A Small History To Remember

 

 

 

 

                                                                  By Andrea Ballreich, 2003

 
 

         
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved her father very dearly.  Whenever something went wrong or she was afraid, her father was always there to help and comfort her, "Be quiet, Papa is here."  He would tell the most beautiful stories of "bei uns dehoum," (in Schwowisch dialect, "at home, in the old country") in the Batschka, the region in Serbia where the Danube and Theiss flow together.  There were enormous fields with sunflowers and Klatschmohn (poppies), "Bulke," (turkeys), marvellous sweet fruits in the summer, and chickens and geese walking on the dusty roads. The little girl loved these stories of "bei uns dehoum" and wished she could see this paradise just once.  She grew up, and when she was eight years old, her father took her on a journey to that country - "bei uns dehoum" - where he was born.  And at last, the “dehoum” in her father’s stories became real.

There were friendly people everywhere who warmly welcomed them.  When the hay was taken in from the field by horse-pulled wagon, the girl was allowed to sit on top of the wagon.  In the evenings she helped to bring the geese into the yard from the street.  She also learned how to kernel corn and feed the pigs.  She played with other children on the dusty streets and soon made new friends.  When threshing took place, many volunteers came to help. Then a bean soup was cooked, several blankets were spread on the ground in the yard, and everybody sat around a long board and ate together.  Nothing was in abundance, but whatever people had was gladly shared with the helpers, and all were happy and content.  The hospitality and the warm welcome made an unforgettable impression on the girl.

Although this sounds like a fairy tale, I am the girl in the story, which took place in the year 1967, and I became interested in my Danube-Swabian roots at an early age.

My father had told me much about our homeland and our family.  He was only twelve years old when, on October 6th, 1944, he and his family had to leave their village in the Batschka, and were sent into an uncertain future.  During their escape, they often had to sleep on the ground, sometimes spending the night in a meadow and waking up in the morning with dew on their eyelashes.  Babies were born during the flight; some never survived a day.  The family had to walk long distances, not knowing whether they would ever see their village again.  One night in February 1945, during the devastating bomb attack on Dresden, they were not far from a village.  My father could never forget the images of the night sky illuminated as bright as day.  Later they learnt that many of their compatriots had been among the victims, as Dresden at that time was overflowing with refugees.  My grandparents were as old as I am today, and everything they had worked for had to be left behind.

When they arrived in Germany, the Donauschwaben were not welcome.  "Refugees, what do you want here?  We don’t have anything either!”  Just as it had been with our ancestors over two hundred years ago, they had to begin from scratch.  They had endured devastating times, but with much diligence they created a new life for themselves.  Their shared experiences drew the community closer together and their solidarity gave them the strength to make a new start in this difficult time.  The Danube-Swabians began to organize themselves.  An important and significant celebration in the village was the "Kerweih" (church-blessing), a celebration where everybody gathered after the harvest had been brought in.  Thus, they resolved, rather than merely resigning themselves to having survived their ordeal, to stand their ground and make a fresh start.  And each year they celebrated Kerweih like "dehoum".

When I became older, my father took me to the Kerweih every year.  I still remember how proudly led me around the hall and introduced me to all the people.  He would say, "He was a neighbour of ours." or "We are related to this woman."  I was always happy to be there, and seeing my father's eyes light up when the dance began and the band played, made me feel very fortunate.  I was proud to be part of this large Danube-Swabian family.

In the year 1989, fate struck our family when my father was diagnosed with malicious cancer, and our family doctor told us, that if it continued to grow, he would only have one year to live.  We prayed, “How could it be, he is only 58 years old, please, dear God, let him live!”  Operations, hospitalizations, chemotherapy and radiation followed.  Our family was under extreme stress like never before. We did not want to leave our father alone and drove to the hospital daily to be with him for the radiation.  This taught us what it means to be a family.

"You belong together, you are a family!" he always said.  We could now return the love which he had always given us.  Through a miracle, he recovered from his illness and his health gradually improved.  Even during this time, when he could no longer drive himself, he never missed a Kerweih (Kirchweih).  He had five more beautiful years before he died on February 11th, 1994.  I always drove him and my mother to the meetings, even though my mother is not a Donauschwäbin.  The closeness of the community gave me strength and it is still a comfort for me now to attend the Kerweih, because I know how happy my father had been there.  But it is not only for comfort - it is obligation, legacy and deep gratitude for everything that my father had done for us, and that we were allowed to grow up in peaceful times. Why do I write all of this?  Three years ago, I began to search the Internet for information about the Danube-Swabians.

My Dad and my Mama on the right side, the blonde little one laughing, that's me in 1967,
 and the little boy on the man's knees is my younger brother Rüdiger at age 3.

Written in 2003. 

I visited Katsch with my husband in May 2003 and found Steve Stajic, my father's best friend.  We had stayed at his house for two weeks in 1967 when I was in Katsch the first time.  He hugged me and kissed me like a lost daughter and we both cried.  I missed my dad so much and I wished he could be there with me.  I have made new friends, and meanwhile, my younger brother's daughter Alena is travelling to our ancestors' homeland with me.

My Regards, 
Andrea Ballreich
DVHH Village Coordinator: Katsch, Setschan

[Published at DVHH.org 19 Apr 2012 by Jody McKim Pharr, submission coordinated by Alex Leeb & edited by Rose Vetter.]
Original story sent to Alex Leeb 05 Jul 2005 from Andrea and posted on the DVHH Mail list: 
 http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/DONAUSCHWABEN-VILLAGES/2005-07/1120617712
 

 
 

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