The first phase was the settlement of the Seklers. Their homeland was in Bukovina, which was awarded to Romania in the Second Vienna Accords. This ancient Magyar ethnic group found its future less and less secure in the changing situation around them. It became harder and harder to make a living; in the schools the only language taught was Romanian and the adults were not allowed to speak Hungarian in their day to day activities. The younger people found this situation unbearable and became part of a large-scale movement leaving for Hungary. Either the Romanian or Hungarian governments did not hinder this beginning of a spontaneous resettlement. In fact, the Romanians did what they could to encourage it while the difficulties and oppression that the Seklers had to endure were used by the Hungarian Nationalists to strengthen their cause. Many thought that the resettlement of the Seklers in Hungary was the solution to the problem of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Bukovina.
Their clergy feared that they would be scattered throughout the country. They wanted the Seklers to be resettled en mass in one area or in a series of neighbouring villages. But the idea of an organized and planned resettlement was an impossible dream. With the assistance of Nazi Germany the Batschka was returned to Hungary in 1941 and the possibility to settle the Seklers there presented itself. In the fall of 1944 as the front lines reached the Batschka the plans were abandoned by the Hungarian government. The Seklers who had settled there had to flee once more only now into the totally unknown. The Seklers spent the winter months in the villages of southwestern Hungary. George Bodor undertook the task of keeping them together and settling them. He thought of resettling the ethnic Hungarian refugees from Transylvania on the properties of the expelled ethnic Germans in Tolna County where they would find a new home.
In April 1945 the Sekler families finally had the opportunity to settle. Bodor was able to get the support of state organizations and key individuals for his plan. The Hungarian government planned the confiscation of the properties of the rich landowners and war criminals and the settlement of the Seklers from Romania in tandem with it. Bodor was sent to Tolna County to carry it out. It also needs to be said he also assisted with implementing the Land Reform Law. The actual membership lists of the Volksbund had managed to disappear and the commission to carry out the Land Reform had not yet been established. Bodor arrived in Bonyhád on April 25, 1945 and quickly assessed the situation. He took the initiative because he saw no official way to realize his objectives. Without informing or getting approval of local authorities he issued instructions and made announcements on his own. He took charge of the Political Section that were part of the local police forces and gave them the task of assembling lists of names of members of the Volksbund who with their families were being interned in the assembly camp at Lengyel. In May 1945 there were 20,000 ethnic Germans from twenty-five villages in the vicinity of Bonyhád who were interned there.
After several weeks the internees were allowed to return home. A portion of the internees took shelter with relatives while the others sought to live in their own homes that had been occupied by Seklers. No state officials or organization did sanction this action. It was only the special commissions set up to carry out the Land Reform that had such authority to confiscate property. Bodor should have worked with the commission and not acted on his own.
In May countless complaints were raised against him and the police. Quarrels broke out in the National Commission and the coalition parties because innocent people had suffered so much through this action on their part. On May 22, 1945 the National Commission ordered that the hygienic situation and the availability and distribution of food be improved immediately at Lengyel. The young incompetent sentries were to be dismissed. Bodor was ordered to appear in Budapest where he was punished for his actions. His settlement office in Bonyhád and the camp at Lengyel were closed down. The leadership of the settlement programme affecting the Seklers was placed in the hands of the Office of Social Services and the Land Reform Commission.
As a final word one can say that this ethnic Hungarian minority group that had suffered much had found a new home in Swabian Turkey in the vicinity of Bonyhád. But in order for that to happen the ethnic German population had to pay a heavy price. The introduction of the Seklers in the ethnic German villages led to many difficulties and conflicts with the resident inhabitants because at this time the expulsions had not yet begun.
The Hungarians from Slovakia
Since the local authorities in the ethnic German communities were impotent to do anything about changing either the economic or political situation a steady stream of new settlers entered the region. In May 1947 the first wave of Magyar deportees from Slovakia arrived in Tolna County. Their expulsion from their villages in southern Slovakia was made public as part of the decree of April 5, 1945 in Kaschau. It indicated that Czechoslovakian citizenship could only be retained by ethnic Magyar inhabitants of the country who had proven Anti-Fascist credentials and had been part of the liberation movement to free Czechoslovakia or had been persecuted because of their loyalty to the Republic. All other ethnic Magyars were stripped of their citizenship but they could be reinstated under special conditions. This decision was based on the principle of collective guilt. The vast majority of the ethnic Magyar population lost their right to citizenship. In hindsight we realize that these first steps taken by the new Czechoslovakian regime had no international support or validity. The authorities carried out the confiscation of property and deportation on their own volition. In several communities surprise deportations were carried out during the night in the Sudetenland. The major newspaper in Tolna reported on the activities taking place directed against the ethnic Magyar minority on December 15, 1945, which was also carried by the New York Times that reported:
“The American State Department repudiates the recent steps taken by the government of
Czechoslovakia in assembling inhabitants of Magyar ancestry in special camps and simply sent others across the frontier and out of their country.”
The goal of American foreign policy in this regard was quite clear. They worked for the establishment of an agreement between the two states involved for a population exchange involving the ethnic Slovaks in Hungary and the ethnic Magyars in Slovakia. This agreed upon set of regulations was to be placed on the table for discussion by the Allied Control Commission. The ethnic Magyars in Slovakia reacted to this proposed action by the Czechoslovakian authorities by a mass flight into Hungary. The Hungarian and Czechoslovakian representatives at a meeting in Budapest on February 27, 1946 agreed upon the organized resettlement.
The ethnic Magyars awaiting resettlement were provided with deportation documents along with information on the expulsion. The deportations not only created great unrest among the prospective deportees but also created fear on the part of the Hungarian government. The difficulties with which the deportees contended became obvious during the population exchange. The Czechoslovakian regime did not believe that 650,000 ethnic Magyars living in their midst would claim they were of Slovak heritage. The ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary lived primarily in Békés County and few of them were prepared or desired to be resettled in Slovakia. On that basis it was obvious that carrying out a population exchange as envisioned was not really tenable. The Czechoslovakian government undertook to link the resettlement of the ethnic Germans of Hungary with the expulsion of the ethnic Magyars from Slovakia and tried to make their case at international conferences.
