Werbass, Vrbas, Verbász in the Batschka

1785-1975

 

  The article which follows is a summary and translation of various parts of The History of the Twin Communities of Old and New Werbass published in 1975 by the Werbass Homeland Association.

 

  At the end of the 17th Century the Serbs moved into what became the Batschka just as the German settlement of Hungary also began.  The difference between the two groups was that the Germans were lured there with Patents and land grants from the Habsburg Crown, while the Serbs were fleeing the wrath of the Turks since they had allied themselves against the Turks.  They sought only temporary sanctuary until the Turks were driven out of southern Serbia.  When that did not happen they settled permanently.  The area had been depopulated by the Turks and had become a wasteland and cultivated fields no longer existed in the midst of the devastation.

 

  The Edict of Toleration of Emperor Joseph II in 1781 and 1784 ended the centuries long oppression of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in both Hungary and Austria.  His mother the Empress Maria Theresia had forbidden the settlement of non-Roman Catholics in her Population Patent of June 21, 1755.  The Protestants who lived in the area went on to Transylvania and Srem to avoid conversion.

 

  For the purpose of emigration many of the settlers carried letters of recommendation from their pastors.  From the tone of these letters and other church documents the pastors by and large were of the Pietistic tradition.  The words of faith and assurance that the pastors and church leaders sent with the emigrants were still in the hearts and consciences of the settlers and were their last link with their former homeland.  Those who left for Hungary were all noted and recorded in the parish records.  The following is an extract from one of them:  “May the Lord give all them blessings, good fortune, good health and success that they may be true to their God and King, steadfast and faithful in their faith and remain so, so that our Lord Jesus Christ will grant them every heavenly gift and the crown of life.”

 

  People of substance as well as the poor joined the Swabian Trek in its final phase under the auspices of Joseph II.  The German princes and state officials discouraged would-be emigrants from leaving and claimed that the recruiting agents misled the people.  They asked, “Why leave your beautiful homes for the swamplands of Hungary?  Hungary is the cemetery of the Germans.”  The settlers were not free farmers and “belonged” to their lord of the manor to whom they owed allotted labour service, taxes and tithes of their crops.  Those who emigrated had to be released from their servitude and receive a certificate of manumission after the payment of all of their debts.  They left need and poverty behind in the hope of a better future for their children.  Leave taking was difficult for most of them especially their immediate families that they would never see again, their church and cemetery and the graves of loved ones.

 

  Those who had no resources were granted their manumission for free, others who had funds had to pay an emigration tax of one Gulden per man, forty-five Kreuzer for a woman and ten Kreuzer per child.  The manumission fee and the poll tax was eight Gulden per man.  In all of the princely domains the Swabian Trek to Hungary was big business bourn by the peasants who were leaving.  The taxes differed in each territory.  Assistance was available through the Imperial Agents as well as a travel allowance.

 

  The emigrants also required an accompanying pass issued by the Imperial Agents at Frankfurt, Rothenburg and Koblenz.  Heads of families had to register at their offices.  On the pass were his name, age, religion and place of origin; the name of his wife and children and signed the promise to settle in the Kingdom of Hungary and to report in Vienna for the next stage of the emigration to Herr Welz at 216 Hofgarten.  Only family units were permitted to emigrate.  Wives had to accompany their husbands.  Only those who could provide security for their families left behind could leave alone and spy out the land and get settled first before they followed him.  Many took their aged parents with them as well as unmarried brothers and sisters.  In some cases they even brought their hired hands and maids with them.

 

  Many of the unmarried, married for the purpose of emigrating.  Others found wives among the other would-be settlers on their way to Vienna and were married there before moving on into Hungary.

 

  Tensions developed between the territorial princes and their subjects who sought to emigrate.  They were autocrats and had no real concern or understanding of their people and many issued anti-emigration laws.  The Kurpfalz (Rhine Palatinate) is an example.  The ruler was an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire.  Because of the devastation of the area by the French at the close of the 17th Century and restrictions imposed upon the religious freedom of the Protestants, thousands saw no other alternative than to leave for other lands.  In addition to this was the desperate economic situation of the peasants.

