REFLECTIONS AND REMINISCENCES:
A BUKOVINA GERMAN TELLS HIS STORY*
Translated by Sophie A. Welisch
*Written in Sondergay, Federal Republic of Germany, in 1985, this
article was translated from the German and edited by Sophie A. Welisch,
Ph.D., Professor of History at Dominican College, Orangeburg, NY, who
shares with the author a common descent from the Bori colonist, Sebastian
Published in the
Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans From
Vol. 12, No. 2 - Summer 1989, pp. 29 - 39.
Posted on the World-Wide Web by the Bukovina Society of the Americas,
with permission of the AHSGR
and of Jakob Welisch and Sophie A. Welisch, June 10, 1996.
Diese Seite auf Deutsch
Bukovina, nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in southeastern Europe,
was until 1918 the easternmost crownland of the Austrian Empire. It was
here -- where rivers, untracked forests, and mineral wealth abounded --
that the Welisch (Wöllisch/Wellisch) put down roots in the second
quarter of the nineteenth century. To develop the potential of its
untapped resources, the Habsburgs sponsored emigration from the Bohemian
Forest, an area at that time rife with unemployment, to Bukovina.
After Austria's annexation of the territory by virtue of the Treaty
of Constantinople (1775), emigrants from many lands converged on Bukovina.
In a short time, the province assumed a multi-national character. One
cannot readily enumerate all these people, but merchants and craftsmen
from the Balkans, Austria, and other areas soon provided the goods and
services essential for a developed economy.
The village of Bori, settled by German-Bohemian lumberers in 1835,
dates from the Hapsburg period. Among these pioneers were my
great-grandparents, Sebastian Wöllisch and his wife, Barbara
Rückl, who, along with twenty-nine other families, carved out a new
existence for themselves in Bukovina's virgin forest. The variations in
the spelling of the name, "Welisch" arose in my generation.
According to extant documents, my great-grandfather Sebastian's surname
was "Wöllisch." Other members of the family now use
"Wellisch." How and when this name was changed to the spelling
on my baptismal certificate has not been clarified to date.
According to my father, Peter Welisch, my grandfather Johann made great
economic progress. He relocated to neighboring Gurahumora, enlarged his
farm, had eleven children with his wife Katharina Schaffhauser, and even
enjoyed forest rights. In Gurahumora Johann supposedly served as a notary
public and, to supplement his income, did carpentry work on the side. As
his bride my father chose Maria Welisch of Bori, a distant relative and
great-great-granddaughter of the colonist, Sebastian Wöllisch.
Life for us German-Bohemians was not easy. Whence the term,
"German Bohemian"? Although this expression was replaced in
the inter-war period by "Sudeten German" to encompass the
German-speaking inhabitants of Bohemia/Moravia in Czechoslovakia, we in
Bukovina continued to call ourselves German Bohemians and do so to this
very day. Our dialect is similar to the vernacular spoken in Bavaria
and Lower Austria.
Before his death my grandfather Johann divided his estate equally
among his children. Through the drawing of lots which Johann had placed
in a pot, my father Peter inherited the plot at the far end of the property.
With much labor and ambition, all of my grandfather's children who chose
to do so succeeded in building homes on their land. Those who moved
elsewhere rented their portion to their siblings. Lumberers finished the
outside of the houses with mortar. It is worth noting that these homes
were constructed so as to retain heat easily during Bukovina's long, cold
I was born in Gurahumora on July 25, 1931, on the church feast day of
St. Jacobus (i.e. James). My parents decide to have me baptised
"Jakob" after the midwife pointed out that I had brought my own
name into the world. Of my preschool childhood I have only the sketchiest
recollections, but with a little concentration I can well remember numerous
experiences from my early school years.
In those days in Romania, children started school at age seven. I had a
long walk to school, some two kilometers, which took me through Gurahumora.
We had no book bags as children have today. My mother took some scraps of
linen and sewed them together to make a kind of shoulder bag to contain the
few notebooks I needed. Going to school presented certain problems for me
from the beginning, not because of learning difficulties but because there
were no available rest rooms along the way. Stores, churches, and cafes
lined my route through Gurahumora which, as I think back upon it today,
seemed to me like a small city (population in 1930: 5,977 of whom 2,441
Although I was a Romanian citizen, I attended a German-language school.
I knew no Romanian at all since we spoke only our German-Bohemian dialect
at home. But at school we were graded in the Romanian fashion: 10 was the
best mark and 5 the worst. (During the Austrian era the grading ranged
from 1 [excellent] to 5 [unsatisfactory].) I attended public school in
Gurahumora for two years, i.e. until the resettlement of the German
population to the Third Reich in 1940. But more about that later.
Some memories of my childhood in Bukovina still loom large in my mind.
