Winding around large agricultural, commercial farms our Volkswagen flew by poppies in bloom, trains carrying Ford cars, and colorful villages each with their own steeple. As “our” steeple came into view, Oma started going, “Take a picture! Take a picture!” This was her homecoming, her homegoing. After 43 years of not visiting, she was finally back.
Born in Sinandrei, Romania, Septemeber 3, 1937, Oma (born Annerose Welsch, and now Annerose Goerge), lived in the same house during her years there. She also lived in the villages of Wisenheid and Traunau, as her father, Matthias Welsch was a schoolteacher and got jobs at different German-speaking, Donauschwaben schools. In 1947, Oma, her mother, and her two brothers escaped Romania in search of their father in Austria.
First, we went to Sinandrei and started at the church, where we were unexpectedly met by a childhood friend of Oma’s who happened to be visiting her family’s grave stones and the church. They had not seen each other since 1946. I even had a picture of them on their first communion day! She remembers Oma falling in the mud with her skirt flared out and sitting in the mud pile. Hard to imagin Oma in the mud. Seppi, another Donauschwaben who takes care of some of the old sites, was also there to take us around the village.
Going inside the church, Oma was struck. “This was the place where I got my religion,” she said. The place where she had her first communion. The place where her parents were born. The place where her father was the organist.
She told us how her father would make them say prayers every night and he was the person that she credits with giving her religion.
It was funny for me to see her so connected to something that I know so little about. I respect her faith and I am in awe of it most times, but my father, her son, is an atheist. Catholicism, Christianity was lost on him and on me. Across the street was the school, where she attended for her first 2 years of schooling, and where her father taught. In all three towns we visited, the school and the church were right next doors to one and other, and those were the places where Oma lived and her father taught. No separation between learning and Church. Furthermore, all of the churches were still churches, and the schools were still schools, and the houses were still houses. Not much had changed in 70 years except the facades and the roofs.
After visiting the center of town, Oma chose to walk the same route she used to walk to school from her house. Walking along the sides, she remembered little pieces of land and Seppi would interject with stories about the families who lived in the houses. Now only 12 Germans remain and the houses are inhabited by Romanians.
For a minute in the now, they were living in the past. Stopping at the community center, we saw the same place where Oma stood on the day of her first communion.
Making our way to the house, we got many stares from normal, Romanian people who now live in Sinandrei, cooing pigeons, and quite a few barks from dogs. At Oma’s old the house, Seppi started banging on the gate, and the Romanian woman who lived there opened it for us. She didn’t speak a lick of English, but let us inside.
Inside, the gate, the garden was pretty much in the same state it had been 70 years ago. The pump was still there.
We walked through, admiring her flowers and vegetables. Seppi went on about how she wasn’t planting the “right” vegetables and plants, but the way I see, it’s her land and her right. We got to the back of the yard, and Oma talked to me about how during World War II, the Russians used their house as the headquarters and the next door house as the hospital. When a Russian man died, his body was buried in the back of the yard. Who knows how many bones are back there? My mom questioned if the families of the Russian men even knew. It’s crazy to think that there’s some family in Russian wondering where their soldier’s bones are.
My grandmother walked inside the side of the house and looked at the ceiling, which had been repaired. She recounted that there had been nights when she, her brothers, and her grandmother had stayed with her mother in one bed because a Russian soldier wanted to rape her mother. There used to be bullet holes in the ceiling from when the Russian officer got upset and shot in the ceiling.
Invited inside the house, the stove was the same stove as 70 years ago. Boy, that’s a lot of grease! Walking inside the basement or the “keller,” as my grandmother calls it, the use was the same as her childhood: canning and preserving fruit and vegetables in the cool musty air. The house seemed to both make Oma happy and sad: happy that people were using it and sad for nostalgia of the past.
We left the home and went to the overgrown, weedy cemetery. Most of the graves have noone to pay for them and have fallen into serious disrepair.
My great-great-great grandparents are buried there, side-by-side. Their gravesite is the only gravesite to have a metal fence around it, as my great-great-great grandfather, Johannes Sieber, was a blacksmith- and the metalwork was truly beautiful. For Oma, there was an importance in honoring and praying for the dead.
Tomorrow, we set off on the true “escape route,” starting in Timishoara and making our way to Budapest. Crossing the border, Oma share her stories of walking in corn fields, carrying heavy suitcases as a 10-year old, and running across the border, so that the boarder guards would not see them.