 

  The settlers travelled with “sack and pack” and carried only the necessities for their journey, all else was sold and this money was the “fortune” they brought with them.  It took four to six weeks of travel to reach their destination and funds would be needed.

 

  As many began the trek they left early in the morning accompanied by relatives and friends for part of the way.  Others, lacking official permission to leave, stole away in the night after secretly selling their property.  Avoiding the night watch, climbing over the village walls, whole families disappeared into the night.

 

  Many settlers followed footpaths or walked on the roads but most left by wagon.  Those who walked carried only necessities in their bundles, sacks, packs, baskets, carts and wheelbarrows.  Bedding, clothing, food.  They travelled in small and larger groups and formed a community in which a “leader” emerged, usually an older gifted man who made arrangements and decisions for the rest.  The assembly areas were at Regensburg and Ulm on the Danube.

 

  When they arrived in Ulm they were accommodated in the town.  Baptisms and marriages were frequent and the economy of the town was effected by the emigration but the people of Ulm were supportive of the emigrants.  That was especially true of the pastors of the town to whom may turned for help and guidance.  The island of Schwall lies at the confluence of the major and minor branches of the Danube where ship navigation of the river begins.  The Ulmer Schachtel (boxlike boats) travelled seven to eight kilometres an hour and had a capacity of one hundred to one hundred fifty tons.  They were made of unfinished lumber and timber and were disassembled in Vienna and sold there as lumber.

 

  The emigrants landed at the Rossau docks after sailing through the Danube Canal.  The area was swampy, forested, open meadows, reeds and brambles with a few fishermen’s huts here and there.  At the docks there were tradesmen, merchants and farmers with food, drink and various supplies for sale.  Some of the settlers slept on the docks, some in the ship overnight, while those who could afford it walked across the Augarten Bridge to Leopoldstadt and took up quarters in one of the inns, “Zum Goldene Fischtrügel”, “Fischer”, “Lamm” or “Goldenen Hirschen”.

 

  An agent of the ship company usually accompanied the settlers to Vienna until an emissary of the Crown accompanied them to the Hofkanzlei:  Royal Chancellery for Hungary and Transylvania.  The whole group walked through the city in their distinctive attire.  Each family registered and showed the documents that were required, received money for the next leg of the trek and were assigned to a specific location in Hungary.

 

  Many arrived without proper documentation, usually the poor, but no obstacle was put in their way and they were assisted in the same way as the others.  The Imperial government was fully aware of the territorial princes’ opposition to the emigration and by accepting these people word got back home and more people would follow.

 

  Countless marriages took place in Vienna and most couples were in the early twenties or late teens.

 

  They took larger ships to Offen (Buda part of Buda-Pest) and registered again and arrangements were made to get them to Sombor the chief staging area for the Batschka settlements.  The last part of the journey was on foot along the Danube and Tisza Rivers and through rather desolate uninhabited areas.  They slept out under the sky, experienced hunger, were plagued by sickness and their were deaths along the way.

 

  At Sombor they registered again and if settlers arrived without documents they were accepted.  Facilities were there for the settlers to house them until they could move into their own homes in Werbass.  They were then transferred to neighbouring Roman Catholic villages and housed with families who received one Kreuzer per person per day.  This lasted for about six months until their homes were built.  At the time of the  founding of the settlement between 1784-1786 there were 252 landowning families along with 42 cotters and their families who were tradesmen or day labourers.  The majority of the families had their origins in the Pfalz, Württemberg, Hessen, Alsace and the Saarland and included both Lutherans (Evangelisch) and Reformed.  A comprehensive list of the first settlers can be found on pages 72 to 94 with rather detailed information on the part of most of them.

 

  During the reign of the Empress Maria Theresia a large group of Slovak Lutherans settled in the Batschka in 1760.  They lived on ecclesiastical lands owned by Archbishop Adam Patasic who was determined to convert them.  In the face of his attempts to do so they moved en masse to Srem which was outside of the Archbishop’s jurisdiction and established themselves at what would become known as Alt Pazowa (Passua).  On these private estates the Slovaks were not allowed to have a pastor or hold any public worship services but they were nurtured in their faith by meeting in household assemblies.  Each year at Easter the entire community would travel together from Kolócsa and make a pilgrimage to their home congregations in the counties of Pest, Nógrad, Zolyom and Turoc to receive Holy Communion.

