Helga Schlothauer was born in 1937 and was only seven years old when she and her mother and younger brother escaped from their hometown of Neu Schowe (now called Ravno Selo) in what is now modern-day Serbia. Schlothauer tells of her childhood travels across war-torn Europe to Austria and finally, in 1956, to the United States. She also describes her life in the U.S. as a native German speaker.
Schlothauer, Helga (interviewee)
Welker, Michael Fritz (interviewer)
Cleveland German-American Oral History Project
"Helga Schlothauer interview, 24 June 2019" (2019). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 195004.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:00:02] OK, we are doing this recording today and June 24th, I'm with Helga Schlothauer from Neu Schowe (former Yugoslavia) and we're going to talk a little bit about her journey to the Cleveland and her involvement with the Cleveland Club. OK,(Frau Schlothauer), first, I'm going to start off with a little bit. Tell me about what you remember from your from Neu Schowe and what you remember from living in Neu Schowe and what your family did and how things were there.
Helga Schlothauer [00:00:30] I don't remember too much. I only was seven years old when we left. So I kind of remember some friends and we lived in a it was called Bauhilfe. It's like it was a big building, not the house that had up front, like an office where they collected, I think, money and things from the farmers. And then.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:01:03] So is that your family's business? No, no.
Helga Schlothauer [00:01:05] It was somebody from Neu Schowe, it was not our business, no. And I don't remember too much about my dad because he first he joined the Serbian army and then, of course, in 1941, he joined the German army right away. So he wasn't home too much, but, there is really not much. He left right away. He came home a few times from the Army and the last time he came home was in 1944 in the summer, and that was the last time we saw him. He died in November 1944 in not far from Budapest.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:02:01] So he was killed in the war.
Helga Schlothauer [00:02:03] Yes, He was killed there.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:02:05] What did your family do. Were they farmers or what were their business.
Helga Schlothauer [00:02:09] My father was a barber, so that was his profession. And mom, as I remember she ran a dairy farm. They made butter and things like that. So but not I don't remember too much about that. And since our dad was not really much home, so no, they were not. Mom would help out on the fields forever because my grandparents, her parents, they had they worked on a Saalash(?). And they also had horses and whatever. Yeah. And that's actually where when it came time for us to leave Neu Schowe in October, on October the 9th of 1944, the Big Bang.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:03:12] They banged the drum?.
Helga Schlothauer [00:03:13] Yes.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:03:14] Town crier.
Helga Schlothauer [00:03:15] Yes. And said whoever can't get a wagon and horse come like that was the 8th. And the 9th come to the middle of the town, the village. And we leave because the army told them, you know, it's time to leave. Even our dad in his last letter that he wrote not to us, but to his sister in Germany wrote, He hopes that we left in time.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:03:54] So that was on October 9th, 1944. And did everybody leave or.
Helga Schlothauer [00:04:01] No, like I said, I don't remember how many wagons, but apparently there was another, should I say, transport. Yeah. That left. I don't know. They must have left after we left. Right, because I don't I read later on that somebody that they left later but they.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:04:30] Pack up what you can carry and.
[00:04:33] We had a wagon, so we even put feather beds and pillows on it and whatever we could think of because we were Herve only two years old, so he was actually a baby and Herve and I and mom and my grandparents. So we had only one horse and a wagon. But we put food, a lot of food because, you know, people killed pigs. And the meat was stored so. And lard. We took and since my mom worked in the dairy, she, she, I still see her running after the wagon with a bunch of butter so she could put it on the wagon. And that was the last time you saw Schwoveh. Yeah, we left and I remember that first village, it must have passed quite a few but it was the next one there. But then was evening already and we came to (*****Indecipherable****), which was the next village. And those people there, they must have left right after or during lunch or dinner because they had the houses just like that, not locked up or anything. But and the dishes were still on the table.
[00:06:06] But they had just about the town.
