The Expulsion From Brünnt was early in the morning that someone knocked - no, pounded - on my door as hard as he could, probably with a rifle butt, and yelled: "Get out, you German swine, right away, and don't you dare take anything with you or you will be shot." It was an armed Czech that made his orders known in this way. And indeed I was able to take hardly any of my possessions, because I had a three-year-old son whom I still had to push in his carriage. Head over heels I hurried to stuff a tiny carriage pillow with a few things for the child. I put a light blanket into the pram and took the small knapsack, containing a bag of noodles and some dry bread, which I had always used to keep in the air raid shelter. Then I went to the assigned gathering place. When I say "go" or "went", that means at a run and under threat of blows which landed often and well-aimed. I could no longer even cry or complain, for all the degradation, rapes, beatings and humiliation that I had already had to endure had turned my heart to stone. We weren't allowed to cry, anyhow - crying mothers and children were silenced with cuffs and blows. Our guards - "caretakers", as the Czechs called themselves (to me they were fiends) - waited eagerly for any such opportunity, when someone cried, to give free rein to their tyranny and rage.
(The "Death March of Brünn")
by Theresia Beichl, Meisenweg 10, Königsbrunn;
born in Prittlach, South Moravia
It was at Corpus Christi. The gathering point in the Black Fields (suburb of Brünn) was jam-packed with people. Besides the mothers with their children, old and sick people had also been rounded up. We stood there for a very long time. Then our tormentors told us, with much roaring and yelling and many blows, to line up in rows of two to march off. Anyone who did not understand the Czech language and asked his neighbor questions in German was punished with blows to the face. Every blow and every punch was a shock for me that I still have not forgotten. Why do people so grossly maltreat others who have done no wrong? The Germans who had remained in Brünn (many had already fled from the Russians) and had weathered the war to its bitter end in their own four walls had never been on bad terms with the Czechs. On the contrary, we had always shared generously with them what little we had. I would never have believed that a Czech could be so abusive.
Under roared orders and blows from whips we were herded from the Black Fields via the Children's Hospital to Prague Street, where we spent the night crowded together in a courtyard, standing or huddled down. That night was brutal. Time and again Russian soldiers came, the worst of them were the Mongols with their slitty eyes, and dragged women off with them, allegedly to work in the kitchen. They didn't care what age the women were; 14- and 15-year-old girls were also taken for "kitchen duty". Hours later they returned, raped and sobbing. And because they were crying the Czechs threw in some additional blows.
God had mercy on me that night. I had trod that path of suffering already a few days before.
At daybreak the Czech guards came - they were different ones this time, with even more rage and power behind their blows - and drove us like a herd of cattle onto the street. We had to watch captured German soldiers march by while being beaten and spat on by the Czech population. All the Germans had become fair game, and any Czech and Russian could vent whatever brutalities he wanted on us. We had to line up again, and set off on a long trek.
Dear reader, try to imagine that trek of worn-out mothers, sick children and elderly people! We had no idea where we were going. There was a rumor that Czechs wanted to ship us off to Austria, but no-one was sure of it. We covered about 50 kilometers, all on foot. It's not called "the Death March of Brünn" for no reason. I know - I was there.
My hatred for our tormentors grew by the hour. When a mother nurses her baby by the side of the road, or another has warmed some milk for her child over a candle flame, and they have to suffer beatings for it, who could not harbor feelings of hate at such treatment? The most horrible thing I saw was when a young woman lay on a meadow and had just given birth. She screamed and cried, but both she and her newborn were beaten and kicked until they lay dead. They were left there, and I heard our "escort" say: "Let them croak, they're just Germans." I had a fair command of the Czech language and so I was able to understand everything they said.
For a while I was close to collapsing, but I had a child - a hungry, thirsty and frightened child. The incident with the poor mother and newborn had shocked me deeply again, but on the other hand it strengthened my resolve to save my own child.
The march to Pohrlitz slowed down more and more as we were not able to go on further. The roars and beatings from our Czechs increased in number and severity. The dead that lined the road - we lost count of them. Many were beaten or trampled to death.
Where had these tormentors come from, that acted worse than wild animals?!
To keep moving was all I could think of - mute and exhausted, the child in its carriage no less so. We were all so hungry and thirsty but we were forbidden to eat or drink. Furtively I gave my son some of the bread that I had with me, and told him to make it last as long as he could, and if one of these thugs with the whips were to come by, he should take care not to move his mouth. God, what conditions for a bite of bread!
