|The Danube Swabian Foundation of the U.S.A., Inc.
Die Donauschwaebische Stiftung der USA, Inc.
|6th year's (2019) writing an essay was:
|What does it mean to be a
|and the winners were:
|Ava Fabian Cleveland Donauschwaben
Wo Dein Herz Ist, Bist Du Zuhause
The words “Donauschwaben” and “Heimatland” are not ones that can be easily defined by a simple internet
search. They are two complex words that are given meaning by those who have known struggle and conflict. The
people that give the two words meaning have been able to create better lives with their culture close to their hearts
despite their hardships. One of these people is a family member who I had the chance to interview. She is someone
who remembers the heimatland and lives a life filled with joy because of her family and her culture. Lia Krentz
agreed to share her story and show her perspective of the events in her early life. With her story, she created a
clearer perception of the Donauschwaben identity for me.
In our interview, Lia Krentz recalled a string of memories that spanned from her childhood experience to adjusting
as a new immigrant in the United States. In a very relaxed conversation, she spoke about as many details that she
could recall in between that time. What we had planned to be a short and sweet interview turned into an extended
conversation that I found to be unbelievably enriching. Her story portrayed the strength of her family to make the
journey from Yugoslavia to Germany and eventually to the United States. Some of the topics of the story became
too emotional for Mrs. Krentz to expand upon but the stories she was able to talk about influenced the way I think
about the Donauschwaben identity far more than expected.
My previous perception of the Donauschwaben identity had already evolved from my views as a younger child.
I used to believe that being Donauschwaben was just a label, a category that I fit into that had simple meanings.
Donauschwaben meant wearing traditional dress on special occasions, participating in the dance group, and
listening to my oma with no questions asked. Over time, the word became more to me, it became a sense of
belonging and knowing that there is a rich history in my lineage. And now, after speaking with Mrs. Krentz,
I see that the Donauschwaben identity is a way of life, a state of mind, and a feeling in my heart.
One of the recurring themes of Mrs. Krentz’s story was family, which now means more to me than ever. Mrs.
Krentz’s family was a force to be reckoned with and stood by each other when they had to flee for their lives,
endure a near impossible journey and create a new life from the ashes of an old one. I now see that the very
foundation of the Donauschwaben identity is family and community. The way that my ancestors and all of the
Donauschwaben people relied on each other was what pulled them through their difficult experiences
and what brought them joy. Today, family and community have the same function and are what will
keep the Donauschwaben identity alive throughout generations.
The embracing family that is Donauschwaben community is what raises children to keep traditions alive.
From birth, connections start to be made with one another and values are instilled. Values of dedication,
respect, courage and passion towards the thing that connects us all. No matter where we are in the world, if
someone is Donauschwaben, we are connected by our ancestral roots and our hearts have a home in
that place. The Donauschwaben identity is not abandoning the culture that nurtured us through life with and
abundance of love and steadfast loyalty. As Donauschwaben descendants, we identify as strong willed people that
like our ancestors, thrive despite obstacles in our way and hold those around us close.
The Donauschwaben identity through the lens of family is one of true belonging. I have come to see how family and
community allows each individual to have a home for their hearts through shared passion and culture. This culture
is one of spirited music, joyful dancing, rich language and strong values. A person who grows up with the
Donauschwaben identity is a person who is raised to appreciate ancestry, value hard work, believe in the power of
faith, and dream of preserving all the blessings of life. My hope is that my current perception of the
Donauschwaben identity will continue to grow stronger through the love and support of my own family and
community because everything that they are to me is heimat.
|Stephanie Mayer Chicago Donauschwaben
My Donauschwaben Identity
I am fortunate enough to have two Omas who are still living and are able to share their amazing stories
with me. Oma Hildegard is from northern Germany, and Oma Waltraud is from southern Germany.
