Fifty Years After

 By George KaiserDüsseldorf 

Part Three


  We arrived in the Ural Mountains on March 7, 1945.  It was a frigid day at 30 degrees below zero.  Rows of trucks brought us forced laborers to the camp.  We were on the last cattle car and had to wait the longest.  They took the others from the front section of our car.  They were women from Neupanat, Traunau and Engelsbrunn.  In the end, there were twenty-one men left, including me.  It was getting dark, and becoming colder and it appeared as if they had forgotten all about us.  It was only as the train got underway that we were discovered and brought to the camp having to endure their screams and taunts of our guards until we got there.


  Our new home was called Kuwandik.  It was Camp Number 1902 and was set up for the likes of us who were being punished.  Most of us in this camp were individuals who had tried to escape from one transit camp or another, or had attempted to avoid deportation as we had.  Now we were informed of our punishment and sentence:  five years of slave labor here in the Ural Mountains.


  From a distance we could see the searchlights on the watchtowers that cast light all around us.  The camp itself was well lit too.  We had to undress and be counted in large room.  Our clothes were taken away and deloused and they then cut off our hair and we had to wash ourselves.  We received our first food at the camp, hot cabbage soup and a piece of barely bread.  Our sleeping quarters were an underground barracks with two levels of bunks made of frozen wood standing to the right and left at the opposite ends of the room.  At the very end of the room stood a stove, the kind we were used to at home.  The roof of our sleeping quarters was level with the ground outside and consisted of frozen clumps of earth.  The whole area around it was covered with thick ice or deep snow banks.  There was no wood or any other fuel available to provide us with heat.


  On the second day, the twenty-one of us were formed into an official brigade.  We received warm clothes and on the third day we were taken out to work for the first time.  We were assigned to do clean up work and as we did so we assembled all kinds of wooden debris that we could use to burn in the barracks.  Floors and walls slowly disappeared.  Our covers became damp and our bedding was often wet.


  After about a month we were put to work on road construction.  We worked in a stone quarry or we had to carry timber on our shoulder for several kilometers to the river to build a bridge.  In the third month our brigade was disbanded.  Those who were assigned to work in the mines were sent to the central camp.  The others were transferred to two smaller camps.  Those of us who remained in the central camp received other clothing appropriate to our new work place.  In the mine itself the work was done on two levels.  One was hot and dry and the other was wet and cold.  Over the entrance to the mine shaft there was a sign with the words:  “Mednagorsk Copperworks”.


  The foreman placed me under the direction of a girl who only spoke Russian who was supposed to supervise me.  My only work tool was a heavy hammer that weight about 10 kilos.  The Russian girl assisted a man with a pneumatic drill and a sorting machine which removed the earth and rocks and put them in a trough attached to the machine.  There was a meshed metal screen over the trough so that the large pieces of rock and stone could not fall into it.  These rocks were the source of my work and I had to smash them into smaller pieces with my hammer so that they could be scooped up with a shovel and tossed into the trough of the machine.  My woman boss was especially strict and unbending with me and she always made sure that there was work for me to do even when she took her own rest period.  The first week was long and difficult.  My feet felt heavier every day.  And my boss was always after me to do more work to pay for my keep at the camp.  One day, about a month later, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel as two figures approached me.  It was another foreman, a very friendly Russian named Olga and my friend Toni Stengel from Traunau that I had gotten to know during the journey to Russia, who was about my own age.  We sat down and the foreman “baptized” me with a new name:  Grischa.  And I was now allowed to call my boss:  Dusia.  Olga was in charge of Toni and she called him:  Fritz.  She was good to him and brought him tea.  Since he had to work for her she decided he needed the strength to do so.  My rubber boots were always getting heavier and my clothes were getting looser and too big for me.  Eventually my need broke Dusia’s steel heart and she began to bring food for me.  She sometimes made the stones smaller than I was capable of pounding with my hammer.


  Sometimes we received permission from the foreman to leave the work place two hours before the end of our shifts.  We used the time to steal firewood while we waited for the guards to come and get us and take us to the camp.  We used the wood to barter for potatoes, beets and melons.  We smuggled the food into the camp hidden in our clothes.  In the camp kitchen cabbage soup awaited us day after day, or soup made out of sour cucumbers with a small piece of barley bread mixed with chaff that tasted like freshly cooked soap and as sour.  Eating so much sour food meant we spent half of the night in relieving ourselves.  When we arrived after the night shift the soup was always cold, because there was no material to burn to keep it warm.  There was not always a ladle and sometimes there was no stick or wood around to use and we dipped in our tin but we faced punishment if we were apprehended by a guard for doing so.


