Batschka's Trail of Tears
der Tito-Partisanen 1944-1948: Dokumentation”
Oesterreichische Historiker-Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer Kaernten und Steiermark, Graz
Translated by Henry Fischer
The systematic liquidation program of the
Danube Swabian population in the Batschka closely followed the parameters of the
governmental districts into which the Batschka was divided for administrative
1. North and Middle Batschka
2. South and South West Batschka
3. West and North Batschka
Each of these
districts had a central Slave Labor Camp, countless “working stations”, and
internment and concentration camps for those unfit for work. The original
internment and concentration camps were closed as the inmates were sent to the
chief district internee camp.
North and Middle Batschka consisted of the
communities in and around Kula and Subotica and the villages scattered in the
remaining eastern Batschka.
South and South West Batschka covered the
areas around Neusatz and Palanka.
West and North West Batschka consisted of
the regions of Hodschag, Apatin and Sombor.
The South and South
“…people were treated as if they were even worse than animals.”
Neusatz was the capital of the Vojvodina.
In October 1944 the Partisans arrested many of the Danube Swabians and forced
them from their homes. For some time they were held at the navy barracks on the
Danube and at night groups of them were led away and shot in the vicinity of the
“Battle Bridge” over the Danube. The well-known engineer Wilhelm Weiss and the
lawyer Leopold Veith died in this way. The rest of the Danube Swabian population
was taken to a nearby concentration camp. Partisans and functionaries took
possession of the homes and property of the expelled Swabians. Many died in the
concentration camp and among the first victims was Peter Weinert, a Roman Catholic
priest from Palanka.
concentration camp was located in the swamps along the Danube. Although there
were always two thousand Danube Swabians in the camp, there were only two
barracks. One was for women and children and the other for the men. The
conditions were unsanitary. When the Danube River rose, the areas around the
barracks were under water. It was especially bad for the women. More than seven
hundred of them were located in one room that was meant to accommodate one
hundred. They slept on boards in two tiers above one another. They could not
wash and were pressed together and could not stretch out. For many of them, this
would last for three years. There were no windows. It was always dark and damp
in the barrack. This became a breeding ground for tuberculosis. Pest and insects
were everywhere and the lice viciously attacked the people. Many of the children
bore open wounds caused by them and their own scratching.
fences surrounded the barracks. Heavily armed Partisans were on guard and
threatened anyone with death if they got within two meters of the fence. There
were only two brick buildings in the camp. One was a pigsty for the swine of the
Minister of the Interior for the Vojvodina and the other was a “bunker” for camp
inmates who were being punished. Up to twenty persons, men, women and children
were locked up in this room that was three by one meters, with no windows or
ventilation. The swine had the freedom of the camp and messed up and rooted up
The camp in
Neusatz operated like a central camp. Even though it consisted of only two
barracks, a pigsty and bunker about half of the Danube Swabians living in the area
passed through it. When the vast majority in another camp died, it was closed
down and the survivors were sent to Neusatz. At one time, over one hundred Lower
Steiermark Germans were sent here as well as many Austrian citizens who had fallen
into the hands of the Partisans. Many others were brought here for punishment.
One of the basic tenets of the liquidation operation was the separation of
families and ordered that no contact be possible between family members. When
mothers were apprehended who had been forced to abandon their children, or older
children who tried to reach a parent were caught, they were sent to Neusatz for
punishment in the bunker, and were then forced to remain in the Neusatz camp.
All of those who
had been deemed “dangerous” by the authorities were consigned to Neusatz. All the
intellectuals who survived the mass shootings and executions were ordered to
Neusatz from the camps where they had been imprisoned. The majority of the German
Roman Catholic priests had been liquidated. The surviving priests were scattered
in various camps. There were fourteen Roman Catholic priests and one Lutheran
pastor kept in custody. All them were dragged off from their communities and
brought to Neusatz. There was also a veterinarian and several university
professors who were also brought here to the camp.
concentration camp at Betscherek was shut down on May 22, 1947 and its inmates
were to go to St. Georgen, the authorities found an excuse a few days before to
lock up five Danube Swabian teenage girls and three married women. They were
brought to the main office during the night and were forced to strip naked in the
presence of the camp functionaries and the police department. They butted out
their cigarettes on their breasts, tore off their pubic hair and made fun of
them. They forced the menstrual pad of one girl into her mouth. Following this
night of mistreatment all eight of them were returned to the camp, but four of
them managed to escape during the transfer of the camp inmates and somehow made it
to Austria. Their fear of going through a nightmare like that again, was stronger
than their fear of death. The other four women were brought to Neusatz. Here
they were imprisoned in the bunker to make sure they would not escape like the
The inmates who
were capable of working were sent from the camp to do forced labor. As a result
almost nine hundred of the inmates were sent to the forced labor camp at Mitrowitz
in Syrmien, where they had to work on railway construction for a long period. The
women in the Mitrowitz camp had their hair shorn, the sick were marched out into
the night, were shot and their bodies thrown into the Sava River. Only three
hundred of them survived their stay in Mitrowitz and were returned to Neusatz.
At dawn all of
the camp inmates had to leave the barracks and men and women were separated for
roll call that could last for hours. After that, the slave “dealers” arrived and
chose the men and women they wanted to “rent” for the day or a longer period.
Eighty Dinar a day was the price and many of the young women and teenage girls
were used for sexual purposes. Any who refused to co-operate were beaten and
imprisoned in the bunker without food or water. Often the young women were sent
to keep house for the Communist Party officials and local authorities. They too,
could be used “for any purpose”. This became one of he major reasons that young
women took terrible risks in attempts to escape from the camps.
The food in the
camp was terrible and never enough. It consisted basically of clear hot water
passing as soup and a small piece of bread. When there was bread.
spends a great deal of time dealing with this issue and lengths to which people
went to get food.)
At the beginning
of 1947 at the order of the Minister of the Interior of the Vojvodina all of the
aged and all those unable to work were sent to the camp at Gakowa, close to the
Hungarian border. For one thousand Dinar per person escape was possible by
joining what was called “white transports” across the border to Hungary led by
local guides who were actually in the pay of the camp authorities who received
their “cut” and became rich in the process. There were nights when over four
hundred Danube Swabian inmates made it across the frontier in this manner and then
had to make their way through Hungary to sanctuary in Austria.
brutality continued at the camp in Neusatz, especially in terms of the young women
and teenage girls and it was simply looked upon as the order of the day. All of
this took place with the full knowledge of the highest government officials and
One of the men
from the camp somehow managed to escape and out of anger the camp commander
threatened collective punishment for the remaining inmates. It was in the month
of January in 1947 and it was a frigid winter day. An ice and snowstorm raged
outside and the commander ordered the guards to drive the inmates out of their
barracks and out into the storm and made them stand in one place on pain of
beating if they moved. In the beginning of February in 1948 the inmates were all
denied water for one full day. These tortures were not only visited upon the men
in the camp at that time, but also the three hundred surviving women and one
hundred children, as well as fifty-seven Austrians and Reich German citizens who
had been brought to the camp.
Because of the
ongoing brutality and mistreatment, Dr. Wilhlem Neuner one of the inmates in the
camp sent a petition to the Yugoslavian Prime Minister in Belgrade. As a result a
representative of the Ministry of the Interior in Belgrade came and carried out an
investigation. In the presence of the representative Dr. Neuner complained that
in spite of the end of the war, Danube Swabians were still being gruesomely dealt
with and for no reason at all were still being shot or executed. The
representative did not attempt to dispute Dr. Neuner’s contention that over twenty
thousand Danube Swabian civilians had been liquidated in Yugoslavia in the camps
set up for that purpose. The doctor was informed he was in no position to place
himself as the judge and jury over the policies of the Yugoslavian State and if he
persisted in such charges the situation of himself and the other Danube Swabians
would only become more gruesome and the government of Yugoslavia would not allow
international opinion or action to keep them from their policies. On the next
day, February 16, 1948 Dr. Neuner was thrown into the bunker but only after they
had first tossed in the corpse of a pig that had died a few days before already in
a state of decomposition.
After 1948 and
the gradual closing down of the camps, the inmates at Neusatz could volunteer to
work in the coal mines in Serbia or work on the newly created collective farms.
Those who were unwilling to volunteer as ordered spent time in the bunker, until
they were ready to go. In this way the camps were emptied and eventually closed.
In the spring of 1948 with most of the men gone, it was time to close the Neusatz
There were still
four hundred inmates in the camp as they began to tear down the barracks over
their heads and sell off the lumber, meanwhile resettling the prisoners to the
nearby prisoner of war camp. There they joined the families of intellectuals and
other professionals from the Lower Steiermark, some one hundred persons mostly
women and children. The fourteen Roman Catholic priests and the one Lutheran
pastor were also there. On March 29, 1948 all of these others were taken to the
train station in Neusatz and loaded in two cattle cars and then securely locked
before setting off without any water or nutrition until they arrived in Spielfeld
in Austria. Those who remained behind were taken to the camp in Karlsdorf in the
Banat shortly afterwards.
was a mixed language community, and from the very first days the Partisans
mistreated and beat the Danube Swabian population at will, especially the women.
There were individuals who were singled out for torture and execution. On
December 4th all of the Danube Swabians were driven out of their homes
and force-marched to Jarek. They numbered about eight hundred persons. All of
the able bodied were kept back in Futok in a labor camp set up in the local hemp
factory and were taken to various places from there to work. Other slave laborers
were brought from other areas in the vicinity later. The slave labor camp in
Futok was closed down in January of 1947, and the survivors were sent to the camp
“The First Hunger Mill”
Danube Swabian village of Jarek was almost totally evacuated by the retreating
German army in September of 1944. On December 4th, the residents of
Futok were the first arrivals in the camp and included women, children and the
aged. In a very short period of time Danube Swabians from all areas of southern
Batschka were interned here in Jarek. They came from: Palanka, Katsch, Temerin,
Tschnrug, Gajdobra, Bukin, Novoselo, Schowe, Torschau, Plavna, Wekerledorf,
Obrowatz, Batsch, and others including some of the evacuees who returned to
Yugoslavia after the war to return “home” at Tito’s invitation.
