Title: Sheltered in the Shadow of Your Wings

Author: Magdalena Gärtner. Translated by Nicola Landry and Ruth Mandoli.

Year: Original German version published in 2005.

Media Type: Book

Lending Status: Borrow

How Acquired: ZVA purchase for SGS

Review/Description: Review by Arlene Prunkl: “Sheltered in the Shadow of Your Wings” is a beautifully written, sometimes heart-wrenching memoir of Magdalena (nee Martin) Gaertner’s childhood in the Banat village of Setschanfeld. Mrs. Gaertner begins by describing a peaceful life filled with hard work and good times in Setschanfeld in the 1930s. She recounts how, at the age of nine, her life and the lives of her family and the other villagers were torn apart when World War II struck the innocent village. She describes the horrible circumstances as the village was first invaded by the Russian Allies, then taken over by the Yugoslav Partisans, and finally turned into a concentration camp for the ostracized Danube Swabians.

In the summer of 1945, “Leni” Martin and her mother managed to flee to a nearby working farm called Krakasch. A year later, they, along with a handful of others including my grandmother, Elizabeth Prunkl, made a daring escape from the tyranny of Communist Yugoslavia across the Romanian border. From there, they made their way through Austria to Germany, where they were reunited with Leni’s father. Leni spent the subsequent decade in Germany, where she met her husband Michael Gaertner, before emigrating to Ottawa, Canada. Her parents followed after another decade. Leni never quite recovered from the death of her sister Eva in the Russian labour camps in the year after WWII ended.

The remainder of the book is devoted to the struggles and pleasures of beginning a new life in a foreign land, and how their Catholic faith kept them going. Like most Donauschwaben, Leni and Michael are survivors — hardy, optimistic people who made the best of their situation — and they and their two children prospered. Leni and Michael still live a contented life in Nepean, Ontario, Canada, near Ottawa. They have four grandchildren and have traveled extensively, including a trip back to Setschanfeld and Germany.

Leni’s story is a fascinating, easy-to-read account of the struggle, survival, and ultimate triumph of a single family in the face of the Donauschwaben genocide during and after WWII. Highly recommended. –Arlene Prunkl

Review by Glenn Schwartz: I can recommend Sheltered in the Shadow of Your Wings by Magdalena Gärtner highly, especially if you are interested in Setschanfeld. Lena came from that town and her husband, Michael, came from Zichydorf/Mariolana. The first half of the book is about her childhood in Setschanfeld and the events during and after WW II. Fortunately for Lena, she was placed in a work camp with her mother and, although life was not easy, she avoided both the transport to Russia and the death camps in Yugoslavia. She paints an interesting picture of life in the village, the coming of the Partisans, and her escape to the west. Michael was fortunate enough to be evacuated by train before the Red Army arrived in Werschetz , where his family was living at the time. The second half of the book is much more personal and may not appeal to everyone, but, be sure to read about her trip back to Setschanfeld in 1974. The book includes a few short first-person accounts of the brutality of the coming of the Partisans, but it is not the horror story that many tell of their time in the death camps. It is a good and interesting read and not too long.

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