Semlak was already an existing village when
the German settlers arrived. Separated by different
Protestant faiths and ancestry, two strong German
communities developed in the 19th century. In 1819,
the first of the “Beriners” (Lutherans or Evangelische)
arrived primarily from the Hungarian city/village of
Mezöberény with a smaller group from Hartau (Harta) and
Soldvadkert. In 1823, the “Gubaschen” (Calvinists or
Reformed) arrived from Balmazújváros. They acquired
the label of “Gubasch” because they wore felt capes (guba)—a
distinguishing piece of clothing. Both communities
resided in separate districts of the town—and continue to do
so even to this day. It is interesting to note that
the two groups even speak different dialects: the
Lutherans speak a Rhenish-francon “fest” developed in
Mezöberény; while the Calvinists speak a Rhenish-francon
“fesht” version established in Balmazújváros.
Rose Mary Keller Hughes
Lutheran church bells ringing in Semlak (turn on
Biserica Evanghelica Semlac 2009
years we also celebrate an Ecumenical Christmas (the
beginning was in our Lutheran Church in 1997) - each
year in other church of Semlak, with more priests and
more choirs. -
You may look on it on YouTube too (there are 4 parts,
each 15 minutes) :
Weihnachtskonzert 2011 Semlak - Teil 1/4
Under the recorded film, you may read the following text
in German: "Ecumenical
every year in Semlak
rotational by the
parish churches between Christmas,
according to the Western Church, and
New Year, according to the
January 2011, after
becoming a traditional event
year. Host this year's
Evangelical Church of the
was attended by
music groups from Arad,
and from the
present were representatives
of the Romanian-Orthodox,
Protestant (Lutheran and
church. They were joined by
traditional carol singers
Christmas concerts in
opportunity to visit other
churches and each other
to get closer.
It's not just about
The event was supported by
the local government
Arad, January 2011"
- Walther Sinn, Pfarrer
Fifty Years After - Part 1
by George Kaiser, Düsseldorf
Years After - Part 2
by George Kaiser, Düsseldorf
Years After - Part 3
by George Kaiser, Düsseldorf
Diary of Deportation
by Andreas Toth
Weddings in Semlak
Semlak Familes of Rose Mary Keller
For more excellent information
about Semlak, go to the Heimatortsgemeinschaft (HOG)
A model of the
Evangelische (Lutheran) church in Semlak.
It is unknown what event prompted the building
of the model, but the photo is from the archives
of Josef Haibach
who born in Semlak.
A cousin in
Germany Erika Jost and her husband Fredi Jost are a part
Traunau comedy troup.
put on plays mostly by one playwright, Stefan Heinz
Kehrer, a Banater. The reason my cousin is associated
with the group is because her father originated from
Traunau while she was born in Semlak and now lives in
Germany. Her father was a well-loved teacher in
Semlak. In the picture, my cousin is in the middle row,
3rd person from the right. Her hubby is in the back row
at the left. Another cousin's daughter is in the center
in the front row (little girl in tracht).
Fifty Years After
By George Kaiser,
Published in the
Heimatortsgemeinschaft Semlak Heimatbrief
- February 1995, Vol. 12, Pages 12-20
Part 1 - Many thanks
for Henry Fischer for his translation from German to
23rd in 1944, Romania broke its military pact
with Germany and stood on the side of the Soviets. In just a
few short weeks the Soviet Army overran all the territory
that Romania controlled. This was done in spite of the
fierce resistance of the few remaining German troops as the
frontlines approached the western frontier of Romania by the
beginning of September.
was already in the vicinity of Arad when the German soldiers
appeared in Semlak to facilitate in the organization of the
flight of the German inhabitants to the German Reich.
spread abroad that the Russians would exterminate any
Germans that fell into their hands. While at the same time,
a few Romanian Communists as well as some Germans went about
the village beating their drums proclaiming the exact
opposite. They reported that the Russians were decent people
and would not do any harm to us. The new Romanian government
also announced the same thing.
George Kaiser was the assistant mayor of Semlak, having
taking office in October 1943. The German military officials
ordered him to secure horses for those German families who
did not have any of their own. He was to commandeer them
from the local Romanians. He neither wanted to do this nor
could he do so because he had lost his position as a result
of the capitulation of Romania to the Russians on August 23rd.
My father was ordered to place himself at the head of the
column of horses and wagons to lead the flight from Semlak.
If he refused to obey this order, he was threatened with
fear, our family, along with Peter Friedrich and Christoph
Müller’s families fled secretly at night for Nadlak where
some Slovak friends of ours hid all of us.
September 15th, the column of refugees with their
horses and wagons set out from Semlak in the direction of
Pereg towards Hungary. During the night, Peter Friedrich and
I went to Semlak by way of the fields and back roads from
Nadak. Our journey took us across the Cucu Puszta to the
road that leads to Pereg. There we hid under the remains of
a roof of an abandoned hut and waited there during the
night. We wanted to sneak into the village under the cover
of darkness and obtain some food and find out what we could
about the present situation there. We trembled at every
sound we heard. Suddenly we heard the clatter of horses’
hoofs and wagon wheels turning. We looked through the holes
of the roof and saw the column of the fleeing population of
Semlak pass by on the Pereg Road.
cover of darkness we broke into the house of the Friedrich
family, which lay across the street from our house, and we
decided to rest there until morning. Because things remained
still and quiet, I went to our house and took a smoked ham
and a loaf of bread back with me. In the evening we made our
way back to Nadlak.
that peace prevailed back in Semlak. As a result all three
families harnessed and hitched their horses to their wagons
and drove towards Scheiding to a Romanian named Trasu, a
friend of my father. We sent him on to Semlak to see if
things were still quiet there. He reported there was no
danger and we risked going back home.
of the German population of Semlak had fled. Their houses
were empty, but their livestock were out in the yards or
stables along with the stored grain crops, all of which was
a welcome feast for many of the Romanians. All of the houses
had been plundered in short order. Each man took what he
wanted and them occupied the house of his choice.
A few days
after the people had fled, the Russians were quick to arrive
in the village. On a Sunday morning, I heard a great deal of
noise and racket out on the street. As we opened our
windows, we looked out across the street and saw a large
group of Russian soldiers gathered at the Brezan blacksmith
shop where their horses were being shoed.
take long before a wagonload of Russians stood in our yard.
They screamed, "We want wine!" They rolled the wine barrel
out of the cellar, shot a hole in it and let it pour into
some pails and drank from them. Because they realized we
were Germans they forced us to drink with them. They wanted
to assure themselves that the wine had not been poisoned.
knew a bit of broken Russian. A Russian prisoner of war had
worked for his parents during the First World War and he had
learned from him. The Russians told him, "Hitler is kaput
and has had it," and that they were now marching on to
Berlin. With the wine barrel on their wagon they noisily
passed out of our yard. This was to be my first of many
encounters with the Russians.
depot was set up in the house of Michael Rück’s family.
Munitions were delivered from here to the frontlines, which
by now stretched into Hungary. Only two wagonloads were sent
out at a time because of the fear of bombardment by
too had to hitch up his team along with Kajtor Gabor, who I
called bacsi (uncle) and they drove munitions to Hungary
escorted by several Russian soldiers.
arrived close to the front my father asked his escort to let
him get away. He left him with his horses and wagon, his
food supplies and two liters of Raki. The solider then said
to him in Russian, "Get going you Romanian devil."
A few days
later I was ordered to report to the community center with
my identity papers and a backpack with food. The cows that
belonged to those who had fled, as well as those of others
still in Semlak were all brought to the community center and
were to be driven on foot to the train station in Petschka.
They told me, that I had to accompany them and see to their
feeding until we reached the Russian border.
I was to be
accompanied by three Soviet soldiers. I had the foresight to
bring along two bottles of Raki from home. As we approached
the main highway, they set aside some time to sit down, rest
and eat while the cattle pastured in a nearby cornfield.
older soldiers sat down beside each other on a pile of
cornstalks and the younger one sat next to me. He spoke
Romanian but I learned that he was from Bessarabia. After I
asked him to let me go free, he asked me if I still had
parents. He said his own were dead and had been murdered by
the Germans. I offered him the schnapps and the food I had
and he later let me get away.
I came home
in the midst of darkness once more. Once again I had to go
into hiding for several days.
One day my
father was ordered to report at the community center. He was
informed that the Russians had lost five cows along the way,
and had sold five others in Petschka. Because I had
disappeared my father was threatened with having to pay for
the ten cows and would be brought to court to face his
for the punishment to be carried out every day, but nothing
happened. Instead the two of us were taken prisoner on
January 14, 1945 along with countless others who were to be
dragged off and deported to Russia.
avoided the flight to Germany, but there was no way for us
to escape going to Russia.
what was gong to happen that night. Idata, who was the Chief
of Police stationed in Semlak, had tipped my father off. We
pondered and planned all night long without any positive
result. We had no idea of what to do and could not commit
ourselves to any form of action. My father looked at his
watch, it was four o’clock on the morning of January 14,
1945. It almost appeared as if nothing was going to happen
this night after all. It was snowing outside and it was
bitterly cold. Peering out from under the curtains of the
window facing the street, we became quiet as mice as we
heard the sound of marching boots crunching through the
snow. The sounds of marching men out on the street paused at
our window. Only the crunching sounds of boots in the snow
could be heard. We simply waited for what would happen next
and suddenly there was a loud knocking at one window, and a
voice spoke in Romanian, "George, my dear friend. Open up.
We simply want to check your papers!" It was the familiar
voice of a friend of my father who happened to be the
richest Romanian farmer in the village, and a friend of the
Germans right up to August 23rd.
opened the door and let men inside and went for his papers
that one of the soldiers verified and then stuffed the
document up under his coat. It was then when we realized we
were prisoners. The soldier ordered us to obey him without
question. He said any attempt at escape was futile, because
the village was surrounded and the troops were ordered to
shoot to kill any who attempted to get away. We were led to
the community center and were among the first to arrive
there. In the next half hour they brought more and more
people, almost all of them Germans, young and old, men and
women. It was reported that men between the ages of 17 to
45, as well as women from 18 to 30 years were all being
assembled to work elsewhere. We soon recognized that there
more and more exceptions to the regulations, because they
brought much younger people like myself and Paul Jani and
Götz Evi and Kernleitner Maria or older men like my father
and Paul Jani’s. Approaching noon fewer and fewer people
We had been
ordered to bring food and laundry with us from our homes to
last for at least two weeks. This made us believe we were
being taken away somewhere to work for two weeks. In the
afternoon at 3 o’clock we had to stand in columns of four
abreast with the men and women in separate groups. We formed
a total column of about 130 persons and were under guard by
about twenty-five soldiers. Our luggage was packed on
sleighs drawn by teams of horses. Then an official gave a
short speech and informed us of our orders. Those who
attempted to escape would be shot on the spot. The doors of
the community center were thrust open. There was a short
curt order and the sound of crackling gunfire followed as
the signal for us to start out. With the very first steps we
began to take, the bells in the church bell towers began to
toll. Weeping and crying broke out among the people,
everyone, young and old, men and women, even some of the
Romanians who had come to watch and a young armed guard or
We set out
walking along the main street of the village in the
direction of the highway between the two cemeteries. I
thought of escape, hoping there would be an opportunity to
hide in the cemetery. At the end of the cemetery stood an
old Semlak Communist. Whenever he had the chance he would
kick or beat us and shouted: "Heil Hitler!" He was fat old
Dasu, who every resident of Semlak knew only too well.
snowed a great deal that winter and in places the snow was a
meter and a half deep. Our column moved slower and slower
through the deep snow. It came obvious to us that it would
be dark before we reached Petschka our next destination.
