A Summary of the Heimatbuch:
Čačinci und seine Donauschwaben
Translated by Henry A. Fischer
Slavonia was part of the Triple Kingdom of Croatia: Croatia-Dalmatia-Slavonia. The first king of Croatia was Tomislav (910-928) who received his crown from the Pope in 924. When the dynasty lacked a male heir, Hungary objected to the “elected” king, Petar Svačic and forcibly annexed Croatia to the Hungarian crown following the defeat of Petar at the Battle of Karlovac.
Koloman I of Hungary established the personal union of the crown of Hungary with Croatia. Croatia would maintain some autonomy ruled by a “Banus” as a representative of the Hungarian king along with a national assembly, the Sabor, which also guaranteed the privileges of the Croatian nobility.
After the disaster at the Battle of Mohacs where the Turks both defeated and killed Louis II of Hungary in 1526, the Kingdom passed into the hands of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand, the brother-in-law of Louis who had no male heir and therefore both Hungary and Croatia became part of his Austrian domains. But the greater part of Hungary remained in Turkish hands for the next 150 years. Only after the failure of the second siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683, they were defeated in battle after battle as they retreated to south. Following the liberation of most of Hungary from the Turks the Habsburgs established a Military Frontier District to protect the new southern borders of Hungary.
Following the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 and Passarwitz in 1718, the uninhabited regions that had turned into wilderness were repopulated with colonists from the various principalities of southwest Germany, parts of the Holy Roman Empire, the ancestors of the Danube Swabians. The settlers also included some from French territories, Alsace and Lorraine. These settlers came in three massive waves, first under Charles VI from 1720-1739, secondly Maria Theresia from 1740-1779 and thirdly Joseph II from 1780-1790.
During the first two migrations, (waves of settlers) only Roman Catholics were allowed to participate. (Translator’s note: That was the official policy but many Lutherans and Reformed settled in Swabian Turkey from the very beginning of the migrations.) With the publication of the Edict of Toleration by Joseph II, Protestants were allowed to settle in the Batschka and Banat as well as Swabian Turkey. Slavonia and Syrmien were off limits to Protestants up until 1859.
There were also Orthodox Serbs living in Slavonia and Syrmien who had come there as refugees from the Turks during the 15th and 16th centuries and were used to defend the frontiers against the Turks.
(Translator’s note: All of this forms the basic backdrop for the future settlement of Čačinci and the arrival of the Danube Swabians in their midst in 1900. The intent of this summary is to now focus in on the experience of the Danube Swabians in Slavonia beginning with the period following the First World War.)
Following the First World War, Slavonia became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes, the nation known as Yugoslavia. This new state was to be a constitutional parliamentary democracy with a Monarch and royal dynasty. In this three nationalities state the Croatians, Serbs and Slovenes were equal. As far as the other national minorities in the land were concerned their rights were to be protected by the League of Nations after its establishment.
In the end of March 1931 the census of Yugoslavia indicated the following minorities:
505,000 Albanians, 499,000 Germans, 468,000 Hungarians, 137,000 Romanians, 133,000 Turks, 76,000 Slovaks, 70,000 Gypsies, 53,000 Czechs, 36,000 Russians, 28,000 Ukrainians, 18,000 Jews and 41,000 listed as others.
The German minority was concentrated in enclaves in the Vojvodina, Banat and Syrmien, while they were scattered throughout Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia, Slovenia and the Lower Baranya. The distribution of the Danube Swabian population in 1931 was as follows: 120,000 in the Banat, 173,000 in the Batschka, 49,000 in Syrmien, 80,000 in Slavonia-Croatia, 15,000 in Bosnia and 29,000 in Slovenia.
Like the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new state of Yugoslavia consisted of various nationalities and cohesion and unity would elude them in the years ahead. The Serbs dream of a Greater Serbia was seen as a put down on Croatian aspirations. Agitation for an independent state of Croatia began to simmer, first led by Stephen Radic who was assassinated in parliament in 1928. In this volatile situation the king, Alexander declared himself dictator and abolished the constitution on January 6, 1929 and dissolved parliament and all political parties, including the German Party that had elected representatives in parliament. New administrative districts were established for the purpose of governing, each named after the area’s major river.
