Mramorak in the Banat
The information in this article finds its source in “Mramorak Gemeinde an der Banater Sandwüste” by Heinrich Bohland published in 1980 on behalf of the Village Association of Mramorak portions of which are translated by Henry Fischer.
Above the entrance of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mramorak are the words: “God is our refuge and strength.” They were words of hope to many in the great disasters that the community faced together in its history.
Most of the landed estates in the Banat and the Batschka were owned by the State and were designated as a military district and buffer zone against incursions by the Turks. Prince Eugene of Savoy and Count von Mercy were basically in charge of the Banat on behalf of the Royal Court. Few private landed estates or landlords per se were in this rather under-populated area. Hungary was excluded from the administration of these two frontier provinces. As a result the State, which in effect meant the Habsburg Dynasty, was able to divide up the land without any interference in these frontier areas.
At fist, German Roman Catholics from neighbouring Austrian principalities were settled in the area. Later Evangelical Lutheran settlers from Baden, Württemberg, Hessen, Alsace and Lorraine as well as the Pfalz (Palatinate) also arrived. These would later become Swabians in the minds of the other people among whom they settled. “Only a small portion were Swabians although most of them came from the Danubian territories of the Swabians. All of them apparently left from Swabian ports on the Danube River. The Hungarians called them “Svabok” and the Serbs followed suit with “Svaba” and it would refer to all Germans living in the area.
The official State sponsored and organized immigration programme that had begun in 1686 officially ended on December 13, 1787. Mass emigration from Germany ended as well as government financial support to new settlers. The State would only continue to provide funds and resources to settlers in the Military Frontier District. These settlers had to be industrious, hardworking and frugal to tame and populate the land.
Looking into the past it was in 1562 when the Turks captured Temesvár and the Banat became a Turkish province for the next 164 years. The Turks would be driven out of the Banat on July 21, 1718 and parts of Serbia and Wallachia would also be taken by the Habsburgs. In appreciation for their support in the military campaign against the Turks, nobles both spiritual and lay were given huge tracts of empty ownerless land. A Royal Patent and decree in 1689 called for a resettlement programme to be instituted by bringing German peasant farmers, artisans and craftsmen along with other nationalities to redevelop all of devastated Hungary also including the Banat and Batschka.
Under their Archbishop Ippek thirty thousand Serbian families sought sanctuary from the Turks and were allowed to settle in Srem, Slavonia and the Batschka. On December 11, 1690 they were granted the right to elect their own Orthodox bishop who was their temporal and spiritual lord and their soldiers would serve under one of their own officers in the Habsburg Imperial and Royal Army. They mingled and worked alongside the Romanians in the area that was often infested with robber bands. Cattle herding was their main occupation and they were semi-nomadic.
Among the early settlers (1717-1722) were Germans from the Zips in Slovakia, Saxons from Tranyslvania and six hundred other Evangelical Lutheran farming families from Hessen and Franconia who were to supply provisions for the military and food for the miners living in the area and were settled in Denta and Langenfeld. The vast majority of the settlers, however, were Roman Catholic, coming from Bohemia, the Steiermark and Tyrol. All of the colonists proceeded by ship from Marxheim by Donauwirth that took them to Palanka or Pantschowa.
The actual supervision of the colonization was under the direction of the Governor of the Banat, Count von Mercy, (1666-1734) who was also charged with the building of fortifications at Temesvár, draining the swamps and inaugurating the cultivation of the silk worm and brought in Italian settlers for that purpose. Local officials were elected by the settlers while the Count appointed the officials to govern the twelve districts that were usually named after their chief settlement. Temeschburg, Lippa, Lugosch, Orschawa. After Count von Mercy worked out the plan of settlement for depopulated Hungary he sent agents from Vienna to Germany to recruit settlers. The political situation at the time was aggravated by French invasions which made the choice to emigrate easier for a lot of people. Off to Hungary! became a byword as well as free land, liberty, opportunity. Tens of thousands left the south western principalities of Germany in the next three phases of the Schwabenzug…the Great Swabian Migration…the Swabian Trek. It was Joseph II’s Edict of Toleration that officially allowed Protestants to enter and settle in the Banat, Batschka and Syrmien (Srem). At first only Roman Catholics from the Habsburg holdings could settle in the Banat and Batschka. In addition to the Germans in the Banat there were French, Italian, Spanish, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles as well as Hungarians. The Lutherans who responded to Joseph II’s invitation not only involved Germans but Slovaks, Hungarians and Swiss as well who were allowed to settled in the Military Frontier District and the central Batschka.
