OF THE CHILDREN, IS ILLUSTRATED BY THREE CASE HISTORIES
This story is one of three actual
accounts written in the book
Janitscharen?: Die Kinder Tragödie im
Karl Springenschmid (1979). Translated to English: "Our lost children: Janissaries"
Eve E. Koehler and John A Koehler, 1980); who has generously
given permission to Jody McKim Pharr to transcribed and
published her translation.
Lettang Searches for Susanne
by Karl Springenschmid
Her story was repeated 1000 times. One day men came and took her away. She
was alone and defenseless. Her husband died in combat three months earlier.
All she cared about was our only child, Susanne, then barely 1 1/2 years
old. The small one lay sleeping innocently on her little bed. She took the
child protectively into her arm wanting to take him along, but that was not
permitted. There are other arrangements made for the children. They took the
baby from her arm and put it in its bed. Susanne slept so deeply that she
was not even awakened during the commotion.
Katharina Lettang, along with other women from the Banat, was deported to
the Ukraine and delivered to the mines of Kriwoj Rog. No more news came from
the Heimat. In those lonely hours deep underground she tried to picture
herself what might have happened to her child. The image became quite real
to her. Little Susanne awakens. She is hungry and calls for her mother, but
she is completely alone. No one answers her. She climbs out of her little
bed but cannot open the door. So she stays alone in her room, cold and
hungry. What did those uniformed men mean by “other arrangements for the
children”? Katharina could not get these thoughts out of her head.
torturous anxiety concerning her child kept Katharina Lettang alive. She
wanted to live, for the sake of the child. This will to live enabled her to
endure the horror of her forced labor underground.
After three years, the deported women were sent to Germany. Katharina was
sent to Frankfurt an der Oder (in East Germany). Now what was she to do?
Her Heimat in the Banat was in the hands of strangers. She certainly could
not go back there. All the inhabitants of the village of Ernsthausen (Banatski
Despotovac) were scattered to the four winds. But none of that mattered. For
her, there was now only one task on earth: to find her child.
Katharina journey to Austria. In a newly erected factory near the city of
Graz she took a position packaging Christmas tree ornaments. What she was
able to save of her meager wages she used exclusively in her search. She
wrote to every bureau and office concerned with the problem of lost
children. She contacted many philanthropic organizations; she advertised in
newspapers whose readers were primarily refugees. She got some good replies
here and there and she heard encouraging words but in the final analysis on
her efforts yielded no success.
Katharina did not give up. She realized that in the future she must do
everything by herself and for that she needed much more money. Through a
female coworker who married a man in Versilberei (silver plating factory),
she was able to get a better position there. In a few days she had learned
to work. With the help of an air compressor she had to direct the silver
plating solution onto the ornamental glass balls. The factory paid according
to the number of pieces produced and within a month she became so proficient
that she produced 13,000 finished ornaments per day.
day she read in the Donauschwaben newspaper that an old neighbor of hers,
Barbara Mattheis, lived in Monkebull near Flensberg, Rahlsdorferweg 82, who
due to her advanced age had not been deported to the coal mines. In
November, when the work season at Katharina's factory came to an end, she
went to Munkebull, in Schleswig-Holstein. She was right. The poor old
arthritic Barbara had remained a few weeks in Ernsthausen after the other
women had been deported, but she did not know a thing about little Susanne.
She had heard that the old Lieblmutter (Mother Liebl) as the village midwife
was called, had gathered up the abandoned children. If Susanne had been one
of these, she could not say. It was hardly likely that she did, for the
Lieblmutter, already old and frail, could only take those children who were
capable of walking and who would not impede her own flight.
After she returned to Graz, Katharina began a search for the old midwife.
Three months went by before she learned that a certain Anne Liebl had died
in Pinkafeld while fleeing to Austria. However, her daughter Franziska Liebl
was supposedly living in that town.
