Alexanderhausen
Banat

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School Days in the 1940's & 1950's
by Helene Schuch
Translated from Ref. [2] by Diana Lambing

When I came back to Alexanderhausen from the Serbian camp, school had already begun. I went to a Romanian school as German was not taught in 1945. Apart from ‘thank you’, ‘good morning’ and ‘dog’, I couldn’t speak a word of Romanian, and nor could my mother, my grandparents nor most of the rural people. Nevertheless, things went very well at school, although it has never been explained to this day how a lesson could take place when the couple teaching could not speak a word of German and, as mentioned, the schoolchildren could speak no Romanian. Our fellow Romanian pupils couldn’t speak German either. From the second year on, we had additional lessons in German for a couple of hours in the afternoons. The German teacher, Frau Grawisch, was still very young and came from Alexanderhausen.

We went to school together with the colonist children, but I don’t remember spending any free time with them, except for the Headmaster’s children who had not come as settlers but as followers of them. When I reached the fourth year (the 1948 school reform), German lessons were introduced to our village, too, although unfortunately only for the first four years. The children whose parents could afford to do so, e.g. families where the father had returned, could attend schools in the larger villages like Billed, Bogarosch or Perjamosch, where lessons were in German from the fifth to seventh years.

Our school, although in a small village of about 470 houses, had a large schoolyard where the boys could play football. There were also two tall climbing frames connected by a balcony (it was also used as a goal for football), and other gymnastic apparatus, as well as a volleyball court where ‘Völkerball’ was also played.

Different education methods were in force in those days. Even today I feel sorry for my fellow pupils who didn’t learn much either because they couldn’t or because they had to go to work and didn’t have time to learn anything. So they were punished. Even though I managed to avoid punishment most of the time there was one occasion when my hands had thick red weals on them. I had forgotten my needlework one day in the second or third year. So I was caned on the hands even though I would have needed only five minutes to go and fetch the missing item. It was the only caning I ever got. This was in the Romanian school and the teacher was the wife of the headmaster. Such methods were not used by our German teachers any more after 1945.

Then there was the time when infectious illnesses were rife. We itched. This was a skin infection, often on the hands, which spread easily. Before the bell rang for class, we had to check our colleagues’ hands and fingernails to see whether they were clean, as many of the children came from less civilized parts of the country. I think these good measures were also thanks to our German teachers. Head lice were also common and these were easily transmitted. My young cousin had them once. Grandma sat there with a very thick comb made of horn and combed the insects out, but the eggs (called ‘nits’) had to be removed, too, so the hair was washed in paraffin. I was so ashamed as people could smell it.

When I was in the fourth year (1948), lessons were then officially in German, but only up to the fourth year in Alexanderhausen. We had a very good form teacher - Hans Grawisch. One day, a sandwich was lying on the floor. None of us bent down to pick it up. When it was still lying there after the break, we all had to write 100 times, ‘You do not find bread on the street’, which certainly made an impression on not only me. Shower cubicles were also installed so we could shower at school. I don’t know of any house which had a bath with running water at that time.

A small store was set up in the school during break where we could buy any necessary school equipment from the pupil who had just been put in charge. This was a good idea as we learned to deal with money at the same time.

At that time it was compulsory to attend school for seven years. Many children had to work, even though we lived under a socialist regime and child labour is only equated with capitalism.

As money was tight in many homes, we children also used to earn a couple of pennies. During school holidays after the fourth year we would go collecting sugar beet. We left home on foot at six in the morning and got back at six in the evening. We had to do other work, like digging and sorting onions and other such things, on the State farms when we were children. Later on I also did other work in the fields during the summer holidays and it was hard work. So I’m not surprised that agriculture took a downturn once there was no self-interest left.

