Introduction to Compulsory relocation to the Bărăgan:
The compulsory relocation of the Banat Germans to the Bărăgan Steppes in south-eastern Romania in June 1951 affected those living within the 25 km (15 miles) prohibited zone along the 546 km (340 miles) Romanian-Yugoslavian border. 40,320 individuals from 12,791 families living in 172 villages were affected, including 15 individuals from Uihei. People from the following categories were affected:
- Major farmers and inn-keepers / restaurant owners (19,034 persons from 5,570 families)
- Bessarabian and Macedonian refugees (8,477 / 2,998)
- Former members of the Waffen-SS (2,344 / 782)
- Foreign citizens (1,330 / 659)
- Relatives of border refugees (1,218 / 413)
- Tito sympathisers (1,054 / 304)
- Persons who have boasted of enemy activities (731 / 238)
- Border smugglers (657 / 224)
- Dismissed officials, members of the military, and independent persons outside the prohibited zone (590 / 218)
- Relatives of anti-revolutionaries and those who support them (367 / 112)
- Political and civil rights activists (341 / 179)
- Persons with high positions in the former ethnic German group (257 / 89)
- Major landowners and manufacturers (162 / 57)
- Former business persons with contacts in the West (21 / 7)
- Others (180 / 100)
The Romanian writer Panait Istratis describes the area in his book 'Die Disteln des Bărăgan' (The Bărăgan thistles, published 1987 in Leipzig) thus (translated): " No trees grow here, and it's so far from one water well to the next that you can die of thirst half-way. The inhabitant of Bărăgan constantly hopes that one day someone will come and teach him how to live better in the Bărăgan, in this dreadful wilderness where water is hidden in the deepest bowels of the earth and where nothing grows except thistles. They cover the land in less than a week. It's the only thing the Bărăgan will tolerate, except for the sheep who lust after these thistles and devour them greedily. Come winter, the shepherd abandons this God forsaken land and returns home. Then the Bărăgan dons its white fur coat and lays to rest for six months. Nothing lives here any more. That's the Bărăgan."
The settlement area along the river Danube hadn't been chosen indiscriminately. Like the area of origin of the deportees when they first settled in the Banat, the planned new settlement area was sparsely populated, but not totally empty. It was the home of thousands of people whose farmland and meadows were where the new settlements had now been marked out for others, and the indigenous people did not want to leave their houses and hamlets, or to share them with others. On the other hand, it wasn't in the interests of the Communist rulers to settle the deportees in existing villages, as they did not want them to have contact with the indigenous people. They had also had their eye on this convenient and strategic location for other reasons; the troubled border of Yugoslavia was far away, but that of the Soviet Big Brother was closer by. There was plenty of water nearby - only a shortage of drinking water. The problematic connection to the traffic network (all the roads inland and in the Banat led to the capital Bucharest) made movement for the deportees difficult, but easier for the control of the people.
The following two maps (click to enlarge) show the the area along the Yugoslavian border affected by the compulsory relocation to the Bărăgan, and the area in south-eastern Romania where the new settlements were to be built (nearly all of which were destroyed after the deportees returned home). Uihei would be between Biled and Lenauheim at the top of the first map. Both maps give the village names in romanian and have been copied from the book 'Deportiert in den Baragan 1951-1956' published in 2001 by the Haus des Deutschen Ostens in Munich, Germany. The third map (by Wilhelm Weber from the book 'Und über uns der blaue endlose Himmel') shows all 190 villages which were affected by the deportation, a list of which is given beneath the maps.
Agadici; Albrechtsflor (Teremia Mică); Alexanderhausen (Şandra); Altbeba (Beba Veche); Altbeschenowa (Dudeşti Vechi); Altmoldova (Moldova Veche); Aurelheim (Răuţi); Banlok; Baratzhausen (Bărăteaz); Basiasch; Belobreşca; Berecuţa; Berlişte; Bersaska; Billed; Birda; Bobda; Bogarosch (Bulgăruş); Bogodinţi; Bresondorf (Brezon); Breştea; Broşteni; Bulgarische Kolonie (Colonia Bulgară); Butin; Călina; Câmpia; Cârnecea; Cebza; Cherestur; Ciclova Montană; Ciclova Română; Ciuchici; Ciudanoviţa; Comorâsţe; Crai Nou; Cruceni; Dalboşeţ; Denta; Deschandorf (Dejan); Detta; Deutschsanktmichael (Sânmihaiul German); Diniaş; Divici; Doclin; Dognatschka (Dognecea); Dolatz; Drencova; Ferendia; Fodorhausen (Gad); Foeni; Folia; Forotic; Gaiu Mic; Gataia; Gârlişte; Gârnic; Gertianosch (Cărpiniş); Gherman; Gier (Giera); Gilad; Giulwess (Giulvăz); Giurgiova; Gornea; Gottlob; Grabatz; Greoni; Grossberegsau (Beregsăul Mare); Grossjetscha (Iecea Mare); Grosskomlosch (Comloşul Mare); Großsanktnikolaus (Sânnicolaul Mare); Großsanktpeter (Sânpetru Mare); Großscham (Jamul Mare); Großschemlak (Şemlacul Mare); Großsurduk (Surducul Mare); Hatzfeld (Jimbolia); Herkulesbad (Băile Herculane); Iam; Iertof; Igrisch; Ilidia; Iwanda; Jitin; Johannisfeld; Jupalnic; Kakowa (Grădinari); Keglewichhausen (Chegleviciu); Ketfel (Gelu); Ketscha (Checea); Kleinberegsau (Beregsăul Mic); Kleinbetschkerek (Becicherecul Mic); Kleinjetscha (Iecea Mic); Kleinomor (Rovoniţa Mică); Kleinsanktpeter (Sânpetru Mic); Kleinschemlak (Şemlacul Mic); Kleinsiedel (Colonia Mică); Klopodia; Knees (Satchinez); Königsgnad (Tirol); Lăţunaş; Lenauheim; Leşcoviţa; Liubcova; Lovrin; Lunga; Macedonia; Macovişte; Maidan; Marienfeld (Teremia Mare); Măceşti; Mânăstire; Mehadia; Mercina; Milcoveni; Moldoviţa; Morawitza; Moritzfeld (Măureni); Naidaş; Nero; Neubeschenowa (Dudeşti Noi); Neuburg (Uivar); Neumoldova (Moldova Nouă); Neusiedel (Uiheiu); Nicolinţ; Obad; Ofsenitz; Ogradena Nouă; Ogradena Veche; Omor (Roviniţa Mare); Opatiţa; Orawitza; Orschowa; Ostern (Comloşul Mic); Otelek; Partş; Perjamosch (Periam); Perkos (Percosova); Pesak; Pescari; Petrilova; Petroman; Plavişeviţa; Pojejena; Pordeanu; Potoc; Pustinisch; Radimna; Răcăşdia; Rudna; Rumänischsanktmichael (Sânmihaiul Român); Rusova Nouă; Rusova Veche; Sackelhausen (Săcălaz); Sarafol (Saravale); Sasca Montană; Sasca Română; Sângeorge; Sculia; Secăşeni; Serbischsanktmartin (Sânmartinul Sărbesc); Sfânta Elena; Sicheviţa; Slatina Nera; Soca; Socol; Socolari; Şoşdea; Şuşca; Şviniţa; Ticvanul Mare; Ticvanul Mic; Toager; Tolwad (Livezile); Topletz; Triebswetter (Tomnatic); Tschakowa (Ciacova); Tschanad (Cenad); Tschawosch (Grăniceri); Tschene (Cenei); Ulmbach (Peciul Nou); Ungarischsanktmartin (Sânmartinul Maghiar); Utvin; Valcani; Vărădia; Vrani; Vrăniuţi; Warjasch; Wiseschdia; Wojteg; Zlatica.
The following 15 people were deported from Uihei / Neusiedel to the Bărăgan in June 1951:
Josef (1898 - ?) and Marianne (1908 - ?) DINJER née EBNER
Franz (14.02.1866 - 16.11.1978) and Margaretha (22.08.1891 - 12.01.1974) LICHTFUSS née OTT
Nikolaus (~1895 - 11.1.1968) and Agnes (1895 - 12.05.1975) NOTHUM née DINJER
Josef (1896 - 02.12.1967) and Barbara (1902 - 11.09.1965) REITER née PULJER
Nikolaus (1895 - 11.10.1974) and ?Magdalena ?Elisabeth (1896 - 12.06.1978) WAMBACH née REITER
Mathias (24.11.1911 - 28.06.2003) and Eva (born 22.12.1920) WILHELM née LAMBING and sons Adam (born 29.05.1950) and Peter (born 28.12.1951) WILHELM
NISTREANU, Ticuţa - born 3rd March 1949 in Uihei, Billed-Timis District. Compulsory relocation to the Bărăgan together with parents on 18th June 1951.
Compulsory Relocation to the Bărăgan
The compulsory relocation to the Bărăgan was planned and prepared in secret long before June 18th 1951. On Whit Monday, 18th June 1951, things came to a head. Before this date, events in the village and neighbouring communities unfolded thick and fast. On June 16th, a train with 30 wagons pulled into Billed railway station. In every third wagon there were militia men or soldiers. To begin with, what they saw triggered off a huge guessing game amongst the villagers. The following day around midday an announcement was made to drum beats: ‘Nobody is to leave the village; manoeuvres are taking place.’ At the same time, the whole area was already surrounded by the afore-mentioned militia. The news hit everyone like a bolt of lightning and made the coming night one of despair and helplessness. Behind drawn curtains and rolled-down blinds and with the lights switched off, people peeped through cracks onto the streets into the dark night, full of fear of what was about to happen. At 9 or 10 p.m. already, military boots clattered up and down the streets and the dogs began to bark loudly. Torches lit up the houses. They were looking for particular house numbers. Before dawn (4 a.m.), rifle butts pushed against many doors, lights were switched on and ‘Deschideti!’ was shouted out, which means ‘open up!’ in english. Cocked rifles were aimed at the residents of the house. In each case, a civilian (security service officer), a militia man and a soldier entered. The officer curtly demanded identity cards from the whole family, compared them to his list and took them. Now he read from a sheet of white paper, ‘In accordance with a Ministry decree, you no longer have any right to live in this house. You must pack and leave the house within two hours (this was later extended to six or more hours). Wagons will take your belongings to the station.’ An admonition was added: ‘Anyone trying to escape will be shot without warning.’ People felt paralysed at this announcement, couldn’t take it in. Our good, honest, law-abiding Swabians just could not believe this shocking threat. What crime had they committed? But the soldier, who was now standing guard in front of the house, showed, and was proof enough, that they were serious. No-one was allowed to leave their house any more before evacuation took place and no villager was allowed out on the street, so they could not see what was about to happen.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Deportation to the Bărăgan – 50 years on
(from the Lenauheimer Heimatblatt 2001)
Translated by Diana Lambing
The war was over and a new beginning was now to be made. At first, people still owned up to 50 hectares of land which they farmed, but gradually Communism took over the monopoly and the economy declined year by year. The produce had to be handed over to the State at below the manufacturer's price so that it wasn't worth doing anything any longer. Three years later, nobody had more than five hectares of farmland left, which they received as frontline soldiers and which had to suffice for them to live on. This meant the livestock had to be reduced to one horse, one cow, a couple of pigs and a few chickens for their own use. When the LKW (the agricultural collective) was established in 1949, they needed the large-scale buildings and so the owners had to move into other houses. Nearly everyone had a job on the side as well, in order to just get by. Life became aimless.