  We got along better with our women bosses.  We often relieved them from their work on the machine and drill.


  At that time, it was not permitted for photographs to be taken of the deportees, but through the intervention of a third Russian woman this picture that appears with the article was taken.  It was taken in 1946 at Camp Mednagorsk.


  A short time after this picture was taken we were separated.  I remained at my job at the old work place, while Toni was sent to a neighboring camp.


  Fifty years later, my wife and I visited him and his wife in Rosstal by Nurnberg.  Both of us were retired, and both of us used canes as we hugged each other at our reunion at the railway station in Nurnberg.  Neither one of us could speak a word because our tears were in the way.  Both of our wives who did not know one another, hugged each other and cried too.  In those days we spent together in Rosstal we reminded each other of the misery, hunger and cold, the sickness and the many deaths of those who never got to see their loved ones again.


  Along with Toni we visited one of our fellow inmates from our camp, a red-cheeked girl whose name was Rosa Schnell, a good friend to all of us from Semlak.  She is now Rosa Kern.


  In the spring of 1947 photographs were permitted and the picture on this page is one of the early ones.  This picture was the first to arrive at home from the camp.  The picture was smuggled home to Semlak by Friedrich and Magdalena Rozsa who were released early.


  In the Fall of 1947 I was still working as a stone loader in “Level 2” in a very cold and damp room.  Droplets of acid from the copper ore dripped down on me.  After my clothes dried, they simply fell apart into pieces.  Droplets also ran down the back of my neck and ate away at the skin and I experienced constant burning sensations in the wounds.  The broad brimmed rubber hat that I wore in the picture was supposed to protect me against this acid brew.  It was only after long and countless entreaties that I was released from this hellish workplace.  Now I had to pour clay and lime into earthen supports to ensure against cave-ins.  I also worked with the same machinery I had in the past but now at normal temperatures and I no longer had to smash and hammer the stones into tiny particles.  All in all, in was much better work.


  I continued to hide firewood in my quilted clothing in order to exchange it for food.  In the camp canteen there was still only sauerkraut soup with a spoonful of cooked millet.  This was too little for young hardworking people and I felt very weak.  I had to carry the wood in the dark of night and often in snowstorms for about two kilometers to an old woman, my so-called Babuschka.  The greatest danger was getting lost or being attacked by wolves.  When I tried to tell the old woman that I could no longer come to bring her wood because of the dangers involved she began to cry because she was afraid she would freeze to death.  Her house stood in an open field and there was not a single tree in the vicinity.  Her wood reserves had already been used up in the previous winter and there was no wood that could be bought.  This old woman had great sympathy for me, often she gave me three times as much as the wood was worth and she often sent my father some tobacco and something to eat in a small parcel that I took back to the camp with me.  Every time I came she was waiting with a bowl of warm potato soup and always said, “I hope it’s tasty enough for you my son.”


  As I said farewell this time and extended my hand to her she gave me a kiss and asked me to wait for just one moment.  She brought a picture and stood crying in front of me.  After she calmed down a bit, she showed me the picture and said, “This was my son, Stalin took him from me and sent him to the Front and the Germans killed him.  My husband has also disappeared in this damnable war.  My daughter lives in Moscow and attends a military school there in order to understand all of this that has happened to us.  Do you know why I call you my son?  You have the same dimples as my son when you laugh and you have been good to me just like my son.  When you are here, all of my worries are gone and I feel as if I was born again.  When I meet my friends I tell them my Vanya was to see me and will come again soon.  But all they say to me is, “Dusia you’re just out of it.”


  By now it was quite late.  My own thoughts had flown home to my own mother.  No darkness, no howling wind, nor not even thick deep snow slowed down my pace.  Arriving at the main entrance to the camp I was suddenly confronted by a sentry and I tried to explain to him that I had been lost.  He asked me what I had in my pockets.  It was only then when I realized my new little mother had again hidden something in my clothes for my father.  The sentry and now some other guards saw that I was upset and they asked if I had drunk any vodka.  I had to breathe into their faces and then they knew that I was not drunk.  They told me to disappear as quickly as possible and I did.


