Die Detschen in Syrmien,
Slavonien, Kroatien und Bosnien
by Dr. Valentin Oberkersch
(Translated with his family’s permission, 2006)
Translated by Henry A. Fischer
(The following is a translation and
summarization of key sections of Dr. Oberkersch’s book that would be of
interest to English speaking Danube Swabians whose families came from Syrmien,
Slavonia, Croatia and Bosnia as well as those with a general interest in the
history and ultimate destiny of the Danube Swabian people in the former
Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Translator’s note.)
Introduction: The Historical
Development of the Region Up Until 1918
Croatia became a vassal of the
Hungarian Crown in 1102. This relationship would continue up to the Turkish
victory over the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The Turks
occupied only a portion of Croatia while the northwestern area around Agram
(Zagreb) belonged to the Habsburg candidate for the throne of Hungary, and
would experience frequent incursions and Turkish raids in the century that
Slavonia and Syrmien endured 150 years
of Turkish occupation. As a result, the local Roman Catholic population fled
from the area to avoid ongoing conflict and raids and the Turks brought in new
settlers as far north as the Sava River, who were Moslems and Orthodox Serbs
who were forced to resettle there. By and large, most of the area was
unpopulated and settlements were clustered around fortresses. With the defeat
of the Turks in their second attempt to take Vienna in 1683 and their retreat
throughout Hungary the Austrian Imperial Army and their allied forces
proceeded to liberate all of the territories that had once been part of
Hungary. So that by 1686 after Buda the capital of Hungary had been taken on
August 12th the battle of Mount Harsany took place, which was about
30 kilometers south east of Pécs. Charles of Lorraine attacked the forces of
the Grand Vizer and defeated them, which would prove to be significant for the
liberation of Slavonia. Shortly afterwards Count Dünewald crossed the Drava
River and his army liberated all of Slavonia with the exception of a few towns
and by October 5, 1687 the city of Esseg, the capital of Slavonia was taken
and the first attacks down the Danube towards Syrmien were undertaken by the
onrushing Imperial forces with the Turks in full flight.
Many towns fell to small contingents
of troops along the Sava River. The major campaign undertaken by the Imperial
troops was under the command of Prince Max Emmanuel of Bavaria, and later
Prince Louis of Baden. They occupied all of Syrmien in 1688. On August 6th
the fortress of Belgrade fell to them. In the following year they invaded
Serbia and Bulgaria and occupied the key fortresses. But then a great portion
of their troops had to withdraw to defend the Rhineland and the Pfalz from a
French invasion. As a result the Grand Vizer, Mustapha retook Serbia and
Belgrade. His invasion of Syrmien against Louis of Baden in 1691 failed and
he was defeated and lost his life at the Battle of Slankamen.
The withdrawal of the Imperial troops
to deal with the French had lasting effects on Slavonia and Syrmien, in that
the Serbian Patriarch from Ipek along with 25,000 Serbian families fled across
the Sava River with the Imperial forces. Emperor Leopold I allowed them to
settle there and granted them privileges. This resulted in a major increase
of the Serbian population in the region of the Vojvodina, which would be
crucial in the Revolution of 1848 when they would attempt to declare an
autonomous Serbian state.
Finally on September 11, 1697 Prince
Eugene of Savoy defeated the Turks at the Battle of Zenta, which led to the
Peace of Karlowitz on January 26, 1699. Croatia and Slavonia were ceded to
Austria, but southeastern Syrmien remained as a buffer against Belgrade and
the Turkish Empire.
In 1716 the war broke out again. The
Turks were defeated at Peterwardein on August 5, 1716. In the next year the
Imperial troops occupied the Banat, northern Transylvania and on August 18,
1717 re-took Belgrade. The Peace of Passarowitz signed on July 21, 1718
liberated all of the Banat and Syrmien from Turkish rule.
The liberated territories were placed
under the jurisdiction of the Royal Chancellery in Vienna. Prince Livius
Odescalchi, a nephew of Pope Innocent XI was given the lands and title of
Count of Syrmien in 1698. The Neo-Acqustica commission established in Vienna
to determine the ownership of lands and estates in the formerly occupied
Turkish territories in 1700 received few claims because very few of the
Hungarian nobility had survived the Turkish wars and occupation or had no
documented evidence to prove ownership to back up their claims. As a result
the lands and estates were sold to many nobles or military commanders who were
of German origin.
In 1718 the former Counties of Hungary
were re-established. Croatia was unable to lay claim to Syrmien and Slavonia,
which now became part of the army controlled Military Frontier District, a
defensive measure against future Turkish invasions. In 1751 the area became
incorporated into the Hungarian sphere of influence and eventually part of its
administration. The nobility of Slavonia were most unhappy with this
situation. Throughout the 19th century, “nationalism” became the
big issue for the South Slavs who saw the Magyars (Hungarians) as their
enemies and a threat to their aspirations, which would erupt in Croatia in the
Revolution of 1848/1849.
The hope of the Croatians, as allies
of the Habsburg Emperor against the Hungarian rebels, was for a far-reaching
“national” autonomy with the introduction of the Croatian language as the
official government language, but these hopes were not fulfilled. The
centralization that took place during the “Bach Era” in Austria created more
bad blood among the South Slavs, especially because German was established as
the governing language throughout the Empire. They saw themselves under the
yoke of Vienna. The Croatians saw that the threat to their national survival
was no longer the Turks or Hungarians, but the Germans. Hatred of all things
German broke out during the Croatian Sabor (parliament) in 1860 and would
affect future events right up to 1918. An attempt at re-rapprochement with
the Magyars was the new order of the day.
