From the book:
“Voelkermord der Tito-Partisanen 1944-1948: Dokumentation”
Oesterreichische Historiker-Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer Kaernten und Steiermark, Graz 1990
Translated by Henry Fischer
Chapter Three (Part One)
Genocide in the Banat
“This is where innocent blood flowed like a river”
Following the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, the Banat was always under occupation by German troops. The Banat state administration supported the regime of the Serbian General Nedic in Belgrade. When local Danube Swabians in the Banat made application to or approached the state administration on issues of concern to them it was done so in the name of Serbian government in Belgrade and would only affect areas of the Banat in which they resided. There was apprehension on their part with regard to some of the measures taken by the German occupation forces and their commanders that had adverse effects on their Serbian neighbors and the Danube Swabians sought to eliminate or weaken the consequences of them if at all possible. Often they were unsuccessful and this created negative feelings among the Serbian population that became a Partisan recruitment area.
The Partisans introduced a systematic extermination program to the extent that only a small fraction of the Danube Swabian population would survive. But what characterized it most were the gruesome and bloodthirsty methods that were used in carrying it out. The use of the division of the region into the former areas of administration enabled this well planned operation to be put into effect here as elsewhere. (Translator’s note: A sentence consisting of the next six lines in the text follows for which I offer a simple précis as follows). With the benefit of hindsight this systematic liquidation program was modeled on the one that was operational in the Batschka as previously cited. How is it possible that one can speak of this one area, the Banat in comparison to others in Yugoslavia, as the one where rivers of innocent blood flowed? We need to reiterate that in a single day in all of the communities in a district the liquidation squads appeared at the same time with the request of the local administrations for the arrest and mass execution of Danube Swabian men and women. This was carried out even though in many communities the local Serbian officials and population protested against it and as a result saved the lives of many, but these genocide squads seldom listened to any attempts at intervention and proceeded in spite of local opposition and liquidated every Danube Swabian man, woman and child.
Individual stories and the experiences of whole families best describes what took place here in the words of Appollonia Schütz one of the residents:
“We were driven out of Pardanj on April 18, 1945. My husband was kept in Pardanj, while the children and I along with the elderly and those unable to work along with other mothers and their children were taken to Stefansfeld. We were four hundred and fifty in number. My sister and her daughter along with her two children who were eighteen months old and two and half years old were taken to Stefansfeld with me. My niece got typhus in August. When we were sent to Molidorf on September 28th we had to leave her behind. In Molidorf we never heard from our family members again, neither my husband nor my niece. (She describes the kind of food ration they received much like what has been described elsewhere previously) Of the one hundred and twenty-six persons brought to Molidorf who were originally from Pardanj, on September 28th in 1945, by August of 1946 only nine women and one man had survived.
My sister did not want to let her grandchildren die of hunger. She sneaked out of the camp and traded her clothes in neighboring villages for food. One day she went along with five other women and three children who were from Stefansfeld and went to Tova. The camp commander became aware of this forbidden activity and surrounded Molidorf with sentries who awaited the return of the women at night in order to take them prisoner and put them in the camp jail. The women left on the evening of August 6th and returned at midnight on August 8th. The food they had traded was immediately taken from them and they led them away to be shot. They had only walked about a meter along the street, when a shot rang out, that hit my sister. She fell to the ground. Uttering curses the Partisan who shot her stepped closer to her and shot her in the stomach with a dum-dum bullet so that her intestines burst and became visible. He left her just lying there and took the other women to the commander. My sister just lay there and lived until 4:00am. Then she died. While she was still alive and whimpered with pain, a fourteen-year-old Partisan stepped up to her, scolded her, took a rock and hit her on the head with it. Everyone was afraid to approach the dieing woman. I only found out what happened at 6:00am that morning. I immediately went to her. Even now the young Partisan who had hit her with the rock still stood there with his hands on his hips, glaring down on her and now at me. He struck me and battered me with his rifle. Then he led me to the camp commander. My sister would be left to lie in the hot sun all day, but the commander allowed me to cover her with a blanket.
My brother-in-law had earlier been taken to Cernje along with one hundred others from Stefansfeld, where he was shot along with sixty-eight of those from Stefansfeld. In Cernje, on another occasion eighty-five persons from Pardanj were also shot. Among them was another one of my brothers-in-law. My daughter who had become ill at Stefansfeld was later sent to Rudolfsgnad as well as my husband. Both would die of starvation there. My second sister remained in Stefansfeld. Her husband was also shot. While attempting to cross the Romanian frontier one of my brother’s sons was shot by border guards. In turn, his own son and my other brother were also killed. Of my sister’s family only the two small grandchildren survived and I took them with me when I later escaped into Hungary and made my way with them to Austria.”
The Northern Banat
“Where the lust for murder raged”
The far northern portion of the Banat had a very small Danube Swabian population. The liquidation of these Swabians happened in their own home communities or in the district towns of Neu Kanischa and Kikinda.
The mixed language village of Sanad was far to the north. On October 20, 1944 all of the Danube Swabian men were arrested and taken to Neu Kanischa and imprisoned there. For several days they were brutally beaten by the Partisans. On October 25th all of them were shot. Only one of the men was able to escape and make his way to Hungary. Now it was the turn of the Swabian women.
The first group of Swabian women was also taken to Neu Kanischa and shot. The other women and children were driven out of their homes on December 9th of 1944. Most of them ended up in the concentration camp at Kikinda. On December 17th, late in the evening sixty-four women were shot. Among them were thirty-two women from Sanad. Only five of the women from Sanad remained alive in the camp at Kikinda. In March of 1945 the new authorities in Sanad discovered that four Swabian women had hidden in one of the homes in Sanad: a mother, her two daughters and an old woman. They were apprehended and taken to Neu Kanischa to be shot. The Partisans decided to be lenient and not shoot one of the girls. She said she did not want to live if the others were to be shot. All four were executed.
The northern Yugoslavian Banat is the site of Kikinda (Gross Kikinda). There were twenty thousand inhabitants in the city, of whom about one third were Danube Swabians. The rest of the population was Hungarian and Serbian. In the vicinity of the city there were numerous communities with Danube Swabian inhabitants. Very close to the city was Nakovo an entirely Danube Swabian village with a population of five thousand. To the east were the Swabian villages of Heufeld and Mastort. In the northeast were the so-called “Welsh Villages”: St. Hubert, Scharlevil (Charlesville) and Soltur. Their ancestors had been French. They originated in Alsace and Lorraine and had emigrated to the Banat about two hundred years before in the time of Maria Theresia along with the German settlers to resettle the former Turkish and now depopulated Banat. They lived in harmony with their Swabian neighbors and over the years they assimilated with them and became German speaking. At the beginning of October 1944 after the Russians marched into the Banat from Romania they handed over the control of the Banat to the Partisans and Communists and all of what these “French Swabians” had was also taken away from them. They were driven from their homes and property and in long columns were dragged to Kikinda and from there to various concentration camps where they were exterminated.
Rose Mularczyk from Heufeld reports:
“On October 20th at mid-night we were taken from our beds by Serbian Partisans. There were eighty-two men and twenty-two women. We were imprisoned in the community center overnight. The next day we were forced to walk to St. Hubert. The men in the group were beaten along the way. The night of that same day we left St. Hubert for Kikinda. We were imprisoned there in the courthouse and all of the women were placed in one small cell. On the 22nd of October we were led to the Milk Hall. All night long we were threatened and abused by two Russians. For five days we received hardly any food. On November 2nd the Partisans brought in another group of men and women, about one hundred in all from our village of Heufeld.
On November 3rd I was an eyewitness of the first slaughter of a large group of men. In the past individuals had been killed individually. This group of twenty-two men was brutally murdered and two of them were from our neighboring village of Mastort. The men were first stripped naked, forced to lie down and their hands were tied behind their backs. Then all of them were thrashed with ox-hide whips. After this torture, they cut pieces of flesh from their backs, and others had their noses, tongues, ears and male parts cut off. Their eyes were poked out and all through this they were whipped and thrashed at the same time. They were also hit with pipes. At this time I was with another prisoner in the ground floor cell of the Milk House and I could witness all of this. The prisoners screamed and writhed in pain. This lasted for about an hour. The screaming died down until there was only silence. The next day when we crossed the courtyard it was bathed in blood and tongues, ears, eyes and male parts lay everywhere.
The following day all of the married and single young women were force to do labor. At the train station we cleaned the bricks and loaded heavy stones.
Around November 10th the Partisans and Russians brought in a transport of two hundred and eighty prisoners of war. All of them were Germans, except for six Italians and two Hungarians. These soldiers could no longer walk. They were in rags and many were ill. I heard one of the Russian guards who had accompanied the prisoners tell one of the Partisans that the prisoners had had no food or water for six days. If anyone bent to drink water in a puddle he was immediately shot on the spot. In Kikinda they did not receive any food or water, but were packed into the cellar. The prisoners were left there for three days, with no food or water and were abused and mistreated in all kinds of ways I do not want to relate. Then they were taken out of the cellar and led away. Most of them were unable to walk and like animal carcasses they were tossed on wagons and driven away. The column set out in the direction of Schindanger and from there we later heard the shooting. Later we learned that they had all been shot at Schindanger and were buried there in a mass grave.