And so, as the years went by, the Communist regime slowly gained control of everything. The powerful Soviet Union was their role model. All confiscation of assets and businesses was copied from them. People were easier to handle when they owned nothing. They were more dependent and submissive. The State was the absolute ruler of the whole population.
From 1950 onwards, the situation between the Soviet Union under Stalin, and Yugoslavia under Tito, worsened. There were ideological differences between the two. Tito didn't want to be as subservient as the powerful Stalin would have liked. This was the reason for moving those 'untrustworthy people not faithful to the regime' who lived in the zone bordering Yugoslavia. Big Brother, the Soviet Union, had already demonstrated this many times. On the other hand, there were still areas in south-eastern Romania which were sparsely populated and where the State needed cheap labour for the newly-founded agricultural collective. So one day, the decision made by the government to deport a section of the population from this border zone to the so-called Bărăgan Steppes was carried out.
The Bărăgan Steppes are situated in the south-eastern part of Romania, an area of about 60 kilometres (40 miles) wide along the Danube which at this point flowed from South to North. It is a wide, treeless plain but with fertile soil, and which is very sparsely populated. It has something of the endlessness of the Prarie and of the romance of the Hungarian Puzta, but above all, of Siberia's cruelty. It is bleak and strange. Motionless, yet with a constant wind passing through, sometimes caressing, sometimes raging. The winters here are very harsh and cold, with predominantly bitterly cold winds from the North-East. The summers are relentlessly hot and dry. There had been a few large private owners who had worked the soil but they had all been dispossessed and made to work for the State. Now, cheap labour was needed.
The people had already finished their work. The tilling for the maize and potatoes, and for the garden, was done. The barley had been reaped and put into heaps a few days earlier. But it was still all for nothing, and only for the others. People sensed something in the air. Already several days previously, empty wagons had been shunted back and forth on the railway. These couldn't be for the new harvest already. For the past two weeks, a military officer (police) had been in the village and had been snooping around. He checked several people's passes for authenticity, but this was only a diversion. There were also several soldiers around who took measurements in the village and at the edge of the parish. They drew brief sketches on the map and marked these points on the ground with small heaps of earth. The local people had no explanation for it, even though several of the heaps stood higher than the soldiers themselves. Did they know what they were doing? Hard to believe. Everything was so secretive that nobody knew what was coming. The snooping officer also had an aerial view of the village with him. The picture was of such a high resolution that every detail could be seen on it.
At last the day arrived when the whole truth came out. It was Monday, 18th June 1951. Already on the Sunday evening a whole section of the Miliz (police) had arrived and dismounted at Karl Bieber's old house in Kirchengasse (Church Street), but not to be billeted or to sleep overnight. Only later did people find out that a whole regiment of the 'Securitate' had arrived in Triebswetter near Lenauheim and that from there they were split up and sent into other villages. This was a group which came under the jurisdiction of the Home Office and which was responsible for the internal security of the country. All those taking part in the performance were dressed in new uniforms and knew nothing about what was going on. They were only told what to do at the very last minute. Even the train drivers who managed the transport knew nothing. The organization of the teams, who were to carry out the deportation, was made outside the village on the Hutweide (meadow). Every policeman was allocated five soldiers and five envelopes in which five families were named. At exactly 5 o'clock, things began to move. They marched at the double into the village. These groups all came through Kirchengasse and looked for their house numbers. Some of the folk stood at their windows and watched as they looked for the house numbers with their torches. Soldiers asked where this or that number was. Others ordered people to close their windows. Finally, each group was standing by a house number. They had achieved their first goal. The policeman knocked on the window and asked who lived there. Then he read his little speech from his sheet of paper, saying that they were to be moved away from here and telling the family what they were allowed to take with them. No weapons, radios or cameras were allowed. Every family would get a goods wagon for the transport of animals, carts, food, furniture and clothing. They had three hours to pack. One soldier would stay as a guard. Nobody was allowed to leave the house. If anyone needed a means of transport to get to the station, this was available. This soldier was responsible for getting the family as far as the station. Resistance was pointless.
