From the book:
“Voelkermord der Tito-Partisanen 1944-1948: Dokumentation”
Oesterreichische Historiker-Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer Kaernten und Steiermark, Graz 1990
Translated by Henry Fischer
Genocide in the Banat (Part Two)
“This is where innocent blood flowed like a river”
The South Eastern Banat
“Crimes of Horror”
In the famous wine producing city of Werschetz in the Banat until the end of the last war there were twelve thousand Serbian inhabitants and large numbers of Hungarians and Romanians alongside of sixteen thousand Danube Swabians. After the Partisans took over power at the end of 1944 after the Russian military left they liquidated individuals and groups of Danube Swabians by shootings, beatings, deportations and other measures estimated to number six thousand victims. In addition to this, countless Swabians from the surrounding numerous Danube Swabian settlements in the vicinity of the city were brought to Werschetz to be exterminated.
Beginning on October 3, 1944 the new police authorities carried out mass arrests of Danube Swabian men in Werschetz. About four hundred of these men simply disappeared without trace. Every night an always-increasing number of people were taken out of the jail and taken to a cellar or another place by the police and were beaten, shot or put to death in some other manner. Among these victims were also Swabian refugees from Romania who were in flight of the advancing Russian army, but had been unable to leave Werschetz before the Russian troops arrived and were taken prisoners by the Yugoslavian Partisans. The corpses of the victims were buried in a variety of places in the city, including the yards of some of the victims.
On October 10th, 1944 there were one hundred and thirty-five Swabians, including a teenage boy and one woman that were forcibly assembled by the Partisans on one of the main streets of the city and shot in public in broad daylight. They had to kneel down in rows and received a shot in the back of their heads. Whoever refused to kneel was thrashed and brutalized, stabbed, had their teeth knocked in, shot several times and only after suffering for some time were finally killed. The woman, Viktoria Geringer was the mother of the teenage boy who was also put to death. The others were vineyard owners and workers on their way home from work after gathering in the harvest, with grapes piled high in their wagons when the Partisans simply took them and killed them. When all of them were dead the Partisans brought other wagons and loaded the corpses on them and took them to the dump. But the body of the woman had a rope tied around her neck and they dragged her body behind the wagon through the city. On top of the bodies of the dead Swabians sat jubilant Partisans and Gypsies. They did gross things to the bodies as the wagon moved along, made music with an accordion and sang Partisan songs.
On October 23rd the leading Swabian citizens of the city, some thirty-five of them, were taken from their homes and put in the city jail. They were gruesomely tortured there for the next two days. Some of them were already killed by then. On October 25th early in the morning they were tossed on a truck and driven out of the city. They disappeared forever. The well-known teacher, Nikolaus Arnold and the lawyer Dr. Julius Kehrer were among them.
They also imprisoned two hundred and fifty German prisoners of war in the city jail at that time. They were taken away in groups at night around 10:00pm after being brutally abused before they were led away with their hands bound to the open fields around the dump. Each time a huge ditch had been prepared. The intended victims were placed in groups of twenty after being stripped naked and were forced to walk to the edge of the pit and each one was shot in the back of his neck. The sounds of the shooting could be heard in the whole city.
On October 25th the former Swabian mayor Geza Frisch and five other leading Swabian spokesmen were also shot at the dump. These men had been imprisoned for several days in a room in the mayor’s office and on the evening of the 15th they were fettered and driven through the streets of the city. The Partisans followed behind them on wagons. The men had to shovel and dig their own graves and take off all of their clothes and stand naked before their executioners. Then each of them was shot in the nape of his neck. The next day Partisans could be seen walking around in the city wearing their clothes.
Particularly gruesome was the treatment of countless Swabian women and young girls of Werschetz. Hundreds of them were dragged away by Partisans and were never heard from again.
On October 27, 1944 all of the remaining Swabian men in the city were taken from their homes and brought into the recently designated concentration camp for Danube Swabians. They also brought in the Swabians from the district and packed them together in the camp numbering about five thousand. The camp consisted of five barracks, which could not at first accommodate all of the people. But soon the camp was empty. In the evenings trucks arrived day after day. Groups of one hundred men who had been previously chosen were loaded on the trucks and driven away into he night. All of these people disappeared. The routine of first undressing and then being shot was carried out, and all night long the shooting could be heard in the city. As a result the numbers in the camp gradually declined. By December of 1944 there were only three hundred and fifty men left of the thousands who had been brought there. These survivors were sent to forced labor at Guduritz doing forestry work and later were sent to heavy labor in Semlin where the majority of them perished.
Many of the Swabians also died inside the camp as a result of abuse, starvation, torture and individual executions. This treatment was especially designated for the well to do and educated Swabians. Hundreds of them were buried close to the camp. These actions were carried out on official orders from the highest authority that were well aware of the atrocities taking place.
On November 18, 1944 after most of the men had been liquidated, the Swabian women and children of Werschetz were imprisoned in the almost empty camp. From here thousands were sent to other camps where the women had to do heavy labor in winter and many of them perished. Large groups were sent to Mitrowitz, Schuschara and other camps. There were also large groups of men from Weisskirchen in these labor units. The majority of those who lived to the end of 1945 were brought to the large concentration camp in Rudolfsgnad. Most of the people from Werschetz died of hunger here in the winter of 1945 and 1946. There were only a few individual survivors.
Three thousand Danube Swabians lived in Karlsdorf. It was occupied by Russian troops on October 2, 1944. The Partisans appeared right afterwards and set up their Military Government. By October 5th they were already arresting large numbers of Swabian men and women. Every night people were arrested and taken away. The nights during this period of time were especially dangerous for young women and girls. Russian troops were always on the prowl in search of women to rape. One seventy-three year old woman was the victim of three Russian soldiers. Both men and women were soon considering suicide. On October 9th there were twenty-eight men who were locked up in a tiny room. On November 6th their torment began as they were abused, beaten and tortured. The most horrible torture included knocking in a man’s teeth, plucking out an eyeball, cutting off their penises, breaking ribs and other bones. As a result many of them died and were shot later.
On the 4th and 8th of November thirty-eight Swabians including six women, one of whom was in the final stages of her pregnancy were dragged off to Uljima. On November 9th four of them who had been brutally tortured returned home. As for the others, there was never any word at that time. Later it was learned that they had been shot in Weisskirchen on the night of November 9th and 10th.
On November 12th all of the men from the age of sixteen to sixty had to report and were imprisoned in the deserted German air force barracks. It was surrounded by barbed wire and now served as a slave labor camp. But here mistreatment and torture continued. One of the most feared of the Partisans was Livius Gutschu, a man who had murdered his own father, but who boasted of it until he himself was arrested and disappeared. On November 18th the Swabian women and children and all of the others who were unable to work from Alibunar were brought to Karlsdorf. They were quartered in the Swabian houses. Some two hundred men were taken out of the camp a few days later. They had to chop wood at Roschiana some twenty kilometers distant until the spring. They lived there in earth dugouts. One of the men from Uljma fell out of favor with the commander who had him so badly beaten and tortured that he collapsed. He was forced to take off his trousers and they tied a brick to his genitals and with thrashings and whippings they encouraged him to dance. In December these brutalities intensified and many died as a result of them.
At year’s end, two hundred and eighty persons from Karlsdorf were deported to Russia. When the wood felling brigade returned in the spring, two hundred men were again immediately sent to Semlin. Most of the group came from Karlsdorf (one hundred and thirty-two), Weisskirchen (twenty-seven), Schuschara (fifteen), Alibunar (ten), Uljma (six) Ilandscha (four) Jasenova (three) Seleusch (one) and some from other communities.