[00:06:08] They must have left even quicker than we did. We did. And I remember sleeping in in the wagon their barn or whatever it was, and the others, which I don't know, maybe they slept in other houses. I don't remember that. And then from there on, we just went west and then we crossed the Danube somewhere, I don't know where and the other thing I, my mom always said, you are used to sing "Jesus Der Leb Ich) (I love Jesus). Whenever we came to a Catholic village, they had to cross in the beginning of the village, and at the end ,and I don't know that would I remember that probably, you know, but I always used to sing "Jesus Der Leb Ich" I had no idea what that meant or anything. But anyhow so that was and where we cross the Danube, I don't know. But there were no bridges anymore. They were all bombed out. So we went what do you call that the when you go over to the water. Yeah. With the wagons and. Oh yeah. What do you call that. We just crossed over. I mean, a pontoon boat. OK, ok. Yes. Our raft. That's a raft over it. Yeah. So that's how we crossed over.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:07:46] And that was over the Danube and the Danube is a fast running river. So that's hard to cross way.
Helga Schlothauer [00:07:51] That one must have been closer to Hungary when Budapest, because then we went north but northeast more or less. We went into the Czechoslovakia. And since Austria and Czechoslovakia hilly has a lot of mountains and little and our wagons were not equipped to handle that. So I remember my mom with a board for about whatever going between the spoke of to.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:08:29] To help push the way.
[00:08:30] Yeah. Just to break. To break. Oh great. Yeah.
Helga Schlothauer [00:08:35] Our area was flat is this table and even Schwobe I mean was so there was no breaks but anyhow so that was I remember and not only my mom and other younger people too, even my, I'm talking about I brought my grandparents but they were young too. They were in their forties. Yeah. You know, not right when you think they're older people, but they were not. And so we ended up in Czechoslovakia and there we came to a I don't know if all the wagons were there, but we came to a village that was called Jevisovice, and people were assigned to certain other people from there to stay with them. And we did I don't remember the family or anything, but I remember being in the they had an outhouse like, yeah. And that was the end of January already that when we got to.
[00:09:42] January of nineteen forty five.
Helga Schlothauer [00:09:44] Forty five. Yeah. When we got the message, I don't know from whom but probably from my aunt. It was in Germany the whole time. Yeah. That send us that our dad died. Oh OK. He died the 21st of November 1944 so he must have, and they were fighting around Budapest so we must have passed them. Kind of. Yeah. To and then we heard that he was, he was killed so that was we stayed there maybe till spring time because there were a lot of was a lot of snow and everything. But it was amazing that these people took you and all these people, you know. Yeah, but we were three small children. Yeah. So but anyhow, so did they. We left and in springtime and there was one family that I heard about, I didn't know them, but the Hipe was a husband and a wife. They decided they wanted to go back home and since we were not too far from the border, they did. But they'd crossed the border. And of course they were right away put in concentration camps. The Hipe, I don't know if you remember Chris Hipe. So he played soccer. Yeah. Yeah. Well, anyhow, his parents. Yeah, as far as I remember. But anyhow, so then we left and we came to a village that was also and Hugat doesn't remember Jevisovice anymore, but I said, yes, this was the first and the second village that we came to was Stieblan (?). That was a German name. Right. So there we also we stayed in a house. I don't remember whose house it was or whatever.And the wagons, it was like a village. Like the houses were built around a lower part of the middle, like a like a valley, a valley or whatever, and the houses around it, and that's where the American troops came out, that's how far north they came already. And they kept going back to Austria instead of, and let the Russians come and take Czechoslovakia. So the American soldiers, since we were children, that gave us a lot of chocolate and candy and stuff like that. But we didn't stay there too long. So, they're OK now we're leaving, they're going to Austria, down South Austria across the border. And that's where we went. And we ended up in lower Austria, not far from **INDECIPHERABLE****. You know from lower Austria and not far from there, we went to a farmer. Yeah. And there I think I'm not 100 percent sure. But there we left the wagon and I gave him the wagon. And one other thing in in Czechoslovakia before we left, (Shteveland??), and there was another lady and her mom there joined our wagon and they gave us their other horse, their horse. So we had two horses, but they were seven people and one wagon and and but that's how we came to Austria. And then there was quite a while because Hubert and I went to school there.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:14:00] Now Hubert is your brother, right? Is Hubert older?
