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Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors
     
 
 

World Ignored Postwar Persecution

Harried Donauschwaben recall postwar terror:
Anna Naegele and daughter Rosemary Naegele interview

By Linda Steiner, Journal Ethnic Reporter
Milwaukee Journal, 1981

Pictured: Donauschwaben Queen - Rosemary Naegele, Miss Donauschwaben, posed with her mother, Anna Naegele, and grandmother, Anna Salm. Grandma and her daughter escaped from a camp in Yugoslavia after the war.

     Rosemary Naegele is Miss Donauschwaben 1981, and in that role she will represent the local ethnic group at various functions.

     She’s a young woman with a deep sense of history and respect for her parents.

     “I know what my mother went through,” she said. “She was forced to leave her home, had been put in a camp. When you have to give up everything and still want to keep your heritage alive, that’s something.

     “I read on book in German that was published after the war, and some of my relatives were in it. It’s hard to believe all that happened!”

     “Ein Volk Ausgeloescht” by Leopold Rohrbacher gives a village-by-village account of Donauschwaben persecution.


     To tell others about what touched her family, she translated a section of the book when she was in high school at Brookfield East to be used in her world literature class.

      “I thought it was important for people to know about it,” she said. “It’s part of our history.”

     Her teacher asked her mother, Anna Naegele, to come to the class and tell her story. But she couldn’t.

Postwar concentration camp

     “It was just too hard,” Mrs. Naegele said. But she recounted her story for a reporter. As she spoke, her husband, Heinz, joined her, sitting silently by her side, lending support.

     “We lived in Glogau, Yugoslavia, in Banat State, near Belgrade,” she said. “When I was 14, I was put in a camp, after the war, by Tito’s forces. We had to leave home in about 20 minutes.

     “We never got home again.

     “They went from house to house and took all the ones they thought were German and put us in a section of town they’d vacated, Then they put barbed wire around the area. There was only straw on the floors.

     “It was sheer hell – people were hysterical. We thought we were going to be shot to death.

     “Many were. They came to our town and asked who the leaders were. We said we didn’t know. So they took the men out – rounded them up and shot them. About 400-500 me were just shot to death.”

     She paused for a minute, and then went on with her story.

     “They forced us to work. It was farm land. All we got to eat was a corn bread – it was like a lice dos pie – hard as a rock, and some soup of cabbage leaves, for a whole day. To survive, we snitched things in the field, a little corn.”

Starvation killed many

     Her father did forced labor in a separate area.

     “They went to the camp my dad was in every day with a wagon and took the dead. They tried to kill them off with starvation.

     “Some days they chased us out into the middle of the street in the really hot sun, not a drop of water. We have to watch them stop to drink and take their noonday nap.”

     But Mrs. Naegele’s family was one of the lucky ones. They found a way to escape.

     “Some teenagers found ways to get out, through the fields. Another family planned it, and they said if could carry four bags for them, we could come along.

     “We walked. Whenever we heard some noises, we laid down flat on backs. Oh, the blisters. We could barely walk anymore.

     Mrs. Naegele told of days walking, of finally making it into Hungary and finding work there, then finding out the Russians were rounding up the Germans there.

At the border at last

     The family took to the road again but was caught at the Austrian border by Soviet forces. Again they were lucky. There were taken to a police station, and all the money they had managed to save in three months working in Hungary was taken, plus the red paprika they had bought to sell in Austria. But they were shown to the Austrian border.

     They walked into Austria, but found themselves in the Russian zone of occupation in Burgenland. Trying to get to the English zone, they were caught again.

     Eventually, after many attempts and much suffering, the family reached a camp for displaced people. In 1952, Mrs. Naegele and a sister were allowed into the United States as refugees. The rest of the family came in 1956.

     Looking back on all that happened to her family and friends in Yugoslavia, Mrs. Naegele paused and said:

     “My kids learn about the Holocaust in school. How come nobody knows what I went through.?”

After the war

     She spoke clearly and unemotionally. There was no anger in her voice. She even smiled as she said”

     “This was after the war. Why? That’s what puzzles me so.

     “We had no choice. Why did they do that to us? I still don’t know. They didn’t do the same thing to the Germans from German. They didn’t retaliate. I don’t understand it. I really don’t. That’s why I have no desire to ever go back to Yugoslavia. No desire.”

     Does she have bitter feelings against the people of Yugoslavia?

     “No. They had nothing to do with it. It was the leaders. It was Tito’s regime. Tito’s orders. You had to suffer because your great-great-grandparents were sent to Yugoslavia.”

     She said that was enough of looking back. She wanted to look forward.

     “This is it,” she said. “I’m just so happy to be here in the United States. Everyone who doesn’t appreciate it doesn’t know what life is someplace else. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s the best place in the world.”

     With that she grasped her husband’s hand. They smiled at each other and nodded. A silent message of strength and trust passed between them.”

-LINDA STEINER

[Published at DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr, 28 Jun 2014]

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