  Lying there in my bunk I could not fall asleep because I could not help thinking about the poor old woman and wondered how I could possibly help her.  My father, who slept in the bunk beneath mine, woke up and asked where I had gone off to again.  I held a finger up against my lips to tell him to be quiet and winked at him indicated he should come closer.  Once I showed him what she had sent he was wide awake and joined me.  Hunger was just always a present reality and it was great.  Another young man, about my age, was also unable to sleep because of hunger pangs that were insistent and demanding.  My father offered him some of what she had sent and it was all gone in a few moments.  The young man was Hans Roth, a Transylvanian Saxon from Bistritz.  He was so weak at the time that he could barely walk.  I suggested that Hans become my partner to help our Babuschka.  We thought about it a lot until our heads were swimming.  But the old Russian woman had to wait for quite some time until we had the opportunity to visit her.


  Once we were ready, I spoke to Hans at breakfast and said, “We’re heading out tonight!  Get your stomach ready for this.”  “I’m scared,” he answered.  “Today we’ll leave our fear here at the camp and show what we can do.”


  At the entrance to the mine there were numerous logs, branches and tree trunks.  When the watchmen weren’t looking and under the cover of darkness we carried a three meter long tree trunk on our shoulders and made our way into the cold quiet winter night.  From far away we could see the house of the old Russian woman lit up, unlike it had ever been before.  The tree trunk was heavy and we had to pause several times and catch our breath.  As we got closer to the house things did not seem right.  There were several sleighs and unharnessed horses about.  In the darkness I observed several shapes.


   We set the tree trunk down in the snow and got closer.  We did not want to believe our ears as we heard girls singing and balaikas playing.  We stood rooted to the spot in front of the door and listened, just as the door suddenly opened and several soldiers surrounded us who wanted to know who we were and what we were looking for.  Trembling all over, I said I was Vanya and I had come to see Babuschka.  “You wanted to steal our horses right?”  One man yelled at us.  “No, we don’t want to do that, we have just brought the old woman some wood,” I answered, just as Babuschka and her daughter and her bridegroom stepped out of the door.  She embraced me and led us into the house.  I introduced Hans as my friend.  We were immediately invited to the table.  Someone brought tin cups and poured vodka.  All of the wedding guests wanted to get to know us.  The bride and groom-a higher officer-remained at the table with us while Babuschka busied herself getting food for us, which this time was very plentiful.  The guests were officers.  Most of them spoke some German and were rather mistrustful of us until Babuschka broke in on the conversation.  Hans and I saw a wedding for the first time.  The bride wore a white wedding dress and the bridegroom wore a Cossack uniform.  The young men, all of whom were officers, had their Sunday best uniforms on.  We only knew officers who wore quilted clothing and thick felt boots.  The girls wore beautiful costumes as well.  Up until now we only knew girls who wore quilted clothing.


  The wedding couple filled a flask with vodka for my father.  The mother packed some food and tobacco for him.  Because we were not used to drinking vodka we found it difficult to get back to the camp than it had been when we carried the tree trunk on our shoulders.  When we arrived at the camp we had great luck because there was only one watchman who did not appear to even notice us because his lantern had gone out but when he saw us he scolded us for not moving through the door fast enough.  Understandably he managed to get some of our booty because the Russians didn’t have much food either.


  We slipped back into our personal hell where my father waited.  He couldn’t sleep for worry and hunger.  As soon as he saw us, he sprang up from his bunk and preached us a sermon on what could have happened to us on a dark Russian night.  But as soon as he saw the food we had brought and the little bundle of tobacco he became speechless.


  Days before we had all received new underwear and my father had the good fortune to exchange a new shirt for a pail of potatoes.  We locked up the food we had brought in a suitcase along with the potatoes and planned to eat them the next day.


