DSFoundationUSA - OMA_ABT_2020
Return to HOME
Return to HOME
The Danube Swabian Foundation of the U.S.A., Inc.
Die Donauschwaebische Stiftung der USA, Inc
Return to HOME
7th year's (2020) writing an essay was:
How did you/are you applying the lessons from the experiences
of the Donauschwaben to the COVID-19 pandemic?
2014 contest results
2015 contest results
Return to HOME
and the winners were:
These are their essays:
Katrina Annemarie Giannoni
Ilyana Smith
Stephanie Mayer
Katrina Annemarie Giannoni                                                           Chicago Donauschwaben

I’m applying many lessons I’ve learned from the experiences of the Donauschwaben during these uncertain
times. This pandemic and this quarantine have been everything, but easy. I’ve learned to appreciate every
person that’s in my life in ways unimaginable. I’ve learned that everyone we encounter and everyone we
know has involvement in our journey, maybe not to stick around long term, but to teach us to appreciate
what we have when we have it.
Life is not an endless buffet of choices. Life throws opportunities or roadblocks your way and if you don’t
take those opportunities or handle those roadblocks instead of letting them stop you, you might lose a
chance of a lifetime.
During this pandemic, one of the Donauschwaben lessons I have applied during this time is making the
best of every situation. Our ancestors didn’t always have an ideal living situation or food on the table,
but they persevered. They continued to work hard and didn’t let a bump in the road stop them from
reaching for their lifelong dreams they aspired to achieve.
We can’t always control what happens in our lives, however, what we can control is the way that we
handle those situations. If we choose the Donauschwaben way and rise to the occasion we can persevere,
be tenacious, and succeed in anything we put our mind to.
Life is tough, but so are we. These times we live in, times of a pandemic are tough, but we will get
through this. It’s the Donauschwaben way. Our ancestors had highs and lows, rough seas and smooth
sailing, but they always counted their blessings and never took a day for granted. They always showed
commitment to their heritage and to the ones they loved. Maybe you didn’t see loved ones during COVID
for 8 weeks or 10 weeks or longer, but the Donauschwaben had many occasions if someone was at war or
if they became separated. It could’ve been months or years that they didn’t see each other, however, when
their hearts were true, they persevered and picked up where they left off with a greater appreciation for each
other and each and every blessing they were surrounded with. We Schwobs even in the worst of situations
are always able to find a sense of gemüchtlichkeit. In times like these, where it seems everything has gone to
havoc, I’m forever grateful to have my solid Donauschwaben foundational lessons to keep me grounded.
Ilyana Smith                                                         German Family Society of Akron

Since I joined the kindergruppe fifteen years ago, the German Family Society has grown to be like a
second family to me. That is why it has been so hard to not see anyone from the GFS in person since
March 14. I have not gone so long without seeing friends from dance since I was three years old.
Still, if the GFS taught me anything, it is that the Donauschwaben have a strong dedication to family,
and they always work hard to improve themselves.
At the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe in the span of a few short
months. It continues to bring hardship upon billions of people. Some have lost their jobs, their homes,
their loved ones, and even their lives. Those who have lost none of these must still contend with the
emotional toll of isolation, and the economic and institutional turmoil brought on by the pandemic.
I fall into that latter category; I am lucky enough not to have lost anything tangible due to COVID-19
so far. Still, as a member of the Class of 2020, I spent the latter portion of my senior year learning on
Zoom and talking to friends on FaceTime. I had no in-person graduation, and I am taking a gap year in
the hopes that the world might return to a semblance of normalcy.
For me, the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the social isolation. Seeing friends
through a screen is nothing like seeing them in person. Yet as much as I wish I could flaunt the
guidelines of public health officials for a normal day with my friends, that would be unfair to my
family; my parents and younger brothers have been working and learning from home too, and some of
them are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than most. And since I share the Donauschwaben dedication
to family, I stay home and FaceTime my friends instead.
Still, I have not been idle in the time since the world shut down in March. When they completed their
journey down the Danube, the Donauschwaben dedicated themselves to improving themselves by
cultivating the land under their feet. Like the Donauschwaben, I plan to spend this year making the
most of the situation I have found myself in; I will improve myself however I can. I was lucky
enough to find a job where I can work from home for the year. I have been using platforms like
OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy to further my learning in subjects like linear algebra and
chemistry. I never had an opportunity to learn German in school, so I have been using audiobooks
to teach myself what I can, in preparation for taking courses in college.
COVID-19 will continue to make life difficult for some time. But the Donauschwaben principles of
dedication to family and to self-improvement by hard work will help me respond to the situation in
the best way possible and make the most of it.
 Stephanie Mayer                                                                                        Chicago Donauschwaben

