Our Resettlement in Germany
by Helene Schuch
Translated from Ref. [2] by Diana Lambing

     More than 20 years have passed by since we settled in our new Heimat in 1976 and as I put pen to paper about this chapter of our lives more and more things keep coming back to me.
     To put an exact date to the beginning of our resettlement is difficult and it seems a paradox that even years after the end of the war many of our fellow countrymen have returned. In Alexanderhausen, Niki Lambing must have been the first to leave in 1958, and his sister, who was married, had to wait another 12 years before she could join her parents. I had a colleague whose father was in Germany and who, together with her cousin’s family, had made the first application in 1952. Her cousin was lucky enough to be able to emigrate during the 1960s, but she only after 22 years of effort and umpteen applications.
     I can still remember well being in High School (1952) and my mother visiting me and telling me that there was so much talk in the marketplace about the deportation of Germans in other countries, which we were only just beginning to hear about now even though it had been going on for several years. She wondered if it would be sensible for us to emigrate, too. We talked about the fear of the unknown. We had a roof over our heads, the garden produced enough, I was still at school, mother was 55 and grandmother was 67 years old, and even though we had been dispossessed we were relatively satisfied with the little that we’d been left with. We were still a close German community and had gradually grown used to the Romanians who over the years had been settling in our village. I didn’t know of anyone who had left Alexanderhausen at that time.
     Now it was 1962 and there were places opening in Temeschburg where one could get application forms. Many handed in their applications but only very few could emigrate. This only ran for a very short time. Meanwhile, my uncle and his family had gone from Romania to Germany in 1957 and from there on to the USA (a special case - they hadn’t taken up Romanian citizenship as they had escaped from Serbia to us and inevitably had to live near Bucharest); I was married and we had just bought ourselves a house in Temeschburg. My mother offered to queue for applications as it was just for a general resettlement at some time or other. How right she was! Unfortunately, not everyone is equally adaptable to change and my mother-in-law was dead against it. She thought that as her husband had had to die at such a young age (50) she didn’t want to leave his grave, and her sisters, to whom she was very close, didn’t want to leave either. This is still the case today with our fellow countrymen who feel incredibly strong ties with their old Heimat and many of the older people could never really put down roots in their new Heimat. They only came in order to be with their children (written in 1986).
     Well, a family shouldn’t have to be split up and the chances of really being able to emigrate were very slim. We were at the beginning of our careers and such an application could have disastrous consequences. I believe a few Alexanderhauseners got applications at that time. The Götz family from Temeschburg, who we were quite close to, managed to emigrate to Germany at that time, but they had relatives there who could deal with the authorities.
     The question ‘why?’ is not easy to answer as behind every resettlement lies some other motivating force, but the one that applied to everybody was the feeling of hopelessness of preserving our Germanness, the lack of freedom and the worry about the future of our children. To understand this properly one has to have experienced all this.
     Unfortunately, earlier applications were later no longer accepted and one had to start all over again. It must have been at the beginning of the 1970s when things started to move again in the resettlement direction. We now only had my grandmother (85) and our little boy (5 - 6). My husband’s cousin, Franz, who hadn’t wanted to emigrate in the 1960s, had meanwhile realised that it was a waste of time clinging on to the old Heimat. I can still picture us sitting together, him telling me how things had gone in Bucharest.
