History of the Oberländer Family

By Renate Gschwendtner

Sophie A. Welisch, PhD, translator

Renate began researching her heritage 11 years ago. Her grandmother told her stories of life in Bukovina and she visited the homeland at the age of 7 with her grandparents who wished to see it one last time. She is a member of the Bukovina General mailing list. She and her husband Johann have two sons age 6 and 12 and live in Dingolfing, Germany.


Settlement in Bukovina. Gottlieb Oberländer left his hometown of Göllnitz in the Zips [Szepes, now Slovakia] after the Austrian nobleman Karl Manz von Mariensee began searching for trained personnel to process iron ore in South Bukovina. In 1807 an ironworks was constructed on the Moldova River near Wama [Vama]. Initially with only thirty-eight German settlers, all from the Zips; the community of Eisenau [Prisaca Dornei] arose one year later.

The homeland of the Zipsers lay in Upper Hungary. In the thirteenth century the Hungarian King Bela IV invited German settlers into the country in order to cultivate land desolated and devastated by the Tatar hordes. In 1270 the Zipsers, according to the so-called “Zipser Decree,” were guaranteed autonomy and various privileges. Because of the abundance of minerals, a mining industry developed. Knight von Manz certainly looked in the right place for specialists for his new iron foundries.

Life in Eisenau. Gottfried Oberländer was a foundry worker and would have been among the first Zipsers in Eisenau. In 1812 he married Elisabeth Christofori of Gurahumora [Gura Humorului], who came from Hettau in the Zips. These two became the progenitors of a large descendency.

The foundry remained the principal source of work for the villagers until 1870. In addition, they kept cattle and poultry, and planted potatoes, oats, barley, poppies, turnips, cabbage, vegetables, hemp, and flax. When Emperor Franz 1(1768-1835) toured Bukovina in 1817, he also visited Eisenau. In his travelogue he wrote:

“August 12… Gently up and down, where the Wama basin extends into a narrow valley, [one sees] to the left the new village laid out by Manz with attractive wooden houses built according to regulations and occupied entirely by Zipsers. There is also a large long building, Manz’s foundry, with five hammers, furnished very nicely with bellows. Here he makes bars, iron rails, etc. from the iron of Jakobeny. The wheel room is covered with a mill-race. He built the iron works here because the Moldova [River] does not freeze. He sells the iron in Bukovina and Galicia but not so much, according to his statements, that he can do without importing foreign iron. More iron foundries can be built. In a house level to the ground is a one-room school in which some thirty children of both sexes are taught to read and write. ..”

The first church in Eisenau was erected in 1821. Most of the villagers were Lutheran, with a Catholic minority of less than 10 percent. Both denominations held religious services in the church. When in 1825 an agreement was drawn up for the common use of the church, Gottlieb Oberländer was among the signatories for the Lutheran Christians.

Depleted mineral resources and poor investments on the part of the mining administration led to the decline of the mining industry in Bukovina. In 1870 the entire Manz family enterprise came under the ownership of its largest creditor, the Greek Orthodox Religious Foundation. The establishment of this foundation dates back to Emperor Joseph II [1741-1790] and the dissolution of numerous Greek-Orthodox monasteries.

The Eisenau iron works continued to operate after the take-over and added a rolling mill which processed old iron. From it, plow shares, shovels, pickaxes, kettles, and various sorts of sheet and hoop iron as well as iron wire were manufactured. In addition, the old rails of the Lemberg-Czernowitz Jassy [Lvov-Chemovtsy-Isasi] railroad line were also melted down.

After the dissolution of the Manz enterprises in Bukovina, the Oberländer males had to look around for other sources of livelihood. They supported their families as foresters and construction workers, as teamsters, or as quarry workers. Many labored away from home and sometimes returned home after being away for weeks. The single daughters hired out as maids of the well-to-do in places like Wama, Kimpolung [Campulung], Dorna Watra [Vatra Dornei] and Czernowitz.

