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The History of the Danube Swabians

By Hans Kopp

from the book “The Last Generation Forgotten and Left to Die” The History of the Danube Swabians”.

All Rights reserved. ISBN No. 0-9701109-0-1  


Chapter 3

The Last Generation of the Danube Swabians  



The Post War Years of World War I

          “Only he is worth his ancestors, who faithfully honors their heritage, costumes and traditions” (translated from “Nur der ist seiner Ahnen wert, der ihre Sitten treu verehrt”) this beautiful slogan written by Josef Lindster became the foundation for the Danube Swabian culture and heritage throughout the world. The “Ungarländischen Deutschen”, as the Germans were called prior to WW I, who were summoned to Hungary to rebuild this barren land with their sweat and their blood, lived up to the slogan of their ancestors. Although the Hungarian population was comprised of multi national character, which contributed to the rebuilding of the land, the “Ungarländischen Deutschen” however, where as stated by Ernst Trost, the “bellows” in this “multi national organ”.


          The demise of the Danube Swabians began when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28 1914. Gavrilo Princip, a fanatic and member of the Slavic terrorist group “Black Hand”, killed Franz Ferdinand, who was a great friend of the Slavic people. This assassination well planned and executed, lead to the First World War on July 28 1914. This act of aggression by the Serbs is difficult to understand, since history has shown that Austria has been the friend of the Slavic people. For centuries they had giving them sanctuary and protection from the Turks, as well as, given them the opportunity to build new homes during the settlement periods after the Turkish war, in what is today’s Vojvodina (formally Batschka, the Yugoslavian Banat and Syrmia) and Slavonia.


          After the cease fire agreement in November of 1918 Serbian troops marched into the regions of southern Hungary, namely the Batschka, Baranja, and western regions of the Banat to occupy them although they had no right to do so and were to respect the borders in existence prior to in 1914. At the peace treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920, the occupied regions were sanctioned. On December 1st 1918 Alexander Karadjordjevic proclaimed the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which was recognized on December 5th 1919 with the amendment of a “Minority Rights Agreement”. However, Alexander had no intention to allow the minority to partake in the process of the legislation passed on June 28. 1918, prompting President Wilson to state in his address to the nation on February 12 1918 that this violated the rights of the Hungarians, Germans and other minorities in that country. In a later proclamation by the now reigning King Alexander, he disowned the rich farmers and gave the land to the poor farmer, thus disowning many industrious Danube Swabians and Hungarian farmers, who had earned the right to the land through their hard labor and effort. On February 27 1918, 216,644 families profited from this agrarian reform of the new state and were settled on that ground. None of them were Germans, although there were many deserving poor among the Danube Swabians. Many of the effected had to work for someone else or leave the country to find work. Many of them came to America.


          After the peace treaties in Trianon, the territories of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, with its population of 54 million people, were dismantled, the territory truncated and the population with its land geographically separated by the allied nations. With this geographic separation of land, the settlement regions of the “Ungarländischen Deutschen”, with a population of 1.5 million people, now divided, leaving 650,000 people in the remaining territory Hungary, 350,000 in the annexed part of Romania, and 550,000 the newly formed nation of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians. This division also forced 3,000,000 Hungarians to live in foreign countries and gave the German region of the Hauerland and Zips to Czechoslovakia. This was done in the interest of peace, but not for the German population living in territories of the formally German- and Austria-Hungarian Monarchies. Several unrests followed in the new state prompting King Alexander to give the state of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, the name Yugoslavia, by royal proclamation.


          The “Ungarländischen Deutschen” became subjects of Yugoslavia, Romania, and Hungary. As a minority in each country, they had to fight for their inherited rights and freedom. Fortunately, capable politicians among them emerged and asserted themselves in each of these countries, which pressured the new governments to preserve the rights promised for their minority Volksgroup.

Suffering from these divisions were also the Transylvanian Saxons, annexed to Romania, the Gottscheer as well as the “Old Austrians” making their homes in Lower Styria, which was annexed to Slovenia. As citizens of these countries they served their new countries loyally, including serving in their armed forces. The German citizens of these countries, now in minority and in unfriendly countries, became political footballs without the protection of the Austrian Empire. Their rights of self-determination and their struggle to maintain their language and culture, which had been a continuous effort throughout the centuries, were now drastically curtailed by these political decisions.


          The taught of being a unified ”German Volksgroup” never developed among the “Ungarländischen Deutschen“ during the 19th Century in Hungary as did among the Hungarians and the Slaves, nor were they able to bring forth an intellectual leadership, since the Hungarians extracted all brilliant minds from the German population. Although the assimilation process and the hungarianizing of the Germans were particularly true in the cities, it also extended into the urban areas including most of the priests. That the Germans brought fourth cultural and scientific minds can be affirmed in lyricist Nikolaus Lenau and the physician and researcher Ignaz Semmelweis, referred to as the “Savior of the Mother” for his research in the field of gynecology and for the implementation of the sterilization process during childbirth.


          Jakob Bleyer became the leader among the Danube Swabians in Hungary and formed the non-political “Ungarisch-Deutscher Volksbildungsverein” to foster the rights, culture, customs, traditions and the German language of the Danube Swabians. However, his efforts to establish schools, a political party or cooperative institutions for the Danube Swabian population in Hungary, were in vain. Thus the situation in Hungary for the Danube Swabians had to be termed grim and hopeless.


          Edmund Steinacker (1839-1929), a close adviser to crown prince Franz Ferdinand and a delegate in the Hungarian Parliament, recognized the dilemma of his countrymen first and established contacts among his political thinking Danube Swabian countrymen. Through his efforts the „Ungarländisch Deutsche Volkspartei“ was formed in 1906. Ludwig Kremling was elected to be the first chairman. Therefore, it can be said that Steinacker brought about the „awakening of the Danube Swabians“.