Joseph visited southern Hungary and the Military Frontier District and was well acquainted with the situation and the planning for the new settlements. The new settlers had the same privileges of the earlier settlers and were given up to ten years of exemption from paying taxes. There were many small migrating groups of settlers as well as the government directed one. By 1771 there were 450,000 settlers in the Banat and Military Frontier District and by a decree of April 13th of that year all future settlers had to pay their own travel and livestock and acreage had to be purchased. As a result there were only 67 new families numbering 364 persons emigrating to the Banat at their own expense.
Before 1770 the majority of the 1,762 settler families came from the following areas:
Lorraine (Lothringen) 388
Pfalz (Palatinate) 85
Schwaben (Swabia) 31
During 1770 there were 2,185 settler families coming from the following:
After 1770 there were 620 settler families coming from the following areas:
As of September 21, 1782 would-be settlers were granted freedom of conscience in regard to religion. In order to accommodate the large scale Protestant emigration Joseph II sold large sections of crown lands on August 1, 1781. Even when the period of mass emigration subsided new settlements were still being founded during the 19th Century because there were still large stretches of unpopulated and uncultivated lands. There were continuing raids and incursions by the Turks into the area and frequent breakouts of epidemics and the plague. One of the later settlements in the southern Banat in the Military Frontier District took place on the prairie of Mramorak in 1820 whose men made up the 12th Regiment of the German Banat Border Patrol and were German Evangelical Lutherans. By 1919 the population of the Banat was 1,530,000 of whom 571,000 were Romanians, 428,000 Germans, 306,000 Serbs, 153,000 Hungarians and the rest consisted of Bulgars, Jews, Croats, Russians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Czechs and Gypsies. As a result of the Treaty of Trianon in 1919 the Banat was divided and ceded to the new state of Yugoslavia and Romania. Mramorak became part of the Yugoslavia.
The Military Frontier District was established in 1754 as a defensive bulwark against the Turks and stretched from the shores of the Adriatic Sea to Transylvania. The majority of the population in the District were south Slavs who were cattle herders and shepherds and over 80% of them were illiterate. These settlers had military obligations for life in exchange for free land (24 Joch) and meadows (5 Joch). If they became wounded and disabled they would receive the land as a lifetime pension. In times of serving in the military they received 2 Gulden a day in pay. In each settlement there was also land set aside for a clergyman, church and school. There were funds available for the upkeep of the church and school and a salary for the clergy and teacher.
Discipline was stern and strict and was carried out by the nobles assigned to the District. It applied to both men and women. The stocks for men and lashings for women. Cowardice on the battlefield was punished by death. Drunkenness and falling asleep while on duty were also punishable by death. Kidnapping or selling Christian children to the Turks was also met with death. The Grenzers as these troops guarding and defending the border were called were farmer-soldiers. A kind of Minute Man that emerged during the American Revolution. The military ordered and effected all areas of life. The settler had two jobs; one for the government for which he was paid 20 Kreuzer a day and one for the community for which he was not paid but did his social service. In serving the government he built roads, drained swamps, planted mulberry trees (silk worms), cut timber and firewood for the military officers. In the community he built and maintained community facilities like the school and church and provided firewood for them and was responsible for the maintenance of the village streets.
As mentioned previously all life was centred on the military base associated with the settlement. Each man served seven months of the year patrolling the border. The border also served as a quarantine area to prevent the epidemics in the south spreading into the Habsburg territories. Pantschowa served as the military headquarters for the 12th Regiment of the German Banat Border Patrol. The Military Frontier District would continue to function in this way until it become a crown land in 1849.
There were Serbs living in Mramorak as early as 1660 but the village was first mentioned by that name in 1717. There was a large scale emigration of Serbs and Romanians that took place in 1806. The settlement report of the 12th Regiment of the German Banat Border Patrol at the end of April in 1821 indicates that there were 265 homesteads of which 16 were without a household. The name Mramorak was given to the eastern portion of the village and was corrupted to Marmor by the Germans. When the Hungarians became in charge of the Banat it was renamed Homokos which means “sandy” and it a pretty apt description of the soil in the area.
