by Jacob Bentz
Translated by Henry Fischer
| The first German teacher in Mlinska was Paul Kutschera, who was born 05.12.1857 in Teschen in the Sudentenland, which was then part of Austrian Silesia. He is the father of Dr. Gottfried Kutschera, the medical officer in Marburg where he continues to reside. Paul Kutschera came to Mlinska in 1900 and was the driving force behind raising the money to build the new school. After a few years he ran into difficulties with the parish officials in Agram. He objected to the fact that by converting part of the schoolmaster’s home to accommodate the confirmands, his own family needs had been sacrificed. He left Mlinska and moved to Bezanija by Semlin, where his children were able to access a high school to further their education. During 1914, when the Serbs broke into Syrmien for a few days Kuschera was murdered by them.
Following Paul Kutschera, a man named, Petrovic came to Mlinska. He was formerly a Roman Catholic priest. Because he wanted to marry, and later did so, he converted to Lutheranism and was sent as the teacher and preacher to Mlinska by the parish officials in Agram (Zagreb). He was immediately furnished with a house. My mother, who went to school at the time he taught there, remembered that often during his classes he would say something like, “Today is the Roman Catholic festival of …” These non Protestant allusions to his former Catholicism disturbed the people of Mlinska. It was hardly surprising that he left Mlinska in 1909, indicating that he did so to provide a better future for his children and their education.
Franz Stoll followed him. He was born 29.09.1887 in Bolmann in Baranya County. He remained here until 1920. It included the period of the First World War. He was taken into the military as a reserve officer. During this time, his wife gathered the children from the streets and with the help of volunteers taught them as well as she could. In 1920 he went into government service and became school director in Neudorf. It was for the sake of his children that he took the position there, so that they could attend the Gymnasium (High school) in Vinkovci.
He was a good and well beloved teacher and an attentive shepherd. Eventually he became the German school inspector and lived in Vinkovci. During the flight from Mlinska he attached himself to my family, and because of that I often heard him speaking of his teaching years in Mlinska that were the happiest in his career as a teacher in terms of how he felt about them. From Austria he later immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he died in May of 1951.
Following him as teacher in Mlinska was Philipp Mayer, born 18.08.1893 in Bulkes in the Batschka. His father was a mason and bricklayer and resettled in Bezanija by Semlin along with his family. He graduated in Semlin and was a classmate of our future Lutheran Bishop, Dr. Popp. In the summer of 1920 he came to Mlinska as the teacher and preacher. In 1924 he married Elisabeth Meng the schoolteacher in Antunovac. His wife gave her heart and soul to teaching, had been in love with him for some time and often taught in his place. When he went to Vienna to continue his theological studies in 1926, she took over teaching in the school along with all of her other responsibilities. This was far too much for a young single working mother. She gave up the position in 1927 and moved to Pisanica and taught at the Hungarian Reformed school where she no longer had to fill the role of the organist and choir leader. Later, she went on to teach in Jagodnjak in Baranya until her husband completed his studies.
As a teacher, Mayer was known for his conscientiousness, will power and industriousness. In four short years he completed his theological studies and was called to a pastorate in Vojlovica by Panstchoevo in 1930. Three years later he became ill, suffered from angina, followed by blood poisoning, became lame and died in the fortieth year of his life.
Securing competent and qualified teachers was always a problem for Mlinska. There were few teachers in Yugoslavia, and the few that existed, were offered better positions in the public (state) schools without having to take on a second position to make ends meet if they served in the small isolated settlements. It was fortunate that the Lutheran Church had connections beyond its borders in Yugoslavia and with the assistance of the Czechoslovakian church authorities they were able to locate and place a Lutheran teacher looking for a position in Mlinska. Because he came from another Slavic country, and also had a Slavic sounding name, he was acceptable to the Yugoslavian officials and was allowed to teach. This teacher, named Nowy only remained in Mlinska for the school year 1927/1928. The Croatian teacher in the public school in the neighboring community of Kostanjevac undertook the position, but teaching in the national language.
The next teacher was Albert Riess who served from 1928 to 1940.
He had received his pedagogical training and education in Hungarian and had graduated with a degree but his ability in the Serbo Croatian language was not adequate. His wife was the teacher in the public school, and he served as the organist to support himself. He was able to take on the position of teacher in Mlinska, because he would have the assistance of his wife. She was of Croatian origin and her family name was Bosancic. The school officials hired both of them and placed his wife in the schools in the neighboring villages of Ruskovac and Kostanjevac, to which she drove each day in her own horse and carriage.