On February 12th six hundred men from the camp in Semlin (including ninety from Karlsdorf) were sent to Mitrowitz, where they joined four hundred men from Apatin and its vicinity. When the group was brought back to Semlin on May 25th, there were one hundred and twelve fewer men who had died building the railroad or as a result of being shot to death. Of the ninety men from Karlsdorf, twenty-one of them had died there. In May of 1947 of the one hundred and thirty-two Karlsdorf men in camps, only sixty-six survived. When the camp in Semlin was dismantled in September and the surviving inmates were sent to Mitrowitz there were still seventeen men from Karlsdorf who were still alive. Next March there were only four.
On April 27, 1945 all of the remaining Swabians in Karlsdorf were driven into the camp. They remained there for four weeks while their homes were being emptied of their possessions. After a period of four weeks the Swabians were quartered in homes in one section of the village. During the summer all of the able bodied had to work. All of those not able to work at Karlsdorf were sent to Rudolfsgnad at the same time as the inmates from the Kathreinfeld camp. Some four hundred and fifty persons arrived in Rudolfsgnad on October 30th, including two hundred and sixty-four persons from Karlsdorf. By April half of them had starved to death. In March of 1948 only eighty persons from Karlsdorf were still alive. In the summer of 1946 more and more people attempted to escape to Romania and then headed for Austria through Hungary. Many of the people from Karlsdorf were successful, but many others were apprehended, captured, robbed and often tortured and shot by the Partisan heroes who received medals for liquidating the “German criminals”.
In mid April of 1946 and later over a period of time larger groups of inmates were sent to Guduritz and Werschetz. In Guduritz escape and flight into Romania was unofficially tolerated so that those who were there were able to save their lives. Later, that is, in the spring and summer of 1947 there were large groups organized at Gakowa that crossed the border into Hungary. There the planned escapes were also unofficially tolerated because of the money payments involved.
Today Karlsdorf is known as Rankovicevo named after the commander of OZNA (Secret Police) and became the last station on the road of suffering of the Yugoslavian Danube Swabians who ended up at the camp there which became known as the “old folks home” describing the condition of the survivors of the holocaust who had nowhere else to turn or go when it was finally over.
The center for the extermination of the Swabians in the vicinity of Alibunar was the town itself. In November 1944 the mass shootings of men had taken place. The victims always had to take their clothes off first. Later the Swabian women in the camp in Alibunar had to wash the clothes that had been distributed among the Partisans. This is one of the ways that the Swabians knew who, when and how many of the men had been killed.
On November 18, 1944 all of the women and children, and all others unable to work were taken from Alibunar to the Karlsdorf camp. The able bodied were sent to various slave labor camps in the area. Whoever could not keep up with the pace of the marching column was shot and the bodies were thrown into the roadside ditches.
Klara Knoll of Alibunar writes:
“Alibunar was a regional center with a mixed population, mostly Romanian and Serbian. Of the five thousand inhabitants there were two hundred and twenty Danube Swabians. Most of the Swabians were merchants, tradesmen, artisans and craftsmen.
On October 3rd, 1944 the Russian troops arrived in our town. Only two days later the Serbian Partisans put in their appearance and took over the local government. The first Swabian men and women were arrested around the 15th of October. Prior to being shot they were tortured, thrashed, beaten and abused. Their toenails were torn off, the Partisans had poured gasoline between their fingers and set the gasoline on fire. Following the shooting some Swabian women found their toenails wrapped up in the wash that the Partisans brought them to do. Some Hungarian women who had been responsible for bringing them their food were the first who brought news of the victims and their deaths to the Swabians. Wives were not allowed to bring anything to their husbands or come near the building where they were imprisoned. One of the Partisans known to me through a friend told me that after the torture my husband was no longer recognizable.
On November 17, 1944 all of us who were still alive were taken to Karlsdorf. Swabians from other villages in the area who were a small minority were also taken with us. Before we were marched out of town the Partisans held a speech in which they said that not all of us would be shot, but we would be their slaves for the rest of our lives. The Partisans who accompanied us were told to shoot anyone who was unable to keep up with the marching column. Three of the people from Alibunar were shot, including my own eighty-six year old father, Edmund Bauer on the outskirts of Alibunar along with two women.
We arrived in Karlsdorf that evening. All of us had to stand up against a wall. We thought that we would be shot. The children began to cry. We were divided up into groups of ten and quartered in various houses. The owners of the houses, women whose husbands were interned or doing slave labor, still lived in their own homes and were threatened with shooting if any of us was missing the next day. For that reason I did not leave the house where I was assigned and I only became aware of my father’s death some three days later.
In Karlsdorf we had to work in the fields and do other heavy labor, but we had warm houses to sleep in and we could dry our wet clothes or borrow clothes from the Swabians of Karlsdorf.
After a week of being in Karlsdorf, on Saturday November 25, 1944 sixteen men and women from Alibunar were shot in our town, including my forty-three year old husband Franz Knoll. In addition to the men and women from Alibunar there were eighty other persons from other villages in the area who were also shot and most of them came from communities where the Danube Swabians were a small minority. They were shot and buried at the so-called cemetery dump. They had to dig their own graves and were bound together in groups of ten and had to stand on a plank across the grave and then were shot and fell directly into it. The first to fall in dragged in all of the others and then they were shot again for good measure as they lay in the grave. All of the men and women were forced to undress completely and were shot naked. Because the women hesitated to undress gasoline was poured on them and their clothes were set on fire and then they were shot. On their way to execution the women had been told: “We are taking you to your Hitler.” On their way to the shooting place the women’s hair was shorn.
For several days no one was allowed to go near the mass grave. The dead bodies were covered with only a thin layer of earth and soon dogs unearthed some hands and feet. As a result aged men from Alibunar who were unable to work in the forest had to walk back home to Alibunar that was five kilometers away and cover the grave with sufficient earth.
The Southern Banat
“A Bloodbath Without Borders”
Hundreds of years previously Danube Swabian colonists had established what began a major community on the north bank of the Danube where formerly the Turkish fortress Semendria had stood in the midst of a swamp. It was known as Kovin and five thousand Danube Swabians lived here. But in the region about Kovin there were other large Swabian settlements at Ploschitz, Mramorak, Bavanischte, Homolitz, Startschevo and others whose population numbered in the thousands.
The new People’s Democratic Yugoslavian government of Tito and the Partisans systematically exterminated in excess of ten thousand Danube Swabian men, women and children living in this region. The able bodied men from fifteen years and older in these communities were to a great extent shot or beaten to death. Thousands of young Swabian women, both married and single were dragged off from their families and young mothers from their children and were taken to Russia as forced labor. Not a single teenage girl or women returned home in good health. The remaining Swabian population was relentlessly driven out of their homes and lost all of their property. Everything they had was taken away from them. Even the shoes and clothes that they wore were demanded from them and were handed over to the Partisans. Now wearing only rags they were dragged off to concentration camps in the region of Kovin. This provided the setting later for the deaths of thousands of them, either as individuals or in groups who were liquidated by the Partisans who slaughtered, beat, shot, tortured or performed other gruesome deeds that led to their deaths, while others were simply left to die of starvation. Not a single Swabian was left to live in Kovin or the other communities in this region.
