Pantschowa (Pancevo) in the Banat

 

  This article is a summary and a partial translation of a series entitled:  “A Volk Ausgelӧscht” (The Liquidation of a People) that appeared in the Donautal magazine.

 

 

  Pantschowa (Pancevo), the largest community in the southern Banat in Yugoslavia, is located where the Temes and Danube Rivers converge.  It is one of the oldest settlements in the Banat.  In addition to the Danube Swabians many other nationalities lived in the region.  Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians, Slovaks and others had settled here on the lower Danube over the previous two hundred years and lived together in relative harmony.  Even though the Danube Swabians lived under “foreign” governments as a result of their ingenuity and industriousness they in particular achieved a measure of economic success.

 

  The city of Pantschowa had a population of over 25,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the Second World War.  Living among the Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and Slovaks there were over 12,000 Danube Swabians.  The city was grateful to its Danube Swabian population for their contribution to the economic upswing the city experienced.  It became a major economic centre from which hundreds of river boats were loaded with goods and products for shipment to numerous countries.  There were also thousands of Danube Swabians who lived and worked in the numerous villages and communities in the vicinity and neighbourhood of the city.

 

  The Russian Army entered the area in the first days of October in 1944.  Under the protection of the Red Army the Communist Partisans took over the administration of the city and instituted  a gruesome reign of terror.  Anyone who appeared to be an anti-Communist according to their definition was marked for extermination.  This not only included the supporters of the Serbian General Neditsch but also the royalists among the Serbs, the so-called Chetniks plus the Danube Swabians all of whom were to be totally uprooted and destroyed.  The Danube Swabians in the region numbered about 40,000 of whom only a few thousand had fled with the retreating German Army.  The majority simply remained.  They had a clear conscience in terms of their loyalty to the State and were not afraid.  They had no idea of the fate that now awaited them under this new Partisan regime.  Simply because they were of German ethnic heritage, all of them were to be exterminated so that today not a singe one of them can be found there.

 

  Immediately following the take over of power by the Partisans they began arresting and liquidating the most prominent Danube Swabian men.  Their first victims were those whose houses, goods and land were what the Partisans wanted for themselves.  All of these men were dragged out of their homes and force marched to the old city stockade and punishment facility.  They also brought thousands of entire Danube Swabian families to Pantschowa where they would be tortured and abused all day long.  Every time new batches of bloodthirsty Partisans arrived who wanted their fair share of the goods and possessions of the Danube Swabians blood would flow.  They indiscriminately killed the innocent and helpless and chained Danube Swabians together and watched them die.  They would order whole groups out of the overflowing rooms of the stockade and chose individuals and would beat and torture them until they were dead or the Partisans got tired or lost interest.  Most of the victims were knocked to the ground with rifle butts aimed at their kidneys and if they tried to roll over on their backs they kicked them in the ribs until they were broken; teeth were knocked out with revolvers; noses were broken.  Their victims included men, women and teenaged girls.

 

  Many Danube Swabians died in this manner or as a result of it.  After a few days the Partisans seemed to have had their fill of this kind of torture as they went about their task of liquidation and it was a rather slow process.  They began to chain or tie them into groups and dragged them out of the camp and shot them in groups.  But first they had to take off their clothes and underwear and stand naked before the firing squads.  All told, there were 1,666 Danube Swabians in the camp in Pantschowa who were taken by night, chained together and led away never to be seen or heard from again.  Most of them were led down the street leading to Jabuka or they were shot at the airport.  Twelve huge mounds where they were buried were still discernable close to the factory in the vicinity of the airport in 1946.  They are the mass graves of the larger groups that were executed there.  Each of the groups totalled one hundred or more victims.  There were also many who simply died in the prison from beatings, lack of food, dysentery and cold.

 

  One of the first victims of the new bloody People’s Democratic regime was a school boy, Franz Maierhӧfer.  A Serbian woman who bore a grudge against his parents wanted to get even by getting at their son.  With the Partisans in control of the city she saw that this was her chance.  She did not allow the Partisans to kill the parents instead she asked the Partisans to kill the couple’s only child, an innocent helpless child.  The Partisans tore the child from his parents’ arms and shot him in front of them.

