Memories from Gakowa
Hello, my name is Katherine Flotz and
these are my memories from Gakowa in Batschka.
was written in 1954, when I was 18 years old and
had just graduated from High School. I had
been in the USA only five years. During
that time, I learned English and wanted to write
down my experiences during the 1944-1949 years
text is not perfect and could be improved upon now.
However, I wanted to leave it as I wrote it at that
is meant to be a factual accounting of my life
during that period of time. It is meant for my
children, my grandchildren, family and friends.
Anyone else who finds it interesting is welcome to
am married now and have three children and five
grandchildren. It is for them that this story
TRADITION AND BACKGROUND
OF THE SCHWABEN
Gakowa, a small farming town on the Hungarian border,
brings back terrifying experiences of a concentration
camp where almost twenty thousand people were thrown
together like herds of animals for reasons nobody knew.
Nearly two hundred years ago, people from the Black
Forest region of Germany settled in the northern part of
what is now called Yugoslavia. These people's ingenuity
found an outlet and they cleared the land, which then
was mostly wilderness, and created a soil that was to be
the pride of the "Batschka." Most everyone was a
farmer, except for a few carpenters, shoemakers,
tailors, doctors, etc. who took care of the other needs
of the people. Of course, there was no use for
electricians, plumbers, repair men, etc., since luxuries
of a modern world did not exist in this area.
The "Donauschwaben" were a people who had customs and
music, traditions and adages, that set them apart from
others. In the twentieth century, some modern trends
crept in and commodities like electricity and later
telephones were used; although there are approximately
only five telephones in the whole town.
The building of a new house was like the gathering of a
family clan. The few professionals were multiplied with
helping hands of relatives, neighbors and friends.
Snake-like forms wound from the brick pile to the spot
where the brick was needed. In such a line were
produced and retold funny sayings, legends and gossip,
and the folk songs rang out to the delight of all. When
the scent of hot bread and "goulash" reached the
nostrils of those happy helpers, however, the half-built
walls were soon left behind and Grandmother's round
table resembled a wreath of eager, hungry heads. The
food, of course, whet a thirst for that red Danube wine,
which was the harvest of Grandfather's vineyard.
Everyone is proud of their birthplace. If one isn't,
one ought to be. No matter how much better another
country is, the natural instinct demands love for your
homeland. The place where your crib once stood, and
your ancestors left marks of prosperity; where the eye
sees only beauty in the fields and farms that are
yours. You see the fruitful labor in the tall, proud
corn acres as well as security at the sight of a
waltzing wheat field. You experience the tragedy of a
poor harvest, only because it belongs to you. The
fruitful years that follow give you more courage and
ambition, pride and love for your land, your town and
My pride and home was Gakowa. It was, in my opinion,
the nicest little town in the Batschka. It could, of
course, not compare with big cities like Chicago or New
York, but was like a pearl in a chest of treasure - a
perfect haven of happiness.
A beautiful church graced the main street in honor of
St. Martin, helper of the poor. At the north end of the
town stood a chapel to St. Anthony. I can still
remember as we knelt at numerous devotions in the
twilight of a summer day. In back of the chapel widened
a prairie, which the soccer ball players used to play our
The beautifully decorated cemetery rested at the south
edge of town. On main street, huge homes followed one
another. Trees of all sorts towered like watchdogs over
the sidewalks. Another factor that added to the beauty
of the landscape was the cleanliness. On Saturday
afternoons, everyone was out to sweep the sidewalks.
The yards, sizeable enough to build a second house,
presented a picture of restfulness as everything was put
in its proper place.
The places where "Gemuetlichkeit" - (jolly atmosphere)
reigned, were found in the nearest "Gasthaus" (tavern).
Food was usually not served since most of the customers
were natives. Red-checkered tablecloths covered the
huge tables, where the art of playing cards was
perfected. As a matter of fact, it resembled a
restaurant in America, -- large, friendly rooms with
colorful decorations - but only liquor was on the menu.
Dance music, which to me is the most delightful, charmed
young and old on Sunday nights. Hot chestnuts and
homemade pretzels fed the onlookers, who watched the
dancers. Of course, there is nothing anywhere like our
Danube wine, which flowed in quantity and inspired many
a stunt that enriched our legends.
Weddings were the most elaborate of ceremonies. A week
before the matrimonial event, the relatives gathered to
make preparations. That, in itself, could be called a
feast. Of course, the many kinds of pastry, cake and
other goodies were sampled in advance. The wedding wine
could not be put on the table without the consent of the
samplers, who tested the alcohol beverage beforehand.
Gaiety and laughter reigned in the house of the bride,
when late into the night friends came helping.
On the wedding day, things got under way early. The
couple, joined by the flower girls and ring bearer,
followed the brass band leading to church. All the
guests were close behind. After Mass and the exchange
of vows, the celebration started. The dinner was
preceded with the recitation of an appropriate verse,
the drinking of a toast, and the breaking of the
In the early afternoon, the dance band started to play
and the first dance honored the couple and immediate
family. From then on the fun began and joyful singing
and dancing filled the enormous hall.
By evening, another dinner was prepared and once again
we indulged in luscious food. The festivities continued
all night into the next day. About midnight, some of
the boys and girls disguised themselves in old clothes
and painted their faces. It was anybody's guess as to
who their dancing partner was.
The next day, the guests came to the house of the bride
and celebrated more. A favorite custom among the boys
was "bride stealing". If the groom failed to hold on to
his bride, she was stolen by one of the guests and had
to be "bought back". Sometimes, the couple's way was
blocked with barriers. For each amount of money the
groom threw out, one barrier would be removed. Thus,
the new husband had quite a few expenses, even before
his married life had actually begun.
Each town had its own customs, which made it interesting
to listen to the old people, who had been invited to
many out of town weddings.
In Gakowa, birthdays were remembered only by
coincidence. The main celebration of individuals was
their Namesday. Saints like St. Katherine, St. Barbara,
St. Nickolaus, St. Michael etc. were honored duly
because many people were so named. On some occasions
the brass band even came to serenade.
The dish, which was considered best of all on feasts,
was fish soup. It might sound dull and unappetizing,
but believe me, it is one of superb flavor and is among
our national dishes. Fish is cut into cubes and cooked
among lots of diced onions, colored with paprika,
spiced with vinegar and wine. Afterwards, homemade
noodles and hot bread added solidity to the liquid
preparation and was ready to be a sure delight of all.
