The Swabian Village of Illischestie

(Original Title “Das Schwabendorf Illischestie”)
printed in “Bukowina: Heimat von Gestern,”
eds. Erwin Massier, Josef Talsky, B.C. Grigorowicz
(Karlsruhe: Selbstverlag “Arbeitskreis Bukowina Heimatbuch,” 1956), pp. 132-37
John Losee, Rebecca Hageman, trans.

Posted July 12, 2021

The rural Bukovinan community of Illischestie lies on around 30 square kilometers of hilly land in the northeast portion of the Carpathian region, in the southern portion of the province. In prehistoric times, it was rich with forests and swamps, but poor in solid soil and good grazing areas. Many finds from ancient times has proven that there were people on it even then. These people were sedentary shepherds of Nordic descent, who worshipped their gods around a sacrificial table that stood on the so-called “Kerchehiwwel”. [Translator’s note: In the Palitinate dialect, church hill = Kirchenhügel = Kerch und (H)iwwel = Kercheniwwel . Today in Illischestie both churches are located on this rise above the surrounding neighborhood.]

As most of these people became Christians with religious leaders (Priests, Popes), they gathered on that same hill for their devotions, and used the pagan sacrificial table as an altar. With determination, they marked the new site on its north side with a large cross made of Sarmatian sandstone.

Then came the great migration, and with it, much hardship and often deaths of the inhabitants in and around Illischestie. Survivors and their descendants became slaves to foreign masters.

The folk tradition that the Tatars remained the longest in and around Illischestie is believed to be historically accurate. Around the middle of the 14th century, the Tatars were pushed to the southeast by the Transylvanian-Romanian military leaders Dragosch-Voda, Sas, and Bogdan, bringing better times for the inhabitants of this area. The liberated land was divided into administrative areas, which ran mostly in strips from the ridges of the Carpathian Mountains to the south-east.

Each area was given a captain (“unterheer führer”) as an administrator. Around the year 1400, Iliasch, the chief cupbearer of Alexander the Good, became the administrator or feudal leader of one strip, located between the Kortschin (Corjan) and Budigan hills. The descendants of Iliasch later called themselves Ilischesku, and after him the area was first called Ilisachi, then Iliaschinzki, and finally Ilischeschti. And when a village arose on the Ilischesku fief, it was called Illischestie in Austrian times. (The current Romanian name is Ilișești)

Around 1570, the Boyar clan of the Ilischesku disappeared from the area, and shareholders appeared. Among them, the most important were the free farmers Isetseskul and Kalmutzki.

Illischestie is mentioned for the first time in a deed of gift from Stephen the Great on March 15, 1490. With this document, the Diocese of Radautz also received “the church of Iliaschintzi with the priest”. According to the description of the donation, it must be assumed that there was no village of Illischestie at that time, but only a religious gathering place for the free people and serfs living in the area.

In 1709, Janaschku Istscheskul began building the Illischestie Monastery. However, it could not be inaugurated until June 20, 1714, because of war. Over time, it was generously gifted with estates and the serfs living on them.

Meanwhile, from 1476 on, The Turks had their sights on the Vltava. In 1513, they forced the Moldovan princes to recognize their sovereignty. And again, there was much hardship and misery for the people of Illischestie, largely due to Turkish mismanagement and arbitrariness.

A Contract of Assignment [treaty] between Turkey and Austria in 1775 bringing northern Moldavia under Hapsburg control brought improved conditions, and the crown land of Bukovina was created. ,

Now the Austrians had acquired a new province, with much fertile soil and rich mineral resources, but they had no people who could properly cultivate the soil and mine the treasures from within. An attempt to recruit Romanian colonists for Bukovina from Transylvania was made, but failed, because clans of the Börgoan, Dobosch, Forgatsch, Rusu, and Sönboan who came to Illischestie, were nowhere near enough to be able to cope with the amount of work.

Around August 6, 1768, the first provincial administrator of the new province and the Romanian Boraren Balsch advised the Austrian emperor that Bukovina should also be populated with people from western Germany. For this purpose, they should first draw from the surplus of the colonists who had come to Galicia. However, it took almost a year before the first German settlers could be pushed from Lemberg to Bukovina, and then another year before they were endowed with any of the land in the already existing Romanian villages.

Once the German settlement of the country began, “by means of a transfer list from July 14, 1788”, first 19, then later two more German families that had been billeted at Lipweni, came to Illischestie. Their surnames included Haupt, Bock, Brenner, Hansel, Henker (with the children of Otto Kipper, who had died in Lemberg), Clemens, Irion, Kerth, Pelz, Theilmann, and Zachmann. There were a total of 32 male and 37 female persons. These 12 families (the first “Twelve”) were settled on expropriated monastery property. Their houses and outbuildings were laid out, six on each side of a newly laid street called the “Zwölfergasse.” (Twelve Alley). Each family was given 51.70 Are (1 Are = 100 square meters or .0247 acres; so 1.276 acres) of land for their house, yard, and garden, and 14.50 hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres; so 35.83 acres] of arable land, draft and horned cattle, farm equipment, and household items, as well as salt, water, and wood rights.

