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

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

Chapter 8

The Jews and Gypsies

By Josef Schramm
Translation by Brad Schwebler

   In the time of Turkish rule there were some so-called “spaniolische” Jews, most of whom had small stores.  With the end of the Turkish rule they moved to Bosnia and Macedonia.  In their place came the eastern Jews from Galicia, especially after Josef II issued his religious tolerance act.  The numerical development of the Jews appeared as follows:          

1840: 7,131
1900: 18,793
1910: 19,644
1942: 28,000

    The mother tongue of the Jews in Hungary in 1890 without Croatia amounted to around 2/3 Hungarian speaking and 1/3 German speaking.  At the national census they were asked: “Which language do you prefer to speak the most?”  Of the Jews somewhat over 1/5 gave German as their mother tongue and almost 4/5 as Hungarian.

   The Jews belonging predominantly to the Eschkenazim sect formed their rather closed community and because of it they had little contact and also hardly any friction with the other nations.  In the German villages they were predominantly grain dealers.  The Swabians brought their produce to them and received their money for it.  So it went somewhat frictionless and there was hardly any enmity as in the Hungarian or Serbian communities, where the Jews were landlords and where alcohol and guilt produced hate.  The chroniclers of the Batschka German communities referred to the Jews positively so that there was no hate between the Germans and the Jews.  When the Batschka Jews were pursued, abducted, and robbed in 1943 and 1944, the Germans did not take part in it.  The “Swabians” also had hardly anything to say because they were either the state power or were German tops in the Batschka.  For the wrong reasons the Swabians of the Batschka were charged after the war with complete guilt for all the wrongdoings, which were begun by people of other nations sometime, somewhere.  The Swabians may not have raised their voiced over it, but with luck they heard of the competent Jewish personalities that the Swabians have much to thank them for.    

   Already in 1918 when the Serbians cam to the largest part of the Batschka, many Jews from Theresiopel and Sombor went to Budapest.  Then as the clouds of the thunderstorm of World War II appeared, many emigrated to North America and South Africa.  After the abductions at the end of World War II many went to Israel, there in  states with the new social orders hardly any place remained for private economic initiatives.

   The gypsies of the Batschka were not exactly numerically recorded and therefore only a more or less rough estimation could be given. 

1800: 1000
1900: 1200
1942: 1600
1957: 2000

    In these numbers all gypsies are included, although one must strictly differentiate between  the white and the black gypsies.  The white gypsies called themselves “úri czigány”, that is gentlemen gypsies.  They are those people whose music sticks in the blood and created their own sentimental romanticism.  Our Banat poet Nikolaus Lenau said in his poem: 

The Three Gypsies 

I once found three gypsies

lying in a meadow

as my cart with tired torment

crept through the sandy heath.

Held the one for himself alone

the fiddle in his hands,

played, gleaming by the evening light,

a fiery little song.

Held the second the fife in his mouth.

Look at his smoke.

Happy, as if he by the world

Needed nothing more than luck.

And the third comfortably leaned

and his cymbal hung on the tree,

over the strings the breeze ran,

over his heart a dream went.

On the clothing bore the three

holes and colored spots,

but they stubbornly offered free

mockery of the earth’s layers.

Threefold they have shown me

When our life comes to an end,

How one smoked, looked sleepy and lost

and it is threefold despised.

After the gypsies still looked long

I had to continue on,

after the faces dark brown,

the black curly hairs.

   The white gypsies who played in the planned locales, wearing proper tailcoats and patent leather shoes, are gladly seen by all nations.  In the Batschka they mostly speak Hungarian and are Catholic.

   In complete contrast to them stand the black gypsies.  They have nevertheless remained nomads by any measure and they are suspected of being thieves and most communities forbid them to stay.  Some attempts were made to make them settle, like somewhat in Gombosch-Bogojewa which brought only partial success.  Among them one finds the wandering wood and metal workers.  Serbs doing livestock breeding probably brought gypsies to make appliances and weapons but they were so despised that they were taken over by the Serbs as well as other people because there were not many wandering gypsies remaining.  Their religion is orthodox Catholic, or Muslim, and they speak Serbian or Romanian.  Here and there in a German village one also finds a gypsy who belongs to the village where he maintains: “Ich bin a deiitscher Zigeiner!” (I am a German gypsy).

   The gypsies came either from Armenia or from Egypt or perhaps the musicians came from Armenia and the wanderers came from Egypt.  During Turkish times migrated in larger numbers.  The English traveler Ed Brown described the gypsies of the Ottoman Empire about 1685 in the following manner: “A characteristic ethnographic picture offered by many gypsies, those in Hungary, Serbia, and Macedonia very frequently occurred and advanced to the northeast up into the Wallachia.  They live by all kinds of means and are crafty thieves.  It is even therefore recommended to dismount in private homes and not in the caravan, which have large rooms in which the gypsies steal from the overnighters with great skillfulness.

[Published at 19 Sep 2005 by Jody McKim Pharr]

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