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Geography of the Region

Bosnia, of the former Yugoslavia, is defined for purposes of Donauschwaben settlement, as follows:


Note: The Danube Swabian settlement area is mainly to be found north of an imaginary line drawn between Prijedor, Banja Luka, Zenica and Zvornik.

History of the Region

Illyrian tribesmen, speaking an Indo-European language akin to Albanian, were the earliest historical inhabitants of the region, rich in agriculture, forestry and minerals. A later period saw an influx of Celts before all were conquered by Rome. After Augustus, this region formed parts of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.

The region was allocated to the western half of the Empire following its division by Diocletian. But subject to continual invasion, by Goths, Huns, Alans, Avars and finally, Slavs, it came under the nominal authority of the Byzantine Empire by the seventh century. It is around this period that the name Bosnia first appears, as "Bosona", a region centered around the Bosna river. The tribes of Croats and Serbs who settled in the region assisted the Empire in its wars against the troublesome Avars and thus won for themselves nominally-tributary kingdoms, which in reality were difficult to control from Constantinople. An independent state of Bosnia was formed in the 1180's.

Bosnia's subsequent political history is tangled and not always well-documented. In the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, "Saxon" miners, actually ethnic Germans from Hungary and Transylvania, arrived to help exploit the gold, lead, copper and especially silver ("Srebrenica" means silver) mines in the area. But eventually the area was unable to resist the rise of the Ottoman Turks who conquered the region with great speed in 1463.

Bosnia had been the dividing line between East and West, Serb and Croat, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. This unfortunate region now took on new dichotomies, Turk versus European and Christian versus Muslim. In 1877, however, Russia declared war and by 1878 stood at the gates of Istanbul. The Ottomans gave up much in the ensuing peace; in fact, in the view of the Great Powers of Europe, too much. Seeking to curb Russia expansion, the Congress provided that Bosnia was to remain Ottoman territory, but occupied and administered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrians, hoping to be welcomed by the Bosnian population, found otherwise and were forced to conquer their new fief by force of arms, which they did in about three months of fighting in 1878.

Early administration was difficult as there were a large number of refugees, not to mention a high frequency of insurrection. In an effort to make the region realize its economic potential, the new overlords left many Turkish laws intact and tried to encourage industry and agriculture. It was into this situation and for this reason that the Austrians initiated a policy of incentives for foreign settlers, including residents from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In reality, Germans had already arrived in 1869 in the form of Rhenish monks, Trappists led by Pater Franz, who founded a monastery, the Kloster Maria-Stern near Banjaluka, which soon thrived. Franz placed an advertisement encouraging emigration in a religious magazine and soon settlers from the Rhineland began to arrive. The first few settlers set up in Klasnica in 1879, but the first true colony was at Windthorst, near the Croatian border, followed by daughter-colony, Rudolfstal (following Crown Prince Rudolf's 1888 visit). Franzjosefsfeld, a Protestant colony, was settled by ethnic Germans from Hungary.

Incentives were many, including tax concessions; after 1890, twelve hectares per family with no rent for the first three years and only a low mortgage which would end after ten years if Bosnian citizenship was accepted. Eventually thirty-one colonies were established with a population of about 10,000, the majority consisting of Poles, Czechs and Ruthenians, but also including some 2,000 ethnic Germans.

That the policy was greatly resented is shown by the 1910 Bosnian parliament's demand for its cession, one of the first items the new body managed to pass. By that time, there were some 47,000 German and 61,000 Hungarian citizens in Bosnia, although not all should be considered permanent residents as many were administrators, businessmen, and soldiers. In addition, the majority of the Hungarian group were actually ethnic Croats. Administrators toiled to gradually organize and gain support in this very diverse region which, with its three religions and many nationalities and languages was virtually a microcosm for the entire Balkan region.

The famous shot fired by Gavrilo Princip in 1914 to assassinate Crown-Prince Franz Ferdinand and touch off the fuse of the First World War can be seen in this context -- reaction to an attempt by the Empire to gain legitimate, permanent control of the region. This was a troublesome period for the German colonies, especially those like Franzjosefsfeld, which were near the border with Serbia. Almost immediately it became the target of border attacks, but it was not severely damaged and Serbian forces were thrown back by the Austro-Hungarian army.

More troublesome was the army practice of requisitioning horses, wagons, cows, grain and fodder. This in addition to the drafting of men to the armed forces left many of the colonies in very difficult economic circumstances. Many of the 8200 or so colony inhabitants evacuated to other parts of the Empire at this time.

At the same time, many Bosnians were placed in prison camps; some 3300 and perhaps as many as 5500 Bosnians were held in camps in Bosnia and Hungary; 700-2200 are thought to have died there. Such measures, as well as periodic, notorious crackdowns on students, did little to help Austria's war effort and even less for her support in the region. By 1918, Austria and the Central Powers were defeated and under the Treaty of Trianon, Bosnia became part of the newly-created Yugoslavia.

Even at this point, however, many of the German immigrants who now had made homes and lived all their lives in the region desired to stay and become part of the new regime. However, between 1918 and March of 1923, Serbian Orthodox volunteers and agitators hungry for land, harassed many of the settlers and their descendants until a law was passed forbidding such activities. In the meantime, many of the colonists had left.

In April 1941, the new state fell to combined German, Italian, Bulgarian and Hungarian forces, the army capitulating after an eleven-day campaign. The Second World War, for Bosnia, was really the simultaneous waging of four separate wars: the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, the war of the Axis occupiers against resistance movements, the civil war between Croatian extremists (Ustashe) against Serbians and, finally, that amongst the two main resistance organizations, the Chetniks (mostly Serb royalists) and the Communist Partisans. In such a situation, it is hardly surprising that many atrocities were committed. Combining brilliant organization and ruthless tactics, Tito's Partisans eventually gained the support of all the Allies and proved dominant in the struggle, leading to the founding of Communist Yugoslavia.

The resulting nation, of which it was said comprised "six states, five languages, four races, three religions, and two alphabets, all united by a single desire to be separated from the rest" lasted until 1989. With the break-up of Yugoslavia, the history of Bosnia took a new turn and a history which is still very much in the process of being decided. One hopes that as it has been the focus of so many different European struggles and diversities, that it can be the period to the long history of conflicts and eventually find the peace it deserves. Throughout its history, despite multitudinous internal differences, the people of Bosnia have usually found a way to live harmoniously, if only the rest of the world would leave them in peace.

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Associations and Societies

AKdFF Research Help:

Heimatortsgemeinschaften (HOGS):
Please note that except where otherwise noted, all the contacts are located in Germany; this should be taken into account when addressing letters. [Top of document]

Colonies List

German colonies in Bosnia were established in four distinct phases: The Donauschwaben Village list links to the immigrant colonies in Bosnia established 1878-1914 under Austro-Hungarian auspices.

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Historical Literature

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Last update: 18-nov-99 (mf)
Thanks to Tony Ebertz, Monika (Kleer) Ferrier, Helmut Flacker, and Gordon McDaniel, for help in preparing this page.
Created by: Rick Heli
Please forward any comments and additions to this WWW-page (include the name of this web page as we maintain many) to Rick Heli, email: or to: WebMaster