     There were endless queues again at the Temeschburg prison building, which even led to traffic jams. Shortly afterwards, the admission centre was moved. It was about this time that I first heard about the modern ‘slave trade’, or human trafficking, where applications were handled high up, even though most of these didn’t lead to resettlement. Quite outrageous demands were made and many people took great risks. Franz had got hold of an application by bribery. That explained all the trips to Bucharest, but it was all for nothing. Because they lived in the countryside (the whole family was born in Alexanderhausen, only our son was born in Temeschburg), the risk wasn’t as great but for us our careers were on the line. Today I regard it as fainthearted but at the time so much was in decline and we couldn’t know what would later await us, without parents, who could have perhaps help support us. We had no idea that we would be supported here (Germany) and thought we would have to be a burden on my cousin, who had sent us the entry papers from the German embassy, to begin with. We no longer had relatives of the first grade (parents) - my father had died in Russia at the age of 39 and our other parents all from cancer. It was at this time that I fell seriously ill and I was sent to hospital when I was 31 years old. And so another couple of years went by before I could carry on with my efforts. In the meantime we had learned from people that we knew that the business of being bought off by the West was coming to an end. Our friends’ contact had stopped doing this. I’d already taken the trouble to try and get an application form, without success (Franz got no further either). Then came the illness and death of my grandma and after 1973 we couldn’t hold back any longer. My husband thought I would only jeopardize our careers and still get nowhere. I had already changed careers in 1970 so that it would be easier to find work in Germany, as being a woman in a man’s job, and an emigrant with Romanian education at the same time, I felt I’d have little chance. I’ll never forget how, at three o’clock one afternoon, I gave the cardboard box I had put my identity papers in to others and entered my name on a list for the following day. You have to take into account that many superiors at that time did not discriminate against us and would allow a quick day off now and then. When I arrived very early the following morning the courtyard was already full up. We didn’t know how the officials would proceed, how many or in what order we would be heard (first you had to get a number for an audience), or whether it would all come to nothing. The courtyard was very small, behind the central department store in the town center, and we stood shoulder to shoulder. I bumped into some acquaintances and we would tell so many jokes just to ease the sorrowful situation. It began to rain but everyone stuck it out and the queues barely grew any shorter. Finally, my turn arrived and I saw that our garage neighbor was the one questioning us. At that time I knew from my aunt in America that we had some kind of right to emigrate as my father-in-law had been born in the USA, but I didn’t know anything for certain. I told this to the official and so received a form with questions about reasons for emigration and a number for an audience after umpteen months (anything up to a year and was often postponed). Nothing came of these audiences, either.
     Meanwhile, we had visitors from America and I asked them whether my many cousins (four of my mother’s brothers and sisters had moved there as exiles from Serbia) could buy us off and that we would only want it as a loan. At the time, I had a contact via an acquaintance but there was a condition that the money had to be promised. In those days, everything had to be done furtively. But our relatives couldn’t help us at the time. Some time passed and then my aunt, who had stayed with us for a while after her escape (uncle had died meanwhile) with her family, simply transferred 7,000 dollars to the Romanian bank, marked ‘for emigration’. Unfortunately, she had been badly advised and it was also too late because what we needed didn’t go through official channels and as my acquaintance had emigrated we could no longer get in touch with our source.
     During this time I tried to arrange a visit to my cousin Sepp in Germany but it was made clear to me by the authorities that I would be busy and so my application was refused. It should be said that the firm where I was employed had given their consent to the application for a visit. I had hoped to stay here and be able to find a way of buying off my family as I had meanwhile got an address from Germany but I didn’t want to burden my relatives there as we had no overall view at all.
     As we had several free train journeys (my husband worked for the railways), I made many journeys to Bucharest, all of them unsuccessful. As I had some business to carry out there, too, I kept on trying to get something sorted out. All these visits are old history now after so many years, but one particular audience I can remember as though it were yesterday. We sat for hours in the ante-room (about 1973) and had written our request on a sheet of paper. Some people had their whole family in Germany but had still been refused several times.
     My turn came (which wasn’t always the case as only a certain time was allotted for the audience, and only on certain days) and the first question was, why did I apply there (in Bucharest) as Temeschburg was the authority responsible and Bucharest couldn’t do anything in this case. I reasoned my visit with the true state of things, that in Temeschburg there were no appointments to be had for months on end (Temeschburg was responsible for most of the Germans in Romania). The good man was polite, made notes, and said we’d just have to wait for an audience in Temeschburg (we had no prospect of any application). I mentioned also that my father-in-law had been born in the USA (what this meant, we learned only much later), that my relatives lived in Germany, that I had not even been allowed a visit and that we had 7,000 dollars in the Romanian bank to be used for our emigration. I was asked, why did I think this. Well, my aunt had transferred the money and written that our emigration would be possible now. Unfortunately, I left without achieving anything. I also mentioned how we had once stood for a whole day in the rain waiting for an appointment.
