By Konrad Kehl
Contributed by Mike Teicher
To my family, my children and grand-children:
Our ancestors originally came from the German states of Hessen and Wuerttemberg. After the repulsion of the Turks, the Emperor Charles V (1519-56) moved settlers into the depopulated areas to populate of the counties Tolna, Somogy and Baranaya and develop it. As a result, the character of this region changed so much that it was often called the “Swabian Turkey”.
After almost 200 years, several families left their Hungarian homeland and moved southward over the Drava into Slavonia in an attempt to acquire larger land properties. Michael Kehl, my grandfather, emigrated in 1872 from Gerényes, Hungary (About 40 kilometers north of Pecs with his wife Elisabeth (nee Jung) and their three children, Michael, Johann, and Jakob. Johann, born on October 10, 1861, in Hungary, was my father.
The family worked hard to clear the land to make it suitable for farming. My grandfather died shortly after, at the age of 56, probably from over exhaustion.
My mother, born Eva Pammer (born on November 18, 1863 in Hungary), came with her parents Michael Pammer and Eva (nee Wimmer) from Hungary to live in Hrastovac (now Croatia about 26 kilometers west of Daruvar- a 2 hour drive SE of Zagreb). I did not know my father’s parents, but my maternal grandparents I remember very well, especially because of the bees my grandfather kept.
Michael Kehl, my father’s older brother, died in 1908 in Hrastovac. His children and grandchildren came to Hessen and Bavaria during 1944.
Jakob (Jacob) Kehl, the younger brother, died in 1946 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. A., where he was living with his son. His daughter and other children and grandchildren are still living in Wisconsin, Ohio, and California.
My mother had three brothers and two sisters. Guerrillas in Hrastovac murdered Georg Pammer, the oldest brother, in 1944. He was buried in the garden in front of the bee house. His grandchildren are living in Hessen.
Heinrich Pammer, the second brother, passed away in 1908 in Hrastovac. His descendants live in Harrow, Ontario, Canada.
Michael Pammer, the youngest of her brothers, died in 1908 in Hungary.
My mother’s sister Anna, who was married to Heinrich Gossler, died in 1911. Her son has lived in Hessen since 1944.
Elisabeth, the other sister, was married to Johann Koehler. She died in Weiskirchen, Hessen, in 1950. Her children and grandchildren have lived there since 1945.
We were 11 children, 6 boys and 5 girls. Following are the names and their dates:
ELISABETH—born June 28, 1884 in Hrastovac—died February 12, 1963 in Mayen, Rheinland
EVA—born July 13, 1886 in Hrastovac—died October 15, 1915 in Hrastovac
KATHARINA—born December 19, 1887 in Hrastovac—died May 4, 1894 in Hrastovac
JOHANN—born August 8, 1888 in Hrastovac—died March 1925 in Hrastovac
MICHAEL—born December 7, 1889 in Hrastovac—still living in Germany
LENA—born March 3, 1891 in Hrastovac—died July 20, 1911 in Hrastovac
HEINRICH—born April 2, 2893 in Hrastovac—lives in Windsor, Ontario
JAKOB—born September 9, 1895 in Hrastovac—lives in Harrow, Ontario
ANNA—born June 18, 1897 in Hrastovac—died May 12, 1913 in Hrastovac
GEORG—born August 20, 1898 in Hrastovac—lives in Harrow, Ontario
KONRAD—born September 3, 1900 in Hrastovac—lives in Harrow, Ontario
O my dear Mother! How much work you had with your children. Your life was full of hardship, sorrow, and worries.
Nun gingest Du den Weg, den alle gahn.
Mir aber, Mutter, bist Du nicht gegangen.
Seitdem Dich meine Augen nicht mehr sahn
Hab’ ich Dich neu und koestlicher emfangen
Die letzte Nachtuhr hoer ich irgenwo.
Die Seele lauscht – und wie in alten Tagen
Gibst Du mir linde Antwort auf meine Fragen.
Von A. Lachmann
An approximate translation:
Now you have walked the path that all must tread.
To me, O Mother, you have never left.
Since my own eyes no longer see you
I behold you with a new respect.
Somewhere in the night I hear a clock chime the last hour,
My soul is listening—and as in olden days
Your quiet answers guide me on my many ways.
(* The dates are somewhat different than found in the Hrastovac registry books.)
MY SCHOOL DAYS
My first teacher was Ludwig Mueller from Neudorf/Vinkovci. Our minister was Reverend Dobrovoljac. I had quite a distance to cover to reach school. In bad weather, I would wear wooden shoes. During the winter season, I did not come home for lunch. Instead, I would go to my grandparents (Pammer) who lived near our school. I really enjoyed these lunch hours at my grandparents’ home because my grandmother would usually have a treat for me such as nuts dipped in honey. Sometimes I would even get a taste of the good wine. Grandmother always had some goodies for us children. At home, with such a large family, sweets were seldom available. In the years between 1884-1907, my parents had a difficult time. There was still much land that had to be cleared; eleven children had to be fed and clothed, and some money had to be put into savings.
1907—In 1907 a huge estate (Ottohof) outside our village had become available for sale. The people of Hrastovac bought the whole property. My father bought about 20 acres at this opportunity. In the same year, my brother, Hans (Johann) went to America to earn money to help pay for the debt.
1909—By 1909 my brother had sent 1200 Florin. The financial situation was improving rapidly, but my poor mother became ill with tuberculosis. Following her request, my brother returned home.
Despite all possible attempts by the doctor to save her, my good mother passed away during the summer of 1909 in Hrastovac. I had not yet reached my ninth birthday and therefore have only faint memories of my mother.
The next few years were difficult years for me. I missed my mother more than I realized. I longed for the love that only a mother can give a boy of that age.
When I was 10, I had to take the cows to the pasture. On one of these occasions, one of the cows ran her horn right through my arm. It took a long time for the wound to heal. There were several large fishponds near where we lived. My friends and I visited these quite often to do some fishing. My father did not like the idea too much and punished me for going there. He was very strict with us and made sure we did not neglect our responsibilities around the farm. Today I thank him for this important lesson in life.
1912—This was the year of my confirmation. I am grateful to my teachers who taught me how to read, write, and do arithmetic, even though the time was rather short during which this had to be accomplished. We did not have the opportunity of higher education in Hrastovac, and my parents could not afford to send us elsewhere. During the winter months there were remedial classes held for young people who had completed elementary school. However, we did not learn anything new there. They were more or less like a refresher course.
When my mother had departed from us, my father had to face many new problems. Not only was he unable to afford treatments at a sanatorium for Mother, but also it seemed that T. B. would not leave our family without causing more hardship. At the age of 20 my sister Lena died in 1911. Anna was taken from us in 1913, only 14 years old. Eva passed away in 1915 at 29 years of age. All three were victims of tuberculosis. At times, a friend in the village would give no strawberries and cherries to bring my ailing sisters.
In the meantime, my father had married again. Our new stepmother was widow Kilkus of Heicjak, Hungary. She brought with her a daughter from her first marriage. With the farm and the children, there was a lot of work for her.
Brother Michael went to America in 1912. Already two years later, he was able to return with 1,000 Florin. Our business was in a fairly healthy state when World War I broke out.
1914—WORLD WAR I
The assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 triggered the First World War. A month later on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. My brother Michael, who had just returned from America, was drafted almost immediately. At the same time, Hans, Heinrich, and Jakob were called into the army. When later my brother Georg, too, had to go, there were five brothers actively involved in the war.
Father was already 56 years old, so my sister-in-law, Barbara (formerly Mueller), Hans’ wife, my stepsister, and I had to do the entire field and house work. We had to look after six horses and cattle and had to work the fields. As young as I was (14 years), I had to work overtime plowing the fields and feed the animals twice a day. A working day started at 4:00 in the early morning and did not end until after sundown. From spring ‘till autumn, I walked behind the single-bladed plow. Every evening I dropped into bed dead-tired. My father was not only a strict man, but he was also a religious man. He attended church regularly and never forgot to say grace at mealtime.
1918— My brother Hans was captured by the Russians. Michael and Jakob were wounded. But when the war ended in November of 1918, all my brothers were able to return home.
Of all the Hrastovac men, which had gone to the war, 18 had lost their lives.
1915-1920 My sister, Elisabeth, married Heinrich Wahn in Schutzberg (Glogovac), Bosnia. He died in Kragujevac while Serbian prisoner-of-war. Of the two children they had, the girl had died. My sister was very happy when I came to visit them in Schutzberg. That was my first trip on a train. Elisabeth was the only one of my sisters that was still alive. My sister, Eva, had married Konrad Lang, but in 1915 fell victim to T. B. Brother Michael married the stepsister, Kilkus. Heinrich married a Katharina Schuessler. Jakob’s wife was also born Schuessler, but there was no relation to Heinrich’s wife. Georg married a Magdalena Koch, who died in 1921. His second wife was Christina Faust.
After the war, my father planned to build houses for Hans and Michael. He bought oak wood in Kapilice, Croatia for the framework. I brought the heavy wood home by cart.
When the war had ended, things did not exactly return to normal right away. For some time, deserters, thieves, and other lawbreakers roamed the country committing robberies and other crimes.
To protect themselves, the people in the village had to organize a makeshift police force. At night, every household was expected to make available one man to stand watch. Before midnight, the men from one side of the street would have the responsibility of protection, and after midnight, the men from the other side would take over until sunrise.
I can still recall a couple of incidents of that time: During the night, cries and shouting were heard coming from one end of the village. I ran outside as my cousin Jakob Koehler gave off a warning shot. The people ran from all directions to close in on the culprit who had apparently broken in at Georg Eberholz’s place. Georg had heard a suspicious knocking in the kitchen and had run out to get some help. When somebody carefully opened the kitchen door, the intruder was discovered. There with its head in the milk pot was the housecat who had sneaked in to steal some milk. Unfortunately, the cat was not able to pull its head out of the pot again, and the ensuing battle to get free caused all the commotion.
The second incident I remember was more of a serious nature. A gypsy came into our village, apparently to steal some money. The police took him in to be checked out. In an attempt to flee, he was shot and killed.
Following the war in 1918, our homeland was annexed by Yugoslavia. The fertile areas of the Banat, Backa, Slavenia, and Croatia now belonged to the Serbs under the rule of Serbian King Peter I.
