FREDI

Fredi was born on the 17th of July 1930 in Lenauheim.

He is a Swabian from Banat. He started learning Romanian in the second grade.

In 1940 he was attending school in Timișoara. He liked riding the tram from Fabric, Traian Square towards Iosefin. In his spare time we went on school trips to the forest and to the cinema.

In the cinema, before the movie, they showed newsreels. The war had started.

Suddenly our teachers told us we would start political education, with the hitlerism. In our school there were also Romanians and Hungarians attending, learning German. The teachers would divide us up into teams and through games they explained how many kills each team got. We had ribbons – some red, some black.

Hitler’s politics was everywhere. They had party activists, like they do now – that come from I don’t know which party. We were checked. I was young and didn’t pay much attention. A teacher took care of the youth and prepared the ones over 18 to go to war. ”Let me teach you Hitler’s politics,” he used to say.

That’s how it was during the war. In our school we learned about Hitler. We had him hanging on the wall, next to King Michael. Here in the country it was King Michael, Hitler and the cross.

In Timișoara it was only Hitler.

Two years later he is assigned to the highschool in Jimbolia where he continues his studies.

In Jimbolia it wasn’t as strict as in Timișoara. Politics wasn’t that present. Back then my uncle was the Minister of Youth in Romania in 1943-1944. He used to travel the country trying to convince youth to go to war for Hitler.

The last nail in the coffin, when it was clear that the Germans were losing the war, was when they tried convincing 17 year old boys to go to the front. A commission came on behalf of the Army with a Romanian and a German officer. They gave the boys a physical, stamped some papers and that was that. We heard they were taken to Periam and then Timișoara and then Deta. There was a school for war training there.

Seven boys from the village were killed on the front in the first week. Fredi’s family was also touched by war but fortunately no one was lost.

I had an uncle named Franz, who fought in the Romanian Army. He became a prisoner in Crimeea and when he returned home, he came into my aunt’s yard where we were sitting and he tells me:

”You don’t know me, but I’m your uncle.”

Until my grandmother, Franz’s mother arrived, I didn’t know who he was. We was very weak. He said he had been taken prisoner and had only eaten the raw flesh of shot horses. From there he was taken to a camp somewhere and then sent home. In tatters.

At first he sided with the hitlerists, but after seeing what war can do, he changed his opinion. Since then he isn’t siding with anyone anymore. There were rumors the Jews were being rounded up and taken to camps. There had never been any Jews in Lenauheim.

Travelling Jewish merchants though, passed through occasionally.

One was selling lard from his wagon. He told my mother:

”Madam, I’ll give you some money to buy me a goose – cut the goose and give me the liver, keep the rest.”

And each time he passed through, mother would prepare the goose liver. That Jew was from Timișoara.

There were also two brothers named Schneider that gathered all the fat pigs in the village. They announced it with drums, that they had come to round up the pigs.

In september 1945, Fredi together with his whole family became refugees.

The war came. The Russians came.

A column of wagons was formed, we left through Hungary, Austria until we reached Bohemia which belonged to Czechoslovakia, up to the city of Krumau. There we were taken in and allocated.

What can you take with you in a wagon?

Clothes, mainly, a sack or two of flour, food for the road, and we spent 9 weeks traveling.

We had a delegate from the German Army riding in a motorcycle with a sidecar, with 3 soldiers leading the way. We were waited in some localities, waiting for 3 days in some parts to see if we could return, but the Russians were advancing so we fled.

He flees with his family – mother, father, grandmother, uncle Franz’s three small children. The youngest is 7 months old.

I walked for 9 weeks, didn’t even travel a kilometre in the wagon as there was no room. There was 8 of us. On top of that, the wagon was full of clothing and the essentials.

We slept in ditches. We passed through localities – father taught me to ask for milk for the baby in the Hungarian language. I received milk, bread. By begging.

In the city of Linz in Austria, we were awaited by the Red Cross. That’s the place where we received the first medicine.

They spend 3 days near Vienna, where the German Army was stationed. The German Army offers them food and medical aid, helping them reach Czechoslovakia.

300 wagons left the Banat with us. 30 reached our destination. The others were caught and sent to Russia,

In Krumau, Czechoslovakia, they are being housed with the Rausch family.

Rausch was a chimney-sweep and had a boy that died on the front. He only wanted to house adults. Here’s where the Red Cross intervened and a youth organisation took care of uncle Franz’s three children. Grandmother was taken in by an old couple. Mother and father were taken in by Rausch’s neighbor that lived across the street from him. I stayed with my sister.

We were given ration cards. You could buy food daily, but you could buy clothing only once – a pair of shoes or boots, your choice. That’s the story with the ration card. If your ration card was cut, you got nothing. You received it from the town hall and could use it to buy goods from any store. I think two loaves of bread, per family, per week, was allowed.

