In my previous post, when I was writing about the architectural heritage of the Vojvodina region I wasn’t exactly referring to the architectural heritage of my family, but since then I have stumbled across a newspaper article title from 1998: An architect dynasty, the Czoczek family.
The colleagues of the Hungarian language newspaper Magyar Szó from Újvidék (Novi Sad) were extremely helpful and dug up in their archives the article, scanned it and sent me a copy. And so below are images of two building in Újvidék designed by my family members as well as the 1998 article.
Continuing on last weeks note I would like to tell you a story about Vojvodina.
Vojvodina is an autonomous province of Serbia nowadays, which has had a very turbulent history in the twentieth century. Well actually not only in the twentieth century, since it has been a battle ground for several centuries between the Hungarians, the Hapsburgs and the Ottoman Turks. The region traditionally named Batschka-Banat became a very prosperous part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the eighteenth century after the forces of the Hapsburg Empire defeated the Ottoman Turks at the end of the seventeenth century.
What happened was that there was a large wave of migration stimulated mostly by the Hapsburg rulers and wealthy landlords for settlers to come and inhabit the region that was left devastated after more than 150 years of Ottoman rule. Mostly different southern german catholic families came to settle and they began to farm the lands. As it turned out these were lands with one of the best agricultural qualities in Europe. As a cause of long periods of peace in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries these parts of Hungary became quite rich and bigger cities were built such as Szabadka (now Subotica, Serbia) or Újvidék (now Novi Sad, Serbia). As witnesses to the richness of these cities serve the beautiful architecture of these cities such as the art nouveau masterpieces in Szabadka.
What only few know, who are not familiar with the Central European history is that these german settlers kept their culture and their language and remained in communities popularly referred to as the Danube Swabian. Though they lived in Hungary, they spoke german in their everyday lives and went to german schools.
The wonderful thing about the region nowadays called Vojvodina was that it was a truly multicultural space Croatians, Hungarians, Serbs and Danube Swabian lived amongst each other peacefully in everyday interaction.
One of my great-great-grandmothers was a daughter of a Croatian teacher. Her husband came from a family strongly associated with Újvidék’s history, since there were many architects in the family, he had an austrian Danube Swabian background. Their daughter my great-grandmother was born into this family in Neusatz (german for Novi Sad) and was a native german speaker.
My great-grandfather was born into a Danube Swabian family, who were landowners around the town of Wolfsburg (now Kula, Serbia). He was of course also a native german speaker. Both my great-grandparents were of course educated coming from well-to-do middle class families and spoke the so-called Hochdeutsch. After their marriage they settled down in Neu Werbass (now Vrbas, Serbia), where the population was a mixture of German, Hungarian and Serbian. As my great-grandfather was a merchant owning a store he had to utilize all three languages and coming from such multicultural background my great-grandmother also spoke all three.
My grandmother and her brother were born in the 1930s in a time when after the Treaty of Trianon Vojvodina was already a part of Yugoslavia. Interestingly enough the areas multicultural ambiance still remained until the end of WWII. My grandmother was thus born and raised as a native german speaker.
Now what I am about to tell you is a specific I believe to the bourgeois of Hungary and the states created in its place. So imagine most of the middle class wealthier population went to schools and besides their native language they mostly learnt german as a foreign language. Or they just knew as we say in Hungarian “von Haus aus”. So of course when you grow up and have children there are always things that you would rather conceal from them and thus the phenomenon of “nicht vor dem Kind” was invented. Which means that the Hungarian bourgeois would simply start speaking german if they did not want the children to understand their conversations.
The twist in my family was that the children were native german speakers so the “nicht vor dem Kind” language became Hungarian.
My great-grandparents though both native german speakers with practically no Hungarian ancestors only spoke Hungarian to each other and considered themselves Hungarians, in a german speaking community in Yugoslavia in the 1930s. Of course children always want to know what their parents are talking about, so my grandmother and her brother learned this and that in Hungarian. Ironically this was very useful, but will get to that later.
What I have noticed throughout my experiences of talking to people from all over the world is explaining history as a cause of modern-day conflicts or misunderstandings to them is extremely hard because they cannot feel familiar to it. What makes you connected to history are your very own roots. Then again there are historic events we all know about because they have been widely popularized and immortalized in todays culture. An example of such event is the sinking of the Titanic.
The sinking of the Titanic is a story that has been told over and over again. It has had many film adaptations most notably of course the version with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and more recently it has been the starting point for the storyline of the popular television show Downton Abbey. However the fact that many Central Europeans were on board is a fact that is less known even by those living in the region.
One of the families affected by the tragedy of the Titanic is my family. My Croatian great-great-grandfather was onboard the Titanic. Remember the year is 1912, when the Kingdom of Croatia was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, though it enjoyed a special autonomous status one of the first of its kind. Of course in 1912 the Kingdom of Hungary was not a separate entity either it was a part of Austria-Hungary, the so-called dual monarchy.
So how could someone from the middle of Croatia die on the Titanic? My great-great-grandfather as the family legend has it visited the United states before. He was a worker, who just like many in the decades before WWI tried to get a better life in the new world. This time 1912 he was traveling back and planning on staying for good. He planned to spend money home to Croatia for his family to be able to move to the US as well. These were also the times of a great wave of immigration from all over Central Europe many Polish and Hungarian immigrants migrated to the US to have a chance at a better life. In New York there was even a place called little Hungary due to the number of Hungarian immigrants.
So this is how history goes. At the turn of the twentieth century many Central Europeans were migrating to the US. My great-great-grandfather for example traveled on sea from the Adriatic to Cherbourg, where he boarded the Titanic. As a third class male passenger he had no chance of survival when the ship sank.
Unfortunately his death was only the beginning in a line of tragedies for his family. Soon his wife died as well leaving their three daughters orphans. The three girls were in a truly tragic way separated from each other because no family member had the money to feed three more. Each girl was sent to different relatives. If not a sad and tragic story already another event in history stepped into their lives in an even more drastic way. Austria-Hungary lost WWI and as a consequence during the peace treaties that were concluded around Paris it was dissolved. The Treaty of Trianon on Hungary drew new borders and Croatia became a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Since the sisters were placed at different families they were struck by a devastating situation two of the girls were on the Hungarian side of the border and one remained on the Croatian now Yugoslavian side. That is how my great-grandmother became a Hungarian citizen.
For many years now I have been thinking about writing about my family and how the twentieth century’s history played a role in their lives. This is the first such post.