Deportation to the Soviet Union
by Anton Neidenbach
From the book 'Grossjetscha im Banat' - translated by Diana Lambing
The 23rd of August 1944 heralded a difficult time for the German minority in Romania, and thereby also for our compatriots in Grossjetscha. There were a whole lot of big changes in our lives economically, socially and culturally. On August 23rd, 1944, Romania declared war on Germany. From that day on, people noticed that a new era had begun in our Swabian villages. It is not intended to relate personal experiences or feelings here - only to put down in writing the facts as they were seen and experienced.
The arrest of German men in the Swabian villages began already around the 10th of September, 1944. During the night of the 14th/15th September, members of the Romanian border troops fled from the direction of Hatzfield and through our village. Then on September 15th towards 4 p.m., the first German soldiers arrived. It was the advance of German troops from Yugoslavia towards Temeswar. First, members of the Behren group came through our village and then the 4th SS-Polizei-Panzergrenadierdivision. Temeswar was not taken; Soviet troops had moved in on September 17th. The German troops pushed forward as far as the outskirts of Temeswar and stayed for approximately three weeks in Western Banat; this enabled many Banat Swabians to escape. However, only a few families fled from our village. For around three weeks, the front was between Grossjetscha and Kleinbetschkerek. At the beginning of October 1944, the German troops pulled back and our area was occupied by the Russians. They only stayed in our village for one day.
Autumn 1944 passed by and everyone waited to see what would happen. First, we heard the thunder of cannon in the battle for Hungary and later, when this had died down, we heard other sad things. There was talk about Germans from Yugoslavia being taken to Russia. Nobody really believed that such a fate would await us too. Nobody knew that our destiny had already been decided. It had already been discussed in official places during the autumn of 1944. We, the German minority, were to carry out reconstruction and reparation work too, as we were deemed 'guilty' of a war which we had not wanted.
On the 14th of January 1945 it became reality. The village was surrounded by soldiers and very early in the morning groups of them went from house to house and led women and men to the new school, where they were held prisoner. All 18 - 35-year old women and 17 - 45-year old men were taken. Romanian and Russian soldiers, accompanied by a representative from the town hall, had lists with names of everyone who fell into these age groups; they were all taken. The only exceptions were women with children under a year old, pregnant women and the seriously ill. The Romanian soldiers came from Hatzfeld during the night of the 14th of January and brought the lists with them. So we can see that this action had been planned for some time. The only criteria for deportation was to be of ethnic German origin and fit to work. Some tried to hide in order to avoid deportation, but only a few succeeded as the soldiers were very thorough in their searches. On January 19th 1945, the first Grossjetschaers were taken to Hatzfeld and on January 22nd the first transport set off from there. A total of 312 people from our community were deported. The first transport went to Dnjepropetrovsk and Dnjeproderjinsk and our people in these camps worked mostly in the factories. Those villagers picked up later were also taken to Hatzfeld, locked in a farmhouse overnight and then taken to Perjamosch by sleigh or horse and cart. There, they were held at the convent until January 26th and then put into wagons. This transport went to Wolodarka in the Donpass; there were two camps there, too - one in Wolodarka and one 9 km (5 miles) away. The remaining people were then deported to the Urals. The journey from home to their final destinations were made in cattle wagons. There were usually 32 people in each wagon, or 40 - 45 in the larger wagons. There was a small wood-burning stove in the middle of the wagon. In one corner of the wagon a hole had been cut out on the floor and a bottomless bucket placed over it - this was the toilet. The journey lasted between three and four weeks.
Whilst the people of our village were still reeling from the shock of having to say goodbye, the deportees travelled through the cold Russian winter towards an unknown destiny. There were so many tears, so much sorrow during those days that even thinking about it today compels us to silence.
Upon arrival, they were put into the camps which were surrounded by two rows of barbed wire and the familiar watchtower on each corner. Organising work was quickly done. As mentioned earlier, most people who were at Dnjepropetrovsk and Dnjeproderjinsk camps worked in the factories. Those at Donpass worked mostly in the coal mines. In the beginning, we still had food brought along with us from back home; every one of us clung to the hope that an end to the war would bring freedom for us, too. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Everyone who remained able-bodied had to stay for five years. Camp life was hard. We were driven to and from work. We received our food ration. After 1948, we were given more freedom and the food improved. During the five years in the camps, and on the return journey home, 49 people from Grossjetscha died, which gives a death rate of 15.7% of all deportees. This was an incredibly high number. In 1945, four men died; in 1946 there were nine deaths; 1947 saw the greatest sacrifice of life - 30 compatriots died. In 1948 there were four deaths and in 1949 two lives were sacrificed.
As the death rate of 15.7% for the age range between 17 and 45 cannot be compared at all to a normal lifespan, it must be clear to everyone what sort of living conditions had to be endured. The cause of death in most cases was mal-nourishment, the result of lice infestation and other illnesses. Heavy labour, mal-nourishment, the cold - all these led to the many lives sacrificed, but also the fact that an increasing number became incapable of work. For this reason, some people were sent home already in the autumn of 1945. There were only a few, but at least they could bring back news from the camps to the families back home. During the autumn of 1946 and the spring of 1947, more and more people became unable to work. This time, they weren't sent home, but to the then Soviet zone of Germany. Most people worked there for a while and then made their own way back home. This journey home was often fraught with difficulties. Why those supposedly returning home were instead sent to Germany can probably be explained by the Potsdam Agreement of 2nd August 1945 which planned that all Germans from the Eastern bloc should be deported. However, Romania is not mentioned in this decree. The sick and unfit for work were sent home in 1948, too, but this was directly back to Romania. At the end of November 1949 the last of the deportees returned home. It was a bleak winter's evening, but there was elation in many family homes. At the same time, however, there were many houses in the village where no lights burned, where it was silent; this was where no-one needed to wait any longer - they knew that their loved ones were resting in a solitary grave somewhere far away. More tears.
The amount of sorrow and misery suffered during the years between 1945 and 1949 can never be put into words.
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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.