Fredi’s father, a carpenter, finds work with a Czech.

The Czech told my father that we should give our ration books to a restaurant and eat there. We tried, but I was not pleased. I was still hungry. We got some weak broth and nothing more.

Life slowly comes back to normal. Fredi, together with other deported Swabian children attend school where a teacher named Nikolaus Brainer from Jimbolia, also a refugee, is teaching.

On the 24th of March 1945, the school closes and its building is used as a field hospital for the wounded coming in from the front. The front was closing in on Krumau.

On the 7th or 8th of May we heard something like thunder. I was walking from here to there in order to bring news. And in the large square, an old man, gathers the population and holds a speech:

”Be aware that the enemy is close, and I want that in our town of Krumau no one fires a shot. Take any white material you have, a sheet, anything, and hang it at your window.”

The vice-mayor used to be an officer in the German Army and had a wounded left hand.

The vice-mayor of Krumau takes out his gun and shoots the old mayor.

There was a big scandal among the people. The officer was taken away and nothing was ever heard from him again. At the mayor’s funeral all the town was there, standing, and they all followed the casket to the cemetery. Us, refugees never knew him, but we respected him because he wanted peace.

At Krumau, the American and Soviet armies meet.

The Americans arrived in a small car, with two officers. The Russians had tanks. They met, talked. The Russians withdrew. We were left with the Americans. Well, that’s when we started living.

The Americans bowled using oranges instead of balls. The children ran to catch the oranges that rolled off the surface of play used by the American soldiers.

An African-American driver who supplied the American cantina, used to light a cigarette, take a few drags and then throw it on the ground, where the boys, including Fredi, would fight for it.

Those over 18 got ration cards for cigarettes. I had none, because I was barely 15 back then.

In 1946, the refugees return to Romania. They have difficulty passing the Hungarian border as the bridges over the Danube were destroyed.

Barges were used for the crossing.

And there were these Hungarians that took us to the other side on a kind of raft where you put the wagon. But how was pay handled?

They inspected your belongings to see if there was something in there which they liked, like a wrist watch for example:

”Give it here, otherwise you’re not crossing!”

From us they took two blankets. We had these beautiful blankets and the Hungarian saw them:

”Get up, up!” they told father.

They took the blankets and that was that. From others they took their bicycle, a wrist watch, rings. If you have something to give them, you passed. You gave something of value and they let you pass. My sister had a wrist watch that she gave away.

They just took us out of the column that ran along the river, loaded us up an ferried us across. Three wagons at a time could be transported in this manner.

When they reached Lenauheim, the houses of the Swabian refugees were now occupied by colonists – people brought from all corners of Romania.

Fredi and his family were now homeless.

So we went to an aunt. We were 19 people in all at her house. The neighbors were also there because she had decided to stay. There were 4 families living in three rooms. I slept in the tool-shed, next to the wagon. The weather was still good.

He went to see the house he had left behind. In it lived a Romanian colonist – Gheorghe Palagă. The man would have gladly taken them in but there was no more room left. 7 people living in a 3-room house.

Fredi went walking through the village.

I walked on main street to see what’s new, and I saw that a certain type of rivalry started. They were telling us to go back to Hitler.

There were fights between the youth. Most of them were over German girls.

Girls had two edges – they had an eye for Ion as well as Hans..

At 19 or 20 years of age, the youth started getting married, Romanians marrying the German girls here. Boys would be fighting over them

 I had trouble when we held dances. Because the girl had chosen me, and she was German.”

In 1947 he joins the OVY – the Organization for Village Youth.

The young communists. There was one called Lungu who was our boss, of youth, running the boy chapter. We signed up, what could we do? They hosted football matches for enjoyment and I started playing as well. And that’s why nobody beat me, because we became friends.

He takes up sports with a passion. He ends up playing handball for Banatul in Timișoara, and then for TehnoMetal.

In TehnoMetal there was this engineer acting as an intern named Bagiu. He was part of a Bărăgan commission. He told me that he cannot divulge much, but that I have to go back home. Find out what had happened to my parents.

So I go to the train station – in the station, a lot of train cars used for cattle. I arrive in Lenauheim – in the train station it was full of families with animals, crying children and old people. They were being kicked out of the village.

Each family that was to be deported had a soldier stationed in front of their house.

One of my aunts was outside.

I didn’t know how to enter. Using the back way or the main street, close to the Mayor’s Office.

I walked along the main street and I saw the mayor signing some papers.

I talked to him and the mayor decided that the soldier should move in front of the neighboring house. That’s how my family escaped deportation. It was only my aunt who got deported and spent 5 years in the Bărăgan.

He is drafted into the army and is doing his tour in the town of Anina. He spends three months in the mine.

