This page is intended to commemorate the rise and end of three villages in the Serbian Banat, inhabited by Danube Swabians.

In all three villages the majority of the inhabitants were German people who belonged to the Roman Catholic religion. The three villages were established at about the same time, after the revolutionary years 1848/49, and together they ceased to exist in 1944/45. About their rise and their end shall be reported in the following.

Over the years, the names of these villages have changed among with those who inhabited them.

German Hungarian Serbian (today)
Georgshausen Györgyháza Velika Greda
Setschanfeld Szécsenfalva Dužine (Sečenovo)
Altlez (Altletz / Alt Letz) Óléc Stari Lec

Previous history

1848 was a very troubled year in Europe. In several capital cities revolutions broke out, because the population was tired of the then usual feudal rule. Freedom for all, a democratic constitution, freedom of the press and the liberation of peasants from serfdom were the main concerns fought for in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

In Hungary, which fully belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy and where numerous German people had been settled by the Habsburgs after the Turkish Wars, the revolutionary efforts carried out by the Hungarian high nobility took on a secessionist character. Under the slogan „Away from Vienna, freedom for an independent Hungary!“ the Hungarian Revolution developed into a solid war. In this war the Austrian troops, with the support of allied Russian units, were ultimately able to crush the rebellious Hungarians at Vilagos. The subsequent criminal court was terrible for the Hungarians. Those from among the nobility who were not facing the court martial, moved back to their country estates.

After the Hungarian aristocracy had suddenly been removed from all political functions, they had to get as much profit out of their, till then only partially used land, that a life of a certain comfort was guaranteed. This proved to be possible only when the large, mostly deserted latifundia were revived, i.e. settled by agricultural workers.

Foundation of the three villages

There were enough interested persons for the empty country. They were recruited from the descendants of German farmers and craftsmen who had already moved to Hungary in the 17th century and who had meanwhile achieved some prosperity through hard work (more about this: Danube Swabians). In almost all of these families there were sons who were striving for their own household and who were willing to accept the hard work if they were offered the opportunity to become self-employed. Such young people, in search of their own land, eventually founded the three villages. Initially the new settlers were tenants, but later them were given the possibility to purchase the land they cultivated. In the beginning, the land, which previously only had been used as pasture, had to be cultivated and prepared for agricultural use. Hard manual work filled the daily routine of the first settlers in this region. Effective drainage systems also had to be built in the swampy soil and connected to larger canal systems. Over the years in which at first houses had to be built, „a flowering paradise“ emerged from the desolated land to describe the hard work done by the settlers with a poem’s words. But there was still a long way to go.

The first houses built by the settlers still had walls tamped of clay and straw and roofs covered with reeds. However, they already stood in line along the roads defined by the geometer. Even these first humble houses were soon surrounded by flowering gardens. The cultivated fields were mainly used for wheat and corn. In addition, oats, barley and clover were used for fodder. A further development, however, was hindered by the transport problem. In order to market the harvests, it was necessary to travel by horse and carriage to the Bega River. There the products could be sold and loaded onto river barges. From the villages to the river Bega it was about 60 kilometers. It took about a week to transport a wagonload from the villages to the river.

The ascent

In the meantime, life in the three villages had consolidated. In the beginning, horse mills were built to grind the bread grain. For their operation horses were needed. Good horses were also needed to cultivate the fields and to handle any transport tasks. It was therefore only common that there were enough horses in the stables of the rural settlers, as well as considerable numbers of cattle and pigs. The farms around the houses were animated by poultry (chickens, ducks and geese).

Of course, the craftsmen necessary for daily life and agriculture also settled in the new villages. Shoemakers, tailors, wainwrights, carpenters and blacksmiths as well as restaurants and shops were soon established. The health of the settlers, often attacked by bad water, improved only after artesian wells had been drilled to supply good and healthy water. As a result, an active club life developed. Schools for the youth and prayer houses for the edification after the hard work were built.

A long-awaited improvement of the transport problem did not occur until 1904 when the railway line from Werschetz to Betschkerek was opened up. This connection to the European railway network solved most of the settlers' economic problems. The harvests could be loaded onto the railway in the village. Passenger traffic made it possible to break out of the remoteness of the villages and, what was not less important, also the industrial products, above all burnt bricks, which were produced in ring kilns in Georgshausen by members of the Birg family, could now be loaded onto the railway and sold well. Gradually a certain prosperity began to appear in the villages. Solid brick buildings could replace the houses with tamped walls. Instead of the horse mills, modern grain mills operated by steam engines were built. Firm and well-built schools with functional facilities were available for the youth and for the Sunday service there were churches and solid-built prayer houses with bells, which widely proclaimed that it was time for evening prayer or Sunday mass.

The first war (World War I)

In July 1914, the terrible news of the outbreak of war, which escalated into a world war in a flash, burst into this rural idyll. For the young men of the village, this meant stopping work in their homeland and going with their weapons in their hands as soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army into the terrible battles of the war. Soon the first news of soldiers killed in action reached the villages, which filled their relatives with sorrow and concern. All work had to be directed from peaceful creation to the inexorable and unaccustomed demands of war. It took four years for this terrible war to finally end.

The new sovereign

With the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was crushed. During the peace negotiations in Trianon, the Banat was divided out between Romania, Hungary and the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This brought new masters into the country and the previous war opponent (Serbia) suddenly became sovereign.

