Grandfather’s Visit 100 Years Ago

to Relatives Who Had Settled in Bukovina

Wenzel Bauer
Sophie A. Welisch PhD, Trans.

Der Südostdeutsche, 15. Juni 1978
Posted with permission September 5, 2004

From the Bohemian Forest periodical “Hoam” (No. 8/1969) we have taken the following description of the settlement time of the German Bohemians in Bukovina. It is of interest to all Bukovina Germans.—The editorial staff

In Bukovina, the easternmost crown land of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, there arose numerous German villages in around 1835. The settlers came from the Bohemian Forest villages of Seewiesen, Kurkenthal [sic], Stadln, Zwoischen, Langendorf, Rehberg, Eisenstraß and Hammern.

They were farmers, craftsmen and lumbermen, 252 in number, who responded the imperial proclamation and opened up new territory. Among the emigrants were also two sons from Stollerhof in Stepanitz. My grandmother, Maria Anna née Weber, was their sister and married at the Fischer estate in Kundratitz. Of their children my grandfather, born in the year 1830, was the eldest son.

The brothers of my great grandmother who emigrated settled in the Bukovinian district of Radautz and with the others from the Bohemian Forest established the villages of Schwarzthal and Schwarzwasser. On lands cleared of beech forests they developed their fields and pastures as all as their settlement buildings.

The difficult years of clearing the land had to be surmounted, yet every few years there was back and forth correspondence to and from the relatives

In about 1856 they again wrote to the homeland that conditions are improving; they had adjusted and had also been able to sustain themselves. One of my grandmother’s brothers had acquired a farmstead through his own efforts while the other operated a sawmill.

They also wrote that there was still ample land available and even more compatriots would be able to earn their livelihood.

From the sons of my great grandmother my grandfather Josef and the youngest (Thomas) were still at home on the farm. Both were single and worked with their parents. They would very much have liked to meet with the emigrants in the homeland, but at that time such distances of over 1000 kilometers could not easily be surmounted. After long deliberation my grandfather ventured to make the trip, and after the spring planting, he finished his preparations. The relatives had described the route, which they themselves had taken on their trek. He yoked the young horse in front of the new wagon, secured his possessions, provisions and the like, and took off with the blessings of his parents.

“If I like it, I’ll stay on – then Thomas can take over the farm; if not, then I shall soon return,” he called back.

And he succeeded. After a quarter year he returned from the relatives, happily received at home. There was much to report, and in his old age he often spoke of the trip and what he experienced and saw.

He would tell compelling stories and was an especially entertaining man who was venturesome and had a sense of humor. The journey to get there, so he claimed, was the most difficult. Via Vienna, through Slovakia and Galicia he arrived in Bukovina, found Radautz and questioned his way to the new colonists.

Both uncles with their families could hardly believe that after over 20 years a visitor had come from the homeland. Like a brush fire the news spread among the compatriots, “someone has come from home.” Then there followed questions and answers, handshakes, and endless conversation. He had to pay a visit to every house, and there was much at which to be astonished and surprised.

Four weeks passed in this manner, and everyone was hospitable and ready to help. It was always: “Stay and settle among us.” There is enough land and all offered their assistance for his settlement. There was the potential for a livelihood and although the region was different from at home, one could have adjusted to it. There were extensive beech forests and the cleared land was more fruitful than at home in the Bohemian Forest. But before it would get to that point, hard work and sweat had to be expended to achieve it. Without his own family and only with the help of his compatriots it appeared to him that this was a questionable undertaking. It would have entailed too much trouble for the relatives.

After these considerations he took leave of the compatriots and could no longer be convinced to stay on. “I must go home! Work also awaits me there. I saw you, brought greetings from home, exchanged words. You have established a new homeland, and I am amazed at your achievements.”

And they talked on for a while. When they continued to press grandfather and did not want to let him go, he became agitated and retorted with: “Here the foxes say good night! Home is home!” True, although meant more in jest, his departure nonetheless caused visibly bad feelings when he took off with his cart.

The ill feelings caused by the strained departure from his compatriots steadily diminished with each kilometer as he got ever nearer home. The return trip seemed easier and faster, and the joy to be home again was overwhelming. After the Galician landscape lay in back of him and he again was in a German-speaking region, the horse seemed to run too slowly for him, the harvest season beaconed, and he yearned for the familiar hills and the home of his parents.

Finally the time had come! Until bedtime he only took short pauses, and the horse also prevailed, despite overexertion. Thank God he reached the village, the family home, and happily the long trip ended with a greeting from his parents.

In the next days and weeks the narration and questioning took no end. From all villages there came people with relatives among the emigrants in Bukovina to ask questions and get some news about them.

Grandfather knew how to report on many incidents of the trip. In one Galician village he wanted have his horse drink at a pond, when several people prevented him from doing so by their calls and gestures. It became apparent to him that salt springs were involved and that the water was unusable and harmful. Predatory animals roamed the forests and wolves were especially feared. He rested in a Huzule village for a day and was amazed by their herds of sheep and how they milked them. The shepherds’ way of milking was interesting: the lambs stood up with their rear legs apart and were milked from the back. During the process it was not seldom that “coffee beans” from the animals were included. But these were quickly removed; one swipe into the milk can and the beans flew out. Since then grandfather does not like sheep cheese. Thus he could relate yet many other observations about pleasant and precarious experiences from this visit as well as about regions and people; for weeks at a time “man and horse” were alone among a foreign-speaking population in often impassable districts and then again in sparsely populated areas. A good guardian angel must have accompanied me, he maintained.

This type of trip by a single individual at that time was indeed an undertaking, which only a youth with a zeal for adventure and strong will could survive.

In retrospect, thought my grandfather, there is a difference between traveling with an emigrant trek in search of land, since they burn their bridges behind them, or only undertaking a trip to foreign regions for purposes of visiting and possible settlement when one always makes comparisons between there and home while the homeland remains open to him and protected.