 

  The first person in the camp to be tortured unmercifully and to die as a result was the Lutheran pastor, Wilhelm Kund, the Dean of the Banat District of his church.  He was the oldest remaining Lutheran pastor in Yugoslavia after Bishop Philipp Popp had been executed by the Partisans in Zagreb.  They dragged the old pastor to a punishment cell that they had set up and abused and beat him for two hours simply because he was a pastor.  He too received many punches to the kidneys, the Partisans using brass knuckles and clubs.  They hit him in the face with planks of wood and broke his nose.  They then threw him to the floor.  They took turns jumping on him, hit him in the stomach and broke his ribs.  He was bloodied from head to toe and had severe internal injuries a result of which he later died.  The well known lawyer, Dr. Hans Leitner, also died after constant torture.  He had been brought to Pantschowa from Kowatschitza.

 

  Day after day, the Partisans brought more and more Swabian men and many women to the camp in Pantschowa also including residents of the city and most of them perished as a result of the mistreatment they received and those who survived this gruesome ordeal were led away to be shot in large groups.  The first of these mass shootings occurred on October 16, 1944.  On that day alone, 180 Swabian men had been bound and led from the camp were made to undress and stood naked out on the street that leads to Jabuka and were shot on the outskirts of Pantschowa.

 

    All kinds of gruesome things took place at these shootings because the Serbian Partisans and the Gypsies who accompanied them took advantage of the opportunity.  The naked victims were taken to the site of the mass grave already dug for them and were forced to lie down in it and wait for the executioner’s shot.  If anyone protested he was badly beaten before being shot.  The carpenter, Anton Geier, after he was stripped naked was impaled on a pitch fork by one of the Gypsies and only after a long time of pain and suffering was he thrown down into the mass grave while still alive.  The watchmaker, Michael Eichart, was killed by Partisans in a most brutal manner.  They cut out and removed some of his ribs while he was still alive and finally pushed him into the grave with the other Swabians but only after an eternity of suffering.

 

  On October 18th another 180 Swabians were driven out of the camp in chains and were shot.  On October 20th there were over 300.  Among them were some German prisoners of war.  On October 22nd they killed thirty men and one woman.  And that is how it went on day after day until mid November.  On November 9th, the former Swabian attorney-at-law, Dr. Simon Bartmann, a man who everyone knew was a Yugoslavian patriot and had opposed the Fascists, was included in a group of 84 Swabians that were shot.  This group also included eleven women, the dentist Dr. Hauber and the attorney Dr. Bartosch.  The others who were shot with them were all members of the professions, the intelligentsia and well-to-do persons.  On this occasion the operation was carried out with the Partisans going from cell to cell with a list of names that they called out who were designated for execution.  Whoever’s name was called out had to step out of the cell.  That is how they assembled the 84 Swabian men and women.  They were immediately surrounded by Partisans who beat them with their rifles or steel rods.  They tied them up with rope and wire to one another and drove them out of the camp, beating and mistreating them along the way.  The fate of elderly Dr. Simon Bartmann was surprising.  He had many friends among the nationalists and royalists among the Serbs with whom he had worked cooperatively even before the First World War when the Banat was not even part of Yugoslavia but still belonged to Hungary and the Serbs were as much a minority as were the Danube Swabians.  That now made no difference.  Dr. Bartmann had to die because he too was a “German”.  All of these victims like those before them were driven naked to the mass graves and put to death in a gruesome manner.

 

  On November 11, 1944 all of the remaining Danube Swabians in the city of Pantschowa (most of whom were women and children) were driven out of their houses by the Partisans and herded into a camp.  Everything they possessed was stolen from them.  In all, 3,042 of them were brought to Brestowatz where 7,000 people were interned.  In a very short period of time 400 of them perished.  Later in the winter the Swabian women were taken away to labour camps where many of them were put to death or were cruelly tortured and punished.

 

  At the end of December 1944 the Yugoslavian government handed over 1,000 younger women and teenaged girls to the Russian Army.  They were deported to the Soviet Union to the slave labour camps.  Not a single one of them ever returned home.  But at the camp in Brestowatz the Partisans often dragged off young women and girls and to this date their fate remains unknown.  The father of one of the girls protested to the Partisan Commander and as a result he was punished and tortured.  They held a burning candle beneath his nostrils and under his outstretched tongue.

