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All material © 2002-present,
Rosina T. Schmidt,
unless otherwise noted.
Welimirowatz in Slavonia
Summarized and Translated
By Henry A. Fischer
Menschen zwischen Welten
By Leopold Karl Barwich, 1985
In the fall of 1884 two men from Cservenka in the Batschka, Philip Trautmann and Johann Kaiper made their way to Našice as “spies” and allowed themselves to be shown the settlement site in the forest by Našice. They let the black earth sift through their fingers. Later they refreshed themselves drinking the water at Našice.
They listened once more to the conditions of settlement offered by Count Pejatschwitz who was in search of German settlers. Together they agreed to return in the spring and undertake the beginning of the settlement in the forest. They brought the news and the good impression they had of Slavonia back to their curious families and friends and all of the would-be-settlers in Cservenka, Siwatz and Torschau. With regard to questions about the soil and the water they answered, “The soil is just like here and the water is very good.”
Those committed to going to Slavonia had until the spring to prepare. There were some things to sell and others to pack into their wagons. Plans were made and the hope for a better future grew each new day. Friends and relatives came to say their farewells and offer their best wishes but also added, “You know you can always come back if things don’t work out.”
Early on the morning of April 16,1885 there were loud noises in fourteen houses in Cservenka. While the father fed the horses and put the last of their things on the wagon, the mother wakened the children, helped the smaller ones dress and prepared the last breakfast they would eat in the Batschka.
The neighbours came by, one more time, wished them luck and watched their friends, neighbours or family members leave.
The small column of wagons went over to Miletitsch to Gombas because it was the only place where they could cross the Danube on a ferry. Many of them grew afraid as a passing ship created waves that tossed them about for a few moments. At Erdut they travelled on land again and waited for one another and then drove past Dalj and then through the city of Essegg (Osijek) the capital of Slavonia and then stopped at Deutsch-Retfala. They spent the night here in the front yards of the inhabitants and after a good rest set out across Bisowatz and Koschka and then there were only 50 kilometres to go to Našice.
They arrived in Našice in pouring rain soaked to the skin. They were allowed to park their wagons in the nobleman’s yard close to his castle and were put up in his cellars where a Gasthaus operated. On the morning of April 18, 1885 the settlers signed a settlement agreement in the office of the nobleman and received their Ansiedlers Buch (Settler’s Book) in which the necessary foodstuffs, tools and materials the Count provided were listed for later payment. A steward of the Count led them four kilometres into the forest. They travelled along a new road that led through the forest to Unter Miholjac through a forest with old stumps with beech and two meter thick oak trees and then to a trail to the right. This trail was to be the main street of the settlement but now it was in the middle of virgin forest and thick underbrush. The wagons halted. The children looked at their mothers obviously wanting to ask all kinds of questions and their mothers in turn looked with wonder at their husbands and the stranger who had accompanied them there.
The steward looked at the earnest faces of the men and women and remarked, “Yes, right here, with the gracious permission of his Excellency Count Pejatschwitz a settlement will arise in the forest.”
The men now knew that it would only be through hard work and industriousness and great perseverance and above all by working together and offering mutual support to one another that they would be able to achieve that goal.
The women hoped and trusted in God’s help and His protection and this simple faith was very necessary in the face of the difficulties, worries and problems that awaited the settlers. The children were the first to forget their uncertainties about the future. They jumped from the wagons and ran around after such a long journey. Then the first child with wet feet came running to his mother who then recognized that there was more than just clearing land that lay ahead of them.
At a dry spot in the forest the wagons were unloaded of fodder for the horses, clothing, bedding, dishes, tools and farm implements. At the same time the Count’s steward wanted some of the men to come with him to the sawmill to get boards and materials for the construction of the first wooden huts and also pick up some food and hay from the Count that had been promised to them.
