Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Adelheid Braunstein, January 11, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Background--Early life, family history, and historical context

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Partial Transcript: Okay, it is January 11th, uh, 2019. It is 10:56 in the morning and today we are off-site doing an interview, um, with--

Segment Synopsis: James Bartek introduces the interview and its narrator, Adelheid Braunstein, who grew up in Serbia and lived under Nazi occupation before eventually coming to the United States. Braunstein says she was born in Alibunar, Serbia, in 1924 and was ninety-four years old at the time of the interview. She discusses the history of ethnic Germans living in Serbia, also known as the Danube Swabians. She says her mother was Flora Remlinger and her father was Josef Maldacker, who died of a heart attack when she was sixteen months old. She talks about their life growing up after her father's death and her mother's decision to send her to live with her grandparents while she looked for work. She says her mother was relatively highly educated because she was from Siebenbürgen in what is now Romania, which was more culturally accepting of women's education. She was taught bookkeeping and accounting, and when she was younger, she worked for her father at his vineyard. Her mother eventually found work as a housekeeper for a bishop relative of hers in another town.

Keywords: Accounting; Alibunar (Serbia); Bishops; Bookkeeping; Carpathian Mountains; Catholic priests; Catholics; Convents; Crocheting; Danube River; Dirt homes; Empress Maria Theresa; Flora Remlinger; Germans; Hapsburgs; Hungarians; Josef Maldacker; Knitting; Muslims; Norse; Nuns; Ottoman Empire; Romanians; Serbians; Siebenbürgen (Romania); Swabians; Transylvania; Turkey; Vineyards; Vintners; Yugoslavia

Subjects: Children of single parents.; Danube Swabians; Minorities--Europe, Eastern.; Serbia

00:13:54 - Teenage years and education in Serbian and German schools

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Partial Transcript: So, I came back then and, you know, then p-pretty soon school, you know that was the thing: there is German schools.

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about going to live with her mother, gives a brief history of Yugoslavia, describes ethnic and racial tensions between the different groups which Hitler would later exploit, her education in Serbian and German schools, and what Germany was like at the time. Braunstein says that all schools in Yugoslavia past sixth grade were taught exclusively in Serbian, so most Germans sent their kids back to Austria or Germany for education beyond that point. This caused tension between the different ethnic groups of the country, as Serbians and Slovenians saw the Germans as refusing to assimilate and thought they wanted to take over the country, while Germans insisted they simply wanted to maintain their culture and have their children learn their unique history. These disagreements were exacerbated by the fact that Braunstein says the Serbians and Slovenians were better educated, but the Germans occupied better lands and had better homes, which she blames on the Serbians for all being "alcoholics." She describes a few examples of cultural subjugation of the Swabians, such as having to step off a sidewalk and say "God be with you" if a Serbian priest was walking by them. However, Braunstein says that these concessions kept relations peaceful until the outbreak of World War Two. She describes Hitler's rise to power very briefly, before saying that he wanted to reclaim territories settled by ethnic Germans just so he could use those men as "cannon-fodder." Braunstein goes on to talk about her education at a Serbian school and the different languages, alphabets, and histories she learned there before going to a women's school in Weidenthal, Germany, in 1942-1943. She talks about her experience of Germany and German culture, saying her school taught her basic vocational skills aimed at making her a good housewife, but nothing more. She was not taught history or anything political or religious in Germany. She recalls hearing about the rounding-up of the Jews at the outset of the Holocaust, but says she did not see anything firsthand. Braunstein says that, growing up in an ethnically and culturally diverse area she was always taught to respect others, and German society at the time contrasted with that.

Keywords: "Cannon-fodder"; "God be with you"; "Land-bound woman school"; Adolf Hitler; Austria; Catholic priests; Croatia; Cyrillic; Fourth grade; Gas chambers; German schools; Germans; Germany; Hapsburgs; Housewives; Jewish; Jews; King Alexander I; Landfrauen schools; Nuns; Orthodox priests; Rhine River; Serbia; Serbian priests; Serbian schools; Serbians; Sixth grade; Slavic languages; Slovenia; WW1; WWI; Weidenthal (Germany); World War 1; World War One; Yugoslavia

Subjects: Danube Swabians; Education--Europe, Eastern.; Ethnic relations.; Minorities--Europe, Eastern.; National socialism and education.; National socialism and women.; National socialism--Germany.; Serbia

00:29:22 - Returning home, World War Two, and getting married

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Partial Transcript: So, w-when you came back home again, w-w-where did you come off to?