          The writer and author Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn born in Guttenbrunn, Banat, was perhaps the most influential man of the Danube Swabians of his time. He brought the political problems of his countrymen to their attention already before the First World War. Because of his activities, he was exiled from Hungary and living in Vienna from where he wrote six novels, bringing the cultural and political problems of the Danube Swabian and their non-existing right for self-determination to the Austrian and the German public. In his novels he made the public also aware about the riches of the Danube Swabian culture and their life. Because of his passionate support for his countrymen he was nicknamed by them “der Erzschwabe”, meaning the Arch Swabian.


          In 1920 a large group of Danube Schwabians held an organizational conference in Neusatz, Batschka where they founded the “Schwäbische Deutsche Kulturbund” the Swabian German Cultural Union whose men, women and sports members wore unified clothing to all public events. Their motto was” faithful to country and faithful to heritage” (Staats treu und Volks treu).


          In 1922 they formed the “Agraria” a co-operative central Society with Dr. Stefan Kraft (1884-1959) as president. Their home was the in 1939 newly build Habag Haus. During the same year Dr. Stefan Kraft organized the “Deutsche Partei”, a German political party and was elected as its speaker. The Party managed to be represented with eight seats in the Yugoslavian parliament. However, the influence of these men politically as a minority group in Yugoslavia, was practically non-existent and the situation for the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia depressing.


          The people living in the provinces annexed to Yugoslavia had to live under the new Yugoslavian administration. They had to serve in the armed forces without possibility of ever holding and officers rang. The Danube Swabian minority groups were not allowed to expand their land. In several regions they could not purchase land from any other ethnic group except a Danube Swabian. They had to accept Serbs as officials and judges in their own communities. The courts upheld laws favoring the Serbs and thus reducing the rights of their citizens of German descent even more. Elections held were often overturned when a Danube Swabian seeking office won.


          The depressing situation became evident in the school systems, where the German Language could only be taught in schools with classes equal or greater than 30 German students. Fortunately, for many Danube Swabian communities this was the case. It took many years of efforts to allow the Danube Swabians to build private educational institutions. It was not until 1931 that a college for teachers and in 1940 a college for students could be opened in Neu Werbass, while our men following the priesthood still had to study either in Sarajevo or Zagreb. Our young men and women perusing an academic carrier had to study in Serbo-Croatian, a foreign language to them, or leave their home to study in Austria or Germany.


          In his publication, “650 Jahre Gottschee” (650 years Gottschee) Ludwig Kern directs the attention to several political developments after World War I, regarding the Germans in the region of Gottschee. Although the constitutions of the newly created state of Yugoslavia guaranteed the right of free speech, religion, traditions and customs to any men, it was merely fiction. He introduces statistics from Gottschee. On December 31, 1918 all German officials were fired and all business was handled in the new Serbo-Croatian language. If you did not speak the Serbo-Croatian language you were forced to hire an interpreter at your own expense. A name analysis was made and a decree passed which forced everyone to write his or her German first names in the Serbia-Croatian language. All schools and privately owned institutional properties, such as the reading club; the bird protection club were institutionalized or confiscated. Thirty-three teachers were fired and only 16 schools were allowed to teach German in reduced hourly sessions. By the year 1935 only 226 students were given the right to learn the German language, while 1,700 students were denied that right. Deducting from these statistics one can see the unfair treatment the citizens of German descent received in Yugoslavia.


          The situation for the Germans in Romania generally speaking, was not much different from that in Yugoslavia. A quotation from an article published in 1926 by Dr. Karl Wolff of Hermannstadt, Transylvania gives us a clear description of the situation and conditions the Germans had to live under the Romanian Government. The German people in Romania, especially the Transylvanian Saxons, were struggling hard for existence. During the Hungarian Kingdom, though the Germans were exposed to the constant persuasion to give up their language and culture and become hungarianized, their property rights had always been respected. They could and did extend their possessions. Thanks to the extremely well organized financial co-operatives, the Germans succeeded in buying a good many of the large estates from the noble Hungarian landowners, (e.g. Count Teleki, Count Haller, Prince Agati, and others). These estates were subdivided by the co-operative societies and settled by Saxons who otherwise would have emigrated to America or other foreign countries and thus would have been lost for the nation.


          Dr. Karl Wolff continues; “Today, things are different”. Under the title “Agrarian Reform”, the Romanian authorities have taken away from the Saxon communities many thousands of acres of fields, meadows, woods, and pastures, compensating them with ridiculously low prices of about 1% of their true value. Therefore the loss of the Saxon property is running up into the billions of Lei. Even the small estates of the Saxons were expropriated. In Kallesdorf and Billak for instance, where the average Saxon farm property per family was only about six acres, all newly acquired land was expropriated. Two women of Billak, whose husbands were totally disabled during the war, lost their small properties (one plot of six acres, the other of eight acres) by act of expropriation. The Romanian Government conveniently justified the seizure of the land without compensation on the grounds that the land was acquired in 1921; meaning after the region was annexed to Romania. The sources of information on the Transylvanian Saxons are taken from the publication “Saxons through Seven Centuries” by Rev. John Foisel.


          The Sathmarer and Banater Danube Swabians living in Romania came under the same decree of law as the Saxons. In 1921 the Banater Danube Swabians in Romania organized the “Deutschschwäbische Volksgemeinschaft” (German Swabian Volks Unity). They became members of the “Verband der Deutschen in Rumänien”, (Unity of Germans in Romania) which included the Transylvanian Saxons, Sathmar, the Bucovina and Bessarabia Germans. The speaker of the party was Dr. Kaspar Muth. Through his and other party member’s brilliant efforts, it was possible to establish a German school system in Romania after 1920, one third of it for higher education. Through the tireless work of Bishop Augustin Pacha of Temeswar, it was possible to inaugurate the largest central educational institution for Germans in Southeast Europe, the “Banatia” in 1926. This achievement earned him the nickname “Schwaben Bishop” Swabian Bishop among his pears.