Fruits and vegetables were grown in the household garden plots and in the fields. They planted flax and used it to make bedding, table cloths and towels. They raised geese for their feathers and meat and chickens for eggs and a Sunday roast. At the Oberländers several cows were usually kept in the stable and they fattened hogs. In the forests they gathered berries and mushrooms.

Life and cuisine had their limitations, often rather meager. Gisela Oberländer, descendant of Gottlieb, recalled how many of the older ladies could only prepare simple dishes. Only after working as maids in well-to-do homes did the females gain wider cooking skills.

Katharina Oberländer oo Angelo Cattaneo. With the development of railroads at the end of the nineteenth century, many Italian construction workers, brought in because of their skills in stone masonry, married into German families. In 1891 Katharina Oberländer married the stone mason Angelo Cattaneo from Alzate in the province of Como. With the completion of the railroad line, Angelo Cattaneo worked in forestry. The couple had one son and six daughters.

On October 22, 1900 the Imperial and Royal [k.k. = kaiserlich u. königlich] notary Simeon Baranowski in Kimpulung issued the following bill of sale: Katharina Katani (the Italian name had been Germanized) acquired property in Eisenau from Michael and Sofie Löffler. At the time of the documentation the Katanis had already built a house. The purchasing price of 160 crowns had been paid several months earlier. In April 1911 Angelo Katani (Cattaneo) applied for Austrian citizenship.

World War I. The First World War presented Eisenau with intermittent quartering of Russian and Austrian troops. The villagers learned of the outbreak of the war through a town crier with a drum. Shortly thereafter the Katanis’ only son, Ambros, was inducted. He returned home with a bullet in his lung, which could not be removed. For a long time he suffered from his injuries, yet he survived and later again worked as a stone mason. When he died in 1962 he bullet was still in his lung.

The father of the family was exempted from military service because he was employed as a bridge guard on the Bokotara railroad bridge, which lay between Alt Kimpolung and Eisenau. Due to fear of attacks, the bridge was guarded around the clock.

Early in 1916 Russian troops marched through Eisenau to the front. Previously the Eisenauers had heard atrocity stories about the murder of small children. Since the Katani house lay on the main street, the children were brought to Samowilla, a friend of Angelo Katani, likewise from Italy. For fourteen days the mother carried food to them. When it became obvious that the Russians did not harm the children, she brought them back home. In time the children felt so secure that they ran after the military bands, which accompanied the Russian troops to the front, in order to hear the music.

In the direction of Hurgisch, near the so-called trenches, the Katanis owned parcels of land and a hay stand. As a Romanian at the direction of the Russians was taking hay from there, Angelo Katani became enraged and struck him a blow. Two Russian soldiers began looking for Katani who, when he saw them coming, ran out the back door, through the garden, and jumped over the fence. The soldiers saw his tracks and assumed Katani had fled up the mountain. Luckily they did not go up to the fence, since he was cowering in back of it in the snow. When they departed, he hid for fourteen days at the home of his friend, Samowilla, where his wife brought him food every day.

The women often had to hide out for days at a time. They crawled into cellars, whose trap doors were covered with rugs and all sorts of items or ran behind the houses to the mountain and hid in the bushes which grew all over the meadows.

One daughter of the Katanis, Amalie, barely escaped being raped. She was underway with her younger sister, Gisela, when she was attacked by two Russians. They pulled her to the ground. But since the younger sister steadfastly remained at her side, they had moral afterthoughts and let Amalie go.

As the Russian troops were forced to retreat by the Austrians, they blew up Eisenau’s two bridges. Those living near the Sawoi Bridge were warned and opened their windows, although the explosion of the railroad bridge shattered many window panes. The retreating Russians shot up the place and, while most of the bullets landed on the mountain slopes above the houses, some buildings were nonetheless also hit Since the owners immediately put out the fires, total destruction was avoided. Only one stable burned entirely to the ground. One lady from Kälbergasse, who was standing in the courtyard with her baby in her arms, was killed by a grenade. With the exception of a few scratches, the baby was uninjured.

The frightened villagers drove their cattle ahead of them and departed Eisenau in the direction of the approaching Austrian troops. The Katanis took their three cows and likewise joined the entourage. They had hidden one cow in a cellar.