At a sitting of the War Department in Vienna on May 12th and 13th in 1820 the decision was made to reserve the lands on the prairie of Mramorak for German Protestant settlers to serve in the military there as difficulties were being experienced in Slavonia with the refusal of the officials there to accept Protestant settlers and had expelled some of them upon their arrival. The settlement was first undertaken on November 18, 1820 and involved twelve settler families from Hessen-Darmstadt:
Martin Baumung, Johann Berth, Peter Bingel, Adam Bitsch (Bitz), Anastasius Bohland, Johann Nikolaus Gaubatz, Friedrich Dapper, Philip Güldner, Johannes Küfner, Nikolaus Küfner, Ludwig Mergel and Peter Zimmermann.
Some of their families are described as follows: Adam Bitsch and his wife, three male and four female children and their hired hand named Leonhard; Friedrich Dapper with his wife and three male children; Daniel Berth with his wife and three male children and two female children. Anastasius Bohland with three male children and one female child; Ludwig Mergel and his wife and two male children and four female children. In this small sample of the original families we find ten adults and twenty-five children!
The Hungarian parliament that met in 1790 had forbidden the settlement of German Protestants in Slavonia and Croatia. The Banat and its Military Frontier District was not part of Hungarian jurisdiction so that settlement was possible but these Germans would be isolated living amidst Slavic populations and it would be difficult for them to maintain their church life because the closest Protestant communities were two days distant. But the decision had led to the Habsburgs sending a consul by the name of von Handel to Darmstadt in Hessen to initiate a recruitment of possible settlers. The first colonist families set out from Frankfurt-an-Main and were settled in Mramorak along with some other families who had been refused entry into Slavonia because they were Lutherans and for that reason had been diverted to the Banat where land was still open for settlement. At the same time a decision was made in Vienna to assign other Lutheran settlers coming from Württemberg to the emerging settlement of Mramorak.
They were also joined by settlers who had first settled in Franzfeld: Peter Bender, Philip Heiss, Simon Kaiser, Christoph Kegel, Augustin Sattelmayer, Jakob Scholler, Caspar Stehle and Johann Stolz along with Johann Schmit who came with his family from the Batschka. There were nine men and eight women and their twenty-eight sons and thirteen daughters added to the population. Later there were more from the Batschka and Slavonia: Jakob Glas, Jakob Goller, Konrad Harich, Adam Kampf, Salamon Kampf, George Kemle, Michael Mayer, Jakob Mosmann, Gottfried Reiter, Michael Schick, Peter Schmähl, Peter Schramm, Martin Vogel and Paul Wagner. As more and more German families settled there and the natural increase in population due to their large families and their policy of buying up the land of their Slavic neighbours they soon dominated the centre and northern and southern sections of the village. They were industrious and thrifty and soon surpassed their neighbours in terms of their economic wellbeing. They fulfilled their role as Grenzers in the military until 1873 when the District was once more incorporated into the recently created Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary now that the Turkish menace was over. In 1880 the number of Germans living in Mramorak was 1,431 persons. By 1910 that had increased to 2,156. In 1921 they accounted for 52% of the population and numbered 2,475. In the census of 1941 there were 3,337 German inhabitants in the sprawling town.
Lutheranism in the Banat had its beginnings during the reign of Charles IV when he invited Hessians from the Darmstadt area to settle in the Banat in a letter written to the Landgrave on April 20. 1722. With his promise of free passage and a Royal pass six hundred families from Hessen and Franconia responded and left from the river port of Marxheim by Donauwӧrth. Among them were eighteen families numbering 82 persons who came from Ober-Ramstadt in Hessen. They went on to Palanka and founded the village of Langenfeld. Other Lutheran settlers founded the villages of Petrillowa Orawitza, Russowa, Hauersdorf and Saalhausen. All of their settlements lay between Palanka and Weisskirchen.