Our home was situated next to a rather large millstream with sawmills some
200 meters to the right and left, one of which was a small factory. From
there lumber was transported by rail, much of it for export. My father
Peter was often en route with horse and wagon, earning a little extra to
supplement his farm income. As his father before him, he used his
carpentry skills as a source of additional wages since we had only three
hectares (1 hectare equals 2.471 acres) of farm and meadowland.
And I amused myself as did all the other children of my village. I spent
many hours at the streams in my vicinity, preoccupied primarily with fishing.
Of these times I still recall wading up to my knees in crystal-clear water
with stones dotting the stream bed. We children would stand very quietly
until curious trout approached. The waiting was never long, however, since
fish were so plentiful. First the trout would observe our legs in the
water; then they would slip under a rock and remain motionless. With a
rapid movement of both hands, it was possible to catch them. We competed
with each other to see who could catch the most fish. For me it was easier
to catch fish in this manner than to use a pole. If fishing licenses were
required at that time as they are today I cannot say, but I tend to doubt
it, since otherwise we would not have been permitted to fish in the streams.
Johann and Katharina Welisch (Jakob's grandparents) with their children in
their backyard in Gurahumora (1901). From left to right: Marie, Margarete,
Katharina (mother), Peter (on lap of his mother), Wenzel, Johann, Josef,
Johann (father), Sebastian, Theresia, and Emil. One daughter, Regina, had
already died, and one son, Paulus, was born in 1902.
Sebastian and Wenzel were the only ones to immigrate to the New World.
Emil became a Roman Catholic priest and died in Glatz (now Klodzko, Poland)
in 1954. Josef, Johann, and Theresia, although close to the Bavarian border,
were overtaken in flight by the Russians and repatriated to Bukovina in 1945.
Margarete, Peter, and Paulus escaped to the West and as of this writing are
living in Bavaria. Maria and her father, Johann, died in Gurahumora before
the 1940 resettlement.
Not far from us flowed the Moldova River which could become treacherous
when the melting mountain snows caused flooding. On its banks, in an
attractive, permanently established location, the town of Gurahumora
sponsored daily concerts in the summer which lasted well into the night.
We heard and saw these festivities constantly, since we lived only a few
hundred meters away, but after a while they lost their fascination. Today
these would be termed "summer evening festivals."
In the summer, Gurahumora, a resort town on the Moldova, attracted
affluent vacationers who were willing to pay handsomely for accommodations.
Since we were well situated to satisfy their needs, my father often rented
the entire house to tourists, retaining only a small room which we used
for cooking. Nights we slept on the hay in the barn, which I did not
House in Gurahumora in which Jakob spent the first nine years of his
And now from the delightful summer to the long Bukovina winter as I
remember it. Above all, the weather was cold with a lot of snow. In
contrast to today, salt was never sprayed on the streets. And Christmas!
This holiday season was very special for me, in particular the visit of the
Christ child and the angels. Today I know these
to have been our neighbors Titus Hellinger and his sisters. Oh, what a
sense of wonder and awe I felt when the Christ child, accompanied by the
angels, stood in front of the gingerbread tree! Although I am getting a
bit ahead of myself, it seems appropriate to interject here that my aunt,
Frieda Welisch, still decorates her Christmas tree in the Bori fashion.
To us who now live in Bavaria, this is still a very special occasion which
never fails to evoke happy memories of our youth.
Visits to neighbors by horse-drawn sleigh continued from Christmas
to Epiphany (January 6). With small bells attached to the horse's harness
and a lantern on the sleigh, I traveled with my parents to visit relatives
in Bori. What would we give today for such an experience which at that
time was a daily occurrence! To provide warmth along the way, my mother
heated bricks on the stove and placed them in the sleigh. During such a
ride by night, we could see the horse's breath rising like steam over the
lantern. Upon arrival at our destination, the horse was taken into the
stable, and the bricks, although still warm, were again placed on the stove
in preparation for the homeward journey. On the return trip, I usually
fell asleep, exhausted from playing with the other children.
I can still recall a particular incident which occurred on one of those
winter sleigh rides during the Christmas season as we were on our way to
visit my godfather. Although he tried to calm it, my father noticed
immediately that the horse feared something. He told my mother that there
were probably wolves in the area. What I now state is no exaggeration.
During the winter months, wolves posed a great threat to the population.
Gathering in packs of ten to fifteen, they attacked whatever lay in their
path, drawn to this desperate act by sheer hunger.
On cold winter days, my father kept our dog locked in the barn. As a
child I heard tell that this was because wolves came very close to the town
in winter. One night my father pointed out from the kitchen window the
eyes of a wolf pack flashing in the moonlight. Other than on that occasion,
I never saw any wolves.
Life in our town in Bukovina could indeed be very pleasant and,
considering the times, no doubt approximated conditions elsewhere. A half
century has passed since I left my homeland, and today I live in Bavaria.
When I describe our former circumstances to my neighbors, they assure me
that their standard of living was not much higher at that time.
