Serbia: Blauschütz (Ploschitz) Zollinger

The Austrian-Hungarian Empire was in a sense never a country, but an amalgamation of occupied pieces of territory, and the administration of this vast area could never be properly carried out. The empire also was at a constant state of war with the Ottoman Empire, and in particular the many parts of the Balkans changed hands frequently. Based on the Austrian peace negotiations of 1718, Austria gained control of a vast area of south-eastern Europe, part of which they called "the Banat". This territory covered what are today parts of Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Hungary. And for the next 200 years the defence of the southern border of this Banat region was one of the most urgent concerns of Austrian foreign policy. To strengthen that defence, Austria's emperor Karl VI decreed a "Settlement Patent", which formalized a plan for the large scale settling of German emigrants along the lower Danube. In the Turkish War of 1737 however, most of these early settlements were destroyed, and the German settler population was expelled. It then became clear that the border area needed to have an even stronger defence, and so empress Maria Theresia proposed a new settlement plan which at first tried to settle retired military personnel. After the Seven Year War ended in 1763, around 1,600 former soldiers were moved from Vienna and Budapest to the border areas of the western Banat. These soldiers, who had proven to be loyal and willing to defend the border, were to be paid through land grants for setting up farms and towns in the area. At the same time they could be taken off the payroll of the Austrian government, especially since many of them were war invalids.

This clever plan did not work well either, and the Austrian government was forced to change policy once again, by falling back on the earlier approach of enticing settlers mainly from Germany, but also from Austria proper and its surrounding areas, including Switzerland and Bohemia. This second "Schwabenzug" lasted from 1765 to 1770, and brought in a substantial number of settlers, which were largely recruited in the Black Forest, the Rhineland and Bavaria. They made their way to Vienna, where they embarked on Danube ships for the voyage south. In 1782 emperor Josef II declared the third "Colonisation Patent", and the last settlement effort lasted until 1788, when another war with the Ottoman Empire broke out.

The call to new opportunities in the East was also answered by a Zollinger family. A Johann Jakob Zollinger, who was born in Rheinsheim, Baden-Württemberg in 1731, had several sons, and it was his two oldest sons who decided to move to the East. Their names were found on a ship manifesto in Vienna, dated June 1790. That means that they were latecomers to the move, and on arrival ended up in an area that was at war with the Ottoman Empire. The two brothers were a Konrad Zollinger * 1865, who was then 25 years old and single, and his younger brother Bernhard * 1769. They are documented to have settled in a community called Rustendorf (Brestowatz) late in 1790. Bernhard married there, but died in 1800, ten years after his arrival, and his wife died shortly after. Konrad married too, and had a son in 1798. But his first wife died in 1807, and although Konrad married again, he died a year later, in 1808. His son died in 1834, and there are no further offspring on record. These early deaths are a clear indication of the hardships which the new settlers experienced in their new country, the recorded deaths of these two Zollinger families give the ages of the deceased as 31, 36, 41 and 42 years respectively.

The story could have ended prematurely here, but Konrad had two younger brothers back in Rheinsheim, who were eager to join them. There is no record as to when the two younger brothers arrived, but the youngest, Georg, was only born in 1782, and he would not have been accepted until he was 20 years old. He may have arrived in Rustendorf around 1802, a date supported by the fact that he married there in 1804. His older brother Leonhard however was born in 1770, and could have joined his brothers anytime between 1790 and 1800. But as he married in the Banat in 1792, it could well have been that he travelled with his two older brothers in 1790. Of Georg nothing further is known, except that he married in 1803, and had a daughter in 1804. It must be assumed that they all died young too. So of the brothers it is only Leonhard who ended up becoming the ancestor of the large Zollinger family in the Banat.

Judging from the funeral locations, the Zollinger family must have moved from Rustendorf to a new locality called Blauschütz (Ploschitz) between 1808 and 1822. The town had been founded much earlier, in 1766, and was named after a platoon of soldiers from Bavaria, sent there to protect the border. Their uniform was a blue tunic and white trousers, thus the name Blauschütz. From before 1822, and until 1944, the Zollinger family lived, married and died in Blauschütz, and became an important component of that community. But at least in the early generations the harsh new life took a terrible toll: in several of the families on record, many of the children died as infants, the wives often died in childbirth, and many of the male family members died before the age of 40. For example Franz Zollinger *1796 had four children, of whom only one reached adulthood. His first wife died in childbirth with her fourth child, and within six months Franz married again, but then died himself another six months later, at the young age of 31. His younger brother Johann was married four times, and three of his wives died in childbirth, while of a total of eight children born to him, five died as infants. He himself died at the age of 34. Such examples of hardships and bereavement could be continued, but it seems that as the community established itself, live became a bit more bearable.