The time that I have spent at home due to the ongoing pandemic has allowed me to reflect upon and
understand my response to this awful situation. I feel that my reactions to the guidelines provided came from
the roots of my German heritage. I paid close attention to the directions that health officials provided and
adhered to them, isolated myself from those outside of my immediate family, wore a mask when in public
areas, washed my hands often, and maintained social distance guidelines.
My Donau family carries strong qualities of loyalty, pride, and caring for others. We show loyalty through
listening to persons of authority in this situation. We are proud of the good work we do such as wearing
masks and social distancing to help decrease positive COVID cases. Shopping for elderly family members
and friends, as well as, well-being checks show that we care. We checked in on family members regularly.
I reminded them of how important they are in my life and how much I missed seeing them in person.
I have noticed that my German roots encouraged me to not waste time sitting around doing nothing. Using my
musical talents, I posted videos of me singing alone and in ensembles, as well as playing the ukulele. I
hoped that would decrease stress and create some hope and joy during this time. I received a lot of positive
feedback which inspired me to continue to use my musical talents and spread joy to others during this time.
My Omas speak often of how they got through many hard times while in Germany during the war. They speak
about gathering family, playing guitar, and singing. They say that the distraction was always welcomed so
that they did not become sad or depressed by what was occurring during the war. This is what I am trying to
do through posting videos on social media.
Music helps people come together and enjoy being alive. During the war, they would bake bread and share
with neighbors in need. They cared for their oldest family members to assure they stayed well both mentally
and physically during stressful times of war. My family and I have adopted these values and have put them to
use during this pandemic.
The lessons I have learned and continue to learn from my Omas have shaped me into a very caring human
being. Understanding that making sacrifices to help others often reap great outcomes for everyone. The fact
that we have to be going through such an awful time in our lives right now makes me sad. However, it has
revealed what is truly important to me: loyalty, pride, and caring for others. There are several ways to
express these ideas, and I have spent a great deal of time navigating each one. I am thankful that this time has
allowed me to reflect on my German roots and how it has made me who I am today; for that, I am grateful.
2016 contest results
2017 contest results
Return to HOME
Sadie Butterfield                                        Cincinnati Donauschwaben

Have you ever been in a situation that caused you to learn a significant lesson? Most of us have in our
life but this pandemic gives us a chance to learn new lessons. We learn new lessons but we can also use
the ones we have already discovered. The Donauschwaben club has taught me a lot of the lessons I have
already learned and I have used those throughout the last couple of months. This club has taught me to
keep your friends and family close, always have hope, and always look on the bright side.
         Keeping your friends and family close is one of the most crucial things to do during this pandemic.
Everyone is in quarantine which can make it hard to keep in touch with those you care about. We all have
begun to use texting, zooms, and other online devices to talk to each other while in quarantine. This virus
has been difficult for everyone, including the Donauschwaben clubs and their members. Despite this, our
Youth group has held zoom conferences and social distancing dance practices. These things may not
seem important but this keeps us dancing and reminds us that even though things aren't normal, we can
still get through this.
         Having hope may seem difficult during this pandemic but we need to stay optimistic that things
will get better. Staying active and cheerful will lead to having hope. Our club may only be meeting once
every two weeks but we still are like a family. We are all separated, but we know that once we can get
together like normal, we will have a fun time. At the beginning of this quarantine, it was easy to give up
hope when we didn’t know what would happen. All of us are in the same boat and even though times are
still tough, it is easier to have a little bit of hope. Hope is essential during this time and we all must
remain positive.
         This pandemic is challenging for everyone but we need to look on the bright side and stay happy.
We have begun making a Covid-19 dance which is a social distancing dance. When we dance we must
remember that even when we dance alone, we are still together. Our club has also been changing up
dances so that we can dance safely. Even though the Europe trip, Labor Day, and competition were all
canceled, we have to recognize that we are doing this for our safety. All of us are upset about those
conclusions on canceling but we have to keep in mind that they have good reasons for doing so.
Donauschwaben has taught me all of these lessons and many more.    
         The Donauschwaben family teaches all of us countless lessons during our life. We all discover
distinct lessons but I have learned to stay close with your friends and family, stay hopeful, and to look on
the bright side. The Coronavirus has separated us, however, we are all in this together.
2018 contest results
2019 contest results
Kylie Kapraun                                Detroit Carpathia Club

