Central Civilian Internment
In their process of the complete annihilation of Yugoslavia's ethnic Germans, the Communists established three types of camps: work camps, central civilian camps and "special camps." The latter served as liquidation camps for those unable to work.
In July and August 1945, the central camps and work camps reached their maximum capacity of about 120,000 civilian internees, of which over 100,000 came from the Banat and Batschka. They consisted mainly of marginally ablebodied men and women.
There were ten central camps in the Banat, nine in the Batschka and one in Syrmia and about 200 work camps under the jurisdiction of the central camps. Almost each community with more than 200-300 German inhabitants maintained a work camp, consisting mostly of empty, pillaged German houses. The situation was somewhat different in Slavonia, therefore central, work and extermination camps of this region are presented together.
The central camps were set up primarily in existing barracks or former factories. Some were filled with several thousand internees in cramped facilities. These camps served, particularly in the Banat, during the "bloody autumn 1944" as the partisans' torture and execution stations.
The central camps allocated laborers to its work camps. The food provided for the forced laborers was usually completely insufficient. Starting in spring 1946 Slavs and Magyars could "buy" laborers for a day, month or longer periods (payable to the camps commander; the prisoners did not receive any remuneration). For those lucky ones, it was often a life-saving opportunity. The condition in the central camps often resembled those in the liquidation camps. This is borne out by the fact that about 12,000 men and women, mostly of able-bodied age, perished between the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1948.
Alte Mühle at Gross-Betschkerek/Zrenjanin It was probably the most gruesome execution camp for the Germans during the bloody autumn 1944 and then used as a central camp until May 1947.
Stoikowitch-Telep at Werschetz/Vrsac The town Werschetz, in the South-Banat was also notorious for the murders committed there. After the killing-orgies of the "bloody autumn 1944" came to an end, it served as a central camp.
Stockhaus at Weisskirchen/Bela Crkva This building too, was used for the torture and executions of hundreds of victims before it was transformed into a Southeast central camp of the Banat.
Schuschara/Susara On December 24, 1944, the whole village was declared a central camp for the German civilians of the surrounding area. For a time, children, old and ill civilians were housed there as well. It existed until spring 1947.
Karlsdorf/Banatski Karlovac Established April 27, 1945; it also contained children and old people until October 1945, when they were transferred to the liquidation camp Rudolfsgnad. At Karlsdorf 1,000 occupants, including 400 documented by name, died of starvation.
Fischplatz at Pantschowa/Pancevo This camp was established November 1944 and dissolved February 22, 1948. The conditions in the overcrowded barracks were horrible and led to diseases and epidemics. The commander, a cruel female named Radojka, indulged in torturing the defenseless victims.
Banat-Brestowatz/Banatski Brestovac November 1944 - early 1948. This camp contained, among many others, several thousand inhabitants of the city of Pantschowa, unable to work, until October 1945, when they were shipped to the liquidation camp Rudolfsgnad.
Seidenfabrik at Kubin/Kovin Towards the end of 1944, after termination of the murderous "Aktion Intelligenzija," this silk spinning mill was made into the central camp for the surrounding communities. It contained about 600 detainees.
Mramorak By the end of April 1945, all those inhabitants of Mramorak not yet interned, were put into several houses, together with children, ill and old people from the surrounding area. Beginning November 1945, they were all shipped to the liquidation camp Rudolfsgnad.
Initially it contained able-bodied men and women from the South Batschka region. After additional central camps were created, it became the main "trading center" for this modern slave-trade and engaged in a continuous exchange of inmates with other central and liquidation camps. The sick ones were shipped to the liquidation camps and exchanged for still somehow usable workers. From here, many were selected for the deportation to Russia at Christmas 1944.
Even though the camp had a steady occupation of 2,000, it consisted only of two windowless barracks and a notorious "bunker" of six square meters. For even the slightest trespass, inmates were thrown into the waterlogged structure. For many the long ordeal of standing in the water was fatal.
The numerous mistreatments and murders without court proceedings, even though the war was over, induced Dr. Wilhelm Neuner, formerly Oberlandesgericht Präsident (equivalent to president of a state appeals court) and also internee at the camp, to send written complaints to the ministry of the interior at Belgrade. These complaints were secretly smuggled out of the camp. For his courageous actions he was locked into the "bunker." He then was passed from camp to camp, but continued his written complaints and was eventually expelled to Hungary. The camp is said to have been closed during the last days of March 1948, when its occupancy was down to about 400. There are no records of how many of the inmates perished.