Higher Education

After the seventh school year, one could go on to higher education. Many of school friends went on to technical college, vocational school or high school. In our 1987 monograph there were accounts about some of these schools and their graduates. Of course, the generation immediately after the war also went to some of the Romanian higher education schools as they had not been fortunate enough to go to many Volksschule classes. So some Alexanderhauseners achieved the Abitur Certificate which was equal to the Matura Certificate. As I don’t know all the names of those graduates from our village, I will just list a few of these Romanian schools: The Music School; Textile Middle School (also had a German section); Statistics Middle School (this was dissolved but our fellow countrymen managed to take their exams elsewhere); Boys’ Lyceum ‘Victor Babes’ etc. Apart from the High Schools, there were schools which would only accept people with a Matura, which some Alexanderhauseners attended.

But back to my memories. In 1952 I had to go to Temeschburg to look for a school for myself as my mother could only speak little Romanian. I had only been there two or three times before. As I had very good marks I was offered a place in the Girls’ Lyceum (previously Carmen Silva) without taking an entrance exam. In the first year we still had a male Physics teacher, otherwise all the teachers were female teachers and we had a headmistress. On our graduation photograph there are 15 teachers and 35 graduates. There was also a boarding house (Internat) which was not expensive. We had to get up at a set time and queue for breakfast. We had to work a rota in the kitchen as we received breakfast, sandwiches, a midday meal and supper. We were taught in the classrooms, which were free after 2 p.m. We had to observe set breaks in the afternoons, too, when we were given good, fresh bread, which could be taken into the classroom, and anything that we had brought from home to go with it. We were only allowed to walk around the schoolyard and we were only allowed into the living quarters in closed groups after supper (7 p.m.) Anyone who wanted to study longer could come into the dormitory with the later group at 9 p.m.. No lights were allowed in the dormitories after 10 p.m.

We were often all punished if one of us had done something wrong. Then we would not be allowed to go home to visit our parents, or to the dances which were organized in the schools. We could also be grounded on Saturday and Sunday as punishment as only on these days and at certain times were we allowed to leave the boarding school. We also had to wear a uniform of dark blue cotton with a white collar and an armband with the name of the school and our personal number. If we were caught in town doing something wrong, or in the evening for those who didn’t board, we could be reported. In the beginning no hair perms were allowed either. An offence could lead to being expelled from the school. Of course, the boys didn’t stand for this as much as the girls did. So, in the boys’ school, where my future husband was, there would be acts of defiance. For example, they simply walked out of school because the classrooms weren’t heated. They even took things so far that the female Russian teacher walked out of class one day, never to be seen again. And this was 1953!

Looking back, I feel that the strict school rules were very reasonable as they led to very few people committing criminal offences or becoming addicts.

The school had a large library with many German classics amongst the books (a joy for such a bookworm as I!) Friendships were forged there which are still strong to this day, regardless of nationality. We were three friends, two of whom just happened to be German and the third Hungarian, but we got on with all the others, too, and the hatred which the dispossession of the Germans in favour of the Romanians had caused, was not noticed at school. I’ve just remembered our really old pedagogue whom some of us had to support. We had two large dormitories, each for 40 - 50 people, and behind them was another dormitory for the Textile Middle School. Every week, some of us were put on duty to make sure lights were put out promptly and to check beds and rooms in the mornings (just like in the army).

Books were often brought into the boarding school and were passed around - some were even forbidden, like Agatha Christie. In an area in the big room divided off by partition walls there were wash basins and wardrobes along the walls. It was forbidden to keep any food in these cupboards, but as it happened anyway, there were mice. I can still see myself sitting in the room, reading ‘The Count of Monte Christo’ with the mice dancing around. There were only windows looking out onto the courtyard and not into the dormitory. I never got caught. I can also remember the first showers very well. It was a room with about 20 - 30 showers and we poor embarrassed children from the villages had to strip completely. Even though we were only girls we were very timid. Yes, times have certainly changed a lot. These days nudity and mixed saunas are taken for granted.

A particular memory comes to mind from this era. We were called into the great hall and the death of Stalin was announced. Some of our colleagues really cried. Some of them would have never been able to go to such a school previously as their parents were very poor. We only learned later about the evil side of this man.