The people packed everything they wanted to take with them and loaded it onto the cart. But it wasn't easy loading furniture, food and livestock. It took ages until they were finished. Finally, they drove to the station. They camped in the open by the station until the goods wagons (box cars) arrived. It looked like the annual market. Everything got mixed up. When the train with the wagons arrived, everything was loaded from the spot where the people were standing, except for the livestock. Horses and cattle were led one after another up the ramp to the wagons. When the first 30 wagons had been loaded, the next 30 were loaded. Only once they were in Hatzfeld did the 60 wagons form a long train, and it was only then that people saw who else was present. Two families were put into wagons without any large livestock. There were those who were afraid that their families would be torn apart and that they would end up in separate places.
From Hatzfeld on, things moved quickly, as the other transports had all been set to a timetable. At Temeswar railway station there was only deportee transport. Only the staff responsible for this was allowed on the station. No-one else was permitted. Relatives of the deportees who lived in Temeswar visited their families and friends at the station wherever possible, using roundabout ways. We don't know how they managed it, nor how long they had to wait.
On the second day, they went onwards from Temeswar. They travelled South through Oltenien, where the first transports from other villages were too, and then, for reasons unknown, the transport was diverted from Lugosch via Ilia through Siebenbürgen (Transylvania). People now realised that their destination was beyond Bucharest. The train was accompanied by officers and soldiers who travelled in a passenger car. As soon as the train stopped, soldiers with guns were positioned all along the train on both sides. Civilians were not allowed to speak to the deportees. After two or three days, the people had already got to know one another. There was no point in escaping as they would have been caught later. The horses were nervous most of the time and kicked around with their front hooves. The crates in which the chickens were housed didn't all hold out and the chickens flew around the wagon. Whenever the transport came to a halt anywhere, officer guards came with a list and asked everyone where they wanted to go. They were actually only doing a check to make sure everyone was still there. In our fellow-countrymen's train there were many intelligent Bessarabian Romanians who said that they were being deported to Russia. All the signs looked that way, and the direction they were moving was right, too. Finally, after a long journey, the railway station at Gura-Ialomita came into view. One station, all alone in the open landscape, with no village to be seen far and wide. It was the end of the railway line and also seemed to be the end of the world. The line was supposed to carry on from here across the Danube to the Black Sea, but it never got that far during the war, and the line ended in nothing.
This is where the people unloaded everything. The men with the horses and carts full of sacks, cows, pigs and chickens. Most of the women travelled on a truck which was already standing by and which was loaded with all the other odds and ends. Most of them had brought along their best bedroom and kitchen stuff, and other belongings with them. Those who had arrived earlier at their destination, which was about 12 kilometres (8 miles) away, they said, had a house plot reserved. What they saw there wasn't much. So they carried on. The drivers formed a column and were escorted to their destination. People had trouble with their nervous horses. The carts were heavy, but it wasn't the load on the cart, but the edgy restlessness of the horses that was to blame. They often bumped into each other and pulled backwards. The cows, which were tied to the carts, would generally follow them quietly, but not by this means of travel. Suddenly, several cows had torn themselves away from the carts and run off. The drivers themselves couldn't leave their carts. They couldn't always calm the horses down. People helped each other to catch their animals which had run away. As the horses grew tired, they calmed down again. Gradually, the road came to an end. It was already dark and one could already see from afar improvised tents, just like at the annual markets that used to be. A star also shone from a building, as though it was guiding the people to the future in their new homeland. After a journey of 12 kilometres, they reached their destination. After a bit of searching, the family members found each other again, together with all their worldly goods. Nearby were both old and new neighbours.
As it grew light the following morning, everyone saw their own post which had already been stuck into the ground with their number on it and which marked the measured-out plot for their house. It was to be their future house number. At the moment, it was just a field of stubble where barley had once been harvested. First of all, they needed to orientate themselves in order to find out where they were. Along one row at the edge of the future settlement, they were all villagers from Lenauheim, the first ones to arrive. Those who arrived later from Lenauheim were allocated places far away in another part. They needed to provisionally organise themselves. There was no water here – this was brought in from the Danube, which was close by. Each street – if you could call the piles of household goods that – received a large barrel of water which had to be constantly replenished. It tasted of chlorine, used to keep any anticipated germs at bay. Everyone searched for, and believed they would find, a better well, but all in vain. All the water found in the ground was salty and undrinkable.
Nothing much could be done during the day. It was a scorching tropical heat with no trees or bushes to give any shade. After a thorough look around, they found that they were in the eastern part of the settlement. There was no mention of any village; nobody could make out any streets because everyone had just unloaded their belongings right where the cart had stopped. Then everyone went about their own business. The people from Lenauheim were in the last row of houses on the eastern edge of the village, the one nearest the Danube which was only 500 metres away and from where, for the next five years, they would get their drinking water. This water, once it had been standing and the sediment had settled, was the best water for drinking, and the softest for washing. There are no pathogens or bacteria in flowing water.
