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Not all casualties of war die on the battlefield. In the wake of World War II, Yugoslavia purged its territory of the ethnic Germans who had formed a part of its human mosaic. Tarred with their ethnic origins and the conscription of their fighting-age men into the Waffen SS, these Volksdeutsche, ethnic Germans who had lived in the region for generations, were rounded up at the war's end and herded into concentration camps. Those who were not murdered or did not die from the harsh conditions were expelled from the village homes their families had known and loved for 300 years. Like thousands of other Germans in the Danube Valley at the end of the war, author Luisa Lang Owen and her family were chased from their home. They were then lodged in a sheep stall and resettled in a camp with other Germans from her village. Shorn of their possessions, given little food or fuel, pressed into hard labour, beaten by guards, and separated from their families, many of Yugoslavia's Volksdeutsche despaired and many died. Luisa barely survived as those around her succumbed to malnutrition, disease, and exposure. Nine years old when she entered the concentration camp in 1945, Owen survived the persecution of her people, eventually finding herself in America, where she made a new life for herself, a life that nonetheless held within it the memories and lessons of the atrocities she had experienced in her homeland. Her memoir offers a window into the ethnic cleansing that preceded the recent exterminations in Bosnia and Kosovo by 50 years, an episode of horrors that has not appeared as even a footnote in descriptions of the more recent atrocities practiced in that region. She reminds us of a massive crime that has been conveniently forgotten by providing a personal depiction of what ethnic cleansing is really about.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781585442126
ISBN-10: 1585442127
Format: Hardback
(235mm x 156mm x 30mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Texas A & M University Press
Publisher: Texas A & M University Press
Publish Date: 31-Jan-2003
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » Yugoslavian-born Owen (Art Education Emerita/Wright State Univ.) vividly recalls her youth amid post-WWII ethnic cleansing. Yugoslavia's ruling communists, intent on avenging the Nazi occupation, in 1945 began systematically persecuting ethnic Germans who had lived there for centuries. Owen's family were among those victimized, yet when she returned in the 1990s to the village of Knicancin, there were no signs of the graveyard where hundreds were buried, including her grandmother, nor any markers indicating what had happened. None of the villagers wanted to talk about it either. Owens, now 66, nostalgically evokes her prewar childhood, depicting such seasonal rituals as gathering plums to make schnapps, slaughtering the pig that provided sausages and hams through the winter, celebrating Christmas, with its feast and gifts. She recalls that the Jews, Hungarians, Germans, and Serbs of her native village all comfortably coexisted until the war began. First, the Jewish families were taken away, next the men (including her father) were drafted into the German army, and finally the victorious Serbs turned on the other groups. Ethnic Germans were advised to flee, and her family began preparing to, but they left it too late. Together with her mother and other relatives, Owens was removed from her home, put on a train, and sent to a special village where she lived in rudimentary quarters, sharing a house with 40 other people. Those who could not work were put in concentration camps; the elderly and the children, many of them orphans, soon died from malnutrition and disease. The author movingly recalls the hardships they endured-little or no food, forced labor, children separated from their families-and the rare kindnesses, as when a Serbian housewife gave food to Luisa and her mother. The outside world eventually took notice, and the family was able to emigrate to the US in 1951. An affecting and valuable addition to the literature of war and genocide. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Luisa Lang Owen

LUISA LANG OWEN, born in Yugoslavia before the war, came to America in 1951. A practicing artist who lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, she is a professor emerita of art education at Wright State University.