Peter Seiler’s Recollections, Vinkovci
Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt
Peter Seiler from Vinkovci was taken prisoner, like other ethnic Germans of Vinkovci towards the end of May 1945 and interned first in internment camp of Josipovac, later in the Valpovo camp, from where they were supposed to be expelled to Austria. Since the Allied occupied forces closed the boarder to Austria and with that made a flight to Germany not possible, the expellees transport was returning form the Austrian boarder or from the road to Austria, and a short stay followed with forced slave labour at internment camp Velika Pisanica, then camp Krndija until May of 1946.
… On the morning of 15th of August 1945, the day of Assumption of the Virgin Mary, we were herded together, in order to march to Krndija. – For many they were the last hours. Only the death or the discharge from the starvation camp could bring the end to this misery. – The marching colon from Koška to Krndija could only go slowly forwards and stretched itself for quite a length. Those, who no longer could walk, were later picked up by the carts and brought to Krndija.
At the march through Budimci (Serb’s) our guards had to protect us even. The villagers intended to attack us, perhaps even to massacre us. While going through a narrow laneway we were screamed at, spat at, and even bricks were thrown at us. “They should all be killed” were the words accompanying the actions. Those who were thirsty and asked for water -surprisingly it was permitted- were even cursed “give them poison and not water”.
When we arrived in Krndija, where prior to us Croats were imprisoned, we spread out first our mostly wet cloths to dry and were looking around so the neighbours would stay with neighbours in the empty houses. Dead tired, ill, hungry, we disappeared quickly from the lanes.
The organization of the prisoner’s camp started the next day. A forestry labourer with rang of a captain, had taken over the command of the camp, whom we knew already back in Josipovac. He was quite, forceful, but to my knowledge he did not kill anyone. Besides him there was a political commissioner, a Gypsy, with a rang of first lieutenant; he shot a family of three.
The guards department consisted of 12-14 guards of which four where women (beasts). Those guards had at least three, most likely more souls eliminated, as well as a 14-year-old youngster, who was martyred during one of the drunken orgies. There was also shooting in the night of 23/24 of December 1945 in the “first aid station” with a goal to kill a Mr. Schmidt. Schmidt was killed all right, but also Rosalie Lohner; wounded was Mrs. Katarina Sikinger and one other woman. Most likely some other people did similarly lose their lives, of which I am not aware off.
The first “first-aid-station” was in charge of a paramedic, a geese herder in civilian life, who had no medical knowledge of any kind and hardly any medicine. Two to three Aspirins and some kind of ointment were used in all the cases. The dying started slowly. Much later a imprisoned Danube Swabian physician from Osijek helped. He also died in the camp on typhus. The veterinarian Wesback from Djakovo stayed until my discharge, assisted once a week by a physician from Djakovo, of course without the necessary medicine.
After we were crammed into our new ‘quarters’, one of Krndija’s longer streets where the buildings were not yet too destroyed and stolen from by the close-by civilian population, we had to enclose the area with barbed wire ourselves, but at first the families received the permission to stay together, while later the men were housed apart.
In order for the food supplies to be divided we formed groups per counties and later in area groups. My Landsmen trusted this responsibility to me. At first I had to write down all the names to find out just how many people there actually were, because the guards lost the evidence already. After the work was completed, we received the food. At this first count of food and kettle we were advised how much food we would be receiving for each person: 200g bread, 20g flour, 5g salt, 5g oil, peas (or beans) 40g, 200g sauerkraut or 80g corn flour or 100g potatoes (peas, beans, corn flour, sauerkraut, potatoes – one or the other.)
Of course those were only theoretical quantities. We had no opportunity to weight any of it, because we had no scale; to inquire or to complain could cost the life. The cornbread was most often only half way baked; it was supposed to be three kilograms, therefore to be cut in 15 parts. The received food had to be divided without any scales. Different sized cans, pots, baskets and bowls were used (for instance 1 kg flour = 2 cans, 1 kg peas = 1 can, 250g salt = a tiny pot, 780g beans = one can, etc.)
(Note of the translator: now follows a theoretical table of the food supplies. Since the reality was much different that table is not of any interest to the actual documentation.)
At the same time as the Krndija concentration cam was being organized, other efforts were being undertaken to herd most of the ethnic Germans from the area of Croatia-Slavonia into Krndija. Here were assembled from the cities, market towns or counties of: Vinkovci, Djakovo, Slavonski-Brod, Bijeljina, Brcko, Zupanja, Zagreb, Kutina, Bjelovar, Slatina, Pozega, Vukovar as well as from a few other counties. – Osijek (Esseg) and other counties were in the camps of Valpovo, Josipovac, Tenje and in a camp in Baranya.
The highest number of internees was about 3,000 people. This number changed often. Through continued imprisonments new people arrived all the time. Already at Josipovac the men were sent to slave labour: agricultural work, brick factory, cart factory in Brod, etc. The farmers from the surrounding areas could later purchase ‘slaves’ from the camp for their work. As I remember 15 dinars were paid to the camp commander per day per had. Many took this opportunity to at least for a short time escape the hunger, louse and flea miseries.
One part of the ethnic Germans from Croatia-Slavonia area spent from 15th of August 1945 to middle of May 1946 in this starvation camp. During this time about 1,300 people died there through hunger and killings.
A distress knows no borders; it was so at our place also. In order to make our sleeping places somewhat more comfortable, since we were crammed tightly together as is, we demolished the stroh-covered houses outside of the barbed wires. The surrounding villagers had already stolen the doors and windows – we used the stroh for the beds and the wood for heating our quarters and for the kitchen (kettle). The camp commanders tolerated this destructive work. After all it was a Danube Swabian village, and it had to be demolished! If somewhere a broken cooking top was found it ended in our patch and was made into a new cooker.
The winter was very cold. There was no more room inside the houses for the new arrivals, so they had to sleep at –20C in the attic. If there were any boards found at all, they were used for making beds, and in the beginning for making caskets. – The fences and sheds were long ago used for heating prior to us demolishing the houses.
Any way we could we tried to keep warm, so at least we would not freeze to death even if we had to go hungry. The heat and the stroh did a good dead for our fleas as well, which had in the shortest time a population explosion into billions and they bit deep to suck the blood out. With that our major vermin plaque, the louse, received a support. Even though we were around the clock on the hunt for the louse and fleas, our bodies were bitten black and blue and yet we could not get rid of them.
It was no surprise when the typhus fever epidemic arrived beginning of January 1946 and in no time spread with lightning speed. Our gravediggers were very, very busy, to burry all of the dead, two to three in one hole. If we had not received around beginning of April or end of March the disinfector kettle and DDT powder, most likely all of us would have perished.
We cooked in our kitchen what we received from the camp ‘economist’. For breakfast we even had cherry leaves tea, the sugar to it we had to imagine. The cooked food was real pig slop but at least it was warm.
Our arrival in Krndija was soon made known in the wide neighborhood area. The parcels from relatives and friends arrived and saved quite a few lives.
By the end of April a commission arrived, which freed already back on the 1st and 2nd of May 1946 a large part of the internees. I was one of the very last that was released on the 10th of May. As I was going with the release papers to the camp office of my quarters, the current camp commander, captain Komlenovic was running around with a stick herding the inmates still there towards the camp office to be counted. Those still there were sent the next day to Baranya, later to Tenje and later still to Batschka.
I went to the village of Novi Mikanovci to my sister who was married to a Croat, and the next day to Vinkovci to pick up my wife from the hospital, where through connections we managed to smuggle her in, as she also had typhus fever.
For the next four years I was working as farm worker, even though my trade was photography.