Siwatz in the Batschka

 

  The following article is a condensed version and translation of various portions of “Siwatz 1786-1944” published by Pannonia Verlag, Freilassing, 1963 on behalf of their Village Association.

 

  Siwatz, which was also known as Neusiwatz, was established in 1786 in the Batschka as part of the settlement programme of Joseph II which officially allowed the settlement of Protestants.  As a result the following villages were founded:  Torschau 1784, Cservenka 1785, Neuwerbass 1785, Kischker 1786, Bulkes 1786, Neuschowe 1786, Neusiwatz 1786, Sekitsch 1786 and Jarek in 1787.  What distinguished Siwatz from most of the others is that it was a Reformed settlement.  There were other Reformed colonists living in the Lutheran villages but they were a minority but in several cases they later formed Reformed congregation if and when their numbers warranted it.  That was not the case in Siwatz that was almost exclusively Reformed during the settlement period and after.

 

  The Immigration Patent of Joseph II was promulgated in 1783 and was soon publicized in the regions along the Rhine River especially the upper Rhine, the Pfalz (Palatinate) in the Zweibrücken area and Hessen.  The circulars and leaflets urging emigration appeared everywhere.  Whole districts were eager to respond.  So-called agents appeared claiming to have special “connections” in Vienna.  Two in particular were Peter Decker (a teacher) and Konrad Bauer of Duchroth bei Kreuznach in the Palatinate.  They recruited over one hundred families living between the Mosel and Rhine Rivers each of whom paid them 1 Florin and 30 Kreuzer.  The two agents left for Vienna with a list of names of the perspective emigrants and these self-proclaimed “deputies” had an audience with the Emperor Joseph II and handed over the list to him.  The Emperor was impressed and agreed to provide for the emigrants on their arrival.

 

  They returned home in April 1783 and informed their recruits of the arrangements they had made and many well-off families and others now sought to join them.  As the word spread, the country roads and village streets in the district were clogged with would-be emigrants from the whole district because of Decker’s propaganda efforts.  The Palatinate governing authorities ordered him to appear for questioning but he fled and joined his recruits and made it safely to Vienna.  They were all settled in Galicia along with Decker.  The other “deputy”, Bauer, blamed everything on his fugitive companion in crime and nothing every happened to him because they considered Decker was the mastermind.

 

  At first the German princes tolerated Joseph’s recruitment of their subjects from their domains but soon began to set up barriers and hindered the massive exodus that was taking place.  In some locales it was completely forbidden.  The people simply left secretly by night and once they were outside of their master’s territory they felt free to move on.  In order to travel unhindered by officialdom they needed a travel pass issued by the Commissar of Emigration in Frankfurt if possible.  For most families it was not possible to get to Frankfurt and instead got false credentials and papers along the way.  Once they got to Regensburg they could not be turned back and “papers” were not essential.  It was there were they received an Imperial Passport.  On arriving in Vienna they had to decide on settling in either Galicia or Hungary and go to the appropriate consulate and register with them.  The emigration to Galicia was so massive that by the end of summer of 1783 all of the available land was settled and all of the rest of the would-be colonists were sent to Hungary.

 

  On arriving at the Hungarian Royal Chancellery the family pass was surrendered and the entire family was registered and each person received 2 Gulden for travel expenses along with a settler pass to be surrendered at Buda at the Royal Hungarian Commission there.  At their arrival at Ofen (Buda) the pass was marked with the name of the place where the family was to be settled and where they were to report.  Those going to the Batshcka would have to report at Sombor.  For the journey from Ofen to Sombor each person was given 1 Gulden.  In this way 3,500 families would arrive in the next eighteen months and others would continue to come up until 1789.

 

  Much of the early settlement of Siwatz is known as a result of the book “The German Colonist” written by Johann Eimann who provides the information on the places of origin of the first settlers and the early colonial history of the community.  He later became the notary of Siwatz.  His book became a best seller throughout the Batschka and in Germany.  He had attended four years of Latin school and at the age of 21 years he left the Palatinate illegally in 1785 and went off to Hungary.  As one of the few educated men in the settlement he became a leader in its community life.  He would hold the position of notary until his death and the position would remain in the hands of his family from 1793 to 1920!  In his painstaking research he was able to identify the places of origin of all of the families in Siwatz who came from the Pfalz (Rhine Palatinate) along with information on the family members.  They are all listed from page 17 to 40.  There were initially 135 families but others came from other communities in the vicinity or from Hungary.

