The deportation of Bogarosch people to Russia in 1945
(as experienced and described by Rosina Goschi née Holz)
Taken from the Bogarosch HOG website and translated by Diana Lambing
It was 1945, the war was drawing to its inevitable end and the Russians were preparing to recruit able-bodied people in the German part of Romania for the so-called rebuilding of the Soviet Union.
The new year had barely begun when news began to spread that something was about to happen to the Germans in the Banat, but no-one had the faintest suspicion, as it was all a secret. The police ('Schandare') went from house to house and took a few notes from peoples' identity cards. We didn't know what it was about and the growing uncertainty brought inevitable feelings of fear. On January 9th 1945, the authorities let the cat out of the bag. The drummer went through the streets early in the morning, announcing that all men born between 1900 and 1927, and all women born between 1915 and 1927, were to report themselves. All those affected were to dress warmly and to bring provisions for 14 days. Now things became really serious and people wondered whether they should report themselves or hide. The majority went to the town hall as ordered, were immediately arrested and not allowed out again. People's instinct when faced with danger is either to escape or to hide - I decided to hide. The fear of being discovered in my supposedly safe hiding place, and then to probably have to pay for it with my life, became so great that I now gave myself up and on the day before departure, I reported to the authorities. Immediately, two Russians with rifles came to fetch me. I got myself ready, said goodbye to all that was dear to me, i.e. everything around me - my mother, our house and everything in it, the animals, the neighbours. Then we left. On arrival at the meeting point, we were paired up and prepared to leave.
The face of inhumanity gradually began to show, for we weren't even allowed to say goodbye to relatives standing along the roadside. Whereas saying goodbye triggers off feelings of sadness, a hug could ease this. Virtues such as humanity and sympathy had been instilled in us over the centuries, but now our fate was being guided by rough men. I don't need to describe the heart-rending tears, screams and lamenting, for the scenes enacted there and then were anything but human. It is also difficult to put into words the feelings of such a heavy heart. Children were taken from their parents and turned around without a backwards glance. The soldiers and the authorities took not the slightest consideration for the elderly, the sick and the children. I can still hear the oh, so familiar chime of the church clock today. It chimed five times as we looked back one last time, with thick January snowflakes falling around us, to those we left behind and the column began to move to the end of the village.
We were loaded onto carts and drove on to the meeting point at Perjamosch. Any relatives who had their own carts could travel with them. We were kept in the school for two days while cattle wagons were prepared for our transportation. We were pushed into the wagons. After loading, the Russian soldiers bolted the wagons from outside and after a whistle, the locomotive began to steam, and the train headed off eastwards.
It was icy cold in the wagons; we could only dream of a source of heat, and so we took care of each other so as not to freeze. That helped a little. To try and picture how cold it was inside the wagons I would give as an example a bottle of drink in which the water has turned to ice.
The call of nature was provided for by a hole cut in the wooden floor boards of the wagon. Both men and women had to use this, and to create a little private space, a cover was hung up in front of it. That was the only comfort we had in our journey into the unknown.
We lived on provisions brought from home, but as these ran out hunger pangs set in. Water was replenished at the various railway stations; the different types of water were obviously responsible for upset stomachs and the most awful intestinal maladies.
After the Russian frontier in Adjud, the wagons were changed to ones for broad gauge tracks. We had to change over and travelled to Jenakijewo, 30 km (20 miles) from Stalino.
On arrival, everyone put their luggage on their backs and wended their way along the long, arduous road to the camp. It was camp number 14. The camp was in the 'red' part of the town and was a large two-storey building surrounded by barbed wire, with missing windows and uncomfortable bare iron beds with no bedding. Military guards were everywhere, eyeing us up and down and making sure no-one escaped. We were taken to the administration by Russian officers accompanied by translators.
The food was poor - morning, midday and evening was always the same cabbage soup. 700 grammes (27 ounces) of bread was handed out to everyone in the morning. That was eaten straight away, but as the hunger pangs started again, there was nothing left to calm them. This situation led to mal-nourishment and, for many, death. Our first deaths happened on 21st March 1945, the beginning of spring. It was hard to lose somebody from our trusty village community in this way.
Once we had arranged our few possessions and settled in, we began work early the following morning. We went to a factory damaged in the war, where we were to work rebuilding it. Stones and rubble were brought on conveyor belts, which took the stuff to be transported to Loren. It was hard work for us in our weak condition. We were watched by guards during work, as though we were criminals.
The work was carried out in two shifts, as the factory operated 24 hours a day. We were regarded as non-human, and even the smallest children proved this. On the way to work they would throw stones at us and call out, "Robota harascho!" (work is good).
Often our feet hurt so much that we couldn't go to work. But that didn't count; you had to have a temperature of at least 39°C to be acknowledged as sick.
Shoes torn and wet; socks the same - this is how we walked around all day long - and on top of this, it snowed all day long too, and an uncomfortable dampness seeped through our whole body. It can be of no surprise to anyone that this was not exactly good for one's health, and that anyone who survived the disaster in Russia still suffers from the consequences to this day.
We lay the wet clothes on our bed at night, slept on them, and hoped they would be dry enough in the morning to wear again. This didn't actually happen, but there was no other way.