However little the hope was, Katharina immediately took three days’ vacation
and traveled to Pinkafeld (in Austria, near Yugoslavian and Hungarian
borders). Her co-workers had urged her to give up this hopeless quest. She
should begin, finally, to think about herself. After all, she was still a
very attractive young woman. She was selling have no trouble finding a
husband. Sooner or later she would have children again. And she would not be
so obsessed with this search. She only smiled at such talk. Among all men
there had only been one whom she could love and whom she still loved.
Susanne was the proof of this love. Through her child the love for her
husband lived on.
her co-workers were right in one thing. In Pinkafeld there is a new
disappointment. A few weeks previous to Katharina's arrival, Franziska Liebl
married a landsmann (person from same village) a Hatter, Peter Grieschler,
and emigrated with him to Brazil.
was a time-consuming and painstaking task traveling from consulate to
consulate in an attempt to find the emigrants’ address. And when she finally
succeeded she wrote to Franziska Grieschler (nee Liebl), Apartado 17,
Petotas, Rio Grande do Sul. In a detailed letter she communicated all her
hopes. Day after day she waited for an answer. The clues which she had
followed so persistently and which had taken so much of her time and effort
appeared to be as fragile as the glass ornaments which passed through her
hands by the thousands daily; fragile things taken up so passionately are
bound to break.
answer came, not from Petotas, but from Florianopolis. Yes, it was true. Franziska’s
mother had taken six children with her. Actually there had been seven at
first but one had died on the road. Unfortunately, she did not know the
names of these children nor what happened to them after the flight.
That was all. When the letter arrived from Brazil, the factory was in his
busiest season. Katharina could not return to Pinkafeld until November. Then
she went from house to house asking after old Lieblmutter and the lost
children. Everyone certainly remember the great stream of refugees including
many small children, but more exact information was unavailable.
Alas, people did not understand. What is this noisy bustling world know of
the heart of a mother? Little Susanne was the reason for existence and gave
purpose to her life. She gave you Susanne her undivided love and devotion.
Before she left Pinkafeld, she visited the family of a Fracher (a Carter, a
Trucker), named Heizmann, where Lieblmutter had lived until her death. The
stout Heizmann recall: “Didn’t Kordulek take one of these children with
August Kordulek was a retired railroad official. He lived in a small neat
cottage on the outskirts of town. Katharina hurried to visit him. A slender,
delicate little girl of about eight years a open the garden door to
What do you want, lady? Asked the little girl.
This peculiar accent: that is the way we talked at home!
“Who are you, little girl?”
“Was that always your name?”
“No, I’m adopted. Before, my name was Wischet.”
course, now I recognize you. Your Peter Wischet’s little girl from Obesgasse
“Yes, lady, that is me.”
August Kordulek, a dignified old gentleman with a long curly white beard,
overheard this conversation. He interested his hedge trimming and shouted to
Katharina. “We'd rather that our Maria was not reminded of past times.”
Katharina Lettang turned around and replied: “excuse me sir, but I am
looking for my little girl. Maybe Maria could give me more information.”
took the blonde and freckled girl and her arm. “Isn't it true that you came
from Pinkafeld with Mother Liebl?”
“Yes, lady, I did.”
“Don't call me Lady. I am the Bauer Lettang’s Katharina from the
Kirchengasse (Church Street) right next to the school, don't you recognize
girl shook her head. “Enough!” shouted the old gentleman angrily.
Just then Frau Kordulek came out of the kitchen. When she found out what the
stranger wanted she turned immediately to the little girl. “Think Maria.
Which children came with you and old Frau Liebl?” The little girl wrinkled
her brow and twisted her apron nervously. “There were so many,” she said
“Well, who do you remember, Maria? You were already four years old then.”
“Karl Schifmann always grabbed my pigtails.”
“Yes, Maria. And who else?”
“Theresa Beers was with us and always helped me when Karl Schifmann wanted
to pull my pigtails. But then Karl Schifmann died.”
“And what about the very small ones, Maria? The babies?”
“The smallest one always cried.” Mother Liebl always had to carry it because
it couldn't even walk.”
