Poiana Micului Today
From: “Hundert Jahre Poiana Micului: Poiana Micului heute”
Katholischer Volks- und Hauskalender für die Bucovina
(Czernowitz: 1939): 117-127
Sophie A. Welisch PhD, Trans.
Posted 23 March 2004
We are traveling by train or bus to Gurahumorului, the town located at the confluence of the Moldova and Humora rivers. We are twenty-one kilometers from Poiana Micului, where we will visit our German Bohemian compatriots. The railroad tracks, which before the war had continued through the forest, had been ripped up by the Russians and have not been rebuilt. So we are solely dependent on the horse-drawn wagon or on our two feet. The street initially leads us along the wide and winding river bed of the Humora through Mănăstirea Humorului, where the four centuries-old Romanian monastery church evokes our admiration, then continues upward ever further along the ever-narrowing Humora Valley until after traveling fifteen kilometers, one encounters the first houses of the Slovak section of Poiana Micului.
The mountains are very near to where the mountain water tumbles briskly into the valley; everywhere the Slovak farmsteads lean into the slopes, children greet us in a friendly fashion, and grownups behind window curtains watch the strangers. Again the valley changes its direction at a wide angle, whereupon the milk-white parish church with the new parsonage on the other side of street catches our glance. We had to travel a whole hour from the entrance to the village to reach the church. On the other side of the church we encounter the first German houses. The people extend friendly greetings, lovely houses line both sides of the street, behind them the fields and pastures of our German-Bohemians reach high into the mountains. After another three kilometers we reach the end of human habitation. The forest extends for an unimaginable distance up the slopes and over the mountains, and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but forest. The village is seven kilometers long but measured from the bottom of the valley, it is not even one kilometer wide. This is Poiana Micului, the place, which over a century ago, was covered with an impenetrable forest.
One Hundred Years Ago
In 1838 in the Bohemian lands many families made preparations for a long trip. The Emperor wanted to settle Bukovina’s valleys with Bohemian lumbermen. Many answered the call, which actually did not take them outside the borders of the Empire but still led far to the east. What they could not take with them the rather poor landless laborers sold. Only the most essential items, some household appliances, clothing, bedding, some religious wall pictures, a crucifix and prayer books inherited from the ancestors were loaded onto small wagons, which in most cases had to be drawn by the emigrants themselves. Some had dogs, which they used as draft animals. Only one single individual of all those who migrated to Poiana Micului had a team of horses. Travel permits, baptismal and other documents were carefully tucked into pockets along with money gained from the items they sold. They took leave of their relatives. Only a very few of them would ever meet again.
Then they proceeded on from place to place, directly through the territory of today’s Czechoslovakia, to Budweis, Iglau, Brünn, Olmütz, and Teschen. At these locations they had to register with the authorities where they had their travel permits stamped and then continued to Galicia. To the north lay Cracow, the city which the Nuremberg master craftsman Stoss Veit so elegantly graced with the cathedral and which as early as 1257 was governed according to German municipal law. Since the Middle Ages much German blood has been spilled in Polonia, which was the sole beneficiary of the [German] eastward movement. Our German Bohemians traveled along Galicia’s roads, now dusty, now muddied by the rain, where far into the distance a small hill or a tract of forest only occasionally gladdens the traveler’s eye; for the Germans, and especially for the foresters, the sight was a bleak one. Eight bitter weeks passed until the wanderers arrived in Bukovina. In Rădăuţi, Clit and Solca they waited until the imperial administrator allotted them land. Unfortunately they had to endure for many months, eking out a living by working as day wage laborers. Much had been promised but little delivered. To the settlers’ frequent pleadings and exhortations that the state administrator finally assign them the promised land, he would only reply: “Heaven is high, the Emperor is far away, and here I am the master.”
The German-Bohemians were then finally assigned the remote virgin forest area in the hither Humora Valley. Our settlers had to begin and the beginning.
How much better were conditions for the settlers in Galicia eighty years earlier under Emperor Joseph! Here everything had been prepared in advance. The settlers had merely to arrive and occupy houses, which had been constructed for them. Even the interior was furnished, farm equipment stood at their disposal, cattle were provided, and there was arable land everywhere. No wonder these people today still say: “The Emperor even gave us spoons.” No state-sponsored colony was ever again provisioned and subsidized as in the mid-18th century. The German Bohemians only got the land—and this was virgin forest at that. Not one iota of arable land was to be seen. First the slopes had to be cleared of trees, necessitating a gargantuan effort. Another ethnic group would not have endured these hardships. The authorities clearly knew why they had solicited immigration from among the German Bohemians. The Swabians would not have settled there. They came from an already cultivated area of Germany and therefore demanded more from life.
