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A Review of 'Memories of Gottschee" by Bobbi Thomason

Verfasst: So Feb 12, 2023 2:55 pm
von John Tschinkel
A Review of:
"Memories of Gottschee; a Narrated History of Fidelity and Fragility" by Bobbi Thomason. 192 pages, double spaced. Self-published in 2010.

Absent a normal ‘Introduction’, the patient reader must plow through many pages before arriving at the objective of “Memories of Gottschee”. A glimpse is, however, provided on the back cover: “Thomason traces the history of the Gottscheer in their own words from their childhood in Gottschee to their resettlement in 1941 and their final migration across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean”.

The booklet, drawing on interviews of a handful of exiled Gottscheer was written initially to satisfy the requirements of a Master Degree. It subsequently became self-published as a “Narrated History” in 2010. In this oral history, each individual narrative was followed with sympathetic comments, favorable analysis and frequent, often erroneous historical facts, by this ‘insider’ who claims to be a “curious historian” (pg. 178).

Interviewed were a sample of 38 persons, all of them having immigrated to the US in the early 1950’s. Of the 38, only 5 were 16 years or older in 1941, while all others were less than 10 when they, as part of the approximately 12,000 Gottschee-Germans, were coerced (not “forced”) to leave their homeland in which their ancestors lived for over 6 centuries. The destination, according to the author, was the “Deutsches Reich, the German Empire”. (Hitler’s Third Reich was hardly an empire). Hidden from them was the fact that this was just another part of nearby Slovenia, occupied and annexed by Hitler’s armies in 1941. Hidden is also the fact that the destination was: the homes and properties of 37,000 Slovene, who were expelled to make room for the arrivals and transported by the SS to labor camps in central Germany. And at the end of the Third Reich in May 1945, the resettled Gottscheer, now citizen of the Third Reich, were expelled from Slovenia as part of the Nazi occupier and most eventually immigrated to the US in the 1950’s where they congregated and commiserated in “communities”.

The author, aged 26 in 2010, with both maternal grandparents born in the former Gottschee, (a minuscule ethnic German enclave in Slovenia) describes herself a loyal member of this “community”, i.e. an ‘Insider’. Intrigued by the “established narrative of victimization” the author began her research of oral history “aware and skeptical of certain omitted pieces” and that “narrators might not want to discuss certain topics”. “I did ask uncomfortable questions on National Socialism, German allegiances and wartime traumas” but often “felt torn between the approaches of an investigative reporter, a morally conscious anthropologist, an informed academic [???] and a respectful granddaughter”.

As explained on page 11, one of the four who declined to be interviewed laments: “I can’t lie to you, but I can’t tell you the truth either”. To an informed reader, this is motivation to read on and discover how the 38, who agreed to be interviewed, avoided “lying” while simultaneously “not telling the truth”.

In the final Chapter the author does, summarily, admit: “Having examined Gottscheer history, specifically since the First World War, and observed how Gottscheers offer or avoid certain stories, it is clear that this community’s memory is selectively constructed.”

A reader, informed about historical facts, can conclude that the author avoids challenging the prevalent myth, one that claims -- the Gottscheer Germans were “victims” of Nazi Ingathering Policy -- while simultaneously denying any 'participation' in its execution. It would, obviously, be highly risky for this ‘Insider’ to disturb the status-quo and challenge this deeply ingrained and self-serving mantra.

To emphasize this, the author reports that several have tried, only to bring upon themselves the full wrath of the ‘community’. One of them whom she does not identify: “… has been described to me as a ‘traitor’, a ‘bully’ and ‘a crazy man. Ironically, much like Hitler, his is a name that goes unspoken in the community and one that was equally challenging for me to bring up in interviews”. Therefore, “… part of why I am very careful with how I phrase questions is the awareness that I may be perceived in the same way”.

With the above, Thomason admits she is aware of the structure of the myth, but wishes to remain a loyal ‘insider”. She does this by maximizing ‘victimhood’ while, simultaneously, minimizing ‘cooperation’ with the Nazis in the 1930’s. This ‘insider’ position, however, invites a challenge to both ‘victimhood’ and denial of 'cooperation’; a challenge based on my own recollections, (I lived in Gottschee 1931-1941), as well as the writings of serious historians such as the German, Dr. Hans Herman Frensing, William Shirer and many others.
While the Germans of Germany freely admitted they were both ‘victims’ and ‘cooperators’, they resolutely rejected and cast out the Nazi perpetrators after WWII. The Gottschee Germans, while claiming to be proud of their German heritage, have not followed their brethren in this. Quite to the contrary, the Gottscheer in post-war Associations appointed their own ‘perpetrators’ to “Honored Members and “Cultural Advisers” in their associations which hid their deeds. How this reflects on the credibility of the myth, the longevity of the indoctrination and the honor of the Gottscheer as a people is obvious.