 

  Those coming from Hungary had previously lived in Bonyhád, Vádkert, Morágy, Harta, Zsibrik, Bátaapáti, Gyӧnk, Hidas, Zips County (Slovakia) and Alsónána.  The majority of these communities had sizable numbers of Reformed inhabitants and several of them had a Reformed majority.

 

  As the settlement expanded and its population grew the lack of available land forced many young families to leave and find their fortune and future elsewhere.  In 1802 many of them moved into the adjoining village of Altsiwatz and by 1832 they had established a filial Reformed congregation there that eventually was able to support itself in the future. Not only was there a shortage of arable land the cost of land became exorbitant and poorer families sold their land and bought land in Srem and Slavonia where it was much cheaper and in many cases had not but cleared or had never been cultivated. Many families from Siwatz settled in Beschka, Velimirovac and Cacinci.  In fact the majority of the families in Velimirovac came there from Siwatz.

 

  As the houses were being built and the village laid out the colonists from Germany were billeted in homes in nearby villages.  In most cases they lived among Serbs as the men began to build the first primitive huts with reed roofs and did so hurriedly anxious to be on their own.  Once they were settled the land was designated and distributed among them.  They also discovered that they had Serb neighbours who were cattle herders and cared nothing for agricultural work. Once the fields were ploughed and sown the cattle ran rough shod over the crops that led to open disputes between the colonists and their predecessors in the village.  It led to the colonists sending two deputies to represent them to complain to the Emperor.  They chose Philipp Grossmann and Philipp Werner.  They asked that the two nationalities be separated in their settlement which the local officials were slow to do and in light of recent Turkish incursions back into the Balkans it was not considered that important to their way of thinking.  The situation deteriorated between the two groups which was detrimental to the growth and development of the community.  In October of 1796 they petitioned various levels of government to order a separation which was finally granted by Emperor Francis I.  It was ordered to be carried out in 1797.  The German colonists paid the costs of a surveyor to carry out the land separation.  The results were the two villages of Alt and Neu Siwatz with Hungarian and Serbs in the older village and the Germans in the new settlement.

 

  In 1936 the population of Neusiwatz was 2,526 of which 2,386 were Germans who were Reformed and 98 Hungarians and 42 Slavs (Serbs and Croats).  There were 510 houses in the community.

 

Church and Religious Life

 

  Friedrich III, also known as the Pious, was the Prince Elector of the Palatinate and brought his former Lutheran territory into the Reformed camp and had the Heidelberg Catechism published for use in all congregations and attempted to suppress Lutheranism but was unable to convert all of them.  The Thirty Years War had a devastating effect on the Reformed in the Rhine Palatinate.  The armies of the Palatinate were defeated and Roman Catholic troops occupied the territory and were quartered in homes.  All of the Protestant churches (both Lutheran and Reformed) were handed over to Roman Catholic priests and monks and Protestant clergy were driven out of the land.  Although the Religious Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was to guarantee religious freedom the Reformed in the Palatinate continued to be oppressed by their now Roman Catholic sovereign and were persecuted up to their emigration to Hungary in 1785.  Because of the ongoing religious persecution and the oppression by their landowners they left house and home in the hope that in the new homeland they sought they would be free from feudal lords and practice their faith freely.

 

  From the research work done by Johann Einmann we know that Siwatz was settled by Germans of the Reformed faith who had come from the regions along the Rhine.  Up until the expulsion and evacuation of its population in 1944 it was and remained the only entirely German Reformed community in the Batschka.  The founding of Siwatz was synonymous with the establishment of a Reformed congregation.  Along with their Bibles and hymnbooks from the Pfalz, they brought the Heidelberg Catechism that shaped and formed their church and community life.  No pastors accompanied the Reformed settlers or followed afterwards from their homeland and as a result the various new Reformed congregations approached the Hungarian Reformed Church for support in terms of pastoral leadership and had Hungarian pastors who spoke German.  The first Reformed pastor in Neuwerbasss, Johann von Buzás was one of them as well as Stefan Gozon who served as the first Reformed pastor in Cservenka.  It was due to them that the settlers maintained their German identity and operated German schools for their children.

 

  From the very beginning of the settlement–without the benefit of a church, school or even a house–first services were held in the out-of-doors that consisted of prayers and hymns on the site where the church would one day be built.  Once a few of the houses were built services were held in them in which sermons were read from a book.  At the time of the evacuation in 1944 the book of sermons was still extant.  Services were held in the home of Katharina Hoffmann and from November 1786 until the Spring of 1787 they were held in Abraham Krob’s house.  In the Spring of 1787 the government erected an orphanage that also served as a school and was used as prayer house.  In the same year the government erected a lovely prayer house which was fully furnished within that was used until 1810.  A tower with a bell was erected next to this reed roofed structure.