Many of the
people driven on foot to Jarek, never arrived there. Men, women and children who
could not keep up with the marching columns were beaten and often killed. Groups
that could not go on were told to wait for wagons to pick them up and after the
others had moved on they were shot. Many of these victims were children. Many of
them died in the vicinity of Gloschan and experienced the brutality and sadism of
the Partisans. The cruel treatment and lack of food at Jarek led to the deaths of
thousands. In the first eight days after the camp was opened there was no food at
all. Corn bread and watery soup was the staple fare of the camp afterwards. The
most terrible time for the inmates and countless children was the fall of 1945 and
the spring of 1946 when there was no wood for heat or cooking, no salt was
available. Soon large numbers of deaths began to occur. The greatest losses were
from among the Danube Swabians from Bulkes another one of the Lutheran villages.
When they first arrived they numbered nine hundred and two persons, and after a
few months seven hundred and eighty-eight had perished.
In the summer
the sick and those unable to work any longer who were inmates in the forced labor
camps in the south Batschka, Syrmien and Slavonia, both men and women were brought
to Jarek where most of them died in a very short period of time. Twelve men were
occupied day and night burying the dead. Every day there were ten to twenty
children among the dead. They went from house to house with a wagon collecting
the dead who had perished overnight. The bodies were placed in mass graves. At
first they erected primitive crosses and names were written on them. One day all
of the crosses were collected and burned and it was forbidden to erect a cross in
the future. Those who left the camp in search of food were shot if apprehended.
One woman sought to visit a friend’s grave and begged the Partisan guarding the
cemetery to do so. He shot her as she prayed at the graveside.
In the spring of
1945 there were almost seventeen thousand persons in the Jarek camp. In spite of
the large number of deaths over the summer months of 1945, by August 16th
there were eighteen thousand inmates. And although vast numbers of Danube
Swabians were brought to Jarek after that by the time the camp was shut down in
the spring of 1946, the remaining eight thousand were loaded into cattle cars
during Holy Week and sent Gakowa and Kruschevilje. In all, almost fifteen
thousands people died in Jarek. In one year alone, six thousand four hundred
perished. Among the dead were three thousand seven hundred children under the age
of eight years. Included among the dead were Pastor Franz Klein who served the
Lutheran congregation in Katsch, Professor Dr. Jakob Mueller of Neusatz, the
physician Dr. Michael Koepfer from Obrowatz, and leaders of the Swabian Cultural
Union, Karl Mahler of Bulkes and Josef Bolz of Neu-Schowe.
The transport to
Gakowa and Kruschevlje traveled for two days during which time the cattle cars
remained locked and no one received any food or water and no one was able to
Bulkes was an
entirely Lutheran Danube Swabian community with a population of three thousand.
When the Red Army arrived in October 1944, only sixty-five families had been
evacuated by the retreating German and Hungarian troops. The first persons to be
liquidated by the Partisans were the local intellectuals and leaders of the
community. They were arrested in their homes and taken to Palanka and were
murdered there by the Partisans. On November 17th 1944 the Partisans
took all of the men from the ages of 16 to 60 years from their homes and
force-marched them to Batschka Palanka. There were one hundred and fifty-six in
total. Approximately two hundred men from Bukin, and just as many from the
entirely Danube Swabian village of Gajdobra were brought with them. They were
imprisoned in the local high school and on the 18th of November they
were force marched to the forced labor camp in Neustaz. The Partisans, who
accompanied them, killed all of those who could not keep up. Six men from Bulkes
were such victims, fourteen from Bukin and five from Gajdobra.
From the Neusatz
camp these men were later sent to Mitrowitz in Syrmien and worked on railway
construction. The work there was difficult and hard. Of the thirty-six craftsmen
from Bulkes only three would survive. A large number of other men from Bulkes,
Gajdobra and Bukin were sent as slave labourer to the coal mines in Vrdnik, where
almost all of them perished.
On December 4,
1944 the remaining men in Bulkes, there were only eighty-six, were driven on foot
to the slave labor camp at Palanka. The older men from Bukin and Gajdobra joined
them there, and most of these older men died.
The young women
and teenage girls of Bulkes were deported to the Soviet Union in three groups. On
December 18th there were one hundred and fifty. An additional eighty
were taken on Christmas day, December 25th and finally one hundred and
twenty began the way of sorrows on December 28th. Not one of them
would return to their home community.
On April 15,
1945 all of the remaining Danube Swabian population in Bulkes were driven out of
their homes. The community now consisted of old women, children and a few of the
older men completely unfit for work. For two days and nights they were forced to
camp out in the meadows. Then they were marched to the camp in Jarek. Their
pastor, Karl Eichler was among them and he was constantly abused and mistreated,
but he was one of the one hundred and fourteen survivors after a few months in
Jarek of the nine hundred inhabitants of Bulkes who had arrived in the camp.
In southern Batschka the Partisans
quickly took over the administration and governance of the area after the entry
and occupation by the Russian troops, and established a central forced labor camp
in Neusatz and Palanka and established similar camps in those areas where there
were concentrations of Danube Swabian populations. Both men and women were taken
and put to work that winter doing some of the hardest and heaviest work. For only
a portion of the Danube Swabian population had been evacuated. The percentages
differ from district to district. In Bulkes only a small portion of the
population fled, while in Jarek only a few families remained behind, in Towarisch
only one family stayed. With the initiation of the Military Government by the
Partisans in October the mass executions and deportations of the Danube Swabians
beautiful community in the southern Batschka was the large town of Palanka-
(Batschka -Palanka) on the Danube. It consisted of three communities: Batschka
Palanka, Neu Palanka and Alt Palanka (Old and New Palanka). Batcka Palanka and
Neu Palanka were entirely Danube Swabian in terms of their population, while Alt
Palanka counted Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks and Danube Swabians among its
inhabitants. The total population of the tri-town was over sixteen thousand. The
Danube Swabians were the economic mainstay of the communities. It was the center
of German culture, commercial and economic life for the overwhelmingly Danube
Swabian population in the vicinity in: Gajdobra, Wekerledorf, Bulkes, Bukin,
Novoselo, Obrawatz, Towarisch and Tscheb. In the whole area there were
approximately thirty thousand Danube Swabians forming a very large minority among
the other nationalities.
Partisans came to power in October 1944, the most influential Danube Swabians and
some Hungarians were arrested, gruesomely tortured and killed. Later in October
1944, seventeen Danube Swabian youth aged from fourteen to nineteen were taken
from their homes. They were chained together in the local high school and then
driven on foot into the forests north of the town where they were forced to dig a
huge hole. When the task was done they were shot. The Partisans then tossed
their bodies into the pit. The shallow graves were later disturbed by pigs that
unearthed some of the bodies.
On October 26,
1944 another one hundred men were arrested. They were taken to the local court
building and were terribly abused. In order that the screams of the tortured men
could not be heard outside, radio speakers were turned up to their highest
volume. On October 27th the survivors of the day of terror were shot
in the same forest as the young teenage boys. Among those shot was the Roman
Catholic priest Karl Unterreiner.
On November 7th,
1944 there were one hundred and eighty-four Danube Swabian men taken from their
homes. They were first imprisoned and beaten at the high school. At 2:00pm the
next day they were driven on foot out of the community. They were to do forced
labor in the coalmines in Vrdnik in Syrmien. As they proceeded on their march
eastwards from Alt Palanka the Partisans led them to the Danube to be loaded on
boats. The boats were then set adrift into the river current. The Partisans
tossed men into the cold river and shot them like target practice. Others were
stabbed and thrown into the river to drown. The survivors were then force-marched
on the other side of the river. When they reached Neschtin the Partisans took
away everything the men still had. Many had to take off their shoes and give them
to the Partisans. They marched barefoot through the snow banks. The road was
rocky and many cut and bruised their feet. But whoever could not keep up with the
column was shot. In the night the sorrowful column arrived in Susek in Syrmien.
Here again many of them were tortured and beaten. Three of them, including a
young boy were delirious when they were finally killed. As the march continued,
six more men were killed who could not continue barefoot through the snow. At
Rakowatz, several men too weak from beatings to go on were shot. In the evening
of the second day the survivors arrived at the coalmines in Vdrnik. Many of them
would die there.
all of the remaining Danube Swabian men from sixteen to sixty years of age were
arrested. Most of the Danube Swabian men from the neighboring villages were also
brought to Palanka. All of the assembled men were driven on foot to the slave
labor camp at Neusatz. Many of those who could not keep up on the march were
shot. The old Roman Catholic priest Peter Weinert was on the march and died at
the Neusatz camp. The pastor of Neu Palanka, Stefan Mesarock-Mueller was led on
foot towards the Hungarian border and was killed somewhere along the way.
One woman from
Palanka reports: “I could not flee at the time of the great disturbances on
November 14, 1944 because my mother was ill and my child was very young. The
local Serbian population assured us they would protect us from the Partisans in
thankfulness for our help to them during the German occupation. With the arrival
of the Partisans, law and order came to an end, as plundering and murder were the
order of the day. Danube Swabians were being killed and beaten all over the
town. No one knew if he or she would be next. The merchant Joseph Hauswirth was
killed in front of his wife because he could not produce the amount of sugar the
Partisans demanded. The watchmaker Ladislaus Pressl was killed because he could
not produce enough gold watches to suit them. The wife of the land-owning noble,
Lajos Reis was dragged through the streets by the hair and after gruesome torture
she was slowly killed because she had sought to hide with a Serbian family.
Wilhelm Wagner sought to work together with the local Serbs when the Hungarian
officials were evacuated, and his efforts to maintain order were supported by the
Serbian population. When the Partisans arrived he was arrested and day after day
he was systematically tortured and finally killed.
afterwards all of the remaining Danube Swabian men were assembled and had to march
to work in the slave labor camps in Serbia. Some of these who survived reported
than many died on the way. Karl Csernvenyi was beaten during the crossing of the
Danube, was stabbed and thrown off the bridge and drowned. His brother Julius had
an even more gruesome death. His hands were both broken, his eyes were put out,
his nostrils slit, many of his teeth were knocked out, strips of skin were cut
from his body, his penis was cut off and stuck in his mouth…
But one day the
entire population had to assemble in the streets of our beloved town. We stood in
the rain all night and marched to Jarek in a march of death for the next sixty
kilometers. We were forced to march quickly and we soon abandoned our baggage.
