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Deported to the USSR Frankfurt/Oder -
Door to Freedom and End Station for Many

by Peter Krier
Permission to republish by Peter Krier. Translated by Nick Tullius.
[Published at DVHH.org 20 Aug 2007 by Jody McKim Pharr]

The Deportation

Of all the events that the twentieth century and its two world wars brought over us and our homeland, the deportation to forced labour in the Soviet Union was the most severe calamity that we suffered in our history. The 60th anniversary of the deportation to Russia reminds us once again of that large trauma and its associated human misery. It has been clearly established that the deportation of Germans from Romania, Hungary, former Yugoslavia and other German settlement areas in eastern and south-eastern Europe, and partially also from the eastern areas of the German Reich, to forced labour in the Soviet Union, was intended as reparation for the war debt of Germany. As demanded at the Allied Conference at Teheran in October 1943, Stalin obtained this concession, in addition to the demanded reparations in foreign exchange, raw material and industrial plants, against the reluctant resistance of the other Allies.
After thorough preparation and with the co-operation of the Romanians, the Deportation of the Germans from south-east Europe began in December 1944 and January 1945 to Pavel Polian, a Russian scientist, talks about 31,992 deportees for the collecting points of the province Timis, i.e., for the Banat. Later large raids, particularly in the cities, reportedly produced ”good results”, but the number of deportees collected is not accurately known. As listings and computer extrapolations made by the Landsmannschaft (homeland association) arrived at 32,000 to 35,000, it can be reasonably assumed that over 32,000 Germans were deported from the Banat. From the village of Billed alone, 556 persons were deported, of which 264 were women born between 1914 and 1927, while 292 were men born between 1899 and 1928. Peter Weber noted the following in his diary:"17.01.1945: Arrests in Billed, stay at school; 19.01. Marching to Perjamosch; 23.01. Handing over to the Soviets and transfer to cattle cars; 24.01. Departure from Perjamosch; 31.01. Transfer in Atjud; 12.02. Discharge in Jenakievo; 16.02. First working day in Jenakievo." The travel in the unheated cattle railroad cars, with 40 persons squeezed together, often without water and without food, without the most elementary sanitary appliances and without medical support, took its first victims. Four men from Billed already died during the transportation.
About three quarters of the forced labourers were taken to work in the coalmines and in the steel industry of the Donets region in Southern Ukraine. Other camps were in the Northern Caucasus, at the Ural River and to the east of it, but also around Moscow. Apart from the heavy industry the forced labourers were assigned also to building sites or to work in agriculture and forestry. Under the most difficult, inhuman conditions the deportees had to do the hard work of slaves. Hunger, eternal hunger, even lack of water, cold weather, epidemics and abuse took their toll on their lives. Depressed by homesickness, they lived and worked under totally unacceptable hygienic conditions. Lice and bedbugs made life more difficult, and medical care, if at all available, was extremely primitive.
According to data of the NKWD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the military-political suppressive organization responsible for the deportation and the employment of the forced labourers (which was directly subordinated to Stalin, via Beria), dated 20.12.1949, out of a total of 205.520 deportees in group G “Mobilized”, to which the Romania-Germans belonged, there were 40,737 deaths recorded, equivalent to a death rate of 19.8 percent. According to a report of the GPUWI, the successor organization of the NKWD, 7,553 forced labourers died during the first year. In the following year, 1946, another 35,485 deportees died. According to data provided by lieutenant general Petrov, chief of the GPU, by the year end 1949, of a total number of 344,671 “interned” and “mobilized” persons, 67,081 had died, corresponding to a death rate of 19.5%. There are reasons to believe that the death rate of the Banaters was somewhat smaller. Nevertheless, more recent and accurate accounting by the Homeland Communities and computer projections derived from these, the number of 6000 forced labourers from the Banat who died in the Soviet Union appears reasonable. The number of people who died on their way home and of the consequences of the deportation is not well-known, but a number of several hundreds appears to be reasonable [...] Of 556 persons deported from Biled, 76 died, giving a casualty rate of 13.7%. [Of 172 persons deported from Alexanderhausen, 34 died, for a casualty rate of 19.8%. NT]
Returning Home
