Interview with Herta Schaible
Heubach, Kreis Schwabisch Gmund, West Germany
April 20, 1960
Extracted and condensed from a tape recording made about April 20, 1960. The person being recorded is Mrs. Herta Schaible, wife of Theodor, grandfather Fred Schaible’s nephew, the son of his oldest brother, (half-brother) Jakob Schaible, and the brother of Luise Krause (nee Schaible). Recording was made at her home, a displaced persons camp in Heubach, Kreis Schwabisch Gmund, West Germany.
MGM: Recorded after Herta, Theodor, her son Ernst, and a girl Ernst was courting and I had been to see her folks, named Meilinger. Herta is the wife of Theodor Schaible, the son of Jakob Schaible, who was my grandfather’s half-brother. (Jakob is Luise’s father.)
HERTA: My maiden name was Mientz and I was from Paris, Kreis Ackermann, Bessarabia. Theodor was from Klostitz. I did not know my father-in-law. He had died. I knew only Waldemar, Theodor’s brother.
We had seven children, Rudi, Helena, Jakob, Edwin, Anna Mariechen, Elsie and Ernst. Four are now living, except that I don’t know about Rudi. Is he dead or is he in prison?
We left Bessarabia in 1941, were placed in a lager (displaced person camp) until 1942. We had to leave the lager in 1942 because the Russian enemy was coming close so we went to Grandmothers (her mother) in Wattergau, near Posen, Poland. I was in a “front” lager because my husband was an interpreter during the war. My parents had colonized in Poland. The lager leader said those who had relatives nearby could go to them. I went and stayed with my mother. My father had already passed away. Rudi had to leave to go to Posen to the Wehrradions Lager. (Wehr-rad-di-sions Lager.) This was not military but a course of study for the youth. We had to flee and we no longer knew what happened to him. He was not on the front. He had to go to this school. My mother and I had to flee. They brought us to Berlin, always in front of the enemy. From Wattergau, or Posen, Rudi disappeared, about 1943-44, and since that time we had had no information about him.
Theodor did not find us until after the war and then only because Theodor and I had money in the Deutsche Bank (German National Bank). After the war, Theodor went to the bank and wanted to withdraw the money. We could even then go to any location and do so. He was informed that “your wife has also just withdrawn 500 D. Marks.” When he asked in surprise “Where is my wife,” they said “She is near Berlin.” So he wrote me and from that we made contact. We asked him to send us a permit (zuzugsgenahmegung) so that we could be permitted to come to the West Zone.
Theodor went to the military in 1942 as a Russian and Romanian language interpreter. He served in Siberia and Yalta. He was not a military man. He worked with the Secret Police.
Lena is the oldest daughter-1930. She lives in Nemscheid. Elsie-1936. Ernst-1938. Theodore in Bessarabia was a teacher in the public school. He was not a state teacher. He was a community teacher. He also at times served as a preacher.
Reichs Deutsche Commission bussed us to Ismeihl and from there up to the Donau by ship, and then again by bus. (Herta, the two-boys, two girls and her mother.) The first lager after Wattergau (Posen) Poland was at Dresden. We were in so many after that, I cannot remember all the many names. My parents and my older brother had colonized in Wattergau, Poland. During the war we were always in a lager from 1941 on, ahead of the Russians. Theodor did not know where we were from 1944 or so on, from the time the Russians overran us. He found us again in 1947 or ’48 here in Heubach where the authorities had sent us. I was in Jenickendorf at the end of the war. When I got there Theodor was in Ansbach at Luise’s. From there he had found us in Berlin. He sent us the papers. We wanted to go to Ansbach but we had to stay with the transport which went to Stuttgart. After two days in Stuttgart, I sent Lena to get Theodor, who was waiting for us in Ansbach. Theodore and Uncle Albert, Tante Lena’s husband, came here to Heubach. Albert is now in Canada, Lena in Elwangen. From Stuttgart we came here to Heubach.