During the winter months, another opportunity for
pleasant expectation was the "Schlachtfest"
(slaughtering of a pig). Again neighbors came helping
to put the animal permanently to sleep and draw from it
the year's supply of food. Sides of bacon cut up and
fried resulted in a vast amount of fat. Hams and
sausages hung temptingly in the pantry, and dinner that
day was one of the best of the whole year, for fresh
meat in itself was a delicacy to us.
I believe, because of the love and helpfulness with
which everything was done, the Batschka and Gakowa
reaped the harvest of harmony.
An annual religious, as well as recreational custom, was
"Kirchweih" (the anniversary of the dedication of our
church). Solemn High Mass and Devotions marked the
religious activities, and for amusement, the carnival
was a yearly attraction. The dance hall was usually
filled at night and the brassy tunes of the band lured
young and old until the early dawn.
The carnival was something unusual for us, since only
once a year at "Kirchweih" we could try out the
different rides and eat candy and popcorn. Relatives
from neighboring villages often came to visit at that
time to share in the celebration. A thorough cleaning
of the house, stables and yard, as well as the front
site of the house, which usually was painted white,
took place in anticipation of the event. Foods were
prepared and many cakes and pastry awaited any visitors
that happened to drop in to sample the Kirchweih wine.
Underground cellars served as the refrigerators and also
as a storage for the wine. Almost everyone kept a
barrel in stock; some, who had vineyards, made the wine
themselves; others, bought it from "Batina", a village
cradled close to the Danube.
In the Fall, we eagerly awaited "Weinlese" (harvesting
of the grapes), which was also an annual affair. My
Grandfather, Nikolaus Brandt, had a sizeable vineyard
not far from Gakova. When the time for "Weinlese" came,
he called all of us to help. For us kids it only meant
fun and play. The only work we did was eat - grapes and
more grapes. The older folks each had a container and a
knife and proceeded to cut off the clusters of pearls
from their beds on the grapevine. As soon as the
container was filled to the brim, it was emptied into
large barrels and delivered to the house on a
horse-drawn wagon. There, Grandmother, Julianna, cooked
a big meal, and we all sat around the large table and
received our reward for the help.
A truly rewarding picture to see is the sunny slopes
striped with tall vines jeweled by clusters of bursting
grapes - ripe with sweetness. The care and attention a
vineyard needs, keeps one quite busy during most of the
year. The rain and wind tear down vines, which have to
be bound up again. About three times a year, the vines
had to be sprayed to prevent destruction from harmful
In small towns, the second Commandment, love of God and
neighbor, is practiced to a fuller extend because nature
brings a closeness to God, and common tragedies and
mishaps tie a bond of friendship between neighbors. Our
dependence on God and our neighbors knit us closely
together and provided immediate help when tragedies of
nature occurred. Wherever fate will take us, the
warmest feeling will always welcome a friend from
In fires or storms, ready neighbors stood by in strength
and advice and occasions occurred when one could pay the
other back. Not only tragedy but also joy was shared
when good fortune crossed the door step of a neighbor.
We celebrated feasts like Corpus Christi, Epiphany,
numerous feasts of Mary and the Saints, which people
here don't even remember, with a fitting and honorable
reverence. Processions graced the main street and wound
along to the place of honor. Then after harvest time,
thanks and petitions rose from the farmers into the
A nation and its people, no matter how acute in space or
small in population, are in itself worthy of a place in
God's world This is true because we were designated by
our Creator to live our lives in the best way and return
to Him for our eternal reward. When, however, men of
sound reason, sign away the lives of that nation, they
are overstepping not only a moral principal, but a law
which God, Himself, gave us in His Commandments -- "Thou
shalt not kill."
The fate of our country, as well as our lives, lay
totally in the hands of a few men, who first of all
couldn't know the value of the Batschka, in its soil and
its people who tilled it. The fact that we were part
of an unknown country, and thus had little to do with
world affairs, cannot prove our inadaptability as Human
Beings. Maybe our methods of farming were not as up to
date as in some countries where agricultural schools
aided the new farmer, but our people used the teachings
and experience of their fore-fathers, which bore fruit
as a whole and famed the Batschka for the richest soil
far and wide.
Then the Batschka was to be extinguished, just plain
erased from the map. Well, they have succeeded. Gakowa
consists only of a few houses and walls of broken down
homes -- in other words, total destruction. The only
things worthy of seeing there now is our little cemetery
in which lie our loves ones, who died in the arms of
helpless people. They will guard the ruins and be a
lasting landmark of an existing town and it's people.
THE LIQUIDATION OF THE SCHWABEN BEGINS
Katharina, Erna, Katherine and Wendel Hoeger (1944)
fatal year of 1944 was the springboard to four years of
the most unpublicized concentration camp in Southern
Europe - namely, Gakowa.
early morning of November 25, 1944, the towncrier
announced that within a few hours we were all to
assemble in the "City Hall." Due to much confusion
and fear in the country at that time, we were terrified
of what was to become of us. The families gathered
together and discussed our future existence.
time, Gakowa was flooded with Russian soldiers; also
some "partisans" (soldiers of Tito). As it was, we only
expected to be held that day, and took no food, nor any
more clothing than covered our bodies. We had the
surprise of our lives. After taking our money and
valuables, such as wedding rings, watches, etc., they
put us up for the night in the homes of the surrounding
area of the "City Hall." The men and women were
separated, leaving each to worry about the other.
time, my father had been drafted into the German army
just a couple of months before. My mother and sister,
Erna, were with me in one of those crowded rooms, which
served as our night's stay.
Meanwhile, the cows, pigs, horses and the fowl were
hungry and let themselves be heard. A few of the men
were allowed to feed all the livestock, and came back
with the news that our homes had been robbed and
vandalized. While we were kept locked up and watched
very closely, the partisans and their families had a
party, helping themselves to anything they desired.
Clothing and furniture, food that was stored for winter,
was taken and the things they did not want, were burned
or torn so as to be useless to us.
heard of this, there was great despair. Nobody knew why
we were forced out of our homes to an assembly and never
allowed to go back. Why our hard earned belongings were
taken by force. Our prison sentence lasted one week.