          As a whole, the situation of the Danube Swabians in the three countries Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania since the end of WW I, now without the protection of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy was unsatisfactory. The governments of these countries made continued efforts to weaken the cultural and economical power of the Danube Swabians.


          During the post war years of WW I many Danube Swabians began to leave Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania and began to emigrate to Austria, Germany and the USA. It was primarily skilled craftsmen and non-skilled laborers, who left because of economic reasons and cultural differences now existing in their home countries.


          The second group was young people, students who found inadequate school systems existing in their home countries, thus requiring them to learn a new language, placing them at a great disadvantage in obtaining a higher education at home. Many were forced to leave their home country because of the difficulties created by learning a new language as well as the unfair political situations they were placed in at the end of the war. It was especially the young students who became exposed to the differences in cultures and existing political movements. They became exposed to the National Socialistic Movement in Germany at the time and many of them became supporters of that movement.


          Several Danube Swabians, upon their return home, became leaders of the Danube Swabians and the National Socialistic Movement. As leaders of their organizations they became burdened with the impossible task of sincerely serving the interests of the Danube Swabians, the countries they lived in and the National Socialistic Movements, in the end they were destroyed by their idealistic efforts to serve them all. After the war they were singled out, trailed and sentenced to die along with such leaders as Bishop Philip Popp, a prominent church leader who opposed the National Socialistic Movement.


          Generally summarizing, the Germans, who made their homes in Eastern European countries, were separated from the German and Austrian-Hungarian Empires after the First World War. The Germans, were now living in Eastern European countries, although citizens of those countries but yet as foreigners in these countries, because of unfair treatments. The developments created an intolerable political situation helping the National Socialistic Movements to come to power in Germany. As history has shown, it was the unfair treatment of the German population, by their adversaries in those countries that ultimately lead to the Second World War. This war would bring on the end of the “Ungarländischen Deutschen”, known today as Danube Swabians, in Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.



World War II

          The demise of the Danube Swabians continued when the National Socialist Party came to power in Germany in 1933. The emphasis of the German government shifted although it still promoted culture and economics, but the emphasis was directed to politics and power. As the Third Reich grew in power, its attitude and the attitude of its Danube Swabians representatives grew ever more aggressive toward the governments of their home countries.


          With Hitler in power in Germany the war preparations escalated. His ideology made him believe that he could also lead the “Volksdeutschen” (Volks Germans) in other parts of Europe severed from the former German and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. In 1936, he directed SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to politically influence the German populations in those countries and win them for his political movements. Himmler formed a central department of Germans affairs (VOMI) for that purpose. As a priority, he began to identify such leaders among the German Volks groups with National Socialistic orientation as loyal followers of that movement, but who at the same time were able to avoid aggravating the German allies of Hungary, Romania and the neutral Yugoslavia and thus avoid creating anti German sentiment.


          The political development of the oppressed population of the Danube Swabians, in these countries began to favor the efforts of NS-Leadership. As previously mentioned the young Danube Swabians were more or less forced to leave their homes to study in Germany and Austria, because of the anti-German school policies of their home countries. As they were exposed to the NS movement they were no longer satisfied with the leadership of Muth, Bleyer or Kraft. They wanted to be National Socialists and had an ideal opinion of socialism.


          Dr. Franz Basch became the successor of Jakob Bleyer in Hungary. He organized The “Volksbund der Deutschen in Ungarn” (The Unity of Germans in Hungary) and became their leader. It was Dr. Sepp Janko, a conservative “Re-newer” who became chairman of the “Kulturbund” (Cultural union) in Yugoslavia in 1939. For him the deciding factor for embracing the NS-movement was the common German ancestry. He was convinced that the destiny of Germany was also the destiny of the Danube Swabians.


          The propaganda by the NS-movement for the “New German view”, created a strong opposition among the Catholics, especially the farmers, in the “spirit of Catholic actions”. Father Adam Berenz writes in his weekly newspaper “Die Donau” articles against the NS-movement up to 1944. This was absolutely courageous. He was convinced one could be German without being a follower of Hitler or a National Socialist.


          In Romania the “Re-newer” of the German leadership understood under National Socialism, the idea of nationalism and socialism combined. Their translation of the movement is, private property on one hand and community property on other hand. They felt, it can prosper once again side by side among the Transylvanian Saxons and the Banater Swabians, as it was the case before the First World War. In 1940 the Central Department of German affairs (VOMI) launched Andreas Schmidt, a radical National Socialist in the office as “Volksgruppenführer” of the “Verband der Deutschen in Rumänien” (Unity of Germans in Romania), who followed the directions of Berlin.


          The resistance of the Catholic Banater Swabians against Schmidt concentrated itself in Temeswar. Their leaders were Prelate Josef Nischbach and Sister Hildegardis Wulf. However, despite their anti NS-convictions, both of them were imprisoned for a duration nine years, by the Romanian Communist Government, at the end of the war.


          After the pivotal war in April of 1941 in Yugoslavia, the regions of the Danube Swabians were divided into three parts: The West Banat, part of today’s Vojvodina was occupied by German troops and became a self governing autonomy under the direction of Volksgruppenführer Sepp Janko. The Danube Swabians living in the now “Free state of Croatia”, obtained their cultural freedom under the direction of Volksgruppenführer Branimir Altgayer. The Batschka was returned to Hungary. The members of the “Schwäbisch-deutschen Kulturbundes” in the Batschka joined the “Volksbund der Deutschen in Ungarn” under the direction of Volksgruppenführer Franz Basch. The Volksgruppenführer organized giant politically oriented rallies with which they believed they could sway the Danube Swabians to unite into a close knit “Volk group” and support the NS-movements.