We have experienced much in our lifetime. We did not have to leave. The Russians agreed with the Germans to let us out with the money from sale of our belongings. The present Germans must now pay us for the property and wealth which was mailed to Germany through the Reichs Commission. We have thus far received three payments of DM 5,000, 500 at a time, and we are due more shortly. I had a lot of money from selling all my beds and family furnishings, etc., to the Russians and to the Bulgarians. I got a lot of money from the sale. The property and wealth which I had received from my parents alone totaled 65,000. I received everything for the house from my parents when I married, being the only girl. The money from all the things I sold, I took to the Deutsche Commission who collected the funds and sent it to West Germany. About 1939 we started to sell and send wealth to Germany. Germany said they wanted to return all Germans to the Third Reich. Not all Germans left. Theodor’s sister, Katie, stayed there and married a very good man, a Russian, but things don’t go well for them. They must do as Russians say. We have had only two letters from them, right after we arrived here. Now they dare not write. One of the letters was from Katie, the other from her daughter, Celia.
Theodor has been in the hospital since July 19, 1958, for the second time because of diabetes. First in Tubingen. We have lived here in Heubach for nearly 15 years. In 1953-56 he was in the hospital, for two years he was home and now again for two years.
Things would have been terribly bad for us, no garden, nothing to eat, if it had not been for what we received from your relatives in America, things would have been much worse. All I had when we arrived here in Heubach, was 2 dishes and 1 cup. When we came here we had to have a permit to buy three more plates, another to buy a coffee pot and so on. A permit was needed for everything. When we left Jenickendorf (50 km from Berlin) I had two suitcases of stuff.
When the Russ came to Jenickendorf we went to the cellar where we had to stay for 14 days. If we went out the Russians were immediately after us. I had the two suitcases of stuff then and a few bedclothes. One night 6 or 7 Russians came down. One ordered me to come out to get some water. It was midnight. I said I won’t go out. He took his gun and held it against my heart and threatened to shoot me dead. I told him to shoot, I have no fear. He could have shot me dead but I was not afraid. So he took the gun butt and kept hitting me on the head with it. Then he asked me again and I said no, you can beat me to death but I won’t leave the cellar. He fired shots into the ceiling so that the plaster fell down. He swore at me and again threatened to shoot me. Then he wanted Lena to go with him, but I would not permit it. So it went on every night. Seven or eight would come in and take other young girls out of the cellar. We really experienced something there.
Another came in and promised me, if I told him which they were, to protect my suitcases. I thought he was a good man. Two days later he came back with seven others and, after hitting me in the head, told the others to take our suitcases away. All we had left was the clothes on our backs. My daughter, Lena, had so many lice on her head it looked like someone had sifted a sack of flour over her head. We had no other clothes to wear. We had to stay in the cellar for three weeks. (This all happened in Jenickendorf with the passing of the front.) After that a housewife gave us a bunch of clothes which I remade for myself and the children.
When we came here my husband wrote to you in America and then we received clothes which I remade. Otherwise we had nothing. Theodor went to Blau-Bayern where he wanted to work as a teacher but he became sick with diabetes and he couldn’t work.
The first money we earned was by our daughter, Lena, who went to work in a factory. She was the provider for us all. Since she was out of school she was able to support us until Papa was able to get some money. All the furniture in the house was bought by my children from the money earned. I could not work, nor could Papa, so the children provided. They always gave us all their money and we made do. After Ilse finished school and then Ernst they both worked. We were able to give Lena a lot of the household things she needed when she married. We, of course, were heavy savers. I can save, and I saved for my children. Ilse did not get much from home when she married but she told me that she did not need it because she had received much from her mother-in-law. Her husband is an only child and he gets everything.
Oh, God, we had to go through a lot. If your help from America had not come it would have taken all God’s mercy. But your relatives, your mother Bertha, and Matilda and Jacob and Fredrich (Grandpa). Our first package came from Uncle Jacob. He sent Lena such a very nice coat, a wonderful coat and me they sent a knitted dress. We were so pleased. We were living at the time in the front unit of this lager when we received the package from Uncle Jacob. We did not know what to do for such happiness because we were again able to dress ourselves. The girls had no coats. We had no money to buy. Our first concern was always with getting enough to eat. So is it on this world, so was it, so pitiful was it for us.
Marvin Schaible was here about four years ago, just during the time that Ilse became engaged. Papa was in the hospital at Duttenstein and unable to go to Ilse’s engagement. Marvin remained here with Lena and Ernst. Ilse and I went to Hambug to her in-laws for the engagement. Papa was also not present at Ilse’s wedding and we were very sad. They had promised him at the hospital that he could go home but then they said no. He was home for Lena’s wedding which was in Hamburg.
The first American to visit us was a Mr. Dietrich who studied with Uncle Jakob. He brought along another American, a big man named Darius.