The Hungarian-Austrian Compromise of
1867 was not well received by the leading Croatians. The concept of Dualism
in the Empire was unacceptable to the Slavs, the Roman Catholic bishop Josip
Strossmayer and his political circle were adamantly opposed to it. A
Croatian-Hungarian Compromise followed in January 30, 1868. The Compromise
allowed the Croatians autonomy in their domestic affairs and matters of
religion. It was an attempt on the part of the Hungarians to prevent a united
front and union of the Slavs.
Political parties of all stripes
fought for control of the Sabor beginning in the 1870’s; the National Party
had the support of the nobles who supported the Compromise with Hungary. The
supporters of the “South Slav” idea found expression in the “Independent
National Party” under the leadership of Bishop Strossmayer. Their ideology
was based on the principle of the unity of all of the South Slavs, except the
Bulgarians. The financial support for the party came from the coffers of the
bishop’s diocese. The third party was “Croatian Rights” who were united with
the Austrian Monarchy and its aspirations; in effect they were the official
anti-Serbian party. But even this party was suspicious of both Vienna and
The 700,000 Serbian minorities in
Croatia established their own Serbian Independent Party in Ruma in 1881 to
safeguard their rights and demanded equality for their minority. Others
opposed the liberal approach among the Serbs, who formed the “Radical Party”,
which leaned heavily on the Orthodox clergy for support and leadership.
As the 19 century ended, the younger
generation of leadership sought to take advantage of the new issues that
divided Austria and Hungary to advance their cause of a union of the South
With the rise of the Kossuth Coalition
that came to power in Budapest in 1904 that sought full independence from
Austria, the Croatian opposition parties offered support to the Magyars if
they would support Croatian self-determination. The Serbian parties also
followed suit with the same solution in 1905. As a result a Croatian-Serbian
Party was formed to work for autonomy and the ideal of self-determination and
unity of the South Slavs and the destruction of the Habsburg Danubian
Monarchy. In the elections of 1906 the Coalition won the majority of seats
in the Sabor, and played the leading role in the life and history of Croatia
up to 1918. Friendship with the Hungarians did not last very long. The
annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, followed by the Balkan War
(1912-1913) were flashpoints of conflict and unrest among the south Slavs
finally resulting in the outbreak of World War I in Sarajevo and the end of
the Danubian Monarchy.
The Settlement of the
migration of German settlers into the Croatian and Slavonian areas prior to
the occupation by the Turks, had its origins in the beginning of the 16th
century, chiefly in the towns and cities, made up tradesmen, artisans, miners,
and merchants who came from all areas of Germany. The settlers arriving after
the liberation from the Turks again consisted of the same urban classes but
the majority now were peasant farmers. In both cases they came in response to
invitations from the nobles and landlords. At times, of course, some
individuals came on their own, taking the risks that were involved.
Prior to the coming of the Turks, the
first Germans who arrived were priests and missionaries, most of them monks on
missions to extend the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church and later to
stamp out heresy. At the end of the 8th century the land was part
of Charlemagne’s Empire and remained so until the coming of the Magyars. In
this period the local population was Christianized and the central leadership
provided for this was in Bavaria.
There is a strong possibility and some
evidence that the south Slavs are of Gothic origin, especially the Bosnians.
Many of the names of the higher clergy in the Middle Ages are German. All of
this was contemporary with Stephen I of Hungary and his Bavarian queen who
also brought German monks, priests and missionaries. Nikolaus of Guns in
Hungary was later the Banus (Governor) of Croatia from 1280 to 1281.
After the Tatar invasion and the
recall of their armies back to Asia, Bela IV of Hungary in 1243, invited
Germans to settle in Hungary promising freedom from some feudal taxes. His
brother Kolomann who was Count of Slavonia gave special privileges to German
monks at Weretz. The German population was increasing in the area. Varasdin
is the first and oldest German settlement in Croatia and was established
earlier than 1209. In 1231 Germans were also reported living in Vukovar,
Petrinja, Samobor, Agram, Kreuz and Kopreinitz. The shoemakers of Agram were
well known and the shoemaker’s quarter was known as the “German village.”
Immigrants like these soon filled the land and settled as both small and large
groups. The emergence of all of the cities and towns in Croatia and Slavonia
can be traced back to them. They also brought new ideas and farming concepts
to the peasant population. There were never any totally German communities.
In the early history of the towns Germans played a leading role but as they
became outnumbered they attempted to guarantee their rights by law before they
were totally swamped. This lasted for a much longer period in those
communities into which a steady stream of German settlers continued to
arrive: Agram and Varasdin. This continuing flow of Germans now also
included military personnel, as the Turks became a threat throughout the
Balkans. In 1579 they were involved in the re-establishment of the fortress
at Karlstadt. In 1645 it was reported that there were 300 German families
living in the city.
This tradition of “German towns” in
Croatia would continue well into the 19th century and 20th
centuries and there were continuing migrations of German settlers, but only in
those towns that were not occupied by the Turks. The Germans simply
disappeared in these areas. The Germans that could be found there later
arrived after the Turks had been driven out.
But how much of the German migration
in the Middle Ages consisted of peasant farmers? It is difficult to tell.
There are some areas in Syrmien that have names of possible former German
villages. The Germans working in the mines were probably Zipser Saxons from
Upper Hungary (Slovakia), who brought their own community organization with
them. They were especially present in Bosnia. In 1463 the Turks conquered
Bosnia and that was the end of the German mining communities.
It was a totally new situation after
the Turks were driven out of Croatia, Slavonia and Syrmia.
