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This narrative is taken from a spring 1994 speech I gave to my daughter Shawns senior year American government class at Warren Mott High School. It has been enhanced with additional facts and figures. Additionally, a book authored by Betty Spaltenspergerknown to me as Lisi Stefan a girl four months older than I who was also internedwas self-published in 2009. It is entitled Voices from the Grave Still Follow Me, Heatherwood Publishing, Elmira, MI (ISBN-10: 0-9819728-5-3). She is not a direct relation, but we share cousins, Elisabeth Schneider Kraemer and Frank Schneider, through her parents marriage. Lisis dad and my uncles wife are brother and sister. Mentioned throughout the book are Lisi Schneider, Franzi Schneider (my maternal cousins), me, Anni Kuebler, and the books authorfour children between the ages of 4 and 9. Although I was asked to contribute to the book , I declined. Ann Kuebler Breen

Surviving WWII Communist Concentration Camp

By Ann Kuebler Breen Let me share with you how I became a US citizen. I was born in 1938 in Batschsentiwan, Yugoslavia (Batsch is German for the Batschka region; Sentiwan for St. Ivan/John the Baptist). Batschsentiwan is also known as Bcsszentivn in Hungarian, Priglevica Sveti Ivan in Serbian or the German shortened version of Sentiwan. The population of Batschsentiwan was approximately 5,000 for the first half of the twentieth century, mostly ethnic Germans, as we were. My grandparents, me circa 1943 in a Franz Schneider, and Josef Kuebler, and a Schneider Kuebler park. My parents, Ev Sr. and Eva Ludwig Heilbronn, Germany Schneider, were ethnic Germans who lived in Yugoslavia. They owned a spa and restaurant. My parents, on the other hand, moved between Yugoslavia and Germany during WWII. WWII began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Hitler and sometime that year, my mother, father and I moved to Heilbronn, Germany so my father could find work in a factory as a toolmaker. Heilbronn is a mid-sized city approximately 50 miles from Heidelberg. My sister Elisabeth, nine years my senior, remained in Yugoslavia with our grandparents. We traveled by train and settled in a rented home in the old city. My family would start the day by going to work. I would accompany my mother to the Knorr noodle factory, a soup and sauce company. By ten oclock in the morning, sirens

U.S. Citizenship: Surviving WWII Communist Concentration Camp

would roar and the children of the Knorr employees, who were in the Knorr nursery, would be rushed to a bomb shelter. We would stay in the shelter, without our parents because they could not leave their work stations, until the all clear siren sounded. land. Hemp was known as white gold in the Batschka region. Soon after we arrived in Yugoslavia, my grandfather Franz Schneider, Sr. died. It was 1943. He was in poor health by the mid1930s. He was overweight because of excessive drinking and eating, partially blind due to chronic diabetes, had wounds from being shot in the back during WWI that never healed and needed constant attention. He also had a tumor in his foot that was later operated on to drain fluid that was later found to be cancerous, as a result his leg was partially amputated.

