Presented at the
Danube Swabian Conference in Mt. Angel, Oregon, September 2014
by Rosina T. Schmidt
Henry Fischer suggested I should unveil the story how my website www.hrastovac.net became a Virtual Village. So here is the story:
It was the year of 2000 and I just received my first computer, the old computer of my university bound daughter, as she needed a new one. Was she not generous? Hmm, this mom paid for both of them….
So there I sat behind that screen and had no clue where to start. And no one around to teach me new tricks.
Eventually I stumbled on the Internet, even on Roots web and the BANAT-L.
Since I am proficient in the German language, the Croatian and the related Serbian languages, in no time all those who were desperate to have their Old County documents and letters translated, transcribed, explained and interpreted “knocked on my e-mail doors”. And in no time as well I was over my head with those requests.
One thing lead to another and a thought occurred to me that it might be a good idea to have a forum open to all, so that all those genealogical discoveries in general and the Danube Swabian story in particular could be found in one spot. As I said that was back in the year of 2000 when there was not much of Danube Swabian information to be found anywhere.
And so www.hrastovac.net was born that year. Luckily for me, a few computer gurus stood me by like Mike O’Brian, and recently our very own David Preston as of course I had and still don’t have much clue of what I was doing computer wise. I am still sending out those computer-SOS’s.
Map from Hesse to Swabian Turkey to Hrastovac
The path taken by my and most Hrastovacers’ Ancestors
My own research started with my Schmidt grandfather’s village of Hrastovac in Slavonia and so I named the website after that Danube Swabian town because I could not foretell at that time, that Hrastovac was just a tiny story in that Danube Swabian Ocean.
It was a trip of discovery for me also. It was a huge eye-opener when I belatedly discovered that all the original Hrastovac population had to flee in 1944 and was prevented to ever return. So where did they go to??? What happened to them? And how come my parents never told me about it?
Now I am guessing, “that they didn’t want to pass those injurious years onto their children. They needed to fundamentally cleanse their hearts so that their kids didn’t feel the burdens of those transgressions. For them it meant that their heart was their children’s home, their emotional home and if it was clouded with anger at the Tito’s government that captured my father and starved him and beat him and made my mother and myself hide in the forest for weeks at a time, and if we children dwelt on those injurious years and passed them on, that would be the real transgression. 1 ”
So, as I mentioned it was and still is, a path of discovery for me also.
I would like to read you parts of a memoire written in 1984 by a Hrastovacer, called:
OUR UNFORGETTABLE ESCAPE FROM HRASTOVAC
By Johann Märzluft, * in 1911 in Hrastovac, Slavonia
Translated by his daughter Linde Märzluft
Map of Family Maerzluft and a large part of Hrastovacer’s Flight as of 1944
Map created by David Preston
“ As the criticism of our people became more evident in 1944, many did not yet realize the development and signs of future merciless catastrophic events to come, even though, their own lives were at stake.
As difficult as it was, the unexpected command for evacuation of us Danube Swabians in Hrastovac came on August 25, 1944. We had ½ hour to leave behind out homes, as well as our horses, wagons, livestock, poultry and all land rights to property, taking only light hand baggage.
At that time, I was the individual who refused the wishes of the Evacuation Commission in the name of the townspeople with these words to my officer:
“It would be better if you were to shoot us all here and now, rather than to send us all off to starve to death within a few days or weeks.”
Since the Commission was not in a position to feed us, and with the help of the town’s teacher, Mr. Leinberger, we attained the right to spend one more night at home so that our spouses could bake some nourishing coarse rye bread (Bauernbrot). Thus we would be able to pack a few other personal belongings as well.
Meanwhile, we were also given permission to load our wagons. However, before we were able to finish, the Tito’s Partisans started shooting at us and a combination of various German military groups began to fight on our behalf at 1:30 that afternoon. As a result, we realized that we also had lost a few on our side. (August 26, 1944.)
On that same afternoon, we had to set out from our homes with heavy hearts, shaken and frightened, for the last time to the sound of our church bells, into the unknown, with many prayers asking “God be with us and our unforgettable home. – A few families who did not want to accept the inevitable stayed behind.
We left with horse and wagon down the road towards Uljanik. Between Uljanik and Antunovac, only 3 kilometers from Hrastovac, we came under attack by the partisans. With the assistance of the German army, we were fortunate to come out of it unharmed, for which we thank God to this day. After one hour we continued onward through Antunovac all the way to Banova Jaruga, where we arrived at 9:00 p.m. There we found shelter in the barns of Serbian farmers.
We resided there for 3 weeks during which time we again came under enemy fire twice more and were again assisted by the German army.
We all felt at that point that there would be no possibility for us to continue on.
That was a very emotional time.