On October 13, 1944 the leading Swabians of Kovin were taken from their homes and were put to death in gruesome ways. Among these first victims was Josef Fitschelka who operated a soda factory. He had to undress until he was naked in the yard of the former landowner Franz Schneider and then he was brutally abused. The Partisans took a two handed saw, held him down on his back and sawed their way through his body across his chest and stomach from left to right while he was still living. He screamed terribly. After him similar gruesome methods were used in killing the other well-off people. Among them was the entire family of the estate owner Franz Schneider.
Immediately following this the Partisans began to arrest all of the remaining Swabian men in Kovin. They were all imprisoned and for days they were fearfully tortured. Early in the morning at 2:00am on October 19th two hundred and eighty of these men were shot at the slaughtering range. Four German prisoners of war were also executed with them. Twenty other men who were shot later had been forced to dig the mass grave at the execution site. When the pit was dug they were ordered to move back fifty paces from it and lie down sideways. The two hundred and eighty selected victims and the four German prisoners of war were fettered and led there and were forced to undress and in groups of ten they were ordered to lie down in the pit. Whoever disobeyed was fearfully abused. Once the men were lying in the pit the Partisans shot them from above. Then the next group had to lie down on top of the dead and severely wounded naked men and they were shot in the same manner. This went on like this until all of the men had been liquidated. The twenty men who were kept waiting, then shoveled earth over the dead and badly wounded men until the mass grave was completely covered over.
On October 20, 1944 another one hundred and five Swabians from Kovin were shot in the same manner.
Now that most of the men from Kovin had been exterminated, the Swabians from the vicinity now had the full attention of the Partisans. Day after day, long columns of Swabians from the surrounding district came by wagon and on foot. They were fettered and badly beaten and bloodied. They were put in the camp at Kovin and for days they were terribly tortured before they too suffered the same fate as the Swabians from Kovin.
Before the war over one thousand three hundred Danube Swabians lived in Ploschitz. When the Partisans took power they arrested and imprisoned many of the Swabians. On October 14th the Partisans had a party at the local village pub with music and dancing. It was Sunday. Next to the inn, in various rooms in the community center the Swabians were imprisoned. Around midnight a pack of Partisans got their commander to allow them to get some of the Swabians from over in the community center. The first was Martin Repmann the prosperous butcher. He was led to the office of the community center. Without any reason at all, and pure bravado, a woman Partisan hacked off the finger of his one hand with a sword in the presence of the village authorities. Following that another Partisan severed his hand up to his wrist. Other Partisans drew out their knives and stabbed him while at the same time they bashed in his head with their rifles. Gypsies later dragged his body out to the dump and buried him were dead animals were left to rot.
The second victim to be brought in was a married woman, Lina Klein. The drunken Partisans, who dragged her out to the yard of the community center, stripped her naked. The Partisans crowded around her and stabbed her with a knife in the area of her vagina, and hacked off a finger of her one hand. They broke her other hand. They were still not satisfied with their bloody handiwork. They stabbed her numerous times around the throat. She bled profusely, but was still not dead. Only after a drunk Gypsy stabbed her in the back with a long knife did she finally collapse. In the presence of some two hundred witnesses, mostly Serbian Partisans and Gypsies her body was dragged to the well where more Partisans used her corpse for target practice with their pistols.
Their third victim that night was Ernst Schreiber the watchmaker. He was literally butchered by the Partisans with their knives. Now that the Partisans had quenched their lust for blood on their Swabian victims they went on with their party at the pub. On the following day the arrest of the other Swabians in Ploschitz continued. These prisoners were fearfully tortured and abused over the next several days and then on October 19th they were force marched over to Kovin. At that camp they were badly mistreated and beaten and individually or in groups they were killed.
On October 23 there were only forty-two Swabians still alive in Ploschitz. On that day they were shackled and driven on foot to the dump and shot there. The method of their liquidation was a carbon copy of the procedures used several days before in the shooting of the Kovin Swabians. Among the victims from Ploschitz was the photographer Stefan Luftikus. While they were being forced to undress and be fettered, he called out to the Partisans, “During the four year occupation by the Germans we protected and defended you Serbs and nothing happened to a single one of you. And now your thanks is to kills us?” Right after speaking these words he was executed.
Mramorak was one of the two largest Lutheran Danube Swabian communities in the Banat along with Franzfeld.
After the Partisans had taken the Swabians from Ploschitz to Kovin large numbers were also taken in shackles from Mramorak. These too had earlier been driven out of their homes by the Partisans and imprisoned. After horrendous abuse by the Partisans, hundreds of Swabians from Mramorak were driven on foot to the Serbian village of Bavanischte where they again were mistreated, beaten and tortured and on October 20th they were shot en masse. After that the surviving arrested Swabian men and women in Mramorak were taken to Kovin. All day long they were newly tortured in horrendous new ways and some among them were murdered. On October 28th thirty-seven women and teenage girls from Mramorak were shot. Prior to their execution they were beaten and tortured unmercifully in the jail at Kovin and stripped of all of their clothes because the Partisans wanted them for their own wives and girlfriends. They force-marched the naked women and girls, beating and thrashing them along the way to the place of execution, the local dump and animal burial ground. Others had been forced to shovel out a mass grave for them. They, like the men, the day before them were driven to the mass grave awaiting them. They too had to lie down in the grave as the men had and then they were shot. Any who resisted were shot on the spot and tossed down among the other naked women and girls who had preceded them. Among the young girls was Susi Harich one of the most popular girls in Mramorak. At first she was simply shot and badly wounded to make her suffer. She called up to her executioners, “Shoot me in the head,” and a Partisan stepped forward and killed her with one shot of his pistol.
In one day, October 22, 1944 the Partisans killed two hundred and eighty-seven Danube Swabians including very many children in the village of Homolitz. Thirteen-year-old Knabe Moradolf was among them. They were all taken from their homes, one at a time, imprisoned in the town hall and mistreated and abused. The next morning they were shackled and then driven on foot to the brickyards at dawn. There they had to strip themselves of all of their clothes and then in groups they were driven to a large pit that had been used in the production of bricks. There Partisans who mowed them down with machine guns encircled them and their bodies were thrown into the pit.
As the first of their extermination efforts in Startschevo the Partisans proceeded much as they did at the same time in the entire district around Kovin and arrested and killed ten of the leading Swabians who lived there. A few days later, all men fifteen years of age and over were driven together at the local Guesthouse at night, and were horribly tortured and abused over a period of time as was true in all of the other Swabian communities in the district. At a later date, all of them had to strip naked and leave their shoes and clothes in the Guesthouse. The Partisans bound them to one another with wire and before dawn the naked prisoners were force-marched to the place of execution to the old brickyard with constant beatings and thrashings from whips along the way. Near a large pit they were forced to halt. Under the pressure of the constant beatings by the Partisans with their rifle butts, groups were forced to the edge of the pit and were shot before sunrise. Not a single man from the age of fifteen upwards was left alive in Startschevo. Among the victims was one of the leading Swabians in the village, whose family does not want his name to be mentioned and his two sons. While the father was wired together with his oldest son, his younger son, not yet fifteen years old was bound to a very physically large man. The method of shooting used by the Partisans was simultaneous and directed at whole groups and this large man was hit and fell headlong into the pit. At the same time he pulled the young boy in after him who had not been hit by the spray of bullets all around him. Other naked dead men and badly wounded others fell on top of both of them. After the shooting ended, the Partisans and the Gypsies who had also beaten some of the Swabians to death, left without filling in the mass grave. The young boy made use of the blood running all over him from the others to free himself from his shackles. He crawled out of the grave and left quickly stark naked. He found sanctuary with some relatives and a few weeks later he left Startschevo and found safety and a hiding place in Pantschowa.
