Cemetery on the bank of the Vltava

The mightiest aristocratic family of Renaissance Bohemia, the Rosenbergs, established their power in the southern part of the country, along the upper reaches of the Vltava. Leaving Český Krumlov, one of their family residences, the road winds up – that is, southwards – to the castle of Rožmberk, the family’s other residence, and from there to Vyšší Brod, the magnificent Cistercian monastery that they founded. Through the tall trees of the pine forest along the road you can see the Vltava, here only a narrow mountain river, running down roaring, glittering in the sunshine, joining all the little mountain streams, with the rafters and kayakers gliding down on its rapids one after another.

If you long for some variety, just after Krumlov, at Větřní, you can turn right, into the mountains, and after following a few serpentine roads, and leaving behind the village of Bohdalovice, a beautiful plateau opens up before you. Ripe cornfields and fields of flowers with a strong, spicy fragrance on the gently undulating hillsides, rows of willows in the stream valley and groves of pines on the hilltops, and far away, beyond the Vltava, the nine hundred meter high peaks of the Poluška mountain range. And not a village, nor a farmstead, as far as the eye can see.

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The road winding among the fields is so narrow, that if a car should come from the opposite direction, we would not be able to pass. But not a single car comes until, following the Strážný brook, we descend again to the Vltava. Directly across the river, on top of a steep hill, stands a snow-white Gothic church: the parish church of Zátoň, or Ottau in German, dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

The Zátoň Altarpiece (c. 1530) with the Crucifixion and the scenes of the life of St. John the Baptist on its side wings, today in the medieval collection of the Czech National Gallery in St. Agnes Monastery in Prague

The village, today with only nine inhabitants, is described by the Cistercian Valentin Schmidt in his 1915 study Die Benediktinerpropstei Ottau in Südböhmen, as the oldest documented settlement in Southern Bohemia. Here, just a few hundred meters up from the church, an excellent ford leads across the Vltava, which now, in the current drought, can be crossed by car as well, and which is now surrounded by the last large campsite for the rafting enthusiasts before Český Krumlov, with its great fish restaurants. On the church hill once stood a castle overseeing the ford, which in 1037 was donated by Prince Břetislav I to the Benedictines of Ostrov. Before 1310 the castle was replaced by a Benedictine priorate, which was destroyed around 1430, during the Hussite wars. Subsequently, the settlement was acquired – it seems, with fake documents – by the Rosenbergs, who around 1510 built on the ruins of the priorate the present late Gothic church with a beautiful lierne vault, as well as the parsonage. Their coat of arms, the five-petaled rose – which can be seen in almost every town of Southern Bohemia – adorns the apse of the church.

On entering the churchyard, you catch sight of a strange cemetery. Truncated stones line up in disciplined rows, without any inscriptions. The upper part of some of them is more or less intact, each with an iron stump sticking up from it – pedestals for the crosses that previously marked the graves. The iron crosses once standing on them were taken away perhaps as scrap metal. The few crosses still standing on some of them – which were re-erected later – have German names on them.

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Behind the church and on the other side, in front of the churchyard wall, several crosses and gravestones have remained more or less intact. This part was probably soon overgrown with scrub after the expulsion of the German population, and thus the crosses were not collected for scrap metal, as in the more accessible area before the entrance. Only the photographs they bore have been beaten off them in the intervening years.

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At the end of the two rows of mutilated pedestals in front of the entrance, there is a newly erected gray marble slab, with an inscription in Czech and German.

Zum Gedenken an alle Menschen, die hier auf diesem Friedhof ihre letzte Ruhe fanden, und deren Gräber größtenteils nicht mer existieren.

Bis zum Jahre 1946 lebten in der Pfarrei Ottau mit seinen damals 14 Pfarrorten mehrheitlich deutschsprachige Bewohner, denen der Böhmerwald seit Jahrhunderten Heimat war.

Die 14 Pfarrorte waren:
In memory of all those who found their final resting place in this cemetery, and whose graves for the most part do not exist any more.