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about coming home after attending school in Germany and what it was like to live under Nazi occupation during World War Two, as well as talking about her fiance and getting married. She says that her hometown was now a part of Nazi-allied Hungary, which was ruled by Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya. She describes what it was like when the Germans arrived and says that they did not then know that Germany would lose the war. Braunstein says that they gave food or supplies to the soldiers if they needed them, which they saw as their Christian duty. She talks about becoming a kindergarten teacher and she taught in German, not Hungarian or Serbian. She started attending a school for high school teachers in 1944, and around the same time married her fiance, Andreas Braunstein, who was the baker's son from her hometown. His mother had joked for their whole lives that they would get married, to which her mother bristled. She says they never dated, and they certainly had no sex education, leading her to admit she was "very naive" in that regard. Braunstein says Andreas was conscripted by the German Army against his will and sent to fight in on the Northern Front in Finland. Before they were married, she says she had not seen him for nearly two years. He had tried to visit her while on furlough when she was in Weidenthal, but her school's director would not allow it. She talks about their only communication being through letters which were heavily censored, so they could only talk in vague terms about their daily lives. She recalls that he wrote about Swedish ships bringing them food and supplies like chocolate and cigarettes. After she came home from school, he was furloughed again in May of 1944, and they were married.

Keywords: Andreas Braunstein; Basic training; Censorship; Chocolate; Cigarettes; Finland; Furloughs; German soldiers; Germans; Hungarian; Hungary; Kindergarten; Kindergarten teachers; Letters; Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya; Prague; Russia; Sex education; Switzerland; WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War II; Yugoslavia

Subjects: Courtship.; Danube Swabians; Marriage.; National socialism--Germany.; World War, 1939-1945

00:39:27 - Preparing to leave home as Germany begins losing the war

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Partial Transcript: And in October, is this when all the German troops from the, uh, Black Sea already--

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about seeing the tide turn against the Germans in World War Two, their preparations to leave Hungary in the face of a German defeat, and where Andreas was stationed next. She talks about hearing German wagon trains pass through their town as they came back from the failed German invasion of Russia, at which point they knew Germany would lose the war. She says that Andreas could not tell her any secret information he had about the war effort, but he knew they had to leave Hungary, which they did in October of 1944. Before they left, Braunstein says they buried their good dishes and valuables thinking that they would return one day, but they never did because of the ethnic cleansing that began afterwards. She says that eleven people from their town were made to dig their own graves, then executed and buried inside them. She tells another story about Andreas' grandparents, saying that they were tied together with leather straps and his grandfather was shot. He fell into a grave pit, pulling Andreas' still living grandmother with him, and she was buried alive, though she escaped later. Braunstein says she stayed with her family when Andreas' furlough was over and he was sent to translation school, but she did not enjoy being apart from him.

Keywords: Andreas Braunstein; Eastern front; Ethnic cleansing; German; German soldiers; Germany; Hungarian; Prisoners of war; Serbians; Translation schools; WW2; WWII; Wagons; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: Marriage.; Refugees--Europe.; War crimes.; World War, 1939-1945

00:45:14 - Living as refugees in Europe until the end of the war

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit about that experience, about a-actually, actually leaving?

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about living as a refugee in different parts of Europe until Germany surrendered. She says they left her hometown in October of 1944 with as many packed stores and provisions as they could carry. The family left, heading first to Vienna, Austria, but she wanted to be with Andreas at his translation school on the Swiss border. She left her family and took a train to where he was stationed. He found a chalet nearby where she could live and work, so she stayed there until he was ordered to another school on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945. There, she says she worked with a widow in her shop in a relatively secluded area, and was pregnant by then. Braunstein says the Russians were closing in and the city was being heavily bombed, but not close to where the widow's store was. She remembers phosphorous bombs that lit up "like Christmas trees" and could burn anything, even the sidewalk and pavement. As the Russians got closer to the city, she says that Andreas told her that they needed to leave because things could get bad, especially for her since the Russians had a bad reputation for how their soldiers treated women. Braunstein says that she belonged to her husband's side of the family after they were married, so she went with him to Silesia, where his family was staying and which also happened to be close to where her mother had settled. They were evacuated from there by train two days later, and Braunstein says they went to Czechoslovakia in April, immediately before Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.

