by Jacob Bentz
translated by Henry Fischer
from the book “Gross Mlinska, Die Geschichte eines hessischen Dorfes in Kroatien”
| Gross (Velika) Mlinska was a comparably small village with approximately 500 inhabitants of whom some 330 were Donauschwaben. It lies 30 kilometers south of Bjelovar and 11 kilometers north of Garesnica, which was the district capital and governmental administrative center for the thirteen attendant villages in the area, with Garesnica being the largest.
Gross Mlinska could be reached by train by disembarking at the station in Palesnik on the line from Bjelovar-Garesnica or travel through the forest and along a shortcut to Gross Pasijan. Coming out of the forest, about three kilometers from the end of the village, was the train station.
Mlinska lay in the midst of rolling countryside, which to the west connected with a wider valley, and to the north flowed the Mlinksa Creek. All along its banks were footpaths whose origins no one could determine. In local parlance it was referred to as the “Growe”. The more flat and smaller valley to the south began by the “Hutweide” just below the Heberling’s yard. The small creek in this valley united with the Mlinska Creek near the center of the village.
According to an old map, there were three water driven mills along the Trnovitica Creek. It is possible, that the result of these mills being there, and the Croatian word for a mill is mlin, that it is the origin of the name of Mlinska. The names of the places on the map were Slavic. After the Germans arrived, some German designations were used for local features and landmarks. The distance from Garesnica to Mlinska was a good two hours on foot. From the upper and middle section of the village the shortest route to Garesnica was through Klein Pasijan, from the lower village it was through Gross Pasijan. On the way to these villages there was a coble-stone road, which led to Bjelovar from Garesnica and over Berek.
Before the building of the railway from Bjelovar-Garesnica shortly before the First World War, the closest train station was in Bjelovar or Banova Jaruga. The pastor from Agram (Zagreb), who served the Diaspora congregation in Mlinska, had to be driven by horse and wagon from the Banova Jaruga’s train station.
From one end of the village to the other, Mlinska was approximately two kilometers long.
The neighboring villages were: In the south, the two Pasijan, in the east Klein Mlinska and Trnovitica, to the northwest Kostanjevac. (Maps follow)
Mlinska Amidst Many Nationalities
Following the defeat of the Hungarians at the battle of Mohacs in 1526, many of the Croatian population fled from the Turks and sought refuge in the provinces that were defended by the Austrian Emperor. For example, the noble who owned the Krestelovac estates, Franz Batthiany took his subjects with him and settled them on his estates in Gussing, Schlaining and Rechnitz in the Burgenland. That was the origin of the Croatian villages in the Burgenland.
From Bosnia and Serbia, many Serbs fled from the Turks and settled in the abandoned Croatian villages, or they hid themselves in the deep valleys of Garic. At that time, the first Serbs arrived in our old homeland. When the Turks were later driven out, our homeland continued to be a border area alongside of Bosnia, where the Turks continued to rule well into the second half of the 19th century. Because it was a frontier situation it was sparsely inhabited.
Once the Turkish threat was muted, this rolling countryside, densely forested with a friendly climate became an enticing region that attracted people from the various provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The polyglot many nation state of Austro-Hungary was to be in a miniature form in this new territory.
In and around Daruvar, Pakrac, Bjelovar and Hercegovac many Czechs from Bohemia and Moravia settled. Daruvar in fact became the headquarters of the Czech organizations in Yugoslavia. As a fellow Slavic nationality after WWII they were welcomed by the Yugoslavian state and were granted privileges and rights of citizenship. And as a result the Czechoslavkian Republic also supported them. In every area where they settled they always had their “Czech Home”, their schools and publications. Their schools were better than the other state and public schools.
After the First World War, the local Czechs agitated for the founding of their own autonomous Czechoslovakian governing body.
From among the various Slavic people in the region, the Czechs were the most industrious and competent. They busied themselves with agricultural pursuits, trade and business occupations. Many of them were well off.
The vast majority of the Czech settlers who first came spoke German. Many of them were of German origin and thought that since all of them came from Bohemia and Moravia, and that after the First World War their homeland was now Czechoslovakia, they now had to be Czechs themselves. During the WWII time of the Independent State of Croatia, and Czechoslovakia was a protectorate of the Third Reich, many of these Czechs then wanted to be Germans again so that their sons would not have to enlist in the Croatian Army, the Domobrani.