“And this small one, think Maria, what was its name?”
paused to catch her breath. The little girl thought hard. Her mother tried
to help. “Wasn't it called ---?” No, she could not say the word – Susanne,
because she did not want to put it in the child's head.
don't know what his name was. I don't think it had a real name.”
“Well then, why did the baby look like?”
Maria knitted her little brows together. She thought so deeply that a furrow
formed on her forehead. “It looked like all babies look.”
“Yes, we gave it a name. We called in The Little One. But sometimes we
called it other names. Especially when it cried all night. And once Mother
Liebl said to us “don't call it the little one, her real name is ---?”
“--- Her real name is Susie!”
“SUSIE! SUSIE!” rejoiced Katharina. “That is my Susanne!”
was no other Susanne and Ernsthausen. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “My
child!” With grateful emotion she kissed Maria on the cheeks.
“Wouldn't you like to come inside?” asked Frau Kordulek.
the young mother just kneeled before Maria and held her small pale face in
her hands. The question that lay upon her heart nearly took her voice away.
She was just barely able to break through her emotions and asked: “what
happened to Susanne?”
Frau Kordulek had the answer. “We adopted Maria at the time when the other
children were still living with Frau Liebl.”
any rate, Katharina knew at last that her child had come safely across the
border into Austria. Alas, if only little van has some special mark or
quality; blond hair and bright eyes said to little or described many
the following season, Katharina was given a position in the glassblowing
department. She was assigned to the R.K. I. (Rosebkranz – Rosary) which used
a floral design. Even though she wore a face mask, this type of work was
dangerous to her health. The era taking dust resulting from glassmaking was
breathed into her lungs. But what did she care, now that her child appeared
to be so close, and all that she needed to do was to stretch out her hands
to touch her.
Now, about of all, she had defined those other children who were cared for
by Mother Liebl. Maybe one of those children knew of what happened to
Susanne after Maria had been adopted.
often as possible she would travel to Pinkafeld searching for those children
but this turned out to be much more difficult than she had thought. All
that's at trucker, Heizmann, could tell her was that one day the children
were no longer there. And little Maria just could not remember anything
further. Where ever Katharina searched and Mariasdorf in Oberwart in Alhau,
she got the same results. No one knew anything.
Despondent, she returned to her work. Everything appeared to be conspiring
against her. Desolate days followed and weeks without consolation or hope.
And beyond grief, Katharina fell victim to a severe bronchial ailment.
Despite this she wanted to continue her work on the R.K.I Rosaries. But her
doctor insisted she enter the hospital.
her hope began to sink, so did her will to live. Why bother in a more? Life
is not worth living any longer.
Then on a gray autumn day at telegraph arrived: “SUSANNE FOUND. LETTER
FOLLOWS. LEOPOLDINE KORDULEK.”
did not believe her eyes. But there it was in black and white. Susanne
found. Two words which brought an end to years of search and sorrow.
was beside herself with joy. She did not know what to do first. Should she
wait for this promise letter? But that could be hours or days. Whatever the
case, she must get up now. She was not sick. She had never been sick.
Even though she was a little unsteady on her feet she walked to the
post-office on Petersbergerstrasse.
letter was there. Her hands trembled as she tore open the envelope she had
to read the letter three times before she could grasp its contents. “Susanne
found” -- that was not exactly right. And her zeal, Frau Kordulek had
exaggerated her information. In truth, all she learned in Eisenstadt was
that in those turbulent times children younger than two years old were
generally gathered and transported to an orphanage in St. Peter near Graz.
heaven’s sake! That was only 10 minutes distance from her factory! She had
passed by this orphanage many times. She is in glass Christmas tree
ornaments to the children from the surplus stocks given to the employees of
the factory. Was it possible that after searching the whole world for the
child, that she could have already seen her on the street or in the
orphanage only a few minutes away?
Everything was spinning; she felt faint. She placed her hands on her upper
chest for she felt a deep discomfort in her lungs, which her coworkers
called “Stechen mit Blumenmuster” (the sting of the Rosary...thorns of the
roses) but she would not give in to this pain. Not now, so near her goal.