The new colonists’ first view of their settlement was sad enough; the northern and southern portions of the landscape were swampy. The later Erlengasse (Erlen Alley) was also swampy, and the connecting routes to the neighboring villages of Brashka and Balatschana were unusable in rainy weather and during a thaw. Also, there were no wells in the area. The settlers bravely got to work. There were bad harvests and nasty epidemics, so the peoples’ farms were often not as productive as the authorities had expected.

The surnames of the second group of the “Twelve”, as they are known as, according to the list of February 23, 1795, included Armbrüster, Brenner, Bock, Friedge, Gassner, Irion, Henker, Kerth, Müller, Mock, Wendling, and Zachmann. All these families were Protestant, except for the Müllers, who were Catholic.

After five years of hard work by colonists, they were finally satisfied with their new village home. At that time, however, there was still a lot of usable, fallow land in Illischestie. Therefore, the second Twelve wrote to their fellow countrymen in Galicia, and invited them to come to Illischestie. Many of the people who received these invitations accepted them. More German families came, but these founding fathers were no longer settled as “Erbzinsler” at State expense, but rather as “subjects” at their own expense. This happened especially between 1800 and 1835, because according to a list from January 1, 1836, there were already 88 German families living at Illischestie at that time, in addition to the already mentioned “Twelve,” included the surnames Rumple, Keller, Gaube, Schum, Haas, Karst, Sauer, Stahl, Hornung, Fritz, Ast, Bayer, Drummer, Kissinger, König, Seibert, Hofmann, Ott, Eckarrdt, May, Ehresmann, Knieling, Schädler, Fries, Roos, Birkenmayer, Walter, Kelsch, Web, Klein, and the family of the forester – Elzholz.

Immigrating from 1836 to 1918 included the surnames Becker, Binder, Bodnar, Bontus, Bosowicki, Braun, Brucker, van de Castel, Decker, Dressler, Duhai, Egner, Eiselt, Faulhaber, Fiesel, Fotar, Frisch, Galler, Galter, Gierischer, Glass, Gorgon, Halbgewachs, Hartmann, Hehn, Hopp, Hrivnak, Kalinowski, Kasper, Kisilijczuk, Kolmes, Komorowski, Kornelson, Krügel, Krezeminicki, Loy, Müller, Näher, Neumann, Prall, Presser, Radmacher, Renda, Rump, Schlosser, Scheller, Schöndorfer, Suchar, Talsky, Tomaschewski, Vllmar, Wasilkowski, Weber, Weiss, Wittmer, and Zukowski. (This citation only contains the names of Germans who owned immovable property in the village.)

Immigration of Germans to Illischestie decreased when Bukovina fell to Romania in 1918.

As best as can be determined, in a period of around 100 years, 1,300 German people emigrated from Illischestie, while only 225 immigrated to the village. 639 of the emigrants moved to other municipalities in Bukovina; 2 immigrated to Galicia, 3 to Hungary, 4 to Czechoslovakia, 15 to Austria, 23 to Bosnia, 2 to Germany, 107 to Romania, 1 to Russia, 374 to North America, 47 to South America, and 83 to unknown locations.

On January 1, 1938, there were 5,032 souls in Illischestie. Of these, there were 2,619 were Romanians, 2,322 Germans, 76 Jews, and other ethnicities. 2,618 were Greco-Oriental, 2 were Greek-Catholic, 192 were Roman-Catholic, 2,130 were Protestant, 76 were Mosaic (culturally mixed), 9 were Baptists, and 5 were of other faiths. 2,420 were male, and 2,612 female; 2,020 were married, 2,728 were single, 230 were widowed, and 14 were divorced.

During the Austrian period there was a “German Illischestie” and a “Romanian Illischestie”. Up to the year 1867, each parish had its own mayor and a parish council. From 1867 to 1918 (except for the period form 1877-1881), there was only one community of Illischestie, was always looked after by German mayors for the benefit and blessing of both nations.

The Chronicle mentions a German school at Illischestie as early as 1789, and the opening of a Protestant prayer and school house in 1803. In 1857 there was also a Catholic private elementary school. Both schools were merged into a German public school in 1874.

The first Protestant church was consecrated in 1845, and the second, with a capacity of 1,000 people, in 1901. The Catholics were only able to build a church in Illischestie in 1897. The pastors from Joseffalva and Kaczyka took care of them.

In addition to the churches and schools in Illischestie, the following were also established in order to foster German culture: the German Reading Association, a local branch of the German Cultural Association for Bukovina, the German Youth Group, and the German Men’s Choir, the latter being able to carry on their activities in the German House beginning in 1926.

In order to be economically independent, the Illischestie Germans owned a Raifeisen bank, a German department store, a cattle insurance company, and a poor and death fund. To be safe from fire damage, a well-trained volunteer fire department was established in 1888.

In summary, it can be said with pride that it was mainly Germans colonists who, for around 150 years, transformed a “Glodschoara”, i.e., a marshland and dirt, into a community that was undeniably one of the cleanest, richest, and most beautiful German villages in Bukovina.

Excerpts from the “Chronicles of the Bukovinan Rural community of Illischestie” by Johann Christian Dressler.