Michael Fritz Welker [00:14:07] No, he is a year younger than I am. So he and I, he went to kindergarten, probably Herby was too small yet, and I went, and then I remember my mom always said, yeah, she remembers the teacher told her that I showed the teacher how to make a heel, you know, sock, because I knew how to knit already. So that was but that there we went. I wasn't too long. And then during the summer time, that was '45, no that was later already, '46, 1946. In the summertime, my uncle, the brother of my mom's, lived even during the war in Augsburg, Germany. Of course, and my grandparents knew the address and everything. So we got in contact. They got in contact with him OK, and he said come to Germany. OK, so we left everything, whatever we couldn't take by train to go to Augsburg Germany. That was in '46 in must have been July, August, no July. And we came and left Amstetten. We went and we came to Linz upper Austria. I don't remember. Or maybe, I don't, I don't know why we were stopped in Linz, but there must have been a lot of, how should I say, refugees coming? No, not the refugees, but a lot of people that were looking for workers, OK, because they needed to build up the houses because a lot of houses in Linz were bombed out. Yeah, so and since my grandmother, my mom and my grandfather were workers, so they we stopped in Linz, they gave us a Kaserne(barracks), they gave us two rooms and to work for a certain company and to build up houses. So, yeah. Clean bricks, right? But you're looking at me. But you know what, he did the same thing, you know, so and that's and then since it was the end of summer, we had to look, I was old enough to start school. And in Upper Austria, I don't know the rest of Austria, in upper Austria, they only had girls school and boys school, no coed schools. So my mom went to one school. It was called Mozart Schule and tried to register. Yeah, they took me I since we were actually two years on the road. Yeah. But I went partially to school in Lower Austria and they took me for the third grade in elementary school. Hubert couldn't get into school because they didn't have room for the boys. So he started in like a Fluechtlings (refugee) school. Like a preschool. Yeah but and that's so I started third grade, went to fourth grade and I had Mozart Schule and then after fourth grade, you had a choice to go either to the high school or gymnasium or, you know, go longer in elementary school. Well, I decided, we decided, my mom, decided to go to a high school. So I went to high school. And since Upper Austria was the seats from the American occupied yet occupied American soldiers we had that was the second language we had to learn. In Lower Austria, that they had to learn Russian because Russia was and so on. The other part Canton and Stiermark they were English. Yeah. And then French Tyrol.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:18:53] So so they had to learn whatever language they were occupied by.
Helga Schlothauer [00:18:56] Right. So that's why the second language, the American, not English, I mean not the American English. The Oxford English. So but anyhow. And I went four years to high school and then after high school you either could go on to gymnasium or learn a trade . Right. So I decided since I was handy with a needle said to go to Gewerbenschule fuer Frauenberufe, which means ladies like home economics. Right. Right. Yeah. And so I went two years the first year we learned how to cook,in the second year, how to sew. So and I made my dressmaking thing and that's so that was 1954. I was done and then I worked for.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:19:57] And this whole time you are still living in that.
Helga Schlothauer [00:20:00] Austria first village, like I said, in the barracks. Yeah. And then in 1950, we went to 52? '51, I think, we went to the barrack, right? It was just one barrack and they gave us actually we had two rooms, Mom. And by that time, mom had married already another Mr. Sherrer. And my youngest brother, Karl, was born already in 1949. And then we had two rooms and my grandparents had another room. But not long after they moved into the barrack, they decided to go to Germany. My uncle called them and said first they wanted us to come too, but we didn't, we stayed in Austria. And so they went to Germany and I went to visit to fight a few times the grandparents in Germany in Augsburg. But that was about all I remember. And then 1956, we met each other already and we got a letter from my Uncle from my father's side. The brother of Josef Holler(?) they sent a letter they were here already in 1952. Excuse me and the other George, Uncle George, and the brothers of my father, they were here already, so I'm told they didn't have any children, so they'd called, wrote us a letter and said, it was in 1956, '55?, to come to America, OK?