Food supplies came from the houses we left filled with
winter stock. No one, however, seemed to be hungry for
it is bad enough in a prison when you are worthily
punished, but much worse, when your crime is unknown and
your future in dark danger. The uncertainty of what
might happen next, drove one to deep despair .
one day we were ordered to line up outside. A few were
picked out for work in the service of the soldiers; --
bakers, cooks and nurses. My mother, sister and I were
assigned to the so-called "hospital" to care for the
sick. Actually a hospital was set up at our doctor's
house. Everyone else that could walk, was taken to the
closest town about five miles away called "Kruschiwl."
With the exception of the soldiers and a few of the
workers, Gakowa was now a ghost town.
my relatives were taken to "Kruschiwl" and according to
them, many died of worry or lack of medicines, others
contracted severe colds and life-long diseases.
about December 15, 1944 we were released to go back into
our homes. The ones taken to "Kruschiwl," also
returned. We thought the nightmare was over and agreed
that things could have been worse.
December 28, 1944, a never-to-be-forgotten day, men and
women from the ages of 17 to 35 were supposedly taken
for labor purposes in the surrounding cities. A few
days later, however, we found out that they were
transported into Russian labor camps. Our family was
touched too. My cousin, Tobias Brandt, who was just
seventeen, was among those taken away. A young boy,
needing good food and education to help his physical and
mental growth received instead very scarce food, no
clothing, no medical care and no education. His only
education was "how to survive." The only important
thing was to work for the government - now and always.
Salt and coal mines, railway building and heavy work in
forests, enslaved the under-nourished juveniles and made
men out of them. This information came only with the
return of a 70 pound, 21 year old boy, or should I say
"man." While there, no mail or word came from Russia
informing families of the whereabouts of their loved
was to be the most dreaded camp in Yugoslavia. In the
early months of 1945, Donauschwaben from the Batschka
and Banat, which is another German-speaking region in
Yugoslavia, were driven out of their homes with
belongings only their backs could carry. The old and
the sick came with the healthy. Some did not make it,
because they had to walk -- and walk fast. Once they
arrived in Gakowa, they were divided into groups and
placed into homes. As days passed, each house became
more and more filled.
April 24, 1945, my mother and I came down with the first
case of typhoid fever. No doctor nor medicine was
available. So our bodies fought with nature in the
struggle between life and death. Shortly after the
attack of the fever, I became unconscious and remained
so for 21 days, at which time the patient either
survives or dies. Evidently my resistance was
stronger than my mother's, because she died while I am
still here to tell about it. My mother's burial had
very few mourners because only a few relatives were
allowed to attend the funeral. Luckily we could bury
her in a coffin, which was later impossible. The
corpses outnumbered the graves and burial was done in
father was far away and the death of his wife was
unknown to him. My little sister, Erna, age 3 at the
time, did not know whom they were burying. She later
asked for her mother time and time again. I, myself
half dead, missed the opportunity of the last right to
accompany the greatest person to her resting place; --
one's mother. She had an iron will to live. Her love
was not only for her family, but surpassed the worldly
beings to honor our Blessed Mother. A consoling thought
has always kept me happy; - that our Blessed Mother,
too, loved her so much that she ended her suffering and
took her to heaven, where she is waiting and watching
for us all.
months passed, I became well again, and our evacuated
house filled rapidly. Since typhoid fever is very
contagious, no one was allowed to live there during our
illness. Both my sister and I went to live with our
maternal aunt, Barbara Findeis and Anton Findeis. Nine
people slept in our room which was considered lucky,
because usually 15 to 20 people occupied one. Beds were
made of straw and housed fleas and lice. Food came from
large kitchens, set up in each block. Huge kettles were
used to prepare soups and porridge. Boiled cabbage
leaves or potatoes mixed with hot water served as soup;
corn and wheat were the ingredients of the porridge.
Bread was made from corn and water, sometimes without
salt. Meals without salt had even less taste and
strength. Due to under-nourishment and worry, death
rates rose to a peak.
the 20,000 people living in Gakowa (a town of 2500
inhabitants) at that time, approximately 75 to 100 died
each day. That was when the problems of burial arose.
Our small cemetery could not hold any more, so it was
enlarged on the back. Huges mass graves were dug, about
half a block long, six feet deep and six feet wide.
Each morning the corpses were wrapped in sheets and laid
in the yard. A horse-dawn wagon came around and made
ceremony was very short. Once close to the grave, the
wagon was turned to one side and the corpses buried
themselves. Several men stood at the bottom in order to
file the bundles close together to make more room. As
each layer was filled, about one foot of ground covered
it, and the next layer was started. No one knew where
their relatives or friends rested, only that they were
"somewhere in that hole". Gravestones or flowers were
prohibited, only the grey, cold earth blanketed the poor
unfortunate ones, whose epitaph might be: " Death came
through hunger and sickness".
the church and cemetery were closed. The opportunity to
honor the dead and attend church was cut off. The
spiritual side of life was urged to be forgotten.
Suicides became evident. Women attempted to jump into
the 25 feet deep wells, which supplied each house with
drinking, cooking and cleansing water. This reduced the
already low water supply.
winter of 1945 to 1946 was one of the hardest in the Schwabenland history. Malaria broke out supplemented
with lice, who spread it. A case of such a harmful
insect, is the one that cost my Grandfather Nickolaus'
life. An old man, who was willing to give his last warm
coat for food, tried to bargain with my Grandfather. As
he tried it on, two lice transferred on his body. These
two did a lot of harm. He became ill, suffered much and
died on January 6, 1946. A few days later, I brought my
few belongings and came to live with Grandmother
days later, surprise struck us again, and we both were
driven out with what covered our bodies and one
blanket. What I remember most about that day was that I
forgot my only pair of shoes. I wore a pair of knit
slippers in the house, and the sudden request to leave
was a great shock. Later I found that the shoes were
left behind, but permission to return was not granted
and thus I walked all winter long in knit slippers. I
could not go outside.
reason for the evacuation of that area was that all
malaria cases came into that section. The disease
spread so rapidly that nearly everyone became infected.
The "Commandant" (commander in charge) reached the
decision that they must be exiled. Without care and
attention, nor doctors and medicine, the death wagon
made many trips to that area.