The teacher Riess was a talented and artistically inclined individual, who in his first years serving in Mlinska introduced some cultural activities, establishing a choir and theatre group, to which the villagers responded enthusiastically. He also had his weaknesses that some families could not overlook, which led to divisions, so that some of the families sent their children to the Croatian school in the neighboring village. In 1940 after becoming ill, he left Mlinska and moved to Essegg, where he later died.
During the school year of 1940/1941 there was no German teacher in Mlinska. The children had to attend the public school in Pasijan. From the upper end of the village the children had to walk anywhere from three to five kilometers to school each day and then return home.
Even though the Mlinska population had to financially support their own school, they were also obligated to pay taxes for the public school in Pasijan and also bring firewood from quite a distance as their share in meeting expenses, and they could not call upon the local Serbs or Croats to take their load with their oxen teams.
Now the village of Mlinska had to earnestly seek a solution. Where would they find a teacher, who was Lutheran and was prepared to give up a good position in a public school, and lead in worship on Sunday mornings, to baptize children and carry out funerals?
As a result of the fall of Yugoslavia in 1941 to the German and Hungarian invasion, and the founding of the Independent State of Croatia, Mlinska was faced with a new situation. The formerly oppressed Germans who had been held back linguistically and culturally were given a new lease on life, and were now able to develop a new educational system.
The Mlinska population voted for the conversion of their former private Lutheran school into a public (state) German school, in order to secure and maintain their German character. They set down one condition: the teacher had to be a Lutheran and in addition to teaching, he had to perform the role of preacher when necessary.
This would prove to be difficult, due to the lack of the availability of fully trained Lutheran teachers, not to mention the fact that Mlinska was isolated and hardly attractive, when compared with the other options that provided more opportunities for advancement and a greater level of income. Since before the First World War railway lines had been built in the vicinity of Mlinska, on the stretch between Bjelovar-Garesnica with a station at Palesnik some three or four kilometers from Mlinska, it was thought that might be an incentive for a young single teacher to consider residing in the village. That was a rather idealistic idea on the part of the people of Mlinska who had little to offer but also looked for someone to take over the churchly functions in the life of their community as well.
Through some convincing on the part of his school director, Franz Stoll, whose first position as a teacher had been in Mlinska, and after a discussion with a three person delegation from Mlinska who had traveled some three hundred kilometers to be there, among whom there was a Friedrich, the men lay their concerns for their school before the proposed candidate, and convinced Johann Friedrich from Neudorf by Vinkovci to take on the position of teacher in Mlinska along with the churchly functions. That is how Mlinska obtained a German teacher again.
Johann Friedrich was born 03.07.1920 in Neudorf by Vinkovci, where he also went to school. He graduated from the junior college in Vinkovci in 1940 and then took his final examinations at the teacher training college in Neu Werbass in the school year 1940/1941.
He began his position in Mlinska on October 29, 1941 and continued until the end of the school year on June 12, 1942 when he had to join the military.
On the basis the recommendation of the Bishop of Agram, Dr. Popp, he was named to the position of Lutheran religious educator, to keep him out of the army, and received in addition to his position an honorarium. He received his income from the congregation in Mlinska that included the large parsonage, ten joch of land, twelve meters of firewood, and other benefits. Some points in the agreement were not clear, but were developed later.
In this short period of time, the young teacher had come to know the hardworking, earnest and open-minded villagers of Mlinska and respected them. He had no sooner left the village than outside developments that would affect them emerged. Already at the end of the school year there were rumors, that the Partisans had their eye on him, and he was not safe there. The reason for that was simply the fact that he was a German teacher.
Later his designation as a Lutheran religious educator by Bishop Popp would stand him in good stead, when he as a refugee arrived in Austria and was acknowledged as such by the Austrian Lutheran Church. He was assigned to the region of Steyr where he continued to serve until his retirement.
The End of the German School in Mlinska
During the Partisan raid on Mlinska on 10.09.1942 the school was the defensive stronghold of the defenders and the goal of the attack. As soon as it was taken it was set on fire, and the straw mattresses of the soldiers fueled the flames. The fire spread quickly into the living quarters of the teacher and the classrooms. At the height of the fire the ammunition kept in reserve under the school exploded and tore the building apart. That was the end of the German school in Mlinska.