Deep in the Bohemian Forest
Bohemia, the homeland of our immigrants, was Germany’s most recent settlement area. Only in the 14th century was it opened up by Bavarian colonists. Even as late as1870 there were large stands in the Bohemian forests, which had never been touched by an ax. Centuries’-old trees stood in the impenetrable forests, impractical for any use. Only very slowly did people emerge from the deeper-lying areas into the wilderness. Agriculture did not subdue the land; rather it was the lumbermen and the glass-making industry. Lumberers, ash consumers and charcoal burners were the precursors of human penetration [of the area]. Thus in the Bohemian Forest a simple and tough type [of individual] developed in the struggle with the wilderness. The living quarters of the Bohemian foresters were neither palaces, nor large estates, but rather simple log cabins. Ever so slowly they succeeded in wresting the land from the forest. Many lumbermen became small-scale farmers. Urban life and its refinements were unknown to the foresters. And their thought process was as simple as their lifestyle.
For this reason the German Bohemians were the right people for the colonization of Bukovina. They came from the forest and returned to the forest. It suited them as appropriately as night following day.
In 1838 these German Bohemians received their land allotments. The actual founding of the community did not result until 1842. Slovaks from Upper Hungary migrated to the Humora Valley contemporaneously with the German Bohemians. They assisted with the founding of the community of Poiana Micului and settled at the front section of the village.
According to their own oral accounts the immigrants came from the following places in Bohemia: Aussergefild, Grünberger Hütte, Rehberg, Roteisenburg, Sass, Schinhofen, Seewiesen, Welischbürgen, and Zotenberg. One family surnamed Fiber came from Bavaria. But this family could not cope with the rough wilderness and traveled further on. The first to settle in the area of today’s community was Jokl Kisslinger. When he arrived he constructed a makeshift cabin in a small forest clearing. Even today the place is called “Joklhütten” (Jokl’s Cabin). Here are the names of the settlers according to the account of 86-year-old Wenzel Hackl: Sebastian Baumgartner, Anton Beer, Johann Beutel, Georg Binder, Josef Buganiuc (Slovak), Mathias Eigner, David Fiber, Josef Flachs, Adalbert Fuchs, Johann Fuchs, Mathias Fuchs, Johann Hable, Wenzel Hackl (father of the above 86-year old W.H.), Andreas Hartinger, Josef Heiden, Georg Hellinger, Adam Herzer, Georg Hofmann, Stefan Honers, Wenzel Kisslinger, Andreas Klostermann, Jakob Kufner, Anton Landauer, Andreas Lang (2), Josef Lang (3), Georg Neuburger, Wenzel Rach, Ignaz Rankl, Karl Reitmajer, Martin Reitmajer, Wenzel Reitmajer, Franz Schelbauer, Leopold Schuster, Stefan Schuster, Günther Stör, Anton Tischler, Andreas Winzinger, Andreas Weber, Josef Weber. Altogether there were forty-two families in the German section of the village.
And now to work. During those early years thick clouds of smoke arose from the forest behind the Humora Valley. Centuries’-old trees were consumed by the fires set by the settlers. Without arable land human existence is impossible. And the settlers needed land. Therefore, they relentlessly cleared the forest. The resulting ashes were sold to nearby glass industries. However, the settlers later often regretted having destroyed so much valuable timber. But there had been no alternative. It was impossible to transport the lumber. Means of conveyance, i.e., horses and wagons, were not at hand to deliver it to Gurahumorului; there was only a footpath, which crossed the stream eighteen times – and there was an absence of buyers. Thus circumstances frustrated human desire and strength.
The virgin forest concealed an abundant animal life. Foxes and deer were plentiful. And the bellowing of the deer disturbed the loneliness of the new settlement. In the forest the lumbermen encountered lynxes and occasionally a bear. In the winter the wolves wreaked their havoc. The old people still recall that in one night very near the village fourteen deer were ripped apart by wolves. And the wolves, for whom the people’s homes were something new, often visited the homesteads by night and even looked into their windows. “They often howled so that one thought an orchestra were playing outside.” Trout abounded in the Humora Stream. The old people related that they did not catch them but rather clubbed them to death.
In time the first log cabins were constructed on the cleared land. The style was very simple. The entire establishment consisted of one [utility] room, one bedroom, one small stable. In the [utility] room the housewife prepared the meals. During the warm times of the year the kitchen was moved to the courtyard. In accordance with Bohemian style, the oven was under the chimney. The roof of the colonists’ houses was often a so-called hip roof (Walmdach) of which the narrow sides were also on the diagonal—not as on a span roof (Satteldach). The forest provided ample wood for the shingles with which almost all houses of the settlement are covered to this day.