Meanwhile, my Grandmother Julianna and I came to live
with my aunt again. A couple of weeks later, the latter
part of January, the towncrier once more announced that
everyone was to be divided into areas according to age.
The children, workers and old people were to live
separately, each in a different block. Once again I
packed up my bag and prepared to leave with my sister.
In Yugoslavia, the winters are hard and snow falls often
and stays on the ground. That day, I would say, was
among the coldest. The partisans seemed to time it that
way, for it was so much fun to see us freeze and suffer.
Everyone was ordered to stay inside and be ready to go
anytime a soldier came to escort you to your designated
area. A man, who was trying to look after his daughter,
was seen on the street by a partisan and shot down in
cold blood. After a few people were moved, the
commandant ordered "halt" and everyone was allowed to
return to their original places. Fortunately, I was
among those who were not yet moved and didn't freeze as
much as some of those poor people with whom they played
"cat and mouse". That just goes to show the works of an
insane and barbaric mind. The great turmoil, fear and
worry that was caused by such an announcement, played a
big part in running down one's resistance, and achieved
their plan to harass us. They never really meant to
separate us, but only wanted to sharpen our nerves and
extinguish the flame of the little strength that was
fact, we had regular assemblies about once or twice a
month, sometimes even more often. Everybody, sick and
healthy, lame or blind, was forced to assemble in the
designated spot. The healthiest looking men and women
were picked out and sent to labor camps. Sometimes they
only called the assemblies to frighten us even more.
never forget that winter at my maternal aunt's house.
Due to limited housing, too many of us were forced to
sleep in one room. Rats and mice were so abundant, that
we could not get rid of them. They inhabited the whole
wall, and when we closed up one hole, the next one would
open up. We slept on the floor, and I hate to think of
those terrible nights, when those miserable rodents
played "catch" with each other. Sometimes in dressing
yourself in the morning, you would find a mouse in your
shoe. I am still plagued with nighmares of these nights
and am terrified of mice.
episode in our fearful life was the fact that orphans
were to be turned over to the government and brought up
according to the ideals of Communism. Being orphans, my
sister and I lived in constant fear of that
realization. One time it was so bad, we had to hide for
a week in a storage room and when things became so
dangerous, we hid in an old icebox in tavern which my
Grandmother's sister - Barbara Zorn, owned. Due to two
generous aunts and uncles, our chances of being taken
away became slim because they cared for us and said we
were their children.
poor children who were taken to orphanages to parts of
Serbia, lost their German heritage, their language, and
knowledge of parents and God. The upbringing consisted
of hammering into their minds that there was no God.
Stalin and Tito were their Gods and would take care of
fact that Gakowa was only about seven or eight miles
from the Hungarian border, provided a slim opportunity
to escape to freedom. Many tried, some made it, others
were either captured and brought back or shot right
away. The runaways, who were brought back, found a
cellar for a prison. Each house had a cellar in order
to keep food from spoiling. It was usually dark, damp,
and underground. The two biggest ones were chosen as
the prison. Both men and women were thrown in those
ugly housings after their capture. It was very dark and
you could not see how many and who was there.
Facilities for lavoratories were impossible, and the
smell made it even more nauseating.
of severe brutality befell a family from Gakowa, who
tried to escape. After their capture, the mother was
sent home, and the father and daughter thrown into one
of the cellars. During the day, the man was frequently
beaten with a pitchfork. The girl suffered not
physically but mentally, hearing the beastly cries of
her father. One morning they were found hanged and
their wrists slashed. The story was one of suicide. We
all failed to believe this. For how could one cut his
own wrists and then hang himself, It points to cold
only those who tried to escape landed in prison, but
also people who stole out of town at night to beg for
food. They went into the neighboring villages,
inhabited by the natives, hoping to get some food for
the hungry children.
was completely surrounded by soldiers. And yet, some
people got through. It is amazing how a hungry child or
a hungry parent will drive you to do the almost
impossible. Whenever there was one way out - we found
children, who need wholesome food, had a hard struggle
to keep physically normal. Their heads and stomachs
were too big in proportion to the bony arms and legs.
Two large bones resembled a pair of wings growing out of
the meager backs and did not help their posture. Each
scrap of food the mother was able to get her hands on
went to her children. Just like a bird goes out to seek
food for her young and meets unexpected danger on her
way, so the mother of the waiting children often did
not return from her dangerous journey; and like the
orphaned feathered friends fall prey to more powerful
fiends of nature, the motherless children lost their
nest to the eagles of men == the partisans.
young and innocent children, whom our Lord loved so
much, had to suffer the most. Too many were orphaned
and lost the priceless possession of parents. All
suffered hunger, and thus failed to grow up normally.
Another normal thing for the young is school. There was
no school in the concentration camp. In a classroom,
children are taught the fundamentals of social living
and the difference between right and wrong. In the
camp, idle hours and hungry stomachs naturally were
workshops of many mischievous deeds. A place where
reverence of God and love of your neighbor is the key to
heaven, is of course the church, which was locked up and
prohibited anyone to enter it. Again, an important
stone in a child's life was thrown into abyss.
future, when looked into by the eyes of those young
people, failed to show any signs of prosperity and
peace. Despair drove many to grow careless in habits of
prayer, faith and trust in the word of their fellow
man. Our future, we thought, could only bring a lasting
bondage with a destructive concentration camp. A place
where we would have to remain until death relieved our
unending sentence of slavery under a communist regime.
normal phase of a child's life, which is taken so much
for granted, was something in the past, for those young
people certainly grew up in bad conditions. There were
a few teachers in the camp who felt it their obligation
to teach some of the growing children the principles of
our religion, as the few priests present in Gakowa were
very closely watched. At that time, the church was not
yet closed completely, although no Masses could be
celebrated. So in the Spring of 1946, I attended a
secret class of First Communicants, where preparation
for the event was made. On May 19, 1946, I received Our
Lord in my First Communion. The partisans surely failed
to see what it meant to us, or they would have refused
to let us proceed. Shortly thereafter, our church and
cemetery were closed to the public and guards posted
around the premises. We couldn't even visit the dead
anymore. What could be gained from that, -- but to
exercise purely selfish motives. That refusal made us
even more bitter, as we all had deceased members of our
Spring of 1946, one of my uncles (Michael Brandt) was
ordered to go home from the work he was doing, pack a
few things and be back in an hour. To ascertain his
speedy return, a partisan followed him home. They
thought it unnecessary to give reasons for their
actions, so we knew nothing until he was gone. We heard
that he was taken to a village, inhabited only by
natives, where he, among others, had to make bricks.
