History of the Danube Swabians
the book “The Last Generation Forgotten and Left to Die” The
History of the Danube Swabians”.
Rights reserved. ISBN No. 0-9701109-0-1
of the Danube Swabians
Post War Years
of World War I
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.