Shut-ins, cripples and the sick stayed behind and were beaten or shot to death.
Infants and toddlers lay with the bodies of their dead grandmothers on the
roadways along with the grandfathers. The sixty kilometer stretch of road was the
site of hundreds of corpses.”
Novoselo was one of the oldest of the
Danube Swabian settlements in the Batschka and they compromised its entire
population of some three thousand. The actions against the Danube Swabians began
in the fall of 1944.
The first action
was the arrest and murder of the doctor, Joseph Fath. He had two sons, both of
whom were taken to concentration camps and died there. The youngest was Erwin and
he was fifteen years old and was brutally killed by the Partisans at the Palanka
On November 19,
1944 all men from the ages of sixteen to sixty years were taken to Palanka. For
several days they were imprisoned in the assembly hall of the high school. The
men were from Wekerledorf and seventy men from Plavna accompanied them. In all
they numbered about two hundred men. They were brutally tortured and some for no
reason at all were shot. The survivors were driven to the camp at Neusatz on
November 24th. They had to march the forty-two kilometers while their
Partisan guards rode in wagons and tortured, maimed and beat them at will. They
shot all of the men who could not keep up. Nine men from Novoselo died in this
way. In a group of nine hundred assembled Danube Swabian men at the camp, only
forty-five were alive when they were brought back to Neusatz. Many of them were
then sent to Mitrowitz in Syrmien.
At Christmas the
young women and teenage girls were deported to the Soviet Union, and then during
Holy Week the rest of the residents of Novoselo were chased out of their homes and
sent to one of the various forced labor camps or the concentration camp at Jarek.
In the mixed language village of Obrowatz
right after the take over by the Yugoslavian officials, thirty-four of the Danube
Swabian villagers, including married and unmarried young women were shot for no
apparent reason. Two of the leading Serbian villagers attempted to prevent the
shootings. As a result of these attempts to protect their Danube Swabian
villagers, the Partisans killed the two Serbs as well.
doctor, Michael Koepfer who was well known and loved by the Serbian villagers was
brutally abused by “foreign” Partisans and sent to the concentration camp at Jarek
where he later died.
The men of the
village were dragged off to the labor camp at Neusatz or other camps in the
vicinity. At the beginning of 1945, the young girls and women were deported to
Russia, and the old women and children were taken to Jarek and the vast majority
of them perished there.
A resident of
Obrowatz writes, “A few days after the Russian and Bulgarian troops withdrew, a
very difficult time was ahead for the Danube Swabian population as the Partisans
undertook their brutal reign of terror that began with killings. Some of the
Partisans were local Serbs. On November 21, 1944 the Partisans confiscated all
Danube Swabian property and we lost all rights of citizenship. But by then the
Partisans had already taken the lives of forty-two persons: thirty-four Danube
Swabians, six Hungarians and two Serbs.”
began on October 30, 1944. On that day three women were shot. What was their
crime? The oldest was eighty-four years and crippled after a stroke, another was
her daughter married to the merchant, Franz Reinhardt who had fled to Germany, and
the third was their servant girl. Franz had hidden some food before he fled and
the Partisans found that. That was the crime for which the three women were
executed in the courtyard of the town hall. The next shootings took place on
November 3rd and continued all month. The last known date for such
“actions” was November 24th, involving mostly men but also some women.
This community was the birthplace of Dr.
Jakob Bleyer the future leader of the Swabians in their attempts at preserving
their Swabian identity in Hungary following the First World War.
On November 9,
1944 twenty Danube Swabian men were taken from their homes. They were to be taken
to the coalmines in Vrdnik in Syrmien to do forced labor, to replace many of those
who were killed on their way there from Batschka -Palanka. From the outset of the
march from Tscheb the Partisans chose the two youngest men in the group and for no
apparent reason shot them on the spot. The other eighteen were badly treated all
of the way to Vrdnik. Like the men from Palanka their shoes were taken from them
and most of their clothing in the bitter winter cold. After the two-day forced
march they reached Vrdnik where two died soon after.
from Tscheb were sent to the camp at Neusatz in early December. Again some of
them were shot on the way unable to keep up with the others. Most of the others
died in the labor camps.
At New Year’s the
women and teenage girls were deported to Russia. On June 2, 1945 the remaining
population, women, the elderly and children were chased out of their homes and
force-marched to the concentration camp at Jarek.
In the village of
Towarisch, Danube Swabians accounted for about one third of the population. They
were farmers and Roman Catholics. The rest of the inhabitants were Serbs and
Orthodox. In the
fall of 1944, as the Russians were advancing across the Tisza River and the
Hungarian army was leaving the Roman Catholic priest assembled the Swabians after
mass and encouraged them to leave and join the German army that was evacuating to
Most of the Danube Swabians followed the
priest’s advice and under his leadership left their homes. Only ten families
remained. They did not believe they had anything to fear from the Partisans.
Another family who had turned back when the evacuation column crossed the Danube
later joined them. But by now the new Yugoslavian authorities were in power in
Towarisch. Their first order of the day was the liquidation of the Danube Swabian
All ten families
and the returnees were taken from their homes. They were forced to march to the
limits of the village and dig a large pit. All the men, women, children and
elderly were bound together and had to walk beside the pit and were shot. They
thought that they had exterminated the total Swabian population and left the mass
grave open. It was to be filled in the next morning by some other people. The
returnee family was among the victims. As the shots had leveled rows of people
bound together one woman was not hit but had fallen into the grave with the
others. She was tied to her dead husband. For hours she remained under the
corpses of others. As night came, she was able to free herself from her fetters
and crawled out of the grave into the night. By dawn she reached Bukin where she
had relations and sought a haven. Later she was apprehended for being a “German”
and was carried off. She was sent to the Jarek concentration camp.
During Holy Week
of 1945 all of the Danube Swabian communities in the region had been depopulated
of their inhabitants with the children, the elderly and women in various
concentration camps and the men and able bodied women in the forced labor camps.
All of them camps in which large numbers of them would perish.
The community lies close to the Danube and
the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants were Serbo-Croatian and the Danube
Swabians were a small minority. In the fall of 1944, some seventy men were taken
into custody and removed to Palanka and from there to various slave labor camps.
The other able bodied persons in Plavna were sent to slave labor in various places
in the next weeks and months. In the summer of 1945 men were brought from the
camp in Sombor on foot to work in the hemp factory as slave labor. Because of the
lack of food, long and heavy work many died of disease. These men were mostly
from Gakowa and Stanischtsch.
of the Danube Swabians in Plavna is best expressed in the life story of one of the
children, who at the age of seven arrived alone in Salzburg, Austria on Christmas
Day in 1948. She tells the story of the five previous years in this way:
were both deported on Christmas’ Eve in 1944. My grandmother told me that they
had been taken to Russia. I remained at home alone with my grandmother. Then
they also came for my grandmother. Later she told me that they had taken her to
Kolut where she was forced to work. As my grandmother was being taken away she
begged our neighbors to take me to Batsch where we had relatives. But soon the
Danube Swabians in Batsch were on the agenda of the Partisans and the relatives
who had taken me in, took me along with them to Jarek and its concentration camp.
But soon I was almost alone again as my aunt and uncle were taken from Jarek to do
labor elsewhere and they would never return. Because so many had already died in
Jarek, we were all brought to Gakowa.
working in Kolut discovered somehow that I had survived through an old woman in
Plavna and that I was in Gakowa. She came to Gakowa at night and was able to
smuggle me out of the camp and took me back with her to Kolut. There she became
very ill and since she was unable to work any longer, she had to go to Gakowa.
But because so many of the people died of hunger there and were badly abused, she
took me with her one night. We were able to sneak and crawl out of the camp and
we entered Hungary that same night. We then walked a great distance until we
reached the Steiermark in Austria. My grandmother worked as a servant for a
farmer and also died there. Before she died she had given the farmer the address
of some friends in Vienna to contact. After she died the farmer wrote to the
people in Vienna. The woman in Vienna had been our neighbor in Plavna and came
and took me to Vienna.
My parents had
been released from Russia due to severe illness and were sent to Germany. At
first, it was my mother who found out where I was. Later, my father did too.
After my father wrote to us in Vienna, we sent his address to my mother. When she
learned he was in Bremen she went to join him. At that time he was unable to
stand or walk. We arranged for my father to meet us in Salzburg instead of
getting me in Vienna. Our neighbor sent me along to Salzburg, but my father was
not there. He had become ill again and could not move or travel. I was then
taken by the Red Cross to my sick parents in Bremen.”
North and Middle
“Where the bloodletting raged’
In the central region of the Batschka
there were numerous and large Danube Swabian communities that originated from the
planned settlement under Joseph II. The vast majority of these communities were
Lutheran and some Reformed. The twin towns of Alt and Neu Werbass (Old and New
Werbass) were the cultural and economic center of the district, surrounded by the
Lutheran communities of: Sekitsch, Feketisch, Alt Ker, Klein Ker, Tscherwenka and
Torschau. Kula was also in the neighborhood but it was an ethnically mixed
community and its Danube Swabians were Roman Catholic. This region would become a
field of blood for its Swabian inhabitants. It was to be the scene of the most
atrocious mass murders and shootings throughout the Batschka in the fall of
1944. In only a few weeks, some six hundred men from the twin towns of Werbass
were victims of mass shootings.