During the following student years, events in other countries also affected us. At the time, not everyone who was clever was allowed to study. It depended on the parents. If your father was a priest (Orthodox priests had to get married and have a family) or had possessed a few acres more before being dispossessed, then the children were not allowed to study. There were cases when such students were thrown out of High School after the fourth to sixth semesters. You could only get a scholarship if you achieved above average marks in the exams. For special achievements you received more.

Whereas before the war most youngsters from the villages were trained to take over the farm or for a trade, now parents wanted to give their children something which could not be taken away from them. And so many more of the farmers’ children went on to higher education. In order to be allowed to study there were two possibilities at the time: Either you had only the highest mark (5) in all subjects, in which case you were automatically awarded a place; or else you took entrance exams in several subjects (oral and written) such as Mathematics, Physics, Romanian and Russian, depending on subject area.

At the end of each semester there were exams in all subjects. Those who failed half of the exams, plus one, in the first year lost their study place. With the scholarship you could board and would also receive meal vouchers, i.e. full board, and there was a bit of pocket money left, too. In the second year we slept 20 to a room (1956/57). This was great fun. As there wasn’t enough room to study in the boarding house, we used the High School library rooms instead. There, you could borrow the necessary books for the day at the same time. During the term there was room; only when exams were due did things become hectic. Out of us 20 students, two or three had to queue daily at six in the morning to be at the front of the row at 7 a.m. Then the doors were opened and only those who could run the fastest and aim their satchels and books well enough, would get hold of a place. Many will think back to those days with a smile, but at the time, keeping your study place depended on it, as without passing that semester’s exams you were out. You could only re-sit exams for the whole year (two semesters), and this only once with special permission. In the second year we had another 20 or so colleagues who had failed. We also lost quite a few after the first semester, especially Germans who had had all their schooling in German and who now found it hard dealing with subjects in Romanian. During the last years we were given the opportunity of studying in the empty classrooms. I still have a picture of us begging for water as it was often the case that the water pressure couldn’t reach the top floor. Of course, there were no washing machines, only a big wash room. There, we could wash by hand. The showers were in the same room.

Amongst the 20 of us in the large dormitory, which was close to the High School, was the daughter of an ex-General who, together with her boyfriend, belonged to a certain group which we did not know about. And so one evening we learned with amazement that an uprising against the communist regime would take place in Hungary, and in Romania too, students had gathered for a meeting to push for certain improvements. Under this cover, the said group wanted to take things further. That evening in the refectory support was expressed and this was enough to send some of them to prison for seven or eight years. This was communist democracy. One hears tell that some of them never re-appeared. The said female student was in mechanical engineering and thereby lost her study place. Her fiancée was sentenced to seven years in prison. I’d put this story down to fantasy at the time, but lo and behold, when I got up next morning our first colleagues were returning, as the exit doors were watched and we were grounded. This resulted in all the windows suddenly filling with girls’ heads and now we could see how our unwitting male colleagues, hurrying to their lessons, were being caught on the street and put into trucks. This is how they wanted to prevent unrest, as an uprising had broken out in Hungary. Now, the boarding house was in the centre of Temeswar and all at once with one voice there was a shout, “We want the boys!”. Within a quarter of an hour we, too, were taken off in trucks as the soldiers had already been mobilized. We couldn’t see where they were taking us. We ended up in the soldiers’ barracks which were situated on the Hungarian border at the time. We were kept like prisoners. We didn’t know where we were and only at night were we able to go and eat in the canteen. Our parents didn’t know where we were. Luckily, many parents only heard about it after the event. And now, loyal Party members and colleagues kept coming to try and make us sign a piece of paper under threat. Deeds were denounced and condemned therein of which we knew nothing. Nobody signed. A few days later, when the rebellion in Hungary had been suppressed, we were taken back. Interrogations went on long afterwards.

 

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Last updated: October 27 2014