Nick Tullius &
Jody McKim Pharr

The Banat Villages
Home of the Danube Swabian for over 200 years.




Arad County - Western Romania



Village History

by Alf Kührt
Published at 02 Oct 2015 by Jody McKim.

The settlement of the small hamlet of "Komlos" (Hungarian for "hops village"), twenty one kilometres north of Arad, wasn’t started by the imperial Viennese court, but on the initiative of the Hungarian Baron Jakab Bibics, the land owner of the whole region. "Komlos" soon became "Old-Sanktanna".

Next to it, on the waste land "Fako" (Hungarian for "pale colours") - today the name of a village quarter - the twin settlement "New-Sanktanna" was founded. The name Sanktanna goes back to an ordinance by Maria Theresia, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

The village grounds were laid out like a chessboard, one that could hardly be more beautiful or more regular. Imagine a six by six square of dice. That would make thirty six house squares, take two dice out of the middle to make room for the big market-place. It reminds one of a Viennese military plan.

Until about 1742 Komlos belonged to the imperial military frontier, which protected the Theiß-Marosch region since the Peace of Karlowitz (1699).

Sanktanna was founded around 1742 in a time of change: the end of the military frontier, the joining of the Counties of Arad and Zarand, and the introduction of the local Hungarian aristocratic administration.

One imagines: fallow land, brushy steppe countryside, several dozen houses - and something uncommon: a complex of buildings, the "Gymnasium" (secondary school for grades 4 to 12) and the Piarist monastery, surrounding the church in form of a horseshoe. Baron Bibics had summoned to Sanktanna this order of monks, which started its work there in 1751.

The new settlers weren’t free farmers at all. Rather they were the living property of the noble lords of the manor, Bibics and Fekete, and so were robbed of freedom of movement. There were complaints to Vienna (1752), escape attempts into the freer Banat (1763) - where the second wave of Swabian settlers came - people were brought back by force. They had an obligation to perform compulsory labour. Through their diligence they were later able to purchase their freedom and to buy land.

More and more craftsmen were able to free themselves from compulsory labour. Proof of this early progress was the granting of market rights by the Empress Maria Theresia and the foundation of the first Guild of Bootmakers in Arad County.

On May 8, 1858 a fire destroyed 1,256 village houses. The church burned down as well, burying people beneath it. The building of the former Piarist "Gymnasium" school, which was known as "the Earl’s house", suffered serious damage, as did the so-called "Urbarialhouse" ( "home for the aged German in today’s Sanktanna").

With material assistance from the Catholic Offices of Buda and Großwardein, the present church, the largest in the region, was constructed and consecrated in 1868. The population commemorated the conflagration in a votive picture and gave it as remembrance to the pilgrim church at Radna, where it is still kept today. On the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the great fire a reproduction of the votive picture was hanged in the parish church of Sanktanna. Since that fire the festival costumes were no longer made with coloured materials, only in simple black and white, symbols for sorrow and happiness.

On Jakob Hillier’s initiative the state-subsidized "Bürgerschule" (a less prestigious school than the "Gymnasium") was established in 1894. Hungarian was the overall teaching language, with German HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 2 as a "foreign language". This language hierarchy was the result of Hungarian nationalism that time. For more than one hundred years the school was located in the Piarist „Gymnasium" building.

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the mid 1930s, except the years of the World War I, more than six hundred people from Sanktanna emigrated to the United States, Canada and Argentina.

The main reason for this decision was not adventure but the search for a better life.

In January 1899 the wealthy farmers decided to transform the common pasture land into farmland which they intended to buy. The wives of the poor peasants revolted and this social conflict ended with sic deaths, arrested and sentenced people. Nevertheless few years later the local authorities sold the common pasture land to the wealthy farmers. The poor peasants couldn’t drive their cattle to the pasture any longer and had to slaughter their animals.

Even though Hungarian became the established language of the educated people after 1900 the great majority of the community member continued to speak Franconian-Swabian dialect.

In November 1918 World War I ended and the soldiers of the Hungarian armed forces came home to Sanktanna. About one hundred of them have died on the battlefields in Galicia, at the Isonzo or in the Dolomites. At home the Spanish Flu raged and took the lives of almost as many people as the four years long war.

New states had been proclaimed within the territory of the former Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungaria and the provinces near to the border had been occupied by foreign troops although the war had already come to an end. The greatest part of Banat including Sanktanna had been annexed by Romania according to the Treaty of Trianon.

