Grödig DP Camp and Supply Centre

by Franz Bohn in correspondence with Miff Crommelin

Schwabenlager Groedig (Swabien Camp)

Both the UNRRA and IRO people, just like us former DP's, are getting along in age, and there is a dire need to 'capture', before they are all gone, the experiences and after-effects of the war which should not be lost on future generations. I spent over 7 years in the DP camps. At this late stage in life, I have developed a tremendous hunger for any information about those post-war years. My youth and memories are still there. Those were the years in which the basis of my values for the rest of my life were formed! The advent of the web has really been the inspiration for my renewed 'hunger' for information about my origins in Yugoslavia and my childhood days in Groedig.

Peaceful Grödig

Isn't that part of the world beautiful? I get homesick every time I think about Groedig, Salzburg and the surrounding area. By the way, it's a shame I cannot express this to your dad directly, but the IRO probably saved our lives during the dark post war days. Their help, and also their employment of my mother, really did have a trendous impact on our survival. (My family was able to buy food! with her salary). The IRO patch image that you sent was another 'flashback' that I had, and I thank you for that!

I am attaching the only picture of the Groedig DP camp that I called 'home' for over 7 years. It was about 1/2 km from Groedig right on the road between Groedig and Niederalm. The camp, actually known as Schwabenlager Groedig (Swabien Camp) was inhabited mostly by (Swabien) people from Yugoslavia, my family included, that had to flee persecution from Tito's forces. Since we were of German ancestry (even though several generations had lived in Yugoslavia), we either stayed to be surely killed (many were!), or flee our homes leaving all our possessions, never to return again. Unfortunately, that experience has stained my 'carefree' early childhood indelibly.

There were around 500 people in the camp, all of whom (in the immediate aftermath of the war) were clothed and avoided starvation due to the UNRRA and IRO efforts. That class picture that I had sent you earlier is somewhat humorous to me now bacause we were all wearing secondhand clothes that had been donated. Some of it fit, and some of it didn't, but....we never noticed, we never cared, for the choice was either clothes (warmth) or no-clothes (freezing). Funny how those decisons become uncomplicated when basic needs are scarce.

Click to enlarge.
I (Franz Bohn) am the fifth child from the right, second row, (blond, suspenders, big grin).
The picture was taken in the DP camp in Groedig.

This attachment may not be of much interest to you, but I include it to illustrate the fact that my DP camp school picture in 1948 represents the resiliency of children. Those were hard times, hunger was very prevalent, our clothes were donated and yet - we didn't know we were in tough shape! Children are Gold!

There is so much that your father mentioned in his diary, and so many memories that his words and pictures 'bring back' to me, it is hard to describe the incredible emotion and almost-perfectly clear recollections that your CD triggered! Your father was quite a man! Not only for his humitarian services during the post-war years, but for his detailed notes, his precise cataloguing and his persistence in recording events in both words and pictures. You have a treasure in his recollections!

I may have mentioned to you that my mother worked for the IRO in Groedig, until it was closed. She was a kitchen helper, laundry person, and house cleaner for the IRO H.Q. in Groedig. I am sure that she would have known your father, since she was in charge of doing all IRO uniform laundry. I further would not be surprised if your father had visited the DP camp in Groedig.

I am now certain that he inspected the very camp where I was staying. That camp was less than 1 kilometer from the Groedig UNRRA/IRO headquarters in Groedig. Although I have no specific recollections, I do remember many 'inspections' and VIP visitors, and how awed I was by their 'officialness'. They all appeared as 'gods' to me, even though I seemed to always be afraid of bad things to come after the visits. (Even children have post-war trauma). I remember the 'fear' that we had when UNRRA or IRO leaders visited, for during the war we became conditioned to expect the worst whenever 'inspections' were undertaken.

In reality the exact opposite happened. Usually after these visits things got a little better. We were a motley group of DP's. I'm sure we looked despicable, dirty, hungry and bed-bug bitten, probably smelled badly too. Yet we did benefit immensely from the many acts of human kindness that followed UNRRA/IRO visits. None of those inspections resulted in 'bad news', and I vividly remember the relief people giving us children bits of chocolate, and once they even supplied a soccer ball which the entire DP kids population enjoyed for years until the laces finally gave way in 1950.

Tina and "Bix" Crommelin, St. Leonhard, 1947

St. Leonhard with Hotel Ziegler in center-right of picture

The pictures you sent seem so very familiar, especially the St. Leonhard and Groedig area shots. I remember St. Leonhard very well. St. Leonhard is quite close to the camp where I lived. It lies on the outskirts of Groedig and lies basically at the foot of the great and majestic Untersberg mountain. I have some remembrance of the Ziegler hotel. One of my aunts worked there for a few years doing laundry and other support work. Hotel Ziegler was widely known as a wonderful local place where the (to us) rich people stayed. A place to be admired by us, but never in our wildest dreams could we ever imagine anything but gawking or working there.

Signpost at St. Leonhard pointing to PC IRO Supply Centre at Grodig
with Hotel Ziegler in the background

By the way, St. Leonhard was the end point of the (former) train that used to run between St. Leonhard and Salzburg. (I took that train daily to get to the school in Salzburg in 1952). The first stop after St. Leonhard was Groedig (where I got on). That very plot of ground in Leonhard is now the bottom station of the Untersberg cable car system.

I remember one time I had forgotten my 'student pass' for the train. On the way into Salzburg, the conducter had not checked for the passes so I did not realize that I had left it at the camp, but when I wanted to come home in the afternoon, the conductoor did check before the train got started, and he told me to 'get off the train'! I had a long and cold walk back to camp, a 12 Km walk!