We often burst into tears at the thought of this possibly being our home forever. But crying didn't change our wretched situation; it only unburdened our souls.
Awakened by pangs of hunger, we were glad to be able to go down to the cellar again for our cabbage soup and sour bread. Our implements were cut-down tin cans - unappetising, but adequate. So began our day.
The hygiene conditions were catastrophic. Consequently, lice soon made themselves at home on our bodies and would plague us day and night. The itching was unbearable. Rats were our constant companions too. They were around us, looking for something to eat.
Medical care was poor. There was nothing but aspirin and fresh water, so if you were ill you either had to get better on your own, or die, hard as it sounds.
There was never any talk of safety at work. There were countless accidents in the factory. Two of our women were badly injured when a Russian worker fell down from high onto the elevator and plunged into the women. The Russian died immediately.
Later, workers were needed for the collective farm and anyone sick at that time was rooted out. I belonged to this group. We were driven out on a truck and really believed we had won the lottery, as out in the fields there would be so much produce growing that we would be able to satisfy our hunger. But it turned out to be quite different.
We were unloaded there, but found nothing other than a deserted cattle shed which served as a winter shelter for the cattle. The first night, we slept on the dung heap and we really believed now that Satan was offering us his hand.
We had to build ourselves an earthen hut and cover it with branches and straw. That sounds alright, but alas, it began to rain. That was no fun. Everything around us was wet and the hope of our ever getting out in one piece gradually faded. But the medical commission decided, because of my illness, to send me back to the camp.
Until then, we had to help with the harvest on a different collective every week. You could see the hunger in our eyes, but we could only look longingly at the lovely potatoes. If you put courage before fear and managed to take a couple of potatoes with you, you had to be prepared to be caught. I can't describe in words the feeling of disgrace and shame felt. My friend was caught. She was paraded as a thief in the open square and had to spend three days in the damp prison cellar. During the day she was made to carry bricks. In the evening, I pushed covers through the hole in the cellar to keep her from freezing too much. And all that for three potatoes.
And so it went on and on until at last the great Russian medical commission arrived. We had already talked about it for a long time, but now the day had truly arrived. Now the most seriously ill people were picked out and the first transport was set up. This went directly to Romania in December 1945. The second one went via Poland to Germany. I was really very lucky and was amongst the first to return home. We travelled by train and arrived in Romania at a collective camp in Fokschan. There, we were taken care of by German soldiers who, on their part, had been deported as prisoners to Russia. We spent eight days in this camp, as our papers for the so-called journey home were finally being prepared. Our belongings were loaded onto a cattle wagon and taken to the station. There, everything was tipped out and we had to sort ourselves out. But at least we were now free. We stood there, hungry, with no travel passes for the train, and hoped somehow to be able to get to Bucharest. We managed that, and once there, we divided ourselves into two groups, as we were such a large group we could have lost sight of each other. One group arrived home via Marmarosch Sighet and the other via Craiova to Temeswar. I was amongst these. As we travelled past the many villages, we saw a shepherd with a large flock of sheep. We called out to him, "Frate, frate!" (brother, brother). It was the first sign of home and was like a healing balsam on our souls. Past Craiova, we were already closer to our familiar Temeswar. There, too, we arrived some time during the night. A truly pleasant experience; we sat on the station steps and did something useful - we combed our hair. You could tell by our clothes, no longer in the best of condition, where we had come from. That obviously stirred feelings of pity in the passers-by, and anyone who had any food on them gladly gave it to us. At 1 a.m. the train left for Hatzfeld. It was a Russian military transport and we were very lucky that it stopped in Hatzfeld, otherwise we would have been taken further on to Yugoslavia, or even further west.
Arriving in Hatzfeld, we had to wait until midnight for the next connection to Bogarosch. A compatriot met us and set off on foot to bring the joyful news of our return. Now at last it was midnight and the train set off in the direction of Bogarosch, the place from where almost a year ago we had been snatched away in the most terrible circumstances. As the train drew closer to the station, my heart jumped with so much joy, I thought it would leap out of my body.
Half the village had gathered for the reception. As the train drew in, there was a joyous reception. People wept tears of joy, but there was understandably also much lamenting as everyone in the village would have liked to have seen their loved ones again. Unfortunately for many there was no return.
Then we went to the church. We walked through the wide open church door and neared the high altar where we humbly, but thankfully, knelt. Thankful because after we had suffered so much we were now allowed to see our home again. We all sang together the famous hymn 'Grosser Gott, wir loben Dich'. Afterwards, we went home with our loved ones.
P.S. This short account is the summary of the experience of the hatred by the victors of the Second World War of all those who belonged to an ethnic minority, the Germans from the Banat in Romania. This is an attempt, even if only as a starting point, to show what really took place in huge measures. Even if the gruesome deeds done to the deported people could ever be forgiven, they will never be forgotten. And that is exactly the point of this short account.
Rosina Goschi, Frankenthal
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Families from the nearby village of Lovrin fleeing the Russians in autumn 1944 (photo from the Lovrin Heimatbuch)
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Map of the battle around Uihei and neighbouring villages in September and October 1944. Uihei lies between Sandra (Alexanderhausen) and Bulgarus (Bogarosch) on the map.