In 1832 the community built an pleasant little church in Blauschütz, with a priest taking care of the spiritual needs. From that time onwards there are many pictures of fairly well dressed families, with the women in their own traditional Blauschütz costumes. All the same, life remained hard, and life expectancy short. The problems of an unstable border continued too, and by the time the grandson of Johann, a Franz, was born in 1876, he would have witnessed the first World War, where Austria, Russia and Turkey were all in combat in the Banat, and where the local populations, especially the Serbs, intended to throw off the Austrian overlords. The German speaking population again found itself between these two forces, and paid a heavy price. In 1918 Serb troupes occupied the Banat, and a large proportion of the eastern part of the province was later ceded to Romania. The Zollinger families continued their precarious existence, but a few who finally realized the futility of a life there, looked towards leaving, and among them was an Andreas Zollinger, who moved to the USA in 1905.

Those remaining had a short time of euphoria, before the bitter end. Part of Hitler's policy of expansion was the "Uniting all Peoples of German Tongue", which included vast areas of Eastern Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Romania. With the advent of WW II, German troops occupied the Banat, and one could not blame the local German speaking inhabitants for welcoming their arrival. I am sure that among them must have been Zollingers too, who welcomed and cheered on the troops. But by 1944 the fortunes of war started to turn, and as the German troops withdrew, the local German population who had been supporting them was seen as traitors by their Slavic neighbours, and especially by the partisans fighting against the withdrawing Nazi troops.

On the 3rd of October 1944, part of the German population started a trek towards Germany, and 1,566 persons were able to escape through Hungary. Soon after, in November 1944, the still substantial remaining ethnic German population of the western Banat was rounded up by Yugoslav partisans, and placed in a camp in Brestowatz. By November 1945 a new Concentration Camp was built in Rudolfsgnad (today Knicanin), north of Belgrade, and the prisoners were moved there. At its peak the camp held over 20,000 prisoners, of which an estimated 11,000 died of disease, starvation and maltreatment. In April 1948 the camp was closed, and the surviving occupants were condemned to forced labour in the area. Only in 1951 did the survivors receive permission to relocate back to Germany. Out of eleven adult persons with the name Zollinger on record in Rudolfsgnad, five are documented as having perished, and of several others no further trace exists. In the end, from this once large and prominent Zollinger clan of Blauschütz, there were only two male children who survived the hardships of the war, and the repatriation to Germany. One was Emil Zollinger, born in 1931 in Blauschütz. He became a renowned artist, painter and family historian, and he has kept the memory of 200 years of hardship in the East alive. His only son Frank is not married. The other is a Michael Zollinger, born in Blauschütz in 1923, who escaped back to Germany and settled in Bavaria. His three sons have continued the family name, and especially his grandchildren Stefan and Tobias are now the "Stammhalters", likely the only male offspring of the large Zollinger family which had so many generations ago settled in the Banat.

There is one more topic that belongs to this story. The next story below starts with a Solomon Zollinger and his sister Reisel Zollinger, who were born about 1830 in a place called Ludikumora, in Bucovina Province in north-eastern Romania. From that original recorded ancestor onwards, a large family survived and expanded, and today has offspring in the USA and Israel. This branch of the family however is Jewish, and this then poses a very difficult question: is there a possible link to the Blauschütz Zollingers discussed above? In our extensive records there is no other mention whatsoever of the Zollinger name anywhere in Eastern Europe, except for the family in Blauschütz.

It must be assumed that at the time most young males in the Banat were forced into military service, and were positioned along the southern border of the Banat wherever there was a need. This border stretched from the Danube and Serbia, to Bukovina in eastern Rumania. It is thus possible that several young Zollingers would have been among these troops, and could have served anywhere along that frontier. Would it be conceivable that a Zollinger could have served in Bucovina, especially as the border of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was close to the capital Suceava. That however still leaves one question open: how could such a soldier change from a strict Catholic background to the Jewish faith, and settle that far from his family? Could a Zollinger have deserted, found refuge with a local farmer's family, and then married their daughter? Given the poor records in Romania, this question may never be answered. But we can estimate the age of Solomon and Reisel's father, and he must have been born between about 1800 and 1820. If one then scans the family tree of the Blauschütz Zollingers for likely candidates, there are only two male Zollingers who might fit: a Johann Zollinger * 1795, and an Anton Zollinger * 1799. For both of them only their birth date is available, and no further data exists about marriage, children or death. We may never know if on of them could be the link between the two branches!


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