Palanka/Backa Palanka The central camp Palanka was set up in November 1944, containing 14-15 year old boys and 60-70 year old, able-bodied men from its surrounding area. Eventually it grew to an average of 600 internees.
Sombor The town of Sombor, as already mentioned in a previous chapter, turned out to be the "turn-table" for the persecution, internment and murder of the Germans in the West-Batschka. It was established in November 1944 and also had jurisdiction of the central camps Hodschag, Apatin and Filipowa.
Thousands of ethnic Germans were stuffed into the lice-infested barracks, often mistreated, insufficiently fed and forced to work weekdays as well as Sundays. Whoever became sick was immediately sent to the death-camp Gakowa which was established on March 12, 1945. The first camp commander was Rajko, the second one Dusan Kurepa. Both were cruel sadists, the second one even worse; he personally committed at least thirteen murders. He sent for his vietims, nearly beat them to death and then cut their throat. The camp was one of the last to be closed sometime in March 1948.
Apatin This town was originally inhabited by 12,000 Germans. During the winter the local camp, under the overall jurisdiction of Sombor, suffered from starvation. The camp commander, Mito Volic was particularly cruel. His deputy, Milivoj Beljanski from Sombor took girls from the camp into his apartment and raped them. Later he was demoted and dismissed. His successor tied women to trees, whipped them until they became unconscious and threw them naked into the cellar. His specialty was to electrify naked women's breasts and genitals.
Hodschag/Odzaci This camp too, fulfilled its purpose, particularly in the investigation and persecution of members of the "Kulturbund" (cultural society). Those arrested were never seen again.
Filipowa/Backi Gracac Because the liquidation camps Gakowa and Kruschiwl were overflowing by mid-1945, this camp was opened between mid-June to mid-October 1945 for able-bodied, as well as those unable to work, of the Hodschag area. In this short time about 250 perished due to starvation and epidemic diseases. By about October 1945, about 2,000 had died of starvation at Gakowa and since there were now openings those unable to work at Filipowa were shipped to Gakowa.
Seidenfabrik at Werbass/Vrbas Towards the end of 1945 this former silk factory was established as a central camp for the Germans of the Middle-Batschka. It also had jurisdiction over the relatively large work camps at Tschervenka, Kula and Weprowatz. The conditions there were worse than in a prison. Since there was no more work to be done in the fields as of December 1946, the camp commander made the inmates stand in formation from 5 to 11 o'clock during the bitter cold winter mornings. Then he let them sit till evening in the court yard. The camp was most likely dissolved the beginning of 1948.
Sekitsch/Lovcenac This used to be an entirely German community at the eastern edge of the German settlements and in January 1945 was transformed into a central camp for about 6,000 Germans. In October 1945 it was reduced to 1,500 inmates and was functioning as a work camp. Most of the rest were taken to the liquidation camps of Gakowa and Kruschiwl at about the time their inmates were dying in great numbers. Before they were shipped they were searched once more and deprived of their last miserable belongings. They even had to exchange any still somewhat useful clothing they wore for torn rags.
Stärkefabrik at Subotica This former starch factory was most likely converted into a central forced labor camp by the middle of November 1944. The 4,000 inmates were mostly Germans who earlier had fled to Hungary but tried to return to their homes after cessation of the war. Upon crossing the border from Hungary they were immediately robbed of all their belongings. According to reports, devastating typhus epidemics raged throughout the camp. It was most likely dissolved in January 1948.
Hans Volk was present when, on April 12, 1945, 660 men from the Kalvarienberg camp were picked to repair the railroad line Belgrad-Slawonisch Brod. This notorious construction probably lasted till May 16, 1945, about five weeks (including travel time to and from the construction sites). The food supply was completely inadequate and the work period punctuated by almost incredible killing episodes.
Here are some excerpts from Hans Volk's eye-witness report: "Daily several people passed away; on the way to Slakovci twelve sick were sorted out, shot and buried. When we moved on towards Semlin and arrived there on May 25, 112 out of 660 men were already dead and 20 more died during the following 2 days."
