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The Last of the German Village of Bogarosch

by Anton Zollner

‘Schein-Kirchweih’ (Consecration of the Church) in Bogarosch

Will Bogarosch church be left to go to rack and ruin?

“The mass media (i.e. the Neue Banater Zeitung - NBZ) describe our villages as ‘windowless and doorless houses’, the ghostly representation bringing to mind the image of a ‘sinking ship’.....”. With this reproachful sentence none other than Karl Singer, chairman of the Democratic Forum of the Banat Germans (DFBG), referred  to the series of reports on ‘A Journey through the German Heath Villages of the Banat’ by the journalist Grete Lambert, thereby trying to gag the NBZ. How long will it take for the DFBG officials to realise that on this ‘sinking ship’ the last lights are already being extinguished in the cabins (i.e. the last few remaining Swabian houses)? Instead of praising the journalist for the ‘last report on the return home of the Banat Swabian people’, he finds nothing better to do than to criticise, just as it was customary to do at party meetings not so long ago. Or hadn’t he been listening to the introductory speech at the DFBG meeting of representatives?

“Well, when you think back, it really was lovely here (Bogarosch) at one time. Today, the church stands half dilapidated in the middle of the village; two or three widows come to Mass on Sundays; the organ, I think, has rusted up and the priest preaches elsewhere. The bell only rings at midday and (?) now, and now and then when we hear someone has died back in Germany the bell is rung in the hope that the poor soul will find some peace.”  This is how a Banat Swabian, who has stayed in the old homeland, described ‘the lights going out’ in the September 1992 edition of ‘Pipatsch’ Nr. 1034, under the pseudonym ‘Helli from Bogarosch’.  A more painful portrayal of the demise of a once thriving Swabian community there could not be. Did Mr. Singer wish to rebuke this old Banater lady, who had stayed on the ‘sinking ship’, as well in his speech?

“When I came to Bogarosch a few days ago after having been away for nearly two years, it felt almost like a ghost village. Most of the Germans left long ago and all that is left are the two sad-looking churches, a neglected cemetery and many dilapidated houses which give the place a gloomy atmosphere. Here and there you hear a “Gruess Gott”  (a German greeting)...”. This is how Simone Alba described Bogarosch nearly a year ago. For Mr. Singer, this would probably be classed as ‘anti-patriotic propaganda’, but for those who had to leave their homes for ever with heavy hearts in order to be able to live as Germans, for them the above excerpts are a sad, but unfortunately true, chronicle of events.

In Bogarosch (today Bulgarus), a village which belongs to the parish of Lenauheim, one hundred NBZ subscribers were recorded in March 1990. A year prior to that one could count around two hundred Germans here, but by September 1992 you ‘really had to search for these’ according to Grete Lambert. At the time they would have been living amongst 25 families, mostly in mixed marriages. In the church, the Lovrin priest held Mass every other Sunday for about 10 people, most of whom were Roman Catholic Romanians or gypsies. Only one single German family put in an application for land, but even this family wants to leave for Germany. It goes without saying, of course, that there is no longer a German kindergarten, a German school, nor any German organization of any sort today.

What hurts most about Bogarosch, though, is the wilful (perhaps even deliberate) destruction of the neat Swabian houses. The many gypsies who now live in the village move into one house after another and destroy them. In winter they use the window frames, door frames - even floorboards - and finally the roof joists, for fuel. In the Spring they demand, and receive, the next Swabian house, too - but it always has to be the biggest one. There is one gypsy family which has already destroyed six houses in the village and has now moved into the seventh. Ceausescu could almost envy his successors, even whilst in his grave.  His plans to destroy all the villages are slowly but surely being carried out without the need for bulldozers and above all without causing an international outcry.

Grete Lambert also reported one exception: A mother, together with her son, has come back to Bogarosch from Germany, but this has barely made any impression on the village because those Banat Swabians who have up to now stayed on in the village have now decided to leave, and will stand by their plans.

If Mr. Singer, however, views the above report, plus my little say, as ‘scaremongering’, then I would like to recommend to him the Romanian daily newspaper ‘Timisoara’, edition Nr. 20 (681) of 30th January 1993. The headlines such as ‘Banat villages in danger of being destroyed’, ‘German houses have become ruins’ or ‘Depopulated German communities in ruins’, all come from the pens of Romanian journalists. Hopefully, Mr. Karl Singer will at least give these people more credence.

