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A German - Serbian Destiny
And my fathers
Vitomir and Rudolf
A war child explores the incredible story of his origins
- A German-Serbian destiny -
- The truth always comes to light
Chapter 1 - Prologue
Chapter 2 - Historical Flashback
Chapter 3 - Prehistory
Chapter 4 - Miracles Exist – The Chronology of an Odyssey
Chapter 4.1. - "Zeppelin"
Chapter 4.2. - The search continues:
Chapter 4.3. - Finally found my new Boskovic family –
The first visit
MDR "Below us"
The second visit
Chapter 5 - You do not live alone In this world
Chapter 6 – Epilogue
As I look back at 71 years of my fulfilled and extraordinarily restless life: my childhood, my “Sturm und Drang” years, the before and after conversion, or my many foreign missions with the Bundeswehr, all were nothing, compared to this once elusive story that began in the summer of 2011 and continues to this day.
In my book "Year 44" (published in July 2014 for my 70th birthday) I shared my life, with all my strengths and weaknesses, to readers. Despite a lack of advertising by publishers and sponsors, it found a relatively wide readership. However, I view the following story as the highlight of my life. It rounds out my previous existence and gives me a completely new viewpoint of my past.
I hope to convey the feeling that a piece of German history from 74 years ago, is brought front and center, and is more relevant today than ever before. I want to give people, with similar destinies, the courage and the strength to search for their true roots even after many years have gone by: Because every human being has the right to know his origin.
In addition, I would like to raise the neglected theme of "children of prisoners of war" to the public interest. Whenever I was on television, in the newspapers and in lectures, I was told that, while I have had a remarkably extraordinary outcome, public art work as a feature or documentary film cannot be considered because of cost. However, the MDR has a remarkable documentary about an event, “Kühnhaide bei Zwönitz,” which unfortunately was only a short video. This book is a renewed attempt to reach a broad readership with my concern.
I have deliberately used many photos and documents to provide authoritative evidence for my story. The many names and dates are not intended to aggravate, but to impart important life data to my children and their descendants. Presenting the last four years chronologically, is the best way to understand what has happened since 1941. The flashbacks to personal and historical backgrounds allow me to clarify relationships which are based on meticulous research that I have conducted over the last four years.
I would like to thank the many people, institutions and public media in Germany, Serbia and Switzerland, who helped me find my father. First and foremost, however, my wife Ilse deserves my utmost gratitude because she repeatedly encouraged me to continue my research in seemingly hopeless situations. Regardless of nationality, everyone, who has lovingly found each other after a long time, has my deepest affection and respect.
I am sharing my story with the hope that it will be memorable for you.
Dresden, October 2015
Reflecting about the year 1941, specifically April 6th, Hitler's Air Force bombarded the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives. Within a few days, Serbia surrendered on April 18th to the overpowering German military machine. About 250,000 Serbian soldiers were captured, with about 150,000 deported to Germany. These prisoners were used for forced labor, especially with farmers in the countryside.
Twenty-eight of these men arrived in the small village of Kühnhaide, Zwönitz Kreis Aue. I was born in that village on the 23rd of July 1944. While researching the lives of 20 of the prisoners, I came across historical events that still make me distrust people today. Here are just a few examples: At the beginning of the Yugoslavia /Serbian campaign, 2,370 innocent people were killed in the towns of Kraljevo and 1,700 in Kragujevac. An entire grammar school with over 300 students and teachers were executed. I became aware of such atrocities from Pancevo, Smederevka, Palanka to Selevac. In total, 80,000 people were killed in the Serbian territory or taken as hostages by the Wehrmacht, many of whom were Jews. Almost 2 million people in Serbia which was part of Yugoslavia (about 10% of the population at that time) lost their lives during the Second World War.
In contrast, Serbian soldiers taken as German prisoners had a comparatively "better" chance of survival. As I have discovered in recent years, many of them had the choice: to be burned by the German Wehrmacht during the bloody battles or to go into captivity. Most of them took the supposedly better route of captivity.
In Kühnhaide, the Serbs were treated as prisoners and exposed to all sorts of inhumane treatment, but they had a good chance of returning home. The Serbian soldiers usually replaced the German landowners, who had been killed at the front or on the farm. According to statements from surviving eyewitnesses, they worked diligently and set the daily routines on the farms. During this time, it was not difficult to understand that interpersonal relationships started. Such liaisons were, of course, prohibited and would incur strict punishment. Those secrets continue to be kept today and proved to be a stumbling block for my research. Even after more than 70 years, these interactions are still considered taboo and not discussed. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to have won the trust of many residents who were willing to exchange information with me.
Until July 19, 1941, most Serbian prisoners of war were captured in Sarajevo as were father Svetozar (born 1897) and son Radojica Miljkovic (born 1919). Only after the war did they learn that they had been imprisoned at the same time for four years in German camps. The father in the Deputies VI D (Dortmund), Nuremberg- Langwasser and the Officers' Camp XIII B (Hammelburg) and the son in Stalag VIII A (Oberlausitz, Görlitz) and most recently Stalag IV B (Mühlberg, near Dresden).
I learned from Radojica's daughters Branislava and Natalija that their father, Radojica, narrowly escaped execution in 1941. He was on a short visit to his parents in Smederevka, Palanka, and saw how innocent people were rounded up indiscriminately. I have seen footage by German defense photographer Gerhard Gronefeld, documenting such incredible criminal cruelty in Pancevo. He was perplexed about the behavior that his film documented.
