Preserving the heritage of Setschanfeld and the people who lived there for future generations
¨ Immigration & Destinations
Gärtner, M. (2005). Sheltered in the Shadow of Your Wings: My Journey through Trial and Tribulation to a new Homeland. (N. Landry & R. Mandoli, Trans.) Ottawa, Ontario. (Original work published in German in 2005)
· Band I, Ortsberichte über die Verbrechen an den Deutschen durch das Tito-Regime in der Zeit von 1944-1948. 950 S.
In April of 1941, Germany declared war on Yugoslavia in what came to be known as the April War. On April 6, 1941 (Palm Sunday), the Axis Powers invaded Yugoslavia and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) was sent to bomb Belgrade. The war lasted only 11 days and ended with the surrender of the Royal Yugoslav Army on April 17, 1941. Communication in the Banat villages was slow at that time and the people in Setschanfeld were unaware that Germany had declared war until German Luftwaffe flew overhead on their way to Belgrade. At the end of 11 days, Yugoslavian King Peter went into exile to England and in a short time, German soldiers arrived in the village of Setschanfeld..
The German soldiers were met with open arms and were surprised to find so many welcoming Germans in a place they expected to find enemies. The German occupation and the lives of the people in Setschanfeld were changed immediately. While the normal routine of things went on, schools were allowed to teach in the German language, for the first time as long as anyone could remember. They were taught German history, which had previously been skipped over.
German youth groups were formed, which met weekly. The focus of these groups were mostly social and they were taught folk dances, gymnastics and other sports. But the groups were also used to advance the Nazi agenda and the villagers were taught how to march in formation and were expected to attend rallies, where the ideals of the Nazi party were taught.
In March 1942, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS and a leading member of the Nazi Party, created the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen. The Division was formed from the ethnic Germans from Croatia, Serbia (Banat), Hungary and Romania (Siebenbürg). Initially all soldiers were volunteers, but when not enough men enlisted, the ethnic German males began being conscripted into this SS Division. As Magdalena Gartner says in her book, Sheltered in the Shadows of Your Wings, “Their mission was to seek out and destroy Partisan targets in the interior. How does one justify such a thing? We had lived our entire lives in Yugoslavia, and now the Germans were forcing us to fight against our own countrymen, to view them as the enemy. If they had tolerated our presence before, they would surely hate us now” (Gartner, 45)
The drafting of all the young men in Setschanfeld had a tremendous impact on the village. Magdalena Gartner goes on:
“One could only imagine the shocking impact the draft would have on agriculture, as every hand was needed to till our bountiful land. As we later found out, not even in Germany was the draft as drastic. The military draft forced our women to take on the brunt of the workload. Large farms became completely dependent on Serbian workers. Everything possible was done to continue the cultivation of the land during the absence of our men...Life went on, even under these conditions. We labored under an uncertain future. It was already hard enough to hold the farm together without the presence of our men. On top of that, we were called upon to send food shipments to Germany, in such quantities, that we no longer had enough to sustain ourselves. We were forced to eat corn bread, which we hated, and ration cards were distributed in the cities for the first time.” (Gartner, 46)
By this time, Germany had already invaded Russian and reports were sent back to Setschanfeld on their victories. But as time went on, those reports became fewer. By the summer of 1944, the people of Setschanfeld watched as trainloads of German refugees from Russia passed through on their way to Germany.
The villagers began to consider whether they should evacuate and began to prepare. Covered wagons were to be used as the mean for evacuation and the villagers began to organize all the things they would need in the event they had to leave quickly. This was very stressful as the women of the village had been left alone to make these decisions. No one knew if the order to evacuate would be given and they waited with all their belongings packed, not knowing if they left, if they would ever see their homes again. And if they stayed, what would happened if the Partisans arrived in their village with no one to protect them?
If an evacuation was called for, it had been decided that the children would leave first by train. As Magdalena Gartner says, “ Everything was in disarray and we were confused as to how and when we should proceed” (Gartner, 47)
The order to evacuate was never issued, however, and the villagers in Setschanfeld remained as the German Army retreated leaving the remaining ethnic Germans to protect themselves. In September 1944, the Russians arrived in the Banat.
In an excerpt from her book, Magdalena states:
”The cruelty the awaited us is impossible to fully describe...There were no obstacles to block the Russian advance into our village and cities...We cowered , paralyzed with fear, behind locked doors and shuttered windows, and watched as they marched in in unison through our streets. Our Community Centre and school were immediately appropriated as a head quarters and a base camp for their daily atrocities. Our homes were constantly searched, upended and robbed. They were always on the look out for munitions and other items with German insignia, so they could justify their shameless behavior towards us, the perceived enemy. Despite our careful efforts to destroy such evidence, a few items were discovered and we were made to pay dearly. One of Father’s belt buckles, emblazoned with the German eagle and swastika, was discovered in a drawer. That was enough to incur their wrath and Mother was taken away, locked up, and forced to chop wood for two days. We were overjoyed when she came back home and understood that we were powerless, that the only way to meet their force was with silence” (Gartner, 48)
The Russians left Setschanfeld after approximately a week, only to be replaced by Tito’s Partisans. They set up their headquarters in the community center. In order to feed their soldiers, they set up a kitchen and forced the young girls of the village participate in preparing meals for them. The Partisans ransacked and plundered the villagers homes, taking whatever they wanted. All the villagers could do was stand by and watch. The women were forced to sleep in the stables and barns, as they feared they would be raped in the middle of the night.