The youth of today can hardly envision what we experienced in bygone days.
Fortunately, they have been spared our hardships. Yet the present
generation, confronted with technology and mechanization, has its own
challenges to meet. For us Germans of Bukovina, the fall of 1940 augured
in events that forever altered the course of our lives. Little could I then
anticipate what lay ahead.
After the Soviet seizure of northern Bukovina in June 1940, the Third
Reich reached an agreement with the Soviet Union to evacuate the German
population. The Germans of southern Bukovina, including those in my village
of Gurahumora, were transferred by the terms of an accord between Germany
and Romania. Some 95,000, embracing all but about 7,000 of the Germans
living in Bukovina, voluntarily opted for resettlement in the Reich after
gaining assurance that they would be compensated for the movable and
non-movable property they were leaving behind. Yet it still puzzles me
that virtually or entire ethnic group chose to sever it roots and relocate.
While there were some among us who were poor, there were also the affluent
for whom economic opportunity could not have been the
This is a topic about which I could write an entire volume, but I will
limit myself to the main events. It was on December 12, 1940, that my
parents and I left our homeland. Much of our baggage had already been
shipped to the railroad station days, possibly weeks before. The December
day was raw and cold, with the Christmas season -- when everything was
cheerful and cozy -- only two weeks away. I noticed that my parents were
crying. The afternoon had come, and by 7:00 p.m. all who had registered
for this particular transport had to be at the railroad station.
It was a frightful experience for me to see the people approaching. Most
were crying although supposedly they were leaving of their own accord.
German soldiers and officers arranged everything. I can still recall that
evening as vividly as if it were yesterday but will cut short my narrative
in order not to relive these painful memories. Nonetheless, one further
point: before and during the departure of the rather long train drawn by
two locomotives, many say, Nun ade mein lieb Heimatland (And Now
Good-by My Beloved Homeland). A very long, shrill whistle of both
locomotives started the train in motion while the gradually diminishing
lights from the Gurahumora station brought home to me the realization that
I was leaving the land of my birth, possibly forever. Having reached the
age of nine, I could respond emotionally to the events around me, although
I could not grasp their deeper significance.
We were en route three nights and three days. Red Cross nurses from
Germany took care of us. I can still remember the Budapest (Hungary) and
Vienna (Austria) train stations. In Budapest we were able to disembark
and ate lunch in a large restaurant. In Vienna we were served coffee and
tea while some got out of the train to stretch their stiff legs. Within
several hours all on the emigré transport knew what they could expect.
Life in the barracks! There were as many as twenty in a room, without
regard as to whether they were laborers or professionals. Many now
experienced bitterness and regret about what they had done, made all the
more poignant by the approach of Christmas. At home our hearths were cold
and abandoned, and here we slept in bunk beds. In our camp in Styria near
Leoben we lived under conditions none of us had known before. To make
matters worse, no one could leave the camp for the first two weeks. Now the
full realization dawned on us that we had been promised the skies but were
in fact in the grips of a powerful dictatorship.
Camp Traboch, near Leoben in Styria (May 1941). Camps such as these
served as temporary quarters for Germans from the East before permanent
settlements for them could be arranged. The building with the three towers
contained the laundry room and showers. Most of the men had already been
inducted into the Wehrmacht or were out of the camp on work
details. Arrow points to Jacob, standing in the rear at the left.
My education in Styria proceeded along normal channels. There was much
repetition to assure that we students would not forget anything. We
attended a type of barracks' school and had no contact with the local
Within about three months, all the young men were conscripted to fight
for their new fatherland, which also gained them German citizenship. In
the summer of 1941, my parents and I were also naturalized as German citizens
in a procedure entailing long lines and a tattoo of one's blood type on the
upper left forearm. For many men this mark reaped bitter consequences as
the war drew to it conclusion, since they were mistaken for the similarly
tattooed members of the SS.
My father was also eventually drafted into the Wehrmacht and
sent to Yugoslavia, but remarkably, he and others returned after just two
weeks and were put on a waiting list for resettlement on a farm. In the
fall of 1941, those designated for agriculture, including us, traveled
by rail to Upper Silesia. Our destination was Ratibor on the outskirts of
which stood a sports complex where we were to find temporary accommodations.
Although also serving as a camp, it was an improvement over the one in
Leoben, since here we could exercise a modicum of autonomy. The camp
director pretty much let us do as we pleased, although he naturally
maintained surveillance. He was rewarded by having less work to do and
by winning the goodwill of the residents.
For us emigré children, the school years in Ratibor were sheer
torment. We attended school together with the local children. But since
we did poorly in our studies, we were beaten daily. Naturally mere
repetition had not advanced our knowledge. One day I had an especially bad
experience. Fearing what would happen to me in school, I concealed a
notebook in my trousers. My teacher, who did not especially care for us
emigré children, noticed my ruse with the first blow of his cane.
