I am the author of “Anna’s Story: A True Story of a Young Girl’s Will to Survive in the Aftermath of World War II.”
The story follows my mother’s life from childhood, up through early adulthood. My mother, born Anna Friedrich, was raised in Yugoslavia by ethnic German parents. Her ancestors migrated to the Banat Region of Northern Serbia 200 years prior to the time of this story. Yugoslavia had not yet become a country.
The ethnic Germans who migrated to that part of the world were given the name “Donauschwaben” or Danube Swabian, aptly named for their settlements along the Danube River and that many of the migrants were associated with the Swabian culture of Western Germany. During this time, the Germans lived in harmony with their ethnic neighbors.
World War II ended in 1945 with the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. My mother’s family was part of a population of Eastern European ethnic German civilians made to bear the brunt of the revenge against all Germans for the human atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during the war. Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Russia expelled millions of ethnic German living within their borders.
The expulsions created the largest forced migration of a population in human history. The Germans of Yugoslavia were forced to abandon their homes and make the long, arduous journey, mostly on foot, to safe havens in Austria and Germany. Many died along the way from starvation or disease. The ones who could not or would not leave their homes were rounded up at gunpoint by communist Yugoslavian partisans and forced into concentration death camps where they were tortured, raped and murdered, or left to starve to death.
The Germans who survived the brutality within the camps were not released until 1949. Such was the fate of my mother’s family. My mother told me her life story for the first time when I was 25 years old. At that moment I realized that I barely knew this woman. In the years that followed, my mother and I talked about her story and the possibility of her writing a book. She spent the next 27 years collecting documents and writing her memoirs. She remembered everything about her childhood experiences.
It wasn’t until I was 52 that she asked me if I would write her story. I understood the importance of telling it. When describing these historical events to others, I am surprised how few people know anything about the inhumane treatment of the Germans after World War II.
Having never written a book, I had no idea how to even start to write this story. I read books on how to write a biography; I read about the history and politics of Yugoslavia; I studied geographical maps of the region; I read stories of Holocaust and concentration camp survivors. I spent 10 years researching this subject. It wasn’t until I retired from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2018, at 62, that I finally found the time to write.
In the winter of 2019, I sat down at my computer and began to type. I worked on the story 16 hours a day for four months, non-stop. I struggled for weeks to write the opening paragraph until I realized that I was missing one key element so important to writing any story—passion. I had to imagine being Anna Friedrich. I needed to feel her pain and anguish. I tried to envision how I would react if faced with the same situations. I knew this was not going to be easy, but I was not expecting the emotional toll this story took on me.
I used my mother’s written memoirs to develop the storyline. She gave me a box of family photos, some of them over 100 years old, many of them included in the book. The story is not meant to be a lesson in history or politics but instead, a small window into the lives of one Donauschwaben German family and their struggle to survive.
When I finished the first draft, I sent it to four publishers, and they all wanted to publish it. It took two years from the time I submitted my manuscript until I had a printed book in my hands. The book has garnered numerous five-star reviews.
By the way, my mother, now Anna Berry, 90, works at Walmart in Kendallville, Ind., managing a store department.