 

  Following the promulgation of the Edict of Toleration, Petrovac was the first Lutheran congregation established in the Batschka by Slovaks who settled there in 1783 along with their Pastor Andres Stehlo.  This was followed by a massive wave of Protestant immigration from various German principalities that resulted in the establishment of Torschau in 1784, Cservenka in 1785 and Werbass from between 1784-1786.  These Lutheran settlements all had a Reformed minority living among them.  In future the two confessions would be settled separately.  In 1786, Lutherans established Kleinker, Sekitsch and Bulkes and the Reformed founded Neusiwatz and Neuschowe.  Jarek was another Lutheran settlement that came into existence in 1787.

 

  The first resident Lutheran pastor in Werbass was Johann Georg Meyer (born in 1755 in Bayreuth, Bavaria) who graduated in theology at Potsdam in 1784 but was without a call and could not be ordained.  After discussions with government and church officials an agreement was concluded for him to become the pastor of Werbass in July of 1786.  He accompanied the settlers who founded Cservenka and then assumed his pastorate in Werbass.  The church chronicle reports that he was a true care taker of souls in Werbass for twenty-two years until his death on December 16, 1808.  His was no easy task.  The congregational members differed greatly from one another coming from a variety of church backgrounds, traditions and customs out of which a sense of community needed to be built.  Each group was familiar with a different order of service and worship practices and sought retain their own tradition.  The hymnbooks and melodies differed and again each group wished to maintain a sense of home and their childhood.  He needed a lot of tact and patience to work through a new common church life for his people.

 

  In 1791, a Seniorat (Church Conference) was established for the Lutheran congregations and pastors in the Batschka and Srem as part of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Hungary as the Lutheran Church was known.  There were fourteen congregations of which seven were German, six were Slovak and one was Hungarian.  The head of the Seniorat (known as the Senior comparable to a dean) was Andreas Stehlo of Peterovac one of the Slovak congregations.  Along with six other Seniorats they formed Montan District or Diocese with a superintendent-bishop.

 

  Many of the pastors who served the Batschka Lutherans came from Upper Hungary (Slovakia) chiefly from the Royal Free Cities and the mining towns of Zips County.  Their schools in Leutschau, Neusohl, Schemnitz and Eperjes produced strong Lutheran leadership and were highly influential in the development of the church life of the Lutherans in the Batschka.

 

  The settlers left a lot behind but they also brought a lot of their homeland with them.  Their schools were almost carbon copies of what they had been in their German homelands.  Most of the teachers had been engaged in teaching back home before coming to the Batschka and brought the same pedagogical approaches and understandings to their task.  They brought their text books with from wherever they came from and the teaching approaches of 1750s from those areas.  The first Lutheran teacher, Leopold Weber came from Herrstein a very small principality and Werbass would emulate its school system.

 

  There were four factors which shaped the identity of the Lutheran Danube Swabians:  their faith, their mother tongue, their pastor and their teacher.  The roles of teacher and pastor were complimentary, necessary and essential to the life of the Danube Swabian Lutheran Church.  Their schools had the task of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to underscore learning scripture, catechism and the hymns.  Higher education was beyond the means and the aspirations of the settlers and those who arrived after them.  Church and school were so closely related that the school came under the influence of the church and pastor.  The curriculum was under the direction of the local pastor and the Church District.  Church appointed officials inspected the schools and had the responsibility of providing supervision to the teachers.  The bishop’s visit always included the teacher and the school.  Initially there were no standards or requirements of teachers because there was no training programme or educational institution in operation.  The teachers were saintly, good men, usually craftsmen or tradesmen in origin or retired soldiers and attached themselves as assistant teachers as a method of upgrading and preparation.

 

  During the early settlement period truancy was a major problem as children were often engaged in herding cattle, goats, etc.  So that this function became an occupation so that the children were free to come to school.  Those parents who persisted in keeping their  children at work were fined and the money was used to buy books for the poor children.  The first teacher, Leopold Weber, had been a weaver as his name implies.  The key text book that was used was Becker’s School Book (Gotha).  He also trained another man to be a teacher but he served very briefly.  Pupils came for only half the day.  The boys in the morning and the girls in the afternoon.  Arithmetic was taught “to be done in your head”.  Only the boys learned to write because paper, ink and pens were too costly.