In the past, there were many government rules and if you broke them there were repercussions. As my
Oma said, she was scared to leave the house because of what they would do. When people didn’t
follow these rules, they were gone the next day or put in jail. This is very similar to how life is right
now. If you don’t wear a mask, you may be fined. During the shut-down, travel was restricted. People
were allowed to go to the “essential” businesses; all other travel was virtually prohibited.
There was also limited food. Flash back to five months ago and the grocery stores were empty. There
was no produce. There was barely any meat, and when there was, the prices were sky high, and you
were limited on the amount you could buy. There were absolutely no cleaning products or personal
hygiene products.
Choices were taken away and people had no say in anything.  People were taken from their homes and
their homes were taken over. In turn, their businesses were then taken over.  Now, about four months
ago, all “non-essential” businesses closed. With that comes thousands of people unemployed,
businesses not making sales, people not able to pay bills or provide for their families. Now, people
can’t make their house payment and in turn, could lose their homes. Many small businesses were
closed too long and may never recover from the economic loss that they experienced.
The life that we knew has changed and will never be the same again. This has really taught people to
be more grateful for what they have in the moment.
Jaclyn Klemm                                                                                         Chicago Donauschwaben

The Donauschwaben have taught me many lessons that have helped me during the Covid-19 pandemic
including, sharing with others, being grateful for technology and spending time with family.  My Oma has
told me stories about the life they had in the refugee camps after they were forced to leave their homes. In
the camps, they had to learn how to work together to survive and eat anything that they could. My Bier Opa
would bring home chicken necks and feet from his work so they could make stew. Bier Oma would use the
parts she needed to make the stew for their family and shared the rest with friends and neighbors. In return,
they were given vegetables from their neighbors gardens, and occasionally someone would share an egg
with them.  I learned that thinking about the needs of others and sharing is very important.  During the
pandemic, some people hoarded goods and food for themselves, leaving nothing for others. Thankfully, my
family was a part of the few that shared and I believe it was because of what we learned from the
Donauschwaben. My family only purchased what we needed to live on and shared what we had with
friends and family when they couldn’t find what they needed. We also planted a garden that produced many
vegetables and we shared the harvest with our neighbors so they didn’t have to go to the store, exposing
themselves more to this horrible virus.  
     During the pandemic, we have had to stay away from others to keep the virus from spreading. This
means that I can’t hang out with my friends or go to school in person. I can’t imagine what it would be like
without modern technology.  I love my phone, it lets me see my friends face to face, without missing them
or worrying about their safety. I also have been able to continue learning through online school and
although difficult, it has worked out so far.  My family and the Donuschwaben had little or no contact with
their friends and many had to stop going to school during the migration. This must have been very difficult
and lonely.  
The Donauschwaben could not bring all of their possessions with them when they left their homes, some
even had to leave family members behind.  I have heard stories from other Donauschwaben about being
separated from their family members for many years.  I can’t imagine living apart from my family for that
long and being alone would be terrifying under those circumstances.  During the pandemic, I have had to
spend a lot of time with my parents and siblings.  Sometimes it was exhausting to have them around all the
time, but I was lucky to have them with me.  Knowing that my Donauschwaben family has been through
much worse, helped me appreciate the food I have to share with others, the ability to use technology to
keep in touch with the people close to me and the time my family spent together.
Maria Leondardt                                                                Cincinnati Donauschwaben

