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The 1950s Donauschwaben Immigration
Oral History Project by
Sophia Swartz - Interview with Franz Bohn, 2015

Following WWII, 4 million Yugoslavians were forcefully removed from their homeland . . .
as a result of genocide, ethnic cleansing and strategic bombing.


Sophia Swartz Documentary, featuring

On Sophia's Interview
by Franz Bohn, 16 June 2015
Displaced Persons Camp Coordinator

It was so gratifying to see a young person choose a Donauschwaben theme for her school project. Most history being taught in this country today gloss over any post war German-related hardships. I tried to explain to Sophia that life is extremely fragile, and even seemingly stable life circumstances, like the Donauschwaben lives  in Yugoslavia during the pre-war years, can drastically change in an instant.

It's quite a revelation to our young people (like Sophia) that without warning, you can be evicted from your home, or worse...killed, with no one to turn to for help. All of a sudden, the authorities cannot be trusted, laws mean nothing and ethnic cleansing becomes a reality. The term refugee is often used in today's news, but very few people know what that really means. Fleeing from your home in a panic, with almost no belongings, living in crowded  boxcars for weeks, never knowing from one day to the next what will happen, not knowing who can be trusted, severe starvation, illness, discrimination and miserable post-war DP camp conditions are the things that I see when refugees are mentioned.

I was impressed with Sophia's maturity, and above all, her genuine interest in the plight of the Donauschwaben, both in post-war Europe and later on, in America. She showed a great level of interest in the assimilation of the Donauschwaben people into American society. I emphasized to her that we were  blessed with the Donauschwaben values, immense work ethic and an inherent quality of plain old human decency. These traits helped me and my family make it through all the ordeals, and interestingly, they also helped me achieve educational and career successes in this country.

Bottom Line: Those of us with the Donauschwaben DNA are truly blessed.

Best regards
Franz

  Sophia Swartz, 2015

***

Sophia's initial May 17, 2015 email request:

Hi, my name is Sophia Swartz, and I am a ninth grader who is currently working on a project called Oral History Assessment where students interview an individual regarding their knowledge or experiences on a topic in order to bring history alive through a documentary. This year, I have chosen to base my project off of the immigration and integration of der Donauschwaben into America, and how self-identification through community, perseverance in the face of persecution, pursuit of the American Dream, and remembrance forged a long-lasting legacy that continues to be enriched by the archival work that you do. This topic has a true personal connection to me because my maternal great-grandmother acted as a host family for displaced Banat Germans in the 1940s in Austria. Since my family has remained in contact with the then-refugees, I had originally planned to interview my grandfather. However, since my history teacher demanded that my project have more of a focus on American history, I'm reaching out to you to see if we could discuss der Donauschwaben's immigration and integration into America. Thus, I would greatly appreciate it if you had the time to spare to answer some questions I have regarding the experiences of der Donauschwaben before, during, and after immigrating to America.

It is imperative that the interview be conducted either face-to-face (the most preferable option) or by Skype and demands a finished product June 1st. I live in the Doylestown area in PA. I would be very thankful if you could refer me to someone.  Thank you so much for your time and help, I really appreciate it!

Have a great day! All of the Best, Sophia Swartz

***

The message was forwarded to me to assist Sophia. I knew the best person for this interview would be Franz Bohn. He not only has hand knowledge of the subject matter but lives only 10 miles from Doylestown. He graciously agreed to meet with Sophia and the finished interview/video proved he was the perfect candidate. Thank you Sophia for selecting the Donauschwaben for your project and having the tenacity to produce a special treat for Danube Swabian researchers worldwide.

~ Jody McKim Pharr, DVHH Founder & Webmaster  

 

 

  Sophia Swartz, 2015

Franz Bohn Donauschwaben Documentary Transcript

Opening Quote: “General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations…the flags of freedom fly all over Europe.”

—Harry S. Truman, former U.S. President

Text: Following WWII, 4 million Yugoslavians were forcefully removed from their homeland, as a result of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and strategic bombing.