This resulted in Serbian majorities in six of the nine districts, which only added fuel to the Croatian fires of discontent. But within a year the king was assassinated in France by a Macedonian terrorist and it is reasonable to conclude that he carried out the act on behalf of Anton Pavelic the exiled Croatian nationalist.
A Regency took over for Peter I, who was still a minor. The regent was Prince Paul, the brother of the murdered king and the Ban of Zagreb and Laibach (Croatia and Slovenia). In effect, Prince Paul was in control and in power. He moderated Serbian aspirations and created a new outside enemy, Hungary, to deflect political energy.
In the mid 1930s, Yugoslavia became more and more dependent on trade with Germany as a result of the Depression. Even the annexation of Austria was not seen as a threat to Yugoslavia, which now shared a common border with the Third Reich. But the Croatian nationalists were busy behind the scenes, especially Radics’ successor: Vlatko Maček, who sought to re-establish the Triple Kingdom of Croatia. The Yugoslavian government was moving towards a non-aggression pact with Hitler and a Tripartite Pact with Hungary and Romania. In March 1940 the pact was signed at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Two days later a military Putsch took place in Belgrade led by an air force general, Dušan Simovic. The 18-year-old King Peter was declared to be of age and Simovic was named the new prime minister. The delegates returning from Vienna were arrested at the train station on their arrival.
The Third Reich saw this as a provocation and set April 6th as the date to launch an invasion. Within eleven days, on April 17, 1941 the war was over. Many Danube Swabian leaders were arrested and held hostage when hostilities broke out. The quick capitulation of Yugoslavia prevented a bloodbath.
On April 10, 1941 the leader of the Ustaši, the Croatian Fascists, Slavko Kvaternik Pavelic proclaimed the Independent State of Croatia. He took over the government on behalf of the Ustaši as allies of the Third Reich and Italy. Germany and Italy officially abolished the former “state” of Yugoslavia. Croatia was given all of the territory of the former Triple Kingdom including Bosnia, Herzegovina and all of Syrmien. Germany took over the southern Steiermark and southern Carinthia. The Italians got Slovenia and a portion of Dalmatia, while acting as “Protector” of Montenegro. In addition Italy was given Kosovo, western Macedonia and Albania. Bulgaria got the larger portion of Macedonia. The Vojvodina went to Hungary, while the Banat was placed under the German military and governed by them from Belgrade in what remained of Serbia.
Following the takeover by the Ustaši, representatives of the Danube Swabians sought to work out the rights of the German minority. A law was decreed on June 21, 1941 consisting of eight articles outlining the place of the Germans in Croatia and their rights and obligations to the state as well as the leadership of the German Reich. The “Fuehrer” of the Danube Swabians had a voice and vote in the governing cabinet.
The issue now facing the German minority was military service. On September 16, 1941 it was focussed on serving in the Croatian Army. In February of 1942 German units within the Croatian forces were sent for training and service with the German divisions in Bosnia and they were invited to join the Waffen SS. This would be part of the rationale Tito would use for exterminating the Danube Swabians down to every last man, woman and child as traitors to the nation. These were the decisions acted upon at the assembly of AVNOJ (provisional partisan revolutionary government) on November 21, 1944. It was to provide a legal cover for the disenfranchisement, confiscation of property, internment and expulsion of the Danube Swabian population.
Čačinci is located on the railway line from Agram (Zagreb) and Esseg (Osijek). The closest district town was Našice with a population of 6,000. Several Croatian nobles owned the mostly uncultivated land in this area: Count Gutmann, Draškovic and Pejacivic. The Danube Swabian settlers arrived at the turn of the century from the Batschka and Syrmien where they were running out of available land for expansion. Land here was simply cheaper. But, bad harvests, war and other natural disasters and hard work took their toll. The number of Danube Swabian settlers increased at the end of the First World War. They were farmers, merchants and tradesmen.