After a long wait and the urgent strengthening by the Russian Voluntary Cossack Division, we were eventually allowed to load our belongings (livestock and carriages included) unto the rail cargo wagons. We were finally on our way out of Banova Jaruga and headed in the direction of Belgrade to Beschka, Syrmien. There we spent the night in the train station under the starry sky.
The next day we reloaded our horse carts and rode into the nearest town, Grtschedin, where we were put up with the townspeople. Two days later our men were armed and detailed as night patrol against the partisans. During the following two weeks we were exposed to only half hour of open fire.
At the onset of the third week we were given the order from the German “Volksgruppe” in Croatia, to reload our wagons and move on in yet another direction. (September 24, 1944.) From that time on we were on our own as far as protection was concerned. We entered Bescka that evening and spent the night there. There we were forced to leave all our livestock behind with the exception of the horses.
The next day we once again headed in the direction of Indjia toward Savski and Maruf, where we spent the night. In that same night the Titoists shot upon us: however, we were able to fight our way out with only two fatalities reported on the opposing side. We then went on to spend a night in Ruma, (October 6, 1944), a cold and blustery Sunday. On Monday we headed over to Vukovar where we stayed another night with Danube Swabian families.
From Ruma we moved on toward Bogdanovci and Voganj, where we stayed overnight. The next day we continued on to Sarwasch where we also spent a night, and the men were at that time allowed turning in their weapons, as the German army once again protected us on our way next day to Esseg/Osijek.
When leaving Esseg/Osijek we proceeded over the bridge over the Drau River towards Hungary via Darda and Villany, where our horses were freshly shoed and from there towards Fuenkfirchen (Pecs).
All those with their own horses and wagons proceeded on from Fuenfkirchen/Pecs. At that point we were separated from our sister-in-law, Eva Zarth, who had her son Hans and her daughter Anna with her. They had traveled in the direction of Lake Balaton towards Austria, over Vienna, Linz into Grossendorf in Austria. There they settled with local families.
Those of us who did not have our own transportation, our belongings were loaded onto an open cargo rail car, while we organized a transport and from there over Sopron into Austria, via Linz and Lambach to Braunau am Inn. After spending again the night at the train station, we were directed to a refugee camp in Ostermiething.
Two weeks later we discovered that our Grandmother Zarth and Grandmother Wagner with our sister-in-law’s other two children (Albert and Eva) were in Scheurfeld by Coburg (in the Bayreuth area, Germany).
Meanwhile the town group leader of Grtschedin, Serbia, who was also with us, was constantly threatening me that I would not be permitted to leave Ostermiethig because I was required to enlist. Fortunately, after two calls to the “Volksdeutschegruppe” in Linz, Austria my family and I were permitted to leave. We were also allowed to take Mother Zarth, sister-in-law Katharina, our niece Elizabeth Kemler and a few others of our town to Scheuerfeld in Germany.
During our move, we stayed over in Nurnberg where we found out that our sister-in-law Zarth and children had now moved on to Austria…………. After arriving in Coburg, Germany, I contacted the mayor of Scheurfeld and explained WHAT we had all been through and begged him to take us in. After much persuasion, he finally agreed to send for our belongings and provided us with housing.
A few days later, I had some business to attend to in Coburg and on my way back I met up with my two Nazi sympathizer “friends” who had previously threatened me in Hungary, that when we came to the Reich, I would have to enlist. During our conversation I lost my temper and struck the Town Group Leader, who was with them, in the face. He landed on his rear and naturally reported me to the Hungarian police as a result. Since his Hungarian language skills were much better than mine, I had a hard time defending myself.
When the police met up with me in Coburg, they nicely asked “where are you going to, Mr. Marzluft?” and after I responded, they answered that they were on their way there now. I sensed in their tone of voice that I was probably in danger of possible being separated from my family and the only thought that entered my mind was:
“Where will we flee to now?”
In desperation, I paid a visit to our town group leader Mr. Faust, and to my good fortune, he advised that many others from our town were in Lower Silesia in Gramschutz, in the area of Nanslau 2 . I thought it over and decided to head out in that direction also, in order to avoid my newfound enemies.
There I was able to find work in my trade as a wagon master and I was able to find an apartment for my family, as well as my wife’s mother, sister and niece. As I returned to get them, we loaded the rail wagon in Coburg and went via Lichtenfels to Hof.
There we had to stop for an hour in an air-raid shelter during an air raid. From Hof, we moved on in the direction of Dresden where we had to change trains. From Dresden the train went via Kirschberg, Breslau to Gramschuetz, Silesia (now Poland).
After one month there, the Russians moved forward over Ratibor and Kattowitz through Upper Silesia to the point where they were only five kilometers from Gramschuetz.
