Anna Welker was born in 1934 in Neu Schowe, Yugoslavia. In December 1944, her family, along with the remaining townspeople of Neu Schowe, were removed from the town and began their harrowing journey as refugees. Anna and her family endured many hardships in their two years at the Jarek internment camp. In 1946, she and her remaining family were moved to Krusevlje. In early 1947, she and her mother, aunt, and cousin escaped Kursevlje. Her family lived in Munich from late 1947 until 1950. In 1950, her family immigrated to the U.S. and joined her uncle in Cleveland. She attended John Hay High School. She later married George Welker in 1954. He was active with the new soccer club that eventually became part of the Donauschwaben. She helped with the books while he held the office of treasurer for the soccer club. She also was active with the Frauengruppe. George and Anna Welker were named German Man and German Woman of the Year in the early 2000s.
Welker, Anna (interviewee)
Wellner, Lanie (interviewer)
Cleveland German-American Oral History Project
"Anna Welker interview, 03 November 2018" (2018). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 195013.
Anna Welker [00:00:02] My name is Anna Welker. I was born 1934 in Neu Schowe, Yugoslavia.
Lanie Welker [00:00:14] And I'm Lanie Welker and this is my grandma.
Anna Welker [00:00:20] When I was born. Neu Schowe there was in Yugoslavia. And then my childhood, I grew up, in Neu Schowe until the age. It was a very happy childhood. My parents are Andreas and Magdalena Gussmann, I had a sister in February 1944 named Gerhild. In 1941. Neu Schowe was occupied by the Hungarian army. And when I went to school in 41 in September 41, I was taught in German. As well as the national language, which was Hungarian at the time. And then, after the third grade in 1944.
Anna Welker [00:01:42] In in the in the spring of 1944. In February, my sister was born, my sister Gerhild, was born. And in September 1944, my father was conscripted into the German army. And in October, 1944 people started to flee. Ahead of the advancing Russian army. And then, the head of the Russian army. And, and, and, the Russ- we couldn't flee because we had no means we did not have horse and wagon. And so my family, among other people of Schowe that didn't want to leave their their their homes, we stayed behind. And then the Russian army moved in. And my mother and I. We went to my maternal grandmother to stay because our home in Schowe was on the main road and there was a lot of traffic with army and partisons, the Yugoslav army, the Russian army. So we felt safer to be at my maternal grandparents house. And my my grandmother stayed home to take care of the animals. And on December 1844, we stopped at home to butcher our two pigs. And that drum roll sounded and I went to the corner to listen to what the news was, and the news was to meet at city hall with what we can carry. And so we dropped everything, went back to my my maternal grandfather's house to gather my our belongings and my sister and me all made the whole town. Before we could leave our home, they already came and marched us out of our home at gunpoint. We met in front of the city hall of Neu Schowe, and we sat there and my and my grandpa, they had to go in to tell them their history and they came out again. Finally, at dusk when it started to get dark, we were marched out of town, the whole colony marched out of town. And we marched to Altker, that was the next town. And they have no room because the already another town was loca-, people were located there from another town. So we marched all night [00:05:27][to village name} [0.1s] Which was empty. We were housed in a big school building. And my cousin's little girl was crying. She was two years old, two and a half. She was crying. She didn't like it. It was so dirty there. And before you knew it, the whole room was cry. My mother and I and my infant sister, were have been housed in, a private empty house with straw on the floor. To afford us a little more comfort with the baby. We stayed there a couple of days and then we were marched acrossed the fields so that people have to throw away what little they had taken along it got too much for them to carry. We had a child's buggy where we put my sister in and my and my cousin's little girl. And the constant trying to get the mud off the wheel, it was just a terrible march with armed guards