There were two churches in the village, one was Reformed and the other Roman Catholic. The Lutherans had a prayer house that also served as a school. There was a total population of 3,300 in the village prior to the evacuation of the 820 Danube Swabian inhabitants. In addition to them, there were other minorities: Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Jews and Hungarians. Most of the inhabitants were Croatians, except in the “old village” where there were Serbs. The Danube Swabians got along well with their neighbours, which, however, was not true in terms of the relationship between the Croats and Serbs. As a result the Danube Swabians were often called upon to be “the middle man” in terms of disputes and were elected as mayors and councillors.
Both the district doctor and midwife were Danube Swabians and lived in Čačinci: Dr. Ackermann and Elisabeth Hepp. The cemetery was shared by four denominations: the Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed and Lutherans.
The Lutheran congregation was the smallest of the four groups. It was a filial of Podravska Slatina where the pastor resided. He held services in Čačinci and provided religious instruction for the children every fourth Sunday. The congregation had its own presbyterium elected for four-year terms. (Translator’s note: the Church Council.) Children were confirmed at the age of 12 years. Memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism was emphasized. Because the classes were small the children were called upon often to give answers during the Public Examination before the congregation. Most of them never forgot the experience.
In 1930 the congregation bought the house of Karl Sahm to convert it into a prayer house. The costs were covered through offerings and gifts from neighbouring congregations. Before the prayer house was dedicated the congregation used the school and church of the Reformed congregation for worship. A tower and bell were added to their prayer house in 1934. After the war the tower was torn down and the prayer house was used as living quarters and the small bell simply disappeared. There were usually 80 to 90 pupils attending the Lutheran school until the evacuation.
The Reformed congregation was also without a resident pastor and was a filial of Velimirovac. There were about 70 Reformed families in the village. Their church building was dedicated in 1928. Prior to its erection services were held in one of the classrooms of their school.
Most of the Roman Catholics in the village were Croatians while Danube Swabians formed the largest minority among them.
After the invasion of Yugoslavia during the Second World War and the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, the German schools developed much better than previously. New state laws were passed for this purpose on September 25, 1941. The official Danube Swabian organization representing the minority, known as the Bund, carried out negotiations with the Croatian government to carry out their own objectives. As a result thousands of Danube Swabian children received instruction in German. These schools, however, would become the special target of Partisan attacks and many of them were closed, including in Čačinci on October 3, 1943.
The former Kulturbund (Cultural Association) of the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia was gradually taken over by a new element calling themselves “Renewers” or “Renovators”. They were mostly young men who had studied in Austrian or German universities where they were influenced by National Socialism and attempted to introduce the Nazi ideology into the Kulturbund and their programme and objectives. The followers of the movement organized themselves in Esseg under the leadership of Branimir Altgayer from Slavonia. Čačinci was placed under the Esseg leadership.
Many young men were recruited into the army while others went to work in Germany. Those who remained at home were trained to protect and defend the village. Everything began to take on a military character in every aspect of daily life.
In October 1943, after several days of unrelenting siege, Partisan units occupied Čačinci. The attack began on a Saturday night. The men who were still at home fought alongside of the Croatian troops stationed in the village that was completely surrounded by the Partisans. Because the village could not hold out against the attackers, the fighting men broke out of the encirclement and retreated towards Esseg. In the forests through which they fled they were mistaken as fellow Partisans by the attackers and were able to make their escape. The Partisans terrorized the villagers, burning down houses as well as the local German community centre: Deutsches Heim. They plundered and destroyed at will while the population hid themselves as best as possible.