At the Bokotara Bridge the Russians had thrown away a lot of bread. The people of Eisenau began gathering these military supplies when two Austrian cavalry men approached. They warned the people that the Russians could observe them with their binoculars and advised them to hide with their cattle in the forest. Several women got the idea of making a fire which was noticed by the enemy troops, causing them to fire a round of shots.

Angelo Katani had enough of the people’s nonsense and drove his cows to Tomnatic Mountain, where there was a hut. This is where in normal times the Katanis’ young cattle would be pastured for the summer. Angelo stayed there for several weeks and his wife brought food to him daily.

As the Austrians marched into the village, the Katanis had to empty a room where the soldiers established an officers’ kitchen. The cook, Emil Gall of Vienna, was a friendly young man, who fell in love with Amalie Katani and often gave the daughters something special. The officers ate to gramophone music and sometimes organized dance evenings.

These rather pleasant quartered guests were followed by Hungarian Imperial and Royal troop detachments, which again set up their kitchen in the Katani house. The new cook was not so generous, and Gisela Katani was rude to him. With time he became so annoyed that he threw a handful of sharp paprika in her eyes. Gisela endured terrible pain and for a while could not see. Her father threw the cook out of the house and complained to the officers. After that, the kitchen was relocated to another house.

At night the soldiers stole potatoes from the fields and the young people of the village had to keep watch.

Summer school instruction repeatedly failed to take place for longer periods of time. Gisela Katani attended school for about four years, until her mother took her out of school before her allotted time and sent her to work as a maid.

Interwar Period. After the war Bukovina was incorporated into Romania. Henceforth, education was to be conducted only in the Romanian language. Gisela Oberländer recalls her only hour of instruction in Romanian. The new teacher wanted her to write “hen” and “rooster” on the blackboard in Romanian. She could not do it, nor could anyone in the class. Unnerved, the teacher gave up and accommodated himself to the pupils who were just beginning in school. From about 1923-24 classes in Eisenau were conducted only in Romanian.

In 1925 Angelo Cattaneo died at the age of sixty-two. His widow wanted to leave the house to her daughter Auguste and her son-in-law Franz Presser. When this daughter died young and without offspring, the youngest daughter, Gisela got the house and also undertook the care of her old mother. The other children either got money or parcels of land. Gisela and her husband Rudolf Oberländer had previously owned another house, which they turned over as compensation to their brother-in-law Presser.

In 1929 Gisela Katani married Rudolf Oberländer, her cousin in second degree of kinship. He worked as a mason and had fulfilled his military obligation in the Romanian army. Workers were needed for tunnel construction in Ilva. After Rudolf Oberländer started working there, he could return to his family only every five or six weeks.

In 1930 their daughter Edith was born. Because only Romanian was taught in the schools, a “school committee” was established in Eisenau, which got clearance by the Ministry of Culture to offer a German course. Between 1936-38 the teacher Kastenhuber from Grossau in Transylvania conducted German lessons in the parish house. Later teacher Frambach took over the German lessons. During her school years Edith always attended the classes in the parish house.

World War II: Resettlement. When the Second World War broke out, the Oberländers hoped that Bukovina would be spared. They could not realize that the loss of their homeland lay ahead of them. In October 1948 Germany and Romania reached an accord about the resettlement of the Germans from South Bukovina.

When the resettlement commission was activated, Gisela and Rudolf Oberländer hesitated. They did not want to abandon their homeland and their homestead. But as more and more villagers opted for resettlement and the threat of war intensified, the Oberländers feared being left behind and consented with heavy heart.

Baron von der Goltz, assessor in Kimpolung, judged the social situation in Eisenau to be catastrophic and noted “that the desire for resettlement among the Eisenauers was unusually strong; they saw the return to the Reich as a solution to their dire straits at the last hour and therefore could hardly wait to be transported to the Reich.”

Perhaps this characterization fit individual families. However, it was not true of the Oberländers. Although they lived in modest circumstances, they would have gladly continued a peaceful life in Eisenau.