Michael Fritz Welker [00:22:03] So they were going to be your sponsors.
Helga Schlothauer [00:22:08] They'll find a sponsor and I can if I come first, they said, I was 19 years old by that time, then it's easier for the rest of the family to come over, which was not really the case. And they came anyhow. So when I came in, and they sponsored and then I came to them, I came here to Cleveland, Ohio. I.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:22:38] You met Mr. Schlothauer in Austria already?
Helga Schlothauer [00:22:39] Yes.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:22:41] Were you married in Austria?
Helga Schlothauer [00:22:42] No.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:22:46] She left you?
Helga Schlothauer [00:22:47] No, we we got engaged in, shortly before I left for America, right? Yeah. I actually was on my father's birthday, the twenty ninth of April of '56, and I left all by myself. I was 19 years old and I came by boat. By ship. Yeah. And I had to go to, and that is another story, but I'm not gonna go into that because before I went to Bremerhaven, I thought I'm going to go and visit my grandparents in Augsburg for the last time while I got to the train and I left. I didn't have much money with me and anything because I was going to go to Germany. Yeah. And so I came to Saltzberg and since there was still a border control, they looked at my passport and said, oh, you can't go. So I said, I was going to go to Augsburg, yeah, "no, you can go. You don't have (*****INDECIPHERABLE****). You have to go either the right way to Bremerhaven or you have to get off the train and go to the consulate. Yeah. To change it". How in the world how do I do that? You know, but I remembered that some of our Schovia Lansman. Yeah. Like the Jungs and the (***INDECPHIRABLE***) and the Blooms they were all (****INDECIPHERABLE****). Yeah. So OK, I get off the train, I go and look for a bus to go to (****INDECIPHERABLE***) had to find them first and then the Kristal Jung and Josef Roman they took me then the next day. I stayed with them for one night. Next day they took me to the town (***INDECIPHERABLE***) so I got that. So then I left and I stayed at my grandparents maybe two days and then I left to go to Bremerhaven. And then I boarded a boat and came to America.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:25:11] What boat did you come on?
Helga Schlothauer [00:25:11] New York?
Michael Fritz Welker [00:25:15] What was the name of the boat? Because some came out on the Queen Mary, some came on military transport,
Helga Schlothauer [00:25:22] SS Langfitt. That was a sort of a military military service.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:25:27] That's what my father, my father did that too.
Helga Schlothauer [00:25:31] Right That's the same ship that went back, went after it, came back and picked my Stepan and his mum, the same thing. Yeah, but that was the journey.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:25:44] Now did you have to work on the ship while it went across.
Helga Schlothauer [00:25:47] He did, I didn't.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:25:48] Because I know my father had to be a policeman on the ship, but then he said that was the easiest job. So that was the easiest way to get across.
Helga Schlothauer [00:25:54] I was in the kitchen. I was feeding the turtles. There were 2000 people on the boat. Yeah. And about 2000 eggs had to be made. Nobody could eat. So you can just overboard the turtles.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:26:13] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Helga Schlothauer [00:26:15] That was I mean, it wasn't too bad, but the only thing is I didn't know anybody on the ship. You know, you meet people but still it's not, I don't know anybody.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:26:27] And and you were coming to Cleveland.
Helga Schlothauer [00:26:30] But from New York, I boarded the train and came and then I came to Cleveland.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:26:37] And who sponsored you when you were in Cleveland,.
Helga Schlothauer [00:26:39] Mr Winterich? he was the boss of my uncle's. Uncle was a painter, and that was the company that he worked for. So he sponsored.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:26:51] And what did you do when you came here? Did you work for a while or what?
Helga Schlothauer [00:26:54] The next day I think I started because all my aunts, not Aunt Elizabeth but Aunt Rose, they all worked for are, how do you say now? Knitting mills. Because there were, at that time a lot of German.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:27:20] My grandfather was a tailor.