This village had been measured out in a horseshoe shape by engineers prior to the arrival of the deportees. It was situated at the mouth of the river Ialomita, about 500 metres from the Danube. There were 738 house plots and 2,176 deportees as inhabitants. Many house plots were not colonised and remained empty. Immediately ahead to the North was the State farm with its buildings and stables. About three kilometres away from the Danube to the South was the village of Giurgeni. This was where the only road was that led to the harbour town of Constanta on the Black Sea. As there was no bridge here, one had to cross the Danube on a ferry. In the beginning, the new village was named after the old village, 'Giurgeni-noi'. Later it was changed to 'Rachitoasa.'
The first shelter usually consisted of the space between two cupboards, over which the side parts of the beds were laid, covered by a haystack cover and a 'Plache', as protection from the rain. The whole thing had to be secured in order that the wind wouldn't blow it all away. Horses and cattle were tied to the carts. Piglets were put into a pit which was dug out deep enough to prevent them from jumping out. Most of them were sold because of a lack of pens to house them and a lack of pig feed. It would have been better to fatten them up, but with what? The chickens stayed in the upturned crates. They were able to exercise in the nearby field of lucerne. Chickens return by instinct in the evening to sleep where they awoke in the morning. People weren't worried about the chickens, as they searched for food by themselves. There were beetles in the lucerne. The chickens loved this food and hence laid many eggs, keeping the people well-supplied.
A second transportation from Lenauheim went to Dilga, which was situated along the railway line between Bucharest and Constanta. A third transport train from Lenauheim came to Giurgeni-noi. About ten trains full of deportees were brought to the 'new village' (Neudorf). Two trains came from Lenauheim and two from Triebswetter. There were also trains from Perjamosch and Gross Sanktpeter, and from Hatzfeld ten wagons with Bessarabian Romanians from Otelek, Pustinisch, Deutsch-Beregsau, Gross Beregsau, Wojtek, Gross Semlak, Klein Semlak, Johannisfeld and Folea. There were also a few people from other villages.
Until the houses were built, the people lived in so-called bunkers or dugouts. This was a hollow measuring 3 x 4 metres and one metre deep. On top was a roof, sloping on both sides, and which was thatched with reeds. At the rear was a wall plastered with mud. There was a small window and a door at the front. The ground sloped at the exit from the bunker. When people later moved into their houses, these bunkers were plastered with mud on the exterior walls, too, to enable them to be used as stables for the livestock in winter. But first, the houses had to be built. Several families would usually get together and build their houses communally. The first ones to be housed were those with children. A template was made with boards, filled with earth and stamped down. As soon as this was done, the template was lifted and filled with earth again. This went on until the required height was reached. To ensure everything held together, the walls were reinforced with twigs. The walls were 40 centimetres (16 inches) thick. There were two house models – one for small families, the other for larger ones. Most people built small houses with one room and a kitchen. The larger houses had two rooms and a kitchen. All the houses looked the same. In front of the kitchen and the second room was a covered gangway. Every house received the same amount of timber for building. Windows and doors were all the same. Everyone got these materials from the building centre via the sector's building supervisor. The ceiling was built with bits of wood, or wooden slats, and mud with straw. The floor was plain earth. Later, each did what they could. Bituminous roofing felt was also used, on top of which carpets could be laid, if anyone had any. Every house had the right to a barrel of bitumen (tar, pitch). These barrels of bitumen were popular because of the metal containers. Stoves could be made from them. The plumber spent all day and night building metal stoves. The ovens were made with clay tiles. These were thinner than those in the tiled stoves back home. The roof of the house was covered with reeds. It was good, and also durable, but the reeds were bent, so that in winter when the wind blew the snow, the whole loft would become snow-laden. Later, people learned from the indigenous people that the reeds had to have an underlay of a different type of reed or rush. This wouldn't be a permanent solution, but who knew whether they would be staying here permanently? The ridge of the roof was knotted with reeds and the whole thing was tied down with wire. The walls of the houses were plastered with mud. Many people hadn't realised they were capable of plastering walls and corners so smoothly. The houses were all the same inside and were whitewashed outside with lime. Once the houses were finished, the public buildings were built in the centre of the village; the village hall, the house for the police and guard dogs, a school, a co-operative (the so-called shop), a cultural building for dances and entertainment, and a dispensary (out-patients' department). Finally, in almost every quarter a sort of alms house would be built where those who could not work on the buildings would have a room. They were mostly old people who had no family and who were still in their earthen bunkers. Many of them died in due course. The public buildings were all built free of charge (socage work); only the craftsmen were paid. People moved in at the end of October, once the houses had been finished. In December, all the currency in the country was changed, but people were only allowed to change a certain small amount. Now, everyone was as poor as each other. The identity passes were stamped with 'D.O.' above the photograph – this meant 'Domicil Obligator', which basically meant compulsory residence or house arrest. People were only allowed to travel up to 12 kilometres (8 miles) from this new village. If anyone was caught outside the limit, they were punished harshly. In the neighbouring town of Hirsova on the other side of the Danube, twelve people were caught in the small market town, the only place one could shop. One was sentenced to six months in prison because he wanted to buy medication in the apothecary for his sick mother. All the others were sentenced to two years. They couldn't even have visitors, as no-one knew where they were. When they were freed two years later, people heard that they had to go and work as prisoners on the Black Sea – Danube canal, which was built only by political prisoners.
