Memories of the Escape from Botschar, Banat,
to Germany in October 1944
written in 2012
Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt
After Romania surrendered on 24th of August 1944, the Russian troops quickly pushed through the Wallachia and over the Carpathian Mountains in to the Banat. They were only stopped just short before Betschkerek (now Zrenjanin ) by diverse quickly formed military units. In our area all the men born between 1926 and 1927 and the men over the age of 48 were drafted. From our village everyone had to cut the corn down in the fields, my mother, my brother, myself and the field-workers, we were all out there on the corn fields. The weather was beautiful.
Far in the distance, south of us we saw the Stukas flying and heard machine-gun and rifle fire as well as artillery or bombs explosions. They beat the Russians back and Temeschburg (now Timisoara) was free again. We thought that now everything will be normal again. But that was only for a short time, as the Russians brought reinforcements, and supported by the Romanian troops, they pushed forward again. The refugees arrived from the Romanian Banat, who urged us to flee while we can, the Russians were inhuman, they said.
The partisans occupied us by a surprise. Every Serb in the village became a partisan. Even our former and now occasional casual worker, Tschiko Mituschka, who was almost 60 years old, patrolled the streets with a rifle during the night. One morning he came into the house and said (he spoke perfect German), “you need have no fear, I was patrolling the streets all night, and I’ll take good care of you. When the Russians come then everything will be better, then one can have everything.”
On the third evening after the occupation by the partisans, the shooting started again. Lightning flushes lit the sky, grenade launcher explosions, gun and machine gun fires. We all went quickly to the basement until it was quiet. Late at night, maybe it was 11 p. m. or later, one Neighbor came in and said, “you can go to bed, we have been occupied by the German troops”. At 3 a. m. in the morning someone knocked on the door, who said that by 5 a. m., therefore in two hours time, the village had to be empty, we must flee.
It had been raining the last few days. You were not allowed onto the fields. To have something to do our stable man took the horse harness apart and cleaned it. Mother sent my brother to get him to put it back together. An hour later and he did not come. So my brother had to go back again. Then his wife said that he has already left. Since he did not come we had to put it together ourselves. We had two bags of oats, a bag of flour, a side of bacon, feather beds, a tarp, clothes, and some other things on the wagon. Then the man who looked after the grandmother’s vineyard came and said we had to give him a horse so he can flee. Mother gave him the horse Sartscha. When he left a neighbor came. She said she has been assigned to us. She had assembled a large heap of stuff that had to go on our wagon. She had a large straw-mattress-cover full of leather pieces and other materials for shoe making and boxes of tools, and a Sewing machine (her husband was a shoemaker), and other things that you normally take with you. (After the war they had a thriving business employing many shoemakers. Vicko Toriani was a customer; my brother did visit them).
So there were seven of us on the wagon. We thought we could start right away, as it was already 6:30 a. m. However, the neighbor wanted to go to her mother. So we drove there. They had a blacksmith shop on the corner of our street. We waited there about 20 minutes until they were ready. About 30 meters from there, at the intersection, the German soldiers were positioned with a machine gun, when Dragoljub, a Serb, passed by at that moment. He smelled strongly of Schlivowitz. He told us in German, “there is no need to go away. You have not done anything wrong.” A little later he said that he had cut the head off of a Hungarian. He wanted to or had telephoned to Hungary, so the Hungarian troops would come across the Tisza River. This Hungarian had worked for us during the harvesting time.
It was the 6th of October 1944, approximately 7 a. m. in the morning when we left our village, or perhaps a little later. We drove towards Idiosch in order to reach the main road. We did not go in to the town, as Idiosch was a Serbian village. We took a short cut over a field dirt road. Because of the rain of the past few days, and the many carriages and trucks that passed there already, the road was in a bad condition. Left and right stood abandoned suitcases, bags with flour and oats and other stuff. We had no problems with our load. Mutter, Luisa and Paula (the horses) brought us excellently through. The wagon dipped at places up to the axle in the mud.
