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Thread: Ethnic Germans in the Banat: Forgotten *Yet Timely *History

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    Post Ethnic Germans in the Banat: Forgotten *Yet Timely *History

    Ethnic Germans in the Banat: Forgotten *Yet Timely *History
    By Stefan Bastius

    The Banat was a fertile and mineral-rich belt of land located in northern Romania and included strips of Serbia and Hungary, settled centuries ago by ethnic Germans. It was a highly progressive area, more so even than Germany proper. But at the end of World War II, the land was devastated and shamefully depopulated by the Allies. Many Banat Germans were even placed in extermination camps*a fact you will never hear about from establishment historians.

    My native village, Kudritz, lay near the easternmost ex tent of the Banat, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. It was entirely German, but has been "ethnically cleansed," as the popular expression now terms it, and its history either forgotten or suppressed. The history of the area is worth retelling in summary form. "Multi-ethnic" is a mild word for the diversity of its population over centuries: Hungarians, Serbs, Jews, Bulgarians, Gypsies, Romanians, and Ger mans. The German immigrants served first and foremost as a bulwark against the advance of the Turkish power.

    The Turks, who defeated the Hungarians at Mohacs in 1526, stayed in the Banat until their expulsion in 1717 by the army of Prince Eugene. The land, economically ruined and almost depopulated, was to be resettled, above all, in order to keep the Turks away from Vienna.

    What induced German farmers, craftsmen and southeastern Banat miners to leave their homelands? They wanted to escape serfdom. The "Colonization Patent" of Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) in Vienna contained tempting inducements which made it easier to give up the old homelands and to depart: tax exemption for three years, free land and the right to build. They were exempted from serfdom of any sort. Some were lucky, but others were disappointed. The work of the settlers was repeatedly disrupted by invading Turks and by roving and plundering rabble (mainly of Hungarian and Romanian nationality). The first settlers came to Banat after 1719. Among the first established settlements were Werschetz, Weiss kirchen and Kudritz, with settlers from Lorraine and the headwaters of the Moselle River. The so-called First Swabian Trek under Karl IV (1711-1740) lasted from 1723 to 1726. The new settlers were not only German farmers, but also many demobilized soldiers of Prince Eugene’s army; later also prisoners from the Seven Years War as well as Italians and Spaniards. The latter is documented by the fact that Betschkerek was originally called New Barcelona at the time of settlement.

    The first large-scale invasion by the Turks occurred in 1738. The last invasion, which destroyed the settlements in the southern Banat, occurred in 1788. Emperor Joseph II of Austria himself was the cause of this because he, as an ally of Czarina Catherine II of Russia, declared war on Turkey when Russia and Turkey were contending for control of Crimea, which was Turkish at the time.

    This brought hard times again for Kudritz and the city of Werschetz. The Turks streamed across the Danube. As Felix Milleker reported in his History of the Temesvar Banat, the Romanians from the neighboring villages used the occasion to enrich themselves at the expense of the German settlers. The following is stated in a report about the Cuirassi Regiment No. 7:

    On September 30, 1788, Capt. Hoffnungswald and Lt. Kotechel, with 60 cuirassiers [armored cavalrymen], near Kudritz, met 300 marauding Romanians, killed 130, captured 45 and dispersed the rest. On October 10, with Lt. Mazkievitz, in a skirmish near St. Mihaly and St. Janosch, with 40 cuirassiers, they caused 100 spahis and janissaries to flee and pursued them as far as the Long Entrenchment near Alibonar.

    In Werschetz, Jacob Hennemann, together with 50 faithful and brave citizens, including seven Serbs, prevented the Turks from capturing the city. These events are commemorated under the name of "The Werschetz Deed," which has been documented by a wall painting in the Catholic church in Werschetz, built in 1860. The following inscription is beneath the painting: "Dedicated to Jacob Hennemann and his faithful, the defender of the community and its church in the Turkish War of 1788."