I along with the other women and young girls were given the task of house cleaning and we were somewhat freer than the others and I always tried to locate any of the Heufeld prisoners who might be there and did find some of my relatives and bring them water. But one could only do very little to ease their pain, through the constant mistreatment they became apathetic and depressed and most had been beaten beyond recognition. One man went around on all fours and bellowed like a dog.
About eight days after the prisoners of war were shot, it was on a Friday, they began to murder Swabian men. The Partisans announced that all those men who were sick were to report to the so-called camp “hospital” and be looked after. After the sick men reported in they had to stand behind the Milk Hall in the courtyard, forced to strip from their clothes and were slaughtered on the spot. We could hear the screams of the victims from inside of the Milk Hall where we were working. The women received some food but the men got nothing.
Later, additional women were brought to the Milk Hall from Kikinda and neighboring villages. Civilians were not allowed to enter the Milk Hall and any who dared to approach the barbed wire fence were shot down.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays there were always large numbers of men and women who were slaughtered. When one passed through the courtyard there was nothing but blood, eyes, ears, tongues, noses, etc. It was horrible. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were used to refill the camp with prisoners, people who were driven to Kikinda from the surrounding countryside. On Fridays the slaughter began again. Later, I could not see the “actions” but I could hear them. The screams of the victims and the mirth and frivolity of the Partisans who thought it was all in good fun.
Often men were forced to kneel together in threes, and were shot in the nape of the neck and fell in a pile. A Swabian woman who was from Mokrin was married to a Russian but still imprisoned with us. One time she was able to swipe a potato and a Partisan saw her and thrashed her and all of the rest of us had to watch. The woman was then placed in the cellar with the men. She was bound together with several men and they were forced to lie on the floor. The Partisans stomped all over them. Then each person had their hands tied to their feet and they had to rise and sit down in exercise fashion. Most of them just lay there. They simply could not go on. Later, all of them were taken away including the woman in the direction of Schindanger and then again we heard the shooting.
Until the end of November I worked in the Partisan’s kitchen, and then along with nineteen other women we were sent to work in the city. Six of us, including myself were taken to work in a store. We had to sort clothes. The other women had to go washing clothes, and most of them had belonged to the murdered Swabian men. Four days later we had to go to the store again and were no longer allowed back into the camp at night, and so we slept in work place. On one night, an automobile came and brought clothing. The clothes were bloodied and there were bullet holes in all of them. The cassock of a priest (Father Adam of St. Hubert) was among them. In the evening we had to pile up clothes in one of the rooms, and then we could see that the rest of the rooms were piled ceiling high in clothes. The next day we had to take the clothing again to the cellar for sorting. We also found clothing of acquaintances from our villages who had disappeared and of whom there was no trace. I found the clothing of our schoolmaster. His clothes were pierced like a sieve and bloody, a sign that he had been whipped and tortured. The next day we had to wash and iron the clothes and some of the women found items belonging to their husbands and relatives.
In the camp at Kikinda there was a young girl from Charleville. She was assigned to work in the office and had to record the names of all the men brought to the camp who were murdered or had died otherwise. Eventually she was sent into the camp because she did not want to marry one of the Serbian Partisans. He denounced her and she was to be shot. She had to write her own death sentence. She was imprisoned in the cellar and the door was nailed shut. That was always the case for those who had been sentenced to death. Because of all she had seen and heard she lost her nerve and she became hysterical. The political commissar of Kikinda of whom the girl was quite fond spoke against the action taken by the other Partisan and the girl was released from solitary confinement. She was then deported to slave labor in Russia with many others.
On December 26th we convinced the Partisans to let us go home to get some more clothes for the winter. On the 27th of December at 3:00 am we were loaded on cattle cars and sent to Russia to forced labor. For many of us it was a release from an intolerable situation…”
The largest extermination camp in the region was in the city of Kikinda located in the east end of the community, centered in the buildings associated with the Milk Hall. Countless numbers of Swabians, both men and women perished or were killed here. The first to be driven into the camp by the Partisans were the Swabian men, women and children of Kikinda who were thrown out of their homes. They took everything from them while others took up residence in their homes and shared their possessions with one another. The Swabians were killed one after the other at the camp. Whenever they were in the mood the Partisans would select one hundred Swabians and take them out of the camp and kill them. Very often the Partisans tortured and abused their selected victims, then beat them to death, or used knives and butchered them like pigs, or shot large groups of them. The first mass shooting took place here on October 8th, 1944 when twenty-eight were killed that day. Shootings followed day after day. The first to be liquidated were the “leading” Swabians in the region. The parish priest Michael Rotten of Kikinda was among them. He had been shot in the early days of Partisan rule.
Because so many Danube Swabians from Kikinda had been liquidated the empty spaces in the camp were filled by Swabians from the neighboring communities forced there by the Partisans. One evening in October 1944, sixty-eight Swabian men were brought in chains from Nakovo. For three days they were locked up. During this time they were brutally tortured by a large group of Partisans. The Partisans were free to do whatever they wanted to these defenseless men. They used their rifle buts on their backs to injure the men’s kidneys, threw them to the ground, jumped and stomped on their stomachs, knocked in their teeth, broke their ribs and mistreated them in every way imaginable. This torture lasted for three days and nights. Then they dragged them out of town. It was a Sunday just before sunrise. Close to the cemetery, but outside of its walls a large pit was dug. The men from Nakovo and three men from Kikinda who had been taken with them, now numbering seventy-one persons had to strip naked by the cemetery wall. Later, the Partisans traded the victims’ shoes and clothing. They were tied to one another with wire, and with thrashings and blows of their rifles the men were driven to the edge of the pit. In the gray dawn these men were butchered with knives and thrown into their grave. One man was able to free himself and escape in the early morning mist, naked as a jaybird. He was fortunate. They shot after him but they missed. He fled across the Romanian border. But the new city authorities of Kikinda posted notices that there were now seventy-one fewer Danube Swabians to deal with in the Banat.
The first Danube Swabian liquidated in Nakovo was Franz Hess who was beaten to death by Partisans at the beginning of October 1944. Another man, Josef Kemper was shot as he drove his wagon home from work. Partisans shot Johann Kuechel in front of the community center on May 13th. Nikolaus Hubert was shot when he was found hiding in a haystack. Johann Junker was shot for no reason at all.
On December 22, 1944 all of the men from sixteen to sixty were taken to the camp in Kikinda and on March 18, 1945 they took all of the men over sixty years. These eighty men were taken to do heavy forestry and lumbering work at Mramorak. All of them died there including the former long standing mayor, Johann Blassmann
A large armed Partisan unit set a blockade around the three “Welsh French” Danube Swabian communities on October 31, 1944. On the same day, three hundred Swabian men were driven into the concentration camp at Kikinda. For eight days they went without food, but the Partisans drove them out of the camp to do heavy labor. When they returned to the camp at night they had to report for roll call. Then the Partisans got the toll of those shot, beaten to death, or tortured to death the night before. On November 3rd of 1944 all of the farmers who had large landholdings were shot. On the evening of November 4th after arriving back at the camp after a day of hard labor forty of the men in the camp were sought out. They had to strip naked and were shot next to the camp. Their bodies were buried next to the railway tracks behind the Milk Hall.
On November 5th all of the inmates of the camp had to sit on the ground in one place all day long. At evening they selected one hundred and twenty men. Almost all of them were from the “Welsh” villages. Father Adam, the Roman Catholic priest from St. Hubert was among them. A heavily armed woman in Partisan uniform dragged him out of the line by his black cassock and beat him ruthlessly, supported and assisted by other Partisans, simply because he was a priest. The Partisans whipped him with an ox-hide belt so that his gown was torn off of his back. She boxed his ears, hit him with the back of her pistol and kicked him in the groin. But he had to stand up on his own and offer no resistance. She screamed that priests were not needed in the new Yugoslavia and therefore he would be shot. Like a martyr he accepted what was happening to him. Then all one hundred and twenty men plus a few others chosen by the Partisans were forced to strip naked beginning with the priest. They were bound to one another with wire and had to crawl under a barbed wire fence and from behind and above they received blows from the rifle stocks on their backs. When they reached the area behind the camp they were machine gunned to death.
Johann Tout of Soltur was among the one hundred and twenty victims, but he was only grazed at the temple and was unconscious. For a long while he lay under the corpses which were only buried in the morning. During the night he came to and escaped to his native village of Soltur. He was stark naked. He hid out for ten days. Women who still remained in the village tended his wounds. But soon the authorities became aware of his presence. They arrested him and he was dragged off to Cernje where he was shot.
A week later a gruesome massacre occurred in the Kikinda camp. One morning all of the Danube Swabian war invalids in the district, some of them veterans of the First World War and other elderly men unable to work were slaughtered. They were kept locked up in a cellar of the concentration camp. They were shackled and beaten and led to an area behind the camp. They had to undress and give their clothes and shoes to the Partisans. They let them wait for a long time in the cold, so that one of the old veterans from the First World War who was an invalid became impatient and called to the Partisans, that they were far too old to be tortured like this any longer and they should shoot them quickly and get it over with. After awhile the Partisans ordered them to lie down in the bottom of the pit. Whoever would not go, was shoved in. So they lay there on the earth, one beside the other, and because the pit was too small, some were on top of one another. The Partisans who stood above them began to shoot into the grave. They were buried immediately and no one checked to see if they were alive or dead. The next day another one hundred Swabian civilians were killed. Sixty of them were from Baschaid and forty more from Kikinda. They were killed in the same way as the group the day before.