"Skoro domoi" meaning "we’re going home" were the first Russian words learned by the deportees. These words were used to console them, to sustain the hope of returning home someday, and to give them the willpower to survive the everyday misery. For those who survived, this hope was realized only after five extremely hard years, in November and December 1949, and even then, some had to stay on longer. The large number of dead and persons unable-to-work induced the Soviet leadership in the late autumn 1945 to dismiss the incurably sick, invalids, women with babies and men over 50. Shortly before Christmas 1945 the first deportees arrived in Billed, via Focsani and Sighet. Their bodies were emaciated, adult women weighed less than 40 kg, men carried less than half of their standard weight. Elizabeth A. recounts:  „I arrived at night in a cattle railway car from Temeswar and went first to the cemetery to see whether anyone of my family had died.“ Some returning deportees died before reaching their home villages […]
According to a decree signed by Stalin, up to 25,000 "unable-to-work" deportees were to be "repatriated" in each of the subsequent years. From 1946 to the middle of 1948 however, the Germans from Romania were not repatriated to their homeland, but to the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany. Even this decree came too late for many; some died on the trains on their way home.
Soon after the war ended, Franfurt/Oder was designated as a gigantic "place of people transhipment". Hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, former civilian internees and forced labourers, as well as Russians subjected to forced repatriation moving eastward to Soviet camps – all passed through Frankfurt. In the other direction, hundreds of thousands of released prisoners of war, refugees, deportees and forced labourers passed through Frankfurt/Oder westward towards Germany. 
Peter Weber describes his return journey in his diary: On 9.09.1946, placement into railway cars in Jenakievo; on 10.09. at 15:30 o’clock, start of the travel home, via Nebalso, Kaia, Slaviansk, Kiev, Baranovich, Brest. In Brest-Litovsk transfer to another train; from there continuing via Warsaw and Posen to Frankfurt; arrival on 21.09. at 9 pm. On 22.09. early discharge to the Russian camp, there finally something to eat, a warm soup.
The Russian camp in Frankfurt was located in the Horn barracks at the Nuhnenhof and belonged to the NKWD. It was the only place for the release of prisoners of war and civil internees in the Soviet zone. In the Horn barracks the identity of the prisoners was verified, they were subjected to a medical examination, they were deloused and received the SPRAVKA, their long-awaited certificate of dismissal. But for many it was too late. Many died during the journey, and if they were not dropped somewhere in Poland, arrived as corpses in Frankfurt. Jakob brown reports that several dead from his transport were buried in a shell crater in Brest Litovsk. Mathias Werle stepped out on 26.12.1946 in Brest Litovsk to fetch some water, and was never seen again. Others arrived in Frankfurt gravely ill, and many died there. Alternate cemeteries had to be created in Frankfurt at the “Kiesberge“ (“gravel mountain”) and in some suburbs. A former employee of the transit camp told me “on some days we had more than a hundred funerals”. In the main cemetery of Frankfurt, our compatriots from Billed Nikolaus Bier and Anton Hell are buried. The gravesites of Karl Steuer, William Groß and Nikolaus Schneider, who also died on the journey home, are unknown. During 1957-1958 the bones of the returnee-cemeteries Kiesberge, Hohenwalde, Nuhnenfriedhof and others were transferred to a mass grave on the main cemetery. The large hill on the main cemetery of Frankfurt covers the remains of 7,610 returnees. More than 12,700 war victims are buried in Frankfurt, 9,000 of them with continuing right to rest. Frankfurt was the gate to freedom for over 1.25 million released prisoners of war and hundreds of thousands of refugees and forced labourers, among them also about 10,000 Banaters. In addition, Frankfurt was the end station for thousands of returnees. In the Horn barracks, today’s police headquarters, courageous people have set up a permanent exhibition, to the memory of the returnees. The exhibition contains articles of clothing like the Russian “Bufaikas”, cutlery made from the cans that contained canned goods or from pieces of sheet metal, among many other exhibits. Impressive is the small wooden suitcase of 16-years old Maria Stege, with its Spartan content and a sheet of paper with the words “Skoro domoi”. She did not return to her home; she died in the camp. This exhibition at the Frankfurt Police Headquarters is well worth seeing.
The people discharged by the Russians in the Horn barracks were transferred to the German authorities at camp Gronenfelde in Frankfurt/Oder. There, their identity and their state of health were re-examined; those claiming West Germany residency were transferred to Friedland, all others to one of 65 returnee camps in the Soviet Zone. The most severely ill were transferred to a hospital in Frankfurt or its surroundings. Many could be helped by engaged physicians and caring medical personnel. Hans Martini had a severe case of dysentery and was saved by a physician interned in a hospital in Dresden. After spending some time in a camp, those able to work could take up work with the farmers of the surrounding area. Thus, for most, camp life came to an end.
