Due to the disastrous military condition of Hitler’s Germany, in the summer of 1944, preparations were made for defending the border of the German Reich. The border region of the Southeastern part of Styria, near the river Kutschenitza, was also included in the defense line, which was called „Reichsschutzstellung“ or „Südostwall“ (Southeastern Wall). They began building the constructions in mid-October. The section of the defense line of that region became known as „fortification V“. The leader of this section was the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party)-section leader of the comprised counties Mureck and Feldbach, also the territory ranging from Radkersburg to Mogersdorf (at that time the Burgenland county Jennersdorf was part of the county of Feldbach). The subsection V/3-St. Anna am Aigen was situated in the southern part of that section of fortifications.
The projected line of fortification was built mostly by hand with primitive means. Along with conscripted civilians, members of the NS-formation (SA, HJ etc.), Volkssturm, prisoners of war and foreign workers also imprisoned Hungarian Jews (who were not deported to Auschwitz in 1944) were forced to do that fortification work.
In consequence to the quick advancement of the Soviet army the fortification work, already near the final completion, was cancelled at the end of March 1945. In the following days of April the fortifications that were built by thousands of people, turned out to be grossly useless for military purposes.
As of January 1945 in the subsection of fortification V/3-St. Anna am Aigen there were about 400 Hungarian Jews. They were mainly accommodated under degrading conditions in the parish center of St.Anna am Aigen. They were accommodated in the former elementary school (today’s shoe store Rindler), in the clubhouse (theatre, parish rooms) and in a building, that doesn’t exist any more, next to the Lippe department store. Some of the Hungarian Jews were also accommodated in wooden barracks in the socalled „Hölle“ (hell) between Deutsch Haseldorf and Aigen (near Kramarovci) and temporarily in a tent camp.
The leaders of the subsection of fortification V/3-St. Anna were a senior School Principal Johann Müller an NSDAP-Ortsgruppenleiter from Mettersdorf, along with Dr. Hans Gerscha the Ortsgruppenleiter of St. Anna am Aigen. They belonged to the political leadership and were responsible for the assignment of the Hungarian Jews in the vicinity of St. Anna am Aigen. The Jewish slave laborers were guarded by SA, Ukrainians and temporarily by members of the Second SS-Baubataillons SS „Kama“ (Croatian Waffen-). They treated the slave laborers very often barbarously and with frequent heavy beatings.
In St. Anna am Aigen, the Jewish slave laborers were partly forced laborers of the Hungarian Army. Alongside with them there were a great many of Jews assigned, who have already worked since summer 1944 in the Gau Groß-Wien as slave laborers.
Among them included were some women too.
The Jews were mainly deployed for the construction of the Panzergraben (tank trench) from the fields of Aigen to the Höllwiese (meadow named hell), next to the border of today’s State of Slovenia. There they had to work very often on inhuman conditions. Lasting for months the Jewish slave laborers had to dig a tank trench, 2 kilometers approximately in length with 4.5m in width and 5m in depth. (The Panzergraben was already insignificant in the final battles of the war in 1945 and in November 1947 it was filled up again with a mechanical earthmover.
The food for the Jews was quite insufficient. From the local people they sometimes got food secretly, which made survival easier. On the one hand that support showed the brave humanity of the local people, on the other hand it showed an unusual great extent of free movement the slave laborers were able to do. In the middle of March 1945 the Abschnittsleiter of the section of fortification V-Feldbach came to St. Anna am Aigen, because of the complaint that Jewish slave laborers got frequently to the surrounding villages begging for food. He took the persons in charge to task and lined up the Jews in St. Anna am Aigen for a head count. Some were missing therefore they were searched immediately. Those Jews, who were taken up were incarcerated in the community’s detention place, where they were maltreated badly.
In the camp in St. Anna am Aigen the sanitary conditions were disastrous and because the slave laborers couldn’t wash themselves, they soon get lice. Part of the Jews came to a camp tent near the construction-site of the tank ditch. There they’ve been deloused. All the same the Jews in the vicinity of St. Anna am Aigen got epidemic typhus, due to the insufficient hygienic conditions. The typhus epidemic was about to spread out. Presumably under orders of the NSDAP-Gauleitung the terminally ill people were shot by their guards. One day (supposably on February 13, 1945) 41 ill men were taken in a lorry to the woods near Deutsch Haseldorf, they were shot there and buried in a mass grave. The executions were carried out by an SS-commando from Feldbach, the leader of the subsection and the NSDAP-Ortsgruppenleiter of St. Anna am Aigen had to block the road.
At the end of March, a few days before the demolition of the fortification work, seven Jews fled from the camp, in retaliation ten other slave laborers were shot and also apparently buried in the mass grave near Deutsch Haseldorf (it was opened in 1948 and the remains of 48 Jews were carried to the Jewish cemetery of Trautmannsdorf near Bad Gleichenberg; six Hungarian Jews, who died during the fortification work and who had been buried for the time being at the cemetery of St. Anna am Aigen were carried to Trautmannsdorf in 1950).
Some of the Jews, who were taken from Greater Vienna to St. Anna am Aigen were sent back again to Vienna, just before the completion of the fortification work. The others had to go on working until the abandonment of the fortification work in St. Anna am Aigen. At the end of March they were forced to go to Gnas, together with the other Jewish slave laborers. From there they started to go on the death march via Gleisdorf, Graz, Präbichl (where many of them became victims of the infamous massacre) to Mauthausen.
A number of critically ill persons were left in the barracks of Aigen (near Kramarovci). On April 4th, 1945 an ill Jew went from that camp to the nearby village of Deutsch Haseldorf to fetch some food for his comrades. The very next day the Russian soldiers had reached the barracks in the “Hell”, the Hungarian Jews were liberated and a few people, who were able to go, went back to Hungary by foot. The dead and the dying people were left in the barracks.
Sandor Vandor (born in 1925), who came from the Hungarian city of Rákospalota (today part of Budapest), was forced to join the Jewish work battalion of the Hungarian Army in May 1944. During the first months of the year 1945 he had to work as a slave laborer at the fortification in St. Anna am Aigen. In this book the eyewitness Sandor Vandor describes hauntingly the memories of his assignment and his struggle for survival