At the peace conference in Paris in 1946 they attempted to get support from the Allies for the forced expulsion of 200,000 ethnic Magyars. Their proposal was denied. A government official in Hungary responsible for dealing with the issues around the resettlement wrote to the leaders of Tolna County on February 2, 1947: “The population exchange will begin on April 8, 1947. It is extremely important that you be involved in this undertaking with regard to the settlement of the ethnic Magyar deportees.”
Opportunities for employment and free houses for all of them were not available because the Seklers who had arrived first had already been given the houses of the ethnic German inhabitants. The second phase of the expulsion of the ethnic Germans was guaranteed to provide accommodations for the incoming ethnic Hungarians from Slovakia. The idea behind it all is quite clear in an article in a Tolna newspaper at the time, “Their desire was to have a house comparable to what they had known. But most importantly they wanted to finally find a sense of peace instead of living in fear and wanted a place to lay down their heads and sleep in peace.”
The ethnic Magyars of Slovakia were allowed to bring their furniture and goods with them. While the ethnic Germans of Hungary had to leave their homes in a moment’s notice so that the resettlement of the ethnic Magyars from Slovakia could take place. There were examples where the settlers allowed the former owners to live with them in a room of their former houses. The Interior Ministry opposed this and ordered the local community officials: “This matter of allowing the Swabians back into their houses must be hindered because they fall into the same category as those who have been expelled in terms of having any property rights. If the new owner takes in the former Swabian owner without permission official action will be taken against him.”
The Swabian issue continued to be an ongoing headache for the County authorities. Strife in the life of the various villages intensified. Prior to the expulsions many of the Swabians fled to neighbouring villages and were willing to work for half the wages paid to other agricultural workers on the large landholdings of rich farmers. This along with other issues created conflict between the Swabians and the other workers during harvest time. Since the American Zone of Occupation in Germany refused to accept any further deportees from Hungary, the Hungarian government requested that the Allied Control Commission allow further deportations to the Russian Zone of Occupation.
The Fateful Years for the ethnic Germans in Gyönk
The Time Prior to the Deportations to Russia
In order to understand the history of what would occur it is necessary to understand the developments that took place prior to the war and not lose sight of the situation in which the ethnic Germans of Hungary found themselves. The portion of the population that claimed German as their mother tongue formed the majority in the areas around Gyönk and Bonyhád. In the census conducted in 1941 in the Bonyhád District, 75% of the inhabitants reported that their mother tongue was German. This situation was an exception in terms of the rest of Hungary. The ethnic German population that had first settled here in the 18th century preserved and maintained their German language and culture well into the mid 20th Century. The disintegration of these communities was due to outside forces and is linked to the Second World War. But there were signs of tensions much earlier. The ethnic Germans of Hungary saw themselves as being under pressure from the forces of Hungarian nationalism following the First World War.
The misfortunes Hungary suffered as a result of the war and the territorial losses they incurred strengthened the Magyar nationalists’ aspirations resulting in strong pressures being applied to the ethnic German population to assimilate. The urban ethnic German population was more disposed to this assimilation process. It was of lesser importance in the villages but the gradual impoverishment of their German culture was beginning to be felt as well as its impact on the young. In a deeply disturbing article published in 1932 written by Jakob Bleyer he gave expression to what he saw as the consequences of the Magyarisation process upon the Swabian population:
“The education in Kindergarten is Hungarian and that is practically the same in most of the local schools in our ethnic German communities and there are fewer and fewer of our schools where instruction is given in the most elementary aspects of reading and writing in German. Just add to that the fact that the religious education of children in many communities is not provided in our mother tongue so that the children as well as the youth are attending services on Sunday and festivals as well on weekdays where hymns and the sermon are not provided in their German mother tongue. Truly a gigantic steam roller is crushing our ethnic German youth.”
A year later in a speech given by Bleyer he indicated that 90% of the ethnic German students in the Middle and Upper High Schools in Hungary were incapable of writing a letter in German or write an error free sentence in German. In opposition to this trend local groups of the ethnic Germans of Hungary Educational Union (Ungarnländische Deutsche Volksbildungsverein) were formed but understandably they had to carry out promotion and publicity in order to establish themselves. It is reported that there was a Reading Circle and a farmer’s association in Gyönk at that time. Membership costs in the Reading Circle were paid for by the sale of eggs to neighbours according to what we have been told and that the people who often attended the meetings were better informed about things and better able to maintain their sense of being ethnic German. The sense of community they experienced strengthened their sense of having a ethnic German identity and the events that they held provided entertainment. Dancing contests, gymnastic demonstrations, hikes and outing were organized. These gatherings brought about an enlivened cultural life and were not political in any way. A political tone was first sounded following the return of some of Hungary’s lost territories through the assistance of Hitler’s Germany. During this time the southern portion of Slovakia was returned to Hungary (1938). In that year the Volksbund der Deutschen in Ungarn was also founded. The founding assembly took place in Budapest. The former Volksbildungsverein was gradually replaced and superseded by it.
The ordinary villagers did not realize that the local Reading Circle (book club) developed into a Volksbund organization. With the growing power of the Third Reich there emerged both enthusiasm and a sense of unrest on the part of the German minorities through Europe. Heinrich Reitinger who originally came from Csikostöttös was studying in Germany when Hitler came to power. He was committed to the National Socialist (Nazi) ideology and along with his German wife he came to Gyönk as a family doctor and organized the local chapter of the Bund (the term used by the local inhabitants to describe the Volksbund) and his deputy was Hans Reidl one of the teachers in the school operated by the Reformed congregation until 1944. The headquarters of the Volksbund was the present day building that is now a sewing factory. A third of the total ethnic German population took part in their activities and took out membership. Many simply participated in events that interested them as well as their dances but were never paying members. In the governance of the Volksbund in addition to the active members they also included what they called sympathizers and friends of the movement who fully participated in their various activities. The youth who were members often marched in the streets singing German songs. For the most part it was poorer people who joined the Bund who were attracted to the social implications that were directed against the richer and more pro-Hungarian ethnic Germans. They were promised that they would get the houses and fields of the Hungarianized ethnic Germans after Germany won the war.