Romania promised extensive cultural rights, but the language of the national minorities had finally been accepted only in the elementary school. One hundred and ten elementary school pupils attended German classes, 7 pupils the Hungarian class. Thus people of Sanktanna had officially acquired the new status "national minority".

Due to this education in German language the self-confidence of the population increased. Even the children of the former Hungarian educated people began to speak again the language of their ancestors. A new cultural life began, and it was intensified through numerous associations and clubs.

During the Second World War the members of the German national minority first served in the Romanian armed forces, and later one, starting in 1943, in German national units. Their casualty rate was a frightening 40 %. When they returned home, all men between the ages of 18 and 45 and women between the ages of 17 and 30 were deported to the Soviet Union in order to work like slaves. In the meantime their real estate was expropriated in Sanktanna.

Those who survived the compulsory labour in the Soviet Union returned to Romania, where they have been forced to work in collectives either in the industry or in the agricultural. Several years their houses were occupied by Romanian colonists.

During communism many Germans left Romania. After the revolution in December 1989 the German exodus intensified and an epoch of Sanktanna came irrevocably to an end - nobody wanted to be the last to leave. It was the end of two hundred and fifty years of German settlement in Sanktanna. As a result of these changes Sanktanna became a Romanian village.

Since 1981 the Sanktanna Home Community Association [Heimatortsgemeinschaft (HOG) Sanktanna] has served as the connecting link between the old and new homelands. It has supported financially the German school, the home for the aged, the renovation of the churches and the upkeep HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 3 of the cemeteries in Sanktanna. Few Germans remained in Sanktanna. They are represented by the "German Forum".

The May festivals and the celebrations of the church consecrations (Kirchweihen) are a good opportunity to visit Sanktanna again.

In December 2003 Sanktanna received its town charter - the chance of a new beginning in a united Europe.

The big fire

The archive of the HOG Sanktanna in Nürnberg owns transcriptions, which were typewritten in February 1958 on the basis of the original reports submitted on May 2nd, 1858. The original documents were stored in the State Archive in Arad ("Archivele Statului Arad, Elnöki Iratek, 1858, Nr. 451"). These official documents enable us to present the following chronological description of the events. Several descriptions of this catastrophe have already been published, but the beginning and the course of the big fire has never been investigated.

Sunday, May 2nd, 1858 - Time for going to church. Around 10:00 am a fire broke out in a haystack on the property of Anton Emeneth. It was the last house in the southern part of Neu-Sanktanna. Nobody knows how the fire started. It was discovered by the children of Anton Emeneth, Anton (11 years) and Michael (7 years) as well as Johann Weber (11 years), who were playing in the neighbour’s house of Anton Weber. The children started immediately the fire alarm. The whole village tried to extinguish the fire - unfortunately without success. The wind blew the easily flammable material onto the next houses which also were covered with straw and reeds.

Driven by a strong southeast wind the fire spread from Neu-Sanktanna to Alt-Sanktanna; within an hour both parts of the village were on fire. Even the trees, the wooden bridges, fences and fountain houses were burning. In order to survive all residents fled into the "Gräfischen Garten" or into the school yard. But the smoke emission forced them to escape to the open fields around the village. The surrounding villages were sending voluntary fire brigades, hoses and extinguishing equipment but they arrived too late. Even the water barrels were destroyed by the fire. Due to the hard work of the 40 fire fighters arrived from Arad. One street with about 80 houses (the cemetery part in Alt-Sanktanna) and the newly built school in Alt-Sanktanna could be rescued. At the same time the residents could save a lot of belongings from the burning houses.

The big fire caused the death of following three persons: Elisabeth, the widow of the merchant Michael Eckbauer, died in the flames in front of the surgery of Dr. Köpf. Kunigunde, the daughter of Elisabeth and Michael Eckbauer, died in the burning church. Anna Maria, the wife of Anton Aufmuth, suffocated in the barn and burned afterwards. Karl Eckbauer, the son of Michael and Elisabeth Eckbauer, was transported with severe burns to Glogowatz. Further dead or injured people haven’t officially been registered.