 

  There were also Jews among the original settlers in Werbass and had German names and basically came from the same locales as the others.  Later Jewish immigrants came from Austrian principalities and Slovakia.  During the reigns of Maria Theresia and Joseph II they were allowed to settle in southern Hungary.  Many of them settled among the German settlers because of language and cultural similarities.  Most of the Jewish residents originally lived in Alt Werbass but after 1850 they resettled in Neu Werbass.  There were approximately two hundred and fifty of them living in the community in the 1840s when they formed a religious community.  Most of them came to Werbass as trades people i.e. tailors and merchants and shop keepers.  Their descendants established various industries and larger stores and businesses.  Their synagogue stood next to the Reformed Church and they also built and operated their own school.

 

  At the time of the settlement of Werbass in 1786 there were 105 Reformed families that were initially part of the Lutheran congregation.  The Reformed Church officials in Hungary were anxious for the provision of Reformed pastors for the new settlers arriving in the Batschka and carried out extensive correspondence with the government authorities and by November 1784 they had the promise that there would be financial support for two Reformed clergy as soon as possible.  In correspondence of March 19, 1785 it was noted that the Reformed pastor who had been sent to Torschau shortly before had already  abandoned his flock there.  On June 19, 1786 another piece of correspondence indicates that there were 119 Reformed families Cservenka and 102 families in Neu Werbass and in Torschau there were 381 adults that were desperately in need of pastors.  The government authorities agreed to provide support for a pastor in Cservenka and another to serve both Torschau and Neu Werbass.  In November of 1786 Johann Buzás arrived and held his first service in Neu Werbass on the 12th.  He would serve here until 1804 and would hold services on Sundays at seven o’clock and the following Sunday at ten.  The Lutherans and Reformed shared in the use of the same “prayer house” until both congregations eventually had their own churches.  The Reformed also had their own school and teacher.  In the future there would also be a small Methodist congregation and a Roman Catholic parish and school.

 

  The following statistics give an overview of the growth of the two major denominations.  At the time of the settlement 310 houses had been built to accommodate the families.  By 1858 the number of houses had increased to 473.  In 1820 a census was undertaken and there were a total 2,679 inhabitants in Werbass that included 1,982 Evangelical Lutherans and 627 Reformed-Calvinists as well as 56 Roman Catholics and 14 of the Jewish faith.  Later in the census of 1858 Werbass had a total population of 3,985 of whom 1,909 were males and 2,080 were females of whom 2,592 were Evangelical Lutherans, 1,052 were Reformed, 252 were of the Jewish faith, 127 Roman Catholics and 2 were Eastern Orthodox.  During the 1850s the statistics are as follows: in 1854 there 1,487 Evangelical Lutherans and 978 Reformed.  In 1855 there were 1,521 Evangelical Lutherans 1,012 were Reformed.  In 1856 there 1,556 Evangelical Lutherans and 1,034 Reformed.  In 1857 there were 1,598 Evangelical Lutherans and 1,052 Reformed.  In 1858 there were 1,644 Evangelical Lutherans and 1,079 Reformed.

 

  In 1900 the total population of Werbass was 6,369 that rose to 6,924 by 1910.  The census undertaken by the Yugoslavian government on March 31, 1931 indicated the following information about the population of the twin communities of Alt (old) and Neu (new) Werbass by ethnicity and religion:

 

                                                                                 Alt Werbass               Neu Werbass

  Serbs                                                                         2,006                                 547

  Roman Catholics                                                           860                             1,893

  German Protestants                                                    1,707                             5,406

  Other Christians                                                            990                                323

  Muslims                                                                            3                                    3

  No religion or unknown                                                  19                                189

  Totals                                                                           5,585                            8,361

 

  Combined total for the twin communities                 13,946

 

  (The Jewish population was not included and numbered 369 persons)                                

 

The Second World and Its Aftermath

 