In 1700 there were fewer than 14,000
people living in all of Slavonia after the Turks were through with it. To all
intents and purposes one could say that Syrmien was totally uninhabited. The
remaining towns contained most of the surviving population.
The first stage of reconstruction and
redevelopment of the land was repairing and expanding the towns and fortresses
to withstand any reappearance of the Turks. The need was for construction
workers and skilled artisans. There were none. Esseg and Peterwardein and
their fortresses needed immediate attention and as a result the two cities
became the first of the new German towns after the expulsion of the Turks. In
1690 Esseg was granted its municipal rights and charter. The influx of
merchants and skilled artisans who came primarily from the Austrian
territories continued throughout the 18th century. Esseg
maintained its German character well into the 20th century although
they were a minority of the population.
Semlin located at the confluence of
the Sava and Danube Rivers received its first German settlers in 1721 after
the Peace of Passarowitz. There was another large influx of new German
settlers after the Peace of Belgrade in 1739. Germans coming down the Danube
arrived in Belgrade and moved on from there to towns in Syrmien. Peterwardein
and Karolowitz experienced large growth in their German populations. German
sections of towns had names to that effect. It was the norm. Germans from
Belgrade were the founders of Neusatz (Novi Sad). New Vukovar in effect was
the German part of the town, settled with 33 families between 1723 and 1725.
There was a high rate of mortality among the German settlers because of the
climate and summer epidemics of all kinds.
A massive immigration of German
peasant farmers did not take place here as it did to the north of the Drava
and Danube Rivers. After 1718 a portion of the land was under the control and
administration of the Royal Chancellery and the Department of War while the
rest belonged to various nobles without the resources to develop their
holdings. There were other obstacles: most of the land was thick forest
wilderness; it did not appear as if the land could be developed
agriculturally; wolf packs prowled the forests; security against robbers and
brigands was non-existent; settlers were offered few concessions or
inducements like freedom from taxes or military service; many nobles had no
interest in developing their estates and wanted serfs to serve them at their
bidding and not free peasants; there were few government officials in the area
to whom the settlers could go for help and support; there were no roads and
the settlers would have to struggle with total isolation.
In spite of these kinds of
difficulties, the Royal Chancellery organized a settlement on the Crown lands
at Kutjevo, located in southern Hungary, between 1785 and 1787 at Josefsfeld-Kula
and Josefsdorf-Porec. These were the only government sponsored pioneer
settlements in the vicinity. The settlers came primarily from Luxemburg,
Alsace, Lorraine and the Pfalz. Two other villages were also established but
could not be sustained. The settlers in these communities all become
Croatianized within a generation or two.
Nor are the settlement attempts under
the auspices of the nobles in Syrmien and Slavonia very numerous. The noble
Franz von der Trenck established deutsch-Mihaljevci on the Mitrovac estate in
1744. Later in 1752, retired soldiers founded Lukasdorf-Lukac. One of the
settlements numbered 8 men, 7 women and 33 children. In six months 5 men, 3
women and 13 children had died.
Characteristic of all of these early
efforts was the small number of people involved. Only by an influx of later
settlers could the communities have survived. There was no economic base to
support the skilled artisans who had come with them and they had to move on
More important settlement work was
undertaken during the Theresian phase of the Schwabenzug in Slavonia. A whole
line of farm villages were established in the vicinity of Essegg: Krawitz in
1769, Hirshfeld-Sarwasch in 1769 after Magyars and Slavs had left, Deutsch-Rieddorf
sometime in 1768/1769 next to the Hungarian village of Retfala,
Terezovac-Suhopolje in 1770 and Antonsdorf-Kapan in 1776.
There were other German settlers on
estates in Slavonia that were not able to establish permanent settlements for
various reasons and merged with their Slavic neighbors.
In Syrmien the following Theresian
settlements were established under royal auspices: Ruma, Sotting and Jarmin.
All of these later received an influx of German settlers. In Ruma the first
Germans came in 1746 and by 1784 there were 700 Germans settled there. Most
of the growth was due to the arrival of newcomers.
During the Josephinian settlement
period theGermanys settled the Prandau estates were in 1786 at
Josefsdorf-Josipovac. The first immigrants came from south western Germany
who were later joined by Germans from Bohemia. Settlers from Württemberg
founded Neustadt at Essegg in 1792.
The most important settlements during
this epoch were located in the Military Frontier District. The earliest was
Neu Gradiska in 1748 soon followed by Friedrichsdorf.
In 1783 Neu Slankamen and later in
1787 Semlin received their first German settlers. In 1806 there was a large
influx of Germans from Bohemia who moved into Neu-Salankamen that greatly
strengthened the community.
In 1791, after many difficulties,
Lutherans from Württemberg settled Neu Pasua in eastern Syrmien. At the same
time a small German enclave was established in the Croatian village of Neu
Banovci, which was very close to Neu Pasua. Only through the later migration
of German families from Neu Pasau was the future of the German community in
Neu Banovci assured.
At the same time, (1790-1794)
Karlowitz received 36 German families, Ruma received 26 families and Bukovitz
another 20 families. Most of them came from Alsace, Lorraine, Württemberg,
Basel, Baden and Nassau (Hesse).
At the beginning of the 19th
century new communities were established in the Military Frontier District to
provide fresh produce to the towns and troops. Siegenthal was founded in 1816
to serve Semlin. (Later it would be called Franztal.) The first settlers
here came from Lazarfeld in the Banat. In 1819 close to Vinkovci, the
Lutheran village of Neudorf was established. They were Franconian pietists
who had come from various Lutheran settlements in the Batschka after having
left Württemberg originally. In 1828 Hessendorf was established in the
vicinity of Mitrovitz but there were too few Germans to develop an ongoing
At the beginning of the 19th
century the German settlements on both sides of the Drava and Danube Rivers
were experiencing a population explosion and a lack of land for expansion. As
a result Syrmien and then later Slavonia were the next areas of expansion.