1921—IN MILITARY SERVICE
Of course, now we were also drafted into the new Yugoslavian army. After I had bee found physically fit for military duty (examination was at Daruvar), I was called into service on January 27, 1921. I was stationed at Weisskirchen, Banat, with the cavalry. The Serbian language had to be learned. Our uniforms were old and in poor condition. For half a year, I even had to wear my own shoes. Lice were our constant companions. The food left much to be desired. For the two years, breakfast was unheard of. Lunch consisted of bread, bean, or potato soup, very little meat. Sometimes we were served pumpkin gourds and a cabbage. Soup was customary for meals. To satisfy our stomachs, however, we bought more bread from the baker when he came around in the morning. I always had a little money on hand. One morning the baker would not accept my money. He said it had lost its value. You see, I was still using money from the time when this area was part of Austria-Hungary. I wrote to my father asking him to send me some more money. But at that time there was not much left over. For one Gulden (the old money), we could get only one Dinar (the new currency) in return. This was somewhat of a loss for us. It was strictly forbidden to discriminate because of difference in national background. We had to rise at 5:00 in the morning and to feed and clean the horses. From 7:00 until 10:00, we had to take the horses for a ride. At first we had to ride without stirrups. After two months, they were issued to us. Our training lasted half a year.
When King Peter I died in 1921, we had to pledge allegiance to King Alexander. After six months, I became an aid to Captain S. Mirosavljovic. This was an enjoyable duty. Practically every day I had the opportunity to go downtown to the beautiful German city of Weisskirchen. One morning, in late autumn of 1921, we were all called to assemble in the barrack in full uniform and equipment. The order was to move toward the Hungarian border. The captain went along too. We left Weisskirchen in the evening of November 15. Before we cleared out, several shots were fired. The Serbian officers seemed to be disturbed and afraid. The state was still young and the older ones among us, those of the year 1898 and before, had served in the Austro-Hungarian army. They were not especially interested in serving in the Yugoslavian army all over again. So they kept firing their guns out of the train to scare the young ones a little.
The train took us over Kikinda to Sombor (Backa), where we stayed for two days. From here we continued on horses until we came to Bejnok-Moerges, which was directly at the Hungarian border. So that we could see the border more clearly, the captain ordered us to put up markers of poles with hay or straw ties around them. The Serbian veterans had already shot a few civilians when we advanced into Bajmok. The population here consisted of Slavs, Germans, and Hungarians. My quarters were in a house of German people. They gave me anything to eat that I wanted. Those people wanted protection from me because I was also a German. But the Slavs, too, were very friendly.
The Serbian state was very poor. When mobilization began, the veterans came half in uniform and half in civil clothes. One wore a blue cap, another a green one. The trousers and other items were of different colors too. I certainly did not look very impressive.
We were again in Weisskirchen. This time I became an aide to a major with the name of S. Todorovic. I had more freedom now. I could go into the town more often. On Sundays we went to church.
At Christmas I had 7 days of leave. On my way home, I left Pancevo by boat to Belgrade. Then my journey took me through Syria, Slavonish-Brod, and Novska Poljana where I had 12 kilometers more to go. On my way I was happy to meet some friends already.
I found my folks in good health. My brother, Georg, had married again, Christina Faust. The days passed quickly, and soon I had to return.
The Serbian language I had mastered already. In Belgrade I met some of my mates who were also returning from their leave. Since we arrived after the last boat had left, we had to stay in Belgrade until next day. We had a good time together that evening. The day after, we all arrived at our base in Weisskirchen.
1922—At Easter of 1922, I had another seven days of leave. In the two years those were the only two times that I had holidays. In the fall of this year, I spent two weeks in the hospital at Belgrade with tonsillitis.
1923—My discharge came on January 30, 1923. First, I traveled to Schutzberg where my sister, Elisabeth, lived because her son Heinrich was just getting married. From here I returned home and back to hard work.
AT HOME AGAIN
My father had bought a house for me with two rooms. I hauled in some lumber and stones to build a stable. Our father divided the land, and each son received his share. Hans’ and Michael’s shares were a little larger because they had helped to pay for it when they were in America. They also received horses and a wagon. Hans, however, was ill and could not work the land. So, in addition to my own, I cultivated his farm with the help of his wife.
May 28, 1924 was my wedding day. I took as my wife Christina Schuessler. She was born on June 28, 1908 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her grandfather and father were both named Heinrich Schuessler. The younger Heinrich immigrated with his wife to America in 1907. The mother returned with the child in 1910 to Hrastovac. The father did not care for them anymore. He died in America in 1941. He had two brothers and two sisters. His brother, Friedrich, was killed in action about 1914 in Crna Gora, in Serbia. His brother, Hans, died in Weisskirchen, Germany. The children of both Hans and Elisabeth are still living in Weisskirchen. Katharina, my other sister, passed away in Hrastovac. Her children are now living in Brazil.
My wife’s mother was born Christina Ochs in Huedengut, Hungary. Her grandfather was Philipp Ochs, her grandmother Elisabeth, born Riegelmann. Both died in Hrastovac. My wife’s mother had a brother Jakob Ochs, who died in Russia, a prisoner-or-war in 1915. His children are living in Windsor, Ontario. Philipp Ochs is still in Germany. She also had three sisters: Elisabeth died in Germany. Her children are in Windsor. Lena Muench died in Hrastovac; her children are living in Windsor. Anna Jung is still living in Hessen. Her son, Heinrich, lives in Germany too, while Philipp, her other son, lives in Windsor, Ontario. Our Aunt Anna was here on a visit in 1961. She was 73 years old. Actually, I have reached way ahead in my story. I will now return you back to the year 1924.
The stables were completed on my land, but we lived with my mother-in-law for one more summer. We moved into our own house after my brother was married. He had married my wife’s sister, Lena. I had one cow, which I got from my father. Horses I had not and could not afford to buy any. Under these conditions, it was rather difficult to work my land.
1925—My brother, Hans, died on March 1, 1925, after a serious illness. He was my favorite brother, and I will always remember him with great respect.
My land did not produce enough to support the family comfortably. During harvest time, I went to cut wheat for 1/10 of what I would mow, just to have enough bread for the family. I did this work with a scythe.
On September 21, 1925, God presented us with a baby girl, whom we named Christine. Winter arrived in due course. My wife and I had worked hard to earn enough to eat. It was not enough for adequate clothing. Horses and cart I had to borrow from my brothers. My brothers helped out, but since I could not pay for their services, I did not want to continue to depend on their assistance. Some of the villagers were leaving for Argentina at that time.
1926 TO CANADA
My wife and I had little hope for improvement in our situation and living conditions. Therefore, I decided to emigrate to Canada. I was able to get enough money together, secure a passport, and departed on March 25, 1926. I traveled through Austria, Switzerland, and France, through Paris to Cherbourg, where I boarded the boat Andania. With this 15,000-ton ship, we landed in Halifax on April 11.
The three of us, Johann Kah, Peter Jaekel, and I were on our way to Winnipeg by train. We had reached that city in 3 days. We continued towards Edmonton, Alberta. Our destination was Bruderheim, where we arrived two days later on April 16, 1926. When the train stopped, we were instructed to detrain.
After we had stepped off the train, we looked around and saw only trees surrounding us. We had to walk over a boardwalk to reach a lumberyard where we met the agent who would direct us to some jobs. He told us that about a mile from the village a farmer needed three men to dig up roots. A small restaurant, three stores, a church, and several scattered frame houses made up the village.
We found the farmer as we had been told. His name was Emil Kroening. He received us warmly and offered to pay us one dollar a day. I made an agreement with him whereby he would pay me 400 a year. I worked 2 ½ years under this agreement.
1927—When we were cutting wood in December of this year, a peace of log hit me in the face sending me to the hospital, where I spent the Christmas. Every patient received a parcel from Santa Claus, which we appreciated very much.
After the holidays, I returned to Bruderheim. When I arrived at the station, the temperature was 50 degrees below zero. I did not walk very far. I turned into the next farm where I was allowed to stay overnight. I do not think that I could have made it otherwise.
1928—My two friends, who came over with me, had brought some money with them. So they had only stayed one month in the West and they departed to go to Windsor, Ontario. Now, on June 29, 1928, my time for departure had come. I, too, headed for Windsor. The trip cost me 75 dollars. The employment situation was not very encouraging. I managed to find a job in a gas company for 45 cents and hour. In November I was laid off.
1929—In spring I found a job in a steel mill. In August of the same year, I had my tonsils removed. My wife, in the meantime, had arrived in Bremerhafen in Germany, but could not come because she had received word that I was in the hospital. She had shown the letter to an official. The telegram that she sent to me had arrived, but it was not delivered to me until three weeks later. Immediately I sent a telegram to Bremerhafen, but by that time my wife had returned to Hrastovac.
1930—I helped my brother, Georg, and my sister’s son to come to Canada. My brother, Heinrich, came to Canada with his own money.
During the cold season, I was without work for six months. In spring of 1930, I found work in Harrow with farmer Karl Wright for 50 dollars a month and room and board. Since this was seasonal work, I found a job on another farm in the fall, where I could stay during the winter season as well. I worked for Jimmy Howie and received 25 dollars a month.
1931—I stayed with the Howies until December 2, 1931. Then, after almost six years, I returned home to my wife and child. Returning with me to Hrastovac was my friend Johann Kah.
We had a very pleasant voyage on the “Bremen”. We reached England after only four days, and the day after we were already in Bremerhafen. On board the food was excellent, and all kinds of entertainment was available. It was truly an enjoyable trip.
Our journey on land took us over Hanover, Prague to Vienna. Here we had a one-day stopover. I found a Viennese who was willing to show me around the city, if I in return paid him the rides on the transit system and kept him fed. This way I managed to see quite a bit of the city. At 7:00 PM, our train left again toward Agram (Zagreb).
We arrived in Agram the next morning. Poljana was our next stop in the evening of the same day. What a place that was. We, Johann Kah and I, went into the restaurant and ordered two liters of wine. We offered Canadian cigarettes to the one or the other. The Slavs surrounded us out of curiosity.
Then I become aware of Mr. Fak, who had bought the mill from Peter Ochs. He had lived in Hrastovac several years before he moved to Poljana. He offered us his carriage and driver to take us to Hrastovac. We paid the man for brining us home. We were certainly not used to these rough roads anymore.
It was a great joy for me to be reunited with my family. I was very happy to be again with my wife and child. (My daughter was now 7 years old.) It was truly a merry Christmas. The village band came to welcome me with their music. Everybody seemed to be happy. I was at home again!