alongside. And it was late at night when we got to the next town, which was empty of people. The Germans had left. And then the day after, in the morning, early in the morning, we started the march again, but this time it was on a gravel road, so it was easier. And we reached Jarek. The concentration camp of Jarek there were some people there already from other towns. And we ended up in a room in a house that still had packed dirt floors. And my grandpa, he put stakes in, in, the floor and boards at the end and filled it with straw. So that that was our bedding, the straw. That was my, my mother and my little sister and I, my cousin and her daughter. And, my grandma, my paternal grandma, my maternal grandparents, my aunt, my cousin, and her daughter. That was our family, that was. Luisa Gussmann, Magdalena Gussmann, my mother, my sister Gerhild, and myself Anna Gussmann. Then there was my maternal grandparents, Friedrich and Elizabeth Schnur. My mother's sister, my Aunt Elizabeth Schmidt. Her daughter, Elizabeth Filippi. And Elizabeth Filippi's daughter Liselotte. That was my family that ended up in Jarek. And that was in December 1944. Toward the end of December, the Russians came through and they took the women from 18 to 35 out of the camp. Among those women was my cousin. Elizabeth Filippi. Elizabeth among 40,000 other young women between the ages of 18 and 30. Were taken to Russia. And they worked in the coal mines as slave laborers in Russia. She was there till November 1949. In Russia. In Jarek in 1945. On June the 3rd, my sister, Gerhild died. August the 8th, my grandmother, Luisa Gussmann died. And in September my grandfather Friedrich Schnur died. And in October, my grandmother, Elizabeth Schnur passed away. They were all buried in mass graves in the Jarek. The camp was infested with lice and fleas, and my Aunt Elizabeth spent all of the summer of 1945 away from us in a labor camp. My mother had muscular dystrophy and wasn't able to work, and I was only 11 years old. So we were always in the main camp. And then in 1946, in the spring of 1946. Jarek was a lot of people had passed away in Jarek, so we were taken to Krusevlje, the main occupants of Jarekwere taken to Krusevlje and some of them were taken to Gakowo, which was the next door. Labor camp.Or concentration camp. Things were a little better in Krusevlje. I didn't have to go to work. In Jarek children 10 and up had to go to work, work in the fields, doing different things. That children can do. Things that they didn't need to do, pulling weeds out, along the roadside and things like that was really hard and the food was miserable. We got pea soup with bugs floating on top and it was just. The diet was meant to kill us, which it did kill many people. I remember while we were in Jarek, they dusted us with DDT. They got DDT from the USA. They said they had these, these pumps that you would use. In your vegetable garden to dust your vegetables, that's how they dusted us the hair and everything with DDT. To this day when somebody puts out DDT, I know what it is, I smell it. It's still in my nostril, that oder. And then after Jarek like I said, in Krusevlje, it was a little better. I didn't have to go to work. It was just my and myself, my mother and Liselotte from our family. Well, Liselotte had her mother was not there. She was with the grandmother. And the authorities of Yugoslavia of the camps were offered food for orphanages. From the U.S. So they created an orphanage in Gakowo and they took Liselotte away from us. And, and she was then in- but they got all that food for the children and the children did not get it. Now it's just a ploy to get food. And then I remember one, one time in Krusevlje oh, we got good food. For two weeks, they fed us good food. And the Red Cross showed up to inspect, to see what they were feeding us after the Red Cross was gone back to the old chow you know back to the old food. And then, early 1947. Somebody from our hometown that we knew and that was able to get out of town was a ferrying with horse and wagon was bringing food supplies, for the, for the kitchen. Brought as an envelope with a note from a woman that was free in Stanischitsch the neighboring town, that was not a concentration camp. And it said, here is a thousand dinar. I have more money for you from Adam Schnur. Which was my mother's brother. In Cleveland, Ohio.
Lanie Welker [00:16:20] So he lived here?