  Following the end of the First World War and the defeat of the Central Powers the decision was made at Versailles that the Batschka would become part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which would better be known as Yugoslavia.  With the capitulation of Yugoslavia following the German invasion in 1941 the Batschka was returned to Hungary and Hungarian troops arrived in Werbass on April 3,1941.  When the Eastern Front began to crumble and collapse the Red Army advanced into the Balkans as the German and Hungarian occupying forces began to withdraw in the summer and early fall of 1944.  The inhabitants of Werbass were noticeably worried.  The people looked for something to hold on to and many turned to the church which was now often overflowing.  Fear was an overarching emotion and everyone prayed fervently for the end of the war while the local Serbian population made dire and ominous predictions about the future of the Danube Swabian population.

 

  Everyone was well of the fate that had befallen Werbass’ Jewish population following the Hungarian occupation.  Services in the synagogue were forbidden in 1943 and 1944 and they met in homes as their ancestors had in the past.  The total destruction of the Jewish community would take place in April 1944.

 

  But in retrospect we must mention that some of the young people had emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s as Zionists but there were few who followed their lead.  No one seemed to pay much attention to anti-Semitism until the Hungarian occupation in 1941.  Suddenly all relationships with the Jews in the community ended.  Their stores were boycotted and they were beaten out on the streets.  The windows of the synagogue were broken by “vandals”. Worshippers were molested at the synagogue which led to their assemblies in private homes.  Some of the German inhabitants attempted to raise their voices at the mistreatment of their Jewish neighbours but were unable to accomplish much of anything.  The paramilitary members of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the Hungarian version of Nazism who were fierce anti-Semites played a major role in what would transpire.  Local Jewish men who had won military decorations in the First World War were interned by the Hungarians in the camp at Begéc in the southern Batschka and were taken there in trucks that were used to transport slaughter animals.  The entire convoy was then sent across the Danube River into the area where the Croat national government, the Ustacha, were in control.  They too were also fiercely anti-Semitic, all of which meant certain death for all of them.

 

  Hungarian governmental regulations and restrictions went into effect against the Jewish population and targeted their economic life.  Many attempted to get lost in the larger communities in order to escape surveillance.  About one third of the Jewish community left or went into hiding.  A pogrom of mass murders of both Jews and Serbs was carried out by Hungarian troops in Novi Sad in January of 1942 and also included the rest of the southern Batschka.  Prominent members of their community in Werbass were taken to the camp in Batschka Topola and held there for several months.  Then another blow was levelled at the remaining Jewish population on July 1, 1942 when all Jewish males from the ages of 18 to 45 years were conscripted to serve in labour battalions to support the Hungarian Army on the battlefield in the Soviet Union.  Countless numbers of them from Werbass died miserably in Ukraine and on other fronts in the war with Russia.

 

  The surviving Jewish population in Werbass who were mainly women and children and the elderly kept in doors and out of sight.  They avoided the streets and the mistreatment that they could expect.  But even in those dark, dark days there were individuals who were examples of Christian charity towards their former friends, neighbours and co-workers.  Everyone had a sense of knowing that there was more to come.  On March 19, 1944 the German Army occupied Hungary and the order was given for the quickening of the pace in carrying out the final solution to the Jewish problem by the “new Hungarian regime” now in place:  The Arrow Cross Party.  The first step was the introduction of the yellow star of David.  On April 26, 1944 a round up of the remaining Jews in Werbass took place at night.  The operation was carried out by the local police, Hungarian troops, SS officers, Gestapo officials and civilian authorities who packed the Jews in the school.

Only those of mixed parentage were exempted.  They along with others in the camps at Batschka Topola, Maria Teresopel and Baja were packed fifty per cattle car with no food or water and were taken to Gänserndorf in the vicinity of Vienna.  From here there were some “special” people who were sent to Theresianstadt but the rest went to their death in Auschwitz.  It is estimated that 160 of the Jewish inhabitants of Werbass perished in this way.  There were some survivors from the labour battalions and others who returned to Werbass after the war but all of them left en masse in 1948 when the State of Israel was declared and sought their future there.

 

 

   Once the first refugee treks from the Banat passed through Werbass the thought of flight became uppermost in the minds of many.  There were no battles in the vicinity of Werbass because it lay far removed from the front lines.  The populace held its breath.

