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Historical Accounts

Die Deutschen in Syrmien, Slawonien, Kroatien und Bosnia 

By Valentin Oberkersch

Translated by Henry A. Fischer

(Part Three)

The Folk Group Organizations

  With the foundation of Swabian German Cultural Union (SDKB) in June 1920 in Neusatz, there were representatives from ten Syrmien and two Bosnian communities in attendance.  Slavonia was the only area of German settlement that was not represented.  The vast majority of members came from the Batschka, Banat and Syrmien.  The twenty member governing Council included four from Syrmien, Dr. Viktor Waidl (India), Prof. Josf Taubel (Putinici), Franz Mathies (Semlin) and Jakob Kettenbach the Lutheran pastor in Neudorf.

  By 1924 there were 128 community groups within the membership of the SDKB and 12 of the communities were located in Syrmien:  Semlin, India, Calma, Bezanjija, Erdewik, Neu Pasua, Surcin, Drenovic, Racinovci, Kertschedin, Beska and Mitrowitz.  The SDKB, however, was banned on April 23, 1924 by the Nationalist government because it was perceived to be a political motivated organization.  All of the local groups went out of existence and their assets were turned over to the community authorities, but that was not the case in India, which continued to carry out some of its programs.  But as the political situation changed by 1927 because of the numerous changes in government the SDKB was reconstituted and new local groups were permitted in Bosnia and Slavonia.  The head of the new organization was Johann Keks from the Banat and the governing Council was increased to thirty members including five representatives from Croatia-Slavonia and one from Bosnia.  The financial situation of the organization was desperate due to previous government action and interference.  In response to appeals to Germany for financial support to assist the “threatened” German communities in Syrmien, Slavonia, Bosnia and Slovenia resulted in the receipt of 6,000 Reich Marks from the VDA (Verein Die Deutschen in Ausland) (Organization for the Germans in Foreign Lands) and 3,000 Reich Marks from the German Foreign Ministry in 1927.  This sum would be donated annually by both German government agencies.

  With the coming of the Dictatorship in 1929, the SDKB had to change its constitution to avoid any activity that could be termed political.  By the end of 1937 there were ninety-one communities in Croatia-Slavonia that were within the membership of the SDKB.  (Hrastovac joined on April 5,1936, and Kapetanovo on February 22. 1936.)  There were also eight communities in Bosnia.  By 1941 all of the communities had a local group and carried out the program of the SDKB.

  The conflict created by Awender and the Renewal Movement had little or no effect in these regions with the exception of Ruma, where it attracted the attention of a lot of the younger sports federations.  But it did not lead to the kinds of confrontations that were taking place in other parts of the country.

Despite that, the Renewal Movement would play a major role in the political situation that would emerge in Slavonia.  Unlike the Banat and the Batschka that were heavily populated by Danube Swabians and were not threatened with assimilation, Slavonia and Bosnia were sparsely settled by ethnic German populations and in most cases were assimilating with the Croatian population, and losing their identity much like the Danube Swabians in Hungary who were undergoing strenuous efforts to Magyarize them within the next generation.

  In 1924, Viktor Wagner under the auspices of the VDA in Berlin visited the area and in his report on his return indicated, “In the many conversations I discovered that these ethnic Germans are absolutely without any leadership.  Each one of the farmers told me, “We are ethnic Germans and have always been ethnic Germans and want to remain ethnic Germans, but how can we remain ethnic Germans when nothing is done to help us.”  The German consul in Agram in 1928 wrote about the situation in the following terms:  “The number of ethnic Germans in Slavonia is not inconsiderable (I would estimate at least 60,000 persons) but because this region is so far unlike the Batschka and its large Danube Swabian population in closed settlements and communities, these are scattered and in mixed communities and their survival is threatened, it is only the Protestant clergy who encourage and support their flocks in their continued use of their language, while the Roman Catholic priests are totally opposed, all of whom come from Croatian Nationalist circles and work with great zeal to make Croats out of their parishioners.”

  In 1934 during the period when large numbers of local organizations were being founded in the communities of Slavonia, one of its own, Branimir Altgayer played a leading role and in December 1934 he was elected to the governing Council of the SDKB but became part of the opposition against expelling Awender and the Renewers from the group.  Following their expulsion from the SDKB all local groups were told to distance themselves from Awender and his friends, but the local organizations in Esseg and Georgshof refused to do so citing their constitutional freedom to do so.  In December 1935 the two groups were both ordered to disband and quickly on the heels of that action an additional eighteen local organizations in Slavonia followed the lead of the two others and together they formed the KWVD (Cultural and Hiking Society of the Donau Schwaben).  The government limited their activities to Slavonia and Baranya for they were quite content to see a weakening of the SDKB, while Altgayer fell under the sway of Awender and his deputy Josef Beer and took his orders from him.

  Following their constituting convention that was attended by over six hundred participants of whom two hundred and fifty were from Esseg and its surroundings,  Altgayer was given the assignment to recruit the farmers, trades people and labourers to the movement.  In the next two years, eighty-two local community chapters of the KWVD were organized in Slavonia.  (Hrastovac July 12, 1936 but in Kapetanovo they were unsuccessful.)  Communities in which the number of ethnic Germans was miniscule or a small portion of the population joined a group close by.  That was true of Antunovac.

  The relationships between the two rival organizations were hostile to say the least for the next two years before the two organizations merged at a national level and the situation in the communities was volatile if both groups had a local organization.  Friends, relatives and entire families were split.  Usually the differences were generational.  The union took place on October 30, 1938 when the KWVD joined the SDKB collectively.  As part of the union agreement Altgayer became the head of the SDKB in Slavonia, while Syrmien and Bosnia was under the leadership of Sepp Redinger one of the youth leaders of the SDKB.  Lichtenberger became head of the Youth organization and Josef Beer became the administrator of the SDKB.  And with the retirement of Keks from the presidency of the organization, Sepp Janko was elected to head the SDKB.  But this defacto take-over by the Renewers took place in the midst of very difficult times for the organization.  The organization was mostly on paper.  During the times of the quarrels and disputes many of the members had fallen away or had become cynical and distanced themselves from the activities of the organization.  The financial situation above all was a total mess.  This situation to a great extent continued until the defeat and break-up of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941.

The German Reich and Its Policy With Regard to German Minorities “Outside” Its Territories

  The VDA was the major organization in Germany that addressed itself to the linguistic and cultural identity of the German populations throughout Eastern Europe.  In their minds, the destiny of these populations was directly related to the destiny of the German State.  The VDA experienced a surge of support for its work and mandate and concerns in the mid 1920s.  New organizations also emerged in Germany in support of similar goals, especially in the cities.