What then followed I will decline to elaborate.
The adults faced much anxiety and uneasiness as well. After Hitler's
attack on the Soviet Union (June 1941), news reached us of young Bukovina
Germans killed in the war. The winter of 1941-42, one of the coldest in
the past century, brought much suffering to the men at the front, some of
whom developed frostbite or actually froze to death. Bukovina Germans,
whom I personally knew, openly expressed their disillusion with the state
which had promised more than it could deliver.
The spring of 1942 brought a significant event for my father and our
family. At the invitation of the Treuhandgesellschaft, the
governmental agency which had assumed responsibility for compensating the
emigrés for property abandoned in Bukovina, my father and others
had to travel to the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia to look at
farms. They were to assume ownership of these
properties in the shortest possible time. I no longer recall precisely,
but it was sometime during cherry season (May or June) that we arrived
in Jungbunzlau, 50 kilometers northeast of the capital city of Prague.
For me this was a fantasyland: on the trip to our destination the streets
on both right and left were lined with cherry trees laden with ripe fruit.
In my wildest dreams I could not even have imagined such a sight.
Shortly after our arrival, we noticed what had transpired here a few days
earlier. The owners had been dispossessed because of their anti-German
sentiments. The lady who had owned this farm of about 20 hectares, which
we were now to acquire, even had to scrub the floor in our presence. My
parents shuddered with horror but could do nothing. On an individual basis
we might have gotten along very well with these people, but considering the
political climate, even the most peace-loving among us could do little unless
they were also willing to put their own lives on the line.
We lived in Jungbunzlau for less than three years. My father pursued his
agrarian tasks and I applied for and was accepted in high school
Hauptschule. This is equivalent to today's Realschule
(a vocational high school not leading to the university). My endeavors in
this regard were successful, and I learned much during this period of my
life. I also joined the Hitler Youth, a matter about which I had no choice.
On Sunday mornings, when my parents attended church services, I had to
participate in the activities of the German Jungvolk (Young People).
Scheduling meeting on Sunday morning represented a deliberate ploy on the
part of the state to wean the children away from organized religion.
Moreover, there were no excused absences other than illness. Our activities
included paramilitary training and survival tactics such as none of us had
ever undergone before. If one of us lacked in enthusiasm, he was soon
brought to heel. I was only twelve years old at the time but already
I could tell you much more about these years, but they include happenings
I would just as soon forget. When I discuss them today, people only smile.
Today's youth finds these episodes incomprehensible, yet I can hardly blame
the present generation for failing to relate to our past.
In early April 1945, we got an order to prepare for immediate evacuation.
This entailed putting appropriate covering on the wagon, shodding the
horses, and packing provisions for at least four weeks. The Czechs smiled
as they watched us but dared give no outward indication of their feelings
since many in these last days had thrown caution to the winds and paid for
their impropriety with their lives. Finally, the morning of our departure
from the village arrived. Our group included the three Bukovina families
of Tante Reti (Margarete), her husband, Josef Hellinger, and my
bedridden grandmother Katharina; Felix Seidl from Bori; and my father,
Peter Welisch. As we assembled at our designated meeting place, the Czechs
observed us from a distance but said nothing.
At this point in my narrative I am again overwhelmed with impressions
and observations. There is so much I could relate about what it was we
packed and what we left, about our great disappointments, and about the
fact that after leaving Bukovina we could find no place to call home.
But the moment demanded action, not contemplation.
About seventy had gathered at the meeting place, all with covered wagons.
Our route lay squarely across Czechoslovakia in the direction of the
Bohemian Forest, since this was closest to the German western front, and
no one wanted to go anywhere near the eastern front. The long trek, as
these refugee wagon trains were called, moved slowly southward, passing
Prague and, after the first few days, traveled only in the darkness of
night. Air attacks from hostile planes shot up countless treks that they
spotted from the air. Today I believe these pilots could not distinguish
between civilian refugees and the military.
Because of congestion on the roads and the long delays, our trek advanced
very slowly, covering only 25 to 30 kilometers each night. During the day
we had to take cover in the forest in order not to be detected from the air.
Moreover, the entire night could not be used for travel since by daybreak
we already had to have reached the next forest enclosure.
These were indeed wretched times. In order to conserve our supplies, we
ate only enough to keep us going. Since we were fleeing through foreign,
i.e. Czech territory, we could expect nothing from the local inhabitants.
A shortage of water plagued both man and beast. We combed the forests for
streams and springs, drinking the water only after it had been boiled. This
we did by placing an aluminum pot across two tree stumps and then heating it
from underneath. The cries of small children and the groans and complaints
of the elderly became commonplace.
Our wagon sheltered seven persons. Whence this number? My aunt Emilie
(maternal side) together with her children and mother (and my grandmother)
Rosalia, had already fled from Upper Silesia in the winter of 1944-45 and
had taken refuge with us. Now, for the second time, they were forced to
sustain the rigors of flight and all the hardships it entailed.
