Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Cultural Explanation

I've often mentioned that I have a very strong Austrian cultural heritage.  My grandparents are immigrants, and people often ask me where in Austria they're from.  It's hard for me to explain that where they're from is no longer a part of Austria.  Just because it's changed borders, doesn't change that my family is Austrian.  I decided to write a little post about my family and where they're from before blogging about our most recent trip to Vienna.  I'm a big fan of knowing where you came from, so I hope you enjoy.

Both of my dad's parents were born in Gottschee County.  My Opa was born in 1908 when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under the rule of Habsburgs. In 1918, after the end of WWI, it became a part of the province of Slovenia in the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Gottscheers were given Yugoslavian citizenship. Like many Slovenians and other Europeans, Gottscheers began to emigrate from their homeland. Many immigrated to various areas in the United States and Canada, with large numbers settling in Cleveland, Ohio, and Brooklyn, New York.  My Opa left Gottscheer between the two world wars, but was denied entrance into the United States, so he lived in Canada for a time, until he was given entrance into the United States.  He then settled in New York City.

My Oma was born in 1920, and in 1929, Slovenia (and Gottschee along with it) became known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During World War II, the Gottscheers lost their homeland. When the German and Italian armies invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, an agreement between Italy and Germany gave control of the Gottschee land area to Italy. Nine months later, the German government resettled the Gottscheer ethnic Germans from their 650-year homeland. This was done in December 1941 and January 1942, when almost 12,000 Gottscheers were relocated to Brezice (Rann), Slovenia that had been incorporated into the German Reich during the war.

Between 1941 and 1943, many of the Gottscheer villages were destroyed in battles between the Yugoslavian partisans and the Italian forces. At the end of the war, the Gottscheers were forced to flee into Austria. Some of the refugees eventually found new homes in Austria and Germany, however, most immigrated to the United States and Canada, where they had friends and relatives who had immigrated to those countries prior to World War II.  My Oma was among one of those who was forced from their homes during this time.  She also lost her first husband in the war.  In the last few years, she spoke with us about how she was homeless for six months and often went without food.  It's really difficult to hear things like that happening to your own family members, especially when you've never gone hungry or without a roof over your head a day in your life.  My Oma came to the United States after WWII and also came to New York City.  She was only my age at the time, which is so amazing to me.

In 1941, about 97 percent of the German population were resettled from the region after signing an agreement on relocation. That marked the end of Gottschee as a German language island. After the war, the area was partially resettled by Slovenians from various places, creating a mixed dialect area.  Only a few hundred Gottscheers remained. Today their dialect is faced with extinction.   My dad's first language is Gottscheerish and he still speaks it with my Oma.  I equate it to German, although it's not quite the same, since it's a dialect.  It's very easy to see that the dialect will soon be extinct, since my Oma will be 92 years old this month and I can't imagine there are many too much younger than her that immigrated and are still alive.


 The former county of Gottschee (today known as Kocevska) is geographically located in the country of Slovenia. This map shows the location of the county of Gottschee which lies in the south central part of Slovenia, the southern border of Gottschee near the country of Croatia. The ethnic and linguistic area was about 331 square miles. 



Brady and Oma in Queens during Christmas 2010.  Brady was only 10 months old at the time, so he wasn't on many table foods yet.  He has since developed a fondness for schnitzel, goulash, and apple strudel, so he'll be in heaven when we visit my Oma this summer.  Eating those foods here taste like home to me!


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