Almost every town had a place where bricks and shingles
were made to build houses. It is hard work. First of
all, the substance, dirt and water, has to be prepared,
then the heavy mud carried to the designated place where
others formed the bricks. Molds were used in order to
assure unity in size and circumference. The formations
were baked in a giant oven. After their return from the
oven, the bricks were ready to be used.
uncle worked there during the hot summer months of
1946. During his absence, my aunt (Justina Brandt)
feared being alone and asked me to come and live with
her. So I left my grandmother Julianna and maternal
aunt and moved to the lonesome aunt. At that time, my
aunt's house was changed from a house full of people to
a place packed with furniture. All the furniture had
been confiscated from their owners and was stored in
these rooms. All but one room was filled to capacity.
those summer months of 1946, a daily threat was
assembly. We knew what would happen, as each time some
of the people were taken away, -- mostly the ones that
were still able to work. Once, my aunt and another
family hid in one of the rooms packed with furniture.
Since it was my aunt's house, she had a spare key to get
in the room. For one bitter afternoon, we sat in
agony. The partisans went from house to house looking
for people just like us, who failed to congregate with
the rest of the people. About the middle afternoon a
partisan entered our yard, looking in the windows,
searching for captives. We snuggled in the corners
beside dressers and tables so as not to show any signs
of life. He knocked fiercely on our door and called
out, but the only movement we showed was our hearts
beating louder and faster by the minute. If he would
have found us, heaven only knows where they would have
taken us to endure punishment for disobedience to the
rulers. After the congregation was dissolved and we
heard our own people again, our hearts became lighter
and our nerves relaxed. We all came out and once again
a crisis had passed.
reason for this fear of assembly increased each time
because the thought that next time it might be you,
bothered us constantly. We knew all too well some of
the horrible things that befell those unfortunate men
my uncles (Anton Findeis) took part in such a merciless
trial. The best men had been picked out to work in the
forests. My uncle was among them. He was strong, but a
man can take only so much. They lived in shacks crowded
together like new born kittens, but huddled like that
was the only way to keep warm. Most of the warm clothes
were taken from us in the beginning and the rest that
was left naturally was not made of iron and became worn
the policies of the merciless partisans was that anyone
too sick or weak to work was useless to the government,
so they killed him. Before the poor man died, however,
he suffered unbearable pain. For to die with a bullet
in the back might have relieved his illness and anymore
suffering. Those partisans knew that and took advantage
of it. One morning all the men were ordered to come out
in the nearby field. The sick man had to dig a hole,
which was to be his grave. All the others had to stand
and watch. Evidently, it was to be the lesson of the
day. The death sweat ran down the haggard face of one,
who knew he was digging his own grave. The spectators
held their breath wishing they would not have to watch,
and praying this cold-blooded murder would not befall
them. After having dug his grave, he was told to lie in
it. The on-lookers were then ordered to shovel the
ground on him that he just finished throwing up.
Burying someone alive must be a terrible nightmare for
the men. The cries that arose from the grave were all
one last plea: "Tell my wife and children good-by and
give them my love . . ." Even when the grave was filled
with dirt, cries emerged from a man who was buried
something like that is the cruelest form of torture to
witness and to endure. Days and weeks later, the
atmosphere was still haunted with the ghostly memories.
With things like that in mind, no wonder we were so
frightened when the time came to assemble.
were disowned and imprisoned, one and only one goal was
to be reached by our enemies and that was to extinguish
the Donauschwaben in the Batschka and all other German
regions in Yugoslavia. The success of that plan became
more evident as our days in camp progressed. Population
decreased rapidly with the help of hunger and disease.
A medical opinion tells us that a will to live and get
well in the patient's mind sometimes proves more
effective than drugs and a doctor's care. Having nobody
and nothing to live for, the resistance of our people
could not survive and therefore, the body was completely
in the hands of death. If those victims are all saints,
which they certainly should be, the eternal home
welcomed an army of defenseless and guiltless
three years of imprisonment, not one piece of clothing
or for that matter, any article was bought. The thought
of it produces a vague impossibility. Every day needs,
like combs, toothpaste, soap, etc. were as scarce as
stars on a cloudy night. How we managed to get on for
three years without once going "shopping", even for
necessities, seems now almost impossible.
Children could not be taught the three "R's because of
the lack of books and supplies. One pair of shoes, if
you had one, served as footwear on all occasions.
Clothes closets would have been superfluous inasmuch as
you wore most of your belongings. The only way that
anyone received a piece of clothing was through the
death of a relative, just like the heirs to a fortune.
approaching winter of 1946, presented a severe problem
of heating materials. There were no stores or
warehouses where you could buy or trade supplies. So
the only thing left to keep from freezing was to tear
down stables and after those were gone the destruction
of houses began. Trees became scarce, because wood was
essential. So we can say that the self-destruction of
Gakowa began. The winter was cold and many died as a
result of lack of food, clothing and warm shelter. How
many winters could we stand . . . when was this massacre
going to end . . . who was going to stop all this???
people wondered, no answer could be found, so they
decided to take a chance and try to escape. During that
winter, many escaped and many died trying so that a
decreasing amount of Schwaben became evident. The
partisans didn't care how they got rid of us. As long
as we were no longer in Yugoslavia.
winter had passed and time to sow the fields was here.