Georg König, another eye-witness from Filipowa commenting on the fate of an 82-year old who could no longer walk well: "The partisans grabbed him, threw him into a lime pit were he burned, still being alive. Whoever could no longer walk was thrown into the ditch and beaten to death. About 20 men broke down, and were brutally beaten with carbines. I had to cover the graves of the dead and still alive, stomp on them and listen to the moaning of the ones still alive. The two partisans then agreed that the sick and weak should be beaten to death. Thus, about 8 o'clock in the morning of May 2, 17 men were beaten to death with axes. From 480 men there were only 120 still alive. While we were 480 on April 20, only 71 were left on May 8."
Deportation of Laborers to the Soviet Union
The military administration of the partisans made available to the Russians at least 12,000 Danube Swabian civilians from the West Banat and Batschka (8,000 women and 4,000 men) who were forcibly shipped to the mining and industrial areas in the Ukraine. The women were between 18-40 and the men between 16-50 years of age. There were at least 8 trains, 4 from the Batschka and 4 from the Banat and each had up to 45 freight cars which were stuffed with up to 45 persons to a car. These transports, routed via Romania, took place during frigid winter weather and lasted about three weeks.
The food supply consisted almost entirely of lumpy, sour-tasting and hardly digestible bread as well as cabbage or flour soup without any meat or fat. The food had to be picked up from kitchens that were up to 3 km away. The dishes consisted of rusty tin cans. Sometimes they were forced to exchange good clothing against torn and lice-infested military garb.
Extremely hard work had to be performed under all weather conditions. The work targets were usually set much too high. While bread rations were adjusted to the work requirement, they were still insufficient. In addition to the heavy work load, the long distance to the work stations entailed long arduous marches, even during snow storms. The women too had to perform hard labor, many of them below ground, down deep in the coal pits. Twelve hours and more daily, including Sundays were mandatory, in winter at minus 40 degrees Celsius (40°F) in wet and torn clothing.
The slave labor in the Soviet Union resulted in the loss of life of at least 2,000 Danube Swabians. That is about 17 percent, including 1,100 men and 900 women. For those who were able to survive, the term of the slave labor lasted up to five years.
The first repatriation of the very sick and unable to work started towards the end of 1945. At that time, many had already died. One of the first repatriation trains went to Yugoslavia where the returnees were promptly put into camps, most of them into the death camps.
It was only during the last two years of their stay in Russia, 1948 and 1949 that the conditions improved. Food was adequate and working conditions more bearable. At the end of 1949 the Russians dissolved the camps and shipped the deported to Frankfurt an der Oder, in East Germany. The last to leave had spent five years of hardship in the "workers' paradise."
Almost all of the slave workers suffered from health problems. Many, after their return to Germany and confronted with the loss of their loved ones and their home, were overcome and passed away.
The survivors, particularly those who after their flight or expulsion, settled in Germany and Austria organized themselves into "hometown societies." These societies compiled rather exact statistical documentations of the fate of their former communities and inhabitants. Knowledgeable observers determined that the life span of surviving slave workers was much shorter in comparison to those who did not suffer those hardships.
Josef Purr from Parabutsch, a First Person Report"We all, men 18-45, women 18-35, had to report to the town hall. From there we went to the Helleis Inn. Only pregnant women were excused. No consideration was given to mothers with small children. We were told we are being sent to work for one month and to bring our own food for that time. After being held for three days we, 57 persons, were chased to Hodschag, guarded by partisans. Youth is somewhat more optimistic and we celebrated New Year's Eve with the youths of Batch. When the light was turned off at midnight we wished one another a happy New Year. The 'happy' New Year came very quickly; we had to get ready for the trip. After marching for miles in the snow we suddenly had to turn around and go to the railroad station. They started loading us into freight cars. The next day, at Apatin, the loading was completed and the doors locked. One engine in front and one in the back in between over 30 cars, each crowded with 30-40 persons. More than 1,200 ethnic Germans began their trip into an uncertain fate. Nobody anticipated that over 400 would never return. We had some inkling that we were heading for Russia and we learned that several transports preceded us.
"The trip took us through Hungary and Romania. Every two days the doors were opened to get water. Only a few of us had bottles; washing was out of the question. We rubbed our hands and face with snow. Nearby fences were torn down for heating. After 19 days we reached our unknown destination, 13 km from Krasani Lutsch. The train stopped and we had to disembark. The camp consisted of stone buildings, windows were bricked shut and the only light consisted of small broken glass panes overhead as a skylight. Most of the double bunk beds still had to be constructed. We had to haul the wooden boards, which were frozen and snow covered, from the sawmills. Since we were weak from the long trip it took two persons to carry one board. There was no water since the pipes were destroyed. Day and night it had to be brought in a large tub by sled from the shed where the train engines were refilled. It took 16-20 men to pull the sled. The kitchen consisted of four bathtubs on pedestals and the fire underneath. For weeks the same menu was cooked: diced green tomatoes, cucumber or cabbage soup with four tablespoons of barley or millet gruel.