After the holidays I carted home some firewood and had Adam Haerz dig a well; then I build a wood shed. I bought horses and a cart, as well as a plough, so that I could now work my fields. In addition to that, I bought some land from Peter Mueller. Now it seemed that we could live quite comfortably. The land, however, was in poor condition, and little remained after the necessary things had been bought.
In the spring, when I came to the outer fields, which bordered the forest of Uljanik, I heard the old Slavic songs being sung. I felt ill and wished I could fly back to Canada.
1932—On November 10, we were blessed with a baby boy. I still had my Canadian papers and would have liked to return to Canada again. At this time it was work, work, work from early morning ‘till late at night. I said to myself, “Things are still the same and will probably always stay this way”.
1934—This was the year when our king, Alexander, was assassinated in Marseille, France.
1935—Things were a little better in 1935. The land was now in better condition, and we now had three or four cows, two sheep, horses, and other animals. Life was more settled now.
1936—Students came from Germany, organized clubs, and entertained the people with the performances of plays. I was appointed treasurer.
1937—By this time, I realized that these student activities had a political aim. The Slavs began to hate all of us of German descent. I resigned as treasurer because I saw that the situation became tenser between the different nationalities.
1938—My mother-in-law, Christina Ochs, became seriously ill. She died on June 4, 58 years old, due to cancer of the liver. We were very grieved; we missed her very much. Our children were very close with their grandmother. But it was God’s will.
1939—I bought lumber and hauled 20 loads of stones from Sirac, 30 kilometers away. Then I bought shingles for the roof in Kikinda, Banat, and 15,000 bricks in Garesnica. All winter long I had to drive over the soft, muddy roads. I planned to build a new house.
1940—WORLD WAR II
The War had already begun, and little could be undertaken. The younger men were all drafted. In the spring, April 1, I also was called to military duty. I had to join the cavalry again. At Cakovac I met some of my military buddies of my service in 1921. We were not exactly happy to meet again under these conditions. The different nationalities hated each other. After a month in the service, I was dismissed and could return home in May.
My daughter, Christine, was 15 years old. My wife and daughter had already sowed the corn and oats.
On the political scene, things were becoming tenser.
1941—In 1941 you could hear the sounds of the artilleries in the distance. The Italians were coming from one side; German and Hungarian troops flooded the country from the other.
1941—Croatian troops had been organized, but they could not save the state already suffering from internal division. Many skirmishes had to be fought against these factions. There were the Cetniks who supported General Mihajlovic. The partisans were fighting under Tito. Their headquarters were in the forests where they were hiding. These roving bands killed thousands of German soldiers and civilians. Many of our young men of Hrastovac were drafted into the Germany army.
1943—On Easter morning the oil wells of Banova Jaruga came under attack. Many of the Croatian soldiers defected, joining the partisans, and the few remaining German soldiers were thrown into the fire. One out of the 50 men escaped the flames but was mortally wounded and left in the cornfield. When the German army came through from Agram, they took the bodies with them.
We did only as much fieldwork as was necessary because we knew that we could no longer call this land our own.
On August 15, I was on my way to the mill in Kutina. Jakob Mueller came with me to visit his daughter who lived there. When we came to Uljanik, the partisans stopped us. Stevo S. approached our carriage, which was laden with wheat. Seventeen-year-old B. posted himself in front of our cart. Sch., who knew me well, was with them. He and Stevo S. went to talk to their commander. When they returned, they allowed us to continue on our way, but not before they had taken away the chickens and bacon, which Jakob Mueller had brought along. Later I learned that their commander was S. who also knew me well. He was the owner of the Biermeier Watermill in Toplice.
Next day we returned from Kutina. At the corner restaurant in Uljanik, the partisans were standing around waiting for me. I had brought half a bag of salt back, which I now turned over to them. They divided it among themselves. In order to stay alive, you have to give up many things.
KIDNAPPED BY THE PARTISANS
It was 9:00 in the evening of November 22 when seven partisans came into my house. I was forced to go with them. We came to Johann Koehler, son of Heinrich Koehler, and got him out of bed. When we came into the yard, he indicated that he wanted to take his horses and carriage. He went to the stable brought the harness out and gave it to the partisans to hold while he would go and get the carriage ready. One of them had a tight grip on my arm as we entered the stable. At that moment, Johann gave the carriage a good push to send it into the middle of the yard. While my captors looked surprised, Johann Koehler was running through the gate into the open fields, and disappeared in the dark. He had gone to join the German soldiers in Garesnica.
Our next stop was at Andreas Schaefer’s place. He was so frightened, that he crawled into his mother’s bed. I went into the house. By this time, I had two guards keeping an eye on me. Schaefer’s family cried when he was told to come with us. The partisans threatened to kill him on the spot.
We had left Hrastovac behind us and were heading towards Uljanik. The mob cursed us as we passed. We came to the Inn Havelka right at the market place. There I saw Mr. V. who knew me well. “What are you doing here?” he asked. I just answered, “The same thing you were doing at the town hall”. (You see, in 1941, he was brought to the town hall to be interrogated by German officials. When the question came up what they should do with him, I spoke in his defense. For 25 years, these people have done us Germans no harm. It would not be right for us to persecute them now. We have a responsibility here which we must not forget.” The officials could not dispute my statement, so they let him go. The tension between the nationalities increased with time.) The situation was now reversed.
The partisans took some others and myself into the Nemets Inn. The proprietor was Friedrich from Antunovac. We were kept in one well-guarded room. I wanted to go into the main room, but one of the guards pushed me back. There were several Serbians present who knew me. They called me by name, so I went in anyway. I bought some cigarettes and had a shot of whiskey. Mr. M. told me that I was being taken to an interrogation because I had been treasurer of the German club in 1936. Schaefer had been chairman for a longer time. They watched him every step of the way. We did not realize, however, that the situation was that serious. At midnight they took us outside and pushed us in to the carriages.
IMPRISONED IN BORKE
On November 23, we were on our way to Sirac. When we reached the Sirac Mountains in the morning, we had to walk. V. was with us, too. I asked him what would happen to us. “I cannot help you now,” he said, “but tomorrow I will call the place where you are going to be. I will do my best to help you.” He shook hands with me and went the other way into the woods. Hans Schaefer said to me, “He will not be able to help you”.
We reached the village of Bjela. In the forest near the mountains, they gave each of us a load of nails to carry. We marched all day until nightfall, all the time being watched by the Partisans. We arrived at our destination at 6 A.M. We did not know where we were because all day we had seen nothing but trees. They took us into some huts, where we were questioned about our education. Everything was taken from us, and one after another was taken away. I was the last one.
My God, where are they taking us, I thought. Then I was pushed through a door into a small, dark room. The windows were only about four-inch squares. Hans Schaefer was in the same room. There was only one bunk in this room and some round bars. I said my evening prayer and asked God to help us. Schaefer remarked that it would not help any; we are captives. I have prayed all my life, but in a situation like this, one prays even more.
At this point, I want to list the men who were captured with me.
Konrad Kehl 43 years old from Hrastovac
Hans Schaefer 52 years old from Hrastovac
Feimann/Schreiber 28 years old from Hrastovac
Konrad Tevich 43 years old from Uljanik
Kogler 56 years old from Uljanik
Josef Bondel 32 years old from Antunovac
Eli Sloboda 32 years old from Antunovac
Sloboda (father) 75 years old
Suddenly, in the middle of the night, they came with guns and chains. They tied our hands together and led one after another outside. For every one of us, there were two of them.
It was my turn. They took me to another barrack. Two men were sitting opposite each other. The one, a German, was complaining about a toothache. The other man was S. L., a Serbian. He said to me, “I hear you have signed your name many times, indicating that you support Hitler.” Of course it was a lie because I was never asked to sign anything since I had not talent for any important position. Then they accused me of having had contact with the German Police. I could not reply to such obvious lies. But what was their response? They each had a stick and started beating me. I did not cry; I howled like an animal. The Serbian reached for a club as thick as an arm, but the German took it out of his hand. They would have cared little if they had killed me. They were determined to get some information out of me.
Tevich Konrad was naked in his cell. His wife and daughter were there too, and cried when they looked through the tiny windows to see their loved one. He was coughing very badly.
The girl could walk around freely. She pleaded with the partisans to give her father a coat to cover himself. They finally gave him one. It was Monday, November 23, 1943, the day of our second parish fair.
On Tuesday we were given a little soup. After we had eaten, they tied our hands together again. They left us this way for a day and night. In the night of November 24, we were again taken for interrogation. They said, “Zdravo druze!” (Greetings comrade!) They spoke politely to me. Schaefer was asked to give some information about me, and from me they wanted to learn more about Schaefer. Then one of them said to me, “You go home.” But they took us back anyway; this times two in one room. By himself into one of the cells, however, was locked Eli Sloboda. He knocked on the wall and shouted, “Kehl, Kehl, they undressed me and gave me a terrible beating! Tomorrow I’ll be in the ground. Tell my dear wife!” She was Heirich Faul’s daughter. Her mother was born Pammer, my cousin.
I thought of V. He had probably called and told them that I had once saved his life.
We were being questioned every night until November 26. That was a Thursday and the night of the horrible decision. They gave me a cigarette, which I had to smoke. I thought it was poison. I did not trust these bandits. But they took the chains from my hands and said, “Tomorrow you can go home. I had to give them everything I had and had to promise to send them whatever they asked.
On the last evening, they brought all my friends before a trial. The old Sloboda was released because he was already showing signs of insanity. My friends all had to sign their names; I did not have to do it. The following night I was unable to sleep. While I was lying awake, I heard the partisans talking. One of them said, “What’s going to happen to the Swabs?” Another answered, “They won’t carry their heads out of this forest anymore.” I did not tell my comrades what I had heard, but I broke down and wept bitterly.
Schaefer said, “If they kill us, it will not be justified.” They did not believe that they would be murdered. Tevich, however, knew it.
Friday, November 27, at 11:00 AM, I was called out. They returned my money and my watch and gave me a piece of paper, which had the following, written on it: “A good German. Released. D.L.” I asked them when the others would be set free. They told me I should go home, the others would come tomorrow.
Three times I had to shout “Death to Fascism!” Joseph Bendel looked out of his cell and wept. I told the partisans that I did not know where I was and that I could not find my way out of this forest. One man was instructed to show me the way to the main road. He picked up his gun, and we went. I thought that he would probably shoot me. We went for about 15 minutes when we reached the road leading to Bjela. The man shook my hand, wished me well, and let me continue alone.