Oma Hildegard was born in Oberschlesien which is now Poland. During the war, the Russians came,
and her family was forced to leave the farm and get on cattle trains. Her cousin had already moved to
America, and told her to come. She left her family at the age of 22 to see what America had to offer. In
1958, she boarded a freight ship with 40 other passengers in Bremerhaven. She took night school classes
to learn English. Now at the age of 83, she continues to enforce her values and German culture in her
Oma Waltraud came from Czechoslovakia, which is now called the Czech Republic. She left
Czechoslovakia to go to the Baltic sea with her mom when she was 1 year old. Her father fought in
World War II in the German Army.
For many years her family thought he was killed in the war since they didn’t hear from him for a very
long time. Fortunately, the Red Cross reunited them in Schwabenland after the war was over. She was
only 18 when she was married and came to Chicago. I can’t imagine getting married so young
and leaving my family like she did.
Both of my parents were enrolled in the Donauschwaben Wochenendschule.
My parents enrolled my brother and I to keep the language and culture alive. Unfortunately my
Opas passed before they could see us graduate from the Wochenendschule, but you could see
how proud my Omas were when we graduated. I was in Kindergruppe, and I am currently in
Jugendgruppe. I have made amazing friends through this group, and we all have a common
thread through being descendants of the Donauschwaben and other parts of Germany. Each of us
has a story of where our families came from. We have connected through our ancestors’ common
struggles, obstacles, tragedies, and sadness. We also shared the joy and happiness in who they
became and the new experiences they had after coming to America.
Their hard work and sacrifices are the main things that have created my impression of the Schwobs.
Their bravery in leaving behind possessions as they were forced to move West during the war makes
me feel more gratitude towards their accomplishments. Through all of this, I see that no matter what
good or bad experiences they have gone through, they never forget who they are and where they come
from. I am reminded every day of my culture, morals, and values through both my parents and my
Omas. I will continue to share their experiences so that their stories will never be forgotten. It is
a huge part of my life that will never fade away. I am a Schwob and I am proud.
|Matthew Slabinger American Aid Society - Chicago
What does it mean to be a Donauschwaben?
According to the dictionary, it means...well it’s not actually in the dictionary, but it should be. Being a
Donauschwaben is such a unique word that it has different meanings for every single person who calls
themselves one. Each definition is associated with a life-altering story.
Hearing my Opa’s story changed my perspective about my life and the world. I can’t imagine living a life
where people just storm into your town, kick you out of your home, take all your belongings, and starve
you to death. One thing I will always remember from his multitude of stories is Opa risking his life for
the family photo album. The photo album was in a heavily guarded storage unit. I have seen that album a
hundred times before and never realized how lucky we are to have it and that my 11-year-old Opa was
smart enough to grab the photos instead of toys or clothing. Most people take family photos for granted
but I don’t anymore. It makes me stop and think of how lucky I actually am based on my family's past.
Asking for anything now makes me feel guilty knowing how little my relatives had and knowing how
happy they were to have that.
After interviewing Opa, being a Schwob means something entirely different to me. I was fortunate that I
was able to go and visit my Opa’s hometown of Gudritz, Yugoslavia. Going from an affluent suburb of
Chicago to a village in the middle of nowhere was a once in a lifetime experience. The roofs were
caving in on the house; there was one store in the entire town, and the cemetery was so overgrown that
when we were hunting for our relative’s graves, the grass was taller than me and we could not find any.
It was sad that our ancestors are treated with so little respect. My only regret is that I wish that I could
have been a little older, so I could appreciate the enormity of it all. Before we went to visit “da heim,”
my understanding of what a Schwob meant was very limited and came mostly from history books.
However, the knowledge gained from listening to Opa’s past and visiting
his hometown has redefined my notion.
Being a Donauschwaben is an honor and a privilege. The situations presented to the Donauschwaben
and the hardships they endured granted traits like bravery, persistence, empathy, and a whole lot more
that would take me days to list out. It is why every time you go to Oma and Opa’s house you are stuffed
with food and sent home with enough cookies to feed an army. Now I know that being a Donauschwaben
defines you as the kind of person everyone wishes they could be.
That is what Donauschwaben means in my dictionary.