A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

My Father, the Meat Chopper (“Mein Vater, der Fleischhacker”)

 By Andreas Franz
(Translation of “Mein Vater, der Fleischhacker” January, 2009, Trentoner Donauschwaben Nachrichten.)
Translator by Hans Martini

     In the spring of 1947 my parents and I arrived in Graz, the second biggest city in Austria.  Our long ordeal in Yugoslavia was finally over.  For sixteen long months we were held captive in Jarek, a town converted into a concentration camp (for “guilty” ethnic Germans).  My mother, grandmother and I were among the first incarcerated there along with many of our neighbors from my hometown of Palanka in Yugoslavia.  Just nine years of age, I was fortunate to have survived both typhus and near starvation.  My two grandmothers were not so lucky and lay buried there. 

My father, the “Franz-Butcher” was drafted into the service of the German military in 1944, was captured and imprisoned by the Russians, and then was promptly returned to Yugoslavia to be held at a camp in Sombor as a prisoner of war.  Somehow he escaped, found my mother and me, and lead us to certain freedom across the border in Hungary.  Fate then intervened and we were captured along the way. They returned us to Sombor where we stayed for many months.  We dared fate again but this time escaped from Sombor and made it to Graz and the freedom that awaited us. 

     Once there, we located my brother “Buwi” (pronounced boo-vee) who was a student at the school for the hearing impaired.  I was now set to return to school myself and had to take a placement test.  There were many questions, among them:  “What is your dad’s occupation?”  I answered, “He’s a meat chopper” The teacher looked a bit quizzical before saying, “You mean your dad is a butcher.” I insisted in my Palankaer dialect “No, he’s a meat chopper!”

     In my mind he was always, “Franz Sepp, der Flieschhacker”, located down by the Serbian border next to Gajdober Strasse (Guy-dober Street).  In the Donauschwaben town of Palanka, my dad, mom, brother, grandmother, and I all lived in a normal house with a building next to it that contained a butcher’s work bench, a meat cooler and one room.  The buildings were connected with a swinging gate that even had a small mini-door for the geese.

     My father was a short, stocky man who was very energetic and agile despite weighing some 220 lbs.  He was a well-regarded butcher who produced quality products, some excellent sausage varieties among them.  What follows is a brief look at how my father operated his business...

     There was always a competitive spirit among the 13 butchers in Palanka.  Everyone was keen to be the first to market their meat products.  Only smaller animals – pigs, sheep, calves, & goats – could be processed in butcher shops like my dad’s.  Larger animals – steers, cows and oxen – had to be slaughtered in large processing facilities at the nearby “little Danube” river. 

     Butchering pigs was almost a daily ritual for my father.  I had to  help but wasn’t really that reliable an assistant, I’m afraid.  It started with trying to get a very reluctant pig out of its stall.  Fortunately we had a big dog named “Nero” who was good at getting the pigs to come out.  At that point, my dad grabbed a front and back leg and with one mighty “heave-ho” threw the pig on its side.  In one hand he held a pointy knife and with the other the pig’s front leg.  He would then look over to me.   I was holding the bucket into which the fresh blood was supposed to flow.  This was the all-important ingredient for bloodwurst and there was great pressure on me not to mess up.  So, a thrust here, a cut there, and suddenly I was kneeling next to the pig praying that I capture the blood just like I was supposed to.  Unfortunately my prayers weren’t always answered. 

     The pig would sometimes kick outward with its other front leg, causing my bucket to go flying.  I would chase after it as quickly as a six year old could but was often too late to catch the valuable fluid.  My dad would choose to use Hungarian or Serbian words in those instances, the meaning of which I did not comprehend at the time.

     After bleeding the pig, it was placed in a large wooden trough on top of two chains.  Hot water was then poured over the animal.  My dad and his apprentice would turn the pig carefully so that the hot water released all of the hair without damaging the skin.  It was then time to shave the pig so that not a single hair remained.  At this point  the animal would be strung up and the actual cutting process began.  With skillful knife strokes the pig was cut up in the most efficient manner.  All of the parts and pieces were then dealt with in an orderly fashion.  Brain, kidneys and liver went to an ice box so the veterinarian could check for diseases.  The best cuts were offered immediately for sale to our customers.  Lesser cuts  and parts were saved for Bratwurst, Bloodwurst, Liverwurst and of course a “head cheese” or two.  I can’t forget to mention bacon and lard, as they were very important elements of our people’s diet too. 

     Into a big kettle went the meat parts that would end up in some of the sausages.  I would help turn the meat grinder that ground up the meat for the Bratwurst.  To the ground meat we would add salt, pepper, paprika, hot paprika, and garlic.  When everything was ready, my dad would say “taste it!”  I would immediately dip my finger in for a quick taste.  I had to tell him what I thought but he wasn’t happy if I suggested it could use a bit more salt or paprika, for instance.  “Run along!” he would say, and off I went. 

      Bratwurst and some of the others would be filled using a sausage press.  Other specialties required filling by hand.  Some of the bacon would be cut up into little pieces.  They would eventually become mouth sized “Krameln,” a tasty treat everyone enjoyed. 

     The ingredients for liverwurst and bloodwurst as well as the head cheese (head cheese is the name sometimes used for Schwartelmagen although literally it’s “skin – stomach” in German.  ed. note) cooked slowly in the big kettle.  I made sure that the fire didn’t get too big and that the meat didn’t burn.  The cooking process produced great tasting “kettle soup” as well as “kettle meat” that we ate with horseradish.  I can almost taste this delicious food in my mouth when I think back to those days. 

     The sausages would hang from a stand in the yard to cool off.  Our dog Nero guarded them against would be predators.  These included the neighborhood cats that were attracted by the strong smells.  These felines had no greater enemy than our dog! Did I forget to mention that all this work started at 3 to 3:30 AM so that we could open for business at 7:00 AM? This was just a small part of our life in Palanka. 

     We did have an ice cellar in our yard, insulated with straw.  In the winter the ice would be cut, carted to the cellar, and made ready for the upcoming summer.  My father purchased animals from local farmers and land owners, as well as from markets or often from the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian shepherds who would bring them right to us.  He was a businessman who had to deal successfully with folks when buying the animals and then selling the products that he made from them.  This would involve friendly interaction often accompanied by a drink or two.  Many times business was transacted in the local tavern.  When things went well he did not hesitate to spend some money.  In fact, every so often he would hire the tavern band to march over to our house some two blocks away! 

     There was almost always something going on at our place and it was often full of people.   This included gypsies who seemed to enjoy stopping by.  They did take the parts of the animals we did not use.  In fact, they could come into the yard, but our dog Nero would not let them out! 

      My father enjoyed music.  For many musicians, especially the gypsy bands, ours was the first and last stop at Christmas, New Years, Easter, and all the other festive occasions.  There were also choirs he would enjoy, including Serbian, Jewish and Catholic.  I would accompany him of course.  To this day, I find some of the music, especially the gypsy music, so evocative of that wonderful time that it brings tears to my eyes. 

     At around eight years of age my dad asked me if I wished to become a “meat chopper” like him.  No, I replied nervously.  In the times since then, whenever I have successfully hunted deer, I always pray that my dad isn’t looking down at me while I’m butchering the animals.  He no doubt would have something to say about it, although most certainly in Serbian or Hungarian!  My father was a master at his craft and I would never presume to be able to do it as well as he did. 

[Published at 15 Sep 2009 by Jody McKim Pharr]

Heritage » Collections » Martini » Economy » Occupations