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

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

Chapter 6

The New Time

By Josef Schramm
Translation by Brad Schwebler

   The discussions between the Turkish sultan in Constantinople and the Roman-German emperor in Vienna had begun in 1683 and were brought to a provisional conclusion in the peace treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.  Prince Eugen of Savoy had badly beaten the Turks at Zenta two years before, and so the Turks easily had to make peace.  According to the determinations of the treaty the Banat remained Turkish, but the Batschka was awarded to the emperor in Vienna. 

   The steppes of the western Batschka were already ruled by the city of Sombor in Turkish times.  In the 17th century the city was described by the Turkish travel writer Tschelebi as very ornate: the streets were paved with wood, the homes built of patchwork, the roofs of shingles.  But unfortunately the drinking water was very bad, and the Tatar Khan and the poet Ghazi Gherai wrote in a letter: 

                   “No wonder when the greeting was bitter before,

                    Because the water is bitter in Zombor!” 

   After the liberation from the Turks the Sombor (Somburg) seat was an administrative place of the court chamber and of the court’s war council.  In the year 1745 the city became part of Hungary and two years later was elevated to the imperial free state by Maria Theresi.   In the year 1802 Sombor was the capital of the land and the construction of the “komitat house” began, in which the heads of the administration would be housed.  This first komitat house (county courthouse) was demolished eighty years later and in its place a new komitat house was erected in 1880-1882.  In this magnificent hall of the palace depicted here one finds the famous painting, “Die Schlacht bei Zenta” (The Battle near Zenta) by the great Batschka painter Franz Eisenhut.  Today the Komitathaus houses a valuable prehistoric and early history museum, a scientific library, and a part of the archives of the land.  Sombor was always an important economic center and has banks, a chamber of commerce, a stock exchange as well as a large annual market.

   At the center of north Batschka there was a place which was mentioned many times as a settlement of robbers and plunderers.  Around 1525 the group’s leader Jovan Crni (Black Hans) was housed here, who with his Serbian team once entered for the candidate to the throne, Johann Sapolya, and once for Ferdinand of Habsburg.  During the Turkish times a modest little city, Sabathka was a fortress which was placed under the control of the court’s war council in Vienna.  In 1743 Sabathka was elevated to a city under the name St. Maria and to the imperial free city as “Maria-Theresiopolis” in 1779.  The settlement with city ordinances and privileges was a village with the appearance of a city.  The one story homes on the wide streets, the herds of beef cattle and pigs dominated the city scene.  Practically only two streets had a city appearance: from the train station to the city hall.  The city hall portrayed here was built shortly before World War I.  With its red, white, and green colors it stressed that it was a Hungarian city.  As the city became a part of the Kingdom of SHS (Yugoslavia) in 1918 it was the only settlement of the new nation which had over 100,000 inhabitants.   The largest village was to be the only large city.

   Today Subotica-Theresiopel still has a border of 915 square kilometers and with this it has a surface area making it the largest community of Yugoslavia.  However with 118,000 inhabitants the city first stood in sixth place among the Yugoslavian cities.  Neusatz still had not reached the census of Theresiopel, but that was soon achieved because Subotica had the unfortunate position to be at the nation’s border making it a dead city.

   The center of the northwestern Batschka is the city of Baja, lying at the high shore of the Danube.  It was established at the time of Karl (Charles) the Great in 801 or 803.  More exact statements are missing and in a document in 1260 it is first called “Francovilla, or Baja.”  Quite modest in the middle ages and during Turkish time, the village hardly had 20 homes when it fell into Hapsburg hands.  For strategic reasons the court’s war council still settled here during the duration of the hostilities of the business activities with the farmers, to have a good stage on the Danube.  The city developed extraordinarily quick so that it was called Little Pest.  The traffic on the Danube, the shipments of wood and grain, the products of craftsmen made Baja into a rich city.  The streets and homes have an urban appearance and still at the end of the 18th century the Komitat assembly would rather meet in the beautiful city of Baja than in the neglected village of Sombor.  The construction of the railroads shifted the traffic, so Baja remained at the end of the 19th century back behind the other cities.

   After World War I Baja was the administrative seat of the rest of the Bács-Bodrog Komitat, today it is a quiet college town in which there is also a German speaking grammar school and a German speaking teaching institute.  Many retirees go to Baja to retire.  This city still has not succumbed to the noise of the new times and at the Danube there is a rewarding destination for pedestrians. 

   At first the land was administered by the court’s war council, that is, the war ministry, because the Kuruzzen rebellion still raged.  Where it was possible, the region was gradually transferred to the administration of the court chamber, that is, the finance ministry.  After the Sathmar peace with the Kuruzzen, the emperor decided to place the Batschka under Hungarian civilian administration, the archbishop of Kalotschka was named top dignitary of the almost unpopulated Batsch Komitat.  But the komitat administration could only intersperse with difficulty because once the nobility were absent as holders of such an administration and because the second war council and court chamber still also had a deciding word.  The court’s war council was subject to the military security of the border against the Turks, the whole east of the Batschka and indeed as part of the “Theiß-Marosch military border”, to which the cities of Sombor and Theresiopel also belonged.  In 1751 the greater part of this region was transferred to the komitat administration, the Titel Tschaikist district in the Danube-Theiß corner was administered directly from Vienna until 1872.  The court chamber in the Batschka, other than in the Banat, the only ones who acted as administrators were the wealthy of the crown, that is more as private rulers than as administrative authorities.

