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

Chapter 3

Genocide In the Yugoslavian Banat
"This is where innocent blood flowed like a river" 

(After World War I, the Banat was divided between Yugoslavia & Romania, with two thirds going to Romania & one third annexed to Yugoslavia)


The Western Banat
"The Starvation Mill"



    In 1945 the authorities of the new Yugoslavian state made the former Danube Swabian community of Rudolfsgnad located on the left bank of the Tisza River where it meets the Danube into a massive concentration camp and renamed it Knicanin.  With the retreat of the German forces as the Russian Army advanced into the Banat, the inhabitants of Rudolfsgnad by and large were evacuated, but following that the village was severely   damaged during the battles that raged around it.  Twenty-three thousand Danube Swabians from the Banat, mostly women and children were driven from their homes and out of their villages by the Partisans in the fall of 1945 and were brought here and housed in the ruined or damaged empty homes.  The first of them arrived on October 30, 1945.  They were the Swabian population from Kathreinfeld as well as those who were unable to work who had been brought to Kathreinfeld from labor camps in the surrounding area.   

  The area around Rudolfsgnad was cut off and isolated, because the fate of the Swabian inmates there was not to come to the light of day or made public in any way.  No one was allowed to send or receive mail.  No one was allowed to visit them.  The Swabians were liquidated here en masse.  They were simply left to starve.  In the first few months there were seven thousand deaths.  In the coldest months of winter they received no food at all.  In the years ahead no one could send or bring food to the inmates.  In December of 1945, months after the war was over the commander ordered that no food of any kind be given to the prisoners from December 24th-27th to prevent any Christmas celebrations. 

  In the month of January in 1946 the ration per person was seven decagrams of salt and two hundred and twenty-three decagrams of corn groats.  It was mostly shredded corn cobs that would have been fed to pigs.  There were no fats of any kind and no bread.  There were many days when there were no rations at all, and during that month there were none for five consecutive days.  In the month of February there was even a reduction in the personal ration that only heightened the level of starvation in the camp.  Even the smallest children and nursing mothers received the same ration.  From November of 1945 to the beginning of July in 1946 there was absolutely no bread during those eight months and no salt whatsoever.  With regard to this situation in Rudolfsgnad, one woman reports: 

  “Those who went out to work and were able to secure some food or even a piece of bread and tried to smuggle it back into the camp were beaten unmercifully and locked up.  Cellars served as prisons with the windows bricked up and a tin roof.  Whoever ended up there was given no food or water.  In the summer time the hot tin roof created monstrous levels of heat within and imprisonment there was most feared at that time of year.  The heat and lack of water left the inmates on the verge of madness. 

  The first victims of our hunger were the dogs and cats in the neighborhood.  During the winter of 1945/1946 as hunger raged among us the first thing to disappear were the house pets.  All of the other animals had been taken into the possession of the Partisans, so that the ten thousand starving inmates had no other alternative then to capture these household animals and slaughter them to quiet their hunger with their flesh.  If a cat appeared anywhere it was immediately chased by a mob, captured, butchered and eaten on the spot.  In this way a cat erred and strayed into the house where my family and I were living.  Because we had so many mice in our house, I tied up the cat with a rope.  When I left the house for a few minutes, the cat managed to free itself and disappeared.  I went in search of the cat in the houses of our neighbors.  Coming to the very first house, I was told that the cat had already been butchered and skinned and was being cooked. 

  Snails and slugs were collected everywhere and clover wherever it could be found was used as “greens” to eat.  Even though leaving the camp was punishable by death until the beginning of 1948, mothers who were not prepared to watch their children starve to death, slipped past the sentries at night and brought the clothes of their dead relatives with them to trade for food in the Serbian and Hungarian villages in the vicinity.  Many, many of these mothers were shot by the Partisan sentries on their return to the camp and later their wounded bleeding bodies were thrown in one grave or another. 

  In the spring of 1946 a camp kitchen was set up to cook for the inmates.  It was soup with either oats or peas.  There were also a bit more shredded corn cobs.  In the early summer there were also ripe mulberries.  The people had to do hard labor.  But most of them were so weak they could hardly lift their legs.  When one met acquaintances after not seeing them for some time at the feeding barrels, they had changed so much we did not recognize each other.  Our clothing had turned to rags and our bodies were like skeletons.  By this time about eight thousand of us had perished, but there were always new inmates being brought to Rudolfsgnad who had become sick or unable to work in other camps, so that there were always two thousand people imprisoned here at any given time.  In the times when nothing was cooked in the camp kitchen, many sought to cook for themselves.  But to speak of cooking it is not to be confused with the real thing.  We had already heard that many of the children were so hungry that they even ate sand to fill their empty stomachs.  It was the same in terms of cooking in the camp.  Weeds, grass and anything else you found. 