 

  The construction of a new church began in 1810 and it was completed n 1811.  Its cost was estimated at 17,000 Gulden.  In 1836 it was in need of a major renovation..

 

  From May 1786 until August 1788 the community was without any pastoral leadership.   Christian Lüch provided the leadership at the first simple services.  After his early death he was succeeded by Kaspar Schäfer who was also called upon to conduct funerals.

 

  On November 20, 1786 the newly arrived Reformed pastor at Neuwerbass, Johann von Buzás was brought to Siwatz and held a service in Katharina Hoffmann’s house and celebrated Holy Communion.  On that occasion two elders were elected along with a teacher for the school.  It was from then on that Abraham Krob held services in his house, conducted funerals and baptized many of the infants.

 

  In the Spring of 1787 he was elected the schoolmaster in Neuwerbasss and he was succeeded by Heinrich Schenkenberger from Cservenka.  He carried out his role of teacher and lay worship leader in the orphanage schoolhouse until the arrival of the first resident pastor Samuel Szelle on August 11, 1788.  He would serve here for the next 23 years.  He was succeeded by a series of Hungarian pastors in the decades ahead until 1882 when Josef Poor, who had been in neighbouring Torschau, was called to be their pastor.  Prior to coming to Siwatz he had been the Reformed pastor in Gyӧnk where he had married Katharina Simon.  His successor was Karl Glӧckner who was from Hungary and had studied in Bonyhád and Budapest.  At the time of the evacuation in 1944 he was still in office in Siwatz.  He remained behind and died a year later well into his eighties.

 

  With the need for expansion because of the need for more available land families began to buy land in the neighbouring community of Altsiwatz.  By 1820 there were fifty German Reformed families living there and the original families from Neusiwatz were joined by others from Torschau, Neuwerbass and Cservenka.  Within fifteen years there numbers rose to two hundred and fifty.  In 1855 they separated from the congregation in Neusiwatz and formed a new congregation of their own but did so on good terms.  The major problem they sought to address was that of distance.  There were one hundred and fifty and boys and girls in the school and the new congregation purchased a house and turned it into a school.  A prayer house followed soon to be followed by a church as the congregation grew to a membership of over one thousand by 1858 and became a Mother Church with their own pastor and in 1893 they reported a membership of 1,400 members.

 

  There is little evidence available about the beginnings of the German Roman Catholic Church in Altsiwatz and the arrival of the original settlers.  When the German Reformed settlers arrived in Serbian Siwatz large numbers of German Roman Catholic settlers from the adjacent areas also appeared on the scene.  Because the Reformed were the vast majority of the German settlers, the Roman Catholics wanted to separate themselves from them and moved on to Altsiwatz with the Serbs when they left.  There were also Hungarian Roman Catholics who did the same.  The first documented reference to them comes from 1794 noting that a Roman Catholic parish of Germans and Hungarians had been formed with 272 souls.  It was a filial of Kula and later belonged to the Kernei parish.  They appealed to Emperor Joseph II for a church and priest.  Their request was granted in 1797 and by 1800 they had 526 parishioners.  In 1859 there were 1,255 souls.  At the time of the evacuation in 1944 about 1,500 of the German-speaking members of the parish fled while many of those who remained behind perished in the death camps.

 

Hungary and the Minorities

 

  Following the failure of the War of Independence in 1848 under the leadership of Louis Kossuth the new Hungarian Constitution of 1867 strengthened the forces of Hungarian nationalism that sought to assimilate and incorporate all of the minorities into what they called the “Hungarian nation”.  The first attempts were made in the closing years of the 19th Century in terms of education in the schools of the minorities.  All children had to study and learn Hungarian in all of the schools.  Those pupils who went on in school beyond that of their village school had to take all of their classes in Hungarian and became quickly assimilated in the dominant culture.  Propaganda was directed at the children and the parents.  This Maygarization programme suffered a setback with the outbreak of the First World War.  The local German men served in the Hungarian Army and the Austrian Imperial Army.  At war’s end as a result of the Treaty of Trianon in 1919 Siwatz and the rest of the Batschka became part of Yugoslavia, a new Slavic State and they could leave the attempts to Magyarize them behind.

