From Thomas C. Goodhart
They came from places called Sekitsch and Feketitsch, Werbass and Torscha—villages, towns, and cities in the Batschka and Banat. If you ask them in what country they were born some will reply Yugoslavia, while others will say Hungary. In some cases it is both, the boundaries moved, kingdoms and nation states changed, but their homes hadn’t—homes and communities that had been for generations. Many of them learned the Serbian or Croatian language of their neighbors, while their parents had studied the Hungarian tongue that the rulers had encouraged them to learn; but the language they spoke, that they speak, that is still spoken literally today, is German. They are the Donauschwaben, or Danube Swabians.
Four years ago I had never heard of them, apparently missed that lesson in world history, didn’t know their story. But on a glorious All Saints Day afternoon with the sun shining and the trees just beginning to betray their true autumnal colors I gathered with almost fifty Donauschwaben at the Linden Hill Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. There with a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline off in the distance we came together to remember, to honor, and to commemorate those whose lives were lost—lost not simply to the tragedy and horrors of war, but specifically as the memorial stone imparts “Opfer der Entrechtung, Vernichtung, Verschleppung, Vertreibung” or in English, “victims of expulsion, deprivation of rights, extermination, and deportation.”
History can sometimes seem like it was so long ago. And yet, it is often more present and real than we realize.