 

  In July and August of 1944 military activity began in the area.  Fighter aircraft were heading north overhead.  Retreating German and Hungarian troops passed through Werbass.  It seemed to be raining all the time.  More and more refugee wagon trains were quartered and then went on.  Despite what they saw the local population on the whole did not get the message and decided to stay put.  Even their enemies were human what was there to fear?  There was one military action in October that led to a major explosion destroying military supplies and taking a few lives.  As Hungarian troops left by train they assured everyone they would be back in three days.  Too easily the people believed them to their own destruction.  On October 8, 1944 the civilian and military officials belatedly ordered the evacuation of the German population of Webass.  Whoever had a horse and wagon or could get aboard military transportation or get on the last train left on October 9th.  Other people were simply uncertain what they should do.  They remained.

 

  Flak bombardment of the town by the Russians began on October 18th.  There was no response on the part of the German and Hungarian military.  They had simply vanished.  On their part he Russians later said that was the reason why they were lenient when they entered and occupied Werbass.  On October 19th Russian frontline troops and Serbian Partisans marched into the town.  Each house was forced to fly the Yugoslavian flag with a red star imposed upon it.  To their relief there were no instant reprisals against the German population.  German prisoners that were in the custody of the Partisans were forced marched to Neusatz (Novi Sad).  During the night guards went from house to house and assembled stoves for the military.  All German males from 16 to 50 years and females from 18 to 40 years were assembled and taken to do forced labour to bring in the sugar beet and corn crops.  Both men and women were physically abused if they did not work fast enough to suit the Partisans.  In meeting a Partisan on the streets individuals knew they could expect a beating at their hands.  Houses were emptied and men were interned in them and given little if any food but they were called upon to work every day.

 

  In November they took a number of men out to the cemetery and had them dig twenty-five to thirty graves near the place where some soldiers had been buried.  Later that night both Hungarian and German men were thrown into the local jail and forced to undress down to their underwear and were beaten half to death if they had been members of the Swabian Cultural Union and then force marched them out to the cemetery in their bare feet where they were shot.  Some of them had dug the graves themselves a few days before.  One man reports:  “One night a Partisan came for me to have me interrogated.  My wife tapped him on the shoulder and begged him to let me stay at home and fainted in his presence.  That did not phase the man a bit and I was not allowed to help her as she lay there on the floor.  At the community centre I had to hand over everything I had.  Then the door to the jail cell opened and I felt a push from behind and fell inside.  There were about twenty-four of us.  I can’t remember who all of them were.  But I remember the Roman Catholic priest, Tarján, our teacher Heinrich Dietz, Karl Schmidt, his wife, son and daughter, Lenhard Buzder a merchant, Mrs. Häfner neé Krist,  and Mr. Heib who lived on the Kaffeegsse (Coffee Street) etc.  Nothing happened the first night.  My wife wept in front of the community centre.  A Russian spoke to her.  He told her what was going on inside the community centre and for that reason she went out to the cemetery.  The Russian was an officer who was stationed at Haus Tuzlic (local inn).  Thank God all of us were freed that second night because of that Russian officer.  We were interrogated individually about whether we had been members of the Bund and if we had been beaten since we were arrested.  We had to sign a statement to the effect that we were not.  Two of the men in our group had been beaten severely the first night we were there and we had heard their almost animal cries as they crawled back in our cell on all fours.  They signed the same statement we did and I didn’t question it for a moment.  As I was being taken out of the jail I saw my friend Johann Gabel who sat in another cell.  I could hardly recognize him because of the bruises on his face and after his release he was sickly for a very long time.