Our ancestors and the families of the Donauschwaben Society have persevered and survived through
many hardships. Although these terrible times brought about much heartache and difficulty for our
families, it also gave them determination, strength, optimism, and perseverance. It is in our blood and
our culture to not only survive, but thrive, through difficult times with these traits. Even today, we
celebrate these traits, and are proud of our heritage that enables us to face the world we live in today
with the Co-Vid 19 Pandemic. We adapt and never give up...because that is what our ancestors have
taught us!
My family came to the United States as immigrants with very few personal items. They had to work
hard for a very long time to build a new life. This was not easy...they worked long days and hard hours
doing back-aching work. It took years to build a new life and see the accomplishment of new dreams.
They were determined to make it through the difficult times and survive on their own. They had the
strength to work hard day after day after day. They were optimistic that they and their children and
grandchildren would have a better life. The only reason my family is where we are today is through
their perseverance. Knowing the history of my family and how much they sacrificed for me is a constant
reminder that I, too, can survive and persevere through our current COVID-19 Pandemic.
One of the lessons I have learned is to persevere. With every change and possible fear that this
pandemic brings, I must be determined to have courage and move forward.I also realize that it is
important to keep things in perspective. My Schwob ancestors have taught me that there will be large
and small obstacles in my life, but that I can choose how I respond to them. The difficulties that they
lived through remind me to work hard and be determined. With everything that has changed around me
during this pandemic, I can choose to complain and give up, or continue to work hard and succeed.
Another lesson I have learned is that through hard times we all need to stick together and support one
another. We gain strength and optimism from
each other, and that is how we will persevere through this Pandemic. It is because of my family that I
am where I am at today. My family is everything, and that includes my Donauschwaben family! They
have truly taught me determination, strength, optimism, and perseverance.
My Schwob family made it through harsh difficulties to not only survive, but prosper! This gives me
great hope that we will survive and thrive, too, beyond this Co-Vid 19 Pandemic! Through the example
of our Schwob ancestors, we persevere and cling to each other for support. We will make it through
this pandemic and continue to pass on to our families the Donauschwaben traits of determination,
strength, optimism, and perseverance!
Kate Mayer                                                Los Angeles

The coronavirus has washed over the globe so quickly over the past five months, destroying all of our
normal ways of life in the process. Thanks to the pandemic, we have all been forced to look at our lives
at different angles and change almost everything that we have grown accustomed to, much like the
Donauschwaben, also previously referred to as ethnic Germans in their time, were forced to. The ethnic
Germans had to throw everything they knew about how life should be out the window and had no other
option but to run away to try make a better life for themselves, without turning back to see their loved
ones that they were forced to leave behind. I have been applying the lessons from the experiences of the
Donauschwaben to the COVOID-19 pandemic by learning to be grateful for the health and wellbeing of
my loved ones and by cherishing this time with my family during the lockdown.
One way that I have been applying the lessons from the experiences of the Donauschwaben to the
COVOID-19 pandemic is by learning to deeply appreciate the good health conditions of my friends and
family. It is obvious that the pandemic has affected millions of people across the globe and killed many of
those whose health conditions already put them at a higher risk of dying, such as those with asthma or
autoimmune disorders. In 1944, the ethnic Germans who had been settled in Yugoslavia were forced into
death camps, in which the Germans were given zero medical attention whatsoever. This caused many
family members and loved ones to get sick and die from their poor health conditions while in the camps.
Upon learning this information, I have realized how lucky I am to have family members and friends who
are healthy and have not been affected by the virus.
Another way that I have been applying the lessons from the experiences of the Donauschwaben to the
COVOID-19 pandemic is by learning to not take the company of my
family for granted during quarantine. From 1944 through 1948, many Donauschwaben were able to
escape from their concentration camps at night, traveling underground to refugee camps in Austria. During
the process of escaping, many of these Germans had no choice but to leave their dear friends and even
some family members behind in order to free themselves. Many traveled alone with no one to ease their
fears along the way. Realizing how little my ancestors had while they were fleeing for their lives makes
me so grateful to have the support and comfort of my family during these unprecedented times.
This pandemic has not been easy for anyone and everyone has been forced to make sacrifices and change
the entire structure of their lives to keep themselves safe and unexposed to the virus. During these tough
times, it has helped me to remember that about eighty or so years ago, my ancestors were forced to do
something very similar, and that I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for their bravery in doing so.
Elinor Niemi                                                United Donauschwaben of Milwaukee
I would like to say that I applied the lessons uniquely.  I used the lesson that we should always
look forward, we don’t know what’s coming but it will be better.  The donauschwaben traveled
throughout Europe on the Donau for the prospects of a better life so we should go with the flow
of the pandemic because the outcome will be a better life.  I have also used resourcefulness,
with the pandemic there has been more need to use food in different ways and re-use what we
can so that businesses aren’t overfull.  I have used the value of family because we have gone to
the store for my Oma because she shouldn’t.  I’ve applied the lesson that there is always
something to do I just need to find it.  I’ve learned and enforced that my Donauschwaben
community is my family, they’re always there even when I’m not seeing them every week at
dance practices if not more during events.  And of course one of the most important lessons, the
fastest way to get your mind off a bad mood is a little polka.  Using these lessons we’ve learned
throughout the years has been very important to me because it helped keep me rooted, it helped
me remember that my family and friends will be here for me even while we are apart and this
will all be over soon.  
Tara Nikolich                                                                         American Aid Society

