Welimirowatz in Slavonia
Summarized and Translated
By Henry A. Fischer
From: Menschen zwischen Welten
By Leopold Karl Barwich, 1985
Entering the 20th century the term Danube Swabian came into vogue to
describe the descendants of the Germans settlers who had responded to the call of
the Habsburg Emperors and first established their communities in the early 18th
century. During the 20th century the Danube Swabians found themselves
living between different worlds. They knew the world of the other nationalities
among whom they lived. Observed and adapted what was helpful in their
relationships with them as well as met their own goals.
They lived as individuals, families and as village communities as if they were
islands surrounded by people of other nationalities, values, language, faith,
customs and traditions.
They lived between “East” and “West” if we think in terms of the division of the
Church. The Slovenes and Croats belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The
Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians belonged to the Orthodox Church of the East
and the Protestant minority could not even train its clergy in the territory of
Croatian State. There were also Moslems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was no
ecumenicity. The Croatian clergy along with the help of the Ustaschi would
attempt to force the conversion of the Serbs living in their Independent State of
Croatia that emerged during the Second World War and committed countless
atrocities against them with the support of the clergy and hierarchy.
On the island of Corfu after World War I representatives of Serbia and the
recently established “Yugoslavian” Committee met to design an independent
state. On July 20, 1917 the Pact of Corfu was concluded. Nikolai Paschitsch
represented the Serbian government and Dr. Ante Trumbitsch as leader of the
Yugoslavian Committee established a “democratic kingdom” of the Serbs, Croats and
Slovenes under the dynasty of the Serbian princely Karadjordjewitsch family. This
kingdom was to incorporate the State of Serbia, the princedom of Montenegro and
all of the South Slavs of the Danubian Monarchy of Austria-Hungary: the Croats,
Serbs and Slovenes.
The Croats feared the Serb’s overwhelming power and the Serbian drive for
greatness. They would have rather been an independent state of their own but then
they would not have succeeded in annexing Dalmatia, Istria and the islands at
Italy’s expense. Croatia had been part of the Austro-Hungarian alliance with
Germany that had lost the war and Italy was one of the winners. The Prince
Regent, Alexander, proclaimed the new Kingdom on December 1, 1918 on behalf of his
ailing father, Peter I. The Croatian leaders Dr. Ante Paveltisch and Stefan
Raditsch spoke out against “Yugoslavia”.
Elections were held for representatives to sit in the National Assembly that
would design a constitution. The German minority living in the new state were not
permitted to vote. June 28, 1921 by only a slight majority the Constitution was
Annexation of territory from Austria’s Carinthia Province followed as well as
the outlawing of the Communist Party and the persecution of its members began.
Attempts at taking over Albania were held in check by the Great Powers. Fiume was
controlled jointly with Italy. The Agrarian Reform Laws would remain a thorny
issue in the years to come.
The new parliament was uncertain about the place of the national minorities in
the new state. They were uncertain whether to grant citizenship to the Germans or
make them second-class citizens. Many preferred a “transfer” of the German
population to Austria. In 1923 the Germans were given a vote for the first time.
But Germans had been conscripted into the Yugoslav Army long before that and sent
to the south and stationed in Macedonia. The minority rights guaranteed in the
peace treaties with Austria-Hungary were not acceptable to the Yugoslavian
Government in 1921 or 1931.
But the Serbs had their greatest difficulties with the Croats. They continued
to act up in parliament and opposed the Constitution at every turn. Some were
arrested as enemies of the State including Raditsch, and Matschek as well as
others. Matschek took over the leadership of the Croatian Farmers’ Party and
worked to change the Constitution. He was simply representing the growing
rebellion throughout Croatia.
The situation the Germans in Croatia faced was becoming more and more
difficult. The Croats asked for their electoral support and they knew this would
be seen as an affront to the ruling party. But on the whole the Germans avoided
political involvements. When the land reform laws were put into effect they
realized that the government was not well disposed towards them. They were
patient, although they had anxieties about the future. But envy of the “wealth”
of the Germans and railing against it became a national pastime. The goal of the
South Slavs was the “Yugoslavianization” of all the population.
