Bukovina in the Austrian Period

From:The History of Bukovina, PART II: THE AUSTRIAN PERIOD (1775-1918),
by Sophie A. Welisch, PhD

Posted with permission of the author, March 2002
Revised 16 March 2017

Western influence in Bukovina began in earnest with Austrian annexation of the territory through the Convention of Constantinople in 1775. Occupied by Austrian troops under Major General Gabriel Spleny during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74, Austria sought the territory in order to establish a cordon between the Dniester and the Moldova rivers. In addition, Bukovina would serve as a land bridge connecting Austria’s recent acquisitions of Galicia and Transylvania.

When on August 31, 1774 Spleny crossed the Galician-Polish frontier with three cavalry regiments and five infantry battalions, he encountered no opposition. Spleny functioned as military governor of Austrian-Moldavia, later renamed Bukovina, for more than three years, being relieved of his command in April 1778.

Karl Baron von Enzenberg, Spleny’s successor as military governor, carried out Bukovina’s first census in 1778. The results showed a total population of a little more than 100,000, with 1,390 residing in the largest town, Czernowitz. In his reports to the court, Enzenberg commented on the multinational character of Bukovina, noting specifically Moldavians (Romanians), Jews, Gypsies, Armenians, Hungarians, and migrants from Galicia who, although unidentified by nationality, were in fact Ukrainians. Much of the land was in the possession of the Moldavian Basilian monasteries and the nobility with many of the towns leased to the Jews, who held a dominant position in trade, commerce and business.

At the time of its incorporation into Austria Bukovina numbered scarcely six people per square mile. Inhabited mainly by shepherds and peasants, the indigenous population lived without benefit of a single doctor or pharmacist, without an internal security system for defense from bandits, and without a judicial system as a safeguard against the arbitrary whims of the upper classes. Paths rather than roads traversed the countryside, the province counted few bridges, and its largest towns of Suczawa, Sereth and Czernowitz had fallen into a state of urban decay after centuries of Ottoman neglect. Czernowitz, later to become the provincial capital, was a town of some 200 mud huts, lacking even an adequate water supply. Bukovina’s few elementary schools hardly touched the broad basis of illiteracy which extended to the nobility and the clergy.

During the first five years after its annexation by Austria, Bukovina’s population increased rapidly. Enzenberg’s report of 1778 noted that 14,000 Ruthenian (i.e., Ukrainian) migrants from Galicia had found their way to Bukovina, and he asked Vienna how to handle the Polish magnates’ request for their extradition. Composed largely of serfs fleeing Polish and Ottoman feudal oppression, the new settlers including Poles, Jews, Ukrainians and Romanians, came unbidden and at no cost to the Habsburg monarchy. With its policy of religious toleration and a relaxation of feudal obligations, Bukovina served as a magnet for many and varied ethnic groups in eastern Europe. Thus, early in the Austrian period, Bukovina assumed its multinational character, earning it the appellation of “Europe in miniature.”

State-sponsored colonization to newly-acquired underdeveloped lands wrested from Ottoman control had already begun in the reign of Maria Theresa. After the annexation of Austrian rule over Bachka and the Banat of Temesvar, Vienna actively recruited colonists in order to promote economic development and aid in the defense of these frontier hinterlands. Joseph II, Maria Theresa’s son and successor, had extended the government’s colonization efforts to Galicia shortly after acquiring this territory through the first partition of Poland (1772). Competing for colonists with his fellow monarchs, Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine II of Russia, Joseph sent agents throughout the length and breadth of the German states to recruit settlers. To the enlightened despots population represented national wealth, serving as a source of taxation, military manpower and economic activity.

Set in motion by the dissolution of the old political and social order and lured by the prospects of better economic conditions, thousands of Germans indeed left for distant lands, both in the New World and in eastern Europe. Those who settled in Bukovina came from three distinct geographic, cultural and dialectical regions and included: (1) the so-called “Swabians” from the southwestern German states (the Palatinate, Württemberg, the Rhineland); (2) the German Bohemians (today called “Sudeten Germans”) from the Bohemian Forest; and (3) the Saxons, hereinafter referred to as “Zipsers,” from the district of Zips in Upper Hungary (today’s Spis in Slovakia).

Joseph II’s Patent of Toleration (1781) followed by his Patent of Settlement (1782) opened the doors of immigration to German Protestants outside the Habsburg realm. The emperor offered free transportation from Vienna to a point of destination in Bukovina; a house with garden, fields and draft animals; exemption from taxation for the first ten years and from military service for the eldest son of the family. His guarantee of complete freedom of conscience and of religion diverted a number of German Protestants to the Habsburg lands who otherwise might have opted for settlement in Prussia or Russia. Within a period of seventy years an estimated 3,500 Germans from the southwestern German states, Bohemia and the Zips migrated to Bukovina, about 1,500 coming under private initiative and receiving no government subsidies.

