The Fate of the Germans in the Banat After the Coup of August 23, 1944,
and until their deportation in the Bărăgan-steppe in June 1951
by Wilhelm Weber, 2001
Translated and Edited by Nick Tullius 21 Apr 2014
Published at DVHH.org
24 Apr 2014 by Jody McKim Pharr
Nick's Note: Having had lived through some of the events mentioned in this article I can attest that these
are the most concise and comprehensive accounts I have ever come across, and the first time that I see the
sequence and dates on which the various horrible things to which we Romania-Germans were subjected.
As a national minority, the Banat Swabians were always in a difficult position. This condition was well described by a Banat publicist as follows: "There is hardly a tribe in the southeast of Europe that would have been worse affected by the war and its aftermath than the Banat Swabians. As a minority in a different national state, the Swabians were repeatedly exposed in troubled times to political and chauvinistic arbitrariness, which ranged from harassment in the cultural and education policy, limitation of opportunity in public life, state-funded attempts of de-nationalisation, to the deprivation of rights and the threat to their existence, to deportation. In their unenviable position as loyal citizens on the one hand, and their affection for the German mother country on the other, the Banat Swabians were constantly faced with difficult decisions in the fateful hours of their history."
In the mid-forties and early fifties of the last century they could no longer make such decisions independently. Following the events of 23 August 1944, they had to submit to the decisions of others, and were no longer in a position to determine their own destiny. On this date began for the Germans in Romania an ordeal, with persecution, disenfranchisement, dispossession and deportation, which ushered in the beginning of the final loss of their homeland. The last independent decision to be made was whether to flee from the advancing Soviet army, and thus give up their homeland, or whether they should remain. Plans for an organized evacuation were not available.
From the large numbers local monographs now published, from the published experience reports and other sources, we learn about the number of fugitives, about the refugee in long wagon columns moving in the direction of the Hungarian and Yugoslav border. It also tells us that not all passed the Tisza and the Danube, that many turned back and were attacked and robbed by Tito's partisans. Some fared much worse. As noted in the monograph of Gertjanosch, when such a wagon column was ambushed near Tschesterek by partisans, the women and children separated from the men. The men, 250 in number, among them veterinarian Dr. Weber, lawyer Dr. Ortinau and vice notary Linzer from Billed, men from Gertjanosch, Kleinjetscha, Sackelhausen and other villages, although they were Romanian citizens and not soldiers, were shot in Großbetschkerek.
Those who remained in their communities were defenceless and without rights, at the mercy of arbitrary actions by Romanian public authorities and private citizens. In the very first days after the coup, the Germans had to deliver to the authorities all weapons, radio equipment, motor vehicles, bicycles, cameras and other property. They had to register with the police to and sign an undertaking in which their German ethnicity was noted, and they agreed to appear at the police station within two hours of a given order. The name lists for deportation to Russia were later produced from this registry. At the same time a wave of arrests began, the first affected being all officials of the German Ethnic Group and the German mayors. As a result of an order that three leading German personalities were to be arrested in any locality with German population, even elementary school teachers and other respected villagers were arrested. They were followed by the editors of German newspapers, prominent entrepreneurs, business people, doctors and priests. Through various prisons they arrived in the concentration camp of Târgu-Jiu, in the prison camp Slobozia or to Turnu-Magurele.
Prior to the arrival of the Russian troops in the Banat, everyone tried to be hide all movable belongings to protect it from predators. Common hiding were found in the fireplace, in the attic and in other places, many things and valuables were immured or buried. In addition to the government-imposed measures against the Germans, there were riots in the cities, but especially in the villages inhabited by Germans. Marauding gangs raided the villages and stole what they found. During such robberies, many Germans were killed, as for example was the case in Kleinsanktpeter, where Georg Engelmann opposed predatory gypsies and was killed by them. Although the Russian commanders wanted to maintain order and discipline among their troops, this was not always possible, so that robbery of passers-by, looting of houses, and rape of girls and women were common. In many towns there were also shootings. The well-known and respected attorney and deputy mayor of Timisoara, Dr. Franz Schmitz, was murdered in a cornfield at the Ketfeler Hutweide by two shots to the neck, by Russian soldiers, in association with a few young Serbs from Ketfel dressed in Russian uniforms. The perpetrators were known, but they were never brought to justice. They were the same that had murdered the innkeeper and the teacher Neidenbach from Kleinsiedel. Other victims of raids were Michael Hahn and Anton Mayer of Billed. The bodies of the old constable couple Anton and Elisabeth Götter were found in the vineyards of Billed, where they lived in the field wardens House. Other similar shootings are reported in numerous village monographs. The monograph of Lowrin reports about the murder of the director of Pesaker brickyard, Dr. Michael Reitter, who was killed with his wife by a Russian vanguard, who moved into the brick factory. Very violent events also took place in Sanktmartin near Arad. The monography of this village contains the following description of events: "The front-line troops moved on quickly, but the next morning, on September 14, 1944, all hell broke loose. The supply troops moved in. No horse was left in the stable, all horses and carriages were simply taken away. Pigs, geese, ducks and chickens were taken, and the wine cellars were emptied. A terrible pillage began, in so many houses no closet was spared. In the evening, the hunt for girls and women began, which is why these did not dare to leave their houses; they hid at home usually dressed up as old women with black headscarves drawn over their faces.
