Economic Realities of our Bukovina Forebears

in the Austrian Period (1775-1918)

Sophie A. Welisch, PhD

Based on a presentation made at a convention of the Bukovina Society of the Americas in Hays, Kansas on July 14, 1998.

Posted with permission of the Author May 16, 2002

Bukovina, a territory approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island and today incorporated partially in Romania and partially in Ukraine, once constituted the easternmost crown land of the Austrian Empire. From the Treaty of Constantinople (1775) until the Treaty of St. Germaine following World War I, this land “between Orient and Occident”1 served as a mecca for a multinational, multicultural population. Their ability to maintain a peaceful coexistence has been called by some authors “a model for a united Europe.”2

This essay, however, focuses not on intercultural relations or ethnic customs but on the economic circumstances in which our Bukovina-German forebears found themselves in the Austrian period and the contributions they made to the development of Austria’s easternmost crown land.

After Austria’s annexation of Bukovina, the government took numerous measures to populate and exploit its newly-acquired province. Dispatching fact-finding commissions to assess Bukovina’s economic potential, the government concluded that its future growth lay in farming, mining, lumbering and glass production. Forests covered sixty percent of the land; the mountains concealed mineral veins, and its flatlands lent themselves to farming. By any standards, Bukovina’s economic level was primitive and undeveloped. The commissions reported the existence of two schools in the entire province, paths serving as roads, highwaymen molesting trade and commerce, and a population (Romanians, Gypsies, Jews and Armenians) of six per square kilometer.3
The Habsburg government offered inducements for settlement in Bukovina: transportation, exemption from military service, tax abatements and above all, land. With the loosening of the feudal system in central Europe, formerly non-free serfs could now leave their manors and take up an independent existence elsewhere.

While many thousands, including Poles, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Jews poured into Bukovina unbidden by the state, the government gave preference to Germans, who, they anticipated, would serve as examples in agriculture and work habits. They eschewed transients and encouraged the settlement of family groups to provide stability and continuity. Between 1787-1841 Germans from the Palatinate, Hesse, Swabia, Bohemia, Galicia and the Zips in the High Tatra Mountains (presently in Slovakia) settled in Bukovina as state-sponsored colonists; others came as civil servants (teachers, administrators, clerics) from various regions of the Austrian Empire. The last Austrian census of 1910 confirmed a German population in Bukovina of 9.1 per cent.4

It was in the flatlands between the Prut and Moldova rivers where after 1787 the so-called “Swabian” settlements of Deutsch-Satulmare, Illischestie, Alt-Fratautz, Neu-Itzkany, Deutsch Tereblestie and St. Onufry were established on the periphery of already-existing villages. Until the final dissolution of feudalism in 1848 the villagers were subjected to corvee labor (i.e., unpaid labor service of twelve days per month), the payment of the tithe (one-tenth of their crops), and encumbered ownership of their land.

The Swabians, primarily Lutherans, who had left states wherein they had constituted the religious majority, now found themselves in a country where Catholicism was the established church. While Emperor Joseph II in 1781 had issued the Patent of Religious Toleration, Bukovina’s Protestants nonetheless faced certain discriminations: no bells on their churches, no support for their sectarian schools, and church entrances could not face the street.5 Nonetheless, their settlements prospered; population growth by the 1860s led to negotiations with owners of large estates for land on which were established the two daughter colonies of Alexanderdorf and Katharinendorf.6

And indeed the Germans lived up to the government’s expectations in the development of agriculture. They introduced the three-field system and certain fruits and vegetables, the iron plow, the systematic cultivation of crops, fertilization of fields, and irrigation systems, the first in Bukovina.7 What they grew depended upon market place, climate and soil. Corn became a staple for man and beast. They also raised soy beans for oil, hops for beer, sugar beets for Bukovina’s sugar refineries, as well as cabbage, onions and other root crops. Located 48 degrees north latitude (three degrees farther north than Montreal, Canada), Bukovina had a relatively short growing season; this, plus its generally rocky and mountainous terrain placed limitations on agricultural expansion and production.