          Referring to the relationship of the Danube Swabians to National Socialism it can be categorized into four groups, if you remove the few radically educated ideological Re-newers.


          The first group was those who believed to be German, meant to be a National Socialist. Their impression of National Socialism was more of an idealistic form. Perhaps one third of the Danube Swabians could be identified as such. They were the groups, which formed the hard core of the organizations, such as the “German Men”, “German Women” and “German Youth”. They were dependable and one could count on their support when needed.


          The second group included those who saw the rejuvenation of Germany as a power to bring renewed respect and prosperity to the German Nation. They were the ones fascinated by Hitler and can be characterized as Hitler followers.


          The third group can be characterized as the undecided, the careful and the skeptical. It included many of those who lived in provincial cities and their lives were coined by it. Because of their life styles, they had formed strong friendships with other nationality groups and thus had loyal feelings to their new countries. These friendships also resulted in intermarriages whose descendants could not identify to which nationality they belonged. It also included those who were followers of Liberalism as well as Socialism.


          The fourth group could be identified as the opposition. This group was comprised of the strong religiously oriented, like the farmers and was lead by various church leaders. The commitment to their Christian faith and to the church made them believe that to be a good German you did not have to be a follower of the National Socialistic Movement or Hitler.


           The National Socialist leadership made it understood, that the Germans residing in Eastern Europe were not legally bound to serve in the German Army, but also lead them to belief that they were obligated to pick up arms because of their binding heritage to their German ancestry. In 1942 Hungary, Croatia and in 1943, Romania, were pressured into treaties with Germany, allowing the men of German descent to be drafted by these countries and serve in the German army, primarily the “Waffen–SS”. To circumvent the technicalities of the “Law of Nations” rights questions, the treaties declared the transfers of the recruits as a “voluntary action”. This treaty became a major problem at the end of the war for those Danube Swabians affected by it.


           It was not unlikely if you served as a young soldier between the wars in the, Hungarian, Yugoslavian or Romanian armed forces, that you found yourself several years later drafted by Hungary, Croatia and Romania and be transferred to serve in the German Army. This also holds true for the older generation that served during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire under Franz Josef. Some of them may have served in as many as three, four or even fife different Uniforms. At the end there were volunteers in the “Waffen-SS” who were in fact volunteers. There were those who were drafted and may have rather served in the Hungarian, Croatian or Romanian armies were funneled into the “Waffen-SS” and became rubber stamped volunteers to satisfy the agreements. Finally, there were also those men who refused serving in any army and disappeared into hideouts until the German Army had retreated. An estimated 90,000 Danube Swabian men were recruited into the German army during the WW II, of which 26,000 died in action. Many of them were pressed into Uniform in September of  1944 and were killed in action by October.


          To protect and defend their homes against the terrorist activities and aggressions the Banater “Volksgruppe” (Volks group) formed the “Price Eugene Regiment” toward the end of 1941. This was permitted by the “Law of Nations” in accordance with the “Haager War Order” agreements. However, by order of Berlin the unit was transformed and became the “SS-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen” against the will of the Banater “Volksgruppe”. These troops saw actions against the Tito partisans. Tito’s accusations that Danube Swabians were traitors against their own country were therefore unfounded, untrue and unjust.


          The “SS-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen” who found action in Bosnia, was exposed to many difficulties. The Danube Swabians serving in this unit had hardly enough neither training nor experience to be successful in the mountain of Bosnia. The Partisans hardly ever retained prisoners. The German soldiers captured were executed in the cruelest ways, criminal according to the Geneva Convention. According to the testimony given by a young medical student attached to the medical core, they found horribly mutilated bodies of German soldiers. They found bodies without arms, legs, heads and missing sex parts. The bellies and chests of their bodies were opened and they were left to bleed to death.


          The demise of the Danube Swabians turned into a tragedy, when by order of an International Communist Command in summer of 1941 the “Communist Partisan Rebels” lead by Josip Broz, better known as Tito, (Tajna Internationalna Teroristicka Organizatcia) began their operations in Yugoslavia against the Croatian and German forces. This lead to unbelievable cruel guerilla warfare between the “Croatian Ustascha” and the Partisans, which were primarily, comprised of Serbs, but also Croatians and Slovenians. The operations of Tito and his partisans were termed illegal and outlawed by the neutral Kingdom of Yugoslavia in which they operated.


          The dramatic and tragic fate of the Danube Swabians was sealed at a conference on November 21. 1944 in Jajce, Bosnia when a tribunal of “Tito’s Communist Partisan Rebels” which by now calls itself „Antifasiticko Vece Narodnog Oslobodjenja Jugoslavije“ „Antifascist Tribunal for the Liberation of Yugoslavia“ in short AVNOJ, decided that all Germans in Yugoslavia must be eliminated. Their decision stated: 


  “All persons of German descent living in Yugoslavia will automatically lose their citizenship. They will lose all their rights and all their possessions and property will become property of the State. Persons of German descent will not have any rights or privileges for protection under any law. They have no rights to use any institutions, such as postal services and public transportation. They may not accept gifts”.  


          Prior to this event, the tribunal decided secretly on November 29 1943, to oust Peter, the King of Yugoslavia. On July 31 1946, by action of this tribunal the decision made on November 2nd 1944 on behalf of the Yugoslavian citizens of German descent, became law. One questions the sanity of such a law, a law against humanity that Tito would execute to the tee. One also questions as to why this law has not been abolished in today’s Government of Yugoslavia (Now Croatia and Serbia).