After the Second World War, many of the Czechs returned to Czechoslovakia and hoped that they would be able to occupy the former properties of the Sudenten Germans who had been expelled. Instead they found themselves left out in the cold.
Slovaks lived in Antunovac, who had come earlier from Slovakia. Along with the Lutheran (Henry’s Note. I will refer to the Evangelicals as Lutherans for consistency’s sake for the rest of the translation) Germans and Hungarians they established a congregation. Their hymnal was printed in Gothic script. The Lutheran pastor held services in three languages every Sunday: German, Slovak and Hungarian.
Around and in Pakrac there were large numbers of Italians. Plostine, next to Kapetanovo Polje was an entirely Italian community. They had migrated here from the region of Belluno.
There were also Hungarians in every community. In Mlinska there were two Hungarian families. They were more industrious than the Slavs, and much more conscious of their nationality than the Germans. In numerous communities they established Hungarian private schools, the so called: Julian Schools, which were heavily supported and subsidized by the Hungarian government, to encourage them to maintain their Hungarian identity. These schools were much better than the Croatian and for that reason there were numerous German children who were enrolled in them. Following the First World War the new government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia abolished these schools.
In the district towns, Pakrac, Daruvar, Grubiano Polje, Garesnica, Bjelovar and in the larger market towns, and also in smaller villages, for example, Kostanjevac and Trnovitica, there were Jewish inhabitants who were merchants and tradesmen. All of them spoke German and associated themselves with German culture.
Near the end of the First World War, in Garesnica, several Jewish businesses were raided and set on fire. The offenders were deserters, who had abandoned the Imperial Army. They hid in the forests and called themselves “Zeleni kader”: green cadre, and lived by plundering and waited for war’s end living in the forest. The Green Cadre was a nationalist movement consisting of Croatian and Serbian deserters, who sought to break free from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and join with the Serbs in a new united state of their own. They targeted wealthy families and prominent Jews. An eyewitness reports: “On the raid in Garesnica, there were over 200 men. Out of the cellars of the merchants they stole the petroleum saved for use after the war, poured it on the houses and set them on fire”. Because of that, many Jews left Garesnica.
In time there were also Gypsies in some of the communities. This was especially noticeable on the streets of both Pasijans. They refused to give up begging even if it only provided them with chicken or pig feed.
From among all of the nationalities that settled in the area, the number of Czechs only surpassed the Germans. Without counting the German population the city of Bjelovar, numbered some 12,000 persons.
There were three groups of Germans that can be identified and separated from one another, who settled in the region.
1) In the garrison towns of the Military Frontier District there were German officers and their families.
2) In this period, especially after the driving out of the Turks, many German skilled trades, merchants, traders, artisans and others entered the area and strengthened the existing German urban populations in the towns. Many of these towns also bore
German names. As a result Zagreb was Agram, Varazdin was Warasdin, Krizevci became known as Kreuz, Koprivnica was Kopreinitz, Karlovac was built in 1581 as Fortress Karlstadt.
3) The peasant farmers or village German population only arrived later, in the second half of the 19th century, both as individuals and in groups. In most cases it was a case of individual families, who were later followed by others.
East of the River Ilowa, in Slavonia, the Turks governed along their own lines, in which the Turks had oversight and control of all of the estates of the former nobles and used them for their own purposes during their 150 years of occupation. Following the liberation, these Turkish nobles fled and the land fell into the hands of the Austrian Emperor. He gave the lands to his subordinates or sold them to nobles subject to him, who had merited his favor for their support against the Turks.
The domains of Daruvar, Sirad and Pakrac became the possessions of Count Anton Jankovits in 1750-1760. When the last of the Jankovits family, Julie Jankovits, 1820-1904, took over the estate, it was heavily mortgaged and indebted. In order to pay off the debt, he sought to take advantage of the natural resources of his lands, the timber that grew in the forests along the Ilowa River, through lumbering and divide up the land into parcels to sell to would be settlers. This was the brainchild of the steward of the estates in Pakrac, the director Stein. He knew that new settlers would make better use of the land and would be willing to pay a higher price than the locals, and invited Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians and Hungarians to come and settle.