From the village of Bavanischte there were also Danube Swabians who had been fearfully tortured by the Partisans and taken to Kovin in shackles in October of 1944. They suffered the same fate as all of the other Swabians in the district of Kovin and were treated brutally and shot. Especially gruesome was the fate of Swabian women and young teenage girls. On October 29, 1944 the Partisans put to death twelve young girls and women from Bavanischte at the dump outside of Kovin. They had been imprisoned in the courthouse at Kovin from the time of their arrival from Bavanischte and had been there for some time. They had been molested and abused fearfully. On the night of October 29th the Partisans took them out of their place of imprisonment and stripped them of their clothes. Most of the teenage girls were from among the prettiest in the area and the married women were among the healthiest. The Partisans wanted to rape the prettiest among them, Julianna Dines who was eighteen years old. But she resisted with all of her might and strength against the attempts the Partisans and Gypsies made to rape her and she screamed frightfully. In their fury because they were unable to achieve their goal, the Partisans took a pair of pliers, held her down and tore out a piece of flesh just above her vagina and she began to bleed profusely. During that same night all of the women and young girls were shackled, stripped naked and driven on foot to the place of execution and shot. But Julianna was first shot in the foot to make her suffer and left to lie there beside the grave. The young Swabian was brave to the end and called out to the Partisans who were mostly Gypsies to shoot her in the head. One of them finally did.
South Western Banat
The largest community in the southern Yugoslavian Banat is located where the Tisza and Danube Rivers meet, the site of the city of Pantschowa (Pancevo). It is the oldest settlement in the Banat. Along with the Danube Swabian inhabitants there were numerous other nationalities: Serbians, Romanians, Slovaks and Hungarians that lived together in peace and harmony for two hundred years. Because of their almost inborn sense of the value of work and industriousness the Danube Swabian population secured for themselves a high standard of living, even though they lived under various forms of government during that history with different attitudes toward them. Up to the beginning of the Second World War the city of Pantschowa had a population of twenty-five thousand, among whom the Danube Swabians numbered twelve thousand persons. The Swabians were the mainstay of the local economy and industry and several thousand other Danube Swabians lived in the numerous villages that surrounded or were in the vicinity of the city.
The Russian army arrived in this region in the first days of the month of October 1944. Under their protection communist Partisans seized power and inaugurated a gruesome reign of terror. All of those who appeared to be opponents or a threat to communism were meant for extermination. This meant not only the followers of General Nedic, but the Royalist Serbians the Chetniks of Drascha Michailowitz not to mention the Danube Swabians who were to be totally and systematically liquidated. Of the approximately forty thousand Danube Swabians in Pantoschowa and its vicinity, only a few thousand had fled or been evacuated by the German forces. The others remained with a clear conscience and did so without fear. They had absolutely no idea of what lay ahead for them. They were all to be exterminated, simply because they were of German origin, and today not a single Danube Swabian lives in this region or has possession of his home and property there.
As soon as they came to power the Partisans began with the arrest and liquidation of the leading and most esteemed Swabian men. The first victims were the well to do whose property and possessions the Partisans wanted for themselves. All of these Swabians were imprisoned in the so-called “old stockade” which was part of the district prison complex. But in addition, thousands of Swabians from the surrounding vicinity, both men and women of “standing” were brought here and were tortured unmercifully for days. Whenever the Partisans had a thirst for blood, desired sadistic pleasure or were drunk they would call for victims from among the innocent, defenseless, chained and fettered Swabians in order to kill them and watch them die. They would be dragged out of the packed cells of the prison as individuals or in groups for no reason at all and be subjected to unimaginable cruelties until the Partisans had their fill or grew tired of it. Just as in other regions of the Banat, the victims were thrown to the floor and the Partisans would use their rifle butts on their backs always aiming for their kidneys, and turned them over and did the same against their chest to break their ribs, bash in their teeth with their revolvers and break their nose. Many, many Swabians never recovered from this abuse.
Only after several days were the Partisans satisfied with their efforts at torturing their victims and believed that this method of liquidation would take too long, so they began to form the Swabians into groups and shackle them and drive them on foot out of the prison to be shot in groups. But beforehand the victims had to give up all of their clothes and underwear until they were naked. In this way one thousand six hundred and sixty-six fettered Danube Swabians were led away from this camp prison, usually at night and vanished without a trace. Most of them were led out on to the road that led the way to the village of Jabuka or they were shot at the airport. Nearby a factory close to the airport there were twelve huge mounds still visible in 1946. They are the mass graves of large groups of Danube Swabian victims who were shot and buried here. All of these groups consisted of one hundred or more victims. But many others also died in the prison camp itself.
One of the first victims of the bloody People’s Democratic regime was a young schoolboy Franz Maierhoefer. A Serbian woman wanted to revenge herself on the boy’s parents who had offended her in some way. When the Partisans came to power in Pantschowa she believed she could achieve her goal. She did not ask for the death of the parents, but she requested that the almighty Partisans kill their only innocent and unwary child. The Partisans immediately acted on her request and tore the child from his parent’s arms and in a short time afterwards shot him. The first of those who died as a result of ongoing brutal and gruesome torture in the prison camp was the Lutheran pastor and Dean of the Pantschowa Lutheran Church District Wilhelm Kund. Following the martyrdom of the Lutheran bishop, Philipp Popp who was hanged by the Partisans in Agram, Wilhelm Kund was the leading Lutheran pastor in Yugoslavia. The Partisans tortured him for two hours in the punishment cell in the prison camp simply because he was a pastor. He too endured punches and rifle butts in the area of his kidneys on his back. They struck him across the face with canes and steel rods and broke the bridge of his nose. Then they threw him to the floor. They took turns jumping on his stomach with all of their might and broke three of his ribs. Through this abuse and torture he was a bloody mess and covered with blood everywhere and had severe internal injuries when they were finished. Later he died of his injuries. The well-known lawyer, Dr. Hans Leitner from Kowatschitza was also brought here to the prison camp and after enduring much torture he later died as a result of it.
As time went on, the Partisans brought more and more Swabian men as well as many leading Swabian women from the city of Pantschowa and the numerous communities in the vicinity to the prison camp and after most of them survived untold cruelties and abuse at the hands of the Partisans, the mass shootings began. The first mass shooting took place on October 16, 1944. On that day, one hundred and eighty Swabian men were bound and led from the camp and they were forced to undress and when they were naked they were shot on the road to Jabuka. During this action, the Partisans and Gypsies inaugurated new versions of gruesomeness. The Swabians were pushed forward towards the mass grave in groups by the Partisans or had to immediately lie down naked in the pit and were then shot. Whoever resisted was badly beaten or simply shot standing there. Anton Geier, just after he had undressed was run through with one of the spades used to dig the grave by a Gypsy and his entrails hung out and he lay there in great pain until he was thrown into the grave while still alive. The Partisans also killed the watchmaker Michael Eichart in the most gruesome way. They threw him to the ground and proceeded to cut out three of his ribs while he was alive and then tossed him down into the grave with the other Swabians and left him there to suffer for a long time.