 

  In the fall of 1945 there were 3,784 Danube Swabians, mostly women and children from Pantschowa, were taken out of the Brestowatz camp and sent to the larger concentration camp at Rudolfsgnad.  This would result in the mass starvation of the inmates from  Pantschowa.  Of the 3,784 who had arrived from Pantschowa that fall by summer’s end in 1946 only 1,884 were still alive.  More than half had died of hunger and disease that winter.  But the other men and women of Pantschowa who were not assigned to Brestowatz or Rudolfsgnad but had been kept in the camp in  Pantschowa were put to death in all kinds of ways.  Totally undernourished they were sent out to do heavy physical labour every day.  If anyone became sick or too weak to work they were beaten to death or shot.  Sometimes those who were sick or too weak to work were executed in groups.  That was the case on December 11, 1944 when 68 of the sick Swabians and wounded German prisoners of war were executed by Partisan firing squads.  Of those who died, 32 came from Brestowatz, including Markus Schwefelbauer.  The reason given for their execution was that because they were sick they were of no economic value.  The cheapest way to rid themselves of the sick was to shoot them instead of feeding them.

 

  Many of the camp inmates in Pantschowa were taken to labour camps in the district and put to heavy work and liquidated there.  Many were sent to the camp in Semlin which had been set up as a “show place” to demonstrate how to deal with Swabians.  Many thousands of Swabian men and women found their final resting place there.

 

  In the same way as in Pantschowa itself the Danube Swabians in the countless surrounding villages were exterminated or were brought to the camp at Panstschowa in the early days of the Partisan action taken against them.  Most of those who were brought to Pantschowa were the well-to-do and community leaders and were put to death.  The others would suffer the same fate later.  There were few survivors.

6 Responses to “ Pantschowa (Pancevo) in the Banat ”

  1. Elizabeth H says:

    My mother is a survivor of the Pancevo concentration camp. She has told her stories (like these) many times during my lifetime. Tonight, I read her this article….it was healing to her to know that this part of history is being recorded. We will be reading more….but even today, 58 years later, my mother can only handle these memories in increments. She was one of the ones taken on Nov 11, 1944. But today she learned the true fate of her beloved Toni Onkel, Anton Geier. Thank you.

  2. Mergel says:

    Great! My family is from Pancevo and they can write a book about all that happened after SWW. We still live in Pancevo. My grandfather is 72 and the most of his relatives died in concentracion camp in Knicanin (Rudolfsgnad) or they are abroad.

    Hello, Elizabet, has your mother ever heard anything about family Mergel from Pancevo?

  3. Peter Klein says:

    My fathers family was from Bawanischte (Bavaniste). Most of his family was killed in the killings that took place in the partisan reprisal sweeps or died in the knicanin death camp. My family name is Klein and one younger brother of my father and a few cousins who were young children survived and eventually made it to Germany. My father only survived because he was one of the lucky ones that the British did not hand back over to Tito’s partisans.

    All we can do now for our relatives is to pray for them and make sure that they are never forgotten.

  4. Robert Pomes says:

    Thanks for the article!

    My grandfather, Karl Dorner, was shot on the 16th Oktober 1944. My grandmother, Irene Dorner (born Spiller) were taken with her two children to Brestowatz – Besni Fok and back to Brestowatz, finally Rudolfsgnad. And the full programme: Forced labour until 1954.

    Rudolfsgnad is closed but alive.

  5. Megan Hanwell says:

    I am trying to find any information on the Wagner family. My grandfather and grandmother worked for a vintner in the area of Pancevo from at least 1920 to the end of the war. My grandmother was killed when the owners’ hous was bombed and my grandfather was shipped to a Russian gulag. My aunt committed suicide after being gang raped by Russian soldiers. Any information abou the family will be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for your time and trouble

  6. Elfriede Henry says:

    My mother, father, grandmothers,great aunts and uncles all were interned in Pancova and survived and emigrated to the US in 1956. My grandfathers were both exerminated. This is a great article. I have heard so many stories from my mom and grandma that were so horrific that it made me upset enough to look for any kind of documentation of these atrocities. Sad that these accounts are few a far between. Thanks!

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