This is a short account about the journey of a Banat family to Bulgaria, between 1863 and 1865, and their return after enduring untold suffering. At that time, the land along the middle course of the Danube had been ravaged by a prolonged drought. In one particular community there were less than twenty farmers who were able earn their daily sustenance, although this village was considered one of the most affluent in the area extending to the military border and into Transylvania. From spring until summer, not a drop of rain had fallen and the cloudless skies filled villagers with dread as they faced the winter. Livestock was left to wander randomly across the fields, and when the corn crop, their last hope, seemed doomed to fail, they were facing the possibility of famine and starvation. Realizing the hopelessness of their situation, many began dreaming of going to unknown faraway places to seek the fortune that had been denied them in their homeland. A young farmer by the name of Martin L. from the village of G. was determined to emigrate with his wife and two children, rather than face the possibility of starving to death in their own home.
During those fateful times, at the end of August, a foreign solicitor from Rumelia passed from village to village, in order to entice farmers to settle in Bulgaria. Whatever effect the stranger triggered on those who made rash decisions because of their vulnerability, soon manifested itself in Martin L. On the spur of the moment, he sold his property for a song and hurriedly made preparations for the trip to a country that had been promoted so much lately. Their possessions were packed carefully on the wagon and two strong horses stood ready to take them towards their new fortune. On a cloudless late summer day, Martin L., his wife and two children took leave of their village. His relatives’ warnings of the probable consequences of such an adventure fell on deaf ears. They accompanied the family to the outskirts of the village and bravely waved to them with tear-filled eyes.
During the long journey to Bulgaria, Martin and his family eventually joined many other Banat farmers; all were full of confidence and built on the promises of the solicitor, who had described the country and their future land holdings with tantalizing words. Every farmer was to receive as much acreage as he could manage to put under the plough, as well as new equipment and animals. Best of all, they were attracted by the prospect of not being burdened by taxes or other tributes. Over two thousand Danube Swabians had been persuaded to leave behind their impoverished, but secure homes. The further they distanced themselves from their homes, the more they clung to the hope of finding everything in the unknown country that had been denied them by the inhospitable weather at home.
Alas, once they finally arrived in Rumelia after a long and arduous journey, they found that whatever the scammers had led them to believe was not true. There was no land for the farmers; the property belonged to a wealthy Muslim who forced them to sign a contract they could not read. During the first days after their arrival it became obvious that there was a demand for farm labourers, rather than free settlers. Those who refused to work in the fields of the landlord were at the mercy of horsemen who whipped them into submission. There were no houses for the newcomers; the poorest of them dug pits into the ground to shelter them from the cold of the approaching winter. Thus Martin L. and his family suffered through the winter in a gloomy burrow; in order to allow a bit of light to penetrate the darkness, they covered a little opening in their clay roof with the glass of their Heiligenbild (holy picture). The children died in the musty earthen hollow and the adults wasted away in grief and misery during the torturous winter months. When spring finally arrived, Martin and his wife left all their possessions behind and fled the country to which they had come with such high expectations. On a sunny day in May the fugitive couple requested admission to their village in the Banat. Barefoot and ragged like beggars, Martin faced his brother, promising to never again leave their village. He had paid a bitter price for his recklessness.
What seems almost unbelievable to Martin’s descendants is the fact that his relatives held counsel and decided to help the utterly impoverished and seriously tested member of their family become a farmer again. They were able to guarantee a loan with a manageable interest rate and thus buy back Martin’s former property. Then they collected various household effects and lent him a cow, a horse and plough. However, it took a long time for the villagers to recover from the devastating drought of 1863.