This along with a failing economy led to the migration of many of the younger
German men to Brazil, Canada and the US. Agricultural prices were falling, so
those with trades moved to the towns and cities in search of work.
The land ownership reforms were meant to divide up the large estates, which in
fact never happened. The estate owners managed to give up unsuitable land or the
land their tenants had cleared (Welimirowatz had 500 acres of such land). The
handouts were only small parcels of land to veterans (Serbs only) or Slavs “coming
home” from Hungary. The only universal policy in the midst of all the corruption
that took place was to freeze out the Hungarians, Romanians and Danube Swabians
and prevent them from benefiting from the reform in any way.
The continuing crisis in parliament led to King Alexander’s introduction of a
Royal Dictatorship. On January 6, 1929 the Constitution was set aside and royal
power was established. The parliament was dismissed and all political parties and
organizations were forbidden. On December 3, 1929 the name Yugoslavia was first
used officially. The king attempted to divide the Kingdom into nine Bans
and the prefecture of Belgrade to neutralize the ethnic divisions of the old
historical provinces. In reality in this way the Serbs formed the majority in six
of the Bans and for that reason his idea was not acceptable. A new Constitution
was promulgated with a cameral system. Along with the elected parliament there
would also be a senate. The populace would only elect half of the senators. The
king would name the other half. In 1940 two German senators were appointed:
Bishop Philip Popp of the Lutheran Church and Dr. Grassl a leading German figure
in the nation.
In 1931 there was an uprising in many regions by anti-Serbian Croats who were
members of an organization called: Ustasche meaning struggle.
Dr. Matschek established a Croatian self-government programme in 1932 and two
months later the Slovenes also demanded self-government. Because of the pressures
and tensions of the nationalities’ issues among the brother Slavs, the king and
government did not deal with the economic and social issues. Foreign affairs
policies had resulted in good relationship with Bulgaria, reached a compromise
with Italy, a Balkan Pact with Romania, Greece and Turkey and a small “war pact”
with Romania and Czechoslovakia all opposed to any reinstitution of a “Greater
Hungary” after the Treaty of Trianon. During a state visit in France in October
1934 the king was assassinated along with the French foreign minister. His under
age successor Peter II was controlled by a Regent’s Council headed by his uncle,
his father’s brother Paul. According to the census of 1931 Serbs accounted for
44% of the population and the Croats were 34%. The two were not reconciled with
one another when Hitler appeared on the scene in Germany. Economic ties between
Germany and Yugoslavia were strengthened and Yugoslavia left the orbit of France
and sided with Germany on the international scene. The approaching Second World
War would be the setting for the Croats gaining the independence that had
always eluded them in the past.
In an ironic way the growing and overwhelming nationalism of the Hungarians,
Romanians, Serbs and Croats awakened a similar “national” consciousness among the
various groups of Danube Swabians.
They had gone about their work for decades whether in agriculture or their
trades and were content with their destiny even though preserving their language,
faith and customs also proved to be hard work. They were tied together in their
village communal life and relationships and built a life of their own experiencing
common difficulties together. They assumed they would be able to maintain the use
of their mother tongue and never thought for a moment that the State would
encroach upon this natural human right of all peoples. German was their language
to express intimacy, family life and prayer, community life and song and
celebration. It was no wonder that they could not grasp the idea that their
children could no longer speak their mother tongue at school and could be won to
the concept of total assimilation. When others called for liberty, equality and
fraternity for themselves they were not considered to be part of the package.
After 1918 equality for the Germans in Hungary meant to become Hungarians while in
Yugoslavia it meant giving up their Protestant faith, folk identity and heritage.
In Neusatz the Schwäbische Deutsche Kulturband (Swabian
German Cultural Union) was formed in June of 1920. Local groups of the SDKB as it
was known were formed in 97 communities throughout Yugoslavia and by 1924 there
were 128. This organization was not in opposition to the State in any way. It
transcended the confessional differences and sought to preserve and maintain their
national identity. Their first concern was the retention of their German schools
and the education and preparation of German schoolteachers. The organization was
banned in 1924.