Translated from an article by Anton Zollner - June 1993

‘Schein-Kirchweih’ (Consecration of the Church) in Bogarosch

‘14th August 1994. Brass band playing. Bogarosch celebrates its 200th anniversary’;  ‘Kirchweih time again in Bogarosch’; ‘Eleven couples in costume’. With these headlines the ‘Banater Zeitung’ (a supplement with the ‘Allgemeinen Deutschen Zeitung fuer Rumaenien’ - ADZ) of 17th August 1994 gave the impression that Bogarosch was still a Banat Swabian village on the Banat Heath.

The truth, however, is very different. The kind of Kirchweih celebrations that took place when over 92% of the village inhabitants were German belongs to the history books. Even the celebrations that took place here 17 years ago, when out of 2,559 inhabitants, 1,125 (i.e. about 44%) were still Germans, is only a distant memory. Two years ago there were Germans living in only 25 families, most of them in mixed marriages. Amazingly, in the January 7th 1992 census, 125 registered again as Germans, but that would have still only been a measly 7% of the village population. Assuming that these were indeed really all German, and that since then none of them had emigrated, then it would still have been a pure Utopian dream to be able to organise a real Kirchweih. Anyone who knows anything about Banat Swabian villages would probably agree with me.

Where would they have found the eleven costumed couples from if there were only a few remaining German souls left (certainly fewer than a hundred), and these all in their twilight years? Nine of the eleven couples were ‘loaned’ from the dance group ‘Banater Rosmareiner’ whose members are overwhelmingly non-German. The two ‘native’ couples remain a mystery. There were reportedly Germans in the Kirchweih procession, too, which marched through the village streets again after nine years. Out of all these, though, only one was named: it was Alfred Szilier, the leader of the procession, whom people in Bogarosch described as ‘Kerweinarr’. Other prominent people in the procession who were named were the first ‘Geldherren’ couple, Doru Neamtu (by coincidence this means ‘Doru the German’ in german!) with Michaela Marcus, and the second ‘Geldherren’ couple, Nina Ciuca with Gabriel Ratoi (in german ‘Gabriel the Drake’). So, as they say in the Banat, ‘all true-born Swabians’ (toti svabi get-beget!). The Kirchweih bush was decorated by Veronika Cicua and the marches were played by the Rekascher Brass Band. Whether there were any other Germans playing, apart from the Bandleader Mathias Henschel, is not known.

Even the ‘Festgottesdienst’ (church service) which was celebrated by Fathers Josef Demeter from Lovrin and Eugen Budau from Jassy (Moldavia) was marked by the ‘new era’. To prove that this really was a true representation of a Banat Swabian Kirchweih, the sermon was given by Ignaz B. Fischer. The organ was played by Leonhard Kirsch from Lovrin.

So, who were the participants in this Kirchweih? The journalist from the ADZ, Helen Alba, tells us. According to her, ‘already in the early hours of the following morning....buses and cars wound their way along the bumpy road’. How many of these bore the D-registration (for Germany) is also unknown. So who had taken part in this former Banat Swabian village? There could have been at the most 1,377 Romanians, 18 Hungarians, 3 Serbs, 219 gypsies, 12 others and of course those125 Germans who still remained after two and a half years. In other words: Swabian Kirchweih ‘get-beget’ (true-born!)

That said, there were many prominent guests there: Karl Binder (probably meaning Karl Singer), chairman of the Democratic Forum of Banat Germans (DFBG); Uwe Zorn, leader of the Temeschburg branch of the German Consulate in Hermannstadt; Ignaz B. Fischer, chairman of the former Russian Deportees; Walter Jass, deputy chairman of the DFBG and editor of the ADZ; Michael Szellner, deputy chairman of the DFBG; Manfred Engelmann of the West-East-Cultural Works of Bonn; and Pompilia Szellner of the Banat-JA Working Group. Also present, though, were the ‘representatives of the mass media’ who presumably had been given the ‘important job’ of spreading a picture of the ‘thriving Banat Swabian villages and that of a surviving German minority in Romania’ in all directions. The ruins of the once proud farmhouses and the threatened extinction of the high percentage of elderly German people and a village community left without prospects should remain a secret.

Translated from an article written by Anton Zollner August 1994

Will Bogarosch church be left to go to rack and ruin?