They formed congregations and held worship services. At first, a teacher by the name of Bey who apparently originated in Ober-Ramstadt read sermons at the services that began early in 1718. Baptisms, marriages and funerals were carried out by the Jesuits in nearby Palanka. But everything changed when young pastor Johann Karl Reichard arrived in the Banat on May 24, 1724. He preached at an open air service in the Turkish cemetery close to Langenfeld on June 24th and Holy Communion was celebrated and there were numerous baptisms with over six hundred present. As news spread in the Lutheran villages word got to the Jesuits and they lodged a complaint through the confessor of the Empress so that the pastor was forced to leave after serving there for only nine months. He had come to the Banat in the guise of being a clerk and left in the same way wearing a uniform that Count von Mercy provided to assist him in his escape. He also appointed him as the pastor of the Lutheran congregation on his personal estates in Tolna County in Hungary at Varsad where he would serve for six years before returning home to Hessen where he died in 1754. He was the first Lutheran pastor to serve in the Banat and was ordained secretly by Bishop Daniel Krmn in Miawa, Slovakia on May 1, 1724 while the young man was on his way down the Danube to the Banat.
The Lutheran congregations in Langenfeld and Petrillowa were the first in the Banat. The director of the mine in Orawitza named Keller was the first Kirchenvater (chief elder and lay leader of the congregation). With Pastor Reichard’s expulsion church life among the Lutherans soon ended. Bey, the teacher in Langenfeld was forced to leave. But in Petrillowa the teacher, Lamont and the Richter (mayor) Steiz were able to maintain a semblance of congregational life for several years. Then on February 5, 1727 the Royal Administration in Temesvár issued a decree to punish all heretics and forever ended this first expression of Lutheran church life in the Banat. There was still more to come. During the years 1737-1739 almost all of the German villages in the area around Palanka and Weisskirchen died out during the Turkish invasion. The life and work of thousands of Germans was destroyed. For the next sixty years there would be no expression of Lutheran Church life in the Banat until after the Edict of Toleration of Joseph II. It would first be in effect in the Batschka between 1784-1786 when new Lutheran villages were established in Torschau, Cservenka, Neuwerbass, Kleinker, Sekitsch Bulkes and Jarek and Reformed communities in Neusiwatz and Neuschowe.
It was in 1790 when a Lutheran congregation was established in the Banat once again and it was only fifty kilometres from the original one. The village of Heideschütz was an experimental village. Two nationalities were settled together: Germans and Slovaks. They were co-religionists. In addition, only Franzfeld (established 1791) and Mramorak (established in 1820) were the only major Lutheran communities in the area. Franzfeld was inhabited entirely by German families, while Mramorak was inhabited by three nationalities: Germans, Serbs and Romanians. There were two religious confessions: the Germans were Lutheran and the Slavs were Eastern Orthodox. Later German Lutheran congregations emerged in the towns and cities of the southern Banat that were filial congregations of those in the surrounding villages. Later they formed self sustaining congregations of their own in Panstschowa (1884), Werschetz (1869) and Weisskirchen (1873).
The community of Vojlovica had a speckled career. It was established in 1869 as Marienfeld and lay directly along the Danube. Along with four other communities it was totally destroyed by flooding in 1876. It was only rebuilt in 1883. When it was part of the Military District two nationalities lived in Marienfeld, Slovaks and Germans. After the abolishment of the Military Frontier District and its incorporation into Hungary there were also Hungarians involved in its rebuilding. The Germans and Slovaks were Lutherans and the Hungarians were Calvinists. They were all Protestants.
In 1900 Franzfeld gave birth to a filial congregation in Jarkovac and Mramorak had two. One in Bawanischte in 1904 and Kubin in 1912. During the Austro-Hungarian period most pastors who served in the Banat came from the Zips in Slovakia or the Burgenland in Austria. Most of them were ordained in Budapest and spoke two or three languages.
With the establishment of the successor state of Yugoslavia after the First World War there were 250,000 Protestants in the new nation consisting of Germans, Slovaks, Slovenes and Hungarians. New administrative organizations had to be established now that both the Lutherans and Reformed had been severed from the Hungarian Churches. A Synod was held in Neudorf by Vinkovici involving all the nationalities and confessions to plan for their future in September of 1920. Each nationality wanted a bishop and a church of its own except for the Slovenes who opted to be part of the German Lutheran Church that would be established on March 23, 1893 meeting in Neusatz. Gustav Wagner was elected the Administrator of the Church and upon his death in 1926 he was succeeded by Philip Popp who was later unanimously elected Bishop of the German Evangelical Christian Church (Augsburg Confession) in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. At that time there were 7l Mother Churches and 65 filial congregations that made up the new church that had just come into existence with over 100,000 members. There were seven German Districts and one that was Slovenian. The Banat District consisted of nine Mother Churches and seven filial congregations with a total membership of 15,000. The German Reformed congregations would continue to be part of the Southern District of the Hungarian Reformed Church. There were thirteen Mother Churches and seven filial congregations with a total membership of 30,000.