As a memorial and as a reminder, I have written about these Serbian prisoners and placed my search in the center of their story. I investigated the following Serbian prisoners of war very meticulously. The reader will encounter their names more often in the course of my remarks. I thank you, my dear Serbian "countrymen," who have preserved so much humanity, courage, modesty and love in such a horrific time:
Milan Sergeant Jovanovic,
Zivko Sergeant Colic,
Velizar Sergeant Simic,
Slavoljub Sergeant Boskovic,
Vitomir Soldier Vrancevic,
Vojislav Soldier Jovanovic,
Vlastimir Soldier Miljkovic,
Radojica (called "Zeppelin")
A poem by Zeppelin, written around 1943, bears witness to the yearning of young people for their homeland and their loved ones.
A truly historical document:
Like a flower falls in the cold winter
This is how our youth goes
And is drowned with great pain.
Group photo of all 28 Serbs in Kühnhaide - Winter 41/42
On the back of this photo Radojica Miljkovic wrote his poem.
Farewell to the Serbs on May 9, 1945
Haymaking: 3 peasants and a Serb
The accommodations of the Serbian prisoners of war, are almost unchanged in 2011
Recognition card of a prisoner
Replacement money for prisoners
Golden wedding anniversary photo of Wolfgang's grandparents, Wolfgang is at the far left.
19 years old
70 years old
When looking at these photos, I cannot help but wonder about the 19 year old’s ancestry. Ever since we got together, my wife Ilse always wanted to know about my heritage because I did not look like the rest of the "Kellers" and "Petzolds". For decades, I successfully avoided this whole discussion. I saw no reason at all to doubt my origin. If anyone even hinted at the topic at some point, my parents always claimed that I looked like grandmother Martha from Neudorf or grandfather Reinhard from Kühnhaide. After all these of years, it is difficult to see the similarity today, but I remember in my youth, I was often considered a Frenchman or an Italian.
In family gatherings in the fifties, even my dear Aunt Else, now at the tender age of 91, used to refer to me as the “charming Frenchman” in front of everyone. Did she know something about my origin? Why did she say that in my parent’s presence? In any case, it was clear to Ilse that my roots had to lie in the Mediterranean range. She even guessed that I might have been adopted in the war, was the victim of postwar mishaps or that one of my ancestors came from another country. When our sons, Robert and Sascha were born, doctors and nurses were amazed by their exceptionally dark complexions, black hair and eyebrows.
An event in the mid-90s has been particularly memorable for me. Living in Berlin with his family, our son Sascha came up with special idea for his birthday: He invited Ilse and me to a beautiful Turkish restaurant. It was an unforgettable experience. I have always been quite friendly and willing to communicate with other people. We immediately got into a conversation with an exceedingly obliging Turkish waiter. He served us quickly and was very attentive. I was a bit startled when he said, very loudly and seriously, “Tell me, sir, when are you going to fly back to Anatolia to be with your relatives? “ We found the situation very funny, and Ilse felt that her guesses were validated. Even though we had paid the check, we lingered at least another two hours visiting together in the restaurant.
From that time forward, I often wondered what part of this notion could be true. Due to the constraints of time and my profession, I pushed these thoughts out of my mind. It was not until approximately 2005 that these considerations surfaced again. Ilse, dove deeper into her and our history with her genealogy and the creation of her family tree.
She discovered in mid-2011, that she was the direct descendant (12 generations away) of the legendary master Adam Ries considered the "father of modern arithmetic.” When the documents arrived from Adam Ries, Annaberg Federal, I had no doubts either.
My dear Ilse began to pressure me to research and complete the open branches of my family tree. Her confirmation of ancestry to Adam Ries created the impetus for me to learn more about my life than I had examined before. From then on, I began to deal more intensely with this problem and the search for my roots began.
Initially, of course, I researched on the Internet. I learned that August the Strong had a Turkish regiment stationed in Saxony around 1700. After that, I realized that my grandmother Martha from Neudorf had to come from this same line, and that, as a result, I had to be regarded as Turkish-born. Looking closer at the old photos of my grandmother’s family, we definitely ruled out that theory because they had no Mediterranean features. So, we determined to search in another direction.
A dog friend, whom we often met at the “dog walk", is very well read and knew my request. One day he showed me a newspaper clipping of the "SZ" with an article about Saxon mining at the time of August the Strong. We read that in the 18th century, the importance of mining increased rapidly and miners from a small Italian tribe, called the "whales," came to Saxony. Because the tunnels were drilled manually, shorter people were more suitable for the task. Consequently, excellent diminutive workers were recruited from Italy.
From then on, the "whales" became the favorites in the search for my roots, because I am only a medium-sized person. I laughed heartily when I saw drawings and pictures of these people. With pointed hats as headgear, these little Italians crept to their ore deposits.
But the whole story took a different turn. Chance was the godfather, and an incredible story began, bordering on a miracle.
In a beautiful weekend, on the 16th of July 2011, my unusual journey into my past began. Ilse had managed to prod me out of my lethargy and send me on a trip to my birthplace Kühnhaide, to find family tree documents. Weeks before, I had spent a day investigating my past in Neudorf / Kreis Annaberg. Researching old documents from the Petzold and König relatives brought some family connections to light, but my most urgent question could not be answered.