Equally gruesome things were done on October 18th when another one hundred and eighty Swabians who were driven out of the camp with their hands bound were shot. This was followed by three hundred more on October 20th among them were some German prisoners of war. On October 22nd they killed thirty men and one woman. So it went on and on to mid November. On November 9th the former Member of Parliament and lawyer Dr. Simon Bartmann whom everyone knew was a convinced Yugoslavian patriot and never a Nazi was shot along with eighty-three other Swabians. Among these victims were included eleven women and the dentist Dr. Hauber and the lawyer Dr. Bartosch. The others were members of the intelligentsia and prosperous people. There was a procedure that was followed by the Partisans with regard to the shootings. On the day of the planned execution the Partisans went from cell to cell with a list and called out the victim’s name. The victim had to step forward out of the cell. In this way the eighty-four Swabian men and women were assembled in the yard. They were immediately surrounded by Partisans and were beaten with rifles and wooden stakes. Then they were bound with rope or wire to one another and were driven out of the camp and were thrashed and beaten on their way to execution. These victims like the others before them were forced to the mass grave after undressing and met their deaths either by shooting or some other gruesome invention of individual Partisans.
On November 11, 1944 the Partisans drove out all of the Danube Swabians still living in Pantschowa from their homes including the women and children and brought them to the prison camp. Everything that the Swabians possessed was to be left behind or anything they still had was taken away from them. Three thousand and twenty-four of them were then brought to the camp at Brestowatz where there were already over seven thousand inmates. There, in a very short period of time, four hundred of them died. The Swabian women here were driven to do forced hard labor during the winter. Here large numbers of Swabians were put to death or terribly abused and tortured. About one thousand of the younger women and teenage girls were delivered to the Russians for slave labor in the Soviet Union with the compliments of the Yugoslavian government at the end of 1944. Not a single one of them was healthy when they returned home, if they returned. The Partisans also dragged off women and teenage girls from the camp in Brestowatz and to this day no trace of any has ever been found. The father of one of the abducted girls, Suchi Dominik demanded to know what became of her. The Partisans punished him gruesomely for his audacity. They held a burning candle directly beneath his nostrils and under his tongue that they pulled out and then crushed his genitals.
In the fall of 1945, three thousand seven hundred and eighty-four Swabians, mostly women and children who had lived in Pantschowa who were in the camp at Brestowatz were shipped to large concentration camp at Rudolfsgnad. For the Swabians from Pantschowa this meant another mass extermination. By the summer of 1946 only one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four of them had survived. More than half of them, one thousand nine hundred starved to death that first winter. But the Swabian men and women from Pantschowa who were not sent to Brestowatz and Rudolfsgnad, but had been kept back in the camp in Pantschowa continued to be exterminated. They were constantly undernourished and forced to do hard labor. Those who became weak or sick or injured were shot by the Partisans or bludgeoned to death. The sick, frail and those others unable to work were often executed in large groups. On December 11, 1944 sixty-eight sick Swabians along with invalid war veterans from the entire district of whom thirty-two were from the community of Brestowatz were shot. They were liquidated because one could not expect any labor out of their broken bodies nor were they then of any value. The cheapest way to deal with the burden they posed was to shoot them. The invalids also lie buried on the road that still leads to Jabuka.
Many of the inmates at the camp in Pantschowa were taken to other camps to do heavy labor and were liquidated there. Many of them were sent to the camp in Semlin, the so-called show place camp erected for the Danube Swabians. Many thousands of Swabian men and women met their deaths there.
Like Kathreinfeld so also Brestowatz was a community in which Swabian men and women were brought who were sick and otherwise unable to work from various other camps in the District. The sick from Pantschowa were also brought here. Not all such transports bearing the sick arrived in Brestowatz. One survivor of such a transport testified:
“I was in Pantschowa for only one day when a friend encouraged me to report sick. I would be sent to Brestowatz and would not be required to do any heavy work like I would if I remained in Pantoschowa. Because I had relatives in Brestowatz I followed my friend’s advice. But I also had the feeling that perhaps it would be better to stay in Pantoschowa in spite of the hard work. I thought that it was more probable that those unable to work had a greater chance of extermination than the able bodied. But still, I reported in sick.
When the transport was assembled there was no place for me on the wagon. Because of the lack of space eighty-three others and I had to remain behind. The evening of that day all of those who had not accompanied the transport were told to report in. We were told to reconsider going to Brestowatz. Even if one was sick, but was still able to work it might be better to stay in Pantschowa. I joined those who decided to remain even though I wanted to go to Brestowatz. Twenty of us remained in Pantschowa. The rest were then sent to Brestowatz. At least that is what was said. They never arrived there. They were taken to Alibunar and shot and buried there.”
The Brestowatz internment camp was later closed and its inmates were sent to Rudolfsgnad. A great portion of those inmates from Brestowatz who declared that they were unable to work died there of hunger while others were put to death.
In the earliest days of Partisan rule numerous Danube Swabian men were arrested and taken away to Sefkerin or Kowatschitza. Many of them were shot in a field along the way. An eyewitness reports:
“In the second half of October (1944) I was taken to the town hall along with a friend and we were imprisoned. As we entered our cell, we found six other prisoners of whom some were badly beaten. One of them had his hand cut off. Among these men there was Anton Gloeckner from St. Georgen and a man from Ernsthausen by the name of Rotten. I was released with two others but the others were sent to Sefkerin on foot. Not far from out of town the Partisan guard took them to a field and shot them with his machine pistol. One of the men went down before he was hit and feigned death. When he noticed the guard was approaching his victims he saw that he shot each man in the head and placed his own arm over his head and when the Partisan shot him and moved on, the wound was lodged in his protecting arm and had grazed his cheek and outer ear.
As the sentry left, the man stood up and tried to stop the bleeding and thought of going to the village and go into hiding and let his wound heal. As he came to the end of the field a woman Partisan who was without any weapon came along the path and asked what had happened to him. He ignored her and rested under a tree and waited for the Partisan to leave. When the Partisan was out of sight he gathered together the last of his strength and was able to reach a house at the outskirts of the village. He was hidden in the house and a doctor came secretly. A few days later he was arrested again and taken to the prison camp operated by the Secret Police in Kowatschitza.”
On October 30th the Partisans arrested and apprehended forty-six persons including the local priest, Knappe. Their hands were bound and they were taken to a nearby hill close to the village. There they had to strip naked. At the intervention of some of the local Serbs three of the Swabians were allowed to return home, but the others and the priest were shot. But before they were shot they had to dig their own graves.
Many of the men from Glogau worked at the airport in Opovo. One of the liquidation commando brigades arrived on October 30th in many of the Banat villages in the area to carry out mass extermination actions against the Danube Swabian population. They also put in an appearance at the airport. The men who came from various communities in the area were asked individually who they were (what nationality), and any who responded that they were Swabians were immediately set aside and shot. Because of knowing that, some of the Swabians who spoke good Serbian or Romanian pretended not to be Swabians and got away with it. In total there were one hundred and eighty-three men from Glogau who were shot in the fall of 1944.
A man from Betscherek who had joined the evacuation and then changed his mind reports the following:
“From the 4th to the 7th of October 1944 I hid out in Glogau which is close to Pantschowa and I was a civilian at the time. While I was in hiding I learned that the local officials indicated they would provide documentation to anyone who was going back to their home community. On October 7th I went to the town office in Glogau. There without a word I was arrested and locked up. In prison I found three other Swabians who had been arrested just like me. In the afternoon we were all brought to Sefkerin on foot where we met another twelve men at the school. At our first sight of the twelve men their appearance was almost grotesque from the beatings they had obviously suffered. They had been imprisoned here for several days and every local revenge seeking Serbian civilian could work out their rage on the twelve victims.
