Woilowitz in the Yugoslavian Banat

  The information for this article is taken from the Heimatbuch of the same title and has been translated by Henry Fischer.

  During its history the community would have three different names, representative of the three nationalities and languages of its inhabitants:  Marienfeld, Hertelendyfalva and Vojlovica.

 

  The first settlement was located five kilometres south of Pantschowa and was founded in 1868 in the catchment area of the German Banat Border Patrol:  Infantry Regiment Number 12.  This original settlement was built along the Danube River.  At its founding only two nationalities were involved:  Germans and Slovaks.  They had already lived together previously in Heideschütz and were Lutheran co-religionists.

 

  The settlement was abandoned in the mid 1870s as a result of annual floods and in 1876 it was totally submerged.  After a long struggle with the authorities the settlers were able to obtain permission to re-settle two kilometres south-east of Pantschowa in the state forest by the monastery of Woilowitz and build a new village named Hertelendyfalva.  The name itself demonstrates something about the times.  The Banat was now Hungarian since the Military Frontier District had been disbanded.  A new group, the Csangos (Hungarians) participated in the establishment of the new community.

 

  Thirty-five years later those times were over and the village became part of the new state of Yugoslavia in 1919.  It now took on the name of the old Serbian monastery:  Woilowitz-Vojlovica.

 

  One generation founded two villages.  When they established Marienfeld most of them en were 40 to 50 years of age.  In eight years they would leave and begin all over again.  This, however, would last until 1944 for some sixty years.  Tragedy struck when the German inhabitants were driven from their homes and put in the starvation camps of Tito.

 

  The Germans and Slovaks came to the area in 1869 and all of them came from Heideschütz and numbered about 180 families.  They established Marienfeld beside the Danube.  They were a filial of the Lutheran Mother Church in Pantschowa.  After the flood of 1881 the authorities provided them with a new site.  In 1882 and 1883 they were joined there by 1,500 Hungarians from the Bakony Forest area of Hungary and together with the others a three language community evolved taking on the Hungarian name:  Hertelendyfalva.  The Hungarians were Protestants as well and formed a Hungarian Reformed congregation in the community.

 

  The Slovaks and Germans were served by the pastors of Pantschowa:  Johann Schneeberger, Andreas Nyacsik, Ferdinand Unger and Georg Schwalm.  In 1886 the congregation numbered 1,108 Slovaks and Germans and was now a separate parish.  On March 4, 1923 the Slovaks separated and formed a congregation of their own and called their own pastor.

 

  Actual organized colonization of the Banat ended in 1804.  There were approximately 70,000 Germans by then known as Swabians who were living in the Banat at that time.  In 1900 there were 500,000.

 

  All along the Danube there was a flood plain belonging to the Crown and administered by the German Banat Infantry Regiment Number 12.  Nearby communities could buy this land for 20 Gulden per Joch.  The Serbian villages were not interested because they were chiefly cattle herders.  As a result the officials in charge planned a new colonization farther into the interior.  This region was part of the area under the jurisdiction of the German Banat Infantry Regiment 12.  In 1864 the community of Deutsch-Etschka put in a request to buy the land.  It was denied.  The second request by Etschka and Siegmundfeld and seventeen other communities was granted on April 1, 1865.  The newly established community was named by the Emperor Francis Joseph on December 8, 1865.  It was called Rudolfsgnad in honour of his son and heir Rudolf.  Three years later 1,550 families applied for land.  On July 5, 1868 Vienna authorized the development of seven additional communities.  The first families who settled on the flood plain came from the Banat from Deutsch-Etschka (200 families) Siegmundfeld (85 families) and 50 other families from the seventeen villages who had applied.

 

  Rudolfsgnad was the first of these new colonies in this colonization of the Banat and became an example for the others to follow.  It was an example of how to survive natural calamities, first in 1867 and over the next ten years.  In the summer of 1866 construction of a dam began that was take three years to complete.  Over 1,225 workers from eleven villages of the Banat Regiment came to assist in the construction.  The Serbian cattle herders showed no interest in that kind of work.