Five hundred hectares of cotton were grown by day labourers from the village. Contact between the Banaters from the new village was pleasant. The wages were low, but the work load (the work stipulated for 8 hours) wasn't too high. The wage was increased only when double the amount of work was achieved. 400 hectares were situated near the State buildings, and 100 hectares on the Danube island opposite. A small rowing boat took the workers across when there were only a few of them, but the ferry was used for larger numbers. The machines, larger tools and tractors were also taken across on the ferry, but the ferry did not operate every day. The old water transports were already rotten and decayed. Our people were frightened of them and would have preferred larger ferries, or a large boat as well, which would have been storm-proof. The boats were rowed by a boatman. Up to seven people could be accommodated in calm weather; fewer when it was windy, or else it wouldn't operate at all. The Danube was already very wide at this point. On the island, which was called 'Virsatura' (Rubble Island), there was a 70-hectare market garden for vegetables. 30 hectares were for the State farm canteen and 40 hectares were used for trade. The smaller part for the canteen was a garden nursery which used the Bulgarian patch or bed system. The other part was worked according to the Banat Triebswetter system, where the plants grew in rows and were watered differently.
Growing cotton was easy work and also the most lucrative. At peak times up to 500 day labourers would be working. This was at tilling and harvest times. People worked in groups, and when there was a lot of work, larger groups were formed. Those from the old villages grouped into their own separate villages. Drinking water was placed at the side of the State property. A private driver, with his own horse, was employed for this. He brought the water from the Danube, which was up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) away, mostly using his own barrels. Seldom would he use the State's barrels. The canteen kitchen also had a driver to constantly fetch water and for other purposes. The Danube was the only source of water. All the drinking water came from it.
The new agricultural year began with the deep tilling. Already early on in the year people would till the soil, even if it only looked like strips of bacon. In Lenauheim this would have been a 'Schollenacker' (clumpy soil) which they wouldn't have been able to get any finer. But not here! After two weeks of sunshine, everything disintegrated into dust. This was a sign that the soil was rich in lime. That which was an advantage here was a disadvantage for house building. The only stamped earth houses were eight in one row. All the others disintegrated, just like the tilled strips of land. Only the settlers from Triebswetter, who were on the bank of the Ialomita, could make clay bricks to build with. The old bed of the Ialomita was south of the Triebswetter sector, where it flowed into the Danube. The new village was also situated in this corner. The water from the Ialomita (Jalomiza) was bad and undrinkable. The remaining houses were built with posts which were set in the ground. Strips of wood were nailed to these posts, and then packed with straw and clay. Twenty-four 3-metre-long stakes were used for one house.
The planting of cotton was discontinued after two years. The general cultivation of plants was similar to any agricultural concern, with all kinds of plants. A lot of lucerne and other forage plants were cultivated for sheep-rearing, which was a pillar of this economy. There were 10,000 (ten thousand) sheep which were kept in seven large sheep stalls during winter. These stalls also served as protection in lambing time. Immediately next to them, 200 hectares of rye were planted for the meadow. This would be grazed down within two weeks. Apart from rearing sheep, the second most important crop was rice. 1,200 hectares of rice were planted, of which a small part became overgrown with water grass. These were planted anew and were regenerated using crop rotation, such as cereals and potatoes. The paddy fields were all watered via a large canal system with water from the Danube. Large pumps were used for this. The crop rotation system was ordered by the Department for the General Cultivation of Plants.
The threshing of the grain was done just as it was in the Banat. Here, there were only threshing machines which were driven by tractors. There were no sheaf-binders or haystacks. Everything was brought by the oxen and threshed straight away. In some places, no sheaves were bound at all, but just forked loose onto the long harvest cart. This was slow and arduous work. The conveyor belt which put the straw straight onto the haystack was not known in the Baragan. A pile of straw would be pulled to the spot where the stack was to be built, by a thick wire cable about 500 or 600 metres long, with a loop. At the other end were two oxen which would pull the wire cable back to the threshing machine. Again, four oxen would pull the straw up the stack, which would be up to 10 metres (33 feet) high. No rainwater could get into these stacks as the straw in the centre would already be compressed by the wire rope being pulled across it. They were enormously long stacks which would never have fitted into the Banat farmyards as there wouldn't have been enough space. At hay threshing time, a small tractor was used to pull the hay up, and the wire rope was taken back by a horse. This worked very easily as the wire cable was already polished smooth. There was a difference between the conveyor belt method and this working method; the conveyor belt method made haystacks the same height at both ends, but the haystacks in the Baragan were wedge-shaped and twice as high. Six oxen and two more men were needed.
When the deportees returned home in 1956, the new village was levelled with bulldozers and new paddy fields were planted. In the third tributary of the old Danube (or Dunerea-turceasca, i.e. Turkish Danube) there was still a section with about 1,000 hectares of arable land, plus meadowland for sheep, young cattle, pigs and bees. Naturally, there was a canteen and accommodation here, too, for the employees. Next to this section was also a detention centre from which the State farm employed prisoners for the large jobs. The centre itself also had an agricultural concern. The prisoners who were due for release were allowed to move around freely as drivers. To reach this section of the 'Strimba' (which was the name of the island) people used a sloop, or the ferry which was always loaded with goods. The sloops were small motor boats, either with or without a cabin. The ferries could carry 40 to 60 tons. All the ferries were pulled. There was also a passenger steamboat which travelled regularly from Cerna Voda to Braila. The navigable main tributary was where the deportees lived.
