I backtrack here from 1944 Romania to 1940. When the family was finally allowed to leave Premzyl, they found that much had changed in German occupied Bochnia, Poland. Among the changes was a requirement for my father to report to the authorities for work duty, since he turned 16 years of age earlier in the year. He lived in a camp to do hard labor first constructing a roadway and later a drainage ditch. Around the end of 1942, he was sent to a butcher shop and farm in the village of Weikendorf, about 24 miles east of Vienna (which is where I am now).
I took a train from Vienna to a small town close to Weikendorf, hoping to find the butchers shop and home where my father lived and worked. I felt a bit like Morgan Freeman in search of a rock under a tree from the movie, Shawshank Redemption. As I walked towards the village, I wondered what I would find.
After walking several kilometers I reached Weikendorf and easily spotted the church that my father often mentioned. It is just down the street from where he stayed. A 97 year old caretaker was the only person on the church premise. He spoke no English but soon understood my quest, directing me to the 5th house down the street. He recognized the name of Otto Schuster, who had a butcher shop in the village in the 1940s. He also provided me with a tour of the church and grounds.
The woman who answered did not speak English but recognized the name Schuster. She took me to the kitchen and asked me to wait as she spoke to someone in an adjoining room. Finally, with a somewhat uncertain expression, she invited me to enter.
An elderly bedridden woman gazed at me looking quite puzzled. I finally spoke the words that she understood, 'my father Marian from Poland lived and worked on the farm from 1942 - 1944.' She sat upright visibly excited, repeating the name, Marian! Marian! She spoke nonstop the next hour, I didn't understand most but picked up a few things. She asked her caretaker to brink a box full of old photos.
Anna Schuster Freudensprung did not want her photo taken, and understandably so. Who knows how long she has been bedridden, and she certainly did not expect a visitor from America on this day. She excitedly shared photos from her childhood.
Shown here with her father Otto, Anna is 8 years younger than my father, who was 18 when he first arrived at the farm. She motioned a question: what happened to my father after he left the house? When she understood my answer through pantomime and drawings (I will soon explain) she sat back, first chuckled and then smiled a peaceful happy expression. It was the only time, excluding my arrival, when she was speechless.
Anna seemed to want this photo shared from her adulthood. After I left to say goodbye, I could hear her speak to the caretaker who replaced me in the room, "ah Marian! Marian!" My father had plans to escape the farm. He and a fellow worker, a Ukrainian named Michal, shared a desire to leave. They did not like the idea of working for the Germans, allowing young Austrian men to leave the farm and fight for the German Army..
Dad and Michal left early one night with a 3rd companion to escape, the timing well before Michal's lock up at the Russian camp. They walked east to reach the Morava River, which separates Austria from Slovakia. On a moon lit night, they walked several hours before spotting an armed border guard patrolling the area from an elevated flood wall. They timed his pace and direction, waiting for him to turn before sprinting beyond the flood wall and to the river.
They reached the river and prepared to cross, but the 3rd party, who was not part of their original planning but wished to reunite with a girl from Slovakia, told them he was unable to swim and afraid to cross. They slept the night and constructed a makeshift raft the next day from tall thick reeds.
On the 2nd night they crossed. However a current swept them downriver and the raft capsized. After an hour in water, they finally made it across the border into Slovakia. Their companion did reunite with the girl, while dad and Michal experienced an eventful 300 mile journey back to Poland. He remained there in hiding before beginning his quest with Artur, which I will soon get back to.
I did not feel so much like Morgan Freeman on the long hot walk back to the train station. The few villages on the way had no shops, no place for food or drink, and my feet were getting blisters.
This gentleman saw me in a small village also looking for a place to purchase a beverage. He later spotted me on the roadway and asked if I'd like a lift to Weikendorf; he knew of a place we could purchase a beverage. A friendly attractive middle aged woman working in the cafe learned of my quest and though dinner was not available, insisted to make burgers and a cold salad for me. Was unlike any burger I ever tasted, but the most I've ever appreciated any burger.
Before driving me to the train station, my friend drove me to another tavern that I described to him. This tavern above was around when my father was in Weikendorf. The Polish workers had privelages to drink here some evenings. Upstairs, dozens of Belgium prisoners were housed. I am so grateful to this fellow traveller ..: I hope you comment here so I can remember your name and have your email address.
Author - Andrew Bajda
I've been working on writing the story of my father for two years, his adventures during WW2. I will retrace his steps and use this blog to share stories and images of the places that make up his fascinating story.