Meanwhile the women and smaller children prepared the first dinner dragging the larger fallen tree branches for a fire to do the cooking. They had brought food to last the first weeks but were happy to hear that such preparations had also been made for them. For that purpose the Count had a store in Našice: Goldfinger’s.
Three or four families formed a cooking and living commune. One of the kettles brought with them was hung over the fire. Their water barrels had been filled in Našice and so the first Einbrennsuppe was prepared and bread broken into it and eaten out in the open.
These fourteen families grew into one big family in these early days. The men were already doing the initial work of clearing and preparing emergency quarters. They were skilled workmen and the women and children were soon housed. The men stretched out under the wagons because they didn’t want to take their eyes off of their horses and wagons. The wagons were set in a square with the horses tied in the centre of the area.
In the first days a well had to be dug and a Backofen (outdoor bake oven) had to be built. Their bread was made from barley flour and was very good and nutritious.
In the following days a roof made out of reeds was added to the huts. The children helped in the roofing and their stay in the forest was proving to provide a lot of fun. With the help of the Count the men were able to secure a milk cow in Našice to meet the needs of the younger children.
They continued to assemble their wagons around the huts at night to form a “fort”. Surveyors in the employ of the Count came to the forest and marked out the first house and yard lots. They were 40 meters wide and 200 meters long. They were staked out with wooden pegs. The children played a game of their own striding off the distances or watched the surveyors as they measured.
A few days later they were warned about the wolves in the neighbourhood that could be a danger to the horses. They heard them at night and set a watch and built up the fires since they certainly had more than enough wood.
At the end of April more settlers came from Alt and Neu Siwatz. The settlers from Torschau came a few days later. The settlement now consisted of 92 families with over 500 persons.
The surveyors could hardly keep up with their job. The forest was filled with activity. The noise of many saws, the chopping sounds of countless axes and chattering women and laughing children out removing the branches from the fallen trees that were later gathered and burned during the night.
The logs were rolled or pulled by horses down the trail and boards, lumber and beams were made out of them at the Count’s sawmill. Firewood for the settlers and longer beams for special purposes were also the result of this activity.
At this point the first settlers from Swabian Turkey arrived from the Baranya, Somogy and Tolna Counties. They were offered the temporary shelters the first settlers had used. Removal of the large tree stumps took the greatest effort of all. The families did not seem to mind that their daily menu lacked variety. The hard work demanded that all of the people worked and they needed good and nutritious food. Bean soup or Einbrennsuppe along with bread and bacon were their daily fare. The first work included clearing their house plots and the building of a settler’s house and then clearing the spot for the house garden and building a fence around it. Then fowl could be kept and the menu could vary in the future.
The hardest work of this time was the service they provided to the Count that was part of the settlement agreement. It consisted both of hand labour and the use of their teams of horses to drain the fields through ditches and canals which greatly weakened the already overworked men. There was swamp fever, plague and malaria to contend with and there was no known protection against any of them.
The repayment of their debts in the Ansiedler Buch along with the bad harvest of 1888 reached a total indebtedness of 80,000 Gulden. The recently arrived missionary pastor Göde was able to negotiate with the Count that the debts would not be charged interest and only 50 Gulden had to be repaid each year.
The children had no school at this time. No one had really thought of it at the time of settlement. But now the children were assembled to learn hymns, prayers, reading and writing. They could not afford a teacher and as a result they were content with a Not Lehrer (emergency teacher) who happened to be one of the settlers as it had in former times among the early settlers in Swabian Turkey more than a century and a half before.
A spot for the cemetery also had to be identified and cleared. But the settlers also sought comfort and strengthening through fellowship. They joined in hymns and prayers in one another’s homes even though the times were difficult and hoped for better times in the future.
A settler agreement was signed on April 15, 1885 and the signatories included: Valentine Werbach, Jakob Fischer, Daniel Fischer, Johann Bruder, George Jusstus, Johann Buchenauer, Conrad Herbst, Franz Koch, Jakob Heil and Jakob Klees.