At the time, in 1866 in the community of Hrastovac (Eichendorf) there were 132 settler lots along with a church and school in the planning stages. Each settler parcel or lot consisted of 9 ¾ joch. Of that, one joch for the house lot was included in that amount. Six joch were agricultural land, ¾ joch was the Hutweide, and 2 joch of forest. Each such settler lot cost 390 Gulden at that time.
The settlers in Eichendorf were Lutherans who had come from Swabian Turkey, the counties of Tolna, Somogy and Baranya and were the vanguard for those who came later into the area and settled in Bastei, Miletinac, Kapetanovo Polje, Mlinska, Brslanica and Selist, who would follow in the next two decades.
The Protestant communities were from the very beginning determined to maintain their German language and established their schools early in the time of their settlement. In 1886 Eichendorf became a Lutheran parish, Antunovac in 1887. Klein Brslajanica, Mlinska, Kapatanovo Polje and Bastaji (Bastei) were school and preaching stations.
According to the state Yearbook from 1905 to 1906, there were four German public schools to serve the 8,000 Germans in this region. They were in Mlinska, Eichendorf, Antunovac and Kapetanovo. All of them were Lutheran communities.
German Roman Catholics also lived in this region, in the following villages: Palesnik, Disnik, Popovac, Ladislav, Grdjevac, Psianica, Gornja, Kovacics, Grubisno Polje, Ivanovo Selo, Blagorodovac, Sokolovac, Uljanik, Antunovac, Toranj, Dobrovac, Lippik, Filipovac, Pakrac, Prekopakra, Badljevina, Sirac, Miljanovac and Daruvar. There was not a single German school in any of these villages.
The census for the year 1931 for the region of Ilowa-Senke with the southern portion of the District Bjelovar shows the following statistics on population:
District Daruvar 35,935 (Another report lists 28,831)
District Pakrac 40,051
District Garesnica 30,971
District Grubisno P. 24,179
Portion of Bjelovar 3,877
On the basis of nationality, the statistics tell the following story:
Czechs and Slovaks 17,248
Compared to earlier censuses the German population had declined by 1931. It had nothing to do with the birthrate among them, but had much more to do with the fact that the Germans in the Roman Catholic villages by and large had become Croatian zed. Their children went to the Croatian school and the adults went with the Croatians in the same church. There the prayers and sermons were in Croatian.
The Croatian priest had no interest in holding German services; much less did he support the idea of a German school. In many cases, these Germans in both the villages and towns were champions and supporters of the Croatian Party, which opposed the control, which the Serbs exercised in the government of Yugoslavia. The representative of the Croatian Peoples’ Party, Kreutzer lived in Sirac. When he later identified himself as German, either the Ustasi or the Partisans murdered him.
The overwhelming majority of the urban dwellers spoke German at the turn of the century, even though they were highly influenced by the “Illyrian” movement. This Croatian renewal movement was strongly opposed to the survival of the German language and culture. In the Croatian press the use of the German language was strongly ridiculed and the use of German signage in the stores was the cause for boycotts. The German townspeople bowed to the pressure of the renewal movement and its slogan directed to them, “You people are eating Croatian bread”, and as a result assimilated with the rest of the population, to the detriment of their own people.
The German population in the border cities along the frontier also became thoroughly Croatian zed as well.
This backward look with regard to the German urban population and the developments, which took place, had a lasting effect on the German Roman Catholics in our region that lived in the neighboring villages.
In none of these villages, until shortly before the Second World War, was there a single German school. There were obviously enough children to require a school and enough families to support one, and some of the villages desired to have one. They had to battle with the Croatian education ministry and they were unsuited for the task because they were backward peasant farmers. No help came from Austria or Germany. They were left to their own devices and forgotten. Who even knew about them back in Germany with whom they had no possibility of contact? Government policies and the goals of the Croatian Roman Catholic church stood in the way of them achieving any sense of national identity and aspirations, as was common among all of the other nationalities.
