Jarek in the Batschka
The information that appears in this article finds its source in several publications but primarily the Heimatbuch that was published by the Village Association of Jarek.
The picturesque Danube Swabian village of Jarek was located 15 kilometres from Novi Sad in present day Serbia. In 1937 there were a total of 1,911 inhabitants all of whom were Swabians and Evangelical Lutherans. It was founded in 1787 as the last settlement in the Batschka under the sponsorship of Emperor Joseph II. The first settlers came primarily from Württemberg as well as Hessen-Nassau, the Pfalz and Alsace. The initial 80 families all came from Württemberg and by 1788 they were in great need and had to borrow wheat from the government using their future crops as collateral.
These settlers were first placed on the estate of Count Sigismund Pejachevich whose agents had recruited them promising land, homes and work. Instead they found themselves destitute and spent the first winter in the cellars they had dug in the ground. There were seven hundred colonists involved on his estate. Some had come as early as 1770 from Hungary: Kisharta, Vadkert, Meszӧbereny, Mokra, Nagyszӧlles and were all German-speaking Lutherans. New settlers from Germany joined them in 1786. All of the groups complained to the authorities and eventually word got to Emperor Joseph II who took immediate action.
The settlers from Württemberg found it hard to cope with the climate, swamps and barren land. In terms of their church life they had to accept the ministry of Roman Catholic priests and were placed under their jurisdiction. They were registered in the Roman Catholic parish records in Ruma. Seventeen family names that are recorded would be re-settled in Jarek. Others moved on elsewhere or returned home. Most of the Württemberg families settled in Ruma from March to September of 1786. By February of the spring of 1787 they had left. There were 80 families and some 300 persons.
They were later joined by other Lutherans as mentioned previously and together they established community and church life and would have to brace themselves to face many hardships in the future. One of the major setbacks that affected the second and third generations was “the flight of 1848″. The village and its inhabitants were victims of the Hungarian Revolutionary War of that same year. Serbian rebels were on the rampage throughout the area and the local population of Jarek fled north to the neighbouring Lutheran village of Kisker 20 to 30 kilometres away as well as Schowe, Altker and Werbass wherever they sought sanctuary. In late August 1848 plundering bands of Serb rebels crossed the Danube and struck Jarek and the Hungarian village of Temerin on the night of August 29th-30th. They put both of them to the torch setting fire to many buildings. The fires got out of control in Jarek and everything was totally destroyed except for the twenty-five year old Lutheran Church which was badly damaged.
In the future grandparents would tell the story of a Serb who aimed and fired at the crucifix on the altar of the church and instantly became deaf and mute. For generations, the older residents told the children the stories about “the flight” many of which became local village legends.
On their return to their burned out and blackened village they had to sell their services as agricultural workers throughout the area. Slowly the village and church were renovated and their homes were restored. Their church bells had been carried off but they were located in Karlowitz and were brought back home.
Later many of the young families of Jarek left to establish themselves in other villages because there was no more available land or the existing land that was for sale was far too expensive. Between 1883/1884 many left for Budisawa, others migrated to Syrem and 200 would leave for the United States.
What distinguished the inhabitants of Jarek most of all was their deep piety. The Bible played a major role in their family life. Many wives, mothers and grandmothers would write out the 91st Psalm by hand and sew it into a special pocket in the breast pocket of their family members serving as soldiers. Every trooper from Jarek knew Psalm 91 by heart in both the First and Second World Wars.
The Last Days in Jarek
The summer of 1944 was one of relative peace and calm in Jarek although war was raging well beyond its perimeter. The only reminders were the death notices from the army. Flights of silver Allied aircraft overhead were simply a sight to behold. A few bomb shelters were built but no bombs ever fell on Jarek.
Large numbers of children from the cities of Westphalia had been evacuated to the Batschka to escape the bombing and 240 of them were in foster homes in Jarek. Later children also came from Vienna. The last of the children left in April 1944. In that spring the first bombing attacks on Novi Sad took place. The airport was hit and the Hungarians set up a make shift air base at Jarek and the pilots were billeted in private homes. The summer was soon over and the harvest was in full swing as September began. German troops arrived and were housed in the school buildings. Troops marched through Jarek on their way to the front as well as trucks and wagons with supplies. The first rumours that Jarek was endangered were heard and fear began to spread.
Novi Sad was bombed heavily, day after day. The shock waves from the explosions could be felt: windows rattled and floors trembled. People who were bombed out sought shelter in Jarek. Then the entire population fled into the villages in the district which appeared to be safe from bomb attacks because they were out of the way and not strategic supply centres.
In the middle of September as Jarek went about the harvest the first refugees from the Banat arrived. They were Swabians who had been ordered to evacuate. They came with horses and wagons. They had been travelling for five or six days. Their horses were exhausted and the wagons were dirty. They arrived towards evening. They were grateful for a roof over their heads. From these refugees the people of Jarek learned that they too could soon be on the refugee trail themselves.
By the end of September, retreating battle weary troops and refugees from the Banat streamed through Jarek. The German front to the east was collapsing. The Hungarian pilots and their aircraft were ordered out quickly to a safer area to the northwest. The troops followed on the trains. In the neighbouring villages and area Partisans from Srem began to put in an appearance. But Jarek was still at peace until the first days of October.
