Casualty of War
A Childhood Remembered
Cold War
6.125 x 9.25, 328 pp.
30 b&w photos., 3 maps.
Pub Date: 11/19/2002
Eugenia & Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series
  cloth
Price:        $34.95

978-1-58544-212-6

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Casualty of War

A Childhood Remembered

By Luisa Lang Owen
Foreword by Charles M. Barber

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, the Volksdeutsche, as these settlers were called, 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 three hundred years. Nine years old when she entered the concentration camp in 1945, author Luisa Lang Owen survived the persecution of the Danube Swabians, 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. Like thousands of other Germans in the Danube Valley at the end of the war, Luisa and her family were chased from their home, lodged in a sheep stall, and resettled in camps with other Germans from her village. Shorn of their possessions, given little food or fuel, pressed into hard labor, beaten by guards, and separated from their families, many despaired and many died. Luisa barely survived as others succumbed to malnutrition, disease, and exposure. Her haunting memoir provides a window into the ethnic cleansing that preceded the recent exterminations in Bosnia and Kosovo by fifty years—an episode of horrors that has not appeared as even a footnote in descriptions of the more recent atrocities practiced in that region. Her testament, as a casualty of war, bears historic witness and gives insight into the personal experiences of ethnic cleansing. It stands as witness to a massive crime that has been conveniently forgotten, a corrective to a bit of neglect that did away with its victims as a people, and a personal depiction of what ethnic cleansing is really about. “The problem was not just that they did not want us to have or to be,” Luisa Lang Owen writes, “they wanted us not to have been.”

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

What Readers Are Saying:

The Village Within Us is an absorbing firsthand account of a neglected episode in the history of World War II and its immediate aftermath–the ethnic cleansing of the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia by the brutal resettlement of its German-speaking minority. Luisa Lang, an artistically gifted nine-year-old when her story begins, takes us unblinkingly from the idyllic village life of her pre-war childhood through the fatal stages of her family’s descent into the maelstrom of war–the Nazi occupation, the Russian occupation, and finally the total devastation under Tito’s Partisans, who forcibly removed the thousands of Vojvodina Germans from their homes and transported them to concentration camps where they were essentially left to starve, often without rations for weeks at a time. Luisa’s riveting, intensely personal story of survival, filled with unforgettable images of both horror and beauty, brings to life as never before the inhumanities that can be visited upon innocent noncombatants in an atmosphere of ethnic hatred; but it also teaches us much about the resilience and promise of the human spirit.”--James P. Scanlan, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Ohio State University

The Village Within Us is an absorbing firsthand account of a neglected episode in the history of World War II and its immediate aftermath–the ethnic cleansing of the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia by the brutal resettlement of its German-speaking minority. Luisa Lang, an artistically gifted nine-year-old when her story begins, takes us unblinkingly from the idyllic village life of her pre-war childhood through the fatal stages of her family’s descent into the maelstrom of war–the Nazi occupation, the Russian occupation, and finally the total devastation under Tito’s Partisans, who forcibly removed the thousands of Vojvodina Germans from their homes and transported them to concentration camps where they were essentially left to starve, often without rations for weeks at a time. Luisa’s riveting, intensely personal story of survival, filled with unforgettable images of both horror and beauty, brings to life as never before the inhumanities that can be visited upon innocent noncombatants in an atmosphere of ethnic hatred; but it also teaches us much about the resilience and promise of the human spirit.” --James P. Scanlan, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Ohio State University

“Today’s media has made ethnic cleansing a regular news feature. War crimes tribunals in the Hague are currently investigating the atrocities committed in the 1990s in Yugoslavia and Ruwanda. The Village Within Us, in some ways, is a response to these developments. The author, out of anger, even rage, is pained that the cleansing of her community, the ethnic Germans (Swabians) of Yugoslavia’s Voivodina after World War II has never been vindicated, much less acknowledged. The situation, some would argue justified it; they were, after all Germans, members of the very ethnic group that had been defeated by the Allies. But for the author, the assertion of “collective war guilt” is unacceptable. Since the 17th and 18th centuries, Germans had lived in what much later became Yugoslavia. They were as much victims of Hitler’s aggression as were others in multiethnic Voivodina. yet, after the war ended in 1945, they were put into camps, beaten, tortured, forced to perform hard labor, and left to starve–for the simple reason that they were German. Most were women, children, or old men. They were not Nazi-sympathizers. A young village girl, named Luisa, is the narrator of this book which is written fifty years after the events. It is a very personal book, sensitively written, in the words of the young girl, who idealizes nature, her family, and her multiethnic community and its life before the war. It is a world she will feel disintegrate, at first in small ways, as soldiers from occupying armies (German, Russian, and Yugoslav Partisan) intrude on village life and its pre-war rhythms, and then in very large ways, as the war ends and ethnic Germans are put into concentration camps by the post-war regime. The author is best in her poignant descriptions of the disintegration of the integrity of her village. She senses changing personal relationships and relates this in terms of the “felt quality of things.” The book is not so much about facts, dates, or event, as it is–according to the author’s analogy–about “sensual images,” which are reconstructed the way one would piece together the precious fragments found in an archaeological dig. The result is a compellingly riveting story, that speaks powerfully for the innocent victims of any war.” --Carole Rogel, author of The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia (Gree

The Village Within Us tells a hitherto almost completely unknown story of genocide that happened over 50 years ago. Such stories must be told. This simple starting point barely begins to disclose the immense importance of this book. The story is told in the form of a memoir of a little girl. As such it seems, at first, perfectly accurate that it contains no layer of political explanation. It is actually devoid not only of politics but also of any form of explanation or interpretation. What we are given instead is description. It would be an immense mistake, however, to see this description as something simple, childlike or naïve. What Luisa Lang Owen has so brilliantly done in the telling of her story is to give us a direct description of the lived experience of being put in a concentration camp. She discloses to us the actual being of that experience. Such being-in-the-world is not political, it is not economic or sociological or psychological. Systems of interpretation give us coherent pictures but they achieve coherence by simplifying (and thusly distorting) the lived experience of being. In this child’s memoir being reveals itself to us. It is essential that we know about each of the forms of genocide that have happened in the modern world. The Village Within Us makes a crucial contribution to the knowing. But the great achievement of this book is that it helps us gather the meaning of these events and to do so concretely.” --Charles S. Taylor, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Wright Stat

“. . .haunting beautiful and horrific. . .Her lush and loving attention to detail, her artistic perceptions were heightened and strengthen in those years, and what we sometimes refer to as the ‘strength of the human spirit’ is clearly defined in the telling of this woman’s coming of age under like-threatening conditions. Both fascinating and saddened by telling, I felt as if I’d entered the spirit of someone who has always lived and continues to live fully and attentively in the world.” --Amazon.com

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