Ein Schrecklicher Sonntag im Juni 1940 in Arzis
Ziebart-Ruer, Elvera. "One Horrible Sunday in Arzis, June of 1940." Mitteilungsblatt, 16 June 2005.
Translation from the available German text to American
English by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
June 25, 1940 was a nice Sunday in Arzis. Linda Ziebart was quietly dozing while sitting on the veranda of her mother's home. For one thing she was happy to have a day off from her work at the School for Housekeeping and Sewing, but for another she was anxious for the day to end, simply because she was bored. Of course she could have participated in an excursion or a walk with some of the young people of the village, but she just wasn't interested. Well, there had been this nice young student from Germany, but he returned to Germany before they were able to get to know each other sufficiently well.
Just at that moment Alma interrupted her reverie. The urgency in her voice and her tense movements suddenly demanded Linda's full attention. "Linda, you need to listen -- the radio says that Russia has given Romania an ultimatum to leave Bessarabia within 48 hours. Can you believe it? What do you think will happen to us?"
"Nothing, I hope," replied Linda, "We are Germans, not Romanians. Let's find Mama and see whether she might have heard the news." "We have no time for that. A number of our friends are already on their way to the railroad station. Someone heard that a train loaded with Russian soldiers is about to arrive. Let's go there and see what's going on ..."
Without waiting for a reply, she grasped Linda's hand and, against her resistance, pulled her down the front steps. They joined a group that was just passing the house and discussing how these political happenings might affect them. The rumor, if indeed it was a rumor, had already attracted a number of people to the railroad station. Most of the Russian youngsters of Arzis were already present and were waving red flags as a welcome to their people. Jewish youngsters had joined the welcoming committee, perhaps to be on the right side of the friendly party. Even some young German people, like Alma and Linda, had come, if only out of curiosity.
But just as the growing multitude was streaming onto the hobbly, patched-together platform, Romanian government officials and soldiers, who had apparently heard the same rumor, began to evacuate the station. Realization that they were numerically inferior forced them into hurrying. But they had lost valuable time preparing, and before they were to retreat, they were determined on taking along what they deemed to be theirs. Many German stores and warehouses were broken into and wagons were loaded to the brim with things for friends and relatives in Romania. (Note by the [original] translator [into German]: the Romanian administrators and military certainly would need means of transportation for their loot, so they arbitrarily confiscated wagons and horses, causing many German farmers to hide their horses in the Brienner Forest, in the woods, in the reeds on the Schlaag River, and in "der Ground," a wooded low-lying area. Neveretheless, wagions and horses in Arzis were confiscated, with the promise of using them only temporarily, just up to the Brienner hill. Some farmers accepted this promise and went along in order to retrieve their horses. Days alter they would return, without their horses, and with at least a beating.)
Just as the crowd reached the platform, a train moved into the station accompanied with joyous shouts and flag waving. However, the expected Russian infantry did not emerge from the train. Instead, a handful of partisans came out of a train car and began to distribute rifles and ammunition to some of the youth standing nearby, then disappeared into the crowd. Linda noticed that a Jewish youngster had accepted a gun and was hoping that he would get rid of it as quickly as possible. Disappointed that no Russian soldiers had arrived, the crowd began to disperse and move out just as a Romanian chauffeur was driving his car around the corner of the station. Suddenly the quiet of the Sunday was interrupted by a gunshot, and the soldier in the car dropped from his seat. "He's one of the Romanians!" someone shouted.
Linda had just been looking in the direction of the car as the soldier fell out. "We can't just leave him lying like that," she said to Alma, "he might need help." This time it was she who grabbed Alma by the arm, and together they proceeded against the stream of the crowd. They found the man at the place where he had fallen out of the car. His comrades had already fanned out in an effort to locate his attacker. The girls bent over the bleeding man. "I think it doesn't look too bad," whispered Alma. But she had discovered an ever widening red spot on the shirt over the soldier's chest. "We'll have to take him home, where we can do something for him," said Linda, forgetting her indecisiveness of a half hour earlier. "Help me to put him back into the car, then we can take him to Mama's." A few of the young people had come back out of curiosity, but nobody offered the girls any help in lifting the wounded man back into the car. In just a moment's time, the street was completely deserted. As they were driving home, the soldier occasionally moaned, so they knew that he wasn't dead.
Having arrived at their gate, they tried to lift the unconscious soldier out of the car. The man had turned white as a corpse. The worried girls actually thought about whether it might be better to carry him. They had to find mother quickly. She would know what to do.
Before going to look for her mother, Linda covered his wound as well as she could. Both girls were so preoccupied with their efforts of helping the wounded man that they failed to notice an approaching soldier, and suddenly they heard the threatening screeching, "Here he is, sergeant! They are about to kill him!"
Linda and Alma were shocked that they in particular would be accused of such an intention. They looked at each other, and suddenly it was very clear to them that they had unknowingly gotten themselves into a difficult situation. Eva, who had been working in the kitchen and had heard the excitement, was hurrying out of the house door when she saw how one of the Romanians brutally pulling Linda and Alma out of the car. Within seconds she descended the stairs and was ready to defend her girls, but the sergeant, who was standing over the girls, seemed unaware of the resolute elder woman. Fingering the handle of his revolved, he demanded, "Who here knows who shot at my man? And don't try to protect your friends! It would not be good for you!"