The large number of remaining older Danube Swabian women bothered the Partisan command now that most of the men had been liquidated. On December 17, 1944 the first group of older and elderly Swabian women was shot. That evening for no reason at all another sixty-four women were selected. Most of these women were simply too old to work. Thirty-two of them were from Sanad. They were all shot the next day in an area behind the camp.
For several weeks now with the mass shootings and executions the thousands of Danube Swabians who once lived in the district were reduced to those who were in the Kikinda camp. Some one thousand victims were buried in the fields behind the Milk Hall. Months later the earth sank where the mass graves were located. Pigs that came to scrounge for food and dogs often pulled up bones and body parts of human beings. When this became known throughout the city, the authorities had the land leveled and sowed oats over it, to hide and cover up the genocide that had been perpetrated there.
The extermination camp at Kikinda earned a reputation for its gruesome atrocities. In the summer of 1946 a young man was successful in escaping. Because of that all of the remaining inmates were brutally punished. All of them had to stand in one spot for three days in the camp courtyard in the hot July sun. During these three days they received nothing to eat. Whoever wavered in any way had to stand on their toes. The Partisans then placed a board with a nail driven through it just under the heel of the victim so that if he sought to rest on his foot he would impale himself on the nail. Just another example of what the Partisans were prepared to do to exterminate the Danube Swabian population as painfully as possible.
Heufeld was a Danube Swabian community in the northern Banat almost on the Romanian border. In the early days of October in 1944 the Partisans took control of the area after the Russian Army had moved through and the leading Swabian men in the Heufeld and Mastort, seventeen in all were taken from their homes and after gruesome torture in neighboring Kikinda were put to death.
On November 2, 1944 the Partisans arrested all of the Swabian men and eighty-six of them were brought to the town hall. They also wanted to take Adam Steigerwald, a seventy-five year old retired Roman Catholic priest who had returned to the village where he had been born. He protested and refused to the leave rectory. The Partisans beat him with their rifles and forced him out of the rectory yard. The Partisans continued to brutally assault the old man in one of the rooms in the town hall. The other Swabian men who were standing in the courtyard of the town hall both saw and heard how the old priest was being manhandled. The Partisans knocked him down and jumped on his stomach breaking countless ribs in the process. Because of his internal injuries he was unable to rise from the floor. They tossed him down the stairs so that he landed at the feet of the men in the courtyard. Not even now was he able to raise himself. The Partisans shot him from the stairs in disgust. This was the morning of November 2, 1944. In the afternoon the priest’s body still lay there. Finally, the Partisans called the Gypsies to take the body for burial. They stripped him of his clothes and buried him naked along with some dead animals.
On the same day the remaining Swabian men in Heufeld were driven on foot to Kikinda where after brutal torture by the Partisans most of them were killed. Only three men from Heufeld survived.
Anna Klein of Heufeld remembers:
“My father was reported missing in action from the German army in 1944, and then in the same year at Christmas, the Russians dragged off our mother to go to forced labor. With hefty sobs we cried after her, “Momma stay with us! Don’t leave us!” It was only years later that we discovered she had been taken to Ukraine where she along with many other Swabian women was working on construction projects.
I remained behind with my older sister and younger brother. We lived with our great Aunt until the spring of 1945 when all of us Swabians were forced to report at the town hall in the neighboring village. She got us already to go and sent the three of us on our own, because she felt it was her duty to remain behind with her mother who was unable to walk. My sister, who was nine years old at the time, took us two younger siblings by the hand and we followed close behind the rest of the people from Heufeld.
A huge crowd of people had already assembled at the front of town hall by the time we arrived there. Because we were terrified and we were beyond crying we witnessed what was happening all around us. How fortunate we were, to be able to find our grandmother in the midst of all the weeping and fearful people who immediately grasped us into her arms as we clutched her body in every way we could. We were taken to the internment camp in Molidorf where hunger, poverty, fear and need became greater and greater every day. We lay on straw with many other people all packed together. Many people began to die because of hunger, exhaustion and mistreatment and abuse. As children we watched many people around us starve and die.
One day our grandmother was to be among the victims. In the early morning she slept longer than usual, and we did not want to waken her, but she never woke up, she lay dead there beside us on the straw. She was wrapped up in a blanket, and a wagon that came by every morning to pick up all of the dead, arrived and took her along. We were not allowed to go with her and we watched from a distance and saw the place where she was buried in a mass grave. We now faced everything alone among strangers. After two years the Communists took the surviving children who had escaped death into their State Homes. This included the three of us who they considered to be orphans and put us in the Children’s Home in Debeljaca. Here we found ourselves treated like human beings again, we could even sleep in beds. But what was most important to us was the fact that we could eat to our heart’s content.
During this early period away from the camp I lived in constant fear of the future and what it might hold for me and my brother and sister. Because of everything we had gone through I was mistrustful and kept everything to myself and distant. Shortly after we had been able to be rehabilitated physically we were all sent to different State Homes. We had all been Swabian children in the first home but now we were placed among Serbian orphans. At the age of nine I entered the Serbian public school. We had already had a working knowledge of the Serbian language but now we were forbidden to speak German and I could only speak a few words to my sister in German secretly in the hiding places we found. If we had been discovered doing so we would be severely punished and have our eating privilege suspended for a day or we received a beating.
Slowly but surely I began to lose my ability to speak in German or even remember it, until I could only speak Serbian. But now we were well treated. They took a special interest in the state of our health and children who were still weak were sent to special rehabilitation. As a result I spent some time with a Serbian farm family and on one occasion I was taken to the Adriatic coast to Split. The first letter we received was from my uncle and for the first time we had news of our mother and this filled us with a rising sense of hope. After years, there was hope and joy once more after our abandonment. After what seemed like forever for us children who held on to our hope on October 12th in 1950 I arrived in Germany to meet my mother for the first time after six long years.
There were one hundred and twenty Danube Swabian families who lived in Ruskodorf. The remainder of the population was Hungarian. They were all poor people; most of them did not own land and hired themselves out as day farm laborers on the large estates, and the two nationalities lived in harmony with one another. After the annexation of this portion of the Banat to the new state of Yugoslavia after the First World War many Slavic colonists were brought from the south and settled here by the Yugoslavian government. The estates of the Hungarian nobles who had left the county were divided up among these new colonists and the Hungarian and Danube Swabian population were not eligible to buy any of it. After the Partisans came to power in the fall of 1944 these colonists wanted to confiscate the homes and property of the Swabians and see to their physical extermination. During the first days of October, there were twenty leading Swabians in the community who were taken by force to nearby Cernje, including four women. Here they were imprisoned in a cellar along with many other Swabians from the area and were brutally abused for several days. On October 27th most of them were shot in the meadows just outside of Cernje where they executed one hundred and seventy-four of them.
Fourteen Swabian men from Ruskodorf were taken to the camp at Kikinda and seven of them were brutally killed shortly after they arrived. Another group of men were taken to the camp at Julia Major where many of them perished.
But in Ruskodorf itself there were large portions of the Danube Swabians who were being gruesomely liquidated by the Partisans. On November 5th, 1944 two men and one woman were horrendously slaughtered, the fifty-six year old machinist Matthias Frauenhofer, the forty-three year old landowner Johann Martin and thirty-two year old Maria Rottenbach. After the Partisans inflicted all kinds of cuts to their bodies with knives, they then chopped off of their arms and legs while they were still alive with axes. The walls of the room where these brutal atrocities were committed were splattered with blood. Swabian women were given the task of cleaning up the mess. The limbless bodies were tossed in a basket, loaded on a wagon and taken and buried in the animal cemetery.
There were ten young women both married and unmarried who were tortured, violated, raped and liquidated by an extermination squad of Partisans made up of eight young Slavic colonists who lived in Ruskodorf who were rabid beasts who committed the atrocity in the presence of other terrified Swabian women in a room of the castle residence of the former Hungarian noble landowner. The five married women, Katharina Kartje, Fanni Hass, Elisabeth Martin, Margarete Frauenhofer and Anna Reff had all of their finger nails torn off by a pair of pliers and then their hands and feet were chopped off with axes and they were raped and tormented until they died. All ten women were buried in the animal cemetery. After this bloodletting the ceiling of the room remained splattered with blood.
The Danube Swabians who remained were in a local camp in Ruskodorf that was set up for that purpose. On April 18, 1945 they were driven on foot out of the village to the camp in Molidorf. A great portion of them died of hunger there. Today you will find the Slavic colonists living in the homes of the Danube Swabians.
There were seventy-one Danube Swabian families that lived in Beodra. At the beginning of October 1944 the Partisans brought twenty-eight Danube Swabian men, mostly from other communities to Beodra. They were imprisoned in the stable of the police station and during the night they were hacked and chopped to death. In addition, ten of Beodra’s Swabian men and two women were taken from their homes and imprisoned in the jail and were abused and tortured for sixteen days and early in the evening of October 18th, 1944 they were shot at the community manure pile. The corpses were later buried. Other Swabians died as a result of individual acts of terror by the Partisans. The rest of the Swabian community was sent to the extermination camps at Kikinda, Betscherek and Rudolfsgnad.