  The Foreign Office co-operated and worked with the DVA.  National Folk Groups made contact with the DVA through the German ambassadors stationed in their countries.  Between 1930-1932 the efforts of the DVA were curtailed due to a lack of funds during the Depression.  But in the late 1920s groups formed within the framework and administration of the DVA that espoused political goals for the organization.  With the takeover by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) in 1933, the DVA was a natural tool to be used to further Hitler’s policies of whatever was best for the German     Reich, or at least as he perceived it.  The DVA, in effect, was absorbed into the Nazi government structure.  Hitler placed the leadership and the issues related to the “outside” Germans in the hands of Rudolph Hess.  He and his staff had total responsibility for this area of activity.  The Gustav Adolphus Society of the Lutheran Church that also worked with the German Diaspora abroad fought to maintain its autonomy but was hampered by constant surveillance, interference and restrictions.

  The DVA formed a Volksdeutsche Rat (Folk German Council), whose aim was to centralize the Nazi concerns and objectives of the new leadership: that although the Volksdeutsche were not citizens of the Reich they were participants in its national destiny and belonged to the same People and Blood.  (Translator’s note:  it is very difficult to convey the meaning of Volk, which means folk, but it has racial overtones and is all part of the Nazi myth of people, blood, race and superiority.)  To indicate its importance in the plans of the Third Reich its budget was increased from 3,000,000 Reich Marks in 1933 to 7,000,000 in 1934.  But the VDA found itself in opposition with the Hitler Jugend (Youth) and the Ausland Organization (Foreign Organization) whose jurisdictions and goals were often at cross-purposes with them.

  The Folk Groups, in various countries, were only too well aware of the internal conflicts of the Reich ministries and that often the ambassadors either favoured or opposed the work of the DVA.  Hess eventually asked Himmler for help and that led to the establishment of the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (Folk German Governing Office) the so-called VOMI.  SS Grüppenführer Werner Lorenz, an SS Police General was placed at its head, even though he had no experience or interest in the Volksdeutsche “Question” as it was known in Nazi circles.  Some of the leaders within the DVA were afraid of a takeover by the SS.  On July 2, 1938 Hitler in effect handed the DVA over to the VOMI.

  The Folk Groups throughout Eastern Europe could not deal with the government of the Reich without incurring difficulties with the government of their own country to whom they owed their loyalty.  The DVA, compared to the VOMI was a safer contact, and the officials were less obnoxious.  The VOMI now also worked hand in hand with the Foreign Office and its foreign policy.  With the outbreak of the war the task of the VOMI was to build up the Folk groups in the various nations and nurture them in the Nazi world-view and enlist them to the cause of the Third Reich.

 

The Relationship of the Churches with the German Folk Group

  Episcopal boundaries were also redrawn after the Treaty of Trianon in 1919, that led to the dismemberment of Hungary and the Danube Swabian Roman Catholics in the Batschka who numbered 165,000 and the 140,000 in the Banat were placed in new jurisdictions but none of the leadership positions were held by Danube Swabian priests.  In most cases the priests had been trained in Hungarian institutions and were often the vanguard of assimilation, and yet most of them had a command of the German language.  There would be some leading Roman Catholic clergy involved in the formation of local SDKB in their communities.  But such support by the priests was frowned upon by their Bishop, Lajco Budanovic and was brought to their attention and could result in a move to a different parish.

  There were approximately 125,000 Danube Swabian Roman Catholics in Syrmien, Slavonia, Croatia and Bosnia and found themselves in the diocese of Bishop Aksamovci who was an ardent Yugoslavian Nationalist.  Because their numbers were larger in Syrmien there were constant issues raised around the use of the German language in worship and in the schools.  They would always be informed that only those language rights that existed in the past could be continued and nothing new could be undertaken.  The vast majority of the clergy were advocates of “Croatian only.”  The Roman Catholics looked with envy at their Lutheran neighbours who maintained the German character of their worship and the German instruction that took place in their schools, along with their church libraries and publications from the Gustav Adolphus Society in Germany.

  In Slavonia the number of German speaking priests could be counted on the fingers of one hand and the episcopate was not prepared to accede to the wishes of their German- speaking parishioners.  Meanwhile the Lutheran pastors were preaching and teaching in German in their churches in those areas were German was forbidden to be taught in the Roman Catholic schools.

  It was only in 1930 after the SDKB made a breakthrough in recruiting members in West Syrmien and Slavonia that petitions circulated and were sent to the bishop in Djakovo requesting linguistic changes in church and school.  This is what they requested.

  The Gospel is to be read in German on Sundays and Feast Days.

  Once a month Mass to be celebrated with German hymns and sermon.

  Religious instruction for children to be conducted in German.

  The use of German when Latin is not required in the reception of the sacrament.

  Confession can be made in German.

  Permission to pray the Lord’s Prayer in German at the graveside of German Catholics.

  In Berak, where 70% of the population were ethnic German and paid the vast majority of the expenses of the parish the Bishop replied:

  “Certainly you Danube Swabians are the majority of the church members, that is why you also pay the majority of the costs of the parish.  But you must never forget that you live in Croatia where Croatian is spoken.  You want to make Croatia part of Greater Germany and that cannot and will not happen.  I tell you, so long as one Croatian household remains in Berak, you will not be allowed to have German services.”

  They tried again in May 1938 and the Bishop sought the support of the government which only created unrest in the countryside and this time his response was:  “because of national considerations and the lack of German speaking priests I have to decline your requests.”  (The last quoted statement was actually a lie.)  When the German Bishop’s Conference was informed, Bishop William Berning of Osnabrück and also one of the “outside” Germans, indicated he would send priests to meet the needs of parishes in Yugoslavia, but none of the bishops requested any.  In the bishopric of Agram, this was also true in spite of the fact that the bishop was Ante Bauer…a fanatic Croatian.

  As early as 1924 there had been attempts to get permission to establish a Roman Catholic and Lutheran seminary in the Vojvodina.  The request was denied.  Even the German ambassador spoke to the papal nuncio who pointed out it was too late to begin such work since the vast majority of the population was totally assimilated.

  When it came to the Lutherans and Reformed both churches had different jurisdictions and relationships prior to the establishment of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  They had to use considerable energy and resources to restructure themselves into a “national” church.  To their advantage, the Serbs were the majority in the new state and in “in charge”.  Relations between Protestants and Orthodox were always good unlike their relationships with the Roman Catholics.