"After the speech at the shaft the Natschalnik ordered the 'instruments' to be brought up. I thought they were going to play music but the instruments were pickaxes and crowbars. With these 'instruments' we played for five years. The work below ground was very hard and dangerous. For this reason they attached us to groups of Russians, Polish or Ukrainian girls who were also forcefully conscripted. I still think often of Marusja who collected Machorka from her colleagues so we could have a smoking break. I also think of Njusa, who often gave me a piece of bread or milk, and of the old Russian who did not talk very much, bowed three times, made the sign of the cross, divided the cornmeal polenta and shared it with us. Later on we got some additional help. The Russian POWs (Prisoners of War) and displaced Russians returned from Germany. They were not sent to their homes, but again became slave laborers.
"Almost daily, accidents occurred in the shafts. One of the casualties was Heinrich Hirschberger who was killed by falling rocks. Because of the unsanitary living conditions we were all infested with lice. Therefore they shaved our heads, both men and women. During the autumn of 1945 typhus broke out in the camp and we were quarantined, the sick outside the camp. People died daily, including eight Parabutscher. After we returned to the camp we found that not only the dead but the living as well were robbed of their last few possessions. The culprits were not only the Russian camp personnel but our own fellow countrymen. There were enough informers who betrayed some of us to the political Kommisar. Those poor souls were then sent to penal or prisoner of war camps.
"In 1946 two transports of the sick were released; they were very ill or severely injured and unable to work. It was with sadness that we saw them departing and waving to us. The camp administration withheld a large portion of our wages, for the administration expenses of the camp. But we now could purchase, depending on our income, clothes, shoes and fabric. Throughout the year we were given the slogans 'Skoro domoi' (going home soon). However, we didn't believe it anymore.
"Finally, in November 1949 the day came. We didn't have to go to work anymore, and were allowed to do some necessary shopping since we could take care of our own travel provisions. Everybody had to be dressed properly since nobody could leave 'paradise' in rags. Streamers for the decoration of the freight trains were made proclaiming: 'We came as enemies, we return as friends.' We were asked if we didn't want to stay in the 'paradise' and were given many promises. As far as I know, nobody stayed. Finally, on November 23, our day of departure came. The trucks that normally carried coal took us and our wooden suitcases to the Antrazit railroad station. Suddenly the Russian coal miners from the other shafts appeared to bid us farewell. Our trip took us via Warsaw to Frankfurt/Oder in East Germany. Here we were again inundated with Socialist slogans. We were apprehensive as to what we were going to encounter in the West. We had our fill of Socialism.
"We continued to the camp at Gronefelde. We were really surprised when we were finally free. At our final destination at the camp at Ulm (West Germany) a priest welcomed us with a short prayer."
(This first person report was extracted from the documentation series Leidensweg der Deutschen im kommunistischen Jugoslawien, Volume II, München/Sindelfingen 1991, published by the Donauschwäbische Kulturstiftung, München, pages 961-963.)
Crimes Committed Against Children
The attempt of the Tito regime to send the surviving children who had no parent or relative left in the camp to government children homes, subject them to a re-nationalization process and arbitrarily determine their ethnic identity runs against the human rights and personal dignity. Fortunately for most of the children, this despicable experiment had to be terminated at the beginning of the 1950's due to world-wide moral pressures, particularly those exerted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (IKRK) in Geneva. At that time, the IKRK, as well as world opinion, could resort to the United Nations Resolution of December 9, 1948 according to which the re-nationalization was explicitly termed a form of genocide and condemned.
The torture of children was also programmed at the end of 1944 together with the internment of all ethnic German civilians. The children were, together with the old, the sick and those unable to work chased into the liquidation camps - also called "death camps," and "starvation and dying camps." Particularly cruel was the brutal taking of children from their mothers since almost all young women were to be shipped as work slaves to Russia.