Following the capitulation of Yugoslavia shortly after Holy week in 1941, the Batschka and the Lower Baranya were annexed and occupied by Hungary; the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed and the Yugoslavian Banat was placed under the jurisdiction of the German Army as was what remained of Serbia. This forced the separation of the Lutheran Church into new administrative units. Bishop Popp encouraged Wilhelm Kund the pastor in Pantschowa and the Dean of the Banat District to establish a provisional church government for a future independent Banat. The German Lutherans in the Batschka who were under Hungarian occupation asked for the same provision but the Hungarians hesitated and stalled to take any action because they eyed the Banat as a future acquisition that Hitler had promised them. On March 15th, 1942 Franz Hein was installed as Bishop by Bishop Heckel of Berlin as the Bishop of the German Lutheran Church in the Banat which covered the territory of the former Church District with its 15,000 members. The largest congregation was Franzfeld with 6,000 members, followed by Mramorak with over 3,000 and Pantschowa with just as many.
War broke out in Yugoslavia on March 27, 1941 following the military putsch of General Simowitsch that was directed against Germany and openly expressed their hostility towards the German population. Fear and anxiety gripped the Germans as their young men were called up for service in the Yugoslav military. The Serbian civilian population was armed and they began a reign of terror in the German villages terrifying the population with threats. Hostages were taken in April of 1941 including thirteen men and one woman from Mramorak who were interned in Pantschowa. The woman was Eva Bingel who taught in the German school. She was offered encouragement and support by the others throughout their ordeal which helped carry her through those dark days. Various Serbian groups took hostages and mistreated the German population but there other Serbs like the three hundred from Kovin who accompanied their Orthodox priest and marched on the District Council to demand the release of the German hostages.
The next section is entitled, “From Darkness into the Sweet Light” by someone who was a witness and participant of the events.
“The spring of 1941 was filled with anxiety and fear. Men hid themselves in the beet cellars and in the hay lofts. The women kept watch at the windows as the Serbs strode by their houses. No one dared to leave their house. Over at Schäfers, next door, they were secretly and hastily sewing swastika flags.
And then there was a great sigh of relief: The German soldiers are coming! Everyone went out to greet them. women, men and children stood along the main street. The women wiped away their tears of joy from their eyes with their aprons and the swastika flags hurriedly made hung rather awkwardly and floated in the breeze.
Away with having to live with the limitations of being an unwelcome minority! Away with having to bow down to the Serbian authorities. Away with all of the public and hidden oppression we have had to endure! Finally free and able to live our lives the way want to live them–this is what we Germans in Mramorak had lived to see and over which we were now overjoyed. No one could have imagined that this was the beginning of the soon approaching frightful end of our history in Mramorak.
In May of 1941 there were tears again. Tears of farewell this time as the first of the young men had to report for military duty in the German Army. The disillusionment began. But then came the youth marching through the streets, the evenings at home, the feasting, the midsummer festival in the old cemetery, in which the young girls in black gymnastic uniforms with white blouses jumped through the fire–to the amazement of the shocked women and the joy of the men. We sang: “Raise the flag” (Nazi marching song) and offered a “Sieg Heil” under the starlit sky. Many were moved to tears. No one had any idea of how comic such a display really was. It was all so new, so neat and good–at least so we believed!
When military vehicles passed by us–and this happened quite often–we children ran after them along the street and waved small swastika flags at the friendly soldiers. The more the trucks raised the dust and we inhaled the exhaust fumes the happier we were.
In this way the first “German” summer passed by and I began school. I had always been afraid of going to school. My mother said, “You won’t get eaten up!” I wasn’t afraid of that. I was afraid anyway and above all I was afraid that I would arrive late and be punished for it. Even though we lived only a few houses down from the school and I always left for school early and sometimes stood there in front of the locked door of the school…
During my days in school there was a picture of Hitler in every classroom. The picture of King Peter II lay almost hidden in the firewood box. Even though this milk faced handsome youth in a colourful uniform was a hundred times better looking than the Upper Austrian Adolph no one wanted him. Many were wild about the Führer–with the exception of my Kuska Grandfather and Uncle Urschel, they were against Hitler through and through. “That robber!” they said but certainly not out loud at the midsummer night festival.