Now we had no choice but to continue on as refugees once again. We traveled during the month of January (three weeks under the open sky in snow and ice) with Gramschuetz’ townspeople on horses and wagons over the Riesengebirge, named Gigantic Mountains with good reason, to Grusau, and from there us Hrastovacers set out on our own
Then, as a spokesperson, I talked with the train station manager and convinced him to provide us with a rail car before the Russians were able to overcome us. As a result, we were also able to provide safe passage for our old people as well as the children and our few belongings also. Now we travelled back in the direction of Grossendorf in Austria.
I was able to keep my family together and we set out towards Glatz in Czechoslovakia to the border train station of Ludenburg where we once again spent the night in the train station.
In Ludenburg we had to leave behind our neighbor, Katharina Jung, nee Kah, who died during the night. We also buried her there. From Ludenburg our flight lead towards Austria. In the Viennese train station of Florendsorf we were once again overtaken by an air raid and spent the next 3 hours in the train station’s air-raid shelter.
Shortly after our departure during the next bombing attack, over 300 people perished in that very same air-raid shelter.
After our arrival in Linz, Austria, we heard that Sankt Poelten, the city we had to travel to next, had also been just bombed, whereby an entire transport of Croatian soldiers lost their lives.
From Linz we moved back to Grossendorf. There we found refuge in unthinkable miserable quarters. After some time we finally were able to settle in Besendorf in the area of Ried in the county of Traunkreis.
When we once again met up with our sister-in-law Eva Zarth, she still had no knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts (Hans, my wife’s brother). He was still in the German army and missing in action.
A week later I also had to enlist along with many others of our group and within a week we were called to duty in the German army. The family stayed in Besendorf until the end of WWII in 1945.
Right after the end of that war, in the summer of 1945 we were ordered by the American army occupation force to load up onto the rail cars in Kremsmuenster. Prior to our departure we were advised that we would be heading “home”. We were taken in the direction of Salzburg, from there over Carinthia towards Yugoslavia. We were then brought to a huge tunnel at Pongau, the last stop prior to Yugoslavia’s border. The occupation force there was the English army and they would not allow us any further, because we were ethnic Germans and not of Serbian or Croatian heritage. The next day they turned us around and headed us back to where we came from.
Upon our return we were fortunate to reestablish in our old jobs. I worked in Besendorf as a wagon craftsman in a widow’s business, which I was asked to manage.
No one wanted to accept either responsibility for the hardships we had endured nor did anyone want to come to our rescue. Often during these unsure times we thought we would starve to death, and no one seemed to care about what our poor, harmless, helpless children had to go through. We were simply uprooted and homeless with no citizenship; alone in this world and treated as people with no rights through no fault of our own.
On 26 Aug. 1946 – exactly 2 years later after our expulsion – the American law enforcers, who took Charge in Germany after the war, moved many others and us from Austria to West Germany. …. We moved from Kirchdorf, Austria by rail via Salzburg, Muenchen, and Frankfurt to Biedenkopf in Hesse. There we were split up into various towns.
In 1949, my wife’s brother Hans Zarth was released from a Russian prison camp, and since we had already registered for migration to USA prior to his return, the Zarths were able to go on to America in 1952. My family followed in 1955. 3
Here in America with our well-known Danube Swabian working proficiency, we established with God’s help a new and better life for our children and us.
However, the hardships and our devastating misfortune in Europe will be constantly in our thoughts.”
The family Maerzluft eventually settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And here they are celebrating Thanksgiving in 2007.
2007, Maerzluft-Zart Family Thanksgiving
This was one family with a happy ending, but many families lost their loved ones during WWII, or in Tito’s starvation camps, or in Stalin’s Slave labour camps or on the flight to unknown destination. Others lingered in Austrian refugee camps and desperately searched to find a Good Samaritan to sponsor them to other places, like the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, etc.
So after HRASTOVAC.NET was online to my astonishment so many ex-Hrastovacers or their descendants contacted me and in no time a virtual community was born.
2000 – 1st Hrastovacers Treffen, Windsor, Ontario
2002 – 3rd Hrastovacers Treffen in Ellicottville, NY
Last year we heard how the Brazilian government sponsored 500 Danube Swabian refugees to establish a farming community of Entre Rios.
We also all know that the citizen of Chicago sponsored quite a large number of Danube Swabians to their shores. Our Elizabeth Walter’s family was one of them. Then there were the families FISCHER and KAUFMANN, of Ontario, who arrived in Canada already prior to WWII who sponsored many, many former friends or family members or friends of friends.
I remember Tony Kaufman telling me how his parents from their home in Windsor, Ontario, dispatched him, to head to Toronto’s train station or even to Montreal’s harbor to pick up this or that refugee family, whom his parents sponsored. Tony was all of 16 at that time and he spoke only English and they could converse brilliantly in German, Croatian and even Hungarian but not in Tony’s tongue.