In Molidorf a community in which a thousand Danube Swabians once lived, the Partisans established a large concentration camp in 1945. It was one of the largest in the Banat. Approximately nine thousand Danube Swabians, mostly women and children from various other communities in the Banat were brought here. In the year 1946 there were four thousand deaths. They were simply left to starve. Many of them were abused and shot. In 1947 Swabians inmates were still being put to death. In January of 1947 two children aged twelve and fourteen were shot. In May of 1947 the camp authorities killed two women from Soltur, one of whom had three children and the other four. At the end of May in 1947 this camp was closed down. The surviving inmates were divided up among other camps. But even now in the resettlement of the survivors from Molidorf, the Partisans along the way to the new camps beat the women. The old and sick people who were unable to travel were simply left behind to die because there was no one to care for them.
The North Eastern Banat
“The Hunt for Danube Swabians”
Cernje is located in the northeastern Banat in Yugoslavia. About three thousand Danube Swabians lived there. In addition there were approximately ten thousand more Danube Swabians who lived in the vicinity in the villages of Molidorf, Tschesterek, Heufeld, Hetin, Ruskodorf and others.
During the first days of the month of October in 1944 the Partisans took power from the Russian military. Their rule was bloody and gruesome. The most atrocious acts were carried out by the Gypsies who lived in a settlement in close proximity to Cernje. The Gypsies had always been work-shy and intensely jealous of the prosperity of the hard working and thrifty Danube Swabians. The Gypsies joined the communists and Partisans who were Serbians and attempted to share power with them. They let the Danube Swabians know that they had power in no uncertain way and they were prepared to use that power ruthlessly. As the new powers that be, everything that took their fancy they simply took from the Swabians including young girls and women to satisfy their lust.
The first Swabian killed in Cernje was the Roman Catholic priest, Franz Brunet. He was taken from the rectory by Partisans on October 3rd, 1944 and shot for no apparent reason. Immediately after that most of the Swabian men were taken from their homes and divided into groups. At the same time many Swabians from the vicinity of Cernje were dragged here in chains and fetters. Many Swabian women from outside of the village of Cernje were also brought here. Mostly they were women from prosperous families and the “intelligentsia” among the men who were the first to be tortured and killed. As these large groups arrived they were locked in two large cellars and were imprisoned there for weeks. During the evenings groups of Swabians were taken out of the cellars and for hours on end the Partisans abused, tortured and mistreated them in as many ways as possible. Each Partisan was now at liberty to let Swabian blood flow and break arms, legs and ribs, knock in a man’s teeth or simply kill them any way they pleased. A great number of those taken out of the cellar never returned. Their bodies ended up in shallow graves in the meadows. As the numbers of Swabians in the cellar declined, they continued to bring in a new supply of men and women to endure the same fate.
The treatment of the women was especially horrendous. It was brutal, gruesome and bestial. One evening the Partisans took a rather beautiful woman out of the cellar. She had to endure a long period of excruciating torture. They stripped her of her clothes and because she resisted the Partisans and Gypsies used a hot household iron and “ironed” her whole naked body. With deep festering burns all over her body the Partisans threw her down the cellar steps. For the next two days she suffered in the presence of the other prisoners before she finally died of her burns.
On October 8th, 1944 a bunch of drunken boisterous Partisans broke into one of the cellars. Among them was a drunken officer who carried a machine pistol in his hand. All of the Swabian prisoners were forced to stand and huddle against the wall in one corner. The drunk officer simply shot at the tightly packed group of prisoners in the corner at point blank range in every direction, resulting in bloodying and killing many of them. The numbers killed and wounded was enormous. The landowning farmers Kampf, Anton and Maier, Josef from Cernje lived for a few days one of them wounded in his lungs and the other in his knee but received no medical help or bandages. Finally on October 12th both of them were taken out of the cellar by the Partisans and shot up against the wall at the entrance way. In the meanwhile the surviving prisoners were tortured and individually liquidated night after night with new methods devised by the Partisans.
On October 22, 1944 on what was a Sunday, all of the surviving Swabians in Cernje who had not been imprisoned in the cellars were forced to dig a pit for a mass grave. It was twenty-five meters long, six meters wide and 3 meters deep. On October 24th, which was Tuesday the new governing officials had drums beaten in all of the streets of Cernje to publicly announce to the entire population that all of the Danube Swabians were to be put to death. The Serbian population and the Gypsies were invited to come and watch the massacre. Later that day at 2:00pm, one hundred and twenty-four Swabian men and fifty women were led in fetters from the cellars where they had been imprisoned for weeks. They were bound with wire to one another and were beaten and thrashed all along the way to the place of execution and screamed at by the Partisans and the Gypsies who had gathered to watch. They were beaten so badly that they were unrecognizable. When they arrived at the place of execution all of them were stripped of their clothes and were shot by a huge mob of Serbians and Gypsies. The Swabians were bound together in groups and driven to the mass grave by some Partisans and shot by them and then tossed into the pit. The clothes of the dead were put on a wagon and led back to town by the new “officials”. The clothes were sorted and divided up among the Serbians and Gypsies. The very next day they walked around town wearing the clothes of the dead men and women with great pride.
Hardly was the massacre over when the new “officials” had street announcements made everywhere in Cernje that wherever Danube Swabians were still living they would be slaughtered that evening. Armed Gypsies went from house to house and informed the young girls and women that they, the Gypsies, had been given the right, the power and the order by the authorities to rape and slaughter them if they wished. In fear and trembling of what awaited them, not less than seventy-five married and single young women and their families took heir own lives on the evening of October 24, 1944. Some whole family groups chose to die together. Mothers threw their little children into the well and then jumped in after them. Other mothers hung their children and did the same to themselves beside them. It just went on and on in a night of horrors as the Gypsies went on a rampage of lust, rape and murder.
The aged former mayor Peter Stein and his wife Susanne chose suicide. Johann Goldscheck was one of the men who had died in the massacre earlier that day. Gypsies raped his wife and daughter-in-law in front of the two children in the house. When the Gypsies left all four of them took their own lives. Eva the wife of Kaspar Rottenbach, Maria the wife of John his son, and their two daughters aged twenty and twenty-two were raped by a group of Gypsies in front of the two men. All six of them then committed suicide. They hung themselves in the attic of their house all in a row. These are only a few examples. This is the gruesome way in which the new People’s Democratic Republic of Yugoslavia of the Communists and Gypsies was introduced into this region of the Banat.
On October 25, 1944 it was time to liquidate those still imprisoned in the cellars plus the continuing oncoming victims being brought in from the surrounding region who fed the insatiable massacre machine. On that day there were still four hundred and eighty living Danube Swabians, including thirty women. They were bound to one another with ropes and wire and were led by heavily armed Partisans and pushed, abused and mistreated all the way to an estate called “Julia Major”. From here they were to be taken to various hard labor camps. But there were numerous situations in which individuals or groups were slaughtered in the most gruesome manner.
On November 15 and 16, 1944 there were one hundred Swabian men shot at one time and included sixty-seven farmers from Stefansfeld and thirty-three Swabians from Pardanj. This massacre was at the insistence of a Serbian woman Partisan. Her husband had attacked German troops during the occupation and had been shot by them by return fire. She now wanted to see the blood of hundreds of unarmed Danube Swabian civilians flow in revenge and she had her heart’s desire.
Among the imprisoned Danube Swabian civilians in the cellars there were also Danube Swabian refugees from Romania and one German Army officer prisoner of war, Hans Konrad from Hatzfeld. He was badly crippled from the torture he endured at the hands of the Partisans and was unable to work. These were the grounds for the Partisans for his liquidation. His wife was also in the camp. As he was being led out to his execution, his wife left her labor group and ran towards him. She reached him just as they were about to shoot him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and refused to leave him. They were shot together, even though neither one of them was a Yugoslavian citizen. This occurred on November 9, 1944. On that same day another eleven persons were liquidated. Most of them were sick or due to the treatment and torture they had endured that they were unable to work. The camp commander who ordered these shootings came from Ban. Karadjordjevo. He had already been responsible for the deaths of countless others in Kikinda and later in Julija Major” where he boasted of that.
In the bitter cold of New Year’s Eve of 1944/1945 all of the inmates in the camp were driven out of their quarters at midnight. They had to stand and wait in the cold and the snow and then on the orders of the Partisans they had to do sit-ups in the snow for about an hour. But whoever got up and down too fast was beaten terribly. The women had to endure the same thing. A pregnant woman who was a Danube Swabian from Romania was not spared either. As a result of this “exercise” she give birth to a child that died shortly afterwards. This operation was carried out in reprisal because of a speech given by a Nazi official that was heard over the radio. The operation lasted as long as the speech. On April 18, 1945 the very last of the Swabians in Cernje who were still alive were driven out of their homes and taken to concentration camps. But on April 19th, twenty-two elderly people among them were unable to walk were driven out of the camp at night and were shot. Often in the following days both men and women were taken out at night to be shot for no apparent reason at all. And many young women were taken out at night and disappeared forever. Most of them were buried in one of the mass graves.