Their industriousness, perseverance, and love of order, and the advances they made in agricultural pursuits and the development of new forms of houses had made these foreigners the mentors of the other nationalities. Things would not remain the same for long, until in the second or third generation intermarriage with the other nationalities resulted and the movement towards Croatianization was accelerated.
From the viewpoint of maintaining one’s national consciousness, the situation in the Lutheran villages was much different. The immigrants from Swabian Turkey brought along their bibles and their German hymnals. The Church was the place in which preaching was in German and the hymns were sung in that language. The pastors and preachers came from either Germany or were the children of the settlers who were trained and educated in Germany or Austria. Financially the Gustav Adolphus Society supported them. One can say with utter certainty, that the Gusav Adolphus Society did more for the Germans Lutherans living in the Diaspora in Eastern Europe in maintaining their identity than either of the two German States put together.
Following the First World War in the new state of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians, known as Yugoslavia, all confessional schools were confiscated and changed into state schools. Because of the unity of the German Lutherans, supported by their pastors and preachers, they were able to achieve the right to establish a minority school in which the language of instruction was German. Because of the lack of qualified German speaking teachers the level of instruction left a lot to be desired and they used the schools for the purposes of the state and their minorities’ policy. There was only one exception. It was in Mlinska. This village maintained their private German Lutheran school, up to the Second World War. How this was possible, I will explain later.
Among the Lutheran villages there were close ongoing relationships and family connections back in Hungary and with each other. In spite of the fact that they were often distant from one another. Mlinska was 35 kilometers from Bastaji and Kapitan, and from Eichendorf it was 15 kilometers, and Brsljanica was 12 kilometers distant. And yet their connections and relationships deepened and flourished.
Their relationships with the German Roman Catholics were different even though they lived in close proximity to one another. They met one another at the markets, knew one another by their costumes, spoke to one another freely whether they knew one another or not. They often got involved in discussions about politics, economics and prices. They often sought out skilled tradesmen from other villages or went there to make purchases. Some had developed a sense of comradely during their army enlistment and maintained their friendships and often visited back and forth. Mixed marriages between Protestants and Roman Catholics from the neighboring villages were non-existent.
It was only in 1936, with the establishment of the Cultural Union of the Germans in Croatia and Slavonia, led by Branimir Altgayer that the hope was awakened that barriers of religion that separated the Germans could be overcome with a sense of belonging to a common ancestry and nationality. The countless youth gatherings, following the fall of Yugoslavia in 1941, in the Independent State of Croatia brought about a sense of this belonging together as Germans.
After two hundred years of putting down the nationalist aspirations and hopes of the various peoples within the Dual Monarchy, which was done in spite of their continued loyalty and paying more and more taxes to enable the Habsburgs to achieve their goals and ambitions, the time came for the various nationalities to no longer be prepared to simply wait to be given the primary privileges of all other people: the use of their language, their individuality, the development of their unique culture and maintaining their heritage and traditions. It was no longer as it was in the old Austrian Empire when each separate national group had an existence of its own in terms of separate development. Only those of us who were Germans, without a German passport, who lived in this region could feel or understand what it was like for us, and how often we had to bite our tongues to maintain any semblance of acceptance by our neighbours.
Up until now I have described the broader picture in which the people and village of Gross Mlinska was embedded.
Before Mlinska grew with the addition of the arriving German families from Swabian Turkey, it was already a miniature picture of the diversity of the people in the area. Along with Croats, Serbs and Hungarians there were Czechs and three German families residing here. One Lutheran and the other two Roman Catholic. The Lutheran family was the Erdmanns, and one of the Roman Catholic German families was the Kralls, who had become assimilated and changed their name to Kralj.
The Croatians were Roman Catholic and belonged to the parish of Trnovitica; the Serbs were Orthodox belonged to the parish in gross Pasijan. The Serbs and Croats spoke the same language. The script used by the Croatians was Latin, while the Serbs wrote in the Cyrillian script.
Where Were the Origins of our Ancestors Who Immigrated to Hungary from Germany?