  The Protestants were of various nationalities.  The Lutherans were Danube Swabians, Slovak, Magyar and Slovenes, while the Reformed were Magyars and Danube Swabians.  Even before 1918 there had been a “national” struggle among the Lutherans in Croatia-Slavonia.  But by 1920 at Neudorf the national church was established with two Seniorats, each with a bishop of its own nationality.  In effect there were two Church Districts:  one was Slovak, and the other “Evangelical”.  This second District consisted of 100,000 ethnic Germans, 18,000 Slovenes and 5,000 Magyars.  The first president of this District was Adolf Wagner who was succeeded on his death by Dr. Philip Popp, pastor at Agram.

  All these church structures had to be ratified by the government.  In 1926 at Neu Werbass, Philip Popp was elected bishop and the following Seniorats were formed:  Banat, Batschka, Croatia-Slavonia, Upper Croatia, Slovenia, Belgrade and Bosnia.

  The Reformed Church was divided into four Seniorats:  East, Western, Northern and Southern.  The Southern Seniorat was made up German speaking congregations and the other three were Magyar in membership.

  The Protestants used German as the language of worship and education and administratively, but governmentally and officially used the Serbo-Croatian language.   The Slovenes and Magyars followed the same pattern in the use of their own languages.  Most pastors were trained in Germany and Austria and were the key representatives of the Danube Swabian communities.  Both churches received support from Germany and Switzerland, but chiefly from the Gustav Adophus Society.

 

The Further Development of the Folk Group Organization

  With the occupation and the partition of Yugoslavia, Dr. Sepp Janko sent off his agents to their new spheres of influence on “his behalf” as he put it.  These were really rather grandiose pretensions on his part.  There was no longer a Yugoslavia.  Croatia had declared its independence under the Ustaschi Facists.  The Lower Baranya and the Batschka had been annexed by Hungary, and the German Military governed the Banat.  Janko maintained his pretensions of “Führership” in the Banat.  He sent Branimir Altgayer to represent him in Croatia, Josef Meier in Slavonia and Sepp Redinger in Srymien and Bosnia.  After establishing themselves in their respective regions the group met in Esseg on April 13, 1941 a few days after the war ended.  Each one of them informed their provisional government that he was the Führer of the Folk Group in their territory.  Altgayer indicated that he had the assurance of Pavelic, the Ustascha leader, that all of the rights and privileges of the ethnic German minority in Croatia would be honoured and guaranteed by law as soon as possible.  It actually occurred on Apirl 15, 1941.  On April 21st, his two other cronies, Meier and Redinger, were to be warmly embraced by Pavelic in Agram.  Pavelic later indicated that the two of them argued between themselves about their powers and jurisdictions and he suggested that they go and see the German ambassador to work things out.

  Altgayer went off to the VOMI in Berlin and got official sanction for his Führership.  He was informed that Meier and Redinger would be re-settled in Germany because of the embarrassment they had caused with Pavelic.  Altgayer was more than happy to be rid of Meier but wanted to retain the services of Redinger.  Eventually both were demoted, but allowed to remain.  One of the issues for Altgayer in establishing his Nazi fiefdom was the jurisdiction of eastern Syrmien.  Would it become part of “Greater Croatia” or not?  The people actually liked their current independent status and being occupied by German troops and had already been in close contact with the Folk Group “boss” in the Banat---Sepp Janko.  Himmler actually visited in the area as the local leaders of the Folk Group sought to stay out of the hands of the Croatians.  The German military also had designs on the area, while the government in Agram had already begun establishing the military and civilian government they had in mind for all of Syrmien.

  But Hitler stepped in and his decision was that all of Syrmien would revert back to Croatia as it had before 1918.  Pavelic and his henchmen made all of the right noises about the ethnic German minority and the rights of the Folk Group organization as they had promised Herr Hitler.

  Altgayer established headquarters for the leadership of the Folk Group in Esseg in close contact with the VOMI.  But the German ambassador wanted him in Agram where the government was located.  And now the Folk Group became the DVK (Deutsche Volkstgruppe in Kroatien) (German Folk Group in Croatia).  The first task was to put all of the little Führers in place: men’s, women’s, youth.  Five districts were set up with their own little Führers too.  But all was not well in terms of relationships with the Croatian government and resistance against some of the goals and objectives of the DVK.  They saw the Croatians as their enemies even though Nazism and the Ustaschi were heading in the same direction.  The message of Pavelic was becoming loud and clear, there was no room for anyone except Croatians in Croatia and no other ethnic group would be accepted.  That was not only directed against the ethnic German minority but also the Serbian population.  Pavelic’s feathers had been ruffled when the Germans allowed the Italians to occupy Dalmatia.  There was no smooth sailing ahead.

It was the Serbian question that first took centre stage.  Along with the Moslems, the Serbs made up half of the population.  The Serbian population looked to the Danube Swabian population to protect them from the German military, and also the Croatian government.  The Ustaschi units of Pavelic were the enemies of the Serbs in every way.  Their teacher from the past, Starcevic had taught them that there were no Serbs in Croatia; they were actually Croatians who through the past centuries when the Turks occupied all of Croatia, Slavonia and Bosnia had been forced in one way or another to convert to the Greek Orthodox Church.  The Serbs had to disappear from Croatia, if Croatia was to be for the Croatians.  That left them with three alternatives for dealing with the Serbs: expulsion, forced conversion and assimilation or extermination.  The last alternative of course their propagandists were quick to say was only theoretical, it was not really thinkable.  The plan for expulsion created other problems.  Would the Danube Swabians accept refugees in their territory?  The final solution was the mass conversation of the Serbian Orthodox population to Roman Catholicism and they would become “Croatians again.”  Pavelic even gained the support of the higher clergy and the papacy for his plan.  Beginning in the Fall of 1941 all officials were instructed to force the Serbian population to convert using whatever means that were necessary.  In many cases Danube Swabian authorities refused to comply and ignored the order.  There were countless cases of the local Swabian population protecting the Serbs or protesting against the actions taken against them.  This led to quarrels and confrontations between Croatian police and the Danube Swabian populations.  When the massive extermination program got underway for Serbs who refused to convert, the Lutheran bishop Philip Popp ordered all of his pastors to issue baptismal certificates to all Serbs who asked for them, in order for them to save their lives and maintain their religious integrity.  One third of the Serbian population would perish in this preview of the holocaust to come for the Danube Swabians. 

  Despite the disagreements, two representatives of the DVK were allowed to sit in the Sabor---Altgayer and Gasteiger.  The Ustaschi and the Danube Swabians in Syrmien were in constant if not perpetual conflict.  Pavelic complained to the Reich about the activities and attitudes of the Danube Swabian population as well as the German occupation forces because they tolerated the Serbs and protected the Orthodox population and thereby made themselves enemies of Croatia.  Even Tito’s Partisan press acknowledged that and even commended Bishop Popp for his actions.  Raids were carried out in several communities against the Danube Swabian authorities in which several men were killed.  It was made to appear that their killings had been the work of the Partisans, when in fact they were actually carried out by the Ustaschi.  In every sense of the word, the Ustaschi and the Roman Catholic Church drove the Serbians into the waiting arms of the Communist Partisans.

