Klein Bastei


The Story* of a German Village in Salvonia


In Croatia


(This translation does not include certain sections of the book, which however, are acknowledged in the text)


By Heinrich Heppenheimer

  An Introduction  

The Geographical Disposition of Klein Bastei

  The Historical Past 

  The name “Bastaji”, (Bastei, bastion, fortress) indicates that it comes from the time of the Turkish wars.  But like Daruvar, 14 kilometres distant, Bastei was settled during the Roman occupation of the area.  The area was always rich in forests, was well watered, and the rolling hills were cultivated even prior to the coming of the Romans.  Little is known of the people living here during the Middle Ages, all is in relative darkness prior to 1300.  But during that period Christianity emerged.  Around 1550 the Turks broke into the area and they destroyed everything , driving away the local population.


  All kinds of peoples passed through, or lived in the area temporarily.  Illryians, Celts, Dacians.  For about 500 years (up to 500 AD) the Romans ruled the area.  The highways they constructed, the drainage and irrigation systems they put into place, the tilling of the soil and planting of the vineyards made for a prosperous province, with its major settlement Sirmium (now Mitrovitz), eventually giving its name to the region of Syrmien, Srem.


  The Roman emperor Diocletian (308) resided in Spalato (now Split).  The Roman fortresses and their Legions could not stop the westward expansion of the Germanic tribes, and the Slavs who followed them, (Croatians and Serbs).  Wave after wave of German tribes: Quaden (Schwaben), Markomann, Alans passed through here from 50 AD to 378 AD.  The Vandals in 400, then Attila the Hun, followed by the West Goths.  When the Franks destroyed the Avar Empire that was located in Panonia, it became part of the Franks’ domains (791-796).  The Carolingian East Mark (Austria), extended from Lake Balaton to the Sava and the Danube Rivers.  The Croatian cattle herders who entered the area after 550 had no interest or concern in creating a nation or state.  Along with Christianization, Mitrowitz became the seat of a bishopric.  All of later Slavonia and Syrmein were given to the Counts of Friaul (in Italy) who were members of the Frankish royal administration.


  The Burgenland (present day Austria) was established as a defensive border area with countless fortresses (Burgen) and was settled with German colonists.  Monks spread Christianity, built churches and monasteries which became the cultural center of the life of the nation.


  The settlement programme followed on the heels of the missionary efforts of both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  The Western church sent missionary monks from Passau, Regensburg and Salzburg into the south east, while the Orthodox monks Cyril and Methodius headed north to Moravia from the south east.  The liturgy was translated into Slavonian and introduced the Cyrillic alphabet.  The Orthodox Churches were established along ethnic lines:  Bulgarian, Serbian, etc.


  The Magyar tribes arrived from Asia and occupied Panonia and the Tisza region by 895 and then headed westwards under Arpad’s leadership.  By 1091 they also occupied Slavonia and Syrmien.  They were defeated by Otto the Great at Lechfeld in 955.  These nomadic tribes now settled down and the Christianization process began.  St. Stephen, the king, was the founder of the Magyar nation.  In 995 he married Princess Gesela of Passau, daughter of the Duke of Bavaria and the sister of Emperor Henry II.  Stephen was crowned Apostolic King of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II in 1001.  He was canonized by Rome in 1083 for his conversion to Roman Catholicism, acknowledging the power and authority of the pope and gave his assistance to the Christianization of the Magyar people and the construction of churches.


  Under Geza II, after 1150, German knights and artisans were invited to settle in Hungary and became the Zipzer Saxons and Transylvania Saxons, who originated in the Rhine Mosel region and Luxemburg.  The Slavic princes also enticed Germans to settle in the Great Moravian Empire at the same time.


  The first mention of the designation: Croat, was by the Croatian Duke Trpimir (840-855), a vassal of the Emperor of the Franks, Lothar.  Prince Tomislav declared himself to be King of the Croats in 925.  But there is no way of knowing if he was actually king and if and when and where he was crowned.  He did unite the Croats and had to be on guard in terms of the Venetians and the Hungarians who had aspirations to subjugate them.


  One of the last of the Croatian kings was Zvonimir (1076-1088).   His wife was Helene the fair.  They were childless.  At one assembly at Kniner Feld, he was murdered.  It was in 1089.  Battles for the succession led to outside “help” being necessary.  The control of Croatia was offered to the Hungarian king, Ladislaus I.  He accepted, but was busy at war elsewhere at the time.  His nephew Kolomar I, who succeeded him to the Hungarian throne made a pact with the twelve leading Croatian noble families in 1102 and was elected Croatian King and crowned.  This past history would effect the fufure history of both peoples.  The personal union of the two nations in the person of the king lasted 816 years, from 1102 to 1918.

