Contributed by Henry A. Fischer
Gerenyes is a small village with some one hundred and twenty houses, the majority of which were those of Swabian Lutherans (380) while the minority were Roman Catholic Magyars. The two nationalities took turns in electing a Richter. Each group maintained their own language and customs.
In October 1944 large numbers of refugees treks passed through the village consisting primarily of Danube Swabians from the Batschka in Yugoslavia. Some remained for up to two weeks because there was enough room for them and their horses. They helped us with the harvest and then were told to move on. As they left they wept and told their hosts to remain at home and not take to the roads as they had done, it was something they now regretted. Little did they know of what was just over the horizon for us.
The leave taking was sad and we no longer considered a flight. But a few of the villagers joined the evacuation afraid to risk staying. Some of the youth of the village were taken to Komlo to work in the coalmines. In this way they were able to avoid recruitment into the Waffen-SS and after the occupation of Komlo by the Russians they were sent home in December.
Few Russians came to the village because it was of the beaten track. The village Richter brought any news of the outside world to the villager’s attention. Accompanied by the Klein Richter they went about the village streets to the beating of drums to make his announcement and get everyone’s attention.
When drumbeats were heard on the day after Christmas 1944 everyone realized that it must be something important to interrupt their Christmas celebrations. All women born in the years from 1914-1926 and all men born from 1900-1927 were ordered to report and register for labour in Sasd. Some were immediately taken by wagon to the town that was nine kilometres distant. Rumours spread that they were being taken to Pecs for fourteen days to build an airstrip. Some, however, smelled a rat and went into hiding (including the writer and her brother.) They hid in an old abandoned cellar about half an hour away from the village. Their mother came to them by night and told them that if they did not report and register their house and barn would be put to the torch. Both of them refused to go home. On the third morning their mother arrived breathless and in tears. She reported that their father had been taken in their place and she had to look after the cattle and farm all by herself. Her brother said they should return in order to release their father who was an old man and they were younger and stronger.
As they arrived at the place of assembly, their father and all women who were pregnant or had a child under the age of three were released along with the village schoolmaster, Mr. Neubauer, although his daughter was kept back with the others.
On the same day, it was December 27, 1944 at 19h all of the assembled people left on foot. They marched four in a row with Russians guards behind and beside them. Bundles with feather ticks, clothes and food were brought by wagon. They marched all night until 4h in the morning. They finally rested outside of Pecs, which meant they had marched for 36 kilometres without a rest. After an hour’s rest they marched to Lakiscsalaktanya. They were imprisoned in a stable. Straw was spread on the frozen manure and the men and women were packed together there for several days. There were about three hundred of them. It was the assembly camp for the area. They received no food. Families and friends came and brought them food and drink. They remained there for thirteen days and in to the new year of 1945 but were not required to do any work. That surprised them.
Each day they were called up for roll call in groups of 40 persons. The guards had noted that there had been some who had escaped and as a result relatives were no longer allowed to visit or contact them.
On January 10th they were taken to the railway station in Pecs. The cattle cars were standing waiting for their cargo. This was goodbye for some forever. There were only Swabians in our group. No Magyars were deported with us. Our mother had come to bring us more supplies but she was prevented from doing so. The guards would not allow anyone near the prisoners or the cattle cars. Most had to return home still bearing the provisions they had brought. To this day many of the survivors thank God for those women who managed to get by the guards and handed provisions to those in the cattle cars. Some bribed the soldiers, but most had to stand back and see their loved ones from a distance and for the last time.
One woman fainted on board the cattle car and was removed and able to remain behind. Only later would the others discover that a good friend had given her a cigarette, which had led to her fainting spell.
Thirty-six persons were packed into each cattle car. The train passed through Vasarosdombo in the vicinity of Gerenyes and they saw it speed by through the small high windows in the cattle car. They dropped notes out of the window hoping that their families would get them. None did.
In Dombovar the train halted for the first time. The man in charge of the car was a good man and left the door open and said, “When the train starts up and goes slowly jump off here and head for home.” No one dared to do it. They travelled on to Baja. The women were taken across the Danube by ferry and the men remained behind. They had already separated the men and women from Gerenyes. They all spent the cold night out of doors on both sides of the Danube.
There were numerous Russian soldiers all around them. They were able to start a fire to warm themselves. One told them to escape but most were concerned about male members of their family on the other bank of the Danube. The night was so cold that the fire did not last and the soldiers took shelter in their quarters. By morning the women’s dresses were frozen. They huddled together with one another and their bundles and packs. Early in the morning the men were ferried across the river. We were then taken to the railway station in Baja and loaded in cattle cars again. They were packed like herring. On one end were the women and teenage girls from Gerenyes and on the other were those from Jagolak. The women and girls from Gerenyes felt fortunate that they were able to remain together. There were fifteen of them in all. In the centre of the car a hole had been drilled to serve as a toilet. There was also a small stove to take the bite off of the cold. They could no longer leave the car. At night the train went faster and they were afraid that the stove propped on rocks would tip over and start a fire. In daytime the train would often stand on a siding for hours and we hoped that the Russians would get frustrated and turn around and take us home.