On September 1,1859 religious freedom was first introduced into Croatia/Slavonia by Emperor Francis Joseph. The Protestants already living there rejoiced over it and the Croatian parliament fought against it. For the Roman Catholic Croats, the Protestants were traitors to the nation and called their pastors “Patent clergy.” The earlier Tolerance Patent of Joseph II in 1781 and later Leopold II in 1791 had no effect in Croatia/Slavonia in terms of the situations in which Protestants were forced to live.
The Patent of Francis Joseph was the impetus for the new wave of colonization. In the past the Protestants could only settle in the former Military Frontier District before it was reunited with Croatia/Slavonia in 1873. There were major German Lutheran settlements in Neu Passua, Neu Banovci, Neudorf and Winkovci.
As early as 1859 Protestants of both the Augsburg and Helvetic Confession formed a single congregation in Agram (Zagreb). The census of the times indicated that there were 35,691 Protestants in Croatia/Slavonia, (25,000 Lutherans and 10,691 Reformed.) But Lutheran settlers also streamed into the country from Slovakia who settled at Markowatz and Jelisawatz, while Germans from Swabian Turkey and the villages in the Batschka moved into Syrmien, Slavonia, Croatia and later Bosnia.
All sought a new home and land along with some assurances for the future to be able to make a decent living for themselves and their families. They were looking for land as much like “home” as possible.
No pastors came with the settlers. They would follow after. This would lead to much confusion and friction.
The mass immigration that the estate owning nobility desired only expanded the conflicts and the divisions already at work in these regions. The Roman Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Protestant Germans formed confessional groups while at the same time the Croats, Serbs, Germans, Magyars, Slovaks and Czechs were “nationality” groups and all of this worked against developing into a state “nationality” in assimilating all of the population into becoming Croatian. Of special concern was the grouping of the Protestants of the Augsburg Confession (Lutherans) and the Helvetic Confession (Reformed) as if they were a homogenous group.
When one refers to the settlement period during the time of constant want and the daily struggle for bread there was no basis for the separation of the Reformed and the Lutherans. It must be remembered, however, that the Hungarian Church authorities opposed such a union and sent Hungarian pastors to serve the ethnic German congregations. One church fellowship in the same village served by one pastor and a single school made sense but the Reformed Church authorities dissolved such fellowships that the early settlers had enjoyed and created tensions in the development of life in the villages.
The Reformed Congregation
A year after the settlement the separation that took place within the congregation took place but no one knows the reason for it but the inference was that it was due to “outside forces”.
In Schider Banovci in 1885 the so-called “Bishop” Szaz who was the Superintendent of the Danube District of the Reformed Church ordered and carried out a separation of the Protestants living together there who had established a joint congregation. He did so against the will of the Reformed members. A travelling circuit rider was appointed by him to serve all of the Reformed people in the area. What was ironic about his action was that the preacher who served this joint congregation named Keller was Reformed and was one of the missionaries trained in Switzerland at St. Chrischona to serve Diaspora congregations. He had been given permission to teach all of the children but in terms of religion he used both Luther’s Small Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism
This imposed division fractured all kinds of relationships in the village for years to come.
At great expense to themselves the Reformed in Welimirowatz undertook a threefold construction programme: a parsonage, a Bethaus (prayer house) and a school room all under one roof. The first confirmation was held out doors, the second, because of bad weather was held in Našice. A bell tower was erected in front of the Bethaus in 1925 and on December 18, 1925 the two bells were dedicated.
Later in 1920 an attempt was made to unite all of the Protestants in Yugoslavia into one church with no “national” distinctions but his failed.
In the following years all of the Reformed congregations formed a Seniorat consisting of four church districts: Banat, Baranya, Batschka and Slavonia.