In Nazi Germany, the perpetrators were Hitler and his fanatical followers. In Gottschee it was the 25 year old Wilhelm Lampeter, his inner circle, the leaders of his Storm Troopers and the leaders of Richard Lackner’s Hitler Youth. In general, however, it is fair to say that the general population was, at least early-on, divided into enthusiastic supporters, passive followers, doubting observers, and some active opponents. What is certain, however, most of the Gottscheer population was largely unaware of Hitler’s lethal ideology, but he was admired, at least up to 1941, for being a great German leader.

Among the opponents of the 'perpetrators' were the Gottscheer priests who called Lampeter and his inner circle “Rotzbuben” (snot boys). For this they were ostracized, denounced and ridiculed, and attendance of their Sunday Mass blocked by rallies. Frensing (pg. 86) quotes: “Within the inner leadership, Catholicism is viewed as a Universalistic worldview which must be eradicated”. Other opponents were threatened with Concentration Camps. Lampeter also developed a list of “undesirables” not fit for the Home to the Reich program. This included all mixed marriages, the physically handicapped and other un-trustworthy. (Frensing, pg. 83, 84). Lampeter was, however, overridden by the SS who came to believe that the Slovenes were of better stock than the inbred Gottscheer. (Frensing, pg. 137)

The shift toward greater support for the resettlement in 1941 was the result of the ever increasing coercive drumbeat and pressure that was applied by the Lampeter leadership and its enthusiastic supporters. This is borne out by the fact that 95 % of the population opted to follow the call “Heim ins Reich” (Home to the Reich). The often heard lament of the interviewed “we had no choice” is burdened with a mountain of self-serving ambiguity.

To accomplish this, these young leaders whipped up hatred for the Slovene whom they described as “Untermenschen” (low level human beings). They grossly exaggerated the cultural suppression by the Slovene after WWI claiming they denied them their German heritage. Fact is, attempts by the pre 1938 Gottscheer leadership, especially in the 1920’s toward reconciliation with the Slovene were largely successful. By 1931 there were again 22 private German schools in the enclave. And in 1935, there were 21 public schools in which German classes we held. (author, pg. 48, 49), However, the official language was Slovene, the language of the State, as is the case in any country, including the US. Teachers were German speaking Slovene and Gottscheer teachers who were competent in Slovene. Those who were not, were given one year to become proficient. If not they were retired and most left for Austria.

However, all this was irrelevant to a Reich that wanted useful confrontation with Yugoslavia, Slovenia included. (Hitler invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941). The existing Gottschee leadership, primarily Dr. Arko and Rev. Eppich, was forced by the Reich to resign in January 1939 and the young leadership under Lampeter, all trained in the Reich, was installed simultaneously that January to negate all prior ongoing effort toward further reconciliation.

In a meeting on April 26, 1941, Hitler personally agreed to Lampeter’s request that he and his leadership be given the responsibility for the resettlement. And to project authority, Lampeter was promoted to major in the Gestapo SS by Himmler personally. This is all itemized by Dr. Hans-Hermann Frensing in his “The Resettling of the Gottscheer Germans”. The book was published in 1970, but most of the printing was rapidly bought up by Gottscheer Associations in Germany and Austria to limit distribution. And when it became known that a Gottschee-American was willing to translate the book into English, the Associations mounted an enormous drive to prevent publication. All this to prevent subverting a myth being very actively promoted by the former ‘perpetrators’.

The Führer’s order to resettle home into the Reich, a place where they would be proud Germans, was a difficult order to resist. Even if the order came via his Gottscheer surrogates; sons and daughters who barely outgrew their teenage years and who coerced and lied to their people in order to accomplish Hitlers wishes. (Lampeter was 25 in 1941). Nevertheless, the resettlement started on November 14, 1941 and was completed on January 23, 1942. During these 73 days, some 11,747 Gottscheer, all now citizen of the Third Reich, abandoned their homeland for nothing more than a promise. Of them 571, identified by Lampeter as undesirables, (mixed marriages with Slovenes, physically handicapped, politically unreliable), were sent to labor camps in the inner Reich. (Frensing, pg. 167). Approximately 600 stayed. And barely four and a half years later, in May of 1945, all of the 11,747 in-gathered and new citizen of the 'Reich' since 1941, were homeless refugees with me, at 14 years, among them. Most of us immigrated to the USA.
Early in 1950, the former Gottscheer leaders (1938-1941) re-assembled in newly established associations in Europe. Richard Lackner, (Lampeter’s second in command, head of the Gottscheer Hitler Youth and a voluntary member of the SS), became chairman of the Associations in Germany. And in Austria, Herbert Erker, editor of the Gottscheer Zeitung 1939-1941, again became editor of the GZ, restarted in Austria in 1955. He was followed by Ludwig Kren, editor until 1996. (Kren had been Assistant Editor under Erker before the move). Lampeter had fled to East Germany (where he became a communist professor in a Communist University) and out of reach from those investigating war crimes. (During part of the war he was stationed in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He rejoined the Gottscheer Associations in January 1990 where he was, like the others, made an “Honorary Member” and “Cultural Adviser”). He died in 2003. (Not “2002”as per Thomason).