The Mlinska Germans always had the understanding that they were Swabians. And that is how they were referred to by the other nationalities around them, and our Folk Group Organization in Neusatz included that it its name: Schwabisch-Deutscher Kulturband. Swabian German Cultural Society (Union). The title Swabian was an addition. The name, Danube Swabians, was an invention of a later time to describe all of the German settlers and colonists who entered Hungary after the Turks had been driven out of south Eastern Europe. They felt part of that movement of peoples and were well satisfied with the name given to them. Where their ancestors had come from Germany was unknown to them. In more modern times there was a renewed interest about their origins, but they were so busy involved with economic concerns that they had little time for that. And after 1918, there was a border between the places of their origin in Hungary and the daughter settlements they had given birth to in Slavonia and Croatia. The contacts with Hungary, especially on the part of the youth, were almost totally broken.
That the Mlinska families were not Swabians, but had their origins among people from the Rhein and Rhein Franken areas, in present day Hessen, are now undisputable. I will attempt to provide the rationale for that.
1) As a child I loved to listen to my great-grandfather Jakob Reibner as he told stories. His life experiences from earlier days always interested me. His life as a soldier in the city had a great effect upon him. On one occasion his father came to visit him. When the wife of his officer saw him, she called in a friendly manner, “The costume you are wearing is just like home”. She came from the region of Frankfurt-an-Main, and felt fortunate to be among people wearing the familiar costumes of home.
2) In 1946, when I journeyed through Germany in search of a new position, I also drove by Frankfurt. It was night, and the lights in the train were not yet on. In the darkness one of the passengers must have stepped on the foot of another. The injured party began to scold and complain bitterly. It sounded all so Mlinska-ish. I couldn’t see him, but I would have recognized his voice if he had been from Mlinska. That is why I asked him, “Are you from Hrastovac”? “No”, he answered, “From Darmstadt”.
3) After the war, along with my grandmother I visited some of our deported relatives living in the district of Ingolstadt, who had been resettled there from their home in Kapossszekcso, the Remmler family. From here they had begun to research their family origins and had discovered that their ancestors had emigrated to Hungary from Wixhausen by Darmstadt.
I was now convinced that we were not Swabians, but that our ancestors came from various areas of Hessen. But I wanted to know that with some certainty, because it was of great interest to me to find out where the ancestors of the settlers in Mlinska came from.
With this in mind I came into contact with professor Johann Weidlein from Murga, which is in the neighborhood of Kalazno, Kety and Felsonana, who since childhood had been involved in the study of dialects, and in 1980 he had published a work entitled, “Swabian Turkey-Contributions to Its History, Language and Folk Culture”. This work was a foundational piece of evidence for me on the subject of our origins and that is why I want to share it with our people from Mlinska and Pasijan. (The author shares some of the significant words he discovered that determined the areas from which the ancestors came, but it would be too complex to attempt to render that in English. But two key words that originate in Ober Hessen (The northern part of Hessen Darmstadt) are the terms for grandmother and grandfather which are only known there: Fraache and Herrche. Which were in common uses in the Hessian villages of Swabian Turkey and in Slavonia as well, including Mlinska).
My grandfather, Jakob Reiber was one of those in our village whom every one knew and everyone called Herrche. My great grandmother often told my mother and grandmother about her Fraache back in Hungary. That was also true of the grandparents in the Weissling, Kahler and Tissberger families. The Lux great-grandfather who came from Kalazno was always called the Alerfatr, which was also common in Hessen and the Pfalz. (The author then discusses the map that is included on page 53 and indicates the different areas were various dialects are spoken. Again too complex for translation).
Our Reformed Mlinska families, like the Ferbers, who came from Bonnya to settle in Mlinska, are from around Wetzlar, in Ober Hessen. Johann Weidlein writes: “The dialects of the Protestant villages in Somogy County, are very much like those in the Lutheran villages in Tolna County. But Bonnya is an exception, maintaining its Ober Hessen character which they brought with them from their mother colony in Nagyszekely and continued to beautifully maintain into contemporary times”.
But in Mlinska the Reformed families took on the dialect and character of the Lutheran dialect. In addition, Weidlein writes: “One thing is certain, that the Bonnya Reformed families came from Nagyszekely, while the Lutherans came from other nearby villages, especially from Doroschke.
(He continues in this vane with regard to other features of the dialect and examples I cannot translate adequately for various reasons. But he does note that the dominant dialect that emerged in Mlinska was that spoken in Kaposszekcso).
