13 months in Krndija’s Camp

Franjo Kiefer

of Treštanovc, Slavonia

about his 13 months stay in the starvation camps of Valpovo and Krndija.

Interview by Dr. Vladimir Geiger

First Published In


Godišnjak Podruznice za povijest Slavonije, Srijema i Baranje

Hrvatskog instituta za povijest – svezak 4 (2004)

 Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt

It was the 27th of July 1945 when three Department of Interior civilians from Požega entered the house and asked my father:

“Are you aware that your house and assets are confiscated?” His answer:

“No, I did not know.”

“You have 15 minutes to get packed together with your family and take food with you for three days.”

Father was dumbfounded, but there was no other option left for us but to start packing and to leave.

That day the wheat was supposed to have been threshed in our yard, everything was ready for it, as there were three and half jutra of wheat sown (one jutro = 5754.64 square meter.) He left behind four cows, three horses, 20 swine, some 150 poultry of all kinds, all the barrels and containers for wine making, as he owned a vineyard, all the farming equipment for plowing, as well as the equipment for the horses and wagons, he left behind all the furnishings for three bedrooms and for the kitchen.

Father (*1897), mother (*1903) and myself were thrown out of the house. They escorted us that day to the train station of Jakšic in Slavonia. We stayed there for three days under the clear sky and waited until the cattle train cars arrived, so we could be transported to the concentration camp (prison). There were about 200 – 300 persons assembled. Once we were in those cattle cars, the train headed to Osijek and from there right away to Valpovo on the narrow Gutmann train.

When we arrived in Valpovo, they herded us to the soccer field, which already was fenced with barbed wire and was prepared for an open-air prison camp.  We stayed there almost for two months, again under the clear sky in the sun and in the rain. Many of those Valpovo prisoners starved to death.

A month and 20 days later my father, mother and myself were transferred to another prison camp at the village of Krndija close to Djakovo. From Valpovo to Krndija we marched on foot. The colon was at least one kilometer long. We went via Koška and Budimci. Some villagers there wanted to give us bread, but the guards forbade it. We walked the whole day and arrived to Krndija in the evening.

That village was empty, heavily fortified with barbed wire and prepared for a real prison. Two large lookout towers, at one time one of them was a cinema, and the other stood towards the cemetery. We were dispatched to different streets. The middle street on our arrival was already the prison. We slept on the stroh in the empty houses. Each room had 40 – 50 persons, as many as it could hold. At first we heated with the fence boards and later with the boards of old sheds. In the room where we slept an inmate, the priest from Bijelinje, died. Each morning he took me to mass in Krndija and I was the ministrant. Those of the inmates who considered themselves superior of refused to obey the orders had to stand at the shame-post erected were the food was given out. There were Danube Swabians from Porec, Kula, Resnik, Eminovac, Treštanovac and other Požega County places. More German than Croatian was spoken at the camp. Toddlers and small children were plentiful. But most of the inmates were seniors and children.

Heavy-duty agricultural work on the farms was imposed right away. Dismal food, only black hawthorn tea with a slice of rye bread once a day. My father was responsible to give out that bread to the inmates, and was identified by a green stripe on the hand (everyone who gave out the food in the camp had those green stripes).  Mom and myself went begging to Putinci and Satnica. Some gave us something; the others didn’t depending it they had anything to give. No one chased us away. We caught pigeons as well as sparrows and ate those too.

Then typhus arrived. People died like flies of typhus and of hunger. At first they were buried individually and in the caskets. Later, when the epidemic started, 10, 15, 20 people died daily and they were all thrown in to mass graves. The holes for the mass graves were full of water and they just threw the dead in to it. When the hole had 10-15 bodies in it, it was filled up with earth. It was us children who had to push the carts with the deceased on it to the cemetery. Adam Stuermer (Štirmer) from Eminovac was responsible for the carts. We started collecting the dead at the church and went through the entire village.

Franjo Bauer from Treštanovac (1945/46) and Elizabeta Horvat, nee Lerman (1897-1946) from Ciglanka died at the starvation camp. My mother came down with typhus and spent over a month at the makeshift hospital next to the school. My father’s half brother, Josip Tomašek, drove over in the spring of 1946 and brought us some food. After that my mother got better. Father’s brother-in-law Josip Hajduk also came once for a visit.

When my father’s half brother came for a visit they hid me in the wagon and covered me with the sacks. The guard did notice it and asked where I was. When father admitted the deed, the guard said: he can go! The guards at Podgorac stopped us. However we made it to Jakšic. Two days later I went to my aunty in Treštanovac where I stayed for one day. The next day two-militia officer came to pick me up. Someone reported that I came from the prison. They escorted me back to Krndija.

Alter the thirteenth month in Krndija there was an announcement one day. They called my father and gave him the exit papers for himself and his family. He could go home, but not into his house, as that one was confiscated together with all of his other assets.

We left Krndija on 13th or 14th of August 1946. On our return to the village of Treštanovac we found that our house was already occupied by one of the partisans – a Serb.

Interview on 26th of May 2002