One eye witness reports:
“On Saturday, October 2, 1943 the Partisans attacked the village from three sides. The battle lasted for thirty hours. Because of being outnumbered and with no possibility of re-enforcement the Croatian troops and the Swabian Home Defence forces had to abandon the village after suffering heavy casualties. From among the Danube Swabian population, four men and two women lost their lives. Johann Saffenauer met a gruesome death at the hands of the Partisans. Leaving in small groups, many of the defenders were able to escape.
Once the battle ended the Partisans plundered and burned the homes of the Swabians. Many women and children were driven into the yard of one of the homes and were made to listen to a Communist harangue them while their homes were plundered and burned to the ground. To legalize their actions the Partisans claimed that they were searching for concealed weapons and munitions.
Swabian men, who were unable to escape, hid themselves and several were captured and then driven together into a yard. They were brutally interrogated and tortured. They dragged off ten of the men. Three of them would never be heard of again. One of those who were released was later picked up again and disappeared forever. Several of the local police were murdered in one of the yards of the village.
Those missing, wounded and dead were numerous on both sides. For the Swabian population this was a time of great fear. Many of their homes were burned down, all of the houses had been plundered and their cattle had been driven away. They were now officially non-persons and had nothing but fear. Their non-German neighbours had assisted many of the Swabians who had gone into hiding, in doing so.
The desire to leave Čačinci grew stronger, but only a few individuals had been successful in escaping through the Partisan lines that formed a ring around the village. On Saturday, October 16, 1943 German military units arrived accompanied by many of the men from Čačinci who had been successful in making their escape and had returned to rescue the surrounded Danube Swabian population. The order was simply, “Pack quickly! We must leave in two hours.” Unfortunately, there were those who could not leave for various family reasons, while there were others who felt that they had done nothing wrong and would not be molested any further.
The column of wagons and trucks travelled to Esseg passing through Josefsdorf. They remained in Esseg for a few days but for some it would be a longer stay, waiting for family still on their way who had been forced to remain behind. Uncertainty and fear had led to their flight. Some now went from Esseg to live with family or friends in the area or were accommodated by the Bund in India and Beschka.
About a year later, at the beginning of October 1944 the order to flee and pack again was given. The reason was the onrushing front as the Red Army moved into Yugoslavia. The German army could no longer hold back the Russian advance. No one was prepared to fall into the hands of the Partisans again. The wagon treks left and headed across Hungary to Austria and Germany and some went as far as East Prussia.
Many attempted to return “home” to Yugoslavia when the war ended. Some were turned back at the border, while others were welcomed and put into extermination camps like Rudolfsgnad in the Banat were several perished.
A School Teacher’s Story: Mathias Hohmann
In the summer of 1943, I was at home in Čačinci on summer holidays from my school in Bačivac. At the beginning of September I wanted to return to my job. Because the Partisans had cut the railway lines I could not return. Shortly afterwards, Čačinci was under attack by the Partisans.
On October 3rd at 4:00 a.m., the Partisans succeeded in putting the Croatian military to flight, surrounded the village and began to plunder the Swabian houses. Everything they found in the houses and yards was taken and driven out to the forest, where it was left to rot. After the plundering there were only empty houses or the shell of burned out houses.
Those of us men who had not been able to escape were driven together by the Partisans in the yard of Adam Hock. We had no idea of what would become of us.
Every now and then a female Partisan would scream at us, shouting that we were “bandits” and should be thrown into the burning houses because we deserved it. For one day and night we endured such threats and beatings as we waited for the judgement of the Partisan leaders as to what would become of us. On October 5, 1943, twenty of us men were dragged off to the mountains. After a two-day march, during which we had nothing to eat, we reached Vočin. During the day we were locked up in a bunker, where we were chained and bound hand and foot. At night the interrogations took place and most of us were beaten and abused in the process. There were also accidents that resulted from these nighttime activities and men went to pieces from the experience. All of this and the fear we had lasted until November 13, 1943. By this time, only seven of the twenty men from Čačinci were still alive. We were sentenced to slave labour for three to four months or three to six months. I was part of the second group and I had to serve six months of labour in the forest.