The Daily Wear and Attire of Mlinska Are Also Clues to Our Origins
From all kinds of evidence, it is apparent that the fashion worn in farming agricultural communities change much more slowly than in the towns and cities. The attire and dress of the peasants emerged over several centuries, they were practical, economical and were designed to meet climatic conditions in which they lived. Very often their style of dress also had symbolic significance indicating their family connections or their profession or place in the community. Coming from the north from a cooler climate they had to adjust their style of dress in Hungary, but would maintain much of what had been their dress in the past. Very often although they came from various villages in Germany, they wore the same attire once arriving in Hungary.
Dr. Weidlein writes: “In Swabian Turkey the costume, dress and attire was preserved in a living tradition, but it was different from village to village. It would be false to assume that the attire of the people today would be the same as that of their ancestors when they left Germany. Only a few of the characteristics of our south western German homelands continue to be present in contemporary “tracht””
Characteristic of the style of dress of the Lutheran Hessian women was the high beribboned cap, which is still familiar in the Wetterau region. Young women wore it made of flowered velvet, which crowned their foreheads with long colorful ribbons that hung down their backs. Older women wore black velvet caps. This tradition passed away after the First World War, because the women had been made fun of, when they went to the cities to greet their returning soldier husbands and looked totally out of place”.
They were replaced by netting in the form of a cap, which indicated the person’s married state, presented at the end of the wedding celebration. This was a familiar practice in Mlinska and the other Lutheran villages in the area.
Another folk customs expert writes: “The women by and large wore dark blue dresses, blue or blue blouses, colored linen aprons and a matching kerchief, woolen socks with a linen sole called Batschker or wooden clogs (Schlappen). The women of Hidas in Baranya maintained this style. Most of them wore their hair in a high bun at the top or back of their heads and covered it with the kerchief.
The women were partial to various shades of blue in terms of their clothes and blue was the color of their entire ensemble. The younger women wore other colors as well on special occasions but avoided bright colors.”
Dr. Weidlein also writes: The “old attire” that was worn at the time of the emigration, can no longer be found in Swabian Turkey. But the dress styles of the Lutheran women in the area show a distinct connection with the style of clothing in Ober Hessen. In addition to dress there was the custom of braided hair and a bun, strings of pearls and hats adorned with pearls and a Mutze, a kind of vest that women wore as well as men which also has its origin in the Wetzlar region.
With regard to the dress style of the men, Dr. Weidlein writes: “We know only too well that changes in style and dress among women is more unlikely than among men. It was to be the men who abandoned their distinctive style of dress on arriving in Hungary. Anton Egyed, the pastor in Paks, wrote in 1828 that the Germans of Tolna County wore trousers down to their knees, then long stockings and shoes, unlike their ancestors on coming to Hungary. After the First World War even the oldest among the Germans could no longer remember that style of dress, which was given up in the 1840’s. The reason for the disappearance of the short trousers, long stockings was a result of a decree by the general assembly of the County Administration in 1831 that forbade the wearing of what was called German attire. On May 1, 1832 every German between the ages of four and fifty years was forbidden to wear short trousers and long stockings, anyone was allowed to cut down their long stockings. Teachers and local administrators were called on to forbid the wearing of long stockings by men…
The Hungarians wanted to present a uniform Magyar character to visitors. Following the elimination of German attire, the next objective was the Magyarisation of German names.
In Baranya County the officials were more tolerant, and the Lutherans in the northwestern parts of the County continued to wear their traditional clothes. In terms of Mlinska there is no trace of the attire that would be anything like what their ancestors had worn in coming to Hungary. The vest is about all that survived of their Hessian tradition. From the Hungarians they learned to wear the fur cap, the wooden clogs, the linen soled batschker, to wear in their wood shoes.
In the summer the middle-aged men wore blue linen trousers that were wide and loose for ventilation, an idea that they had borrowed from the Croatian men. The Croats and Serbs however stuck to the color white, both in terms of their shirts and trousers.
The men’s Batschker, as well as those of the older women were without exception either blue or black. Young women, girls and children wore lower Batschker with colorful borders and a bouquet of flowers knitted on the front.