Swabian immigration to Bukovina (1782-87) began with the arrival of twenty-two families from the Banat who were second-generation descendants of colonists from the Rhine-Main area. Appearing unexpectedly and before preparations for them had been completed, they established themselves on the periphery of the already-existing Romanian villages of Rosch, Zuczka, Mitoka-Dragomirna, Molodia, and Czernowitz. In 1787 seventy-five families, who came via Galicia, settled in eight communities between Sereth and Suczawa on the properties of the Greek Orthodox Religious Foundation, i.e., on the estates of the monasteries and bishoprics owned by the Eastern Orthodox Church but administered directly by Vienna. As state-sponsored immigrants they enjoyed many benefits denied the first group: they received twelve hectares of land free from feudal obligations, frame houses, stables, livestock, farm implements and even seeds. Their small number at first prevented the construction and maintenance of schools and churches, for which they had been allotted land.

Later reinforced by other Swabian colonists, the eight communities of Fratautz, Satulmare, Milleschoutz-Badeutz, Tereblestie, Itzkany, Arbora, St. Onufry and Illischestie successfully developed and maintained their ethnic identity. The administration of these towns eventually split along national lines with the German section designated by the prefix deutsch, e.g., Deutsch-Satulmare. Faced in time by overpopulation, the Swabians founded the daughter colonies of Alexanderdorf (1863), Katharinendorf (1869), Neu Zadowa (1885) and lastly, Nikolausdorf (1893) .

Even before his death in 1790 Joseph II had rescinded many of his reforms including his colonization program for Galicia and Bukovina. The conservative views of his successors plus the turmoil of the wars of the French Revolution dampened enthusiasm for government-financed immigration. Those Germans arriving without state sponsorship enjoyed no special privileges and had to rely on their own resources and ingenuity for survival. Recruitment outside the Habsburg lands ceased by 1787 and thereafter concentrated only on those individuals within the Austrian realm who could fulfill specific functions.

Its natural resources of forests, arable land and mineral ores served as focal points for Bukovina’s economic development. Vienna’s plans there to establish a glass industry to supply the needs of the Moldavian Valley and of Walachia set in motion the migration of Germans from the Bohemian Forest who in their homeland worked in glass making enterprises, in forestry and in agriculture.

Coming in two waves, 1793-1817 and 1835-50, German Bohemians eventually became the most numerous of Bukovina’s German settlers, founding some dozen villages: Althütte (1793), Karlsberg (1797), Fürstenthal (1803), Neuhütte (1815), Bori and Lichtenberg (1835), Schwarztal and Buchenhain (later also called Pojana Mikuli–both in 1838), Glitt (1843) and Augustendorf (1840). In addition, they also settled in already-established multinational towns or later moved into them when faced with overpopulation.

German Bohemian migration began in 1793 after Baron von Kriegshaber leased domain lands from the Religious Foundation and contracted for experienced workers for this glassworks in Althütte near Krasna. As the forests were gradually cleared for potash to stoke the furnaces of the glass industry, the workers received gardens and pasture lands for their use. Little is known about early glass production in Althütte other than that by 1804 its output, although insignificant, found markets in Lemberg (Galicia). By 1812 the forests in the vicinity of the glassworks were exhausted, leading to the total cessation of glass production by 1817. Kriegshaber then selected a new site for glass production, Neuhütte near Czudin, to which he again brought artisans from Bohemia. As did its predecessor, the glassworks of Neuhütte failed to become profitable and eventually closed, its employees forced to turn to other means of livelihood. With the expiration of Kriegshaber’s thirty-year lease in 1821, the Religious Foundation entered into feudal contractual agreements with the colonists who did not come into private ownership of the land they cultivated until the revolutionary upheavals of 1848.

In 1797 Josel Reichenberg established a glass works in the forests near Putna, recruiting for his labor force German Bohemians whose installation in Lubaczow (Galicia) had recently shut down. With the further influx in 1803 of German Bohemian lumberjacks, foresters and glassworkers from the Prachin district of the Bohemian Forest, the settlement received the name Karlsberg, after Archduke Karl, President of the Hofkriegsrat in Vienna. The colonists’ guarantees included, among others: (1) freedom from taxation for five years; (2) exemption from military service for adult males and a ten-year delay in recruitment for their sons; (3) state-funded building materials for house and barns; (4) relaxation of feudal obligations for five years for those on level arable land and for ten years for those on non-arable land. The glassworks remained in operation until July 14, 1827 when, in consequence of mismanagement by its director, Franz Kuppetz, it closed its doors, leaving the workers in dire circumstances. Very few found employment in other glassworks. However, with the colonization program still in effect, the twenty-one affected families managed to acquire fertile arable fields on the domain lands of Radautz under feudal conditions prevalent at the time.