Until 1946 the parish of Ottau and the 14 settlements belonging to it had mainly German-speaking inhabitants, for whom the Bohemian Forest had been a homeland for many centuries.

The 14 settlements of the parish were:

Ottau – Zátoň, Schömern – Všeměry, Stubau – Dubova, Lobiesching – Lověšice, Lobieschinger Ruben – Lověšické Rovné, Stömnitz – Jistebník, Wieles – Běleň, Kropsdorf – Zábraní, Pramies – Branná, Hochdorf (teilweise) – Nahořany (část), Ebenau – Zátoňské Dvory, Hoschlowitz – Hašlovice, Zistl – Dobrné, Luschne – Lužná

Gestiftet im Jahre 2010 von der Pfarrgemeinschaft Ottau im Namen der ehemals 1400 Pfarrangehörigen.Erected in 2010 by the Ottau parish community, in the name of the community’s former 1400 members.

At the gate of the church of Ottau, and then on the way home from the Mass. Palm Sunday of 1920. Photos of the Krumau/Český Krumlov photographer Josef Seidel, about whom we will write separately.

According to Reinhold Fink’s Zerstörte Böhmerwaldorte (The destroyed villages of the Bohemian Forest, 2006), which includes the data of 801 disappeared German villages in Southern Bohemia, in Ottau in 1930 there were 48 German and 9 Czech inhabitants; in 2005, 9 inhabitants total. In Schömern in 1930, 71 Germans and 9 Czechs; by 2005 the village had disappeared. In Stubau in 1930, 70 Germans and 6 Czechs; in 2005, 7 inhabitants, and only two houses remain standing from the former village. In Lobiesching in 1930, 112 Germans, disappeared. In Ruben in 1930, 69 Germans, disappeared. In Stömnitz in 1930, 96 Germans and 3 Czechs; in 2005, 8 inhabitants, with only 5 houses left standing from the former 25. In Wieles in 1930, 83 Germans and 4 Czechs; in 2005, 8 inhabitants, and 3 out of 16 houses. In Kropsdorf in 1930, 72 Germans, disappeared. In Pramies in 1930, 42 Germans, disappeared. In Hochdorf in 1930, 143 Germans and 1 Czech; in 2005, 21 inhabitants, and 10 of 29 houses. In Hoschlowitz in 1930, 158 Germans and 7 Czechs; in 2005, 38 inhabitants, 13 of 31 houses. In Luschne in 1930, 122 Germans and 22 Czechs; in 2005, 30 inhabitants, 7 of 11 houses. In Zistl in 1930, 94 Germans and 1 Czech; in 2005, 50 inhabitants, and 15 from 17 houses. The relatively large population of the last four settlements can be explained by the fact that they follow one after another on the banks of the Vltava, along the busy road to Český Krumlov, and their houses seem to have been largely built in the last 15-20 years.

The 14 names do not include the several farms and building groups bearing their own names, such as the Ziehensackmühle or Hauber’s Mill (Haubermühle, Hauberův mlýn) two kilometers below Ottau, on the bank of the Vltava, whose inhabitants were also deported without exception in 1946, their settlements destroyed.

Miller Hauber and his wife, from here.

In Mapire, which projects the maps of the third Austro-Hungarian military survey (carried out in Bohemia between 1877 and 1880) on Google Maps, you can clearly see that in the late 19th century, there were still several villages, farms, chapels, and lonely buildings which dotted the area, from which today you can find only Slubice/Schlumnitz with its three houses and five inhabitants. This is the beautiful, fertile and deserted hilly region, over which we have just passed coming to Zátoň.