Among the immigrants to the US in the early 1950’s were many who had been supporters of Lampeter and his leadership circle. All had been trained in the Reich during the 1930’s, while Lampeter and his surrogates trained others after 1938. These new arrivals had an easy task of instilling their self-serving perspectives in the un-informed Gottscheer communities in the US, for years since the start of WW II without any news of Gottschee and totally unaware of the 1941 resettlement and its details. Here the new arrivals joined Gottscheer Associations, formed before the war, where they quickly became leading members. The main Association was the “Gottscheer Hilfswerk”, the most established association in the US; one that after 1945 was initially fully committed to help the exiled in Europe. However, by 1966: “the entire board of trustees was composed of recent immigrants”. (Petschauer, pg. 152). Consequently, these new trustees and other like-minded members were actively bonding with associations in Germany and Austria in annual joint policy meetings, thereby securing the myth now taking hold ever since the re-appearance of the Gottscheer Zeitung in 1955.

The widely read new Zeitung provided great comfort with its mantra not only for post-war immigrants but also for the earlier arrivals who were perplexed over the decision to resettle during a war whose outcome was still uncertain. The Zeitung, edited by Herbert Erker and later Ludwig Kren, actively promoted the myth of “victimhood” while hiding “participation” and denying all responsibility for the resettlement, placing the blame squarely on the Slovene who denied them their German heritage. The Zeitung was again functioning as a propaganda tool, fooling and lying to their people for the second time. (The original one, the main promoter of Nazi propaganda 1938-1941, had also been widely read in all the villages prior to the resettlement. In my village of Masern, there were always several copies available in each of the three Gasthouses, each new issue eagerly read by all villagers, thus proving presumptuous the comment of Thomason: “I can at least conclude its readership was minimal, particularly outside of central Stadt Gottschee” ).

The recent immigrants (as well as those who had arrived before WWII) found great comfort in this myth. It hid the burden of culpability in their new American homeland that had shed so much blood in getting rid of the Nazi scourge. “We were victims of the Nazis who forcefully resettled us out of our land” became an evasive reply to those who wanted to hear why. More to say was risky. “They [the Americans] would think we were Nazis” said the women who refused to be interviewed. She even stopped speaking German. Instead they congregated in get-together's where they could speak freely and commiserate about their misfortune. And revel in merrymaking and nostalgia about another place at another time while perpetuating the myth regarding their history.

The Gottschee Germans, once a minority in a Slavic land and after 1918 devoid of the century’s long cultural umbrella of Austria, did become victims of Hitler’s ideology, but even more so of Hitlers surrogate Gottscheer leaders whose objective was to turn: “love for their Homeland into love of the Führer”. (Frensing, pg. 75.) That they succeeded in 1941 is evident in the fact that 95 % followed the pipers. As a loyal ‘insider’ the author cannot deny this, but cannot tell the truth either. However, Matija Pavlitschek, one of the narrators who stayed, put it to Thomason: “At the time they were all idealists. They really believed. Or they were lemmings”. (pg. 60)

While the narratives of this handful of “Community” members are of interest in what they reveal and what they hide, it is the commentary of the author that compromises her claim of “having examined Gottscheer History” and being a “curious historian”. Both claims are severely undermined by quoting faulty references, misstating of relevant details, inaccurate translations, inconsistent and erroneous spelling of names (Gottshee vs. Gottschee) and dates (Hans Kump was born twice in 1924, once on Feb. 4 and again on May 24). It would seem, the Adviser for this Master’s Degree project at this distinguished University was careless in reviewing the accuracy of important details.

The most telling is the claim that “Gottschee was founded in 1330”. This false assertion was taken from a paper by Edward Skender, ( ... _CVeng.htm). Skender, a VP in the GHGA, is a frequent attender at leadership policy meetings in Austria where he rubs elbows with "Honored Members" and "Cultural Advisors". Under the title “Early History of Gottschee–Kočevje” he writes:

“Gottschee itself was probably [sic] founded sometime around 1270. It is first mentioned in records of 1310, [which records, ??] and more definitively in the year 1330, when the archbishop of Aquileia asks the Count of Ortenburg to nominate priests to be pastors for the parishes of: Ossiunitz, Göttenitz, Gottschee, Pölland, and Reifnitz. Three of the towns mentioned in the archbishop’s letter -- Ossiunitz/ Osilnice, Göttenitz/Gotenice, and Gottschee/Kočevje -- were in the newly-established domain of Gottschee”.