Around 5 o’clock we reached the highway from Nadlak towards
Arad. We had to huddle closer to one another so that the
column became smaller. Then there was another shot fired
into the air, the signal for us to go on.
right and the left of the roadway there were large parcels
of cornfields that had not been harvested. The military
activities in the autumn, the flight of a portion of our
people had all resulted in less than a normal harvest. Our
hearts were beating faster, as we saw the encroaching
darkness beginning to cover the cornfields. Would it be
possible to hide in there? The columns we formed became
broader and longer. Was this our chance? At the crossroads
that led to Palota in Hungary, I suddenly heard a loud
rustling sound over in the cornfields as a large group of
people broke away from the column, and began running for
their lives as more and more shots were being fired after
them. The escapees were being chased by the soldiers, who
ran in and out, among the rows and rows of cornstalks in
search of them. A small group was being led out of the
cornfield surrounded by soldiers with their bayonets
pointing at them. Among them were my uncle Martin Kaiser and
his wife Susan. All of the others had managed to escape. My
uncle and aunt each received a blow to the head from the
butt of an officer’s rifle, which was something they would
never forget. The Commander was awfully angry and gave short
strict orders and swore to the best of his ability in this
particular Romanian art form. The captured escapees numbered
about twenty persons and were now relocated and placed at
the front of the column and were heavily guarded. There
would be no future opportunities for escape for them.
very much in the background, guarded by much younger
soldiers, who showed very little interest in us. But they
did talk to us even though it was strictly forbidden for
them to do so. All kinds of schemes and plans whirled around
in my head: Flight. Escape. These were my prime objectives,
but how and when? I received a nudge in the ribs from my
neighbour beside me and he asked, "Are you dreaming?" In
turn, I replied, "I’m getting out of here!"
A group of
people from Scheiding, coming from the railway station in
Petschker passed by our column in the darkness. Some of them
jumped across the ditch alongside of the roadway and I
listened to what they had to say. They were all Romanians.
My young guards laughed and said, "Run Fritz or else old
Ivan will get you!" (Ivan was an euphemism for Russian). We
exchanged only a few words, the last of which I remembers
was, "This is an injustice!" Once we were safely removed
from the column they told me to hide in the cornfield and I
could be betrayed or punished. They told me to wait until it
was night before I tried to return to Semlak and I was also
aware of the fact that the village had been surrounded. It
was already dark when I heard dogs howling from the
direction of Petschka in pursuit of the last of those
attempting to escape.
of dumb and stupid things went through my mind. I was afraid
of being caught or freezing to death because it was terribly
cold. Thoughts of whether my father had managed to escape
also made me almost crazy because I knew he had been among
those who had been most heavily guarded. I couldn’t hear a
thing and the silence only increased my fear. I forced
myself to get up and stand on my two feet. I was now
determined to reach my destination and make my way across
the fields to Semlak and home. But I had to be very careful
because the cornstalks and leaves were frozen and brushing
by them created loud rustling sounds, snaps and cracks.
made my way through the deep snow. When I heard dogs howling
again later, I became more courageous, because I had
obviously not lost my way and I was getting nearer to the
village. I had no idea of what time it was, and I must have
lost my watch. But by my reckoning it had to be quite late
or very early in the morning, because dogs sleep at night.
There was no light to be seen and I could just barely
recognize the contours of the first houses at the edge of
the village. It stood there quietly and did not even dare to
breathe. I lingered like this in the darkness for some time
and tried to see what I could. I could not hear anything out
the ordinary. Shortly, I decided to act and slipped into the
clay pits and ditches and the deep holes that had been dug
for securing earth in order to build houses. There were many
of them behind the gardens of the last houses on the
outskirts of the village. Cautiously I crawled through all
of them on all fours until I was close to our street. My
heart was pounding in my throat. Only one hundred more steps
would take me to the corner where our house was located. It
was still very cold and the snow crunched loudly beneath my
feet as if determined to give me away. But I no longer felt
the cold, not now, the opposite took effect, and sweat ran
down my whole body.
large leap I made it over the wall around our garden. As
soon as the dogs recognized me, all of my attempts to quiet
them were useless. They yelped, howled and jumped up all
over me. I finally calmed them down, but they insisted on
accompanying me to the kitchen door. When I had leapt over
the wall, I thought I had seen a faint light in the house,
but now all was dark and quiet. I called out in a whisper, "Mami!"
but there was no response. After what seemed like an awfully
long time, my mother slowly opened the door and was quietly
weeping. I saw immediately that she was not alone. Our
neighbours were with her and shared our fate with us.
immediately asked me where my father and their family
members were. How on earth could I tell them, since I had
left them all to meet their own fate. They wanted to know so
much from me, but before I could even begin to respond to
their questions the dogs were once again making a racket
outside. The light was quickly put out and not a further
word was spoken. We were afraid it was our tormenters again
who were beginning a second roundup of victims. The sounds
of footsteps drew nearer and we were trembling in fear when
we heard the knock. I immediately recognized my father’s
voice and opened the door as quickly as I could. He stood
there frozen at the door with small icicles in his beard. He
too had fled under the cover of darkness. He could not tell
us much about the fate of the others. He was of the opinion
that only a few of them ever arrived at the school at the
railway station in Petschka. The Hungarians in Petschka are
to be thanked for what they did and provided help and
assistance to the escapees as they stole through the town in
of the prisoners had been under heavy guard and about 37 of
them did not find a chance to escape. These unfortunate
people were under the direct supervision of the Commander of
the troop escort.
15th the rage of the superior authorities over
the disastrous first deportation effort knew no bounds. They
hunted us down like wild animals. My family and I hid out
with some Romanians. But after two days we had to abandon
our hiding place. Someone had betrayed us. We had to leave
during the second night. We went to stay in the cellar of
Josif Tocaci a day labourer who had worked for my father.
They hid us in the cellar under a pile of cornstalks. These
people also provided us with food. They heated up stone
bricks and brought them down to the cellar to keep us from
freezing to death. Wrapped in our covers we dried our wet
shoes and warmed our cold feet. We could not use the oven
because the smoke would have given us away.
evening our befriender came home and was shaking like a leaf
and begged us to leave his house as soon as possible. He had
learned that those who hid the Germans would be taken away
as hostages. He came down to the cellar to us and told us he
was sorry but he had to think of his wife and six children
first. Around eleven at night we sneaked out of his house
and made for the earth and clay pits. Everyone was afraid to
take us in. It was cold and it was snowing as much as heaven
could spare. That was to our good fortune, because the
footprints and signs we left behind us, could no longer be
seen the next day. Our former host had twinge of conscience.
With a faintly lit lantern he led us out to a pile of
cornstalks at the edge of village. Several bundles were
stacked together to form a kind of lean-to and shelter for
us. Within our shelter there were bundles of tobacco leaves
that were stacked together around us up against the
cornstalks and packed snow all around us while storms raged
outside. The lantern was left with us as a gift. We stood on
our feet during the night and stomped our feet on the ground
to avoid getting frostbite or freezing: it was a Dance in
unable to survive like this much longer; it was as if
Judgment Day had already come. My father set out to find a
way for us to save ourselves and proved to be successful in
his efforts. Even though the German haters were everywhere
and in charge of everything, he managed to find us some
guardian angels. It was the Denes Bacsi, our butcher and his
wife Mileva, who were both Serbs through and through. He
came and got us from our hiding place with a gypsy caravan
and brought us to his home. No one ever thought about the
possibility of Germans hiding in the house of a Serb. We
warmed up ourselves and had good warm food. The time passed
by so quickly and I was feeling great spending time with the
two daughters of the household, Tinca and Marioara and
became very close friends with them.
were betrayed. The Police Chief informed our host and
postponed a house search until the next day. One at a time,
each of us left the house dressed like an old woman late
that night. No one was any longer prepared to provide for
afraid to go home and so we attempted to find refuge with
some relatives and friends. We were unable to find help at
Maria Kernleitner’s, who lived at the corner house close to
the steam driven mill. She and her mother were terrified to
remain in their house alone. We found them at Rosalia
Schubkegel. They cried because they had had to leave their
hiding place and had no idea of where to go next. In
response, my father simply said, "Then come with us."
Hearing footsteps outside, everyone headed in a different
direction in order to escape. But it was Andreas Schubkegel
and he said, "They caught me, but I got away and now I’m
running for it."
by Rosalia’s father, Heinrich Schubkegel who promised to
help us hide out, we sneaked away to our house.
parent’s house there was one room without windows, the door
of which could be hidden by a tall cupboard. During the
First and Second World Wars, clothes and food supplies would
be hidden there when the requisitioners from the army came
for supplies. This now became our narrow small hiding place.
It was a very tight fit for seven persons. My grandmother
Kaiser, who lived only three streets away, was to cook for
all of us and my younger brother Joseph, who was just twelve
years old, was to bring us our meal once a day along with
any news. The food became better and better and the news got
worse. Our tormenters increased in numbers, as did the
promises made to them and for that reason they became very
food arrived one day, we knew there was something wrong.
They apprehended my little brother and brought him to the
police station. There were people there in Russian and
Romanian uniforms who were armed with machine pistols. They
threw Joseph in a police cell along with five other children
and seven old women. They had been arrested as hostages in
place of their relatives and their teeth chattered from the
cold and from fear. Eventually the door opened and two armed
Russians pushed the hostages out into the yard and placed
them in single file. They were ordered to reveal the hiding
places of their family members. They all remained silent.
Then they were called upon one by one and had to step
forward, but none of them spoke. One of the uniformed
soldiers raised his gun and fired a series of bullets and
one of the old women fell unconscious to the ground. In
response the soldier screamed, "Whoever refuses to answer
our questions will be shot just like this old woman." This
threat did not fail to achieve its objective. Some were too
old, others too young not be believe the threat. Frightened
and terrified each in turn promised to show the way to their
family member’s hiding place.