But there were political and national issues and sensibilities at work. While
the nobles were anxious to raise their own economic situation by making use of
the their undeveloped lands and estates they knew that in order for that to
happen required an increase in the population. There were Serbians residing
there but they were not seen as the answer to the problem. In fact, the area
was moving backwards economically as the Serbs refused to undertake the
cultivation of the land, preferring herding cattle.
At this point the nobles and landlords
saw that they had to take the initiative and went as far as looking for
settlers in Hungary but they also courted others, including Magyars, Russians,
Slovaks and many others. As a result the owner of the Ruma estate called for
Serbs to settle in 1746 in his new village of India, and then he called for
Czechs in 1825 who like the Serbs shortly afterwards went on to other places.
It was only in 1827 when the Germans arrived and soon became the majority in a
permanent settlement. By 1848 they were 65.8% of the population of 1,500. He
also settled Germans in Putinci at that time, while other nobles established
Calma, Banostor, Cerevic and Greguerevci and Vukovar and Sotting received more
Germans as well.
Compared to the emerging daughter
settlements emerging in Syrmien very little development was taking place in
Slavonia. But in 1824 Johannisberg was settled with Germans from the Egerland.
Germans who came from the Tolna in Hungary in 1836 settled Deutsch-Derschanitz
later becoming Johannesdorf-Jovanovac. They had been brought specially to
begin the cultivation of tobacco. In 1843 Germans from Veszprem County in
Hungary settled Neu Zoljani.
In addition to these contractual
settlements between a landlord/noble and a group, some individuals were simply
making their own arrangements and purchased land and houses.
To a great extent Slavonia remained a
wilderness and backwoods area, relatively untouched by an attempts at
settlement. With the emancipation of the serfs in 1848, the local population
was more unreliable than ever. The Swabian villages of Hungary and the
Batschka were overcrowded and there was now nowhere to go to seek a living.
The government in Vienna set the stage for a new settlement movement.
The Regulation and Decree was issued
by the Emperor on December 31, 1858 and was addressed to the Kingdom of
Hungary, Croatia, Slavonia, the Serbian Vojvodina, the Banat and the Princedom
of Transylvania with a renewed call for agricultural settlement and
development of the Dual Monarchy.
Some of the regulations included:
each settlement requires a minimum of 1,000 Joch of land; homes for at least
fifty families must be provided; all members of the community, regardless of
their place of origin must be of one nationality and confession (religious
denomination). The intention of the decree was to provide a supply of workers
for the landholders, but the Emperor also stipulated the need for providing
incentives like tax exemptions. The government sought to gain immigrants from
other countries to strength its population and broaden its economic base. The
would-be-settlers would become citizens of the Monarchy upon arrival; their
sons born outside of the Monarchy were free from military service; they were
guaranteed the free expression of their religion if they were recognized
groups in the Monarchy; cattle, machinery, goods, equipment, would pass
through customs at no cost.
To the consternation and
disappointment of Vienna there was no response from Germany. The mass
migrations had ended with Joseph II and now it was the United States of
America that beckoned.
The results of the new settlement
Patent of the Emperor were hardly impressive in Croatia and Slavonia. Only
ten German settlements were established in response to it. Three were
established in 1866 by contracting with the landowners and their agents at
Blagorodovac, Eichendorf-Hrastovac and Antunovac. The settlers came from
Baranya, Tolna and Somogy Counties in Hungary. In the same year there were
also settlements established in Sokolovac and Djulaves (later Miolovicevo),
but the contract between the settlers and the noble were only officially
ratified in 1877. Dobrovac was also settled in 1866 but the contract only
finalized in 1881. Settlers from the Böhmerwald settled in Filipovac in
1886. The village of Kerndia was already settled in 1880/1881 but a contract
with Bishop Strossmayer was not signed until 1891. The last two communities
were Kapetanovo Polje settled in 1882 and Franjevac-Strizicevac in 1886 the
contracts for which were only ratified by their landlord later in 1891.
We need to be reminded that 80% of the
land involved was heavily forested wilderness and the chief task of the
colonists was clearing the land. The land they took over was often not very
fertile or at best marginal to say the least. They had to pay for the house
lot and garden and clear it and were given some of the wood that they cut to
use in the construction of their homes and other farm buildings but often at
high prices. No other language group or nationality responded to the Patent
except the Germans at a time when anti-German feeling in Croatia was at its
highest, but the nobles made the adjustment because the Germans were
industrious and would stick to it no matter what happened. Exactly what they
But other settlement was taking place
outside of the Patent of the Emperor. Some of the landlords simply parceled
out the land. Groups of settlers obtained loans and mortgages to buy land and
create a settlement. But it was difficult to cope with the elements, floods,
isolation, hunger, epidemics and frequent crop losses. Most of those who
responded were from among the poor and they overlooked the risks that were
involved because of the possibility of improving their lives and that of their
With the Slavic peasantry freed from
serfdom they were anxious to sell the land and the house they had received and
move on, preferably into the towns. As a result, the price of land fell
dramatically in Slavonia and Syrmien after 1848. At the same time land was
scarce and expensive in other German settlement areas, especially Swabian
Turkey and the Batschka. Selling a small plot of land there enabled them to
buy a holding in Slavonia.
