A Journey to the Land of my Forefathers -2012

By Wayne Neuburger
Published by the author in the Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter,
Vol. 22, No.4 Decemer, 2012

This journey began in 1998 as my wife Mary and I were making plans with her brother and his wife for a trip to Europe. Her brother and sister-in-law had visited Europe a number of times with a base in Spain, where they had a second home. They had invited us to travel with them several times and we had never been able to go. They had sold their home in Spain, and since this might be our last time to travel with them, we decided to make the trip. Our destinations were Germany to visit Mary’s family and Austria to see the Alps, Vienna and Salzburg.

I knew that my grandfather had been born in Bukovina and that it was part of Austria at one time. It crossed my mind that I might still have relatives in Austria. I did an Internet search on the name Neuburger in Austria and came up with about 100 names spread throughout Austria. Not knowing anything more about the location of possible family members, I put my search on the back burner.

When we arrived in Austria, my interest was reawakened. We stayed in a small village in the Alps called Schladming. It was near Salzburg and was a truly beautiful place. During our visit, we traveled to Vienna and Salzburg and in each location I would check the phone book for Neuburgers and there were several names listed.

After we returned from Europe, I decided to explore my family’s past more vigorously. Although my father had passed away, I was able to get from my mother a copy of everything that he had on his family. It included a Neuburger family tree, but the only names listed that were not citizens of the U.S. were some of my great grandfather’s brothers and sisters and his parents, but no indication of where they lived.

My father also had an autobiography of his uncle Wenzel Neuburger. It listed the places where Wenzel lived in Europe before coming to the U.S. My dad also had the naturalization papers for his grandfather Josef. The papers listed Josef’s place of birth as Fürstenhut, Czechoslovakia.

With this information at hand, I began my search using my main tool, the Internet. When I did a search for the word Bukovina, I came up with the Bukovina Society of America. With the help of the Bukovina Society’s president, Oren Windholz, I was able to contact other members of the Neuburger family, but none of them knew anything about our family in Europe.

My next search was for the name Fürstenhut, since it had been the birthplace of my great grandfather. I found only two short articles and they indicated that the village was near the German border and had been evacuated after World War II.

I finally came across a source that would prove to be the answer to my search. Wenzel Neuburger’s autobiography had mentioned living with his grandfather in Ulrichsberg, Austria. In a book that Oren had written on the Erbert family, he had mentioned that Rudolf Erbert visited the Neuburger family in Ulrichsberg after the death of his wife Catherine Neuburger. I decided to do a search for the name Ulrichsberg and discovered a webpage for the town. The webpage had a link to a home page for a Neuburger meat company that makes processed meats sold throughout Austria.

Using my limited German, I decided to contact the company, explaining who I was, what I knew about my family, and that I was interested in making contact with relatives in Austria. About two weeks later, I received an e-mail from Renate Pfaff. She indicated that she was from the Neuburger family in Ulrichsberg. She and her husband Peter were teachers in the village Gosau in the Alps. Since she was the person in the family with the best English, her father asked her to contact me. Renate explained that her great grandfather was Hermann Neuburger and the brother of my great grandfather Josef. It was the start of a great journey for both of us. She was also interested in learning more about the family before it settled in Ulrichsberg in the late 1800s.

We had a common cousin, Elfie Rieger, who lived in Salzburg and had done some research into the family. Elfie’s grandfather was a son of Renate’s great-grandfather and her family also had a Gasthaus down the street from Renate’s family in Ulrichsberg. Elfie was able to tell us some of the history of Fürstenhut. The family had lived there from the early 1800s (note: Fürstenhut was founded in 1802, and the first house was a forester’s house built around 1790). The family had a Gasthaus there for many years.

The next person to help us was Gernot Peter. He had been building a family tree of the Johann Georg Neuburger family. Johann was a common forefather for all of us. In his search for descendents of Johann, he also contacted the Neuburger meat company and was put in touch with Renate and she passed his name and contact information onto me.

After learning as much as I could from Renate, Elfie and Gernot, Mary and I decided that we needed to go to Austria to meet these relatives and learn firsthand about where my ancestors lived.

I first made contact with my relatives in Austria in November 2002, and we were able to travel to visit with them face-to-face in September 2004. We arrived in Munichon September 1 and the next day drove to Salzburg. We met Renate and her husband Peter at the border between Austria and Germany. It was a great feeling to see them in person. We followed them into Salzburg to the home of Elfie and her husband Josef. We toasted our arrival with champagne and had our first of many great Austrian meals.

We spent the night in Salzburg, and the next morning Renate, Peter, Elfie, Mary and I set out for Ulrichsberg. Josef was 90 and wasn’t able to travel with us. We stopped for lunch in Aigen, near Ulrichsberg. There we met Harald, Elfie’s brother, and Karin Sage. Karin’s mother was from the Fuchs family that lived in Fürstenhut and she worked in the Neuburger Gasthaus in Ulrichsberg.

Our caravan continued onto Ulrichsberg. The first place we visited was the cemetery. We stood before the Neuburger family plot in this very beautiful little cemetery. My great great grandmother’s name was on the headstone. Although her husband Wenzel’s name wasn’t listed, they believed that he was buried there as well.