  When we came home from work the next day we saw a large fire in the camp yard.  A huge column of black smoke rose to heaven.  In front of the kitchen there was a small pile of potatoes, melons and beets.  They were delicacies we had saved for bad times ahead.  Then we noticed that the doors to our barracks were standing wide open and all of the suitcases had been broken into and all of the food and provisions and other valuables were missing.  After a long hard day’s work the disappointment we felt was unbearable because we had looked forward to eat the food items we had saved.  We went to the eating hall rather sorrowfully where to our astonishment, for the first time, we were given pea soup in which we found small pieces of fish.  It was like a festive meal.  In spite of that we were sorrowful that we had lost our reserves and only one person seemed to be happy about it.  It was the German camp commander Hermann, who came from somewhere in Bukovina and had total power over us.  We could only refer to him as, “Herr Hermann”, while on his part he called us Schweinehunde…dirty pigs…swine.  He had reported to the offices that the guards and sentries did not control us enough and threatened that in the future he would see to it himself.  From then on, no one could go through the gates without being strictly searched.  It was a constant, “Trousers up, trousers down.”


  One evening around nine o’clock my father asked me for my new shirt.  The searchlights on the watchtowers shone alternately on the camp yard and the area just outside of the camp.  The fence around the camp yard consisted of three rows of barbed wire that reached as far as under the watchtowers.  As the searchlight shone outside of the camp my father quickly crawled under the fence as far as the watchtower where the searchlight never shone.  He cut the barbed wire with a pair of pliers and crawled under  the fence into the dark night.  He returned just around midnight.  I stood outside in front of the barrack as his shadow moved.  He had luck again, and had exchanged my new shirt for a pail of potatoes.  We baked half of them in the stove and left the rest for the next day.  The night was short, but our stomachs were full again.  That is how we lived our lives and survived from day to day.  During work we thought of nothing but the potatoes because the daily pea soup was too thin to satisfy anyone who suffered from constant hunger.


  As soon as we came from work we immediately went to work to bake our potatoes.  We sat on our bunks, my father below and I above and we ate our potatoes with gusto just as Herr Hermann created havoc in the barracks.  Swearing at the top of his lungs he lunged at my bed and punched me in one ear and I fell off of the bed and lay sprawled down on the floor.  The small pot of uneaten potatoes landed on the floor next to me.  Once Hermann saw that, his rage turned into fury.  He stomped on me with both of his feet.  The pot with the potatoes crumpled beneath the onslaught of his boots.  He then grabbed me by the collar, pulled me up on my feet and pushed me to the door and outside.  My father only received a kick in the behind.  Out in the yard there were others who had experienced the same treatment.  “Line up, you pigs!  There are two wagons filled with wood that need to be unloaded.  All I want to see is you fellows moving quickly,” Hermann screamed at us.


  It was midnight before we had unloaded the wood.  On the way back the guards shouted, “Quicker!  Quicker!”  Using the last ounce of our strength we could not go any faster.  Our wooden shoes became heavier because of our hunger and exhaustion.  When we were finally back at the camp we were told we were not allowed to get anything to eat which was the punishment that had been ordered by Herr Hermann himself.  We stepped into the barracks and each of us mumbled, “You pig!  You’ll pay for this some day!”  We had sworn revenge a long time before.  If we could not get him before we were on our way home, we would toss him off of the train.


  On three occasions my name was placed on the list of those to be transferred to Siberia to cut wood in the wilderness Tiago.  Those who went there:  died there.  Hermann had all of this under his command and control.  A corporal, a Jew from Poland, struck my name off of the list all three times and thereby saved my life.  As a result Hermann swore to my father that he would see to it that my skin and bones ended up in the earth of Russia.  He stormed around the barracks in a rage in search of revenge for what the Jewish officer had done for me and gave me a kick and sent me to the kitchen to chop wood.  When I was finished with that, he tossed me in the punishment cell.  It was a large wooden cupboard in which a man could only stand and was unable to move about.  The man’s feet would freeze in it in the wintertime and one’s whole body shivered in the cold.  With the opening of the door the man would fall down on the floor like a rigid piece of wood. 


  Often the Russians had more sympathy for us, especially if we stole something, even though there were strict penalties.  Often our “own” had us locked up and the Russians would set us free.  In Mednagorsk as well as the distant regions in the Urals and Siberia there were exiles from all of Russia.  They were Russians, Volga Germans, Tatars, Kiresians and Gypsies.  Things did not go any better for them than for us.  Right from the beginning they were very hostile towards us.  All we had to do was leave the camp under guard when the others would toss rocks at us.  In my thoughts, I can still hear them even today as they screamed after us, “Hitler’s pigs!  Heil Hitler!”  “Hitler is kaput!”  They were strictly forbidden to speak to us.


