A Partial History of the Anton Tuchscherer Family
Written by Agatha Tuchscherer (nee Janer) in 1988-2002
Translated by Maria Tuchscherer, daughter of Anton and Agatha
My name is Agatha Tuchscherer, maiden name Janer. I was born on June 25,1915 in Colelia, Romania. At age 20, I married Anton Tuchscherer, also born in Colelia. We had two children, our son, Josef, was born on March 16,1935 in Colelia, Romania and our daughter, Maria, was born on December 21,1943 in Netztahl, Poland.
The year that changed our lives forever was 1940. The German government had made an agreement with Romania to repatriate all German settlers who lived in various European countries. This pact was made against the will of our people, who were living contently in rustic but peaceful villages. Land developed by several generations of our people, through back-breaking labour, into productive small farms, was sold back to Romania. On the 20th of November 1940, we left our houses, our farm yards still stocked with animals and crops, under strict supervision of German military guards. We were promised full compensation for all we had left behind...a promise never fulfilled, but for a token financial payout 30 years later.
We arrived bewildered in Bavaria,Germany, on November 28,1940. Once free farmers in single family homes, we were herded into a Catholic convent. The crowded living conditions with 14 families, many with very young children in one room, were hell. The crying children, parents screaming at them and at each other, never seemed to stop day or night. We were told we would be accommodated in our new homes within weeks, but the ordeal continued until July 20,1942.
Our new homes were not as promised, instead, we had to prepare for another major move, this time to Poland. Another country just as strange to us as was Germany. No one was happy with this decision. We had been happy in Romania and felt we should protest but no one was allowed to decline. The only alternative was a concentration camp, therefore, our choice was clear. We were taken by train to Litzmannstadt, Poland, where we were once again housed in a "Lager" (camp) for 5 days.
On July 28, 1942 we arrived in Schadki (Netztahl in German). The Poles had to move out in order to accommodate us. Our home was a 2 room dwelling consisting of a bedroom and a kitchen. The furnishings, dishes and other basics were supplied. Because we had been farmers in Romania, we were committed to be farmers in our new land. The crops were ready to be harvested and within a week we had to begin to prepare the horses for harvesting. There was only one threshing machine for all of us and as one farmer's land was cleared, the machine was moved to the next field. However, more difficult than this, was the learning of a new language. We worked along side Polish speaking people and our hired help were also Polish. We were commanded to seed so many hectares of land and eventually we were given 23 hectares as our own.
The type of crops were also dictated in that we had to plant wheat, potatoes, beets and chicory. All of this had to be delivered as was ordered. Of the livestock, we were allowed one and a half chicken per person for our own use and from the rest of the poultry we had to deliver approximately 1500 eggs a year from each hen . If one failed to comply, a hefty fine was imposed. It was similar with livestock and all of it had to be given to the government for slaughter.
My husband Anton was not able to learn a lot about his new farm. On February 20,1943, he received a telegram to report to Braschnitz, Ostpreusen on February 28. He would be enlisted in the German army with my brother Jacob Janer, who never returned to us again. Anton was later sent to Norway so that throughout the war he was fortunate never to be near the Front. The wives remained at home and with the help of the hired hands, carried on the farming as before. I was young and was happy to have something to do.
By now I was fluent in Polish and had good people who worked for me. They were faithful and hard workers. The Deputat (hired man) had 2 children who also helped in the summertime. Of course the wages were also dictated to us and children got paid daily, the Deputat and maid were paid monthly. Our maid, Maria, worked side by side with me and helped me take care of the swine. My livestock consisted of 10 Milk cows, who had to be milked 3 times a day. With all of these responsibilities I needed help with the house work and Maria aided me with that. Nothing was easy to obtain if we were in need of something. We felt like "Zigeuner" (gypsies who beg) and were always bidden to present a requisition in person in order to state our needs. Not having any other form of transportation, I had to learn to ride a bicycle and rode many kilometers to do these errands.