Fire broke out in the hemp factory and caused alarm in the whole village and the fifteen year olds had to put it out as all other men-folk had been taken into the army. As late as September12th, the men from 35 to 50 years of age had also been taken. Many of them were stationed in the northern Batschka and three or four days before the evacuation they were sent home to assist the villagers in their flight. By the end of September the Village Council was informed of an imminent evacuation and these older men got home just in time to help carry it out.
Many had heard from their fathers and grandfathers of the evacuation of 1848, when the people of Jarek fled to the north and middle Batschka and it looked like the same thing was happening again: packing, bread baking, butchering and fodder gathering. Instead of taking the best linens, bedding and clothes they took their every day things! They wanted to “save” the best. Just like the last time they would soon be coming home again. They thought they were only fleeing across the Danube. Many wanted to stay and take their chances with the Russians.
The order to evacuate Jarek was received on the evening of October 6, 1944. The Village Council met for the last time. All men from eighteen to fifty years of age had been conscripted into the Waffen-SS and only some older youth were around to help. At ten o’clock that night some older youth were sent from house to house to tell the members of the household to be ready and packed in the morning to leave. A blackout had been ordered and so all the preparations were made in the dark. Next morning at nine o’clock the first wagons appeared on the main street. Chaos reigned in the village. Traffic jams were everywhere. Things were often at a standstill. Retreating German and Hungarian troops passed through with trucks and wagons. No one seemed to know what to do. Who was in charge? At noon amid the confusion, a German officer arrived. Under his direction and leadership the first column of wagons got under way even though it took a lot of shouting and screaming on his part. The bells in the church tower struck noon. But the first column of wagons still stood there. The side streets were filled with wagons and no one had any idea of what was going on. Nothing had changed by one o’clock.
The officer complained bitterly and told the mayor, Nikolaus Schurr, to start out and lead the column. By two o’clock they were on their way to Novi Sad. On that Saturday, October 7th the first wagon convoy of 290 wagons set out led by the mayor. Many people from Wassergasse, Kreuzgasse and Neugasse returned to overnight in their homes because they were afraid to travel in the dark. Those who remained in the village spent a restless and fearful night. No one slept. Cattle and livestock that had not been sent out to pasture bellowed for fodder and water. Some of the villagers went from house to house to care for them. But plunderers also began to arrive from the district.
On the next day, a Sunday, the second trek of 140 wagons left under the leadership of Johann Schollenberger, the custodian of the orphans. As they wagons left the bells in the church tower tolled and the church doors were wide open and the fleeing villagers could hear the teacher, Wilhlem Heinz, at the organ playing, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Befiehl Du Deine Wege”, “Harre Meine Seele” to encourage the weeping people. The teacher sent his family with the trek but remained behind with those who had no transportation. All of the livestock were then set free to pasture. As the trek left it was passed by streams of Hungarian refugees from Temerin. The inhabitants of both villages were experiencing a second flight together almost a century apart.
After the departure of the two large wagon treks there were still many loaded wagons that belonged to poorer people who had no draught animals that were standing in the streets and the people were getting more and more anxious about leaving. They looked for tractors that had been left behind but there were only a few available and these hitched up a few wagons and drove off towards Novi Sad. As there were no tractors or horses that were available, army lorries arrived in the evening. Now the people could only take the most necessary items from the wagons and load them on the army trucks which took them until midnight. They left for the docks at Novi Sad and were then to travel up the Danube. They travelled to Vukovar and then on to Mohács but could not go on because the Russians were already approaching the Danube from the north and east. They were assigned to railway transportation to Germany. They were joined by refugees from Palanka and Cservenka and then went on to Szigetvar, Nagykanisza and Sopron and entered Austria arriving in Vienna on October 28th. They then went on to Salzburg and some went on to Munich.
Plundering began as the evacuation was underway in spite of the continuing presence of German troops and engaged in sexual orgies with Hungarian girls and paid them off with clothes, bedding and furnishings from the Swabian homes. The livestock were stolen or confiscated by the retreating German Army. Some of the Jarek villagers returned home. The local Serbs welcomed them and promised to protect them even though they were afraid of what might happen themselves when the Russians and Partisans arrived. Most of the looters came from Temerin and they came in droves and carted off their plunder.
The last German troops left Jarek on the night of October 22nd and 23rd. The villagers who had remained gathered together for protection. The Russian troops who arrived a few days later were well disciplined. As they passed through the village they kept asking, “Which way to Berlin? How much farther is Berlin?” They thought it would be twenty or thirty kilometres away.
On November 25, 1944 the National Committee of Liberation decreed that all Swabians had lost all of their rights of citizenship and were enemies of the State. The remaining Swabians of Jarek were expelled from their homes and the “abandoned” community was turned into an internment camp. On December 3rd the Swabians of Budisawa were delivered to Jarek and quartered in the lower part of Ochsengasse. An order was also issued that all of the Swabians of Jarek were to be interned in the camp as well. But fifty able bodied persons, both men and women, were taken to labour camps in Novi Sad and Schowe. Three thousand Hungarian civilians were brought to Jarek from Zabalj, Curug and Mosorin charged with treason for their activities during the Hungarian occupation. The Partisans robbed them of their possessions even tearing gold earrings from the women’s ears. They were to be followed by thousands of Danube Swabians in the coming weeks, months and years.
Jarek would become one of the most notorious of the death camps in Yugoslavia where thousands of the elderly and children perished until it was closed down in August 1946 and the survivors were sent to meet their final fate at Gakowa and Kruschivilje.