Being a part of the Donauschwaben for 21 years has taught me numerous things, but never in a million
years did I think it would help me see the brighter side of things during a world pandemic. As part of a
youth group we compete in competitions and create our own dances and choreography throughout the
years. Sometimes in a performance or in the choreography process, things don’t go as planned.
Thinking on your feet and being flexible is something so key as part of Jugend, as well as in life.
Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and that’s okay. COVID-19 took the world by storm.
As scary and terrifying as it continues to be, you just have to be flexible and adjust to the new world
around you.
I think the most important thing I’ve taken away from being in Jugend and a part of the Donauschwaben
culture is that sometimes it’s okay to put everything else in life on pause and enjoy the people around
you. Labor Day weekend is a very special event for our community. I know many people sacrifice so
many things and put their life on hold for that weekend. It still amazes me that people from all over the
country, and all over the world, drop what they are doing to come together and celebrate our shared
heritage. During this pandemic, many of us Jugend members have been stuck at home. On one hand, it is
frustrating, but on the other hand, we got to spend countless hours with our loved ones. Normally I
would have been away at college for a few more months before returning home. I realized how lucky I
was to be able to spend time with my family. As much chaos that has been going on in the world, being
with family, friends, and loved ones should always be a top priority.
As unfortunate as it has been to have to cancel Labor Day weekend, Oktoberfests, practices, and
performances, I know that once it is safe to do so, I will get to see all of my friends from clubs across
the country. No matter how much time passes, I know we will all pick up where we left off.
Donauschwaben is a family and will forever and always be there for one another. So until then, roll
with the punches, appreciate your loved ones, and know that the Donauschwaben community will be
there waiting for us all.
Return to HOME
Rebekah Sachs                        United Donausschwaben of Milwaukee

During Covid-19 I have been applying three main lessons from things I have learned through my
experiences at the Donauschwaben. First, I have learned at the Donauschwaben that volunteering
is really important and a very valuable part of our youth group experience. We are encouraged to
offer our skills in service to the group.  For example, we have the chance on some Saturdays to
help clean up the grounds of the club or decorate for an event.  Also sometimes some of our
members need help, for instance, if they need assistance carrying their plate to their table at an
event, someone from the youth group will help.  I have also enjoyed serving food at many special
events that our club hosts.  During the Covid-19 Safer at Home mandate, my family and I decided
to do some volunteering at a local Feeding America warehouse by sorting food and packing boxes
with meals and beverages. Some families don’t have enough money for food, especially with job
losses during Covid-19, and Feeding America as well as many other food banks are doing their
best to supply these families with the nutrition they need. Even though my experience volunteering
at Feeding America is different from what we do at the club, it is through my involvement at the
Donauschwaben that I understand how important serving others is, in whatever capacity I can.  
Even as a teenager, I can contribute to helping important causes, especially when I get together
with others my age.  Which leads to the next important lesson I have reflected on from my
experiences at the Donauschwaben; teamwork.
Dancing as a group requires precise teamwork. Working together is essential for everyone to
succeed and for our dances to look good. When we have a new dancer in the group, everyone will
work with them so that we can be prepared for future events. The group really focuses on dancing
in sync, which means moving in unison. We have to work together.  I miss practicing with my
friends and sharing these experiences together, but I know as our group activities are able to
resume, this will help me to appreciate the club and my friends there even more.  
Lastly, I have learned a lot about cultural tradition at the Donauschwaben. If the younger people
in our group stopped learning about our traditions, they might stop keeping the traditions and may
fail to pass them on to future generations. The group could possibly stop celebrating traditions that
were really important, just because people weren’t educating themselves on the traditions that we
know and love.  As a club, we unfortunately had to cancel events due to Covid-19.  I hope that in
the absence of some of our favorite traditions, that the youth will return to our events even more
determined than ever to preserve the culture that is so important to us and feel grateful for those
everyday experiences, because these opportunities should not be taken for granted.