It is documented that 45,000 children, of up to 14 years of age, were interned and at least 6,000 (13%) starved to death. The percentage of children in the liquidation camps was very high. On April 30, 1946, at the Rudolfsgnad camp there were approximately 18,000 inmates registered of which 8,288 were children under the age 14. For many children the care by parents or relatives was of short duration, since the death rate, particularly up to May 1946, was at its peak and the older people used to sacrifice themselves by giving their tiny rations to the children.
The terms "death camp," and "liquidation camp" are, indeed, justifiable, particularly when you consider that, for example, at the death camp Jarek 171 of the 190 children of the village Bulkes, Batschka, died within one year. That's 42% of the 457 children interned at Jarek.
At the Rudolfsgnad camp 7,664 people out of 17,000 perished between October 1945 and December 1946. Of these 1,036 were children up to 10 years old.
The rapid demise of older people, mostly grandparents and relatives of these children without parents, created a high percentage of orphans. These were then put into children homes within the camps. From there they were then shipped to children homes in the Banat and the Batschka and from there split up to distant homes from Mazedonia to Slovenia.
Siblings were separated with the intention to make them forget their origin. This was mainly achieved with very young children. Those forcefully separated brothers and sisters met again only many years later - if at all - at Belgrad where the Red Cross organized the reunification transports. Most did not recognize each other any more and even spoke different languages. Very few, however, still spoke German.
DAVID GERSTHEIMER, born 1936 at Kischker/Batschka. Within a few months after being interned at the Jarek liquidation camp his mother, six siblings and grandparents died of starvation. David, at that time 8 years old, was the only survivor and sent to a government children home for re-education and "Slavinizing."
Father WENDELIN GRUBER, born 1914, Filipowa/Batschka. He spent some time in the Gakowa death camp: "Afternoons I went to the children homes which were set up in the larger farm houses. There the children, between 20 to 30 in a room, were lying around, only on straw and scantily covered. Only skin and bones, sick, and with infected wounds. Nobody cared for them. The small ones cried and screamed pitifully - they were starving. Others were lying motionless; they didn't even have the strength to cry anymore. I went from room to room, always the same picture. A woman who took over as caretaker leads me to the room in the back. Carefully she pulls the cover from a pile of children. What a sight! 'Are they still alive?' I ask trembling. These little ones, in a row on rags are almost naked; skin and bones only. They are gasping for air with open mouths. The last thing the world can offer them. 'We pulled these out since they cannot digest food any more and are the first to die,' was the reply."
Suco, the almighty commander of the Gakowa camp, responding to the question of what plans the Communists had for the surviving children tells Father Wendelin Gruber: "Don't worry, comrade Pope! Everything will be in order! Our Socialist State will look after the children. They now will be adequately fed and then housed in government children homes. A progressive kindergarten teacher has already arrived. She will now take over the responsibility for a good education. These children will be Tito's pioneers and brave fighters for our liberation revolution. You will see, these Fascist, Capitalist children will become model members of the liberated working class and enthusiastic supporters of a better future."
This programmed re-education which was supposed to awaken the hatred for their "Fascist" parents was reported by most of the children. At the time of the reunification process there were children who did not want to go home to their "criminal parents."
KARL WEBER, at that time 11 years old, reports of the tragic consequences of trying to go begging. "My friend Philipp was beaten to death during such a begging trip (on October 28, 1945). It didn't take much, we were already half dead," said Karl Weber about the fate of his friend Philipp Bauer with whom he undertook several such begging trips.
At the Jarek camp, FRIEDRICH GLAS from Bulkes who saw two of his great-grandparents and two grandparents, as well as his two year old sister starve to death, was caught, together with his friend PETER KENDL slipping out of the camp to go begging. The two partisans took them to the guardroom. After a while they were led back to the place where they were caught and motioned to go away. After they made a few steps the guards then shot at them from behind. Fritz who played dead, survived. The wounded Peter, however, screamed after the guards had already started to go away. They returned and killed him with a bullet to the head.
Suicides because of despair, fright and sense of shame after being raped also occurred. Not even children were spared from rape during the mass rapes at Deutsch-Zerne in October 1944. EVA BISCHOF, only nine years old, was cruelly raped by nine men. Her injuries were so severe that she lost consciousness and was unable to move. Thereupon her own mother, in desperation, hung her child and hung herself.
JULIANE WIRAG, born 1908, from Ridjitza strangled her twin daughters, born in 1944 because she could find no way to save them from slow starvation and then hung herself.