 

  The plans for the new settlements were well thought out and thoroughly put in place but once again natural disasters got in the way.  The dams became the lifeline of the settlements especially in the years of the floods in 1869 and 1870.  But many of the men who came to work also desired to settle here as well.  Soon the seven villages were strung along the Danube:  Elisenheim was the farthest north; Kӧnigsdorf (the settlers came from Ernsthausen, Tschenta, Sartscha and Albrechtsdorf); Giselahain; Marienfeld, Ivanovo and Gyurgyevo.  During the first flood, Kӧnigsdorf and Marienfeld were completely swamped.  Later the same happened to Albrechtsdorf, Giselahain and Gyurgyevo.  The populations of the latter three settlements returned to their former home villages.  Those from Albrechtsdorf returned to Debeljatscha, Gesilahain to Borcsa and Gyurgyevo to Kubin.  Kӧnigsdorf was not rebuilt and Marienfeld relocated to the Woilowitz forest.

 

  Rudolfsgnad was established on April 2, 1866 and school was under way in November with two classes and the building served as a church as well.  In addition to the German settlers in the seven villages there were also Hungarians at Albrechtsdorf, Romanians at Gesilahan, Slovaks at Marienfeld, Bulgarians and Romanians at Ivanovo and Hungarians and Bulgarians at Gyurgyevo.  The only totally German village was Kӧnigsdorf with 310 homesteads whose settlers came from twenty Banat villages:  78 families from Stefanfeld; 57 families from Rudolfsgnad; 38 families from Senta; 38 families from Sartscha; 15 families from Klik, 10 families from Ernsthausen and other families from Kathreinfeld, Perles, Betscherek, Siegmundfeld, Neuzin and St. Georgen.

 

  Marienfeld consisted of two hundred houses in 1870.  After the floods of that year only one hundred and ten of the families returned.  Seventy of the families, mostly Slovaks, returned to Heideschütz.  In all, about one thousand of the original 1,500 families in the seven villages did not return.  Only thirty-five families returned to Rudolfsgnad.  Constant flooding and destruction at Marienfeld led to petitions for permission to settle in the Woilowitz Forest but without success until 1884.

 

  The name Marienfeld seems inappropriate for a Lutheran community in the Banat and especially in light of the fact that there was a Roman Catholic village with  the same name in the northern Banat and had been established a hundred years before.  For that reason it was known as Marienfeld on the Danube.  There were a few Roman Catholic families in the village who were served by the priest in Startschowa.  The Germans and Slovaks formed a Lutheran congregation.  There were 202 families, 101 were German and 101 were Slovak.  Of these, 56 of the German families and all 101 Slovak families came from Heideschütz.  During the floods the Slovaks fled to Heideschütz and the Germans went to their former home villages, Pantschowa or German villages in the vicinity.  When the flood waters receded and the land dried they returned and built emergency housing until they were in a better position to construct proper houses.

 

  The congregation received the support it needed for a church and school and teacher.  They became a filial of Pantschowa and they were served by Pastor Schneeberger.  During the floods he was instrumental in providing aid and assistance to the destitute people and he received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of St. Francis.

 

  Pastor Johann Schneeberger was born in Ödenburg (Sopron) in Hungary on January 2, 1825 and studied theology there and in Tübingen, Jena and Halle.  Her first served in Lugos in the Banat.  On July 11, 1854 he was called by the Lutherans in Pantschowa to be their pastor.  He would remain until October 1875.  He also taught languages in the Lutheran high school:  French and Hungarian.  The congregation became the largest in the Seniorat (Church District or Deanery).  When he left he was embittered because of the difficulties that had been created by a small group of Reformed in the congregation who were pro-Magyar.  He served in Neuwerbass until his death in 1900.

 

  Heideschütz’s first settlers were mostly families from Liebling, Franzfeld and Mramorak as well as the Batschka.  It became quite a large community whose population blended the varying traditions brought from both the Banat and Batschka.  In the future forty families would leave for America while more Banat families moved in from Franzfeld, Pantschowa and Mramorak.

 

  On May 16, 1870 the settlers at Marienfeld requested permission to leave the site and re-establish themselves in the forests close to the Serbian monastery at Vojlovica.  It was turned down by the Banat Regiment Headquarters.  The reason given was that colonists were only needed along the banks of the Danube River and not in the interior.  With flood following flood, leaders of the community approached Vienna and Budapest because only the Emperor could take action on this request for Crown lands.  Their representative arrived in Budapest dressed to the nines as a German Swabian peasant farmer ready for church and was laughed at by the Hungarian authorities as he tried to arrange an audience with the Emperor Francis Joseph.  On a hint from one official when he reached Vienna he stopped the Emperor’s coach along the street to get his attention.  He bowed and took off his hat with a sweeping motion each day as the Emperor’s carriage passed by until he sent his adjutant to find out what the peasant wanted.  He shared the villager’s request with him.  He would receive a personal audience in a few days much to everyone’s surprise.

