“Two Donauschwaben Sisters” or “How we understand each other”

by Dragan Gegenbauer

Edited by Rose Vetter

There is a saying that describes what kind of human beings we are: "Those who are not hungry cannot believe that others are hungry."  In this respect, this is the story of my grandmother.  Maria Wolf was born in Ruma in 1911.  She married my grandfather Wilhelm Gegenbauer and they lived in Petrovaradin (Peterwardein).  In 1944 Maria’s parents, three sisters and brother fled from Ruma, but Maria remained in Petrovaradin with her husband and their four children.  However, the whole family was forced out of their home and interned in the Petrovaradin fortress.  Maria and the children were released after a few months, but her husband had to stay and was later moved to another camp at Pozarevac, which he survived, but with lasting effects.  But despite the difficult times they had endured, my grandparents did not want to leave their home.

Many years later

In the years 1992-1993 there was a terrible crisis in Serbia, the former Yugoslavia.  Inflation was rampant and people were literally starving.  Shops were empty; there were no medicinal drugs, no electricity and no money.  These were the conditions my grandmother Maria had to struggle with Her younger sister Helen in Germany felt that she should help.  She sent parcels to Maria containing slippers and dust cloths, sometimes underwear.  Unfortunately the customs fees my grandmother had to pay for each package were higher than the value of the contents.  Often she complained to me, "I really love my sister and I am glad that she’s thinking of me in difficult times, but how can I explain to her that this is not necessary?  The packages are not worth the trouble of going to the post office.”  At that time Maria was already an old woman, and it was difficult for her to make the trip to the post office.

Although Maria was grateful to her sister for her efforts and willingness to help, she did not know how to explain to her that she did not want her to send any more parcels.  Not wanting to offend Helen, she finally assured her she was doing well.

Many years earlier . . .

It was in 1968.  For the first time since the end of World War II, Helen came to Yugoslavia to visit Maria, who by then was a widow living a modest life on her husband’s pension in Petrovaradin.  She had a dog by the name of Benny, a mutt not requiring too much care, in the avlijer* (yard).  Helen was touched by how skinny Benny was and bought wiener sausages for him every day.

Helen complimented Maria for keeping her figure slim and fit, to which Maria wryly nodded “yes”.  Little did Helen realize that Maria’s slim figure was not due to her efforts to be fashionable, but rather because of a lack of money to buy enough food.  In that sense, both Maria and Benny, the dog, shared the same fate, namely the fact that they were both hungry and malnourished.

Unfortunately Benny ended up at the vet, as his stomach could not digest the extra amount of food And Maria ended up with a headache, as Helen, in her eagerness to "help”, had pressured her sister to go to the hairdresser in order to improve her appearance.  Maria was not used to the combination of wet hair, chemicals and sitting under the hair dryer.

My grandmother died in 1994 on a cold October day.  Due to power shortages, the streets in Petrovaradin were in total darkness.  While returning home, wearing a black coat, she crossed the road and was struck by a car whose driver did not see her.

Maria was never able to explain to Helen how she felt.  Rather than complain about her hard life, she accepted her fate.  And Helen never fully realized the difficult circumstances her sister had to struggle with - that when you are hungry, the last thing you need is a dust cloth, a trip to the hairdresser or a wiener for your dog.  But in her unconditional love for her sister, Maria understood and forgave Helen for failing to appreciate the hard life she had to endure.

Helen is still living in Germany.  And I still use the cleaning cloths she sent.  German quality.

*Avliya is a Turkish word for yard

Dragan Gegenbauer,

Novi Sad, April 2011

[Published at DVHH.org 12 Sep 2011]

 

DVHH.org © 2003-2012 Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands, a Nonprofit Corporation
Last Updated: 02 Apr 2012
Keeping the Danube Swabian legacy alive