Reitinger demanded that the ethnic Germans of Hungary be given their guaranteed minority rights. Many of the prosperous farmers looked upon the actions of the Bund with scepticism and suspicion. The overheated, excessive, ill-advised, unfounded insults and scolding done by the non-members of the Bund led to a fracturing of the sense of community among the ethnic German population. (Translator’ Note: The same charges could be equally made of the Bund members.) The people who did not join the Volksbund said they loved their Homeland and always felt at home in Hungary. They did not feel a need to flout their ethnic German-ness. Rumours that the region of Swabian Turkey would be annexed to Germany did not arise within the Volksbund circles. But the Bund considered the possible expulsion of all those who were not members of the Volksbund. Sometimes very underhanded remarks were made against the Hungarians.
During the 1930s the Loyalty Movement was founded. They worked in open opposition against the Volksbund but without an organized plan or programme. The census that was carried out in 1941 was met with a great sense of uncertainty evoking all kinds of feelings of outrage in the village. Alongside of the question of a person’s mother tongue an even more remarkable question was asked about the person’s nationality. A virtual propaganda bombardment was unleashed upon the ethnic German villagers by Bund agitators and the simple villagers became confused about how to answer the difficult and troublesome question. The teachers in the schools of the village stressed they should acknowledge that they were part of the Hungarian nation or otherwise they could be expelled from the country. A new situation developed with the Second Vienna Accords on August 30, 1940 that dealt with the ethnic Germans of Hungary between the German and Hungarian governments, which had been done without the participation of the Volksbund in the discussions that had led up to it. Hitler’s war effort and aspirations carried more weight than the goals of the Volksbund.
This would eventually lead to the forced conscription of all ethnic German men between 17 and 45 years of age into the Waffen-SS in August 1944. Many of them died in the battle for Budapest and had received little military training before being sent to the front. Mrs. Gerth reported that her husband had been wounded in the street fighting in Belgium. On his arrival back home after the war he had to hide in a nearby cornfield because all other soldiers serving in the SS had already been interned. (Translator’s Note: The author does not differentiate between those who volunteered to serve in the SS and those who were forced into the Waffen-SS in the late stages of the war and served primarily on the Eastern Front.) But her husband was unable to escape the same fate as the others. He was interned for eleven months in Szekszárd. The Hungarian government had given the green light for the SS enlistment action. There were instances when Hungarian soldiers of ethnic German origin were discharged from the Hungarian Army and were transferred to the SS. The call up in August 1944 in local parlance was referred to as “Muss SS”. It means, “must SS” or in other words they were forced to join.
In October and November (1944) the local Volksbund leader Dr. Heinrich Reitinger called upon the people to leave for Germany because the war was lost and hard times would be ahead of those who remained.
It was at this time that the Seklers had to flee from the Batschka and the ethnic German refugee treks moved across Swabian Turkey with some passing through Gyönk on their way to Germany. Johann Heidt, who was a Hungarian solider at the time, was in the Batschka from February to October 1944. He was on sentry duty at a hemp factory and industrial works because Partisan units were on the prowl throughout the area and had committed terribly cruel atrocities. He came in contact with ethnic German families who often supplied him with food. In the fall of 1944 they left on one of the treks that past through Gyönk. He sent greetings through them to his wife Susan and they told her that things were going well for him. Of course this was of great consolation to the Heidt family. When the evacuation order was issued by the Volksbund the majority of their members did not respond. But there were large numbers of women married to men in the SS who left. The fear of the coming Red Army was the impetus to join the evacuation but in Gyönk this did not have much an effect on the part of the general population.
The Deportation to the Soviet Union
(Based on the recollections of those Involved)
The Soviet troops entered our community on December 12, 1944. Before they arrived there had been a call up issued to all of the men who had done military service to report to the community officials. They were told to set up a home defence force to keep watch over the village. In this way they were also aware of who was at home. At that time the people did not think that anything bad was going to happen. Requisitioning supplies and especially horses was the order of the day. Many young girls and young married women living alone were raped. Following the entry of the Russians there were house searches, confiscation of food from the kitchen pantries and cellars that the people depended upon to meet their daily needs. In this instance there was no distinction made in terms of the nationality of the victims. We can also report about some killings such as the shooting of the prosperous farmer Konrad Reidl because his son’s Hungarian army uniform was found in the house. Heinrich Schneider was beaten to death because he refused to obey an “immoral” order of some Soviet soldiers. Following the death of Konrad Reidl his neighbours hid out in the fields because they were in fear of the plundering and brutality of the Russians. Adam Wolf acted as their interpreter. A group of so-called friends of communism soon put in an appearance. They would later become a plague in the lives of the local population. Among them were several Hungarian refugees from Romania who had taken up residence in our community.
The first major action taken by the Russians was the mobilization of the population for slave labour. In addition to this the use of the German language was forbidden at church services and in daily speech when in public. The total ban on the use of the German mother tongue was not implemented. A Russian field hospital was set up in the village where some of the villagers were ordered to work.
Jakob Daher reported, “My father met the notorious Kóvacs shortly before Christmas and told him something was about to happen that had never happened before.”
The deportation to Russia had an interesting prelude. The village council was presented with an order from the Russians just prior to Christmas to the effect that a specific number of labourers from the village were to be turned over to the Soviet Commander. The village council was unable to agree among themselves due to their concern about their own family members and no binding decision was made. The old village council was still in power and included members of the Volksbund or were sympathizers of the organization. When the Russians were apprised that nothing had been decided ordered that those members of the ethnic German civilian population that were 18 to 45 years of age were to report to the local Gasthaus Kalapa. (It meant men from 17 to 45 years and women 18 to 30 years.) In the neighbouring villages the members of the Volksbund were taken away and interned.