When parliament approved the voting rights of the minorities a Partei
die Deutschen (German Party) was established in Hatzfeld in December of
1922. They were permitted to campaign in the election of 1923. They supported
the basic tenants of the DSKD: language rights, cultural development, German
place names to be retained and peace and friendship with their neighbours. They
wanted the nation to achieve the equality of which it spoke for the sake of their
homeland. Eight of their candidates were elected to the Belgrade parliament in
1923. In 1925 there were five. 1927 had six. 1931 there was only one. 1932 saw
the election of two. In 1935 there were two again and in 1938 there were three.
The German school demands were recognized and promises were made but were not
kept. In 1927 the SDKB was allowed to resume its work and newly formed groups
rose from 29 to 64. With the coming to power of the Royal Dictatorship in 1929
all political parties were banned. This worked to cool off the Danube Swabians
who were basically patient and loyal to the State. But in the new Constitution of
the King in 1931 the rights of the minorities were not anchored in it.
As the SDKB was allowed to begin operations for the third time in 1931 many of
the groups had lost courage and refused to believe that promises would be kept
this time either. In 1931 there 13 local groups; in 1936 there were a total of
96; in 1934 there were 129 and in 1941 it had expanded to 3,250 local groups. The
membership was 75,000 and consisted primarily of the heads of households. The
assassination of the king in 1934 alarmed the Danube Swabians. They too streamed
to Belgrade and participated in the national mourning. The Swabians were sad that
the king had not been able to carry out his reforms.
In 1934 there was a crisis within the SDKB as the younger generation within its
membership bound itself to what they called: the Renewal Movement.
They were simply impatient with the older leadership that had sought and fought
for so long for what appeared were only minimal gains if any in the language and
The German minority in Slavonia was not organized until March of 1936 in Esseg.
It was named The Cultural and Welfare Union of Germans (KWVD) and was
founded by Branimir Altgayer who was elected its head. The Croatisation of the
Swabians in Croatia/Slavonia could only be halted by a united effort by the entire
German population. They wanted to be “true” and “loyal” to the State but also
their national heritage and identity and ethnicity. In a short time 74 local
groups were organized and in addition to the joining of younger men some whole
villages left the SDKB and joined the KWVD. In 1936 the first German weekly
newspaper appeared: Slavonian Peoples News. 1938 saw the
reunion of the KWVD and the SDKB.
In the meanwhile domestic politics changed to the advantage of the German
minority. The continuing opposition of the Croats to the central government in
Belgrade led to the growing division and animosity between the Serbs and Croats.
At the same time the economic ties with Germany expanded which led to better
relationships between the German minority and the government. All of this set the
scene for the coming conflict and the opening salvos of the Second World War.
On Maunday Thursday of 1941 (Grünen Donnerstag) the reality of the
coming war became a fact as all able-bodied men in Welimirowatz had to report in
Našice. It was the day of national mobilization. The names of those drafted were
read out in public. Most of the men could return home where they were to await
further orders. All radios were confiscated and the Swabians were cut off from
the rest of the world.
On April 10, 1941 the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed in Agram. The
leader of the Ustasche Movement, Dr. Ante Pavelic formed a government in
Agram on April 16, 1941 with himself at its head.
The thousand-year-old dream of the Croats was finally fulfilled. It was a
“child” of the war and dependent upon the Axis Powers: Germany and Italy.
Because Bosnia and Herzegovinia were annexed to it as well it was even larger than
“Greater Croatia” of the Middle Ages. The Ustasche exiles now returned back home
and with Pavelic they began a reign of terror. The massive expulsion of the
Serbian population that had settled in Croatia after the First World War and the
forced conversation of Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism and the extermination
camps that were set up all played a role in driving the Serbian population into
the arms of Tito’s Communist partisans. The Serbs threatened with genocide and
extermination fled to the mountains and forests and joined his forces there. The
Slavic brothers battled one another in the forests and mountains.