She gathered herself together and decided to go at once to the orphanage.
director, a quiet kindly woman, listened patiently to Katharina as she
excitedly and somewhat incoherently related her story and read the letter of
gave the director some documents. The director stated that what Frau
Kordulek told her in the letter was indeed true. 5 1/2 years ago in those
terrible weeks preceding the end of the war, 40 babies, the majority barely
one year old, had been taken from the southern part of the Burgenland and
brought to Graz.
from Pinkafeld, Sister?”
yes, Frau Lettang. We had eleven babies from Pinkafeld. But unfortunately we
had little information about them. The documents either read “parents
unknown” or “no parents.” Hardly any of the children could remember their
names. There were no documents, no positive tickets. You understand, of
course, how things were at that time. The children were just there. They
were hungry and had to be fed. They were freezing and had to be clothed. And
so we took them in. And we had to give them names to which they have now
long been accustomed. They have grown comfortable with us, and thank God,
they do not know where they came from, for how would that help them now.”
“But we are talking about my child, Sister.”
know, Frau Lettang. I want to give you all the help I can. But that will be
difficult. Does your child have, perhaps, a distinguishing mark, a scar or
Sister, nothing. But that is not necessary for me. I am her mother, after
all. I will immediately recognize my Susanne”
director smiled kindly. “Perhaps Sister Clara can remember a few details.
She had taken care of these children at the time.”
summoned Sister Clara, a tall, stately but he gets somewhat stocky woman of
“Pinkafeld, yes I was there,” she said in her deep almost manlike voice.
“Did you visit the Heizmann family, Sister? They live right next to the
“It's possible I did but I do not remember exactly. The town was under heavy
attack and we were passing through in an ambulance loaded with 30 children.
We picked up a few more from Pinkafeld. There was no time to find out
anything more about them. We had to hurry to get the children out of the
director paged through our record book once again. “Seven of these girls are
still with us.”
“Can I see these girls, Sister?”
course, Frau Lettang, but ---?
“Susanne is among these, Sister. I just have to see these seven girls to
know. I will recognize Susanne.”
Sister Clara intervenes. “The forty-fivers (as she called these children,
referring to the year 1945), are completely familiar to me. Not one of them
is called Susanne.”
“But that has not been established,” the Director added. “As I have
explained to Frau Lettang, those children from Pinkafeld had no names.”
“Yes, and therefore no Susanne.” Sister Clara added loudly.
“Nevertheless, I will recognize Susanne, Sister, you can be sure of that.”
might as well try it,” the Director exclaimed.
They left the room.
Katharina stood up and leaned on the wall as her heart had begun to be
violently for fear that she would not survive the next few moments.
There was no ways in the corridor.
Sister Clara through open the door and pushed the girls into the conference
room. Half frightened, half curious, they gathered in a corner and whispered
to one another. Seven girls, all dressed in the same modest uniform, a
loose-fitting gray smock, with a simple white collar. Their hairstyles were
the same as well. All parted in the middle and woven into too tight braids.
They could have been seven sisters, so much did they resemble each other.
With anxious eyes they stared at the apprehensive stranger.
“These are the girls from Pinkafeld,” Sister Clara again declared in a
Katharina heard one of the girls whisper quietly to another: maybe one of us
is going to get a Mother, again.” She heard another say: “I think that's the
lady who sent us the Christmas tree ornaments and the glass pine cones.”
Poor Katharina. She had indeed expected too much. She stood there alone and
desolate in the bare room. No one had been able to help her. At this moment
it seemed to her that Susanne had been taken away a second time. She had to
support herself by leaning on the back of the chair. Sister Clara just stood
there with her broad peasant face, as if standing guard in front of the
“Susanne--.” The name came haltingly to her lips. Then again,”Susanne.”
This time from deep within her heart, with even more feeling.
“Yes, she is the one who makes pretty ornaments.” The girls chattered to one
another. “People who make these orders all have those black, rough hands.
Isn't that strange?”
director tried to help. “Frau Lettang, didn't you say that your daughter had
light-colored eyes?” She turned to the girls. “Berta, you can go. You, too,
Five girls remained. All had light blue eyes and blond hair.