When we reached the main road all went well. We arrived in the morning between 10:00 a. m. and 11:00 a. m. at the Tisza River’s crossing at Padej. There was a very long line of carriages all waiting to board the ferry. The Military vehicles had a right of way. I no longer recall how many wagons fit on the ferry. About 20 kilometers north of Padej stood a bridge over the Tisza River, but it was broken. The line moved very slowly; the troops, who had occupied our village, went ahead of us over the Tisza.
Our village Botschar was occupied by the Russians at about 10:00 a. m. We thought the Front would be there. But that was apparently just a Flank protection, in case a retreat would be necessary. We crossed the Tisza River only the next morning at 3 a. m. The last ones were ferried at 6 a. m. Then we heard shots and no one crossed any more .
From there the ride went along the Tisza River to Senta. A squad leader was detailed to our convoy there. Our village was divided into two convoys. We were in the Second; Aunt Kathi was in the First. The second convoy started about an hour later. We drove north towards Szeged. It was dark, one could hardly see the wagon in the front, but you had to follow the carriage in front of you. Some had a kerosene lantern hanging at the back of the wagon, so no one would bump into them. Someone drove into the back of our carriage. Their wagon shaft broke one suitcase. Fortunately no one was injured. Sometimes the convoy had to stop, and we heard from the front ‘ho, ho, ho’ that went through the whole convoy. That was a warning call to the wagons behind as the visibility was so bad. Suddenly coming from the first convoy we heard shots ahead of us. The carriages of the first convoy fled across the fields, and some remained stuck in the soggy fields. There was much agitation. An innkeeper from our village shot himself.
We turned around and drove back to Senta. And from there we drove in the westerly direction, to Batchka Topola and from there to Subotica. We traveled during the day and during the night, perhaps stopped for a few hours of sleep and then continued on. From Subotica in direction of Solt and at Dunafeltvar we crossed the Danube. When we drove close to a village, mother took some flour to exchange it for bread in a bakery. We children had to feed and water the horses. We had to provide for ourselves, and had to find something for the horses. Mother was not the only one in the bakery; often she had to wait until the bread comes out of the oven. Sometimes she returned with no bread at all. Then there was nothing to eat. For a whole month we ate just bread and bacon. We had no money to buy something. We had dinars, but no Pengö. There was no possibility to exchange the money. The horses were very tired; when we stopped they dropped in the harness to the ground. Later we learned to gather feed for the horses allong the way.
During the first week we slept as the wagon was in motion. Mother did not get much sleep. There was a lot of traffic heading west; sometimes three carriages were side by side, so that the oncoming traffic could not go through. One time the Hungarian military was in the oncoming line, so the third row pushed in the second row and the second row had suddenly pushed us over and forced us into a tree. The wagon was damaged, but we still could go on.
A few days after our departure, we crossed the Danube at Dunafeltvar. As I remember it was dark and foggy. A woman from our Street jumped there into the Danube.
After we crossed the Danube we could drive more slowly; we drove only during the day. It was less strenuous for all, for the horses and for us. There were eight of us on the wagon. My brother’s friend was also with us. His parents drove in the other convoy. The first night after crossing the Danube we stopped on a large estate. Even there we still had to sleep under the open sky. There was a large straw barn, from which we took some straw and spread it on the ground. Mother took blankets from the wagon and spread them on the straw. And on top of that we spread the feather beds. We had not slept so good for a long time. When we woke up everything was white with the frost. My sister said she had frost even in her hair.
We continued further west. Now there was not so much traffic. We were lucky as the weather was not too bad. One day we overtook a family from our street, a mother, daughter and grandmother standing beside the road. A wagon wheel on her carriage was broken. Everyone drove past; only mother stopped. We took them with us. Now we were eleven on the wagon.
Otherwise nothing changed. At each stop mother went off to exchange flour for bread. Since our wagon was heavily loaded, we drove mostly in a gentle trot. Therefore we could not walk besides the carriage.