We were still imprisoned in the earth bunker. It was November 5, 1943 when a sentry called two of us out to take us to the commander. There an axe and spade were handed to us. We knew what this meant, and we stood rooted to the spot, because we did not know if we were going to dig or own graves. We were led to a spot where many innocent victims were already buried. Because of our fear of impending death we were unable to dig, so that the sentry had to tell us that the grave was not meant for us. When we finished digging the grave, two Partisans led their victim forward. It was the Croat, Meso Busljeta, a twenty one year old man from Čačinci who was condemned to death for the crimes of his father. His face was covered with blood, so that it was difficult to recognize him, only his uniform gave him away and we recognized it because we had been imprisoned with him all this time.
On November 13, 1943 the seven of us began our slave labour at Zvučevo. This was at the time of the first snowfall. We had no shoes so we wrapped rags around our feet in order to work out of doors. We had to cut down trees and then saw them up every day.
I had no contact with my family. At Christmas 1943 three of our comrades were released. A short time later one of them was apprehended again and was never heard from again. Another one of them was murdered when he returned to Čačinci.
After our six-month sentence was over the Partisans brought us to Slatinski Dunavoc. In the meanwhile, German troops marched into Čačinci and so we had to wait until April 5, 1944 to return home. We spent Easter in our home village but without any of our families. There had been great joy in the village on our return because we had been given up for dead. There were no longer any Danube Swabians left in Čačinci and I wondered how to reach my family. On April 20, 1944 a German unit reached the village and an officer who knew me said, “Your name is Hohmann. I will take you to your family.” I was overcome and went with him to Slatina where I was then transferred to Esseg. There I was questioned at Bund headquarters for two days until I was sent to my family in India on April 27th.
In India I took up teaching once again on May 8, 1944. I lived there with my family until October 10, 1944. On that day we boarded trains and fled for Germany and arrived in Schaerding in Austria.”
From the Diary of Eva Stiefel:
Friday, October 1, 1943
Today my brother-in-law returned home by train. He was on business in Agram. We were happy to see him because there had been no connections for eight days because the Partisans had torn up sections of the tracks. As a result we could hope again, that we would get letters from our men.
Saturday, October 2, 1943
Heavy shooting began this morning at 4:30 am. As daylight came the Partisans threw grenades and damaged several houses. We realized our situation was dangerous. So we began to store clothes, laundry, meat and flour and other necessities in a storeroom. We had no idea of how bad things would get. Later we realized that we left too much behind for the Partisans. The fighting raged all day. It became quiet in our area as evening came. But in the village the Partisans had already infiltrated Peter Ries’ place and there had already been some deaths.
Sunday, October 3, 1943
Today is a day that will always remain in our memory. We want to be thankful to God that He helped us in this dark hour. They were fearful hours that we lived through from 9 to 11 o’clock, but God be praised, it is all over now. Today began with more shootings in the morning. On our side, the Ustaši had four dead and nineteen wounded.
We carried out chores in the house, yard and stable. After breakfast the fighting intensified and we all hid in the small room close to the yard. Philip’s family was also with us. Rozič, the officer who is quartered in our house came for his things and said, “We can’t hold out much longer, the Partisans are already in all of the side streets.” He took his ammunition and left us. We were terrified as we saw the military and the local Defence Forces begin to retreat. They fled out of the village. In less than an hour the first Partisans were here. At first screams broke out all along the street and at the same time shots were heard as the Partisans fired at the windows of the houses. In our room the bullets passed through the dressers and were embedded in the walls. And then the gate to our yard was thrown open.