 

  In 1872 the Military Frontier District became part of Hungary and Marienfeld became Hertelendyfalva and Hungarian colonists arrived in the settlement and in 1884 the new location was occupied.  It was named after Count Hertelendy who was an administrator in Betscherek.

 

  The village had three long streets:  The German “gasse” where most of the first Germans had settled; the second was the Slovak street and lastly the Hungarian street.  The churches and parsonages stood next to one another.  The Hungarian Calvinist Church was south of the road to Homolitz, Startschowa and Brestowatz and east of it was the Lutheran Church compound serving the Germans and Slovaks.

 

  It would remain like this until 1945 when a small number of the German inhabitants fled in face of the oncoming Russians.

 

  The vast majority stayed at home as they were not “political” and simply hoped to remain at home doing their daily work and be left in peace.  Some Serbs in the area encouraged them to flee but they remained.  Only a few heeded the warning of their Serbian friends and joined the evacuation in September 1944.

 

  All of those who remained were forced to leave their homes by the Partisans and Russian occupation forces and were ordered to go to the community centre.  A group of them were taken to Panstschowa where they were tortured and most of them were shot.  This occurred at the end of October and beginning of November.  There were twenty-five involved and included four women.  Two of the women were twenty-two year old teachers.  There was also the mayor and two of the Elders of the Lutheran congregation.

 

  There were some survivors among those who were arrested and taken to Pantschowa.  Surprisingly enough they were all apprehended in their own homes by their Slovak neighbours and co-religionists.  The Slovak pastor’s son was in charge of the round up.  They were taken to the community centre and shoved down into the cellars where other Germans were already packed.  They were imprisoned overnight.  Close to the noon hour they were released from the cellar.  The two older women among them were called out first.  Each prisoner was bound to another with rope.  They were guarded by twenty armed Partisans on their march to Pantschowa where they were placed in the local prison.  On the streets Gypsies and Serbs spit at the prisoners.  Approximately one thousand Germans from the southern Banatb were imprisoned there.  The vast majority were men.  Each night was filled with terror as names were called out and the victims accompanied the Partisans from the jail and were never seen or heard from again.  After two weeks only fifty of the prisoners survived.

 

  They were put to hard labour with very little food.  Those who became ill were promised that they would be cared for at Homolitz.  They were loaded on wagons to make the journey but stopped at the Jabuka meadow and were forced to dig their own graves and were shot.  Only three of the men from Woilowitz of the thirty-nine taken to Pantschowa survived.  From among these survivors two were deported to the labour camps in Russia and one of them survived.  These two men were among the twelve men and forty-two young women from Woilowitz who were sent to Russia in December and January 1944-1945.  The elderly and most of the children were sent to Rudolfsgnad where most of them perished in the camp there.

 

  One resident remembers 1944 and the events which followed when he was a very young child.  He recalls his disappointment when the German soldiers left the village.  It was in October when he heard the news that “the Russians are coming!”  His mother and her younger sister went into hiding as the Russians arrived.  The fact that his mother had two small children did not spare her from deportation to the Soviet Union.  His mother was twenty-six years old and had two sons.  (His grandmother told him all of this.)  His father was in the Waffen-SS as were all of the German men in the Banat with the exception of the pastors, the reason given by the Kulturbund was that since they were not German citizens they could not serve in the Wehrmacht the regular German Army.  His mother’s youngest sister wasn’t even seventeen years old and for that reason she was not included in the deportation list of those to be sent to Russia.  She did not want her older sister to go alone and so she sought to join her.  But her older sister persuaded her to stay at home and help look after her children.  But on January 2, 1945 her younger sister was taken after all and on the 6th the convoy left on a two week journey to Dombas in Ukraine and the living hell of the coal mines.