In Neu Werbass
the most important and influential leaders and intellectuals among the Danube
Swabians were arrested and shot individually or in groups. Other Danube Swabian
men had to watch the executions and bury the dead. The victims were brought to
their graves and were shot in the back of the neck. One of the Partisans who had
lived in Werbass was proud and boasted of the fact that he had personally shot
eighty of the men himself. As a reward for his “heroism” he was made the District
Commander at Kula and although he was totally illiterate he held that office for
The rest of the
Danube Swabian population was packed into the old silk and velvet factory which
now became a camp until the spring of 1945. Later all of them were sent to Gakowa
There were also
executions in Alt Werbass involving countless Danube Swabian men and women. Most
took place in the courtyard of the notary’s house and the local garbage dump. The
total deaths in Alt Webass due to shootings, beatings and hangings numbered three
hundred and seventy men and women. All of the corpses were buried naked while the
Partisans bargained or gambled for their clothes
The mass executions in Kula were hardly any less terrifying. In
the fall of 1944 over two hundred Danube Swabians perished and the methods were
even more brutal than in Werbass. Whole families were beaten to death. That was
the case with Dr. Saur and his wife and two small children. Here again it was the
intellectuals and leaders of the community who were on the liquidation lists.
Klein Ker had a
population of four thousand Lutheran Danube Swabians when the Partisans arrived on
November 9, 1944 and sealed off the community and barricaded the houses.
Eighty-two of the leading citizens were arrested. Half of them consisted of
married women and single girls. They were all driven on foot to the town hall.
Here they were imprisoned and tortured. On November 10th they had to
strip down to their underwear. Their hands were bound with wire. They were
force-marched to the railway tracks where all of them were forced to lie down and
each person was dispatched by gun or rifle. Two of the stronger men Dr. Leibmann
the physician and a farmer were left to the last, because they threw all of the
corpses into a large pit. Then Gypsies were recruited to cover over the mass
On November 14th
an additional seventy Danube Swabians were taken from their homes. The majority
of these victims were women and single girls. They were assembled at the town
hall and were terribly abused. The women and girls were molested. They were kept
imprisoned in a very small room packed tightly together until the following
night. The Partisans called them out one at a time to bind their hands as a
prelude to taking them out for execution. When the farm laborer Ludwig Schwarz
was called out, he suddenly lunged at an armed Partisan, threw him to the ground,
jumped over him and in front of everyone made it to the courtyard. The other
Partisans shot after him. He was only wounded in the hand and could jump over the
wall and escaped into the darkness. For the next three months he was in hiding,
until he could escape with his family and get out of the country. But the others
were taken to the town limits where they were shot. Their bodies were thrown into
water filled ditch and later filled with earth.
On November 17th
another blockade was in effect and fifty Danube Swabians were assembled. Among
them, more than half of them were women and teenage girls. Some children aged
fourteen were also among them. These too were imprisoned in the town hall and
were physically abused. During the night of November 18th they were
loaded on trucks that took the road to Werbass, but all of them were shot at the
Roman Wall along the way.
On November 19th
the Partisans assembled seventeen men and women during the night and shot them at
the local mill. They left the dead in the street. One of the women was only
wounded. She lay there under the bodies of the others. One could hear her
whimpering in pain until noon the next day, but no one was allowed to help her.
She lay there until she died. On another day in November, three of the older men
in the town were taken and shot in Werbass because the functionaries there knew
them and they wanted “Swabian blood to flow”.
In December of
1944 another fifteen men were taken out of the town. They were taken to Mitrowitz
to work on the railway and none of them was ever heard from again.
In May of 1945
the remaining Danube Swabians after the deportations to Russia were driven out of
their homes and taken to concentration camps. Many were taken to Jarek where
almost all of them died.
Subotica was one of the major cities of Yugoslavia and was
primarily inhabited by Romanians and Hungarians. In the immediate vicinity of the
city there were villages with a large German-speaking minority. The Military
Government of the Partisans established two camps in the city in the fall of
1944. A transit camp was set up to handle the flow of the returnees from the
evacuation and when it was ascertained that they were Danube Swabians they were
sent to the camps in the north and central Batschka. Most of the women and
children were sent to Sektisch, while the able bodied were consigned to the forced
labor camp in Subotica or its environs.
The labor camp
in Subotica had a large inmate population and the current number was always kept
in the neighborhood of four thousand persons. They were assigned to various works
in the vicinity. Conditions here for the internees was no different than it was
in any of the other camps in the Batschka.
With regard to
the extermination program in North and Middle Batschka we are well informed by the
report from a woman from Erdevik in Syrmien who had been evacuated with her
children in the fall of 1944, and later along with many others she returned to
Yugoslavia in May of 1945. She reports the following:
“We arrived in
Subotica on June 6, 1945 from eastern Germany from where we had been evacuated.
Those of us who were Danube Swabians were immediately separated from the others
and placed in work groups. Young mothers who refused to be separated from their
children were beaten and imprisoned. Those who did not give up their money or
valuables freely were shot. On the day of our arrival I witnessed twenty-five
such shootings. All of them were women. Among the dead was Frau Nusspl from
Palanka, the twenty-three year old Maria Kirschner from Hodschag,
nineteen-year-old Katharina Beuschl from Wekerle, the twenty-seven year old Eva
Beck from Ruma, eighteen-year-old Katharina Mueller from Ruma, seventeen-year-old
Maria Fischer from Krndija and thirty-three year old Rosalia Berger from Pasua.
The older women among us were consigned to the camp in Sekitsch and young women
remained in the slave labor camp in Subotica. The men were led away. They had no
idea of where they were going. We never heard from any of them again. For two
months I worked at the Partisan hospital where I became unable to work any longer
and as a result I too was sent to Sekitsch.”
Several times typhus epidemics broke out in
the labor camp in Subotica. Large labor parties from the camp lived out in the
open for months, even in the winter. They often stayed overnight in haylofts or
haystacks and at the crack of dawn they were driven to work. Like inmates in
other camps they could never change their clothes and for weeks on end they could
not stretch out and have a good night’s sleep. Those no longer able to work were
sent to Sekitsch and later to Gakowa and Kruschevlje. An excuse was found to
close down the camp in Subotica: there were no longer any inmates left capable of
working. In January 1948 the surviving inmates were all sick and fifty of them
were in the final stages of dieing from typhus.
These two Lutheran Danube Swabian
communities were on the route of the international highway north of Werbass and
were entered by Russian troops on October 12, 1944. Three days later the
Partisans set up their Military Government. Countless numbers of Danube Swabian
men were arrested and brutally beaten and tortured. At the same time others from
the civilian population were being taken to forced labor camps. In the beginning
they worked in the vicinity and were allowed to return home, but soon they were
taken farther away and were not allowed to return to Sekitsch. In October all men
from the ages of 18 to 60 years had to report to the Partisan authorities. They
were never released. The younger men among them were sent to the camp in
Subotica, while the older men were sent to Topola.
officially declared a camp on November 20, 1944. Those who lived in the eastern
portion of the village were driven from their homes into the western part of the
community. The houses in the eastern part of the village were emptied of
everything of value and in late November the old men and women, as well as the
children from Bajmok were brought to Sekitsch and packed into them. In a very
short period of time all of the Danube Swabians in the vicinity who were unable to
work, including those from the Lutheran village of Feketitisch were brought and
interned here in Sekitsch. Soon it became the dumping ground for the region,
while those who were able bodied from Sekitsch, both the men and the women were
assigned to Topola, Morawitza, Bajmok and Subotica. Women with small children and
infants were not spared. They had to leave the children behind even if there was
no one to care for them.
The death rate
at the Sekitsch camp compared to other concentration camps was not among the
highest. Everything had been confiscated in the fall of 1944. Very few of the
Danube Swabians in Sekitsch had joined the evacuation and those who had remained
had prepared and stored provisions for the future as they awaited the Russian
occupation. As a result the people of Sekitsch were not dependent upon the camp
food at all. They shared this with the arrivals from the vicinity. But this food
supply would soon end. When they were transferred to the camps at Gakowa and
Kruschevlje they died very quickly. They died like flies at Kruschevlje, as they
were unprepared for what they had to endure there.
On October 1,
1945 the whole camp at Sekitsch was transferred to Kruschevlje. The death rate
there and at Gakowa was so high that they could accommodate the seven thousand
inmates at Sekitsch. The only Swabians who remained in Sekitsch were those who
were still capable of providing labor of some kind.
transferred, everything the inmates still had was taken away from them. Most had
only the clothes they wore left to them, bedding and everything else was taken
away from them. The Sekitsch inmates had nothing to trade unlike the others in
Kruschevlje. The shipment of the Sekitsch Swabians was in open cattle cars and
the trip lasted two days and it never stopped raining. In Sombor, Partisans
pulled up to the train and beat the women and children. Many of them were
gruesomely mistreated. A secret church report in 1946 indicated that of the six
thousand inhabitants of Sekitsch only about one thousand were still alive. They
were all in Germany or Austria, so that less than one hundred were still alive in
Two women from
Sekitsch were shot at Krushevlje. They had sneaked out of the camp to beg for
food in a nearby Hungarian village. On their way back to the camp a sentry who
spotted them shot both of them.
West and North West
“Death reaps a plentiful harvest”
In the district of Hodschag the Danube
Swabians formed the greater portion of the population. It was in effect a totally
Danube Swabian region. It consisted of the entirely Swabian communities of
Hodschag, Filipovo, Karvukovo and communities with small Serbian populations like
Parabutsch, Milititsch and Brestowatz. While still in other communities the
numbers of Danube Swabians was high in Batsch, Deronje, Wajska and Plavna. A
large part of the population had been evacuated in the fall of 1944 as the
Russians advanced into Yugoslavia. But the percentage of those who fled differed
greatly in the various communities of the district. While the vast majority of
the Swabian population allowed themselves to be evacuated, almost all of the
Swabians in Filipovo remained at home and the greater portion of the Swabians
remained in Hodschag.
In the very
first days of the arrival of the Partisans, key and influential Swabians in the
district were arrested and brought to Hodschag. With their arrest many of them
simply disappeared forever, while others were placed in camps and set to forced
labor. In the fall, the Partisans rounded up one hundred and eighty-two Danube
Swabian men from the age of 16 to 60 years and they have been missing ever since.