We were huddled sitting on the floor of the room and each of us tried to crawl and hide in a corner. We were all pale as death. Then the Partisans broke into our house and called out: “Zdravo Druze!” They asked if there were any bandits (soldiers) or ammunition in the house. They looked in every corner but took nothing with them. Some time later a horde of them stormed into our house and each of them took whatever he wanted. So some rushed in, others rushed out, until soon everything was gone. We had to watch as they dragged our things away. Later my sister and I planned to go to Philip’s house and open the locks. Then a woman Partisan appeared and said, “Wait a moment,” and took out her machine pistol and shot at the lock. The doors and windows of the house were wrecked. A team of horses hitched to a wagon stood in front of the house crammed full with Partisans. They dragged out whatever was available and loaded the wagon. At the end, only broken pottery, dishes and books were left behind. It was awful. All day long the plundering continued. We had to feed the Partisans and then they were friendlier towards us. I always held little Erhardt in my arms; it was the only way I could deal with my fears because women with little children were not taken away.
In the afternoon it continued. One wagon after another followed each other out of the village. There were hundreds of wagons full of Swabians possessions.
At 3:00 pm the railroad station was set on fire and fires raged in every part of the village. Late tonight Partisans appeared and ordered my father to hitch up our horses and drive for them. He pretended that he was too sick to do it. They called for someone else to drive the team and wagon and we never saw them again. At night now there is finally some peace. The sky was bright and red from the great fires in the village as more and more houses of the Swabians went up in flames
Monday, October 4, 1943
Today we heard of what had been burned down. All night long the columns of wagons filled with the Swabians possessions left the village. All of the stores and shops were totally stripped, even those of the Croatians. Many Swabian families had everything taken from them or were burned out. Hepps, on the street behind us had everything taken from them. In the afternoon we learned that three men and one old woman were dead along with Johann Saffenaur who had literally been butchered by the Partisans using their knives. Among the buildings that were burned were the train station, homes of the Banzhofs, Mayers, Kruscherics, Stampfers, Lotschperichs, the town hall, the government office, the Schilling’s store and the houses of the Hemmeles, Leitheims, Mattls, Kopfers, Pathays, the school and the Deutsches Heim as well as the factory across from the mill.
Many of the Swabian men had fled with the Ustaši troops. One hundred and four men were led off by the Partisans, among them was the carpenter Som, Annasenz, Gregor, Banzhof, Adam Mullerlei. None have returned.
Tuesday, October 5, 1943
During the night many of our people left as a pause set in and there was a no Partisan activity. We could hear our stallion and the colt neighing in the stable. All day long we were afraid they would set Philip’s house on fire. They had already tried to do it by setting the curtains ablaze but the fire went out. Then people from Skretnica arrived. Philip’s family was with us. The Partisans appeared again and were still searching for things to carry off. They opened every small drawer. Shortly thereafter they found our Fritz’s military medal. One of them screamed, “Now we see we’ve found what we’ve been searching for!” Another Partisan, a good man said, “You idiot, don’t you recognize a Yugoslavian medal when you see one!”
Wednesday, October 6, 1943
The streets were cleared and then cleaned and fences were repaired. We had no desire to do anything and we asked one another how long this could possibly go on.
Thursday, October 7, 1943
During the night the Partisans set off all of the landmines the Ustaši had laid around the village.
Friday, October 8, 1943
Up until noon today they set off mines and booby traps. In the afternoon I was at my Bechtel’s Godmother. I remarked that it was still burning and smouldering all over the village. There were simply no firemen around. It’s bad. I hear that many people are leaving by wagon for Miholjac and going on to Esseg.
Saturday, October 9, 1943
I went in search of our horses and I needed a pass for that purpose. I could only get that at headquarters and it was located in Mikleuska. In the evening we are supposed to go to a meeting.
Sunday, October 10, 1943
Monday, October 11, 1943
Today Lydia left. I gave her a letter for my dear husband. This evening we heard the Lamps are leaving too.
Tuesday, October 12, 1943
Today our horses drove past our house and that was very difficult for us. Lydia has not returned. Her flight to Esseg must have been successful. Our uncle Jakob was in Miholjac.
Wednesday, October 13, 1943
Today our Ustaši military returned in the morning. Many people left with them. The Partisans also come here daily to “visit” us.
Thursday, October 14, 1943
Friday, October 15, 1943
Nothing much has happened.