Karoline Bockmueller of Cernje writes:
“On October 4, 1944 at 8:30am the Russian troops passed through Cernje and headed west. In the afternoon of the same day they were followed by groups of Russians who had been prisoners of war in Romania. Only some of them were armed and remained in Cernje for a few days. Towards evening of the day when they arrived they went from house to house to rob and plunder under the direction of some local Serbian Partisans. During the night countless women and young girls were raped by the Russians, Partisans and Gypsies. One of their victims was a nine-year-old girl (Eva B.) She was badly injured having been barbarically raped by nine men. She became unconscious and her legs could no longer bend. On the following day her mother hung her and herself. This was true of many of the other women and girls.
The sisters Maria and Susanne Rottenbach were raped as well as Sophie B. who later had a child as a result. Therese Hoenig was raped by six men and was injured so badly that she was unable to walk and could only crawl on the floor. The following were also raped: Katharina and Gertraud Goldscheck.
Therese Hoenig and her mother as well as the Goldscheck and Rottenbach sisters all hung themselves the next day in their attics. The only raped woman who went on living was Sophie B.
On October 5th groups of Gypsies from the area went from house to house and yelled to the Swabians inside that they were to come to the commons where they would be shot. Gypsies and Partisans also entered some houses and took a number of men and some women whose husbands were in the German army and locked them in the cellar at the town hall. On hearing this news, fifty-four persons, men, women and children hung themselves, took poison or jumped in a well and drowned.
On October 7th, 1944 the Partisans took our priest Franz Brunet to the town hall. He was so badly whipped and beaten along with four other men, so that none was able to walk. The Partisans propositioned the priest that if he wanted to run away all he had to do was to jump over the wall and they would let him live. The priest used all of his strength to jump over the wall. As he reached the top of the wall the Partisans shot him. The other men who had been abused with the priest were beaten to death. The priest’s housekeeper Frau Klementine was brought to the town hall and she had to wash the blood away. Other women who came to do the cleaning at the town hall daily had to bury the dead priest and the other men at the garbage dump. In the cellars of the town hall in addition to the Danube Swabian men from Cernje there was a larger number of men imprisoned with them from the surrounding area: Stefansfeld, Heufeld, Mastort and others.
On October 8th or 9th in 1944, Franz Hoffmann begged a Partisan guarding the cellar to shoot him because he could not stand the torture and pain he had to endure. The Partisan shot him on the spot and soon other inmates begged for the same fate. One Partisan shot at them with his machine pistol and hit three of them: Peter Weissmann, Nikolaus Tabar and Josef Mayer. None of them was dead but all were badly wounded. But all four were buried alive in the grave at the garbage dump.
Men and women were taken out of the cellar at night and were whipped and tortured, while others were abused in the cellars. There were fifteen year olds among them. All of them were hardly recognizable because of the terrible tortures their bodies had endured, and as they were led two by two bound to one another by the Partisans to be shot at the dump we could only identify them by their voices or their clothes, which were often just rags that clung to their bodies.
The mass shootings lasted from October 12th to November 7th, 1944. Every day several Swabians were executed. The last shooting was on November 11th, 1944, and on that day the mass grave was covered over. There were always public announcements that the shootings were taking place and everyone in Cernje was free to come and watch.
The victims were forced to undress naked at the dump, and step towards the mass open grave where a Partisan shot them in the back of the neck and the victim would fall forward into the pit. Some of those who were shot were not dead immediately but whimpered for most of the day and some long into the night until death finally released them. Our schoolmaster Franz Kremer and Hans Goldscheck and Katharina Schillinger were dragged by the hair from the cellar by the Partisans and Gypsies and screamed in pain on their way to execution. The woman was not killed instantly as a result of the shooting and she whimpered and groaned until the next day and crawled around among the decomposing corpses in the mass grave. The Gypsies were given permission to kill her with shovels and spades, which they then followed through on.
From Cernje alone, as far as I can remember, the following men and women were shot and buried in the mass grave at the dump (she names fifty-two victims). I cannot remember all of them anymore.
On November 27, 1944 all men and women who were able to work were ordered to report. There were three groups formed. One group of men and women went to the hemp factory, the second had to work on the farms, the third group, mostly older people had to empty, pack furnishings and possessions in the houses of the Swabians. Regardless of where they worked they were guarded, beaten and threatened with death by Partisans if they did not work hard enough or fast enough. My own seventy-year-old grandmother, Katharina Bockmueller had to load furniture. Once when she was unable to lift a chest she was beaten by Partisans and Gypsies until she was unconscious.
At noon on December 27, 1944 the drum beats in the streets of Cernje announced that all young women, both married and single, from eighteen to thirty years of age and men from eighteen to forty-five were to report to the town hall next morning at 4:00am. They were to bring food for fourteen days and a change of clothes. These people were loaded in cattle cars at the railway station. The windows and doors were locked and the transport of eighty young women and thirty-five men were deported to slave labor in the Soviet Union. Eyewitnesses told me of the heart-rending scene at the railway station. Parents were not allowed to say goodbye to their children and had no idea of where they were going. I was sick in bed at that time.
Towards the end of February 1945 we younger women who were still in Cernje had to dig up the corpses of those who had hung themselves or took poison when the Partisans had arrived and started the pogroms. These were often buried in their own gardens because we were not allowed on the streets at that time. We had to unearth them and put them in the mass grave close to the cemetery. The Partisans wanted us to dig up the bodies with our bare hands but the local Serbians hindered that from happening.
On March 18, 1945, along with four other women from Cernje I came to Luise Puszta by Etschka. There was a slave labor camp here with around one hundred women and fifty men from various communities in the Banat who had been dragged here like we had. With nineteen other women I shared a small room. We had to sleep on the floor with some hay and straw beneath us, and it was an earthen not a wooden floor. There was no way to heat the room and it was over run with rodents and insects, cockroaches and lice. In order to wash or clean ourselves we had to go to a nearby creek, but there was no soap. We worked in the fields from sun-up to sundown. And of course we received very little food and what we received provided little nutrition. We were thrashed and beaten on our way to work and on our way home.
In September 1945, along with twenty other women I was sent to Elisenheim to care for cattle there. We were all accommodated in one house and slept on straw on the floor. The commander here was good to us. With his own money he bought extra food rations to help us survive since we had to work so hard.
While I was here in Elisenheim I decided I had to try to escape in order to find out where my daughter was, but a Croatian woman betrayed me and as punishment I was sent to work at the fish pond in Etschka.
On May 10, 1946 along with another inmate I escaped and we headed for Rudolfsgnad because I was told that is where my seventeen-year-old daughter was and that she had given birth to a boy. When I got to Rudolfsgnad I found out that my daughter Maria and her twelve-month-old child had both died of hunger on April 8, 1946. I had to report to the camp commander at Rudolfsgnad and I was interned in a room with about twenty adults and ten children. Here we slept on straw that lay strewn on the floor. Some of the inmates suffered from dropsy and were all bloated and swollen. They died shortly afterwards. Food was almost nonexistent. Those who worked got a bit more.
As a result I reported for work and I was sent to work in the forest to cut wood and reeds for the camp bakery.
On May 8, 1947 since my child had died, there was nothing keeping me in Rudolfsgnad so I escaped from the camp and made my way to Molidorf to search for my mother. There I was to learn that both she and her sister had died of hunger.
From among my extended family, fifty-six of them either starved to death or were victims of the mass shootings. Upon my arrival in the camp at Molidorf all of the camp inmates were sick. They sat in the yard under the trees or lay in the yard. They whimpered from hunger and pain. They were a fearful sight. But even these poor dieing people were beaten and kicked by the Partisans whenever they passed by them. On August 20, 1947 I escaped from the camp at Molidorf because life was becoming more and more impossible there for me. I fled to Romania. Here I found my uncle and aunt with whom I traveled across Hungary to Austria and from there to Germany where I now live.”
Jakob Bohn provides this declaration with regard to the fate and destiny of the inhabitants of his home village Stefansfeld:
“Close to the evening of September 30, 1944 the Red Army crossed over from Modasch in Romania and marched into my home village of Stefansfeld. Serbian Partisans took over all authority and ruled according to their will. Along with the confiscation of the land owned by the Danube Swabian population there was wholesale robbery and many cruelties were inflicted upon the people. According to my own accounting of the two thousand eight hundred and eight inhabitants of my home village from September 30, 1944 until the closing of the camp in 1948, seven hundred and fifty-two persons were liquidated. Six hundred and forty-six died in various camps, large numbers of who starved to death. Six persons chose suicide, sixty-nine were shot and twenty-three persons were and are still missing. In addition eight persons from among the one hundred and thirty-five persons deported to Russia to forced labor in the coal mines did not survive. That is the balance sheet for my home village. I was among those deported to Russia.
(He digresses with regard to the leadership of the Swabian German Cultural Association and its leadership and the fate of some of them.)
Grossbetscherek was the capital of the Yugoslavian Banat. It had a population of thirty-five thousand. The Danube Swabians made up about one third of the inhabitants. The rest of the population consisted of Serbians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians and Bulgarians. The most prosperous landowners were the Danube Swabians. They were also the most industrious and had purchased the most and the best land.