Everyone who could work was forced to go out and help in
the care of the year's harvest. The soil, which had no
proper rotation and lack of fertilizer, produced less
and less each year, and there was a decreasing food
supply for the camp. The Spring and Summer of 1947, was
much like the years before. Assemblies, deaths,
births. The monotony of every day camp life presented a
problem to the adults and even more to the children, who
were growing up uneducated. They lacked the
responsibility that normal school children have and the
devil played on their idle minds and promoted mischief.
year was in the passing and once more the poor harvest
was brought in to feed the people during the coming Fall
and Winter. We saw no relief in sight from this camp of
ever vanishing Schwaben. The thought of leaving our
home, or should I say, what was left of it, came deeper
and deeper into our minds and encouraged us day by day
to try to escape. Should we wait to die here, or shall
we encounter a perilous journey during which we might
A decision of such a nature was neither easy nor hastily
FLIGHT ON THE WINGS OF FEAR
late summer of 1947, the great decision was made. My
uncle and aunt (Michael and Justina Brandt) decided to
leave our family still living, our home and our country
and escape into a better world. Another decision
resulted in my part of the journey. They agreed to take
me along and provide for and guide me as long as
necessary. We left with very little to call our own,
only what our backs could carry. For the last time, we
looked around the house, built with love and hard work;
the family, living and dead; the neighbors and friends
with whom we went through a great deal and Gakowa
itself, which was built by people just like us, driven
from homes by persecution. Would we be able to build
another Gakowa? I doubt it, for we are sown all over the
world, while too many gave their lives in the fight to
preserve our Gakowa.
only too well that we wouldn't find "honey and roses" in
Germany made it difficult to decide to leave the
birthplace. There is something clinging to the place
you call "home". Even though it looked like a herd of
bulls went over it, you can still call it "home". But
to go into far away countries would mean making
ourselves refugees and belonging to no country.
hard, too, to leave the last things that were kept from
destruction because we hid them from the partisans. The
hope of finding my cousin, Tobias Brandt, who was still
in Russia, we thought, made it a driving ambition and
washed away some of the reluctance to leave.
Prisoners from the USSR came into Germany every week,
sick and half-starved. That was the reason they were
allowed to leave Russia. The state had no more profit
night in August, 1947, a group of people gathered in one
of the houses on the edge of town, with bundles of their
last possessions on their backs. We were among those
parting was difficult and heartbreaking because we could
only tell our immediate family for fear of being
exposed. As I took leave of my little sister, who was
only six years old at the time, the thought crossed my
mind that I might never see her again. She was to stay
with our other aunt and uncle, Anton and Barbara Findeis.
She understood very little of what was going on. The
realization of seeing everything for the last time comes
only after being away for awhile.
in the dark that night, -- waiting and watching for the
right moment to make our escape, I was very sad. It
meant never coming back to our homes and our town.
were approximately one hundred people and two guides to
lead us into freedom. At 1:00 A.M> August 20th, 1947,
at the precise time of the changing of the guards at the
border, we made our way through fields of corn towards
the heavily guarded border. Like a human caravan,
winding forward, we went through the night, daring not
to talk, nor to think of the heavy load on our backs.
fields of corn, with the cobs fighting us as we wound
down its lanes, were our protection of being seen. Then
there were untilled acres that made our way hard, due to
weeds and rocks. People began to tire from overloaded
bundles and proceeded to lighten their burden by
discarding some of their last possessions. As we came
closer to the border, knees started to shake and nerves
became tense. What if they should catch us?? The Lord
only knows the consequences.
signal of silence warned us that we were on the border.
The first twenty people crossed, then a rifle shot
stopped our heartbeats and turned the blood to ice. We
were still in enemy territory and now prisoners of the
border patrol. That shot had brought out a number of
guards and prevented any measures of bargaining or
bribery. Shortly after our capture, dawn began to break
and gave birth to a hot and stiffling summer day. A
little reluctant but helpless, we marched toward the
patrol headquarters and were ordered to find a place
among the large group already captured that night.
While the dew produced a little cool air, our bundles
got a thorough examination and we were lightened of any
valuables. The first thing those partisans always did
was to take -- just take and never give.
sun grew hotter, and no move was made to transport us
back to camp, we began to feel a little easier. Then a
partisan came and gave us a lecture. He explained that
they were going to let us go across the border the
following night but he urged us to be sure and go into
the "Russian Zone", because that's the place where we
will be rich and happy. After that ridiculous
statement, most of us laughed on the inside and showed
much interest on the outside. We spent the entire day
in the treeless yard, victims of a blistering hot August
sun. Toward the evening, we bundled up, again to start
our journey into new horizons. We still don't know why
the partisans let us go that day. Maybe they just
wanted to get rid of us.
safely across the border, we found ourselves in
Hungary. The rest of the night we spent in a farmer's
haystack just resting. Most of the people broke away
from the group and each went their own way. Four
families including ourselves, all natives of Gakowa,
decided to travel together. It was Stefan and Appolonia Brandt (my grandfather's brother) Stefan and
Barbara Hirn, Theresia Sehn and her granddaughter
Julianna and us.
as day broke again, we exchanged some clothes for
services from the farmer. He agreed to load our
possessions and the older people and children into his
wagon and show us on our way. My uncle became quite
ill; he suffered from stomach ulcers. Walking made
matters only worse.
traveled from one Hungarian town to another, always
fearing the enemy behind us. The fact that thousands of
refugees roamed the roads of Hungary, made it almost
impossible to get any form of transportation vehicles.
So we waited and prayed in a strange country far from
home. Finally the news came to prepare for the
continuing journey. A truck took us to a railroad
station, where we took a train, all the while with no
passport or any papers. When we arrived at the third
town before the Austrian border, everyone without a
passport had to get out. Here we were again without any
knowledge of which way to go and no transportation.
Then we heard that there was a station for refugees,
where we would be properly directed. Waiting for our
turn, each person was called into a private room. Again
our bundles were thoroughly checked and lightened when
some articles appealed to the inspector. All our money
was confiscated. Of course, by that time we had learned
to outwit the inspectors and carefully hid part of our
valuables. In return for the currency, horse-drawn
wagons were provided for our journey up to the Austrian
border. Once again, baggage, old folks and children had
the privilege of riding on the wagon, while all the
others walked. We arrived at the border in darkness and
to our surprise the Austrian border patrol was waiting
for us with trucks. After sunshine comes the rain and
what was to come, was a cloudburst.
trucks took us to a large camp where thousands of people
like us, housed while waiting for dismissal to go freely
into Austria. We, however, did not plan on staying, as
we intended to go to Germany. After registration,
permission to carry on our journey was received joyfully
by all of us. Again, we hired a wagon to make our way
highways and by-ways were filled with people and often
looked like a market place. The possibility for speedy
transit and comfortable facilities were scarce. Native
farmers gained considerable wealth through hungry
passers-by, who were ready to trade their best for food
and a night's stay.