Joseph came home escorted by two soldiers. We could already
hear him crying from inside of our hiding place. He kept
pleading, "I did not want to betray you, but they shot an
old woman." With our hands raised each of us had to leave
our hiding place one at a time. Each of us was searched and
afterwards led away.
farmers from Semlak had to drive us on their horse drawn
sleighs to Klein St. Nikolaus and the Romanian-Soviet
Commission there. We numbered twelve prisoners with six
armed soldier guards who had shoot to kill orders. On our
way to the Commission we had to pass by the assembly camp.
There the soldiers handed us over to the others. The
Commander of the camp and his assistant were both Jewish.
Our guards, however, had been ordered specifically to hand
us over to the Commission.
papers were authorized, Michael Paul and my father George
Kaiser were declared too old, while Maria Kernleitner, Eva
Götz, Johann Paul and I were too young and were all set
free. But the Camp Commander was not in agreement with our
being set at liberty. In spite of that we were sent home
with papers and certificates to that effect.
25, 1945 in spite of our papers we were again taken prisoner
and along with many others were locked up in the Semlak,
House of Culture. This time we were guarded by Soviet
troops. At our apprehension and arrest we were promised that
the Romanian-Soviet Commission would judge our cases on the
basis the regulations. Men between 17 and 45 and women
between 18 and 30 were to be deported.
day, always more Semlak Germans were brought to the House of
Culture and locked up with us. On the morning of January 29th
a convoy of Russian trucks filled with armed soldiers
arrived. We were driven into the trucks and they were
covered over with canvas. A portion of the soldiers held
their weapons trained on us and the others did the same to
those who had gathered there and were weeping because of
what was taking place. We were not allowed to say our
farewells or speak to one another. We were brought to the
barracks in Arad where we were allowed to eat and wash once
breaking of dawn, the prisoners were driven into the cattle
cars. I, along with most of the others from Semlak was
driven into cattle car number 52 at one o’clock, on January
30, 1945 on my seventeenth birthday. We numbered 82 persons.
The doors were locked, the guards took their places inside
and then there was the long whistling sound of the
locomotive, the signal for our departure. Huffing and
rolling along, the train filled with its human cargo set
into the unknown lasted from January 30th to
March 7th, 1945.
(I wrote these
reminiscences 50 years later on January 30, 1995 in
Düsseldorf on my 67th Birthday...GK)
Fifty Years After
By George Kaiser,
Published in the
Heimatortsgemeinschaft Semlak Heimatbrief
July 1994, Vol. 13, Pages
Part 2 - Many thanks
for Henry Fischer for his translation from German to
until the departure of the train from Arad, I still hoped
that I would be released because I was too young. It was
midnight and January 30, 1945 had begun with us packed
inside the cattle car. It was my seventeenth birthday. I
had become seventeen years old and now officially old enough
to be deported. The fact that many others were in the same
position was of little comfort to me. The way things worked
out, the matter of age was actually secondary, the real
issue was achieving the quota of deportees that had been
set. Only the sisters Eva and Susan Herber were released in
Arad because they were ill clothed to face the gruesome
winter ahead of us. In all likelihood they had a guardian
angel whose outstretched arms protected them.
During the last call for
those boarding the train the suitcase of Nikolaus Poth, the
baker, called “Uncle Bäck” by everyone, went missing. That
was a hard blow for him for it meant that he had lost all of
his clothes and food. Even though this was reported to the
sentry, his suitcase could not be found in the darkness.
Uncle Bäck was dependent on the kindness of his fellow
villagers during the following long journey and was never
abandoned by them.
When all of the men were on
the train a group of Soviet soldiers reported in. They
seemed very young to us, between 14 and 16 year olds. They
were children without parents who had been raised in
Stalinist orphanages. They wore fur coats, felt boots and
thick bindings wrapped around their lower legs. The Russian
caps they wore had large earflaps and there was a large red
five-pointed-star sewn at the center. They were armed with
After the doors of the
cattle car were locked from the outside, they took their
post in the area around the braking apparatus at the far
end. These children were to be our guards on this long and
tortuous journey towards uncertainty.
Following the sound a shrill
whistle the locomotive shuddered and we experienced the
train getting underway. The long endless train set out on
its long endless journey, whose final destination was
unknown to us.
Some time next day our train
drove into Rimnicul-Sarat, a city in Moldavia along
Romania’s eastern border. We all had to detrain here and
take our luggage with us. This was the cause of a faint
glimmer of hope for we thought this meant we would remain in
Romania and not be sent to work elsewhere.
We were set up in rows and
columns of men and women and were led through the city to a
camp. Our guards were to our right and left and onlookers
stood on the sidewalk, most of who were men with large black
hats and long flowing beards. We were scolded and spit upon
by them and some were successful in landing a good kick at
one of us. They called us Hitler’s swine and pieces of
plaster and rocks were thrown at us. Our Russian guards
tried to clarify to the Jews that we were only Antonescu’s
stooges, but that did not help much. This went on all of
the way to the camp and when we got to the entrance there
was a hostile group awaiting us screaming, “Heil Hitler!”
As we stepped into the camp
yard we were met with the steam from huge boiling kettles.
They were filled with bean soup and smoked ham. It was our
first warm meal and we received cold rations for the next
On the same day we were once
again loaded into Russian cattle cars in the same groups as
before. The guards also remained the same.
In the interior of these
Russian cattle cars there were bunks set up at both ends,
far too few for 82 persons assigned to the car, so that we
only got to lie down on them to sleep, once every three
nights. The others spent the night sitting on their
suitcases or other luggage. There was also a tin furnace in
the car, but there was no wood or anything with which to
make a fire. Beforehand, these cattle cars brought Russian
soldiers westwards to the Front, but we were now traveling
eastwards with them.
Before the train got
underway we heard the sound of dogs barking outside and the
sound of steps on the hard frozen snow. It was the last
security check making certain that all of the doors were
locked. A salvo of shots was the signal that the security
procedure had been concluded and that the train could get
On January 31st,
we arrived in Iasi (the capital of Romanian Moldavia) and we
were parked on a secondary track. Next to the track was an
open field, where we could relieve ourselves. Inside the
cattle car we had to form columns of men and women in order
to be counted and then we had to take a step to the right
and be counted again and both lists had to be handed over to
the Russians by the Romanians. During this count it was
discovered that three persons were missing. The count had
to be taken several times, but the result was always the
same. We had to detrain again and an officer counted each
one of us personally. It was futile, there were still three
persons missing. Even after several warning shots our total
count did not increase. We had to board the train again.
Shortly afterwards we heard loud swearing and screams of,
“Come quickly!” The door of our car flew open and two young
people, actually children, were thrown inside. They were
siblings, the boy was about twelve and the girl was fourteen
and they said that they were Italian. Right afterwards an
older man was lifted up into the car because he was unable
to do so alone. He had a long flowing white beard. He was
a Romanian railway worker and was called Vitovsky and spoke
German quite well. The two children were sent home about a
month later on a military train.
We received food to eat at
Iasi, it would be the last meal we would eat in Romania: a
sentry opened the door of the cattle car and ordered that
two men get off the train to go and get some food. He
pointed to me and said, “You Fritz. Come here.” I jumped
out of the cattle car and landed on my stomach. After much
effort Heinrich Gottschick stood next to me. We had little
trust in the young soldiers because they swore at us so
While we were being counted,
another cattle car was attached next to ours and had a sign
designating that it was “the kitchen”. That is where we got
the food: 80 liters of greasy soup with mutton and a lot of
paprika. We dragged the food to our car in tin tubs. In
order to stir the thick brew we found a stick on the railway
tracks. There was enough soup because only a few attempted
to eat this unfamiliar fare, because we still had enough
fresh sausage from home in our suitcases.
From a distance we saw some
people standing by a well and drawing water. After several
requests we were allowed to go to the well in the company of
two guards. We were allowed to stay for a while. In order
to wile away the time, the soldiers showed us their guns.
Using their machine pistols they shot the glass transformers
on a telephone post that shattered into thousands of
pieces. We were then allowed to look through their field
glasses to show us how easy it would be to shoot us. One of
the Russians took off my fur cap and pressing his thumbs
against my temples laughed and said, “If you try to escape,
your head will shatter just like the transformers and you
will never see Russia.” A man with a wooden leg had to
translate that from Russian for us.
On the night before our
departure we received warm unsweetened tea from the Russians
as part of their “official welcome to Russia”. We left Iasi
on February 4, 1945.
The doors of our car were
locked and as long as the train remained standing still, the
cold was unbearable. The people wrapped themselves in their
covers and wore their coats and extra clothing. As soon as
the train got underway and it became night, the icy winds of
Russia blew through the windows that provided air in the
cattle car. The people sat packed together on the floor and
you could hear people praying out loud or quietly, “Dear
God. Loving God help us. Save us.” One would have to ask
oneself where all of these gods suddenly came from. Even
those I knew well, who had never acknowledged God, were now
calling upon Him for help. Others called out for their
left-behind-loved-ones. It was all a great clamoring of
misery and weeping. We all now knew that it would be a long
time if ever before we would see our loved ones again.
After a short silence, in another corner Swabian catholic
women prayed the rosary and began to sing their familiar
Marian songs. This would happen every night and at the same
time our guards pounded against the wooden walls of the
cattle cars with their rifle butts to drown them out, along
with Russian curses and a steady flow of swearing.
After we had traveled for a
day and night we were put on a railroad siding and unhitched
from the locomotive and train. Only military trains heading
for the front lines traveled on the main track. Soldiers
and munitions were now the priority. At some point the
doors were opened and we were allowed off of the train to
meet our bodily needs. In the deep snow, in the bitter
cold, women and men, the told and the young, were packed
together in the open field watched over by the soldiers. We
were allowed to empty the bucket we used on the train. When
the train was moving there was no other alternative except
to use the bucket, as two people held up a cover to give
some privacy. At first this was very difficult for us, but
after a few days it became rather normal and routine. The
biggest distress it caused was the overwhelming smell that
we had to learn to live with and eventually we even got used
Once due to exhaustion and
cold I could not tell if I was awake or asleep. For a short
period of time reality seemed to escape me and I dreamt that
I was helping my mother preparing the bake oven. I saw
myself as a child standing in front of the red-hot bake
oven; I watched the rising flames and could smell the
burning cornstalks. In my dream I ate her fresh
cheesecake. How true the old proverb: hungry geese dream
As I awoke from my dream I
saw a large group of men standing close together. By
looking more closely I noticed that a flask of raki was
making the rounds. Only when I was really awake did I learn
what had really happened. George Brandt, better known as
Juri Bacsi, was the man who had brought out the flask of
schnapps from under his coat and he probably had very little
difficulty coaxing the others to join him so that the
Russians wouldn’t get it. To ward off the cold the men
reached out for the flask and after less than three rounds
it was empty. The raki was all gone and Juri Bacsi said,
“He who gives little honor, isn’t worthy of any himself.”