A local Serbian government was constituted here on the day the Russian Army arrived on October 2, 1944. It was discarded only ten days later. Communist Partisan bands arrived from Syrmien and took over control. On the first day of their coming to power, it was a Tuesday, October 10th the new authorities closed off the western sector of the city early in the morning, effectively cutting off the Danube Swabian population that lived in this section of the city. Armed groups of Partisans, including uniformed women, went from house to house. They checked the credentials of all of the population in this sector of the city, and any man or male youth who was believed to be “German” was driven out of their houses.
“Are you German?” was the only question that they asked. If the man was, the command that followed consisted of three words. “Chain and shoot!
All of those Danube Swabians thus apprehended were subjected to cruel abuse, butted with rifles and dragged off to the Serbian part of the city. They arrested about three hundred men in this way. They were assembled on Takovska Street. In the yard of one of the houses they were forced to take off their clothes. In groups of ten they were driven out into the streets. There was a long brick wall on one side of the street and the men had to kneel in front of the wall and were shot in the nape of the neck. The Partisans brought wagons and dumped the bodies into them. They had had a great pit dug on the site of the shooting range of the former Hungarian military installation from the First World War located in the east end of the city. All three hundred dead were dumped there. Among the victims was one fourteen-year-old boy. A few days later, his father and brother-in-law were also shot. A few days later and following, most of the Danube Swabians were driven out of their homes. They were taken to various camps. One of them was a former old mill in the north end of the city. But thousands of Danube Swabians from the vicinity were also forced into the “mill” camp. There were also sixty German prisoners of war, and hundreds of Danube Swabian men, women and children from the Romanian Banat who had fled westward from the advancing Russian Army, but were unable to continue on their trek from here and were imprisoned with the Swabians of Betscherek.
At the entrance into the mill there was a small room. The Partisans set it up as a torture chamber. Every night, whenever the Partisans felt the urge to shed Swabian blood they would round up individuals or groups and take them to this room. In the first night alone they slaughtered twenty-five men, one after another. At first they knocked out their teeth, used their rifle butts on their backs around their kidneys, smashed and shattered their shins with logs, threw them to the ground, jumped with all their might on their stomachs, broke their ribs and let them die slowly. If they were still alive they bashed in their heads with their rifles or pieces of lumber. The louder the victims screamed the Partisans sang louder and played their harmonicas and accordions to drown out the noise of their pain afflicted victims.
The sixty German prisoners of war imprisoned with the Danube Swabians were also subject to the same fate, and except for twenty-six men were killed by the Partisans. In addition most of the men among the Danube Swabian refugees from Romania met their deaths at the hands of the Partisans including a very young boy from Detta, in the full knowledge of the fact that they were not Yugoslavian citizens. The murder of the child Minges Walter was orchestrated by the Partisans in the courtyard that was set up like a circus ring and all of the inmates of the camp, especially the women, some four hundred persons in all had to witness and watch how Swabian children were liquidated.
Very often there were mass shootings in this camp consisting of groups of up to one hundred fifty men and women, and sometimes even more. Those who were chosen for execution were often the owners of the homes and possessions taken over by the Partisans. The victims were always handpicked. In the camp courtyard, once chosen they had to step forward and were then bound to one another by wire and then were brutally beaten by the Partisans. They were driven on foot to the shooting range and were forced to dig a huge hole. On other occasions other inmates had dug the grave a few days earlier. They had to undress and ten to twenty naked persons had to walk to the edge of the pit, or down into the grave and were then shot. Anyone who resisted was beaten or stabbed to death with a bayonet. The graves afterwards were covered with only a bit of earth to hide them from sight. The Partisans took the clothes away in a wagon and traded them in the city or wore them themselves with great pride all around town.
The first official shootings took place on October 12, 1944 when seventy-five Danube Swabian civilians were taken out of the camp and were killed. On October 14th another shooting took place with as many victims. It went on like this every other day. On October 20th a group of seventy men from Grossbetscherek were shot. On October 29th in two separate actions the Partisans shot one hundred and fifty-four more men.
On another day all of the camp inmates had to report for roll call. All of these who had gone once to high school were to step forward. They were promised lighter work. Those who reported had no idea that anything bad could come of it. The sixty men were bound with wire, whipped, beaten, stripped naked and shot.
In the face of all of the torture he had to endured one young Swabian who was terrified of what more was to come decided on suicide. On the way home from doing forced labor all day he jumped off the bridge across the Bega River and drowned right away. It was in the middle of winter. The Partisans used this to good effect. As soon as the slave laborers entered the camp, they chose thirty of the men to be shot as punishment for the suicide.
On November 17th, 1944 the Partisans carried out a gruesome atrocity involving the killing of sixty ill people. On that day all those who were sick or unable to work were to report to the “hospital” as quickly as possible. Those unable to walk were separated from the others and locked in a room. In the night they were ordered to take off their clothes and in groups of ten they were driven out into the camp courtyard. There they were awaited by a large group of Partisans in the darkness who slugged them on their heads with their shovels. Italian prisoners of war had to take the beaten dead bodies and toss them into a wagon and take the wagon out of the camp and bury them. The next day the courtyard was still splattered with blood.
The killing of the sick became a regular feature of the life in the camp. But these actions were always in groups. November 25, 1944 there were fifty-four who were killed. Another time it was seventy, while another time there were only thirty-five and so on.
But a large number of inmates in the camp met death individually. On the night of November 29, 1944 there was one such case because the man was eighty-five and could not do heavy work and was taken from his quarters out into the courtyard and murdered by the Partisans. He was buried in the courtyard in a grave the old man had to dig himself. Victims like him were not always dead but badly wounded when the Partisans got through with them and were buried alive even when the victim begged them to be shot. On one occasion a Swabian man had been part of a mass shooting and was only wounded but thrown into the grave with the dead. During the night he came back to consciousness and crawled out of the shallow covered grave and made his way to the edge of the mass grave. He was stark naked. He called out to a passerby to help him. The man in turn informed the camp commander instead. He immediately sent a squad of Partisans who brutally murdered the badly wounded man.
Large groups of inmates from the Grossbetscherek camp were sent to do forced labor outside of the camp. Even in these situations there were many of them who were beaten or shot to death by the Partisans while on these labor details. On May 20, 1945 seventy-five men for example were sent to the rock quarries in Beotschin in Syrmien who were accompanied by a large number of heavily armed Partisans. The march was accompanied by constant beatings and abuse. On turning over their prisoners to the officials at the Beotschin quarry where they were to work, they reported that twenty of them were totally incapable of work due to the injuries suffered by them on the march. All of them soon died after their arrival.
If Partisans in other villages had the desire to murder some Swabians they could order some from the camp in Grossbetscherek or have them delivered to them. They were gladly sent on the part of the camp officials. On October 25, 1944 the Partisans in the Serbian villages of Melentzi and Baschaid were holding a special celebration. The high point of the festival was to be the public massacre of some Danube Swabians. For that purpose thirty Danube Swabians from the Grossbetscherek camp were sent to the festival. There they were programmatically shot and beaten to death at the festival.
On December 27, 1944 the commander of the Grossbetscherek camp sent thirty-nine sick persons, thirty-five men and four women by wagon to Ernsthausen. They were all slaughtered in gruesome ways as the high point of a Partisan celebration.
An escapee from the camp in Betscherek reports:
“I was familiar with the internal operations of the camp. I had to inform the commander of the camp of the number of inmates every evening. Because of that I can realistically estimate that in the winter of 1944/1945 more than four thousand people simply “disappeared” who were listed in the camp log as having died of typhus. In truth, like the gravediggers reported to me, the dead were beaten or shot to death. I saw the entries myself. The old school teacher Koller from Elemir was thrashed three times in our room one night for no apparent reason. I counted two hundred and eighty-five gashes. The old man did not make a sound. In the morning he was dead. One of the favorite methods of abuse by the women Partisans was to pull away at people’s tongues. Our own women who were kept in another building had all of their hair shaven off, even in terms of their private parts. Our own barbers had to do it. Many women were raped, including my own daughter…
Life in the Betscherek camp was worse than death could possibly be.
Wake-up call was at 3:00 am. The camp was divided into numerous groups. After being awakened the thrashings and ridicule began. The men had to go out into the camp courtyard with their upper torso naked while it was still dark to do “free sport activities”. There was a well in the yard with a wooden trough attached to it. Water collected from the frequent rain, and the water had not been run off and because the yard was packed with so many people it was usually a sea of mud. With curses and swearing the early morning “sport” began with the Partisan guards using rubber hoses and clubs on the men. These half starved men had the wind knocked out of them and then had to walk around in the cold dampness of late autumn for half to a full hour in the dark, then forced to kneel, lie down and then crawl in the mud. Only when the “free sport” was ended did they allow the mud encrusted people—there were seventeen thousand men, women and children—to use the wash trough. But because there were so many people most could not even get close to it to make themselves wet. There was no such thing as soap.
On some occasions when the inmates were sprawled in the mud the Partisans would begin to “dance” on their bodies. A band of musicians would accompany them to drown out the screams. During the dance they used clubs and whips on the people as well as wearing heavy boots with cleats. This usually lasted for half an hour. Five to ten people would be left dead in the mud. After the “dance of death” everyone was driven back into their quarters, but because it was not yet dawn the Partisans had to fill in their time, so that the inmates were thrashed and tortured by the guards until 5:30 am.