I arrived in Bjela at 2:00 PM. From here I was able to go by carriage as far as Sirac. Here I knew an inn whose owner was of German descent. Eva, my brother’s daughter, had worked there in the household for one year. I entered and met the owner’s wife. When she saw me, the white in my eyes was blue from the beating I had received, she cried out, “For heaven’s sake, Mr. Kehl, how did you get to this partisan country?” One man immediately left the inn; he probably thought the German troops were here already. One side was afraid of the other. The driver and I took a bottle of wine and continued on our way. We drove together as far as Desanovac, where we parted. He took the road to Imsanovac while I continued on foot. It was raining heavily. At 8:00 PM in the evening, I reached Blagorodovac.
On November 27, 1943 at 10:00 PM, when I arrived in Hrastovac, I had to walk in the middle of the road. The sidewalks were all flooded. The village was not the same anymore. The people were afraid and stayed in hiding. Sometimes you could see a dog. First I called on Schaefer’s family. I informed them, as the men in the woods have told me, that their father would return tomorrow.
My family was very surprised when I knocked on the door. It was the Saturday of November 28. They were surprised that I had come home.
The following Monday I went to Uljanik where I met the one partisan who had taken us away. I asked him about my comrades. He told me that they had all been murdered. I was shocked. Right away he ordered, “Don’t tell anyone about it.”
Then the women came. Josef Bendel and Eli Sloboda’s wifes. Both women were pregnant. I could feel the shivers running down my spine, but I could not tell them what I knew. It could have cost me my life. I just said that when I left the camp, their husbands were still alive, and I hoped they would still come back.
What may these poor women have thought? I knew that their men were dead. Schaefer’s wife wanted to go up into the mountains to take food to the partisans. I would have liked to tell her that the whereabouts of her husband was a secret and that she would not be able to see him. Alas, I was not allowed to say anything. If I had told her that her husband was dead, I would have put myself in great danger. Nobody could help now, anyway. Besides, the German Police instructed us to go out of our way to stay alive.
Two weeks later the partisans came and destroyed the bridges over the Ilowa and Toplice. Then 38 carriages were ordered to assemble in Schaefer’s yard. The furniture was loaded on the wagons, the grain, and the chickens, everything edible and, of course, the wine. I had three slaughtered pigs on my wagon. Schaefer’s horses and the cattle were driven away. Schaefer’s mother, his wife, and his daughter-in-law were allowed to keep for themselves only the clothes on their backs. The partisans said to them, “Go to Hitler!” Fortunately, however, the women were left unharmed.
At 2:00 in the early morning, our caravan left Schaefer’s place heading toward Sirac. We stopped overnight in the mountains. Next morning we continued on our way. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at our destination. They had also taken away everything from the other bereaved. By this time the colon consisted of 100 wagons. The ignorant populace cursed us. But the merciful God protected us in our plight. When we arrived in the forest, we unloaded everything and threw it on a pile. A lot of the clothing, bed sheets, and covers had been stolen by the mob before we left.
Then we turned homeward. We drove the whole night through on those poor roads. When we reached the mountains, I wanted to feed the horses. But they would not eat. I gave them some water. The horses seemed to be as frightened just as much as the people were. It was as if the devil were after us. Next morning I was home again.
I learned later that Konrad Tevich was tied to a tree for three days and three nights until he passed away. Hans Schaefer, so I heard, had been tied to a two-wheeled cart and dragged several times up and down the hill before a bullet ended his life. I was not able to find out what had happened to the other comrades.
Tevich, was a photographer, had been accused of taking pictures of the partisans and sending them to the German troops. Schaefer, they said, had made pro-German propaganda in Uljanik, whereupon the young men were drafted into the army. Schaefer was not very fluent in the Croatian language, but he had been chairman of a German organization. Feimann had bought furniture from Jewish property. Kogler had a son who was a German youth leader. Bendel was accused to have been leader of the men. Sloboda had been in the German army in Frivol. They are buried, it is said, in the forest on the right side of the road to Brogue, 15 minutes outside of Bjela in a common grave.
After the murder of my comrades, we never slept in our house again. During the summer, we slept in the fields, and during the winter, we made our hideout in the hay. The partisans had many spies, keeping them informed. Whenever I was in Garesnica, I was surprised at what they knew about me. But we had not done these people any harm. In fact, we had often protected them. We obtained the release for many from the German Police. We were not fighting against the partisans because that might have caused us many difficulties.
In spring I had to go to Garesnica on business. Here the German Police had imprisoned a woman for espionage. She had come from the Serbian hospital and was wearing white clothes. The woman was from Uljanik. Her relatives came to me—I was at the mill at that time—and begged me to obtain her release. Times were very tense. I went to captain Sch. and asked him if he would release the woman because she was working in the hospital. He said, “I will set her free to avoid more unrest for you German people because we are not strong enough with 150 men to defend you. I think one woman will not make much difference.” She came with me and I took her home in my carriage. There had been many cases like this.
A few days later, the partisans came again. Johann Kaiser, who served in the German police force, was on his leave. Jakob Just, also was on holiday. When Kaiser was at my place at about 4:00, I asked him, “Do you have a good place to hide:” He replied, “Yes, I have that.” He went home. During the night loud cries could be heard through the darkness. Those land pirates had come again to steal clothes. When I went outside, I saw Kaiser, his hands tied with wire, led by a female of about 25 years of age. He stammered to me, “I’m a goner!” These gangsters came to my house too, but after drinking some wine they left again. Kaiser was tied behind a cart and had to follow on foot. Later, when I was in Daruvar, I learned from a partisan that Kaiser had received a terrible beating and that my informer had given him the fatal shot. He was buried at the edge of the forest in Bjela.
Harvest time had arrived. We were just cutting the wheat and oats. On the way home from the fields, we saw the German troops move in. By that time half of the population left Hrastovac already. A night of terror followed. The partisans came again to steal wheat, wood, and other supplies. During the same night, Bastaji, another German-speaking settlement, was burnt down. Sixteen of the Danube Swabians were murdered in the woods.
In Hrastovac, the partisans burned five threshing machines, and many buildings were destroyed by fire. Another machine was brought in from Poljana escorted by German soldiers. But the group was attacked by the partisans between the villages of Uljanik and Antunovac. In Klein Uljanik, 25 German soldiers, who were gathered in a schoolyard, suffered a direct hit by a grenade. Hundreds of these partisans stormed the village. They killed the German soldiers by cutting their throats. After they disrobed them, they retreated into the forest. Horses were being shot. Several men were looking for protection until a larger contingent of Germans would arrive from Antunovac. By then everything was too late.
I asked the German captain what they would do about Klein Uljanik. He said that we could not do anything because they had no orders. It is a neighboring town. I did not know what to say about the captain’s remarks.
Again, we had to do some delivering for the partisans. On Monday, October 2, I drove to Daruvar and then into the mountains. My wagon was loaded with leather when I arrived at Borge. I spent the night in the forest in the rain. I tied the horses to the wagon. They were very restless, stamping the ground and scratching it. I prayed to God to free us from our misery.
Some of the drivers returned home in the morning. Jakob Gaetner’s son, 16 years old, and I had to take a load of bricks to a hospital. We loaded about 100 bricks on each cart and drove part of the way along the forest. When we reached the mountains, we met Karl Weber and Georg Muench, who were on their way home. My horses refused to go any farther. I asked Gaertner to have his stallions pull my cart up the slope. At the top, we loaded all the bricks from my wagon onto his. He took the load alone downhill all the way to the hospital. I stayed behind, feeding my horses and waiting for Gaertner’s return. When he had returned, I wondered what we should do now. We did not know exactly where we were and how to get home. A little later, we met a partisan whom we asked to show us how to get to Bjela. He refused to help us out until I promised him 1,000 Kuna. He joined us on the wagon and came with us to Bjela, which we reached three hours later. I gave him the 1,000 Kuna and continued on our way with my young friend. We arrived at Daruvar at 7:00 in the evening.
In Daruvar I met a man by the name of Reiner who was half Jewish. He was very friendly and called me “Old Partisan”. I thought, “If you knew what I am thinking about the partisans, I would probably not be able to return to Hrastovac.” The partisans controlled Daruvar, and I needed a note from the commander to get through on my way home. Reiner told me to go to the Kurz Inn. There I found the commander. I had enough money in those days, so I ordered some wine. The waitress also brought a few bottles of beer, and I still had some Swiss cheese with me. We stayed only a short while because I was anxious to get home. Young Gaertner fed the horses, while I got the note that we came for, and then we departed.
We drove to Desanovac. The check points in that village were rather dangerous. A check patrol stopped me, and I noticed that two of the men were drunk. One checked my papers and gave them back with the command, “Drive on!” Another held on to the bridle of my horses. I gave the horses the whip, and the soldier fell to the side as the animals sped away. A few shots rang out after us but, thank God, we were not hit.
We finally arrived home at midnight. We in Hrastovac have never interfered with the meetings of the Slavs; we have never killed any partisans, but actually protected them. Still, they gave us much trouble. Thousands of our Danube Swabians settlers were innocent victims.
When the German troops entered Yugoslavia, some Slavs from Uljanik came to us to Hrastovac and wondered what would happen to them now. We told them, “Go back to your homes. We are not going to lay a hand on you.”“ We kept our word. One day a Serbian from Uljanik came to my house and handed me a letter from those in the forest, asking me for soap, shaving soap, and Swiss cheese. I gave the man as much as he could carry because I knew our days were numbered and we would soon have to leave our homeland. They also came to get a pig and a cow, one of the best they could find.
November 6th in the morning, the partisans came with three wagons to get corn from the “Ottohoff”. I had to go with them to show them where they could find it. When we reached the first fields, we heard a few shots being fired. A moment later there was shooting all around us. The German troops had infiltrated the cornfields. What had happened to the partisans and their vehicles I still do not know. But I ran back to Hrastovac and rejoined my family. Shortly thereafter Lieutenant W. came from Hanover, who had been my guest on several occasions before. He said to me, “I talk to you as a friend now. It looks like the War is lost for Germany here. Millions of people are going to Germany. You, who are German, will never have rights in this land and will suffer persecution. Come with us to Germany. Today may be your last chance to get out of here.”
LEAVING OUR HOMELAND
On November 6, 1944, we started to pack a few clothes and provisions on a two-horse cart. Our family, my daughter, 20 years of age, my son, 12, my wife and I departed from our home at noon. My brothers Michael, Heinrich, and Jakob came too, even my 84-year-old father, Johann Kehl, who had lived with Michael. My sister had left the country already in 1943. All of us had acquired our own homesteads, which we now were leaving behind.
