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The Long Road by Catherine Grosskopf

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At the start of the flight from advancing Russian troops, people welcomed us in German villages as we rode through the Yugoslavian Banat and Batschka. They gave us food and shelter for the night. The Mayor's office of the next town on our journey was usually notified in advance of our need to find lodgings there. Town residents came to pick us up at the City Hall in the evening. In one town, I remember staying in a wealthy, beautiful farmhouse. We were given the best beds in the house; the white laced pillows, feather comforters, with hand stitched covers, were wonderful!. Before we left the next day, she gave us a feather pillow and some food to take with us! Mom and I spoke of her often. How true the saying: "A good deed in bad times is never forgotten!"

Later in the journey, as we went through unfriendly territory and poorer areas, the treatment we received was not as generous. There were many such incidents that occurred during the flight, I will recount a few.

As the days and weeks went by our food supply was getting less and less. The sack of flour and a tub of lard we brought from home was gone. We used some of it it in exchange for other foods. When the cows could no longer keep up with the trek, they were left behind and had to be slaughtered by the butchers of the nearest town. Amazingly, some cows made it to the end of our journey, including Aunt Elisabeth's. Her dog, also made it to Austria. He was hiding in the wagon when we left. Everyone in the family was happy when he was discovered later.

One late afternoon as we rode through the cornfields of Yugoslavia, suddenly gun shots rang out from the cornfields, as we passed by. The horses became scared and ran in all directions, scattering our few belongings all around. We, who walked along the road side heard the shouting from the leaders, to lie down in the ditch for cover. We were attacked by Tito's Partisans. Because of the German military on the road, the attack quickly stopped and we were saved. Our leaders usually picked side roads rather than main highways to keep the horses calm, and the caravan of wagons was not as visible and therefore safer. We made many detours for this reason .

After we collected our scattered belongings, calmed down the children and the horses, we moved on with a silent prayer of thanks in our heart.

The Russian army kept moving forward and was constantly at our heels. We needed to go faster. When we were going through Hungary, a poorer area, people didn't even notice us and went about their business, or so it seemed. Walking through the towns we sometimes asked for bread in their (Hungarian) language, some people gave us a slice. Since there were so many of us, they couldn't help everyone.

The Fall season was upon us, a time of harvest. We noticed a huge pile of potatoes in an open field, one afternoon. The caravan stopped and all ran to get an apron full. The leadership suggested that we use moderation in taking some potatoes so that the owners could also have a supply. As long as there was corn in the fields, we ate from it. My cousin and I were in charge of finding twigs and little pieces of wood to make a fire for cooking. The trek stopped in the evening, along the roadside; there we sometimes spent the night.

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On October 16, one of our young girls, age twenty three became ill. She complained of a sore throat. We hurried to get her to the nearest hospital, but to no avail, she died in the wagon before we were able to help her. We stayed in Rabasonyen, She was buried in Hungary that evening and then we left early next morning.

We knew, that in order to stay ahead of the Russian army, we had to walk faster and longer hours. We began to walk during the night, as well as more hours during the day. We wanted to cross the Danube river at Baja, Hungary, before the bridge was blown up. When we got there, at six o'clock in the evening we were told that we'd have to wait for three days in order to be taken across the river by ferry-boats. There were many other refugees ahead of us. The leaders of our group decided to try another location, a bridge further North. We walked all night and crossed the bridge at Dunafoeldwar, Hungary, at six o'clock in the morning. We were overjoyed! No sooner had we crossed the bridge, when it was blown up. Our guardian angel was still with us!

All through the flight, our caravan of 134 wagons stayed together. Sometimes wagons broke down and had to be repaired. In that case, the trek stopped, while the men worked together to fix the problem and all left together. In some cases there were only women traveling with their families, who needed this kind of assistance. Sometimes there was more than one family to a wagon.

Only small children were allowed to ride on the wagon. Older children were allowed one hour to rest. The strength of the horses had to be saved as well; they were getting weaker from lack of feed and too much exertion.

As the German army trucks passed us, they often offered young people a ride to the next town. A few teenagers took advantage of the friendly offer and became separated from their families. Months later they were reunited with their families in Austria.

One night as we were walking in the dark towards Janoshaza, Hungary, a wagon broke down and the caravan came to a halt together with all the wagons behind it. The front part of the caravan continued on, not knowing that they left part of the group behind. Once the wagon was ready to move on, we realized that we had no one to follow. Someone from the back ran ahead to find the group and notified them to come to a halt. I remember we were scattered, and lost trying to find one another in the dark. We were reunited in a city, where there was some street light on the main streets. We rested and fed the horses. As we were standing in the street, I got pushed down by a wagon and suddenly found myself on the ground under two horses, I rolled out from underneath and nothing happened to me. It was a miracle!

As the weeks went by more and more refugees appeared on the scene. The people from the towns we passed through earlier, went ahead of us with their rested, strong horses. There were military trucks on the road, motorcycles and many horse drawn wagons. It created dust, noise and anxiety. The horses became frightened and had to be led by the harness to keep them calm. Uncle Math was faithful in taking care of our horse and knew how to calm it down.

It was on a sunny afternoon, when we rode up a hill and were exposed from all sides, heavy bombers flew over us. We expected the worst, many of us ran into the cornfields. Nothing happened and we were grateful. Later we heard bombs falling in the distance and found it difficult to sleep along on the roadside.

By the time we got to the Austrian mountains, the horses had become skinny and weak. To help them along, everyone had to push the wagons going up the mountains, the horses were no longer fit for the task. To begin with, they were a lightweight breed, ( warm blood Arabians) fit for the flatlands, and so were the wagons. They had no brakes; going down the mountain the wagons had to be held back. (Unlike the Austrian heavy horses and wagons with brakes.) Even though everyone did their best, still, the wagons ran into the horses legs; the most sensitive part of a horse, and they were injured. To make the load lighter, infants and small children, as well as many items had to be removed and carried by hand. Our people were so stressed that they began to argue over simple things.

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