With the war still in progress, we lived in constant fear and anxiety about our loved ones in the army. No one related any news to us and we were too afraid to ask because we knew the alternatives...concentration camp or death. In 1944 there were public meetings, which we were summoned to attend, and suggestions were made to rehoove the horses and to have enough food ready for the children in case we had to flee again. However, the bureaucrats optimistically told us not to worry.
Then, it came all too quickly! On the night of January 18,1945, a bitter cold night, found the Burgermeister (Mayor) at my window yelling " Frau Tuchscherer, go quickly, the Russians are here!" My shock at these words immobilized me for several minutes. My two children, Josef, now eight years old and Maria only 13 months were my first concern in preparing for our safety. So at dawn, on January 18,1945, we left our home once again in our horse-drawn wagon and our hired man. Our flight had a difficult beginning but it worsened as time passed. Thousands of people tried to squeeze onto the narrow, icy roads. One after the other they formed a caravan, a slowly moving caravan into the unknown. There were many accidents, wagons rolling into the ditch or horses falling on the ice, this made the already grim situation even worse. We had left our home on a Thursday but by Sunday my fate befell my worst fears. At four in the morning, on January 21, I had an accident with our wagon. The horse was unable to pull the heavy load on the icy road and must have slipped because we were suddenly capsized into the ditch. Josef was pinned under all the luggage which was extremely heavy since I had packed everything from clothing, meat, bread and cookies for our journey. All of this was frozen solid and was now crushing my son beneath.
Maria was 13 months that day. She was also pinned under the wooden slats and seriously injured on her left side. All of a sudden she stopped crying and I knew she must be dead. Behind us we saw German soldiers who had heard the racket and came to help us to free the children. We were safe again but here we were in the middle of the forest and a thick fog had begun to settle on that morning. We were also not allowed to use bright lights because the bombers were flying above ready to drop death where there seemed to be life. However, the soldiers helped us to leave the forest and we were on our way...to God knows where.
We were eventually encountered by Red Cross workers who helped us onto another wagon which took us to a place called Exin, where we arrived at daybreak. There I was to receive medication and bandages for the little one's wounds.
The wagon, which had the children, was to wait for us in Exin but somehow they continued on and by the time I checked for them, they had already left the area. Among the thousands of wagons I couldn't distinguish one from the other, especially the one which carried my children. I had never felt such anguish and fear. The nuns tried to console me that we would find the children, yet no one called to inquire whether anyone had lost children. I stayed with the nuns for a little while longer but suddenly tore myself away and began to run in the direction I thought my children had been last seen. I was crying and praying loudly, but no one asked what was wrong or paid any attention to me. They all had their own sorrow. The Russians were very near and people were running for their lives.
As I ran blindly, not knowing where, I often fell due to the ice but I felt nothing but hope and trust in God that I would find my children. Eventually an S.A. officer stopped to pick me up in his car and he took me to Alburkund, about 22 km. from Exin. I knew I would find my children there, I just knew it. Nothing in this world could be worse than losing one's children, living, breathing children. I wandered the whole day Sunday and then a miracle occurred. Late in the afternoon daylight was waning and a calm had settled over the town, when suddenly, a small wagon appeared with two "Hitlerjugend" (Hitler's youth) boys atop the wagon and beside them my two children! I yelled even louder as I recognized my son by his clothing and I cried tears of joy to see him. The baby was frozen stiff having wet herself and not being changed. Her little fingers would have broken off had I tried to move them.