  Whenever an animal died, up to a thousand people would gather to cut off a piece of flesh from the carcass of a horse or cow.  With their rusty knives or other utensils they cut around the cadaver when it was their turn.  On one occasion a brood sow went into labor on the street as the swineherd drove the herd to pasture.  The dead piglets hardly dropped to the street with the sow close by before they had been carried away and were cooked or dismembered.  It was not unusual for those who ate such meat became sick afterwards and some of them died.  The Partisans would often eat in front of the children and then toss their leftover melons in their direction and hundreds of children would fight over the melon rind and stuff their bloated empty stomachs.  This kind of nourishment had no real value except it provided some sense of satisfaction at first but often resulted in dysentery and diarrhea. 

  What people endured because of diarrhea is indescribable.  Everyone was at one time or more often afflicted with this sickness for longer and shorter periods.  It took away the last of people’s strength and those who did not die of weakness were the victims of other diseases all around us.  Each day fifty or more persons died.  Once diarrhea struck there was seldom a return to health.  Some had it for a month, while others suffered with it for half a year or longer.  But by then the person had no strength at all and their body was inert and death was near. 

  For months on end the people received no cooked food, since there was no firewood available to the Swabians.  We had to rely on ourselves as best as we could or perish.  But at the same time long columns of women and often children under ten years of age were driven daily out of the camp to do slave labor in the early hours of the morning.  They had to cut wood in the forest.  This wood was for the benefit of the leadership of the camp and delivered to them.  The camp inmates themselves were strongly forbidden to gather any wood for themselves and bring it back to the camp in order to make fires to cook.  Many of those who were apprehended with wood after working were immediately shot.   

  The need for burning material and making fires is best demonstrated by the people who lived nearby where the herd of cows pastured.  When a cow unburdened itself, the people rushed out to gather the pile of manure and made small balls out of it, and let it dry out for use as burning material in the winter.  There was nothing available during the winter to provide heating and if the people could not come up with something, they froze day and night in their room.  Every blade of grass and weed was gathered in the summer, dried and used as burning material in the winter.” 

  Death by starvation and typhus epidemics carried off many of the people.  As starvation weakened the bodies of thousands of Swabian prisoners and their resistance towards other diseases was low, typhus epidemics broke out.  Diphtheria also raged.  Once it took hold these fearful and dangerous diseases spread among the children and women en masse.  But there were also other sicknesses that also affected countless numbers of the helpless starving victims.  All kinds of skin diseases and infections were transmitted from one to another. 

  Most of the victims were women and children as most of the men had been shot earlier, and they died like flies from the beginning of 1946.  The deaths of these poor victims were always preceded by swollen feet, and then their faces would puff up and a few days later they died. 

  Along with starvation there was a plague of lice.  No one could keep clean.  There was no soap.  In the winter the laundry could not be washed because most people only possessed the clothes they were wearing and their clothes could not dry fast enough in the winter.  In the summer the wells went dry but no one was allowed to get water from the Bega or Tisza River close by.  How satanic the Partisan regime was is perhaps best expressed in the cynical reason given by them when the Swabians were forbidden to get water from the river:  “The ships will not be able to sail on the river if so much water is carried off by you.” 

  The bodies of the children were covered in rashes.  Since the adults were unable to keep clean to ward off the lice plague the children were even less likely to be free of their presence on their bodies.  Being eaten by the lice and all kinds of other insects the children scratched themselves in a frenzy and left open wounds that would often not heal. 

  For the dead there was no burial.  There were men who would have buried the dead.  No priest was allowed to bless the body of the dead and no relative was allowed to accompany the body.  At the beginning the loved ones of the dead were allowed to put a small wooden cross with the corpse, that was then later put on the grave, but later all of this was forbidden.  Then a piece of paper with the name of the deceased was put in a small bottle that accompanied the body to the grave.  But soon there were no more bottles available. 

  There was no medical help.  Each week a Russian doctor came from the city, and in a few hours he “looked after” one thousand to one thousand two hundred sick people.  With his pipe in his mouth he went from room to room where the sick were lying.  It was only seldom that he spoke to the sick to ask what ailed them, while on the other hand he never examined or helped anyone. 

  Above all the treatment in this camp was completely inhumane.  The women forced to do slave labor daily, were weakened through starvation and hard work and those who were unable to work any longer were treated gruesomely and mercilessly mistreated.  The Roman Catholic priests who were in the camp were also assigned to heavy slave labor and handled brutally. 