 

  In order for them to preserve their identity and culture the Swabians as they were called by Slavic neighbours formed the Swabian-German-Cultural Association in Neusatz on June 20, 1920.  The Yugoslavian government accepted this and maintained friendly relationships with the organization but in the future it would be seen as a menace to the State.  They wanted to wean the Swabians from all things Hungarian and brought about some measures against the Swabians who were seen to be pro-Hungarian.  To protect themselves the Swabians formed their own political party.  The German Party ran candidates in the 1929 election and three representatives were elected in the Sombor district and served in the parliament.

 

  The local branch of the Kulturbund ( the recognized short form of the organization) was formed in Siwatz in 1920.  The aggressive policies of Nazi Germany would have an effect on the association and their ideology infiltrated the Kulturbund.  One’s German-ness became the watchword among the young.  In the Spring of 1941 Yugoslavia was quickly overrun by the German army and the Hungarian army occupied the Batschka claiming it as their territory and part of Greater Hungary.  They offered no resistance to the Kulturbund nor interfered in its activities.

 

  As a result of the change in government there was a large increase in the membership of what was now the Volksbund connected to the same movement in Hungary and a front organization for the Third Reich.  In 1942 the local chapters of the Bund carried out a recruitment drive among the German-speaking population for volunteers to serve in the German and Hungarian armed forces and the SS.  Most of the young Swabians who grew up in Yugoslavia had little or no exposure to Hungarian and chose to enlist in the German forces.  When the SS enlistment commission made up of Bund leaders came to Siwatz to carry out the recruitment drive there were few volunteers.

 

  The local Bund  saw its best days between 1941-1944 both organizationally and in terms of membership growth.  Unfortunately, all of this set the German population apart from the other nationalities among whom they lived.

 

  As conditions worsened for the German Army on the Eastern Front, the population became agitated.  All of the young men from 18 to 35 years of age were already serving on the front lines.  In the summer of 1944 as Germany’s allies, the Romanians and the Bulgarians capitulated, it was obvious to the population that the situation was dangerous.  Yugoslavia was about to become a theatre of war once again.  The Front moved closer from the south-east.  Temesvár had already fallen.  The first refugee treks from the Banat passed through Siwatz.  Anxiety was palpable everywhere.  No one seemed to be able to grasp the fact that they would have to leave.  The last of the men were taken into the army, fathers and sons to hold a disintegrating front.

 

  In October 1944 the news that the enemy was at the Tisza River frightened the populace of Siwatz.  The Volksbund leaders gave the order to pack for an evacuation.  After a false alarm on October 4th a second order went out on October 8th.  The Russians had crossed the Tisza River nearby.  The population was ordered to flee across the Danube.  Even though the covered wagons were packed they were ordered to feed their abandoned livestock first.  After taking leave of those staying behind the first column of wagons headed for the Danube.  Numerous columns of horses and wagons followed in the next few days.  Women and children waited along the streets and were loaded onboard horse drawn wagons or tractor driven ones.  It became impossible to cross the Danube and the treks drove alongside the river to Dunafӧldvár in Hungary.  Many others were able to escape down the river in ferries.  The wagon convoys were sent in different directions through various regions of Hungary.  The treks were bombed and strafed by fighter aircraft.  Their horses were requisitioned by the military.  Many of the refugees from Siwatz had to pass through Czechoslovakia and fled to Silesia.  They would have to flee west when the Russians began to stream across Poland and the eastern German provinces.

 

  About 90% of the population of Neusiwatz and most of the German population of Altsiwatz left on the refugee treks.  The livestock left behind bellowed for food, cats and dogs howled and then the looters came.  The mayor, Ferdinand Stieb stayed behind and organized the feeding of the cattle and set up a night watch to prevent more looting.  Caring for the livestock took most of the time of those who had remained until October 20, 1944 the day the first Russian troops came and assembled all of the livestock, slaughtered all of the animals and transported their carcasses away.

 

  Slavic inhabitants of the area accompanied the military who allowed them to loot and plunder the Swabian homes at will.  Both  the troops and civilians sought wine as their first objective.  The barrels were dragged out of the wine cellars.  They became drunk and fired their rifles to scare the Swabians.  Four days after the arrival of the Russian troops who were moved on in the direction of the Danube, Partisan units came to replace them.  They were the new lords of the land and would set up a government.  But there first task was a rather gruesome practice they had initiated in the south in Srem and the southern Batschka against the Swabian civilian population which had remained behind and not joined the evacuation and flight.