The first murder of a villager by the Partisans occurred on 27 October 1944 and the 59-year-old farmer was carted through the village for all to see. This event was so horrific that an couple that lived across the street committed suicide two days later on 29 October 1944. This couples ancestors were among the early settlers that worked to build the village of Setschanfeld.
On 5 November 1944, the Partisans forced marched approximately 40 Setschanfeld men to the railway station and loaded them onto trains that were headed for the nearby village of Werschetz. Once arriving, they were locked in the Stojkovic-Telep camp, which was known as an execution camp. Ethnic German men had been brought to this camp from all the surrounding villages where they were tortured and killed in the most gruesome ways. Very few men escaped death in this camp and none from Setschanfeld survived.
Shortly after, the village drummer announced that all the women between the ages of 18-35 years old were to report to the community center. These women were told that they were being taken to Werschetz to work in the vineyards, but the families feared that this was not true as they had heard that others were being deported to Russia. Many of the women being forced to leave had small children that had to be left with their grandparents or other relatives. At the same time, the Partisans forced the remaining men in Setschanfeld between the ages of 14 and 75 to head for Werschetz as well.
The village of Werschetz had become the collection point for all the people from the surrounding areas and their fear of being sent to Russia was realized as they, along with people from the surrounding villages, were loaded on cattle cars that were bound for Russia. As Magdalena Gartner writes, “It was from the exiles of Werschetz that our worst fears were confirmed: all the men and women that had been sent to Werschetz were to be transported to Russia” (Gartner, 52). There were three waves of deportations; the first on 31 December 1944, the second on 6 January 1945, and the third at the end of January. Each wave of deportation took 1000-2000 far way from their homes. In the cars that carried them, some women lay on the floor, while others laid on a bunk directly above them and each car held approximately 40 persons each. In one wave of deportations, the trains was approximately 50 cars long.
All the people that were taken to Russia were forced to reconstruct the country that had been devastated in the war. They trains made many stops along the way, with people being unloaded at every stop. There was no difference in the way that men and women were forced to work. Many people were forced to work in the coal mines, which were necessary for the rebuilding of Russia. Some worked to rebuild the damaged mine shafts, while other extracted coals from the mines.
Three people from Setschanfeld lost their lives while in Russia:
1. Eva Martin, daughter of Phillip Martin and Elisabeth Jung, died of a lung infection in 1947 at age 20
2. Johann Wingert, son of Lorenz Wingert and Katharina Dittrich, husband of Barbara Rapp, and father of a two year old son, died 1945 at age 34
3. Elisabeth (Jung) Jeroff—daughter of Wendel Jung and Eva Nieszner-Hoh, wife of Josef Jerhof, and mother of a seven year old son, died in 1945 at age 25.
Back in Setschanfeld, in April 1945, the remaining Germans from the surrounding villages of Werschetz, Heideschütz , Gross Gaj, Zichydorf, Alt-Letz were brought to Setschanfeld with no possessions whatsoever. In a report from Leidensweg der Deutschen im kommunistischen Jugoslawien, Katharina Stutzäcker and Mr. & Mrs. Thierjung state, “These people, numbering 2000 to 3000, were divided among the houses, from which the owners and their possessions had to be cleared out” (Band I. , p321).
On 24 April 1945, everyone who was left in Setschanfeld was made to leave their homes and to gather in the pastures. They slept in the fields at night, while during the day they were forced to clear their house of everything it held. They were made to bring all their possessions—furniture, sheets, dishes, clothing, shoes, everything—to the community center where the Partisans and the Serbians from the surrounding villages took whatever they wanted.
The villagers were divided into those that could work and those that could not or were too young, which again split many families that had children too young to work. Those who could work were forced to live in certain houses in the village, while those who could not went to another section. Between 20-50 people lived in each house and their meals consisted of watered down barley soup. Some villagers volunteered to work on neighboring farms, as they hoped their chances of survival were better there.
Many people became ill from lack of nutrition and other illnesses that spread through the village. Approximately 245 people died in the Setschanfeld internment camp. Some people escaped to Romania, while others tried and were either captured or shot from the guard posts. The Setschanfeld camp was broke up in 1945-1946 and the majority of the people being held there were send to the camp in the neighboring village of Heideschütz. Twenty-one people from Setschanfeld died in the Heideschutz internment camp.
Those who survived were sent to the Rudofsgnad Concentration Camp, a horrific extermination camp where 34 people from Setschanfeld lost their lives.
Many years later, prior Setschanfeld villagers returned to Setschanfeld only to find that their homes were in ruins, gardens grown over, and streets and buildings run-down. Their church, that they had built so many years before, was torn down and the cemetery where so many loved ones are buried, was leveled, the headstones having been ground-up and used to make sidewalks.
Today, the village of Setschanfeld, now called Duzine, has not one German living in it and it currently populated by Serbians who moved in after the Germans, who had built the village and made it a home, were expelled with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.