Anna Welker [00:16:23] My, my uncle Adam Schnur came to Cleveland in 1929. And he lived here in Cleveland. He was actually a carpenter, foreman for the city of Cleveland, for the school district. For the city of Cleveland. And he was able to get us money to us. So my aunt and I snuck out of camp during the night a Saturday as what? I don't know, the exact day. But it was in April, Saturday to Sunday. We snuck out to to meet at this woman's house. And she had, all together, 13,000 dinar, for us. And then she cooked a good meal on Sunday, chicken soup. And and her granddaughter took me to church and I was so afraid I did not have good clothes anymore. It was all outgrown and it was a Hungarian church and there were just a couple, maybe six or seven old women at that church and she would say she cannot speak Hungarian. She only speaks Serbian. And then on the way back, we stopped at, at a big house that was formerly owned by Germans and was now occupied by Serbians. And she said to these people, she cannot speak Serbian, she only speaks. Hungarian. Oh, I was in such fear until we got back, you know, to her house. And so Sunday night, my aunt put the money around her, underclothes, you know, she sewed it in. And we was going to sneak back into camp. And we're watching, watching. We didn't see a movement, was a sta- a moonlit night. We dash across the street and there in the shadows was the gaurd. And he caught us. And now my aunt was marching ahead and I was marching next to the guard. And just about when we were where we were housed, he gave me a push. Indicating I should go, I left and I went home. So the next day I went because my aunt was now incarcerated and had to work. And I waved to her to show that I'm safe. And that's how we got then money after she was released, but the Christmas before we were able to get Liselotte out of the children's camp in Gakowo. So we were all together the four of us. But it take it took a thousand dinars we paid. For my mother's cousin, her daughter and her father for my aunt, Liselotte, for myself, and my mother and we needed somebody to carry Liselotte. They paid her fare too. All together 8000 dinar we paid. And they gathered a whole group of people. And when it was dark, that was May the 1st we gathered, well, it was a big holiday was Labor Day, nobody showed up. So May 2nd we gathered again. And somebody took us out of town. Out of krusevlje out of town, and then they gave instructions, go straight ahead, then turn left, because the guards were border guards were already paid off. Well, we're marching and all of a sudden somebody said we're not heading for the border. We're heading for Gakowo. So we straightened out again. Now we're at the wrong spot, right? The guards were shooting up in the air, the crowds gathered and ran, and because my mother had already had that muscular dystrophy, we didn't know what it was. But she couldn't run and she couldn't walk. So we were caught. All day long we sat along with some other people. At the border. The Yugoslav guard has the border and they would come. How did you, who brought you out here? Nobody. Nobody brought us out here. We gathered outside of town. We got together outside of town because they already had another group coming. Well, then, when I got night. Maybe around midnight, they put us across the border.
Lanie Welker [00:22:40] What border?
Anna Welker [00:22:40] Hungarian, the Yugoslav Hungarian border. Now we are in Hungary, and, of course, everybody went their own way. They were just the eight of us left. Across the fields, over, you know, through ditches, at one point, my mother could not go on. She said, abandon me here and go. Save yourself. And and no, I cried and my aunt said we'll rest, we're not going to abandon her. And after maybe half an hour or so, she was able to walk on. We came to a little building that was out in the field that was designed to rest when the workers who worked in the field, it was just a one room house, you know, little house. And we went in there and my aunt could speak Hungarian real good. So when it was daytime, you know, early morning, she went to town to ask for directions and the people were kind enough to give us some food. And we got directions. We wanted to get to the Danube. We wanted to cross the Danube to the other side. So we got to the Danube and my aunt went to the bank and exchange the money, we had left the dinar for Banger Hungarian money, all the bridges were demolished from the from the war. So we had to take a ferry across and we're still the eight people crossed and took the train. They said all you have to do is take the train to the Austrian border and cross the border there. Well, we did that. We took the train to the Austrian border. It was St. Gothart, was the border town. And my mother not being able to sneak around the back way. We're taking the road again to cross at night to cross into Austria. We got caught again. So now they they locked us up. And what are we going to do? We have heard people were thrown back into Yugoslavia that were caught in Hungary. When daylight came we saw all sorts of names are written in that room. There were names from our people, from our home town that pass through. Oh, this one is now in Austria. That one is now in Germany you know. Come nightfall, the border guards put us across the border and now we were in the Russian zone. We are walking all night daybreak, there was a big barn along the road side toward morning we went into that big barn. Now we're in the Russian zone of Austria. We opened the barn, went inside, and when my aunt heard motion, she went up front and told the woman that we are eight people in her barn, very kind woman. She has encountered people like that before. And she said she wanted to give us something to eat. And she said, wudsa caclofi supn or a cadofi miatz (written in dialet from "willst do kartoffel suppe oder kartoffel gemeise"). Well we did not understand the dialect, but finally we could make out she was offering us either a potato soup or potatoes, vegetables, you know, and she told us where we could cross into the English zone.