He was priding himself of his generosity.
Because our luggage was
close by, my father crawled around looking for it and
eventually a three-liter jug put in an appearance, which
naturally contained more raki. My father then challenged
him and said, “We all know that you are stingy. You can’t
satisfy the whole bunch of us with one liter of raki.”
There was a lot enthusiastic laughter, which unfortunately
caught the attention of the guards at the door of the cattle
car and they were quickly in the midst of us and they tried
to find out what had been going on. None of the men dared
to answer. After a quick search of several men they got a
good whiff of the smell of schnapps and one of the sentries
asked if we had any vodka. Actually one of them screamed at
Nikolaus Poth and he replied in great fear, “Not vodka.”
Then my father took the risk and said in Russian, “I have
some vodka.” Hearing that the Russians were really angry
and called my father an old devil because he had not ever
mentioned that he spoke Russian. “Because of that you will
get a well earned punishment,” they said. At that moment we
heard a loud blast of whistles. The sentries had just
enough time to jump off of the train and lock the doors of
our car. Our train was in motion once more.
An uneasy silence followed
and everyone thought about the threatened punishment, until
someone came up with the idea that we could bribe the
Russians with some of the raki.
After a long night and
ice-cold journey our train came to a sudden halt and made
the brakes squeal. We could not see anything through the
wooden slats that formed the wall of the cattle car, but we
were very much aware of a lot of noise, and concluded that
we were at a large railway station or depot. We could hear
many voices and above all a host of orders and commands. On
the neighboring track there was another train that was
heading in the opposite direction than we were, heading to
the Front either in Hungary or Romania. A group of soldiers
came towards our cattle car and we could hear the crunch of
the snow under their boots as well as their singing and
swearing, a tell tale sign that they were all drunk. The
sentries opened the door to our car and ordered my father to
get out. We were all very scared. As he jumped off of the
train at the door, he lost his fur cap, which greatly amused
the Russians. One of them held up the cap and said, “Put it
back on, before your ears freeze, before you even get a
chance to experience a cold Siberian winter.” It was only
now that it dawned on us that they had come for my father to
act as an interpreter. The Russians boarded our train and
offered to exchange their Russian money for any Romanian
currency we had. But we were too distrustful of them. It
was only when they offered us cigarettes that we cautiously
took out our money. We believed we actually made a
favorable trade with them.
The little Italian boy who
had been left with us, cried bitterly and his whole body
trembled. The women had clothed him in whatever they could
spare themselves. When the guards saw him, they asked him
how he was doing. He simply said, that he was very cold.
The older men offered some schnapps to the Russians, but
they only drank once my father had first drunk some. They
were afraid that we might poison them. Their tongues became
loosened as they drank and said that they would give us some
firewood if we would give them one of the girls. It took
awhile for us to realize that they were just joking.
Eventually they left and climbed down from our car and told
us to behave ourselves. When they returned and opened the
door I happened to be standing directly in front of them.
They ordered me, “Get down here with another boy.” A train
loaded with wood stood nearby. Our guards unloaded six
planks, about three meters long and carried them along with
us to our cattle car.
An old blackened tin furnace
stood inside our car, presumably left behind by the Russian
military, but we had not had a fire because we lacked wood.
We were instantly rich: we had firewood! What do you do
with three-meter long planks without a saw or an axe? The
guards wanted to deal with us and buy tobacco and we asked
for an axe in exchange. Shortly after that we had an axe.
They had confiscated it from the next car that was a
kitchen. They also brought some boards and slats, but they
gave strict orders that we only chop the wood during the
journey so that the commander would not become aware of what
we were doing because if discovered the wood would be taken
away and the soldiers would be punished.
We were able to do well with
selling our schnapps, and we wanted to buy cigarettes with
our money, much of which was actually worthless. At least a
third of it had expired as legal tender.
The six wooden planks took
up a great deal of space in our cramped and packed cattle
car. So we set them in such a way that as many people as
possible could sit on them. Now that we had an axe, we
chopped a hole in the floor of the car and using some
blankets we set up a privacy wall around it and used it to
meet our sanitation needs. This greatly bothered the
Russians because they were afraid we would use the hole to
The longer the journey
lasted, the deeper we went into Russia and the colder and
more frigid it became. The snow kept getting deeper. At
times we thought the snow was smoke, but we knew that if we
saw smoke there must be a village consisting of a few houses
and only the stone chimneys were visible in the deep snow.
To the right and left of the train tracks all we saw was
snow and destroyed military equipment: tanks, cars, canons
and then more snow.
Our train seldom halted and
as a result we received less tea and warm food. Instead, we
received cooked, cold, heavily salted beef. Out of hunger
we ate it. But it was not the hunger that was bad, it was
the thirst that followed after we ate. There was no water,
the wells along the tracks were frozen. So it was the snow
that covered the roof of our car that was our only source of
moisture. We stuck our hands out of the windows as far as
we could reach and would scratch as much snow as we could
and ate it. When the train came to a halt once more, we
filled our dishes and containers with snow and drank it
after it melted if we could wait that long.
Once the train halted
somewhere we heard ship sirens wailing. It was snowing and
we had no idea where we were. We had the idea that now we
would be loaded on board ships. When it was daylight our
train started out slowly and we crossed a wide expanse of
water. It was on March 1, 1945. We did not know what kind
of enormous river this was. When we asked the guards about
it they sang the Volga River song.
Gradually it was becoming
warmer outside and our cattle car was more bearable. The
train halted less and less and we went on and on. And
always the same sound of the locomotive wheels buzzed around
in my head…I am taking you away.
But our sense of well-being
was about to be disturbed as each one of us, one after the
other became restless. A strange sensation vexed our bodies
and we had to scratch constantly. At first we were ashamed
to do so in front of one another, but we finally had to
admit that our underwear was filled with lice. One morning
our train had halted somewhere and the sun shone through the
windows of the car. I took off my shirt and held it up
close to the window to catch the rays of the sun. Like
little white pearls the lice eggs glistened in the
sunlight. From them would emerge the many-legged creatures
that tormented us and I found three thriving lice that I
crunched between my fingernails. It was much the same for
my father. People formed a line and waited for their turn
in the sunlight and carried out the same procedure. As I
write these words now, I can feel the sensations running up
and down my spine as if I was back there. I took off my
shirt and held it in the sunlight and exclaimed: Thank God
there aren’t any now…”
At first we threw the lice
infested clothes in the hole in the floor, but we soon
realized it was useless because the lice reproduced rapidly
from one day to another, so that we simply had to accept it
and live with it.
We could not determine where
the lice had come from. There was a quick verdict some of
us came to, that the source was several young men, of German
origin, like ourselves who had been in the Romanian Army and
had been packed into our train while we were still in
Romania. Among them was Michael Gottschick (Linkert-Gottschick)
who was assigned with us from Semlak in the same cattle
Our journey was long and we
endured a lot that was unpleasant. On March 7, 1945 our
train halted once more and we did not know where we were,
but we had arrived at our destination, deep inside of
Russia, in the far and distant Ural Mountains. And it
snowed and snowed. The thick snowflakes flew into our eyes
and we had to cover them with our hands so that we could
see. We stood out in an open field and the wind whirled all
around us. We stood there rooted to the spot facing the
unknown in this unending, white wilderness that awaited us.
Fifty Years After
By George Kaiser,
Published in the
Heimatortsgemeinschaft Semlak Heimatbrief
- February 1996, Vol. 14, Pages
Part 3 - Many thanks
for Henry Fischer for his transcribing Skills
arrived in the Ural Mountains on March 7, 1945. It was a
frigid day at 30 degrees below zero. Rows of trucks brought
us forced laborers to the camp. We were on the last cattle
car and had to wait the longest. They took the others from
the front section of our car. They were women from
Neupanat, Traunau and Engelsbrunn. In the end, there were
twenty-one men left, including me. It was getting dark, and
becoming colder and it appeared as if they had forgotten all
about us. It was only as the train got underway that we
were discovered and brought to the camp having to endure
their screams and taunts of our guards until we got there.
Our new home was called
Kuwandik. It was Camp Number 1902 and was set up for the
likes of us who were being punished. Most of us in this
camp were individuals who had tried to escape from one
transit camp or another, or had attempted to avoid
deportation as we had. Now we were informed of our
punishment and sentence: five years of slave labor here in
the Ural Mountains.
From a distance we could see
the searchlights on the watchtowers that cast light all
around us. The camp itself was well lit too. We had to
undress and be counted in a large room. Our clothes were
taken away and deloused and they then cut off our hair and
we had to wash ourselves. We received our first food at the
camp, hot cabbage soup and a piece of barley bread. Our
sleeping quarters were an underground barracks with two
levels of bunks made of frozen wood standing to the right
and left at the opposite ends of the room. At the very end
of the room stood a stove, the kind we were used to at
home. The roof of our sleeping quarters was level with the
ground outside and consisted of frozen clumps of earth. The
whole area around it was covered with thick ice or deep snow
banks. There was no wood or any other fuel available to
provide us with heat.
On the second day, the
twenty-one of us were formed into an official brigade. We
received warm clothes and on the third day we were taken out
to work for the first time. We were assigned to do clean up
work and as we did so we assembled all kinds of wooden
debris that we could use to burn in the barracks. Floors
and walls slowly disappeared. Our covers became damp and
our bedding was often wet.
After about a month we were
put to work on road construction. We worked in a stone
quarry or we had to carry timber on our shoulder for several
kilometers to the river to build a bridge. In the third
month our brigade was disbanded. Those who were assigned to
work in the mines were sent to the central camp. The others
were transferred to two smaller camps. Those of us who
remained in the central camp received other clothing
appropriate to our new work place. In the mine itself the
work was done on two levels. One was hot and dry and the
other was wet and cold. Over the entrance to the mine shaft
there was a sign with the words: “Mednagorsk Copperworks.”
The foreman placed me under
the direction of a girl who only spoke Russian who was
supposed to supervise me. My only work tool was a heavy
hammer that weight about 10 kilos. The Russian girl
assisted a man with a pneumatic drill and a sorting machine,
which removed the earth and rocks and put them in a trough
attached to the machine. There was a meshed metal screen
over the trough so that the large pieces of rock and stone
could not fall into it. These rocks were the source of my
work and I had to smash them into smaller pieces with my
hammer so that they could be scooped up with a shovel and
tossed into the trough of the machine. My woman boss was
especially strict and unbending with me and she always made
sure that there was work for me to do even when she took her
own rest period. The first week was long and difficult. My
feet felt heavier every day. And my boss was always after
me to do more work to pay for my keep at the camp. One day,
about a month later, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel
as two figures approached me. It was another foreman, a
very friendly Russian named Olga and my friend Toni Stengel
from Traunau that I had gotten to know during the journey to
Russia, who was about my own age. We sat down and the
foreman “baptized” me with a new name: Grischa. And I was
now allowed to call my boss: Dusia. Olga was in charge of
Toni and she called him: Fritz. She was good to him and
brought him tea. Since he had to work for her she decided
he needed the strength to do so. My rubber boots were
always getting heavier and my clothes were getting looser
and too big for me. Eventually my need broke Dusia’s steel
heart and she began to bring food for me. She sometimes
made the stones smaller than I was capable of pounding with
Sometimes we received
permission from the foreman to leave the work place two
hours before the end of our shifts. We used the time to
steal firewood while we waited for the guards to come and
get us and take us to the camp. We used the wood to barter
for potatoes, beets and melons. We smuggled the food into
the camp hidden in our clothes. In the camp kitchen cabbage
soup awaited us day after day, or soup made out of sour
cucumbers with a small piece of barley bread mixed with
chaff that tasted like freshly cooked soap and as sour.