Keywords: Allies; Andreas Braunstein; Berlin (Germany); Bombing; Capitulation Day; Chalets; Czechoslovakia; Germany; Phosphorous bombs; Potatoes; Russians; Silesia; Smoked meat; Switzerland; Vienna (Austria); Wagons; World War Two

Subjects: Berlin, Battle of, Berlin, Germany, 1945.; Marriage.; Refugees--Europe.; World War, 1939-1945

00:54:18 - Hiding in Czechoslovakia after the end of the war

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Partial Transcript: We lived on--with a widow, with a older widow who had quite a bit of land and a big house.

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about hiding on a widow's farm in Czechoslovakia from Russian and Czech authorities after the end of World War Two. She talks about their arrival there and everyone fully realizing that Germany had lost the war. She says they were in Sudetenland with a widow who did not know where her husband was as he had been fighting in the Germany Army. Braunstein talks about their family having to hide from Russian patrols, and says that the men would go and hide in the forest when they thought they were going to be searched. The rest of the time, she says they all lived in the attic. She tells a story about a Russian soldier coming by the house on one occasion and finding the women but promising not to hurt them, saying, "We don't hurt babushkas." She talks more about him searching the house for the men before leaving, saying that they do not have to hide from the Russians and can go home.

Keywords: "Babushkas"; Andreas Braunstein; Germany; Larders; Russian soldiers; Russians; Serbian; Widows; Yugoslavia

Subjects: Czechoslovakia.; Refugees--Europe.; Soviet Union--Foreign relations--Czechoslovakia.; Sudetenland (Czech Republic)

01:03:33 - Being held in a Czech labor camp and giving birth to her first son

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Partial Transcript: And from there--okay, yeah I, I remember now. We ended up, okay, um, in a labor camp from there.

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about their time being held in a Soviet-run forced labor camp in Czechoslovakia. She says they were on their way back to their home in what was then Hungary when they were told that things had gotten very bad there and they should not return. They went to Czechoslovakia instead and were taken to a state-run farm and labor camp. She says all eleven of their group were housed in a room on the second floor of a house on the farm. She describes an older man being murdered by Czech soldiers and the terrible, lice-infested living conditions of their house. She describes their daily work duties on the farm and the treatment of the workers by the Czech and Russian soldiers there. She says they were treated like animals and she was constantly afraid for her life and the life of her unborn baby. She talks about not being able to sleep because the soldiers would get drunk at night and sing, and on other occasions would come upstairs to rape the women. To keep this from happening, they covered themselves in flour and ash to appear older and uglier. Braunstein says that they could hear the screams of women in other houses being raped throughout the night. When it was close to time for her to deliver her baby she says she was taken to a Russian field hospital. She gave birth to a boy, but he was underweight at less than five pounds and she was unsure if he would survive. She says that she was forced to feed Czech babies before she could feed her own. These issues, combined with the cold winter air, led to him developing lifelong lung problems. Braunstein says he is still living and has settled in Mansfield, Ohio. She says that during the rest of the winter, they were moved from the farm into the city, but had no work and no money.

Keywords: Czech soldiers; Fear; Field hospitals; Food; Germans; Hungary; Indoor plumbing; Lice; Mansfield (Ohio); Rape; Russians; Straw beds; Underweight babies; Water

Subjects: Childbirth.; Crimes against humanity.; Czechoslovakia.; Forced labor.; Labor camps.; State farms--Soviet Union.; Women refugees.

01:16:39 - Escaping from the labor camp into West Germany

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Partial Transcript: I got a letter from my mom which, they were in Germany, not very far on the border on the east side of Germany.