     It wasn’t long before I was called before the authorities. We could hardly wait for the day and we had high hopes of receiving applications at last. It was the chief of police who received me and on his desk lay our file, to which he kept referring. I noticed that a lot of notes had been made in the margins. Our file was considerably thick as I had written every month. The reply to the requests was always the same - just the word ‘received’. My hopes for an application fell when I was asked how I came to apply to the authorities in Bucharest. Everything that I had said there had been noted. Today, when one talks about the actions of the Stasi, I ask myself just how much has been recorded about us Germans from Romania. A comment was also made about us being a highly qualified work force in which the State had invested and we should banish all thoughts of leaving the country and put our knowledge to use in our fatherland. When I asked, then why had a young Jewish couple, both engineers, and their parents been allowed to leave, I was given the short, harsh reply, ‘that was different’.
     Amongst other questions I was asked was where had our parents died. With ‘my father was displaced to the Soviet Union’ came a big ‘aha!’  Yes, I said, then our parents, being German, were made responsible and yet now we were not allowed to be Germans and allowed to leave. I could go, without having achieved anything. But we never had any trouble over it. Today I ask myself, where did I get the courage from!
     President Nixon was visiting Romania at the time and had granted the clause of preferential nations to this country. There was a proviso tied to this, that Romania had to allow Romanian citizens who had the right to American citizenship, to emigrate. By coincidence we now learned the relevance of my father-in-law’s birthplace. My husband had the right, as a descendant, to apply for American citizenship as he had been born before 1941. I would mention here that Hans’s father, as a born American, was also a citizen of America and yet, as life would have it, became an American prisoner of war.
     Now it came out that the Oberthier family, also from Alexanderhausen, had known this for quite some time but had had nothing but difficulties as the American embassy was under observation and apart from the recognition of American citizenship, did not help their citizens any further.
     Now the attitude of the authorities changed, too. Now the battle with the Americans started. The first step (1974) was for Hans to go to the American embassy. We now knew that however many obstacles were put in our way, one day we would be able to leave. The American birth certificate was not enough (we had that). We were asked for the baptism certificate, which we didn’t have. And so we had to get one from Philadelphia after 60 years and with no clues. This was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckily, this almost insoluble problem could be solved by my aunt. She had to write to umpteen churches in the city of Philadelphia with its 10 million inhabitants. But six months later the baptism certificate was at the American embassy. Next, Hans had to bring witnesses to prove that he knew nothing about the possibility of applying for American citizenship, as he should have done this a long time ago. How absurd to have to prove that one doesn’t know about something! Of course, such things weren’t made public in Romania. So we see that it’s not only the Romanian authorities that make difficulties. And all this when our applications to leave had already amounted to a considerable number.
     A year later we had won this battle too and we received permission to apply for the exit permit (1975). We had to attach various records from the employers we worked for to the application forms. The firms were instructed to talk us into staying. I was called to the Director and amongst other things it was made clear to me that I could not keep my job as I intended to leave the country, that I was deemed unreliable (but they could not give me any definite details), that it could be that I would not be given any more work and it wasn’t even sure that we would be allowed to leave. I should really think it over again. My answer, that we had already thought it over and if need be would do menial work across the water and that my relatives in the United States had also spoken to various authorities and that my husband would have to be allowed to leave at some stage, being an American citizen, was all listened to politely. A few days later I received the documents and at the same time my transfer from the EDV (I was the boss) to another department, without any cut in salary and still as an engineer. A very fair treatment.
     Things didn't go so well for my husband. He sent in a written application for the necessary papers but weeks went by and there was always another excuse, until he was told that he would not receive these without first giving in his notice. He gave in his notice, received the confirmation and at long last we could hand in the applications. So we was unemployed for over a year, with no unemployment benefit of course, and this year wasn't even counted towards his pension.
     Meanwhile, Hans was ordered to the local authority to be worked on there. You have to take into account that the area leader let someone else take his place to do the questioning as it would have been embarrassing for him to question an acquaintance. It ran to the same thing though, how important his contribution to the country was etc. etc.
