Danube Swabian History
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"Völkermord der Tito-Partisanen" 1944-1948
"Genocide Carried out by the Tito Partisans"
Österreichische Historiker-Arbeitsgemeinschaft Für Kärnten und Steiermark, 1992
(Austrian Historian Working Group for Kärnten & Steiermark) 
Translated & Contributed by Henry Fischer. Edited & Published at dvhh.org by Jody McKim, Sep. 2006
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Syrem, Slavonia, Barany : The Cauldron

Syrem
When the Beasts Ruled “Whoever cannot work will not be allowed to live”
 

Semlin

     The German population in Srem and Slavonia was scattered and isolated and lived among Croats and Serbs who formed a majority in the mixed communities in which many of them lived.  But alongside of them were large and overwhelmingly German communities, like Ruma, Indija, Pasua, Franztal, Sarwasch and Sotin and several others, while in most communities in Srem and the eastern portion of the Slavonia there were large German populations.  During the Second World War, both regions were part of the Independent State of Croatia.
 
     The relationships between the Serbs and the Croats during the time of the so-called Independent State of Croatia were stretched to the limits.  As long as the situation permitted the German population in Srem sided with the Serbs in the face of actions taken against them by the Croats.  Indija is not the only example, in which the home defense forces of the German population came to the defense of the Serbs and prevented a bloodbath.  The relationships between the Germans and both the Serbs and Croats over the previous century had always been very positive.  In the past they had not intervened or become involved in the quarrels and arguments between the two groups, and let them work things out amongst themselves.  They were always friends of both, and enemies of neither.
 
     Throughout the war, both Srem and Slavonia experienced ongoing raids and stronger and stronger attacks by the Partisans directed against the Croatian and German troops.  But the Partisans did not hesitate to include the local civilian populations in the conflict.  Their bestial treatment of the innocent civilians who fell into their hands was a clear indication of what the local populations could expect if the Partisans ever came to power if there was no one to curb them and hold them back from committing ongoing atrocities.  They acted with excessive brutality of a satanic nature during the entire war, against the Serbian, Croatian and German civilian populations who did not support and stand by them, and did so with displays of gruesome bestiality.  The Serbian Royalists had to suffer as much as the Croatians and the Germans.
 
     Because of what they had learned and experienced during the war years, the vast majority of the German population left their homeland in the fall of 1944, knowing that they would be helpless and defenseless against the Communist Partisans and would have to face unimaginable horrors at their hands.  How accurate they actually were in their assessment of the situation was soon to be proven true.  From the very first days of rule by the Partisans the German population was herded together and the majority of them were immediately shot.  But these mass shootings in Srem and Slavonia were not the equal of some of the gruesome and greater atrocities that the later labour camp inmates would have to suffer.
 
     Semlin-on-the-Danube across the river from Belgrade on the other side of the Sava, through the incorporation of surrounding villages had a very large German population.  Already in October of 1944 by order of the Partisan Ruling Council a concentration camp was erected there.  Several thousands of the German civilians were brought here over a brief period of time.  The vast majority came from the Batschka and the Banat.  The camp consisted of four barracks, three of which were occupied by men and one by women.  With even less daily nutrition than the slave labourers in the Batschka and the Banat, they were set at hard labour every day.  Many of them, who were too weak or sick to work, were beaten or shot to death.  One of the inmates in this camp informs us:
 