Our next stop was at the home of Renate’s parents. They had built a new home behind the gasthaus the family owned since the late 1800s. The Gasthaus is no longer used as an inn and is being rented out as butcher shop. Renate’s brother Hermann has plans to restore it and use it as a Gasthausagain. We toasted our arrival and after some conversation continued with our tour. Gernot and his daughter Isabella joined us for the rest of the tour.

We took a tour of the Neuburger meat processing plant followed by a wonderful meal and toasts. The family sang Bohemian folk songs. It was the first time that this family group had ever been together. It was a very delightful evening.

The next day we were up early and after one more visit to the cemetery, we were on our way again. Our convoy had 4 cars and our little traveling group included 9 people.

Our next stop was at Borova Lada (Ferchenhaid) in the Czech Republic. Here we met Franz Strunz, our guide for our trip to Fürstenhut. Franz is 77 and was born in Fürstenhut. In 1946, he and the other residents of Fürstenhut were given an order to leave the village. They could take 2 blankets, 4 wash clothes, 2 sets of work clothes, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 coat, 1 bowl and dish, 1 cup, 1 set of knife, fork and spoon, 2 towels and soap, a sewing kit, and some food. The total weight couldn’t exceed 50 kilograms per person. This eviction was called the Vertreibung. Three million people had to leave the Czech Republic and 225,000 died on the journey.

After the Vertreibung, Franz moved 30 kilometers to Freyung, Germany, where he could see the hills surrounding the village of Fürstenhut. After the border between Germany and the Czech Republic opened in 1991, Franz and others who had lived in Fürstenhut returned to the village. Remnants of the cemetery were all that remained. Since most of the headstones had glass inserts for the names, it is not possible to determine who is buried in many of the graves. Franz and the others got permission to restore the cemetery and to erect several memorials. Today the cemetery has been restored but none of the headstones could be identified as being from the Neuburger family.

We met Franz in Borova Lada because it is not possible to drive into the Fürstenhut village site. The area is restricted with a gate across the road that leads to the village, which is part of a national park. The national park (Nationalpark, Narodny park Sumava) is restricted for cars. It is about 7 kilometers from Borova Lada to Fürstenhut. Fortunately, since Franz has been to Fürstenhut many times, the Czechs have given him a key to the gate and permission to drive to Fürstenhut. There were ten of us, counting Franz, so we had to shuttle between two groups. One group walked while Franz would take the first group up the road and then come back and get the second one. Within a short time, we made it to the village.

The area is used for hiking and biking, and there were a number of people in the area. There is road access from Borova Lada and from Kvilda (Aussergefild). Our group had a map of the village from 1946 at the time of the Vertreibung. There were 82 homes in the village as well as a school and church.

Our first location to visit was the cemetery. Franz and his friends had done a marvelous job of restoring what they could of the cemetery. They had a brochure that they created showing the cemetery as they found it and what it looks like now. It was barely recognizable when they first found it. Next to the cemetery was the site of the church, where there is now a cross bearing 3 dates. The dates are

  • 1912 – the church was built (a wooden church had existed from the 1840s when Fürstenhut became an independent parish and in 1912, the new church was built),
  • 1946 – the Vertreibung,
  • 1956 -the date of the destruction of the church.

Near the church was another memorial listing the names of the men who died in World Wars I and II from Fürstenhut, and some nearby villages (Hüttl, Buchwald and Scheureck). There were 47 names listed as dead or missing in World WarII from the village of Fürstenhut. There were 3 members of the Neuburger family, 2 Strunzes, 5 Peters, and a number from the Harant, Zanella, and Pribil families, who are also related.

From the church site, we set off to the Neuburger family plot, which was near the top end of the village. As we traveled to our next stop, Gernot pointed out that the path we were traveling on had been the location of an electric fence erected by the Czechs after WWII. They also had put guard stations along the fence. This was the real Iron Curtain and it went through the middle of Fürstenhut. Wesoon arrived at the Neuburger family home sites. There were two next to each other. The one where a Gasthaus had been located included a pond and two large cherry trees. From an old picture of the home, we can tell that the Gasthaus had been located next to the trees and in front of the pond.

As I learned later, this was not where my great grandfather Josef was born, but the home of his uncle. My great grandfather Josef’s father was from the village of Hüttl and married Franziska Zelenka, whose family lived in Fürstenhut. Josef is listed as being born in the Zelenka home, where the family may have lived before he traveled to Bukovina. The Neuburger family that lived in the Gasthaus in Fürstenhut continued to live there until World War II. Several family members immigrated to Wisconsin in the early 1900s.

We picked wild raspberries on the plot and spent a number of minutes getting a feel for where we were. Across the road from the home site was a small shrine with the initials WNon the base. It was probably the initials of Walter Neuburger who, like Franz, was born in Furstenhut and served in World War II. He also lives in Freyung. He and Franz have been friends from childhood, but because of his health, Walter was not able to join us.