On December 20, 1944 an announcement was made throughout our village that all persons with a German family name between the ages of 18 and 45 years must report to the Nagykocsma Gasthaus. It was said that they would have to take part in the harvesting of corn in the Batschka. The work would take about two or three weeks. Fear and anxiety filled the hearts of the families involved and there was a sense of uncertainty about the future. Many people in retrospect began to wonder if Dr. Reitinger had been right when he had spoken about the times ahead for those who had remained behind and did not join the evacuation.
Those in the effected age groups were allowed to take sufficient food to last for three weeks, along with appropriate underwear to take along on the journey. They actually thought that they were going to work harvesting corn. The Russians placed sentries around the village and the fields so that the ethnic Germans were unable to leave the village. Some still were able to find a hiding place. The drums were beaten on the street corners and the population was told that if any person fled to escape doing labour their family members would be put to death. In the neighbouring villages women with children between the ages of birth to three years were allowed to be exempted from the order. In our village that was not permitted. Mrs. Brückner presently living in Zwickau in Saxony, Germany was allowed to remain at home with her newborn son through the personal intervention of a Russian soldier. A Russian Commission carried out its work at the Gasthaus to which Dr. Keleman a local doctor was also appointed. The translator, Adam Wolf, was able to have a few people exempted form the deportation mostly members of his own extended family. In the meanwhile the community council had to provide thirty vehicles to the Russians to transport the labourers to Szekszárd. The transport column was accompanied and guarded by Russian troops. According to archival documents 202 persons from Gyönk were taken to Russia. The lists of names do not validate the exact number because some of the names are stroked out. There is one list with twenty-six names that are known to have been members of the Volksbund and were exempted and allowed to remain at home. They were released before the others were transported away.
An almost miraculous story is the one shared by Margaret Müller. A Russian soldier entered her house to conduct a house search just as the family was joining in their evening prayers. Her little son was praying with her. The soldier was a decent man and did not disturb the family any further. She was already on board of one the wagon with the other deportees when she caught a glimpse of the Russian soldier. He recognized her and winked at her and indicated that she could get down off of the wagon and he sent her home to her family.
What those who managed to escape on the way to Szekszárd and later on in Baja were spared we learn from the following descriptions of what the others experienced:
December 28, 1944 was the day that they were transported away from Gyönk and many of them had no idea that there were those among them who would never return and were seeing their families for the last time. They were kept in a prison facility in Szekszárd. All of those designated for deportation from Tolna and Baranya County were assembled there. They received eating utensils, uniforms and other gear from the prison. Their stay there lasted only a few days. From here they were driven towards Baja and the Danube bridges. A ferry brought ammunition across the river and the deportees unloaded it and then boarded the ferry and were taken to the other bank.
For a short time they were kept in a tavern and dance hall. They were boarded on trains at which time the men and women were separated. Heinrich Faust, who was tasked with looking after the stove has described the condition of the boxcars of the train. Many of them sought to escape at Baja but only a few were successful. A day after the train was set in motion they began to realize they were not going to the Batschka because they could distinctly hear Romanian being spoken when the train halted. They were already in the Banat in the vicinity of Temesvár and passing through Romania and no longer travelling across the Batschka. In another boxcar close by an iron bar was found that was used to pry open the door and some people jumped from the moving train and were able to get away before the train crossed into Russia.
At Máramarossziget all of the deportees had to get out of the boxcars as the Russians proceeded with a roll call to determine their number. They were obviously aware that some of them had escaped. Those in the next car were beaten terribly because they had not reported on those who had escaped. There were fifty persons in each boxcar. Once the Russians determined the number of missing deportees they had lost in transit they took an equal number of the train station personnel along to replace the others. This case illustrates for us another example of the fact that the ability to work was more important than a person’s origin or nationality. In some of the neighbouring villages around Gyönk there were all kinds of people that had ethnic German family names but could not speak a word of German. Naturally they were also included and were deported. For example, Kölesd and Nagykoni were among these kinds of communities. During the deportation the lack of provisions and supplies was catastrophic for the deportees. There may have been a stove in some of the cattle cars but the cold they experienced was extreme. There was less and less to eat as they continued on into the Soviet Union. There they would find even less.
While on their journey they were given frozen cold meat that soon resulted in various sicknesses breaking out among the people. Many became victims to typhus during the journey. The hygienic conditions were inhumane. A hole was bored into the floor of each of the cattle cars to serve as toilets for the deportees. The question of modesty had to be ignored under the circumstances and it was just one more thing they had to endure. The journey lasted for three weeks in January. The train was often halted due to ongoing military activities in some regions they passed through. After the long journey the deportees from Gyönk arrived in the Donets Basin of Ukraine.
On the basis of the stories told by the surviving deportees from Gyönk most of them worked in the Dombas Shaft #1 in Dawidowka in Camp Number Four. Materials found in the village archives indicate others were at Stalino, Zistakowa, Iloweis Shaft #35. The names of the communities indicate the nearest city with a train depot and the name of the mine where they worked. The majority of the deportees from Gyönk (about one hundred to one hundred and twenty persons) spent many months in Camp #4 while there were others that spent years there.
Life in the Camps
The camp buildings were quite old. It appears that in the past the camp had served earlier as a holding facility or prison. Men and women were housed in separate wings of the complex. There was a heating apparatus inside to heat the rooms. Bunk beds filled the entire room. They were hard and had coarse straw filled covers. The deportees stole coal because that provided the best heat. There was no kitchen. The deportees had no food left to eat and they were overwhelmed with hunger and constant demanding work. Margaret Lerch, who is now married, was eighteen years old at the time she was taken to Russia to do slave labour. She tells stories of how many ethnic Germans from Yugoslavia who arrived there were overjoyed at being deported. The Partisans and the Russians had such great hatred for the Germans that they had carried out massacres in their villages. Very often large groups of ethnic Germans were driven into a room from which a few were chosen and those left in the room were shot.