    Hard times, wars and sicknesses (the plague, cholera and swamp fever) were overcome. The Temes Canal (1723) and the Bega-Berzowa Canal (1768) were constructed; Germans drained the swamps and turned them into fertile, arable land. Around 1790, the charcoal burner Matthias Hammer found hard coal near Steierdorf. They started again to work the ore mines around Reschitz, Steierdorf, Anina and Orawitza which had been known since Roman times. Some of the silver coins of the monarchy were coined with silver from the mines of the Banat. The silver ore, mined and concentrated in the Banat, was transported at the time as far as Schemnitz (today Banska Stiavanica) in Moravia, northwest of Pressburg, for melting. The enormous distance was covered first from Orschowa on the Danube and then in Moravia by land.

    In 1690, when the Turks reconquered Belgrade, which had been liberated in 1688, many Serbs, under the leadership of Patriarch Cernojewitsch, fled across the Danube and settled in the Banat and as far north as Raz-Keve near Budapest. The Orthodox Serbs remained with their priests an independent group. They received permission from the emperor to stay in Banat until their homeland*Old Serbia of today*was liberated from the Turks.

    Around 1790 discontent among Slavs started to grow. That of the Croats increased under Jelacic and that of the Serbs under the Patriarch Rajecic until the revolution started in 1848. Encouraged by the monarchy, Serbs were fighting for the preservation of their nationality. Their political movement*Illyrism*represented the beginning of everything that happened after the revolutionary days. In the beginning, the Serbian refugees were cattle breeders and nomads. Around 1742 they were settled in military villages inside the military border area of the southern Banat (the Illyrian border regiment was dissolved in 1881). They represented the first armed line of defense against Turkish attacks. Moreover, during the 1848 revolution they were an armed group who valiantly fought on the side of the emperor against the Hungarians and against the German settlers in the Danube area, but very soon also for their own national aims.

    Nevertheless, under Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II, the settlement of the Banat during the Second (1763-73) and Third (1781-86) Swabian Treks made enormous progress. In spite of heavy reverses, after a few years the imperial Banat became the granary of Europe.

    Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn, the most important native poet of the region, described in his novel The Great Swabian Trek (1913) what had been the intended aim of the colonization by Germans, as seen in the Vienna Court and as described in secret memoranda. He wrote: "to germanize the kingdom, or at least a part thereof, and to temper the Hungarian tendency toward revolution by Germans and to encourage their hereditary king to steady loyalty." However, at the end of the 19th century, everything German got into great difficulties due to Hungarian nationalism.

    At the time of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade (1809-14), the Banat was already a chief supplier of grain, coal, ore (iron, copper, silver) and wine. By a few years later, Werschetz had become the biggest wine producer of Europe, even the world. From the mining area of Anina, a railroad was built (1846-56) to Bazias on the Danube and in 1857 a railroad from Szeged to Temesvar. The first German railroad, from Nuremberg to Fürth, was built in 1835.

    A telegraph office was built in 1855 in Temesvar and Orsova in 1857. Temesvar already had gas lighting, long before most cities in Europe. The first steam mill of the Banat was built in 1861 in Werschetz.

    In the former homelands of the emigrants, in the west of Germany, there were also increasing demands by the people for a parliament elected by the people. In March 1848 there was a revolution in Vienna. Prince Metternich was overthrown. After the revolutionary fighting, however, Emperor Francis Joseph II, still young at the time, allowed Metternich’s old absolutist form of government to continue until 1867. During the revolutionary fights of 1848 in Werschetz, Pantschowa, Weisskirchen and also near Temesvar until the defeat of the rebellious Hungarians at Vilagos on August 13, 1849, the Swabians were on the side of the Hungarians*thus, against the Austrians. Vienna, obviously afraid of Hungarian nationalism, preferred to take the Swabians as allies, without discerning the consequences that would follow. But the Swabians in the Banat did discern them. Their warnings, for instance the Bogarosch Swabian petition, were not accepted by Vienna. The Serbs were even regarded by the election of a wojwoda (tribal prince). The imperial decree of 1849 granted to the Serbs, particularly the border guards in the military border area, equal rights and freedom. Nobody was thinking anymore about the return of the Serbs who had come under Cernojewitsch. They ignored the days of terror which Serbs, under Archbishop Rajecic, had perpetrated in Weschetz and Weisskirchen after the withdrawal of the Hungarian redcaps. This was the first time to grab German houses and fields, but only in 1919 did the Serbs finally succeed in gaining political power in all the Wojwodina (Srem, Batschka, Banat). [It needs to be recalled that the Jesuit order in Austria*several times*tried to forcibly convert the Serbs to Catholicism.*Ed.]