Halfway to Pohrlitz a thunderstorm surprised us, with a heavy downpour that drenched us to the skin. No-one was allowed to seek shelter under one of the trees by the road. I covered my child with the blanket I had taken along, but the rain soaked it and made it so heavy that I had to throw it away. Many Czech inhabitants from the surrounding villages took everything from us that they could get their hands on. A frightened, trembling old man was carrying a small back pack, and suddenly he was yanked out of the line, beaten with a rubber hose, his back pack was searched and when they found an old alarm clock in it he was dragged to the side of the road and beaten until he could no longer move. After all, before starting on this death march we had had to guarantee that we had not taken any valuables from our homes. To the Czechs that old alarm clock was a valuable.
Oh human being, what is left of you! A beaten, outcast, spat-on, violated creature, driven out and tortured to death!
I grew ever more wretched. Only a few days earlier I had been at the height of a bout of purulent tonsillitis and had been tormented and raped by the Russians, who descended like wild animals on us women only when they were drunk. My child was ever a source of strength to me, and I had only one thought - to take him to safety or else die together with him. Sometimes I wonder how a human body was able to survive the strain that this martyrdom inflicted.
It was evening, and we arrived in Pohrlitz at the end of our last ounce of strength. All I remember is that our first lodging must have been a fabric store at one time. The furnishings consisted of nothing but massive shelves, and I laid my tired child and myself on one of those bare boards. The people's faces were puffed up beyond recognition from the many blows they had received, and other body parts such as arms and legs were covered with welts. No end to this torture and no ray of hope were in sight. That night was another night of horror - there was no sleep for us women, only fear of the Russians who of course came to fetch us to "peel potatoes" (that's what they called their atrocities here too).
The Czechs beat us, the Russians raped us. Dear reader, why don't you ask if we couldn't defend ourselves, put up some resistance to all these misdeeds? No, for you see, we were not asked for these services - we were forced at gunpoint. Refusal would have meant certain death.
We spent the next days and nights in a warehouse. The floor was covered with straw, as is usual in stables. Some of us were put into grain silos, where we had to sleep on the bare concrete floor. We lay squeezed together like herrings in a can, the air was bad, there were no sanitary facilities, and illness and disease flourished. Doctors? Medication? None!
We were not "allowed" to be hungry. Every now and then we were given some soup of watered-down roasted flour. Festering feet, the result of our long march, were the order of the day. The worst was diarrhea, dysentery and typhus. As I've said before, there were no sanitary facilities - only a latrine, but the sick people couldn't use that because they were too weak to walk there to relieve themselves. There were two toilets, but only the Czech guard personnel were allowed to use them. An old, beaten-up man always had to clean these toilets, but with his bare hands. The fine gentlemen that could use them to answer their calls of nature did not do so into the toilet bowls, but rather beside them, and deliberately so. One day we found the old man beaten into a dreadful shape, lying dead in front of the toilet door. People were dying like flies in Pohrlitz.
In my desperation - or perhaps it was a message from my guardian angel (I never lost my faith throughout all of this) - I remembered that an aunt of mine, actually a very distant relative, lived in Pohrlitz. Surreptitiously, always in fear of being discovered, I managed to contact her. We prisoners went to a little stream each day to wash ourselves, and on one of these opportunities I went to her and gave her a brief account of my situation. Even though she was a German herself, she was yet allowed to stay in her house, because she worked for a Czech. Through a hole in the fence, her daughter, then eight years old, brought me a bit of warm soup and some nut spirits for the diarrhea.
Dear Mitzi, you live in Vienna today and I am still grateful to you from the bottom of my heart.
Of course our arrangement was found out, and we were threatened that if we dared meet again we would be shot.
We had been in this camp for about fourteen days when we were told that whoever wanted to go on to Austria could walk there - under guard again, of course. I wanted to go; Austria was a ray of hope to me. The trek we started on was just as harsh and difficult as before.
In Nikolsburg we were herded up the Muscherlberg mountain (there was supposed to be a prison at the top). It was a very hot day and the people were parched and begged on their knees for a drop of water. There were wells, and water in them, but we were told that the water was contaminated and not fit to drink, as typhus had broken out everywhere. My child and I could only moan, for we were just as hungry and thirsty as everyone else. Our lips were cracked from the heat and our bodies were drying out. Wretched, abused figures tottered around crying for water. And again many died. I huddled in a corner by the wall with my child and sobbed quietly to myself. Some of our guards had vanished, and we were left to ourselves.
And again a saving grace found me at the last minute. A young man wearing a Czech uniform walked over to us, gave us a canteen with water, looked at us and said in German: "Don't drink, just rinse your mouth!" He left again. We knew each other - in 1941 my husband and I had attended a course in Italian at the adult education center in Brünn, and that young man had had the seat next to ours. I didn't know his name, we had spoken to each other in German in those days and I had been sure that he was a German. But how did he come to wear a Czech uniform? It will be a mystery to me forever, but I owe him the water that saved my life.
