A Boy Growing Up in
the Land of Donauschwaben
My father's stories
Rosina T. Schmidt
Edited by Cornelia Brandt
George was a little lad of ten or so, growing up in Daruvar as a
merchant’s son, along with his pals, he sneaked into the neighbouring
farmer’s cornfield to pick some fresh corn on the cob. The farmer must
have been expecting such a visit, because he was hiding between the
cornrows and grabbed the first would-be-thief by the collar. While he
was trashing the screaming youngster, the others dispersed, including
our terrified ten-year-old George. He scrambled up the closest large
tree and hid successfully in the leafy branches.
must have fallen asleep up there, because when he woke up he was on
the ground and it was pitch dark. George must have been unconscious
for quite some time. Later he found out that, when he came to, it was
already past midnight. In the darkness he could not find his way out
of the fields and was walking in circles. Where was the road that
leads to home?
then someone shouted, "Freeze or I’ll shoot” loud enough to make
George’s blood freeze in his veins. It was the neighbouring farmer
passing by with his dog and gun, who assumed the person in the dark
was an all to frequent burglar.
George explained to him, that he must have fallen off the tree while
climbing it, the neighbour was happy with the explanation and took the
aching boy home to his frantic parents who were assembling a search
his father was soldiering in WWI a few years later, Georg was living
on his grandfather’s farm. Just when the apples were seductively
shining through the leaves in another farmer’s orchard, our fearless
George and his two year’s older brother Franz sneaked into that
orchard and tried to ascend the first apple tree on the way to school.
But the farmer caught Franz by his pants and thrashed him with a thick
stick. George found a pole close by and hit the farmer in return,
until both of the brothers could run out of the danger zone and to
their school located in the next village.
Knowing that they surely would be punished after returning home,
George managed to talk all the boys in his class to meet him after
dark in that farmer’s orchard.
so they did. They stripped the heavily laden apple tree of all the
apples they could reach and as quietly as they came, sneaked back
policeman came knocking at George’s parents’ home the next day and
searched the house. Alas, no apples were to be found for the apple
stealing evidence. Surely, said his mom, her child was innocent.
such a thing, though, as George had hidden the apples in his father’s
suitcase, which the good policeman failed to investigate… And Franz…
it took him a whole week to be able to sit again.
Some years later, our Franz and George were already in their teens,
the wolf packs were attacking many a farmer’s livestock and there was
quite a reward for a killed wolf.
Now there was an opportunity for our two Heroes to earn some pocket
money. Lo and behold they managed to kill a wolf, skinned the felt and
run with it to the major’s office to get their earned reward.
They did not stop there, though, but went from village to village,
from one major’s office to another for at least a week; at which time
the felt smelt so badly, that even they could not stand it any longer.
In George's words:
I finished school at 14 my mother arranged for me apprenticeship
training at a mill close by. I was to become a miller. My brother
Franz was learning the baker’s trade and my mother taught that we
could help each other out later in our lives. I would have a mill and
supply my brother with flour for his bakery.
At the mill there
were older boys working who were finished with their training. They
were already fully grown sturdy fellows, while I was at 14 still a
small boy. The practical jokes those fellows tried on me were very
unpleasant, almost brutal. Whenever the miller was not around, they
would push my face into a sack full of flour and kept my head there,
until I almost suffocated. After one of too many of those occurrences,
I just walked out.
Now, I could not
have gone home to my parents. They would immediately bring me back.
But I knew that the road in front of the mill lead to the city of
Sisak some 35 kilometers away and I headed for there. After quite some
time of my walking along the hot and lonesome road, a farmer with his
horse and buggy overtook me and asked me where I was heading to. I
told him I was going to Sisak and he offered me a ride. He too was
going to that fair city. Seeing, that I seemed to be worried, he soon
found out what my troubles were. Just before the city gates of that
old Roman town, he let me off, gave me a whole dinar and wished me
good luck for the future.
As I had nothing
to eat since breakfast time and it was already past midday, I was
ravishingly hungry. At the first inn I decided to see if I could get
something to eat. When I entered Mrs. Proprietress greeted me
charmingly to whom I told that I was looking for an apprenticeship
position but at the moment was very hungry, and if I could have a
dinner now I would pay her back as soon as I could.
“Well son”, she
said, “let me talk to my husband first. You just sit down here and I
will be right back.” She returned in a little while with steaming and
fabulously smelling goulash and great slices of freshly baked bread,
which I wolfed down in no time. I can still taste that dinner to this
very day. The Proprietor joined me after I finished that well
remembered meal and wanted to know, just what trade did I want to
learn. The question came as a surprise and the only thing that came to
my mind at that very moment was the word “butcher”. “Well, well”, said
the portly innkeeper, “you just came to the right place, because I am
a butcher as well as an innkeeper and am looking for a butcher
The Mistress of
the house did show me the place in the attic where I was to sleep. She
also gave me the appropriate white butcher uniform and she promised to
wake me up next morning at five. I was to accompany her husband to the
market to help him with his meat-booth there. In no time it was five
in the morning and after a very hearty breakfast, we were on our way
to the market.
It was a busy day.
There were many
Jewish ladies bringing the purchased live poultry, which they
wanted to have butchered the kosher way. My boss showed me the right
technique with the first hen and let me keep the three-dinar fee we
were charging for this service for my self. I have collected that day
quite a few three-dinar-fees and at the evening felt like I was a
millionaire. See, I was a whole of 14 years old and never had more
than one dinar in my pocket that I could call my own. My master seemed
to be happy with my performance and of course so was I with him.
In the meantime
my mother found out that I left the mill and was frantic, as she did
not know where I went to. A few weeks later the very same farmer who
gave me the lift to Sisak did some shopping in our store back home and
found my mother in tears. So he told her, that perhaps the fellow he
gave a lift to Sisak the other day might be her son. She did find me
too and was happy for me that my new training place turned out so
well. But did she ever give me a talking to, because I did not let her
know where I was!
My new boss and
his lady did not have any children of their own so they considered me
a part of their family. Yes, I had to work hard, but I liked working
and soon gained their appreciation and respect. The master was very
thrifty. Only at card playing time with his buddies did he show a
spendthrift nature. In the evening of the day when the restaurant was
closed, his three friends would come over for poker playing. Drinks
were very generously served.
Late in the
evening the lady of the house called me down from my attic place and
inquired if I needed any clothes. Now, as part of my training I was to
receive free food and lodging, and the uniform necessary for my
butcher trade. My master insisted I should be always impeccably
dressed when at work, so I had three or four uniforms to change into.
But my personal clothes, that was a different matter. I had none
except those I was wearing when I came to Sisak. And those did not fit
me any more after all that good food I was fortunate to receive. So I
said I needed some pants. She in turn advised me to go then and there
to the card-playing Innkeeper and tell him, that I needed some pants.
Of course, it was understood between the Mistress and myself that I
was to ask for money for the uniform pants but to purchase the street
There I stood in
front of the tipsy four card players and between them in the middle of
the table was a huge stack of 100 dinar bills. I told my boss as
instructed by his wife my need for a new pair of pants whereupon he
took the top 100 dinar bill, gave it to me with the instruction, that
I am to give all the change back to the very last dinar. And so I did.
To the lady of the house, though, as I had been advised by her. After
the next card playing time I acquired a new shirt and gave all the
change back to the very last dinar to the lady of the house. So she
was very happy with me too.
In the weeks to
come I was not only the very best dressed dandy in the city, my
pockets were always full as well with all those three-dinar-fees.”