Danube Swabian Community
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.
In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." ~Margaret Mead

Villages Helping Hands

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors


Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands
The Ties That Bind – Worldwide

By Jody McKim Pharr, DVHH Founder & Webmaster, January 15, 2013.
Edited by Nick Tullius and Jane Ehardt Moore.

     I was on my way to a land unknown to me but was determined to find my roots, and this is where the story of the DVHH really begins.  In January of 1999, I booked a flight to Budapest in hopes of visiting the Hungarian National Archives to find my grandmother’s birth record.  I soon learned I had not done my homework before planning the trip. Unfortunately, most who knew the answers to my many questions had died.  My mother told me all she knew was that Grandmother was from a town called “Temeswar,” which I found in an old atlas and, after further reading, learned is located today in Romania and called Timişoara.  After a four-hour train ride from Budapest, I arrived in Timisoara the evening that the US airstrikes started in Belgrade (March 1999).

     The first night in Timisoara, I located some relatives and learned about my “Donauschwaben” roots, a word I had never heard before. The next day, I went to my ancestral village, Mercydorf, and visited the Catholic Church where my family worshiped, the homes where they lived, and the cemetery where many are buried.  As I walked down the winding lanes, a cool breeze brushed across my face and I wept tears of joy.

     It was this trip that spurred on my journey of discoveries.  My story is not unique.  I’ve found that most newbie researchers have little information to start with, mainly because immigrant parents and grandparents didn’t want to talk about the old country, saying, “We are here in America now; the past is in the past!”

     I subscribed to a genealogy group mail list and became acquainted with many helpful people. One person in particular was Beryl Henry, who offered to do lookups in reference books relevant to the Donauschwaben.  She personally guided me through a useful website, which was in German.  And a few days later, she e-mailed me a hand-transcribed list of information regarding my family, which must have taken her hours to write out.  I thanked her wholeheartedly and expressed my appreciation for the extent of her efforts and time.  I then received the following response:

Just glad to help, Jody.  It seems that searching for our ancestors makes one want to help others like they did.  Today many have lost the art or haven't wanted to keep it alive.  I know my ancestors struggled to keep alive through all sorts of challenges and yet, I'm sure, when someone needed a helping hand or a kind word, they did what they could knowing that "the shoe could be on the other foot" at any time.  I like to think that my ancestors passed on this desire to be kind in their genes to their descendants and it's up to us to find it and use it and make them proud of their progeny.  Don't you agree?  - Beryl Henry, May 2002

     Her words became a source of inspiration to me.  I began to think about what I could do to give a “‘helping hand” to English-speaking researchers, because at that time there was little online information in English about the Donauschwaben.  I then put together a project proposal that would become Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands (DVHH). 

     In mid-December 2002, I recruited a small team of new researchers to begin setting up the initial DVHH website: Chris Kech and Kim Geiger, along with Mike O'Brien, who stepped up to generously donate web space on his server for the project and who guided me on how to create and publish a website. After many days and nights, we managed to get DVHH on line on January 15, 2003. 

     Our Mission was and is to collect and provide historical and genealogical information for the former Danube Swabian (DS) villages situated in the six regions which were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918: Banat, Batschka, Slavonia-Syrmia, Swabian Turkey, Hungarian Highlands, and Sathmar.

     Today’s Danube Swabians are the descendants of those German colonists who settled around the Danube during the three "Great Swabian Migrations.”  The colonization was done by explicit invitation of the Hungarian administration, as mandated in the session of their congress in 1722-1723 in Pressburg to their King Karl, during the reign of the Habsburg as Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.  The purpose of the colonization was to repopulate the land after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by forces of the German Empire (1683-1718), and the colonists became known as the "Ungarländische Deutschen" (Hungary-Germans).  After the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Allies at the end of WWI, the regions settled by the Germans were divided among three countries: Hungary, Romania, and the newly created Kingdom of the Serbs and Croats, later called Yugoslavia.

     The name “Danube Swabians” was coined in 1920 by Dr. Hermann Rüdiger (a scientist from Stuttgart) and Robert Sieger (a geographer from Graz) and validated by the German Foreign Department in 1930, during the Weimar Republic.  The Germans realized that, left unassisted and divided among the Romanians, Yugoslavs and Hungarians, the Danube Swabians would not be able to resist assimilation attempts.  As an ethnic group, they would disappear, and with them a culture and values worth preserving.  This collective name would identify and better describe the Germans whose ancestors settled in Hungary during the three Great Swabian Migrations.

     In the last decade, genealogy has become a favorite pastime throughout the world, and the Internet has certainly been instrumental in helping family researchers. The Donauschwaben researchers can easily find their way to DVHH.org, which often results in their adding more branches and twigs to their family tree.  In addition, the DVHH can help find long-lost friends and relatives and foster longtime friendships. On our mail list, we have witnessed cousins connecting before our eyes, resulting in some of the most amazing stories. We've seen reuniting of friends who once lived in the same neighborhood.  These wonderful stories are preserved in the mail list archives and can be revisited at any time.