    Already in 1788, Empress Maria Theresa had yielded to Hungarian demands and handed over the Banat to the administration of Hungary. Until then the Banat had been imperial territory. The "magyarization" of the Banat Swabians had begun. Whoever wanted to be successful in life became a "magyarone." Gross became Nagy, Klein became Kis. The craziest results were created whenever the authorities used Hungarian spelling when writing down German names. The Hungarian spelling of the name "Sorge" was "Szorge." Likewise, my name "Bastius" was spelt "Basztiusz" in Hungarian church books. In my case, no disparagement was possible. But Sorge had serious difficulties when applying to the German Naturalization Office for citizenship, because they thought "Szorge" was a Polish name.

    The Hungarian restraints on German endeavors to improve themselves economically were allowed to increase, particularly after the compromise with the Hungarians in 1867. Already between 1876 and 1892, the Hungarian language was introduced for teaching in all German elementary schools. In this manner the Germans were to be made into Hungarians. Hungarian was considered to be distinguished. Embracing the profit motive, many Swabians became victims of magyarization.

    After the peace treaties of Versailles and Trianon of 1919, the Germans in the southeast were no longer supported by Germany and Austria and were left to themselves. The victors of the First World War divided the Banat into a larger part, which was given to Romania, and a smaller part, given to Yugoslavia. Hungary retained only a small sliver south of the Maros River. It was an arbitrary border, slicing a prosperous country in two. Many people opposed it in vain.

    For instance, my home village Kudritz lost most of its incorporated territory. The jobs in the mines and steel plants around Reschitz were beyond the border. The wine from Kudritz had no market because the nearest city, Werschetz, produced a sufficient quantity itself. Due to the increased tax burden which the new state of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes imposed on its German citizens, poverty spread. Nevertheless, the Swabians*or ethnic Germans*were diligent, and the economy slowly recovered again.

    As a reaction and in order to increase the cohesion among Germans, the Swabian-German Cultural Association (SDKB) was founded in 1920. Although its character was, to start with, preponderantly that of a cooperative ("Agraria") and cultural association, the Pribicevic government prohibited it at first*but then allowed it again. However, in the higher school classes only Serbian was used as the teaching language. Hardly anything was mentioned about German history but rather about the Serbs’ uprising under Karad jordjevic against the Turks or about the victory on the Salonica front over the Austrians during World War I.

    After 1936 nationalism also spread gradually among the people in the Banat. German consciousness became particularly popular among youth groups. They were no longer willing to submit to Serbian provocations. Already Tito’s slanderous authors claimed to detect fascist attitudes among the ethnic Germans ("Volks deutsche").

    Most of our parents were not familiar with the Serbian language. In order to intimidate and irritate the Swabians, they were often asked in offices (post office, railroads, the courts) to speak Serbian: "Govori srpski, da te ceo svet razume!"*"Speak Serbian, so all the world can understand you!"

    Nothing was left of the Habsburgs’ efforts to give equal rights to all their subjects. Rising nationalism, in its chauvinist variant, destroyed these beginnings and led the peoples of the southeast into the catastrophe after 1944.

    The Balkan campaign of 1941 against Yugoslavia resulted in a confused new split-up of Yugoslavia. There were diplomatic struggles for the Banat between Horthy’s Hungary and Antonescu’s Romania. There was the danger that these two countries would go to war against each other to gain the fertile plain east of the Theiss River. In order to prevent such a war, the German government decided to place the Yugoslavian part of the Banat under military administration. The Germans in the Banat were highly satisfied to come under German administration after all.

