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Historical Accounts

Heimkehr

Return of the Yugoslavian citizen of German ethnicity

to their homeland after WWII.

By Dr. Vladimir Geiger

Published in

SCRINIA SLAVONICA

Band 3 (2003)

Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt

Note by the translator: In his article Heimkehr Dr. Geiger quotes many documents starting with the Yugoslavian Government’s decision to prevent the return of any Yugoslavian citizen in exile or in the military that were of ethnic Germans heritage after the end of WWII. There are also diverse letters written by the Allies to Tito’s Government, who insisted that those exiled ethnic Germans were Yugoslavian citizen and under the international law had the full right to return to their homes.

All occupying forces, the Americans, English, French, Russians kept sending train loads of Yugoslavian ethnic Germans from their occupying territories, while the partisans in return kept sending the very same train loads back again. Eventually, by July 1945 Yugoslavian boarders to Austria and Hungary were closed. Tito with his henchmen sent all those returning ethnic Germans to the forced labour camps that in effect were nothing more but starvation camps, as the witness accounts below vividly describe.

 

Summary of Dr. Geiger’s ‘Heimkehr’ article

Towards the end of WWII most of the Yugoslavian ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) fled or were forced to flee to Austria and Germany but also to Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy, where they stayed until the war was over. Many eagerly awaited return to their homes and their native land. The Allies considered the banished and displaced Yugoslavian ethnic Germans to be Yugoslavian citizen; they sent them back and facilitated their return to Yugoslavia.

However back on the 22nd of May 1944 the Yugoslavian government made the decision that the Yugoslavian ethnic Germans were prohibited of returning to Yugoslavia. They were stopped at the border crossings and were prevented from entering their native land and were sent back to refugee camps in Austria and Germany.

Even so, many managed to cross the border into Yugoslavia on their own but were stopped on their way through Slovenia and Croatia, their luggage taken away from them (stolen), were arrested and sent to concentration camps at Josipovac, Valpovo, Krndija and other places. 

At the beginning of July 1945 a large group of detained ethnic Germans from the Josipovac camp was sent back to Germany and Austria by train. However, since the Allies closed the borders towards Austria and Hungary that same month the crossing was made impossible. The train was returned back and those Yugoslavian ethnic Germans were detained in labour camps in which many lost their lives. Many stayed there until 1946 or 1948 and where finally released. Since their assets were confiscated and they were denied fundamental ethnic and civil rights, most of the ethnic Germans emigrated in the 1950’s and 1960’s predominately to Austria and Germany.

 

Eyewitness accounts

of the returning Yugoslavian ethnic Germans to their homeland

Jossef Fabing’ from Vucevac (Djakovo)

The news of our return home (from Austria) reached the Djakovo administration two weeks later. Heavily armed partisans arrived and insisted that we are to go for three days to Djakovo to be interrogated. Naively and as fearful as we already were, we followed the order. The house was locked up. On our arrival in Djakovo, we were immediately thrown into the prison established for the ethnic Germans. One week later we were sent to the Josipovac concentration camp….

 

Ana Flatscher, nee Hauck (1923) from Tenje (Osijek)

….. We worked on the farms (in Austria) up to the arrival of the Americans on 4th of May 1945, at which time the Austrian officials advised us, that ‘Yugoslavia is calling its people back home’. We were returning back together with the prisoners of war. Already in Slovenia all our valuable belongings were taken away…. We arrived in Zagreb on 10th of June 1945 where the rest of our belongings were taken from us….. From Zagreb we rode in the open train cars towards Hungary. Since the rails were at many spots broken, we walked.

The Hungarians would not accept us and we returned to Zagreb from where we headed with another train and by walking in the heat and the rain towards Slovenia …. The Austrians did not accept us also, so we returned back to Zagreb and from there to Slavonia. We traveled again with the train and by walking in the rain and the heat. The first illnesses started: My girlfriend died on diphtheria. Sometimes we stayed in the villages on the way.... We walked from Našice to the Danube Swabian town of Krndija, which was surrounded by barbed wire. There we stayed for 14 days. On 1st of September 1945 we were transferred to Valpovo. … I was released on 7th of May 1946. My mother died in the meantime in Valpovo, where her grave still is.

 

Georg Frei from Kešinac (Djakovo)

… And with it a very difficult time started for us. The Russians put together a long trainload full of Yugoslavian ethnic German refugees under the motto: return to the homeland. But it turned out very differently. We were transported in sealed cattle cars together with our luggage. It went across Czechoslovakia and under Russian military escort towards homeland. At the Hungarian-Yugoslavian boarder (Subotica) the train was given over to the partisans.

They drove the train back and deposited it on the side rails in the midst of Hungary. There was nothing to eat. We had no other choice but to go begging from the Hungarian people. Quite a few young people were lucky and found work by the Hungarians. They had it better. The Hungarians did not want old people, or mothers with small children. For months we were driven from one sideline to the other. We lived from begging and what we could organize (steel). The hunger was great.