The most prosperous community of the county was suddenly poor and destroyed. The cadavers of many calves and pigs were found in the streets. 640 houses in Alt-Sanktanna and 605 in Neu-Sanktanna including the Roman Catholic Parish Church, the „Gräfische Haus", the fruit storage, the vicarage and the parish hall burned down. The priest and his chaplain were able to save the sanctum, the holy equipment, the register and protocols, different instructions and parochial objects before the flames destroyed the whole church. Only the sacristy remained mainly intact so that masses were temporarily celebrated there. Only 71 houses in Alt-Sanktanna and 154 houses in Neu-Sanktanna including the Greek Orthodox and the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church as well as the school remained intact. HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 4

In the same evening at 8:35 pm the general commissioner for Hungary in Ofen and the Vice President in Großwardein had been telegraphically notified.

In the neighbouring villages people frightened. Parts of burning reed and hemp were blown by the wind till Kisjenö. Persons designated for night watches from the surrounding villages were robbed by plunderers who took tools and equipment and everything they could carry. The two present gendarmes were powerless so that a military commando of 40 soldiers was dispatched to Sanktanna to maintain law and order.

All the reserves of cereals burned down, so it was necessary to supply the unfortunate families with groceries mainly bread and bacon. Collections also money collections were initiated and carried out in the neighbouring villages (Arad, Fazekas-Varsand, Petschka, Sanktmartin, Glogowatz, Pankota and Neupanat). As soon as one load of groceries was ready it was directly transported to the parish council of Sanktanna. On the basis of a "distributor card" it was exactly documented who received which kind of help. 2000 Gulden in Cour. Coins which were reserved for the Theiss flooding and were stored in the tax office of Arad were directly transferred to Sanktanna, on May 4th. On the same day the cash chest which was discovered in debris was brought to the school due to the initiative of Judge Wolff. It was damaged at the bottom. They were looking for the keys in order to be able to check the content. One of the keys has been taken by cashier George Popovics (who was in a neighbouring village to feed his animals) and the second one has been lost in the fire according to the chairman of the village Bragyan Nicolaie. Therefore the chest was sealed with two paper stripes which had the seal of the village at the end of the stripes.

At midnight a fire alarm shocked again the community members. They thought that fire has broken out at Varsand and Ternova. But fortunately it was only the forest of Agris. Already on May 5th the county authorities estimated the value of the damage and proposed to hand over a money loan of at least 100.000 Gulden to the victims of the big fire in order to enable them to rebuild their houses. On May 7th the extent of the damage was much clearer. Some houses were only little damaged with a loss of 200 to 300 Gulden whereas could be established. The amount of damage per house could deviate between 200 Gulden and several thousands of Gulden. The whole damage affected 1.256 taxable objects (houses and properties) and amounted to 100.480 Gulden.

Wood has been delivered to Sanktanna and the reconstruction of the houses could begin. In the evening of May 8th a strong rain came up, which lasted the next day too. This continuous rain caused the collapsing of ceilings and chimneys. Many people had been soaked outdoor and fell ill. After the bread supplies went short or even stopped there was no other escape than trying to find a place to stay at relatives, friends or neighbours. No groceries were available. The support with money induced some desperate people to drink. The support with groceries directly helped the hungry people.

On May 11th at 9:00 am a listing should have been prepared by those people who had the highest damages to complain. But this was not possible because some of them took their rescued belongings and moved to neighbouring communities; others were cleaning up the ruins and hardly had time to compile inventory lists. Last but not least some people were walking desperately and aimlessly on the streets and were incapable to appear in front of the authorities.

This was the official report! But some additional information shouldn’t be disregarded:

The official statements never mentioned the districts of Sanktanna (Fako, Schmelz, Eselseck, Nincs, ect.) and there were no house numbers indicated in order to define the locations better. The House of Anton Emeneth had the number 628 (see church register). Anton Emeneth (Family Book Sanktanna FB-Nr. 38) was born on January 14th, 1825 in Sanktanna and passed away on December 6th, 1880 in Vilagos. He was first married to Margarethe Gantner (1823-1854) and after her death he married Katharina Köhler (1816- ?) the former widow of Fruschauer and Wess. The son Anton [FB 79] (1847-1920) emigrated to Richardton / USA. His brother Michael [FB81] married Barbara Dreher in Vilagos. Anton Weber from Segesvar was married to Theresia Baumann and their son Johann [FB-112] was born in1847 in Sanktanna. HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 5

Elisabeth Eckbauer, maiden name Simon, was the wife of Michael Eckbauer. Their daughter Kunigunde [FB-4] was born in 1826 and their son Karl [FB-12] in 1836 in Sanktanna. Karl was probably nursed in his sister’s house Elisabeth, married Weber, in Glogowatz. About his life nothing is known. The wife of Anton Aufmuth [FB-10], Anna Maria, maiden name Jerger [FB-4], was born in 1784 in Sanktanna. The death register in Sanktanna mentions only these three names. Further victims are not known.