In the first camp where most of the people from our village were assigned were ordered to build a stone entrance way into the mineshaft by a Russian officer. The stones had been intended for the building of a provisional kitchen that the deportees were supposed to construct. Due to the heavy work involved and the poor nutrition they received they quickly began to lose weight. The following is an example: Johann Heidt weighed 88 kilos when he arrived in the Soviet Union and on January 16, 1946 a year later he weighed only 48 kilos. The older deportees died quickly especially the chain smokers because cigarettes were not available. The deportees received only 400 grams of bread daily and the rest of the daily fare was cabbage soup, sour cucumber soup or rice soup. It got worse day by day. They traded their possessions they had brought with them from home like razor blades, leather jackets, underwear and even their dresses at the local market for a ladle of bean soup. Our villagers were used to an agricultural lifestyle back home and many were outstanding farmers. By going to work in the mines they were providing the war reparations that would help in the reconstruction of the Soviet Union. The deportees worked eight hours a day and worked in shifts. Women as well as men worked in the coalmines. During the working day they mined coal in tunnels that were less than a meter in height. They had to mine a certain quota of coal daily. Explosive devices were used to crack open the seams. Johann Heidt recalls:
“There were many accidents in the mines. I lived through two cave-ins. The coal pinned down my neck so that I was unable to move my head. The second time three people next to me were killed. Two of them were women. The explosion was so powerful that my head crashed up against the steel trolley used to move the coal. My legs were broken below the knee and my right arm was injured. I ended up in the hospital where I lay unconscious for two or three days. I owe my survival to a good intentioned Jewish doctor. He used weights and a machine to strengthen my legs. For a long time I could only walk using crutches.”
An officer once told him that whoever was unable to work would be sent home and he was allowed to go. He turned down the opportunity because he did not want to leave his wife behind. After a short discussion the Russian asked if his wife had sufficient clothing. She in fact had very little left to wear. People were only released if they could properly clothe themselves. They were then taken to a large assembly camp at Stalino with the hope that they might return home to Hungary. This camp had 50,000 to 60,000 inmates. They were there for two or three days and then one day they were told that those persons whose names were called out where to proceed to the camp gates. After his name was called out he waited to see if his wife’s name would be called out and could leave with him or not. Their paths separated that day. Only those who were sick were eligible to leave and make the journey home and Johann Heidt was allowed to join the transport. This occurred during the time frame when train transports taking deportees and prisoners of war went in the direction of Hungary.
The vast majority of those deported from Gyönk would have to continue to struggle to survive in the Soviet Union. Conditions in the mines only got worse. Hunger drove them to steal. A young woman who had attempted to steal some food was caught by the Russians and beaten to death with the butts of their rifles. On December 15, 1947 there was a monetary crisis in the Soviet Union. They no longer received their ration books in order to get food. A month later, on January 15, 1948 there was new currency and everyone received 1,500 Rubles. This day also signalled an improvement in their situation. They were now allowed to go to the nearby city freely and with their new currency they were able to buy sausages, butter and vegetables. Now in addition to cabbage soup and bread they had other food to sustain them as they continued to do heavy physical labour. Some of the deportees were forced to leave and go to other camps. If one was fortunate one could be assigned to work in the fields on a collective farm. But to speak of good fortune in this regard is perhaps misleading because these deportees were still robbed of their freedom. This agricultural work was certainly not as dangerous as working in the coalmines in which a cave in could occur at any moment.
Johann Heidt’s wife who had not been allowed to accompany her husband home tells of how she was brought from Dnepropetrowsk to Tschernowitz along with prisoners of war. She thought she was in Hungary. One hundred and twenty persons that were part of the transport had to get off the train and left the station. The Commandant did not answer the question as to why this group had been left behind. For the next month they were closely observed to see if they were too sick to work or able to walk. When the month was over she was put back to work. The officer saw that she was very depressed and sad and asked her what she wished for. Her response was immediate, “I want to go home!” He replied, “You must still work here for a short time and then you will be able to go back home.” This awakened within her a sense of hope but the short time would last a year. After one year she had to pack her belongings. She thought that she would now finally be allowed to go home. She had to put aside her aspirations. The next station on her journey was not home but the camp at Lemberg. Here she planted potatoes and managed to take some back to the camp with her. While she was there she no longer suffered from the terrible hunger she had known. She would open a sack of potatoes and take out some to plant in the earth. It was difficult for her to wait for the new plants to grow and produce new potatoes that she had planted secretly.
With regard to the conditions under which the deportees lived the survivors reported that the possibility of washing clothes and personal cleanliness was catastrophic for them. Reports in the documentation of the deportation of the Germans of Hungary substantiate these allegations in the following quotation:
“There was no soap only what we had bought with us from home. We did our laundry but dirt from the soiled piece of clothing simply soiled another because we could not really wash them. Once the soap was gone we all became itchy. We took baths on Sundays in vain because all we had to use was simply water. On Sundays when they disinfected us there was warm water there for us but it made no real difference. On leaving the place we had more lice than we had before. Lice in our hair and clothing they were just everywhere. We had all kinds of open wounds due to our scratching. The scab broke easily and they festered. They itched terribly and bled profusely.”
In the first two years, 1945 and 1946 our numbers from Gyönk began to dwindle. Epidemics, typhus, dysentery, malaria, near starvation, freezing cold, heavy physical labour all contributed to the large loss of life that took place. As contagious diseases broke out one person after another perished around us. The lack of medicine and care brought about countless deaths when just a small bit of medicine might have saved their lives. Sometimes when one awoke early in the morning the person that I shared a bunk with or others around you would never wake up. The dead would be taken to a room set aside for corpses and would only be buried when enough of them had been assembled for burial details. In the summer time the chests with the corpses made a terrible stench.
After 1948 those who were not sick as well as those unable to work were sent back home. Following the already monetary crisis the situation of our people became more bearable. In 1949 the bread ration was increased to 1.2 kilos of bread daily a vast difference from the 400 grams of the past. Clothing could now be purchased. In place of bunk beds they were iron-framed beds with showers for bathing and the lice gradually disappeared.
Heinrich Forrest took two beautiful sparkling pieces of coal with him when it was time for him to leave and ended up in getting into a lot of trouble because of it.