 

  On January 2nd when his mother had to report at the community centre she arrived carrying her baby in her arms and held the hand of the older boy with the other.  As the Russian officer saw her situation he released her and sent her home with her children.  A neighbour (Slovak) protested about her release because her husband was serving in the Waffen-SS.  As a result she was called back into the office and sent to Russia.  The two little boys were left behind with their Oma.  Now a very difficult time was in store for the three of them.  Each day their neighbours, both Hungarians and Slovaks took whatever they wanted from the house, yard and stable.  The old grandmother wept and tried to care for the livestock the neighbours had not taken.  Each day they were told to be ready to leave immediately when a convoy could be assembled in the district for “resettlement”.

 

  In May of 1945 all of the German civilian population, women, children and the elderly were ordered out of their homes and were driven through the streets on foot to the central plaza where wagons were assembled to take them to Apfelsdorf/Jabuka where they remained that summer.  Then they were taken to Rudolfsgnad.  Survival became the daily agenda of every inmate.  The older boy sneaked out of the camp to beg and steal food and somehow their Oma kept them from starving.  It was only through this old woman’s utter determination, sacrifices, efforts and faith the both boys managed to survive.  This was true of countless other grandparents…”

 

  Another residents remembers it this way:  “The Russians and Partisans entered our village on October 10th, 1944.  The inhabitants had not joined the evacuation and a planned Bund evacuation of the school children never materialized.  Rape, plundering and beatings were a daily occurrence.  Some German prisoners of war they brought with them were shot and any collaborators that were identified and then the deportations to slave labour in Russia began shortly before Christmas.  Most of the children were separated from their parents and stayed with their grandparents.  In the months after the able bodied were taken to labour camps and the rest of the population was placed in various internment camps.  They people had to leave everything behind except for what they could grab at the last moment and carried with them.  They were driven on foot to the town plaza as if they were some kind of criminals.  Here the elderly and small children were separated from adults who were still capable of working.  They were then taken to different destinations and were forced to walk there guarded by armed Partisans.  They were robbed of any valuables they had and forced to exchange their clothes with that of the Partisans.”

 

Christmas 1945 in the Rudolfgnad Extermination Camp

 

  “It was Christmas Eve in 1945…it had snowed most of the day.  It finally began to stop at noon.  Heavy winds drove the snow in swirls and moved the clouds across the sky.  Soon all of the footpaths to the entrances of the houses were drifted in here in the village of Rudolfsgnad in the southern Yugoslavian Banat.  But none of that had much meaning for the people who were housed here.  They were totally isolated from the outside world.  Rudolfsgnad had been established by Danube Swabian colonists who had drained the swamps that were plentiful here alongside the Tisza River and eventually it became a community of some 4,000 residents who carried on a never ending struggle with floods and dam construction to confine the waters of the Danube River that were also close by.  A series of dams and dikes later protected the village.  A bridge just above the dams joined the Banat and the Batschka.  But now the eastern and southern portions of the village serve as a barbwire-enclosed internment camp for the central Banat…for Danube Swabians.  The Partisans confined over 26,000 persons here:  women, children and the elderly.  All under heavy guard.

 

  The inmates slept on straw on the floor of the rooms wrapping what little clothes they possessed around themselves for protection against rats and the cold except when they tried to delouse them.  There were massive numbers of rats everywhere in the camp.  They would gnaw at the dead and attack the sick and those who were sleeping.  The more fortunate among the inmates had fallen asleep while the sleepless thought of the misery they were in and tried to forget their never ending hunger that caused their stomachs to rumble.  Because it was Christmas the Partisans had with held to-day’s ration of barley or cabbage soup which at least could still their hunger for a short while.  The inhumane Camp Commander had ordered that there would also be no food tomorrow on “the feast day” so that the Swabian’s empty stomachs should celebrate that there was no work for them to do!  It was distressing to all of the inmates.  Only those who took the risk to escape from the camp and scavenge for food in the district had a chance to survive but if they were caught they would be beaten, tortured and executed.  The only other alternative was to sit around passively and starve.

 

  As was the case in all of the houses in the camp, eleven year old Karl and his three younger siblings were with their two grandmothers and one of their grandfathers.  In addition there was also his aunt Katy and her three children along four other family groups like theirs that shared life together in it.  Karl’s mother along with thousands of others, both men and women and an older teenaged boys and girls had been taken to Russia on Christmas the year before.  Aunt Katy had escaped that fate only because she had broken her leg, which was still not healed because there were no doctors of medicine available for Danube Swabians.  They all lay still in the darkness listening to the wind whistle around the window frames and rush in under the door.  Heat was not available.  Wood found in your possession would cost you your life and forests were just across the dam outside.