On October 8th 1944 the civilian population was ordered to deliver up oats and grain. The Serbian farmers brought wheat and maize and we had to unload the wagons. We carried sacks weighing sixty to seventy kilograms from early morning until late at night and for that we received gruesome beatings rather than any food. Every civilian and even the night watchman could beat us as often and as long as they wanted. Some of us still had good shoes, but these were now taken away from us. On October 9th 1944 we had the same work assignment and received more beatings than the day before. In these two days we once received fifty grams of bread. In the evening around 7:00pm three armed Partisans came and ordered five of us to come with them. We were led to the forest which is about two miles distant from the village if Sekferin. We were not forbidden to speak, and the Partisans watched us closely, so that none of us could escape in the darkness. We were never told but we knew what their goal was. We were to be shot.
My friend Johann Schab from Lazarfeld and I spoke to one another along the way and came to the decision that at the first opportunity we saw we would escape. In the woods before us an armed Partisan with a machine pistol indicated where he wanted us to stand to be shot. We were forced to walk up a path deep into the forest. Two other armed Partisans with rifles supervised us. Even though we were deathly afraid we asked for the reason for our execution but were quickly silenced by blows to our heads and were pushed around. Outside of swearing and scolding there was no answer from them. So we stood pressed close to one another preparing ourselves to be shot. As the Partisan with the machine pistol walked behind us to shoot us in the back, my friend Schab pushed me aside with his left hand and both us made a run for it, and then the others followed. In the blinking of an eye there was the crack of the first salvo of bullets. I saw another escapee beside me to my left and then he sank to the ground and was dead.
The Partisans shot, screamed and ran after us, but the darkness and the density of the forest saved us. I ran scared to death and under the power of the last of my strength as best as I could. After three or four hundred meters I simply collapsed, I had no idea of what had become of my friend Schab, he had gone off in another direction into the forest. The Partisans were still shooting and screaming. While I tried to move on in order to get away the shots and curses of the Partisans faded away. I found myself standing at the edge of the forest by the Temes River. In order to save myself from torture and death by the Partisans, I swam across the river without even thinking about it beforehand, and then made my way to Konigsdorf. I spent the night out in the open because I was afraid to go near the houses because the Partisans were everywhere.”
In Kowatschitza there was a prison operated by the OZNA (Secret Police). Untold numbers of Swabian men were brought to this prison from the whole area around Kowatschitza. Every Wednesday and Saturday mass shootings took place. A former prisoner in this prison relates the following:
“Along with another man from Glogau I was brought to the prison in Kowatschitza. When we entered the cell, two men were lying there, who had been beaten unmercifully and did not move and who obviously were no longer alive but who would have died in one of the two weekly mass shootings that took place there. The next day we had to go to work. Every Wednesday and Saturday in the evening the cell was opened whereby several men from each of the cells were led out into the hallway and were bound or shackled. We never heard from them again or ever saw them, only later did we see their clothes when we had to clear out the attic of the prison. Each time the men were led away, we opened the windows of our cells and heard the group leave in the direction of Debeljascha. After not even half an hour, each time we heard a salvo of machine pistols firing and then a large number of single shots. These single shots we counted very carefully. Because many inmates were taken away to work the next day, when the opportunity lent itself, they spoke to one another, so that in the evening we always knew who had been taken away the previous night. The total that was estimated was usually close to the number of single shots we had counted during the night. The selected group of victims was first gunned down together by numerous shooters and then each man was shot in the head to make sure he was dead. The last mass shooting took place three weeks before my release. On that occasion twenty-nine men were taken from the cells and twenty-eight of them were taken away by truck. In the five weeks during which the regular Wednesday and Saturday shootings took place about two hundred men met their deaths. The man who had come with me was already among the dead eight days after we had arrived.”
The Partisans arrested twenty-one of the leading Danube Swabian men and women in early October of 1944, including Dr. Peter Weinz and his wife. For quite some time there was no trace of them. In January a “commission” arrived in Jabuka in search of the graves of fallen Partisans who had engaged the German occupation forces in battle in the vicinity of the village. They brought along thirty Swabian men from the prison camp in Pantschowa who were forced to dig all over the place in search of such graves. Left to the road that led to Pantschowa they stumbled on twenty-one corpses with fresh evidence of each of them having been shot in the nape of the neck. Among the bodies was one that was a woman. It became obvious that the corpses were those of the local Swabians who had been arrested and had disappeared months before. Especially recognizable were the bodies of the doctor and his wife. The body of the woman wore only underpants and there was still one earring in one ear. One of the commission members noticed that and stepped down into the grave and tore off the remaining earring and stuck it into his pocket. Not only the camp inmates who were involved but also the commission members were convinced that the bodies had nothing to do with the Partisans they were searching for because they would not have fallen in battle naked and tied to one another. They then ordered a halt further digging and ordered that the grave be covered again.
The Western Banat
“The Starvation Mill”
In 1945 the authorities of the new Yugoslavian state made the former Danube Swabian community of Rudolfsgnad located on the left bank of the Tisza River where it meets the Danube into a massive concentration camp and renamed it Knicanin. With the retreat of the German forces as the Russian Army advanced into the Banat, the inhabitants of Rudolfsgnad by and large were evacuated, but following that the village was severely damaged during the battles that raged around it. Twenty-three thousand Danube Swabians from the Banat, mostly women and children were driven from their homes and out of their villages by the Partisans in the fall of 1945 and were brought here and housed in the ruined or damaged empty homes. The first of them arrived on October 30, 1945. They were the Swabian population from Kathreinfeld as well as those who were unable to work who had been brought to Kathreinfeld from labor camps in the surrounding area.
The area around Rudlofsgnad was cut off and isolated, because the fate of the Swabian inmates there was not to come to the light of day or made public in any way. No one was allowed to send or receive mail. No one was allowed to visit them. The Swabians were liquidated here en masse. They were simply left to starve. In the first few months there were seven thousand deaths. In the coldest months of winter they received no food at all. In the years ahead no one could send or bring food to the inmates. In December of 1945, months after the war was over the commander ordered that no food of any kind be given to the prisoners from December 24th-27th to prevent any Christmas celebrations.
In the month of January in 1946 the ration per person was seven decagrams of salt and two hundred and twenty-three decagrams of corn grouts. It was mostly shredded corncobs that would have been fed to pigs. There were no fats of any kind and no bread. There were many days when there were no rations at all, and during that month there were none for five consecutive days. In the month of February there was even a reduction in the personal ration that only heightened the level of starvation in the camp. Even the smallest children and nursing mothers received the same ration. From November of 1945 to the beginning of July in 1946 there was absolutely no bread during those eight months and no salt whatsoever. With regard to this situation in Rudolfsgnad, one woman reports:
“Those who went out to work and were able to secure some food or even a piece of bread and tried to smuggle it back into the camp were beaten unmercifully and locked up. Cellars served as prisons with the windows bricked up and a tin roof. Whoever ended up there was given no food or water. In the summer time the hot tin roof created monstrous levels of heat within and imprisonment there was most feared at that time of year. The heat and lack of water left the inmates on the verge of madness.