“In my childhood I enjoyed studying history and was very interested in it. I thought I would show them to my teacher, Geza Nethling when I got home. I meant nothing bad by it. I had two suitcases of clothing and I wrapped the pieces of coal in newspaper and put them in a corner of my suitcase. In the last camp we passed through after two others they examined our suitcases again. From there we were taken to another camp. We had to go through it again and one of my suitcases was searched again. A Russian pulled out my clothes along with the newspaper and uncovered my souvenirs. He immediately threw them in the bushes nearby and yelled at me. He threatened me with five years of imprisonment in Siberia. I thought God only knows what’s going to happen to me now. He called me a spy. To my good fortune he was called over to see the Commander and with that my troubles were over.”
It was only after two years after their arrival in the Soviet Union that the deportees were finally allowed to write to their families back home. Only post cards were allowed. They were also allowed to receive mail. Cards arrived from home but not very often and on occasion some had a photo of their family or their children.
The Homecoming Transports
The first train transports returning certifiably sick persons arrived home in the summer and autumn of 1945. The camp doctors were not allowed to certify too many of the sick because there were established quotas in that first year. “If someone was so sick that they would not survive the journey home they were simply kept back.” The route of the returning train transports was directly to Hungary by way of Máramarossziget. The deportees had to detrain at the border and be counted. The journey from the Donets Basin took fifteen days. On their arrival they were disinfected. The deportees did not remember the experience with much affection nor the facility where it was done. The returnees to Hungary knew that many families had been resettled in Germany. They were brought into a room and asked where they wanted to go. Johann Heidt’s wife stood in line as two or three deportees answered that they would like to go to Germany immediately because their parents were already living there. The Hungarian official who sat behind the table screamed, “There you go again. You all want to go to Germany!” At the conclusion of his fit they were allowed to join the group going to Germany.
They were entrained again and they travelled on to Debrecen where they were kept under strict guard and control insisting that they had to be examined for lice. In reality the men were examined to see if they had the SS tattoo under their armpit. When they heard the command, “Raise your arms!” Our people knew that they were looking for the SS tattoo. A man from Belecska was with Johann Heidt when he went through this. He had tried to have it removed by causing an accident and created a deep wound but when the wound healed it was still noticeable. All SS soldiers and Volksbund members were ordered to be interned at Debrecen. After the terrible years in the Soviet Union this welcome they received in Hungary was hardly any better.
The other leading question asked by the customs officer was whether the individual had been a member of the Volksbund, which would have dire consequences for those who were. Many men from Gyönk were interned at Tiszapalkonya. They could not tell anyone where they had been taken. In most cases it was many years before they ever spoke about that chapter in their lives. A certificate was issued in Debrecen for each deportee with the date of their deportation and when they returned to Hungary. A small welcoming gift of 20 Forint was presented to each returning deportee. The last to come home after five years of slave labour were informed that they had now served their punishment for the collective guilt of the ethnic Germans of Hungary but that was now behind them. Heinrich Forresst was among the last to come home. The returnees were officially designated as prisoners of war for Hungarian government record keeping.
Order #0060 issued on December 22, 1944 for the mobilization of all able bodied persons of German origin for the purpose of the reconstruction of the areas behind the former front lines in Russia were carried out in Gyönk. On January 22, 1945 the Superior Court Judge of the County of Tolna authorized the lists of names of those to be deported, which would later be compared with those who returned home. An important report written on June 25, 1945 can still be located in the County archives. The members of the families of those who were deported were called upon by their community council to report their family members who had been taken to do labour “service” in the Soviet Union. The children, husbands, wives, cousins and parents reported the names of 39 persons who were deported to the community council and the list they assembled at that time continues to exist. The report that was compiled indicates that the deportees from Gyönk belonged to two different groups.
The one group is described in the following manner: “The list of names of those who were taken and transported by Soviet troops to do labour service from Gyönk who were members of the Volksbund and according to their own personal claim during the census of 1941 were of German nationality.” On the other list we find the persons “who were not members of the Volksbund and according to their own personal declaration claimed loyalty to their Hungarian nationality.” The local political situation in Gyönk played no role and the stricken names and notations are concrete evidence of that.
Even today there are many people who are still living among us who will never forget these experiences. The recent local historical research has undone the long held silence on their part due to the fear of political repercussions and shed light on these events of which the younger generation know little or nothing. All of those who were affected speak of the friendliness of the Russian villagers they met despite what they had to go through and regardless of the misery they had to endure. They showed no animosity towards the prisoners and helped whenever they could. Through these difficult times our fellow villagers learned to value the same joys in life and learned to accept the fate that was their lot even though it was difficult and lasted a long time. The old lists of names in the archives that also note the deaths of those who died in the Donets Basin far from southern Hungary and are buried there are remembered in a new memorial in Gyönk so that they will never be forgotten as the victims of a gruesome war and its aftermath.
The Expropriation, Dispossession and Expulsion
Before one can say something concrete about the discharging of the expulsion process one needs to take into account the major forces that lay behind it in the past. Gyönk was a major town in Tolna County with both an ethnic German and Hungarian population. One the basis of the census conducted in 1931 we can find specific data about the community. The fields under cultivation were 3,814 hectares of land. The total population was 3,156 of whom 1,787 were German and 1,364 were Hungarian. The Germans formed the majority of 56.6% of the population while the Hungarians account for 44.3%.
In the census of 1941 the population had declined and numbered 3,074 persons. As part of the new Social Democratic take over of the country a National Commission with eleven members was set up in Gyönk made up of members of the party to act as the Land Reform Authority. This commission was founded on April 1, 1945. Five persons were appointed to carry out the regulations of the various tasks given to it. This Land Reform Commission had a proposal drawn up in December of 1945 on the basis of the work done by the Commission for National Security that was part of the decree #3820/1945.
The members of the Volksbund and those who served in the SS and their families were the ones who were to be dispossessed of their homes and property. Their houses and land holdings were to be made available for the proposed settlement of Hungarian refugees. According to correspondence carried out by community authorities in April 1945 there were numerous exemptions that were proposed contrary to what had been demanded by the Commission for National Security. In a few cases some families’ exemptions were endorsed. But it most cases they were denied.