One day the refugee train was unexpectedly attached to a locomotive and without any consideration of those who were left behind – who never were able to find each other again – the train took off. After driving through the night we arrived at the train station in Sekich in Yugoslavia. All of us embarked with our luggage and were divided in to the houses of former Danube Swabian inhabitants who were expelled. There was hardly anything to eat….

From there we were marched off to the train station and loaded into the gravel train cars. We traveled the whole night through until we arrived at another train station. There the partisans beat us with iron rods. Now we knew what was awaiting us. The train trip ended at Gakovo. From there we had to march to Kruševlje. In Kruševlje, which was already an established  starvation camp, we were divided into houses….. (Utri, Schnapper, Heimatbuch Semelzi und Keschinzi)

 

Johann Freihaupt from Vucevaca (Djakovo)

On 21st of May 1945 I returned home from the war and on the 9th of June 1945 together with my wife and two children were brought to the concentration camp. First to Djakovo, where we had to stay for a few days in an old mill and after that to Josipovac….

 

M. Fritschek from Pridvorje (Djakovo)

The Russians occupied the area (in Austria). In June 1945 they put a (train) transport together and lead our people across Hungary towards the Yugoslavian boarder at Subotica. As the transport stood there, some already came back, who were in the first transport to Yugoslavia. As per their reports, they were chased around town in Subotica until they lost all their belongings and returned back to Hungary… - Sehl, Heimatbuch Drenje – Slatnik – Manditschevac – Pridvorje.

 

Hans Gass from Vucevac (Djakovo)

… At the end of the war the English took over the refugees. The Yugoslavian partisans requested their extradition but the English refused. Some wanted to return home to the old homeland under any costs, what the English tried to prevent. The family Friedrich Schnur with daughter-in-law (nee Saal) and grandson, together with son Martin and his wife Magdalena, nee Flamm, departed without the permission and on the sly. They managed to return to their home but were shortly thereafter deported to the infamous Krndija starvation camp. Martin Schnur committed suicide just before but his wife Magdalena –Lenibäsl- survived the imprisonment and found shelter with the family Johann Zimmermann. Later she immigrated with the Zimmermann family to Germany (Linzingen next to Mühlacker, later to Wiesloch)…

 

Lorenz Gratz (1929) from Tomašinac (Djakovo)

By the end of October 1944 my parents, my siblings and myself were evacuated to Austria. After the war ended we returned with our two horse wagons back to Slavonia. We were sent immediately to the concentration camp in the old mill at Djakovo. All of us, my parents, my brother and myself, together with two other brothers and their families. The stations of our sufferings were Krndija, Josipovac, Valpovo and back again to Krndija. In all the camps it was the same: dying, hunger, thirst, wretchedness and suffering.

 

Franz Hirschenberger (1933) from Mrzovic (Djakovo)

Together with my mother, grandmother and three siblings after our return from Austria we were deported to the concentration camp of Djakovo. The partisans guarded us at the old mill. Besides us there were also some German prisoner of war, who were in a worrisome condition, they could hardly walk in the yard, as they were too week from hunger…. After about ten days together with many other Danube Swabians from Djakovo we were deported to Josipovac and still later to Valpovo….

 

Simon Mehlmann (1912) from Vucevac (Djakovo)

…. After a few days we wanted to return with the others to our Homeland, as we still had our horses and wagons. Crossing by Unterdrauburg (Dravograd) on the other side of the Austrian border, the partisans were already waiting for us and kept us in one of the yards. The next morning two men from our group had to report to the ‘Komandatur’, where one of the officers curtly ordered that the wagons, horses and all our belongings are to be left behind and ourselves had to go to the concentration camp at Maribor (Marburg), which was established for the Danube Swabian civilians. We hardly heard that, hitched up our horses to the wagons without being observed and without any obstructions by the partisans drove our five wagons out of the yard. Our goal was not the Yugoslavian homeland but back to the English occupied Austria…. – Zimmermann, Dorfchronik Wutschewzi.

 

Marija Nothdurft, nee Krebs (1921) from Velimirovac (Našice)

I was one of the ten families with 44 persons, who after the end of the war in 1945 were requested to leave Austria in different groups back to the liberated homeland of Yugoslavia…. The Russians and the English supported our return trip by organizing a transport in May of 1945. Full of hope many of our ‘Landsleute’ were driven by the English with the trucks towards the Yugoslavian boarder and were taken over there by the partisans. For many people this handing over was the beginning of years long suffering, for many even deaths…. In July 1945 we were transferred to Valpovo and met many of our former village neighbours there. My little daughter died in Valpovo…

 

Josefina Pirk from Kravica (Osijek)