The first victims of our hunger were the dogs and cats in the neighborhood. During the winter of 1945/1946 as hunger raged among us the first thing to disappear were the house pets. All of the other animals had been taken into the possession of the Partisans, so that the ten thousand starving inmates had no other alternative then to capture these household animals and slaughter them to quiet their hunger with that meat. If a cat appeared anywhere it was immediately chased by a mob, captured, butchered and eaten on the spot. In this way a cat erred and strayed into the house where my family and I were living. Because we had so many mice in our house, I tied up the cat with a rope. When I left the house for a few minutes, the cat managed to free itself and disappeared. I went in search of the cat in the houses of our neighbors. Coming to the very first house, I was told that the cat had already been butchered and skinned and was being cooked.
Snails and slugs were collected everywhere and clover wherever it could be found was used as “greens” to eat. Even though leaving the camp was punishable by death until the beginning of 1948, mothers who were not prepared to watch their children starve to death, slipped past the sentries at night and brought the clothes of their dead relatives with them to trade for food in the Serbian and Hungarian villages in the vicinity. Many, many of these mothers were shot by the Partisan sentries on their return to the camp and later their wounded bleeding bodies were thrown in one grave or another.
In the spring of 1946 a camp kitchen was set up to cook for the inmates. It was soup with either oats or peas. There were also a bit more shredded corncobs. In the early summer there were also ripe mulberries. The people had to do hard labor. But most of them were so weak they could hardly lift their legs. When one met acquaintances after not seeing them for some time at the feeding barrels, we had changed so much we did not recognize each other. Our clothing had turned to rags and our bodies were like skeletons. By this time about eight thousand of us had perished, but there were always new inmates being brought to Rudolfsgnad who had become sick or unable to work in other camps, so that there were always two thousand people imprisoned here at any given time. In the times when nothing was cooked in the camp kitchen, many sought to cook for themselves. But to speak of cooking it is not to be confused with the real thing. We had already heard that many of the children were so hungry that they even ate sand to fill their empty stomachs. It was the same in terms of cooking in the camp. Weeds, grass and anything else you found.
Whenever an animal died, up to a thousand people would gather to cut off a piece of flesh from the carcass of a horse or cow. With their rusty knives or other utensils they cut around the cadaver when it was their turn. On one occasion a brood sow went into labor on the street as the swineherd drove the herd to pasture. The dead piglets hardly dropped to the street with the sow close by before they had been carried away and were cooked or dismembered. It was not unusual for those who ate such meat to became sick afterwards and some of them died. The Partisans would often eat in front of the children and then toss their leftover melons in their direction and hundreds of children would fight over the melon rind and stuff their bloated empty stomachs. This kind of nourishment had no real value except it provided some sense of satisfaction at first but often resulted in dysentery and diarrhea.
What people endured because of diarrhea is indescribable. Everyone was at one time or more often afflicted with this sickness for longer and shorter periods. It took away the last of people’s strength and those who did not die of weakness were the victims of other diseases all around us. Each day fifty or more persons died. Once diarrhea struck there was seldom a return to health. Some had it for a month, while others suffered with it for half a year or longer. But by then the person had no strength at all and their body was inert and death was near.
For months on end the people received no cooked food, since there was no firewood available to the Swabians. We had to rely on ourselves as best as we could or perish. But at the same time long columns of women and often children under ten years of age were driven daily out of the camp to do slave labor in the early hours of the morning. They had to cut wood in the forest. This wood was for the benefit of the leadership of the camp and delivered to them. The camp inmates themselves were strongly forbidden to gather any wood for themselves and bring it back to the camp in order to make fires to cook. Many of those who were apprehended with wood after working were immediately shot.
The need for burning material and making fires is best demonstrated by the people who lived nearby where the herd of cows pastured. When a cow unburdened itself, the people rushed out to gather the pile of manure and made small balls out of it, and let it dry out for use as burning material in the winter. There was nothing available during the winter to provide heating and if the people could not come up with something, they froze day and night in their room. Every blade of grass and weed was gathered in the summer, dried and used as burning material in the winter.”
Death by starvation and typhus epidemics carried off many of the people. As starvation weakened the bodies of thousands of Swabian prisoners and their resistance towards other diseases was low, typhus epidemics broke out. Diphtheria also raged. Once it took hold these fearful and dangerous diseases spread among the children and women en masse. But there were also other sicknesses that also affected countless numbers of the helpless starving victims. All kinds of skin diseases and infections were transmitted from one to another.
Most of the victims were women and children as most of the men had been shot earlier, and they died like flies from the beginning of 1946. Swollen feet always preceded the deaths of these poor victims, and then their faces would puff up and a few days later they died.
Along with starvation there was a plague of lice. No one could keep clean. There was no soap. In the winter the laundry could not be washed because most people only possessed the clothes they were wearing and their clothes could not dry fast enough in the winter. In the summer the wells went dry but no one was allowed to get water from the Bega or Tisza River close by. How satanic the Partisan regime was is perhaps best expressed in the cynical reason given by them when the Swabians were forbidden to get water from the river: “The ships will not be able to sail on the river if so much water is carried off by you.”
The bodies of the children were covered in rashes. Since the adults were unable to keep clean to ward off the lice plagued the children were even less likely to be free of their presence on their bodies. Being eaten by the lice and all kinds of other insects the children scratched themselves in frenzy and left open wounds that would often not heal.
For the dead there was no burial. There were men who would have buried the dead. No priest was allowed to bless the body of the dead and no relative was allowed to accompany the body. At the beginning the loved ones of the dead were allowed to put a small wooden cross with the corpse, which was then later put on the grave, but later all of this was forbidden. Then a piece of paper with the name of the deceased was put in a small bottle that accompanied the body to the grave. But soon there were no more bottles available.
There was no medical help. Each week a Russian doctor came from the city, and in a few hours he “looked after” one thousand to one thousand two hundred sick people. With his pipe in his mouth he went from room to room where the sick were lying. It was only seldom that he spoke to the sick to ask what ailed them, while on the other hand he never examined or helped anyone.
Above all the treatment in this camp was completely inhumane. The women forced to do slave labor daily, were weakened through starvation and hard work and those who were unable to work any longer were treated gruesomely and mercilessly mistreated. The Roman Catholic priests who were in the camp were also assigned to heavy slave labor and handled brutally.
As an example of the determination of the Partisan officials to exterminate the Danube Swabians is the fact that on the hottest day in 1946 all of the twenty thousand inmates here were driven into the meadow on the eastern side of the camp. For the entire day they had to stand still in the sun all packed together. The thousands of little children received no water all day and no one was excused from their group to relieve themselves in terms of their bodily functions. Everyone had to remain silent and remain in one spot. A massive detail of Partisan sentries who were heavily armed circled the Swabians keeping watch and threatening to shoot anyone who moved from their spot.
There were no worship services and prayer was forbidden.
In order to ridicule the religious sensitivities of the Swabian inmates the Partisans took all of the religious statues out of the local church at night and set them in the middle of the streets through the camp in such a way as to suggest that the saints were taking a walk through the camp. Thousands of Swabian children in the camp were forced to look at them. There was no school for them. They were not to know about God and did not have any teachers and many of them were separated from their own parents. Many of the children had no idea where their parents were. The parents of many of them had been shot or had starved death. Hundreds of them no longer had grandparents either. Family members or friends and former neighbors took them in. One day, all of the children were taken away and quartered in the old school buildings and the former Guesthouses. That now served as the “Children’s Home”. A barbed wire fence surrounded this complex of buildings. The poor abandoned little children who no longer had anyone in the world except perhaps an old grandmother or other adult who cared for them stood at the wire fences all day long and cried. With no grandmother or “aunt” to provide an extra crust of bread for which they had risked their lives, the children were now totally dependent on the camp ration they received. Death would now reap a rich harvest in the “Children’s Home”. With what they were fed not even the adults could have survived much less the abandoned children. They slept on the floor and only on rare occasions any straw was provided for them at night. A nurse at Rudolfsgnad reports:
“I once went by the Children’s Home. I opened the door and I saw the poor, pitiful, skeletal looking children just lying there. They usually wore only shirts that in effect were actually rags. Every day thirty of them died. Every day a farmer’s wagon drove from the Children’s Home to pick up the dead bodies. Their skeletal bodies were piled on the wagon like wood and then they drove off to be buried. They were thrown in with the other dead in the mass graves. When you passed by such a wagon you didn’t know if you should look at or look away. It just broke your heart.”