We paid for our first school books with German Marks and Pfennig. That was part and parcel of the occupation at that time. During my three years at school I had various teachers. In most cases they were assistant women teachers who had taken a crash course and came from the Upper Banat. They had no love for school but they were wild about the soldiers and spoke High German with them. One of these young women carried on like this: If someone in the class did something wrong she beat all of us, one row after another–on one occasion all the boys and another time all the girls but mostly she hit us boys! She had absolutely no understanding of what it meant to be a Mramorak farm boy. She made no effort to make learning fun or interesting. We had to learn poems off by heart. She never even attempted to interest us in the beauty of the language but just wanted to get through it…”
Sepp Janko, who preferred to be called “Dr. Janko” was a veterinarian and the head of the Swabian German Cultural Union a front organization for the Nazis. In effect he and his cronies were the Führers of the 160,000 to 180,000 Germans in the Banat and did the bidding of Heinrich Himmler. June 22, 1941 marked a turning point with the German invasion of the Soviet Union for as a result all Germans whether they lived in the Third Reich or not became part of the war machine and those in Banat would pay heavily for their participation in it and would lead to their eventual extermination. They were later declared to have been volunteers in the Waffen-SS when in reality they had no other choice in the matter. Tito and his Partisans saw the Germans as a united force in the service of the enemy occupier of Yugoslavia, as a willing tool of the conqueror. The dead and missing toll on the Eastern Front increased month after month. By war’s end 89 men were killed in action and 61 were missing from Mramorak including two women.
After the surrender of Nazi Germany in May of 1945 from the 11th to the 14th, various captured German units were transferred to Tito’s Partisans in Cilli in Slovenia. A large group of men from Mramorak were together but on the last day they were divided into groups and the men were separated from one another. Of the larger group that included 98 known men from Mramorak nothing was ever to be heard of them again. By accident Martin Klein a former resident of Mramorak who now lives in Zweibrücken made a discovery in Belgrade three years later about the fate of the men. On August 24, 1976 he wrote the following: “In 1949 I worked in an auto repair shop in Belgrade. One day there was a major repair I had to make on a truck and the head of the truck convoy was in a hurry and asked me to hurry as I did my work. I wanted to do my work properly and I wanted to lubricate the truck as well. I needed time for that and I would not let the man talk me out of it. The waiting official became more and more impatient with me and started to insult me and began to swear. You know the way it is with the Serbs, he even swore at my mother and cast aspersions about my birth. After I listened to this for awhile I also lost my temper and told him he could go to the devil…
My response to him unleashed a regular cannonade of outrage and he screamed: “Just why didn’t you come my way earlier and meet me at “Zidani Most”! I would have killed you there like a rabid dog; I would have dealt with you like I did with all of your Fascist friends that were shot there!”
In the same unfriendly tone I replied to him, “Your hate against us is so great because the memory of it keeps recurring.” We got into an even more heated argument so that in my anger I picked up an axe and was about to let loose on him. He was a real miserable type and egged me on so that the truck driver and his co-driver kept me from hitting him with the axe. Obviously a terrible accident was prevented.
The altercation between us awakened the interest of the others. They tried to calm him down and asked him questions about the events that had taken place in the past at Zidani Most and what had actually happened. Once he was composed he told them about the dramatic course of events that ended with the mass killing of the Swabians. He made separate references to individual and named the Division to which they belonged. Proudly he declared, “Hardly any of them were still alive after we got through with them and then we shot them!”
Martin Klein continued: “The smaller group of men from Mramorak were force marched in the direction of Zagreb. We were exhausted, weak and hungry because we received no care of any kind. Everything along the road that we saw was German Army equipment that stood there wrecked or destroyed. Luckily the weather was good so that none of the men from Mramorak was left behind because whoever sat down to rest along the road would never have to get up and walk again. All of those who could not go on where shot by the Partisans and their bodies simply left there. On May 21st we were registered as prisoners of war in Zagreb. In all there were twenty of us from Mramorak that had survived. We were all loaded on a cattle car on May 22, 1945 and transported to Hrvatski Karlovac where we were imprisoned along with 35,000 other men who were members of the Croatian Home Defence Forces, and Croat, Italian and Austrian prisoners of war.”