As we walked back, we came across the foundation of a home, one of the few indicators that someone had once lived here. According to the map, it is likely the home of the Josef Selbitschka family.

We could also see the location of the Buchwald village about 2 kilometers further up the hill from where we were (the village is close to the Moldau spring). Members of the Neuburger, Peter and Zanella family also lived in Buchwald. Julia (Neuburger) Zanella had lived in this village before marrying Rudolf Erbert and moving to the United States. Her son was listed on the World War II memorial as missing or killed.

Between Buchwald and Fürstenhut was the smaller village of Hüttl where my forefathers lived. A museum in Kvilda includes information and artifacts from the area and a map of Hüttl showing a plot of the land owned by the Neuburger family.

It was time to return and we did our shuttle back to Borova Lada (Ferchenhaid). We had a meal at the restaurant and then had to say goodbye to Franz. His help in touring Fürstenhut was greatly ppreciated.

From Borova Lada we traveled a few kilometers to Kvilda or Aussergefild. This is the home of the Fuchs family who moved to Bukovina and whose daughter Josefa was my great-great-grandmother. A museum there traced the history of the Salt Golden Trail. Traders from around the Salzburg area used to travel through this region trading salt for other goods. The area around Aussergefild contained silica and artisans made glass to trade. It was a very prosperous area at that time. This small museum gave us a nice overview of the history of the area.

From Aussergefild, we stopped briefly in Rehberg, which was probably the hometown of the Erbert family that moved to Bukovina and their son Joseph was my great great grandfather. We also stopped at Bergreichenstein, near where our family lived before moving to the Fürstenhut area. These villages were small and it was difficult to get a feel for what they must have been like when my family members lived there.

Our last stop for the day was Winterberg or Vimperk, another town with a family connection. Winterberg had prospered in the early 1900s. It was famous for the publishing house run by Johann Steinbrener. They distributed books, especially the Bible and Koran, to all parts of the world. After the war, the town lost the publishing business, but the result of the prosperity is evident. It was also the only town we visited with a castle and walled city.

The next day we visited several places my great uncle Wenzel mentioned in his autobiography. The first was Prachatice (in German: Prachatitz). Wenzel mentioned that he had attended high school in this town. It has a very beautiful old town with a number of 400-500 year old frescoes on the walls of buildings around the town square. Unlike the next place we visited, it had very few tourists.

Our next location was Krummau [Krumau], or as it is now known, Český Krumlov. Krummau is where Wenzel apprenticed as a baker. He took this trade with him to Ellis and started a bakery with several other members of the family, including at one time my grandfather. Cesky Krumlov is a very historical town and has been designated as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO. There were quite a few tourists and it was a busy place. We spent several hours there, but were able to only see a few of the sights.

Our last place to visit in the Czech Republic was the town of Friedberg. It is located near Deutsch Reichenau, where my great grandparents lived before they moved to the United States. On our way to Friedberg we stopped at the site of the town where Heinrichsöd was located. This village is where my great aunt Julia was born shortly before my great grandparents moved to the United States. It is now under Lake Lipno, which was created when the Moldau (Vltava) River was dammed. We did not go to the site of Deutsch Reichenau, but could see the area where it was located. Renate and Peter had tried to find it on an earlier trip and the only indicator of where it had been located is a small plaque.

From Friedberg we traveled back into Austria and met Elfie’s husband Josef again at the home of Harald. After some wonderful cake and coffee, we said our goodbyes and traveled onto Vienna. Here we met Gernot again. He took us to the Böhmerwaldmuseum that he and others are maintaining. It is a small set of rooms that they rent to house what they have gathered to keep the memory of the German Bohemia history alive. They have many documents on the villages that were part of Bohemia. He was able to pull out information on Heinrichsöd and Deutsch Reichenau, including pictures of the villages. They also have artifacts like clothing and household utensils from Bohemia. The museum is not open to the public, except during the weekends, but Gernot is willing to arrange times for people to see it. For anyone interested in contacting Gernot, you may e-mail him at gernotpeter@aon.at,

The next day we had to continue our trip, stopping in Mondsee for a night before we returned to Munich.

This is a trip that my wife and I will remember for a long time. The hospitality of the Austrians was wonderful and the warmth with which we were greeted made it special. In addition, I now feel a connection to my home in the United States and one that is in Austria. I don’t know why we seek out connections to our past. My sister-in-law once asked me what I hoped to accomplish, as I was trying to locate family in Europe. I couldn’t answer her. Now, I think I have a better understanding. There is something special about a family connection, even one that has grown cold over time. My wife felt the same connection when she first visited her father’s family in Germany. I now wish I had the opportunity to talk to my grandfather about his experiences as a child in this land that we had visited. It would have made the connection even stronger to know his feelings for his Heimat. I think I know now why my grandfather chose to live on a farm most of his life, even into his 80s. It may have brought him closer to his home in Bukovina and Bohemia and the feelings that he must have had as he was growing up in small villages in Europe.

If you are interested in seeing pictures from our trip, or talking with us about our journey to Bohemia, you can contact us at wayne-maryn@comcast.net.