The Land Reform Law #600/1945 was to be carried out in Tolna County by April 18, 1945. Naturally enough this did not happen that quickly. A proclamation was sent to the local Commission by the regional Commission. In this document it was stated that all Volksbund members, even if they left the organization before June 26, 1941, without exception could not receive any economic benefits or land allotments. Article I stipulated that the Hungarian population had first call on all of the available land. The settling of others together with the ethnic German families began in the summer of 1945. We had not Sekler settlers in our village but they did arrive in nearby Varsád and other neighbouring villages. The first phase of settling them among ethnic German families did not involve many people as they would in the next phases. In one village there were indigenous local Hungarian settlers who were eager to take over ethnic German houses and landholdings. Others arrived from neighbouring communities and in this way the integrating of them with the ethnic German population of Gyönk began.
The listings of property provided regarding the dispossession in the Land Reform Law give us two kinds of information. In one of the listings one can read that a total 815 Katasraljoch (fields, gardens, orchard, vineyards, meadows and forests) were to be confiscated from 303 persons. According to the second report 981 Katastraljoch were involved. More accurate written material from this period of time cannot be found so that the figures that are presented are not trustworthy.
The extent of the integrating of the new population hinges upon the number of these new settlers who sought to find a better life and existence among us. (Translator’s Note: The author’s use of the term integrating to describe what was actually taking place is hardly descriptive of the confiscation and dispossession of families from their homes and property.)
On July 9, 1945 Prime Minister Rákosi speaking at a gathering of the Land Reform Commission loudly stressed that the Swabians could not be expelled for some time until the Communists and Social Democrats had enough votes in parliament to do so. “We want to make the will of the Hungarian farmers a reality and as we all know their will is: “Out of the country with the Swabian betrayers of our Fatherland!””
From the time of the restoration of Hungary following the expulsion of the Turks, Gyönk was an ethnic German and Hungarian village and in our case this so-called wish on the part of all Hungarians was simply not the case. Living in peaceful harmony was the only way to describe the relationships between our two peoples. This situation changed radically with the arrival of those who were settled between the two groups and rivalry and conflicts emerged that were unashamedly directed against the ethnic Germans and their deteriorating situation.
The decree #12330/1945 ordering the expulsion upset many in our community but did not apply to many. As mentioned in previous chapters the strategic carrying out of the ordinance was directed at the regions of the country that were considered most problematic: the region Budapest, Western Hungary and the larger towns and cities rather than the agricultural communities in Swabian Turkey. Gyönk was an example of that. The Commission established by the Minister of the Interior compiled the list of names of those to be deported. The leaders of the community were naturally involved in this process. With the appearance of the expulsion regulations the issues around the former politics of the ethnic Germans or their proof of loyalty to Hungary were suddenly of little or no consequence. The inhabitants that had never been members of the Volksbund or had SS soldiers in their families were obligated to give shelter to the families who had been dispossessed of their homes.
There is little correspondence in the archives between officials in Gyönk with the authorities in Szekszárd in 1946. Eyewitnesses from among the generation that lived through these experiences and the documents that are available indicate there was a large-scale migration of settlers from Orosháza in eastern Hungary. Those carrying out the Land Reform programme noted that there were not enough Hungarian “takers” in some of the ethnic German villages and in response the officials called on those in the neighbouring Hungarian villages to resettle on ethnic German property. There were families like those from Tolna Némedi who came to Gyönk. The Land Reform Laws set an inner migration in Hungary into motion because it addressed a basic existential question. In Orosháza the local newspaper reported that in the southern districts of Trans Danubia the houses of the Swabians stood empty and the fields were not being cultivated because the population had been expelled. As a result many families from Orosháza inquired about getting land. All of the requests could not be met because the confiscated land was only made available to day labourers who had children. It is quite understandable why so many came in search of land. The newspaper reported: “Their poverty led many young families to respond.”
“In May 1946 we set out in our open wagons and our destination was Szakadát. In Keszöhidegkút where the train station for the area is located our surprise was great because the hilly landscape and fields was something unknown to us. The German dialect was foreign to us. When we arrived in Szakadát we noticed immediately that there were no empty houses for us to occupy. The ethnic German people were awaiting their re-settlement and were all residing in the houses and had no idea when they would be leaving. At first we were put up in the haylofts and stables. Our situation was sorrowful and for that reason the men went to speak to the District officials in Szekszárd. They returned with their assurance that we were all to be assigned houses and land. In Gyönk all of the ethnic Germans were still living in theirs. We were constantly surprised by the false information we were given.” Susanne Szábo a would-be settler wrote this.
A decree from the Settlement Commission for Tolna County on June 5, 1946 ordered the immediate resettlement of 57 families from Orosháza living in Szakadát to Gyönk. They would be accommodated within the property of those who were obviously going to be expelled. Their taking over of the houses and property would take place upon their arrival. The ordinance was changed by the Land Reform Commission in such a way that the families from Orosháza acted on their own. Living in the same house as well as forcing ethnic German families to live together with other ethnic German families brought on a lot of irritation.
A Mrs. Schmidt relates that she was simply no longer allowed to go into her house as she and her husband returned home from working out in the fields. The new settler who settled in while they were out stood at the door and would not let them enter. What recourse or alternative did they have? They moved in with her aunt. It happened so quickly. At night they went up to the house and sneaked into the cellar to get a few potatoes and some of the laundry. Bad blood between the new settlers and former residents and the relations between the two nationalities in the village deteriorated.
Only a few of the families from Orosháza would remain in Gyönk. Mrs. Schmidt further relates: “Our rather adventurous Telepes (Translator’s Note: This term is pronounced Telepesh and is a Hungarian euphemism for “colonist” that the Swabians used throughout Swabian Turkey to describe the unwelcome newcomers in their mids.) used up all they were given on settling in Gyönk and then sold the house, all of its furnishings and then moved on. Working in the fields and farm life was not to their liking. They did not really know how to farm.” We cannot simply generalize and say that about all of them for some were industrious and thrifty and they found a new home in our community. For example we end this subject with some more words from Mrs. Schmidt.