 

Re-settlement and Emigration

  From the beginning of the Partisan War in the summer of 1941 it was clear that the Danube Swabian communities in Bosnia were in constant danger and could not be protected.  Some had already been re-settled in the area around India in Syrmien.  As matters got worse in Bosnia others were re-settled in Syrmien as well.  Other communities were occupied or surrounded by Partisans while those who lived in the isolated communities sought refuge in the larger settlements.  There was the recognition that they had to move and farmers as well as artisans and skilled workers and their families chose to leave for Germany.  It goes without saying that there were countless Danube Swabians who lost their lives at the hands of the Partisans.

  It was obvious that the ethnic German settlers had to leave Bosnia and Himmler wanted to carry out the transfer as quickly as possible.  If he had his way the entire Danube Swabian population in Bosnia would be re-settled in Germany in August 1942.  The local leaders were afraid to oppose the VOMI and they did not want to have to deal with the Croatians.  On September 30, 1942 an agreement was signed between the Reich and Croatian government to re-settle all of the Danube Swabians south of the Sava River with four exceptions and all of those north of the river.  By November 13, 1942 the re-settlement of the Bosnia ethnic Germans was completed and 18,360 persons were at a camp near Lodz in Poland while others were scattered across the Reich.  They were to be placed in the homes confiscated from their Polish owners who had been driven from the area.  They were evacuated in the spring of 1944 to Alsace as the Eastern Front began to crumble.  Himmler was not totally satisfied with the re-settlement of the Bosnia Danube Swabians.  He saw himself as having the task of dealing with all the Folk Germans personally, within the Reich borders.  His interests then turned to the re-settlement of the Croatian Danube Swabians.

  Lorenz of the VOMI and his undersecretary in the Foreign Office, Martin Luther set in motion the plan to re-settle 150,000 ethnic Germans in Croatia, mostly in Slavonia and Syrmien.  But uppermost in their minds was the recruitment of at least 5,000 volunteers for the Waffen-SS.

  Such a re-settlement could have adverse psychological affects on the rest of the ethnic German populations in South-Eastern Europe.  So that Ribbentrop and Hitler needed to discuss the matter.  The DVK asked for re-consideration of the issue after the war because a re-settlement at this time would create a great wave of unrest among the Danube Swabian population.

  The total re-settlement was officially shelved, but the Foreign Office indicated a partial re-settlement was necessary in certain areas, like Bosnia where there were still some Danube Swabians and western Slavonia by January of 1943.  The re-settlement of the Bosnian ethnic Germans had a great impact on the Danube Swabians in Hungary, and the Magyars as well as the Roman Catholic Church made capital out of it and won many to their point of view.

  Western Slavonia’s Danube Swabian communities were “young,” scattered and small and very hard to defend against Partisan bands.  Their economic value was also slight and a re-settlement would not be a major action.  Because of transport needs and arrangements in Germany necessary for such a move it was more expedient to move them into nearby Syrmien.  The VOMI was highly influenced in their decision by the Folk Group leaders with regard to this issue.  It also had to be acceptable to the Croatian government that was totally opposed to a mass migration because of the effect on morale.

  Things did not improve in Slavonia in 1943, Partisan attacks increased and casualties among the Swabians mounted.  Murders and kidnappings became common.  By the end of 1943 Berlin and the Folk Group leaders agreed that the communities in East Syrmien and between the Sava and Drava Rivers must be evacuated.  The task to carry out the evacuation would be undertaken by special troops.  They would have to contend with Partisan actions such as hostage taking and as a defence against army action in their area.

  About 25,000 Danube Swabians from thirty communities were evacuated to more secure areas, but it made them look bad in the eyes of the Croatians who demanded that they stay and help fight against the Partisans.  Most of the evacuees were women and children and the elderly.

  Here is a typical report of an isolated Swabians community, Cacinci:

  “On October 2, 1943 the Partisans attacked the area from three sides.  The battle lasted thirty hours.  Because of the superior firepower of the Partisans and the lack of outside help, the brave defenders, the Croatian military and the ethnic German Home Guard suffered many casualties and had to give up the area.  Two men and four women from among the Swabian population lost their lives.  As the battle ended the Partisans began to plunder and the burn the Danube Swabian homes.  Many Danube Swabian women and children were driven into the yard of the Brenner family, where for many hours they had to listen to a speech while their homes were broken into and robbed.  Danube Swabian men, who had been unable to escape, hid themselves.  Many of them were discovered and assembled together.  They were questioned, interrogated and severely abused.  Ten of them were taken away and three simply disappeared.  Many soldiers and policemen were killed in a farmyard.  The Danube Swabians left in the area now lived in terror and fear.”

  The VOMI was well aware of the situation.  Croatian troops were not able to defend the refugees.  There were unable to house and feed them and became more and more unfriendly to the Danube Swabian population.

  On April 13, 1944 after hassles between the ambassador, the Foreign Office, the VOMI and Himmler, the order to evacuate the threatened Swabian population was given.  On April 18, 1944 Lorenz sent a telegram to Esseg to this effect:

  “The ethnic Germans in these areas are in danger day and night.  The Croatian government is in no position to provide the necessary protection and therefore their evacuation is absolutely necessary.”

  By now some 1,500 men were missing or killed and the Partisans harassed Danube Swabians in the villages and let the Serbs and Croatians alone.  Danube Swabian families with men in the Waffen-SS were especially targeted and threatened and plundered.

  The next phase of the evacuation was the removal of 8,000 refugees, who had fled their former communities, but they were unable to leave with the first transports because of a lack of military protection and over 6,000 of them were left behind.

  The evacuations were begun again on December 18, 1943 that included 3,593 persons who had fled or been driven from their home communities.  After this date a carefully planned evacuation took place in 49 villages of Slavonia including:  Georgshof, Spisic-Bukovica, Djulaves, Borova, Cabuna, Suhopolje, Bacevac, Budanica, Pcelic, Kapan-Antonsdorf, Presac, Novaki, Lukatsch, Weretz, Vocin, Adolfsdorf, Ciglenik, Vaska, Budakovac, Ciganka, Neu-Bukowitz, Eralije, Drenovac, Johannesberg, Mikleus, Slatina, Jaksic, Rajsavac, Trestonovac, Kula-Josefsfeld, Porec-Josefsdorf, Kaptol, Vetovo, Grabic, Fericanci, Cacinci, Bankovci. Bidalvac. Cadkavacki Lug, Podravska Moslavina, Viljevo, Kucanci, Golinci, Pridvorje, Drenje, Mandicevac, Drenjski Slatnik, Babina Gora, Radosavci and Tominovac.  In addition Obrez and Grabovci in Syrmien were also part of the evacuation of 16,613 persons.  In all 20,206 persons left their homeland behind.