    However, the enthusiasm soon waned when, as of 1942, most men were forced to join the Waffen-SS Division Prinz Eugen as "volunteers." Their participation in the war against Tito’s partisans with all its hardships for both sides supplied in 1944 the ground for the final expulsion and annihilation of the Danube Swabians from all of Yugoslavia. This had already been decided back in 1943 by Tito’s central committee in Jajca. In order to provide laborers in the fields and vineyards, Serbs were forced to work on German farms. There were many who cooperated in German houses, but there also were many others who felt they were treated unjustly, who refused to work and always had difficulties with the police. These Serbs returned to these houses in October 1944. They turned the lives of former housewives and of many others in the German villages into a living Hell. Many Germans were murdered and beaten to death, even before the aroused rabble and Tito’s partisans were torturing the Germans to death in labor and starvation camps in accordance with official instructions. Only those who had sufficient strength left were able to escape in 1946-47 from the camps to Austria and freedom. About 30 percent of the German population did not survive the camps. This happened after the war had ended. In the Banat, the terror by the partisans did not begin until the war had ended.

    In closing, one should ask the following question: How could such catastrophe happen to us after 1944? As early as 1848, when the Serbs went on a plundering rampage, one could see what happens when the rabble rules. And when the demands of the expulsion of the Germans were repeated after 1919, could no one foresee the consequences for resettlement before the disaster of 1944 occurred? Much suffering and death of innocent people in the extermination camps (Rudolfsgnad, Werschetz, Kudritz, Moldorf, Gakovo, Mitrvica, Kruschewlje) could have been prevented. Most all the people in the Banat stayed at home because it was too late to escape. And even in the internment camps in the U.S.S.R., we still believed in the final victory as late as the beginning of 1945. The Germans from Dobrudscha and Bessarabia who were resettled to the Warthegau back in 1943 suffered the same fate as the Germans from Banat.

    Today, our expulsion is history, too* forgotten history. Economically and politically we have been integrated in Germany, and nobody would think of returning to our ancestral Banat.

    Genocidal Depopulation:

    The massacre of Palestinians at a village called Deir Yassin (now renamed Givat Shaul Bet) was one of the most significant events in 20th-century history. It stands as one of the starkest and most pivotal initial tragedies in a genocidal de pop ulation affecting more than 400 Arab villages and cities and the expulsion of over 700,000 native Palest inians to make room for invading Jewish immigrants from all over the world.

    On a beautiful spring day, when the skies of the Holy Land are a tender blue and the grass is a verdant green, air-conditioned buses ferry tourists from the City of the Plain to the City in the Mountains. A small distance past the halfway point, just beyond the reconstructed Ottoman inn of Babal-Wad, the Gate of the Valley, the bus drives by the red-painted skeletons of armored vehicles. This is where the tour guides make their routine pitch:

    These vehicles are in memory of the heroic breakthrough of Jews relieving the blockade of Jerusalem imposed by the aggression of nine Arab states.

    The number of Arab states varies with the mood of the guide and how they size up their audience. The battle for the road to Jerusalem was a high point of the 1948 civil war in Palestine, and it ended with the Zionist Jews of the Plain capturing the prosperous West End of Jerusalem with its white stone mansions of Arab nobles and German, Greek and Armenian merchants. In the course of these battles they also subdued the neutral, non-Zionist Jewish neighborhoods. Zionists expelled the gentiles in a massive sweep of ethnic cleansing and contained the local Jews in the ghetto. In order to achieve this feat, they razed to the ground the Palestinian villages on their path to the city. The rusted junk is barely an adequate backdrop for the standard Israeli narration, and they would not qualify for a realistic film production. It is a staged scene that lacks the authentic look needed by movie directors. The story of the blockade and aggression is a theater play, not a cinema script. It is an encore performance for the tourist receiving indoctrination on the non-stop trip to the Wailing Wall and the Holocaust Museum.

    The war for this road was over in April 1948, weeks before Israel declared independence on May 15, before the hapless ragtag units of Arab neighbors entered Palestine and saved what remained of the native population. As T.S. Eliot observed, April is the cruelest month. And so it was on that fateful April day when the Palestinians were doomed to start a journey to five decades of exile. Its apotheosis was reached near the entrance to Jerusalem, where the Sacharov Gardens lead to a cemetery, to a lunatic asylum, and to Deir Yassin.