… Shorty after the end of the war we headed back home to start working on our fields, to which step specifically my in-laws urged, supported by our Landsleute from our village and others from Slavonia…. As we reached the Yugoslavian boarder at Baranya, we were already in the hands of Tito’s partisans, who brought us to the school at Beli Manastir where we had the first warm meal. A few days later we were forced to march to Osijek, where we stayed overnight in the yard of the house at 45 Desatigasse. The next day they forced us to walk to the camp at Josipovac (our home village!) … We stayed at the Josipovac concentration camp for a few weeks. In July 1945 a train transport (cattle cars!) was put together, on which us too were to be sent away…. With that the Josipovac camp was closed and the rest of the inmates had to walk to Valpovo, a distance of 16km…. In the concentration camp of Valpovo a train transport was also put together… This transport took the same direction, as the first transport from Josipovac – towards Austria. The first transport reached Leibnitz, where the people were driven out of the wagons and therefore ended being free on the Austrian ground. However, our transport reached the Austrian boarder where the British occupying forces would no longer let us in. As we could not go into Austria, our transport returned back to upper Slavonia, to Velika Pisanica. In this returning transport were two thousand Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans), who arrived in Velika Pisanica. Later two more transports arrived, therefore there were now six thousand inmates at Velika Pisanica….

 

Johann Stemmer (1923) from Osijek

May 1945. Osijek’s big landowners (Zandt, Plecht, Gebr, Giner and others) were returning with their families from Austria with their covered wagons (because they have not done anything wrong against the people and hoped to be able to work their farms again.) The first partisan’s visit, or JNA (Yugoslavian National Army) was at Radkersburg (Gornja Radgona) and already there the wagons were plundered. However, we wanted to continue on our way. We received a ‘propusnica’ (permission to continue the trip) and headed towards the Drava River. We crossed the river on the pontoons and headed towards Osijek. The end came at Djurdjevac.

As we drove into the community yard, we were ordered to come down from our wagons and to walk to the next village to be ‘admitted’. Quickly we hid our valuables under our cloths, because the horses and the wagons we never did see again. Next day we marched escorted to Ferdinandovac, where we were shipped across the river into Hungary.

However, our big landowners wanted to go to Osijek! With the train we reached Magyarbol, where we were picked up by the JNA during the night and brought to Beli Manastir…. Osijek we reached the next day by train…. From there we arrived at Josipovac in to the former slave labour camp. Here we had to help put up the barbwire around the town. There were no ethnic Germans there any more; all were Croats (one hoped this way sooner to be released – what an mistake!)

After about two weeks, about middle of May of 1945 we reached Valpovo perpedes apostolarum (on foot)… At the beginning of May a train transport was put together (voluntary to Austria) and sent off. This transport actually made it. Encouraged by this success a second transport was put together.  But the second was unlucky. It reached the boarder and than the order came to march back on foot. The 300 km were for quite a few just too much. The rest reached the Krndija camp and from there again to Valpovo…

 

Karl Tscherny (1901) from Kravica (Osijek)

…On 11th of April 1945 together with my wife and daughter and other family members who took refuge in Steiermark (Austria) we started our return trip to our homeland to work on our farm fields. About 10 days prior to our homeland departure our son Georg visited us on a short furlough and begged us not to do such a foolish thing; we also disregarded our good friend’s warnings and suggestions.

At Marburg we crossed the Drava River and arrived on the 14th at Rann. The Feldgendarmerie (militia) caught us there and sent us marching back to Austria via Unterdrauburg to Völkermarkt in Kärnten. We stayed there until the 14th of May.

Tito’s partisans reined at that time in South Kärnten and with their promises we joined a large trek (transport) for our journey home. Already after eight kilometers the first robbery: – at Windischgrätz our horses and wagons were ‘exchanged’, and in Rann we were asked if we wanted to go back to Germany or did we want to go home. We wanted to go home!

Horses and wagons were taken from us, except for hand luggage and prior to the march to the three kilometers far train station; we were ‘liberated’ from the few good items we still had in our luggage. On the 30th of May late in the night we reached ‘home’ and were told at the train station that all the villagers except three families were already imprisoned. The next day we too marched through the gates of the Josipovac concentration camp….

 

Anton Zimmermann (1928) from Vucevac (Djakovo)

… The American army officers told us (prisoner of war) soldiers in the German language that nothing would happen to us in our homeland if we have not committed any crimes there or killed someone. Myself, Anton Zimmermann, and my friends from Wutschewzi, Anton and Michael Frei, we believed that we would be fine, as we have done nothing wrong with our 17 years. Naïve and inexperienced as we were we did not want to stay in a foreign land (Austria) as we were numerous times assured we would be released to our homes where apparently our parents were waiting for us. So, the Americans delivered us to the Yugoslavs. Already at the boarder crossing the Partisans took us over and threw us into the Maribor Feldlager (military prison)…

(Zimmermann, Dorfchronik Wutschewzi)