From Moldavia the administration provided the colonists with cattle for their use, later to be replaced with a valued breed from the Austrian provinces. The fields yielded potatoes, grain and flax, while the essential vegetables came from the garden. But corn, to which the German Bohemians were introduced in Bukovina, did not do well in the cool wooded valley. In speaking with the oldest people of the village, one repeatedly hears: the first years were a terrible time of need. Petitions to the Emperor in 1847 and 1848 attest to the pitiful condition of the settlers. The year 1846 brought poor harvests. Because of prolonged rainfall the potatoes rotted in the fields in addition to which the settlers still had to pay taxes. In contrast to other communities, they were not tax-exempt during their first years. The maintenance of a military patrol caused the colonists great concern. In concluding their extraordinarily fervent petition the German Bohemians begged for the dispatch of a non-partisan commission to examine the need of the village for aid.
The German Bohemians did not have to learn much to adapt to their new environment. After the construction of their homes, all was similar to conditions in Bohemia. Almost every settler also had a side-trade. He understood the building of houses, made his own shoes out of oak wood, whittled wooden keys and spoons; the housewife spun the home-grown flax with her daughters, and the husband could handle the homemade loom. During the long winter nights individual groups would get together for “cycling and plucking” (Radeln und Rupfen). While at work the mouth and hands were always busy. Light was provided by beech twigs, which had earlier been well dried out in the oven. Later tallow lamps provided light until finally oil made its triumphal entrance. Still today there is no electricity in Poiana Micului although with the assistance of the Humora Stream it would not be too difficult to construct a small electrical generator, which could at least provide light for the early evening hours. In the spinning rooms the children of the settlers learned of their German Bohemian homeland, of the great misery in the early years, and many still today can relate the smallest details which were topics of discussion at such gatherings.
An incident which took place shortly after the arrival of the German Bohemians in Rădăuţi is noted here: one of the colonists had a dog, which had been trained to pick up tobacco. When still in Bohemia the dog had regularly served as his master’s messenger to the tobacco shop. In Rădăuţi the dog was familiarized with the location of the traffic shop and after a time the master sent his dog alone to the shop to bring the tobacco. But the dog returned after eight days, harried to death: he had bought the tobacco in Bohemia, as he had done for so many years. Inside the package lay a letter from the Bohemian merchant replete with greetings and the concerned question of why he did not send a few lines along with the dog.
He who could not work could not possibly long have endured in that type of primitive environment. And he who could not do without, likewise could also not last long. The earnings of the people were so meager that one wonders how they managed. The sale of potash, shingles, and wood exported to Austria brought in very little. The main meals consisted of corn meal mush (mamaliga) and potatoes. Grain, which had to be transported 24 kilometers to the mill in Arbora to be ground, was not sufficient to enable the housewife to provide bread on a daily basis. In the summer a jug of sour milk substituted for wine and beer. This simplicity has been maintained to this day and the people are happy and healthy.
Our German Bohemians brought their inner spirituality with them from their old homeland. In Bohemia the many chapels and wayside crucifixes attest to the deep faith of the inhabitants. Accordingly we also find in Poiana Micului many chapels in the gardens, in front of the houses, and on the side of the road. Personally carved crucifixes, statues of the Mother of God and other saints stand on the small altars. The inhabitants held their first religious services under a fir tree onto which they affixed a religious picture. Here for the first time the songs of the homeland church and the familiar prayers of their childhood resounded to the heavens. Many a tear was undoubtedly shed at this first religious service where the small community was entirely dependent upon itself in painful yearning for the abandoned homeland. But probably just during these hours a peaceful serenity streamed into their hearts.
The newly established community was incorporated into the parish of Gurahumorului. As soon as the community had emerged from its worst times, they thought of constructing their own church. The people were not satisfied having the priests from Gurahumorului visit them every 1-2 months; they wanted a priest to be among them. Soon a wooden church was completed. Already in 1850 the German Bohemians petitioned to have their community raised to a parish. The priest, Josef Szabo, who appears to have been a deeply religious and selfless man, had already been working for an independent parish among the German Bohemians and Slovaks. The Emperor, responding to a petition, donated 500 florins for the construction of the church. In 1896 today’s stone church, one of the loveliest village churches in our Bukovina, was completed. In the next issue of the Kalender, we will print a complete history of the parish of Poiana Micului written by an expert hand.