Click on the picture

In the South Bohemian mountains – called in German Böhmerwald, in Czech Šumava, in English the Bohemian Forest – which had an almost purely German population, there happened in 1945 only in a few places the same sort of bloody pogroms which were committed against the German inhabitants further north, in the mixed-population areas. Committed by the Czech army and a stirred-up mob, they were emboldened by public speeches given by President Beneš on 12 May in Brno and 16 May in Prague, that called for the “liquidation without compromise” of the Germans and Hungarians in Czechoslovakia. Even so, until the autumn of 1945 about 800 thousand Germans were “spontaneously driven out” (“divoký odsun”, “wild expulsion”, in the Czech terminology) from their homes. The Beneš Decrees of 25 October deprived the entire German population of all their property, and the National Assembly of 8 May 1946 proclaimed amnesty for all crimes perpetrated against them until 28 October. The Germans still in Bohemia – a total of three million people together with those expelled earlier – were gathered up without warning in January 1946 and deported to Germany and, to a lesser extent, to Austria. During the displacements, more than two hundred thousand Germans lost their lives. While the German villages of northern Bohemia were ruined on the hands of the landless Czech peasants, Hungarian and Czech forced laborers – like the protagonist of Hrabal’s I Served the King of England – as well as the Gypsies who settled there, those of southern Bohemia were just abandoned by the Communist government, due to the proximity of the Iron Curtain, to be depopulated, or, where considered necessary, even destroyed by the army.

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In the inscription of the memorial stone the term “Ottau parish community” deserves attention. This does not refer to the present parish community of Zátoň, from where the Catholic believers have already disappeared to such an extent, that according to the schematism of the České Budějovice diocese, they do not even celebrate Mass in the parish church. The “Pfarrgemeinschaft von Ottau” was called to life in 1984 in Bavarian Hitzhofen by Hans Puritscher, a native of the nearby Ruben, as an association of the Germans displaced from all the settlements of the former parish. The Kirta, as it is called in the local dialect, on 1 September 1991, shortly after the Velvet Revolution, already held a festive sitting in the parsonage of Zátoň. Since then they have been gradually restoring the church and the cemetery at their own expense, just as several other expunged church communities in the Bohemian Forest – for example the pilgrimage church of Kájov/Gojau – have been largely restored paid for by the Germans expelled from the respective towns. The publication and website of the “Förderkreis St. Johannes Enthauptung, Ottau”, founded to this end in 2001, regularly provides information on the progress of the work.

Advertisement in Czech and German on a gravestone: “To the relatives of the Klampfl tomb. We, the brothers of Herbert and Erich Klampfl, born in Ebenau, would be glad to have news about other members of the Klampfl family. By phone, please only in German. (Phone number, e-mail)

A storm is coming from the Vltava, and we leave the churchyard in order to reach dry Rosenberg through the mountains. I take a picture of the church with the storm clouds. Just now I look at the two abandoned side buildings. To the left, the former parsonage, which was acquired and converted into a three-star “Hotel Fara” (“Parish Hotel”) by a private person in the fever of the 1990 privatization. In 1991, the Kirta had their first meeting here. Since then it has closed, and only its Russian-language (!) website lives on.

The two-storey, seven-windowed building to the right looks like what once played an important role in the life of the community, perhaps as a shop, a house of a rich peasant, or an administrative building. Now it is completely abandoned, begging for a German buyer.

I’m sitting in Český Krumlov, where the Vltava enters the city, on the wooden terrace of the hostel above the river. Day is breaking. As I am writing this, I hear beneath me the ceaseless roar of the Vltava, the sound of the two cascades. On the computer I am listening to Smetana’s Vltava. In my mind, I see the images conjured by the music, as the river is being slowly intertwined from the drops of water, springs, the little mountain streams of the Böhmerwald, from the Cold and Warm Vltavas. The Vltava motif resounds with the wedding dances of the Czech peasants, the towering castles of the knights of the Czech past, and the river welcomed in Golden Prague with the motif sounding in a major key, before it majestically merges with the Labe (Elbe). The glorious Czech Vltava. And on the screen I am reading the text of the deutschböhmisch Vltava, the non-official anthem of the expelled Germans.

Bendřich Smetana: Vltava (My Country, 2nd movement). Karajan & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Af d’Wulda, af d’Wulda
scheint d’Sunn a so gulda
geh i über d’Bruck.

Furt schwimman die Scheida
tolaus ullweil weida
und koans kimmt mehr zruck.
Over Vltava, over Vltava
the sun is shining so gold
as I walk across the bridge

The timbers are floating
out of the valley, always farther
and none of them comes back any more

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