Wood for burning was a necessity for the people. The lumps of roots were bought by the cart load. This was the best material for heating. It gave heat twice over; first when splitting the wood and secondly when it was burned in the stove. 'Catina' (tamarisk), which grew along the shores of the Danube, could be burned green. It was also the only wood which didn't float in water.
One special event during the exile in the Baragan Steppes was the Kirchweihfest. 'Kirchweih' was celebrated as though everyone knew it would be the last one here. The girls decorated the boys' hats and there were bunches of rosemary, just like in the Banat. A 'Kirchweihbaum' (Maypole) was set up and the personalities were invited to the sound of brass band music. There was a big market on the Sunday to which everyone from the neighbouring villages came to shop. They had never seen anything like it. The Kirchweih girls and boys were all dressed in their traditional costumes. The people were amazed as they walked in time to the music and they asked how long these youngsters had been rehearsing walking in time to the beat.
The first autumn was lovely. This helped people a lot when building their houses. If it had been raining, as it usually did in the autumn, no-one knows how they would have been able to finish. The winter following the building work was so mild that people sat out in the streets, as they had previously done in the Banat, at Christmas. Not until the third year (1953/54) did the real winter arrive. A snowstorm, the likes of which our people had never seen before, blew. The indigenous people called it 'Grivetz' (a strong, cold north-easterly wind). The snowstorm held out for three days and nights. There were snowdrifts as high as the roof ridges. The snow was frozen so hard that one could walk on it. In the morning, the people couldn't get out of their houses, especially those whose doors opened outwards. With a door that opened inwards, the snow had to be shovelled into the room so one could creep out, and then clear away the snow outside. With so much snow there was trouble everywhere. The lofts were full of snow, too. And now the Danube froze over as well. The whole winter long, there was no river traffic on the Danube. People reached the island by foot. A large sledge, which was pulled across by a long rope from a caterpillar tractor, was built to bring the tractors across the Danube for repair. This was a preventative measure in case the ice broke, to stop anyone being injured. According to past experience, the breaking-up of ice leads to floods. That's why the State buildings were evacuated. The rice harvest was still in the store. The rice was taken to Tanderei (Zenderei) in large silos. The military broke through the 4 to 5 metre high snowdrifts along the road to enable it to be used for transport. In Tanderei all the houses were under snow. One day, a miracle happened. There was a noise like cracks of thunder in a heavy storm. Nature's great drama began. On the Danube, the ice cracked open from the enormous pressure of water, and blocks of ice formed 10 to 20 metres high, pushing into each other and causing the ice and water to lock together. You could say it was lucky, as it finally went down without resistance. The whole day long, there were people on the Danube dam watching the rare natural event.
Something else happened during this hard winter. 600 sheep froze to death in the snow storm. These were laid in a pile just as they were, and used according to need. A good harvest of leeks enriched the menu. Cooking was done in these canteens as in all Romanian military kitchens; stew, made with water from the Danube. On the island where the nursery gardens were, the meals were more varied. There were vegetables around in the garden. The tea in the morning was made in the same pot as the mutton had been cooked in earlier. It always had globules of fat in it.
It was terrible during wet weather. Not a single street was surfaced. There were no stones around anywhere. It was impossible to get about without wellingtons, as the mud and clay was ankle-deep. During the thaw, you couldn't get around at all without a stick. After 10 metres, you had to wipe off the mud from your boots with the stick. At a funeral of one of the Lenauheimer women, Father Farkas from Otelek got stuck in his boots. His torn socks weren't visible for long. He stood in the mud. A funeral service with a comical twist.
Another funny event took place at work: A group of labourers, who were busy filling a cold store right on the Danube dam, saw the strict Director of the province approaching. Grischa, a joker from Bessarabia, made some suspicious movements which even a blind man would have seen. The Director noticed it, too, and grew suspicious of a bulging rucksack which he was not meant to have seen. He pointed to the rucksack and demanded to know who owned it. Nobody answered. When he asked more threateningly, Grischa admitted it was his. The 'almighty one' demanded the rucksack be opened. Grischa refused. The Director didn't want a discussion in front of the other workers and so ordered him to bring the rucksack to the office. Grischa immediately complied and the two of them went. He was to open the rucksack in front of all the clerks and employees who had been called in to witness this assumed theft. Grischa didn't want to. Then an employee was ordered to open the rucksack. Everyone saw that it contained ice from the Danube. The Director asked why he had filled the rucksack with ice. He received the following answer: He had a needy family back home and was used to bringing something back home to use from his place of work. Today it was ice.
Dialects from eight Banat villages had come together in this new village. After five years, it could already be seen that, through everyone living together and marrying each other, a uniform dialect had emerged. The basis was taken from the villages of Lenauheim and Johannisfeld. Triebswetter had renounced its french-influenced dialect. They were already trying to eliminate their french words. This is how it must have been for our ancestors, too, when they colonised the Banat, as the Rhineland and Saarland dialects were given up.