For two months, we lived among the partisans who wanted to grab our property. They were a godless mob. We drove to Banova Jaruga where we stayed for nine days. From there we continued our journey on November 15th toward Agram. Then we traveled through Vienna, Breslau to Namslau, where we arrived on November 17th.
Klage das Vertriebenen Deutschen
O Heimat, liebe Heimat, wir muessen von dir gehn,
Wer weiss ob wir in Leban, uns jamals wieder sehn!
Du liebes schoenes Doorflein, du sprossend gruenes Feld
Du stilles klares Baechlein, du dunkle Waldeswelt:
Wo wir als Kinder spielten, am Feld vergossen Schweiss,
wo Freud und Leid wir fuehlten, die Heimat war der Preis,
Durch deutschen Fleiss entstanden, aus Suempfen, wuestem Ort,
In weiten slawischen Landen, ward Eichendorf der Hort.
Auf allen unseren Wegen vergessan wir Gott nicht,
Der Herrgott gab den Segen, er war des Weges Licht.
Hun mussten wir verlassen das traute Heimatland’,
Denn nur durch Hassen, ward uns geraubt der Herd.
Wo sind nun jene Zeiten, da schoen die Sense klang,
Als in den Ackerbreiten, frueh schon die Lerche sang!
Wer kann das Leid ermessen, das in der Seele braust:
Wir hatten viel besessen, es war uns nicht verguennt:
Herr Gott hab doch Erbarmen, in unserer grossen Not:
Verlassen sein fuer Armen, ist schlimmer als der Tod!
In Unglueck wir geboren, in Glauban stark und gut,
Wenn alles wir versezen, doch nicht den deutschen Mut!
Wir wollen weiter werken, in Arbeit und Geduld.
Gott moege uns nur staerken, von frueh bis abends spaet:
O Heimat, Dorf der Eichen, leb wohl, viel tausendmal!
Du warst mein liebstes Zeichen, leb wohl zum letztennal!
Konrad Kehl, Sen.
Lament of the Expelled Germans
O Homeland, my dear fatherland, we have to leave you,
Who know if in life we will ever see you again!
You lovely little village, you sprouting, green fields
You clear and peaceful brook, you dark forests!
Where we played as children, on the fields worked up a sweat
Where joy and sorrow we felt, our homeland was the prize.
Through German ambition built up from marshes and deserts,
In the land of the Slavs, Eichendorf was the safe retreat.
In all our ways, we did not forget God.
The lord gave his blessings and was the guiding light.
Now we had to leave it, our precious homeland soil;
Through the hate of people we even lost our stove.
Where are the days when the sound of the scythe could be heard?
When in the meadow the lark so early sang!
Who can measure the sorrow that burns in the soul!
We had countless possessions, but they were not to be ours for long.
O God, have mercy in our great plight!
To be left as paupers is worse than death itself.
Born in hardship with faith strong and good,
When all is lost, but not our German courage!
We plan to keep active, in working and praying.
May God strengthen us from early morning ‘till late at night!
Dear home, village of the oak trees, farewell a thousand times.
You were my favorite icon, farewell for the last time.
END OF WORLD WAR II
World War II was coming to an end. Forty young men of our village had been killed. Three were abducted by the partisans and murdered. They were Johann Schaefer, Andreas Schaefer’s son; Johann Kaiser; and Jakob Mueller, son of the old Hans Mueller.
Jakob Fleisch’s wife and son, Jakob, Jr., were murdered near Sombor. Jakob, Sr. was beaten until he fell, bleeding. They made him lick his own blood off the ground. They would have killed him, but they did not want to dig a hole to bury him. He was able to make his way to Hungary, and passing through Austria, he arrived in Germany where he later died. So, it was that many individuals of our little village of Hrastovac had suffered great hardships.
End of World War II
With horses and carts, we arrived in Windischarkowitz. A few days later we were asked to report at a certain place where the army took our horses from us. The cows we had already lost in Hrastovac. For the horses, we received a credit note worth 4,000 Marks. So in Silesia we had lost everything.
For a time, I had worked in the bush. The forests were beautiful that autumn. Johann Fleisch and I had worked there until January 15, 1945. The political situation became desperate. The Russians had entered the land. I was appointed to drive the horses for Frau Fuhrmann, a German citizen. I built a canvas cover over the wagon. Then we hooked up other carts and loaded our few possessions on them. We had three women and thirteen children with us. We left Windischarkowitz, Silesia on January 17, 1945, and moved westward.
My father was with us. He suffered in the cold weather. We wrapped him in blankets as best as we could and my wife sat beside him two days and two nights. We became separated from brother Michael who had to take a different route. We journeyed through the Riesen Gebirge over Hirschberg, Glogau, Allau, and Landshut until we stood before Willgendorf. We had been traveling for ten days.
In the meantime, we had transferred my father to my brother Michael, who was going to look after him. My father had given Michael 20 acres of land and because my brother had also married our stepsister, my father preferred to stay with them. We, the children, had among ourselves agreed, when we were still in Hrastovac, that Michael would take care of our father. Of course at that time nobody had thought that we would lose everything and even have to leave our homeland. When my brother Michael found it impossible to continue with my father on this cold and difficult journey, he left him in Landshut at the Inn “Zum Deutschen Reich”. There I found my father again. I gave him 20 Marks and 2 loaves of bread. I cut his hair and shaved him. Unfortunately, however, I could not take him with me since I had come by train and the station was two km away. It would have been an impossible walk for my father in this cold weather and deep snow.
The situation in Silesia was growing worse. The Russians were advancing and everybody fled westward. One evening Johann Fleisch came to me and said: “Kehl, come with me to Thueringen (Thurringia)”. I went to see my brother, Michael, who promised to look after Father and bring him to where he was staying. He told me not to worry and to continue my journey with my family.
We left Ruhbang on February 9 at 2:00 AM. When we arrived in Schlauroth, the station was jammed with trains filled with refugees. We were stopped there for two days and two nights. When we looked out of the window on the morning of February 13, we were shocked to discover that we had been left behind. All other trains had departed, but our car with its 25 occupants was stranded in the freight yard. What to do now? We were complete strangers in this place. When a railway official came, he was a Frenchman; I asked him why of all others only our car was left behind. Our car was marked in large letters “25 Refugees”. We had paid 500 Marks for the trip to Thueringen (Thuringia). He answered, “The stationmaster had given the order to disconnect this car.” The following families were with us: Johann Fleisch, Jakob Dietz, Peter Kah, Schoenfeld, Elias Ochs, and Faust. We went to the stationmaster to complain. He regretted this mistake and promised to help us. We finally departed at 11:00 AM in the direction of Dresden.
On February 14, our train halted at a small station outside Dresden. It was 11:00 PM. All lights went out, and I heard people running away from the train. When we looked out the windows, we saw green, red, and yellow Christmas trees falling from the sky. They came down in great numbers. We also left our car and ran. Just then, the bombs were dropping on Dresden. We could feel the strong air pressure caused by the explosions. We were about 5 miles outside the city. We ran into a park close by. Half an hour later things were quiet again. We had returned to the train when my wife suddenly shouted, “The American planes are back again!” It was 2:00 AM. We ran out again and crawled into a bomb shelter. We could hear the loud thundering in the distance.
Next morning, February 15, Dresden was a graveyard. It was terrible sad. The trains full of refugees from the East, with which we were supposed to leave earlier were already standing in the station at Dresden when the bombing started. But He (God) did not allow our railroad car to leave Schlauroth,. Thousands of people had been killed; most of them women and children. God had saved our lives
We were rerouted to Ernstdorf. At 11 AM the bombers were returning for another attack on Dresden. Our train stopped, and we all ran out while the engine alone went on into the forest. Bombs were falling again on Dresden. When the attack was over, our engine returned, and we continued our journey. When we arrived at Falkenberg, we were stopped for three hours. Then we continued toward Leipzig. At the stations where we stopped, we were not allowed to open the doors. At every stop, there were crowds of people trying to get a passage to Central Germany. Some of them were fighting with each other. The situation was desperate. The stations of Leipzig, Weimar, and Arnstadt that we passed through were all in ruins.
In the evening of February 16, we arrived at Arnstadt. We took our three suitcases and walked to Dornheim because the railroad stations usually were the targets for American bomber attacks. Peter Mueller was in Dornheim. We were sleeping in barns and stables. Everything was overflowing with refugees.
Next day, February 17, we went to get the few rags we called our own when the bombers again appeared in the sky. The sirens were screaming. It was like a bad nightmare.
February 20, Arthur Beuther took us into his dwelling. The city major did not want to accept us, but since Herr Beuther gave us free lodging; he had no choice but to allow us to stay. I found a job with Dr. V. Witzleben in the countryside. We soon grew to like each other, and we got along well. Now we had enough to eat. Here again we could attend church regularly.
In April, the American troops moved in and occupied Dornheim. We were in the cellar when grenades hit. The Americans were good to us. The fact that I knew the English language was a great advantage.
At one time a Pole threatened to shoot a German. I went to the American commanding officer and told him about it. He asked me for my identification card on which he saw that I was a refugee from Yugoslavia. I told him that the German had been at home 14 days already because he did not want to fight anymore. The officer took the weapon away from the Pole and sent him away. The German thanked me and said he would never forget me because I had saved his life. He asked for my name.
The American troops moved on, but they took the mayor along because he was being accused of having had a doctor shot in a concentration camp. That was the last we saw of him. My employer, Dr. Konrad V. Mitzlegen, was released. The prisoners, some of whom were his employees, asked for his freedom because he was a good man.
We had to go to a refugee camp in Arnstadt. When some of our friends arrived there they found some unfortunate girls, disrobed and killed, lying in their beds.
On July 25, the Russians took over this area. They did not mistreat us, but the food was scarce. So we moved on to Hoeneberg, in the county of Meiningen. We were being sheltered in a school, 52 people. My family and I myself slept in a hayloft. We did our cooking on top of a stonewall in the yard . As a stove we had a piece of sheet metal with a hole cut into the middle. We made a wood fire under it and this way cooked our food. The wood we gathered in the Thuringian forest and carried it home in little bundles. This village normally had only 600 inhabitants. Now there were 1200 refugees added to the population.
Soon food became scarce. We went to the fields to dig for potatoes, which had been left in the ground after the harvest. Some of the farmers drove us off their fields. But with the hunger gnawing at our insides, we were not that easily discouraged in our search for food. On some days, we collected 20 lb. Potatoes, which were only the size of walnuts. We roasted barley to make coffee and ate potatoes with it.