   All of the land, for no objection free property rights could be proven, were declared as the domain of the crown and placed under the court chamber.  Only through this measure was it possible in the sense of social and economic ideas to populate the land with capable farmers.

   Political, social, and economic crossed the interests of different forces in the Batschka.  Vienna wanted to have a province near the Turkish border where in peace and war times grain, riding and draft animals as well as good stages and soldiers could be ready.  This goal one believed could be achieved through true free farmers and craftsmen.  The large Hungarian landowners had other wishes: the land should not be settled with foreign people, the settlers should only be serfs and not property owners.  The Serbian herd owners and oxen traders had still other interests: the land should remain meadowland and in no case be divided among the field cultivating farmers.  National and religious questions played hardly a roll in this connection.  Vienna interspersed its will extensively and settled Serbs, Croatians, Slovakians, Ruthenians, Hungarians, or also Germans.  Each diligent person willing to settle was accepted, each received the same rights, the same freedom.  There was not racial, national, or religious intolerance, or even hate among the individual folk groups until the Hungarian revolution came in 1848.

   On the roads of the Batschka one saw imperial, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, and Russian soldiers.  After the collapse of the revolution from the Batschka, the Banat, and parts of Syrmia the kingdom “Serbian Woiwodschaft and Temeser Banat” started, yet it did not exist long, it was dissolved in 1860, and the Batschka was again a part of Hungary, with the exception of the Tschaikist district which remained until 1918.

   At the end of World War I the land was occupied by French and Serbian troops.  In the Treaty of Trianon the Batschka was divided up so that one sixth went to Hungary and five sixths went to the newly established kingdom of Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia.  In the new nation the Batschka was very dependant on Belgrade, then through planned settlements the Serbian orthodox element was strengthened.  The Hungarians were suppressed, the Germans were either encouraged or suppressed.

   In April 1941 Hungarian troops marched into the Batschka.  In all aspects  the land had a Hungarian appearance: everywhere the Hungarian flag flew at half mast, everywhere one found the lawn map with the outline of Hungary of 1918, everywhere one heard the chorus “Mindent visza!” (everything back), they tried, to create the appearance in the train stations and state buildings exactly as it was before 1918, all Serbs coming into the Batschka after 1918 were referred to the land as indigenous Serbs and were killed in large numbers in the Tschaikist region, at different points of the land the Hungarian Ischango from Romania settled.

   In October 1944 the Russian troops conquered the Batschka and after their withdrawal the Tito partisans took over the power.  The whole hatred of these people was directed towards the Germans and towards the German speaking citizens who were punished, imprisoned, and starved for foreign offenses in the name of a collective guilt.  The purpose was to seize the fortunes of the wealthy citizens, then no legal judgment was found against the people who had roamed into the concentration camps.  Administratively the Batschka with its southern five-sixths now belonged to the People’s Republic of Serbia and the northern sixth to Hungary. 

   At one place where one comes relatively easily over the Theiß, Alt-Betsche exists on the right shore of the river.  Up until the most recent time this place was actually only a village, although the community numbered more than 20,000 inhabitants.  In Alt-Betsche Hungarians and Serbs lived next to each other.  In the picture one sees the Serbian orthodox church.  This church could stand anywhere in Bavaria or lower Austria, and under these baroque towers hardly anyone suspected a church with oriental rites.  The grounds to search this fact is in the imperial Hapsburg decree.  There it says that the orthodox church is also allowed to build in the Hapsburg lands, but these houses of God must be built in the “usual style of the land”, which one understood as just Baroque at the time.  In the interior of the orthodox  churches distinguished themselves from other Christian churches in that the choir is separated by a wall of icons (Ikonostase) from the believers, and there were no benches and no organ.  The Serbian orthodox believers of the Batschka belonged to the Neusatz diocese which the patriarchs in Karlowitz were placed under.  Alt Betsche – Stari Beče) is the most important marketplace of eastern Batschka.  On the löß and humus the adhesive Theiß wheat grew, the “fair Theiß” is rich in fish and on the whole border good livestock breeding was carried on. 

   From the head of the bridge of the Peterwardein fortress the present day, the city of Neusatz, capital of theBatschka and the Vojvodina developed.  After the liberation from the Turks the region belonged to the Veinnese court’s war council.  As Belgrade again fell to the Turks in 1739, many Belgrade citizens fled into the Peterwardein entrenchments and established a new city there which on the 1st of February 1748 which received the name Neusatz from the Empress Maria Theresia.  The new imperial free city soon developed into an important center for trade and commerce.  The era of the railway and Danube regulations brought still more advantages to Neusatz.  After World War I Neusatz was the center of the south Slavic Germans who had the seat their economical and cultural organizations here.  Also the German press was represented with two daily newspapers and several weekly and monthly papers.  The old core of the city lay around the Gothic city parish church which is seen on the right side of the picture.  As Neusatz was the administrative seat of the Danube (banschaft?) in 1929, the new part of the city was built between the Catholic church and the Danube.  The wide avenue decorated with trees on the right side of the picture led to the Danube bridge past modern palaces.  The largest palace is the Banus building, still the administrative seat today (in the center of the picture).  Here  found the leading voices of the “Autonomous Province of Vojvodina”, in which allegedly all folk groups should have their cultural autonomy.

[Published at 19 Sep 2005 by Jody McKim Pharr]

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