The new migration was from within the
Monarchy and resulted in the strengthening of the original settlements. It
especially had a very positive effect on the ethnic German Lutheran
communities. The Military Frontier District was an area where this was most
noticeable. The first settlers lured their families and friends to join them
in Slavonia or Syrmien. As a result villages where ethnic Germans were a
minority, by 1880 had become the majority. Banovci 64%, Gasimci 53%, Mrzovic
57%, Slatinik 60%, Tomasanci 65%, Pisak 75%. However, the success of the
ethnic German communities led to jealousy and anti-German feelings and
subsequent actions against them.
During this period, both in Syrmien
and Slavonia, Germans from within the Monarchy settled in almost every single
village and bought land and stayed there at least for a time. For that reason
it would not be possible to note every such settlement, but only those in
which a large portion of the population were of ethnic German origin.
Western and central Slavonia were the
locales of the most important of these newly established enclaves: Gross-Pisanitz
(1881), Palesnik (1882), Klein-Bastei (1885), Marjanci, Colinci (1870),
Kucanci (1876) Cacinci (1908) and the vicinity of Trnjani (1890) and Garcin
(1890). According to the mayor of Drenovac the last two mentioned communities
were settled in 1875 by colonists from the Burgenland: Oberndorf, Kitzladen,
Pinkafeld, Oberschützen, Wörterberg, Althau and Sinnersdorf. A second group
of settlers from the Burgenland from the vicinity of Güns established
themselves in Uljanik by Daruvar and some individuals went on to Kutina and
Dolci. During this settlement with the exception of Gross-Pisanitz and
Cacinci, not more than one hundred or two hundred ethnic Germans were
involved, but they were strong enough numerically to survive and maintain
their ethnic German identity and in some places they formed the majority of
the local population some even eventually reaching five hundred ethnic German
inhabitants. These villages were also not as scattered from one another as
they were in other parts of Slavonia and the contacts between villages were
maintained and their ethnic identity was protected and not threatened with
assimilation as it was in other areas that included: Selci, Satnica (1875),
Pisak, Vucevci (1850), Gortgani, Gasinci, Tomasanci, Semeljci, Kesinci,
Viskorvci, Forkusevci, Mrzovic (1858) Vrbica, Djurdjanci, Slatnik (1875) and
The same situation also prevailed in
the following settlements and enclaves in western Syrmia: Ilaca, Kukujevci,
Bapska-Novak, Schider Banovci, Nijemci (1870), Nustar, Ceric, Svinjarevci,
Jankovci, Tordinci, Vodjinci, Ivankovo, Orolik, Drenovci and Rajevo Selo
In eastern Syrmia, south of Ruma the
enclaves of Nikinci, Hertkovci and Grabovci later resulted.
This inner migration within the
Monarchy had a powerful effect and influence on the strengthening of the
ethnic German Lutheran settlements in Croatia. Much of it was concentrated in
the Military Frontier District, which up until the Protestant Patent was
promulgated had to deal with a lot of difficulties, which were now surmounted
by the more liberal Military administration in its interpretation of the new
laws. Enclaves would emerge in Beska and Krcedin (around 1859), Becmen
(around 1860) in Surcin (around 1869) and Obrez (around 1860). The settlement
of Bezanija by families from Neu Pasau began already in 1842. With the
dispersal of the Military Frontier District all of these settlements received
new settlers and developed new daughter settlements in Dobanovci (1875) and
Bosnia was finally in the spotlight of
European history in the later half of the 19th century. It had been under
Turkish rule for over four hundred years and its population had converted to
Islam to a great extent. Austria-Hungary claimed its sphere of influence at
the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and formally annexed Bosnia in 1908.
Economically it was a total mess.
Minimal cultivation of its land was taking place. No cattle rearing or sheep
herding was in existence. It was in need of development in every sense of the
The earliest German settlement
resulted from the efforts of monks from Germany led by Franz Pfanner and
resulted in the village of Windhorst (1869). Settlers came from Baden,
Rhineland, Prussia and later from Westphalia, Hanover, Oldenburg and Holland.
Other villages were later established in the vicinity.
Franzjosefsfeld was established in
1886 in northeastern Bosnia, the first Danube Swabian settlement, consisting
of 91 families from Franzfeld in the Banat who numbered 402 persons. This was
a Lutheran community later joined by others from Neu Pasau, Tscherwenka,
Schowe and other Lutheran villages in the Batschka and Smyernia. They endured
floods, bad crops and epidemics located in the heart of a vast wilderness.
Schonborn, known as Petrovo Polje was also an early Lutheran settlement.
As the government got involved and
established “colonies” in Bosnia between 1891 and 1904 there were 54 colonies
in all with over 9,000 inhabitants. Of these, twelve were German with a total
population of 1,800 persons. But attempts were always made to put a stop to
the government colonization program, which was finally accomplished by law in
In 1891 the government established the
colonies at Branjevo and Dugo Polje. These settlers came from Lutheran
villages in the Batschka and a few families from Syrmia. Dugo Polje was
established by nine Lutheran families from the Batschka and was the smallest
of the colonies.
Four more were established in 1894:
Dubrava-Königsfeld by twenty families from Slavonia, the Batschka, Galicia and
Moravia. Within two years only two men remained, when a new re-settlement was
undertaken. Settlers from Galicia established Vrbaska-Karlsdorf. Prosara was
established by twenty-one ethnic German families from Galicia and Russia and
proved to be the worst situation in which to plant a colony. Eight families
settled Korace, numbering 38 persons from Galicia.