Lanie Welker [00:27:24] To come over?
Anna Welker [00:27:25] Into the English zone from the Russian into the English zone. So we we get under way. And lo and behold, we got caught again, this time by the Russians. And there was a whole group already sitting there that they caught earlier. And we were the last ones. I was the last person sitting in that group. The Russian guard is standing there with his gun and he is waving and looking straight ahead. And he's waving again I nudged my family, and they got up. He put us on that bridge that the bridge was separating the the Russian zone, you know, a river, a small river, not too big up us on that bridge. The English guard on the other side. Oh, you can't come over now. We're standing on that bridge. And everybody, you have to look. You have to look. What are we going to do now? Jump over the bridge into this river. Well, finally, the English guard waved us over. Turned out they had just delivered a group to to the camp where they collected these people that came over. From Yugoslavia. That word refugee, you know, refugees from Yugoslavia. And so they had a camp for these people where we were deloused. And we got the inoculated, you know, with different maybe smallpox or whatever they did, you know, they immunized us.
Lanie Welker [00:29:20] Yeah
Anna Welker [00:29:21] And and they deloused us. We were there for two weeks. And that was liselotte's first experience with school. We had to go to school. My my mother's cousin's daughter, she was my age, you know, and Liselotte, every day she because when we got immunized, we didn't have to go to school and Liselotte would ask, are we getting immunized today? She didn't like school.
Lanie Welker [00:29:57] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:29:57] And from there we were put in in, the refugee camp of Trofaia in the English zone. We got shoes, you know, jackets. And there were refugees there that have fled, you know, they were there a long time already, they had and we heard music. We went to look here, they had a dance. The young girls were dressed nice and they were dancing, and my cousins and my mother's cousins said here, we thought the world stood still. And this was going on right along, you know, on the outside world, people were celebrating things and, and that woman that carried Liselotte, you know, over the- she left. She just- we didn't need her anymore, you know. She left, she heard her husband was in in Germany. And so she left to meet up with him. Her two, she had two children they both died in that concentration camp. And so and my mother. So they said when we went through Trofaia, oh, you, my dad, we knew my dad was in Germany, in Munich, Germany, and he was waiting for us. He had a place for us. And so they said, oh, there's nothing to it in the- on the train. Go, to, to Salzburg, that's where my mother's uncle was in Salzburg, they had fled. Uh, Yugoslavia, they had fled before the occupation of the Russians. And so we're getting on the train come to the border, crossing out. If you don't have a pass to cross again, we end up in the jail. Now, there was already school was out you know. It was the end of May by now. And so liselotte, Helen my and my mother's cousin's daughter, and I we were in the children's camp. And my mother, her sister, and my mother's cousin, and her father they were in the regular jail. So every. One o'clock, we go knock on the big jail door. They had to wait till the district head from the English came to see what to do with them, and we ended up in in the refugee camp of Eisenerz. Which was still in the English zone. It was a beautiful place, Eisenerz you know. We went to pick raspberries up in the mountains and blueberries and it was beautiful, but then my cousin, my mother's uncle, who was in Salzburg, sent us papers so we can come to Salzburg. By that time, it was beginning of of September. 1947, September, 1947. Well, we going to cross into Germany now.
Lanie Welker [00:34:10] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:34:10] Again, we got caught, but this time they didn't lock us up, they just send us back and the next night we try again because it was my mother and I, Liselotte, and my aunt. The four of us were left from from the group. The original group. So we try again, we walk along the road, this time nobody stops us and we're on top of the mountain, looking down to the train station in Germany. We're looking down. And we see. People in uniform. Oh, my God, we can't go down there and finally dawned on us, they were railroad workers, so we went down got on the train, went to Munich. It was the 40th district of Munich. So we had to transfer at the main station. We did. We got to Munchin-Lochhausen, Munchin-Lochhausen it was the 40th distict that's where my father was already employed as a tailor and he had a room for us with the use of kitchen. And. So. That's why we ended up in Germany. That was 1947. So I had three classes in Yugoslavia. Or what was occupied by Hungary, that part. Now, I had three years of no schooling and the principal said, you can't start. In the a- in the class, according to your age, you have to go start in the fourth grade. So I had fourth grade. And in Germany, after the fourth grade, you go to high school. So I after the fourth grade, I went to high school Oberrealschule. I had English. That was 47, 48, 48. Oh, no it was 48-49 and 49-50. And my uncle had sent us papers to come to the United States. So at the end of May we had our papers, we we came over Cherbourg. Which is in France.