In the afternoon, we were picked up by our parents and would head home. By eight oclock in the evening, the sirens would sound again. Everyone would run toward the bomb shelter; there was one on every street. We would stay in the bomb shelter with our neighbors. You may think that for a small child that would be a lot of fun, afterall youd be there with all your friends and youd play games. That was German soldiers, on their not the case. Allied planes way back to Germany, would come by the hundreds. went house-to-house They would fly quite low. The and forced men from the engines would roar for ten ages of 16-60 to join the minutes before they were visVolkssturm, the German ible in the sky. The airplanes national militia. My would first drop phosphorus father, at the age of 41, bombs which would light up was one of them. They the city as if it were daytime. marched as far north Then the German anti-aircraft as Budapest, Hungary. flak would shoot at the bombDuring fighting and ers. The noise would be horconfusion, he fled. rific. Fire and explosions were He borrowed civilian everywhere. When coming out clothes from a homof the shelter, you would never eowner in Budapest know if your home would still and came back to be standing. My father found Yugoslavia. My future in Batschsentiwan, restaurant he owned work at a company that manubrother-in-law, Franz white at the spa and nz Schneider, Sr. in 1920s. My grandfather Fra factured Stuka airplanes, a vital Merkler, 18, on the other Yugoslavia circa mid part of Germanys Luftwaffe, or air hand, was captured, surforce. And therefore, Heilbronn rendered to the Russians and was sent to Siberia to a hard labor was one of the first cities totally destroyed by Allied bombs. camp. While there, he lost his entire family. My parents decided to leave our belongings and return to our family in Yugoslavia. We boarded a train and got as far as Munich when I became ill with the measles. I was isolated in the hospital for a week. Once I was well, we continued our journey uneventful. As we settled in with our grandparents, German soldiers were battling in Yugoslavia, but by 1942 they were badly beaten and were retreating back to Germany. General Titos Serbian Partisans and the Russian Red Army were advancing. Most of the northern portion of Yugoslavia close to the Hungarian border was populated with ethnic German farmers, Donauschwaban, (Danube Schwabians) who migrated in 1748 from southeastern Germany after Maria Theresa of Austria assumed the throne as Queen of Hungary in 1740. She encouraged vigorous colonization on crown lands. The Crown agreed to permit the Germans to retain their language and religion, generally Roman Catholic. They steadily redeveloped the land: drained marshes near the Danube and the Tisza, rebuilt farms, and constructed roads and canals. Many Danube Swabians served on Austrias Military Frontier (Militrgrenze) against the Ottomans. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary and created Europes bread basket and hemp center from swampJust after my father returned, the Russian soldiers and Serbian Partisans came to our village on October 24, 1944 and took all the men to fight with them! This time, my father was not one of them. Then they came and took all the women 25 years and up to care for the soldiers before everyone from the village was eventually interned. They were the first 100 women taken. My mother was one of them. This was the last time I saw my mother and father for 18 months. She had to dig foxholes for the Russian soldiers on the front line near our village and also worked in a factory in Batschsentiwan. My father was a machinery mechanic for the Partisans. There were no military vehicles. My great-aunt Elisabeth Kowatsch Dombeck was killed on January 2, 1945 while working at the air field about three kilometers from Batschsentiwan. A Russian plane landed that had not dropped its bomb and it exploded. Toward the end of the war, there were other instances where I thought bombs were being dropped on us from either American or English airplanes, but the adults would tell us there was nothing to worry about, that the planes were just dropping empty gasoline canisters. The drop tanks rattled so loud from being dropped


U.S. Citizenship: Surviving WWII Communist Concentration Camp

10,000 feet! On March 15, 1945 all remaining villagers were told to gather in the main square with three days food and clothing. My grandmother, sister, me, and everyone left in the town were there. My great-grandfather, Jacob Ludwig, who was over 90 years old, stayed behind. We found out years later that he could not live any longer by himself and hung himself. At the square, my sister Elisabeth, now 16, was separated from my grandmother and me. She was led away with others her age. I did not see her again for 18 months. My grandmother, my two cousins who were very close to my age, the very young, very old and I were marched out of town. We were put on a cattle car in the village of Filipowa and transported to the village of Gokowa, about 22 miles away. We had departed three days prior. We occupied homes that had been vacated in probably the same manner as in our town. We were lucky! None of my immediate family was killed. Since my grandmother Me in 1946 wearing my Fir owned a business, st Holy Communion dress and especially the kind where she had Serbian and Hungarian influential business contacts, we were well-off considering we sometimes had food, medical supplies, even aspirin. Food wasnt plentiful for us, even with our connections, and I would scavenge for berries. I started to get sick and my grandmother suspected the berries were making me ill so she forbade me from eating them and it worked. I also contracted scleroderma, a deadly skin disease. Luckily, it wasnt severe. Though the camp was completely sealed, free Serbs and Hungarians could sneak in under pretense. They would bring food to us on a regular basis. I had to use a latrine, just like the one shown in the movie Schindlers List. This is the same latrine where my grandmother threw our gold jewelryincluding her wedding ring rather than hand it over to the soldiers. She also sewed my sisters earrings to the inside of her skirt. You could not comprehend the terror I would feel, however, everytime I would see a soldier or Partisan. I still had no knowledge of my parents or sisters whereabouts or their status. The beatings and killings I was witness to would go on every day. As time went on, children who were orphaned were put in a section of town by themselves. If the soldiers would see two siblings clinging together, they would be separated. The young and old would die by the tens and twenties every day. After months in the camp, typhus would kill most of them. The dead would be placed in front of the home they occupied and buried in mass graves in the field, usually by other prisoners. My grandmother did the best she could to extract lice from my scalp, but like most of us there, our heads were shaved. Many begged for food at a neighboring farm. If they were caught, they were severely beaten, placed in isolation and/or killed. Can you imagine being seven years oldor any ageand witness these goings on, and more, each and every day for 18 months? So, how did we escape? My father was near my mother in the same campbut separated by genderand they saw each other occasionally. He escaped and found my sister who had been working on a farm near Apatin, a village on the Danube river about 8 kilometers away. Then my sister and father went back to get my mother. My mother went to the Batschsentiwan Catholic church where she knew the priest and asked for baptismal papers for everyone in our family. In the meantime, my uncle Frank Schneider, Jr., smuggled my two cousins and me out one-by-one on a bicycle.