They were led out of town in two groups, one in the direction of Karavukovo, and
the other towards Filipovo. Along the way they were stripped naked and were
shot. The bodies were buried in a mass grave. Only one man survived. Already
stripped naked and ordered to the mass grave in the blink of an eye he made a dash
for it. The Partisans fired and gave chase and even shot one of their own by
mistake. He managed to escape and hide with strangers. In the spring and summer
all of the Swabians in the area were rounded up and driven on foot into the camps
and he was among them. He managed again to survive in the camp under a false
In the spring
and summer, large numbers of women and single girls, as well as men from the
various surrounding communities were brought to Hodschag. In the northeast
section of Hodschag two rows of houses facing one another the length of one street
were surrounded with a barbed wire fence. For years to follow, thousands of
prisoners were imprisoned here and were sent to work in various camps and
workstations. The most dangerous work places were in the marshes and bogs. The
first large death toll in the marshes was among young women from Apatin. Most of
them had nursing infants or were somewhat unhealthy in order to have escaped the
deportation to slave labor in the Soviet Union and had been sent to Gakowa and
Kruschevlje. There they were separated from their children and assigned to
Hodschag. In the first few days in Hodschag and the marshes, twenty-seven of them
perished. They died of fever and deep depression over their separation from their
children. They suffered greatly from dysentery. Both in the marshes and the
central camp, typhus broke out. In spite of vaccinations, all who entered the
camp “hospital” died very quickly.
The commander of
the camp, a Partisan from Deronje was a cruel and horrifying person. He punished
anyone who broke the camp rules brutally. He imprisoned all “lawbreakers” by
locking them in a cellar until he or one of his men saw fit to release the
person. The victims were often in the cellar for days, without food or sanitary
facilities. Some were to be used as “examples” and were beaten and tortured.
Those especially punished were those who had tried to escape or pass information
from one camp to another.
The rations the
inmates received were barely enough to live and the labor they did was hard and
done in the summer heat. In the mornings they received a ladle of tea made out of
some boiled leaves of one kind or another. There was no sugar. At noon there
was always bean soup without salt or lard. They received the same at night. In
the summer of 1945 the inmates numbered over one thousand four hundred who
continued to be fed meagerly and faced constant starvation.
There was a
“hospital” in the camp in name only, and only those unable to stand up on their
own were allowed in it. They were often simply skeletal from lack of food, brutal
hard work, dysentery and diarrhea. It would have been the last stop before the
cemetery if there had been one.
In the early
summer of 1945 one after another of the Danube Swabian communities in the Hodschag
district were depopulated. Those still able to work were sent to Hodschag and the
others ended up in Filipovo at first and then later in Gakowa and Kruschevlje.
In the fall of
1945 all of the women and single girls at the work places throughout the entire
district were assembled and brought to the central camp at Hodschag. They were
convinced they were being deported to Russia. Many of the mothers who heard the
rumors found themselves in the same camp as their daughters and they did not want
to be separated from them and tried to sneak them into the Hodschag camp with
them. Most of those who were caught experienced the brutal and sadistic
mistreatment of the camp commander. He created a work brigade consisting of these
young girls and women who had to break corn in the fields all winter, day after
day. From sunrise to sundown they had to work and even in the worst winter
snowstorms. After only a few days, many of them had frozen hands or feet. But
work went on, day after day. In the spring, the “brigade” returned to Hodschag,
and was broken up and the survivors were sent to new work places. A large group
of them later came to Batsch.
In the spring
and summer of 1946 “colonists” from the southern regions of the country resettled
the unpopulated district. The colonists had to take over the fieldwork in the
summer and as a result the Swabian slave laborers were sent back to the central
camp in Hodschag. In the middle of September with no work any longer available in
the area, all of the inmates were sent to Gakowa and Kruschevlje. By now, the
number of inmates in the camp had dwindled to less than one thousand. In the fall
of 1945 there had been over four thousand. In the meantime, about three thousand
had perished or were sent to Gakowa and Kruschevlje to die.
The population of the community was
entirely Danube Swabian and numbered some five thousand persons. It was one of
the wealthiest and most prosperous communities in the Batschka . The majority of
the population left with the evacuation treks accompanied by units of German
troops to ward off attacks by Partisans. Although the Partisans at first
established the Military Government in the surrounding area nothing was done in
Karavukovo. A delegation of Danube Swabians was sent to Hodschag to meet the
Partisan functionaries there whom they believed would take over the rule of
Karavukovo. To their great good fortune the Serbs who were sent to set up the
local government of the town were upright men. But they were unable to prevent
the orders for men and women to be sent to Hodschag for forced labor or to other
places as ordered. Even so a large portion of the able bodied were able to remain
at home longer even if they were called upon to provide slave labor. But still
many of the Karavukovo Danube Swabian men were arrested and shot. Among them was
the well-known Balthasar Broder a mason and builder.
In the summer of
1945 all of those who were unable to work were forced to go to nearby Filipovo and
after a short period of time these elderly persons and the children were sent to
Gakowa. The local priest, Alexander Thiel was among them. He was later released
and for a short time he returned and served what remained of his parish, but was
arrested and imprisoned for six months at Neusatz. Following his release from
there he fled to Austria.
workers were needed they were brought from the camp in Sombor. A group of one
hundred and sixty men and women were force-marched from Sombor on June 21, 1945.
The men and women were placed in separate camps that in effect were the former
houses of wealthy families. The nutrition they received here was somewhat better
and there were very few deaths among them. The Partisan guards were accommodated
in the house next to the women’s camp. This resulted in constant disturbances and
the mistreatment and abuse of the women. For weeks on end they were awakened
every night and driven out into the courtyard and were forced to stand for hours
in the rain and other bad weather, while the Partisans went into their quarters
and searched through the clothing and took whatever caught their fancy. Women who
had hidden anything were forced into the cellar and were beaten and locked in
overnight. Some were so badly abused that they died when they were transferred to
the camp at Hodschag.
The men had more
peace from the Partisans than the women. But if they too were found to have
hidden any valuables they were beaten so badly that few of them were able to
In the summer of
1945 the labor station at Deronje was closed and the inmates were sent to
Karavukovo. From the beginning of the Fall more and more of the Swabian forced
laborers were returned to the central camp in Hodschag and from there they were
assigned to other work stations. All of the women were resettled in Hodschag, and
in the spring they were sent to work in the swamps along the Danube where there
had been a massive death rate among women working there the previous summer.
In the spring of
1946 the brick factory was re-opened and a labor camp was established there.
Former residents of Karavukovo provided the leadership in the factory and the camp
and brought former residents in the Hodschag central camp back to work here. This
proved to be heavy and difficult work for the undernourished and exhausted Swabian
slave laborers. At that time there were already new “colonists” from the Pirot
region well established in the community occupying the former homes and living off
of the work of their former owners and their ancestors over the generations. They
were simply not prepared to do such heavy work and left it to the Swabians.
In the spring of
1946 as well, the men’s camp at Karavukovo was closed down. Large numbers of them
were sent to Hodschag’s central camp and from there they were later re-settled at
Batsch and put to forced labor there.
The community was located north west of
Hodschag and was a rich hemp-producing center. There were numerous Serbian
families in the area and they had their own Orthodox parish and lived with the
majority Danube Swabians on good terms over the centuries. A large portion of the
Swabian population were evacuated by the retreating German army and to all intents
and purposes left the area to the local Serbians. About one hundred families from
among the Danube Swabian population trusted the word and promises of their Serbian
neighbors and especially that of the Orthodox priest that they would protect them
from the Partisans and decided to remain at home. In the first days of Partisan
rule very few of the Swabian men or women were arrested and taken to the slave
labor camps in Hodschag and Sombor, which in effect was a result of the local
Serbian population and their promise of protection. But not even Milititisch
would be spared some atrocities. One of the Swabian men was bound and tossed into
a heated kettle in the hemp factory and was most cruelly scalded to death.
On March 11,1945
a large number of men and women were taken to the camp in Sombor. They had to
cover forty kilometers at night on foot to a work camp to serve the Russians in
Baranya in Hungary. But, by the time they got into the area the Russians already
had fourteen thousand slave laborers, so that the Milititisch men and women
remained in Sombor. Here they worked in the Partisan hospital. In the months of
April and May numerous work parties were assigned to Semlin and Mitrowitz and
included workers from Milititisch. They worked in the marshes and most of them
perished there. All those who survived who were not sent to Mitrowitz in Syrmien
on June 21st went from Sombor to Karavukovo on foot where they remained
until the closing of the camp in the summer of 1946 and then were moved to
Hodschag on their way to Gawkowa and Kruschevlje.
In the spring of
1945 all of the Danube Swabians were assembled in a central location and there
they were divided into two groups. Those who were able to work, both men and
women, and those unable to work, the elderly, children and the sick and infirm.
It was heart rending scene to watch as the two groups were led away each heading
in a different direction and destiny. The children sought to be with their
mothers or grandmothers and cried after them, the mothers attempting to take their
children with them or running after them. They were beaten back with punches and
rifle buts. The elderly and the children were first driven on foot to Filipovo
and like all of the other Swabians throughout the Batschka in camps for those
unable to work were then assigned to the death camp at Gakowa. The able bodied
were either kept in Milititisch for labor, while others were sent to Hodschag and
then assigned to labor camps in the district.
Batsch was a fortress town from ancient
times lying between the Danube and Tisza Rivers and played an important role in
Hungarian history and after the settlement of Danube Swabians in the village it
was a mixed village ethnically. There were Slavs, Hungarians and Swabians. The
Danube Swabians accounted for about twenty-five per cent of the population of four
thousand. They were, however, the most prosperous and educationally and
As early as the
fall of 1944, large numbers of the Swabians were taken to Hodschag and used as
slave labor in various districts in the region. Later in the spring of 1945 all
of the Danube Swabians throughout the district were driven out of their home
communities and brought to Hodschag. Only two men were left behind in Batsch
where they continued to do slave labor. They were the butcher Pauschert and the
locksmith Armbrust. In the fall the Partisans brought the Roman Catholic priest
Novotny from Plavna and imprisoned him in the town hall. A few days later the
Partisans claimed to be looking for the priest who had escaped and rummaged
through the Franciscan monastery and searched the rectory but without any success
they claimed. In actual fact he had been beaten and tortured to death in the
basement of the town hall and was already buried. Two other well-known citizens
of Batsch then also disappeared and were probably murdered because they were never
seen again. The men belonged to the Kubesch and Gebauer families.