     Handing in the applications with all the documents was easy, but how long would it all take now? At least I could still go to work, but many people know how slowly time passes when you are waiting for something. At the same time, legal proceedings were taking place against teachers. According to the article of the law, employees of the education department who had applied for an exit visa would be given notice. The article said that it was not enough for teachers to claim to be professional. Now in one fell swoop a whole number of German teachers found themselves in this situation. I believe these legal proceedings marked the beginning of the great wave of emigration of teachers at the beginning of 1977. In any case, often both partners in a marriage were affected and they didn't even know whether they would manage to get away. Our long time teachers, the Grawisch family, were also affected.
     With us, the application procedure took 15 months. Permission arrived on September 30th 1976. The following day I gave in my notice and received the necessary papers at the same time. For the period that Hans was unemployed two witnesses had to guarantee that they would pay any possible debts. There were difficulties with our son who was in the 6th class and who also had to bring confirmation that he had no dealings with secret files. He was told this, however, only after handing in his school books as they were deemed the property of the State. I am writing in so much detail in order that you, our descendants, may be able to understand just a little how 'communist democracy' worked.
     Now we had to get rid of all our worldly goods. We adults were allowed to take 70kg with us and our son 35kg. I had already sorted out and weighed many things during the past year. We had already cleared the apartment provided by the State in the previous year, but there was still plenty in Hans's parents' house and the stuff in the apartment in town just didn't seem to diminish. We had, in those days, to sell our house and the apartment to the State (this was not always administered in the same way) and in order that the State could establish a price (it was almost always the same anyway!), we had to provide detailed plans with photographs and allow an estimate to be made. Well, why shouldn't they be allowed to make money out of us again! If the apartment hadn't been paid for in full, we would have had to do this before selling. When we bought the apartment (from the State) it had cost us five times more than it was worth and by the time we emigrated it was worth 14 times as much as the State had given us for it. It was similar with the house. Through various contacts we managed to get rid of our possessions, for which our ancestors already, and now we for the past 20 years, had invested so much in, very quickly. There was no problem in handing over the house as relatives (the Waltrich and Wilhelm families) lived there. Unfortunately, the State then demanded a rent from them. With the apartment there were problems. Once a high official had agreed to take on the apartment and had already taken on some of the furniture, too, it then turned out that the apartment had been allocated twice over. The high official who had to make a decision on the matter was out of the country. Once again, we were sitting on our suitcases and another long wait began. The apartment was finally allocated and we had to remove all the hand-measured fitted furniture as the apartment had to be handed over completely empty and in good condition (we even had to repaint the walls). Only then would we receive our passports, which were already nearing their expiry date. This was often the case and you had to pay plenty to have it renewed. We were lucky and did not have to wait long for an appointment for the baggage handover. At the time, one had to leave the country by air; only the seriously ill were allowed to travel by train.
     As the Oberthier family had obtained their exit visas six months prior to us, we knew that they hadn't managed to stay in Germany. We didn't dare tell anyone that we didn't intend going to the USA and even in letters I only wrote 'we're going to Sepp's' (letters were censored). Unfortunately, this was misunderstood and we were expected in America, but never arrived.
     Now we gradually got to know some of the 'good uncles' who specialized in buying off us Swabians, and I drove with such a man to Bucharest to buy air tickets. At the ticket window I was told that I wouldn't get a ticket just to Germany as our passports were made out for the USA. I knew that I now had to speak to the Director, as the 'uncle' knew his way around. I was let through straight away (it had all been pre-arranged), handed over my envelope with a month's salary (engineer's), in other words I handed over 10% of the value of the house and apartment, and then I received my ticket to Germany. The 'uncle' got his similar share. There were still several things to clear up in Bucharest. We had to get permission from the Ministry of Culture and Science to take our qualification documents with us, hand in the application to the Employment Ministry so that our working hours could be sent to Germany, and get permission from the Customs Office to take with us the typewriter, macrame works, hand-knotted carpets, pictures and wall clocks (as mementoes of our parents). Unfortunately, we had to wait again for several weeks and an extra demand was confirmation from the museum that the clocks and pictures weren't special works of art or of antique value (we hadn't even got original hand-painted pictures - only prints which were for us of spiritual value).