It was not long afterwards that the Partisans drove up to the Children’s Home complex with trucks and loaded all of the surviving children on board. The children themselves and all of the adults in the camp knew that the children were being taken away and they screamed and cried after one another. The children, because in spite of leaving this place of suffering did not want to go and leave a grandfather or friend behind who was their last connection with their families and the life they had once known, and the others because they knew only too well that the children faced a dark and unknown future that would forever exclude those who loved them. All of the crying, weeping, screaming and pleading had no effect. As soon as a truck was filled with children it drove away. In one day, seven hundred and fifty children were taken away and vanished without a trace. The inmates at Rudolfsgnad were convinced they were being taken to Russia. Many an old grandfather or grandmother could not cope with losing their grandchildren now after all they had gone through together in the hope that their parents were still alive somewhere. For them this was more than they could bear. Some of them hung themselves or jumped into the Tisza River to escape the horror that burdened their hearts that was beyond bearing. The children had been their last reason for living. Why go on with more suffering and starvation?
Later word came that the children were taken to Serbian villages and placed in orphanages and raised as “Serbian communists”.
The dead Swabians could not be buried in the cemetery. They were buried in the same place outside of the camp where animals that had died had been interred. Every day a farmer’s wagon drove through the village and picked up the dead at each of the houses. There were usually seven or eight of them that he drove out to a mass grave that had been dug for them. There was a mass grave dug for each day. Anyone who came across the wagon would stand there with his heart in his throat seeing the skeletal bodies heaped upon one another and knowing that eventually one day the wagon would come for him and the thousands of others who were still alive and take them to their own mass grave. One day in the month of January in 1946 there were one hundred and thirteen who were picked up and buried like this. Mothers were not allowed to accompany the bodies of their children, nor the children their dead parents. No one was allowed to know where the grave of a loved one was to be found.
After several thousand Swabian inmates were buried and there was unused space new transports of thousands of women and children from smaller camps scattered across the Banat were sent here and were exterminated like those who had come before them and in the process emptied the other camps that could then be closed. This continued to the end of 1947. In that same year four hundred persons from the Untersteiermark were brought here who had been dragged off to a camp in Croatia in 1946 and had remained there for some time. Most of them were citizens of Austria. Instead of sending them across the nearby border of Austria at the end of the war they were brought to the swamplands along the Tisza River. Only fifty-seven of them would survive. With the exception of three men all the rest were women and children. They had to endure the same fate as the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia until the closure of the camps in 1948 when they were sent to a prisoner of war camp in Neusatz. On March 29, 1948 they were repatriated to Austria and on that day they were loaded on cattle cars and sent across the frontier.
Complaints brought against the inhuman treatment the Swabians received brought no relief. In fact it only became worse for the individuals who dared to raise them. On one occasion in 1946 three Swabian women complained to the camp commander that they had been raped most brutally by Partisan guards. The camp commander became furious because the three Swabian women were in no position to raise charges of sexual abuse against Serbian Partisans who were entitled to use them in any manner they desired and the commander turned them over to the same Partisans who had molested them to do so again. As additional punishment they were imprisoned for nine days and were given no food during that time.
In the same way the brutalities continued against the Swabians and the torture, abuse and shootings had no end. There were few nights when Partisans did not carry out shootings in various parts of the camp, while others sexually abused women. The feeling of helplessness and despair drove many to suicide. In order to end their sufferings some chose suicide. There were grandmothers who could no longer watch their grandchildren starve and took them in their arms and jumped into the Tisza River.
Beginning in the spring of 1946 slave laborers from the camp could be “rented” privately for fifty Dinar a day. This regulation in effect reconstituted the slave trade of the far distant past. And yet because of it, countless persons were able to save their lives. Many of the “buyers” who showed up for these public auctions were Serbian friends of the Swabians who rescued them from their misery for a time and assisted them in their physical recovery with rations and food. Every Swabian was grateful to be chosen, even if he would have to work hard and long, he would at least finally be able to eat to his heart’s content. To be sold as a slave was good fortune and in thousands of cases it was simply a matter of saving their lives. Now the general public was allowed to bring parcels to the camp. One house was separated from the rest of the camp and surrounded with barbed wire and the parcels were delivered there. Serbian and Hungarian neighbors and friends brought food and clothing to the Swabians that they knew. In this way, they too saved their lives. In close proximity to the “parcel house”, groups of Swabian inmates would gather hoping against hope to see if there was a parcel for them. Partisan guards would break up these groups with clubs and rifle butts. No one was allowed to speak to those who brought parcels. The next day the Partisans opened the parcels. Most of them were half empty when they were given to the recipient.
Soon after the first parcels arrived from America. Countrymen living there had heard of the sufferings in Rudolfsgnad and committed themselves to providing help. Here and there some items in the parcel would be missing, but the inmate received something. When it came to clothes it would lead to a nightly clandestine escape from the camp and the clothes would be sold for food and other provisions. This help from America, often small that usually lasted for only a day was the nicest thing that these human beings had experienced in the years they had spent in the camps.
The Yugoslavian government officials were informed that at the Yalta Conference involving the Big Three the forced emigration of the Danube Swabian population from Yugoslavia at the end of the war would not be acceptable. The “new” Yugoslavia decided it had the right to do what it wanted with its Danube Swabian population. They were outside of the law, and they had much labor to provide and remain in camps from which they would not be released except by death. In the face of this uncertainty, the former member of parliament Dr. Wilhelm Neuner who was an inmate at the camp in Rudolfsgand wrote an official letter of complaint to the President of Yugoslavia and mailed it from a nearby village in the summer of 1946, sending copies to the accredited ambassadors of the Great Powers in Belgrade. He requested that the ongoing murder of innocent Danube Swabian civilians come to an end in this second year since the year of the war who still remained and were without protection because they had lost their right of citizenship. The camp commander was aware of his action. On August 8, 1946 he was taken from his quarters and after a short trial in the presence of the camp authorities he was condemned to death for his false report. But his death would not be by an execution squad. He was to be locked in a cellar and not be given food and left to starve to death. Carrying out the full verdict of the court, Dr. Neuner was immediately locked up in a dark cellar in which he could not stand up or lie down. The cellar had a low ceiling and was damp. After eleven days he was brought to the Secret Police prison in Belgrade. All he had accomplished by revealing the situation in the camps was that the functionaries at Rudolfsgnad were transferred and new commander was sent to take his place to oversee the liquidation program.
Eventually, the inmates began to escape. But often, the new Serbian colonists apprehended the escapees; either out in the fields or on the roads and even at the border who promptly brought them back to the camp. This dampened the desire to flee on the part of others planning to do so. But it did so for only for a short time. Those who were brought back were terribly abused and mistreated and became physical wrecks and most of them could not contemplate escape again.