If at this point my narrative seems to be coming into sharper focus, it is
because the events that follow are so indelibly imprinted on my mind. What
stands out very distinctly is the air attack on the village of Milin.
One morning we had not been able to reach a forested area and had to find
refuge in an open village. Some camped out on the edge of the main
thoroughfare, others on the side roads. No sooner had the horses been fed
than we spotted a solitary plane. All hoped that the pilot had not noticed
anything suspicious. But within a half hour we had our answer: four
American fighter planes appeared in the sky, circled the village, and then
started strafing us. For the entire day we had no respite from the air
attacks. In all there were four raids, some of which seemed to last an
eternity. We were defenseless against them. Had we sought out the open
ground, we would have been even easier targets. During one of the assaults
the roof of the village church, where we were crouching for protection,
flew past me. A stray bullet grazed my father who had been standing near
What took place that day in Milin deep in the heart of Czechoslovakia,
only military personnel and those who survived urban air attacks can fully
appreciate. With approaching twilight all became quiet. Barns were aflame,
dead animals littered the streets, wagons of the refugees had burned with
only the metal parts still visible along with the charred remains of their
baggage. If people died that day, I, a youth of thirteen at that time,
could not ascertain. One thing I did note, however, was that of the
approximately seventy refugee wagons, only fifteen to twenty departed the
village under covered darkness that evening. The horse had become very timid
from the noise, the smoke, and the sight of their dead fellow creatures.
Our small band hid in the forest for two days, not daring to leave.
Moreover, the wagons needed repairs. The covering of our wagon had been
riddled with bullet holes, leading my father to observe that we would
probably find many bullets in our baggage. Time proved him right in that
we later discovered bullets in our bedding and elsewhere. They were longer
than a finger and twice as thick. I fed both our horses with the twigs of
young evergreen trees, which indeed they consumed. But we could not
provision ourselves that easily. Our ever-diminishing food supply caused
my father great anxiety.
The last days of the war found us in a forest near a road. We had just
eaten breakfast and were washing up in a nearby stream. The date: May 8,
1945. When we saw autos passing by with young people waving red flags,
our elderly family members immediately suspected the worst. Some passersby
approached us in the forest and, calling to us in broken German, told us to
return home, the war was over. Germany had ceased to exist.
The members of our group in the forest that day, all from Bukovina,
looked at each other in consternation. How could we return home? Where
was "home"? I believe that since throwing in their lot with
Germany in 1940, they themselves did not know what land to call their
Heimat (homeland). But since we did not want to fall into the
hands of the Russians, there was never any serious discussion as to our
destination. After ridding ourselves of all symbols, insignia, and
memorabilia which smacked of Hitler, we headed for the Bohemian Forest.
En route we encountered Czech patrols who questioned us closely about having
Czech goods. They were right: the horses and wagon had been Czech property.
In the Sudetenland, that area of Bohemia inhabited by a German-speaking
population, another catastrophe awaited our pathetic little group. We had
just traversed a steep mountain and were approaching the heights outside
Bergreichenstein, when we found the way blocked by tanks. Czechs approached
us, demanding we return through the valley to the village from which we had
just come. Unarmed and defenseless, we complied with their orders. But
halfway on our return to the village, German soldiers called out to us,
telling us to turn around and proceed on our intended course. They would
engage the Czechs until the arrival of the Americans and had already alerted
local Sudeten Germans to assist us.
The confusion and the terror we all felt are indescribable; nonetheless,
we turned our wagons around and again proceeded up the mountain. Here I
personally saw a German soldier, who, although the war had already ended,
gave his life to save others. Shot by the Czechs, he fell in the fields,
and I saw him raise up his arms one last time. Minutes later countless
American tanks reached the scene. They yielded the street to us and with
great clamor, passed us in the nearby ditch. Some waved and, indicating we
had nothing more to fear, directed us on to Bergreichenstein. Later we
learned that we had been in a buffer zone between the Americans and the
The Americans accepted the surrender of a German lieutenant while the
others, who had just been waiting for this moment, came forward on their
own accord. The next day, with the permission of the Americans, the
refugees and the German soldiers attended the funeral services for their
fallen comrade in Bergreichenstein. If I seem to be dwelling too long on
this episode, it is because these were unforgettable experiences and because
I was especially moved by the heroic death of this unknown soldier.
At this very time some Bukovina Germans, my relatives among them, were
overtaken by the Russians. After a circuitous route, they were repatriated
to Romania. Seewiesen, in the Bohemian Forest, the
village of my forebears, is one such place to which people from Gurahumora
had fled only to be returned to Romania. Among them were members of the
Welisch and Hellinger families.
And how did we reach Bavaria? We could not stay in the Sudetenland.