    Death has many names. For every Palestinian, it is "Deir Yassin." On the night of the ninth of April, 1948, the Jewish terrorist groups Etzel and Lehi attacked the peaceful village and massacred its men, women and children. I do not want to repeat the gory tale of sliced-off ears, gutted bellies, raped women, torched men, bodies dumped in stone quarries or the triumphal parade of the murderers. Existentially, all massacres are similar, from the Ludlow massacre to Deir Yassin.

    Yet, the Deir Yassin massacre is special for three reasons. One, it is well documented and was witnessed. Other Jewish fighters from the Hagana and Palmach, Jewish scouts, Red Cross representatives and the British police of Jerusalem left complete records of the event. It was just one of many massacres of Palestinians by the Jews during the war of 1948, but none received as much attention. This is probably due to the fact that Jerusalem, the seat of the British Mandate in Palestine, was just around the corner.

    Second, Deir Yassin had dire consequences beyond its own tragic fate. The horror of the massacre facilitated the mass flight from nearby Palestinian villages and gave the Jews full control over the western approaches to Jerusalem. The flight was a prudent and rational choice for the civilian population. As I write this, my TV glares with the image of Macedonian peasants fleeing a war zone. My mother’s family escaped from a burning Minsk on June 22, 1941, and survived. My father’s family remained and perished. After the war, my parents could return like other war refugees. The Palestinians, however, have not been allowed to come back, even to this very day.

    The third reason the Deir Yassin massacre is special is the careers of the murderers. The commanders of the Etzel and Lehi gangs, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, eventually became Israeli prime ministers. None of them expressed any remorse, and Begin lived the last days of his life with a panoramic view of Deir Yassin from his house. No Nuremberg judges, no vengeance, no penitence; just a path of roses all the way to a Nobel Peace prize. Begin was proud of the operation, and in his letter to the killers he congratulated them for fulfilling their national duty. "You are creators of Israel’s history," he wrote.

    Shamir was also pleased that it helped to achieve his dream: to expel the nochrim (non-Jews) from the Jewish state.

    The field commander of the operation, Judah Lapidot, also had quite a career. His superior, Begin, appointed him to run the campaign for the right of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel. He called for compassion and family reunion; he orchestrated the demonstrations in New York and London with that memorable slogan "Let My People Go." If you supported the right of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel, maybe you came across this man. By then the blood stains of Deir Yassin had presumably washed off. For the political indoctrination of Russian immigrants, he even published a Russian-language version of Oh Jerusalem, a best-seller by Lapierre and Collins, expurgating the story of Deir Yassin.

    But there is yet another reason why this event was historically significant. Deir Yassin demonstrated the full scope of Zionist tactics. After the mass murder be came known, the Jewish leadership blamed the Arabs. David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, announced that the Arab rogue gangs perpetrated it. When this version collapsed, the Jewish leaders began the damage control procedures. They sent an apology to Emir Abdallah.

    Ben Gurion publicly distanced himself and his government from the bloody massacre, saying it stained the name of every honest Jew and that it was the work of dissident terrorists. His public relations techniques remain a source of pride for the good-hearted pro-Zionist "liberals" abroad. "What a horrible, dreadful story," a humanist Jew told me when I drove him by the remaining houses of Deir Yassin. Then he added: "But Ben Gurion condemned the terrorists, and they were duly punished." "Yes," I responded, "they were duly punished and promoted to the highest government posts."

    Just three days after the murder, the gangs were incorporated into the emerging Israeli army, the commanders received high positions, and a general amnesty forgave their crimes. The same pattern, an initial denial, followed by apologies, and a final act of clemency and promotion, was applied after the first historically verifiable atrocity committed by Prime Minister Sharon. It was at the Palestinian village of Qibya, where Sharon’s unit dynamited houses with their inhabitants still in them and massacred some 60 men, women and children. After the murders became public, Prime Minister Ben Gurion, at first, blamed rogue Arab gangs. When that did not wash, he blamed "Arab Jews," who, he said, being Arabs by their mentality, committed the unauthorized wild raid of vengeance and killed the peasants.