Lanie Welker [00:36:56] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:36:56] We went to Paris by train. That was my mother, my father, and I the 3 of us. I was, 14 I think. Yeah. 14. And we went to. No. I was 16.
Lanie Welker [00:37:21] Yeah when you came over-.
Anna Welker [00:37:22] Yes, I was 16 and we went took the train to Paris and from Paris to to Cherbourg, got on board the Queen Mary the harbor was still bombed out so we had to take a little tugboat out to the Queen Mary. And right away, it was time to eat. It was seven o'clock in the evening and I said, I can't eat. Can't eat. I'm sick.
Anna Welker [00:37:53] Oh, just wait till the boat starts moving. After then supper went out on deck, we couldn't see land anymore. The minute we started moving, I got sick. I was sick until we arrived here in in New York on June the 6th.
Lanie Welker [00:38:12] So did you go-
Anna Welker [00:38:14] Then we went on the train and came to Cleveland.
Lanie Welker [00:38:17] Yeah (indiscernible).
Anna Welker [00:38:17] My uncle was here in Cleveland.
Lanie Welker [00:38:21] The one who sent you money?
Anna Welker [00:38:24] The one that sent us the money. Of course, it was only a loan because he wasn't well, I mean, he had a mortgage and he had two children to raise. And he couldn't be that generous. But I went.- we lived in a rooming house for a number of weeks and then we got a little house to rent on East 40, on East 32nd Street. And I started John Hay High School in the fall to learn English. That was in 1951. In 1950, in the fall. I learned English then in 51. In January 51, I started the 10th grade of John Hay High School and I took bookkeeping because I was always good with figures, but I'm missing three years of schooling, you know? I went. Right away to high school. But I did good in high school. When I graduated in January 1954. They still had January class. In January 54 I graduated from John Hay. I was 7th from the top of one hundred students.
Lanie Welker [00:40:05] So how did you guys go to the club?
Anna Welker [00:40:08] I already met, you know, we were always went to the east to the east side Sachsenheim for dance's. And that's where I met grandpa, George Welker. He came on the same boat in 1952 that Philip Seil was on that was from Schowe there from my hometown. So I met grandfather Philip Seil. And we went to dances at the Sachsenheim. Of course, grandpa didn't have a car, you know, and so. But we would date by bus. He would come and we went to the German dances and to the German clubs, we went with the bus on York road till it didn't go any farther and we walk to the German central. And then he was here. Living with his aunt and uncle and his aunt and uncle, and his aunt made him clean the house and do all of those things that he didn't like, he didn't have to do at home. He came here in order to help his dad pay off the house he built in Germany. He came in 1952. March of1952. We met, like I said, through Philip Seil. We went to the German clubs. The east side Sachsenheim and to the German Central. And then he was so active, always in soccer. His uncle would not sign for him so he could play soccer so he couldn't play, but he was always active in organizing. So he was very active with the soccer club. And then eventually he was able to buy a car and learn how to drive. And then uncle, Rick was born December 19, um what was it, 56. Why he didn't. Grandpa didn't drive yet, you know. It was hard without him driving. But then he learned how to drive. He bought a car. He learned how to drive. We lived with my parents in the beginning. My dad bought the house. And we paid the rent. Thirty five dollars a month. And we also paid into the pot for the food. My mother didn't pay anything. She did the cooking. And I worked I got a job after I graduated, I got a job at the City Club of Cleveland. As a assistant, bookkeeper and lunch room cashier. And when my dad wanted to buy the house, he couldn't get a loan, went to Cleveland Trust, he went all over. And Mr. Stinchcomb, who was the director of parks at the Metro Parks system, and he was the vice president of Broadview Savings and Loan. He said, bring I heard your dad buy the house, bring me the papers and we'll get you a loan, and that's how my dad got the loan from Mr. Stinchcomb. You know, Broadview Savings. And then grandpa was continuously working for the soccer club. And, and I, I helped him. He was managing a team and eventually became the treasurer, and my bookkeeping experience helped a lot, with the bookkeeping. And then we got our sons into soccer. And and well your dad was in soccer first, and I don't know how he got you into the dance group.