 

  On another occasion a Partisan came for me and took me to a hearing before Russian Secret Police officers in Alt Werbass.  I was only under arrest for the one night and then released.  There were others who were in the custody of the Secret Police in the Gayer furniture factory, Hause Bayer (an inn) the school were Heinrich Deitz taught and Hause Tuzlic.  On the day of the burial of the wife of Dr. Tessenyi the Partisans apprehended Kiss Tibor and Karl Gayer the owner of the furniture factory from the funeral procession and took then away and they were never seen again.  Schäffer, Tischler, Gutsohn and Friseur had prepared to leave with the evacuation but decided to remain after all and were among the first that were arrested and murdered.  There were so many others whose names escape me now.  But there was Paul Theiss the merchant, his brother Daniel, Paul Rumpf who had been the Richter (mayor) and his son Paul who had just come home from the Hungarian Army.  Heib Andreas, Jr. Professor Jakob Lotz, Karl Schmidt-Ott, Peter Weiss, Bladt Kaufmann, Martin Kremer former member of the Town Council, Kovács the former chief of police, Philip Schmidt a mason was taken to the cemetery on his way home from work and unknowingly was forced to fill the grave in which his son had been thrown the night before.  The old man later died in Jarek.  The wife of Konrad Schadt and the wife of Karl Schadt and the foster daughter of the Bank Director Paul Becker were all led away and never seen again.

 

  On December 21, 1944 I like many other men was on my way back from doing slave labour and was taken by the Partisans to the camp in silk factory and interned.  Young men were led away and sent to Russia and young women and older teenaged girls were assembled and sent to slave labour in Russia.”

 

  The internment of the remaining German population took place on the day of Pentecost on May 20th, 1945 and then the new colonists from Montenegro arrived.  The Lutheran church in Neu Werbass were vandalized by the youth from among the colonists.  Anything made of wood was used for firewood.  The Lutheran Church in Alt Werbass was totally dismantled and the materials used for other purposes.  The tower of the  Reformed Church in Alt Werbass was torn down and the church was turned into a warehouse.  The Reformed Church in Neu Werbass was eventually given to the small Hungarian Reformed congregation and still stands to this day.

 

  With their internment on the day of Pentecost the fate of the villagers was accelerated.  After the church service the Partisans held back all of the worshippers and whoever had a German name (all of them did) were designated to go to the camp created out of a section of the houses in Werbass.  There was no first going home, no saying goodbye, no taking any precious items.  From worship they went straight to the camp.  Later in the same morning, wagons driven by Partisans in the company of local Serbian girls went from house to house and issued the same order to the elderly, sick and children who had not been in church.  All of the people were driven to the camp through the streets of their town with only what they could carry.  On arriving at the camp the people’s goods were confiscated.  The Partisans tore clothing apart to find money that might sown in the seams.  They took soap, jewellery including wedding rings.  Family members were separated.  Some were confined to basements, the yard or the first story.  Visiting was forbidden.  They could not leave their area and had to do everything in the room in which they were assigned.  There was no water available, not even for the children.  All of their belongings were piled up almost to the height of the room.

 

  The Tuesday after Pentecost all the small children and their mothers as well as the elderly were assembled and then told to get ready to leave.  About 360 of them were forced to go on foot to the train station.  They were helped along by being beaten with rods and rifle butts.  A storm erupted so that people lost sight of each other.  Children cried.  Old people stumbled and fell.  The guards screamed and scolded them.  Old men who tried protect the women and children were thrashed and beaten.

 

  At the railway station a locomotive and a long line of open freight cars awaited them.  They were packed onboard with whatever belongings they still had.  The people were driven from one freight car to another at the whim of the sentries.  Those who seemed to be too slow were beaten until they bled and again it was especially the old men.  Their way of sorrows began that night.  It was raining as the people from Werbass left their home forever.  Next morning they arrived at Jarek.  They were soaked by the rain.  Hungry.  Cold.  Tired.  They sat on their meagre bundles.  Some of the old had died on the way.  They were finally ordered off the freight cars and carried their bundles and the smallest children into Jarek which had  been the most beautiful Lutheran village in the Batschka which had been turned into an extermination camp.  Fearfully with great despair they entered the village.  The guards were in a hurry.  They robbed and plundered the people of whatever they might have left.  Finally the body searches were over and the assignment to houses in the village began.  People began to die in the very first days.  A second group arrived from Werbass a week later.  People simply lay about on the floors or on straw if they could get it.

 

  The starvation diet they received was soup in the morning with no body to it.  Beans for lunch boiled in water without salt.  There was no supper.  Bread was made without salt and was barley based.  The lack of salt effected everyone especially the children.  Hunger was a constant reality.  When a family member died they traded the clothes for food.  A black market flourished among the Partisan guards.  Five and six year olds were so weak that they could not stand or walk.  There was a “hospital” set up for children but no one took their child there because visiting was forbidden.  Many of the children died of diphtheria.  Typhus made victims of many of the adults and the two German doctors in the camp could not handle the large numbers of the sick and dying.

