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Remembrances of My Time in Austria
(Erinnerungen an Österreich)
Part Two

by Adam Martini

From the April-June 2008 issue of the Trentoner Donauschwaben Nachrichten
English translation by by
Hans Martini

     In my last essay, I tried to describe the town of my youth - “Haigermoos” - as well as a bit about the farmers and citizens in that area.  We actually ended up there because of the brother of my grandmother, der Tonivetter.  Known more formally as Anton Helmlinger, he was the oldest of eighteen siblings in this particular Helmlinger family. 18 siblings!  Of these, however, just 13 survived past early childhood.  This high rate of infant mortality was not uncommon in those days. 

     Tonivetter was a pretty successful fellow back in his Donauschwaben hometown of Lowas in Srem. He was an upstanding citizen and did pretty well for himself as the owner of a grain-milling company.  Now however, “shipwrecked” as a refugee in a place far from home, things were quite different.  He was old, tired and had few resources at his disposal.  His three daughters and their families fully occupied the few rooms and a run down bungalow that were available so my granduncle could do little to help us no matter how much he wanted to.  So, my mother, sister, grandmother and I were right in the midst of many of our relatives, but had nowhere to stay!  Every single apartment and spare room  in the area was occupied by refugee Donauschwaben just like ourselves.  The situation did not look good.

     My super religious grandmother kept repeating:  “God will help us, God will look after us.”  And as it happened so often before to us, help did indeed come.  This time from a man named Franz Neissl, a big time farmer from the nearby village of Pfaffing.  Franz had a lot of living space at his disposal… but every square meter was packed, and mostly with our own relatives.  There was, however, a small building nearby that was until now assumed to be uninhabitable.  He promised to let us stay in this place as long as my grandmother and I helped gather hay during the harvest and assist with the feeding of his herd of forty cows.  He also promised milk and potatoes throughout the year. 

     The building was something like a storage shed with an overhanging roof.  It was here that flax was processed and dried some time before. While it was probably okay for flax, it was by no means a home for a family of four.  No matter how sad the place looked however, my mom wanted us to get the storage shed in the worst way.  She saw an opportunity where no other existed and jumped at the chance.  Remodeling the place had to be done quickly as the onset of winter was close at hand.  There was much to do:  a good floor had to be built along with a stove to both heat the place and cook food.  Our relatives threw themselves into the task and completed the work just as Father Winter came knocking at the door.  We had a home at last!

     Every single day, every SINGLE day, I had to roam the woods looking for fuel for that stove.  I came to loath this endless task. Another never-ending job was getting drinking water.  The distance was some 300 meters to the source but it seemed like 3000 meters when the temperatures plunged. 

     Somebody gave us two old mattresses, one for my mom and sister, the other for my grandmother.  I got to know the comforts of sleeping on a straw-bunk.  In fact, our very roughly made dinner table was jammed up against my “bed” to prevent me from tumbling off at nights!  Of course, there was no electricity or plumbing so we aren’t talking about modern conveniences as we know them today.  In fact, it took the best efforts of a relative named Hans to construct an outhouse outside the back part of the building. 

     In late fall we moved into our “chalet” and quickly came to terms with our new living arrangements. No more dealing with overcrowded farmhouses, stuffed full with noisy and nosey relatives and countrymen.  Admittedly, it was a bit lonesome during snowy winters. It was also quite a hassle when you had to go the bathroom or get water when freezing was the only way to describe conditions outside.  Still, it was a place of our own.  We were living large!

     You know, I often think back on those days.  I remember how ashamed I was of our primitive living conditions. So embarrassed was I that I never brought my school friends home with me.  But now I also recall the many good things that came with living in that little hut.  It was a time of total freedom and self-discovery.  My living so close to nature gave me an opportunity to experience things I had never experienced before.  It was a wonderfully liberating time, one I will never forget.

Go to: Part 3

[Published at www.dvhh.org, 23 Feb 2008]