On the day we were on the north side of the Lake Balaton, there was an air raid alarm. Everyone had to look for cover under the trees at the side of the road. My brother, his friend and I, and perhaps others, climbed a wooded hillside. From the top we could see in the northeast that the Americans were bombing Stuhlweiβenburg. We also saw some airplanes being shot down. As we drove on, we saw an airplane lying next to the road.
The next night we stayed on a large estate. There was already a convoy from the Romanian Banat there. But we still found room for our horses through the help of an Estate worker. I suppose it was because mother spoke perfect Hungarian so the Estate Manager invited us to his house. We ate there and slept there also. In the kitchen they had a faucet from which milk came out. They turned the faucet on and offered us milk.
The next morning we continued on, through Veszprem and the Bakony Forest. It had been raining and we were wet. We had a tarp but there was never time enough to stretch a canopy over the wagon. Then we were sent to a house.
It was the home of a small farmer, who had seemingly no place in the house, so he sent us to the stable. But there was not much room behind the cows, maybe just a meter. The next morning we continued on even though it was still raining. Later we realized that father’s winter jacket was missing. We had the tarpaulin spread over the wagon so nothing would be wet. We, however, were sitting in the rain. The weather became better, but now we also had to drive during the night. They said that the Hungarian army had capitulated. They were not sure which way Hungary would go. We tried to reach Austria as soon as possible.
We crossed the border during the night at Deutsch-Kreuz south of Ödenburg (Sopron). Then the situation in Hungary stabilized again. The German Army put Horthy (Hungarian President) under house arrest. So we drove back to Ödenburg in Hungary. And at the other side back in to Austria. We then stopped in Wulkaprodersdorf for two days. There we put up a canopy over the wagon, like in the Wild West. The tarp was too large so we had to cut it in half. The other half we gave to a family from our street in Botschar. From there on we were protected from the rain.
We continued on, passing the city Eisenstadt, in the direction of Sankt Pölten. From there we were in the mountains and our wagons had no brakes. You could see the convoy climbing the serpentine road for kilometers. However, just how to ride down the mountains we yet had to learn. One day we passed by dead horses and broken wagons in the ditch. We were told that low flying airplanes attacked the convoy.
In Sankt Pölten my brother’s friend found his parents and the neighbor’s family left our wagon as well. So now there were only us, grandma and the family B. from our street, on the wagon. The next day we drove back across the Danube near Krems and stayed there overnight. Then we drove in the direction of Zwettl in the Waldviertel. It was raining but now we were sitting in the dry. I think it was just before Zwettl that we stopped in a village. We were directed to a small farmer where we could sleep in his hayloft. But before we could go to sleep, they called us to the kitchen. Everyone got a bowl of vegetable soup. This was the best soup I’ve ever eaten. But then I had not eaten any soup since we went away from home. That soup tasted better to me than any soup in the very best restaurant.
Often the road went uphill; I do remember the one time the road was a long, steep, uphill stretch and everyone climbed down from the wagons. I drove because I could not walk. I had ulcers on the leg and the thigh and could not straighten out my leg. It must have been because of the monotonous food, always bacon and bread, no fruits or vegetables.
It was cold and snowing at higher elevations, but it did not stick on the road. We drove towards Gmünd. Just where we stayed overnight, I do not recall any more. The stop after that was a large barracks in Budweis, where a military doctor was on duty. Mother brought me to him and after a few days I felt better. There we had also shod our horses. We stayed there for three days to recuperate. Then we continued in the direction of Taus (Domalice). I do not recall where we stopped next after that. The second stop was Klattau, and the next day, the 4th of November 1944, we arrived at our destination, Taus, where we remained for the next 6 months; we have travelled well over four weeks so far.
Our first accommodation there was in an inn. After about a month we received an apartment at Mrs. Novak’s home. She was ethnic German and her husband a Czech. He was employed at the tax office in Prague. He always came home on weekends.
All the Horses and wagons were stored in a large shed and barn. We had to feed and take care of our horses. There was a state-owned estate in Taus. They were breeding horses there and wanted our horses. There were over 150 horses in the stables, but they insisted on having our horses. We no longer needed to feed them and could pick them up at any time.