 

  There was no life in the camp, only slow death.  They scrounged for food everywhere because the inhabitants had fled en masse with very little time to spare and left everything behind and for that reason people searched everywhere.  The people were not allowed to leave their houses.  Partisans patrolled the streets.  They were not allowed into the backyards either for fear that they would communicate with others.  They could only go to the kitchen but at designated times.  Inspections were regular and thorough because they were still on the lookout for valuables.  They would shove the sick aside and search beneath them.  Up to one hundred people died daily.  Each death had to be reported.   They came for the body with a wagon.  Friends and family sewed the bodies in linen, straw mattresses and accompanied the body to the door.  If an older man was present he often offered a prayer and spoke of the Christian hope to the others gathered around him.  On occasions hymns were read or said because all forms of singing were forbidden.

 

  The bodies were taken to mass graves of eighty or so.  Bodies were covered with lime.  The old funeral director of Werbass was allowed to pull the wagon with the bodies to the grave site.  He paid everyone his last respects, prayed over his friends and neighbours and listed all of the names that are included in this book.

 

  Everyone under sixty-five had to work mostly in a neighbouring Hungarian village.  No visitors were allowed in Jarek but some sneaked in by accompanying the workers at the Hungarian village back to the camp.  If caught it meant the cellar.  Somehow one copy of the New Testament and several hymnbooks had alluded the searchers.  They were shared and passed on among the camp inmates.  There were numerous Lutheran and Reformed pastors in the camp who tried to minister as best as they could.  Those who survived Jarek were sent to the death camps at Gakowa and Kruschilvje.

 

  A total of 602 men, women and children from Werbass died in Jarek.  From among those who survived and were sent to Gakowa another 42 perished.  During three nights in November 1944 a total of 101 villagers were executed.  The total losses among those who remained behind in Werbass number 745 persons.

6 Responses to “ Werbass, Vrbas, Verbász in the Batschka ”

  1. Ranka Ivanoska, Vrbas says:

    Thank you for translating a part of this book. I got a printed issue in german, but I could read only small parts…Best regards from Vrbas

  2. Greetings,
    I have not yet purchased this book, but I do look forward to doing so. My family is from beautiful little Neu Werbass since the 1700s. I would like to walk the same roads and eat the same foods as my Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, his Father and his Forefathers. My blood, bones and spirit are there.

    My best,
    Frederick

  3. Gergo Kocsis says:

    Thank you for writing this summary. My grandmaother and her family a german family living in Werbass fled the city before the russians came. My grandmother tells me that most of their friends, especially those with german names were killed if they stayed.
    I have never been to Werbass, but I would surely want to visit someday. My great-grandfather Joseph/József/Jozef Dieszler owned a shop on the main street.

  4. Karl Kovac says:

    Thanks for posting this. My Great Grandfather was Kovács the chief of police mentioned in the text. My family was never 100% sure of what happened to him, i think they where told he was sent to a work camp. Is there anything else i can read about Vrbas during WW2?

  5. Adolf Armbruster says:

    This is extremely informative reading. Thank you. I was born in Novi Sad in 1941 to Swabian parents. My father from Kupinovo and mother from Werbass where several generations of ancestors had lived dating to the mid-1800’s and perhaps a little earlier. My parents were married in the Lutheran Church in Werbass.

    Your article refers to a “comprehensive list of first settlers (Werbass) that can be found on pp. 72-94. I cannot find the source for this information. I tried finding “The History of the Twin Communities of Old and New Werbass” and the Werbass Homeland Association. Neither of these two references can be found on the Internet.

    Can you provide this information to me? It is possible that my ancestors were among those founding Werbass settlers.

    Thank you.

  6. Daniela OConnor says:

    This response to Adolf Armbruster of April 8, 2015

    I believe the book referred to is titled:
    WERBASS 1785-1975. I have a copy of this book and if you are interested in those pages, send me your email and I’ll happily scan and send them to you.

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