Bosnia’s DS Losses, part one

Southeastern Europe German History Research Center at the
University of Tübingen, Germany
Organized an International Conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia
on 4th and 5th October 2013

Dr. Vladimir Geiger

Historian at the
Croatian Historical Institute in Zagreb presented his research on

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ethnic German
Human Loses during WWII and Thereafter (Part One) 

What is remarkable with this conference is that now one can publicly speak about the Danube Swabian history in former country of Yugoslavia.

Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt

Ethnic Germans in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the latest ethnic German colonial group in Southeastern Europe. Even though the presence of ethnic Germans in the Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina goes back to the migration time of the
Visigoths the winds of change obliterated their presence except for their “scattered remains of ruins and rubble” that are discovered at different archaeological sites around the mining areas (Sasi) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During Ottoman rule German Trappist monks founded near Banja Luka in 1869 in Delibašino Selo the Monastery Maria Stern / Mary Star. As well a significant group of ethnic Germans settled themselves in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Austro-Hungarian occupation after 1878.

The first Danube Swabian settlements in Bosnia and Herzegovina were Windthorst / Nova Topola founded in 1879 and Maglaj on Vrbas / Rudolfsthal / Adolfsthal as well as Rudolfstal/Bosanski Aleksandrovac, which was founded in 1880 and colonized by the settlers of the Banja Luka’s area as well as about 500 families from the Rhineland, Braunschweig, Hanover and Oldenburg.

At the invitation of the Trappist monks in 1879 Austrian nuns of the order Adorers of the Blood of Christ came to Banja Luka. Despite the initial poverty and simplicity of their life they established the monastery Nazareth / Nazareth, gradually spreading their influence. They quickly established the first communities in the area: in 1885 the Monastery in Rudofstal / Bosanski Aleksandrovac; in 1888 Mittel-Windthorstu/Nova Topola and elsewhere, mostly in larger areas with immigrant German colonists, in which they opened schools, kindergartens, orphanages and boarding schools but also accepted children from other ethnic groups and religion.

Austria-Hungary’s government encouraged foremost trades people to settle in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as farmers and government employees from all of their provinces, Austrians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles, Russians / Ukrainians, Croats, Slovenes, Italians, and especially the Germans from Tyrol and Germany. In the period of 1891 to 1905 colonization was mainly in the valley of the river Bosna. In the beginning about 90 colonies were established at the government initiative, with different nationalities and resettled on the state land, there were also a dozen ethnic German settlements with about 1,800 immigrants from Galicia. After 1885 most of the ethnic German settlers in Bosnia and Herzegovina came on their own initiative from the Banat, Backa and Syrmia provinces of Austria-Hungary.

Later the Austro-Hungarian administration settled ethnic Germans from Galicia, Bukovina and Russia in groups of 5 to 30 families. Large ethnic German colonies in Bosnia and Herzegovina were only in Banja Luka, Bosanska Gradiska, near Prnjavor and Bijeljina. Smaller ethnic German settlements were in the industrial areas of Zepce, Zenica, Zavidovci and in Sarajevo, Mostar and other city centers. Most of the ethnic Germans settled around Banja Luka and Tuzla.

The ethnic Germans of Bosnia and Herzegovina lived in the industrial areas, which were not permanent and in farming towns that were more established. The free farming ethnic German colonies were in Franzfeld, Joseflsfeld /Schoenborn / Petrovopolje/Novo Selo near Bijeljine, as well as Brezovopolje-Novi between Bijeljina and Brcko, the Božinci colony and Turkish Kalendarovci nextto Derventa, German-Opsie?ko Windthorst and Rudolfsthal / Adolfsthal near Banja Luka, and Dobo-Ularice, TROŠELJ near Bosanska Gradiska.

First ethnic German farming colonies were Korace, Kadar-Svilaj and Vrbovac-Svilaj near Derventa, Schutzberg/Glogovac/UKRINSKI Lug and Sibovska near Prnjavor Königsfeld / Dubrava and Karlsdorf / Vrbas near Bosanska Gradiska, Vranovac and Prosara near Bosanska Dubica, Branjevo on the Drina and Dugopolje on the Drina near Zvornik.
Overall, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as of late 19th until the early 20th Century there were about twenty ethnic German village colonies. Industrial ethnic German colonies in Bosnia and Herzegovina were not as numerous.

Most of the ethnic German settlers in Bosnia and Herzegovina were of Lutheran faith; only about 25% belonged to the Roman Catholic religion. As per the census of 1910 there were 22,968 ethnic Germans in Bosnia and Herzegovina (criteria: mother’s tongue) or 1.21% of population. (Table 1). One third of those ethnic Germans in Bosnia and Herzegovina lived in the villages and the rest in the cities.