On the 23rd of August a lieutenant shows up and tells me he needs boys for a football team for a tournament in Reșiţa. So we put together a team and headed towards Reșita. The team was led by a second lieutenant. We beat a team from Timișoara, one from Oraviţa and another team. At 3 PM they gave us lunch and a bottle of beer.

Then along comes an officer from Reșiţa and he locks me in his office. One from Timișoara come too. The one from Anina won’t leave without me. He thinks I deserted.  Finally the officer from Anina leaves.

Fredi’s clothes and luggage are still in Anina. The officer from Reșiţa promises he will send someone from Lenauheim to Anina to get back Fredi’s belongings from the barracks.

The soldiers from Anina take their revenge on the messenger sent by the officer in Reșiţa. He has his hair cut and is held in the stockade for 3 days. Then he is sent back to Reșiţa with Fredi’s belongings.

And that’s how I ended up playing football for the team in Reșiţa. I went to Brașov, Constanţa, Bucharest. 40 days on the road doing sports. This happened from 1951 to 1954.

In 1954, the first television set arrives in Lenauheim.

I went to see a neighbor, and there in his yard there had gathered over 50 men watching the TV set that had been put in the window.

Also in 1954 he gets married and wants to join the Communist Party. He therefore has to write his autobiography.

And I wrote everything down – that I had an uncle in the Romanian Army and one in the German Army, that my father once owned a village tavern. The party activist from Jimbolia, upon reading, told me I was nothing more than a kulak pup and rejected my application.

A son was born to him – Helmut – and Fredi needed a job.

The collective farm was running. Being by trade a carpenter, and freshly returned from the army, I went to see the comrade president of the collective farm in Lenauheim, and because there was a lot of construction going on, I told him I want to work on a construction site. He knew me from playing football. After a while he saw I was good at my job and he put me in charge of a construction crew.

In 1958 I became the vice-president of the collective farm. That’s when I went to Jimbolia with my autobiography again and the guy there asks me a question.

He asks: ”What are your beliefs?”

I told him I want to work. And so he gave me the party membership book. They needed as many people as they could get into the party. Especially from other nationalities. What mattered was the monthly tax. They held no meetings.

Work on the collective farm is not easy, especially when certain decisions are taken without considering logic.

We had some pasture land from the CAP on the Semenic mountain. It was for young cattle. A totally stupid idea! Taking healthy animals, loading them on a train to take them to Semenic on a three day trip?! We waited in Timișoara for ages.

The animals were thirsty. People came bearing buckets of water.

When the door of the train car would open, the animals jumped, some of them breaking their legs. And then we were supposed to take them up a mountain! The grass on the Semenic was thought to chew. We had to bring in trucks with straw or all the animals would have died there on the mountain.

In our village, this U. personage, the head of the collective farm, didn’t know how to say ”no”. Even if the proposal that came from the party was totally moroni.

He had no training, no schooling.

Fredi finds out that this undertaking is paying 3000 lei. Chief-engineer Niculescu, his colleague, is being paid the same amount. The same went for the vet. The only person earning 5000 lei is the check-in clerf from the town hall.

He refuses to sign the payment slips in protest. The situation drags on for several days until the acting mayor finishes his mandate and the party activist would like for Fredi to be the mayor of Lenauheim.

On the 17th of November 1969, I was summoned into his office and told that he was aware of the fight regarding the animals and that I have 2 days to think about becoming mayor or not. Two days later they were waiting for me at the town hall together with some activists from Timișoara. I told them I am all for Lenauheim, because it is the place where I was born and that I want to be among the people, without causing trouble of arguments. Finally I agreed.

He becomes mayor from 1969 to 1980 in Lenauheim.

His children have a desire to emigrate to Germany, but, because he is mayor, their emigration application are constantly being denied.

Finally his kids manage to emigrate. Fredi joins them in 1990.

I was in Landshut, Bavaria, close to Munich. I had a big pension and I decided to buy a house. I took out a state loan of 100,000 Marks and paid a monthly mortgage of 1500, but in the end I didn’t feel good there. I kept on working while being retired.

I worked for someone who dealt with maintaining the local parks in town. The man’s name was Rudy. He kept asking about the Banat. He seemed interested.

And one day he brings an old man with him and he tells me ”Romanian gipsy, you came here to take our work and bread”. In my mind I said: ”if you are calling me a gipsy, I will chose no to address you in the same manner”.

I just say:

”Do you know where the Danube starts flowing from?”

And that one looks at me. He replies:

”No.”

And then I tell him:

”I learned that in school in Romania and you are German and do not know? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?!”

But he hurt me when he called me a ”Romanian gypsy.” It still hurts today. Disconsidered. In Germany you are no more than a rag.

He returned to Lenauheim. He wants to pass away in Lenauheim.

I got lucky. I’ve been lucky all my life.


This story was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2019 book.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec

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