We did not want to believe that the war was lost and that somehow the German army would rescue us. Our hopes were to be dashed. On our way, one or two men or women were allowed to get water at stops along the way but always accompanied by guards. The food they were given was meagre and badly prepared. People began to share their remaining provisions with one another. They were separated from the men from Gerenyes and had no idea of where they were in terms of the long line of cattle cars. The train passed through Romania and when it stood still at sidings, the local Transylvanian Saxon populations would sneak food to the prisoners. They knew where they were going because their own young people had already been taken a week before.
The transport arrived in Russia on February 2, 1945 crossing the border at Nepropetrovskie. The train then went on to Dombas in Ukraine and reached their ultimate destination there on February 4, 1945.
They were placed in barracks that were warm and empty. They made up beds on the floor with their feather ticks as they had on the train. They were relieved that the trip was finally over and they could rest.
There were six large barracks surrounded by a wire fence. The first barrack was the hospital. Next to it was a women’s barrack, men were in the third and fourth and then the kitchen and another women’s barrack. Every barrack had an officer and interpreter.
The women had Anna Mueller from Csikostottos as their interpreter. The officer was Jerilow and spoke some German. He suffered from a head wound and was often “not there.” The prisoners were not mistreated or abused. So everyone anticipated to be passing through this “episode” in his or her lives.
Their first task was to build bunk beds in all of the barracks with two above and two below. The Gerenyes people bunked together and pooled all of their food and Anna Zarth did the cooking and all of the others called her “mother” because she was the oldest. The food from the camp kitchen offered little nourishment. Only three of the men from Gerenyes were in the camp. The others were somewhere else including the writer’s brother.
On April 15th they all reported for work detail, most of the men and women were sent to work in the mines. Many of the Gerenyes people worked in the sawmill. They unloaded the timber, had to cut it and had to drag the filled wagons of logs into the mine. Constant heavy work with little nourishment became to take its toll. They worked in three shifts, seven days a week. Every ten days shifts were changed. When loads of logs arrived all of them had to unload them if it was their shift or not. On the whole the Russians were not bad to them and encouraged them with promises that they would be going home soon.
But months became years. Rations were poor and in 1946 there was famine in all of Russia. Then came typhus and the pests of lice, bedbugs etc. Many died of hunger and typhus. Married women became frightened when their menstrual flow ceased, but the young teenage girls found the same thing happening to them.
In May 1946 some of the Gerenyes people were assigned to collective farms and other outside work. The writer was separated from her brother again and he was just getting over having typhus. She asked for permission to say goodbye to her brother and after their tearful farewell she was allowed to remain at the camp.
There was no mail from home. It was only on June 2, 1946 that they heard from their parents for the first time. Her barracks was next to the hospital and saw the countless numbers of dead being taken out for burial.
The first group of those who were being released was finally organized. Only those who were sick and starving were eligible. Two of the three teenage boys from Gerenyes were included: the Maerz and Schleier boys. In 1947 the food provisions were somewhat improved and there were fewer deaths.
In a letter one of the deportees received on August 23, 1946 the survivors from Gerenyes learned of their family’s plight at home: the confiscation of all of their property making them homeless and a loss of citizenship and in constant fear of deportation to Russia themselves. Gerenyes was no longer their home. There lived strangers there now.
In February 1947 the second transport left Russia including one of the married women from Gerenyes. Many sent letters home with her but she had to leave her sister behind. They had just learned that their father had fallen in the war. Meanwhile the writer’s brother was in hospital again. He could not survive the journey back home. By now TB had set in and there was simply no medication available. He died on May 16, 1947 and was buried on the same day.
By the end of 1947 those who had survived were simply skin and bones and had no strength left.
The following June another a transport of those unable to work was put together. Four married women and one teenage girl from Gerenyes were included.
On May 11, 1948 the vast majority of the Swabian population of Gerenyes was expelled from Hungary. The author’s parents were included. The first news she heard was in October 1948 from Germany where her parents awaited her…some day. At least she had an address.
In 1948 all of those from among the longest surviving prisoners were released including those who were sick. Three married women from Gerenyes were released at this time. When they arrived in Germany all three women discovered that their husbands had died as prisoners of war in Russia. Only two of the men from Gerenyes in the other camp had survived and were released. One of the mothers who remained in the camp died in a mining accident and unknown to her at the time, her husband had been killed at the front.
In 1949 the camp was dismantled and the inmates were sent to work in various places. Soon at the end of another year, with the most of the Gerenyes people gone home the days and nights became longer and longer for those still left in Russia. The young author was sent to the camp in Gorlowka and here she met a married woman from Gerenyes who worked in the kitchen with her.
Five weeks later they were taken to an assembly camp at Stalino. Cattle cares were stuffed with people and sent across Romania to Hungary. The married woman was in one of them.
The writer now reports, “In the end of the 11th of November all of us who had requested to be sent to Germany now had their turn. We were loaded on board of cattle cars and crossed over into Poland for the Russian Zone of Germany. We arrived during night of November 19/20 in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. The bells of the churches in the city began to ring to announce to the city that some more late arrivals from Russia had come. All kinds of people came to the train station to meet us. The Red Cross was there to assist us. Finally we received our release documents along with 50 East Marks. Now each person could go and seek to find their family and we did.”
The author requested to remain anonymous.