Stories and legends tell another version about the big fire in Sanktanna: Katharina Emeneth was frying donuts in lard on an open stove. The lard started to burn. Thus the big fire began. The fire went up through the chimney and the flames spread to the roof covered with straw. Therefore the name Schmelz (Schmalz!) was given to that district of Sanktanna. This happened in house number 886, the parents’ house of Johann Fruschauer [FB-1] (1818 - 1849). His widow Katharina, maiden name Köhler [FB-88], was married on May 29th, 1854 to Anton Emeneth (1825 SA - 1880 Vilagos). According to this story, Katharina Emeneth, maiden name Köhler, widow of Fruschauer and Wess, is responsible for that fire. Direct descentant from the first marriage was Johann Fruschauer (1890 - 1918) married to Magdalena Millich (1893 - 1969) and from the third marriage was Josefa Emeneth (1859 SA - 1921 Bloomington) who emigrated with her husband Franz Täuber to the USA.

The family names of Sanktanna spread rapidly in the surrounding area because many people from Sanktanna were forced by the fire to move to neighbouring villages. Due to the fire 107 men born between 1847 - 1853 (all known by name) started their military service later; most of them were in the 33rd Infantry Regiment.

In order to get an idea about the damages caused by the fire: 100.000 Gulden (= Florin) are approx. 72.5 kg of gold, today more than 2 Million Euro worth. A teacher earned regardless of same privileges (e.g. food, accommodation, garden) approx. 70 Gulden per year, an industrial worker around 250 Gulden.

According to statistical data (the registry books had been saved) the number of baptisms increased from about 240 per year to 289 baptisms in 1858 and 251 baptisms in 1859. The average of baptisms in the years after the big fire amounted to 260. Marriages increased after the fire by one third to about 55.

From a Christian point of view people didn’t give up and they didn’t despair. The big fire had the opposite effect. The reinforced faith is still present in people from Sanktanna.

The diligence of the habitants soon brought up a new community which officially was divided into two: the south-western part was Neu-Sanktanna and the north-eastern part was named Alt-Sanktanna.

Due to the diligence of the people, Sanktanna has soon been rebuilt. Officially it has been divided into Neu-Sanktanna, the south-western part, and Alt-Sanktanna, the north-eastern part. Construction materials were bricks for the walls and burned tiles for the roof. The large-scale production of tiles has been a problem at that time.

A new and bigger church had been built and consecrated in 1868. In a naive manner the big fire has been represented on a votive picture. [Caption: dedicated by Aloisia Baumann 1858, renewed by Anton Reinholz and his wife Barbara (1906) and devoted to the Church of Mercy of Maria Radna]. There it can still be seen in the picture gallery of the former Franciscan monastery. It is the oldest preserved oil painting in Maria Radna and has the dimensions 121 x 92 cm with the inventory number: 749 MR I/737. A copy of the votive picture had been installed at the entrance of the Parish Church of Sanktanna on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the fire. Unfortunately this picture disappeared many years ago. Therefore the monastery of Maria Radna donated in 2008 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the big fire, two copies of the painting (one for the church and one for the new town hall in Sanktanna. HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 6

Aloisia Baumann mentioned above with her maiden name Eberlein [FB-19] (1827 - 1867) was married to Johann Baumann [FB-64] (1825 - 1901). Her nephew was Anton Reinholz who renewed the picture. The caption remembers following facts: Judge Johann Weissenburger wanted to give to Aloisia Baumann only 5 Gulden as compensation for the loss of her house. She protested and insisted on her rights. Therefore she had been imprisoned. A legitimate revolt broke out and thus it turned out that Johann Weissenburger had embezzled large amounts of money which he had withhold from the poor and needy.

The Emigration from Sanktanna and Galscha to America

This story is about my grandparents, Joseph and Anna Hirsch, and their two children, Eva and Stephan, who emigrated from Hungary to America in 1906. The story is based on the recollections of Eva made two years before she died.