The Russian soldiers never threatened us, but the native girls and women suffered terribly. They took them away at night, and when they released them again in the morning, they had to be admitted to the hospital. Where I slept, they came to get the neighbor’s girl. She cried and tried to hide, but it was no use. They dragged her away. It was dreadful. The Russian command of course did not allow these activities, but who could recognize them when they came in the dark?
We were near the border between East and West Germany. In September, 150 wagons came to take us to the railroad to be transported to Russia. We talked to the Russian commanding officer. Being able to speak the Serbian language, we could make ourselves understood. The good man sent the carts away and allowed us to remain in Germany.
Sometimes we wanted to go to Meiningen. We forged identification papers in Cyrillic writing using a stamp made from potatoes. We got away with it.
Once we met a Russian on the road who couldn’t get his motorcycle started. My friend, Fritz, from Velemirovac, knew a little about motorcycles and was able to get it started. Before the Russian departed, however, Fritz turned off the gas line. The soldier was able to ride a short distance when the motorcycle stopped, and he had to get off and push it again.
Fritz and I went into an Inn and ordered a beer. The innkeeper came out and complained about all the refugees. Fritz, who was quite a strong fellow, punched him one on the head and said, “The Russians are sure going to teach you a few things.” The innkeeper was quite dizzy. I suggested to Fritz that we should get out of this place before we get our backs full. We departed rather hastily. The people were very unfriendly to each other. It was a time when they were getting on each other’s nerves. The war years had worn them down.
On September 25, Russian agents came with two doctors to give us physical check-ups. They told us that all Serbs and Slavs were allowed to go home, back to Yugoslavia. The Germans who came from Yugoslavia had to stay in Germany and would have equality with the German citizens. We were settled in the surrounding villages.
My family and I came to a large estate in Hermannsfeld. We had a very small room without beds. While there I made a few baskets using willow branches. All able-bodied men had to report to the employment office at Meiningen, Thuringia. We were picked up by a big truck and taken away. We did not know our destination. After an hour, we stopped at a sawmill. I went to look for the manager. He told me that they had to make room for 2,000 refugees who would return to the American zone of occupation. I told him that I too was a refugee from the other side. But this project was for German citizens only. Everybody should be returned to his homeland. Finally, however, he told me to go and fetch my family. After half an hour’s drive with a tractor, I found them and returned with them and our few possessions. We unloaded everything in the back yard. There were several bags of potatoes, a few baskets, two small wooden cases, and some bags filled with bedclothes, which were almost nothing but rags.
CAMP RENNERTSHAUSEN, THURINGIA
The farmers brought several loads of straw. We carried it all inside on a pile. This constituted our lodging. Our daughter, Christine, who was 20 years old, was best able to take it. She often brought home something to eat. The food in camp was impossible to eat. Many of the people became ill and were up almost all night as a result. Everybody tried to get some food elsewhere and prepare it himself. My wife cooked cabbage and potatoes, which we brought home from the neighboring fields. Our Konrad was already used to the nomadic life like the gypsies. Christine suffered much from homesickness. The situation worsened. A high fence was erected around the camp. Former party members were watching us, but they understood our plight.
At this camp, I befriended a Mr. Beuther. Because I was the only one able to give a haircut, I got to know everybody in camp. Ochs and Faust did the shaving. From Hrastovac the following families were also here: Johann Fleisch; Peter Mueller, son of Heinrich Mueller; Schoenfeld; Jakob Dietz; Peter Kah; Jakob Ochs; and Anna Jung with her daughter. We almost died of starvation.
On November 17, Mr. Beuther came to me and said, “Tomorrow a transport train will leave the local station heading for the American zone of occupation.” I still had a bag of potatoes and a bottle of whiskey. The potatoes I gave to a poor widow, the whiskey to Mr. Beuther. Next morning the widow brought us a wheelbarrow and Mr. Beuther a hand wagon. We loaded everything we had on the two carriers and transported it to the railroad station, half a kilometer away. It was November 18.
Crowds of people were waiting at the station. They were from Rhineland, Hessen, Bavaria, and Wuerttemberg. Only the German citizens were to be taken. Everybody wanted to get rid of us foreigners. But I managed to acquire identification papers giving Stuttgart as our former address and as our destination now. With Beuther leading our little group, we headed for the nearest passenger coach. We opened the windows and threw our things inside and boarded the train. Beuther handed me a letter from a Frau V. Witzleben. She wondered if I knew the whereabouts Mr. V. Witzleben. Later she wrote again that her husband had come to Leipzig. The Russians allowed her son to keep 50 acres while they divided the other 500 acres and gave them to other people. This happened in Dornheim, the Russian zone of occupation. Much later I learned the Mr. Konrad V. Witzleben had died, but not by natural causes.
My family and I left without our friends. Other Hrastovacer remained in Reutlingen. They had large wooden cases and were not able to get into the passenger car. Family Fleisch came to the West later. Today they live in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. The others are still today in Hermannsfeld, district of Meiningen, Germany.
FROM EAST TO WEST GERMANY
November 19, 1945. We went by train as far as Zisenach. The controlling officials were German. They knew we were not German citizens because we had no fingerprints in our passport like they had to have. We were stopped at the train station for the whole night. To warm ourselves, we made a small fire. One of the Russian patrolmen permitted us to do this, and then another came and put the fire out. Those were crazy times!
In the morning at 10:00, we crossed into the West without any difficulties. We came to Paebra, where we all were given medical check-ups. Then we received something to eat and continued to Mannheim, where we were stopped for one day and one night. Our journey continued through Baden and Wuerttemberg to Stuttgart. I asked a nurse where the nearest transit camp was. She said it was in Kleinstadt.
When we reached Bietigheim on the evening of November 22, we took our luggage and carried it into the waiting room. Here they did not accept us. When I showed them the papers we received from the Americans, they sent a truck to take us to a camp near the forest. Here we were able to get cleaned and rest from our long journey. We received food to strengthen us, and with medical help, life began to look much brighter again. There were many apple trees in this area, and we managed to find some apples in the grass.
On November 27, we were distributed among the surrounding villages. Three other families came with us. They were three brothers, and Feige, from Bosnia. We were brought to Wahlheim, district of Ludwigsburg. For half a day we were standing in front of the town hall. Finally, the police came and opened the school for us. Here we stayed for two days. Then we were sent to two older people, Karl Weiss. We had one room and kitchen for our use.
BETTER TIMES AT LAST
It was November 29, 1945. We had left our homeland November 6, 1944, so we had been on the move for one year and 23 days. A few clothes and linen was all we had taken with us. I had deposited 135,000 Kuna in a Silesian bank and I had 9,000 German Marks. However, you could not buy anything without stamps. I started to work making willow baskets. We had no wood for cooking, etc. From the town we received some brushwood to burn. I also dug up some tree roots, which I found two kilometers outside of town. It took my daughter and me one month to bring them home by wheelbarrow. During summer I sometimes helped the Weiss family with their work in the fields. My baskets I sometimes managed to trade for food. So it was that we managed to get along during this difficult period.
1947—I worked for Ernst Schweicker.
1948—I worked for Karl Dietz in construction. In autumn I went to work at a plant in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, where ball bearings were made.
1949—In spring of this year, we were able to get a nice apartment from Karl Dietelein. The Salamander shoe factory employed Christine, our daughter. Konrad, our son, found work with Heimberg and Oebl in a Carpenter shop. My wife was working for Schweicker. Through a currency reform, I lost 7,000 Marks. Each person received 60 new German Marks, and everybody had to start from scratch.
Immigration to Canada
1951—On February 18, our daughter, Christine, married Johann Kraehling, who was born in Gerenyes, Hungary. We were not able to give her a dowry as she had deserved. We could hardly give her a good dinner. It was just impossible to get anything. She lived in Stuttgart-Cannstatt. Her mother would cry when the train rolled in at 5:00 PM for quite some time, on which our daughter used to return from work every day. It was difficult to give up one of the children, especially after the hardships through which we had brought them. My wife had an operation on her thyroid gland and was still quite ill.
On my holidays, we visited my sister Elisabeth in Mayen, Rhineland, and my wife’s sister and brother in Weiskirchen, Hessen. Then we met many friends from back home (Hrastovac). We also traveled to Biehtenkopf and to Pibingen near Augsburg. Here were families Ochs, Gosslinger, Jakob Wolf, and Jakob Weber, who came here from Czechoslovakia.
I wanted to make a down payment on a house in Ludwigsburg, which the city offered me. However, I could not accept a plan, which had me paying a mortgage over a period of 45 years. So, I wrote to my brother, Georg, in Canada if he could help us immigrate to this country. He replied that he would do what he could. I started to get the papers ready. Soon I had the passports ready and waited for the confirmation to our boat passage.
1952—On April 12, I received a telegram from the Duesseldorf’s airport that we had a flight on April 14. I resigned from my job at the factory and received a reference of good standing.
On Saturday, I sent most of our baggage to Canada, since we could not take much on the airplane. On April 13, we left Wahlheim. At the railroad station we said our farewell to the many friends and comrades who had come to see us off.
It was Easter Sunday, April 14, 1952, when we boarded the airplane and at 11:00 AM departed from the Duesseldorf airport.
We had our first stopover in London, England, where we left at 8:00 that evening. Five hours later we landed in Iceland. On April 15 at 6:30 in the morning, we arrived in Newfoundland, Canada; but we continued to Montreal. The weather was winter cold when we landed. We took the train from Montreal to Windsor in Ontario. On April 16 we reached our destination, Harrow, Ontario, where my brother Georg lived.
LIFE IN CANADA
On April 29 we moved to a farm. It was a Friday. I still remember it very well. I earned $125.00 a month, two dozen eggs a week, 1 qt. of milk a day, and free lodging. A large part of what we had acquired in Germany had been given away before we left because time was so short between receiving notice of our flight and departure.
I was 52 years old by now and again, as, I don’t know how many times before; we had to start all over again. We started with $1,000 in debts. The trip alone for me, my wife, and son Konrad cost $800.00. Then we needed an oven, beds, and a washing machine right away. My wife and son worked for other farmers. In November, when farm work was finished, my son found a job in his line of work as carpenter. My wife and I moved back to Harrow. We had already saved $950.00, and with that our debts were cleared.
1953—On January 17 we drove to Windsor with Johann Mueller. It was in the evening, and the roads were slippery from the rain. The car spun around and went into the ditch. Mueller’s daughter fractured her shoulder, my wife had a few face cuts, and the car was beyond repair. Doctor and hospitalization came to $250.00. I stayed in the hospital only one night. We did not yet have insurance.
