SAM BAUMANN STORY
The following was written by Sam J. Baumann. He was one of the main organizers of the American Aid Society. Some of his grandchildren were part of the club, along with his great grand children…. his great great grandchildren, Dottie and Olivia are currently members of our Kindergruppe!! It is important to see how far back our club goes and how fortunate we were that our “Landsleit” had the GUTS to fight for our survival and reach out a helping hand.
In 1940, an umbrella organization was established which called itself “The United Pleasure Clubs” and it consisted of the following organizations: Jahrmarker Club, St. Huberter, St. Anna, Botscharer, Neupanater, Lieblinger, Kerneier, Glogowatzer and Freidorfer Clubs. These were established to keep our German -Hungarian culture alive through fests and old world events. They even established a children and youth group, which called itself the “United Youth Club.”
World War II broke out and our sons were drafted into the US armed forces. The United Pleasure Clubs began to send them Christmas packages. The clubs also established a charity committee on armed forces day in order to help every one of our sons in the service that may have had a need, but few needed assistance, so our aid was re-directed toward the need of the German-Hungarian Old People’s Home. I was the committee chairman of the Aid Committee for that home.
At the beginning of August, 1944, I was in a barbershop owned by a leading and prominent “Landsman". He was a great speaker and was beloved by both political parties. He was the main speaker at the 200th anniversary celebration of the Swabians from Banat here in Chicago. He was also the honorary president of the German-Austrian-Hungarian military organizations. His name was Josef Maschek and hailed from Beschenowa near Temesvar. We were deep in conversation when the mailman entered the shop and said that he was ordered by the main postmaster of Chicago, John Hoelderlein, to deliver this letter to Mr. Josef Mascheck.
The letter was simply addressed to “United Austrian-Hungarian Organizations of North America, Chicago, Illinois—no street name or address. As I sat there, I will never forget him reading that letter as tears poured from his eyes. I asked him, “Vetter Josef, what’s the matter?” He said, “Baschtl”—that’s what he always called me— “the United Clubs must do something now to help our people, our innocent people.” The letter was written by Dr. Kaspar Muth from Temesvar, who sent it through an American GI who was sent to Temesvar right after the Romanian capitulation. This soldier was the son of Danube Swabian immigrants living in America. In the letter he described the plight of the German population in Yugoslavia. I immediately went to see Nick Pesch, who at the time was the president of the United Clubs, to show him the letter. We discussed the situation in regards to helping out fellow “Landsleit”, but the US was still at
war with Germany. That made this a difficult task, however, I began to pursue what could be done because I was reminded of the words that President Roosevelt spoke—he said, we are not at war with the German people but with the Third Reich.
I began looking for German men that had sons who were enlisted or who were married to American women or who were themselves born here. When I had enough interested people, we began to look for an informal meeting space, but nothing was available. Everyone was fearful of renting space to us because of the war and they warned me saying “Baumann, you are going to end up in jail.” Since I wasn’t making any headway, a landsman from our club here in Chicago went to the Serbian Consulate to inquire about the fate of the Yugoslavian Germans. He was informed that nothing is happening to them, that they were NOT being deported to work or starvation camps and that it was all a lie. Despite this information, our committee of 9 men went to work. A good friend secured a meeting place, the owner of which was Croatian and he warned me— “Baumann, when the FBI catches you, I will deny that you were here or that I know you.” On September 17th, 1944, the first committee meeting of the 9 men took place-Nick Pesch became the president, Mr. Miller Vice President, I was voted in as the organizer, Konrad Hack became the secretary and Mr. John Deppong became treasurer.
We then began our work. First we tried to win over all German organizations to accept our information as to what was happening in Southeastern Europe but that was not an easy job. Many thought that the idea that all these people were all driven from their homes was inconceivable and they thought we were liars trying to line our pockets with donation money. We had to listen to these rejections until letters from our first deported Landsmen arrived. Once we received these letters, we were able to convince all of the Chicago German organizations that there was a real need for help and without their assistance we could have never achieved our performance levels.
I have always said and still believe it to this very day, that the Landsleute that received aid in their most difficult hour and were helped to find a new homeland should thank the organizations who were in power at that time for exerting a certain amount of political pressure to get things done for these refugees. Our first task was how to help a large group of people more meaningfully than just send care packages. We also wanted the care packages we were sending to be distributed fairly. In the beginning, the packages could not be sent directly to our Landsleute, so we began to work in conjunction with the Quakers. Our main job was to raise funds to purchase the necessary food items, so we created a “Food Committee”-I was the chairman and Mrs. Link, the secretary. We held our first banquet on December 11th, 1944. Since meat was difficult to come by, we collected smoked bacon and bread, which was sold at the banquet—
this was our first bit of income.
The following year, Peter Paul Reiner was able to procure a car at a very favorable price and we sold raffles for the auction of the car to raise more needed funds. Mr. Matthias Bastian donated 1000 bottles of hair shampoo which we also sold to raise money. It was through such efforts that we were slowly able to raise the necessary funds to move forward to help our Landsleute. Mr. Frank Kaiser was the first to donate $100.00 adding, “I know our people are innocent.” Many followed his example. Another notable person who cannot be forgotten was Mr. Alexander Weiss of Weiss travel agency who made it possible for Nick Pesch to travel to Europe. Mr. Weiss called me into his office one day to ask what he could do for our German-Hungarian countrymen. He informed me that if I were willing to fly to Europe to visit our Landsleute in the camps throughout Europe, that he would furnish the airline ticket. I was unable to do so, but he willingly listened to my suggestion. I asked if he would pay for Mr. Pesch’s ticket to Germany since he was first and foremost the President of the committee and then secondly he could visit his son who was stationed in Germany at the time. He agreed and we contacted Mr. Pesch to discuss the entire matter. Fortunately, a gentleman on our committee named Mr. Josef Eszterle, had just returned from a trip to Germany where he visited his mother who had been forced out of Hungary, so he was able to put us in contact with a Dr. Leber who had already been visiting many of the camps in Europe. It was through him and his thorough reports on the situation that our work became easier from this point on.
Our most ambitious work still lay ahead for us, namely, how to make the immigration for our Landsleute a reality, in order for them to establish themselves in a new homeland. The Chicago United Clubs called for an organizational meeting to be held on April 17th, 1947. All those that were willing to help were invited and after this meeting, our Verein name officially changed on a national level, to the American Aid Society for the Needy and Displaced Persons of South Eastern Europe.