Population Movements Among the Germans in Mlinska
For many of the families who had migrated to Slavonia from the “purely” German villages in Swabian Turkey, faced with an unfamiliar language and living in another culture created some major difficulties. Their ties with their extended families that they had left behind were so strong, that some eventually returned, while others went directly overseas away from the situation in which they found themselves. The first settlers who came to Mlinska could still buy cheap land. With other newcomers joining them the demand for land drove up the prices, sometimes doubling and tripling the original price. Which meant that in future those who followed them from Hungary could only purchase small plots and fields. In order to buy more land, the men went alone to America in order to earn dollars. With that money they would be able to increase their land holdings when they returned to Mlinska.
Up until the First World War there continued to be large numbers of families who returned home to Hungary. After the war, with the formation of a border between Hungary and Croatia, this migration came to an end. Now they sought other ways in which to make economic progress. Some left and moved to Syrmien and the Batschka, while others went to South America. Most of these did not break their connections with Mlinska and wanted to return.
The following families who had lived in Mlinska at one time, for both short and long periods of time, left for Hungary either during or shortly after the First World War and never returned: Lang, Bures, Nedling, Martin (the wife was the sister of the wife of Th. Erdmann whose maiden name was Kah), Bruckner, Oberlander, Groh, Schadt, Loos, Wiesner (their property was bought by Stefan Frey after he came home from America), Nein (the grandparents of Heinrich Nein living at house number 184), Heinrich, Friedrich, Kraft, Bayer, Keiler, Lina, Pfeifer, Braun, Becht, Golz and his wife Eva, maiden name Erdmann, the daughter of Adam Erdmann.
After the First World War the Rein family moved to Syrmien.
Following the depression in the new state of Yugoslavia, the following individuals and families left for South America after 1925: Jakob Kohler (three persons), Philipp Friedrich (six persons of whom five returned to Mlinska with the exception of the daughter Theresia who married there), Heinrich Heinek (four persons), Heinrich Reining along with Maria Ritetz (three persons), Jakob Wink (six persons), Heinrich Turban.
Brazil accepted only complete families or unmarried individuals, but some married men such as Jakob Kah and Johann Rohrer went out as if they were single.
The following immigrated to Uruguay: Heinrich Heberling and his wife Katharina whose maiden name was Kah.
To Argentina went the following: Jakob Schussler (family), Konrad Ferber with his wife whose maiden name was Stooss, the parents of the Konrad Ferber who died in the war. The brothers Andreas and Kaspar Ferber whose wives remained in Mlinska, one was the Hosser-Ferber and Elisabeth the daughter of Philipp Ferber.
Single persons who emigrated: Heinrich Oppenheim, Heinrich Tissberger, Margareta Heberling, Elisabeth Heberling, Elisabeth Stooss, Elisabeth Ferber (she was the daughter of Konrad Ferber and his wife Elisabeth maiden name Lux)
Following the Second World War the following parents joined their children in Brazil and Argentina: Theresia Erdmann, Johann Stooss, Heinrich Oppenheim, Elisabeth Ferber (she was the widow of Konrad Ferber and her maiden name was Lux)
This migration from Mlinska is indicative of the fact that economic possibilities were very limited there at the time.
The Relationships Between the Germans and the Non-Germans in Mlinska
Over a period of some time, the Germans bought land in the already existing village of Mlinska and eventually became the majority of the population. Those who sold their land to the Germans were happy to do so and were just as happy they had come. They would not have been able to sell their land at that price to their own people, who would have thought it was too high. The small groups of Germans in the area found themselves easily swallowed up among the other nationalities around them and their presence did not create an adverse reaction on the part of the others. On the other hand, the officials of the government, the druggists, the lawyers and physicians, all of whom spoke German, were proud of the fact that Germans had chosen to live in their region. This is especially true of the officials in Garesnica who were more objective and pointed out quite early that the new industrious and hardy Germans contributed to the welfare of the region by paying their taxes and brought other economic value to the area.
But there were other voices on the part of individuals who lived in the region or lived in the nearby villages in the vicinity of Garic, especially if they had been drinking or had come to cross-purposes or had difficulties with some Germans. Then one could hear complaints like, “If he eats Croatian bread, then why doesn’t he speak Croatian!” My grandmother would respond to that complaint by saying, “If that were true, we would all be eating cornbread. But we eat white bread!”