  The king permitted the Croatians their own government, a Banus (governor) was the Hungarian spokesman and representative of the Magyar king.  The nobles formed a Landtag (kind of parliament of nobles), the Sobor.  The Hungarians perceived this union as “eternal” and had the right to occupy all of Croatia.  The Croats on the other hand, bided their time until they would have an opportunity to see the end of the dynasty and freely elect their own king.  But to all intents and purposes, Croatia had given up its independence.  On a confessional basis, both Hungary and Croatia were in an alliance with the papacy.


  Their other Slavic neighbour, the Serbs, blossomed under the Nemanjiden, Prince Stefan Nemanja (1144-1200) and Emperor Stefan Duschan (1331-1355).  The prince had united the two strains of Serbs and freed himself from vassalage to Byzantium.  The Emperor added territory and raised the archbishop to Patriarch.  In 850, the Serbs had converted to the Orthodox Church, unlike their Croatian counterparts.  This confessional difference remains the main difference between the two nations to this day.


  During these centuries (1096-1270), many Christians desired to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  But because the Seljuk Turks put in their appearance at this time, such pilgrimages became more and more dangerous.


  Pope Urban II called for a holy crusade against the infidel in 1095.  Under the slogan, “God wills it”, seven crusades by land and sea set out from Europe.  The first and second crusades passed through Croatia, countless numbers of them did not live to reach the Holy Land.  Even a children’s crusade followed, ending up with all of them being sold into slavery by the Venetians.


The Rise of the Ottoman Empire


  Turkish Moslems wandered out of Turkestan to the west and planted themselves firmly in Asia Minor by 1243.  There, Osman I, founded the Ottoman Empire in 1301.


  At the Battle of Kosovo Polje on June 28th  1389, Prince Lazar of Serbia, and his nobles were destroyed by the Turks, who then took over power in the lands between the Danube and Sava Rivers.  Serbia and Bosnia remained under the Turks for 400 to 500 years.  The Serbs kept the memory of the defeat alive in their folk songs and in the Orthodox Church, especially in the monastic communities.


  It was only in 1453 when the Turks were finally able to take Constantinople and it became Istanbul.  Turkish power spread, and more and more provinces paid tribute.  The Turks became a terror and threat to all of Christiendom, especially through their Spakis (knights) and Janisaries (Christian captives raised as fanatic Moslems).  The fatalism of Islam provided its warriors with special courage.  The subject people were not forced to accept Islam, but were heavily taxed and excluded from positions of authority in society if they remained Christians.  The wealthy converted en masse, especially in Bosnia.


  France had aspirations to attain power and control in Europe and their chief rival was the House of Hapsburg in Spain and Germany and saw the Ottoman Turks as an ally against them, threatening them from the south east.  In this way France hoped to take over the Hapsburg German lands on their eastern borders.


The Turkish Threat to Western Europe


  Under Sulieman II, the city of Belgrade was taken in 1521, which had been in the possession of Hungary since 1433.  The Turks now focused their efforts on Hungary and by 1526 they had taken Transylvania.  Louis II of Hungary and his host met the Turks at Mohacs and it cost him and most of his army their lives.  Since there was no heir to the throne, the newly elected Hapsburg King, Ferdinand I (1527-1564) was opposed by Zaplya Janos, selfstyled King in Transylvania, with Turkish support.


  Ferdinand “exiled” the pretender, and was acknowledged as King in 1527 and was crowned King of Hungary.


  There was now a “personal union” between Austria and Hungary of which Croatia was now a part.  The Ottomans unleashed a reign of terror and over 30,000 people were carried off as slaves, while countless others were massacred.  In 1529 the Turks laid siege to Vienna.  A pasha ruled from the Sava River to Pest and from the Balaton to the Tisza River, and his residence was in the city of Pest.  (Across the Danube from Buda).


  The nobles, by and large, fled out of Turkish occupied territory.  Many Croatians fled to Burgenland and were settled in five villages as “islands” of Croats.  From the captured territory of Hungary, in five years the Turks launched attacks on Austria, 188 times, killed, maimed, drove off livestock and burned villages.  The Turks wore green (the symbol of their faith) and red (the symbol of joy) in terms of their clothing, while the Christians were forced to wear black as a sign of humility and subservience..  And people were always being carried off into captivity and slavery.


  For about 150 years, Slavonia and Syrmien were under the Turks, and in this period, the economy and life changed drastically.  The number of villages and houses declined, and the land reverted to wilderness.  The Turks had begun a religious crusade but ended up as an expansionist empire.