At the end of
March in 1945 a large work party from the detainee camp in Sombor arrived in
Batsch. A camp was set up for them in a former dance hall. Most of them came
from Gakowa, Stanischtisch and Apatin.
In the summer of
1945 the Partisans led another work party from the slave labor camp in Sombor on
foot to Batsch were they had to work in the hemp factory. There was another work
party in the village consisting of women forty-five years of age and older. They
had been brought from Hodschag to Batsch. Both of these labor camps were closed
in the fall of that year and the inmates were transferred to work on the district
In the spring of
1946 new slave labor battalions were brought to Batsch from the central forced
labor camp in Hodschag. Most of them were young single and married women who had
worked in the cornfields all winter. Another large group among these new slave
laborers were younger and older teenage boys and men from Filipovo.
In July 1946 the
camp in Batsch was dismantled and the inmate survivors were taken back to
Hodschag, and most of them were later sent to Gakowa and Kruschevlje in September
of that year. Those who were kept back were “sold” as slave laborers to the
inhabitants of the district up to 1948.
Filipovo lies north of Hodschag and was an
entirely Danube Swabian community which was well known throughout the Roman
Catholic world. The religious and church life of the community was mirrored in
the fact that approximately forty of its sons became priests and about one hundred
women took the veil as nuns in various orders. Of its four thousand inhabitants
only a small portion left with the evacuation carried out by the German army. On
the counsel of their priest, Peter Mueller most remained behind. The priest was
later arrested by the Partisans and given a long prison sentence.
were prepared to make Filipovo into a showcase of their liquidation program and
carried out the biggest large-scale mass shootings here in the Batschka . One
morning, all men from the age of sixteen to sixty years were forced to report to
them. Among the men were the assistant priest Paul Pfuhl and the Filipovo born
priest Anton Zollitsch home on leave from the Banat. The commander of the
liquidation squad recognized Zollitsch as a former comrade in arms in his former
regiment and he had the two priests leave the group and sent them home. All of
the rest were marched out of the village on to the road to Hodschag and were
shot. But first they had to dig their own graves. Then take off their clothes.
Then they were shot in groups. Tossed into the graves. There were two hundred
and forty-three victims in all. No survivors. Their clothes were taken by wagon
to Hodschag a few days later and were sold at the “flea” market.
Men and women
from Filipovo were taken to the central labor camp in Hodschag to do forced
labor. In the spring of 1945 all of the Danube Swabians in the village were
driven out of their homes. A portion of them had to do slave labor in Filipovo
itself, others were taken to the central camp in Hodschag and from there scattered
in labor camps throughout the area. The children and all those unable to work at
first remained in Filipovo and were joined by the children and elderly from the
surrounding communities. They were all later sent to Gakowa and Kruschevlje. In
September 1946 the able bodied who had managed to survive in the Hodschag central
camp were sent to the same destination and shared the same fate.
The Danube Swabian town of Apatin on the
Danube was not only the oldest such settlement in the Batschka, it was also the
largest all Swabian community in Yugoslavia with a population of fourteen
thousand. With its founding two hundred years earlier it marked the beginning of
the Danube Swabian settlement of the Batschka. It played a key role in industry,
commerce and culture and served as a river port on the Danube.
The Russian Army
reached Apatin in October of 1944. For weeks battles raged in the streets of the
town. The Russians were determined to cross the Danube here and as a result they
suffered huge casualties. It is estimated that up to sixty thousand Russians fell
or drowned in the crossing. While the battle raged to cross the Danube the
Partisans arrived to set up their Military Government in the town and district.
Their first act was the arrest of large numbers of the leading citizens. Almost
daily men were taken from their homes and imprisoned in different parts of the
town and beaten, tortured and killed. Others were put in a recently established
camp and were sent to slave labor from there. Many were sent to Sombor and then
imprisoned at Zupanija and Kronic-Palais or remained in Sombor. None of these men
were ever heard from again. There were at least sixty-four documented victims of
this action and many of them died a rather painful gruesome death.
and sadism perpetrated against certain individuals is described but I decline to
translate that out of consideration of the sensitivities of the reader and my
still taking place in the first months of 1945. Apatin had been the key center of
Roman Catholicism in the Batschka and the most anti-Nazi region in the Batschka
and yet the Partisans were determined to liquidate the Danube Swabian people en
masse. The western Batschka would witness the greatest numbers of victims and the
most gruesome deaths in the region. Apatin was the first of the Danube Swabian
communities in western Batschka to be cleansed of its Danube Swabian population.
Countless numbers of labor work parties were sent from Apatin to Syrmien by forced
marches on foot. Men and women from Apatin were sent to various labor camps.
These labor battalions had a high death rate. One forced labor unit of five
hundred men, lost twenty-seven of their number on the way who died of exhaustion
and beatings. Within a few weeks only forty-three survivors who were barely alive
returned to Apatin.
Not much better
was the destiny of the labor transports in the spring of 1945 which were sent to
Semlin and Mitrowitz to work in the swamps, from where only a few from among every
hundred managed to survive.
March 11, 1945
was a black day in the life of Apatin. On that day, the entire remaining Danube
Swabian population of the town were driven from their homes and forced to walk to
Gakowa and Kruschevlje as the first victims of those concentration camps. They
were the first to feed the death mill. After only a few months seven hundred of
them had died from hunger. On the march to the camps those who could not keep up,
were forced on by beatings. Those who collapsed were simply left to die where
they lay. No one was permitted to help them in any way regardless of their
relationship to the unfortunate person.
Because of the
long term presence of the Russian military and units of the Partisans led to the
rape of countless women and young girls. The number that took place cannot even
be estimated. The extent to which it occurred is reflected in the fact that not
even a ninety-two year old grandmother was spared and was gang-raped. But along
with rape they also perpetrated all kinds of torture including electrical shock
treatments to the breasts and vaginas of their victims.
the establishment of Military Government by the Partisans a census of the
community was undertaken. A few hundred families with non-German sounding names
registered as Hungarians or Slavs. Those whose registration was validated were
not included in the expulsion of March 11th. Approximately two
thousand people were excluded in this way. It was estimated that about two
thousand had left with the retreating Hungarian Army when they abandoned the
city. In the neighborhood of two thousand and four hundred single and married
young women along with some men had been deported to the Soviet Union between
Christmas 1944 and New Years 1945. As a result not quite eight thousand were sent
to Gakowa and Kruschevlje.
remained at home had no peace either. There were raids and arrests, and a pogrom
on Easter Monday that was unleashed against many leading citizens of the town
resulting in horrendous deaths for many of them.
When the first
expellees from Apatin arrived at Sombor on their way to Gakowa there was not
enough room for all of them in the barracks of the camp, and about four thousand
women and children, including nursing infants had to spend the night out in the
open in the bitter cold, while others were allowed to huddle together in the
streets. When Bulgarian troops who were stationed in Sombor heard the crying and
whimpering of the children, they invited their Partisan “allies” into their
barracks for a drink. They got them drunk and let the women and children into
their own barracks. In the early morning hours of March 12th the
expellees went on to Gakowa and Kruschevlje by foot. The group that had found
refuge in the Sombor camp had everything they had taken away from them except the
clothes they wore.
A few days after
arriving, women who were able bodied were separated from their children, most of
them were infants and toddlers and the mothers were taken to Baranya to dig
trenches for the Russians. This work was completed on March 21st and
the women were taken to Sombor and from there they were sent to various labor
camps throughout western Batschka . Labor units of men were from time to time
sent to Syrmien to work in the swamps and marshes. Most of them died or were
For a long time
the inmates at Gakowa and Kruschevlje came from Apatin, Kernei and Sentiwan. All
of those who could work were taken out of the two concentration camps and were
taken to various labor camps in western Batschka . In a few weeks, only children
and the elderly remained in the camps. There were only a few parents if any. A
large number of younger married women were assigned to the Hodschag district, from
among which months and years later were able to return to Gakowa and Kruschevlje
in search of their children. Most of them perished working in the swamps in the
Hodschag district. What the extermination camps in Semlin and Mitrowitz meant for
hundreds of the men from Apatin, the Hodschag camp meant for the women which
became the last station of their way of sorrows and the cross for both of them.
In later months
as the former industries in Apatin went back into production many of the tradesmen
and craftsmen from Apatin had the good fortune to return there as slave laborers
in their trained field. This change in circumstances saved many of their lives.
In the overwhelmingly Slavic community of
Sonta the population was ordered to report to the town hall in the fall of 1944
and declare their nationality, which meant their ethnic origin. A short time
later all of those who were classified as Danube Swabians and were able bodied had
to return to the town hall and report again and were taken away to do forced
labor. They were first taken to Apatin and then at Christmas and New Years they
were deported to Russia along with the victims from Apatin.
At the end of
January in 1945 all Danube Swabian men were taken from their homes and imprisoned
in the former bakery and were used as slave labor. On March 12th all
of the men were taken to Sombor and from there on to Baranya to dig trenches and
build fortifications for the Russians. The seventy-kilometer distance was
traversed on foot without a pause. After completing their work they were returned
to Sombor and assigned as slave labor. The rest of the Danube Swabian population
of Sonta was forced to go to Milititisch in the spring of 1945 and those unable to
work were later sent to Filipovo and then on to the grinding death mill in Gakowa
The richest and most prosperous community
in western Batschka was Sentiwan. The population was six thousand mostly
consisting of Danube Swabians. It was the center of the hemp export industry
known throughout the world. Hemp was “the white gold” of the Batschka.
Soon after the
establishment of the Military Government many of the Danube Swabian men were
arrested and taken to the camps in Apatin and Sombor. Others were imprisoned in
government jails. The former mayor Mueller who had campaigned for the Serbian
Nationalist Party, who always denied his German origins was taken to Sombor and
imprisoned, while his wife was taken to the slave labor camp at Parabutsch.
