The terrible thieving in Neusiedel (by Peter Marx and Johann Schimmel, translated by Diana Lambing)

 

The little village of Neusiedel a. d. Heide, or Uihel, is one of the newest settlements on the Banat heathland. It was founded in 1843/44 by the internal migration from neighbouring villages such as Alexanderhausen, Billed, Grossjetscha, Lenauheim, Grabatz, Bogarosch and others. The inhabitants worked in agriculture and breeding livestock. The streets of our village were laid out in such a way that one could get to the neighbouring villages via the field tracks across the arable land, too. The poor, hardworking farmers of Uihel had worked very hard, as they wanted to pay off their annual debts, which unfortunately only a few farmers were able to do. The livestock had to be enlarged, especially the horse power needed to be increased for the next generation. Even though the economic growth had developed very slowly, the farmyards were often threatened by thieves.

The bands of robbers from the distant old village of Grosskomlosch was very well known. Mainly Romanians, and also many gypsies, lived in that village. Presumably they had been forcibly taken from Oltenien to Grosskomlosch already during the Turkish reign. These bands of robbers carried out their thefts within a 50 km (30 mile) radius (Grosskomlosch - Billed). In summer during the wheat harvest time these bands of robbers came with five or six wagons at night and stole the wheat sheaves from the middle of the harvested wheat fields and drove along the field tracks with their fully-laden wagons back to Grosskomlosch. They particularly specialised in horse theft. They also stole at night from the house parlours which many farmhouses kept as their showroom and where bedding, linen, towels, best clothes, woven hemp cloth and sacks were kept under the bottom straw mattress on the beds. Also lambs wool, or provisions made with pigs fat, and other useful items, and they also searched the cupboards for money and gold jewellery. Especially affected were the farmhouses which lay at the edge of the village. At the beginning of 1900, the robbers tried to break into house number 43, which is the last house in the road which leads to Bogarosch and where the families of Adam Nothum and Johann Nothum lived. The thieves had brought crowbars and bricklaying clamps along. The dogs barked very loudly and both brothers were woken from their sleep and managed to drive the thieves away. One of the robbers was later captured by the police and he was taken to the scene of the crime and had to show, during the day, how he had broken in at night. In 1910 a horse was stolen from the stable of house number 27a where Peter Bednar (Findei) lived and which was the last house in the middle street, next to the common pasture land. In summer, Peter Bednar slept in the outside gangway where you could hear everything that went on in the yard. He lay awake in bed, very still, and heard several robbers in the yard heading for the horses' stable. But one robber stood with an axe in his hand in front of the bed so that he could immediately strike Peter Bednar on the head if he woke up. So Peter Bednar didn't stir and kept on snoring as though he was fast asleep. The horse was led out of the stable and through the barn into the garden. There, the thieves broke a large hole in the fence and led the horse with her foal across the common and to their wagon. As the thieves drove by the animal cemetery (knackers yard), the foal couldn't keep up. So the robbers killed the foal and threw it into a wheat field. It wasn't until the wheat was harvested that the skeleton of the foal was found. Peter Bednar only got up from his bed once the thieves had gone. He ran to his relative, Adam Nothum, across the garden, and in his horse and cart they drove after the robbers, but they couldn't catch them in the dark. Two months later, Peter Bednar found out that it had been the Grosskomlosch robbers. The police drove to Grosskomlosch with Peter Bednar, to the stable where the thieves kept many horses hidden. Unfortunately he did not recognise his horse any more. One horse was similar to his but it had a white fleck on its head. As his horse had no white fleck on its head, Peter Bednar could not take the horse back home. The thieves had been so devious, they had burned a section of hair on the head, and now white hair had grown from the burned spot. The thieves had sold the stolen horse on further in the Serbian villages.

In 1916, the thieves broke into the same house a second time. At the time, Peter Bednar had been called up for military service. This time, the thieves stole two horses. One of the thieves broke through the front door of the house with a garden hoe and injured Bednar's wife on her chest. The woman, in fear, called out for her husband, "Peter, Peter!" and her two daughters, Eva and Magdalena, also called for their father. One of the thieves answered in broken german, "We know where your father is!" (in the First World War). The thieves also stole food, flour, ham, sides of bacon, sausages, hens and geese from many farmhouses.

In 1921, Peter Mettler's house, number 51, was broken into. It, too, was during summer and the wheat sheaves were already in the barn. The dogs began to bark very loudly. Peter Mettler woke up and heard a noise in the barn. He quickly called his brother, Josef, and ran to the neighbours for help. Together, they headed for the barn. The thieves ran out into the garden. One thief, who was already in the stable, wanted to creep through the hole for the manure and hide in the muck heap. Peter Mettler got out faster from the muck heap and stood in front of the entrance. He had a manure fork in his hand and when the robber poked his head out of the heap of manure, Peter Mettler struck the thief on the head with all his might and he lay there dead. The neighbours went to the front of the yard and waited to see what the robbers would do now. The robbers who had run into the garden came back half an hour later to the barn and took their dead comrade with them. The villagers were afraid that the robbers would take revenge and possibly set the wheat sheaves alight. They kept a double watch alongside the night watchman until the wheat harvest was ready for threshing. Peter Mettler was allowed to be the first that year to thresh the wheat in his yard.

In 1922, the robbers were stealing in the parish of Billed. It so happened that there was a huntsman who owned a rifle living in this particular house. The robbers would sit in a restaurant all afternoon until evening, playing cards. At night they would go after their booty. They climbed up a long ladder onto the roof, removed some roof tiles and climbed along the floor of the roof. The huntsman lay in wait and when the thief was standing halfway down the ladder with a sack, he shot at the thief who fell down the ladder, dead. The body was buried in Billed cemetery. For two years, the relatives of the thief would drive through Uihel towards Billed cemetery in their cart. One night, the robbers dug up the body from Billed cemetery and took it home. The old people of Uihel would sit on benches in front of their houses on summer evenings and as they watched the strange carts pass by on the road to Bogarosch, they'd say, "There are the robbers from Komlosch". Once the robbers had to describe how their companions had died, the horse thefts stopped. The farmhouses had iron grilles with a lock made by the village blacksmith, which were put up in front of the stables. From1930 to 1944, only poultry was stolen from the farmyards. The chickens climbed the trees to roost and slept mostly in the open. The robbers were mainly gypsies from Pesak or Grossjetscha. During the day they would come by, selling horseradish and herbs to the villagers. They also collected any dead chickens. So they used those opportunities to check out any booty for their night raids. After 1946, a couple of Romanian colonists stole food from the German families' lofts.

There was a reduction in thieving in later years as they were allocated fields themselves which they could harvest. Our grandparents experienced these thefts and related the stories to their own children.

 

Narrated by Peter Marx, born 1920, and edited by Johann Schimmel, born 1931.

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