Eating so much sour food meant we spent half of the night in
relieving ourselves. When we arrived after the night shift
the soup was always cold, because there was no material to
burn to keep it warm. There was not always a ladle and
sometimes there was no stick or wood around to use and we
dipped in our tin but we faced punishment if we were
apprehended by a guard for doing so.
We got along better
with our women bosses. We often relieved them from
their work on the machine and drill.
At that time, it was not
permitted for photographs to be taken of the deportees, but
through the intervention of a third Russian woman this
picture that appears with the article was taken. It was
taken in 1946 at Camp Mednagorsk.
A short time after this
picture was taken we were separated. I remained at my job
at the old work place, while Toni was sent to a neighboring
click image to
Fifty years later, my wife
and I visited him and his wife in Rosstal by Nurnberg. Both
of us were retired, and both of us used canes as we hugged
each other at our reunion at the railway station in Nurnberg.
Neither one of us could speak a word because our tears were
in the way. Both of our wives, who did not know one
another, hugged each other and cried too. In those days we
spent together in Rosstal we reminded each other of the
misery, hunger and cold, the sickness and the many deaths of
those who never got to see their loved ones again.
Along with Toni we
visited one of our fellow inmates from our camp, a
red-cheeked girl whose name was Rosa Schnell, a good friend
to all of us from Semlak. She is now Rosa Kern.
In the spring of 1947
photographs were permitted and the picture on this page is
one of the early ones. This picture was the first to arrive
at home from the camp. The picture was smuggled home to
Semlak by Friedrich and Magdalena Rozsa who were released
click image to
In the Fall of 1947 I was
still working as a stone loader in “Level 2” in a very cold
and damp room. Droplets of acid from the copper ore dripped
down on me. After my clothes dried, they simply fell apart
into pieces. Droplets also ran down the back of my neck and
ate away at the skin and I experienced constant burning
sensations in the wounds. The broad brimmed rubber hat that
I wore in the picture was supposed to protect me against
this acid brew. It was only after long and countless
entreaties that I was released from this hellish workplace.
Now I had to pour clay and lime into earthen supports to
ensure against cave-ins. I also worked with the same
machinery I had in the past but now at normal temperatures
and I no longer had to smash and hammer the stones into tiny
particles. All in all, it was much better work.
I continued to hide firewood
in my quilted clothing in order to exchange it for food. In
the camp canteen there was still only sauerkraut soup with a
spoonful of cooked millet. This was too little for young
hardworking people and I felt very weak. I had to carry the
wood in the dark of night and often in snowstorms for about
two kilometers to an old woman, my so-called Babushka. The
greatest danger was getting lost or being attacked by
wolves. When I tried to tell the old woman that I could no
longer come to bring her wood because of the dangers
involved, she began to cry because she was afraid she would
freeze to death. Her house stood in an open field and there
was not a single tree in the vicinity. Her wood reserves
had already been used up in the previous winter and there
was no wood that could be bought. This old woman had great
sympathy for me, often she gave me three times as much as
the wood was worth and she often sent my father some tobacco
and something to eat in a small parcel that I took back to
the camp with me. Every time I came she was waiting with a
bowl of warm potato soup and always said, “I hope it’s tasty
enough for you my son.”
As I said farewell this time
and extended my hand to her she gave me a kiss and asked me
to wait for just one moment. She brought a picture and
stood crying in front of me. After she calmed down a bit,
she showed me the picture and said, “This was my son, Stalin
took him from me and sent him to the Front and the Germans
killed him. My husband has also disappeared in this
damnable war. My daughter lives in Moscow and attends a
military school there in order to understand all of this
that has happened to us. Do you know why I call you my
son? You have the same dimples as my son when you laugh and
you have been good to me just like my son. When you are
here, all of my worries are gone and I feel as if I was born
again. When I meet my friends I tell them my Vanya was to
see me and will come again soon. But all they say to me is,
“Dusia you’re just out of it.”
By now it was quite late.
My own thoughts had flown home to my own mother. No
darkness, no howling wind, nor not even thick deep snow
slowed down my pace. Arriving at the main entrance to the
camp I was suddenly confronted by a sentry and I tried to
explain to him that I had been lost. He asked me what I had
in my pockets. It was only then when I realized my new
little mother had again hidden something in my clothes for
my father. The sentry and now some other guards saw that I
was upset and they asked if I had drunk any vodka. I had to
breathe into their faces and then they knew that I was not
drunk. They told me to disappear as quickly as possible and
Lying there in my bunk I
could not fall asleep because I could not help thinking
about the poor old woman and wondered how I could possibly
help her. My father, who slept in the bunk beneath mine,
woke up and asked where I had gone off to again. I held a
finger up against my lips to tell him to be quiet and winked
at him indicated he should come closer. Once I showed him
what she had sent he was wide awake and joined me. Hunger
was just always a present reality and it was great. Another
young man, about my age, was also unable to sleep because of
hunger pangs that were insistent and demanding. My father
offered him some of what she had sent and it was all gone in
a few moments. The young man was Hans Roth, a Transylvanian
Saxon from Bistritz. He was so weak at the time that he
could barely walk. I suggested that Hans become my partner
to help our Babushka. We thought about it a lot until our
heads were swimming. But the old Russian woman had to wait
for quite some time until we had the opportunity to visit
Once we were ready, I spoke
to Hans at breakfast and said, “We’re heading out tonight!
Get your stomach ready for this.” “I’m scared,” he
answered. “Today we’ll leave our fear here at the camp and
show what we can do.”
At the entrance to the mine
there were numerous logs, branches and tree trunks. When
the watchmen weren’t looking and under the cover of darkness
we carried a three-meter long tree trunk on our shoulders
and made our way into the cold, quiet winter night. From
far away we could see the house of the old Russian woman lit
up, unlike it had ever been before. The tree trunk was
heavy and we had to pause several times and catch our
breath. As we got closer to the house things did not seem
right. There were several sleighs and unharnessed horses
about. In the darkness I observed several shapes.
We set the tree trunk down
in the snow and got closer. We did not want to believe our
ears as we heard girls singing and balalaikas playing. We
stood rooted to the spot in front of the door and listened,
just then the door suddenly opened and several soldiers
surrounded us who wanted to know who we were and what we
were looking for. Trembling all over, I said I was Vanya
and I had come to see Babushka. “You wanted to steal our
horses right?” One man yelled at us. “No, we don’t want to
do that, we have just brought the old woman some wood,” I
answered, just as Babushka and her daughter and her
bridegroom stepped out of the door. She embraced me and led
us into the house. I introduced Hans as my friend. We were
immediately invited to the table. Someone brought tin cups
and poured vodka. All of the wedding guests wanted to get
to know us. The bride and groom—a higher officer—remained
at the table with us while Babushka busied herself getting
food for us, which this time was very plentiful. The guests
were officers. Most of them spoke some German and were
rather mistrustful of us until Babushka broke in on the
conversation. Hans and I saw a wedding for the first time.
The bride wore a white wedding dress and the bridegroom wore
a Cossack uniform. The young men, all of whom were
officers, had their Sunday best uniforms on. We only knew
officers who wore quilted clothing and thick felt boots.
The girls wore beautiful costumes as well. Up until now we
only knew girls who wore quilted clothing.
The wedding couple filled a
flask with vodka for my father. The mother packed some food
and tobacco for him. Because we were not used to drinking
vodka we found it more difficult to get back to the camp
than it had been when we carried the tree trunk on our
shoulders. When we arrived at the camp, we had great luck
because there was only one watchman who did not appear to
even notice us because his lantern had gone out, but when he
saw us he scolded us for not moving through the door fast
enough. Understandably he managed to get some of our booty
because the Russians didn’t have much food either.
We slipped back into our
personal hell where my father waited. He couldn’t sleep for
worry and hunger. As soon as he saw us, he sprang up from
his bunk and preached us a sermon on what could have
happened to us on a dark Russian night. But as soon as he
saw the food we had brought and the little bundle of tobacco
he became speechless.
Days before we had all
received new underwear and my father had the good fortune to
exchange a new shirt for a pail of potatoes. We locked up
the food we had brought in a suitcase along with the
potatoes and planned to eat them the next day.
When we came home from work
the next day, we saw a large fire in the camp yard. A huge
column of black smoke rose to heaven. In front of the
kitchen there was a small pile of potatoes, melons and
beets. They were delicacies we had saved for bad times
ahead. Then we noticed that the doors to our barracks were
standing wide open and all of the suitcases had been broken
into and all of the food and provisions and other valuables
were missing. After a long hard day’s work, the
disappointment we felt was unbearable because we had looked
forward to eating the food items we had saved. We went to
the eating hall rather sorrowfully where to our
astonishment, for the first time, we were given pea soup in
which we found small pieces of fish. It was like a festive
meal. In spite of that we were sorrowful that we had lost
our reserves and only one person seemed to be happy about
it. It was the German camp commander Hermann, who came from
somewhere in Bukovina and had total power over us. We could
only refer to him as, “Herr Hermann,” while on his part he
called us Schweinehunde…dirty pigs...swine. He had reported
to the officers that the guards and sentries did not control
us enough and threatened that in the future he would see to
it himself. From then on, no one could go through the gates
without being strictly searched. It was a constant,
“Trousers up, trousers down.”
One evening around nine
o’clock my father asked me for my new shirt. The
searchlights on the watchtowers shone alternately on the
camp yard and the area just outside of the camp. The fence
around the camp yard consisted of three rows of barbed wire
that reached as far as under the watchtowers. As the
searchlight shone outside of the camp, my father quickly
crawled under the fence as far as the watchtower where the
searchlight never shone. He cut the barbed wire with a pair
of pliers and crawled under the fence into the dark night.
He returned just around midnight. I stood outside in front
of the barrack as his shadow moved. He had luck again, and
had exchanged my new shirt for a pail of potatoes. We baked
half of them in the stove and left the rest for the next
day. The night was short, but our stomachs were full
again. That is how we lived our lives and survived from day
to day. During work we thought of nothing but the potatoes
because the daily pea soup was too thin to satisfy anyone
who suffered from constant hunger.