Somber music plays as bombs drop

Franz Bohn: Especially in 1945, 1946, and 1947, which was right after the war, and there just wasn’t anything left. No food, no blankets, no clothes, no schools, it was very tough. Having been a refugee in Austria was a good training ground for being a refugee in the United States.

Text: By 1947, 850,000 Europeans lived in in Displaced Persons Camps as a result of ethnic cleansing. This is their story of immigration and survival.

Title: The 1950s Donauschwaben Immigration: Community & Self-Identification, Perseverance through Hardship, and Pursuing the American Dream & Remembrance.

Clip: We in America are immigrants, or the children of immigrants. We are one people, but a people welded from many nations and races.

Primary Source Letter Reading: Dear mother, the benefits of being an American are limitless, some of which are financial aid for education, medical coverage, and loans. I would say, if you could put your mind to it, you have everything that a human being could possibly need to excel in any field. It is a thriving culture, one that only continues to grow with every passing day. Sincerely, Sarah Jaraczyk, Friday, March 8th, 1952.

Historical Context Narration: During the 1950s, many industries expanded to create more middle-class jobs. In 1955, Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel employed 27,000 workers and produced 3.5 million tons of steel, creating a large market for suburban developments like Levittown and thus fueling automania. Soon, roads were filled with ’57 Chevies and Corvettes, and Americans’ brains were preoccupied not only by television and transistor radios, but also by Cold War fears revolving around the detonation of the nuclear bomb. Consumed by consumerism as much as they were obsessed with the next episode of Leave It to Beaver, Baby Boomers defined what it meant to live during the so-called “Happy Days.” However, the 1950s were also a time of immigration for the thousands upon thousands of Europeans displaced by the ethnic cleansing and genocides of WWII. Hoping to find their own American Dream, many Donauschwaben left the Displaced Persons Camps scattered in Austria and Germany to arrive at Ellis Island and start a new life.

Franz Bohn (starts @ 3:52): OK, I was eleven, and this was in 1952, we traveled by train from Salzburg, in Austria, to Bremen, which is a port in Germany, and then we took a US Transport Troop—a troop transport ship—and it took twelve days and two storms to get to New York and Ellis Island. Ellis Island was just a very busy place where a lot of immigrants traveled through. We were all poor as dirt, we didn’t know the language, and then we were processed. Processing at Ellis Island entailed answering questions and delousing. Delousing was when they sprayed powder into your clothes and into your…into everything just to make sure you didn't bring any lice or other vermin with you. It was a little bit dehumanizing, but we kind of took it as part of the price you have to pay to come to this great country.

All of the refugees had this same thing, wow—you know—we’re finally here, the opportunities are here, some of the ugly stuff from the war is behind us, and we’re going to make the best of it. Having gone through hell, having gone through losing our home, a knock on the door in Yugoslavia where people said, “Get out, or we’ll kill you,” and not being able to take anything with us, seeing other people shot, running to a railroad station, jumping on railroad wagons just to get out so you don’t get killed—having gone through all of that builds a certain moxie in you. Having been scared to death when you survived does something to you, and I think that builds strength in me that I have drawn on many times. When I look at a project, and say, “Boy, this is really tough,” and then I say, you know, it’s nothing at all like what I went through before, we can do this. That’s a source of strength.

Song (“Mein Banaterland”) plays; title of “Self-Identification through Community: Its Role in Donauschwaben Integration Following Immigration”

Franz Bohn (starting @ 7:00): The community drives how you behave, what’s…what your ambitions are, kind of how a community establishes a lot of rules that you identify with.  Ok, so your self-identity is really based a lot by your family and the community. You’d be amazed how much influence the camp population of about 500 people had on me, had on us. We had one person who was the unofficial policeman, one person was the unofficial plumber, who took care of the septic system, and so on. So when you’re in that environment, you pick up on, hey, this is what I’m going to have to fit into, OK, so you self-identify with that, so those values are basic.