Mr. and Mrs. Fischer, parents of our Henry Fischer, had equally generous hearts. The list of the families they sponsored directly or indirectly to find a new home in Canada you can read here: Family Fischer Underground Railway.
But even today many families are still searching for some missing loved ones, and many of them were found right through the pages of HRASTOVAC.NET.
As the Hrastovace.net “Virtual Community” became larger and larger, I would send those SOS’s for missing family members to all the continents, and many, many leads were found.
I would like to share Anna Trautmann’s story with you:
1960 Hrastovac Reunion in Berlin – the little girl is Anna Trautmann
Anna was very close to her Trautmann grandmother and when her Oma was at the death’s door, Anna promised that she would continue to look for grandmother’s lost brother and his family. They were searching for over 60 years through the Red Cross and no traces of any of them was found. Well, a few years ago we were able to find the lost brother’s family. ………..in Brazil!
Trautmann Reunion in Brazil in 2009
Anna Trautmann-Bialleck is third on the left
As the Hrastovacers community grew, we decided to build a memorial to in Hrastovac to our Ancestors who established this Danube Swabian town in 1865, to collect all those still existing gravestones that the current villagers were throwing out, to collect them and make a monument with it. It was completed in 2009, and by 2012 we had even built the shelter over it.
The money came from all the continents, as we now have larger and smaller “Hrastovacers” communities in all Four Wind corners. In Germany, in Austria, in Brazil, in Australia, in Milwaukee, Winsconsin, in Ontario and even on the Canadian West Coast of Vancouver Island. And we keep in contact via HRASTOVAC.NET.
When in 2009 I visited Germany quite a few of those German “newly found Hrastovacers” or their descendants gathered for a reunion. Even Germany’s Heritage Minister was invited. We even ended up in the newspaper!
But what is there for you on that website if your roots are in different Danube Swabian areas? The Historical Information pages are full of documentation relating to that.
If we open the Historical Pages Index there is much to choose from. The articles and documents are more or less in chronological order and tell our, Danube Swabian story. From how and why our ancestors bravely headed the Emperor’s call to resettle by the Turks devastated land, their hardships and successes and of course so many, many stories of our Leidensweg, our expulsion and flight into unknown.
You will find some dynamite documents, some of them translated by our translation guru Henry Fischer. All of them speaking about our own Danube Swabian history.
The page on Records & References helps you to find where to look for that DS information you need. Websites with archive addresses, different Danube Swabian organizations, URL’s to Hungarian Civil Records, to Hungarian Roman Catholic Tax lists, to Searching for particular family names density in Germany’s Telephone book, to Hungarian Counties Index with its localities, to Dave Dreyer’s and Henry Fischer’s websites, etc., etc. All there under your fingertips.
More interesting pages are to be found under the Personal Recollections. If you would like to learn about the life in the Old Country, that is where you will find some first hand heart-warming memoires.
Hrastovac was the first and only fully Danube Swabian town in Slavonia and as the population grew the young people bought homesteads in the neighbouring towns where the locals were more than delighted to sell and get a high price from those Swabs. So all of those neighbouring villages consisted of mixed population: Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Danube Swabians.
Via the Family Registry page you will find that many of those names were traced as far back as the church books go. One of my own family names GÖBEL, was researched by my “German cousin 10 times removed” and here is the Goebel Ancestry Tree he developed:
GÖBEL TREE Created by Hans-Hermann Göbel
There are pages on Slavonia, Swabian Turkey, Bosnia, Photo pages, Book Resources, and much, much more.
The OFB Hrastovac-Eichendorf Families 1865-1944 is here to be found as well.
Lastly, may I share with you a typical e-mail from one of our ‘virtual-community’ member I received last October:
Dr. Kurt Ellenberger, Professor of Austrian-American Studies
Greetings from Graz! We went to Hrastovac on Monday and it was very moving to see it in person for the first time. I was shocked at the old structures that people were still “living” in and that were in such a terrible state of disrepair. Apparently, it’s easy to confiscate property if you have a machine gun, but it’s not so easy to maintain those properties that you stole. The graveyard was strange too–no German graves there at all, they must have been removed at some point? All Croatian names, nothing before 1955 or so. I have to say that while I was saddened to think of what happened to my family, I was also angered to see people living in THEIR property and also treating it so poorly. I guess we are all much better off living in Canada, but to think of all of those people getting on a wagon and abandoning their homesteads at the point of a gun and then marching through war-torn Europe with nothing but the clothes on their back, and with young children no less…makes me so appreciative of what they went through to bring us out of that nightmare.
I’m sending pictures using a file sending service, so you’ll be getting an email with links to pictures soon…
Those photos are also to be found on hrastovac.net!