The Aftermath of World War II

          The terrible horror and fears brought on by the Red Army and its communist allies following the retreat of the German Army brought the end for the peaceful communities and the striving cultures of the Danube Swabians. Of course, after the defeat of Germany the Danube Swabians found themselves on the losing side, becoming the scapegoats for the injustices, calamities, war crimes, real and imagined blamed on the German military by Romania, Hungary and especially Yugoslavia. As punishment, the Danube Swabians were disenfranchised, their property confiscated, they lost their human rights, their citizenship, they were expelled from the very homeland they had created out of a wilderness, they were sent to slave labor camps in Russia and, worse yet, annihilated in death camps.


          Thousands of men, women and children of German descent left their homes during September and October of 1944 and fled from the oncoming Russians and of those who stayed behind one third would perish mainly by the hands of Tito’s Partisans.

A systematically organized evacuation of the Danube Swabians in the Banat was not possible, since it was started too late and therefore only a limited amount of its citizens were able to flee. In the Batschka several towns were evacuated to 90%, while in other towns as few as 1% of the Danube Swabian population fled. Those who left moved west on wagons, on foot or by rail, across the Danube past Lake Balaton toward the Austrian border where they remained until January of 1945 in the hope that they could return home. Learning that this was not possible they moved on to Austria or Germany. Many of them continued to Moravia and Silesia. They had to travel on mountain roads unsuitable for their wagons, since the majority of the wagons lacked brakes. This often caused many difficulties and requiring the last efforts of humans and horses during their trip of more than a 1,000-kilometer from their homes. Some of them died of exhaustion; some of them of them died from airplane attacks.


           The only planed evacuations of the Danube Swabians took place during October 1944 in Croatia, which included the regions of Slavonia-Syrmia and the Baranja. Many loaded their wagons and lefts on wagon trains while others were loaded on open fright trains. They had to use boards and tarpaulins for protection against the elements and blankets to protect them during the cold nights. Groups from Syrmia were directed to the regions of Upper-Austria and Silesia.


          An estimated 220,000 Danube Swabians fled their homes under the protection of the German army. In 1945, at the conclusion of WW II, several thousand of Danube Swabians decided to return to their homes, which no one would reach. They were intercepted at the borders of Yugoslavia and taken to slave labor or death camps such as Kruschiwl and Gakowa.


          In late fall of 1944 Stalin requested labor forces from Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia to rebuild his cities and coal mines. The Allied Nations granted his request for a time period of five years. The countries of Hungary and Romania shipped each 30,000 and the Tito government of Yugoslavia 13,000 Danube Swabians to Russia on Christmas of 1944. Selected were the men and women in their prime, the women between the ages of 18 and 35 and the men between the ages of 17 and 40. The deported Danube Swabians were taken by cattle cars during a three week long, cold journey to Russia. Some of the men and women could not endure the cumbersome journey without food or heat and perished. They were buried along the railroad tracks in the vast land of Russia. After their arrival in the far-reaching regions of Russia, they were housed in bombed out houses or barracks and provided with very limited food rations mostly of poor nutritional values. They were forced to work in coalmines, factories and on other types of slave labor details. Of those 73,000 deported Danube Swabians 12,000 died of malnutrition or disease, mainly Typhus.


          In Croatia some of the relative few Danube Swabians who stayed behind were deported to Austria while a remaining 6,000 were taken to the death camps Krndija and Valpovo. These camps were closed in Mai of 1946 where 3,000 victims were left behind in mass graves. The former “Volksgruppenführer” in Croatia, Branimir Altgayer and the Lutheren bishop of Zagreb Philip Popp were sentenced to death and executed.


          Between October of 1944 and May 1945 an estimated 200,000 German civilians from Gottschee (Kosevski mountains regions) and Lower Styria, centered near the Marburg (Maribor) regions in Slovenia, fell into the hands of the Partisans and were placed into camps. There they were exposed to continued executions. The losses of Gottscheers and the Lower Styrians are estimated to be 4,300. In addition the lives of 2,700 soldiers were lost. Beginning in August of 1945 through 1946 the remaining “Old Austrians” were deported to Austria.


          Immediately after the conclusion of the war the Tito Partisans began their vengeance against the German, Slovenian and Croatian soldiers captured mainly in Slovenia and Croatia. They murdered an estimated 100,000 of their prisoners of war. These numbers include an estimated 5,000 Danube Swabian men. To spread terror and to eliminate opposition, at the takeover of the Batschka, Banat and Syrmia the Tito Partisans liquidated 5,000 civilians in the Banat and Syrmia while 2,000 civilians were murdered in the Baranja and Batschka. Most of the men were between the ages of 16 and 60. It also included women. Singled out were the wealthy, professionals and the intellectuals. It was an “Action Intelligentsia” in the Stalinistic way characterized by selected cruelties. With the enactment of the before mentioned law by Tito’s Antifascistic Partisan Counsel in 1944, began the systematically planned and executed final solution of the Yugoslavian citizens of German descent, the Danube Swabians; „Völkermord“, Genocide or Ethnic Cleansing.


          Many of the Danube Swabians in the Banat and Batschka felt they did nothing wrong to justify leaving the homes their ancestors had built and decided to stay home. The ones that could not flee or opted to stay behind were expelled from their homes between December of 1944 and August of 1945 and became victims of unimaginable suffering. First, work forces were selected from among them, mostly teenagers from age 14 and the old who were able to work, and driven off to slave labor camps. They were forced to work on collective’s farms, in factories or military installations under constant threats against their lives by armed guards.


          The final solution for the most vulnerable of the Danube Swabians, the children and the old who could no longer work, were marched off at gunpoint by the thousands and hoarded into death camps. It also included mothers with children under the age of two as well as pregnant women. Their roads to the death camps would become trails of suffering, trails of tears and death. Some of the women are known to have derived new life on the roadside, into a world of despair and a world without hope.