We think that we can die from hunger if we haven't eaten for a few days, but I learned that that isn't true. I nourished my child of 13 months with three pieces of hard black bread and snow for ten days. I begged for those three pieces of bread which was very humiliating, I was used to giving, not taking, but I knew I had to save her. Children cry when they are hungry and cold. When she would cry I would put snow in her mouth to appease her. She would then go to sleep more or less contented. It took ten days to cross the German border on foot. I had to carry the baby and Josef walked by my side. I had saved only one blanket from all my treasured fine linens, clothing, dishes and important papers, all was lost. The blanket was wet and gradually frozen because I had no means with which to change the baby. I had wrapped my coat around the children when we were still on our wagon and of course that was gone too. I, like my children, had no warm clothing in the bitter cold. The cold was so severe, my fingers were frozen and it was unbearable to hold the child any longer. I decided we would all die together and threw the baby into the ditch. I said to Josef, "Come sit beside me and we will sit here until we die." He cried and said "But Mama, we can't let the baby freeze to death here." I came to my senses and dragged myself to the bottom of the ditch, picked her up and we continued wearily, starved and cold, on our way. We followed people on foot, never knowing where they were going but hoping to safety. Everyone rested at night and early in the morning we would start off again. Then one morning the alarm came that the Russians were very near. No one wanted to take me along on their wagon so I continued to walk. The fire from the grenades was flying over our heads but we continued on. All at once a teacher offered me a lift and wouldn't allow anyone to pass until I was settled in the wagon. I'm sure we wouldn't be here today if they hadn't taken us along. He and his wife were “Russland's Deutsche” who also left Russia in 1944 because of Hitler.
We finally crossed the border at Weiksel where we had to cross a bridge over the frozen river Weiksel. We were safely on the other side when we heard the cracking of the ice from the weight of the wagons and many people perished in the icy water. Then the worst happened. The Russians were on the other side and blasted the bridge with several bombs. Many people were still crossing and were now hanging in bits on the trees, in the water and on the ice. Small children, the unborn were all massacred.
Once we arrived in Germany I had to leave the kind people and their wagon and I was once again on foot. I met an older couple who took me in for the night. They gave me warm food and water so that I could clean myself and the children. After 12 days it felt so good to be clean again! The next day I took a train west. It didn't cost anything to ride the train and even if it did I had no money, not a Pfennig! I arrived in Berlin but knew no one. I couldn't contact my mother or my sister who were also to travel to Berlin. I had no change of clothing for any of us and also didn't know anyone to whom I could I could turn to for help. I had always been very shy and found it very difficult to ask for anything. I stayed in Berlin two days and three nights which was a mistake. The bombs fell like rain and every two minutes there was another blast. We were in a bunker with many other people but there was nowhere else to go. By the third day I felt I had to leave, I had had enough and decided to try to go to Lülsfeld where we had been placed from 1940 to 1942. However, upon arrival I made a bad decision. I should have gone to the Bürgermeister (mayor) for assistance, but I didn't know one could do that. Consequently I ended up at Friedrich's. Frau Friedrich was a very mean, malicious person. They were farmers so I had to work on the field, darn socks, spin wool and knit late into the night, seven days a week.
The Friedrichs lived in filth, worse than we had to endure on our flight. She beat and abused my children, cursed us, cheated us of food and mistreated me any way she could. It was a sad existence with no end in sight. I received no money for the work and after three years it finally ended. I had arrived in Lülsfeld in February 1945 and had written to my husband in Norway to tell him we had lost everything. He had written once and that was my only contact from him. If he did write more often the letters never reached me. Later I learned that he didn't receive my letters either and the year passed with the fear that we would never be united again.
The war finally ended in May 1945 and I had heard nothing from my mother, Senfarosa. My father had died in the first World War before I was two years old. My only brother died in Russia in 1943 so I had only my sister, Martha, left. I didn't know whether she was alive or where she might have been sent. Life went on and on November 1,1945 I had just come home from a Mass for the soldiers, who had died in the war, when a knock came at the door. My husband, Anton, stood there! The shock was overwhelming, but only part of my pain was relieved. I had still not heard of my mother or my sister.