The basic conditions for the development of the villages changed fundamentally. Through an agricultural reform, the big landowners in particular lost a considerable part of their property and many of the employees there lost their jobs and bread. Yugoslavia settled on the thus gained land war volunteers from Old Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Lika. In addition to the German villages, new settlements were created for Serbs only. The aim of this measure of the new state was to strengthen the Slavic element in the newly won territories, because only these so-called „Dobrowolzen“ were given land, although there were enough other people who had no land. These newly settled neighbours, however, did not know any modern agriculture and thus remained behind with their fields, which soon turned the initial admiration for the clean German villages with cultivated fields and good harvests into envy. There was no integration and the newly settled people remained outsiders in their poor houses and with the fields poorly cultivated as result of the lack of knowledge. Therefore in the three villages there were new inhabitants, often even neighbours, who were critical of the German-speaking people. Nevertheless, it was necessary get along with these people as well. But whereas these new citizens in spite of all supports by the state remained poor people, the prosperity of the old-established inhabitants increased by the earnings from agriculture and trade. Those who were hard working and did not shy away from work did not live badly in the three villages even in the interwar period. It was important for the youth that the schools were in function. However, those who aspired to higher education had to go to Serbian schools. The young men from the villages were now forced to join the now Yugoslavian army and possibly to die there in the subsequent war against Germany. The official language was no longer Hungarian, but Serbian. So for many, especially for the youth, it meant learning a new language in order to adapt to the new circumstances. In this way the years were bridged until another war was on the doorstep. A war that should be fateful for the inhabitants of the three villages.

Another war (World War II)

The Great War, which began in 1939 and went down in history as the Second World War, came to the three villages at the Easter season of 1941. The Wehrmacht of the German Reich fought down the troops of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia including the men of the three villages in 12 days (Balkans campaign). The Yugoslavian Banat, in which the three villages were located, came together with the conquered Serbia under German military administration. From now on German military authorities together with the German ethnic group leadership had the authority. Again the men of the three villages had to wear uniforms and fight in units of the German military machinery on all fronts of the Second World War. Again there were dead soldiers, sorrow, misery and war distress. But the fateful end was yet to come.

Population by the end of 1941

Village name Number of German families Total number of villagers
Georgshausen 151 650
Setschanfeld 144 638
Alt Letz 56 230

The end

From 1943 on the territories occupied by Germany were gradually recaptured by the Red Army. In October 1944 soldiers of the Soviet armies marched into the Banat. Units of the Tito partisans soon followed. The German population in the Banat and therefore also in the three villages was collectively held responsible for all atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. They were declared outlawed and handed over to the arbitrariness of the victors.

According to a preconceived plan, all men still staying in the three villages were arrested at the beginning of November 1944, taken to the nearby district town of Werschetz and killed there after severe torture by the Serbian neighbours. The German population remaining in the villages was brought into paralyzing fear by this action. The second blow followed at Christmas 1944: the deportation of young women and adolescent boys from the villages to the Soviet Union. The young women had to leave their children behind. The path led directly to the coalmines in the Donbass, in the Ukraine. The conditions and supplies there were so bad that even the strongest natures who survived this period, which lasted up to five years, had to struggle with irreparable health damage throughout their lives. This was followed by the last blow, banishment from the homes. Those Germans who had remained in the villages were driven out of their homes and deported to labor and extermination camps. These were only old people with the children of the abducted women. The death rate, especially among the children and those over the age of sixty, was terrible. They died of epidemics, hunger and adverse conditions in the camps and were buried in mass graves. Such a mass grave, in which over 9000 inmates of the camp Rudolfsgnad, where most of the people from the three villages had come, were buried, is located on the Teletschka, right next to the camp. This camp was not closed until 1948. Those who had survived were then forced to work in agriculture, mining or a trade. The summit of the mockery was the conscription of the surviving, grown-up young men to Tito's People's Army. The property of the Germans (house including inventory, farm and cattle as well as any real estate) was confiscated by the communist state of Yugoslavia.

That way the once flourishing villages, which had been home to German Danube Swabians for almost 100 years, were destroyed. No German lives there anymore. Who could save his life by flight, lives today in Germany, Austria, France or overseas. Around 30% of the German-speaking inhabitants of these three villages in the Central Banat have lost their lives, but all have lost their homeland. From the inhabitants of Georgshausen, 204, of Setschanfeld 203 and of Altlez 54 paid for their German ethnicity with their lives.

Those who do not remember the past
are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

The memory

The question arises: How could this have happened? It was certainly the easiest thing to leave out the hatred, which had accumulated during the war years, on the Germans, who were running across in the villages. In addition there was greed, because in the villages at that moment one could freely make use of the property of the Germans without having to fear consequences. As in all dictatorships, the Communists believed that their system would last forever. In Nazi Germany too, people spoke of a „thousand year reich “. Those who believe in the eternal existence of their system need not fear that they will be called to account for their crimes. The Communists in Yugoslavia apparently were right with this belief, because to this day none of the perpetrators at that time has been brought to trail for his crimes. To report publicly about the mass graves in Banat, Yugoslavia, was and is considered to be revanchist and inopportune in the countries which received the villagers as refugees, returnees from war captivity, Soviet labor camps or as late resettler from Yugoslavia. The judicial authorities did not accept any charges against the torturers and camp commanders. Even in the former homeland, little is known about the exodus of the villagers. The victims of the Germans in Yugoslavia remain unpunished to this day.

But Yugoslavia no longer exists today either, it was broken up into several successor states during the Yugoslav Wars at the end of the 20th century. The Vojvodina, that is the part of the Banat, in which the former three villages were located, belongs to Serbia today. The former German villages were repopulated after this war with Serbian refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Today hardly anyone there knows about the former history.

Written by Dr. Josef Wüst, revised by Barbara Hebenstreit (daughter of the author)