We were told that we could now cross the Austrian border, which was very close. The Red Cross was waiting for us, we were told, and we would be fed and taken care of there. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel! We went to the border en masse, but when I saw that the Austrian border guards turned our multitudes back again, I set off on a detour on my own. Red Cross - that had been a filthy, dirty lie, invented out of thin air by the Czechs! There was no Red Cross there, and nobody wanted us. My decision to continue on my own had been the right one, otherwise I would have had to return to one of the Czech mass camps, and would have perished there like so many others.
Drasenhofen was the first village on Austrian soil that I reached. On the roads and streets I met many mothers with their children wh had also broken out of the marching column and struck out on their own. Old people were fewer and farther between; they had all died. Everyone's goal was to reach Vienna. It was already a pleasure for me to be on Austrian soil and to be able to speak German again. An older woman who lived in a single-story yellow house in Drasenhofen took us in for the night. We got a bit of bread to eat, and a bed was readied for us in a chamber. I was happy. Just once I would have a peaceful night's rest. But in the middle of the night there was a pounding on my door, and in came four stone-drunk, dirty Russians, pulled me out of bed like a piece of meat and dragged me into another room, where all four of them victimized me. I should have known that this area was occupied by Russians, and that every Red soldier was under orders from Stalin to rape the German women wherever and however they could. [In his three volumes War, 1942-1943, Soviet propaganda minister Ilya Ehrenburg exhorted the Red soldiers:] "The Germans are not human beings. For us there is nothing more amusing than German corpses." (The original of this appeal for extermination is held at the Political Archives of the Foreign Office in Bonn.) (cf. Erich Kern, Verheimlichte Dokumente: Was den Deutschen verschwiegen wird, p. 354.)
I had believed myself safe on Austrian soil too soon. Now I was totally at the end of my tether, I was sicker than ever and could hardly walk a step anymore. But I wanted to get to Vienna, I wanted to take my child to safety and Vienna was still so far off.
I wandered from one village to the next, avoiding the Russian camps, to which the Austrians alerted me, I knocked everywhere but hardly a door was opened to me. "We're full up with refugees from South Moravia," I was always told. (Refugees is not the correct term, since we were all expellees.) I believed it, because all of South Moravia, which was after all a German region, had been going to Austria. We all had relatives and acquaintances there. I constantly hoped to meet up with my parents along my way, which they had probably also gone. Hunger and thirst were our constant companions. The most crushing reply I would get was "we don't take women with children." When anyone felt sorry for us, they would send us to the goat shed, gave us a bundle of straw, and we could rest our weary heads there. We were also relatively safe from the Russians there. We were no longer beaten, but the Russian soldiers were all the more terrible in their rage. In the village of Schrick, where we were allowed to stay the night in the goat shed, we were also given a glass of goat's milk in the morning, but we vomited it up again right away because our starved stomachs could not handle the rich milk. On we went towards Vienna, but not on the roads, rather, across the fields, so that the Russians would not see us. The streets were overcrowded anyhow with droves of people who all wanted to move on and on. In every town many had to stay behind because they were simply not able to travel further. They died of exhaustion and diseases. There is not a village or town along the way from Drasenhofen to Vienna that does not have a memorial plaque in its cemetery, stating how many expellees lie in the mass graves there.
My shoes had worn out, the soles were falling off, and so I trekked on barefoot. I went on for a week, trudging from town to town like a beggarwoman. Most of the places we passed through were farming villages, and we would be given the occasional chunk of bread. But there were also many curse words for us, from trash to tramp to Nazi swine. And this was in Austria!
Finally we arrived in the town of Wolkersdorf. The baby carriage had also broken in the meantime and I pushed it on three wheels for the last few miles. On the way there I already learned from native villagers that my parents were in Wolkersdorf, working for a farmer and terribly worried about me. They had also been expelled from their house and home in Prittlach, South Moravia. I, on the other hand, had studied in Brünn, married in Brünn, lived in Brünn, and thus my odyssey of suffering had also begun in Brünn.
I found my parents, but they barely recognized me, as emaciated, sick and tired as I was. The same went for my child. We fell into each other's arms, all of us wept bitterly, but there was no real joy. The farmer took me in with great displeasure, but I had to promise to be on my way again in a week. I was just grateful to be able to spend a few days in safety and security.
My greatest wish is that the future will never permit such disgraceful happenings again!