    For Sharon, it was the usual path of roses all the way to the post of prime minister. It sometimes appears that to become the prime minister of Israel, it helps to have a massacre to your name. The same pattern was repeated after the massacre of Kafr Kasem, where Israeli troops lined up the local peasants and machine-gunned them down. When the denial failed, and a communist MP disclosed the gory details, the perpetrators were court-martialed and sentenced to long prison terms.

    They were out before the end of the year, while the commander of the murderers became the head of Israel bonds. If you ever purchased Israeli bonds, maybe you met him. I am certain he washed the blood off his hands by the time he shook yours. Now, with the passing of 50 years, the Jewish establishment has decided to, once again, take a stab at Deir Yassin revisionism. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pioneered the art of denying history and published, at the expense of American taxpayers, a booklet called Deir Yassin: History of a Lie. The ZOA revisionists discount the eyewitness accounts of the survivors, the Red Cross, the British police, Jewish scouts and other Jewish observers who were present at the scene of the massacre. They discount even Ben Gurion’s apology, since, after all, the commanders of these gangs became in turn prime ministers of the Jewish state.

    For ZOA, only the testimony of the murderers has any validity. That is, if the murderers are Jews. Still, there are just people, and probably because of them the Almighty does not wipe us off the face of the earth. There is an organization called Deir Yassin Remembered, which fights all attempts to erase the memory of that massacre. They publish books, organize meetings, and are working on a project to build a memorial at the scene of the massacre, so the innocent victims will have this last comfort*their name and the memory saved forever (Isaiah 56:5). It will have to do, until the surviving sons of Deir Yassin and neighboring villages return from their refugee camps to the land of their fathers.

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    Hello everybody, I just found this over google, and I just had to reply.
    I guess I am too old to even use a computer, I was born in 1930 in Werschetz, today Vrsac, back then a small town of about 25,000 people in a wine growing area in back then Yugoslavia (today Serbia) at the Romanian border. About 60% of the population was German speaking, the rest was mainly Serbs, some Hungarians and Romanians too. We lived together in peace, and I never noticed much nationalism or racism, of course my language was German, but I spoke Serbian also perfectly, like all children my age. My parents were socialists, and so I never felt really German, I felt as a German speaking Yugoslav, I guess that is why what came afterwards was even more shocking for me.

    In April 1941 the Germans came to Werschetz, and although many people greeted them with open arms, my family was not happy. In the end for me and my family not much changed, except that my parents had to hide their political ideas. As early as late 1942 it became clear, that soon Germany would lose the war. Also cruelties of the partisans in Yugoslavia occurred, and we did not know what to do. We didn't know where to go if we left, and we knew that staying would not be healthy. In October 1944 the partisans took over the city. They arrested people, tortured them, they collected German speaking men in the streets, randomly and just shot them, they raped women, and all of this went on for a month. In the end all Germans, even women and children were sent to concentration camps, where many of them died, the rest had to go to Germany or Austria, but not before 1947, after almost 3 years in the camps.

    My family and I we fled before we were brought to the camp, in mid October, through the Vojvodina through Hungary to Austria. We stayed there for a while, but then we left for Canada. In Canada I married, had children, divorced, and then when I was 51, my children were grown, I met an Austrian, and we married and moved back to Vienna. I've never been back to Werschetz, I never dared. Until today I don't understand why they were so cruel, and I will never return. I want to keep my memories, for me Werschetz is my youth. I was only 14 when I had to leave, but that day my youth ended.

    For me the biggest shame is, that this topic is only brought up by politically far right, nationalist groups. I am a leftie, and still what the Yugoslavs did was wrong, they need to apologize, and this needs to be taught in history classes. So many German and Austrian kids don't know anything about Germans in Yugsolavia, Romania, Poland, Russia or the Baltic countries. Those people weren't all nazis, and not everybody who says that their expulsion was wrong is a nazi. I wish I would live up to see it, but I probably won't.

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