EVA BUTZSCHEDEL, born 1932, from Gakowa, relates one of the most tragic and touching experiences documented. Her mother was sick with typhus. "Day by day, the condition in our room and that of my mother became worse. We were praying intensely. Mother never stopped praying. God, however, had other plans for her. Her condition became worse and we saw death approaching. Everybody in the room already had high fever and nobody was aware of the others around them. When Monika, my sister, became aware of mother's imminent death, she did not leave her side. She constantly called: 'Mother, you will not die, right, Mother you won't abandon us, right?'
"She implored the Holy Mother: 'Wonderful Mother please help our mother.' She continuously caressed Mother and noticed that she became increasingly weaker. Her tears kept dripping down on the terminally ill as if she believed they would help save her from death. I think there is nothing worse in this world for a child than in such a state of loneliness, surrounded by death and distress to kneel at the deathbed of the mother, not being able to help in her struggle and having to watch how the hand of death slowly takes her away forever. . ."
KAROLINE BOCKMÜLLER, born 1905, Deutsch-Zerne, Banat, describes the condition of the children camp in a part of the Rudolfsgnad liquidation camp. "I had to visit this children camp and happen to enter a room which contained 30-35 children (from babies to 16 months old) whose parents had died. None of them could stand, let alone walk. They were just lying there or slid around the room on their bellies. The room was reeking of excrements. The children were crying, pale and starving. Their bodies were smeared with excrement, which was partially dried to the skin. I fled from the room, weeping and asked the women whether there was anybody to look after these poor abandoned children. They replied they could not help since they had no diapers, nor towels, water basins, water, soap - practically nothing. They continually asked the camp administration for just the basic requirements, however received nothing, only the comment: 'The children should kick the bucket.' They also tried repeatedly to take away my grandchild and put it into the children camp but I did not give her up. After she died I escaped from the Rudolfsgnad camp and went to Molidorf to look for my mother. There I was told that my mother and aunt had died of starvation in the camp."
PETER WILPER, born 1938, from Palanka, Batschka, talkes about the conditions at the liquidation camp Jarek: "Both grandmothers died within a week. After that I was all by myself, only six years old, terribly alone."
KATHARINA WEBER, born 1935, from Bulkes/Batschka, at that time ten years old was, together with six of her schoolmates at the Jarek liquidation camp. Five of them died between September 1945 and February 1946. The sixth girlfriend died in October 1947 at the Subotica camp. The surviving Katharina was shipped to a government home.
ANNA NIKLOS-NYARI describes the sad passing of an entire family at the Gakowa liquidation camp: "There was a young mother who lived in a room with her three small children. When her last child was struggling with death she said to the people in the next room: 'I don't know anymore for whom I should pray, mourn or weep first: for my husband who died in the war, my parents, my grandparents, brothers and sisters or for my children. What does the Almighty want to do with me? Haven't I suffered enough yet? Do I now also have to give up my last child?' She staggered back into her room and knelt down next to the dying boy. We stood in our own room and wept. If the years of compassion could have helped, the little boy surely wouldn't have died.
"We heard the boy groan and for a long time I could not fall asleep. It must have been early in the morning when I woke up. Everybody around me was still asleep. I looked into the neighboring room. The little boy, lying on the floor had his hands folded; I knew what this meant: the woman's third child had now also died. She didn't wake anybody but kept watch and prayed all by herself. At that moment I saw her kneeling down, her gaze up to the ceiling and she started to talk aloud. Was she becoming insane? Her voice was humble: 'Almighty, you have taken all my loved ones to you. I hope you now won't forget to take me. Don't let me wait long, I am ready to die. I have only one wish: When Tito dies let all the poor souls who were tortured, starved to death and murdered on his orders pass by his death bed, me and my children last. Only then should he be allowed to die.' "
Finding the location and repatriation of the "lost children" entailed great efforts. The distribution of the publication Kinder im Schatten (Children in the Shadow) by Batschka writer Adalbert K. Gauss, in early August 1950 initiated some movement in the rescue of the children. Several organizations and individuals and particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross, after tedious struggles, achieved some success and, between 1950 and 1959, about 2,300 children could be re-united with their parents and relatives. Still, several hundred German children could no longer be found and meanwhile were "reeducated" and "slavinized." They now live somewhere in the partitioned Yugoslavia. They may be lost, but never forgotten. It is one of the most tragic chapters of the Danube Swabian tragedy.