I think the obvious fact that I was a DP had a lot to do with that experience, since the conductor was an Austrian who just didn't like Auslander (Immigrants), and I had seen him forgive other Austrian students many times for similar 'student pass forgetfulness'. Needless to say, I never forgot my train pass after that! I pretty much cried all the way home, not because of the hard & long walk through brutal winter weather, but because of the perceived discrimination. This was probably my first understanding of the emotion of being disliked. That little child of war was slowly 'learning' - he was growing up!

There were, however, many acts of kindness by many Austrians towards us 'Auslaenders'. Farmers allowed us to scrounge for potatoes in the potato fields after their harvest; they provided us at times with Bauernbrot (Farmers bread), and occasionally we were allowed to collect apples and pears that had fallen to the ground from their orchards. Others allowed us to get wellwater since initially the camp wellwater was not functioning. (Well pumps were eventually fixed, thanks to IRO help). Although I'm sure we were disliked and unwelcome by many, and certainly there was discrimination, but there were also numerous plain Austrians folks who helped us make it through those terrible times.

UNRRA/IRO Supply Centre

Click to enlarge.

The Groedig pictures are compelling. Particularly, the IRO building is just the way I remember it. It was nestled right next to the church, and I remember my mother doing the laundry there in a big washing tub in the back. Every once in a while, after work, she would bring me there and stick me in the tub for a bath. What a luxury that was! Afterwards, I was usually treated to some pastry by the IRO chef (Herr Seidel). There have been UNRRA and IRO memory snippets that have come back to me in the last several days that I haven't thought about for at least 50 years! I now can clearly recall that Gasthof front yard of the IRO building where my mother had worked. Such great memories...brought back more vividly than ever by your pictures.

Groedig, 1947

Plane over Festung, Salzburg

The flight photo's over Salzburg are also very nice. I remember those small planes flying around the skies and often landing on the unfinished autobahn near Groedig. One time the pilots actually camped out under a bridge overnight. What a curiosity that was! And the soldiers even gave us lurking kids some chewing gum and chocolates. It took a long time for me to lose the fear of the drone of airplanes because during the war it usually meant there would be bombing. I didn't shake that reflex fear totally until the mid-fifties in this country. It's amazing how war conditions everyone, especially the children!

And how well I remember those wartime radios! Specifically the crackling noise and the fading in and out of the volume, oftentimes overpowered by loud whistling and gurgling sounds. Of particular rememberence is the existance of the radio electric green 'eye' that aided the listener in tuning the radio. One would turn the tuning knob until the lines in the 'eye' were the thinnest. That's when the reception quality was best but it would always wander and had to be frequently reset. The eldest in the group was usually in charge of 'tunung'...a respected position of honor!

I remember my family talking about our radios being confiscated by the Yugoslavian partisans (before we emigrated to Austria), and at times, by the army. Supposedly, it was to prevent power outages but no-one believed that excuse. Mostly it was done to prevent news from reaching the people, and those who refused to give up their radio were shot

After the war, in the DP camps, I remember many nights when family & friends would huddle around a small radio and 'catch up' with the post war events. Mostly, we wanted to know when food would become available. All the time, watching to make sure that 'green eye' was tuned for maximum reception.

I am writing a book for my children because I want to leave them with a full understanding of what their father experienced, the pain of the war, and the heartache of being a war refugee! I want them to appreciate what they have now, and never experience the horrors that I lived through as a very young child.

It was all a long time ago, but to me, it was an innocent childhood time. Maybe it has stayed so vividly with me because it was a childhood lost, never to be fully recovered, its after-effects always there to 'temper' my feelings about life, enforce my values and refresh my inner fears as I matured into an adult.

I will gladly share my book with you upon completion. It will have lots of family geneology information, but I am mostly working on the effects of the war on my life and how that effect has influenced the way I raised my children and the way I have developed my life's values. It's a legacy I hope to leave behind for the furthering of the Bohn name and what I believe is the Bohn family integrity. With 5 grandchildren, four of them boys, I need to assure that they all know from whence they came, and from what beginnings in the USA their family values are grounded.

You have been super generous in sharing your father's intellectual and pictorial wealth.

With immense appreciation,

Franz Bohn

Hello Miff,

I read your correspondence with Franz with great interest. His stories refresh my memories about that era. When I was in Pörtchach in the summer of 1951 I went to Graz with Aust, your father’s driver. We had to deliver a boy to a DP camp there. I was 13 and was amazed at the large number of DP’s still in that camp. A woman in the kitchen was just baking some Rohr Nudeln and Aust and I indulged in them as we had not eaten for a while.

Franz’s experiences also reminded me of our train transport back to Holland from Miesbach to Munich, to Switzerland, to France, Belgium and finally Holland. It took us the better part of a month and each time we had to be put up into roadside DP camps. The situation everywhere was chaotic and surprisingly we all made it back without getting lost. It certainly was a major portion to our character building.

Franz’s stories about hunger are, oh, so familiar. And the handouts from the American soldiers were a foundation to our well-being. By the end of the war there was no food left and the US “K” rations were like gourmet food to us. I even found some German military effects like bayonets, Iron crosses etc. and traded them for chocolate and other food stuff. Unfortunately there were no cameras with film in them to allow us to take pictures, but the images are as clear in my mind as if it had happened a few days ago.

Interesting correspondence!

Pat Serne