most desired and sought-after men, were the guides who
lead the stranger through the dangerous spots. These
places refer to the border, which divided Austria into
Russian and American Zones. We occupied the Russian
zone at the crossing from Hungary and desired to leave
it as soon as possible. To do this in a reasonably safe
way, we engaged such a guide. The roads leading to the
border region lead us through fields and forests, along
rivers and lakes. The scenery was beautiful. The
Danube ebbs its waters through the most part of Austria
and guests on the outskirts of Vienna. Towering forests
are the pride of the Tiroler woodchoppers.
of peace, such an excursion as ours would have proved
expensive as well as improbable. Now that the country
was infested by Communism and the enemy's troops
presented entry into the American zone, the chances of
our enjoying scenic beauty were very slim. The seed of
nature, which Gad sowed on that land, enriching its soil
with beauty and fertility, was forced to make room for
the weeds of Communism. It marred not only nature,
itself, but led the minds of men away from the finer
things and destroyed the flame of burning pride.
Communists themselves are only so in name and word, as
they do not practice what they preach. One of their
most often used promises is: "Share everything -- and
share alike." Were it true, another Golden Rule would
have been born. A rule, that would be a moral, social
and policital asset. They call sharing -- "taking the
biggest part for themselves. " The poor worker shares a
small dividend of the profits, while the boss lives in
recall, in the streets of Austria, we hired a truck
which brought us to Vienna. Vienna, the City of music
and romance was a sad disappointment to our
expectations. Bombs had destroyed its edifices and
ruined transportation facilities. The opera house,
where once the great masters performed, lacked
performers and audiences. People found time for nothing
else but to make a meager living and to rebuild a once
from there became more hazardous because, due to the
nearness of the border, Russian soldiers were found in
many transportation vehicles. As refugees, we were the
easiest thing to recognize, inasmuch as baggage as well
as frightened looks cast suspicion upon us. That was
the reason for our fear, when we rode a public bus, and
two Russian soldiers were on it. For once luck
prevailed and the soldiers left the bus one station
ahead of us. That bus took us very close to the border,
so close that we could hear the voices of the patrol.
We had to leave the bus at the end station and camp
outside an old shack for the night. Knowing full well
that daylight would reveal our presence, several men
posted themselves on the main road in order to ask any
passing vehicle for a ride. Luckily we got one in time
as the rooster began to announce a new day.
forest was our destination in which our day was spent in
the companionship of a drizzling rain. I remember that
night as our hardest struggle in the battle for freedom.
fallen pine needles stuck to us when the rain came down
and our baggage became wet and heavy. Our feet became
soaked and chilled, while our bodies hungered for hot
food. Knowing no other way out, we tore a bed sheet to
pieces and wrapped it around our feet. We could hardly
afford to eat and sleep and we did not want to get sick
from this miserable weather.
waited for darkness to come, the only visitor was the
rain, a constant companion, maybe a friend who stayed by
our side. Being cloudy and overcast, the day was
shortened earlier than usual. We knew now was the time
to be strong and fearless as we followed the guide in
silent desperation. The roads that we used were muddy
and swayed along the forest.
fixed the boundary zones knew what they were doing for
the surrounding area was very hilly. We never knew
exactly where the patrol kept their watch because they
changed their positions regularly. We would struggle up
a sizable hill, groping in the darkness to find our way,
when the signal was given to retreat. Back down we slid
sometimes on our stomach if it helped matters any, not
caring how dirty and filthy we looked. This happened
repeatedly all night long, sharpening the nerves as each
time we almost reached our ultimate goal, but were
prevented to attain it by the approaching patrol.
Finally, after many tries, we decided to take the most
dangerous road. First it took us up a steep hill which
was as slippery from the fallen rain as a bar of wet
soap. We tried to hold ourselves on the grass and
weeds, but most of us had our hands full of baggage. If
you were lucky enough to get a few feet up the menacing
barrier, a slip of either hand or foot would result in a
ride back down on your stomach. We knew just one thing,
though, we had to get up that hill and fast.
Lady Luck had not frowned upon us enough, our troubles
never seemed to end. As we finally reached the top, a
fence of barbed wire dared us to pass. The men,
therefore, forced a considerable loop through which our
bodies as well as the bags would pass. Our clothes were
torn while we hurried and our skin ruptured from the
slipped through the fence, a broad road lay before us
which we had to cross to reach the opposite side. The
flaw in that mission was the fact that a mill was
nearby, flooding its lights upon the street. The whole
area was bright and our shadows would be seen. Again,
when there is no other way out, a strong determination
keeps you going. Situations like those helped you to
make up your mind fast and do it for everyone's good.
stalled no longer and moves swiftly, like a herd of deer
running from the hunter. After all of us had crossed the lighted area, the
crisis was over. Our guides took us to a nearby
farmhouse that had a large barn where we could all stay
and rest through the night.
again, a mission was accomplished. We had succeeded
triumphantly in the hardest of trials, the most
dangerous border. Three times had we become frightened
and nervous, in fact, just plain scared, and we came out
successful. Now, there was one more barrier to
overcome, the border which separated Austria and
Germany. How complicated and dangerous it was, we did
not know but we hoped for the best. For all we knew, we
might have trodden on the same path that our ancestors
followed in search for a new home. They must have
endured the hardships and disappointments that met us on
the way. They must have wondered where their new home
would be and how they would find it.
fate had spun a century of prosperity and peace, then
the thread of harmony was cut by our enemies. We were
on the same road to find what we lost, -- a home, a
country, a right to be free.
following morning our alarm clock -- the sun-- signaled
our departure. As so many times before, we hung the
knapsacks on our backs and again marched on. Just
being in the American zone, though, steadied our nerves
and we felt a sense of protection.
Austria, we could finally continue our journey by
train. Our destination was Ludwigsburg, Germany, where
some relatives lived.