I went there often to observe how the horses were doing. I have to admit that that was a five Star horse hotel. Taus was a beautiful, ancient town, with arcades on the Main road. They came in handy when it rained or snowed. Once during a low-flying air attack they were lifesaving for me. The airplanes shot from their on-board weapons up and down the street. I took cover under the arches. Once, I think it was in March (1945), I chopped some wood and brushwood that we had brought from the forest the previous day. Behind the yard where we lived was the railway line. A passenger train stood there and made noise. And suddenly above me, I did not hear them before, were three low-flying aircraft, and started shooting their guns. I ran so fast my slippers flew off. I had learned that you had to be quick to take cover. It was a train full with refugees from Silesia, who lamented after the attack about their many dead and wounded.
The Bohemian military barracks were across the street where we were staying; one of the larger complexes. At the beginning one could see only young soldiers, but later it was mostly older men, aged 40 – 50. When they marched home from the shooting practices they always sang “on the beautiful Neckar shores.” It must have been around mid-April that I saw two SS officers go to the barracks. What struck me was the brown skin and turbans on their heads.
Mrs. Novak advised us to go across the border to Bavaria; the Czechs did not appreciate the ethnic Germans in their midst. When we wanted to pick up our horses again, the Estate manager refused to release them. Mother went to the captain in charge of the town, who gave her the papers that the Estate administrator had to release the horses. On April 26, 1945 we left the town. There were four carriages, B.’s mother’s aunt and uncle, two others carriages from our village, and our wagon. The ethnic Germans, who remained in Taus were later expropriated and imprisoned in the Bohemian barracks by the Czechs, even Mrs. Novak was imprisoned there. Later the ethnic Germans were deported to Germany.
Already for several days we heard artillery fire from the Front. The border was closed; we could not go through there. Mrs. Novak made us a sketch where we should proceed. We were to use a forest road through the Bohemian Forest. A barrier was there also, but you could drive around. There was no border post there. On the way to the border we met a convoy, I think there were about 500 SS soldiers with brown skin and turbans. They went in the other direction. I suppose they were Sikh’s (Indians).
On the other side of the barrier was Sudetenland, a strip of land between Germany and the Czech Republic that after the war was given to the Czech Republic; the forest road was getting worse. There were deep potholes and the road went steeply downhill. We had the rear wagon wheels blocked so the carriage would not roll downhill too fast. The horses could hardly hold the wagon from rolling. Mother drove, I had to hold a basket full of eggs, the others were walking. There was a deep pothole after another. I was thrown back and forth in the wagon and could no longer keep myself from being thrown out, and landed with the egg basket in my arms next to the carriage but not even a single egg broke.
Down in the valley stood a mill, and we stayed there overnight. We had to milk Luisa, as her udder was so full because she had a foal, a beautiful stallion that we had to leave on the estate. Previously Paula had a foal, but they said that it was born dead.
The front was not far away. The miller told us that we should go to the village and go to the town’s mayor. There were no school classes because the Front was so near, so the mayor gave us accommodation in the school building. The place’s name was Schneiderhof and had about 500 inhabitants. It was a beautiful day. The school stood at the edge of the village, and next to it was a meadow. I and a few other young people, I do longer recall who was there, sat close to the road and were sunning ourselves. An airplane circled in the sky. We observed the artillery strikes that came closer and closer to us. We thought about two kilometers away, and then one kilometer and suddenly one struck no further than 40 meters from us. We ran like lightning. Then we heard the next one coming; we threw ourselves down in front of the school. Just what was hit I no longer recall only that the window glass hit my back. The artillery strikes went on for over a week, day and night, and then aircraft attacks. We were told there were also tanks. An artillery strike hit a shed next to the school. 50 percent of the village was in ruins. At the end the American troops occupied the village. There were no German troops in the village. Only once they came through with a jeep with a white star painted on it, most likely a captured vehicle.