  During this first period of our imprisonment we were interrogated by agents of the NKVD (Russian State Secret Police).  This usually occurred at midnight.  These were political interrogations, but we were not physically abused or blackmailed.  But there were some people among us who wanted to blacken the characters of others because they were those persons among us who had been in the Waffen-SS (battle formations) or had been functionaries in the German Folk Group organization.  But the betrayals had little or no real results because there were always other inmates who contradicted their testimony.


  After another comprehensive search of our barracks we were placed under heavy guard.  For days nothing happened.  One evening, my father set out again to do something to meet the needs of our raging hunger.  As usual he crawled under the barbed wire fence out of the camp and made his way to the gardens of the local inhabitants in search of potatoes.  He was not the first to have rummaged around in this garden for potatoes.  He was caught at it and was bludgeoned to unconsciousness with a wooden shovel by the owner and then brought back to the camp.  My father was placed in a punishment cell for ten days and given 200 grams of bread daily.  Every day the Jewish officer that I mentioned before brought him a piece of additional bread.  Along with that the officer permitted our countrymen, Heinrich Hay, who was an invalid from the war who had been assigned to do lighter work in the camp to bring my father some warm soup and millet.


  After my father served his punishment, the camp doctor, who was also a Jewess, designated him to be a “second class” worker.  This meant that he was no longer able to work in the mine and that he would now be given lighter work.  He was placed in charge of a horse and wagon to deliver limestone from the stone quarry on the mountain down to the lime-kiln in the valley.  Then an accident occurred.  The wagon collided with a rock formation and overturned and injured my father.  He broke an arm and several ribs and was taken to the hospital.  Sick and weak, no longer able to work, he was placed on the list of the sick to be on the next transport to be sent home.  After three and one half years he was to be allowed to return home.


  I was also on the same list of the sick along with my father, but just as the transport was about to leave it was decided that there was not enough room for me on it.  This was a terrible blow for both of us.


  During 1947 starvation raged throughout the Urals.  People died like flies.  I was already chosen by death to be its next victim and I weighed scarcely 40 kilos.  The doctors declared me to be “marginal” and therefore exempt from work.  In spite of that Herr Hermann assigned me, along with three others my age, to be gravediggers.  He said I was strong enough to do this kind of work.  They took away our work clothes and in their place we received rags that were soiled and rotting.  When we went to eat we wrapped covers around us because we were ashamed of our stinking rags.


  The camp cemetery was about two kilometers distant from the camp on a height and was surrounded by a ditch.  It was said that there was a grave there just reserved for each of us.  All day we hacked away at the stony rocky soil to dig a grave to a depth of about our knees because we could not penetrate the bedrock.  At night we took the dead from the morgue and conveyed them on a flat wagon pulled by an old schimmel (grey horse) to the cemetery.  There we placed them in the grave and covered them with whatever earth we could find.  The idea of placing a cross or providing a coffin was not possible in these terrible times.  If a corpse still had a shirt on, it was taken off, and quickly exchanged because of the terrible hunger we suffered.


  During that summer two of our countrymen also died.  Heinrich Maleth died out of desperation and homesickness.  He drank a brew made with tobacco in the hope that he would become sick enough and sent home.  But instead it resulted in something else.  He was unable to withstand the poison and died.  Julianna Schmidt was thrown from an open truck and as a result of her injuries and lack of care died.  Had she lived she would have been my mother-in-law because after I returned home to Semlak I married her daughter.


  After awhile Hermann decided our work was too light and we did not earn our own keep.  He kept finding more unpleasant things for us to do, cleaning the latrines for instance.  But because of his chicanery with us his relationship with the Jewish officer got worse.  Soon we were transferred to a neighboring village and handed over to a woman commander.  There was hardly any work to do.  We spent most of our time in a hayloft, reclining in the hay but with churning empty stomachs.  The woman commander hardly gave us anything to eat, but let us work in the gardens of the local inhabitants for which we received something to eat.  In this way we were able to recover our strength and health somewhat.