Unable to compete with the superior products of Poland and Venice most glassworks eventually failed either through mismanagement or insufficient capital on the part of the entrepreneur. Most settlers suffered great economic need until able to find suitable employment in the crafts, farming, ranching or forestry. By the end of the Habsburg period only a single glass production facility in Krasna Ilski remained viable.

Psychological, social and economic motives account for the German Bohemian migration to Galicia and Bukovina in the first half of the nineteenth century, Faced with overpopulation, insufficient land, widespread poverty, poor harvests and hunger, military recruitment and lack of mobility in the service professions, many looked for opportunities elsewhere.

The second wave of German Bohemian migration began in 1835 with the departure of fifty-four families from the Prachin and Pisek districts of the Bohemian Forest. Thirty of these families settled on the mountainous virgin forest land near Gurahumora, establishing the village of Bori, while the others were directed toward Radautz, where they founded the community of Lichtenberg. With conditions of colonization not as generous as for the Swabians, the German Bohemians received monies neither for travel nor for the acquisition of farm animals and implements although the state did grant them raw materials for the construction of homes. The forests in which they obtained homesteads had not seen an axe for centuries. Clearing the land and making it arable took four years during which the Bori colonists lived by lumbering and by the sale of potash to the neighboring glassworks in Frassin. German Bohemians literally carved the settlements of Schwarztal and Buchenhain out of virgin forests and made arable the lands between the Negrileasa and Humora valleys.

By the 1860s all state-sponsored colonization came to an end; nonetheless, German officials, professionals, businessmen, artisans and farmers continued to enter Bukovina on their own initiative. Many settled in Czernowitz, Sereth, Suczawa, Kimpolung and Radautz with the result that these towns eventually acquired a predominantly German character.

The extension of railroads into suburban communities by the 1880s facilitated the expansion of commerce and industry in general and of lumbering in particular. By the outbreak of the First World War Bukovina produced over 1,000,000 cubic meters of raw wood and about 500,000 cubic meters of processed lumber for export to Germany and the East. While all preconditions for the commercialization of the forests had existed during Bukovina’s Ottoman period, lumbering only became a viable industry through German administrative discipline, technical know-how, and market strategy.

The third major German group to enter Bukovina consisted of Saxons from the Zips districts of Upper Hungary and their kinsmen, the Transylvanian Saxons, descendants of pioneers who had left their homeland in the twelfth century. Zipser migration (1784-1809) began with rumors of gold in the Bistritz River followed by active recruitment for jobs in Bukovina’s nascent mining industry.

General Spleny as early as 1775 had verified the existence of major salt deposits and had recommended that the government conduct a geological survey of the mountains. A prospecting commission dispatched by Vienna indeed discovered veins of manganese and iron ore in Jakobeni as well as copper ore near Pozoritta. First developed were the salt mines of Solka and Kaczyka.

Before the turn of the century Anton Manz of Styria, acquiring extensive prospecting and mining concessions from the state-run Religious Foundation, began contracting for miners. In 1784 the first thirty Zipser families, mainly from the villages of Käsmark and Leutschau in Upper Hungary, came by military transport to work the iron mines of Jakobeni.

Zipsers settled in Kirlibaba after Manz opened the silver and lead mines in 1797; near Pozoritta they established the village of Luisental (1805) around the copper mines as well as Eisenau (1807) and Freudental (1807) around the iron mines. Zipsers as also came to work as miners in the already-extant communities of Stulpikany, Frassin and Paltinossa until state-sponsored migration of miners ceased in 1809.

With the death of Anton Manz in 1832 the mining enterprises passed to the control of his nephew, Vincent. At peak production during the 1840s, they employed some 2,000 men. With the 1850s, however, difficult times came upon Bukovina’s mining industry, resulting in bankruptcy of the Manz mines in 1862. During the eight years of bankruptcy litigation the miners’ wages, sometimes consisting of leather buttons as a type of emergency currency, were constantly in arrears, yet they had to pay usurious prices for food at the company stores. After the mines finally passed into the receivership of their main creditor, the Religious Foundation, many ceased production permanently, leaving hundreds of families destitute.