Two transports were set aside for the village of Eisenau. “The village was dismal after half of the people had departed,” Gisela Oberländer related. “The empty houses and wailing dogs had a depressing effect.”

The few possessions which could be taken, were packed in a large wooden crate and transported in special train cars. These freight cars remained at an Austrian railroad station for weeks and the contents rotted. The family could only take portable luggage which, according to regulations, was to contain food for three days. Gisela Oberländer had killed and roasted her chickens.

The people boarded the train in Eisenau and after short stopovers in Budapest, Bruck an der Leitha and Vienna, arrived in Bavaria. Here the Eisenau villagers found shelter in three monasteries: St. Magdalena in Altötting, St. Ottilien, and Algasing near Dorfen.

Camp Residence in the Monastery Algasing in Bavaria. The Oberländers were sent to Algasing. At the train station of the next largest town, in Dorfen, the transferees were greeted by National Socialist party dignitaries. Then the train proceeded, taking the Eisenauers to the monastery, where a reception awaited them. The next day Gisela Oberländer noticed that an arch of flowers had been set up but damaged by the locals who were not so enthusiastic about the arrival of the strangers. The newcomers were led across the fields to the monastery to avoid passing the partially destroyed arch.

Men and women were assigned to separate sleeping quarters, each holding about sixty persons. The men were only present on weekends, since they had to work in a munitions factory in Kraiburg, about forty miles away. The camp administrator withheld the men’s wages. Gisela Oberländer did not want to put up with that and a misunderstanding arose. Camp life was difficult and the Oberländers had to spend one year in Algasing: from November 1940 to September 1941.

The Immigrant Central Authority [Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ)] established so-called “flying commissions,” which processed the transferees in the resettlement camps. The Bukovina Germans were classified into one of four categories based on racial criteria, identified with Roman numerals, and into one of five categories according to political criteria, identified with Arabic numerals. Those with Roman numerals I, II, and III were the “0-cases” [Osten – East]. They were to be settled in the East. Anyone assigned the number IV was an “A case,” [Alt Reich – Old Reich] and not considered worthy to manage a farmstead in the East

The Oberländers were destined for the “Old Reich,” although they wanted to settle in Silesia along with the other people from Eisenau. They were thus presumably in value level N. Gisela Oberländer surmised that her dispute with the camp administrator and perhaps her half-Italian origin led to this decision. Since her sisters, who also had the same Italian father, and also the siblings of Rudolf Oberländer were classified as 0’s, the influence of the camp administrator no doubt played a role.

Camp Life in Resettlement Camp 2 in Liebenburg/Harz near Salzgitter. In September 1941 the family received its naturalization papers and after a short stay in a transit camp, relocated to Resettlement Camp 2 in Liebenburg/Harz. Now instead of living with sixty people, they only had fifteen in one room. Since the war was dragging out, food for the population became scarce and the Oberländers often went hungry. Rudolf Oberländer had to work in the Hermann-Göring Works in Watenstedt. Again, he saw his family only on weekends.

At school Edith Oberländer became infected with typhus. Her mother also got ill. The camp was put under quarantine and the Oberländers, who were the only camp occupants to get typhus, were hospitalized in Hildesheim. A minor epidemic had broken out among the Liebenburg population. Some people died, but Edith and Gisela Oberländer survived. When they returned to the camp after several weeks, the camp administrator did not want to shelter the “typhus pigs,” as he called them. He despised them, since because of them he had to put up with the quarantine and all sorts of complications with the authorities. With the help of these authorities, Gisela Oberländer won out and the family could remain in the camp. In any event the administrator denied them provisions, and they had to cook over a candle for themselves.

Via correspondence with her relatives, who had been resettled in Upper Silesia, the Oberländers heard that one did not suffer any hunger there. Gisela applied to the Immigrant Central Authority for resettlement in Silesia. Since her request initially remained unfulfilled, she, along with three other camp residents, traveled to Berlin to present her case personally. Finally she was successful and toward the end of 1942 the Oberländers could depart for Silesia.