Joseph Hirsch was born in Borosjeno on January 18, 1879 and he married Anna Gantner, who was born in St. Anna on March 21, 1883. Joseph and Anna were married in Galsa on October 27, 1901. A daughter, Eva, was born on December 24, 1903 in Galsa, and a son, Stephen, was born in Galsa on August 15, 1905. In 1906 Joseph and Anna decided to emigrate to the United States for a better life. They were responding to offers made by agents of the railroad industry in America to relocate to the United States for work on the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The railroad was in need of more manpower in response to the growth that was taking place in the American economy. The railroad agents offered other incentives in the form of tools and other gifts to encourage the people to make the move to America.

Joseph and his family made the 250 mile trip from Galsa to the port city of Fiume located on the Adriatic Sea. Fiume was the only seaport of Hungary at that time. Today the town is known as Rijeka, Croatia. All immigrants leaving this port went to the port of New York. After a three week voyage on the SS Ultonia they arrived at New York on June 24, 1906. During the trip Joseph was constantly seasick and could not wait to get back on solid land. Due to the limited accommodations on the ship the men and women were kept in separate areas during the voyage. Young Stephen also had a difficult trip because he was a very frail child and was sick a good portion of the voyage.

Upon reaching New York they were processed through Ellis Island before they were officially allowed in the United States. They were provided train transportation from New York to Chicago and then to Bloomington, Illinois. A number of other families from the St. Anna, Galsa, Pankota and Vilagos area made the same voyage over a period of several years, and also settled in Bloomington working for the Chicago and Alton Railroad. They worked as boilermakers, carpenters, painters and laborers. Most of them settled on the west side of Bloomington, close to the railroad shops and switching yard. Soon after arriving in Bloomington, young Stephan died on October 3, 1906.

Most of the German immigrants from Hungary became members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where masses were said in English and German. This practice was continued for many years until German language masses have been stopped during World War I.

In 1919 those families who had emigrated from Hungary formed the American Hungarian Family Society. There were 34 charter members; with Joseph Hirsch being one of them. The organization constructed a club house in 1919 and it has been expanded and modernized over the years. The organization supported social gatherings and the sense of unity in a land where the English language was predominant and the German immigrants from Hungary were still not very conversant with English.

In 1923 Frank Kerner, born in St. Anna on May 21, 1903, arrived in Bloomington from St. Anna. He met and later courted Eva Hirsch and they were married on August 21, 1924. Frank had worked in a grain mill in St. Anna, but he took up shoemaking in Bloomington. He owned and operated Frank HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 7

Kerner Shoe Repair Shop until 1946 when he became ill. Medical tests indicated that he was allergic to some of the compounds used in the making and repair of shoes and he had to sell his business. Frank and Eva bought a farm near the small town of Heyworth, Illinois, where they raised corn and soybeans. Frank and Eva had one son, Frank Jr., better known as "Sonny", and that was the name everyone used. Sonny served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and made a number of cruises to many foreign ports. After he was discharged from the Navy Sonny also took up farming near the small town of Waynesville, Illinois. His farm was about 20 miles from his parent’s farm. Unfortunately, Sonny died of cancer on December 14, 1973 at the young age of 43. Frank died on April 26, 1991 and Eva on July 13, 1992.

Joseph and Anna had eight more children in addition to Eva and Stephen after arriving in Bloomington. Three other sons died as infants. One of the surviving sons was Frank Hirsch. Frank was born on May 22, 1909 and he married Irene Hauptman on May 30, 1932 in Bloomington. Irene was the daughter of Andreas Hauptman and Magdalena Kammerle. Andreas was born in Pankota on May 23, 1880 and Magdalena was born in St. Anna on August 26, 1889.

Frank and Irene had three children; two boys and a girl. Frank Hirsch Jr. was born on March 15, 1933, Wilhelmina (Wilma) Hirsch was born on August 10, 1935, and John (author of this article) was born on December 15, 1943.

Joseph Hirsch worked for the railroad his entire life in Bloomington and he died at his home on January 26, 1939. His wife Anna died on August 6, 1962 while visiting Frank and Eva at their farm home. Both are buried at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Bloomington along with all of their children. The descendants of Joseph and Anna still live in various parts of Illinois.

HOG Sanktanna // K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch // 1 K-93: Zusammenfassung in Englisch
~Alf Kührt

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