I have often said that I too would like to go to visit America some day. My oldest brother’s wife is now in America with her children. I would like to go many places. When I was single I did not want to go. My father was a farmer and I had to work in the fields in those days. Now papa is a teacher and I have not had to work in the fields. The land we visited today was very much like our old home. I felt very much at home, it was so even and no hills. It was like this also in Posen, Poland.
If Germany had not misplayed the war we would be in very good position. All those who were at the front received their own homes. But all would be right if I only knew where my child who is missing is at, my Rudi. If I knew that then I would be happy. (Do you still have hopes that he lives?) I won’t give up that hope until I die. As long as I live I will not give up hope. He was not yet 17 years old when he must leave. I wrote him once asking if I should send him a package as I was doing for Papa. He wrote back that I need not send anything, he was receiving good provisions. That was his last letter. Then the Russians came and everything fell apart. We were sitting evenings with my mother and sister-in-law, the one who is now in America. The day before we had received word to prepare to receive refugees. That evening at 10:00 my sister-in-law had just said she must go home (she lived only a little ways away) when suddenly there was a knock on the door. It was already so that one was scared that the Russians would come soon and my sister-in-law said that she was afraid and that it was surely a Russian. My mother went to the door and asked who was there. It was a boy from the village. He said hurry you must leave tonight. So instead of taking in refugees we had to pack and become refugees ourselves that same evening. That was in Wattergau in Poland.
From there we fled to Berlin. For eight days and nights without interruption we drove by horse and wagon. Each village traveled as a group. After short rest stops to feed the horses we kept on with planes circling overhead. It was eight days before we found a camp which could take us all. That was at Yanickendorf, near Berlin. We were there about a month before the Russians finally came in at night. The mayor of the village in which we lived would not yield to the Russians so they set fire to half the village. So we cried to our landlady to put out a white flag because we did not want to lose our lives because of the mayor. Then our Lena took some white bed clothes, climbed to the top floor of the house and waved the white flag out of the window. We did not want to die as had many others.
After the Russians came through and settled the war and war times ended, many people were fleeing to the West. Then Papa found us and we told him not to come but to send papers so we could come to him. He sent for me, my mother and also for Rudi. But that took a long time. We had been at the Commission which had arranged for our travel thus far and pleaded for a hearing for two days. Then Lena finally said “Now I am going in the back way (she was only 16-17) and see the men.” She did go in and when they asked her what she wanted she said “I want to leave, I want to go to my papa.” Then they said what do you mean coming in the back way. They still did not want to give her the papers, so she said I suppose if I brought you a piece of butter then I would have my papers right away, but I have no butter. I would be happy to if I had something to eat myself. She was only a child so they finally gave her the papers for us all. We were able to get on the train for the trip to Stuttgart which took eight days. We had to fight well before we finally came to our Papa. My dear God what we had to bear. What I had to offer for my children and what they all had to give up to get here and what we had to put up with the Russians. That was my good fortune, that I could speak Russian. I can speak Russian, German and Romanian. It would have been much worse if I could not have spoken Russian. When they swore at me I swore back. I told them what do you think, I too am Russian. I come from you homeland, too.
We had lived by Dobrich in Romania for six years while Papa was a teacher. Dobrich was near Konstanz, Romania. In that time I, of course, learned much. Russians would come and want to buy so one was able to learn. I can understand every word of Russian and Romanian, but I am forgetting how to speak.
Paris was strictly a German colony. There were colonies of German, Russian and Bulgarian, but they did not mix. The land belonged to the Russian first. Then in 1914 the Romanians took it over. Now it is again all in Russian hands.
For all practical purposes all Germans left when we did. The 14,000 Germans from Bessarabia who were at the reunion in Stuttgart were only less than a tenth of the total. All the people in Paris (more than 1,000) and Klostitz left. On my side all left. On Papa’s side, Tante Katie and Luise’s two daughters stayed and married Russians. Two husbands died in the war. The other was married only a short time and he died. (eight days)
I heartily greet your grandfather, that he was so friendly and wrote you to visit me. I say many thanks for your visit and that a friend from the U.S. has come again. I greet also your mother and all the other relatives. I will hope that more will come to see us. I am happy to receive them and to receive them with what I have.
Today was such a nice trip. Papa was very happy to get away today. But tonight he will suffer. I do not believe he will sleep tonight.
(Day after tomorrow I will visit L. Krause)