          Several of the once so beautiful towns of the Danube Swabians were evacuated, the furniture removed from the rooms and replaced with straw and set up as death camps, “camp with special status” as these camps were called. They were Gakowa (Gakovo), Jarek (Backi Jarek), Kerndia (Krndija), Kruschiwl (Krusevlje), Molidorf (Molin), Rudolfsgnad (Knicanin), Syrmisch Mitrowitz (Sremska Mitrovica) and Walpach (Valpovo). A valiant and often heroic struggle for self-preservation began for the inhabitants in these camps. Their diet, with very limited quantities available to them, consisted of potato, cabbage, bean or pea soups with a slice of 10-decagram corn bread. The nutritional value of the food, often spoiled, was insufficient to maintain a healthy life. The peas, mostly bored through by worms, sugar beats were frost damaged and rotten and the corn bread not only stale but also moldy. But worst of all, often no bread was available for days or weeks during the winter of 1945/46.


          The sanitary conditions the Danube Swabians were exposed too in the camps, were appalling and created huge health hazards for them. Together with malnutrition, it allowed fleas, lice, mice and rats to flourish and brought on famine and diseases. They succumbed to such diseases as malaria and typhus, coupled with mistreatments and murders more then 35,000 of them perished in the Vojvodina alone.


          The largest death camp was Rudolfsgnad/Knicanin, in the south of the Banat, the casualties there between October 1945 und March 1948 were --- 11,000. In Gakowa/Gakovo, in the north of the Batschka the casualties were between March of 1945 January of 1948 were --- 8,500. In Jarek/Backi Jarek, in the south of the Batschka the casualties there between December 1944 und April 1946 were --- 7,000. In Kruschiwl/Krusevlje in the north of the Batschka the casualties were between March of 1945 January of 1948 were ---3,000. In Molidorf/Molin in the north of the Banat the casualties there between September 1945 und April 1947 were --- 3,000. The casualties of Syrmisch Mitrowitz/Sremska Mitrovica were --- 2,000. In Kerndia/Krndija, Slavonia the casualties there during the winter of 1945/46 were --- 1,500. In Walpach/Valpovo, Slavonia the casualties there during the winter of 1945/46 were --- 1,500. The ratio o f death in the death camp population tells a more vivid story. In Mitrovica an estimated 4,000 captives were held of which 2,000 lost their lives which is one of two.  In Gakowa an estimated 27,000 were held more than 8,500 perished which is every third.


          A report published in “Der Leidensweg der Donauschwaben im Kommunistischen Jugoslawien 1944-1948”, translated into English and published under the name of “Genocide”, stated that 166,970 Yugoslavian citizens of German descent were incarcerated in slave labor or death camps, of which 48,047 (28.8%) of them died. Among those were 16,878 men, 25,987 women and 5,582 children. These numbers are only the numbers, which could be documented by name and must be considered incomplete. The actual number of deaths the Danube Swabians suffered will probably never be known. Regardless of how many or how few lives were lost none of the losses can be accepted or excused as an occurrence of the time. The deaths have to be considered criminal acts against the Danube Swabians, by the perpetrating countries involved. A criterion for Genocide was set by the UNO in 1948, according to the crimes committed on the Danube Swabians they fall under the criteria of the UNO. Therefore, no one can deny the Genocide “Völkermord” committed on the Danube Swabian during the post war years by the Communist Government of Yugoslavian.


          There is one final question: Why? because of the before mentioned law written on November 29 1943 in Jajce, Bosnia”. In addition, the law denied all Danube Swabians the rights to medical assistance as well as medication. It legalized the starvation and the murder of the Yugoslavian citizens of German descent and cleared the way to make the Danube Swabians, the Gottscheer and the Lower Styrians (Old Austrians) the first victims of ethnic cleansing in that country.


          Tito cited four reasons for the decision of this law. First; the first reason the Serbian Nationalism, which was determined to ethnically cleanse the lands on which the Serbs live. Second the communist ideology needed the land of the Danube Swabians for their collective farm economy. Third: Tito’s promise to his loyal Partisans from the rural regions of the Krajina, giving them the land of the Danube Swabians as a reward. Fourth, the hate for the Danube Swabians and revenge, since their men fought primarily on the Germans side and opposed his terrorism. And last but not least, the examples set by Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, who took actions against their citizens of German descent by expelling them from their homes, once German or Austro-Hungarian Territories.


          Since, the request made by the Communist Government of Yugoslavian in Potsdam to the Allied Nations, to allow them to deport the Danube Swabians to Austria or Germany was denied, the Yugoslavians initiated border crossings to Hungary in 1947 for the price 1,000 Dinar per person. These border crossings became known as “white border crossings” as compared to the unsanctioned  “black border crossings” which often resulted in the loss of live for the crossers when caught. An estimated 30,000 to 40,0000 Danube Swabians paid for their freedom that way.


          The Hungarian government was able to reach an agreement at the Allied Nations conference in 1945 that allowed them to expel Danube Swabians to Austria and Germany. Between January and August of 1945 170,000 and again in August of 1947 50,000 Danube Swabians were deported from that country, the later to the Russian zone what would became East Germany. Selected were members of the “German Volksbund” and soldiers who served in the German military. They were accused of being unfaithful to the country. The former “Volksgruppenführer” Franz Basch was deported to Hungary after he had fled Hungary and was executed.

Gakowa and the other extermination camps in Yugoslavia were closed in 1948, some of them earlier,. This presented a new problem for the former captives of the camp who remained in Yugoslavia. They could not return to their homes since Serbians moved into the houses of the Germans and took possession of their properties. These misplaced people had to seek work and start new lives in a strange land. Although, it was hard for the younger generations, it was especially difficult for the older generations that survived the ordeal of the death and labor camps. Several years’ later, Yugoslavian citizenship was returned to the Danube Swabian population. However, it was very difficult for the Danube Swabian to establish a future in Yugoslavia, or to leave Yugoslavia. As a requirement to leave Yugoslavia, they had to relinquish their Yugoslavian citizenship. Accomplishing this took an excessive amount of money, many years of waiting and constant harassment before they were permitted to leave. For many it was not until the late fifties and sixties that they received permission to depart for Germany, and start new lives in the free world. Between 1950 and 1960, 62,000 Danube Swabians were permitted to depart Yugoslavia legally. Estimates show that several thousands orphaned Danube Swabian children were left behind in Yugoslavian orphanages.