By 1939 the Reformed congregation had become a Mother Church that counted 407 members and served a filial congregation in Cacinci with 261 members while the pastor also served a far-flung Diaspora in neighbouring villages with an additional 668 members. In total, the parish had over 1,300 members. Hungarian pastors served the congregation during much of its history. Their agenda was the Magyarization of the members but it never proved successful.
The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation
During the first year of Welimirowatz’s settlement, Karl Bläser one of the students at St. Chrischona in Switzerland came as the elected pastor to serve the Protestant families in Esseg who were part of the Diaspora in Slavonia. From them he learned about a settlement deep in the forest around Našice. He visited the settlers in the forest and held a service on the spot that had been set-aside as a future church site. The pastor was soon aware of the life situation of the colonists; their relative poverty and the fact that there were some 500 of them including 70 children of school age. At the beginning of 1886 he brought his concern about the spiritual needs of these settlers to the attention of church officials in Esseg. Following discussions between the leaders of the congregation in Esseg and the colony’s leaders the new settlement then known as Selište by Našice became a filial of the Esseg congregation. Karl Bläser wrote: “The new colony Selište by Našice has bound itself as a filial of the Esseg congregation. And I have managed to get assistance from the mission funds of St. Chrischona to get a trained brother Johann Zmaila a native Croat to be the Levite Lehrer (schoolteacher and worship leader) in Selište at the cost of 1,000 Swiss Francs annually.”
The colony of Selište would provide a home and wood and pay the teacher 100 Gulden at year’s end. The Croatian school authorities recognized the church school as a private school
A year later Karl Bläser reported to the congregational assembly in Esseg on January 9, 1887: “Concerning the filial in Selište, everything is in much better order. The school has been recognized as a private school by the High Imperial National Government and had fifty pupils. I have also spoken to His Excellency the Count and he has promised to come up with a bell for the congregation.”
At first the colonists had formed one Protestant church community. The Reformed Church of Switzerland and the mission society at St, Chrischona sent preachers and teachers into Croatia/Slavonia but did not emphasize the confessional differences.
The colony of Selište planned a special welcome for their first “caretaker” souls, Johann Zmaila in the Fall of 1885. A banner was placed over the bridge welcoming him. Seven riders on decorated horses went out on the road to meet him. The room they had prepared for their Prediger (preacher) was decorated with flowers. They waited for him and Pastor Bläser from Esseg.
Zmaila later wrote: “In the most beautiful part of Slavonia, some seven hours from Esseg (today an hour by car) lies the newly established colony of Selište. After a four-day stay at Pastor Bläser’s in Esseg, we left on a fall morning for Selište with a team of horses and buggy. Even though we had to contend with several wheel breaks we were still able to drive though the forest. We got stuck in mud eight times and arrived quite a bit later than expected. Fortunately, I carried a hammer, wrench and chisel with me. We arrived at our destination on three wheels. Our joy was great and our welcome was very warm. We were led to my future classroom and we sang a hymn in celebration.
The houses do not yet have glass windows. The emergency school is to be completed in the next few weeks. On Sundays I will have the opportunity of bringing the Good News of Jesus the risen Lord to the congregation on two occasions and also a Bible Study on Wednesday evenings.”
Zmaila had to begin his ministry under difficult circumstances. In this time of great need in which these people lived and laboured it was difficult to be ray of hope and bring comfort at times of tragedy. For some reason the desire of the settlers to maintain their German heritage and language did not sit well with him and a year and a half later he left for Kršedin to serve a state school among his own countrymen and left the mission society. He had been their first and only Croatian Protestant iterant preacher and teacher.
Karl Friedrich Büsse, another member of the mission society was his successor beginning in September 1887. He was welcomed with great joy by the settlers. He began his ministry with great zeal at the week day school, the Sunday School that he established and the church services. With the help of the colonists he was able to erect a suitable school, a Bethaus and a parsonage with the assistance of friends from many regions. Everyone worked on these projects. This led to a bonding of these people who had come from other areas and regions, spoke different dialects and wore different forms of dress. They discovered unity in a common purpose. The 65 children now had a proper school and the congregation an assembly area for worship.