     “We were brought to Belgrade on ships from Pantschowa.  Our group consisted of men from various communities in the Banat:  Karlsdorf, Werschetz, Kovin, Mramorak, Franzfeld, etc.  We were taken on foot from Belgrade to Semlin.  On our way we were often beaten with rifle buts in our ribs.  Whoever could not keep up, was beaten.  Weaker men threw away their backpacks in order to keep up with the others in order to avoid being beaten or put to death.  On our way we ran into a column of wagons, which had license plates denoting various villages in the Banat.  They were loaded with furniture, household items, bedding and such heading for Belgrade, even though everywhere you turned you could read notices on walls that stated, “We do not need the belongings of strangers, nor do we want them.”  After a short period of waiting in front of a command station, we were led into the Camp Kalvaria (Calvary).  It was ten o’clock when we set foot in the camp and there and then we were driven into a barrack like cattle, in which all of us could not stand upright nor could we sit down to rest.  During that night, everything they had not already taken away from us was now confiscated.    The next day we were led to the airport to work.  While we working at the airport everything that we had managed to save and hide in our backpacks all disappeared.  All we had left was what we were wearing.  At the airport we had to remove debris, while others were taken to the docks to load or unload ships.   It often happened that entire work parties received no food or rations in spite of doing hard labour all day.  At evening we got watery bean, potato or pea soup, and 40 to 45 Decograms of bread daily.  During the nights we had to dig ditches in two shifts.  For those who had no implements, they had to use their bare hands to carry the earth some 100 meters.  One of the shifts worked from the time they returned to the camp from working outside until midnight, and were then replaced by the other shift.  But often both shifts had to work through the night.  Whoever could no longer go on working and received a slip from the doctor, was allowed to rest for a day in the camp clinic.  Until the end of March the camp was without a doctor.  His function was carried out by a Partisan, who was in charge of the brutalization and mistreatement of the prisoners, and the shooting of prisoners, which he both organized and carried out.  He loved to be called “Doctor,” and would make the decision whether a person was sick or not.  Every few days, the sick who were in the clinic were sent to the “Hospital” in Belgrade.  They had to make their way to Belgrade on foot in the evening.  Those who were unable to go on, were helped by the others and dragged along with them as best as they could.  They were taken about 100 meters from the camp and shot there.  These actions were always under the direction of the “Doctor”.  In such actions, Martin Berger of Karlsdorf and Jakob Kuhn of Weisskirchen lost their lives.
 
     A Gypsy family with an eighteen year old son lived in close proximity to the airport.  He came and visited the airport on a daily basis, and he was allowed to choose any man from among the prisoners and beat him with a cane for as long as he wanted.  If any of the other prisoners turned around so as not to witness this brutality, he would be the next to endure a beating.  If any man hesitated, or spoke out against this punishment was forced to kneel and place his hands behind his back and was then beaten with the rifle buts of the sentries.  On one occasion, when one man had already received several blows from the rifle buts, attempted to ward off the next blow by raising his hands against the offender.  His hands were immediately chained behind his back and later in the night and on the following day he was gruesomely mistreated and abused.  Every bone in his hands and feet were broken.  In the following night all of the prisoners were forced to assemble.  By order of the Camp commander one of the Partisans stepped forward and shot the man lying on the ground beaten, bloodied and moaning pathetically.  He was buried in the vicinity of the camp yard.
 
     On February 12th, a labour group of some six hundred men was assembled and force marched in the direction of Mitrowitz.  On their way they were joined by another four hundred men from Apatin who were working on the railway line from Schid-Vodjinci.  They had to carry the heavy steel train tracks wherever they were required.    This meant that they carried them for at least six hundred to fifteen hundred meters.  Whoever could not keep up was shot.  The first few days, the men received absolutely nothing to eat.  A few days later they received a quarter liter of pea soup and 10 Decagrams of bread.  Everything lacked salt.  The ration was increased later to a half liter of pea or bean soup, and 30 to 40 Decagrams of bread, but both the peas and beans were hard and indigestible.   After a short time, all of the men had serious cases of dysentery, working in extreme heat and drinking excessively, they weakened physically to the point that it was life threatening for many of them, so that on May 16th the work assignment ended, because there were no longer even fifty men who were capable of any work.  Of the four hundred men from Apatin, three hundred and thirty-nine of them were sent back to Apatin on April 27th.  But on the next day at the railway station at Slankovici, twelve of the sick men were shot.  Among them was the sixty year old Michael Fraus of Zychidorf.  Of the group, who had come from the Semlin camp the survivors returned to Semlin, but without one hundred and twelve of their fellow prisoners who had been either shot or beaten to death.
 
     On May 29th, three hundred of the men who had lost the capacity to do any further work were transferred to the internment camp at Jarek in the Batschka.  They were mostly the men who had worked on railway construction.
 
     In September of 1945 the camp at Semlin was closed and the inmates were all sent to Mitrotwitz.
 
     All of the men who had spent several months in the Semlin Camp, aged dramatically in a very short period of time, so that they were unrecognizable to their families.  Young men in a short time looked like aged men, and most of them had lost almost all of their teeth.  From Semlin and Mitrowitz only human wrecks returned, at whose sight it was apparent what they had endured.