Helga Schlothauer [00:27:21] Right. So while either they worked at Joseph and Feice, or at the knitting mill. Right. Yeah.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:27:31] My grandfather was Joseph and Feice.
Helga Schlothauer [00:27:34] Right, yeah. And I worked at the knitting mill until '58, that's when Walter was born 56, 58?. But, and then so.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:27:48] In the meantime your husband came over and you got married.
Helga Schlothauer [00:27:51] Oh we got married. I came in May and he came in June and in November we had a wedding of 400 people.
Helga Schlothauer [00:27:59] Yes. Yes. We didn't know from anything. I didn't know where to get. And there was a couple from Shwoveh. And Mr. and Mrs.....what was the name last name, Autumn and Iva. And they arranged actually had everything and everything that had to be done. The only thing that was not good, the food was good because people cooked themselves, you know the whole Shwoveh. Right. And then but the band was not good. But anyhow, so that's OK. We got married and then in '58, Walter was born and 1959 Ingrid was born.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:28:48] Okay, so how did you get involved with the club.
Helga Schlothauer [00:28:51] OK, we started with the soccer club, we came in '56 and since the soccer club was more Schwoven. Yeah. people well OK, you're going to the soccer club and that's when actually that's very '67? You can look at the picture that's very they started in 67. Yeah, 67, 56 became 67, '57 oh I'm sorry. So that's when they met at 25th street there. And we did, we did a lot of.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:29:42] was that the old Brookside Park?
Helga Schlothauer [00:29:42] Brookside Park. Oh Edgewater Park.
Helga Schlothauer [00:29:47] Brookside Park, Latin Field. Every Sunday and then we would meet at the Banater club. OK, and that was first years, all we did till 1958, the Frauengruppe got started. Yeah. And that's, we kind of joined through the soccer club. But really.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:30:13] Now when I was talking to Mr. Awender he said he had to convince the Banater Club to come in the soccer club come in and make the showers for them because they were worried about the expense, he said look at all the people. You're going to have come in if you have the soccer.
Helga Schlothauer [00:30:24] Not only that, but the building in the back. the soccer club built that, right? Yeah. Yeah, right, right, right. And then I remember one doing there was something going on in the hall and then we had that (***INDECIPHERABLE****) wasn't there wedding in the back building? Yeah. So. Right. That's what we did at that time. Right.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:30:50] So how did you get involved with other parts of the club, the Frauengruppe and the singers. Right?
Helga Schlothauer [00:30:55] The Frauengruppe was actually, they started in 1959. So not long after, it was actually part of the (****INDECIPHERABLE*****) already. But Mrs. Ritzman, she kind of joined the Frauengruppe. And then of course, that's where we met. Not during the day. We met in the evenings and on one day.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:31:26] And now you were involved in a lot of that club. And how did that happen?
Helga Schlothauer [00:31:31] And I. Well, my, uh.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:31:35] What was your first one? What was the first group you were involved besides the soccer?,.
Helga Schlothauer [00:31:37] Kindergruppe. The Frauengruppe was the first. Yeah. And then I was and then I to go after first (***INDECIPHERABLE***) wrote a protocol and then (***Andy Sutland****) and after Andy, I took over. I wrote the protocol for 10 years for the (****INDECIPHERABLE****). Yeah, so and the school started to how did I start school? Walter was five years old in '63. Ingrid was not four years old. So I took my Walter to school kindergarten actually. And since Banater Club and there and the kids were just sitting in a circle and listening to what the teacher was.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:32:41] So that was right at the beginning of the language school. Right.