Saturday, October 16, 1943
Today was an alarming day. In the afternoon the German police and the district Defence Forces arrived. They are the ones who had fled with the military. They said, “Pack everything quickly! In two hours we have to get going!” We have no horse or wagon so we have to stay here. Our father went down to the corner to observe them leaving. There were many people there with their little bundles, because there were some horses and wagons there after all. All of them left out of fear. Almost all of our Swabians have gone.
Sunday, October 17, 1943
For two weeks now we have been in the hands of the Partisans. Many people left again yesterday. I wanted to leave too and go to my parents in Neu Pasua but I couldn’t leave my in-laws here all alone. Today is four weeks since my husband returned to his military unit after his leave.
There are many Partisans in the village again. Last night 70 wagonloads of goods were taken away. All of the houses have been stripped empty. Even the doors and window frames have been removed so that no one can live in them again. So much for our “inheritance.”
Monday, October 18, 1943
Today those of us who are still here packed and in the evening we listened to the radio. We sold our camera to Muzar.
Tuesday, October 19, 1943
Today we butchered a piglet. In the afternoon, Urban came with two Partisans. They told us to send word for our men to return. Nothing would happen to them or us.
Wednesday, October 20, 1943
Thursday, October 21, 1943
Friday, October 22, 1943
Saturday, October 23, 1943
The Wilgings’ Godmother returned home from Josipovac.
Sunday, October 24, 1943
Today I wrote letters to my beloved husband and parents. In the evening Urban came again to invite us to the meeting.
Monday, October 25, 1943
I went to Slatina with Jusup and then on foot to Sopjanka to my sister Ada.
Tuesday, October 26, 1943
Today I came back home.
Wednesday, October 27, 1943
Adam travelled to Esseg today and took three radios to sell.
Thursday, October 28, 1943
We heard that everything was taken away from Adam.
Friday, October 29, 1943
A letter arrived from Adam with a picture of Susan. They were in Siwatz in the Batschka.
Saturday, October 30, 1943
Sunday, October 31, 1943
Today my dear husband celebrates his birthday. My thoughts are with him and it lies heavy on my heart. When are we going to get out of this? Away from the Partisans?
At the beginning of November I left Čačinci for Miholjac by wagon along with my in-laws, Aunt Margaret and Elfrieda. We stayed there overnight. In that night a fierce battle raged in Čačinci between the Partisans, the Ustaši and German police. There were many deaths. The next morning the Partisans withdrew and all of the Swabians who were still left in the village left with the German police.
When we arrived in Našice we heard about all of this. In the afternoon they arrived under military escort. In Našice we were all loaded on a train that took us to India and Beschka.
In October 1944 we were loaded on the cattle cars of a train as part of the evacuation and arrived in Vienna before we were sent on to East Prussia. In December 1944 we had to flee before the advancing Russian Army and that is another story.
Recollections of Susanne Brauchler
“…it was time for us to leave. We were nine persons on one wagon. We had some clothes along with food for us and oats for our horses. From Čačinci we headed for Miholjac and then Esseg and on to India. We remained in India for an extended period in which our supplies were soon used up. But we found work and were able to buy bread. I had no children of my own but my sister Theresia Ries had six. The oldest was a boy of seventeen who was working in Vienna; the youngest was only several months old. That meant that five of the children were with their mother. Their father was serving in the military and I took the whole family under my care and we worked together.
The order came for us to leave in six days. My sister had to leave on a transport by rail and I myself was to become part of a wagon column. My mother-in-law was also with me on the wagon because she could not go by train. I was pleased that we would stay together because we loved one another as mother and daughter.
So we left India and headed for Esseg. There we left Croatia behind when we crossed the bridge over the Drava River. Our way took us across southern Hungary to Graz in Austria and then on to Grieskirchen and Neumarkt. We remained there for some time.
In nearby Pahring I found a place for us to live with a farmer. My mother-in-law was happy to come with me…the farmer told me, “We have enough work and you won’t have to worry about getting enough to eat, but we can’t pay any money.” So I worked there and we had food and a warm room and were comfortable there.