The Suffering and Dying of German Clergy
The short biographies of some of these murdered clerics are representative of the suffering and annihilation of this vocational group. More detailed descriptions are documented in the book Verbrechen an den Deutschen in Jugoslawien 1944-48, (Crimes Against the Ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia), pages 256-270, published by the Donauschwäbische Kulturstiftung, München 1998.
Already in 1941, at the beginning of the Axis Powers' war with Yugoslavia, some clerics were taken as hostages and interned at Peterwardein. With the battle fronts getting closer in 1941, most of the clergy refused to leave, even though implored to flee. While some were initially spared from internment, others were ridiculed, forced to do menial work and tortured. Several were already murdered in their parishes immediately after the occupation as part of the annihilation process by the Intelligenzija campaign. For them death was a release from their sufferings.
Here are some particularly notorious examples of such suffering and murders.
Dr. PHILIP POPP, (1893-1945) Bishop of the German-Protestant church in Yugoslavia and Senator of the Yugoslav Upper House, 1940. Dr. Popp was loyal to his German heritage and the Yugoslav nation. In those difficult times he was criticized by those not sharing his views, however, he preserved the independence of his church. When Croatia became an independent nation, he protested against the persecution of Serbs, helped them to flee and accepted them in his church without baptism.
Towards the end of the war, when the partisan army approached, he remained in his Agram parish. He was arrested in May 1945, court-martialed and condemned to death on false charges on June 28, 1945. He was shot the next day. The Serbian Patriarch in Belgrade described Bishop Dr. Popp as a just and loyal man. He died a martyr's death for the Danube Swabian Protestant church.
ADALBERT von NEIPPERG, (1890-1948) Count von Neipperg was a priest who looked after the spiritual needs of the German troops at Windisch-Feistritz. He became a prisoner of war in 1945, refused the offer of freedom and remained with the soldiers as a medic and priest. At the notorious POW camp Werschetz/Vrsac he succeeded in obtaining additional food and performed religious services. The POWs (Prisoners of War) called him "Our Father." On December 23, 1948, the day before Christmas Eve, he was summoned to the Communist staff headquarters and did not return. He was found the next day with his throat cut, tortured and murdered. His remains were transferred to the monastery chapel at Neuburg. The grave marker reads "Martyr of Love."
ANTON ADAM, (1908-1944) born in Chicago, IL, USA died at Gross-Kikinda. He was the priest for the parishes St. Hubert, Charleville and Soltour. Father Adam was, together with 120 men, tortured and executed by machine guns.
ANTON BERGER, Kunbaja (1884-1944) Priest at Tavankut. He was taken out of his rectory and disappeared. Manner and place of death unknown.
JOSEF BÖCKMANN, Rudolfstal/Bosanski Aleksandrovac (1910-1945) Priest at Glamoc and Prijedor (Bosnia). Secretly executed.
FRANZ BRUNET, Modosch (1898-1944) Priest at Deutsch-Zerne. Representative of the Belgrade See at Gross-Betschkerek was taken as hostage and executed by the partisans.
JULIUS BÜRGER, Kula (1885-1944) Priest at Podravska Slatina. Executed for keeping religious articles.
VALENTIN DUPP, Bukin (1883-1944) Priest at Tschurug. Even though he intervened on behalf of the Serbian priest during the Hungarian occupation in 1941, the son, a partisan, ordered him executed.
JOSEF EPPICH, (1874-1942) Priest at Bittersdorf near Gottschee. Was killed on his way to visit sick people at one of the dispersed settlements.
FERDINAND GASSMANN, (1914-1946) Franziscan and Missionary took food to the Gakowa liquidation camp. He was arrested by the OZNA (Secret Police of the Partisans), condemned to death and executed.
ANTON HAUG, (1890-1945) Priest at Tschonopel. After torture and starvation, died at the Svilara camp.
THEODOR KLEIN, (1872-1945) Priest at Manoster/Beli Manastir, Dechant. Died after torture at the village inn.
FRANZ KLEIN, (1879-1946) Priest at Katsch, Decau. Had a good relationship with the authorities and Serbian clergy. Looked after inmates at Jarek and Kruschiwl camps. Died of starvation.
JOSEF KNAPP, (1912-1944) Priest at Glogon. Before being executed with 46 men of the community, he admonished his companions to face death with faith and confidence.