 

  The sobs of one of the Oma’s became more and more audible and she began to complain:  “Tomorrow is Christmas and we don’t even have a piece of bread to give to the children.  Last year it was still better, even though there was a lot of misery then too.  If my poor husband had lived to see this, what would he have said?”

 

  “He wouldn’t say anything.  He would endure all of this just like the rest of us,” the remaining grandfather said.  “Be thankful that he didn’t have to live through all of this, for surely he endured a lot of brutality at the hands of the Partisans before they shot him or beat him to death.  Only the dead are the fortunate ones in this camp.  We take them out by the dozens each day on the carts to the mass graves.”

 

  “I would so much like to die.  Better today than tomorrow,” whined the old distraught Oma.

 

  “We cannot even dare to think of that as long as the children are still alive,” the other Oma remonstrated.  “Who knows what will happen to them when we’re no longer around?  What will their parents think of us if they survive and can’t find their children?”

 

  “Be quiet with such talk and tell the children a story like you do every night but tonight is no time for fairy tales, tell the children the Christmas story,” Aunt Katy encouraged the despairing grandparents.

 

  “Will the Christ Child* not be coming to us?” one of the children asked.

 

  “No,” answered one of the Omas.  “The Partisans have imprisoned Him too!  But be quiet and listen to what I have to say.”

 

  She then told story of Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth and how His parents, Mary and Joseph, were poor “just as we are now.”

 

  “Did they have lice, rats and guards too?”  Little Elisabeth asked.

 

  The grandmother did not answer.  Was it because she didn’t have one?  Or was it because she was such an earnest believer that she feared some kind of punishment from God for trying to answer such a question?

 

  In a hushed voice she continued to tell the story to the point where King Herod ordered the massacre of all of the innocent children of Bethlehem.  It was then when Aunt Katy interjected, “And today, 1,945 years later we let children starve.”

 

  Karl asked his grandfather how it was that they were here in the camp and the Partisans were murdering people and took away their homes and property.

 

  “Why are the Partisans free and the Danube Swabians are prisoners under their guard.  In the past it was the other way around according to what you me Ota and it was the murderers who were put in jail.”

 

  “You still don’t understand my child,” the old man answered.  “All of us tried to live in peace with all of our various neighbours of different nationalities and did no one any harm.  But there were some exceptions among us and they were the ones who made sure to get away to safety.  But Tito and his bands are not as interested in our guilt for what they did as they are in taking over our property…that’s what they fought for and that’s why we’re here.”

 

  Time passed by quickly during the story telling and the littlest ones grew tired.  In order to celebrate the Christmas festival they whispered the words of “Silent Night” hoping that the sentry outside would not hear them.  Once it was quiet again one by one the children fell asleep.  Only Karl was unable to sleep. Various thoughts and memories waltzed into his mind of Christmases in the past.  Suddenly an idea came to his mind.  Wouldn’t be wonderful if the Christ Child came anyway.  What huge eyes everyone would make when they awoke if there would be food for them.  He would become the Christ Child himself.  But how?  Tonight the Partisans would be especially alert for any would-be-escapees going out for food.  Despite the presence of sentries, on several occasions Karl had been able to allude them and beg for food in the area and bring back food for the others.  But he had also been apprehended, beaten and tossed in a cellar and locked up.  The worst they did was take away the food he had been collecting.  In spite of that he wanted to try again tonight.  He got up quietly put on his grandfather’s shoes because his own had become too small since their internment and wrapped rags aground his shoes to keep warm and also so that he would not be heard when he crossed the wooden bridge.  He headed for Titel across the Tisza River even though it was the most difficult place to reach.  He succeeded in getting there only once before but had been caught on his way back.  He set out with determination and a prayer.  He was successful and that Christmas he became the Christ Child for his family.

 

*The Christ Child is the English translation of Christ Kind which was the German version of Santa Claus but not with its contemporary secular connotations of lavish gift giving.  He was a representative of the Christ giving simple gifts that a child would treasure usually fruit, nuts and candy.

No Responses to “ Woilowitz in the Yugoslavian Banat ”

Leave a Comment