We had a visit in June from the daughter of my cousin, Mary Kehl Ochs, and her husband and son, Elizabeth, George, and Mike Teicher. They were on their way to Montreal where Mike was going to sail to France in order to spend the summer with a family in Duesseldorf as an AFS student.
During summer, I worked in construction, and in August, I started in a canning factory, W. Clark Company, where I operated the boilers. It was just the season for tomatoes. After seven weeks, I was laid off. In winter, I worked in the bush for Karl Schmidt.
1954–In March of this year my wife had to get another operation on the thyroid gland. Konrad was in the hospital with appendicitis. The total cost was $800.00. On May 16, I bought a car for $1,600.00, then a refrigerator for $365.00 and on June 28 a house lot for $700.00. I still had $700.00 in my savings, so I started to build the house right away. In the meantime, I had helped my daughter, Christine, and her husband to come to Canada, as well as my brother, Jakob, and his wife, and the son of my brother, Hans, Jakob, and Katharina Kehl from Austria.
On September 6, I got my old job back at the W. Clark Company. We moved into our new house the same month. It was not finished yet, but we lived in our own home! In December, I was laid off again, but this time I already qualified for unemployment insurance and received $24.00 a week.
1955–Again I was working in construction. But on August 10, I was called back to W. Clark. I was already experienced at this job. I had Johann Heinz do the brick work on my house, and I built an addition to the front of the house.
This was also the year my son, Konrad, married Irmgard Ley, a girl he brought over from Wahlheim, district of Ludwigsburg.
1956—This year I was able to finish the interior of our house. I was already working steadily at W. Clark Company. I was not a simple laborer any more. A man left, and I took his place as heater. My wife worked on the farms during the summer. She helped harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, and peaches and packaging them. She earned good money. From tomato picking, she earned $500.00. During the winter months, she looked after the household. Since we bought a television, she enjoyed watching it in her spare time. On radio we listened to German church services and other German programs. This was our entertainment. We were very happy to be able to hear German language, because we did not want to forget our mother tongue.
1957—During the winter, I got a new boss in the boiler room. He was a first-class engineer. To become one, you need a high school education and special courses after that. We have 1400 horsepower boilers.
We are starting to can pork and beans. Work is steady. One day our boss told three of us that we had to write an examination and pass it to continue in our present positions as boiler operators. We were also required to have had one year of experience. I had that. The young man from England 24 years old, who had his high school education, wrote an examination and became fourth-class engineer. I bought books to study for my examination. If I fail, I will probably have to work on the farm for the rest of my life because at my age, 57 years, it is almost impossible to get a job in a factory. The canning factory pays small wages, $1.05 and hour.
I studied all summer until late fall. The young Canadian helped me a great deal and taught me many things. On September 2nd, I went to Windsor to write the examination. It lasted from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM. I had, therefore, 4 hours to write it. They gave me papers with all kinds of steam-powered pumps, compressors, food-processing machines of different makes, and a few theoretical questions. They gave me paper and pencil to write down all the answers. There were no oral questions. Those were very difficult four hours for me. You had to score at least 65 marks to pass.
When I returned to work, my boss asked me how I had done. I told him that I did not know yet because the test had been sent to Toronto. After 10 days, I received the good news that I had passed. They also sent me the certificate making me a fourth-class engineer, as it is called here. I was very happy. Right away my hourly wage went up $.25; I was now in a higher category. In spite of the low wage, it is only $1.46 an hour, I am happy to have the job because it is steady, and I have to walk only 2 minutes to get to work from my house. Every year there is a slight increase in pay.
1958—This year my son built himself a house. He now works as contractor. My daughter, Christine, and her husband also bought themselves a nice house. Brother Jakob, too, built his own house. Georg has his own house as well. My brother, Heinrich, who lives in Windsor, is also the owner of a house. So three of us brothers live in Harrow and one in Windsor.
We New-Canadians, together with the other Lutherans in Harrow, built our own church this year. We are very happy to be able to hear the Gospel in our own mother tongue. Pastor Wentzlaf comes from Kingsville to hold the services. We thank God the Almighty for his wonderful and gracious guidance!
This summer I took my first holiday. We took a trip to the Niagara Falls and to Port Colborne to visit my nephew, brother Hans’ son.
Our house has been paid off. We had done everything ourselves except the brick on the outside, which was done by Johann Heinz. My son, who is a carpenter, had done all the woodwork. The size of the house is 38 feet by 24 feet. It cost $8,800.00, $9,500.00 including the lot. The house is heated with a modern oil furnace, and everything is controlled electrically.
1959—We took our holidays again in June this year. We traveled to the USA, namely to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There we met many relatives and friends living in the old city.
Time passes quickly. August had come again and with it the tomato harvest. This is the time when I work 12 hours a day. During the winter months, I usually work either afternoon or night shift. Four of us machinists are working five days weekly each. The heating system is in operation day and night, every day of the week, without interruption. The plant with its warehouses has to be kept warm.
1960—Summer has come once again, and everything is green and in bloom. It is a joy. My wife started to work again. In February I had the flu and had to stay away from work for three weeks. This year I started my holidays on July 30. I was going to cut the grass in the back yard with a power mower when I had an accident. I cut off one and a half links on my three last fingers of my left hand. I had to stay in the hospital for two days and was not able to work for five weeks. On November 22, I had to go to the hospital again for a hemorrhoidectomy. As a result of this, I had to miss a further three weeks of work. Dr. Lain, a specialist from Leamington, operated on me. Thank God I am well again.
1961—In the meantime, 1961 has arrived. I am still working at the same job in W. Clark Canning Factory. My wife still works on the farm. This year we had no opportunity to take a trip. I was to have had 14 days vacation in August. During the first week, I had my teeth pulled out and built a fence around our property. The second week I was already being called back to work. The plant was very busy with the canning of meat and beans.
Sometimes when I come home from work, my grandchildren are visiting. Then I take them strawberry and raspberry picking. We have a fairly large garden, and it is with great pleasure that I watch everything growing. We also have many beautiful flowers. There is always something to do in the garden. So the time passes. Health wise we also had a very good year, thank God.
Since the W. Clark Company installed more powerful furnaces, the Department of Labor required operators to have the qualifications of third-class engineers. This is according to the law. So my three comrades who work with me and I had to go to Toronto to write the examination. Three times I had to go to Toronto. Then first time I received a score of 40, the second time 49. You had to have 65 to pass. I did not become discouraged or give up hope. I went for a third attempt.
If I could not pass, I would have had to find a job in a factory with smaller furnaces. This time I made it! I received my certificate for Third Class Engineer and a raise of $.25 an hour. Of course I was very happy that I could continue in my old job and not have to worry about finding work elsewhere. Some of my Canadian acquaintances were surprised that I was able to pass. Some of them even envied me because in 1953 I started in this factory as a simple laborer getting only $.90 an hour. Now I was getting $1.80 an hour.
I usually work at night. The hours are long during winter. Outside everything is snow covered, and you cannot see across the fields. Sometimes the sound of a passing car breaks the stillness of the night, but otherwise everything is very quiet. I read or write to make time pass more quickly. My thoughts return to the difficult times in the past that my family and I had to endure when the war was raging in Europe. How grateful I am that we can lead a normal life again with a steady job and enough to eat. At the end of this year, 1961, I therefore give thanks to god for all his help and support; may He also, in the coming years, keep from us war and other hardships!
1962—Of our family, one sister and five of us brothers are still alive today. Sister Elisabeth is living in Mayan, Rhineland with her son, Heinrich. Brother Michael lives in Germany with his son, Michael, and daughter, Anna. His daughter, Eva, lives in Windsor. He has two sons, Heinrich, Jr. and Johann, and a daughter, Katharina. My brother Georg with his wife livs in Harrow. His son, George, Jr., also lives there. His daughter, Christine, is married to Keith Heston and lives in Leamington. Brother Jakob and his wife live in Harrow.
My late sister Eva’s son, Konrad Lang, lives in Weisskirchen, Hessen. Two sons of my brother, Johann, are still alive. Johann, Jr. and family live in Colborne, Ont., and Jakob and family live in Harrow.
I was the youngest in the family and live in Harrow, Ont., at 180 Munge Ave. Our daughter, Christine, and our son, Konrad, with their families live in Harrow too. Christine is married to Johann Kraehling, and they have two children: Christine and Walter. Our son is married with Irmgard Ley, and they have three children: Susan, Robert, and Richard. We all have our own homes. Yugoslawia confiscated the property that we owned in Hrastovac. We had to leave without any kind of compensation.
I have worked 5 ½ months in the boiler room, mostly at night. Now the repair work begins. My wife regularly goes to work on the farm cutting asparagus. On July 1, I started my two weeks of vacation. My wife and I took a round trip visiting friends. We drove along Lake Erie to Cleveland, Ohio. We visited with Peter Mueller, wife Margaretha (nee Fleisch), Johann Fleisch, and his wife, Eva (nee Kah). From here, we traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where we visited with Jakob Frischkern and wife, Liesa (nee Pammer) as well as John Haerzluft and Johann Zart. Then we continued on to Zionsville, near New York, where we called on Elisabeth (nee Trautmann) and husband, Rudolf Maurer.
The time went all too quickly. It was a very hot summer, sometimes 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The land in Pennsylvania is very mountainous and rocky. There many people speak the Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch) dialect. I was very surprised to find that these people have kept their own language alive for so long. On our return trip, we came through Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Cleveland, Detroit, and Windsor back home again.
Vacation is over and work has resumed. Tomatoes are being harvested again and the canning has begun. Again, I work twelve hours a day from 7:00 AM ‘till 7:00 PM. So, it will be until September 26, when we switch back to normal times and 8-hour shifts.
On October 20, we were invited to a wedding in Milwaukee. Heinrich May’s son was getting married. My wife and I went there for three days. Again we met many friends, a few of them I will name: Peter Becht, Jakob Ruppert, Jakob Wolf, Christine Lotz (nee Ochs), Lena Ochs, daughter of Jakob Ochs (my cousin Marichen Ochs (nee Kehl), Johann Poth, who is married to Kaal Becht, and finally Peter Ochs, whose wife is Kathi (nee Stumpf). Our fellow-countrymen are scattered all across the United States and Canada. We had a good time. We had traveled by bus, and for the two of us, the two-way trip cost only $44.00.
On December 8, we received the sad news that Anna Jung had died at the age of 73. She was our last living aunt.