Ruma

     Before the war, there were over ten thousand Germans living in Ruma.  The community, which was located in one of the most beautiful of all of the regions of Srem   formed the center of the German settlement in the area.  No sooner had the Partisans set up their military government on October 25, 1944 when they began the roundup of the local German population throughout the area and began to liquidate them.  They dragged off the German populations from Nikintzi, Grabovtzi, Kraljevtzi, Hrtkovitzi, Ptintzi, Wrdnik and many other villages herding them to an assembly area, and not only the men, but the women and children as well.  They were all imprisoned in the Hrvatski Cathedral at first.  Then they had to undress until they were naked, and left their clothes behind and were marched out to the brickyards where ditches had been dug, and as each group arrived they were shot.  The next batch to be executed had to lie down on top of the corpses of the group just executed before them.  Those who protested or refused to co-operate were bayoneted to death and thrown into the pit.  Many were severely wounded when they were thrown in.  They were still alive and cried out and moaned as the next group lay on top of them and suffocated them.  About 2,800 Germans died in this way on the first day.  Many other Germans from the vicinity were also shot individually, stabbed or beaten to death.


Mitrowitz

     In the city of Mitrowitz located in Srem, there was only a small German minority that lived among the Croatian population.  But close to the city there were numerous communities, among which Germans formed the vast majority of the population, while some of the villages were entirely German.  It was here in Mitrowitz where the Partisans set up an internment camp in the local silk factory, which would become the most gruesome of all of the Partisan installations.  This was especially true in terms of the high death rate in this facility.  By the beginning of December 1945 there were at least two thousands persons interned here.  In April of 1946, only four hundred and fifty were still living.  In the first half of the month of January, there were days when twenty four persons died of starvation.  On December 15th, sixty-nine women from Betschmann were brought to the camp in Mitrowitz.  By mid-February only eleven of them were still alive.  On January 6, 1946 there were still sixty-four women from Sekitsch.  By April they had all perished except for twelve.  Of one hundred and fifty children who were still alive in November 1945, by April in 1946 they numbered less than fifty.  When the inmates of the Semlin Camp were brought to Mitrowitz in December 1945, there were seventeen men from Karlsdorf.  In March of the next year, thirteen of them had already died.  Enormous were the numbers who were shot and beaten to death by the Partisans.  Twenty alone were victims of abuse and mistreatment.  The Partisans were not prepared to wait for people to simply die on their own.  In the early evenings they were taken out of the camp to the banks of the Sava River, where they were shot and their bodies were thrown into the river.  Every time they took groups away like that they were always told they were being taken to a hospital.  The high death rate was due to the inhumane mistreatment the prisoners experienced, but above all it was the lack of nutrition.  For a long time, there was only soup twice a day with only a trace of grain.  But on Christmas Day of 1945 they were only given soup once.  There were months when they received no bread at all.  When there was bread it was only a small chunk of corn bread.  The camp was hermetically sealed at all times. 

     Even in 1946, long after the war was over, the camp officials for no reason at all continued to order the death of German civilians in their hands.  They demonstrated special brutality in the butchering of the German physician, Dr. Franz Ehrlich and his helper the nurse known as Sister Juli in September of 1946.  Dr. Ehrlich, in his position as camp doctor had the duty to keep medical records of all of the inmates, recording their illnesses and the causes of their deaths.  He did all of this conscientiously and truthfully, and if someone died of starvation he recorded it as such, and if a prisoner was beaten to death by a Partisan he reported it as such.  Because of this he greatly angered the camp commander who then threatened him.  He was instructed to record other illnesses as the causes of death.  But the doctor refused to do so and continued to record the truth.  In response the commander ordered that his assistant, the nurse, Sister Juli a nineteen year old from Ruma be thrown into the punishment bunker.  She was a very beautiful young woman.  During the night, the commandant went to the bunker and raped her.  At her request, Dr. Ehlers examined her the next day and he noted the crime in his medical records.  Because of that he was ordered to appear before the commandant, who asked him to change his records.  Dr. Ehrlich refused to do so.  He would not falsify the truth.  He would not lie.  Immediately following his interview, he was taken out of the camp that evening.  At the same time the young nurse, Sister Juli was also taken.  The two of them were dragged to the banks of the Sava River.  There they were tortured in frightful ways and then towards morning they were butchered with knives.  Their bodies were thrown into the Sava.  But the bodies did not float away, but remained there by the river bank.  Their corpses had been decapitated.  Serbian civilians had witnessed this massacre. 