The Swabians, as the “relatives” of a friendly state were handled carefully and
given some special privileges. They were taxed according to Croatian regulations
and were to fulfill all of the obligations of citizenship but also received such
great liberties that as a “National Group” they were practically a state within
The newly formed Volksgruppe (Group with a common ethnic identity)
included all of the Germans throughout Croatia, Slavonia, Syrmien and Bosnia. Of
these 180,000 Germans the vast majority were Roman Catholics while some 40,000
were Lutherans and 4,000 were Reformed.
The Germans in Croatia were officially recognized and given judicial and other
public rights that were codified in the law. They were equal citizens in the new
state. The Führer (leader) of the Volksgruppe was given the equivalency of
one of the State Directors. Germans were guaranteed political, economic, social
and cultural freedoms and self-government over their own affairs under Croatian
This was more than merely cultural autonomy that the Serbs had in Austria and
much more than what the Swabians had vainly demanded in Yugoslavia. All of the
attempts at Croatizing the German population by the parliamentary government since
1918 were abandoned. The ethnic German schools, Credit Unions, the Volkstum
(local defence forces) in 498 local areas in the land, the equalization of German
as one of the languages of government offices were achieved in a unitary state.
The issue of military service would blow the whole fabric apart.
In June and December of 1943 and the summer of 1944 Partisans raided
Welimirowatz. They surrounded the unprotected village and stormed into the yards
and houses and demanded to be waited on by the villagers. They also had to
provide for those who stood guard as sentries. During the occupation the
housewives were ordered to cook for whole groups of men but always had to taste
the food they prepared in the presence of the Partisans to assure them it had not
been poisoned. This kind of mistrust was unwarranted. As shots from arriving
Croatian and German troops rang out next day they left the village in a hurry.
Women now balked at the idea of remaining alone in their houses and invited
others to live with them. Men often hid in manure piles or inside of the chimneys
of outdoor bake ovens. Mothers travelled to Esseg and stayed with their children
who were at school and did so for extended periods.
On another visit by the Partisans they cut down the telephone poles to Našice
and left them there on the road. In December they came after midnight. At the
time they were looking for two men on furlough. The father was able to sneak away
and the son was hidden in his grandmother’s bed under her heavy feather Teck
(comforter). Instead the Partisans took all kinds of booty: bedding, shirts,
suits, socks, groceries, a radio and jewellery. They also broke into other houses
and the local store and took their booty with them in wagons that they also
The mill in Našice was destroyed and the men now had to drive to Esseg with
their wheat. On the way home they were relieved of their flour by the Partisans
but were allowed to come home. The threshing machines of the neighbouring
villages were also destroyed. In 1944 Welimirowatz was one of the few villages
able to thresh their crops because a district Defence Force was stationed there.
Although no battles raged, the constant fear and anxiety were unnerving.
It was the rapidly approaching Eastern Front in their direction that put the
Danube Swabian population in its path in danger. The orders for leaving came as
no surprise. In the hope of returning soon when the fortunes of war shifted to
the advantage of the German Army many did not find the leave taking of their homes
that difficult. One after another, from east to west across Slavonia, the
unending evacuation columns were sent in motion like the first settler treks into
the area almost two hundred years earlier. The women checked the harnesses and
gear one more time; neighbours brought out their wagon; the local blacksmith
repaired one more wheel; a canvas roof was set in place over half of the wagon.
Some bedding was bundled; clothing scattered in suitcases and bags; sacks of
flour, fried meat in lard in large stone crocks; sausages, large loaves of bread
and baking of all kinds. All of it had been set-aside for the day. Two
days before the departure they were still working in their fields. The harvest
was in; winter wheat was sown; and the land was tilled waiting for next season.
Everyone planned on an early return.
As evacuation became more and more obvious, the Croats and Slovaks in the
neighbouring villages came to Welimirowatz and wanted to buy cattle, machinery,
wheat and corn at give-away-prices.
Many of the men were in the military somewhere far from home unable to support
their families in this situation. The oncoming war front, the bombing raids were
a go-ahead for all of the ethnic German haters. The plan to exterminate the
Swabians unveiled at Jajce in November of 1943 was unknown to the Swabians
Croats in the vicinity came and offered to look after homes and possessions,
cattle and machinery until the owners returned. It never dawned on the Croats
that the Swabians would never come “home” again.