          There were 300,000 Danube Swabians living in Romania at the time of the retreat of the German army, who did not leave their homes. The Romanians, first allied with the Germans were now allied with the German opposition. With this political move they were guaranteed to receive the territories of Transylvania and the eastern Banat regions as they had been established after the First World War. Their men and women in their prime were deported to Russia during Christmas of 1944 as mentioned previously. The remaining Danube Swabian population was disowned and expelled by the Romanian Communist Government in 1948 and moved to state owned collective farms converted from their once family owned farms. All leaders, regardless whether they belonged to the NS-movement or were members of the opposition, were imprisoned for years, including priests and nuns. Among them imprisoned was “Schwabenbischof” Augustin Pacha, who was finally released as a very ill man in 1953.


          In the western part of the Banat, Romanian soldiers armed with machine guns appeared one day in 1951 to guard the Danube Swabians living there. Within 2 to 3 hours they had to hastily pack what they could take, leave their homes and walk to the train station. There they were loaded on trains and transported to the desolate and uninhabited stretches of the Baragan. The Baragan, meaning fertile planes in the Romanian language, is geographically situated to the east of Bucharest, along the West Bank of the north flow of the Danube. Some 44,000 Germans among them 37,000 Danube Swabians were affected by this action.


          The term resettlement for the action initiated by the communists in Romania to describe what took place is a poor excuse. First the Danube Swabians did not need to be resettled because they had managed to create the best standard of living in Romania for themselves and their fellow men around them. Second the people where taken to completely uninhabited regions of land and left to fend for themselves under open sky without shelter, food and water and only with the limited amount of tools they could carry. A better description for this action would have been, “Exile at gunpoint”. Seen from the Romanians point of view it was a desperation move to meet the demands of Stalin’s grain quota he had set for the Romanians as reparation pay. This explanation for the action taken by the Romanians is believable; since Romanians and Hungarians where also resettled along with Germans to collective farms to grow grain in this extremely fertile land stretch along the Danube.


          The mortality rate among the Danube Swabians during their exile was devastating. Holes had to be dug into the ground and covered with reed for housing and as protection from the elements. They lived like animals in burrows. They were forced to work the land under severest of conditions. Several blizzards, severe snowstorms and continuous flooding added to their hardship. Only the strong survived. In 1952 they were able to begin making bricks from soil and build above ground dwellings. Besides working the fields and building their houses, they were also required to perform labor duties of various types as requested by the government. It took several years of hard labor and enormous sacrifices to build new houses and communities for themselves. In 1956 the first group of Banater settlers were allowed to return to the Banat followed by the remaining in 1966. Some of them had to remain their forever in cold graves. Their return to the Banat was a disappointing one. Strangers now inhabited the land, the towns and the homes, which the Banater Schwaben owned before for many generations. They could not return to their homes, since the Communist Government of Romania had resettled their land, their towns and their homes with people of other cultures better suited for their socialistic structure, according to their view.


          The information on the political events during the crucial times of WW I and WW II, ultimately causing the expulsion of the Danube Swabians from their homes, was supplied by Dr. Georg Wildmann, co-author of “Der Leidensweg der Donauschwaben im Kommunistischen Jugoslawien 1944-1948” English translation “Genocide”.


          Summarizing, the life story and history of our ancestors became imbedded in these words, “Dem ersten den Tod, dem zweiten die Not, dem dritten das Brot”. Which translated means, “for the first Group of settlers; death, for the second group of settlers; meager existence, for the third group of settlers; bread”. We sadly have to add to this now, “expulsion from their homes and Genocide for the generation living at the end of World War II”.



Salzburg, Austria

A Harbor for Refugees

          Two events contributed to the demise and tragic developments of the life in the Danube Swabians during the post war years of World War II. They were; 1) the agreement at Potsdam by the allied Nations, which allowed the expulsion of all Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary. It was done without regard to the fact that the Germans were citizens of these nations whose ancestors had been living in these countries anywhere from 200 to 800 years and in some cases even longer and the fact that these grounds are “Germanic Cultural Grounds” dating back more than 2,000 years.  2) The decision made by the rebel group of the communist partisan’s lead by Tito on November 29, 1943 in Jajce, Bosnia regarding the German population.


          The result of these treaties was devastating, primarily for those citizens of German descent in Hungary, Romania and especially Yugoslavia. It denied them the rights of their citizenship, which they received after the First World War when Yugoslavia was formed. The treaty permitted the confiscation of the property of the Danube Swabians, expel them from their homes, taking civilian young men and women in heir prime prisoners and deporting them to slave labor camps in Russia. In Yugoslavia the Tito Partisans extracted teenagers, older men and women from the population of German descent and forced them to work in slave labor camps throughout Yugoslavia. The Partisans lead by Tito also took the privilege to brutalize murder and starve to death tens of thousands of innocent Danube Swabians an inhumane way in other word people who had absolutely noting to do with the war. Thousands of Danube Swabians, who managed to escape from Yugoslavia reached Austria and Germany in various ways. Once there, they were temporarily housed in old German army barracks, since no other housing was available at the end of the war. By October 1949, 305,326 German-speaking refugees lived in Austria. The majority of the refugees were Danube Swabians from the regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. By the end of 1949, 5.4% of the total population of Salzburg was refugees, and of those refugees 60% lived in former army barracks.