No evacuation of the German civilian population took place in Mramorak as Sepp Janko and his cronies fled for their lives without giving the order the others all awaited. Then following the arrival and departure of the Russian troops in Mramorak the community was left in the hands of a Partisan unit. On October 20, 1944 there was a mass shooting that took place outside of the village of Bawanische where one hundred and eight German men from Mramoark aged 18 to 71 years were liquidated after having been taken there by wagon because none of them could walk. The younger men first had to dig the mass grave. They had all been apprehended from their homes during the night and been beaten and tortured in the most fiendish and cruel ways. The screams of the men were so terrible to hear that the Gypsies who heard them walked away and murmured about it to one another out of the hearing of the Partisans.
In the first months when the Partisans were in power the cry of all of the Serbs was: “Long life to Tito!” At the time the homes of the Germans were filled with the food provisions they had prepared for the winter. Any Serb could come and get and take whatever he wanted because the home owners were all confined in a quarter of the village around the Lutheran Church and school packed together in a “camp”. Sixty or more persons slept in a room. All of the German homes remained unoccupied until February 1946. Then the new colonists came.
With regard to the numerous camps, the experiences and the personal destinies of many people from Mramorak during this terrible time the information is not readily available to us. No one was keeping records at the time. But for example we do know something about the nearby labour camp in Brestowatz and two deaths that occurred there: Filip Reiter born in 1889 died there on February 11, 1945 as well as Peter Güldner born 1888 who died on April 27, 1945. The village notary, Wilhelm Walter was beaten to death in the mayor’s office by the Partisans. The Serbian women joined in abusing their German neighbours. They especially enjoyed taunting the wives of prominent Germans who were forced serve them and clean their houses like the pastor’s daughter, the doctor’s wife. It was the German women in particular who were pillars of strength in the midst of the brutality. When they were herded through the streets on work details they sang the hymns that sustained them even when they were beaten for doing so. They simply sang louder. They sang with tears in their eyes and one of their favourites was, “Aus Tiefer Not” a hymn of Martin Luther. “Out of the depths I cry to You O Lord.”
Upon their internment the Germans of Mramorak initially remained in their home community and because of that they found ways to secretly find or retrieve food and other necessities that they had hidden. When they were distributed to other camps that would no longer be the case and their situation deteriorated immeasurably. They had no outside contacts and had no idea of what lay ahead of them.
The neighbouring community of Karlsdorf where 3,000 Germans lived was occupied by the Russians on October 2, 1944 and they endured all that was experienced in Mramorak. Eight men from Mramorak were taken there by train by the Partisans and brutally murdered shortly after their arrival. In Kovin, the district capital, where almost 5,000 Germans lived ten of the most prominent citizens were put to death in the most gruesome manner on October 13, 1944. On November 6th, twenty-five persons from Mramorak were taken to Kovin including Barbara Tracht born in 1901 and three other married women and Elisabeth Eberle born 1920, Regina Kendel born 1921 Wilhelmine Nota born in 1923 and the following men that are known to us: Martin Baumung born 1895, Jakob Brücker born 1895, David Gӧttel born 1900, Friedrich Ilg born 1889, Friedrich Meinzer, Peter Scherer, Friedrich ?, Michael Strapko born 1912, Friedrich Zimmermann and Peter Zimmermann. On November 11, 1944 a Partisan “Razzia” (gruesome pogrom) was held at which a large number of Germans were butchered and shot including all of those from Mramorak. On another occasion Johann Bohland was taken to Kovin and died there of starvation.
In the prison in Kovin they were cruelly beaten and left naked because the Partisans wanted the clothes of the German women for their wives and relatives. After constant beatings and torture they were bound and taken to the place where the bodies of dead animals were burned. Others had dug mass graves for them. They were all forced to lie down in the grave and were then shot. If someone hesitated to go into the grave they were pushed in by a Partisan. Among them was the young girl Susi Harich one of the prettiest in all of Mramorak. She was badly wounded during the first salvo of bullets but still she taunted the Partisans and said, “So shoot me in the head!” They hesitated until one stepped forward and shot her with his machine pistol.