Lanie Welker [00:44:46] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:44:47] Well,
Lanie Welker [00:44:49] Did you how did you guys get from German Central to other clubs now?
Anna Welker [00:44:55] How did we?
Lanie Welker [00:44:57] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:44:57] Well, we never belonged to the German Central. We never belonged. We were with the soccer club and the soccer club joined the Donauschwaben. That's how that connection came through soccer with the Donauschwaben.
Lanie Welker [00:45:11] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:45:11] But then we always volunteered at the at the fish frys at the Donauschwaben. And at the the whenever they needed somebody in the kitchen, you know, and grandpa went to work out on the grounds, volunteer But the first thing with building those soccer fields.
Lanie Welker [00:45:32] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:45:32] They were very much- grandpa was very much grandpa worked the night shift at Ford. From Ford he would go out to Lenau Park and cut the grass and do, do the work at the field. And that's why we got so involved. In fact, then. I don't know what year it was, we were named German man and German woman of the year. That's how much we were involved with the Donauschwaben.
Lanie Welker [00:46:06] Yeah so then that just kind of carried down. Through my dad, in other words?
Anna Welker [00:46:12] Yes.
Lanie Welker [00:46:14] And then through (indscernible).
Anna Welker [00:46:15] Yes, especially you and Kurt, still were very much involved, but you, Kurt was already eligible to be with the Kindergruppe and your mom took you along and you were dancing between the tables there. And then one night at practice, they didn't have enough girls. They didn't have they had one extra person that needed a partner said, Lanie, would you like to dance? You knew, every dance already from watching. And then you never left.
Lanie Welker [00:46:54] Yep we haven't left.
Anna Welker [00:46:56] You were never left. Unfortunately, we had a little bit of a disagreement and we just ah dropped it.
Lanie Welker [00:47:05] Yes.
Anna Welker [00:47:05] And, but we were right there from the beginning of building at Lenau Park, you know, but we were with the sport group, like I said, and the sport group joined the Donauschwaben at the Banater. That's how we came to the Donauschwaben. So. We are through Donauschwaben. And that's it was a pleasure. All the nice people we met through the Donauschwaben.
Lanie Welker [00:47:46] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:47:46] And I think we helped them along a great deal. Grandpa was responsible for the steak roast for the, for the big fundraisers. I remember when they had their first you know, when they bought the land, they needed money. And Grandpa said, well, we have a steak roast. And Mr. Alter said and grandpa said, well, this is how much we can start and charge. Oh, you can't charge people. He said this is a fundraiser. You don't have to give them their money's worth.
Lanie Welker [00:48:25] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:48:26] You know. You have to make money on this because what they needed was the septic system.
Lanie Welker [00:48:33] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:48:34] They need it. That's where Grandpa was so involved with their fund raisers. And I was always cashiering. Through my experience with being a cashier at the City Club of Cleveland. I knew how to handle the money and the bookkeeping. And when, when grandpa was the treasurer of the soccer club, I did all the bookkeeping, you know.And the Frauengruppe as a member of the Frauengruppe,.
Lanie Welker [00:49:04] Yeah.
Anna Welker [00:49:05] All these years, and I was their treasurer for a number of years.
Lanie Welker [00:49:14] Well, thank you for that.
Anna Welker [00:49:16] Well, thank you, Lanie, for the interview, and I hope it will be safe on the records.
Lanie Welker [00:49:26] It will.
Anna Welker [00:49:26] For a long time to come.
Lanie Welker [00:49:27] Yep.
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