The Germans introduced systematic animal husbandry. In 1782 the government established a breeding station for horses in Radautz (the Radautz Gestüt), which served primarily the military but also the public at large. By 1940 Bukovina supplied 20 per cent of all Romania’s horses. Eventually over 100 cattle breeding stations sprang up throughout Bukovina under control of the Radautz Gestüt. Poultry was raised primarily for domestic consumption while sheep raising, widely practiced by the Romanians, did not play a significant role for the German population. After the completion of the Lemberg-Czernowitz railroad line in 1865, Bukovina’s products could be exported to the market places of Vienna, Brünn and Prague.

At the time of Austria’s annexation of Bukovina, forests covered 60 percent of the land. The state appointed foresters to control harvesting of trees and introduced forest management. Although the population was not permitted to cut down trees indiscriminately or to hunt freely, enforcement remained lax.

The state recruited Germans, primarily from the Bohemian Forest, to exploit Bukovina’s woodlands. Skilled in glass making, an industry established in Bohemia for centuries, the recruitment commissions sought skilled craftsmen for the production of glass. Potash, needed to heat the furnaces, could be processed from Bukovina’s ample forests. Between 1793-1817 the villages of Althütte, Neuhütte, Karlsberg, and Fürstenthal arose around glass production. Expectations for exportable glass did not materialize, however, and the glass huts ultimately failed. The glass works in Krasna Ilski remained viable until World War I at which time fire partly destroyed the installation; the salvageable equipment was then transferred to Putna, only to be totally demolished in World War II.8 Unable to compete with better quality glass produced elsewhere and confronted with transportation problems, the villagers at best eked out a frugal existence.

After the Fürstenthal glass works burned to the ground in 1889, its former workers turned to lumbering and forestry; some took positions as game wardens, forest rangers and procurers of jobs in the forestry industry. A few sustained themselves as self-employed craftsmen (wheelwrights, shoemakers, master smiths, cabinet makers, grocers).8

It was primarily the German Bohemians and the Zipsers who took jobs in the fields of lumbering and logging. Loggers worked with their own teams of horses, primarily teams of two, conveying felled wood from the forest to the saw mill and processed lumber to the railroad stations.

The lumberers often worked at job sites at a considerable distance from their homes and for weeks would be housed in camp sites provided by the logging contractors. Wives and children would take meals to husbands and fathers at these locations. Logging accidents in the forests and limb amputations in the saw mills were not infrequent happenings. Absent rail transportation, logs were floated down stream by rafters on the Prut, Czeremosz and Bistrita rivers to Constanta on the Black Sea for transshipment abroad.

Other occupations developed around wood, including the production of furniture, musical instruments and hobbies such as carving. Many of Bukovina’s men were handy in carpentry. In 1919 the furniture factory, Erste Bukowinische Möbelfabrik Thöner (Thöner’s First Bukovina Furniture Factory), opened in Radautz with branches in Czernowitz and Bucharest.9

In 1796 the Austrian nobleman, Anton Manz von Mariensee, acquired mineral rights in south Bukovina. After confirming the presence of ores including iron, lead, manganese, copper and silver, he proceeded to recruit German miners from the Zips, whom he settled in company towns in Bukovina. Thus emerged Jakobeny (1783), Kirlibaba (1796), Pozoritta (1805), Luisental (1805-06), Eisenau (1808), Freudental (1809) and Stulpikany (1809-10). Conveyed in military transports, the mining families received a house constructed by the army and a parcel of land for their use as long as they worked in the mines. They had no hereditary rights to the property and in fact had to pay an annual rental of 30 – 40 crowns as well as purchase their supplies in company stores.