  As an example of the determination of the Partisan officials to exterminate the Danube Swabians is the fact that on the hottest day in 1946 all of the twenty thousand inmates here were driven into the meadow on the eastern side of the camp.  For the entire day they had to stand still in the sun all packed together.  The thousands of little children received no water all day and no one was excused from their group to relieve themselves in terms of their bodily functions.  Everyone had to remain silent and remain in one spot.  A massive detail of Partisan sentries who were heavily armed circled the Swabians keeping watch and threatening to shoot anyone who moved from their spot. 

There were no worship services and prayer was forbidden. 

  In order to ridicule the religious sensitivities of the Swabian inmates the Partisans took all of the religious statues out of the local church at night and set them in the middle of the streets through the camp in such a way as to suggest that the saints were taking a walk through the camp.  Thousands of Swabian children in the camp were forced to look at them.  There was no school for them.  They were not to know about God and did not have any teachers and many of them were separated from their own parents.  Many of the children had no idea of where their parents were.  The parents of many of them had been shot or had starved death.  Hundreds of them no longer had grandparents either.  Family members or friends and former neighbors took them in.  One day, all of the children were taken away and quartered in the old school buildings and the former Guesthouses.  They now served as the “Children’s Home”.  This complex of buildings was surrounded by a barbed wire fence.  The poor abandoned little children who no longer had anyone in the world except perhaps an old grandmother or other adult who cared for them stood at the wire fences all day long and cried.  With no grandmother or “aunt” to provide an extra crust of bread for which they had risked their lives, the children were now totally dependent on the camp ration they received.  Death would now reap a rich harvest in the “Children’s Home”.  With what they were fed not even the adults could have survived much less the abandoned children.  They slept on the floor and only on rare occasions was there any straw provided for them at night.  A nurse at Rudolfsgnad reports: 

  “I once went by the Children’s Home.  I opened the door and I saw the poor, pitiful, skeletal looking children just lying there.  They usually wore only shirts that in effect were actually rags.  Every day thirty of them died.  Every day a farmer’s wagon drove from the Children’s Home to pick up the dead bodies.  Their skeletal bodies were piled on the wagon like wood and then they drove off to be buried.  They were thrown in with the other dead in the mass graves.  When you passed by such a wagon you didn’t know if you should look or look away.   It just broke your heart.” 

  It was not long afterwards that the Partisans drove up to the Children’s Home complex with trucks and loaded all of the surviving children on board.  The children themselves and all of the adults in the camp knew that the children were being taken away and they screamed and cried after one another.  The children, because in spite of leaving this place of suffering did not want to go and leave a grandfather or friend behind who was their last connection with their families and the life they had once known, and the others because they knew only too well that the children faced a dark and unknown future that would forever exclude those who loved them.  All of the crying, weeping, screaming and pleading had no effect.  As soon as a truck was filled with children it drove away.  In one day, seven hundred and fifty children were taken away and vanished without a trace.  The inmates at Rudolfsgnad were convinced they were being taken to Russia.  Many an old grandfather or grandmother could not cope with losing their grandchildren now after all they had gone through together in the hope that their parents were still alive somewhere.  For them this was more than they could bear.  Some of them hung themselves or jumped into the Tisza River to escape the horror that burdened their hearts that was beyond bearing.  The children had been their last reason for living.  Why go one with more suffering and starvation?   

  Later word came that the children were taken to Serbian villages and placed in orphanages and raised as “Serbian communists”. 

  The dead Swabians could not be buried in the cemetery.  They were buried in the same place outside of the camp where animals that had died had been interred.  Every day a farmer’s wagon drove through the village and picked up the dead at each of the houses.  There were usually seven or eight of them that he drove out to a mass grave that had been dug for them.  There was a mass grave dug for each day.  Anyone who came across the wagon would stand there with his heart in his throat seeing the skeletal bodies heaped upon one another and knowing that eventually one day the wagon would come for him and the thousands of others who were still alive and take them to their own mass grave.  One day in the month of January in 1946 there were one hundred and thirteen who were picked up and buried like this.  Mothers were not allowed to accompany the bodies of their children, nor the children their dead parents.  No one was allowed to know where the grave of a loved one was to be found. 

    After several thousand Swabian inmates were buried and there was unused space new transports of thousands of women and children from smaller camps scattered across the Banat were sent here and were exterminated like those who had come before them and in the process emptied the other camps that could then be closed.  This continued to the end of 1947.  In that same year four hundred persons from the Untersteiermark were brought here who had been dragged off to a camp in Croatia in 1946 and had remained there for some time.  Most of them were citizens of Austria.  Instead of sending them across the nearby border of Austria at the end of the war they were brought to the swamplands along the Tisza River.  Only fifty-seven of them would survive.  With the exception of three men all the rest were women and children.  They had to endure the same fate as the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia until the closure of the camps in 1948 when they were sent to a prisoner of war camp in Neusatz.  On March 29, 1948 they were repatriated to Austria and on that day they were loaded on cattle cars and sent across the frontier. 