After the departure of the Russians, the villagers were defenceless at the mercy of a mob that robbed and plundered unhindered, as long as something was to be found in the house, yard or barn. In Warjasch the first victims of the Russians was village mayor Franz Müller, shot without reason or cause. As all younger men were soldiers, the older men remaining in the villages only rarely succeeded in forming a kind of unarmed vigilante unit and to chase the looters. Another action that only affected the Germans was started in January 1945: the deportation of the 16 to 45 year old boys and men and the 17 to 32 year old girls and women to forced labour in the Soviet Union. It left behind despair, grief and deep hopelessness in the Banat Swabian villages and towns. Many children were left without their mothers and had to grow up with their grandparents, relatives or neighbours until a parent came home from the deportation to Russia or prisoner of war camp. What happened to the more than
35,000 deportees from the Banat, how many never returned home and are buried on Russian soil, can be read in the Banat village monographs and village books. Many who came home with the sick transport or landed in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, died soon after or were afflicted with various ailments.
Another blow which again affected only the Germans, was the Decree Law No. 187 of 23 March 1945 that decreed the expropriation without compensation of the entire German peasantry and owners of their fields. It was followed by the expropriation of the traders and merchants, and on 11 June 1948, the expropriation of all Industrial enterprises and all still privately held companies.
In 1949 the Party started to exercise pressure on the field-owning peasantry to unite in agricultural collective farms. The resistance of the peasants was broken by high and ever increasing taxes on grain and other agricultural products. This time it was no problem for the former German field owners, because they no longer possessed any fields. They worked as labourers or as hired agricultural workers in the fields and in the stables of the state farms or in agricultural machinery and tractor stations, as factory workers in the cities or as a bricklayer and helpers on the government construction sites.
The German-language newspaper "Neuer Weg” (New Way) published since March 13, 1949 as an organ of the German Anti-Fascist Committee of the Romanian People's Republic, had the task to represent and explain the policy of the Government and the Romanian Workers' Party, and to win over the German population for the goals of socialism and communism. On the other hand, it developed into an important mediator of culture, arts and literature. It contributed thus to the preservation of the identity of Germans in Romania. On the 7th of September 1950, the six-year deprivation of political rights came to an end, and with the granting of voting rights, the Germans regained their civil rights. Once again they had schools in their native language, a German State Theatre in Timişoara, German language books reappeared and they could openly speak German. The impending peaceful time suffered a setback in 1950 due to the increasing persecution of the clergy, primarily the Catholic Church. Bishop Dr. Augustin Pacha, as well as many canons, deans, priests and religious sisters were arrested and sentenced to many years in prison.
After the return of the surviving deportees from Russia, and the return of most of the prisoners of war, in the spring of 1951, the sorely tried Banat Swabians believed to see a gradual improvement of their situation. Then, what no one expected, happened in the summer of 1951, namely another deportation, this time not to Russia but in the Bărăgan-steppe of Romania. Thus began another period of suffering for thousands Banat Swabians. But now it was not just them alone as it was in 1945, when only Germans were deported for forced labour. From 297 villages in the Banat border zone and the south-west Oltenia, 12,791 families with 40 320 people were deported to the Bărăgan: Romanians, Germans, Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians and others. They had to build 18 villages by hand and live for years under forced residence conditions.
What happened to those deported to the Bărăgan, how they worked, who stood up for them and how they returned home again, is described in the relevant documentation and made available in all village monographs of the affected villages and in the experience reports published so far.