On February 9, 1945 a young boy showed up at the farm with a note. He told me that three of my sister’s children were at the train station in town. I asked the farmer’s wife if I could go and fetch the children. She answered, “Go and get them!” I walked as fast as I could to the train station. It was very cold on that February 9th day. When I saw the half frozen children my heart was touched so deeply. The three of them had been journeying since January 24th and had only reached the camp at Neumarkt that day. For these three little children these had been terrible days. They could not go on. So I had to get a wagon and drive them to Pahring that was now my home.
Soon some neighbour’s children passed by, they wanted to see the Banater Dirndl (as refugees from Yugoslavia were called in Austria). “God, they look just like us,” they said. The farmer’s wife had set some bath water on the stove. I couldn’t bathe the little ones because they were half frozen. I tried to give some food to the youngest one but she could not swallow. I gave all of them some hot tea and put them to bed. The farmer’s wife and her neighbours were of the opinion that if the children fell asleep they would never waken. All afternoon I sat at their bedside and awakened them so that they could not fall into a deep sleep. At night I gave them warm milk to drink. Around 8:00 pm I put them back to bed and they slept through the night.
In the morning the farmer’s wife asked if the children were still alive. When I was able to assure her they were, she gave me more milk for the children. After they got up, washed themselves, dressed and ate their fill of milk they began to tell me of their long ordeal. The oldest girl was thirteen, the little boy was six and the little one sixteen months old. The family had to flee from East Prussia in the winter of early 1945 and that is where their long journey had begun. The thirteen year old always had to carry the baby. She herself was handicapped and had sight in only one eye.
Because the Weichel River was frozen, the children crossed the river on a sled. Adults had to walk and as a result the three youngest children were separated from their mother and she and the older children were to be placed in the camp where the younger children were being taken. Their mother and the other children never reached the camp. All of the tears of the desolate children could not change things. The three children were placed on a transport heading for Austria to the camp at Neumarkt. The thirteen year old knew that they had an aunt there and gave this information to the director of the transport. As a result that is why they had gotten off of the train at the local station.
That is how I got the message and brought the children to me. It was a difficult time both for the children and for me. We lived together for almost a year and made the best of it. We would often sing the song, “A bird came flying,” to the little one and she would soon fall asleep.
One night something mysterious happened. The little one sat up in bed and began to sing, “A bird came flying and sat down on my foot, had a little letter in her beak, a greeting from my mother.” She then lay down again and continued sleeping. My mother-in-law asked, “Did you hear that? The little one must feel the love of her mother that she experiences in the night. You’ll see. Something will come of this.”
And it did too. The very next day the children’s grandmother came and told them, “Your mother is alive and she is coming soon.” What a fantastic joy we all experienced. We wept tears of happiness and were even joined by the farmer’s wife. The children’s Ries grandmother had received the news from relatives who lived near Passau.
At first we were in doubt. Could this really be possible? We would only believe if we could see my sister. The relative of Grandmother Ries had met a woman on the street in Passau, who had just come across the border from the East Zone. She had a letter and wanted to drop it off at the parsonage to be sent onward. The letter stated that a woman had lost her three children and she believed that they were with her sister. The man realized that the address was that of his cousin, Grandmother Ries. So he sent it directly to her. So now we knew that my sister was still alive.
This relative now also took on the responsibility to write to my sister. From Passau the letter got across the border to the East Zone. A pastor in the East Zone passed it on informing my sister that the children were alive and in good health and with her sister. Soon my sister came across the border near Passau and we had a reunion with many tears of joy. My sister came with one son. The daughter who had been with her had also been lost during the flight from East Prussia. She was left all on her own. Fortunately some Čačinci people, the family of Adam Mayer took her into their family and were able to contact us. Now the whole Ries family were re-united in Pahring, but without the husband of my sister, who has been missing since the end of the war.”