At the turn of the century there were many cases of arson perpetrated upon the Germans, and a Czech by the name of Wojta was often blamed for them. He was the agent of an insurance company, and because of the many fires they no longer built houses with straw roofs and no longer needed to buy insurance. As a result the Germans threatened to toss him into the next fire he set. He was unable to restrain himself and said, “The Germans should all be massacred!” There were no further fires.
Up until the outbreak of the First World War life in Mlinska and Pasijan was without any problems. More Germans moved in, and many others moved on to other places.
During the First World War there were Serbs and Croats who were deserters from the Austro-Hungarian Army and hid in the surrounding forests. They called themselves the “Green Kader”. They raided Garesnica. Nothing happened in Mlinska, but the people were afraid nonetheless.
At the time of the war, there was a Russian prisoner of war, who was a Volga German who was placed in Mlinska. He was named Friedrich and he spoke German in the same way that the Mlinska population did. He was a very earnest and conscientious man and was greatly worried and troubled about the safety of his family when news of the outbreak of the revolution in Russia was shared with him.
After the war, when the Croats and Serbs took on the role of liberators, the first signs of their chauvinism became apparent. The women of Mlinska coming home from the market day in nearby Garesnica told everyone how they were threatened and abused if they spoke to one another in German.
Many were worried and upset when they heard the news that some had heard that the Germans were all to be expelled. These concerns were not without foundation. I can still well remember, although I was only five or six years old, I was already sitting up in bed, when the others were still eating their supper, when three powerfully built strangers entered our house and began looking around inside. None of them were from our community or vicinity. Those who sat at the table lost their appetite. The power behind all of this was and all of the other unrest among our people was the Serb Nikola Vujkovic. He was a volunteer in the Serbian Army, when they battled in Greece at Salonika, and he was a member of an impoverished family and wanted to get what he could once the Germans were expelled. When he was re-settled on confiscated property in the Batschka this calmed things down and little more was heard about the expulsion of the Germans. But the idea was not totally given up.
The Serbian Orthodox priest from Gross Pasijan, who in the 1930’s was sent to the USA by the leadership of the Orthodox Church, apparently because of his aggressive and inappropriate behavior, including always carrying a revolver on his person, asked me if my uncle could resettle him. His family lived in Agram, and some of his possessions were to be sent to the train station in Garesnica. While waiting for them to arrive he remarked to some bystanders, “It would be much better if we could resettle you Germans!” I could feel and understand what the issues were and the hardheaded responses we were receiving. But this time it was not some backwoods villager who hoped to gain something by taking over someone else’s property. But I need to state that not all Serbs felt this way or acted in negative ways towards us. The hardworking and ambitious among them were always on good terms with the Germans.
The various nationalities who lived in Mlinska had very little to do with each other. The German youth had their circles, and the others had their own. The men learned the Croatian language more readily when they had to report for enlistment and serve in the Croatian Army. Serb and Croatian day laborers were often employed to do the hoeing and harvesting. If anyone was in need of medical help, the Germans were quick to harness their team of horses and bring the doctor from Garesnica. It was simply the normal thing to do.
The Croatian language, which the children learned in school, was only of short duration. The adults learned the language by working alongside of the other nationalities in the natural course of things. But on the other hand, there were many of the other nationalities that also learned bits of German as a result. (The author gives a number of examples of confusion between the German and Croat language and pronunciation that I cannot really translate as I have no knowledge of Croatian).
But the growing tension between the Serbs and Croats became obvious to the Germans. It first came to a head, with the collapse of Yugoslavia in the face of the German invasion when Croats from Trnovitica arrived and attempted to carry out reprisals against the Serbs. On that occasion the Germans came to the defense of the Serbs, and thereby placed themselves in a precarious position. It was the thunder before the storm.
How this division and animosity between the Serbs and Croats originated can only be understood in terms of the historical background.
So that the younger readers of this history of our village can catch a glimpse of this background and thereby gain a better appreciation of the situation in which their Mlinska ancestors lived, I will give a short discourse on the origins of this problem.
Through the “Illyrian Movement”, and the Pan Slavism perpetrated by Moscow and Prague, and the shortsightedness of the Viennese government, the Croatians believed that the time was right for the union of all of their Slavic brothers, their independence and essential unity.
With the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, as the future of their country was decided, the Croatian national assembly made a huge mistake.