Domicile in Silesia and Flight. The Oberländers were assigned a small farmstead in Wolfsdorf near Bielitz. The Polish owners had to evacuate the premises. When Gisela Oberländer saw by what injustice the family had acquired the farmstead, it became clear to her that they could find no permanent residence there. “But at least for once we will not have to hunger,” she observed. “I ate myself big and fat, since I suspected we would soon have to move on.”

The German population lived in perpetual fear of the Polish partisans, who wanted to avenge the injustice which the Polish house and property owners had sustained. This caused Rudolf Oberländer to have apprehension about what would happen to his wife and daughter if he were inducted and they remained behind unprotected. He mentioned his concerns to a Polish acquaintance, who daily came to them for milk. The man replied that Rudolf should not worry about it Later, the Oberländers suspected that he probably had connections with the resistance groups.

Rudolf Oberländer was inducted into the military and in December 1944 his wife was notified that he was missing in action. She received the few private articles from the baggage of her husband.

As the Germans out of fear decided to flee from the advancing Russians, Gisela and Edith Oberländer packed their few belongings onto a horse-drawn cart of brother-in-law Anton Hennel. Together with him and his wife Amalie they made their way. The trek went through Czechoslovakia to Austria.

Due to continued differences of opinion, Gisela Oberländer separated from her sister and her husband in Znaim [Moravia]. For many months mother and daughter lived there before they again took flight because of the many air raids and fear of the advancing Russians.

While pausing for rest on the estate of a nobleman in Drosendorf in Austria, the Russian troops caught up with them. They continued their flight on foot Together with numerous other refugees, they overnighted in a barn, from which the Russians seized and raped women and girls. When the Russians were looking for victims, they concealed themselves and snuck away. They were very lucky not to have been violated.

Gisela and Edith Oberländer wanted to go to Bavaria, to the American occupation zone, where they had spent a year in the monastery of Algasing. They had relatives living near there, in Taufkirchen on the Vils [River], from whom they hoped to get help.

Traveling by train for a short distance, they arrived in the border city of Passau [Bavaria]. From there they had to continue by foot. Sometimes American soldiers took them by truck. On July 17, 1945 they reached Taufkirchen. Their entire worldly possessions consisted of two suitcases and one rucksack with a few personal articles.

Post-War Period in Bavaria. Taufkirchen was saturated with refugees. The authorities forced the local population to quarter the newcomers. Edith and Gisela Oberländer first lived with their relatives, then in a pantry and later in an apartment where, together with other refugees, they shared a common kitchen. Finally they got two small rooms in a one-family house. Gisela looked for work with a farmer in the neighborhood. Edith was sent to a seamstress in order to learn to sew. Later she worked in a weaving mill.

Rudolf Oberländer, who had been declared missing in action, survived the war and landed in American captivity. On November 1, 1944 he became POW No. 31-965079 and on October 5, 1945, was tried by a Captain F. A. Arnold A. Hansen and fined 440 Reichsmarks. In Le Havre, France, he was put aboard a ship bound for a POW camp in the USA. The ship left port but then turned back. In 1946 Rudolf Oberländer was a free man.

He also thought of the relatives in Bavaria. From them he hoped to hear something about the fate of his family. One can only imagine his happiness when he met his wife and daughter there.

Now the three lived in the small rooms. The famine winter of 1946-47, which cost the lives of so many people, stood before them. In contrast to some others, the family survived rather well in those hard times. Gisela Oberländer requested to be paid in kind for her work on the farm and had laid up provisions.

The post-war period was difficult, but the people from Bukovina were ambitious and worked hard. Most of them again acquired property and many Eisenauers built houses in Taufkirchen and in the neighboring town of Dorfen.

In 1950 Edith Oberländer married, and together with her husband and her parents, built a house in Dorfen.

The Oberländers felt comfortable in Bavaria. They worked diligently and achieved a modest standard of living. Rudolf Oberländer, who again found work as a mason, had to retire early because of poor health. He was only able to enjoy retirement for a few years; then he became seriously ill and died at the age of sixty-four. Gisela Oberländer is ninety-one years old and lives contentedly in the circle of her family. She takes special pleasure in both her great-grandchildren.

Select Bibliography

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