Then came breakfast: a thin watery soup and fifty grams of bread. After breakfast the groups were sent out to work. There were various work groups. The work at the railway stations and boat yards was hard labor, as was the task to empty and load goods at the warehouses. They worked without stop from 6:00am to 6:00pm. Often there was no food at noon. At 6:00pm they were marched back to the camp and often some of them just simply could not go on. These victims would be forced to rise and continue with beatings, whippings and kicks to vulnerable parts of their bodies. If they could not get up, others would have to drag them, when they themselves could hardly go on as it was. As they entered the camp the guards and sentries who had rested all day for this, now once again got into the act and welcomed them with beatings and all kinds of physical abuse. The inmates were given their rations of their way to their quarters, watery soup and fifty grams of bread. After supper there was no further official work. They cowered in their so-called beds, only a very few managed to sleep, because the guards entered the barracks, and called the names of various prisoners and in front of all of the other prisoners they beat and abused them. Very often they thrashed those who were asleep for no reason and with no warning. During these evening hours the sentries were usually drunk and carried out two or three roll calls. All of the prisoners had to stand. The roll call consisted of a smack to the head or face or a jab against the chest of every tenth prisoner. Often some prisoners were taken into the punishment cell and were beaten and tortured for hours. The local Serbian civilian population was also given a free hand and could have access to the camp to beat and punish the Swabian inmates. Near the end of 1945 the surviving children and the elderly Swabians from Betscherek and the surrounding vicinity were taken to the larger concentration camp at Rudolfsgnad on the Tisza River.
The concentration camp at Betscherek was closed and dismantled on May 22, 1947 when only a small number of prisoners had survived and were still able to work. These survivors were first taken to St. Georgen and from there they were sent as slave laborers to the Serbian coalmines and to work on collective farms. But in Betscherek not a single Danube Swabian lived in any of their former homes. Slavic colonists and the families of the locally stationed Partisan units now occupied their houses.
Dr. Wilhelm Neuner who had once been a member of parliament in Belgrade reports:
“These Communist Partisans carried out mass shootings from the very first days of their Military dictatorship and ruled throughout the whole country. In the capital city of Grossbetscherek, in which twelve thousand Danube Swabians lived, the western sector of the city was cut off from the rest of the city and this is where the vast majority of the Swabian inhabitants who were mostly farmers lived. They broke into every home and liquidated all of the men they could find. Only a small portion of the men was left unmolested. I myself was led away to be executed. But only by a fortunate set of circumstances I was able to get away. But my father-in-law and five other relatives all of whom were farmers were taken and shot with countless others. In the whole of the Banat, during these first days of Partisan rule the total number of Danube Swabian civilian victims who were killed in mass shootings and liquidations numbered close to ten thousand persons, including both men and women.”
Hans Diewald from Betscherek writes:
“On October 10th the so-called German quarter of the city was blockaded by armed Partisans where the majority of the Swabians lived. The Partisans went through the German quarter with a fine toothcomb and dragged off all of the Swabian men from their homes. They were bound to one another in groups under heavy guard and led to the former Honved (Hungarian National Army) barracks. Other Partisan units began to arrest Hungarians and Swabian women as well and brought them to the barracks. The women and the Hungarians were later released after several hours of imprisonment. Some two hundred and fifty Swabian men were shot that day including youngsters from thirteen to seventeen years of age.
On October 12th the German Quarter was once again blockaded only this time the Partisans arrived at 5:00am because during the first blockade at 8:00 am on the 10th many of the men were not at home, but had been in the city on various errands or were out working in their fields or had gone to a nearby village for some purpose. During this second blockade they captured almost all of the Swabian men including myself. All of us were taken to the so-called concentration camp a former jail, which had originally been a mill and were locked up in there.
In the following days newly arrested Swabian men arrived each day at the camp. The men were caught in groups, had been taken off of the streets or taken from their homes. Day after day Swabians were delivered to the camp. By November all of the Swabian men were in the camp.
The women of the city, especially the Danube Swabians were the victims of rape and sexual violation by the Russian troops. The number of rape victims increased daily. The Serbs sent the Russian soldiers to the Swabian houses where there were women. A friend of mine, sixteen-year-old Otto Tarillion told me that he was forced to watch while his mother was being raped repeatedly, while one soldier held a loaded gun aimed at him.
On October 12th the Swabians from the surrounding vicinity were brought to the camp in Betscherek from Rudolfsgnad, Perles, Sartscha, Modosch and Stefansfeld. At the end of the week, on Friday or Saturday, the mass shootings began. The first mass shooting took place on October 10th. At that time two hundred and fifty men were shot. The second shooting to place on October 20th and about two hundred persons were shot at that time. The third shootings took place on October 23rd with thirty victims and the fourth on October 18th involving one hundred and fifty-two persons.
Before the shooting took place on October 23rd it was announced that all lawyers and professors were to report. Because only a few did so, the Partisans threatened to shoot every tenth man. As a result twenty-three men reported including merchants and officials that also included thirteen to seventeen year old high school students. On October 19th at 7:00am several of my friends and I were taken to the execution place in the forest. We were ordered to dig a mass grave. As we did our work we were all convinced that we would be shot. But as it turned out it was meant for the two hundred who were executed on October 20th.
In the camp we were awakened at 2:00 or 2:30am in the morning. We had to perform “free sports”. We were driven on foot through the camp and every time we passed a Partisan sentry we were beaten or thrashed, but that was also true while we ate or worked as well. We worked on bridge construction and erecting silos. We also had to load food stuffs and provisions to be sent to the Russian troops. The Partisans who were our guards were seventeen to twenty years of age. These were the ones who carried out the mass shootings. There were also women Partisans (often teenage girls) who participated in the execution squads. Italian prisoners were often called upon to bury the victims of the shootings. An Italian told me that often people who were badly wounded were thrown into the mass grave. He often heard their groans as he had to throw earth upon them and buried them alive.
Each day in the camp we were fed twice. In the morning there was clear soup and in the evening pea soup. We received a small piece of bread in the morning and evening. In November of 1944 all of the Swabians in the Banat were confined in camps. There were forced labor camps in Lazarfeld, Kathreinfeld, Klek and Ernsthausen. Before the entry of the Russian troops Betscherek had approximately fifteen thousand Danube Swabian inhabitants, but some eight thousand of them had fled with the retreating German army.
I was in the camp to the end of February or the beginning of March 1945. Then I was sent to the camp hospital to work. It went much better for me there. I had better rations, but I had to work under constant guard. At the end of May I was back in the camp and from there I went to work at the silos. While working there I escaped. It was on September 7, 1945. I first fled over the border into Romania. I worked there for some farmers. On December 27th I returned to Betscherek by way of Johannisfeld an der Bega. I hid out at my uncle’s who was a Serb.
At the end of November 1944 there were forty-nine sick inmates in the Betscherek camp who were promised they were going to rehabilitation but were taken to Ernsthausen instead. They were marched off early in the morning under heavy guard and remained under guard on their arrival in Ernsthausen. The commander of the camp there was a Serb from St. Georgen. He recognized the young nineteen-year-old Georg Saal from St. Georgen. On the order of the commander young Saal was tied to a stake in the dung pile that was set on fire and Saal was burned to death. The remaining forty-eight others from Betscherek were beaten with clubs, whips, pipes and stabbed with knives and butchered by the Partisans. Later one could see the results of their work along the street. Brains were splattered on walls, and streams of blood filled the street. A young girl from Ernsthausen witnessed this and told me about it. Her family name was Kramer I had met her in Johannisfeld in Romania.
On January 1, 1946 I left Betscherk and returned to Romania again. I left there on January 10th for Hungary. I arrived in Vienna on January 17th.”
Michael Kristof a high school student recalls:
“The Russians moved into Betscherek on Monday, the 2nd of October, 1944 and with them came the Tito Partisans. The behavior of the Russians was in some measure bearable. They took what they wanted and occupied themselves with raping women. In the city of Betscherek the first Danube Swabians were arrested and imprisoned in a camp on October 5th. At first it was the Swabians from Betscherek who were on the agenda of the Partisans, but there were also groups of Danube Swabians from the surrounding communities who were also brought here.
The numbers of prisoners who were brought to Betscherek were at the behest of the local Serb and Partisan leaders. As an example, the commander at Betscherek requested sixty men from Lazarfeld.
The local commander there, a local Serb, had the courage, to send only half of the men he was ordered to send for which the commander in Betscherek was more than satisfied. Of these thirty who were sent, fourteen of them were shot. Those Swabians who were not delivered to the camps remained in their community, and then another group was taken to the camp. A portion of them being sent to Betscherek at Christmas were sent to Russia instead. All of the rest came to the camp in April 1945 as the total Swabian population was imprisoned in the camp.
It was at night when it was worst in the camp, with the hearings and selections and the shootings. Those selected for the shootings at first were those who were well dressed, were physically strong or who through sickness were too weak to do any work. There were not real rules or a pattern to the selections, it was a matter of filling the quota that had been set. Those who were chosen were taken to a separate room, where they had to undress and were then tied to one another with wire in groups of four and taken to the old military firing range on the outskirts of Betscherek to be shot. None of the Partisans had any measure of education and were determined to exterminate the “intelligentsia” of the Danube Swabians. They would ask, who happens to be a doctor? A physician? Druggist? Merchant? Teacher? And so on. People who had these professions were to report for lighter work because they were not suited for hard heavy work. This trick often worked and many men fell victim to it.