As soon as we came from
work, we immediately went to work to bake our potatoes. We
sat on our bunks, my father below and I above, and we ate
our potatoes with gusto just as Herr Hermann created havoc
in the barracks. Swearing at the top of his lungs he lunged
at my bed and punched me in one ear and I fell off of the
bed and lay sprawled down on the floor. The small pot of
uneaten potatoes landed on the floor next to me. Once
Hermann saw that, his rage turned into fury. He stomped on
me with both of his feet. The pot with the potatoes
crumpled beneath the onslaught of his boots. He then
grabbed me by the collar, pulled me up on my feet and pushed
me to the door and outside. My father only received a kick
in the behind. Out in the yard there were others who had
experienced the same treatment. “Line up, you pigs! There
are two wagons filled with wood that need to be unloaded.
All I want to see is you fellows moving quickly,” Hermann
screamed at us.
It was midnight before we
had unloaded the wood. On the way back the guards shouted,
“Quicker! Quicker!” Using the last ounce of our strength
we could not go any faster. Our wooden shoes became heavier
because of our hunger and exhaustion. When we were finally
back at the camp, we were told we were not allowed to get
anything to eat which was the punishment that had been
ordered by Herr Hermann himself. We stepped into the
barracks and each of us mumbled, “You pig! You’ll pay for
this some day!” We had sworn revenge a long time before.
If we could not get him before we were on our way home, we
would toss him off of the train.
On three occasions my name
was placed on the list of those to be transferred to Siberia
to cut wood in the wilderness Tiago. Those who went there:
died there. Hermann had all of this under his command and
control. A corporal, a Jew from Poland, struck my name off
of the list all three times and thereby saved my life. As a
result, Hermann swore to my father that he would see to it
that my skin and bones ended up in the earth of Russia. He
stormed around the barracks in a rage in search of revenge
for what the Jewish officer had done for me and gave me a
kick and sent me to the kitchen to chop wood. When I was
finished with that, he tossed me in the punishment cell. It
was a large wooden cupboard in which a man could only stand
and was unable to move about. The man’s feet would freeze
in it in the wintertime and one’s whole body shivered in the
cold. With the opening of the door, the man would fall down
on the floor like a rigid piece of wood.
Often the Russians had more
sympathy for us, especially if we stole something, even
though there were strict penalties. Often our “own” had us
locked up and the Russians would set us free. In Mednagorsk,
as well as the distant regions in the Urals and Siberia,
there were exiles from all of Russia. They were Russians,
Volga Germans, Tatars, Kiresians and Gypsies. Things did
not go any better for them than for us. Right from the
beginning they were very hostile towards us. All we had to
do was leave the camp under guard when the others would toss
rocks at us. In my thoughts, I can still hear them even
today as they screamed after us, “Hitler’s pigs! Heil
Hitler!” “Hitler is kaput!” They were strictly forbidden
to speak to us.
During this first period of
our imprisonment, we were interrogated by agents of the NKVD
(Russian State Secret Police). This usually occurred at
midnight. These were political interrogations, but we were
not physically abused or blackmailed. But there were some
people among us who wanted to blacken the characters of
others because there were those persons among us who had
been in the Waffen-SS (battle formations) or had been
functionaries in the German Folk Group organization. But
the betrayals had little or no real results because there
were always other inmates who contradicted their testimony.
After another comprehensive
search of our barracks, we were placed under heavy guard.
For days nothing happened. One evening, my father set out
again to do something to meet the needs of our raging
hunger. As usual he crawled under the barbed wire fence out
of the camp and made his way to the gardens of the local
inhabitants in search of potatoes. He was not the first to
have rummaged around in this garden for potatoes. He was
caught at it and was bludgeoned to unconsciousness with a
wooden shovel by the owner and then brought back to the
camp. My father was placed in a punishment cell for ten
days and given 200 grams of bread daily. Every day the
Jewish officer that I mentioned before brought him a piece
of additional bread. Along with that the officer permitted
our countrymen, Heinrich Hay, who was an invalid from the
war who had been assigned to do lighter work in the camp, to
bring my father some warm soup and millet.
After my father served his
punishment, the camp doctor, who was also a Jewess,
designated him to be a “second class” worker. This meant
that he was no longer able to work in the mine and that he
would now be given lighter work. He was placed in charge of
a horse and wagon to deliver limestone from the stone quarry
on the mountain down to the limekiln in the valley. Then an
accident occurred. The wagon collided with a rock formation
and overturned and injured my father. He broke an arm and
several ribs and was taken to the hospital. Sick and weak,
no longer able to work, he was placed on the list of the
sick to be on the next transport to be sent home. After
three and one half years he was to be allowed to return
I was also on the same list
of the sick along with my father, but just as the transport
was about to leave, it was decided that there was not enough
room for me on it. This was a terrible blow for both of
During 1947, starvation
raged throughout the Urals. People died like flies. I was
already chosen by death to be its next victim and I weighed
scarcely 40 kilos. The doctors declared me to be “marginal”
and therefore exempt from work. In spite of that Herr
Hermann assigned me, along with three others my age, to be
gravediggers. He said I was strong enough to do this kind
of work. They took away our work clothes and in their place
we received rags that were soiled and rotting. When we went
to eat we wrapped covers around us because we were ashamed
of our stinking rags.
The camp cemetery was about
two kilometers distant from the camp on a hill and was
surrounded by a ditch. It was said that there was a grave
there reserved for each of us. All day we hacked away at
the stony rocky soil to dig a grave to a depth of about our
knees because we could not penetrate the bedrock. At night
we took the dead from the morgue and conveyed them on a flat
wagon pulled by an old schimmel (grey horse) to the
cemetery. There we placed them in the grave and covered
them with whatever earth we could find. The idea of placing
a cross or providing a coffin was not possible in these
terrible times. If a corpse still had a shirt on, it was
taken off, and quickly exchanged because of the terrible
hunger we suffered.
During that summer two of
our countrymen also died. Heinrich Maleth died out of
desperation and homesickness. He drank a brew made with
tobacco in the hope that he would become sick enough and
sent home. But instead it resulted in something else. He
was unable to withstand the poison and died. Julianna
Schmidt was thrown from an open truck and as a result of her
injuries and lack of care died. Had she lived she would
have been my mother-in-law because after I returned home to
Semlak I married her daughter.
After awhile Hermann decided
our work was too light and we did not earn our own keep. He
kept finding more unpleasant things for us to do, cleaning
the latrines for instance. But because of his chicanery
with us his relationship with the Jewish officer got worse.
Soon we were transferred to a neighboring village and handed
over to a woman commander. There was hardly any work to
do. We spent most of our time in a hayloft, reclining in
the hay but with churning empty stomachs. The woman
commander hardly gave us anything to eat, but let us work in
the gardens of the local inhabitants for which we received
something to eat. In this way we were able to recover our
strength and health somewhat.
During 1947 a commission
came from Moscow. When they discovered the catastrophic
situation in the camp, all of those in charge were
dismissed. Among them was Herr Hermann. I myself had
recovered and had to go back and work in the mine. But
already on the second day I had an accident. They made me
aware of the danger of working if there was smoke or gas in
the shaft. But in order to meet my work quota for the day
for my rations, I kept on working. I became exhausted from
the smoke. I sat down and fell asleep. When the foreman,
Steiger found me, I was unconscious and he thought I was
dead. He informed the camp officials that I had died. But
they brought me to the hospital anyway. After several hours
they brought me back to life. After a week I was allowed to
leave the hospital.
About a year after my father
left to go home I suffered greatly from homesickness.
Almost every night I dreamt
of home. In terms of my health, things were not going
well. I received a Red Cross postcard from my friend and
neighbor back home, Martin Schaeffer. He informed me that
my girlfriends Julia and Katy had both found some Romanian
friends, but I should not feel too bad about it because
there were still many young girls in Semlak. You couldn’t
learn much from one such post card. They were only allowed
to consist of twenty-five words and they were censored.
A very good man whose name
was Karl Kappler, an old time Communist from Temesvar,
filled Hermann’s position. Often when I was in need, he
took the place of my father. Slowly, I began to earn more
money, but received only 200 Rubles. Apparently, I had a
debt of 7,000 Rubles, and my father had also left as much of
a debt behind him that I was to pay back. On Christmas’ Eve
I decided I would not work. I simply lay down and fell
asleep and dreamt of a small Christmas tree all aglow with
candles surrounded by children. I heard bells ringing, our
Semlak bells, and Christmas songs and organ music.
Suddenly it was bright
before my eyes. It was the harsh lift of the lantern of my
foreman. His fat fist hit my bony face and my safety helmet
fell off of my head. He beat me unmercifully and threatened
that by his word of honor he would report me to the camp
officials. To my good fortune, he did not keep his word of
honor and did not report me.
I was really afraid that he
would do it and when I was called to the camp office on
Christmas Day there was no longer any talk of punishment.
I stepped in and saw a young man sitting next to the
foreman. The young man had red cheeks and looked at me in a
friendly manner. “This is my son Mischa. He is studying in
Berlin. And this is a German that we call Grischa. In your
absence he will take your place as my son.” We had to speak
to one another in German. The eyes of the father began to
glisten as tears ran down his cheeks. “You two are very
much alike,” he commented. In fact both of us had the same
large blue eyes and were about the same age. But compared
to me he was rather much better nourished and probably had
double my weight.
A sumptuous breakfast was
unpacked and we ate as if we were all members of the same
family. In recognition of bringing me into the family we
drank some vodka quite freely. Afterwards I received a
ration card for the noonday meal in the Russian canteen for
one month from this now good man. In addition I received a
camp ration card for meat: about the size of sugar cube, an
egg and 50 grams of sugar and an extra portion of millet.
A few days later a letter
came to the camp that declared that I was to be recognized
as a Stachanowisten (a Soviet title of honor for an
industrious worker). Immediately, I was transferred from
the barracks to a room with thirteen other “industrious”
workers who were already living there. This room appeared
homey and cozy. A piece of linen served as a tablecloth and
a vase with flowers stood on the center of the table. A
woman in the camp saw to the cleanliness and order in the
room. The food was very good and not served to us in
The new camp commander
Kappler exerted a lot of effort to better the conditions of
the prisoners. There was no longer a place for old “boss”
Hermann. He did not last at anything for longer than three
days. His bedding was stolen and sold and all kinds of
mischief were perpetrated against him. The chief cook,
Frischmann, who was once one of his cohorts, now no longer
supported him and there was no longer extra rations for
him. He would simply say, “The dirty pigs have eaten
everything,” when he came for his food. There was an empty
bed next to mine. The woman who looked after us said,
“We’ll give this bed to your friend, Hermann.” I answered,
“Then I’ll throw myself in the Ural River or take my life in
some other way.”