Lack of Space
Through its population explosion, Poiana Micului, which began with forty-one German families, soon became an imposing community. But the narrow valley offered no room for further expansion. In time the phenomenon which caused our German Bohemians to leave their Bohemian homeland, i.e., lack of space, repeated itself. Thus it happened that many, including older people, packed their bags for the second time and again took up their walking stick. Bosnia, North America, and above all Brazil became the new homeland for the emigrants. A few sought accommodations in Ostra, in the Sucha Valley.
It has been hardly ten years since the German Bohemians from Poiana Micului established a new colony in Dumbrava in the Old Kingdom [of Romania], whose founding was discussed in Kalender 1936.
In 1887/88 about twelve families along with other Bukovina Germans, traveled across the ocean. After an endless voyage they reached the coast of South America. Fifty years have passed since then and last year the original settlers and their descendants had a jubilee celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the German colony of Passa Tres.
We read the following account about it in the German newspaper, published in Curitiba (Brazil), No. 78/1937:
“The first group of settlers in 1887 included the families of Johann Baumgärtner, Karl Schelbauer, Franz Schelbauer, Johann Schelbauer, Jakob Rankel and Johann Neuburger. Many of the old immigrants from the years 1887 and 1888 are still alive and participated in the jubilee festivities in full vigor. We will here mention only a few names such as Jakob Fuchs, Ignaz, Josef and Ambros Schelbauer, Ignaz Maidl and others, who are known far and wide and are everywhere well respected.
In moving reverence the German Bohemians cling to their faith and to their old customs. Still today the old tools and implements they brought over from Bukovina are preserved by the families and held in esteem; still today they repeat their old prayers and sing the old church songs which they learned in Bukovina, and still today the tasty Bukovina meals on the family table and on their feast tables earn well-deserving praise. They are a solid German farming type and one can only wonder if in the future they will remain so loyal to their unpretentious manner, faith, language, and well beloved ancestral customs.”
It was not talked about in Poiana Micului, rather the ethnic traditions were confirmed through deeds. It is well known that only a people who live simply, far removed from any type of urbanization and unnaturally dense population settlements, still have the ability to maintain their folk customs in all their beauty and simplicity. Our German Bohemians have fervently preserved old customs through their church festivities. Myths and legends are at home in the quiet village. And even the smallest children can wonderfully relate them in their so beloved German Bohemian dialect. Stories originating in the area are also verbally recounted.
The spinning rooms and the gatherings on Sunday afternoons constitute a type of literary bureau from where all sorts of information travels to the furthest house. The German Bohemian loves to sing. He copied this from the birds in the forest. Folk songs are assiduously fostered. And down in the Humora Valley they can really yodel. Assuredly the Lord enjoyed the Christmas carol, which the German Bohemians sang in the church for the first time during the last Christmas celebration. Whosoever comes to Poiana Micului should by all means look up Wenzel Hackl and asking him for a demonstration of his yodeling. The visitor will conclude, just as did the German students who recorded the yodeling and folklore of this elderly gentleman, that age has not diminished his mental capacities.
We have slowly come to the end of our discussion. Everyone who has been among the German Bohemians in lovely Poiana Micului, who dined with them and chatted with them on quiet Sundays, must like these people. The hospitality and simplicity are very soothing for the modern urban individual. And with reflective thought he will possibly conclude that in the course of human life it is not great material wealth that is important but rather inner peace, trust in God, and individual achievement. We learn this from the German Bohemians through their centuries’-old history on the soil of Bukovina and over in America. That humor is a well-known companion of our Bohemian Foresters we soon learn, even after being in Poiana Micului only a few days. The pranks of the boys, who are not the bashful youths strangers take them to be, are often the topic of village conversation in the forlorn wooded valley of the Humora Stream. In conclusion, an example of this humor is revealed in the [German Bohemian] dialect of the person who invites wedding guests:
“I bin a geschickter Bot von Haus und Brautleutn, sie lossn eng rech sche bittn, grüasen, sollts morgn auf d’Hautset kemma, auf en Trunk und auf en Sprung rundum um d’Stubn. Wos do nais sa wird, werds mitmocha, a Henn one Schwoaf, a Gons one Krogn, a Wurscht, wos neinmol um en Ofe umgeht. Mei Stock ist zwoar schwoch bekleid, aber zum Dienst doch bereit. Er ist gestern kemma vo Wien, wenn sies mir net glaubts so glaubt is ihm” (dem Stock)” wh [I am a messenger sent by the household and people of the bride; they send their greetings and invite you to come to the wedding tomorrow, for a drink and for a visit in the sitting room. What will happen there, you will experience: a chicken without a tail, a goose without a neck, a sausage which winds around the stove nine times. My walking stick is simple, but will serve the purpose. It came from Vienna yesterday; if you don’t believe it, so believe the stick!]