Salzburg, which stands lofty and proud among its
castles, we again left the train to start our last
crossing by foot. Salzburg lies in the northwestern
part of Austria. It is named after the river "Salzach",
which gracefully ebbs its way through the city and is a
landmark pointing the way to Germany. This time we had
no guide to lead the right way - only the Salzach. We
followed its banks through the woods. We were cautioned
to beware of tree houses which the border patrol used to
trap the illegal travelers.
woods, steep hills confronted us making it impossible
for my uncle and another lady, who were both ill, to
climb any higher. We had to find another way. It was
daylight. Our way in the dark could only have lead us
to confusion and finally loss of our sense of direction.
decided to continue to follow the Salzach which would
bring us into Germany. The thought of wading to the
other side, which was part of Germany, lingered only for
a while, because the strong current of the river would
have become master with the sick and the children. So
we walked along the murmuring waters of our new found
friend. A milestone, resting on the edge of the forest,
marked the border. At that point, we crossed the last
of the barriers and were free.
afternoon sun sank behind the hills, the tall trees
which had protected us, whispered a friendly welcome.
Trees had been our protection during the days and nights
from our enemy as well as from the foes of nature. The
fact that our ancestors came from Alsace/Lottringen in
the Black Forest, a region covered mostly with tall
pines and evergreens, might account for the mutual
fondness. A walk through the woods on a fall day should
be a requirement for every living being.
began to breathe easier and felt as though we just
conquered an army. Our chances of a safe crossing were
shadowed by an approaching traveler riding a bicycle.
We soon found ourselves in the company of a private
detective, who questioned our coming and going. As soon
as we told him of our Yugoslavian background, we were
free to go. The reason for this was that citizens of
Hungary were prohibited in Germany, thus detectives
roamed the border area,
bridge that crossed over the Salzach lead us into a
small village where we managed to get transportation to
Berchtesgarden. We arrived there in the late evening
and found shelter on the hard floors of a camp
surrounding the railroad station.
August nights in the mountain villages become quite
chilly and we were cold on the wooden floors of the
barracks. Rest had not come to us since we left home
and our bodies ached for cleanliness, hot food and some
rest. We still worried about our future in this
morning fog hung like a curtain before the sun and
dulled the oncoming day. Restlessness and a
determination to move on urged us into the waiting room
of the railroad station. The train that we boarded took
us to Munich. On the trip, which stretched about 100
miles, we experienced the fact that we were strangers;
not so much in appearance and language, but in our
that time, ration cards enabled the Germans to buy food
and that was the only way. We, of course, possessed no
such privileges, - yet. All we had was an old loaf of
bread, dried and unappetizing and some cheese in the
same condition. When we saw others eat fresh fruits and
vegetables, our left-overs didn't seem edible. Those
ration cards did not suffice in the least as far as
meat, sugar and bread was concerned, but Germany has a
tremendous amount of fruit trees as well as home grown
vegetables, which helped fill our empty stomachs.
noon on August 31, 1947, our train arrived in Munich
where we had to transfer to reach our destination. Half
of our group left us and stayed in the famous beer city;
another family and ourselves boarded a later train
headed for Ludwigsburg.
farewell and a rain of good wishes parted us. We would
certainly never break that bond which held us together
in our struggles. Mutual memories of the perilous
journey gave us a strong relationship and if we ever all
meet again, it will provide tears and happiness as we
won our "battle of the borders."
we covered miles of railroad tracks, in the fields
around us, farmers yielded fruits of their labor -- it
was harvest time. Glorious memories filled us with
homesickness as we recalled our own fields once a petal
of the blooming rose - the Batschka; now lay-wasted
under the barbaric hand of communism. When the sceptre
of justice and truth strikes, led by strong and
God-fearing men, the ship of tyranny shall be sunk.
closer to our destination, we also saw an increasing
amount of industry, which was already rebuilt after the
terrible bombings of a few years back. Coming from farm
country and seeing little of big city life naturally
resulted in our amazement. Smoking chimneys crowned the
numerous factories coming into sight, and revealed to us
that we were arriving in Stuttgart. Changing into a
local train, the last ten miles brought us to
Ludwigsburg, - our final destination.
goal was achieved but now we had to earn our right to
stay in Germany. Thus another camp was our home for
nearly two months.
days after our arrival in Ludwigsburg, a miracle
happened that proved that not even the hardest battles
are fought in vain. An acquaintance who happened to be
in Ulm, a camp where refugees from everywhere had to go
through, saw my cousin who had returned from the Russian
labor camp. Joyfully she announced the almost
unbelieveable news. We decided to go to Ulm immediately
to find him.
it was a miracle because too many people failed to
return just like my father, whose whereabouts are still
unknown. Never since the Fall of 1944 have we had any
word from him. He will always haunt my conscience and
there is always hope of his possible return. Did he
give his life in battle and now lies in a strange
country; his grave bare without honor and sympathy from
his family. If so, he undoubtedly is with my mother in
their eternally found home - watching over their
children and praying for our joyful reunion.
reunion with my cousin was indeed a long awaited day,
and when it came, the joy and gratefulness of our safe "wiedersehn"
became greater than what either of us had suffered and
endured. From now on we were going to face the future
as a family -- together.
two years of meager living in the scenic Ludwigsburg,
our dreams of coming to America, became a reality.
in the Fall of 1949, we packed our bags to go once more
in search of a better world. We certainly found it
here, where anybody, even an insignificant refugee, can
say and do what he pleases; where I was able to pen my
memories of a happy childhood, and five years of horror
and hardships; where my family and I took the oath of an
American citizen, which made us again a part of a
country; and where our hopes and ambitions for a
brighter future for our coming generation were reborn.
that our hard times have ended, we cannot forget some of
our friends, the Donauschwaben, who were not as
fortunate in coming here, and the many who stayed on in
the cemeteries of their homeland.
hope that this country's prosperity remains and
continues immigration in order to help more refugees
just like us who were allowed to find a new home in
wishes to continue the discussion with me or has any
questions/answers can e-mail me at:
published book "A Pebble in my Shoe" is similar
to the Memories but much more detailed, etc. It
also contains the story of my husband, George, who is
from Bezdan and whose family left their town in Oct.
1944 before the camps started. His story is just
as interesting as mine.
Hardcover is $25.00
Paperback is $15.00
Contact me at:
PO Box 1124
Crown Point, In 46308-1124
Katherine and George Flotz, present day. We actively
speak at libraries, schools, bookstores, etc.,
familiarizing the American public with our
cleansing during the 1940's.
DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr]
10 Apr 2018
Keeping the Danube Swabian legacy alive