The Potatoes

By Adam Martini
Translation by son, Hans Martini

The following personal account came up recently during an evening's  conversation with my brother-in-law, Stefan Mayer, from Palanka.  He and I were talking about the new book, Genocide of the Ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia, and reflecting on our own experiences in the camps.  Indeed,  all survivors including he, my wife, Eva Mayer and I (from Bukin), still have many memories of that unforgettable time.
 
It was in the camp of Krushiwl (Serbian: Krusevlje) that this event took  place.  We had just come out of the camp at Jarek and ended up here with  many other fellow unfortunates.  I still recall the house and the room we were forced to share with some 12 - 15 others.  On the floor we would  sleep, one next to the other, like sardines in a tin.  I was eight or nine years old at the time and as thin as a beanstalk.
 
The women knew of a locked courtyard, not far from us, wherein harvested potatoes would be stored until their eventual shipment to points elsewhere.  It was located in the middle of the camp but was inaccessible because it was built up on all sides and the gate was securely locked and, I think, under guard.
 
Someone checked out the barn that enclosed the garden side of the courtyard.  There they found an outhouse that was accessed from inside the yard and backed up to the outside.  Some of the boards on the back of the outhouse were rotted enough that they could be pried away.  The opening was then just big enough for a skinny kid like myself to wriggle through. An old sack was thrown over the horrible smelling sewage and I shimmied through the toilet seat to gain access to the courtyard. and to the potatoes.
 
I was as scared as a hunted rabbit.  I had no idea if I was being watched as I approached the beautiful looking mountains of potatoes.  Anyway, I grabbed a few and ran back to the outhouse.  There a board had been placed at an angle under the toilet seat across to the opening on the other side.  In this way, I was able to roll the potatoes to the waiting women who would in turn keep telling me to get more.  I was truly scared to death, especially since it was so quiet in the courtyard and it was just me alone spiriting about at this late hour.
 
 Several times I heard steps on the drive in front of the big gate.  When the steps stopped by the gate I would run like lightening to the outhouse, throw the board to the side and jump in through the toilet seat.  Naturally, this meant I would come in contact with the foul smelling contents below.  Although my grandmother would clean me up it was not something I wanted to do at all.  The women, however, could never get enough potatoes and had me repeat this procedure several more times.
 
Eventually, either the potatoes were shipped off or someone revealed how it was we acquired the potatoes.  In any event, I was no longer needed and for a long time thereafter was pleased that this potato swiping had finally ended.
 
Hunger drove us to some unbelievable lengths. Much was tried and truly anything was eaten.  It seems one can now only laugh about these experiences or forever remain silent.

[Published at DVHH.org 07 Jan 2005]


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