Only after the Austro-Hungarian monarchy annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 were the conditions favorable to establish in Sarajevo a “Club of ethnic Germans in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. Prior to it the ethnic Germans were gathering in church organizations, singing groups, sport organizations and libraries. WWI interrupted those so late established ethnic cultural organizations and with that the question arouse about feasibility of this ethnic minority in the newly established country.

With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire , ethnic Germans in Southeast Europe and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes found themselves in a new position of national minorities. Even though the peace provisions for emerging countries imposed the obligation to protect the rights of minorities, for the two million ethnic Germans of Southeast Europe, in Hungary, Romania and the Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes, it was small consolation. Ethnic Germans were subjected to government oppression, which also led to the emigration. The biggest drop in the ethnic German / and ethnic Austrian population occurred in the areas that belonged to the Austrian government. Thus, those people whose residence was linked to the Austro-Hungarian government in Bosnia and Herzegovina were first to depart.

In his program the German minority association “Swabian – German Cultural Association” (“Schwäbisch – Deutsches Kulturbund”), which was founded in the 1920s in Novi Sad, did implement activities for the preservation and development of national identity, and the enhancement of economic prosperity for the ethnic Germans in the Kingdom of SHS / Yugoslavia. The Kulturbund’s ideology was modeled on the program of the Sudeten Germans and the ideology of Serbian society “Prosvjeta”, which was implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Austro-Hungarian Empire time.

Attending the inaugural Kulturbund’s meeting in Novi Sad were the representatives of the ethnic Germans from all over the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as well as the representatives of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian ethnic Germans from Banja Luka and Windthorst.

In places with a large number of ethnic Germans the Kulturbund established local organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially since the mid-thirties of the 20th century and established local Kulturbund branches in Königsfeld / Dubrava in 1935, Wind (t) horst in 1935, Vrbovac in 1935, Zavidovi? in 1935, Brcko in 1937, Sibovska in 1937, Polje in 1937, Franz-Ferdinandshöhe/Ularice in 1937, Rudolfstal in 1940, Banja Luka in 1940, Bosanska Gradiska in 1940, Bosanski Samac in 1941, and in Tesli? in 1941.

In the thirties of the 20th century the Kulturbund become more influential at establishing of German schools and in towns and villages organizing German reading rooms (libraries) in all areas of the (now called) the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was previously neglected, as was the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At that time the Yugoslav economic interests established good working relations with the German state, which contributed to the rapid restoration of schooling of the minority group of the ethnic Germans, which prevented or perhaps slowed denationalization Yugoslav ethnic Germans (Danube Swabians).

“The ethnic Germans of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” (“Partei der Deutschen in Königreich SHS”) established their own party in 1922, however it had no significant effect on the ethnic German population, and in the following election it won only fifty thousand votes. The party’s biggest success in the short-term was the entry of eight of its members in the Yugoslav Assembly in 1923  (with the introduction of “January 6th” dictatorship in 1929 the party was subsequently not renewed).

The Kulturbund became the very center of action of the German minority in the Kingdom of SHS / Yugoslavia, and its views were promoted by the newspaper Deutsches Volksblatt. During the existence of the Kingdom of SHS / Yugoslavia the Kulturbund was banned and renewed several times by the Yugoslav government, depending on the policies that were against national ethnic Austrian and ethnic German minorities (later against the German Empire).

The feelings of the majority of ethnic Germans in the Kingdom of SHS / Yugoslavia towards the politics, was in no way any different from any other ethnic group in the state. The leaders of the ethnic German minority in the Kingdom of SHS / Yugoslavia soon realized that the question of nationality became a permanent center of political conflict from day one, and its struggle for minority rights could only be done through bargaining with the main political forces.

The Kulturbund’s slogan “Loyalty to the country, faithfulness to its people” (“staatstreu und Volkstreu”) emphasized that the natural problems of multiethnic groups were not addressed but sharpened through avoidance of the disputes. However, significant and far-reaching changes occurred with the advent of the renewal movement (“Kameradschaft für Erneuerungsbewegung des SDKB”), the radical orientation between the Yugoslav ethnic Germans, who in mid-thirties of the 20th century began to follow their role models from the German Reich.

Founder of the movement renewals was the prominent member of the Kulturbund, Dr. Jakob Awender of Pancevo. The restorative movement was developing rapidly, especially after Branimir Altgayer founded in 1936 in Osijek “Cultural and Benevolent Association of the ethnic Germans” (“Kultur-und der Deutschen Wohlfahrtsvereinigung”).


Continued at Part Two