Some of the villagers locked the doors of their houses and took the keys with
them because they believed they would be coming home soon. There were others
sneaking around the village just watching and sizing things up. They were the
On October 27, 1944 Našice was under attack by the Partisans and the sound of
artillery could be heard all day long. Their wagons that were fully loaded stood
in the yards and they were ready to go. Some items were hurriedly unpacked,
repacked or replaced. But the order to leave was not given.
The day finally came. A Sunday. October 28, 1944. The wagons had to be ready
for departure standing out on the village street by 10:00 am. For those families
without wagons or a team of horses the German Army forced some Croats from nearby
villages to bring their wagons and joined the column. They were promised that
they could return once the column reached Pécs in Hungary. The obvious fear and
mistrust of these men was easily understandable on the part of the families they
took with them.
Anxiously waiting to hear the order to leave, they first heard the rolling of
the drum as the Kleinrichter made his last announcement in the life of the
village. With trembling lips he called out: “Liebe Leute wir
mussen jetzt unser Heimat verlassen.
Vorverts.” (My dear people we now have to leave our home. Let us go
forward.) What everyone had awaited but had not wanted to happen was now set into
As all of the wagons and vehicles still stood on the streets or waited on the
bridges the Wendel family began to ring the church bells. How sad they sounded.
All across the village in the yards and by the houses people stood and wept. The
old grandmothers with their brood of grandchildren around them; the ancient
grandfather the head of the house, the teenage boys and the women now on their own
ventured out into the unknown as wagon followed wagon in a long column with a
final: “Im Gottes Jesus Namen.” (In the Name of
Jesus) they set their teams and wagons in motion.
One man on furlough was able to accompany and assist his family for the first
part of the trek. He eventually had to say farewell. He never returned from the
war. The wagon train moved very slowly as it reached the neighbouring district.
There was a German checkpoint here. The captain in charge only let men over sixty
years of age pass, along with the women and children. Old people and small
children were allowed to sit in the wagons while the others had to walk alongside
of their wagons. About one dozen men had to stay behind at the checkpoint. They
were placed in the Home Guard and were posted in various villages in the
neighbourhood. Most of them would never see their families again.
The first night was spent in the Croatian village of Bentisch-Anzi. The German
military took care of the horses. The next morning the trek headed across
Rakitowitz and Poretsch and then towards Unter Miholtz. Here the refugees spent
their second night. But there was no sleep to be had due to the sounds of battle
that raged in the area they had just passed through. Before daybreak they left to
cross the Drava River into Hungary. The river crossing was difficult and only the
drivers could remain in the wagons, the others were taken across by German troops
in their barges. Those who had been driven by Croats were left here and their
drivers returned home and they would wait for eight days to be evacuated by
train. They were sent to Thuringia and Silesia. Some of the wagons were now sent
on to the Steiermark in Austria. The largest group ended up in Linz and sent to
live with farm families in the area. Their flight ended on November 28th
exactly one month after leaving home. Some 150.000 had been evacuated in rain and
snow and constant frigid cold.
The Volksgruppe leader Brandimir Altgayer was unlike Sepp Janko and the
others who fled to save their own skins but refused to give the order to evacuate
in the Banat and Batschka. Despite fierce opposition by the German authorities he
managed to get approval for the evacuation. He did not want to see the tragedy
that had already taken place in the Banat to be repeated. The Swabians of
Slavonia have him to thank they too did not end up in Tito’s extermination camps
or face deportation to the USSR. He was surrendered to the Partisans by the
British for judgment after the war and was executed.
The terrible war ended on May 8, 1945. In the Russian Zone of Austria, well-
intentioned Russian officers were of the opinion that refugees from Yugoslavia
were free to go back home and encouraged them to do so. Austria had nothing to
offer them. It hardly had enough even for itself. In different parts of the
Steiermark, Lower and Upper Austria transports of returning refugees were
assembled. Some sixty families from Welimirowatz living in the area of Kirchdorf
along with two hundred other families from Yugoslavia were shipped in cattle cars
from Linz to Salzburg and finally to the border. Before going through the customs
and immigration routine they got into discussions with Serbian royalists that were
with them who earnestly warned them not to go any farther. They wanted to go home
too but only if there was change in the system as they put it. They had heard of
the plundering, shootings and the extermination camps in operation and what
awaited any returning Swabian family. After the people pleaded with the English
officers in charge the transport did not continue across the border.