Given the low grade of the ores, the lack of adequate transportation, and poor management, the mines proved unprofitable and gradually failed. In 1849 the iron mines of Jakobeny, Pozoritta, Freudental and Eisenau closed, followed in 1859 by the silver mines of Jakobeny, leaving several thousand miners without an income. The wages of the remaining miners were frequently in default; by the 1890s they were paid in “leather buttons as a type of emergency money,” redeemable only in the company stores.10 Only the salt mines of Kaczyka and Solka remained viable and in fact have continued operations to the present day.11 The mine closures reduced the miners to dire economic straits. Gradually they moved into other occupations, mainly lumbering, rafting, and the conveyance of lumber. Some emigrated overseas or sought a livelihood in neighboring provinces.

Facing problems of industrialization, mainly the lack of coal, money for capital development, an entrepreneurial class with business acumen, and a transportation system, Bukovina remained the least developed Austrian crown land. Nonetheless some industrial enterprises did develop in the Austrian period. These included Schmidt und Fontin, a chemical factory in Czernowitz with several affiliates, the Beil Brewery in Sereth (the first in Bukovina) followed by another brewery in Czernowitz, tanneries, brick production plants, saw mills and furniture factories.

A family enterprise which spanned the decades and achieved international recognition was that founded by Philipp Andreas Geib. Relocating to Czernowitz in 1868, Geib constructed a workshop to which in 1872 he added a large foundry shed. A producer of superb agricultural tools and machines, he also cast over 650 bells in the course of his life. Among these were a 1000 kilogram bell for the monastery in Putna, a 1600 kilogram bell with a diameter of 1.60 meters for the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Czernowitz and perhaps his best work, for which he was honored with the gold medal, and a royal bell for Mahala in 1886.12

Two of his five sons followed in their father’s profession: Alfred (born 1853) and Gustav. Alfred, also a farrier and wheelwright, cast over 1,250 bells, more than any of the Geib casters. His brother, Gustav, inherited his father’s foundry and from 1903 until his death in 1934 cast over 1,100 bells. His outstanding work was a jubilee bell in 1906 for exhibition in Bucharest, featuring on its mantel busts of three emperors, Francis Joseph I of Austria, William II of Germany, and Nicholas II of Russia, and one king, Carol I of Romania. After the exhibition the bell was sent to the village of Molodia outside of Czernowitz.13

When Austria annexed Bukovina in 1775, trade and commerce were virtually non-existent. By 1788, however, Czernowitz had over 1000 artisans, many of whom were Germans. In 1804 they introduced the guild system, consisting of three guild districts: Czernowitz, Suczawa and Sereth, as well as the guild method of training (apprentice, journeyman, master) for crafts as baker, miller, brewer, book binder, tailor, weaver, mason, carpenter and smith. With the dissolution of the guilds in the 1860s cooperatives arose in several fields including those of agriculture, banking and money lending.

Raising capital remained problematic: cash was scarce and credit very difficult to obtain. A banking system, as we know it, had not yet developed. Often on village initiative Raiffeisen Genossenschaften (regional banking cooperatives) were established, accepting deposits and lending money to neighbors in need. The first credit union with twenty-five members was established in Alt-Fratautz in 1899;14 Arbora soon followed suit with thirty-eight members and Neu-Itzkany with four. By the turn of the century twenty-five German Spar- und Darlehnskassenvereine (savings and loan associations) and could be found in Bukovina’s principal cities of Czernowitz, Suczawa and Sereth.

Primarily an agricultural area, the amount of land under cultivation by the Germans nonetheless remained modest. While the years preceding World War I were perhaps the most productive, the average German farmer possessed only 2.5 hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 acres) of land, forcing many to ply a trade on the side. The scarcity of land, the burgeoning population increase after 1880, limited economic opportunity, and the hardships following World War I led many to abandon hearth and home and seek their fortune elsewhere. North and South America, with their seemingly unlimited space and economic opportunities, served as a magnet, drawing immigrants as moths to a flame. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed an overseas exodus of tens of thousands from Bukovina and millions from eastern Europe. While economics alone cannot explain this mass migration, the prospect of a better life overseas nonetheless looms large as a motive for emigration.