“We looked at our house every day with sorrowful and heavy hearts as we saw how run down, dirty and unloved it looked. This settler family from Tolna Némedi did not take care of anything. For a short time they were able to live well here made possible by our former efforts and hard work. They took the doors off the hinges, tore out the windows and the house looked pathetic. My husband and I were of the mind to buy it back once our situation improved. During the harvest we earned a lot and raised some pigs in order to buy back our house again. We paid for a wagon so that he could leave town because he didn’t have enough money to be able to move out of Gyönk.” (Translator’s Note: One has to shake one’s head in retrospect but at the same time recognize the basic grit and determination of the ethnic Germans of Hungary who just never give up.)
In September of the next year several ethnic Hungarian families from Slovakia came to our village. They were not part of an organized resettlement they had simply crossed the border into Hungary and escaped from the deportations that their government was carrying out. Johann Heidt relates that his house was taken over during the harvesting of the grapes in his vineyard. They brought the wine home and found the Slovak Magyars sitting on their porch. They immediately took the wine away and the Heidt family had to leave their house.
In the year 1947 the majority of the ethnic Germans of Gyönk were treated badly. The new powers that be in the community made life difficult for them in many respects. On one occasion they set up a gallows in the centre of the village to frighten the ethnid German population and said that the Swabians would be hanged for their crimes. It was now obvious to most that in light of the political situation what the future might hold for them was precarious with the arrival of a great number of ethnic Hungarian families from Slovakia. Most of them came from Zsitvabesenyö, Perbete, Megyercs and Ėrsekúvar.
At this time the trains were already transporting ethnic German deportees out of the neighbouring villages. Whenever there was extra room in one of the cattle cars some families in Gyönk were taken by surprise unable to prepare or take anything with them and were simply taken to the railway station to join the others. On the basis of archival records from July 28, 1947 there were six persons from Kurd who were included in one of the deportee transports heading for Germany in this manner. Three people from Gyönk were held back because of health considerations that would prevent them from surviving the journey. Similar events took place during the deportation at the railway station at Szakály-Högyész. Approximately ten families from Gyönk were forced to entrain there because one cattle car was unoccupied. A list containing twenty-three names of those from Szakály-Högyész had been scheduled to be deported to Germany indicates they had been exempted at the last minute and needed to be replaced. Mrs. Müller and her family sat in the cattle car for the whole day before the veterinarian from Gyönk Dr. Zsemlye for whom she worked could arrange for her and her family to be spared. This was perhaps due to the fact that this was not a planned or organized expulsion. It was simply a random stopgap method to fill the trains. In September 1947 the authorities deported ten more families who were only taken as far as Austria. Some of them came back.
The confiscation of property and dispossession of families was set in motion in August of 1946 and continued to the end of the expulsions in May 1948. The orders for the expulsion were put into effect as of October 28, 1947 #12200/1947. In terms of Gyönk at that time the vast majority of the ethnic German population had not been expelled but many families were living together and had to work for others to earn enough to survive and live among those who would be allowed to remain. In light of the new regulations ethnic Germans who had claimed German as their mother tongue in the census but had given Hungarian as their nationality would be exempt if they had not been members of the Volksbund nor had volunteered to serve in the SS and had not changed their names back to its original German form. There were 500 persons who had been listed who qualified under these conditions. The second group consisted of the family members of the heads of households who had qualified for the exemption. The third group consisted of those whose deportation would create economic difficulties to the community because of their skills or profession. That, however, excluded Volksbund members and those that served in the SS. A fourth group were the heads of households who were landless. The fifth group that was listed consisted of those who had claimed German as their mother tongue and ethnic German as their nationality. The confiscation of their property was ordered but those who continued to possess their homes and land were allowed to retain ten Katasral Joch of their land along with their house and garden.
All of the above lists were posted publicly in the community centre in March 1947. The filing of a petition for exemption would have to be addressed to the National Commission. The entire ethnic German population experienced the emotional upset this created because families, relatives and friends were going to be forced to be separated from one another. The Swabians who were scheduled for deportation were driven to the train station in Keszöhidegkút on March 24, 1948. They had to leave their home community on board wagons with teams of horses or oxen and other vehicles that were provided. Taking leave of the children and their parents was interspersed with loud weeping and crying from one end of the village to the other. A long column of wagons took the Germans to the train station. An exceptionally long line of railway cars was assembled on the rear tracks at the station. There were policemen stationed around the boxcars to guard the convoy. Members of the National Commission were present who could validate any of the exemptions that had been granted. At the last moment the plundering began by the local communists as the people were being entrained. The reason given was that they were not permitted to take as much as they had brought with them.
Forty to fifty persons were jammed into each boxcar. Relatives brought a noon meal to the station or they ate the food they had brought with them. Mrs. Müller reports that she was not permitted to give the food to her parents and siblings personally instead the police conveyed the food to them. On the day the train left she was not allowed to hand over food for them because by that time the doors of the box cars had been locked. They did not know exactly where they were being taken knowing only that their destination was Germany. The train loaded with expellees stood at the station for two days. The Commission responsible for ordering the train to leave had carried out a final inspection the night before. Alongside the road into Keszöhidegkút there was a small manor in which the people spent their last night. The authorities took control of the railway station building for themselves. After another day of waiting at the railway station the Commission released several persons before the train got underway. There are some documents with names and notations with several names stricken but there is no factual information in the archives of the actual persons who were onboard the train from Gyönk and so the number involved can only be estimated at about 500 persons who were taken to the processing camp at Pirna in Saxony on the border with Czechoslovakia in the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany.
This final chapter concludes with a poem from the times associated with the expulsion that were reputed to have been scrawled on the outside of one of the box cars containing families from Gyönk at the time that the train left the railway station:
“We wish the best to you,
Live happily beautiful land of Hungary.
You have now become our ruin.
You gave our ancestors
A wilderness to cultivate
And for our toils and troubles
You have reduced us to beggary.”
With the expulsion the almost three hundred year history of half of the ethnic Germans in Hungary comes to an end but the individual fate of each of those affected in war torn Germany is another chapter to be written. They now live scattered throughout the world or remain in a new and now unified Germany. The area around Darmstadt and Griesheim in our former homeland in Hesse and the District of Dosern in Saxony are the major concentration points of our deportees in their new homeland.