Several factors account for the failure of the mines including the lack of a local coke and coal supply for the smelters, the inferior quality of the minerals, and the difficulties in shipping. In Jakobeni, for example, iron ore was transported to the smelters by sled on the frozen Bistritz River in the winter and hauled along mountain paths in the summer. Moreover, the Jakobeni iron ore contained phosphorous, rendering it of poor quality. After the completion of the Cracow-Lemberg-Czernowitz railroad line in 1866 it could no longer compete with the higher grade yet cheaper iron ore from Witkowitz (Moravia) and Teschen. The iron smelters were closed in 1882 with all related equipment dismantled and sold. With the failure of the mines the Zipsers turned to other trades including lumbering, carpentry, and rafting.

To Bukovina came not only Germans but others as well: Hungarian farmers from neighboring Transylvania who established their own villages; Poles from Galicia who settled mainly in the towns; Slovaks from Upper Hungary who entered as state sponsored colonists; Old Believers (Raskolniki), i.e., members of an Eastern Orthodox sect who, after persecution under Russia’s Elizabeth I and Catherine II, gained political asylum and freedom to construct monasteries in Bukovina; Armenians fleeing intolerance at the hands of the Turks; Jews from the neighboring provinces, who, after Joseph II’s Patent of Toleration, could develop their cultural life unmolested. All brought with them their religious customs, music, language and traditions. In this miniature replica of the Austrian Empire, German, as the official language of administration and of army command, became the lingua franca of the market place, the theater, the press and the schools.

In agriculture the German colonists introduced methods and techniques previously unknown in Bukovina including the iron plough, the three-field system, field drainage and systematic cultivation of wheat, rye, barley, oats and potatoes. They built mills to grind grain, started viniculture, the growing of fodder crops and fruit trees and the use of fertilizers. In addition, they established cooperatives which made available threshing machines, reapers and fruit presses to their members for a small fee, built silos for grain storage and constructed large well-lighted and well-ventilated barns for their livestock.

With the German colonists and in particular with the political link to Vienna, Bukovina was opened to Western influence. The absence of political boundaries in the Danubian state facilitated the exchange of men and ideas. Workers in stone, metal, oils and wood came from all parts of the empire as did instrumentalists, artists, teachers and singers. Romanians and Ukrainians from Bukovina studied, worked, and traveled in the West, bringing back with them new economic, political, and cultural concepts.

During its Austrian period Bukovina made major economic and cultural strides. The Austrian government built a communications network including roads, railroads and bridges; established postal, telephone, telegraph services and electrification of its major cities; and introduced an educational system from kindergarten through university.

By the end of the Habsburg era Czernowitz, Bukovina’s capital city, had emerged as a little Vienna. Telegraph service was introduced in Czernowitz in 1854, only eleven years after the world’s first telegraph connection between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. By 1900 sixty post offices were equipped with the telegraph. 1883 saw the first telephone in Czernowitz only two years after its initial installation in Germany. The railroad connecting Lemberg and Czernowitz, completed in 1866, was later extended to Suczawa and Bucharest. While Bukovina had made considerable economic progress, it nonetheless lagged behind the western Habsburg crown lands.

The nationalities had their own cultural institutions, foremost among these, the schools by which their native language and heritage could be transmitted. With increased literacy came a viable press with journals, newspapers and periodicals in Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Yiddish, and German which, considering the size of the population, ranked among the best developed in southeastern Europe. The National Theater in Czernowitz, built at public expense and completed in 1905, did not reject performances based on linguistic considerations

The nationality conflicts so characteristic of other territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are conspicuous for their absence in its easternmost crown land. Bukovina could not be claimed by any one nationality as their national home and had no history over which to dispute. No ethnic group held a numerical majority; none could advance irredentist claims for union with another state with the possible exception of the Romanians; most of its people had entered the province as colonists after 1775. Living in a relatively small geographical area among a dozen or so nationalities, the Bukovinian could relate both to the Eastern and the Western European traditions, to Oriental as well as to Occidental culture. A pan-European without compromising his own ethnic consciousness, he eschewed chauvinism and demonstrated toleration.

Similarly no religious denomination predominated in Bukovina. While the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a privileged position under Austria, the wealthy Religious Foundation amply provided for the needs of the Orthodox Church, indirectly benefiting Orthodoxy in neighboring states as well. Competition among the churches centered on theological scholarship rather than on aggressive proselytism. Bukovina’s nationalities maintained the pax bucoviniensis until the dissolution of the Habsburg state in 1918 and even then the collapse resulted more from external pressures than from internal indigenous forces. To the dozen or so ethnic groups calling Bukovina their home, coexistence was harmonious and interculturally fruitful.

The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a consequence of World War I opened a new chapter in Bukovina’s history with the Ukrainians claiming its northern districts and the Romanians the entire territory. The Allied and Associated Powers, victors in the war, settled the dispute in favor of the Romanians. With the Treaty of Saint Germain (1919) Austrian political influence in Bukovina officially ended and a new era under Romanian aegis began.