From Americans, some of whom spoke German well, we learned they would soon
be withdrawing from the area. That left us no alternative but to keep
moving despite the emaciated condition of our horses. Sudeten-German
farmers helped us where possible and gave us fodder for our draft animals.
Here I have to mention a particular place: Stadeln, a village on a
mountain slope from which we could not proceed farther. An American tank
had broken through the bridge and was half submerged in the stream. Two
soldiers had supposedly been killed in this accident. In Stadeln we were
able to sleep in a bed for the first time since we had left Jungbunzlau.
Little could the local population then suspect that within a very short time
they would be expelled from their homeland and share our fate as destitute
On the following day nothing could delay our departure any longer. After
finding a passable area in the stream, we were on our way. How long it took
us to get to Stubenbach on the Bavarian border, I can no longer recall, but
before we reached it, the Czechs again stopped us. Our party, with wagons
poised in a circular formation in the fields, spent almost a week here.
They even kept us under surveillance at night so we could not escape under
cover of darkness. And only 1 kilometer from the Bavarian frontier!
The Americans negotiated with the Czechs on our behalf about the horses
and wagons. My father, who with other refugees had to be present at these
talks, related that a high-ranking American officer promised the Czechs that
if they allowed us to cross the border, they could then pick up the horses
and wagons. They apparently went along with this arrangement, since we were
permitted to depart. The border remained open only for a few short hours.
Advising us not to stop but to continue in order to put some distance between
ourselves and the frontier, the Americans then prevented the Czechs from
crossing into Bavaria. This we learned from the last refugees permitted to
exit. I felt a debt of gratitude to the Americans even though a few weeks
earlier they had tried to kill us and had seemed eager to dispatch us to
eternity with their air attacks.
Now we were in Bavaria. And our physical appearance! We were indeed in
sad shape after so many weeks on the road: the people ragged and dirty,
the horses down to skeletons, and the wagons on the verge of disintegration.
We were now free to go wherever we pleased, but where? For better or for
worse, it was off to the lowlands to find work.
Zwiesel was the first Bavarian town we reached, since we had been
following forest paths up to this point. The native Bavarians showed
considerable reservation in their relations with us, not really grasping
the full significance of what had happened. In Bernzell, not far from
Zwiesel, we sought a place to spend the night and, above all, water. A
farmer received us most graciously, gave us food and drink, and actually
tied the horses to the haystacks. The next day my father expressed his
gratitude, but the farmer passed it off, noting he was not looking for
thanks and had aided us for the sake of his son, who had not yet returned
from the war.
But at other stops along the way, we often heard a different story:
"Why didn't you stay home? We didn't flee." Yes, I
still ask myself how German people could treat fellow Germans that way.
Wherever Germans settle, they are hard-working and ambitious; and ironically,
prosperous one day and penniless the next. It is relevant here to interject
that the Sudeten Germans as well as the Germans from Bukovina have arisen as
a phoenix out of the ashes by not only successfully establishing themselves
on a sound economic basis but by striking deep roots in their new homeland
Back to my account of our travels to the lowlands of Bavaria. We had
heard from people in the Bavarian Forest, who were themselves by no means
affluent, that well-to-do farmers in the lowlands were looking for field
hands. At Deggendorf we finally reached Lower Bavaria, the so-called
"breadbasket of Germany." Our small group of compatriots from
Bori and Gurahumora stayed in Wallersdorf, a village sorely in need of farm
labor. Wallersdorf has special meaning for us Bukovina Germans since it is
here that many found employment. The tombstones in the Wallersdorf cemetery,
which also indicate the origin of the deceased, bear witness that many
refugees from Bori/Gurahumora found not only a new homeland in this Lower
Bavarian village but also their final resting place.
My memoirs would not be complete if I did not mention my grandmothers,
to both of whom I was very close and with whom I spent much of my time. My
paternal grandmother, Katharina, whose eleven children had all been born in
Bukovina, shared in the experience described above. Her daughter, Margarete
(Reti), and Reti's husband, Josef Hellinger, deserve a special debt of
gratitude from the family for their devotion to my grandmother during our
most trying period. By the time of our flight from Jungbunzlau to
Wallersdorf, Katharina was no longer able to walk or even to stand. Uncle
Josef covered the entire distance by foot, walking next to and guiding the
oxen, so that my grandmother would have room in the wagon. Today both have
found eternal rest and are interred in a common grave in Wallersdorf. The
same and more can be said of maternal grandmother Rosalia who, in addition,
had to sustain the rigors of the flight from Upper Silesia.
While others were more successful, my father could not find work in
Wallersdorf or the surrounding area. The reason was obvious: of the seven
people in our wagon, only three could work; the others included children
and my grandmother Rosalia. After much searching and some rather unusual
overnight accommodations, we finally came to Sondergay through the efforts
of the local church. Here we found work and shelter with a prosperous
farmer who needed someone to milk the cows. By June of 1945 I was already
on the job as a cowherd.
After about a year had passed, my father began to see the futility of
our situation and urged me to learn a trade. To pursue an academic
education in Sondergay was out of the question. Moreover, our employer was
most annoyed when I began my apprenticeship as a mechanic, since he was
losing my services on the farm. Considering my past difficulties in school,
I did not find the courses of study difficult; on the contrary it gave me
great pleasure to work in the shop. For an entire year I walked a
round-trip distance of 6 kilometers to my place of apprenticeship until I
had earned enough to buy a bicycle.
In the third year of my apprenticeship, I sustained a severe injury at
the shop when a driving-belt caught my right leg, dragging me into the belt
pulley. Through the skill of the doctors, my leg was saved, but I was
hospitalized for an entire year. This old injury still causes me
considerable discomfort. Nonetheless, I was able to finish my course of
study with a final grade of "good."
At about this same time, i.e. in 1950, my father had the opportunity
to acquire his own farm. The Land Commission had bought the property of a
larger farmer in Sondergay and made it available on easy credit terms to
refugees formerly engaged in agriculture. Once again we stood at a
crossroads. I had learned a trade and was well on the road to recovery
with every prospect of finding a position as a mechanic. My parents, on
the other hand, whose farm was by now in full operation, needed assistance.
After seriously deliberating the pros and cons of turning to agriculture,
I yielded to my father's wishes and, as the saying goes, put my trade on
ice. My brother Johann was only five years old at the time. With the 1951
fall harvest, I began to work on my parents farm on a full-time basis.
I must confess, I often regretted taking this step because of the hard
work and long hours, but I saw that my parents could not manage their
10-hectare farm alone. Moreover, my father, having risen from field hand
to commercial farmer virtually overnight, was deluged by debts. But through
enormous effort and sacrifice, we, as well as other refugees who had
acquired land, managed to make a success of our enterprise. Starting from
scratch, we again became self-sufficient by the sheer sweat of our brow.
What a tough lot, those German Bohemians! Harried and driven through almost
all Europe through no fault of their own, they again struck roots like
Six years later (1957) I found a mate. My wife Mathilde, a Bavarian,
loved the Bukovian German, Jakob. Ours was a modest wedding since we lacked
the financial means for anything elaborate. But we were happy, which is,
after all, what life is all about.
Jakob and Mathilde Welisch, Sondergay, Bavaria, on their twenty-fifth
wedding anniversary (1982).
My father managed the farm until 1965, at which time he retired and
turned it over to us. Mathilde and I then almost single-handedly ran it
since my parents could no longer perform physical labor. To escape the
isolation of Sondergay, they eventually moved to the larger town of
In time our children, Monika and Reinhard, assisted us with day-to-day
operations. Monika took commercial courses at school and Reinhard, a
dyed-in-the-wool farmer, completed all academic requirements to earn a high
school diploma in agriculture. Since he did not wish to continue his
education beyond this point, we allowed him to operate the farm under our
No longer needed on a full-time basis at home, I took outside employment
as a groundsman at a tennis club. Surprisingly, a difficult period of my
life was about to begin, although few took notice. The tennis club had
thirteen courts marked with red brickdust plus additional grounds and
facilities which had to be tended. Moreover, I now had to develop public
The club attracted an elite clientele: dentists, bankers, professors.
It was I who had to direct them to the courts, that is, I had continuous
contact with them. When the club sponsored tournaments, people came from
far and wide. Please pardon my tone if it now seems self-laudatory, but
with my forty-five years of life experience, I was able to rise to the
occasion and perform my job well. Nonetheless, it was not easy to put in
a seven-day week, from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., be it Sunday, Easter, or
Pentecost, and to be among the tennis players daily. I dare say I was liked
by all, although I cannot rightly say why.
It has been a number of years since I worked at the tennis club, but when
I encounter someone I met there, he invariably comes over to talk to me.
I was there for ten years. In that time I even developed a machine that
would automatically eject the tennis balls. This device functions in all
kinds of weather and under all circumstances when other, more modern ones,
What more shall I tell you of my life? Both our children have married,
and we have become proud grandparents. Now and then our aches and pains
remind us that we are aging. I took an early retirement, perhaps because
of the hard work I had to perform all my life. But if we are needed, we
are always ready to lend a hand.
Since this change in lifestyle I have had more time for reading and
reflection. During one especially pensive mood came the motivation to
commit my memoirs to writing not only that my children and grandchildren
might gain a better understanding of their heritage but that all who are
interested might learn that in far-off Bukovina, there once lived Germans
from the Bohemian Forest who pioneered in its virgin forests and prospered;
that caught up as pawns in international politics, they abandoned their
villages after more that four generations; that no sooner had they resettled
on the outposts of the German Reich, than they were again uprooted and
forced to flee; and that through effort and determination they eventually
became fully integrated into West German society as productive and loyal
My life was in no way unique; what I experienced was shared by tens of
thousands of others, many not as fortunate as I. Some 20 percent of our
Bukovina Germans died on the battlefields, in the bombing raids, at the
hands of the partisans, on the flight to the West, in Soviet labor camps,
and from such war-related causes as malnutrition and lack of medical
attention. Decimated and bereft of our immediate
and ancestral homelands in Bukovina and the Bohemian Forest, we, the
survivors, nonetheless continue to honor the traditions of our fathers
and the altars of our God.
- The religious figure bringing gifts to the children
in German-speaking lands is the Christ child, portrayed by either a male
or female dressed in white with a veiled face. The American Santa Claus,
the jolly, bearded fellow in a red suit, originated as a character drawn
by the German-born Thomas Nast, a cartoonist working for Harper's
Weekly (1862-1886). Albert Bigelow Paine, Thomas Nast: His
Period and His Pictures (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1967), p. 4.
- With the seizure of northern Bukovina by the Soviet
Union on June 28, 1940, fear gripped the population. An eyewitness in
Czernowitz noted that "people stormed trains and buses leaving for
the south. Head over heels they fled their homeland with only the barest
necessities" (Erwin Massier, Josef Talsky and B. C. Grigorowicz [eds.],
Bukowina: Heimat von Gestern [Karlsruhe: Selbsverlag
"Arbeitskreis Bukowina Heimatbuch," 1956], p. 267.). Arbitrary
arrests and deportations, the plundering of homes and shops, and the
confiscation of all private enterprises led to panic and chaos throughout
northern Bukovina. According to Christian Armbrüster, the decision of
the southern Bukovinans to emigrate resulted from "the uncomfortably
close frontier, reports of refugees, the confusion created by the withdrawal
of the Romanian armed forces, continuous requisitions, military maneuvers,
quartering of troops, and the suspicion that this only augured worse to
come" (Deutsch-Satulmare: Geschichte eines buchenländischen
Pfälzerdorfes [Karlsruhe: Verlag Otto Nees, 1962], p. 182.
About 15,000 non-Germans managed to get by the German-Soviet commission
for resettlement in the Reich. Some had German spouses while others were
able to document at least one German grandparent.
- After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia by the
terms of the Munich Accord (1938) and the creation of an independent
Slovakia (March 1939) from rump-Czechoslovakia, Hitler reorganized the
remaining Czech-inhabited lands in Bohemia and Moravia as a protectorate
of the Reich. This move had earlier been ratified under considerable
pressure by Czech President Emil Hacha, who had traveled to Berlin to
discuss the future economic status of these territories. A discussion of
the events leading to the establishment of the protectorate may be found
in Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: Bantam
Books, Harper and Brothers, 1961), pp. 427-33.
- After the unconditional surrender of the Reich on
May 8, 1945, some 40,000 Germans, many of whom had found themselves on
Czechoslovak territory, were forcibly repatriated to southern Bukovina.
Packed into cattle cars leaving from Prague, Troppau, Pilsen, and
Brünn, they were subjected to plunder, privation, and physical
violence until weeks or even months later the trains reached their final
destination. About 1000 northern Bukovinians, whose German citizenship
was not acknowledged by the Soviet Union despite its consent in 1940 to
allow them to emigrate, were deported to labor camps in Stalinabad in the
Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic (Rudolf Wagner, "Die Umsiedlung der
Deutschen in der Bukowina," in Buchenland: 150 Jahre Deutschtum
in der Bukowina, ed. Franz Lang [Munich: Verlag des
Südostdeutschen Kulturwerks, 1961], p.522).
- Alfred Bohmann (Das Sudetendeutschtum in
Zahlen [Munich: Sudetendeutscher Rat, 1959], p. 252) calculates that
3,054,000 Sudeten Germans were expelled from their ancestral homelands after
the end of the war while an additional 241,000 perished in acts related to
the expulsions. The forced exodus of the Sudeten Germans and the atrocities
perpetrated against them are well documented in Wilhelm Turnwald, ed.,
Dokumente zur Austreibung der Sudetendeutschen (Munich:
Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Wahrung Sudeten-deutscher Interessen, 1951), 586 pp.
An abridged English edition of this work is available under the title:
The Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans (Munich:
Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Wahrung Sudeten-deutscher Interessen, 1953), 308 pp.
- Although some 95,000 left Bukovina for resettlement
in the Reich between September and December 1940, only about 80,000 were
German. Of these, Hugo Weczerka (Die Deutschen im Buchenland
[Würzburg/Main: Holzner-Verlag, n.d.], p. 41) estimates that 16,000,
or 20 percent became war casualties.
Top of Page Return to the Bukovina On-Line
since May 1, 2002 Last Revised:
09/25/13 09:11:48 PM