In 1895 the government colony of
Ukrinski was established with settlers from Russia, Galicia, Slavonia, Swabian
Turkey and Bukovina and other areas. There were 300 persons, half of whom
were from Danube Swabian communities. In 1937 there was a population of 1,096
persons. Because of floods and famine, the colony moved to a new site and
took on a new name: Schutzberg.
In 1895 the government at Vranovac
established another colony and most of the colonists came from Galicia and
southeran Russia (Black Sea Germans). In 1896 the colony of Kardar was
founded on the Sava River. The settlers came from Galicia who were later
joined by others from Slavnonia and the Banat. Also in 1896 the colony of
Ularici-Franzferdinandshöh (later Putnikovo Brdo) after the heavily forested
land was cleared the soil was found to be marginal and sugar beet cultivation
proved to be the only economically viable crop. Later in 1898/1899 the colony
of Sibouska was formed, the only government sponsored ethnic German Roman
Catholic agricultural community. The settlers came from Galicia and Bukovina
and maintained a close relationship with the Lutheran community of Schutzberg
in order to maintain their ethnic German identity.
The last government sponsored ethnic
German colony was Vrbovac in 1903/1904. The first settlers came from Galicia
and were later joined by families from the Banat. There were of course also
individuals and families who moved into Bosnia on their own and not part of a
planned settlement program. Some of these private settlers also came from
Galica, Bukovina and southern Russia. Often these groups moved on to other
colonies later as they were unable to support an ethnic German school or
develop congregational life as a Diaspora group.
Some colonies developed factories, saw
mills and other businesses, while others remained very small and lived a
rather primitive, isolated existence. In 1912 a new colony was formed at
Sitnes, consisting of settlers from the other Bosnia colonies. On the whole,
life was more difficult and the land inferior on the government colonies.
Croatia and the
Prior to 1848, the Croatians paid
little attention to the small groups of settlers in the wilderness. It was
only in 1865 when the Croatian intelligentsia acknowledged that there were
ethnic German and Hungarian minorities present in their country.
In Syrmien, it was a different matter
living there among the Serbians who as early as 1846 and 1847 began expressing
their concern that they were being “replaced” by the industrious ethnic
Germans, whose hard work had led to success, which unfortunately led to
embitterment on the part of their Serbian neighbors.
The nationalist press raised a hue and
cry against the “invaders” from the north even though they made a tremendous
contribution of the economy. Radicalization set in.
By and large there were voices of the
opposition but the government had to have a greater concern for the nation’s
finances rather than its nationalistic feelings. After 1848 there was simply
no let up in ongoing immigration and “foreign” settlement. The entry of more
and more Hungarian settlers and their setting up of their Hungarian schools
created quite an uproar. The Croatians saw every minority as a threat and
from their perspective assimilation was the only solution. The Reich German
threat eastwards as the official policy of Prussianized Germany was read into
the real motivations of the ethnic German settlers moving into Croatia. This
would prove especially true in Bosnia were some of the settlers actually came
from the Reich.
When that argument failed to work, the
Croatian nationalists pictured the ethnic Germans as the tools and weapons of
the Magyars in their ongoing attempt to lord it over them. It was a matter of
the indolence of the Slavic peasants and the industriousness of the “Swabians”
and the economic consequences. The Danube Swabians created an economic
miracle in a marginal wilderness for which the Slavs were not grateful as long
as they were there.
Many areas of Slavonia were
uninhabited and were of no real economic value. Only settlers and capital
investment could change that. Many of the settlers brought capital with
them. That served as an antidote to the charge that they were opportunists
and carpetbaggers and ne’er-do-wells. By 1910, ten per cent of the arable
land was still undeveloped. First of all, the nobles preferred ethnic German
settlers and then Slovaks and Czechs who were seen as their Slavic brothers.
Their last choice was the Magyars (Hungarians) who usually assimilated within
one generation. It was the ethnic Germans who resisted assimilation the
longest. This would prove to be dangerous in the future.
As neighbors the Danube Swabians got
along with the Croatian and Serbian populations. The government saw them as a
necessary economic evil at best, and as a threat to the unity of the Slavs at
the worst. It was the latter view that would prevail. The answer was to make
the Slavs industrious, thrifty and work focused so that they no longer sold
their land to the Danube Swabians. The banking institutions would support
their peasantry in this endeavor. But there were only minor initiatives,
especially in the new areas opening for settlement. The Slavs decided they
would rather be farm laborers working for the ethnic Germans. All of the new
settlement laws of the government favored inner-migration and attempted to
thwart emigration elsewhere as much as possible. Still the population
stagnated. The only group that was affected was the Hungarians who began to
But as the 19th century
ended, the major issue was no longer immigration into Slavonia but the
emigration of countless thousands of young people to the United States and
this also included vast numbers of the Danube Swabian population. By the
outbreak of the First World War almost all immigration into Slavonia had
ceased and the presence of ethnic Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks and the other
nationalities was simply accepted as an economic and social reality that had
no political implications. There was no conspiracy or a fifth column directed
against the Croatians.
The ethnic German
Population and the Revolution of 1848
life in Croatian and Slavonia before the Revolution was a mirror and
reflection of neighboring Hungary. In both countries, first place on the
political spectrum were the nobles and their agenda. The urban citizens in
Hungary, however, were awakening to issues that had no counterpart in Croatia
and Slavonia. German speaking nobles were landlords in Croatia and supported
the aspirations of the nobility of Hungary and as a special interest group
they took their cue from Budapest. The nationality question was of no
consequence to them. The German nobles also had no interest in “national”
politics as Germans. The “national” movements began among the urban
populations fed on “romanticism”, mostly the poorer classes who felt
discriminated against and the watchword became “Volk” (Folk) and “folk
language.” The Danube Swabians formed the largest single element in the urban
settlements and went over to identifying with the Croatian aspirations and
gave up their mother tongue.