Among the families involved were those of Johann Büchler, Johann Brandt,
Heinrich Brauchler, Fillip Drumm, Fillip Färber, Johann Felde, Johann Gehring,
Heinrich and Peter Greb, Jakob Hebel, Heinrich and Karl Heil, Elisabeth Heineck,
Friedrich and Peter Hoffmann, Adam Huber, Fillip and Peter Benz, Adam and Peter
Johler, Martin Kampferseck, George Körper, Fillip and Johann Klees, Jakob Kolb,
Friedrich Lamb, Jakob Lottche, Heinrich März, Heinrich May, Johann, Fillip and
Johann Medel, Karl Müller, Peter Neumann, Heinrich Jakob, Johann and Peter Pister,
Christian Poth, Jakob Raff, Andreas Reinhardt, Heinrich Reiss, Stefan Reitenbach,
Reter Reitz, Franz Roos, Adam Schell, Peter Schira, Peter Schmidt, Josef Schramm,
Alexander and Johann Schuck, Heinrich Stock, Heinrich Tenz, Friedrich and Heinrich
Toth, Gerog, Jakob and Karl, Christian and Heinrich Wendel, Adam Zepp.
Some other groups were not as fortunate. Forty-four villagers from Welimirowatz
were in a transport involving two thousand people that included the elderly
Schlafmanns. They were robbed and plundered several times. Their horses and
wagons were taken away from them and then they were force marched on foot by
Partisans who jabbed those who slowed down with their bayonets. They came home to
empty and plundered houses. A few mornings later they were picked up in lorries
to “register” at the town hall. They were arrested and put into an internment
camp at Schipowatz by Našice and in July 1945 they were taken to the labour and
extermination camp at Valpovo.
In this the largest internment camp in Slavonia set up by the Central Committee
the first Swabians and persons with German sounding names were first interned in
May 1945. Men, women and children were separated in barracks without windowpanes,
no heat and shoddy roofs. Three hundred people were crowded into each barrack.
The Commandant was a German hater. There was no water and no sanitation. Every
day sixteen to thirty-two people died. They were buried in mass graves. The
prisoners were left starving and vulnerable to disease. In the summer of 1945
groups began making escape attempts across Hungary to Austria and Germany. The
camp held up to five thousand persons at one time. When it was full to capacity
new internees were sent to the labour camps at Welika, Pisanitza, Krndja, Darda,
Tenje and many others.
The survivors of Valpovo were sent to the living hell of Rudolfsgnad in the
Among those who died during the Second World War in addition to the men who were
killed in action or are missing, two of the villagers were shot by the Partisans:
Jakob Brauchler 24 years of age and Fillip Riegel at the age of 39 years. Both of
the men were at home on furlough and were taken by the Partisans and shot after
The following villagers died in various camps:
Catharina Benz nee Knittel 49 years of age died in the labour camp at Darda
Peter Büchler 38 years of age at the Valpovo Camp
Friedrich Klees 22 years of age died in a Soviet prisoner of war camp in Russia
Margaret Medel nee Dermer 58 years of age at the Valpovo Camp
Friedrich Medel 63 years of age at the starvation camp in Rudolfsgnad in the
Else Nothdurft 2 years of age perished in the camp at Valpovo
George Pauss 38 years of age died in a Soviet prisoner of war camp in Russia
Anna Maria Schlaffmann nee Reinhardt 57 years of age at the Valpovo Camp
Michael Schlaffmann 74 years of age at the extermination camp in Pettau
Jakob Schramm 42 years of age died at the camp in Valpovo
Karl Schramm 35 years of age died at the camp in Valpovo
Heinrich Tenz 77 years of age died in the labour camp in Darda
Fillip Winterstein 44 years of age in the starvation camp at Rudolfsgnad in the