The Germans in the Dobrudsha

(Appears to be a reprint from GLOBUS, 3/2007)

Sallanz, Josef, Dr.. "The Germans in the Dobrudsha." Mitteilungsblatt, November 2009, 8-9.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Before we proceed, here is a word from Gertrud Knopp-Rüb: This year’s Day of Culture, held on September 27, due to reasons stemming from the fusion of our two associations, concentrated mainly on the history of the newly added areas of concern, the settlement regions of the Dobrudsha.

Although Professor Siegmund Ziebart described them extensively, I would like to present (below) an article by Dr. Josef Sallanz, who last year wrote his doctoral thesis on the topic “The Dobrudsha, a Border Region of the European Union.”

Concerning German school instruction, I would also like to make a correction therein: In addition to Konstanza, there also was, as of 1939/1940, a complete German elementary school in my own home village of Cobadin, with instruction in Romanian, a school that freed its German pupils (182) from having to attend a Romanian state school they had been obliged to attend up to that time.   

The historical region of Dobrudsha comprises the area between the Black Sea at Balcic, the Danube Delta, and the lower reaches of the Danube, reaching to west of the city of Tutrakan. In the south the Dobrudsha borders on the mountainous Bulgarian area called Ludogorye. The most significant locale is the Black Sea harbor of Kostanza/Constanta, which has a good 310,000 residents.  Between 1393 and 1878 the Dobrudsha was under Osman rule. From 1940 on, the region was finally subdivided between Romania and Bulgaria. By the middle of the 19th Century, German settlers migrated into the then Osman Dobrudsha, namely via four waves and from the South Russian regions of Cherson, Yekaterinoslav and Tauria. They left the Tsarist Empire for economic reasons, stemming mainly from lack of land and the loss of previously granted privileges. In the Dobrudsha they did encounter no difficulties in purchasing land and settling on it. The settlers considered themselves to be either “Swabians” or “Kaschuben.” The ancestors of the Swabians had come predominantly from the Palatinate, Alsace, Baden, the Rhineland, Hesse and Bavaria. The ancestors of the “Kaschuben” had originated in various northern areas of Germany.

In the Dobrudsha there were barely any villages with only German settlers, although the latter generally lived as closed sub-communities in their own parts of the villages. Around 1930 Germans numbered about 15,000, or 1.5 percent of the total population. The majority of Dobrudsha Germans were of the Ev.-Lutheran faith. They were taken cared for via the Senior Pastorate in Berlin, which dispatched pastors to them. As of 1883, Roman Catholic communities were placed under the Archdiocese of Bucharest, which provided them with priests. There were also Baptists and Adventists.

Around 80 percent of Dobrudsha Germans were involved in agriculture, and about 14 percent were tradesmen. Only after World War I were there any, though only minor, German business establishments. Despite favorable soil conditions, the surplus of births among Germans in the Dobrudsha inevitably led to sub-partitioning of land holdings and eventually to increasing impoverishment among the German settlers. Pieces of land holdings were getting smaller and smaller and were no longer sufficient to feed their owners, who increasingly became a social problem. By the time of the 1940 resettlement of Germans, about 40 percent of them no longer held any land. As a rule they had to earn their living as day laborers, and in the winter were usually without work.

A particular difficulty was the fact that Germans could not purchase land in the region. This problem stemmed from a law that was actually intended against Bulgarians, but was applied to all minorities. About a quarter of German farmers owned between two and five hectares [about five to eighteen acres]. Large landownership in the fifty-hectare [ca. 135 acres] category was very rare among the Germans.

 German-language school in the region existed only in Constanta [see the introduction to this article for a correction – Tr.]. However, it was not really attended by children of Dobrudsha Germans, who overwhelmingly lived in the countryside. Frequently it was financially impossible for German communities to keep a school and hire a teacher. For that reason, local instruction usually was provided by a farmer. Uninterrupted education as therefore not realistic. During the summer there was usually no schooling, and to compensate, instruction during the winter was an all-day affair. One report states that for the school year 1938/1939, of sixty-seven locales with German residents, only twenty-eight had any “German community life,” and only twenty communities had German school instruction. Consequently, children of German settlers, even if they did attend school, would learn to write in Romanian and learn German only at home.

During World War I, many Dobrudsha Germans, who were generally loyal to the Romanian state, served in the Romanian military. Internment of Reichs-German and Austrian citizens – now branded as enemies – working in Dobrudsha German communities as teachers and in support of their churches, brought a sudden end to German community life. Following the occupation of the Dobrudsha by German, Bulgarian and Turkish troops a new attempt was made to provide German-language religious services and instruction by German military chaplains and soldiers. On this subject a contemporary witness in Chukurova/Ciucurova commented that the Dobrudsha Germans regarded it as too strict.

As early as 1918 there were attempts to make closer contact with Germany for “ethnic and economic interests.” Discussion about a “planned re-emigration” to the land of the forefathers in order to “maintain the Germans in their German-ness” was already playing a role to some degree.

Political life of Germans, then living in what is today mostly the Romanian Dobrudsha, was of rather weak nature. The economic and cultural situation for Dobrudsha Germans began to awaken, especially among the landless population, a wish to resettle, thus providing hardly any resistance to Gau-leader Johannes Kukas’ policy proclamation of “Heim ins Reich [Back to the Home in the Reich].” The Dobrudsha Germans were considered to be a “non-sustainable splinter group” whose future as an ethnic entity in the region was not realistic. Still, the decision for resettlement was actually made in Berlin. Dobrudsha Germans were not directly involved in the emergence of the German-Russian resettlement pact. Assessors from the German Reich, with the help of interpreters and doctors, were able to organize the resettlement within only a few weeks. Property values established under time pressure by assessors unfamiliar with local conditions did cause some dissatisfaction among many a German, but for most of them, belief in the “German matter” covered over their initial feelings of unhappiness.

The German resettlers from the Dobrudsha, numbering about 14,000, were taken to transition camps in Main-Franconia and the Lower Danube, and just before 1942 they landed in the Warthegau [in Poland] as well as in the Protectorates of Bohemia and Moravia. After World War II, most of them fled to Southern Germany and Austria, many settling in the rural county of Heilbronn.

Following the political upheavals of 1989, an Association of Dobrudsha Germans was founded in Constanta. It took over the former building of the Evangelical-Lutheran school and reopened it as a meeting place for Germans, which, in addition to the “German Kindergarten,” also houses the Central Forum Constanta as part of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania, the parliamentary representation of the German minority. The most recent Romanian census (2002) showed 198 Germans living in the Dobrudsha, most of whom had migrated to the cities of Constanta and Tulcea from the Banat and from Siebenbürgen. Scattered churches and a few cemeteries of the German settlers in the region have been preserved, often thanks to the support from German Dobrudsha people from the West, and with the help of the Landsmannschaft. The latter, by erecting memorials in the former settlement areas, tries to maintain the memory of a nearly 100 years of the history of Germans in the Dobrudsha.                

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller