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Flight and Expulsion

  1. The Last Days of Sekitsch
  2. The Trek
  3. keywords translated by Rosina T. Schmidt

The Last Days of Sekitsch
By Jacob Lohrmann Sr.

The summer in 1944 is nearly over. It is still warm. There is much to do and, luckily, little time to rest and think. It keeps us from realizing that not only the summer is nearing an end! Propaganda has it that the German armies are still victorious on all fronts, but reality belies this claim: Only few men can be seen in town - those who, because of advanced age, were spared displaying the insignias of war. But there are other signs as well of the precarious situation: the shortage of clothes is so great that they can only be bought on the black market at high prices.
The last pigs are butchered; there is no lack of bread. Otherwise, fresh meat from the butcher is hard to come by and slaughtering more pigs at home has been prohibited because the serum needed to vaccinate them is not available.
And again and again reports from the different frontlines that this father or that brother, son or friend has been killed! The bereaved widows show exceptional courage: many do the missing husband´s tasks under great sacrifice. Thus, Mrs. X lost her leg when harvesting the corn.
Rumor has it that when Csanád was recaptured by German troops, a number of German victims presumably executed by the Russians were found. When, additionally, the news spreads that the people from the Banat are already fleeing their towns, there is no longer any doubt that the Soviet Army and the Yugoslav partisans are indeed very close. This news and the rumors make it evident to the mayor and his staff that departure with a trek would be a dangerous undertaking. They are advised to escape by cars made available, but refuse the offer.
At the same time a Serbian woman appears who tries to relate her own eye-witness report of the fate of some of the "Schwaben." We are, however, only able to communicate with sign language and fail to realize what will expect us until this woman proceeds to dramatize the horrors in the typical balkanese way of wailing and crying. Even with this knowledge we proceed with our chores until the very last hour-to-be, then to say farewell and enter upon the flight from a doomed town.
Saturday, October 7th, 1944 - Where´s the Mayor?
Rumor had it that the mayor had disappeared. In this situation, unrest completely adjusted to the rumor.
Sunday, October 8th - Preparing to Leave
The mayor returned after a successful trip to Kernei where he was assured that we would be provided a military escort for our trek. During all of Sunday there was a steady to-and-fro between family members, to discuss what still had to be done.
Many started busying themselves with butchering pigs on the sly for food for the trip, and packing - while all among complaints were lodged that foreign-speaking soldiers had taken away a horse or a wagon, or forced someone to run an errand.
And now the announcement for the next day: "We will meet at midnight at the town hall and church for departure!" This decision, inconceivable even for those who were responsible, was followed by a last round through town. It was during this tour that Sekitsch appeared lovelier than ever.
That same evening two men from nearby Stari Becey arrived to report that the town had been occupied by Russian troops. Now, that departure had become inevitable, we considered a few moments of rest to be necessary. Before this could happen, though, I received the next order to appear at the town hall immediately. On the way I noticed that there was light at our neighbor´s home: he, too, had been ordered to appear. Arriving at the town hall, we were received by a soldier who ordered us to leave as soon as possible. When we replied that we were about to leave at midnight, as everyone had been instructed, he made clear the urgency of an immediate departure.
He emphasized his point by kicking in the door leading to the room where the drums - our instruments since the beginnings of Sekitsch for spreading news - were stored. A few young boys were told to walk up and down the streets and to beat the drums without letup to inform the people of our immediate departure.
This was the beginning of the ensuing sad and fate-ridden times: the farewell from our loved ones who were to remain behind. I feel unable to describe the moment of farewell from my 86-year-old mother - a farewell forever.
Despite having to abandon what had been achieved in more than a century-and-a-half, many gathered at the meeting place to join us, barely after having finished the day´s chores. In addition to the fact that there were not enough wagons to accommodate all, other difficulties arose.
As the crowd slowly gathered, with small bundles and packages piled on top of the wagons or carried in their hands, it was greeted by a well-meaning but misinformed member of the Wehrmacht. His attempt at calming down the people was rooted in the fact that he had just arrived from the relatively remote Belgrade where he hadn´t been able to detect any signs of an immediate danger. Meanwhile the Soviet troops had already reached the barely 12-mile distant Stari Becey.
And then another misconception, that the young drummers had been drunk and had engaged in a mean prank. What would later cost most lives, however, was the complete lack of guilt felt by the Sekitscher. This was to result in disaster: many of the wagons carrying the people and their sparse belongings that had come, ready to leave, turned around and went home. What good did it now do to convince this soldier of the immanent threat? What good did it do to say that the drummers were anything but drunk? What good did the knowledge do that the people had indeed done nothing wrong, except for what they thought was their duty, derived from a misguided devotion to the country of their origin?
Now was the moment of truth: flee or turn around and go home! Who had the more difficult choice - one involving a sorrowful parting in any case?
Monday, October 9th - The First Day of Departure
392 Persons, 64 Wagons, 87 Horses and 50 Miles
We in the trek said a last farewell when, at dawn, we reached an elevation from which we had our final view of whole town. "A final view" - a phrase ambiguous in meaning, for it was then that each one of us said farewell to Sekitsch from a different perspective: the one knew that this was indeed a last farewell, another might have sensed it. Still others were convinced that, shortly, or at least "in the evening after the war," they would again retire in their featherbeds. No one, however, could possibly envision the savage post-war destruction and starvation and murder of those who had remained behind! On our passage through Hegyes - a Hungarian village to the north - people again appeared to say goodbye. Beyond Hegyes we discovered that the guards of a bridge had been withdrawn, with only a few from the neighboring town of Feketitsch remaining as a sentinel. It was then that, because the bridge was still open, the mayor decided to return to appeal to the remaining townspeople to leave, unfortunately without success. After reaching the county seat of Topola, a German officer ordered us to proceed at a trot. We were informed that the main road leading north was already under siege, so we took a left turn towards Moravica. Arriving there at noon, we were again ordered to continue immediately since we were three hours behind schedule What a relief it was to be assigned a military escort there for the first time. Another encounter in the afternoon with another officer, this time a staff officer. Again, the order to continue. Upon his question about the makeup of our group, we reported: 392 persons, 64 wagons and 87 horses. When he expressed the hope that we had at least brought the fittest along, we had to admit the sad fact that, for instance, of the 162 young girls of the town, only 30 had joined the trek. His only reply was: "My God, don´t they realize what will happen to them?"
Late in the evening of October 9th, we arrived in Bács Almás - dead tired from the 50-miles of trekking on an unusually hot day. In the evening, it started to rain. Spending a rainy night in a ditch next to the open road might have been the delight of adventuresome youngsters. But this experience, along with the arduous demands of that first day, would exact a toll!
Tuesday, October 10th - First Casualties
The next morning, after we discovered that most houses had already been abandoned, an indescribable and time-consuming turmoil developed. Despite efforts on part of the trek leaders to keep their convoys in line, no one was willing to follow the instructions and insisted on making up his own rules, i.e.: to be the first one to leave. This hopeless melee reached a climax just as an air raid alarm was sounded, whirling the uncountable vehicles into chaos. This air raid, fortunately with no casualties, had a sobering effect and soon served to reestablish order by rocking the people back into their senses. The trip could now continue.
At noon of the second day, a day incredibly hot for the month of October, we reached Jánoshalma, We were told that the Russian troops had already occupied a neighboring town. This, and the unbearable stress we had had to endure made our nerves to stand on edge. To no surprise, some older members of the group had become mentally deranged and wanted to go home to die there. It took a lot of convincing to hold them back!
After a short, but restless break, we continued towards the border of the Batschka region to arrive in Hajos in the late afternoon. We spent the night as best we could: many in the streets, some in the hallways of houses, and a few - the lucky ones - inside. We left the next day among a great deal of apprehension. All of us had only one thought in mind: "If we were only on the other side of the Danube!" We had to spend the night in the side streets of a village because we were not allowed to park our wagons on the main road. Since most women were unaccompanied, we took it upon ourselves to lodge them in an inn. The others were again forced to sleep in the streets. When we awoke the next morning, we found a wagon blocking our path: the coachman was dead!
Wednesday, October 11th - Crossing the Danube
We passed through Kalocsa where we received a hot meal for the first time: potato soup. The next day we came closer and closer to safety: at night we finally crossed the Danube at Dunaföldvár. With this river as a protective band behind us, we breathed a sigh of relief.
In the afternoon in Cece we decided to spend the next day recuperating. Somewhere off, about five miles, there was said to be a German village. The seven miles turned out to be nine which took us so long to cover that we only arrived there late at night. The townspeople of Bikács didn´t exactly welcome us because they feared air raids due to our presence. But we insisted on staying in order to use the time to shoe the horses with horseshoes provided by the Wehrmacht and to repair the wagons. After this very necessary rest, on we went! When we left we were sure of one thing: that the people of Bikács were very happy to get rid of us.
Sunday, October 15th - Surrender of Hungary and Fascist Coup
It was now almost a week since we had left Sekitsch. In the afternoon - we were now in Enying - the news overwhelmed us that Hungary had surrendered! This exposed us to the danger of being sent back. Now, no one was any longer concerned about relaxing or resting. We urged on as long as our horses and our legs would carry us. We spent the night somewhere on a country road - dead tired once again! Early in the morning we left, completely speechless - the most obvious sign of shock and of a premonition of what was to come! "Forward! Just keep moving!" was the order of the day. Then, during the course of the morning, we hear that everything was back to "normal" again. We had to admit that we were happy the war would continue. We finally and ploddingly passed the highly praised Lake Balaton, which had probably never before witnessed as piteous an assembly of humans as presented by these fugitive convoy. In the afternoon we reached the city of Veszprém where we spent the night on a meadow.
Tuesday, October 17th - Three Weeks´ Respite
Leaving in a northerly direction in the morning, we arrived in Bakony Gyepes in the evening - where we were to spend the next three weeks.
After this time it proved impossible to remain there any longer: the front lines were closing in on us and defense units were taking our place. We were to leave early in the morning to head for two towns assigned to us: Dabrony and Nagy Alason. Considering the possibility of air raids, we were advised to reach our destination before dawn.
Friday, November 10th - Farewell to Our Loved Ones
This was another day of saying farewell: we had to part with our nineteen-year-old daughter and thirteen-year-old son, who were sent west by train - a consolation!? Our announced departure at midnight caused a great deal of disquiet since no one could understand the reasons for having to leave at this early an hour. But finally we started to move. We not only left Bakony Gyepes behind, but also our friend Gottfried Bürger who had passed away there. We were exceptionally fortunate to have Ms. Katharina … (nee Scheer), a trained nurse, with us.
When we arrived in Dabrony/Nagy Alason, we found that the military had already been quartered there. But with the aid of a captain of the Luftwaffe, the problem was soon satisfactorily solved. At last, a friendly welcome; the townspeople were obviously eager to make our stay as endurable as possible by providing us with groceries, meat and flour. This situation was ended four days later when we received orders to move on at noon. On this day we also received the unmistakable news that Russian troops had entered Sekitsch on November 6th. This would shatter the hopes of even the greatest optimist that we would soon be able to return home. On the way from Dabrony-Nagy Alason we passed through the village of Sárvár to, again , spend the night on the street. There we buried another member of our group: Ms. Burger.
Tuesday, November 14th - "Heim ins Reich"
Early in the morning we passed through Ödenburg/Sopron to reach the Austrian border later that afternoon. A customs officer greeted us with "Welcome on German soil" - so Germany still existed!? We continued, this time on "German" soil. Nevertheless, this did not spare us from having to spend the first night on the street, since other treks had become stuck. As it turned out, all the roads ahead were jammed with convoys of refugees. Near Wiener Neustadt, Ms. Kinkel, well advanced in age, died.
Wednesday, November 15th - The Ruins of Vienna
It was noon when we arrived at Wiener Neustadt, only to become involved in an air raid. We remained unharmed, however. Since we had crossed the border we were regularly supplied with food - not much, but enough. Even the horses got their feed. At Tulln we crossed the Danube.
When we were in Stockerau, we were forced to put in a day of rest - the last sojourn of the trip. We replaced the rundown and disabled horses. On this trip we were to see Vienna from a distance and, for the first time for most of us, the devastations of the air raids. From now on we had a steady escort, from time to time relieved by others.
Sunday, November 19th - Wartime Carnival and a Yugoslav Prisoner of War
Arriving in Kettlasbrunn on a Sunday, there was a church fair going on full swing. Some of us were fortunate enough to be invited as guests.
At dusk an excited Yugoslav prisoner of war approached us to make sure that he had heard right when told that refugees from Sekitsch had arrived. When he was convinced, his joy knew no end. But the story of the events back home left him disconsolate. He just couldn´t imagine that things had come to this and repeatedly assured us that we were his friends and fellow countrymen. For us, too, this had been true before the insanities of different ideologies had taken hold of our lives.
From Kettlasbrunn we drove northeast towards Glatz. Everywhere we met people who expressed great sympathy with our fate. Some offered a cigarette, others, perhaps a piece of bread, still others an item of clothing. We knew that there was no abundance of the bare essentials and, therefore, appreciated the gesture all the more. This compassion, we found, was most sincere among people who, in the course of history, were again and again tossed from one extreme to another: people from border regions. Beyond Glatz the roads were no longer crowded and we were able to advance towards Bunzlau (Lower Silesia) at a rather swift pace. A friendly welcome in Bunzlau after the two-month long ordeal gave rise to the hope that we would soon reach our final destination.
Thursday, December 13th - The Remaining 85
In the afternoon arrived in Seiffersdorf (Erzgebirge, or Ore Mountains) via Lauban, where we were welcomed by a social worker. Even though we had to spend the first night at an inn, we were assigned quarters immediately after supper. Every effort was made to render the situation of the remaining 85 Sekitscher as tolerable as possible. As mentioned, we had left Sekitsch with 392 persons. By a count In Bakony Gyepes the number had grown to 420. Already in Dabrony/Nagy Alason we had to part with a number of handicapped persons and children who were transported west by train. On the further trip a few of us left to join members of their families they had located. And then there were those who had died. Here in Seiffersdorf we again met a few Yugoslav prisoners of war who welcomed us as compatriots. The situation remained calm here since air raids were seldom.
Finally, 28 days after Dabrony/Nagy Alason - with only one single day of rest - we were able to relax and recuperate. Our hosts exceeded our expectations and treated us like their own. We got the same food and clothes rations and were very kindly received. During our two-months´ stay, a few Sekitscher on leave from the front lines joined us; others left to search for relatives. However, this interim was to end when a steady stream of refugees clearly indicated that the war´s finale stood before. When it became a matter of certainty that we had to leave, we silently began to bundle our belongings. Since only a few horses were left, our hosts offered to give us a lift.
This time everything went in slow motion; we were able to cover only little ground. Fortunate for us was the fact that there was little snow and there were no air raids. We passed though Brüx, Dux, Teplitz, Klösterle and approached Karsbad. We spent the night there to continue in the direction of Chodau the next day. To allow for greater mobility, I now had to split up the trek.
Monday, March 5th, 1945 - The Messengers of War
We arrived in Stelzengrün/Braunsdorf (then Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia). Though the region is quite poor, the people were very friendly. We now frequently had to go to other towns in the area: Falkenau for allowances, Ellbogen, for clothing and kitchen utensils. You could clearly sense the closeness of war; the bombings of Falkenau, Karlsbad and Chodau removed all doubts we might have had. There was also no doubt that the end was near: everywhere edgy and hasty preparations for the departure - where to? - were being made, while from afar we could hear continuous explosions. Then, too, fears of revenge or mob attacks left everyone in a state of despair.
Then, finally,
The spell is broken, the Americans have arrived! We all breathe a sigh of relief: the war is over and the fears many had did not come true; the anxieties had been unfounded. Quite on the contrary: the crew of the tanks entering the town appeared with a very friendly smile. But the other side of the coin: the pitiable scene of the unending stream of prisoners of war marching past us into detention. Was the war over for them, too?
After twelve fugitive weeks we had by now dwindled from 392 to 24 tattered refugees and one worn out horse!

Jacob Lohrmann Sr., the author of this article, was a native of Sekitsch who had emigrated to New York after World War I. During the Great Depression he was able to save enough money to return to Sekitsch, which he and his family did in 1938, then to be caught by the war. At the time of these events, Mr. Lohrmann, even as an American citizen, was vice mayor of Sekitsch. This is why this report is to be considered factual and authentic.
The report was written in 1946, shortly after the return of the Lohrmann family to New York. Mr. Lohrmann passed away in 1973 and is buried within view of the Empire State Building where he had worked as a construction worker.

Jacob Lohrmann Jr.

The Trek

The preparation for the evacuation of Sekitsch began in September 1944, as the first refugees from Romania already moved through the Batschka. On the 8th of October 1944 the instructions came from the regiment commander of the 31st grenadier division in B. Topola to carry out the evacuation immediately, on a voluntary basis at first. Up to midnight about 80 to 85 horse drawn carriages turned up between the mill and the pharmacy and in Kula Street up to the village edge with about 500 people prepared to flee.
On the morning of the 9th of October the reduced trek arrived in B. Topola. Many decided on such short notice to still not leave the homeland. So the village group leader drove to Sekitsch one more time and announced through drumbeats that anyone willing to flee to turn up in front of city hall. Now many people came, but there were only 8 carts to take out on the trek.
In the night of the 9th on the 10th of October the trek arrived in Bácsalmás. On the 12th of October they reached Kalosca and on the 13th of October at night the trek went over the Danube near Dunaföldvar. On the 14th of October the trek received the customer from the capitulation of Hungary. On the 17th of October the trek reached Bakony-Gyepes. There they stayed for three weeks until the 10th of November when they went further in the direction of Dabrony-Nagy Alason. In Sárvár they went back on the road again. On the 14th of November in the morning they reached Ödenburg (Sopron) and on the 15th of November they entered the Viennese Neustadt. There the trek was surprised by an air raid alarm, however they were spared. Near Tulln they passed the Danube. From Kettlasbrunn they went further in a northeasterly direction, towards Glatz. On the 14th of December the trek entered into Seiffersdorf. After a many week stay the trek, which still consisted of 85 people, set in motion and on the 5th of March 1945 entered in Stelzengrün-Braunsdorf. After a flight of 12 weeks there are still 24 people and 1 horse in the group since many handicapped and sick people, as well as children, had to leave the trek in Dabrony-Nagy Alason and carry on the flight by train.

The flight from the homeland cost the following people of the trek their lives.

Franz Becker was shot on 10/9/1944 on the way to B. Topola.
Philipp Thomas was shot on 10/9/1944 on the way to B. Topola.
Gottfried Burger, died in 1944 in Bakony - Gyepes, Hungary.
Ms. Burger, died in 1944 in Sárvár, Hungary.
Ms. Kinkel, died in 1944 in Neufeld, Austria.
Christian Bieber, died in 1945 in Forst, Lausitz.
see above