Büsse was the son of a tailor, born March 19, 1858 in Baknitz a small village close to Magdeburg. At the age of five he lost his mother. Like his father he apprenticed himself to become a tailor and was later accepted into the guild and travelled around Prussia and Saxony in perfecting his skills, which was the norm in Germany at that time. In Basel he was apprenticed to Hidlebrandt and it was there where he later said he heard his first witness to the living Christ. This experience changed the direction of his life. While still in Hildebrandt’s employ he decided to take on missionary work. He reported at St. Chrischona for training and from 1883-1887 he was an eager pupil and he dreamt of going to Africa to witness for Christ. From his savings he supported his father. He graduated along with Zmaila. At the request of the congregation in Selište the mission society was asked to send a shepherd to the “orphaned” congregation. Shortly after he arrived in Selište in November 1889 he brought his young bride to join him in his ministry. They had five children but the two youngest died in infancy.
He won the hearts of his people and was affectionately known as the Prediger Vetter. (Uncle preacher is as close to an English translation that I can come up with.)
The congregation was known for both its piety and faithfulness. Two sons of the congregation became pastors: Peter Reiss and Johann Weber. The bells in tower of the church bore the inscriptions: “Glory to God in the Highest” and “Peace on earth.” Both of these bells were ringing on October 28, 1944 as the total population of the village left in the evacuation. This marked the end of the life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Welimirowatz with its 460 members along with 269 members in the filial close by in Cacinci that joined an evacuation trek of its own shortly after.
Origins of the Settlers in Welimirowatz
From the Church Records of both the Lutheran and Reformed congregation we can learn about the origins of the various families.
From the Batschka:
Feketisch: Balk and Krumm
Alt und Neu Siwatz: Bär, Barwich, Becker, Benz, Brauchler, Drumm, Glas, Hebel, Hobrath, Huber, Klees, Knittel, Kolb, Köhler, Körper, Lamb, Lottje, Mayer, Neumann, Pister, Reitz, Schenkenberger, Schira, Schlarb, Schmidt, Stock, Schuck, Toth, Wendel, Werner, Weissmann, Winterstein, Zeich.
Torschau: Benz, Heil, Herz, Johler, Kreuscher, Medel, Pister, Riegel, Schell, Schick, Schumacher, Weber.
Cservenka: Braun, Büchler, Hassmann, Hoffmann, Huber, Klees, Koch, Loos, Nothdurft, Oster, Reitenbach, Schmidt, Schramm, Zepp.
From Swabian Turkey:
Bikal (Baranya): Heineck.
Bonnya (Somogy): Dechert, Müller, Reinhardt.
Csikótstóttos (Baranya): Gehring.
Döröschke (Somogy): Justus
Ecsény (Somogy): Dechert, Eichel, Gehring, Krebs, März, Schmidt.
Egyhazaskozar (Baranya): Heineck, Reith, Tenz.
Ivanbattyan (Baranya): Faulstich.
Ivandarda (Baranya): Müller, Poth.
Györköny (Tolna): Leimbeck
Gyönk (Tolna): Funk, Dechert, Leimbeck.
Keszö Hidegkút (Tolna): Lahm.
Kéty (Tolna): Dermer
Kötsce (Somogy): Felde, Franz, Funk, May, Müller, Reitz, Schmidt.
Lajos Komarom (Veszprem): Giebitz, Gsellmann, Kowatsch, Meidlinger, Reiss, Reitz, Szabo.
Miszla (Tolna): Dermer
Morágy (Tolna): Müller.
Nagyszékely (Tolna): Hildebrand, Reinhardt, Wiandt.
Ofen Pest: Kampfereseck.
Siklos (Baranya): Tschamber.
Magyarboly (Baranya): Poth.