A large number
of the men were imprisoned in the local convent and sent out as slave laborers.
On March 12th they were taken to Sombor and then brought to Baranya to
build fortifications and accommodations for the Russian troops. After their
return from Baranya they were divided up among various villages and districts to
do slave labor. On March 15th the remaining population in Sentiwan was
taken to Sombor and then on to Gakowa and Kruschevlje. But the able bodied
remained behind, both men and women and were used as forced labor working the
fields and the local industries.
Since the turn
of the century, Doroslo had a large number of Danube Swabian inhabitants. In the
last decade before the First World War a large number of the German families took
Hungarian names and considered themselves to be Hungarian.
remaining Danube Swabians in the community were taken to various labor camps as
early as the fall of 1944. Many of those families that had assimilated with the
Hungarians, had retained their German names and now had to share in the lot of the
Danube Swabians. It was only after years spent in the labor camps that they again
spoke the language of their forebears. This was an example of the kind of basic
racism that lay behind the liquidation program of the Tito Partisans.
“Slave Market and End Station on the Way of Sorrows”
The city of Sombor had a very small Danube
Swabian population. But it played a major role in the destruction of the Danube
Swabians of western Batschka. In the barracks on the road to Bezdan the
internment camp for the Jews that had been set up by the Hungarian officials just
shortly prior to their retreat from the area, now instead received thousands upon
thousands of Danube Swabian men and women who were packed together, mistreated,
abused, terrified, and oppressed on their way to liquidation. It was the first
large-scale slave labor camp in the Batschka. Every day new groups from every
corner of the Batschka arrived in the camp at Sombor and for seven days a week
they did hard labor with only a limited amount of nutrition.
In the fall of
1944, a labor battalion from Sombor was brought to Bezdan to bury the one hundred
and twenty-seven persons who had been exterminated there in a variety of ways.
The first victims were the intellectuals and businessmen. All of the men in the
area had to report and show their hands to the Partisans, and whoever had “soft”
hands was immediately shot.
commander of the Partisans sent individual orders and commands to the local
communities identifying the number of men or women they were to provide. These
orders were always filled promptly. By the spring of 1945 the Sombor central camp
was the largest show place of slave labor in Yugoslavia. New labor groups were
constantly being selected and then marched off to all areas of the Batschka to do
labor. When they were brought back from such a work detail, within the day or
week individuals were assigned to another labor group and driven on foot to
another work site. To enable the full functioning of this method the inmates were
assigned numbers instead of names.
One of the
hardest and heaviest work assignments was digging trenches for the Russian troops
in Baranya. At 3:00am in the morning they were set to work. They were housed in
abandoned damaged homes, barns, lofts and animal stalls where they were packed
together lying on boards or bare floors, sleeping in their clothes and unable to
get comfortable. As they left their “quarters” they had breakfast: soup without
salt or lard but a handful of peas. The peas were always hard and not edible.
Most often it was cold and had not even been heated and “become” soup.
Because all cups
and utensils had been taken away from them the slave laborers had to eat and drink
out of common dishes. There was also a fifteen-decagram of bread. This was to
last the worker until night. At noon there was a short break in which the piece
of bread could be eaten.
Each worker was
assigned to dig his own trench/fox hole and the diameter was proscribed. Until
every worker was done, none could leave. If a man was assigned a rocky piece of
terrain he was unable to finish it. Because all of them had been weakened by
hunger, no one ever finished before dark. But not even then was there any rest.
They had to help those who were not done. In the late hours of the night around
10:00pm and even later, the laborers were marched into a new area to overnight in
whatever they could find for themselves. Many did not receive an evening ration.
These assignments lasted for nine days. In the first days they suffered so much
from hunger that they ate whatever they found in the fields. Those who survived
returned on foot to Sombor. The heat was intense. Already on their way to their
work assignments the men and women were thrashed along the way. It was much worse
on the way back when many were so weak that they could barely walk. The
inhabitants of the area through which they passed were mostly Hungarians who often
stood in front of their houses with food and containers of water to give to the
wretches passing by. Whoever attempted to step out of line to gulp some water or
snatch some food had to risk a beating or a battering with rifle buts from their
guards. The return march lasted a full day and night with only a brief rest
during the night, but without any food or water.
On March 23rd
a large labor unit was assigned to work in the Partisan hospital. The men and
women worked until 10:00pm and longer and then were awakened and set to work the
next morning by 4:00 am. The hospital operated a fine kitchen, but with a threat
of punishment to anyone who gave food to the slave laborers. Their fare was tea
in the morning and bean soup at night and lunch and some bread, but not the bread
that the Partisans got.
commanders in Sombor saw as their mission in life to bring about as much suffering
as possible to weaken and discourage their Danube Swabian prisoners and hasten
their deaths and yet make use of them for their own purposes at will. When there
was no other work available in order to wear down the inmates they would have to
dismantle buildings in one part of town and then carry all of the heavy building
materials to the opposite side of town and rebuild it there. There were always
endless columns of men and women slave laborers hauling materials, stones and
lumber through the streets of Sombor, a sight that no citizen of the city was
spared from seeing.
Until the fall
of 1945 there was not a day in which individuals or groups were not beaten or
abused. In the camp courtyard there was the body of a truck or car whose windows
were covered with tin. It was painted white. Whenever a sentry decided or wanted
to punish someone, the person was put in the “white horse” for days. Those
imprisoned in it received no food or water and were not let out. They had to meet
the needs of their bodily functions inside of it, but then had to clean it up when
they were released. It was terrible to spend cold winter nights in there because
they were not allowed covers or heavy clothing. Most of those who endured the
hunger, cold, stink, constant standing and thrashings never recovered their
health. Many died shortly afterwards.
One of the
favorite tortures of the Partisan guards was the ridiculing of God and prayer.
When women were found praying together they were usually beaten. But the penalty
for praying could also be to be forced the culprits on their knees facing a wall
in a row with others and pray out loud in unison while the Partisans kicked them.
Then, one at a time, they had to stand up in their place in line and step towards
the Partisans and tell them if God had helped them and would free them from the
camp. As soon as anyone answered they received a whack across the ears, followed
by a myriad of curses. “What are you praying for?” they usually screamed and
forced the person on their knees and told them to keep on praying. “Perhaps He
will help you after all!” And then a while later they would begin the process all
over again. These same methods were used on those who attempted to escape from
the camp and flee out into the countryside.
On July 20, 1945
all of the inmates of the camp and the outside labor parties were assembled at the
camp and put in the barracks. Because it was getting dark, groups of tens were
formed and put in a barrack. Here they had to surrender everything they had.
Only their necessary clothes were left to them. If anyone tried to hide any
possession and he was discovered he or she would be shot. In the night shots rang
out in the courtyard as executions were carried out. The Partisans carried out
this same action on the labor details that could not return to the camp on time.
The body searches that followed were most brutal and abusive when dealing with
women and the younger girls.
In May of 1946
the Partisans in Sombor demonstrated against the decision of the Western Powers to
place Trieste under United Nations supervision as a free city instead of annexing
it to Yugoslavia. In the evening, when the commander of the camp returned after
participating in the demonstration, he had two old Danube Swabian men taken out of
the barracks and brought to his office where he and three other Partisans brutally
attacked them. They cut off some of their body parts, battered and hit them,
stabbed them with knives and finally slit their throats. This was the commander’s
personal protest against the Allies decision with regard to Trieste.
He still sought
other ways to still his rage by shedding Danube Swabian blood. A second torture
chamber for the Swabians in Sombor was the jail—Zupanija. Hundreds had endured
this prison. The hostages did go through countless interrogations with no idea of
why they were arrested nor the significance of the questions they were asked.
They simply endured the thrashings and torture. Most of the questions were about
persons they had never even heard of. Nor were they given any peace as they were
told to condemn their Serbian or Hungarian neighbors or friends. A hostage who
was imprisoned here for three months recalls:
“I was asked if
I knew a well known lawyer in Sombor and if I was not also known to him. I told
them I had never had anything to do with him. From time to time I had simply
heard about him. I never ever saw him. I was questioned about him day and night
and the questions were always accompanied by thrashings. Others who had to answer
the same questions once confronted me. I had to watch them being beaten and
abused, just like I had been. This went on for weeks. They always said we would
come to remember what they wanted to know. One night I was again taken for
Pistols lay on
the table. The Partisan picked them up and told me I was about to be shot. They
asked if I had a wife and children and other things. Then they told me to stand
by the wall and to open my mouth and one of them placed a loaded pistol in my
mouth. I was afraid that my family would never know what had become of me. But I
was returned to my cell where the same man came for me again the next day and
wanted to shoot me if my memory had not improved. The next night I was taken by
two armed Partisans, questioned briefly, if I knew anything now, and then taken to
the courtyard. I was convinced I would now be shot. The Partisans said it would
be a shame to shoot me right away when I cold cut their firewood for them first.
They took me to the woodpile and I cut and chopped the wood. After several hours
I was returned to my cell and a few days later I was moved out of the prison with
others from the Sombor camp and sent elsewhere…”
than Zupanija prison was Kronic-Palais. Only a very few of those who entered this
prison ever saw the light of day again. The world will never know how many
persons suffered terrible torture and death in there. The prisoners were moved
from cell to cell and some were sent to Neusatz. Some detainees were brought back
again, only to be sent to Neusatz once more. The prisoners were a means to an end
to incriminate others. The torture here was the most brutal in the world. Every
day there were countless dead in their cells who had died as a result of their
torture. Officially, they had simply disappeared.
(I decided not
to translate some of the grotesque things that were done to the prisoners.)
There is no
record of a single Danube Swabian who was investigated because he was a Nazi or a
war criminal. It was enough to simply be of German origin and you would be
confined behind prison walls and never be heard from again. The so-called
Committees of Investigation of War Crimes were only located in Hungarian
communities and districts.