He took us to his bosss family in Sombor. A few days later when I had lice again, they took me to my great-uncle Michael Ludwig, who was a barber. Before long, we were all together and on our way to Germany. We were caught twice but the Partisan that caught us decided to escape with us! It helped tremendously that my parents and grandmother spoke both German and Hungarian because we crossed the border to Hungary and were eventually caught and taken to the local police station. Because the baptismal papers were written in both Latin and Hungarian, we were released.

, in an undated photo My grandmother, Eva Ludwig Schneider taken in Sombor, Yugoslavia.


U.S. Citizenship: Surviving WWII Communist Concentration Camp

We were able to enter Germany because we were considered German citizens and had our baptismal papers. Even though we faced atrocities no human should endure, we considered ourselves lucky to escape with our lives. Thousands of others were unable to make the same claim. We walked for days through the countryside and in corn fields. My mother contracted malaria while walking. Even though she was weak, she perservered. We were able to ask for rides in haywagons and slept in farmers barns. Farmers shared their food with us and provided us with work. Someone who gave us a ride told us about work opportunities and we ended up in a very small village in central Germany, near Fulda, called Trnkhof. My grandmother and others were later able to buy their way out of the camp. She came to Munich with her sons family via train. I was interned from February 1944 until May of 1945. VE Day was May 8, 1945. The Gokowa camp was finally liberated around 1948. Shortly after we arrived in Germany, I made my First Holy Communion. Since we couldnt afford to buy a dress or even fabric, my grandmother and I spent all blueberry season picking berries for money. We sold the berries and were able to purchase fabric for my special dress. I was also very thankful to the American Air Force who provided supplemental lunches to my elementary school. It was the first time I had a Hershey bar! My father had long talked of coming to the United States. Around 1950, a few other family members had preceeded us in arriving. In October of 1955, when I was 17, our dreams came true and we were finally able to come to America! We boarded a converted US Navy transport ship, the USS General W.C. Langfitt (AP-151). Between November 1954 and April 1957 she made 32 voyages from New York to Bremerhaven, Germany, and back, carrying European refugees to the United States under the Refugees Relief Act. Our journey took 11 days because we ran into a storm near Ireland. My sister, now married to Franz Merkler, their two small children, my parents, my grandmother and I were able to secure an American sponsora necessitythrough the Born family. They were Germans who had been in the US since the 1920s and owned a popular German Restaurant near McNichols/Six Mile Road and Gratiot, The Little Cafe. They sponsored us and seven years later, on June 22, 1962, my family and I were proud to become naturalized American citizens!

Ann Kuebler Breen in 2009

About two Batchka concentration camps: In Kruevlje (also Kruschewei) and Gakovo (also Gokowa) Germans from about 120 villages in Yugoslavia were imprisoned. Towards the end of summer and autumn of 1945 all camps in these villages were closed and the prisoners were moved to Kruevlje and Gakovo, as well as many other places in the Baschka and Banat regions. At the beginning, both camps were forced-labor camps, but as prisoners got weak, ill and unfit for labor, they were transferred to Kruevlje. All those who could work were transferred from Kruevlje to Gakovo. In 1946 the complete village of Kruevlje became a camp for unfit-to-labor prisoners, including small children, sick children, children without parents, invalids, old men, women and the sick. About 220 houses were filled with about 5,000 people (four times its own population) and every day more prisoners arrived. Each house had 20 to 40 people, some bigger homes had 50 people. There were periods when more than 7,000 people were placed in Kruevlje. The living and hygiene conditions were very bad and the nutrition very poor. Meals consisted of unfresh bread and water, rarely meat. The main sicknesses and epidemics were typhoid, dysentery and high fever. Many also died from hard labor, fragility, exhaustion, hunger and torture. More than 30,000 Germans bypassed these two prisoner camps, of whom at least 12,000 died there. Every day there were mass-burials, no less than 5-10 people a day, but there were also days when more than 20 people died. The highest death-level was 42 deaths in one day in Kruevlje and 96 in Gakovo. The Gakovo camp never had less than 12,000 or more than 18,000 people.