  To assist in this massive action there were 184 soldiers and officers assigned, along with 14 nurses and 81 men from the labour forces to act as drivers.  The trek also included 3,100 cows, 7,200 pigs, 260 sheep, and 3,800 horses in addition to household furniture, food and fodder.  Those who decided to remain behind for the harvest would leave for Germany in the Fall of 1944.

 

The Military Situation

  The military in the Reich was chiefly interested in the manpower resources of the Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans).  In eastern Syrmien at India the Waffen-SS established a recruitment centre for volunteers during May and June of 1941.  In effect it was call-up of certain age groups and those who would not serve voluntarily were released and sent back home.

  In mid-July 1941 an officer of the Waffen-SS contacted the Führer of the Deutschemannschaft (The Men’s Association of the SDKB) in the Banat, Michael Reiser and told him that his orders were to set up a regiment of Swabians from the Banat, Hungary and Croatia.  Nothing came of this because the German ambassador in Belgrade opposed it.

  August 6, 1941 Ribbentrop declared the same thing only now it was to be a larger formation consisting of men only from the Banat to fight Bolshevism.  The question of military service for the Danube Swabians in Croatia was literally up for grabs.  Consideration was given for ethnic German formations in the Croatian Army, but the question of language for use in command was a stickler.  In the summer of 1941 the Foreign Office and the VOMI were in touch with the Croatian military but were unsuccessful in their attempts to win concessions and Altgayer played a leading role in the discussions.  An agreement was reached September 16, 1941 in which it was stipulated that in terms of members of the DVK called up into the Croatian Army, ten per cent of every age group called up to do military service could chose to serve in the German armed forces and such service would be in fulfillment of their national service.  All kinds of concessions and safeguards to maintain the German-ness of the conscripts in the Croatian Army were included in the agreement.

  The military forces of the Croatian Army consisted of the regular army units and the Ustaschi brigades.  Himmler needed more canon fodder after the disasters in Russia and was not content with his ten per cent of the take of the Danube Swabians of military age in Croatia.  He especially detested those “pacifists among the Folk Germans who sat around at home.”  But the German ambassador in Agram did all he could to hinder the Swabians from joining the Waffen-SS.  In order to avoid service in the second rate Croatian Army or serve with the fanatic Ustaschi, Swabians volunteered to serve in the Prince Eugene Waffen-SS in place of the quota of ten per cent.  Their families were also assured of support while they served.

  By July 1942, Himmler was on the German ambassador’s case with regard to the further recruitment for the Waffen-SS in Croatia.  In August 1942 Himmler had pushed his agenda so that the Foreign Office capitulated and took his position of “open” recruitment of the Danube Swabians of Croatia.  The Ambassador still stood in the way and pushed for the option that they could serve in the Croatian Army to avoid repercussions with the Ustaschi government.

  As far as Hitler was concerned an evacuation of the German military anywhere was “defeatist” regardless of the situation and must be avoided at all costs.  Finally on September 21, 1942 the German ambassador gave in and delivered a note to the Croatian government with these terms:

  All able bodied Danube Swabian men in the Independent State of Croatia born between 1907 and 1925 would serve in the German Army or Waffen-SS and receive citizenship in the Reich for such service.  Secondly, the Croatian state would recognize the rights and citizenship of the families of those serving in the German Armed Forces.  The German government would provide the financial support of the families of the men who were recruited.  Thirdly, the DVK leadership and a commission of the Waffen-SS would carry out the recruitment program.

  This note was sent without the knowledge of the Foreign Office.  All of the points were acceptable to the Croatian government with the addition of the care of the families of those men in the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS and the re-settlement of all such persons and their families to the Reich after the war was over.  The agreement was dated October 10, 1942.

  Mustering began on August 30, 1942 (even before the exchange of notes had taken place) and ended November 26, 1942.  Other recruitment drives followed.  The mustering was not carried out fully in Hrastovac because of a Partisan raid.  In all, 27,357 reported of whom 20,760 were accepted into the military.  Up until November 28, 1942 there were 31 transports of recruits to SS training camps in Germany in Breslau and Berlin, Auschwitz in Poland, Prague in the Czech Protectorate and Pantschowa in the Banat.  On December 8, 1942 transport numbers 32 and 33 left.  The Waffen-SS got between 6,000 and 7,000 men.  Only about two per cent of the men failed to show up for the transports.

The arguments between Himmler at the VOMI and the Foreign Office continued and the ambassador in Agram never ceased to oppose the actions.  Ribbentrop and Himmler fought again and again, while Altgayer waited in the wings to see which way the wind was blowing and what opportunities might present themselves for his benefit.

  At the end of February 1943 the mustering of men born from 1908 to 1925 was begun.  Some 5,000 to 6,000 men were selected for the Prince Eugene Division.  Out of a population of 150,000 there were 25,800 men in the armed forces and of these 7,000 would end up killed in action or missing.  Many of the deaths occurred in prisoner of war camps after the war.  The Partisans in Unter Steiermark captured a large number of those in the Prince Eugene Division and ten days after the war’s end many of them were murdered along with Reich troops and Croatians.  The survivors were marched from Slovenia to the Romanian border to the mines at Bor.  One third of them men died on the march.  Tito’s right hand man Milovan Djilas reports on all of this but had no idea of the numbers involved.  It did not matter.  They were enemies.  Who would even care?

 

The German Settlements and the Partisan War

  Syrmien with its thick forests was a natural hiding place for the Partisans.  After June 21, 1941 small groups of Communist youth fled to the forests.  Soon their acts of sabotage announced their presence.

  The Danube Swabian population sympathized with the Serbian population and got into conflict with the Ustaschi and the Swabians were seen as a hindrance to their campaign against the Partisans.  The Partisans called for an uprising in the spring of 1942.

  Individual acts of murder and kidnapping of Danube Swabian farmers began and increased as more and more Serbs left to join the Partisan bands.  Ustaschi units carried out atrocities against the Serbian population and the Danube Swabians in many places sought to protect them especially the women and children whenever possible.  This was markedly so in Syrmien where Danube Swabians formed a majority of the population in some areas.

  Partisan attacks began in Slavonia some time later.  This was because the Serbian population in this area were a small minority.  The attacks here were directed against the Danube Swabians, especially the small and scattered communities.  First major attacks and raids began in the spring of 1942.  Most of the attacks were to secure food and supplies.