     In the early months and years of the DVHH, volunteers such as Alex Leeb, John Busch, Diana Lambing, Nick Tullius, and Rose Mary Keller Hughes helped us to set a course and remain steadfast.  As time passed, every new volunteer or contributor added to our helping hands.  In October 2003, we secured the official DVHH.org domain name and Mara Henderson initiated the DVHH mail list hosted by RootsWeb, our medium for one-on-one assistance to researchers.  

     Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands consists of all volunteers; people who desire to help descendants of the Danube Swabian discover their ancestral roots, history, environs, culture, and lifestyles.  We’ve been especially blessed with content contributors who were born in the old country and have shared their first-hand knowledge with the rest of us.  Among our major content contributors are Alex Leeb, Diana Lambing, Nick Tullius, Adam Martini, Jacob Steigerwald, Rose Vetter, Anne Dreer, Katherine Flotz, Hans Dama, Hans Gehl, and Robert Rohr. 

     One of our best attractions is that we offer free web space to all volunteers who want to create and maintain a website for one of the many towns and villages scattered throughout the six regions that once had Danube-Swabian inhabitants. These village websites are wonderful sources of information, photos, family registries, maps, and various other data specific to those villages.  Through their websites—today representing 86 villages—the so-called DVHH Village Coordinators are bringing researchers all over the world closer to their ancestral villages.

     From 2003 to 2007, the DVHH grew rapidly, more Village Coordinators signed up, and more Donauschwaben-related articles were submitted for publication. As the volume of web pages grew into the hundreds—today into the thousands—it has certainly kept me, the main publisher, busy.  The DVHH was initially managed by a core group of dedicated volunteers.  At the recommendation of one core member, Nancy Wyman (Florida, USA), the DVHH established itself as a nonprofit organization, with a base of members, each one paying a small amount annually for their membership.  This incorporation and resulting financial support of the members has ensured the online presence of the DVHH for the next generations.

     No one is required to register as a dues-paying member in order to volunteer, contribute, gain access to information on our website, or to ask and receive assistance with their research.  (Our bylaws require only board and committee members to be registered DVHH members.)  While it is not our policy to accept payments to our “helping hands” for their assistance to others, we are happy to accept donations to the DVHH general fund.  All monies go toward the maintenance of our website hosting, domain name, guestbook, online meeting space, membership materials, postage, and yearly event expenses; no person receives a salary or monetary compensation of any kind.  Today we have a thriving and loyal membership base, managed by the DVHH Membership Registrar, Jane Moore (Utah, US).  Over 150 people have become DVHH members since 2007.  Most reside in the United States and Canada, but we’ve also had members from Germany, Austria, Croatia, Italy, and Australia.  (See www.dvhh.org/membership/registry.htm for a list of our current members.)

     After DVHH was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in 2007, the DVHH Board of Directors approved several committees.  The most important was the Editorial Committee, whose task is to oversee online publications for proper authorization, accuracy of information, and translation of submissions.  Over my years of publishing the DVHH.org, I have appreciated our editors, and my most valued mentor and critic was and is Nick Tullius (Ontario, Canada).  DVHH.org prides itself on providing excellent, entertaining, informative, and unique articles about the Donauschwaben experiences.  We are fully staffed with editors who help our submitters present their stories in an accurate, well-written, and detailed  

form, while providing accurate information to our audience. As an example, Rose Vetter (British Columbia, Canada) has translated numerous publications and added them to the DVHH website.  (See some concise accounts of war crimes during and after World War II against the Donauschwaben: www.dvhh.org/history/genocide/index.htm#Accounts.)

     The Landesverband der Donauschwaben USA, who oversees local Donauschwaben Clubs in various cities of the USA and Canada, warmly invited the DVHH to participate in their yearly Labor Day weekend events held at one of their participating clubs in the USA or Canada.  Since 2007, attending DVHH representatives set up a booth to meet local Donauschwaben, providing information about our organization and share what the wonderful resources DVHH.org offers to researchers and descendants interested in learning more about their heritage.

     The DVHH Facebook page www.facebook.com/#!/groups/DVHH.org/ was set up for personal socializing among Donauschwaben. The DVHH Facebook Administrator is Dan Larson (Walden, New York). The group currently has approximately 500 members worldwide.  We recommend this page not be used for genealogical research, because Facebook does not have a searchable database and is not conducive to serious research.