  During 1947 a commission came from Moscow.  When they discovered the catastrophic situation in the camp, all of those in charge were dismissed.  Among them was Herr Hermann.  I myself had recovered and had to go back and work in the mine.  But already on the second day I had an accident.  They made me aware of the danger of working if there was smoke or gas in the shaft.  But in order to meet my work quota for the day for my rations, I kept on working.  I became exhausted from the smoke.  I sat down and fell asleep.  When the foreman, Steiger found me, I was unconscious and he thought I was dead.  He informed the camp officials that I had died.  But they brought me to the hospital anyway.  After several hours they brought me back to life.  After a week I was allowed to leave the hospital.


  About a year after my father left to go home I suffered greatly from homesickness.


  Almost every night I dreamt of home.  In terms of my health things were not going well.  I received a Red Cross postcard from my friend and neighbor back home, Martin Schaeffer.  He informed me that my girlfriends Julia and Katy had both found some Romanian friends, but I should not feel too bad about it because there were still many young girls in Semlak.  You couldn’t learn much from one such post card.  They were only allowed to consist of twenty-five words and they were censored.


  Hermann’s position was filled by a very good man whose name was Karl Kappler, an old time Communist from Temesvar.  Often when I was in need, he took the place of my father.  Slowly, I began to earn more money, but received only 200 Rubels.  Apparently, I had a debt of 7,000 Rubels, and my father had also left as much of a debt behind him that I was to pay back.  On Christmas’ Eve I decided I would not work.  I simply lay down and fell asleep and dreamt of a small Christmas tree all aglow with candles surrounded by children.  I heard bells ringing, our Semlak bells, and Christmas songs and organ music.


  Suddenly it was bright before my eyes.  It was the harsh lift of the lantern of my foreman.  His fat fist hit my bony face and my safety helmet fell off of my head.  He beat me unmercifully and threatened that by his word of honor he would report me to the camp officials.  To my good fortune, he did not keep his word of honor and did not report me.


  I was really afraid that he would do it and when I was called to the camp office on Christmas Day there was no longer any talk of punishment.   I stepped in and saw a young man sitting next to the foreman.  The young man had red cheeks and looked at me in a friendly manner.  “This is my son Mischa.  He is studying in Berlin.  And this is a German that we call Grischa.  In your absence he will take your place as my son.”  We had to speak to one another in German.  The eyes of the father began to glisten as tears ran down his cheeks.  “You two are very much alike,” he commented.  In fact both of us had the same large blue eyes and were about the same age.  But compared to me he was rather much better nourished and probably had double my weight.


  A sumptuous breakfast was unpacked and we ate as if we were all members of the same family.  In recognition of bringing me into the family we drank some vodka quite freely.  Afterwards I received a ration card for the noonday meal in the Russian canteen for one month from this now good man.  In addition I received a camp ration card for meat: about the size of sugar cube, an egg and 50 grams of sugar and an extra portion of millet.


  A few days later a letter came to the camp that declared that I was to be recognized as a Stachanowisten (a Soviet title of honor for an industrious worker).  Immediately, I was transferred from the barracks to a room with thirteen other “industrious” workers who were already living there.  This room appeared homey and cozy.  A piece of linen served as a tablecloth and a vase with flowers stood on the center of the table.  A woman in the camp saw to the cleanliness and order in the room.  The food was very good and not served to us in portions.


  The new camp commander Kappler exerted a lot of effort to better the conditions of the prisoners.  There was no longer a place for old “boss” Hermann.  He did not last at anything for longer than three days.  His bedding was stolen and sold and all kinds of mischief were perpetrated against him.  The chief cook, Frischmann who was once one of his cohorts now no longer supported him and there was no longer extra rations for him.  He would simply say, “The dirty pigs have eaten everything,” when he came for his food.  There was an empty bed next to mine.  The woman who looked after us said, “We’ll give this bed to your friend, Hermann.”  I answered, “Then I’ll throw myself in the Ural River or take my life in some other way.”


  I was re-assigned in terms of my job in which I learned about 4,000 Rubels.  I was promoted to blaster.  Holes were bored in the tunnel and filled with dynamite and covered with clay.  Then it was lit and the earth was blasted.  At the workplace it was rather warm at times around 50 degrees celsus and we worked completely naked.  Outside at the same time it was very cold.  On a steady basis various materials, machinery and other times had to be brought in from the outside.  Women were excluded from this work because they refused to work naked or around men who were.  After searching for some time I found a girl who was prepared to do this work.   She was the youngest in the camp and her name was Margaret Schumacher and did not speak a word of German.  She had been deported because of her beautiful German name.  She came from Moldavia where there are no longer any Germans.  She now received more wages and rations.  All of this was only possible due to the goodness of our new commander.