Katharina could not understand it. She thought she would be able to easily
recognize her daughter, and not necessarily by the eyes alone.
Unfortunately, a mother searching for her child cannot see within her heart.
Susanne was there, yet she was not there; Susanne stood before her, and did
not stand before her. The poor mother thought she could at last grasp her
daughter's hand but now she touched only emptiness.
Suddenly, she didn't know how, she recalled her husband's face, as clearly
as if he were their beside her. She saw the particular brightness of his
blue eyes, the shape of his face, his smile -- which was hardly a smile at
all -- but was rather a little turning off the corners of his mouth . . .
the same moment, she felt something strong, secure and confident take hold
of her heart; a sure and certain feeling that she could trust. She walked up
to the girls, paying hardly any attention at all to those in the foreground
but rather decisively drew towards the quiet and withdrawn girl at the back
of the group. She was so sure of herself; there could not be any other
“Susanne,” she said and grasped the hand of a young girl.
girl drew back. “My name is Josefina.” She was afraid of the black hands,
and looked with our op-ed her own to make sure that these, also, had not
“Your name was Susanne. We called you Susi, Klein Susi. Don't you remember?”
girl shook her head violently. But it was just exactly the manner in which
she shook her head and the way she winkled her brow causing those dear and
familiar furrows on the temples, that formed the unique look seen so often
in her husband's eyes.
“Susanne, my child; my dear child.”
girl listened attentively to the woman's voice. Then she glanced anxiously
at Sister Clara.
was never Susanne”, she declared adamantly. “I've always been Josefina.”
“That's not true!” the Director interrupted. “You were called Josefina only
after you came to us. The Sr. Clara gave you that name. Now think hard my
child. What is the very first thing you can remember of when you were very
“The earliest, the first thing?” Asked the child as she looked intently into
the face of the Director. “The first thing, that was…yes, that was a dark,
very high thing. An oven maybe, or something like that. And something stood
on top of it. And it always moved kind of like in a circle . . .”
“Made of paper?” Katharina asked. “What color was it?”
“Red, it was read,” answered the girl.
“Our red Ofenradchen (oven wheel):” rejoiced the mother. “That proves
everything. Susannah remembered the red oven wheel. Isn't that wonderful
Sister?” she cried to the Director.
With heartfelt emotion the mother drew the child to her. “Now I have found
you Susanne, my dear child.”
Since Katharina Lettang did not want to adopt the girl as the Director had
suggested, but rather legally establish the truth of her parentage, the
adoption courts required certain biological test, mainly blood tests, and
since the father of the child had been killed in the war, these had to be
restricted to the alleged mother. The court appointed doctor made it clear
to Katharina that the results of these tests could not be guaranteed.
Nevertheless, she insisted that the tests be carried out, and after an
examination of the blood groups which generally helps to establish the
parentage of a child as it shares factors from the blood of both parents, it
was established that Katharina and the young girl indeed shared the
determining factors. On this basis, Katharina was declared the girls natural
Little Susanne, for whom all this had been completely unexpected, stared in
amazement at the doctor, watching as he took some blood from her vein and
then from the lady with the black hands, who was supposed to be her mother.
In her childish imagination she saw this as some sort of solemn ceremony
which caused her to give up the idea that she should break away and return
to Sister Clara. But, in the course of time, the girl realized that she had
shared so much of the personality of the mother and Susanne no longer
required the memory of this strange ceremony to feel that she belonged
completely to her mother.
Published at DVHH.org by
Jody McKim Pharr, 11 Jan 2013]
Die Kindertragödie im Banat by Karl Springenschmid
Mass kidnapping by Communists of 20,000 children of ethnic Germans
from Banat. Published by
Eckartschriften Austrian Landsmannschaft, Vienna, Austria,
1978. Translated, with additional
notes by John Adam Kohler and Eve Eckert Koehler: Our Lost Children:
Janissaries?; Published in 1980, Danube Swabian Association of the U.S.A.