JOSEF KORNAUTH, (1872-1945) Priest at Gross-Gaj. He died at camp Setschanfeld.
WILHELM KUND, (1880-1946) Priest at Pantschowa, Senior. In spite of prohibition to preach, torture and injuries he secretly prayed with the camp inmates. He succumbed to his injuries from torture at the camp prison.
JOHANN NEPOMUK LAKAJNER, (1873-1944) Priest at Ruma. He refused to be evacuated before the capture by the partisans and stayed with his community. He was said to have been tied to a wagon and dragged to death by the partisans.
PETER MÜLLER, (1884-1951) Priest at Filipowa. Arrested by the UDBA (Yugoslav Secret State Police) in 1948 because he was corresponding with former members of his parish (prisoners of war, refugees and deportees to Russia) he was sentenced to 3 years at the penitentiary. Since he was terminally ill, he was released after 20 months and died.
STEFAN MÜLLER-MAJOROS, ( -1946) Priest at Neu-Palanka, Batschka. In 1944, forced by the partisans to walk to Hungary he was supposed to have died there due to the hardships he endured.
JOSEF NOVOTNY, (1909-1944) Priest at Plawing/Plavna. Kidnapped by the partisans to Batsch, tortured to death at the cellar of the town hall and disposed of in the forest.
FRANZ PLANK, (1885-1944) Priest at Alt-Siwatz. Murdered by the partisans.
EMANUAL RETZER, (1912-1944) Lutheran pastor at Heidschütz. Deported as slave worker to Russia and presumably succumbed to the hardships in one of the slave labor camps.
MICHAEL ROTHEN, (1895-1944) Chaplain at Weisskirchen, Zichidorf and Werschetz. He was tortured and murdered, together with 28 other ethnic German men at the notorious "Milchhalle" at Gross-Kikinda.
MICHEL SCHAFFER, (1908-1946) Priest at Laibach. As a German national and priest he was arrested in 1945, became ill while in jail and, after his release, died as a result of his incarceration.
WILHELM SCHÄFER, (1848-1944) Priest at Tschestereg. Was interned with community inhabitants. Being a priest he was humiliated and tortured. He died in the camp.
FRANZ SCHAFFHAUSER, (1919-1945) Franziscan. He is one of the 139 Franziscans who were murdered in Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1946 by either the Tschetniks or partisans.
LORENZ SCHERER, (1912-1947) Vicar at Tscherwenka. Was deported as a slave worker to the coal mines of Russia. Because of his faith esteemed but particularly mistreated. He died of exhaustion.
JOSEF SCHMIDT, (1913-1944) Professor for religion and youth counselor on the island of Daksa near Dubrovnik. As an enemy of communism he was murdered on the notorious "Death Island."
JOSEF SCHMIDT, (1876-1949) Priest at Modosch. Because he issued documents to members of his former Modosch congregation, he was admonished, then arrested and sentenced to two and one half years of detention. He died while in jail.
KARL UNTERREINER, (1897-1944) Teacher of religion at Palanka, Papal Honorary Chaplain, founder of Boy Scout groups and the Bonifatius Society at Budapest (Hungary). Arrested together with 100 German men and, after gruesome torture, executed in the forest near Palanka.
ANDREAS VARGA, (1913-1944) Priest at Toba. Chaplain at Werschetz and Weisskirchen. Tortured at the town hall, dumped into the basement, killed and disposed of.
PETER WEBER, (1884-1944) Priest at Karlsdorf. During the "Aktion Intelligenzija" tortured by Red Army soldiers and executed.
PETER WEINERT, (1874-1945) Priest at Batschka-Palanka. Together with 1,200 ethnic German men chased to the central camp at Neusatz, where he died. The regime had to consent to his burial in the tomb of the last abbot of Neusatz, with a large participation of believers.
MICHEL WERNER, (1883-1944) Priest at the abbey of Martonosch. Dragged, together with 21 ethnic German men, by local Serbs to the basement of the town hall. There they were tortured, mangled with pliers, taken to Tschurug, shot and disposed of in trenches.
ANTON WEISS, (1913-1943) Served as German military chaplain. Captured at Stalingrad (Russia) and executed by the Russian army.
RICHARD WEISS, (1916-1944) Chaplain at Modritsch (Bosnia). Tortured and murdered by Tschetniks or partisans.