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein describes escaping from the labor camp, meeting her husband again, and returning to free the rest of their group. She talks about hearing from her mother that they knew how bad her situation was and that they should try to escape. She says her priest gave them money to make the trip across the border so Braunstein escaped, along with the widow who was in their group. The two made their way through snowy conditions before getting turned around and lost. They were saved after being stopped by a Russian patrol who asked where they were going and invited them inside to warm up. They lied, saying they were headed to Czechoslovakia, at which point he informed them they were headed the wrong way, which gave them back their bearings. Braunstein says they left and continued their trip, eventually leaving on a train headed towards the farm where they had learned Andreas was working. She describes where Andreas had been as a prisoner of the British and how he came to be working on the farm. After finding Andreas, Braunstein says she returned to free the rest of their group from the labor camp once spring came. On May 8, 1945, she says they left the work camp on a train to go to a safehouse near the border where it was safe to cross. As she crawled across no-man's-land, she hid her baby on her stomach to protect him if she was shot in the back. She says that was freedom, but the headache was just starting.

Keywords: Alps; Andreas Braunstein; Berlin (Germany); Brandenburg; British prisoners; Capitulation; Farmers; German soldiers; No-man's-land; Priests; Russian patrols; Safehouses; Stalingrad, Battle of, Volgograd, Russia, 1942-1943.; West Germany

Subjects: Czechoslovakia.; Labor camps.; Prisoner-of-war escapes.; Refugees--Europe.; Women refugees.

01:27:47 - Living in West Germany and immigrating to the United States in 1952

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Partial Transcript: What now? What should happen? We had no job, we had no home. We have--

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein describes trying to get back on their feet in West Germany despite having no home, citizenship, or money, and what they did until immigrating to the United States in 1945. She says they first were sent to live in a refugee camp, which she calls miserable, until they were resettled in 1946 in a home that had not been bombed during the war. While living there, Andreas became a tailor and was given a sewing machine by the nuns in their town. She says that many customers paid with goods instead of money, which they welcomed. Braunstein talks about then being given the choice of different places to resettle and picking the United States because they knew a friend from their hometown who had moved to Mansfield, Ohio, in 1945 and who had agreed to let them stay with them while they got adjusted. She says that they arrived on a Sunday afternoon in March, 1952. On Monday morning, Andreas already had to go to work at his new construction job. On their way to America, they first went through an American military base in Frankfurt and were given background checks and medical inspections, where doctors diagnosed her oldest son's lung condition. These medical issues delayed their departure for five years. When they were finally allowed over, Ed was six years old, Billy five, and Linda one. She says they sailed on the U.S.S. General M.B. Stewart from Bremerhaven, Germany, with roughly 1,500 other refugees, mostly Poles and Hungarians. She describes the trip over and the conditions on the ship and seeing Ellis Island, even though it was closed for repairs. "America was greeting us," she says.

Keywords: Andreas Braunstein; Background checks; Billy Braunstein; Bremerhaven (Germany); Citizenship; Czechoslovakia; Eddie Braunstein; Ellis Island; Frankfurt (Germany); Linda Braunstein; Mansfield (Ohio); Medical inspections; Refugee camps; Tailors; U.S.S. General M.B. Stewart; West Germany

Subjects: Immigrants--Europe.; Refugees--Europe.; Women refugees.

01:41:04 - Adjusting to life in the United States / Billy Braunstein is bullied for being an immigrant

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Partial Transcript: We had, uh, one room, bedroom, a double bed for us, and then a crib for the baby, and then a big couch for the boys.

