The escape from Deutschsanktmichael
Documentation of the escape from Zillasch, Banat in 1944
by Elisabeth Heber and Eva Mischl - 24.10.2020
On September 24, 1944, we - Elisabeth Heber, born in 1935, and Eva Mischl, born in 1932 - together with our mother Katharina Arenz, née Roth, born in 1912, and several neighbors started the escape from Deutschsanktmichael towards the West. Our father Michael Arenz, born in 1911, had been called up to the German Wehrmacht since 1943.
With two fully packed horse-drawn wagons we first drove to Hatzfeld. There we left the horse-drawn wagons behind, as we had to transfer to freight railroad wagons that had been made ready.
The political coup of August 23, 1944, led to an extremely rapid advance of the Red Army westward in Romania. The German military recommended the inhabitants of Deutschsanktmichael to leave the village in September 1944. Women with children in particular were advised to leave at all costs.
About 50 percent of the inhabitants of Deutschsanktmichael decided to flee. Of these, about half returned to the Banat after the end of the war. The rest remained in Austria and Germany. Some of them later moved on to the United States of America.
From Hatzfeld we continued our journey via Serbia to Hungary. We had a longer stay in the Hungarian community of Hidasch ( Hungarian: Hidas) near the town of Bonnhard ( Hungarian: Bonyhád), where we were accommodated for more than three weeks at local families and employed in auxiliary work in agriculture, among other things in the corn and the grape harvest.
The journey continued via Vienna and Breslau to Goldberg (Polish: Złotoryja). At that time, the small town belonged to the district of Goldberg in the Liegnitz administrative district of the Prussian province of Silesia in the German Empire. Today it is located in the Polish Lower Silesia Voivodeship. We were housed in a sports hall where double beds had already been set up. Our mother began to work in a canteen. We children were taught by teacher Graf from Sackelhausen from the time of our arrival.
As our father got some front leave, he visited us in Goldberg. We were all happy about these get-together after a long time. Father managed to get the local housing office to assign us a two-room apartment on a factory site. After moving into the apartment, we attended the local school.
As a result of the unstoppable advance of the Red Army, we had to continue our escape. In February 1945 we continued via Dresden, Görlitz and Meiningen to Schmalkalden in Thuringia, where we were quartered in the Asbach district. Our luggage had been transported by a separate train, which was bombed near Dresden on February 13. As a result, we lost our poor belongings and possessed only what we wore on our bodies. This terrible event left us in poverty.
After the end of the war we decided to return to the Banat. American military cars took us from Schmalkalden via Weimar to Eisenach, where we stayed for more than six weeks. From there we also went by military car to Jena and then by train to Vienna. The next stop was Pressburg (Bratislava), from where we were brought back to Vienna after a short stay. The entire return journey to the Banat dragged on for a period of more than eight weeks, since railroad traffic was severely affected by the massive destruction caused by the war.
From Vienna we continued through Austria and Hungary to Arad, where we had to wait several days for the necessary papers to be issued. During our stay in Arad, all the younger women were put to work in a laundry as well as in a canteen. The last leg of the journey by train was to Timisoara. The return trip was very burdensome and we suffered unimaginably. At all the larger stations, both, children and adults were given rusks and tea. The small children were given milk. We will never forget the terrible events during our escape.
Our grandfather Nikolaus Arenz, born in 1887, picked us up at the train station in Timisoara on August 23, 1945 with a horse-drawn wagon and took us to Deutschsanktmichael, 17 kilometers away. At that time Romanian colonists from northern Transylvania were already in the German houses. Two years later, about forty more families of Macedonians from Dobrudja came to the village. For three weeks we lived with our grandfather. Meanwhile, in our parents' house, the Romanian colonists made two rooms in the back of the building free for us. During the war actions in the fall of 1944, our house was considerably damaged by the Soviet troops, who shelled our hometown from our neighboring village Romanian Sanktmichael. For us children came a hard time at school, as we were taught in Romanian, a language we did not know, and the assigned teachers did not speak German.
Our father was taken prisoner by the Americans and after a stay in Bäumenheim (Bavaria) he returned to Banat in August 1946. The expropriation of the entire field and land property as well as the presence of the Romanian colonists in the house were very hard for him. The difficult conditions in the village as well as the deportation of many women and men in January 1945 for forced labor in the Soviet Union led to hardship and misery. The Romanian family with eight children that had been quartered in our parental home moved back to northern Transylvania in 1948. Thus we were able to fully occupy our house again.
Our parents, together with part of the family, were allowed to resettle to the Federal Republic of Germany in October 1980. The remaining part of the family followed in February 1982 to Karlsruhe.
We are thankful that we found a new home in Germany and pray that there will never be war, fleeing and forced displacement in Europe again.
Text and photos with permission of HOG Deutschsanktmichael
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