 The Second Siege of Vienna 

  France, always a willing ally of the Turks since 1536, saw its best opportunity to gain German territory during and after the Thirty Years War.  The Grand Vizer, Kara Mustapha laid siege to Vienna with an army of 150,000.  Accompanying the Turks were 15,000 men under the young Hungarian Count Emmerich Tokoly.  He allowed himself  to be crowned rebel King of Slovakia, and served as a Turkish vassal.


  The Hapsburg emperor and his entourage fled from Vienna and left a force of 15,000 to withstand the Turks.  But a combined German and Polish relief force of 86,000  arrived, under Johann III Sobieski and Duke Karl V of Lorraine.  On September 12th 1683, the Turks were routed and fled back into Hungary.  Count Tokoly’s forces were also defeated.  He was successful in escaping to the Sultan and following his report of the failed siege the Sultan sent his Grand Vizer “the velvet rope”…an invitation for him to commit suicide.  Among the commanders of the Hapsburg forces were Max Emmanuel of Bavaria and Count Louis of Baden…Turkish Louis.  In addition, there was the young Prince Eugene of Savoy.  The liberation of Hungary was now at hand.  But young Prince Eugene was not prepared to stop there.  He pursued the Turks to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Nisch in Serbia.  If troops had not been needed to face the French in the west, Serbia and Bosnia would have been liberated from the Turks much earlier.  This concluded the second Turkish War (1683-1699).  The Third Turkish War (1716-1718) and the Fourth (1737-1739) would follow.


  One after another the following were taken from the Turks:


     Ofen (Buda)      1686

     Mohacs             1688

     Belgrade           1689

     Nisch                1691

     Zenta                1697

     Temesburg       1716

     Peterwardein    1716

     Belgrade          1717 again (Turks re-took it in 1690)


  Several peace treaties were made with the Turks, which they then proceeded to break.  Slankamen 1691, Karlowitz 1699, Passarovitz 1718, and in Belgrade in 1739.  Little wars simply went on.  The Hapsburgs took Hungary in 1697, Slavonia and Syrmien in 1687, the Batschka, Banat and Transylvania in 1691.


  The Hapsburgs now assumed legal rights over the “liberated” territories.  The Austrian emperor wanted to return the abandoned estates in Hungary back to their former owners.  But in many cases, many of the estates no longer had an owner, and as a result the land was sold or granted to the military.


  The Ottomans had overstepped themselves at the height of the expansion of their empire in attempting to take Vienna in 1683.  It stood in the shadow of the young “white knight” the “edler Ritter”, Eugene of Savoy the victorious military commander and future statesmen known throughout all of Europe.


The Austrian Military Frontier District


  In response to the ongoing Turkish threat, the Hapsburg established a defensive line to thwart any future attempts of the Turks to retake their Danubian Empire.  It consisted of a strip of land twenty to fifty kilometres wide and some 2,000 kilometres long from the Adriatic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains, which was guarded and controlled by the military.  But defence was not its only concern, there was also the need to provide supplies and food for the troops.


  The best solution would be “farmer soliders”, a kind of local militia, called “Grenzers”…literally, border men, who would live in the District with their families and carry on agricultural work and livestock herding, and would not only defend the “empire”  but their own homes and families.


  Among the settlers in the District were refugees from the Ottoman occupied areas.  Having lost their land and given land to defend met a mutual need.  A second settler group were discharged troops, who as veterans wanted to find a homeland and a future for themselves.  A third group were Serbians who fled into southern Hungary and Syrmien with their Patriarch Arsenije Carnojewitsch in 1690 from the Turks, because they had rebelled against their Moslem overlords.  Another group were the Croatians who lived in the area all along and survived the Turkish occupation.  The last group were Germans invited to settle in the Banat and Syrmien frontier areas.  The only German “Grenzer” village in Slavonia is Neudorf, in the Military Frontier District there were 520,000 Croatian Roman Catholics, 650,000 Orthodox Serbs and only 34,000 of other nationalities in 1881.


  The Frontier was defended by 17 regiments, with 100,000 men under arms.  Each man had to serve 150 days a year on sentry duty, in training and in the field.


  From 1849 to 1866 the Military Frontier District was governed as a separate Crownland.  The Frontier also functioned as a sanitation corridor.


  As Turkish power declined the Frontier District was dismantled.  Transylvania in 1851, Banat in 1873, Croatia-Slavonia in 1881/1882.

 (Tanslator’s Note.  I have left out some of the detail not really of much importance to the story at this point)



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