     As the last appointment loomed we took our 175kg to Arad. Luckily we still had our car as this had been sold to Hans's nephew (Herwig Stefan). First of all we had to procure special measured chests which were only available from a firm in Arad at that time. By handing out tips we were lucky enough to get some on the same day. We were allowed three chests. Our Alexanderhausen fellow countryman, Reinhold Müller, took a photo of one. We had hundreds of books but also gave away many of them. We had already sent some of the technical books by post (very expensive) to our relatives and we hoped to take some more with us, hidden. Books which had been printed before 1945 were not allowed to be taken out of the country. We had a few framed family photos. We had to take every one out of its frame in case something had been hidden behind the picture! We knew that some customs officers could go over the top but bribery could cut two ways. We had decided to risk nothing. Every piece of underwear was held up, every handicraft, shoe etc. was checked. Oma's large statue of Our Lady we lost as we didn't dare take this with us, but we had a few smaller mementoes and even though the customs officers thought they weren't allowed, they turned a blind eye. They allowed lead crystal objects, too, but they snatched the macramae handiwork back. Hans was allowed to close the lid and when they turned their backs on us I slipped the macramaes in as well. I have to say, the people had to stick to the rules, which was quite unusual.
     Now we had to say our goodbyes. On the way back to the cemetery we met our teacher in front of the Schmidt house in Alexanderhausen. Frau Grawisch wondered, with a worried voice, 'do you think we will be allowed exit visas - we have both been unemployed for so long...'. On the one hand, people desperately wanted to leave; on the other hand one was facing the unknown and the fear of not finding any work in the new country and whether one would be able to integrate at all.
     It was a difficult parting and we didn't even know whether we would be able to visit our parents' and relatives' graves again. The graves were, and are to this day, the only thing that is left of us in the old country.
     The last night we still had a desk (collected by a friend) and a couch (a colleague took this), so we said our goodbyes once again. The next day after leaving Temeschburg we flew to Bucharest. There, as usual, it was a problem finding a hotel and so we spent the first night with a friend. Next day we had to hand over our suitcases at Otopeni international airport. Hans's nephew, Herwig, had come with us in order to take any rejected items back with him. Everything had to be unpacked again. We had brought something to eat with us as we didn't know what to expect. The cake and the sausage was broken in pieces (were they looking for hidden gold?). As the highlight, the female customs officer thought that we weren't allowed to take the leather coats that we were wearing (it was late November). I asked her in as friendly a way as I could whether they would give us other coats instead, and then she put three months' salary as duty on them! For the contents of the suitcase we had to pay even more. We didn't even have that much money on us. Luckily we were helped out by some of our fellow travelers. She didn't think we were allowed to take the gold necklace, earrings, silver jewelry etc. with us.
     So on Sunday November 28th 1976 it was time to leave. First we had to say goodbye to Herwig and to the old Heimat. The typewriter, which had been allowed, we could pay duty on as hand luggage and the chains, earrings etc. didn't bother these customs officers. Our hearts beat wildly as we had our exit visas for America on us. But checking wasn't very strict. We had been told that we shouldn't take anything in writing with us and so we had learned the most important addresses off by heart and had only smuggled a tiny notebook about 4cm x 3cm (less than 2" x 1.5"). As we were waiting for our departure flight we realized that we hadn't even had any breakfast but unfortunately we couldn't buy anything with Lei (the Romanian currency) any more and we hadn't been allowed to take any hard currency with us. At 9.30 on the dot we finally left the old Heimat and were on a flight to the unknown. The weather was beautiful and we had a good view. When a lake came into view I guessed it was the Plattensee and the announcement confirmed this. To our great surprise we received a hearty breakfast: an egg, cheese, ham, salami, two bread rolls, tomato, butter, coffee and cream. Up to now we had only been used to domestic flights. We saw Vienna beneath us, tiny, and the Alps looked wonderful in the bright sunshine. There were 17 of us re-settlers, amongst us was a man with two small children whose mother had already been living in Germany for a couple of years (she stayed there after a visit). So many families had sacrificed so much just to be able to leave. Two hours and ten minutes later we began the descent and after a further 19 minutes we stepped onto the ground of our new Heimat for the first time.

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