Records were kept at the camp but the shootings in the protocols were simply identified as “died” after the person’s name along with the date. This was a function of the camp administration office and carried out by Swabian inmates and they made the entries in the book of protocols under the direction of the Partisans. I was assigned to the office for one week in mid-February 1945, but then the political commissar a woman Partisan had me removed. But during that week I leafed through this book of protocols because I wanted to find out what had happened to my friends and family members, where they were, if they were still alive or if they had been sent to another camp, or had been shot or had died. My own number in this book of protocols was 3214. Through this glimpse in the book of protocols I learned that those I had been searching for who were well known to me and those of whom I had heard had all been shot and had simply “died” according to the recorder.
From this glimpse into the book of protocols it was obvious that very many people who were listed as having died had in fact been executed and shot. For instance, on October 28, 1944 one hundred and fifty inmates had been shot, but in the protocol each one was listed as having simply died. This was also true on other days in terms of smaller groups such as the thirty who were shot previously to that. The shootings were always justified as reprisals. Each day we had to assemble, sometimes more often and stand in the yard in the three columns. We never knew the reason beforehand. Sometimes it dealt with sending some of us to another community to work or some kind of detail the Partisans had in mind for us. At such assemblies there were individuals chosen for the next shooting, and we would be told it was done “in reprisal”.
Through discussion with others in other camps I learned later that these shootings also took place at that time for the same reason, which indicates that the central leadership of the Partisans had set it in motion everywhere.
On Tuesday October 10th 1944 the Partisans surrounded the German quarter of Betscherek. Groups of Partisans went from house to house, searched them and asked each person for their Legitimation (an official document of identity). These documents were in both German and Serbian, that everyone had to have in which the nationality of the individual was stipulated which had been filled out during the German occupation.
All of the Swabian men, who were not yet in the camp and were found at home were led together in one of the side streets of the Market Place and mowed down by machine gun fire. An eye witness shared this with me, who had been saved from the massacre by a Serb whom he had befriended for years and indicated that the victims had to undress their upper torsos, kneel down and where then shot.
The treatment the inmates received in the camp were as follows: Reception into the camp was mostly by hefty kicks, boxing their ears and body punches. Few were able to escape this. Then the man was robbed of everything and anything of value and usually all he had left was the clothes he wore. If he had good footwear of clothing it was either taken from him or it became a reason for him to be selected for a shooting. It was assumed the man was rich and capitalist who needed to be liquidated. With reception completed the inmate was then led to his quarters.
The central camp at Betscherek was a burned down mill, two stories high. A second camp was erected in November to accommodate the greater portion of the civilian population as women now were also imprisoned and interned.
In the three large rooms filled with machine parts the inmates were packed together in two story high bunks. In each room there were about three hundred men accommodated, so that in all there were up to two thousand in the camp at all times. In the smaller rooms in the mill were the women and children and the so-called ambulance, kitchen, storage area and office, and one room for the privileged inmates who worked in the kitchen and office or in other places in the camp.
No one was allowed outside of the room at night. Because so many of them had dysentery, in each of the machine rooms there were two large barrels, and two people had to watch out that no spills took place. On one occasion, all of the inmates had dysentery and the barrels overflowed and the two people who were called upon to make sure this did not happen were forced to lick it up in the morning for allowing it to happen.
At night when the people were exhausted and tired coming from work began the uncertainty whether one would live through the night or not in the face of the interrogations, tortures, beatings that always occurred at night. For that reason the inmates in spite of their bodily weakness went to work in the morning with a sense of relief just to get out of the “nut house” in which they lived. But with feelings of despair they returned once again in the evening to face it all over again.
On entering or leaving the camp there were always Partisans on the stockade around the courtyard standing on the stairs with ox hide belts with which they lit into in the inmates passing by them. The inmates called this their normal dues.
Shootings occurred for all kinds unreasonable things. The following is an example. A tradesman from Betscherek who had to work privately in the city, usually came home later from his workplace by the time his comrades were all asleep. Not wanting to awaken them from sleep, he lit a match in order to find his spot on the upper bunk. A Partisan on the street outside noticed this light and came up to the room and asked, who had lit a match. The tradesman acknowledged that he had and was made to come down off of his bunk and lie down on his stomach on the floor and the Partisan shot him in the nape of his neck right there in the room. I witnessed this myself because I was in that room.”
The report of a friend of Michael Kristof who wishes to remain anonymous:
“I come from Grossbetscherek, Banat, Yugoslavia and on 04.10.1944 I was placed in the central camp in Grossbetscherek. At that time we were only a few men in the camp. I was placed in room number three. In the afternoons I had to gather the horse manure in my hands and clean up the horse and stall. In the night of October 4/5 I was awakened and called out to the yard and was forced to press my face up against the wall and was beaten and my head was banged against the wall, so that the bones in my nose were broken.
Some time later they brought two of my comrades, Anton Hufnagel and I do not want to disclose the name of the other for good reasons. Anton Hufnagel had been informed he had to go down into the courtyard. He was so badly beaten that he was in a mental fog and he repeated all of the rude names that Partisans flung at him, and as a result they kept hitting him with their rifle butts. After we were beaten and abused so badly we were led to the police in the city in a farmer’s wagon. There we met other Swabian men from the city that we knew.
Anton Hufnagel was immediately taken into a room where his torture and mistreatment would continue, while a radio blared, harmonicas were playing along with violins so that his cries and screams could not be heard outside. After a short period of time I was brought into the room. I found Hufnagel lying on the floor totally motionless. Now I had to completely undress. Me feet were tied together and my hands were tied behind my back. In this way I had to stand on a stool. The Partisans whipped me with ox hide belts until I fainted. My flesh hung like pieces of rags from my body. They poured cold water from a pail all over me. As I came to I had to stand on the stool again. At first I knelt on the stool and then I tried to stand up as my feet were still tied to one another.
The thrashing went into motion once more until I fainted and collapsed once again. Cold water was poured all over me once again and then they rubbed salt into my wounds and I just lay there in my pain. Now our third comrade came into the room he was put through the same torture I had endured. During his torture, the hairs on my chest and between my legs were burned off by the apply a burning kerosene soaked rag that they threw at me. In my unconsciousness I felt the burning searing pain and saw the burning rags on me and turned on my side, so that the burning rag fell off of my chest onto my arm and burned my left arm.
In the meanwhile Anton Hufnagel was beaten to death with their rifle butts. Later worms infested my wounds that I healed through rubbing my own urine into my wounds for months, and also in Russia I did the same, because I was determined not to report sick because that would have meant that I would be shot. This torment lasted two to three hours. Afterwards our hands and feet were freed and we had to get dressed, and then our hands and feet were bound again, but in such a way that our hands were behind our backs tied to our feet with a rope. We were trussed up like that for around eighteen hours until midnight with our open wounds that had been rubbed with salt, without being able to move to alleviate the terrible pain.
Around midnight our feet were untied and the three of us without Anton Hufnagel who was now dead were lead out of the room and had to climb on board a wagon with our hands still bound and were taken to the courtyard and headquarters of the Secret Police and handed over to them. On arriving inside the three of us were tossed into a cell together. Every night we were interrogated and beaten for several weeks. For food we received two pieces of bread daily and some water. Once a week we were shaved but it was hardly a pleasant experience. After about three weeks all three of us were taken back to the central camp because they could not prove we had done anything wrong that was worthy of further punishment.
At the Secret Police headquarters we were witnesses of the abuse of a woman named Zita by the Partisans and saw what happened to her through the window of our cell. We saw how she had to dance naked on a table and then lie down on the table and part her legs for the Partisans who stuck the barrel of a revolver into her vagina and made her stand up and keep it inside of her. She was then shot. Through the window we also saw a young man of about twenty-eight years, whom none of us knew, whose penis they cut off while he was still alive and stuffed it into his mouth. What happened to him after that we have no idea. On being returned to central camp we were once again interrogated and beaten and tortured and we were constantly threatened with shooting. I was put in a single cell in which three men lay unconscious. The commander with his revolver knocked in my teeth and I was forced to swallow them, and the injuries I sustained killed the nerves. One night we were locked into a very small cell for twelve hours so that none of us could find rest or move about and it became harder and harder for us to breathe and we were afraid of suffocation and we could not attempt to even fall down to find release because we were packed so tightly against each other.
After this night we were divided up in various cells. After six days we were locked into a room with about thirty men, given a piece of bread and water and were not allowed to leave the room. We had to relieve ourselves in a barrel.
After eight days we were driven on foot to do labor. We had to get up at 4:00am. Then we received some warm soup and now a larger piece of bread and when we returned from work in the evening we received another piece of bread and warm soup. During the three weeks that my companions and I had been in the Secret Police prison and later imprisoned in the various cells in the central camp many men had been shot. On December 28th 1944 I was taken along in the large transport of about one thousand eight hundred persons of which the vast majority were young women both married and single and sent to Russia. There were no more than three hundred men among them. In Russia I worked mostly in the coal mines until my release in 1949.