Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rosina T. Schmidt
Most of the settlers to the future settlement of Hrastovac in Slavonia, which was clear-cut of the ancient oak forest in the year of 1864, came from the diverse Danube Swabian Evangelical Lutheran communities in the Swabian Turkey. Swabian Turkey was the popular name for the three counties Baranya, Somogy and Tolna, which were settled by various Germanic tribes more than a century before. Both Swabian Turkey and Slavonia were prior to 1918 part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
Every Donauschwab wanted to be a farmer. Even if he learned a trade, as most of them did, if he lived in the countryside, he had to have his own farm. By the middle of 19th century there were no farms available for purchase in all of Swabian Turkey at any price. And when the word spread in 1865, that south of the Drava River in the county of Slavonia, Baron Tikery of Daruvar was looking for settlers for the future farming village of Hrastovac, most of the plots were soon sold to the eager ethnic Germans relocating from the Swabian Turkey.
Hrastovac was the first Evangelical Lutheran community in Slavonia and belonged to the Diocese of Somogy in Hungary. As it was still a very small community a pastor visited it only once a year. He would baptize all the children born since his last visit, unless they were baptized already by the orthodox priest in Uljanik, would wed the couples, held a service in the school building that doubled as a meeting hall, (Abendmahlgottesdienst) and be on his way again.
By 1880 the first struggles of the colonists were behind them and the community felt that it was time to have its own pastor. A larger school building was built and opposite the school a parsonage. The church service was held in the school building.
The first pastor was Peter Adam, whose home was in the Tolna County. Pastor Adam taught the children and held the prayers in the Hungarian language. 12 years later he returned to Tolna.
Pastor Theophil Bayer from Burgenland, who implemented the Pressburger Gesangbuch (prayer book) came as the next pastor, but stayed only for three years. Pastor Bayer returned back to his hometown of Goens in Burgenland, Austria.
Pastor Bela Seregeli was the next pastor and stayed also for three years. Pastor Seregeli returned back to Burgenland, Austria, and became pastor in Unterschuetzen.
The next two pastors were Croatians Pastor Dobrovoljac and Pastor Plivelic, as can be seen on the list below:
After the division of Austro-Hungary in 1918 the few Lutheran congregations in Slavonia belonged now to the Diocese of Agram (Zagreb) under Bishop Dr. Popp.
The Hrastovacers were planning for quite some time to erect a church building in their town. Then came WWI, which was followed by the Inflation and their savings for a better place of worship were now worthless. Alas, by 1929 the parish was once again ready and eager to go ahead with the building of the church.
The Laying of the Church Foundation Stone
This festive Sunday was rung in by the music of the ‘Koenigsberger Posaunenchor’ at five in the morning. The sermon started at 9.30 h with the whole community assembled on the grounds, as well as guests from far and wide, and accompanied by the Posaunenchor singing heartily:
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise him until I die.
While I still count my hours here on earth
I will sing praises to my God.
Who has given me body and soul.
I will praise Him both early and late.
Blest, yes blest are those
Whose help is the God of Jacob.
He does not allow himself to be separated from his faith
Who hopes with certainty on Jesus Christ
Always has his Lord on his side
And finds the best counsel and support.
Sing praises all you people
To the Everlasting Lord
Who does such marvelous things.
Everything that has breath shout Amen!
And offer praise with joyous tongues
You Children of God love and praise Him
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
(Translated by Henry Fischer)
Senior Andreas v. Tarczay read the Script, followed by more singing, followed by the prayer by Pastor Franz Schoschfarecz.
The assembled sang “Heart and heart together are searching for Gods help…’ after which the Hrastovac Pastor Hellmut May held the Sermon.
More singing followed it, this time by the church choir under the leadership of conductor Mr. Ebersold.
His Honour, Bishop Dr. Philipp Popp, who came all the way from Zagreb, gave the blessings.