Song plays (“What A Difference a Day Makes”); title of “Perseverance through Hardship: Surmounting Obstacles with Donauschwaben Principles”

Franz Bohn (starts @ 8:18): Well, of course, the biggest challenge was for mom to get a job. OK, she got a job—we arrived here on Thursday, she got a social security card on Friday, she started working on Monday. That’s the Donauschwaben heritage. There was no sitting on our laurels and taking a breather because it’s been a long trip. No, she wanted to go to work. She worked in a U.S. military uniform company, Foster’s in Philadelphia, and 8 hours a day, she was sewing uniforms. I think the biggest challenge, and this might sound a little crazy, was the homesickness. In those days—it’s hard for your generation to understand—but in 1951, when you came to America, there was no going back, it was a one-way trip, and there were no telephones. At that time, my relatives in Austria had no access to telephones—as a matter of fact, we didn't have a telephone in our house until the mid-60s. So, I would say that was the biggest challenge—the hurt of not being with your relatives, the hurt of remembering what Austria was like, and all of the good stuff that I as a child thought was enjoyable—the soccer games; I hated leaving because I was part of the soccer team, you know! But how do you adjust it? Well, you have to get over that; you gotta get over that homesickness and hurt.

It sounds mundane, but the work ethic, the appreciation of being civil to one another, the strength that you find in neighbors and relatives, we all take that for granted here, but you know, it’s so much different when everybody has to run for their lives and you take care of each other. And that, I think, is what influences not only me, but the Donauschwaben to a great degree.

Music plays (“All I Have to do is Dream”); title is “In Pursuit of the American Dream: Isolating the Road to Happiness by Escaping Ethnic Cleansing”

Franz Bohn (starts @ 11:08): The American Dream is that you’re not stuck in a social level; in other words, if you’re poor, you’re always poor. In most countries, and I believe Austria and Germany and Holland, that’s pretty much it. You don't realize it, but in many of those countries, there is a certain snobbishness among levels. OK, if you’re a doctor, you want to be called “Herr Doctor,” not Hans, or Herr Braun, you want to be called doctor, same with a teacher. So you have this accepted strata of society, and it’s very hard to go from one to the next, because you're kind of looked down upon. This is all across Europe—and you don’t have that here. You really don’t—you’ve heard about the other side of the tracks? That’s about as close as you’ve got. But we've seen so many poor people in this country really do well and make something of themselves.

It has had a greater impact when I came to the United States—I’m the first one in the entire family who’s ever gone to college and got a Master’s Degree, much less a Bachelor’s. It’s the environment that I’ve benefitted from. I’ve got healthcare like my grandfather never had, like my mother never had. That was really what it boils down to—they are not lazy people, we are not lazy people, and we despise people who are lazy. OK? So that’s a common thread among many, and I think that’s what helps us obtain the American Dream, no matter what shape it has—the American Dream is a little different for everybody. But if you take a look at it, what do you really want out of life? You want to have a happy family, you want to have a decent standard of living, and you’re able to do that here.

Music plays (“Mein Banaterland” – Brass Band Version); title is “Remembrance: Forging a Donauschwaben Legacy that will Span Generations”

Franz Bohn (starts @ 13:22): My children don’t speak German, OK, because I married an American woman, so it was difficult to insist on them speaking German. They embrace my history, they embrace our heritage and our experiences, but there’s no way they can appreciate—really—no matter what I tell them, no matter how often I tell them. I show them pictures, I Google Earth and I walk around Groedig, you know? But to them, it’s second- or third-degree away information. Now there’s fundamental things that I have taught my kids, which is hard work, and go to school, have values, know how bad it can be—I tell them all the time how bad it was and how great they have it, and I hope 10% of it sinks in. OK? So, I’d love to say that there would be Donauschwaben forever, but I also am a realist (last sentence of audio was meant to be cut at this point à sorry for the poor fade!).

Credits roll to “Mein Banaterland”

[Published at dvhh.org, 17, Jul 2015, by Jody McKim Pharr]

 


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