  The western areas of Slavonia had the next series of raids.  Klein Bastaji was attacked March 15, 1942 and one Danube Swabian youth and a Croat were shot to death and several persons were kidnapped.  On June 5th the Partisans returned.  The Defence League with only a few weapons was unable to drive them off.  Three Danube Swabian men died, fifteen were kidnapped, and of whom four were later able to escape.  The community centre and the Lutheran prayer house defended by the pastor were both burned to the ground.  The homes were plundered.  Their cattle and livestock were driven away.  A Ustaschi unit came to the village the same day, shot four Serbian men and one woman and drove the rest of the Serbian population to the nearby provincial capital of Daruvar.  The Serbs were later freed, but no word was ever heard again of the men who had been kidnapped.

  The raids reached a highpoint in 1943 despite German and Croatian Army operations against them in Syrmien.  Murders, killings multiplied.  Raids at battalion strength easily overran the defences of small villages and towns.  The people of Hrastovac were encouraged to go to eastern Syrmien for re-settlement.

  In 1944 the situation was better because all of the small and scattered groups of Swabians were in re-settled areas of population concentration that were easier to defend.  In Syrmien recent campaigns against the Partisans had been successful and they had split up into smaller groups.  By mid 1943 there had been a total of 267 deaths among the Danube Swabian population including men, women and children and the Home Defence Leagues in the villages had lost 356 dead and missing, mostly young teenage boys and elderly men.  By January 13, 1944 the figures were 563 killed and 353 kidnapped and missing (both civilians and Home Defence League).

 

The Evacuation

  With the capitulation of Romania in the summer of 1944 the Red Army was breaking into the Danubian plains and if Croatia fell, the Danube Swabians would be caught between the Ustaschi and the Partisans.  Some of the Swabians still believed in a German victory, others turned to their Serbian and Croatian neighbours for support.

  The plans for an evacuation were completed by September 1944.  Everyone now claims to be responsible for it, trying to cast the best light on his or her actions.  This was especially true of Altgayer and Gasteiger in their faulty recollections of the events that followed.  Whatever the case may have been, it required the support of the Reich ministries.  On September 11th it was Gasteiger who flew to Berlin to get the official seal of approval.  He was denied access to all of the important personages at the VOMI.  He then went to the Foreign Office and three hours later he was informed that the Folk Group in Croatia could be evacuated.  When he returned to Agram and met with the other DVK leaders he had a hard time convincing them that he had received permission to proceed.  On the morning of September 10, 1944 the German ambassador telegraphed the Foreign Office for instructions.  Official word finally came on September 25, 1944 to proceed with the evacuation if the DVK leadership felt there was a danger and threat to the Danube Swabian population.

  On October 3, 1944 the head of the evacuation, Kammerhofer, informed the leadership in Esseg that he had received orders for the evacuation to begin.  The plan called for the evacuation of eastern Syrmien, to be followed later by western Syrmien.  Because the evacuation plans were secret and the population was not prepared to leave, the notice to evacuate was so sudden that they had no time to pack and prepare their horses and wagons for the long trek ahead of them.  The weather was cold and wet and rain would persist for the flight through Hungary and often they would spend their nights out in the open and the horses and wagons had great difficulty in the mountains of Austria and the heavy snowfall slowed down the long columns of refugees. 

  The first to leave were the people from Neu Slankamens.  Without a warning of any kind, on the night of October 3rd and 4th a telephone call was made by the District DVK leadership in India informing the local authorities to immediately open certain secret orders in their possession and to carry out the instructions without question.  The orders for evacuation were very specific and were to be carried out even if there was opposition on the part of the population.  The trek was to leave on the morning of October 4th at 9:00 am.  “Every family was allowed to take only one wagon.  Farmers who possessed two or more wagons had to surrender them to families that had none.  If there were still insufficient wagons, the German military stationed there could requisition wagons and horses from the Serbian inhabitants of the village.”  The wagon trek left Semlin-Franztal on October 5th; Neu Pasua and Neu Banovci left on October 6th.  On October 9th it was India’s turn to leave followed by Beschka and Kertshedin on the 10th.

  While the evacuation was in full swing in eastern Syrmien, Kasche the ambassador, Kammerhofer and Altgayer met in Esseg for discussions on October 3rd to the 5th.  At this meeting they made more detailed plans and called for specific actions to be taken in order to avoid panic that could get in the way of the war effort in the area.  The three areas that were to be evacuated were specified:  eastern Syrmien the region east of Mitrowitz, western Syrmien including the neighbouring eastern Slavonian communities and eventually Esseg and the surrounding area.  The evacuees were to be divided into two groups.  The first group consisted of mothers with children under the age of fifteen, the sick, those unable to march, wives and families of those men serving in the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS and police.  The second group consisted of everyone else.  Providing food, supplies, provisions and determining the routes to take were also the concern Kammerhofer and Altgayer.  The German ambassador was upset when he discovered that the evacuation was already underway prior to clearance by him and with the approval of Berlin.  He saw it as a defeatist act and how on earth could he explain that to the Croatian government?  He complained to the Foreign Office but it was already too late.  The panic they had anticipated did not take place.  In Ceric when the Swabians were ordered to leave a service was held at the church including the Croatian population that prayed for their brothers and sisters leaving on their momentous journey.  The Croatians by and large were fearful of what all of this would mean for them in the coming days.

  The wagon treks were guarded against Partisan attack, but none occurred, not even in Partisan controlled territory.  The first wagon treks headed towards Esseg, they then crossed the Danube and left Croatia behind.  They went on to Pecs, Segitvar, the Balaton and then on to Sopron and Austria.  The eastern Syrmien communities were evacuated in two weeks; some left by rail; others on the Danube ships to Mohacs and others found transportation with the German Army.  The combined treks involved up to fifteen thousand wagons and horses.  Some of the men accompanying the treks were kept behind at the Hungarian border for enlistment into the German Army.

  The last trek left on October 31, 1944 from Sarwasch and crossed the Drava bridge at Esseg that day.  In most cases the Swabians left “voluntarily” although some tried to return home but were prevented from doing so. Among the urban Danube Swabians more than half of the population remained.  Most wagon treks were on the roads for one to two months.  The ambassador in Agram informed Ribbentrop, that as of January 9, 1945 the evacuation of the Swabians in Croatia was completed and that 110,000 had been evacuated.  It is estimated that approximately 90% of the German population in Croatia was evacuated.  That would hardly be true in all of the other areas of the Danube Swabian settlements in the rest of Yugoslavia, Romania or Hungary.