On October 14, 1946 my husband was in Schweinfurt where he worked for the American Army as a prisoner of war. A Frau Euring, whom I had met several years before, was at a hospital visiting a patient. My husband happened to be visiting his mother, who was very ill, at the same hospital. Frau Euring recognized Anton and said that my mother and sister were both in Schweinfurt. They had been in a Lager (camp) for a month and had no idea were I was. We were only a few kilometers apart. I immediately went to Schweinfurt to see Frau Euring and she told me where I might find my sister and my mother. Martha had had three children when she left Poland. Like me, she had lost everything, including two children who died of starvation during the flight. The eldest, a daughter Hermina, survived. My mother was also ill and they were living in a barn for five days without food and water after the Polish army had driven them out of their home. They were eventually removed to the Lager where my sister had to work very hard under the strict eye of a polish army officer. They were somewhat fortunate in that they could milk one of the cows in the barn but they did not have one dish to use for meals, such as they were. My young nephews, ages 13 months and 5 weeks old, died 11 days apart. Another son would be taken from her in 1953 when he died as a baby. In retrospect we felt fortunate to be alive and together again, although we had lost a brother and she had to leave 2 children to be buried.
Germany was not the promised land we had hoped for after the war was lost. It wasn't our “Fatherland” and we felt very strange in our new country. Germany was almost completely destroyed from the bombings and there was plenty of work to be had. My husband had always been a very hard worker and he was able to find a job as construction worker in Würzburg, where we lived from 1946 to 1952. The ravages of the war and the devastated cities and towns were only too near to the fear we had experienced, thoughts of moving to a better land were always on his mind.
Fortunately, he had a sister, Julia Friedrich, in Canada and the authorities suggested that anyone who had relatives overseas should apply to that country. I didn't want to start all over again, another new country, to be apart from my family and to be a stranger in a country with a different language and customs. However, the memory of war was still very fresh and I agreed to go, to find peace. So on December 9,1952 we left by train to Rotterdam to sail on the Maasdam, a Dutch ship. After an eight day journey of stormy winter seas, we landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We took a train from Halifax to Montreal where we overnighted and carried on the next day. One humourous incident we encountered in Quebec, was seeing a group of people carrying brooms and going into huge barn-like building. I was so impressed that this country had such a standard of cleanliness! I learned later that they were going curling!
We overnighted in Winnipeg, Manitoba and at last our journey was nearly at an end. We arrived in Bienfait, Saskatchewan at 2:00 A.M. on December 22, 1952, only to be met by a stranger whose name was also Friedrich. He had received our telegram instead of our brother-in-law, Mathias (Matt) Friedrich. Bienfait is a small town and soon we found our relatives.
We didn't speak English, had no money, no jobs until September 1953 where Anton found steady work in the coal mine in Roche Percee, south of Bienfait. The children attended school, learned English quickly and I kept our house on a small budget. One day as my husband was walking on the outskirts of town he came across an abandoned farm house which, with a lot of work, could possibly be made inhabitable. We bought it for $500.00 and had it moved by our brother-in-law Matt, to a lot in town. Anton, Josef and I had dug out the basement by hand and when we thought it was deep enough we used cindercrete blocks, which Matt had made, for the foundation. It required a lot of work to remove the old plaster, to insulate, to install new windows, doors and shingles but we were used to labour, it was ours. We lived in our home until 1995 and for 42 years we lived in peace and were thankful for our life in this new country.
Addendum: Due to declining health and to be nearer my brother Josef and me, my parents moved into a Seniors Highrise in Regina, Saskatchewan, in August, 1995. Sadly, Dad couldn't adjust to apartment living, he missed his home, his garden and feeding the birds. He spent the last 4 months of his life in a nursing home and died on his 84th birthday, June 15, 1996. Mom continued to live in the apartment until August 28, 2002. She was still knitting a pair of socks for the poor and all the ingredients were on the kitchen counter ready to make her own mustard. She went into hospital on August 28 and died of an aortic blot clot on August 31, 2002. Josef and I were with both of our parents when they died.