The brave Croatian Army Commanders of the Austrian Imperial forces, de Bojna and Sarkotic who sought to present themselves as the defenders of the Croatian State, were branded as traitors, and they were threatened with criminal proceedings, if they ever returned to Croatia, so that they remained in exile in Austria in poverty and disgrace and died there. The Croatian Regiments, which had remained loyal to the Hapsburg Emperor to the end, were dismissed and sent home. Voluntarily the Croats placed themselves in the hands of the Serbs who established hegemony over the new Yugoslavia.
The Serbs saw themselves as liberators and acted as such and held all military power. The Croatians slowly realized that they were victims of their own illusions once again. The economic depression in the new state of Croatia as an agricultural land was robbed of its natural markets in Austria, Vienna and Triest and brought to birth a new political party, the Croatian Peasant (Farmer) Party.
At the beginning there was support for the Party by the people of Mlinska because they were undergoing the same kind of economic setbacks the Party sought to remedy. With the change in currency, they received one dinar for every four krona; their young men were conscripted into the army and had to serve in malaria-infested Macedonia. Many of them came home suffering from malaria, and brought the disease home with them to spread to others. I suffered from malaria on three consecutive summers.
But later as the deep divide between the Serbs and Croats became more critical, the German population became more and more aware that they were caught between the two forces and sought to find a neutral position. Every candidate for the Belgrade parliament once arriving there followed the course of every man for himself.
With the assassination of Radic the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party in 1928 by a Serb member of parliament within the chambers of government, the division reached its climactic point. The king could only hold the state together by declaring himself Dictator. The Croatians were at the end of their patience. While the king was visiting in Marseille, agents of the Croatian Ustasi (Nazis) shot him, and the hatred between the Serbs and Croatians reached a boiling point.
At the end of March in 1941, under the leadership of General Simovic along with the Serbian general staff of the army, repudiated the pact that the government had signed with the German Reich of Adolph Hitler. The war cry was, “Better war than this pact!” and was taken up by the majority of the Serbian population. The war began on April 6, 1941 and Yugoslavia collapsed like a house of cards in fourteen days. There was a mass defection of Croats in the army who surrendered en masse to the Germans, and the population welcomed them as liberators.
Mlinska and the surrounding villages experienced nothing of this phase of the war at all. They simply went on with their lives and their daily work. In the evenings they listened to the news on simple radio receivers.
The Croatians finally achieved their objective: the Independent State of Croatia, with its territories of Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Dalmatia. But immediately afterwards the Italians with German support occupied the Dalmatian islands and the most prosperous part along the Dalmatian coast, which resulted in complaints to the Germans on the part of the Ustasi government of Croatia, but it met with intransigence on the part of Hitler.
The Croatians now had a very large and strong Serbian minority in their state, equal to the kind of minority that the Croatians had been in the recently dismembered state of Yugoslavia. In their frenzy over their recently gained freedom and lacking any kind of foresight they unleashed massive repressive measures and actions against the Serbian population. The Serbian Orthodox priests were expelled, their churches were torn down, and the population was assembled for mass baptisms and conversion to Roman Catholicism. (Henry’s note: With the consent, encouragement and endorsement of Pope Pius XII the future saint of contemporary Catholicism. What he fails to mention is that one third of the Serbian population was massacred. One third were converted, and one third were driven out of Croatia) There is little or no difference between the Croats and Serbs in terms of language, but only in religion. The Serbs were not prepared to accept this and went and hid in the forests. There they came under the leadership of the Communist Josip Tito who himself was a Croat, who had declared war on the new state of Croatia. The propaganda mills poured out invectives against the Germans, “They want us brother Slavs to exterminate one another!” Now Croats also began to join Tito’s bands in the mountains and forests.
The Germans found themselves in the midst of all of this unrest and would have to bear the burden of suffering. In the German villages there was something that the Partisans could easily acquire with little effort. During the nights they raided and plundered and robbed the villages, and if the Germans resisted, they were shot. Mlinska too had to endure this fate. Even today those who lived through it, still remember the raid.
After the Germans became more and more vulnerable, the Croats joined in and took what they wanted from the hapless villagers. In discussions with Croats I have known well, with regard to their economic poverty as a result of the expulsion and extermination of the Germans, none ever expressed any sympathy for the fact that the German population had been treated so brutally and many had lost their lives. Our Mlinska people soon learned that the Serbs and Croats were equal in their treatment of them.