Bogarosch (today Bulgarus; Hungarian Bogaros) lies on the Banat Heath about 5 km (3 miles) to the left of National Route DN 6 Temeschburg - Gross Sankt Nikolaus (between Alexanderhausen and Lovrin). This 'asphalt' connecting road has for years been in a very bad state of repair. The communal road which leads to the district centre, Lenauheim, is also barely passable because of its extremely bad condition. Bogarosch is also connected to the rail network, as the Hatzfeld to Lovrin line passes close by this village. In Spring 1997 it was proposed to discontinue the trains on this stretch of line because of their non-viability.

Bogarosch was already documented as ‘praedium Bogaros’ in 1462, but during the Turkish rule it became a barren wasteland. In 1769, Germans from Lothringen, Luxembourg, the Pfalz region, today’s Saarland, and many other regions in South-West Germany, settled here. In 1890, when Bogarosch was the county seat, the number of inhabitants rose to 3,130, of which the majority were German. By 1910 the 2,462 Germans made up over 93% of the local population. Up to the second World War this number only dropped by around 200, but the proportion of the total population remained the same. In 1940 there were 2,269 Germans, 23 Romanians and 140 others living in the Swabian village. After the war the number of Germans dropped continually until today; in contrast the number of immigrant Romanians grew. By 1950 the 1,611 Germans made up only 49.2 % of the total population and at the same time the number of Romanians rose to 1,434. In the 1977 census 1,125 Germans were counted, against 1,286 Romanians, 117 gypsies and 31 others living here. During the next 15 years the total number of inhabitants halved to 1,754 people. By this time, only 125 people belonged to the German race; the number of Romanians amounted to 1,377 and the number of gypsies rose to 219. It seems, however, that not all those who classed themselves as Germans actually belonged to the German race. According to the Hometown Association (HOG) of Bogarosch, there were 26 Germans still in the hometown up to February 1996 - included amongst these were 6 former Russian deportees.

According to Karl Kraushaar the newly-settled village in 1769 comprised 201 colonial houses. One year later in 1770, the parish was founded and at the same time the church registers were introduced. At the beginning, the Bogarosch colonists worshipped in a wooden-built prayer house. As the ‘Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung fuer Rumaenien’ (ADZ) reported in August 1997, the building of today’s church was decided in 1773 by the ‘Kameralherrschaft’ of the Bogarosch parish. On October 15th 1773 the foundations were measured and then the building work began and was finished in 1774. On November 1st of the same year the church was consecrated in the name of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by the [Ehrendomherren] and the Neu-Beschenowaer priest, Georg Johann Franz Gliubichich. The main altar was made by the sculptor from Grossjetscha, Konrad Staud, in 1792, who also later made the side altars. In 1797 the gilding of the main altar was carried out; in 1806 the floor of the church was laid with ‘Kehlhammer’ (?flagstones) and in 1859 the church was widened with the addition of the two aisles. Finally, the clock tower was bought from Munich in 1880.

The last Bogarosch ‘Kerwei’ (Kirchweih - church consecration) was celebrated here in 1994 as a special occasion; since then, things have been quiet round the few remaining elderly Germans, and those in mixed marriages. In 1997, the Lovrin priest, Hans Ghinari, only celebrated Mass every other Sunday for the few Catholics left. After numerous break-ins in the church, which have been perpetrated since the breakdown of communist rule in the Banat, all valuable objects (chalices, holy images, statues, candlesticks, altar cloths etc.) of the village church were to be stored in the Temeschburg Bishop’s Palace. The Bogarosch Catholics, however, refused to take this precaution and secured the church in their own way with locks, bolts and support beams. As the NDZ reported in September 1999, another robbery took place in the Bogarosch church. The thieves were caught this time, but the stolen property was not recovered.

Today, the church stands forlorn in the middle of the village and is left to rack and ruin. The outer walls crumble constantly as money for even the simplest of repairs cannot be found. The internal walls are damp and mouldy; pigeons have laid siege to the bell tower and the tower clock has been silent for a long time. Is there really no-one who can stop the church in Bogarosch from falling  further into decay?

But even apart from this, any former Bogaroscher wouldn’t recognise his pretty old home village. Most of the houses have been painted in gaudy colours. In the yards, previously unimaginable chaos rules. On the village streets one sees only strange faces and a few dirty children running wild. At night the village streets aren’t even lit any more. The two dozen Germans left, who now live scattered amongst the streets of the village, really have become strangers in their own homes.

Anton Zollner, November 1999 Translated, with permission, by Diana Lambing


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Diana Lambing, unless otherwise noted.


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Last updated: 13 Feb 2012