  Complaints brought against the inhuman treatment the Swabians received brought no relief.  In fact it only became worse for the individuals who dared to raise them.  On one occasion in 1946 three Swabian women complained to the camp commander that they had been raped most brutally by Partisan guards.  The camp commander became furious because the three Swabian women were in no position to raise charges of sexual abuse against Serbian Partisans who were entitled to use them in any manner they desired and the commander turned them over to the same Partisans who had molested them to do so again.  As additional punishment they were imprisoned for nine days and were given no food during that time. 

  In the same way the brutalities continued against the Swabians and the torture, abuse and shootings had no end.  There were few nights when Partisans did not carry out shootings in various parts of the camp, while others sexually abused women.  The feeling of helplessness and despair drove many to suicide.  In order to end their sufferings some chose suicide.  There were grandmothers who could no longer watch their grandchildren starve and took them in their arms and jumped into the Tisza River. 

  Beginning in the spring of 1946 slave laborers from the camp could be “rented” privately for fifty Dinars a day.  This regulation in effect reconstituted the slave trade of the far distant past.  And yet because of it, countless persons were able to save their lives.  Many of the “buyers” who showed up for these public auctions were Serbian friends of the Swabians who rescued them from their misery for a time and assisted them in their physical recovery with rations and food.  Every Swabian was grateful to be chosen, even if he would have to work hard and long, he would at least finally be able to eat to his heart’s content.  To be sold as a slave was good fortune and in thousands of cases it was simply a matter of saving their lives. 

  Now the general public was allowed to bring parcels to the camp.  One house was separated from the rest of the camp and surrounded with barbed wire and the parcels were delivered there.  Serbian and Hungarian neighbors and friends brought food and clothing to the Swabians that they knew.  In this way, they too saved their lives.  In close proximity to the “parcel house”, groups of Swabian inmates would gather hoping against hope to see if there was a parcel for them.  Partisan guards would break up these groups with clubs and rifle butts.   No one was allowed to speak to those who brought parcels.  The next day the Partisans opened the parcels.  Most of them were half empty when they were given to the recipient. 

  Soon after the first parcels arrived from America.  Countrymen living there had heard of the sufferings in Rudolfsgnad and committed themselves to providing help.  Here and there some items in the parcel would be missing, but the inmate received something.  When it came to clothes it would lead to a nightly clandestine escape from the camp and the clothes would be sold for food and other provisions.  This help from America, often small that usually lasted for only a day was the nicest thing that these human beings had experienced in the years they had spent in the camps. 

  The Yugoslavian government officials were informed that at the Yalta Conference involving the Big Three the forced emigration of the Danube Swabian population from Yugoslavia at the end of the war would not be acceptable.  The “new” Yugoslavia decided it had the right to do what it wanted with its Danube Swabian population.  They were outside of the law, and they had much labor to provide and remain in camps from which they would not be released except by death.  In the face of this uncertainty, the former member of parliament Dr. Wilhelm Neuner who was an inmate at the camp in Rudolfsgand wrote an official letter of complaint to the President of Yugoslavia and mailed it from a nearby village in the summer of 1946, sending copies to the accredited  ambassadors of the Great Powers in Belgrade.  He requested that the ongoing murder of innocent Danube Swabian civilians come to an end in this second year since the year of the war who still remained and were without protection because they had lost their right of citizenship.  The camp commander was aware of his action.  On August 8, 1946 he was taken from his quarters and after a short trial in the presence of the camp authorities he was condemned to death for his false report.  But his death would not be by an execution squad.  He was to be locked in a cellar and not be given food and left to starve to death.  Carrying out the full verdict of the court, Dr. Neuner was immediately locked up in a dark cellar in which he could not stand up or lie down.  The cellar had a low ceiling and was damp.  After eleven days he was brought to the Secret Police prison in Belgrade.  All he had accomplished by revealing the situation in the camps was that the functionaries at Rudolfsgnad were transferred and new commander was sent to take his place to oversee the liquidation program. 

  Eventually, the inmates began to escape.  But often, the escapees were apprehended by the new Serbian colonists, either out in the fields or on the roads and even at the border who promptly brought them back to the camp.  This dampened the desire to flee on the part of others planning to do so.   But it did so for only for a short time.  Those who were brought back were terribly abused and mistreated and became physical wrecks and most of them could not contemplate escape again.

A decagram = 10 grams

Groats are the hulled grains of various cereals, such as oats, wheat, barley, or rye

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