 

Partisan Treatment of the Swabians Who Remained Behind

  There was a large proportion of the Swabian population who remained behind who did not participate in the evacuation from Syrmien-Slavonia numbering between 10,000 to 20,000 persons.  Most of them felt that they had nothing to fear.  They had been honest, hard working people and had paid their taxes.  Many expected to be protected by their Slavic friends and neighbours.  It had been the same during the First World War.

There were obvious signs that this was a pipe dream.  Fear was dependent upon the degree of German-ness they had displayed, i.e. membership in the DVK.  The Partisans on their part, both the Royalists and Tito’s Communists had announced that all of the non-loyal minorities would be expelled following the war.  This was especially true in the north including the Swabians, Hungarians and Romanians.  The Serbians were on an anti-minority crusade, which included the Croatians.  Tito’s forces certainly gave the Swabians in Croatia an idea of what to expect during their raids and attacks throughout the war.  There was no question of their feelings and intent and it was no wonder that such a large proportion of the Swabian population participated in the evacuation.

  The occupation of eastern Syrmien by the Partisans and Russians occurred after taking Belgrade without a fight.  A Syrmien Front was established from Brcko-Vukovar and there was heavy fighting between the Partisans and the Waffen-SS Division Prince Eugene that lasted a few months.  The German troops eventually retreated and crossed the Sava River and fled to the west.  The Partisans took Brcko on April 7th and Vinkovci on April 13, 1945.

  Local units of Serbians were recruited from the surrounding communities whose chief goal was to plunder the homes and properties of the evacuated Swabians that had been left unoccupied.  Most of them did this secretly and the majority of them were young people.  There were isolated cases of rape and numerous beatings of Swabians.  In a few days “Narodni Odbori” (Partisan governments) were established and placed in charge.  They now proceeded to organize the plundering.

  In India on October 22, 1944 close to midnight a Partisan unit under the leadership of a Serb from Vojka occupied the town.  On the 24th all of the Swabians were ordered to report at the town hall that day.  On October 28th most of the men were arrested and taken to the former Hungarian school, which was also later the assembly point for men taken from smaller communities in the area:  Slankamen, Kertschedin and Beschka.  Among them were also several soldiers:  Germans, Croatians and Hungarians.  The prisoners were interrogated and tortured at night.  The murders and killings began in the school and outside of the building.  In the town of India itself two Swabian women were beaten in public.  After a short release the men were re-arrested on November 8th and 11th.  On November 11th seven of the Swabian men, one Croat and a Serb were driven on foot to the neighbouring village of Alt Pasua.  Here they had to dig their own graves and were later machine gunned down.  Gypsies then took control with axes in their hands to make sure that all of them were dead.  They smashed the heads of each man.  On November 12th a total of 64 men, women and children were driven out of the town on foot to the local garbage dump where they were murdered in the most gruesome manner.  On the 18th more murders took place in India and this time the victims were the elderly of whom only eight could be identified afterwards.

  In Semlin and Franztal all of the Swabians were ordered to report to the Salt Office or they would be shot.  As always the Swabians were obedient to the authorities and reported with only a few exceptions.  Of those who reported, with only a few exceptions, were killed.  There were 242 identified victims.  They were taken at night to the banks of the Danube River and killed and their bodies were tossed into the river.  Those who had not been included, mostly elderly men and women were taken to the first concentration camp for Danube Swabians in Syrmien, at Semlin-Kalvarija (Calvary).   Their crime in effect was that they were ethnic German.  The number of inmates in the camp from Semlin and Franztal who died there numbered 118 persons including Franz Moser who had been a member of the Croatian parliament in 1912.

  In November 1944 both people from India and a portion of the surviving Swabians from the surrounding area were all force marched to the camp at Kalvarija which was some 50 kilometres away, where almost all of them died of hunger.  There was another concentration camp for Danube Swabians at Sajmiste where ethnic Germans from the Banat and the Batschka were interned.

  The camp Kalvarija was closed down in September 1945, and the survivors were taken to Bezanija to the camp at Mitrowitz.  On April 14, 1946 all of the remaining Swabians in Semlin and Franztal were arrested and taken to Mitrowitz.  A list of the names of those who died there included 75 persons from Semlin and Franztal and another 114 civilians from the two communities died in various other Yugoslavian concentration camps, prisons and were killed in private homes.

  In Ruma, men, women and children were imprisoned in the “Hrvatsi Dom” (Croatian House) along with Swabians from other villages in the area.  They were taken in groups to the brickyards and upon arriving there they were either shot or gruesomely murdered and their bodies were thrown into a deep pit among whom some were still alive.  In one day 2,800 Swabians died in this way.  Many other Swabians in Ruma were shot individually, beaten to death or stabbed and slaughtered with knives.

  To give all of this a cloak of legality, the Anti-Fascist Council for the Liberation of Yugoslavia passed appropriate laws on November 21, 1944 taking away the citizenship and human rights of the Danube Swabians and the right to confiscate all of their assets and property.  They had no defence or court of appeal because they belonged to the “German Folk Group.”

  With the secession of fighting on the Syrmien Front, western Syrmien and Slavonia fell into the hands of the Partisans as well as the remaining Swabian population.  With the fall of the Third Reich on May 9, 1945 the refugees and evacuees from Yugoslavia who were now in the Russian Zone of Austria were encouraged to go back home by the Austrian officials and the Soviet military.  If they did not do so they would no longer receive ration cards.  There were other restrictions that were introduced to encourage them to leave.  On the other hand there were others who simply wanted to go home and needed no prodding to do so.  This was also true in various areas of Germany where the refugees had ended up. Several train transports left Germany and Austria for Yugoslavia and some wagon treks also set out from the eastern and southern Steiermark in Austria.   A portion of these transports came across Hungary, while others crossed directly from Austria.  It was only the first of these transports that were accepted by the Yugoslavian authorities and the others were turned back and refused entry.

  Those who had come by way of Hungary were immediately locked up in a factory in Subotica and they were robbed of everything they had except for what they were wearing.  After a short period of time they were taken to the concentration camp at Sekitsch and from there those unable to work were taken to the camps at Krusevlje and Gakovo.  Some of the evacuees from eastern Syrmien were among them.

  The same thing was also true for those returning home from Germany and Austria by train crossing the border into Slovenia.  None of them ever saw their homes again.  Only one of the wagon treks made it home, but before they could even enter their pillaged houses in Jarmina they were taken to the concentration camp at Josipovac.  Those who had been on the train transports were robbed of everything and badly abused and eventually ended up in the camp at Mitrowitz.