Most of the Croatian Nationalists
were of ethnic German origin and had German names! This was often through
marriage. Bishop Strossmayer is one important example. In his case it became
fanaticism. But under the surface this was not the cultural and social
movement born out of romanticism, but ethnic identification, another word for
nationalism and racism and had political implications: the unification of the
South Slavs. There was the demand for the use of the Croatian language by the
government administration over against the use of Latin in the Counties and
German in the courts. After 1840 this became more and more contentious.
In Esseg and other communities with
a large Danube Swabian population they sided with the nationalist movement and
supported their aspirations early in 1848 over the language issue. They would
support opposition against the Hungarian attempts to suppress such a
movement. In a petition they said the following:
“We all desire to be united with
Croatia as we always have been, but without breaking away from Hungary. We
are happy to accept the use of the Croatian language in all of the affairs of
the city governance; but we will also continue to use our own language in out
life and commerce…”
The Croatian Nationalist became more
strident and by May of 1848 they introduced the use of Croatian in all of the
affairs of Weretz County. The Danube Swabian population was caught between
the rival nationalistic groups and had to make a choice and sided with the
pro-Hungarian party. They were attracted by the liberalism of Kossuth and a
proposed new constitution with broader freedoms. That act was a reflection of
the basic liberalism of the ethnic German population in Esseg, which were the
ideals of the French Revolution.
The Banus (Governor) Jelacic opposed
the aspirations of the Hungarian rebels and sided with the German-Austrian
Emperor, while the Danube Swabian population of Slavonia and Croatia by and
large followed the lead of Esseg in support of Kossuth and his allies. To the
horror of Jelacic, in April 1848 the Hungarian rebels abolished serfdom and
declared that all nobles and commoners were equals!
May 30, 1848 the mayor of Esseg,
Alois Schmidt left for Budapest to declare the city of Esseg loyal to the
Revolution. The next day, the Town Council refused to accept or acknowledge
Jelacic as the Banus and sent no representatives to Agram to a meeting of the
Sabor to avoid participating in his installation. Jelacic would never forget
that. He would later disenfranchise the citizens when he occupied the city
and threatened to deport them to the United States. It was only in 1850 that
the Danube Swabian citizens regained their civic rights.
In Syrmien things came a head before
1845. Eastern Syrmien was heavily pro-Serbian, while western Syrmien was won
over by the pro-Hungarian party. The Germans by and large sided with the
Hungarians but not in an overt or political way. Ruma was an exception where
the German population supported the Serbs. But this would not last long. By
April 26, 1848 the ethnic German citizens complained to the County
Administrator about the agitation of the Serbian youth who sowed hatred among
the nationalities and threatened to beat up the Danube Swabian population of
Ruma. Other communities, like Semlin also wrote letters of complaint to the
same effect. This did not sit well with the Serbian Nationalist leadership
who sought to control the Vojvodina where the largest ethnic German
settlements were located. The Military Frontier District was still under
Hungarian control, but most of the officers were German and they needed to be
won over. The Serbian leadership prepared a proclamation addressed to:
To Our ethnic German Brothers
“The Serbian nation has been forced to preserve its national rights and
freedoms by taking up the sword for the sake of its religion, traditions and
customs, its language and nationality, in the face of the threats of the newly
situated Magyar government, which we will oppose forever.
The Serbian nation recognizes every
religion, nationality, language, traditions, and customs, the right to life
and ownership of every individual Danube Swabian brother and citizen. The
Serbian nation is not warring against ethnic German brothers, their religion,
life, nationality or traditions to destroy them, nor their life, home and
lands to destroy, plunder or rob, because such cruelties are not consistent
with our own national character.
Therefore, ethnic German brothers we
acknowledge before God and all nations, that the Serbian nation and its
military power has no aggressive intention against you, our Danube Swabian
brothers, nor will we limit your religious or citizenship rights, on the
contrary we will protect these rights as we face a common enemy and honor our
loyalty to his Majesty, the Emperor, Ferdinand I, as a guarantee of your
BUT WE ALSO ISSUE THIS WARNING…all
those ethnic Germans who oppose us or go over to the enemy will be treated as
Long live the Emperor, and King,
Ferdinand I, long lives the ethnic German and Serbian people. Long lives our
The relations between the local
populations were strained. On the local scene the Serbian population did not
reflect their leadership’s actions and attitudes towards the Germans.
Violence broke out in many communities this was especially true in India. The
priests of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches both got into the act. On
the whole the ethnic German and Slovak populations wanted no part in these
conflicts but were physically forced to support the Serbs. The relations
between the Serbs and the Roman Catholic population in particular continued to
get worse and worse.
The Serbian leadership began to
mobilize the entire population regardless of nationality or religious
confession. This led to unrest and rebellion among the Danube Swabian
population, especially in the Military Frontier District. Troops had to be
sent in to restore order and arrested Danube Swabians and took them to
Karlowitz to the military barracks. The Serbs declared the Vojvodina a part
of their state and were faced by the opposition of the Roman Catholic
population. In response to the Serbian provocations, the Roman Catholic
population became more and more pro-Hungarian. As long as the Hungarians and
Serbs battled one another anarchy reigned in the Vojvodina. Plundering,
murder and robbery were the order of the day. The Serbian population simply
ran amok. The ethnic Germans, like those in Bukowitz suffered greatly at
The Removal of the German Language
from Government and School
1860, the language issue in Croatia was taken up with great vehemence and as a
result German disappeared as the language of the Courts.
