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Elsa K.

by Hanns H.



I am talking to Elsa K, * 1935 in Mariakemend/Hungary, living in Staig/Altheim near Ulm, married, 2 children, 3 grandchildren and we start our conversation over coffee and cake in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. K's pretty house.

Elsa, you were born in Hungary. How did you come to Germany?
I spent my childhood in southern Hungary until I was nine. In our family, father, mother and two older sisters, German was spoken like everywhere else in the village. When the Russian army was expected to invade in November 1944, my mother decided to flee with me and my 20-year-old sister. The eldest sister stayed behind because she was living in Pecs at the time of our hasty departure. At the end of a 1 1⁄2 year odyssey through Austria, during which we partly lived in camps or lived on farms in miserable conditions in exchange for auxiliary services, we arrived in Ulm on a collective transport by order of the Allies.

Where was your father during this time?
He was the reference person for me, which was also true the other way round. He was a very intelligent and musical person, played several instruments and could sing wonderfully. Three months before we fled - he was 51 years old at the time - he and five other men were drafted into the Volkssturm. He wrote to us a lot and his letters were always addressed to me. The last message was dated 29 April 1945, a week before the end of the war. We haven't heard from him since. His five comrades have all returned home and said that he wanted to make his way to us in Austria. I don't think they were telling us the truth. My father raised me to be independent at a very early age, which was formative for my whole life. If he had come back to us, he would also have made sure that I could do my highschool-graduation later and study.

What first impressions do you associate with Ulm?
Although the people here were not well in 1946, our arrival was organised. We came to a camp at Kienlesberg, from where our family was taken to Altheim a few weeks later and quartered there. We were lucky to be treated decently, even if the many refugees in the village were met with suspicion. But of course we were not spared being teased because of our dialect and bullied because of our origin. I suffered from being a "refugee" for many years.

How did your life develop then?
I went to school until 1950 and then wanted to go to a 3-year business school. I was a good pupil, always had contact with local children, so I spoke Swabian very quickly, which helped me to integrate, as we would say today. Unfortunately, I had to leave school after three
months because I had to earn money. Thanks to good advocates, I was able to start work at Magirus even without my commercial school diploma, where I stayed for 10 years and finally became secretary to a department manager. In 1961, I started working for the Staig municipality on a temporary basis, which lasted 34 years.

What happened in your personal life?
At the age of 17 I met my husband - a native Swabian - and in 1955 we started to build the house in Staig/Altheim where we now live, and in 1957 we got married. In 1959 and 1963 first our son and then a daughter were born. In 1961 I had to cope with the death of my mother, who had been able to see her old home again in 1960 and her eldest daughter Eva for the first time in 16 years.

Did you have any old contacts with Mariakemend?
Not at first, because the political conditions did not allow it. I went to Hungary with my husband for the first time after we fled in 1971 and it was a very ambivalent experience. On the one hand, I met school friends and people who still knew me as a child and, of course, my parents. My father had been a well-known figure of respect everywhere as a "Konstabler" (field guard). It was nice to meet old acquaintances and speak German with them, even though it was forbidden to do so on the open street. However, it was painful for me to see how strangers lived in "our" house, which had been expropriated and sold after the war. I was always fully involved in the Mariakemender Heimatverein and organised many trips to Hungary. One of the most beautiful trips was in 1996 with 43 gymnasts from Staig.

What are your connections to Hungary like today?
They are much more lively now because of the means of communication available today. I use smartphones and the internet and was last in my former homeland in 2016 with a group of Danube Networkers. I have written a lot about the former life in the municipality of Mariakemend and also about my childhood experiences there. The Mariakemend Municipality is very interested in this and would like to publish a book with my stories in the near future. They are financially supported by the German Minority Self-Government. The book is to be published in German and Hungarian. Deep inside me I already have the wish to go to Mariakemend again. I don't know if that will happen.

Which political event has touched you the most?
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the opening of the borders to the East - that was a great gain. For me, however, the 1956 popular uprising in Hungary was the event that touched and worried me the most. I felt solidarity with the Hungarian people and this event triggered great emotions in me, because I felt how strongly I am still emotionally connected to Hungary. My mother and I had been watching the news on the radio day and night, listening to the

Hungarians' appeals for help and wondering why the whole world was watching what was happening in Hungary and no one was helping. We were terribly afraid for my sister Eva, who was still in Hungary. And my mother still believed that we would be able to return to Hungary one day.

What other countries did you get to know?
My husband and I were very active in a cycling group and went to France, Denmark, South Tirol and other places. We did a lot of mountain tours from hut to hut and hiked a lot. Unfortunately, that's no longer possible today.

What was your other involvement in the community where you lived?
I was very involved in the community from the beginning. For example, as one of the first women in the women's gymnastics group, in the shooting club, where my husband was a board member for 33 years. At the beginning of the 60s, I introduced the first senior citizens' afternoon in the parish. In 1974, I was the first woman to be elected to the parish council. The fact that there was resistance from some citizens against electing someone "from the refugees" hit me very hard at the time. Through my work in the parish council, I was involved in all events. I was the contact point especially for the socially weak. As a registrar, I married many young couples whom I had already accompanied on their way from birth. All this connects and many people in the village know me and ask for me. For me, this is a great confirmation of my work in the community.

What changed when you retired?
That was in 1996. I missed my colleagues and especially the public traffic a lot at the beginning. As I wanted to do something meaningful with my time, I decided to do the visiting service in the old people's home. For more than 20 years, I visited dementia patients together with a few other women every week and sang and played games with them.

How did your voluntary work with ZAWiW come about?
In 2009, an acquaintance told me about a writing competition within the framework of the project "Possible Europe - Experience Europe". One of my submitted stories was awarded a prize and I was allowed to fly with a group to Rome for the project presentation with participants from different European countries. This project impressed me so much that I immediately decided to join ZAWiW. It was a good decision, because being involved in different projects like "Kojala" and "The Wanted Danube" has enriched my retirement life enormously. I met a lot of great people, in our group of Danube Networkers, as well as from the groups of the Eastern European countries along the Danube. The encounters and the joint trips there were highly interesting and unforgettable experiences.


Thinking about your age, how do you cope with your life today?
Well, there are some limitations. I'm not so good on my feet any more, but I can still get to my daughter, who lives in the village, on my own. My husband and I also still do the housework ourselves. It's only gardening that's getting difficult. But I'm satisfied with my life as it is.

And when you think about life in the future?
Of course, we have already thought about moving into a retirement home. But the financial circumstances and conditions have prevented us from doing so so far. I am also not afraid of the future because I believe that no matter what comes, I can find a solution.

What would you wish for your grandchildren in their lives?
I wish them a life in a peaceful, strong, united Europe in freedom with open borders without arbitrary government. And I wish them never to have to leave their homeland.