  One night I came home from the night shift and wanted to go to sleep.  I could not believe my eyes.  Herr Hermann was there in the bed next to me.  I thought over whether this was the right moment for me to murder him.  But I remembered that we were now always talking about the possibility of going home and that would not make much sense placing myself in jeopardy over him.  In fact, the guards had been saying lately, “You’re soon going home.”  I lay still in bed so as not to wake Hermann and besides I did not want to see his eyes.  The next Saturday night as he entered the room in the dark, a blanket was thrown over his head he was punched, beaten and pummeled from all sides.  He never found out who had beat him up.  The Russian camp commander threatened us with sever punishment if anyone ever did it again.  From then on, Hermann was quiet as a lamb and had to work just like the rest of us.


  There were more and more Russians coming to the mines and we had to train them in their jobs.  Many of them were criminals.  One day I was assigned a former soldier.  We quickly became friendly.  When I learned that he spoke Romanian I wanted to know where he learned it.  He told me, “I was in Semlak, a village close to the Hungarian border for three years in house number 739, where I was quartered with an old woman with the name of Eva Schmidt.”  She was the grandmother of my wife Katharine and my brother-in-law George Schmidt.  To prove that what he said was true he told me that there were five churches in the village and a large mill with a steam driven engine.  When I told him that I was from Semlak he was quite surprised.  I told him where my parent’s house stood and he immediately interrupted me to tell me that he knew the house and also knew my mother.  He was at her house just the previous year and she had given him a large piece of smoked bacon as a gift because she was such a good and kind woman.  Later, after I was back at home, I asked my mother about him.  She said that it was exactly at Easter in 1947 that a drunk Russian soldier with a pistol in hand had come to her and demanded the hind quarter of a smoked bacon.  She only wanted to give him half of it and he then threatened her with his gun and fired it off into the air.


  In 1948 a theatre group and a choir were formed in the camp.  Julianna Bartolf (nee Ledig) had much to do with both and she was able to encourage the young people not to give up hope for the future.


  Because of that we were open to life again and not simply survival.  The Russians got hold of an accordian and we had dance evenings.  Juli Nene (Hungarian for auntie) together with her husband Adam were both in the camp and she loved to dance.  But they would not be able to enjoy the dances for long.  There was an accident and she broke her leg and had to go to the hospital.  Only a year after we were released was she able to come home.


  On a morning in November 1949 we were all ordered by loudspeaker to remain in camp that day.  Like the first day in 1945 we had to form rows and columns in the camp yard.  The camp commander announced loudly,  “The long awaited news has come.  As of today you are all free persons!”  We wept with joy and the commander could not hold back his own tears.


  At our departure, many of the local people came to the railway station to say farewell because after five years many friendships had developed.  But there were also many who had suffered greatly during the German occupation, who shouted to us, to go to the devil.  I did not bid my Babuschka farewell because I could not get to see her because things had moved so quickly.


  We journeyed through Poland in the direction towards home.  In a small town our train was halted at a siding.  A Jewish officer greeted us officially.  He had been appointed by a commission in Moscow to welcome us.  In our honor there was a choir and a Polish dancing group along with wonderful food and even some beer.


  In those days the trains did not travel to Semlak and so we had to detrain in the neighboring village of Petschka.  The bus to Semlak was not running again and we made our way on foot for the last leg of our journey.  Along the way we met Michael Osatzki who was driving his wagon to Semlak and took us along with him.  This included:  Michael Gottschick and his wife Katharine (nee Schubkegel), the brothers Adam and Heinrich Gottschick as well as Maria Cornleitner.

   On reaching home I went into the room that had been our hiding place along with Michael Osatzki.  My parents then stood there and next to them there were three tall young boys.  My mother asked, “Which one of these do you think is your brother?”  I did not know how to answer.  The three young men were Karl Friedrich, my brother Joseph and Heinrich Maleth.  It was December 23, 1949, one of the most beautiful days of my whole life.


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