The Mramorak camp was closed down and the surviving population was sent to various labour and extermination camps.
On the left bank of the Tisza River the German village of Rudolfsgnad was transformed into a large extermination camp. The local inhabitants had been evacuated by the retreating German Army. During the battles which followed in the area the village was badly damaged. Following their internment in their home villages 23,000 Germans in the Banat villages, mostly the elderly, women and children were brought to this starvation camp the largest of its kind in the Banat. The aged and the children from Mramorak were all brought there. They would be among the 20,000 victims buried in the mass graves there. Grandparents starved themselves for the sake of their grandchildren. The cries of hungry children were heard all day long and into the night. A whole generation died so that a portion of the next generation might live. Between December 24th and 27th no food whatsoever was distributed in the camp. Children sneaked out of the camp to beg for food or tried to catch snakes and frogs along the riverbank. Any green weeds they found they ate. Those who risked to go out of the camp to beg in the neighbouring Serbian and Hungarian villages would be shot if they were caught whether they were adults or children.
A wagon piled with the dead was pushed and pulled by inmates as it went door to door each morning for the newly dead. Death made more space available and new people were brought in to replace them from other camps. Funerals were not allowed. Some of the old men had to do the burying. No pastor was allowed to do a committal nor could a relative say goodbye at the graveside. There was no worship allowed and prayer was forbidden. Pastor Kund from Pantschowa ministered as well as he could among the sick and dying and was often beaten when apprehended doing any pastoral work among the suffering people. Although beaten he continued to pray and counsel people not to lose faith and hope. Found holding such prayer meetings he would be dragged away and beaten. They tore the hair from his beard and insulted him. He was put in a punishment cell for several days and nights and died there..
After the elderly and the children had been taken from Mramorak the others were put to work to assist the new colonists in farming since they had no agricultural skills. Then most of the Germans were sent to the labour camp in Karlsdorf in 1946. From there they would be sent to various labour camps throughout Yugoslavia and when they were no longer fit or able to work they were sent to one of the extermination camps.
In the Batschka just south of the Hungarian border two former German villages, Gakowa and Kruschivilje were turned into the final extermination centres in the Partisan’s war of terror on the German population. Long columns of thousands of people were marched there and by the summer of 1945 there were over 21,000 inmates. This number would vary slightly in the years ahead as the dead were constantly being replaced by others.
The hunger and mass starvation and utter despair drove some of them to suicide. Many mothers risked their lives sneaking out of the camp at night to beg for food. They often had to travel ten to twelve kilometres and back. The only release from pain was either by waiting for death to happen or trying to escape into Hungary. In the spring of 1947 things changed and the camps were being closed down and there were mass flights across the border into Hungary with little interference on the part of the guards and sentries.
It is unknown how many of the children of Mramorak died at Rudolfsgnad because some of the children were taken out of the camp and placed in state orphanages and raised as Yugoslavians and given new names and were not allowed to speak German. Brothers and sisters were separated so that the older children would not influence them not to forget their identity. It is estimated that up to 35,000 children were taken out of the camps and through efforts of their surviving parents and relatives about 5,000 of them were recovered and reunited with their families in the1950s.
An attempt was made to attempt to identify the victims that were known to have died in Rudolfsgnad from Mramorak. For 1945 they identified thirty-one older adults and one mother and her five children. In 1946 they could list one hundred and thirty-four adults and three children. In 1947 there were fifty adults among the identified victims. In 1948 there were fifteen adults and one child. Information with regard to the children who died is difficult to obtain because the family members who cared for them usually died before them as indicated earlier. In addition there are ninety-two others whose date of birth or death are unknown. There were a total of 343 adults and 9 children who could be accounted for who died there.
In terms of the other camps at Besni Fok, Bor, Dolowo, Dubanovci, Franzfeld, Gakowa, Jarek, Jasenovac, Junkovac, Karlsdorf, Kula, Padinska Skela, Pantschowa, Radljevo, Semlin, Vrbovski, Gross Betscherek, Sremska and Mitrowitza a total of 47 persons perished. There were also four who did not survive the deportation to Russia.
We can account for the loss of at least 807 of the German villagers in Mramorak who were the victims of Tito’s now forgotten genocide excluding most of the children who died or have become lost and submerged in the Yugoslavian population of today.