In 1955, Romania wanted to become a member of the UN (United Nations), but they did not meet the conditions, as the Human Rights requirements could not be fulfilled. So the Communist regime had to rethink their ways and, amongst other things, had to release the deportees in the Bărăgan Steppes. In the summer of 1955, the Bessarabians and the Bukowinaers were set free. This happened quite suddenly, out of the blue as one would say. These were refugees from their homelands of Bessarabia and Bukowina which Russia had acquired after the war. Nobody knew what the reason was. They were deported as Nationalists, without taking into account whether they were small or large farmers. It carried on for several months. Someone on the Danube ferry heard from an employee of the Yugoslavian legation that all deportees who came from the zone along the Yugoslavian border were to be set free. The man was right. Shortly afterwards, the Serbs were released. This went on until after Christmas, and then everyone else was released. The whole day long, new passes were handed out indiscriminately. It was the middle of winter, which is why many people wanted to avoid the journey in cold wagons. Many were caught out by the frosty days and suffered. Others didn't have the necessary money for the journey and had to sell some of their belongings. Everyone had to pay their own travelling expenses this time. On the journey there, everyone had had a free pass. Enough wagons for 10,000 people couldn't be supplied immediately. Many travelled with only a suitcase.
Using carters or other means, everyone now made their way to Gura Ialomitei railway station 12 kilometres (8 miles) away with all their luggage and furniture. It was a new terminal as the railway hadn't been continued any further. The large waiting room was full of returning Banaters. The luggage was piled up on the ramp outside. People had to wait several days for the wagons. As soon as they arrived, they began loading their stuff. There was no large livestock any more, but there was grain. Reasonably priced food was bought to fill the empty sacks available. Nothing was sold by weight using scales here. Everything was measured with the 'Dubla'. This was a dry measure of capacity, like the 'Doppelviertel' (an eighth) used earlier in the Banat. Everything was loaded up, and off they went. Many wagons with returnees from other new villages were added. The wagons travelled coupled as far as Temeswar. The weather was beautiful as far as Temeswar, and then it grew colder and fresh snow began to fall. The deportees from Lenauheim arrived home during the nights between January and March 1956. The houses themselves needed a lot of work. They had been neglected and ruined. These people (the new colonists) had built large straw stoves in the rooms. All the chimneys needed repairing. And so the odyssey of the deportation was now at an end and a new phase of life began.
From Lenauheim 40 families were deported to Dilga, and 44 families in the first transport and 61 families in the second transport, to Giurgeni. 24 marriages were conducted in the Bărăgan between Lenauheimers, partly with partners from other villages. Similarly, 23 children were born during the deportation. Three children and 36 adults died in the deportation villages.
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The above photo was taken by Hans Hehn from the attic in his house in Triebswetter (now Tomnatic) at the moment of deportation to the Bărăgan (note the military escort bottom right).
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The above photo taken in the Bărăgan in 1954 is of Eva WILHELM née LAMBING (born 22.12.1920 in Uihel) and her son Peter (born 28.12.1951 in the Bărăgan), taken from the Alexanderhausen Heimatbuch.
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The following pictures are taken from a booklet 'Bărăgan 1951 - 1956 - O deportare în vremuri de pace' - the fourth picture shows a baby born during the Bărăgan years. The last image is of Hedwig GILDE with a prickly ball of thistles which commonly blew across the Bărăgan Steppes and which was used for heating, but is nowadays seldom seen.
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The following are pictures of the HOLZINGER family (Katharina with her children Josef and Barbara) from Alexanderhausen taken in the Bărăgan Steppes during the 1950s, courtesy of the Alexanderhausen Heimatbuch Bildband, plus the funeral in August 1954 of Magdalena WIRS née LAMBRECHT from Lovrin, courtesy of the Lovrin Heimatbuch, and a picture of a Bărăgan house taken from the Bogarosch Heimatbuch.
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The following pictures are some of the many taken from the excellent book 'Deportiert in den Bărăgan 1951 - 1956' published by Haus des Deutschen Ostens in Munich in 2001 (Walter Konschitzky, Peter-Dietmar Leber and Walter Wolf). From left to right: Sunday in the Bărăgan (contributed by Ingeborg Habenicht); Katharina Dohr from Alexanderhausen in front of her earthen hut / bunker (contributed by Katharina Schweitzer); a straw-covered hut (photo by Ludwig Schwarz, contributed by Helga Leib); Karl Schweitzer making bricks (contributed by himself); the making of clay bricks (photo by Ludwig Schwarz, contributed by Helga Leib); two images of the winter of 1951/1952 (contributed by Bruno Christmann and Johann Rothen); working on the cotton plantation (contributed by Dr. Smaranda Vultur). To see more of the images from this book, visit www.dvhh.org/history/baragan/index.htm.
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The following pictures are part of a set of oil paintings made by Josef Breitenbach from Billed and were painted from original black and white photographs taken during the Bărăgan years:
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Reference to Uihei also found on the following website: http://www.procesulcomunismului.com/marturii/fonduri/ioanitoiu/dictionar_no/no/dictionarno_9.html
NISTREANU, Ticuţa. Născută la 3 martie 1949, în satul Uihei, comuna Biled-Timiş. Domiciliu obligatoriu în Bărăgan împreună cu părinţii, de la 18 iunie 1951.
NISTREANU, Ticuţa - born 3rd March 1949 in Uihei, Billed-Timiş District. Compulsory relocation to the Bărăgan together with parents on 18th June 1951.
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