Fact is, there was no formal "founding" of "Gottschee". The area (not “domain”) was part of the Parish of Reifnitz (Ribnica) and owned by the Counts of Ortenburg, (not “Ortenberg” as spelled by Thomason). Around 1330 it was a place sparsely settled mostly by Slovene, where a central village was called Hoče; (phonetic - Hotshe) the area around it Hočevje. (phonetic - Hotshevye). (Petschauer, pg. 50). A letter from the Patriarch (not “Archbishop”) of Aquileia, Ludovicius I, dated 1363 (not “1330”), authorized Count Otto VI of Ortenburg (not “Frederick”) to establish new parishes (not “nominate priests”) in the villages, (not “towns”) spelled the places as: “Gotsche, Pölan, Costel, Ossewnitz et Gotenitz”. (Petschauer, pg.39). Here, the name Gotsche, (not “Gottschee”), the German equivalent of the Slovene Hoče, appears for the first time in history.

For reference: - In an earlier letter dated 1339, Bertram the then Patriarch of Aquileia, granted Count Otto VI of Ortenburg’s request for permission to appoint a priest to the chapel of Mahovnik (Mooswald), only 13 km from Ribnica (Reifnitz) just inside the forest. This is the first formal record that settlers, both German and Slovene, were being settled in the forest by the Counts of Ortenburg.

Thomason also relies on Skender who states that: “… in the year 1370, the emperor [Charles IV] ‘made available’, 300 families from the area of Franconia and Thuringia in Germany for settlement in Gottschee as noted in a document from the archives of the archbishop [Patriarch] of Aquileia. My guess [??] is that these families were involved in some sort of rebellion …… " . Skender appears to be fond of inventing and guessing.

It was Valvasor who first reported on this. He states that he found the information in the diary of Bishop Paul who lived in Ljubljana in the 14th Century. The entry is dated in 1363. (Not “1370”). Thomason’s credibility as a “curious historian" would be less compromised by not quoting frivolous amateurs.

Thomason's claim of being a“curious historian” suffers (among others) both in translation and interpretation of quotes from serious historians such as Frensing and Shirer. The sentence in Frensing’s book (pg. 84) “der Gottscheer Kreisausschuß der KP Sloweniens” is translated by Thomason into „the Gottscheer Council of Koper Slovenes“. No such group existed. The correct translation, found in Frensing's book and elsewhere is “the Gottschee branch of the Communist Party [KP] of Slovenia”. Falsely quoted is also Shirer (pg. 74): “the resettlement in the Autumn of 1941 occurred later in the war when Hitler was in a weaker position”. He says no such thing. Fact is, in the autumn of 1941, Hitler was at the peak of his power. Obviously, Thomason's grasp of history is wanting badly.

It is unfortunate that this, apparently sincere effort on ”oral history”, burdened with so much inaccuracy and fiction, adds little, if any, enlightenment to those still struggling to comprehend the true reasons behind the tragic destiny of the Gottschee Germans.

John Tschinkel, Author: "The Bells Ring No More", Amazon. Slovene version: "Zvonovi so umolknili", Modrijan, Ljubljana
August 31, 2015

Re: A Review of 'Memories of Gottschee" by Bobbi Thomason

Verfasst: So Feb 12, 2023 2:56 pm
von Josef Gladitsch
I wonder how author Bobbi Thomason’s managed to obtain a Master’s Degree with such a falsely interpreted portrayal of Gottschee history.
Many thanks to reviewer John Tschinkel for his accurate analysis of this distortion of history and elucidation of the Gottscheer NS time. As one can gather, Bobbi Thomason was financially and ideologically supported by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gottscheer Landsmannschaften, (Umbrella Association of Gottscheer Organizations), and it is, therefore, not surprising that certain parts of the Gottschee NS history were withheld from the reader.

Re: A Review of 'Memories of Gottschee" by Bobbi Thomason

Verfasst: So Feb 12, 2023 2:57 pm
von Josef Gladitsch
Es verwundert mich wie Frau Bobbie Thomason zu einer Master Arbeit in den USA gelangen konnte durch eine solch falsch interpretierte Darstellung der Gottscheer Geschichte. Vielen Dank an John Tschinkel für seine genaue Analyse dieser Geschichtsklitterung und Erläuterung der Gottscheer NS Zeit. Soweit man erfahren kann, wurde Bobbie Thomason von der Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gottscheer Landsmannschaften finanziell und ideologisch gefördert, somit dürfte ebenso nicht verwundern, dass wesentliche Bestandteile der Gottscheer NS-Geschichte dem Leser vorenthalten wurden.