After a few days we were able to continue on. The road was covered with shell holes one after another; the road was barely passable. The meadows and fields looked exactly like that as well. We drove through Neumarkt in the Sudetenland, which is approximately one and a half kilometers away from Schneiderhof, and had about 4,000 inhabitants. Not one house stood any more, just parts of a wall or perhaps a chimney.
From the Sudetenland we drove to Bavaria. Near Cham we stayed overnight, where a suitcase was stolen from our wagon. The family B. drove next day towards southeast. We drove in the direction of Straubing. We stayed overnight at a farm homestead in Mitterfels. The farmer did not mind if we stuck around and helped him on the farm.
What I remember best from that place was that we (the field workers) all ate from the same bowl. For that we needed to first learn the proper technique. You had to wipe the spoon first on the bowl before you put it in the mouth. The bread was only to be cut by Boris, a White Russian. He was about 1.85 meters tall and about 100 kilograms. Bread was baked for two months ahead. The farmer designated each one work for which in his views that individual was capable. I was designated to look after the cows on the pasture. We were not paid but the food was free.
After three weeks we moved on. We wanted to cross the Danube at Straubing. There was only a pontoon bridge, and the Americans did not let us go through. So we drove east along the Danube, to the next village at Oberalteich. Mother went to the town mayor to ask for a place to stay overnight. He sent us to farmer K. There we slept first in the barn. We did not know where we should go next to, so we stayed there. The farmer fully understood our situation. Later on we moved to the hayloft.
The Mayor did not assign us any apartment, and with no apartment one could not obtain ration cards. From the farmer we received potatoes. So we ate three times in the day potatoes. For breakfast the farmer’s wife made enough coffee so that we could have some with our potato. It was roasted barley coffee or sugar beets. The farmer said we could have an apartment with them, if and when the family from Silesia (a woman with nine children) moved out. There was also a woman from Hamburg with one or two children living there. Then two women from our village joined us also. One had a son with her, the other a daughter and mother. They were staying with us in the hayloft. Eventually we received food stamps. But there was not much on it. However, we were lucky, there were always enough potatoes.
My brother continuously worked for this farmer. The rest of us were only casual workers. Where our father was we did not know. The last address we had from him, he was in Roth next to Neumarkt, south of Nuremberg. The farmer said Franz could borrow his bike, drive there and find out about his whereabouts. Alas, we did not know his unit. Later we discovered that father was in captivity in Steyer, Austria. Mother and I went to visit him. That was also an adventure. The trains were working only on some stretches. We sneaked across the border. One time they caught us.
Eventually we moved into the “apartment “. That consisted only of one room that we shared with two other families. And that room was our kitchen, our living room, our bathroom, our bedroom and our laundry room. During that time in the town of Oberalteich lived more than twice as many refugees as locals.
Father was released from captivity after one year. There was no work available except occasional work for various farmers during the harvest time. Social support, as now, there was none. Many helped themselves through the black market to provide some income. For that you had to have something to offer. In Oberalteich it was a hopeless time that went on for many years.
Our hopes for a better future were renewed when France started recruiting from Germany the ethnic Germans from the Banat, Batchka and Syrmien whose ancestors originated from Alsace and Lorraine. We were to be settled in the center of France and we hoped to receive land there and a homestead. Father sold the horses and the wagon and we took the train to France.
First we stayed in Riom for an extended time in a refugee camp and then three weeks in Saint – Etienne, and at the end shortly in Toul. We liked it in Riom, the shops there were full you could buy everything. The food was good and plentiful; there was dancing and entertainment. Almost everyone had found work even though it was against the law. And the way the French work, no one’s back would be broken. In the fall they could no longer employ us, nor could we settle there, so they sent us six months later back to Germany.
We then arrived in a refugee camp in Baden Altschweier, from which the refugees were distributed in the surrounding villages. So we ended up in Gamshurst next to Achern. In the area around Achern at least 100 people lived that were with us in the Riom’s camps. This was where my brother met his future wife.
In 1955 my sister immigrated to Canada, and I followed later.
Name withheld for privacy reasons.