I was re-assigned in terms
of my job in which I earned about 4,000 Rubles. I was
promoted to blaster. Holes were bored in the tunnel and
filled with dynamite and covered with clay. Then it was lit
and the earth was blasted. At the workplace it was rather
warm, at times around 50 degrees Celsius, and we worked
completely naked. Outside at the same time it was very
cold. On a steady basis various materials, machinery and
other things had to be brought in from the outside. Women
were excluded from this work because they refused to work
naked or around men who were. After searching for some
time, I found a girl who was prepared to do this work. She
was the youngest in the camp and her name was Margaret
Schumacher and did not speak a word of German. She had been
deported because of her beautiful German name. She came
from Moldova where there are no longer any Germans. She
now received more wages and rations. All of this was only
possible due to the goodness of our new commander.
One night I came home from
the night shift and wanted to go to sleep. I could not
believe my eyes. Herr Hermann was there in the bed next to
me. I thought over whether this was the right moment for me
to murder him. But I remembered that we were now always
talking about the possibility of going home and that would
not make much sense placing myself in jeopardy over him. In
fact, the guards had been saying lately, “You’re soon going
home.” I lay still in bed so as not to wake Hermann and
besides I did not want to see his eyes. The next Saturday
night as he entered the room in the dark, a blanket was
thrown over his head he was punched, beaten and pummeled
from all sides. He never found out who had beat him up.
The Russian camp commander threatened us with sever
punishment if anyone ever did it again. From then on,
Hermann was quiet as a lamb and had to work just like the
rest of us.
There were more and more
Russians coming to the mines and we had to train them in
their jobs. Many of them were criminals. One day I was
assigned a former soldier. We quickly became friendly.
When I learned that he spoke Romanian, I wanted to know
where he learned it. He told me, “I was in Semlak, a
village close to the Hungarian border for three years in
house number 739, where I was quartered with an old woman
with the name of Eva Schmidt.” She was the grandmother of
my wife Katharine and my brother-in-law George Schmidt. To
prove that what he said was true he told me that there were
five churches in the village and a large mill with a
steam-driven engine. When I told him that I was from Semlak
he was quite surprised. I told him where my parent’s house
stood and he immediately interrupted me to tell me that he
knew the house and also knew my mother. He was at her house
just the previous year and she had given him a large piece
of smoked bacon as a gift because she was such a good and
kind woman. Later, after I was back at home, I asked my
mother about him. She said that it was exactly at Easter in
1947 that a drunk Russian soldier with a pistol in hand had
come to her and demanded the hind quarter of a smoked
bacon. She only wanted to give him half of it and he then
threatened her with his gun and fired it off into the air.
In 1948 a theatre group and
a choir were formed in the camp. Julianna Bartolf (nee
Ledig) had much to do with both and she was able to
encourage the young people not to give up hope for the
Because of that we were open
to life again and not simply survival. The Russians got
hold of an accordion and we had dance evenings. Juli Nene
(Hungarian for auntie) together with her husband Adam were
both in the camp and she loved to dance. But they would not
be able to enjoy the dances for long. There was an accident
and she broke her leg and had to go to the hospital. Only a
year after we were released was she able to come home.
On a morning in November
1949 we were all ordered by loudspeaker to remain in camp
that day. Like the first day in 1945, we had to form rows
and columns in the camp yard. The camp commander announced
loudly, “The long awaited news has come. As of today you
are all free persons!” We wept with joy and the commander
could not hold back his own tears.
At our departure, many of
the local people came to the railway station to say farewell
because after five years many friendships had developed.
But there were also many who had suffered greatly during the
German occupation, who shouted to us, to go to the devil. I
did not bid my Babushka farewell because I could not get to
see her because things had moved so quickly.
We journeyed through Poland
in the direction towards home. In a small town our train
was halted at a siding. A Jewish officer greeted us
officially. He had been appointed by a commission in Moscow
to welcome us. In our honor there was a choir and a Polish
dancing group along with wonderful food and even some beer.
In those days the trains did
not travel to Semlak and so we had to detrain in the
neighboring village of Petschka. The bus to Semlak was not
running again and we made our way on foot for the last leg
of our journey. Along the way we met Michael Osatzki who
was driving his wagon to Semlak and took us along with him.
This included: Michael Gottschick and his wife Katharine
(nee Schubkegel), the brothers Adam and Heinrich Gottschick
as well as Maria Kernleitner.
On reaching home I went into
the room that had been our hiding place along with Michael
Osatzki. My parents then stood there and next to them there
were three tall young boys. My mother asked, “Which one of
these do you think is your brother?” I did not know how to
answer. The three young men were Karl Friedrich, my brother
Joseph and Heinrich Maleth. It was December 23, 1949, one
of the most beautiful days of my whole life.
"Diary of Deportation"
by Andreas Toth
A Portion of the
From the Heimatortsgemeinschaft Semlak Heimatbrief
- February 1995,
Vol. 12, Pages 21-29.
Many thanks for Henry Fischer for his translation from
German to English.
(Andreas Toth was born in
Semlak, Romania on September 16, 1928, the only child of
Andreas Toth and his wife the former Julianna Bartolf.
Following his completion of Public School in Semlak, he went
to the Trade School in Temesvar and High School in Detta.
He died in the deportation to Russia on September 13, 1946,
three days before his eighteenth birthday.)
Thursday, September 14,
Hungarian soldiers appeared in
the village in the forenoon…a patrol. In the afternoon
the Hungarian soldiers (border guards) came to the market
place along with four German soldiers with the terrifying
order: Take flight immediately! I was just
having an afternoon nap and it was around 2 o’clock. I
rushed out to our fields, later went to the druggist, but he
was closed, and then went and took a look at the soldiers.
They had set up artillery piece in front of our Lutheran
Church pointing towards the west.
At our place out in the yard:
We were just separating the sunflower seeds from the large
pods. The wagon came and I helped unload it and we
continued to work and then Aunt Kathi came. She shared
the news of the coming threat and the happenings that had
taken place in the forenoon and then we went out to the
fields in our wagon again. Later I had to hurry and
call her parents. Our old Aunt Susi did not want to go
back home and she would hear nothing about fleeing.
She stubbornly refused to change her mind. The
wagon drove into our yard and Mari immediately came for her
While we unloaded the wagon my
father told them that in the meantime he had heard
information to the effect that it was not really that bad
after all. We believed that the Russians would soon be
here and would have a free hand and massacre all of us.
That is why every ethnic German person would soon be
evacuated to the Reich in the soon to be arriving German
army trucks that would be sent for us. But in reality
it was not really that bad, even though the outlook was not
that good! It was all probably just an exaggeration,
the kind that happens in a situation like this.
We were to hear the official
word in the evening at the local dance hall and we went
there, but the military officers were late in arriving.
Have patience! Soon a Storm Trooper arrived and gave
the word. With a few short sentences he declared that
this was an emergency situation---flee---the rules to follow
on the journey ahead and well as the route that would be
taken were given. I went to bed at about two in the
Friday, September 15, 1944:
Packing. Rushing around.
Everything: bedding and food. The journey by
wagon ahead of us was estimated to last three weeks.
Father went to look for a wagon. After he found one,
he had to give it to another man. In the meanwhile, I
was promised one, but it was taken from me on my way home.
We heard the noise of moving wagons from inside of our house
and went outside to the street to watch. There were
several Romanians on the wagon with a Hungarian solider and
they were heading home. Our Hungarian brothers!
All of our efforts were in vain. Only those that had
their own horses and wagons were allowed to set out.
We had a lightweight carriage and if I remember rightly we
had a rocking horse somewhere. If that is all one had,
one could easily become discouraged.
The wagons were set out at
five o’clock. The column of wagons as one would expect
started out punctually. It upset me and I did not want
to be there to see them start out. Did I have to see
all of the crying and weeping, and listen to the complaining
and whining, lamenting and swearing, and witness the misery
It was estimated that there
were ninety wagons. They could travel at night and in
the twilight hours and dawn. A three-week long
journey! Every hour the rain threatened under a dark
sky. Most of the wagons had a roof covering of some
kind or an enclosed roof for the driver. According to
what we heard from others, the soldiers were rather rough
with the people. They tried to force the onlookers to
go with them.
Father encouraged us:
“Not all could be accommodated in one transport, other wagon
columns will be set up and who knows we might not have to
leave at all.” This is what my father thought, but I
did not agree. Did I suddenly have the right to say
something about such life wrenching questions and the
possible consequences? Am I of age? Independent?
The head of a family? But I began to notice that what
my father thought and what he actually did become more and
While the others were busy
packing, I took the time to speak to some Hungarian
soldiers. What the net result of that was, I can leave
to your imagination. It is clear that a soldier simply
thinks and acts like a soldier. Who would protect us
after the Hungarians left? Perhaps the rumor that the
Hungarians were still here was supposed to do that? Or
was it the flowers that they wore one their chests and would
Saturday, September 16,
The calm before the storm:
that is a fitting description for what is happening.
What were the people supposed to do? The people who
had fled out of fear with their horses and wagons on
Thursday and Friday came back home because the German army
escort troops had actually gone before they arrived at their
meeting place. Some of them rested up while others
went back to work to kill the time and to forget the whole
I began to write and got
nowhere. I began to read and that didn’t work either.
I went for a walk but that did nothing for me. It
appeared to me that I would simply do what I always did and
just leave it at that. Even eating and sleeping fell
into that category.
The events of yesterday had no
impact upon us.
Sunday, September 17, 1944:
Only the morning of this day
was peaceful. The Hungarians soldiers left yesterday.
The Germans had left with the first columns in flight.
Later, still before noon, the Storm Trooper or an officer
along with five men returned to the village. Like a
grass fire the news spread all around: They wanted to
assemble a second wagon transport. Everyone fled out
to their fields with their horses and wagons or went into
Sunday, September 25, 1944:
It’s all over! The
Russians are here.
September 26, 1944:
My birthday? The cannons
are speaking. Their sound gets louder and louder and
we work at the river building a bridge. It rains, we
work in mud and water and we do forced labour. What
does “Dawaii” mean in Russian? I am forced to learn
much more Russian.
September 30, 1944:
Forced labour every day.
We alternate, one day we work at the river and then a day on
the roadway. And how much longer is this going to
October 10, 1944:
The two week long sound of
cannon fire is over. The windows shook day and night.
The frontlines have moved further west and we have been left
behind here in the east.
November 1, 1944:
the word means to be dragged off to slavery by force against
your will. The word “deportation” is not an accurate
description of the word’s full intention.)
November 30, 1944:
There is a sinister calm.
Every day there is forced labour. And just when is
Sunday? I am completely unable to write a single
understandable sentence. I feel like I’ve been beaten
December 25, 1944:
Christmas. Silent night,
holy night! What will the New Year, 1945 bring with
it? What can I wish for my parents today? My
throat feels like I’ve been choked. Just thoughts…I
wish you a happy New Year!