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein describes their experiences shortly after immigrating to the United States. They lived in their friend's house with her family and their friends totaling eleven people, all immigrants. She says the kitchen was small, so the women took turns cooking meals for the whole group. The girls, she says, had regular jobs, and the boys cleaned shoes and hung clothes. Braunstein talks about having cold cuts, cheese, fresh bread, and wanting to cry because she felt they had finally made it. She talks about acclimating to their new home, though she did not know English, unlike Andreas, who knew some from being a British prisoner. She says she isolated herself because assimilating was hard. Their daughter Heidi married a man from Kentucky, so they moved here and felt like they had to be able to interact with their new family, but holidays were still kept among themselves. Braunstein says that Andreas worked for the state of Ohio in a reformatory school where he taught sewing. She says that he wanted her to stay home while he worked and she did whatever he said. She thinks he assimilated better than she did because of the exposure his job gave him. They spoke German at home until the kids were in high school. She talks about seeing television for the first time and being amazed, but she wanted to know what was being said. Braunstein says she learned English from the kids' homework, and remarked that the letters and numbers were basically the same and the languages were fairly similar. Before she knew English, she says it was hard to not be able to share things with her kids, but that she eventually had to learn to tutor Billy, who was epileptic and being bullied at school. Billy says that he was bullied by several kids for being an immigrant. One child used to call him "kraut", and he says that he was not as good at dealing with it as his older brother Eddie was. Billy says that, as a junior in high school, he told the bully to remember the Braunstein brothers before he went to Vietnam. The bully wound up in the 196th Light Infantry brigade along with Eddie, which scared him straight.

Keywords: 196th Light Infantry; Andreas Braunstein; Billy Braunstein; Bullying; California; Christmas; Cleveland (Ohio); Cold cuts; Connecticut; Eddie Braunstein; English; Epilepsy; Heidi Braunstein; Insults; Jerry Jergens; Kentuckians; New Year's Eve; Reformatory schools; Slurs; Televisions; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Wringer washers

Subjects: Bullying in schools.; Immigrant experiences; Immigrant families.; Immigrants--Europe.; Mansfield (Ohio); Women immigrants.

GPS: Mansfield (Ohio)
Map Coordinates: 40.75, -82.516667
01:52:37 - Segregation in the United States from an immigrant's perspective

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Partial Transcript: Anyway, the things here, there was, what you say "segregation."

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about experiencing segregation of blacks and whites for the first time after coming to the United States. She says that there was a black man named Joe on their boat to the United States who spoke German, and she says that their daughter Linda was afraid of him. Braunstein says she made Linda go eat with him the next time he came over, and Linda liked him a lot from then on. She later got a job cleaning a Jewish-German family's house and took the bus to get there, where she saw black and white riders segregated as well. This, though, she says was not much different from how black people were treated in Ireland, England, or in Germany, because she says all those countries had slaves. Braunstein says she was asked once if she thought race relations had improved and she says they have in a way, but she thinks "educated blacks could do more to help the rest of the community."

Keywords: Bus segregation; England; Germany; Hapsburgs; House cleaning; Ireland; Mess halls; Racial slurs; Slaves

Subjects: Immigrant experiences; Immigrants--Europe.; Mansfield (Ohio); Racism--United States.; Segregation--United States.; Women immigrants.

01:55:49 - Moving to Scott County, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Well how did you guys wind up going from Mansfield--how did you come down here to Kentucky, to Scott County?

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein talks about how she and Andreas moved to Kentucky and came to live in Scott County. She says that their daughter Linda has a degree in veterinary science and wanted to work in the horse industry, so she moved to Lexington. She talks about she and Andreas being amazed at how beautiful central Kentucky is, so after Andreas had a stroke in 1984 and a heart attack in 1989, they decided they would move to Scott County to be closer to their girls. They moved in 1990.

Keywords: Castleton Farm; Heart attacks; Horse industry; Linda Braunstein; Strokes; Veterinary sciences

Subjects: Lexington (Ky.); Scott County (Ky.)

01:58:06 - Closing thoughts and reflections

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Partial Transcript: What do you think about most, about your life, about the things that you've seen?

Segment Synopsis: Braunstein says that the thing she thinks about the most is how she boosts her own feelings by thinking of what all she's been through and she thanks God that she was able to make a life. She says that she had a happy childhood until the war, but that she has learned to cope with the bad things. She remarks that she heard a woman complain once that she did not know where the "carrot scraper" was, and then she compares that to their experiences in Europe and Andreas' working three jobs so they could have food and pay the bills. She says that she was in charge of their finances and that Andreas told her, "You have the whole power and money, just give me a little." Bartek then thanks her and ends the interview.

Keywords: "Carrot scraper"; "Moping around"; Andreas Braunstein; Bills; Coping; Depression; Europe

Subjects: Immigrant experiences; Immigrants--Europe.; Refugees--Europe.; Women immigrants.; Women refugees.