On the Run in the Monarchy

The fate of orthodox refugees in the camp of Oberhollabrunn (1914-1918)

The fictional first-person-narrative is the dramatization of real historical facts.


The thunder of the cannons came closer and panic spread through the village. Would the Tsar's army reach us again? They had already occupied Toporoutz once, when they overran Bukovina in the autumn of 1914 and even took our capital Czernowitz. They devastated many of our houses then. The men who stayed behind in the village were all taken to Russia and our cattle were driven away.

When the clouds of smoke from the drumfire could be seen on the horizon, I became very anxious. Everyone started packing up their belongings.


People were moving through the village, some on foot, some on carts, towards the capital. They reported agitatedly that they had been ordered to leave their houses by soldiers of our army. So the Cossacks were already that close!

I hurriedly loaded the small cart in front of the house and harnessed the ox. I left the chickens and the sheep with the neighbour who was nursing her sick mother. She wanted to brave the Cossacks, locked up in her home. She only sent her twelve-year-old son with us so that he would not be taken away.


The ox pulled the cart via Rarancze and Buda to Czernowitz, where we arrived on the same evening. Hundreds of other people were also on their way there, including friends, relatives and many strangers. After we had crossed the Pruth River, I could no longer make any progress with the cart. Too many people were crowding into the city. I had to leave the cart and the ox behind.

Would our army be able to hold Czernowitz? I ran through the crowd ahead to the train station. People were already there. Soldiers were keeping them from storming the incoming trains. It was incredibly loud and everyone was shouting in different languages. It seemed as if the whole city was here.


Trains had already been leaving all night, but they were only loaded with things belonging to the army. Finally, people were allowed on board, but only with a valid pass. Once again, the rich had the right of way. An early train ride did not seem possible for our kind.

With many others, I spent the following days on the outskirts of the city. From our camp we could hear the rumbling of the cannons approaching. I heard that our army was trying to hold the front line on the Pruth and by doing so to protect the city. It was, thus, clear that the village Toporoutz had already fallen.


Finally, they let us through to the trains. I was herded into a wagon with many others by soldiers. We sat tightly packed on the cold floor. The train left. Everyone wondered how long we would be on the road? No one knew where the journey was going. I winced with every thunder of the cannons.


My journey ended in front of a gate. On it was the Emperor's eagle, but I couldn't read the writing. In front of a larger house we were told to line up in order to register. Despite hunger and exhaustion, I waited patiently.

We were then led to a wash house. In a large shower room I could finally wash. Then, fresh clothes were handed out, but not enough for everyone. In a barrack next door was a doctor. Everyone was shown to him. Those who had lice were locked away. The sick were also taken away.


I was led to a barrack made of bricks on a hill. The house was big and new, the interior was sparse. I had to sleep on a wooden cot. Straw sacks and blankets made it a little cosier. So this is where I would spend the next few weeks, along with many others. Hopefully I could go home soon!

Although it was very cramped, I was glad to have people from my home country around me. Only after a few days did I learn that the place we were in was called Oberhollabrunn.


On my walks I realised how big the camp actually was. All around were numerous other barracks, some smaller, some larger. Most of them were made of wood. Down the hill, houses were being built of brick. They were almost finished, but no one lived in them yet.

Not only we the refugees, but also some of the camp staff slept in the camp. There were stables for cattle and pigs as well. Occasionally a small train came in to bring food and building materials.


As I walked past the construction work, I heard that the workers spoke my language and stopped in amazement. I spoke to them, and we started chatting. They were from Galicia!

They had been here for over a year. They did not live in our camp, but in nearby Raschala. There was another camp, where Italians, Poles and Ruthenians were accommodated. They called it the internment station. Apparently they were here for political reasons, but they wouldn't tell me any more about it. Many of them were doing construction work or were working in the fields.

When the houses were finished, displaced teachers and priests moved in.


In summer and autumn people kept arriving. Most of them, like me, came by train from the East or South. Some also from small shelters or overcrowded camps in the surrounding area. They had already been in the area for some time. Many families came, some had unfortunately been separated on the journey. Desperately, they now tried to find each other again.


More and more people from the South of the Bukovina arrived and became our neighbours. They told news from home. Many were from Kirlibaba and Dorna-Watra, where fighting was particularly fierce. Soldiers had ordered them to leave their homes as the front approached. I no longer had any hope of getting home soon.


The weeks went by, and I gradually got used to everyday life in the camp. The children and their mothers mainly stayed around the barracks. But those who could work, were assigned to the warehouse or had to help out with the surrounding farmers.

Three times a day we got something to eat from the kitchen barrack. It was mostly bread and porridge, sometimes vegetables and meat. The children also got milk.

Horse-drawn carts came to the camp every day. They were loaded with food and clothes. From the camp you could see the surrounding fields. We envied the farmers for their harvest.

At the beginning, the meals were filling, but over time the porridge became watered down, so that we were often hungry. We therefore became angry and shouted at the camp staff. We were told that it was the war's fault and that others were also hungry.


In winter, many became ill. The barracks were draughty, there was not enough heating material and the hunger was almost unbearable. You could hear people coughing everywhere.

I had to watch many people fall seriously ill, including friends of mine. They were taken to the barracks for the sick. Some of them never came back. We were able to say goodbye to them in a small chapel on the edge of the camp, before they were buried in the town cemetery.


The parish priests who had also fled tried to comfort us. I met a clergyman from my Orthodox parish in Toporoutz called Basil Arijczuk.

He told me that Father Kornel Pihuliak and his wife Augustine had also fled from Bukovina. During the flight they had parted ways. Augustine arrived not far from here in another camp and desperately searched for her husband. Thanks to God they were able to find each other again! Their son Roman was born here in the camp.


In the summer of 1917, important people arrived to officially open the new school. Some of us were chosen to receive the distinguished visitors together with the guards at the camp gate.

Not only the children, but also many adults learned German in the camp school. There were also handicraft courses. Some of our work was allegedly even given to the Emperor as a gift.


Time passed and we were still not allowed to go home. This was the second Christmas we had to celebrate in the camp. When would this wretched war be over?

In spring, the time had finally come. We were put back on trains. I hoped to see my homeland again soon. But when the train started, I also thought of everyone we left behind, of the friends who had died in the camp.

Again it was a journey into the unknown. We had been away for so many months and had no idea what to expect back home.

When I arrived at home, I saw the devastation that the war had left behind. Many of us could not return to their homes. The places, the people, everything had changed.

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The virtual exhibition "Auf der Flucht in der Monarchie: Das Schicksal der orthodoxen Flüchtlinge im Lager Oberhollabrunn (1914-1918)" is published by:

Digitales Geoportal der Geschichte der Orthodoxen in Österreich

Represented by:

Doz. Mag. Dr. Mihailo Popović, Project Leader
Kiningergasse 12/2/7
1120 Wien



The virtual exhibition "Auf der Flucht in der Monarchie: Das Schicksal der orthodoxen Flüchtlinge im Lager Oberhollabrunn (1914-1918)" was funded by the Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich within the project P19-3804.

Cf. on the Project:


Responsible for the Content:

Doz. Mag. Dr. Mihailo Popović, Project Leader
Digitales Geoportal der Geschichte der Orthodoxen in Österreich
Kiningergasse 12/2/7
1120 Wien

Concept and Texts of the Exhibition:

Verena Demel, Peter Fraundorfer, Sandra Wabnitz, Mihailo Popović

English Translation:

Peter Fraundorfer, Mihailo Popović

Comunication Design:

Peter Fraundorfer

App Design:

Rainer Simon (AIT)


Bernhard Koschicek-Krombholz

Vienna 2021