We had our first snowfall on December 13, and the temperature was 9 degrees Fahrenheit. My wife has already bought the Christmas presents. She has a lot of joy with our grandchildren. So pass the days, weeks, months, and years. I’m only a visitor on earth. O, how quickly, how quickly passes the time toward the sea of eternity!
1963—Another year has passed. With God’s help, we are beginning a new one. It is a cold winter. On February 20, I receive the sad news from my nephew in Germany that his mother, my sister Elisabeth, had passed away on February 12. God grant her eternal peace! It was my wish to see her once more, but it was not to be. Tears ran down my cheeks. She was my oldest and only living sister. On June 28, 1962, she celebrated her 78th birthday.
During the summer again, as always, my wife was working on the farm. I looked after the preparation of meals if she came home later than I did. This year I took my holidays at the end of July for 14 days. On August 1, my wife was taken to the hospital at 2:00 AM. She had to be operated on for the removal of gallstones. The gall bladder was 9 inches long and contained stones one inch in diameter. The doctor sent one of them to the laboratory for tests. Dr. Jung, the specialist, said he had never seen such big gallstones in a human being.
When my wife returned home, she had to be very careful with her diet. She looks quite well now and looks after the house again, for which I am very grateful. We were planning to go to Cleveland again on our vacation, but our plans do not always coincide with what God has in store for us. When my wife was ill, I had to look after everything but felt quite healthy. On November 31, after coming home for work, I went into the bathroom as usual to wash up. I slipped and fell, injuring my back. I couldn’t go back to work for five weeks. Now we are both well again, and life is back to normal. The fourth Sunday in Advent has come again. I worked until 4:00 PM. Then we went to see a Christmas program where children recited poems, sang, and afterwards received presents. Now we thank God the year that has passed!
1964—the New Year has begun. We pray to God to bless us this year again and to guide us through 1964. Should it be the last on this earth, and then we can only pray that the almighty God will not forsake us.
The holidays are over and work is back to normal. Nothing has changed for me. I am still working in the same position. We had to work during the holidays too because the fire has to be kept burning all the time. We had received many greeting cards from Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, United States, and Canada, almost one hundred cards. One can see how our loved ones are scattered all over the earth.
God has done great things for us. We ask him to watch over us also in this our new homeland. He who trusts in God will not have built on sand. We thank him and praise him forever! Amen.
OUR TRIP TO GERMANY
At the beginning of 1964, my wife and I decided that we would take a trip to Germany in our holidays. When all preparations were completed, we received through the travel bureau our flight reservations on the Lufthansa Line for May 4. The return flight for us two cost $1,128.50. We departed from Windsor at 12:00 noon. Over London, Ontario, and Toronto we came to New York. From here we left at 9:00 PM, and passing over London, England, our plane landed in Frankfurt, Germany at 8:00 AM their time. From New York it took us only 7 hours. We were glad when the plane landed safely on German soil. Brother Michael, my sister Eva’s son, Konrad Lank, and his daughter, Eva, were waiting for us at the airport with a car. After 14 years, it was a happy reunion. Even a photographer was there to take pictures of our arrival.
We drove to Weisskirchen, where many of our friends and fellow countrymen greeted us with joy. There was much to talk about. On May 6, we visited the graves of our departed relatives. On May 7, it was Ascension Day, and we went to the church service. On May 8, we traveled over Wiesbaden to Mayen on the Rhine, where my sister’s son, Heinrich, was waiting for us at the railway station. We were happy to see each other again. I missed my late sister very much. But we had a good time with Heinrich and his daughter, Eva, and her family. His son, Andreas was in the army.
May 10th, we took a trip to Andernach, Bad Neuen, with family Buscher and visited Eva and Ferdinand’s daughter. On May 11, we traveled 80 kilometers from Mayen into the beautiful Westerwald, where we surprised some of our fellow countrymen with our visit. They said, “Konrad, is it really you?” My wife, who has gray hair now, most people did not recognize any more.
On May 12th, we drove to Oberstein to visit Heinrich’s son, Andreas, who was in the army. Our route took us along the Mosel River. It was a beautiful drive, and we took many pictures. Once every so often, we would stop at an inn to take in some refreshments. In Oberstein we found everybody in good health. We had a friendly get-together with dinner; Andreas showed us a nice film. After two hours, we returned to Mayen, but this time over Koblenz because it was already dark, and the road along the Mosel went over hills and mountains. That day we drove 267 kilometers. It was a tiring trip in the little Volkswagen.
In Mayen we were invited to one dinner after another. On Sunday we went to church and visited the grave of my sister, Elisabeth. On May 15, we had to bid farewell to our dear friends and relatives. We did it with a heavy heart. Heinrich accompanied us to the station. In moments like this there are too few words that can express what one feels; we quietly shook hands before we departed.
It was a lovely spring morning. The sun shone between the mountains into the River Rhine. The water looked blue-green. It was a beautiful scene with the colorful boats floting on the river. We journeyed through Koblenz, Mannhein, Heilbronn, Lauffen, and Kirchheim, along the Neckar River and arrived in Walheim at 6:00 PM on May 15. This is where we had lived from 1945 to 1952 as refugees. The people still remembered us, and we were happy to see one another again.
May 16 we visited my cousin, Walfahrt, in Altingen, County of Ludwigsburg.
On White Sunday we went to church, had dinner with Family Ley in Bosigheim, visited Albon Garden in the afternoon, and had supper in the restaurant (Gasthaus) Onker.
May 18 we went on an excursion to the vineyards and were invited for dinner with families Grill and Honzahl, who are formerly from Sudetenland. They were our closest friends. On May 19, we traveled to Bavaria by way of Stuttgart, Munich, Landshut, Keiserhausen, and Rebentz Dorf, to visit Family Just.
Next day, May 20, we drove back as far as Ulm, where we visited people from our village; Schwab, Koehler, Kah, and Weber.
May 21 we returned to Walheim coming through Goeppingen, Stuttagart, and Ludwigsburg.
May 24 Family Hunn picked us up and brought us to Heilbronn to a friendly dinner get-together.
May 26 we went to Ludwigsburg to make inquiries about the possibility of receiving compensation for the loss of our property in Yugoslavia, due to the War.
One day we went to Stuttgart for some shopping, and then Family Ernst Schweiger in Walheim invited us for dinner.
On May 27, my wife and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. I arranged for dinner at Gasthaus Bothner and invited all of the 12 people who had helped us during the difficult years between 1945-1948: Family Ley, F. Grill; Henzahl; F. Knoll, Fritz and father, and Family Ernst Schweiger. It was a feast, and we did not save on drinks. We sang a lot, accompanied by Fritz Knoll and his accordion.
On May 28, we made our farewell visits with Lonsche, Fr. Mueller, Liese, F. Bartz, F. Armbrust, Stumpf, and F. Dieterlein. Our former neighbors, Family Knoll, invited us to dinner.
We sang a few songs, Fritz, their son, playing on his accordion, and his mother playing the guitar. Also present were Mr. Knoll’s daughters and sons-in-law with their children. We had a good time together. It was an unforgettable evening in the house of the dear Knoll family.
On May 29, we were with Family Ley, saying our good-byes. F. Hutter, F. Grill, and Honzahl were there too. Each family presented us with gifts. Then Christel Schweiger came too, bringing a picture and a bottle of wine. When we lived here as refugees, we sometimes worked for family Schweiger. Christel, who was then just a little girl, quite often brought us something to eat on Sundays. At that time, food was scarce and available only with food stamps. Now we wanted to make Christel happy, so my wife and I took her to the store and said, “Now choose for you the prettiest dress. It shall be a token of our appreciation for the kindness that you and your parents have shown us during the time of hardship.” Christel was very happy about that.
On May 29, we left Walheim. Over Heibronn, Hannau, and Offenbach, we came to Weisskirchen. Brother Michael and son-in-law Konrad Lang awaited us with a car. We spent one week with Family Lang and their children, and one week with my brother, his son and wife, and his daughter’s family Schreiner.
June 3 we traveled through Harburg, Biedenkopf, Heltzhausen, and Eisenhausen, to visit Family Wolf, Mueller, Ernst, F. Reiht, Family Jung, and Cousin F. Stickel.
June 5 we visited Family Hey, then moved on to Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Erbach on the Rhine, and Johannesberg.
June 7 to Titzenbach, visiting Nock Family, Trautmann and Frau Kaiser.
On June 8, we went to Frankfurt to see Family Rapp and F. Jokel, then Schaefer Family. My brother, Andreas, drove us there.
On June 9, we visited the zoo and the Palm Garden in Frankfurt.
June 13 we said farewell to Frankfurt and journeyed to Paris. At 4:00 European time, we departed from Paris and flew over Newfoundland to Montreal. Here we visited Family Birmyer. It was 6:30 Canadian time (Eastern). On June 14 we left Montreal and were back in Windsor at 11:00 AM.
Now that we are back home, our thoughts retrace our travels through Germany, and we think about what we have seen and heard. We have also heard a few things about our old homeland where we lived in Hrastovac-Eichendorf. The houses that we once owned and the stables that once sheltered our animals were torn down wood and bricks taken away. My house and stable were removed right down to the ground. Fruit trees were cut, and the wood burned. The tower of our church was removed, and the main section was being used as a dance hall and meeting place. In parts, the sidewalk is completely covered with grass, and the ditches filled in. the houses that are still standing are in want of a paint job and otherwise look neglected. On higher spots in the fields, new houses are standing unfinished. The village is not recognizable any more. One German stayed behind. His name is Heinrich Ochsenhofer. Had we stayed, the Rebels would have murdered us anyway. Now we are scattered all over the world: Germany, Canada, North and South America.
I am still working in the boiler room here in Harrow. In winter, I usually work on the night shift.
Christmas (1964) is near. Presents have been already bought for children and grandchildren. The grandchildren especially, are very excited in anticipation of the coming event.
Jahr an deiner Wende, lass uns stille sein.
Alles nimmt ein Ende, dass wir uns erfraeun.
Auch was wir erleiden, deckt vergessen zu,
Liebe, Weh und Scheiden, kommt darin zur Ruh.
Konrad Kehl, Sen.
An approximate translation:
ear at your turning let us be still.
All things must end, that we may rejoice.
What we suffer, cover with forgetting,
Love, Sorrow, Parting, will find a rest in you.
Year, a young morning rises out of your night,
Knows of no sorrows that have made you tired.
Wants to guide you forward, happy in your task,
Behind darkened doors, the light already waits for you.