Helga Schlothauer [00:32:43] OK, it was Mrs. Dyer. Yeah Annalise she was, and that was 63. Yeah. So and my children, Walter when I left and went away from the chair where he was sitting, he started to scream like somebody was going to do something to him. So I sat next to Annalise, said, "oh, go sit next to him, it's going to be OK". And that that was September, 63?And 64 after Christmas or before Christmas already, Annalee said to me, oh, Helga. I notice you can sing all these songs along, you know, why don't you start? And that's how I started '64, actually. Yeah, kind of. Excuse me. Then ;64 until '73. I was going to kindergarten. Yeah. I was going stop because at that time we lived already in Mentor. Yeah. And it was always a long drive and long ride and so and I had to had my goodbye at Freulings concert and then during the summer of 65, Anna Nagy, she had moved at that time to already to Mentor and she was interested in the German school to open up the East Side that summer '65. Then I thought that I'm seventy three now you know I'm not going to do it anymore. But she came during the summer and she says, "Oh Helga, don't you want to be in the East Side school, too"? So I started that. Either way, I didn't actually stop. I went and did the East Side school for ten years, ten years on the West Side and ten year on the East Side. So that was the school. And then, of course, when Ingrid wanted to join the Jugendgruppe. Yeah, I had to bring him for Mentor. They couldn't drive yet, so I had to bring him. And of course and I was there and it bothered me. And then I even though Connie did play the accordian, but they didn't know the songs as much. So, OK, Helga start to sing and sing with them. So I did that.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:35:28] Yeah, that's when I was singing with you.
Helga Schlothauer [00:35:31] You, remember that too?.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:35:32] I remember that too.
Helga Schlothauer [00:35:33] I just remember, you know, going all the time. And then the same thing. I started with the Kindergruppe. Yeah, yeah. Lenau Park. I felt sorry for Annalise, you know, when she had to say that, you know, I'm here, I'm sitting here and doing nothing, join, do something. And that's when I started in the Kindergruppe.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:36:00] And you've been officer of several of the groups too, right? What groups have you been an officer for, what offices?
Helga Schlothauer [00:36:06] I joined the choir in nineteen eighty seven. OK, so that was thirty years ago right. Eighty seven. And I never regretted it and it was for me, the choir that I thought I belonged, even though I was not co-chair, I'm not Catholic. Yeah. You know, but they took me in and I, and I liked it. So in 1994 Mrs. Ceder, she arranged a trip to Austria and Slovenia and that's when we went to Austria and Slovenia. And later after after the trip movement to Germany actually. That was 1994 In 1998, we made a trip with Gutzky, a choir to Austria, Slovenia and Italy. We went from we sing at St. Peter Peter's Church. Yeah, I can't think, I am Catholic and I have a few other churches. That was in 1994 and then 2003 I went with the Jugendgruppe also to Germany and Hungary and Austria. So that I have been. Yeah, yeah.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:37:43] And as far as your president of one of the groups or whether you were an officer for the Frauengruppe or the Seniorengruppe.
Helga Schlothauer [00:37:53] I was. I just met. Yeah, just now. Twenty two years. I was president from the Frauengruppe but it's OK. They gave me nice. I was surprised they for flower and from the Frauengruppe to justice from the (****INDECIPHERABL***).
Michael Fritz Welker [00:38:14] You've been on the board for a long time to serving on the board. How many years. Do you think that's been. as long as you were president of the Frauengruppe, you were on the board, right?
Helga Schlothauer [00:38:30] Rright after. I mean, after protocol as secretary I. And then Frauengruppe.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:38:39] Yeah. OK, so you were you were one of the original secretaries of the (***?????) And now you've been Frauengruppe.
Helga Schlothauer [00:38:45] That's great. Frauengruppe. And uh, well I joined the Banater. But then what. When did we create the Banater Chor.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:38:58] About two years ago, I think.
Helga Schlothauer [00:38:59] Right. And I joined the Schuhplattler choir.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:39:07] So. So you like to sing?
Helga Schlothauer [00:39:08] I like to sing, and (****??????****) always says " again You have to go" ?
Michael Fritz Welker [00:39:14] Practice, practice they'll never learn.
Helga Schlothauer [00:39:19] Yeah. So but we had actually yesterday we had that the culture club we had sangafest, and we had all the ones that are still around. Yeah. Not too many are around anymore, you know.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:39:34] OK, all right. Well I think that's pretty good I think. Oh. Anything else you want to add.
Helga Schlothauer [00:39:39] No, not really. I mean,.
Michael Fritz Welker [00:39:43] A good story. Thank you.
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