 

  Sixteen persons were ordered to report to the town hall and then other hostages were taken and imprisoned.  After four days all of the 73 who had been arrested disappeared.  The powder magazine where they had been locked up was bathed in blood.  Out in the cemetery there was a large long recently dug grave that was guarded by the Partisans for over a week.  The mayor was among the arrested.  They had also arrested 67 Hungarian men who were included in the bloodbath.

 

  Seventeen divisions of Russian troops passed through Siwatz.  The abandoned Swabian homes were totally looted and nearly destroyed by the military and the Slavic population at large.  The few Swabians assembled together in homes for mutual protection and consolation.  By the end of November there were fewer troops passing through and several of the Siwatz evacuees crossed Hungary and returned home to Siwatz.  Even some of the soldiers from the village managed to work their way home and everyone hoped things would become normalized soon.

 

  Individuals simply disappeared.  Others were taken away.  Some were beaten to death or taken away to Sombor and never heard from again.  There were those who were shot in their own homes.  In the midst of the terror there were some who took their own lives.  The village was a total mess.  Horses were stabled in people’s houses.  All the windows in the houses were broken and the doors battered down.

 

  On December 26, 1944 all German women between the ages of 17 to 35 years and men from 17 to 45 were assembled throughout the Sombor District and were delivered to the artillery barracks in Sombor.  Several others from Siwatz were brought to join them there on December 29th.  On December 31st all of them were loaded on cattle cars and sent to Russia and after sixteen days arrived at Stalino in Ukraine and sent to the coal mines.

 

  On April 4, 1945 Siwatz was surrounded by Yugoslav military personnel.  All German women, children and the elderly were given ten minutes to take leave of their homes and then were force marched to the railway station and sent to Gakowa…the death camp.

 

  Another group of able bodied older men and one younger man who had returned to Siwatz were selected for a punishment detail and sent to Srem to work on rebuilding the railway and were gruesomely tortured by the sentries and eventually martyred.  Only a few survived the cruelty and torture.

 

  Of those who remained behind to face the wrath of the Partisans, five men and three women of the fifty-five persons taken to do slave labour in the Soviet Union died there.  Two men and five women were killed during the flight.  Fourteen men were executed or murdered by the Partisans.  The number who perished in the camps at Gakowa and Jarek from Neusiwatz included 53 men, 69 women and 3 children for a total of 125 persons.  Those from Altsiwatz included 33 men, 47 women and 1 child for a total of 81 persons.  In addition there were 81 men from Neusiwatz and 68 from Altsiwatz who lost their lives on the battle front or in Russian prisoner of war camps after the war.

2 Responses to “ Siwatz in the Batschka ”

  1. My Mother, Gisela and her Foster parents Phillipp and Elisabeth Huber
    lived in Alt-Siwatz. Phillipp owned a large vineyard and Elisabeth was a mid-wife for the citizens of the town.
    They fled in Oct 1944 along with towns people when word came of the Russian advancement. They traveled by horse-wagons
    through Hungary, which where strafed by aircraft and they settled in Manhausen Austria near the Concentration Camps as they knew would be safe from bombings.
    After the Liberation, American troops turned over parts to the Russians.
    Later all ethnic Germans where ordered to leave Austria and they started to head back home to Siwatz. While in Hungary
    they learned that Russian Army was putting towns people in Concentration Camps so stayed in Hungary. aboyt a year later they where told to leave and fled to Karlruche, Germany settled in Durlach.
    My Mother met my Father who was stationed in Karlsruche in the Army and they married in 1956 coming to America.
    I have a book from my Mother entitled Siwatz ein donauschwabisches dorf in der
    Batschka along with some maps of the town.
    My Mother, who was adopted at 12, lost contact with her Brother Alexander Militz in 1941 and believe may still be alive.
    I’ve been trying for years to locate him with no success, believe he may be in Germany. My Mother has Cancer and only has a short time remaining so any help would be most appreciated.

  2. Tanja Gundendorfer says:

    Meine Oma Susanna Bohr geb. Schira (Schirach), geboren 1919 lebte in Siwatz. Sie müsste nach Ausbruch des Krieges, ca 1944 mit Ihren zwei Kindern, den Eltern und der Schwiegermutter fliehen. Viehwaggon und Lager. Unter anderem in Österreich -Kaisersteinbruch. Meine Oma ist inzwischen 96 Jahre alt und lebt bei meiner Mutter in Karlsruhe

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