By action of the Sabor on October 5,
1861 all government authorities and officials had to be able to speak either
Croatian or Serbian. All representatives elected to the Sabor also had to
speak one of the languages. On October 13, 1861 the language of instruction
in the schools was to be Serbo-Croatian, and German could no longer be taught
as a subject in the high schools. But Emperor Francis Joseph vetoed the new
regulations. The Croatians found other ways to impose their decree, beginning
in the cities. But in most of the ethnic German towns and cities, the Danube
Swabians were able to maintain the use of their language and elect mayors,
parliamentary representatives who were German speaking.
In 1868 the Compromise between
Hungary and Croatia and Slavonia was signed that granted some autonomy on
domestic and religious affairs.
It is interesting that in their
negotiations with the Hungarians they used Kossuth their fiercest enemy as
their model. Kossuth had said that the evolving middle class in the towns
would be the bearer of the national movement and the ultimate enemy would be
the Danube Swabians. “Our future depends on a middle class. The nobles are
easy to incorporate, but they are few, the source must be the citizens of the
free cities. But they must become Hungarians. Our cities to a great extent
are ethnic German, which means that commerce and industry is in Danube Swabian
hands. It is our nationality that is threatened by them. They are the
enemy. Kossuth’s words met a responsive chord among the Croatians.
But Syrmien was a different story.
No middle class evolved among the early agricultural settlers. They brought
their clergy and teachers with them. After 1848 a few farmers sent their sons
to study for the priesthood or teaching. Their education was either in
Croatian or Hungarian and did not prepare them to function as the
intelligentsia of their peasant farmer society. In the 1880’s and after the
distance between the urban Danube Swabins and the farmers in the isolated
areas led to them growing farther and farther apart in other ways as well.
The end of both groups appeared to be just ahead. Neither group was of any
significant political importance.
The Danube Swabians in Syrmien found
themselves caught between the Serbs and the Croatians who each sought hegemony
over the other. Since the Serbs were the majority, the Croatians hoped to
catch up by assimilating all of the ethnic Germans into their language group.
They were quite successful in western Syrmien, but not in the eastern part.
What happened was a resurgence of a
“Danube Swabian consciousness” among the ethnic German population. During the
last decade of the 19th century a “Danube Swabian middle class”
emerged in Ruma (with a population of 8,000 of whom 7,000 were ethnic Germans)
as a result of some leading personalities who had attended German speaking
high schools outside of Srem, Slavonia and Croatia, especially in Graz and
Vienna in Austria. This had a tremendous affect on the deepening of a ethnic
German consciousness on the part of all of the scattered Danube Swabian
populations. The first attempt at a Danube Swabian organization and a
newspaper began in Ruma, November 2, 1903. The first members were from Ruma,
India, Putinci, Beschka and Neu Slankaman. There were none from western
Syrmien or Slavonia because information did not flow freely into those areas.
The first edition of “Deutsche Volksblatt fur Syrmien” (German People’s Paper
fur Syrmien) was a weekly, with a circulation of 2,000 copies. Soon other
newspapers appeared in other areas. This led to local libraries, agitation
for German speaking priests and teachers, assemblies and the like. The
government legislated against them, but the Danube Swabians had “friends at
court” and moved ahead.
The Croatian press and public
reaction against the ethnic German activism was to go on the attack
everywhere. Serbs and Croatians in Syrmien began to organize against the
Danube Swabian threat. After 1904, Ruma elected a Danube Swabian mayor and
the majority of the Town Council were ethnic Germans, India elected too Danube
Swabians of its twelve Town Council members, in Putinci it was eleven out of
twelve and the ethnic Germans won a majority in Sotting in 1907. The Croatian
Nationalist parties all had apoplexy.
Did this now mean that a Danube
Swabian candidate could win election to the Sabor? (Parliament).
There were two categories of voters:
twenty-four years of age, male, citizen, and a taxpayer. And the following
could vote simply on the basis of their profession: clergy, teachers,
physicians, notaries, all university faculty members, pharmacists, engineers
and professors. There were 88 seats in the Sabor for a period of five years.
In 1907 the Social Democrats pointed
out that out of 2,500,000 men only 45,000 could vote. The electoral district
of Ruma, which included: Ruma, India, Putinci, Kraljevci, Petrovci and Klein
Rdinci had only an electorate of 1,108. This was one of the largest of the
electoral districts. There were six electoral districts with less than 100
voters. This left the door open to buy votes. The Danube Swabians joined all
those calling for universal suffrage just introduced in Austria in 1908. But
the government hedged, afraid that the ethnic German and Hungarian minority,
which represented ten per cent of the population, would elect their own
representatives and therefore influence the nation in some way.
In 1910 an election reform law was
passed against universal suffrage but expanding the electorate to 200,000
persons. As a result in Ruma, the Danube Swabians were the majority of the
electors at 53.25%, while in Semlin they represented 36.26%. Of the 190,043
votes, 8,388 were ethnic Germans, which was 4.4%. No one was happy with the
In 1917 the number of seats was
increased to 122 and all of the electoral districts were made the same size in
terms of the number of voters on the basis of the Croatian and Serbian
populations, to make sure the minorities did not have the population to elect
one of their own. There was no electoral district with a Danube Swabian
majority. The closest were Esseg-Upper Town 34.7%, Semlin 38.3%, Esseg-Lower
Town 37.3% and Dobrinci 31.0%.