Peter Weber describes his ongoing journey as follows: On 23.09.46 transfer from the NKWD camp to camp Gronenfelde; on 24.09 from there to Torgau via Cottbus to quarantine in the bridgehead camp; on 22.10 to the Marienlager Leipzig Delitsch, then to camp Bitterfeld. In Bitterfeld Peter Weber notes the names of over four hundred Banaters, including 30 from Billed, who were with him in the camp. He noted also the localities around Bitterfeld, where the returnees found work and. In its notebook now appear more and more addresses of Billeders now in West Germany. The discussions among them naturally revolved around their return home to Billed. There were five borders to be crossed and a distance of about 1,500 km to be travelled, without money or appropriate papers. Peter Weber noted in a possible route: Halle, Weissenfels, Naumburg, Bavarian border, Stockheim, Nuremberg; then Schalding, Passau, absolutely on foot to Rohrbach, at night or very early in the morning over the Austrian border, St. Valentin, Vienna, Schaltendorf, over the Hungarian border, Ödenburg, Budapest, Kecskemet, Szeget, get off the train at a station before Kis Sombor, cross the Romanian border only in the evening or at night to Tschanad; from there over Großsanktnikolaus to Billed. The Banaters started the long journey in groups. Peter Weber noted the departure of some groups of Billeders. He himself remained in Bitterfeld until June 1947 and then went with his wife to the West. Of the approximately 180 Billeders dismissed in Frankfurt/Oder, 29 went into the West and remained there permanently. For many it took decades before they were united with their families.
The journey home was very cumbersome and also very dangerous. The American occupation forces either threw the border crossers in jail or transferred them back to where they came from. Katharina Schmal, who started on the journey home while being ill, was caught at the border, placed into a camp in Bavaria, then transferred to Thuringia, where she was retained in various camps until1949. She returned legally, when the Romanians opened repatriation offices. Other returnees report that helpful people helped them across the border by hiding them among cattle. Many were thrown in jails in Austria and in Hungary, being accused of illegal border crossing. Katharina Tröster recounts that she was underway for weeks without money, travelling on foot, by truck and by train. In the Banat, where she walked on, people from Triebswetter gave her the money to continue on home. The returnees without money were dependent on helpful people, who often provided them with them with a place to sleep, a meal, or by arranging transportation by train or by truck.
The most dangerous place was the crossing of the Romanian border. At that time the border guards had instruction to shoot, and a number of returnees were killed at the border. Executions under martial law are also known to have happened. Others were caught and thrown in jail. Thus, Maria Mann, Barbara Schäfer, Hans Frank and Hans Martini were caught at the border in Tschanad on 23 August 1948, and were taken by the Securitate, via Grosssanktnikolaus, to the notorious Jilawa prison, where they remained until an amnesty was declared on 8 May 1949.
In the summer of 1949 the rulers in Moscow decided to release all civilian forced labourers, provided that they were not subject to special punishment. According to an NKWD report, in the autumn of 1948 11,446 sick people, men born in 1899 and 1900, as well as women born in 1914, all from Romania, had already been released. In November and December 1949 the last 20,804 forced labourers from Romania were released. Starting in autumn 1948 the released people were once again allowed to travel directly to Romania, via Focsani and Sighet, where they received their discharge papers. Behind them were five years of forced labour, for no other crime than being Germans. Five years of their life and their youth had been taken away from them. And some 6,400 Banaters had lost their lives.
For the returning men born in the years 1926, 1927 and 1928, the drudgery and misery were not over. They were subsequently drafted into so-called “work units” of the Romanian army, and were put to work once again in coalmines and on construction sites. The working conditions were easier than in Russia, but it cost them a further three years of forced labour. In addition, some of the deportees who had returned from Russia were subjected to yet another deportation: to the steppes of the Baragan, between 1951 and 1956. They spent eleven years of their lives in bondage, without having been found guilty of any wrongdoing!

Go to: Last Letters from a Deportee by Peter Krier

Peter Krier is a native of Billed. He graduated from the Industrial High School in Temeswar and the Pedagogical Institute of Klausenburg/Cluj. After many years of teaching at the trade school in Billed, he managed to emigrate to Germany, where he worked as a technician in machine construction for the ball bearing industry at Schweinfurt. He is honorary chairman of the H.O.G. Billed, chairman of the relief work association Hilfswerk der Banater Schwaben, and was chairman of the Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben in Bavaria. He and his family live in Schweinfurt, Bavaria. 



Last Updated: 03 Feb 2020

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