     In the spring of 1947, the inmates of the camp were transferred to Jarek where they were housed in an old warehouse.  From among the many thousands who had been in the camp at Mitrowitz only four hundred had survived.


Vukovar

     Vukovar was an important Croatian city with a large German minority.  The city was occupied by the Partisans on April 12,1945.  On the very same day, the Partisans arrested all of the leading personalities if the area, including the teachers Michael Paitz, Jakob Kiefer and Leonhardt Baumgartner.  The arrested men were immediately shot.  Their liquidation was announced publicly the next day to the entire population.  The next day a new series of arrests and imprisonments began.  As a result one hundred and twenty men simply disappeared.  They were shot in the former German military camp grounds trenches.  Among the victims that day were the most important officials in the city, which included Matthias Schreckeis and the mayor, Ing. Turk.  Fathers of some of the Partisans were shot that day.  Three of them were driven on foot and forced to cross a minefield that tore them all apart with their explosions.  On the same day the plundering of homes and properties began.  Anything the Partisans wanted they took.  On one of the following days Martin Muller and Martin Hutz were publicly executed standing up against a wall and shot by a Partisan formation.  It was reported that guns had been found in their possession, one hidden in a wheelbarrow and the other buried in the garden.  In truth neither of them had any arms nor had they tried to hide them.  The finding of the guns was only a ruse.  On April 16th all of the inhabitants of the city had to report and indicate their nationality.  The intention of the registration was revealed on April 24th, when all persons who had claimed to be German, had to leave their homes and Vukovar that day.  A portion of those being expelled from the city were led down to the Danube and put on ships and sent to Palanka.  The group consisted of young mothers with children and old women.  From Palanka they were driven on foot to Jarek heading for the internment camp there.  The pace of the march had to be maintained by everyone or they were beaten.  One woman who could no longer go on, was beaten and shoved about by the Partisans, and fell into a ditch and broke her leg.  Without any consideration for her condition she had to come along and maintain the pace of the march.  She was helped along by some of the others.  Without counting the children, there were sixty-two persons in this group when they arrived in Jarek on May 1st.  After three and one half months only six of them were still alive. 

     The second, and much larger group of the expellees from Vukovar on April 24th were taken to the Ovtschara-Puszta of Count Elz.  There were one hundred and sixty persons in this group.  At the end of May they were driven on foot to Jarek. 

     A third group of those expelled on April 24th were taken to the Czech College on the Danube.  Not counting the children, there were some two hundred persons.  They would be the third group to be sent to Jarek later. 

     Another group made up of able bodied women and men were assembled and were taken to Mitrowitz and Schid to work on railway construction.  They numbered two hundred persons.  After some time, almost worked to death and unable to work any further they were also brought to Jarek.  But the vast majority of them had succumbed and become victims while they were in Mitrowitz.  Only a few individuals survived and came to Jarek.  Of four brothers who had been sent to Mitrowitz only one came to Jarek and he died four days after his arrival.  

     On August 7th another sixty-two persons in Vukovar were driven out of their homes.  They were individuals who had claimed to be Croatians, even though they had German names.  About forty of them were brought to Jarek, and twenty were sent to Valpovo.  Only a few of them from Valpovo arrived in Jarek the next year.  Again in November another forty persons were taken to Valpovo.  From among them only a few individuals were able to survive. 

     On January 4th an additional sixty persons were driven out of their homes and were driven to Valpovo.  Among them was the 76 year old Elisabeth Kleiber the benefactress of the community.  Years before she had established a large children's’ orphanage at her own expense and continued to support and maintain it.  At the time she was expelled she was living in the orphanage and had entrusted all of her estate to its future.  This kind and generous woman, the friend of the poor, was dragged off to Valpovo, where she would die.  When the camp at Jarek was closed and the survivors were sent on to the camp at Kruschevlje, of the hundreds of Germans from Vukovar who had been brought to Jarek, only twelve persons were among them.  All of the others had perished.


[Edited and Published at DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr Sep 2006]
 

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