     We continue to promote our long-time outlet for family research and finding cousins: the free DVHH mail list hosted by RootsWeb.  Since 2009, the list has been successfully administered by Eve Brown (Michigan, USA) and Roy Engel (Ontario, Canada). The former administrator (2006-2009), Alex Leeb (Alberta, Canada), set the precedent for fair and non-flaming postings.  Currently our mail list has 600-plus subscribers worldwide.  The DVHH RootsWeb mail list has existed for over 15 years and has a reliable, searchable database and archives.  (For more information, see www.dvhh.org/community/mail-list.htm.)

     Anything related to the Donauschwaben can be found among the online web pages at DVHH.org, everything from everyday village life and holiday celebrations, to clothing and cooking; an example of the latter, see “Cooking Donauschwaben Style,” coordinated by Rose Mary Keller Hughes (New York, USA) (www.dvhh.org/heritage/cooking).

     Because the DVHH is a worldwide Internet-based group of volunteers, some things can take much time and effort to accomplish.  It will take a unified effort within the Donauschwaben community at large to accomplish everything needed to ensure that the next generation has the tools to effectively carry on the Donauschwaben legacy.  In addition to those already mentioned, other major contributors over the years have been Brad Schwebler, Beth Tolfree, Noelle Giesse, Anne Dreer, John Kornfeind, Mike Polsinelli, Henry Fischer, Hans Martini, Dennis Bauer, Franz Bohn, Susan Sander, Hans Gehl, Hans Dama, Vesna Ibrahimovic-Brbaklic, and Erik Glässer. The list goes on and on, and the DVHH provides an opportunity for anyone to take part in this worthwhile effort.  But whether someone contributes a short recipe or a lengthy article, everyone is recognized on our list of contributors, now well over 150 names long (www.dvhh.org/community/registry.htm). Our Director of Volunteer Services is Mary Regan (Hamburg, New York).

     The DVHH will celebrate its 10th anniversary January 15, 2013. As a part of this historic milestone, I’ve asked our subscribers to submit in their own words, “What the DVHH has means to me” and we received dozens of heartfelt responses.  I decided to include one of these in this article: 

December 5, 2012
Brian Phail, Los Angeles, CA 

I am one of the quiet ones in the group.  I don't post often, but I never miss a daily digest of the great topics you all discuss.  I'm 41 and have two children in Elementary school, so I don't have too much time these days to get research done unless it's after 9 pm, stopping when my eyes start burning from the late hour.  I grew up in Southern California, away from my German side of the family, and I really wanted to find out more about them.  So, I started researching about 9 years ago and was off to a slow start.  No one in my Dad's family knew anything about where either my grandpa's or grandma's family came from, other than "Germany" or "Hungary".   

In December 2005, I was able to find the Ellis Island manifest for my grandma's family (Ruttinger).  It said they were from some place called Mitrowitz, a place I had never heard of at that time.  A few Google searches later, I found myself at dvhh.org.  I found Mitrowitz amongst the village listings and knew I was in the right place.  I quickly signed up for the email list and browsed the stories and links.  Over the next few months, I was absolutely floored by all of the information you all had collected.  All of the stories about our culture and the devastation and horrific treatment during the war were both wonderful and sad at the same time - I couldn't read them fast enough.  The recipe's you all discussed (especially the Christmas cookies) set off bells of recognition as things my grandma cooked on the rare times we were able to go back to Detroit for a visit.  After a few months, I was able to piece together a collection of information about my grandma's family, their life, in what is now Serbia, and present it to her.  We had several conversations over the phone where she was reminiscing about her grandmother and the little things she used to do that were now evidently very Donauschwaben.  She passed away in July 2006, about a month after I first was able to tell her where her family came from.  She was so pleased to finally know her family heritage, and it made her last days a lot more enjoyable.  It meant the world to me to be able to do that for her, and I couldn't have done it without the DVHH. 

Since then, I have received help from several people who provided lookups for me, and I now have almost the whole Ruttinger family laid-out in my family tree going back to the original settler in Gajdobra in the 1760s.  All I had to do was ask, and at least one person, if not more, responded quickly with the information I was looking for.  That help and kindness is a common trait amongst everyone in the DVHH, and I am eternally grateful for all of you.  I finally had a chance to help out another member in Jun 2011 while I was in Sharon, PA, by getting some burial information, headstone pictures, and pictures of the now empty lot where their family home was located.  It was very rewarding to be able to start paying back the kindness shown to me by the group.  I will do it again, any chance I get. 

Again, thank you everyone, for all that you do!
Brian Phail, Los Angeles, CA

Thank you, Brian for your wonderful testament of the DVHH. I am forever grateful to all the DVHH volunteers, for their time, their dedication, and their belief that anything is possible. 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."  - Margaret Mead

Happy Hunting,

Jody McKim Pharr, Georgia USA
DVHH Founder & Publisher

Last Updated: 26 Oct 2020

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Webmaster: Jody McKim Pharr
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