By 1940, faced with the exigencies of war, Bukovina’s German population, over 95,000, opted en masse for transfer to Germany when given the opportunity to do so. About 7000 remained in their homeland, some of whom fled in 1944 in the wake of the Soviet military advance.15 Others were forcibly repatriated after the war. While their villages no longer bear a German character, evidences of a former German presence and of the policies of the Habsburg government are still evident in the architecture of some of its public buildings, in its system of public health and public education, in its network of roads, bridges and railroads, and in its development of agriculture, forestry, crafts and industry.


1Erich Beck depicts in word and picture Bukovina’s contrasting Eastern and Western cultural traditions in Bukowina: Land zwischen Orient und Okzident (Freilassing| Pannonia-Verlag), 1963.

2Muil von Melag (alias Hans Prelitsch), “Das Modell Europas,” in Warum Raimund- Friedrich Kaindl Bund? ed. Landsmannschaft der Buchenlanddeutschen (Munich: n.d.), p. 22.

3Hugo Weczerka, Die Deutschen im Buchenland (Würzburg: Holdner-Verlag, 1955), p. 13.

4Carl Petersen and Otto Scheel (eds.), Handwörterbuch des Grenz- und Auslandsdeutschtums (Breslau: Ferdinand Hirt, 1933), I, p. 616.

5Edgar Müller, Die evangelischen Gemeinden in der Bukowina: Aufbau und Ende, Part II (Munich: Hilfswerk für die evangelischen Deutschen aus der Bukowina, 1972), pp. 29-30.

6For a history of these villages see Konrad Gross, Alexanderdorf und Katharinendorf von 1863-1940 (Bächingen/Brenz: Schriftenreihe des Hilfskomitees für die evangelischen Umsiedler aus der Bukowina, 1978).

7Raimund Friedrich Kaindl, Die Deutschen in Galizien und in der Bukowina (Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag von Heinrich Keller, 1916), p. 128.

8Emil Stadler, “Mein Vaters Geburtsort Krasna Ilski” in Bori, Karlsberg und andere deutschböhmische Siedlungen in der Bukowina, ed. Rudolf Wagner (Munich: Verlag “Der Südostdeutsche,” 1982), pp. 62-63.

9Josef Wild. ed., Fürstenthal: Eine deutsch-böhmische Gemeinde in der Bukowina (Munich: Landsmannschaft der Buchenlanddeutschen, 1981), p. 15. English translation by Sophie A. Welisch, Fürstenthal: A German Bohemian Community in Bukovina (Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, 1993).

10Erich Beck, “Zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Deutschen in der Bukowina” in Buchenland: 150 Jahre Deutschtum in der Bukowina, ed. Franz Lang (Munich: Verlag des Südostdeutschen Kulturwerks, 1961), pp. 177-78.

11“Einiges über Zipsergemeinden in der Bukowina,” Der Südostdeutsche (Munich), 15 May 1978, p. 1.

12Johann Christian Dressler, “Das Geschlecht der Staudenheimer Geib” in Bukowina: Heimat von Gestern, Erwin Massier, Josef Talsky and B. C. Grigorowicz, eds. (Karlsruhe: Selbstverlag “Arbeitskreis Bukowina Heimatbuch,” 1956), p. 185.

13Ibid., p. 187.

14Erwin Massier et al., Fratautz und die Fratautzer: vom Werden und Vergehen einer deutschen Dorfgemeinschaft in der Bukowina (By the authors, Pleutersbach, 1957), p. 67.

15Rudolf Wagner, “Die Umsiedlung der Deutschen aus der Bukowina,” in Buchenland: 150 Jahre Deutschtum in der Bukowina, p. 513.