Linda found her voice first and tired to explain the situation: "We did not see who shot at him. We only wanted to help him. I'll go quickly and fetch the doctor!" But the Romanian was in no mood to accept Linda's innocence. But he had been ordered to leave the occupied country without a fight, and to obey such an order seemed a bitter pill for him. Someone had to be punished for this shameful act -- even it was these innocent girls. He screwed up his upper lip and yelled, "You're lying! You know exactly who shot him, and it'll be better for you if you tell me!" He lifted his hand wanting to strike her, but Linda jerked away to hide behind her mother. Eva stood eye to eye with the threatening military hunk. She said, "We have no weapons in this house, and there is no one here who carries one. When my daughter says she doesn't know who shot at your comrade, she does not know. My children do not lie! And now lower your voice! Today is Sunday, the Lord's day!"
"Search the house!" commanded the red-faced sergeant. And turning to Eva he said, decisively, "Whether we find something or not, you'll have to answer a few things!"
Eva quickly checked for her children. All except Trudi were present. But where was she? She must be with Elsa Herrmann. Dear God, let her stay there!
The hasty house search resulted in neither weapons nor anyone hidden, but the Romanian soldier was not prepared to let the Germans off so easily. He ordered that all renters who had been driven out of their houses by his soldiers line up in the garden, along with the Ziebarts. With his hands behind his back and a riding crop on his shoulder, the sergeant slowly walked up and down the line of people. The street, filled with the noise of people streaming back and forth only and our earlier, was now as empty as a ghost town. Even the shutters on the houses were all closed.
The sergeant decided to try again. He stopped in front of Eva and said, "Either you tell me who shot at this man or I'll order all of you standing here to be shot. Understand?" "Yes, I understand," said Eva, unable to hide her contempt she felt for this man. "We really do not know who shot at this man. The girls tried to help the wounded man, and if you do not stop wasting time unnecessarily, he'll die, and it will be your fault!" The opponent lifted his rifle and swung the thick end so quickly that Eva did not have time to move aside. Wood and metal met flesh and bone, and Eva's face became white and flush with pain. Linda and Alma hurried by to defend their mother and were now dearly wishing Gerhard were there. The sergeant lifted his gun, and now things got really tense.
"Quick! Mama, Vera, get down! He'll shoot!" warned Linda. Nobody hesitated to be asked a second time. They had just hit the ground when shots whistled above them. The whole time Vera had grabbed her mother tightly and now climbed under her large dress. The Romanians had hoped to intimidate the people enough for someone to come up with a confession. But when the sergeant saw there was none, he ordered everyone to get up and to march down the street to the railroad station, with their hands above their heads, like dangerous criminals.
The wounded soldier became delirious, made loud noises, and occasionally called out names. Linda was watching the red spot on the bandage she had applied hurriedly. Having reached the end of the village they met the captain of the patrol, who reprimanded the sergeant for his overreaction. The captain looked at the wounded soldier and then looked accusingly at Linda and said, "Do you know who did this? Why was he found in your garden?" Linda explained what had happened, wishing with all her might she could have had the sense to stay home this afternoon.
The captain observed the face of the pretty girl, and she repeated the entire story, speaking perfect Romanian, and just as he was about to ask her where she had learned it, the wounded man awoke from unconsciousness. He looked at the annoyed face of the captain and the horrified face of the girl and suddenly remembered. "It was not she," he whispered, it was someone in the front row. She had been farther back." The strain proved to be too difficult for him, and he fell back unconscious. The silence produced incredible tension. Finally the captain broke the silence: "Well, then, it seems you have been exonerated. Go home. But I advise you to stay away from street brawls."
Eva accompanied her brood the way they had come. She was not about to get into a dispute with the sergeant. Still, she was very angry and upset about the manner in which she had been treated. She shuddered at the thought that they all were almost shot. Having reentered the security of her, she quickly closed the door and bolted it. Looking at her daughters one security of her home, she sternly said, "Do you see now what a well meaning action resulted in? I do not know how many more demonstrations we'll be experiencing, but you will never again, especially just out of curiosity, go with whatever group that comes by. Is that clear?"
The girls nodded, the events they had just experienced having left them still too shocked to be able to answer. Their intentions were honorable, but apparently not all good intentions come to fruition. After the scare slowly waned, Mama suddenly feared the Romanians might come back. We therefore left our house through the back door, and as soon as we were sure that no one had seen us, we ran to the Herrmann house on the other side of the wide street. The entire village still seemed as if it had died out.
Before the day was over, not a single Romanian was left in Arzis. They disappeared the way they had arrived -- quickly and without a big fuss. Eva's shoulder was painful and swollen, but Dr. Gerstenberger found that she had not broken any bones and had no serious injury. "You were lucky, Eva. He could have smashed your head." "Better me than my children," replied Eva, attempting to shrug her shoulders, and the pain made her cringe.
Additional Remarks: Concurrently, another critical situation took place in the lower part of the village. A large crowd of Russians and Jews, also some German youngsters, marched from the Klettstrasse to the village end in the direction of Gnadental. A rumor was circulating to the effect that a vanguard of the Russian army, coming from Gnadental, would be entering Arzis within hours Just as at the railroad station, the crowd desired to welcome the new masters properly. Soon a number of troops actually did approach, but again it turned out not to be the expected Russian vanguard, but a Romanian rearguard. When the Romanians saw the crowd waving red flags, they feared an attack and began to fire several salvos with a machine gun. Within a few moments, all seemed to have been swallowed up by the earth, hiding in straw piles and chaff storage huts. Nobody dared to go onto the street till the next morning. However, a few onlookers had been nabbed and taken away. Days later they were able to flee into corn or grain fields and returned home beaten black and blue. Thus the evacuation of Arzis nearly ended in tragedy. Even later, there was no investigation, and no one ever knew who had shot at the soldier at the railroad station. It is also not known that similar events took place in other communities.
An authorized excerpt from the biographical book "The Last Bridge" -- Die Letzte Bruecke -- by Elvera Ziebart-Reuer, (Rendered from the American by Sigmund Ziebart).
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.