistress. Every day, winter and summer, heat, snow and wind, I go through the streets to bring the people happiness. Only the mail keeps us in touch with our homeland.
Suddenly, the 'Sfat' decided to employ a postman, who would receive one Lei per house per month. But my situation didn't change because of this as, without hesitation, this postman let me keep my street mail service and the 15 to 20 newspaper deliveries. I carry on doing it, thereby saving him not only his legs, but I even pay him an extra two Lei per month. Even more interesting is the fact that the people, although they have to pay him one Lei, they would rather see me coming, as he only brings the mail every two or three days, or distributes it by the well, which means that everybody has already read the postcard by the time it reaches its rightful owner.
There are 700 families here; there is a large turnover of mail. During these four years, hundreds and hundreds of letters have been sent home to the Banat by me and by others, and have arrived here, and – let's say – only a few of them have ever gone missing. I'm just reading a note which I myself wrote: '9th August, 1951 – Still wretched, still living out in the open in an area of reeds. With so much misery and sorrow, I don't feel like writing this diary! Only the mail could bring us happiness, but even that doesn't work!'
Yes, there's trouble everywhere. The 'Factor' often says that the old village doesn't receive as much mail in a one year as we in the new village receive in one day! There are often up to 200 letters. There's not much trouble when sending letters, but there is when sending money. There was one period when many families from Grossjetscha sent money, but none of their relatives received it. What was the reason for this? It was later found out that the postman in Grossjetscha had embezzled 17,000 Lei.
There were lots of other similar fraudulent cases. A 14-year-old girl once took delivery of some money for her family, which relatives from the Banat had sent. She should have been given 150 Lei, but she only received 100 Lei. The post office official had kept the other 50 Lei for himself. An acquaintance of mine experienced much worse: The post office official had hidden the whole amount of money which the person was expecting, in his pocket. And these are not just one-off incidents. It keeps on happening, and it's only when a complaint is made that at least part of the money that is due is forthcoming. Even more trouble than sending money is when it comes to sending parcels. A young woman once sent a parcel of food to her husband, who was with the soldiers, and which he never received. The 'Factor' and the new postman had enjoyed the ham and bacon themselves.
In the beginning, many of our people here sent little boxes of jam home, but only big, heavy stones arrived. Also, lots of things which couldn't be preserved here in the dust and rain, had to be sent back home. An acquaintance wanted to send two silk quilts home, but old carpets arrived instead. My daughter never got to see my damask table linen again, which I also sent home. What she received was an old sheet with metal buttons. Sometimes, instead of sausages from the slaughter which should have been in the parcels, there were potato peelings. During Easter in 1955, there was a huge swindle. Almost half the parcels had been opened, and instead of the expected goods, there was bran, wholemeal or salt in them.
Many people were brought to tears when they realised that they, too, had been victims of the thieves. Who could be so unscrupulous as to rob such unlucky, poor people as well? None of us found out where it was happening; here, on the way, or even back in the Banat? I could tell a lot more, but there's not enough paper or time.
But it's always the 'Factor' who has the last word: When a woman realised that a parcel which she had just received had been plundered, she went straight to the post office and threatened to report the case to the 'Securitate'. The 'Factor' laughed out loud and shouted at her, "Don't bother – and don't think that you can stop the stealing in the Moldova!"
I don't know whether the thieving in the Moldova has lessened in the meantime. But it is certainly worth having a healthy indignation for everything that is unjust, together with a wish to make this world of ours a little bit better.
The younger generation, above all, should feel this is directed at them. We should draw the necessary conclusions from the past and help to shape the future. If a line is to be drawn under the history of the Banat Swabians in the Romanian region, then we stand here in our new homeland, again faced with a load of problems. The wish to integrate as soon and as seamlessly as possible; our efforts to no longer be seen as immigrants often ends in a 'perfect mimosa': Do we not hide our differences by superficially carrying out those changes which show that we are fully 'with the times'? From hair styles and dress sense, to the model of car that is currently 'in', we style our lives so that there is almost nothing left to see of the Banat Swabian. Language, too, has changed. Some try, successfully, to forget our 'schwowisch' dialect, not in preference to High German, but to the dialect spoken here. Why this crass self-deceit? Have we only integrated when we have given up on ourselves?
I find that integration is the inner willingness to be taken up with the history of the German people. And this willingness can only result from the knowledge and declaration of our own history. We will only have assimilated when we have the courage to preserve our little characteristics which differentiate us and when we still like to remember what there was in the old Heimat, even the war and the years in the Bărăgan.
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More to follow...
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