January 6, 1945:
It is really not true, there
won’t be a Verschleppung, and it is all simply propaganda.
We are now allies of Russia…There have been so many rumors
about locked railway cattle cars filled with people who
speak Hungarian and German. But they come from the
west, from across the border in Hungary and the trains are
rolling towards the east.
January 9, 1945:
It is true after all.
Our attempt to escape is successful and we are fortunately
here. Had it not been better to flee the previous
September after all? Now we sit here in hiding like a
mouse in its hole. But no one knows except for mother.
January 25, 1944:
It’s all over! All over!
The Russians have arrested my mother in place of me.
Father isn’t here and I don’t know what to do, but one thing
I know, that I cannot let my mother take my place in the
Verschleppung. I will report voluntarily so that they
will release my mother. I do so in the Name of God.
And now onward, come what may.
The train wheels roll on
relentlessly towards the east. Donbas in Russia.
Woroschilowgradskoe Oblasty, Woroschilowki Rayon, Parkomuna
vis-à-vis from Zsiladel.
Hard labour. Cold.
September 1, 1946:
“Janosch” has not let my
father in to see me here in the hospital for a few days and
I have such a great longing to see him. Anything, just
anything, as long as I am spared from scrubbing the floors.
In fact he doesn’t let anyone in. But father still
managed to sneak in. But what can one say to one
another in a few seconds. Just shake hands…I will
write a note and maybe “Joschka” will be kind enough to give
it to my father. He is a rather brave guy.
The fever has gone down and
it’s about time. For two weeks I did not get anything
to eat because I did not work and I received 200 g of water
daily along with two cups of coffee or tea. I
really can’t tell which this reddish brown brew is.
September 2, 1946:
“Janosch” promised me that if
my fever did not return I could go out into the sun early
tomorrow morning. O dear sun, I have only been able to
see you through the window in the evening for a few minutes
before you disappear.
How clever “Janosch” really
is. He turned around the number 13 on the door to my
room so that it cannot be read, but he will not be able to
fool me. Why have I been put in this room number 13?
I’m not happy with that.
September 4, 1946:
Yesterday I was so fortunate.
I sat out in the sun for a few minutes. My father saw
me right away and came to me. We sat together on the
bench and he had sent me a cup of milk for breakfast.
How wonderful it was! But the devil sent
“Janosch” to drive my father away because he was sitting
next to me. Do I have some kind of communicable
disease? Why can he not sit beside me? Why did
my fever rise to 40.5 yesterday around noon? Today it
is a normal 37.5. It must be a result of the milk.
Milk is like poison for me.
September 5, 1946:
I don’t trust the whole thing.
Suddenly there in 15 minutes they wrote up a list of names
of all of those to be sent home. The transport could
leave at any hour. They only do that, so that my
roommates and I keep up our courage. “Janosch” let
them put my name on the list.
September 6, 1946:
Father has given up on his
plan to have me transferred to the city hospital, even
though I had been lying here in bed for a half a day in my
clothes, ready to leave. I really don’t want to leave
here, because the kind of treatment there in the large
hospital is miserable and father would not have been able to
come and see me because he cannot leave the camp.
I don’t know what’s wrong with
me; I am just losing all of my strength. This
morning when I stood up and took a few steps I collapsed.
“Joschka” picked me up. Obviously the few spoonfuls of
soup I get have too few calories.
September 7, 1946:
Father told me that the tall
lieutenant assured him that it was certain that a transport
would be leaving for home. Oh, to be home again!
Perhaps I will still have enough strength to survive the
journey. If only I had some sugar water it would help
and at home I know I would get better. That is where
the famous woman physician, Dr. Moga is. If anyone can
help me, it could only be her.
September 8, 1946:
I always hope that I am
getting better, but the few spoonfuls of soup I am able to
swallow, half of it comes back through my nose into the
bowl. I told father not to send me any more small
green branches to swat all of these flies. I can no
longer hold them; they are too heavy for me now. He
should also not bring me the Bible that he borrowed from the
professor. I can no longer hold it. It is too
heavy for me. I have no more strength. I will
try to write another poem…
September 9, 1946:
Everything is too much for me
to bear, except to keep my eyes open. Nothing came of
my going home. Yesterday I promised father I would not
leave him. He knows the way I think…Tonight when he
comes I will give him all of my papers because my room-mates
take everything they can lay their hands on and I can’t keep
watch all of the time. They even take the green
branches when I sleep.
I was often sick at home!
But in comparison to here it is a matter of heaven and hell.
At home mother looked after me…home...Oh Mother
September 10, 1946:
I no longer have the
strength to walk. Oh the pain. The Pain.
Going home. Going home. Mother my dearest I am
coming. I will soon be there…and everywhere.
Just a few days, but these minutes last an eternity.
September 11, 1946:
understands my speech with great difficulty. Soon, soon,
just to hold his hand, what good fortune that would be…
September 12, 1946:
Andreas tried to write is not legible.)
Andras Toth died in the night
of the 12th and 13th of September,
1946. His father, Andreas Toth, who was also in the
same camp wrote the following:
September 10, 1946:
Until New Years in 1946 Andreas worked
alongside of me in this camp and then as a wagon builder in
the Konyuscha Kolchose (Translator’s
Collective Farm) about
500 meters distant from the camp. He had a good job
and foreman and was never sick, except in the months of
March to May in 1945 because the rations here were so bad.
Then, like all of us, he became very weak, but slowly
recovered much better than most. We finally had enough
to eat or all of us would have died and been of no use to
September 11, 1946:
The pain! The pain!
He said that at least ten times today when I was with him at
eleven o’clock. On August 15th he came down
with a terrible illness and for several days before he
complained of being constantly tired and experiencing pain
in the area around his kidneys. But now he no longer
has any pain and for two days he has had no fever. He
was allowed to go out into the sun for half an hour.
With the permission of the doctor I gave him a half-liter of
milk this morning, and since he enjoyed it, I gave him
another half liter in the afternoon. A high fever
developed by evening and all they did for him was cold
compresses and quinine. Later, he received other
powders and injections of grape sugar. Then he could
no longer eat anything and drank just water and coffee or
took a few spoonfuls of soup. For several days we
noticed that he spoke with great difficulty. His
tongue and mouth were dry and cracked from fever.
Because of dysentery he received less and less water and
became thinner. The day before yesterday he complained
that he was losing his strength and had to sit to urinate.
I spoke to him and challenged him to eat and drink, which he
promised he would do. I said: One word, one
man?” He answered, “One man, but one who is
Andreas did not believe he
would return home, but once he discovered I wanted him to be
transferred to the city hospital he begged me to leave him
here. When I asked him the question about going home,
he said, “Yes. Going home. Yes.”
Today in the forenoon when I
was with him, he was often unconscious for short periods of
time, but never more than a few minutes. We prayed
together, which appeared to make him feel better. At
five o’clock in the afternoon I was with him until seven.
When I entered his room he was conscious, but he did not
know me. After a few minutes he asked me who I was and
who was in charge here and when he got up he would go to
Africa. Then the attack was over. After this he
drank some coffee and sat up. We talked about some things.
He complained again that he felt so weak and whereupon I
encouraged him that he had been weak most of his life to
which he admitted had been true. To the question as to
whether he would have another injection in the morning, he
answered that the one he had received that day was the last,
because by tomorrow it would be over. He told me that
he lay there without his underpants, had no shirt, was naked
just like when he entered this world and he would leave it
in the same way. He told me that he had to die and
knew what he was saying. Then he suggested I leave and
we said farewell to one another. I winked at him and
he winked back just like we did before we went on a long
Around nine o’clock in the
evening I visited Andreas again. He was lucid and knew
me but asked the same thing ten times. I did not know
if he was unable to hear or whether he was just depressed.
Then we prayed the Lord’s
Prayer and Andreas asked me to pray for him that he might
have a restful night.
September 12, 1946:
I went to see Andreas at nine
o’clock in the morning. He seemed quite lively, but
had not left his bed for two days now. I asked him if
he had eaten breakfast and how he responded indicated he had
not understood me. With regard to the question of
whether he wanted coffee or water, he made a sign that he
did not want to go down from the bed. I moistened his
lips and tongue that were cracked and dry.
When a truck suddenly arrived
to pick up some of the patients, he became very upset.
As a sick Polish patient left the floor, Andreas pointed in
the direction of the door indicating he wanted to go home as
well. In response to my question of whether he would
rather stay here with me until he felt better before he set
out on such a long journey, in which he could easily die, he
answered, that he would rather go to see his mother one more
time. Then I told him that today the Polish inmates
were leaving and the Hungarians and the Romanians would
leave a day later on another transport. But
because the sick Hungarians in his room remained and the
Polish patient was brought back, he became upset again…
While he moistened his lips
himself, I said to him that this was a good sign and that he
was getting better and that he should keep it up. He
was visibly relieved and no longer had a fever, but his
pulse was weak. I remained until 12:30. He had
not eaten anything nor did he want anything.
In the afternoon around two
o’clock I returned again. Andreas was cheerful but not
as lively. I moistened his lisp and then he told me he
would like to rest. At 4:30 I returned to be with him
and stayed until it was almost eight o’clock. He was
becoming more and more weak and around evening became
unconscious. When he regained consciousness I took his
two hands and placed them over one another on his chest and
spoke to him that he had to be strong and steadfast now.
I spoke to him of God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ,
about eternal life, the forgiveness of sins and the
resurrection and that God the Father had cared for him to
this day and that all things happened according to His will.
After a few seconds he spoke so clearly and loudly, in a way
we head not heard him speak for days, “Amen”. It was
his last word. He closed his eyes and lay still.
His pulse beat, but it was weak. I had to go, the
others had eaten and the hospital closed.
Andreas died in the night of
12th and 13th of September.
Shortly after midnight he was restless for a short time and
the nurse gave him some water. Then he fell into
(The following poem was
written by Andreas on September 8, 1946)
In Dombas life is so difficult
Father come home, I won’t leave you here any longer.
I will be your shield and protector
As we walk in God’s appointed way.
I have always obeyed my
Do the same and provide for yourself.
I will never abandon you, I have promised you that,
Believe me, I have never broken my word to you.
And even if I am
tired and weak
And am lying here in misery!
Soon I will be the Victor!
My Victory: Death will never come again.
Life on earth was like a
Soon my life will begin in eternity,
The Lord Himself provided for my new beginning,
Have I done anything to deserve it with my life?
The Lord takes His own to
Whatever is left over is what I am!
My body is weak and wants to go to rest
And I close my eyes.
Father, Mother, I will smooth
And lead you to everlasting life,
In God’s beautiful garden in heaven,
Where we will see each other, just have faith.