          During the early postwar years the refugees of German descent from Eastern Europe were deliberately excluded from receiving aid given by large help institutions. The biggest problems were faced by those families who were separated at the end of the war and during the early post war years. The most difficult task was the reunification of living family members. The Church institutions developed a system to find the separated family members and reunite them. As more and more families were reunited, clear directions had to be found for them. They were homeless and without means of financial support.


  Austria became a harbor for the refugees. This was true especially in Salzburg, center of the American Zone. Salzburg became a center for the German refugees and by 1951 there were 235,000 refugees living in the American Zone. The Danube Swabians were extremely grateful to the helping hands in Salzburg, which included Archbishop DDr. Andreas Rohrbacher, the governors of Salzburg Dr. Josef Klaus and Dipl. Ing. Dr. Hans Lechner, as well as Major KR. Alfred Bäck of the US Army. Two men were instrumental in aiding the refugees. They were Pater Josef Stefan and Dr. Hans Schreckeis, as the President of the Danube Swabians in Salzburg. These men worked relentlessly to ease the burden and pain of the refugees and assisted them with their social and cultural realignment. It was Pater (Father) Stefan, head of the “Katholischen Flüchtlings - und Fürsorgestelle” (Catholic Refugees Aid Station) and his counterpart the “Christliche Hilfswerk der Evangelischen und Reformierten Kirche” (The Christian Help Organization for the Lutheran and Reformed Church). They helped thousands of their countrymen solve the difficult problems they confronted during those hopeless years.


          When the allied powers began to trust the German refugees, organizations to benefit the refugees were formed. The refugees also formed organizations within themselves. In 1948 the “Zentralstelle der Volksdeutschen” (Center for People of German Descent) was formed. During the same year “Neuland” a newspaper, edited by Prof. A. K. Gauss for the Danube Swabians, began its publication. Under the direction of the honorary Archbishop DDr. Andreas Rohracher of Salzburg, the Danube Swabians staged a “Danube Swabian Home Night” on April 4th 1948. These actions were taken by the Danube Swabians, with the intent of bringing their problems to the attention of the public and the world leaders.


          By early 1950, all hope for the German refugees to return home vanished. It was by no means easy to decide where to go. The Danube Swabians had no other alternative but to look elsewhere to establish new homes and new lives for themselves. Due to their German heritage, most Danube Swabians could not get permits to emigrate. Before permits could be obtained good relations had to be established with the U.S. Immigration office. One reason for the denial of permits was the military past of our men. It was a delicate matter demonstrating unfair discrimination against the Danube Swabians at the U.S. Immigration Department. In the matter of discrimination Prof. Pater Josef Stefan and Kons. Rat Prof. Josef Haltmayer directed efforts to collect documents regarding the so-called “voluntary” enlistment into the Waffen SS. The collection of documents was the basis for a memorandum written by Prof. A. K. Gauss. The memorandum was distributed to various institutions and organizations concerning the emigration question and the status of the Danube Swabians. The memorandum found recognition at the U.S. Immigration Department and the barrier of mistrust regarding the Danube Swabians was broken and new inroads were made.


          In 1950 the World Church Conference, whose priority issues were the refugees, took place in Salzburg. Prof. A. K. Gauss presented a document entitled “Children in the Shadow” at the conference. He addressed the problems of thousands of our children orphaned and left to suffer in Yugoslavia without parents, grandparents or caring relatives. It was the first time the world took note of the problem and with the cooperation and the help of the International Red Cross, thousands of children were allowed to leave Yugoslavia to be reunited with their families in Austria, Germany, USA and other countries.


          The Governor of Salzburg (Landeshauptmann) Dr. Josef Klaus took a leading role encouraging local communities in Salzburg to become involved with the resettlement of the refugees and to free more land for housing development projects. The land was sold for a low price of 3 Austrian Schilling per square meter. One man that must be mentioned is Pater (Father) Warenfried van Straaten, whose fundraising activities became a fixture in the communities. His donations of food earned him the beloved nickname “Speckpater” (Bacon father). While traveling through the newly built communities he conceived the idea of organizing the “Baugesellen” (Building fellows). He recruited young men from Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Austria and other countries to donate their time to build houses, old age homes, orphanages and hostels. He also extended his work to other countries.


          A large number of Danube Swabians began emigration procedures to the United States, the land of opportunity and unlimited possibilities. From early on it was only possible for Danube Swabians who had relatives living in the United States, most of them came during the post war years of WWI 1918-1938, who could sponsor them. Through the efforts of Danube Swabians living in the United States, it was possible to lobby in the United States Congress and Senate. The influence of Peter Max Wagner of the “United Friends of Needy and Displaced People of Yugoslavia, Inc.“ of New York, in the White House and his relationship with President Harry Truman proved to be of great value. Other influential people such as Nikolaus Pesch und John Meiszner of the „American Aid Society“in Chicago, both organizations founded to help the needy displaced persons of South–Eastern Europe, and Father Lani among many other US Help Organizations, were vital links in promoting the interests of the Danube Swabians and help to increase the quota of German refugees from eastern Europe to come to Amerika. On behalf of their efforts was it possible that 54,000 refugees of the 100,000 registered in Austria from 1945-1954, were able to come to the United States.


          The countries willing to accept Danube Swabian refugees were the Unites States of America, Australia, Canada, England, Belgium, France, Brazil, Venezuela, and Chile. Without the cooperation of these nations and the various national and international organizations, this task would not have been possible.


          Matthias Wanko president of the “Verein Salzburger Donauschwaben” supplied the above information. They are excerpts from his article “A reflection of the past 50 years.” Through him we learned about the many difficulties the Danube Swabians faced after their escape from the east. We also learned of the humanitarian services and support they received from various groups and individuals. Certainly, Salzburg was not the only center for German refugees and we are equally thankful to all those who helped our cause.



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