One of the
Partisan’s favorite methods of execution was to shoot a whole row of Danube
Swabians with a single shot and bullet. They held contests to see how many people
one bullet could kill if they stood behind one another in a row.
majority of the Sombor district Danube Swabian communities provided the major
portion of the inmates of the Sombor central labor camp by the all of 1946. There
were several thousand and they came from: Kolut, Gakowa, Kurschevlje,
Stanischtsch, Monoschtor, Siwatz, Tschnopol and Kernei.
Many others were
also being held prisoner in their home communities and had to do slave labor
there. In the spring and summer those unable to work were brought to Gakowa and
Kruschevlje. The last community to experience this was Stanischtsch. It was also
the last of the several hundred communities in which the Danube Swabians lived in
order to be de-populated.
But Kernei would
experience the ultimate act of barbarity. Here in the fall, countless Danube
Swabian women were raped in the presence of their children and those who resisted
and fought them refusing to submit were shot. On the same day some drunken
Partisans forced fifteen of the Swabian men into the cellar of the school.
Pushing them up against the wall in a corner of the cellar they began to shoot
them with their submachine guns. One man’s body had sixteen wounds.
In northwestern Batschka just below the
Hungarian border the two entirely Danube Swabian villages of Gakowa (Gakovo) and
Kruschevlje were located. The Partisans chose them as the last station of the Way
of Sorrows of the Danube Swabians in their liquidation program in Yugoslavia.
A few weeks
after the Partisans set up their Military Government in Gakowa in the fall of 1944
the whole population of Gakowa, with the exception of the able bodied men were
brought to neighboring Kruschevlje. Meanwhile, the able bodied men from
Kruschevlje were brought to Gakowa. From there, the men who numbered two hundred
and fifty were taken to Bezdan to do slave labor there for a time. On the way to
Bezdan, one man who cold not keep up was beaten to death. In Kruschevlje a man,
Karl Franzen and a woman Anna Depre were shot in front of the church because they
had tried to enter their own homes. During this time the Partisans plundered all
of the homes and assembled all the foodstuffs to carry out their extermination
project. From now on and later able bodied men and women from Gakowa and
Kruschevlje were brought to the Sombor forced labor camp and were sent off to
various labor groups to do some of the most difficult and heavy work that could be
found for them to do.
On March 12th
1945 eight thousand persons arrived in Gakowa and Kruschevlje from Apatin who had
come on foot all of the way. Both villages were hermetically sealed with the
threat of death to all who tried to enter or leave the area. More and more new
mass arrivals of women, children and the elderly streamed into the two villages.
As soon as the liquidation program was set in motion in the communities of the
western Batschka, all of those not able to work were driven to these two remote
border villages. The Partisans called both camps extermination camps.
arrived in the thousands on foot almost daily. Mothers with small children were
mostly brought together to Krushevlje. But seldom would they be allowed to remain
together. Every day, able-bodied persons were chosen and taken away to work at
the various labor camps in the western Batschka, so that every day more and more
children were without a parent. At first, most children had a grandmother or
relative to look after them. But after only a few weeks the death rate due to
starvation rose greatly and hundreds and hundreds of children lost their relatives
who could have cared for them and many a grandparent gave up the little food they
had to the children and starved themselves so that the children might live.
There was no
mail or contact possible with the people in the camp. Those who were separated
had no way of hearing from or knowing about one another. The only news was what
the rotating labor units in the labor camps would share when new workers arrived
from Gakowa and Kruschevlje but often the news was weeks or months old. Most of
the mothers would not know the fate of their children for years…if ever.
Now almost every
Danube Swabian community in the Batschka was represented among the inmates of the
two concentration camps in the once picturesque villages. By the summer of 1945
there were twenty-one thousand inmates in the two village camps. This number
would remain fairly constant because there was a constant flow of people coming
here from other internment camps. At times an entire camp would be emptied and
sent here. They simply filled the empty spaces of the countless others who had
In the summer of
1945 the camp from Filipovo was the first to arrive, followed by those from
Sekitsch and in the spring of 1946 the survivors of the infamous camp in Jarek
arrived. (A note from the translator. Ruth Brueckner of Cservenka
was eleven years old at this time and arrived here in Gakowa from Jarek with her
mother and grandparents. She alone would survive. Later, all on her own, as a
thirteen year old she would escape into Hungary and would walk across the country
following the railway tracks to Austria by night and hiding during the day.
Through the Red Cross she was reunited with her father who had recently been
released from a Russian prisoner of war camp. She now lives in Canada…just down
At the point
that the Jarek inmates arrived there was a total of twenty-seven thousand Danube
Swabians in the two camps. There were eighteen thousand four hundred in Gakowa
and eight thousand six hundred in Kruschevlje. In the following years the total
number of inmates was never less than twenty thousand. As slave laborers were
unable to work or had become too sick to work and all of the internment camps were
closed in the Batschka, all of their inmates were sent here. When the labor camps
were finally closed Gakowa and Kruschevlje became their last holding camp. But
now a new stream of Danube Swabians came in large transports coming from the
Banat, especially the wretched children from the notorious Rudolfsgnad
In April of 1945
all of the inmates in both camps had to surrender all of their possessions and
valuables. Death was threatened to those who hid anything. Two women in
Kruschevlje were shot as a result of having hidden some money. All of the camp
had to witness the execution. The others later had to pass by their bodies on
their way to surrender what they possessed, including the children. This “action”
lasted until early dawn next day and only then could the bodies be removed for
Because of the
gnawing hunger and mass starvation all around them, many of the mothers and older
children took the risk to sneak out of the camps and beg for food in the vicinity
as far as twenty kilometers, and return and attempt to sneak back into the camp.
Often it was at this point that they were sighted or apprehended and shot, except
some were held back for a public execution for the benefit of the other inmates.
Until the fall
of 1946 it was only death or an attempt to escape to Hungary that usually resulted
in costing the person’s life that were the only ways out of the two camps. But
now there was a new opportunity opening to them. In the spring of 1947 it became
obvious to the Interior Ministry and other government offices that the time had
come to end the attempt at exterminating the entire Danube Swabian population
before world opinion was totally awakened against Yugoslavia over the mass
executions and shootings not to mention the internment program and as a result it
sought a new way to deal with the issue of getting rid of the Danube Swabians
permanently in another way. In the fall of 1946 the camp commanders turned a
blind eye to the mass flights out of the camps into nearby Hungary. Whoever was
caught attempting to escape was brought back to the camp and all that the prisoner
possessed was taken away from him or her. But this really had little effect upon
other inmates attempting to escape. In response to that the camp commanders and
other officials changed the “escape route into Hungary” into a lucrative
business. They tolerated a group of middlemen who would organize mass escape
groups called “transports” and personally guide and lead them across the frontier
into Hungary. Anyone who wanted to join such a “transport” had to pay one
thousand Dinar and of course the commanders received their cut. These “official
transports” were never stopped or apprehended by the border guards. They were
known as “white transports” compared to the “illegal” attempts by amateurs who
went “black” across the border. That whole winter witnessed a flood of transports
across the border and the business flourished. It would finally end in the fall
commanders secretly made millions. Transports left every night and often the
numbers were up to several hundred. Everyone had to pay the one thousand Dinar
even small children in the arms of an adult or older sibling. It has been
estimated that the escapees paid in the neighborhood of ten to twenty million
Dinar to the operators and commanders. But after having been robbed of everything
they possessed where did the money come from? Above all this demonstrates the
close relationships that many of the Danube Swabians had with the other
nationalities, especially the Hungarians, Slovaks and Orthodox Serbs who were
often middlemen as well for family members who had escaped to Germany and Austria
and sent them the funds. But there were always those who had “no one” outside,
whose only alternative was to go “black” or illegally. The number of those who
were able to save themselves from the camps at Gakowa and Krushevlje has been
estimated at thirty thousand. But when the camp in Gakowa was closed down in the
spring of 1948 there were still twenty thousand inmates.
At the beginning
of the fall of 1946 there were able-bodied persons who were removed from the slave
labor camps and were sent to Gakowa and Kruschevlje. In the summer of 1947 a new
regulation was introduced where these able bodied inmates could accept work in
coalmines or collective farms. They would be paid for their work and could live
as free persons. They really had no other choice except to remain and die. Most
of them could not raise the money to buy their way on a “white transport” for
themselves and their family members and were also afraid to take the “black” route
and were not prepared to die of hunger if they remained. Faced with this only
other alternative, many of the able bodied accepted and were scattered across the
country working in mines and collective farms finding a life for themselves once
A majority of
those who responded were parents of children who had been sent to Gakowa,
Kruschevlje, Rudolfsgnad or some other internment camp. Because they did not know
the whereabouts of their children and as inmates in the camps had no access to any
information, there was only way for them to begin the search for their children
and a hoped for reunion with them. Once they gained their freedom and could earn
money they would be in a position to discover if there was any word of their
children and if they had survived to be reunited with them. Was it a dream or a
hope? They desperately clung to their hope.
But there were
also others who were still in various central labor camps far removed from the
possibility of a transport to Hungary, either white or black. In the spring of
1948 all of the labor camps were dismantled. Those able to find work and were
still able to work found whatever livelihood they could. Those who were unable to
work either found support from family members or friends. But the vast majority
of them, who really had no one to take them in, were sent to Rudolfsgnad and then
later resettled at Karlsdorf. There they lived in the old air force barracks that
was called the “old folks home”. They were not allowed to leave and lived much in
the same way as they had in the labor camps except that they had money that they
could use to bargain with the people in the neighborhood.
note. And now the saddest page in the history of the Danube Swabian people is
expressed in this one short paragraph. The ultimate crime of inhumanity.)
In the summer of 1946 all the children without a
father or mother resident with them in Kruschevlje camp were taken away and
brought to the camp at Gakowa. After a short period of time all these children
and those in the Gakowa camp under the age of twelve were taken away from their
grandparents or relatives and were removed to an unknown destination. It was only
months after that it was disclosed that the children had been scattered throughout
various state children homes and orphanages across Yugoslavia and were being
raised as Serbo-Croatians assuming a new name and identity in order to be lost to
their families and people forever