In the afternoon at 14h, the whole congregation assembled in front of the old Bethaus (Prayer House) and from there the procession went to the building grounds, singing heartily “Grosser Gott, wir loben Dich!…”
The church inspector Bruno Matern greeted the assembled, after which the prayer was read by Pastor Gerhard May (the brother of the Hrastovac Pastor Hellmut May.)
The Bishop Dr. Philipp Popp held his speech prior to the reading of the Church Building Document by the Church Inspector Bruno Matern.
More singing by all assembled and a prayer by Pastor Erich Ellenberger. Followed with the blessings by Senior von Tarczay.
“Nun danket alle Gott mit Herzen Mund und Haenden…”, was the song, which closed the ceremonies in the afternoon, to be met again at 20h for an evening of festivities.
In the year of our Savior 1929, on 26th of May, the Trinities Sunday, at the reign of S.M. King Alexander I, during the time of Bishop Dr. Philipp Popp’s administration of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese A. B. and Andreas von Tarczay as Senior of the upper Croatian District, the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Hrastovac is laying the foundation stone for their church building during the rain of their Pastor Hellmut May and the Church inspector Bruno Matern, the Church fathers Sebastian Faul and Johann Fleisch, the Architeck and project administrators Andreas Ellenberger, Konrad Gaertner, Heinrich Jung, Heinrich Kaiser, Johann Koehler, Johann Lotz, Adam Maerz, Andreas Mueller, Johann Mueller, Hans Mueller, Heinrich Mueller, Peter Mueller, Johann Reith and Johann Stickl. This stone was taken from the ruins of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Scharfenau next to Cilli, which was destroyed on 21st of January 1600.
The settlers, who arrived here in the year of 1865 from the Swabian Turkey, whose citizen arrived there from Hesse and Wuerttemberg, transferred the marsh and jungle, which they found at arrival through many hardships of epidemics, deprivations and sacrifices and made this town their new home through their incredible hard working efforts. Today, with much trust in God for a better future, they are building for themselves and their neighbours a new Church building, under the supervision of the Architect Ing. Leo Kalda and with the help of the Adolf Club after the loss of the old Prayer House. This building is to be the home of the Gospel, God to honor and for their salvation.
“I will not die, but live and praise the Gods works” – Psalm 118, 17.
It did not take a long while to build the church. Already six months later, on the 17th of November 1929 the parish was proudly celebrating the official opening of their church building.
This time again not only the guests from the neighbouring Lutheran communities were present but many dignitaries too:
Bishop Dr. Philipp Popp;
Senior Andreas von Tarczay;
Senior Jakob Kettenbach from Zemun, Banat;
Superitendet Tehophil Bayer from Oberschuetzen/Austria, a former Hrastovac Pastor;
Church Inspector Bruno Watern;
Chruch Director Wilhelm Ebersold from Zagreb;
Pastor Heinrich Zulauf, former Hrastovac Pastor, now Pastor in Kalazno, Tolna;
Pastor Hermann Lagershausen from Braunschweig;
Preacher Dully from Bastaji;
Pastor Gerhard May from Celje/Slovenia (brother of Hrastovac Pastor Hellmuth May)
Architekt Ing. Leo Kalda;
As well as once again the Koenigsberger Pousanen Choir from Koenigsberg.
The Hrastovac Evangelical Lutheran Church became the Mother Church for the surrounding Lutheran Congregations.
Alas, WWII was soon to follow with all the atrocities directed specifically to the ethnic German communities. The church bells were ringing more often for a funeral, if not as a warning for the approach of the Partisans. By 1944 the life for our Donauschwaben was not safe in that part of the world any more and the citizen were ordered to abandon the village. Most of the villagers left in three different convoys within months of each other, while the church bells kept ringing the sad good-by.
With the expulsion of the congregation not only the church life came to an end, the new inhabitants soon transferred the church building first into a sheep stable and later in to a restaurant.
Former Evangelical Hrastovac Church after 1945 used as a sheep stable.
After Croatia’s Independence in 1992 the former church structure was turned over into a restaurant.
Former Organ is currently in Blagorodovac’s Church. Photo by Anna Bialleck.