  By the end of 1945 Mitrowitz-Svilara (Silk Factory) became the central camp for the Danube Swabian population in Syrmien and various other areas.  This camp would become one of the most horrendous of the concentration camps for the ethnic German population of Yugoslavia.  At this point there were 1,000 persons: women, children and men.  The three groups were separated from one another.  The children could not remain with their mothers.  The lack of food, heat and unhygienic conditions in the winter of 1945 and 1946 resulted in countless deaths.  Whole families died out in a matter of weeks.  In the warmer months of the year some internees were better off.  Those who were able to work were “sold” to the mines or farmers for a fee payable to the camp officials.  This actually saved the lives of many of them as on the outside they received better rations.  Even the sick volunteered to do slave labour.

  The Swabians in those communities taken by the Partisans after the Syrmien Front collapsed in May and June of 1945 were taken to the new camp established just for them:  Josipovac-Oberjosefdorf.  It was here where the Danube Swabians from the following villages and towns were interned:  Esseg, Vukovar, Vinkovci, Djakovo and the villages in their vicinity.  Facilities for the prisoners were few and far between and many women had to camp out under the sky.  Unlike Mitrowitz they were not cut off from the outside world, and that may have been the basis for sending the internees to Austria later.  In July 1945, one of these transports was allowed to enter Austria by the British.  Also in Josipovac the people who were able to work were employed outside the camp.  But the condition of those unable to work deteriorated so that three quarters of the prisoners were sick with dysentery.  On July 10, 1945 the camp and its inmates were moved to Valpovo.

  The internees had to walk all of the way, many of them were sick and water was forbidden and it was terribly hot and a survivor describes how miserable they looked.  In Valpovo it was hunger and dysentery that claimed countless victims.  Pastor Peter Fischer describes the situation in these words:

  “The camp consisted of ten wooden barracks in terrible shape.  Three thousand persons had to be put up in them.  Even though we occupied space in two shifts there was still not enough room to accommodate everyone.  So some of us had to find a place under the barracks or between them.  The misery got especially worse whenever it rained.”

  Food was almost non-existent.  Cleanliness was impossible under the circumstances and so all kinds of diseases were spread among the people.  Five to ten persons died each day.  The dead were buried naked without coffins.  Typhus epidemics were common and resulted in a huge death rate due to a lack of medication and proper care of any kind.  The camp in Valpovo was closed down in May 1946.  In January of that same year there were a total of 3,000 internees and the number of deaths up to that point was 1,967 persons.

  On July 22, 1945 another train transport with overcrowded cattle cars was sent to Austria.  The British refused to accept delivery of the packed train and sent them back.  They had travelled for three weeks in all.  For two weeks they were at the camp in Gross-Pisanitz in Croatia imprisoned in the out of doors.  Many died here exposed to rain and cold, sunstroke, hunger, illness and the sound of constant gunfire over their heads.  Many of those who died were children.  The survivors were now taken in the direction of Esseg.  This time in open wagons, facing rain and hail on the way.  On August 15, 1945 the transport arrived in the death camp at Krndija.

  This once ethnic German village had been turned into a concentration camp to accommodate the Danube Swabian population.  The highest number of inmates at any given time was 3,000 persons.  This number was in constant flux as victims died and new victims arrived to take their place.  A breakout of typhus was first reported in January.  From August 15, 1945 to mid May 1946 there were 1,300 deaths.  In May 1946 internees were released if they had relatives outside.  The survivors of Valpovo and Krndija were sent to Podunavlje in the Lower Baranya, which in turn was closed down on August 27, 1946.  The inmates were sent to the camp at Tenje, which was closed January 20, 1947.  Two transports of Danube Swabians were sent to Austria from Tenje.  Those left at Tenje were sent to Rudolphsgnad in the Banat.  It was an extermination camp.

  Eventually many of the survivors ended up at the camps in Gakowa and Krusevlje, which were located close to the Hungarian border and were later not hard to escape from and then they fled across Hungary.  Crossing into Austria was again illegal as well as the borders between Austria and Germany, but countless Swabians were successful in making their escape and flight to freedom.  In the early months of 1948 the remaining camps were closed.  Those who had survived wanted to leave the country as quickly as possible, although now the Yugoslavs had need of them for their labour and were willing to pay for it.  The Red Cross attempted to re-unite families, although Yugoslavian officialdom was not very helpful.  The cost of a passport to leave Yugoslavia rose from 1,500 Dinars to 12,000 in a short period of time, but the migration continued.  Today only a few thousand persons of German origin continue to live in Syrmien, Slavonia, Croatia and Bosnia.

  When the Croatian government fled from Agram to Austria in May 1945, Altgayer went with them.  The Lutheran bishop, Philip Popp remained in Agram with those in his   congregation who were unable to be evacuated, after first calling upon his pastors to join the evacuation if their congregations did, if not, they were to remain behind with them.  They all concurred throughout Yugoslavia with each pastor suffering his own fate whether in the labour camps in the Soviet Union or the extermination camps of Tito.  The Partisans occupied Agram on May 9, 1945.  Now a savage bloodbath took place against the Croatian “collaborators” and any Danube Swabian they could lay their hands on.  Bishop Popp was arrested at the end of May 1945 after sending his wife and son to seek asylum in the Swedish embassy.  A show trial followed and he was sentenced to death, but over 1,000 local citizens signed a petition to free the bishop.  On June 29, 1945 the first and only bishop of the Lutheran Church in Yugoslavia was executed by a firing squad.

  Following the capitulation of the Third Reich and the occupation of Austria by the Allied Armies most of the prominent members of the Folk Group leadership who had all managed to escape were in the British Zone of occupation in Carinthia and the Steiermark.  The British at Wolfsberg interned these Folk Group leaders, which included Altgayer and Janko as well as the German ambassador Kasche and their closest associates and others.  The British turned over Altgayer and Kasche to the Communist powers that be in Yugoslavia on September 30, 1946.  Following a series of prolonged show trails both men were condemned to death.  Kasche was hung along with the leading Croatian Ustaschi leaders and Altgayer was shot.  Janko, however, managed to escape from Wolfsberg but was tried in abstentia in Yugoslavia and condemned to death. He had found refuge in Brazil where he lives to this day.  (Translator’s Note:  Sepp Janko and his deputy Josip Beer are best known for their final declaration to the Danube Swabians in the Banat:  We will stay!  This was their response to the fact that the Red Army was already entering the eastern Banat and countless evacuation treks were ready to set out at a moment’s notice, which would have saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of Danube Swabians.  While their declaration was being spread abroad throughout the Banat to remain, they were packing and were among the last to get across the Danube bridges out of harm’s way.  Only a few of the local Folk Group leaders disobeyed the order and led their treks out of the Banat and saved the lives of their people from the holocaust that was to come.)

part-one

part-two