What Does It Mean for Me to Be Austrian?

So I come round to the question, What does it mean for me to be of 1/4 Austrian heritage? All of my ancestor research has been linked to my quest to understand the colonization process, and how my family fits into that long history. How might I be connected to my Austrian ancestors, and how were they connected to the land where they lived?  What might I learn from them? I have had very mixed and often troubled feelings during this particular search.

John Hochreiter Baby in Linz

Johann Hochreiter as a baby, in Linz

Linz, the city where my grandfather Hochreiter was born in 1884 and lived until 1910, was also the home of Adolf Hitler for several years, from 1898 to 1907. It is not a connection I feel good about. Wikipedia noted, “Like many Austrian Germans, Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age.[34] He expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising the declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically variegated empire.[35][36]”  Learning the history of Austria’s connection and disconnection from other Germanic states, (see my last post) helps me to understand this somewhat, but the outcome was terrifying.

I was glad to read that in 1996, Linz became the first city in Austria to deal intensively with its own Nazi past.  There was widespread research by the municipal archives, and the culture of remembrance extended to the construction of monuments for the victims of National Socialism. But of course all of these events, including both World Wars, were after my own ancestor had emigrated to North America.

In my family, we didn’t really learn anything about Austria when we were growing up. As far as I can tell, there were no cultural aspects that were carried forward to us, except that, ironically and randomly, the only classical music album in our house was Johann Strauss’s Vienna Waltzes, including “The Blue Danube.”

In fact, it is the Danube River (German Donau) which has called most strongly to my heart, of all that I have learned about Austria.  (Not insignificantly, the Danube also flows through the city of Ulm where the Swabian line of my ancestors is located.) The Danube begins in the Black Forest and flows through southern Germany and through Austria, and then on to the Black Sea. The Danube valley in Austria is north of the Alps, and one of the most fertile and populous regions of Austria. This river is at the center of all its history and culture, and was the major East-West transport on the continent of Europe.

Linked to its location on the Danube, the Linz area was settled continuously, from the late Stone Age Neolithic period, in 4000 BCE. They have also found early Bronze Age urn sites and burial sites from the Hallstatt-period. In the first century AD, the Romans constructed a wood-and-earth fort to secure the important Danube river crossing to control traffic and for military reasons. They named it Lentia. In the second century it was expanded into a stone fort. It was part of the Roman frontier called the limes.

The official history site for the city of Linz notes there were many Goth invasions during the second century and that by the end of the 4th century A.D., the indigenous population is thought to have withdrawn to the easily defensible district of Martinsfeld in reaction to the advance of peoples from the East and West.

Upper Austria on the Danube seems to have been a crossroads of many peoples–who knows whether our ancient ancestors were part of the Roman colonizer settlements, or were the “Barbarian” hordes on the other side of the river? Or some combination of the peoples from “the East and the West”? In my personal DNA analysis, there seem to be fragments (less than 2%) of Italian and Eastern European ancestry–maybe they met along the Danube river in Austria.

So much is up to conjecture and imagination, except that it is clear they were of the so-called “lower” classes. Maybe my very ancient ancestors lived along the river, and then later migrated north to clear the forests and farm. Maybe they were a part of the Peasant Uprisings in 1626, or one of the 62 known uprisings in Upper Austria between 1356 and 1849. Maybe they were not. Day laborers. Weavers. Farmers. But in any case, around 1884, they left their rural connection to land and became urban city dwellers, and thus also came my grandfather to the cities of Ottawa, Ontario, and then to Detroit, Michigan. So much is lost in the translation. But I am glad to make the acquaintance of the great river Danube.

LINSVM_AVSTRIAE_Anno_1594.jpeg

Linz in the year 1594.

linz-on-the-danube-austria-640

Linz on the Danube, date ?1889

Austrian Questions

In searching to understand my Austrian heritage, I was able to find a few further generations of the Hochreiter family who lived in the Mühlviertel. This region consists of the four Upper Austrian districts that lie north of the river Danube: Rohrbach, Urfahr-Umgebung (where my ancestors were from), Freistadt and Perg. The parts of the state capital Linz that lie north of the Danube also belong to the Mühlviertel.

My grandfather Johann’s father, as I have said, was also named Johann Hochreiter. Johann, Sr. was the son of Michael Hochreiter (who would be my great-great-grandfather), born in 1832 in Waldschlag (now Oberneukirchen) and Theresia Foisner (my great-great-grandmother) who was born in 1828. She had an earlier marriage to Joseph Waldhör in 1851, at age 23. (Joseph was born in Unterwaldschlag, also Oberneukirchen). They had two sons, and then later Theresia married Michael Hochreither in Oberneukirchen on 13th of July 7, 1856, when she was age 28 and Michael was 24. They had four sons: Johann, Franz, Joseph, and Matthias, all of whom lived to marry and have children. (The records I have don’t indicate if there were any other children who did not survive.)

I also found each of their parents listed: Theresia’s parents were Michael Foisner and Cäcilia Pichler. Michael’s parents were Philipp Hochreiter (who came from Bad Leonfelden) and Theresia Rammerstorfer.

One of the ways I try to learn about my ancestors is simply to look up their towns on Google Maps. Bad Leonfelden is about 12-13 kilometers northeast of Oberneukirchen, and 28 kilometers north of Linz.  When I zoomed into Bad Leonfelden, a few businesses appeared with “Hochreiter” in the name. So that’s cool. Bad means “bath” in German, and there are spa mud baths in the town. It is only 6 kilometers south of the border with the Czech Republic.Oberneukirchen

A Wikipedia listing for Oberneukirchen said that settlement and then village life probably started in the area in the 12th century.  Around the year 1500 agriculture and the weaving industry served as the main source of income. Very important was the trade in flax and linen, and also in wood, wine and salt. So it is possible that my ancestors lived there a very long time.  In the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the area was occupied several times, and in 1809 there were major fires that destroyed many buildings in Oberneukirchen.

But what did it mean to be Austrian? After learning about the Swabian roots of some other Germanic ancestors, I wondered what kind of “Germanic” the Austrians might be. I found out the question has many historical complications. Some sources indicate that the Austrians and Bavarians were essentially the same culturally and linguistically. Austria is just to the east of Bavaria. But when Germany was nationalizing from smaller kingdoms and duchies and so on, Austria was a rival to Prussia, and there were also fierce Protestant/Catholic rivalries.  According to Leif Jerram, (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Manchester, UK) on Quora.com,

Historically, Bavaria and Austria were much more similar. At the time of the formation of the modern state of Germany in the 1860s-70s, Bavarian politicians very much wanted Austria inside the new nation – they shared Roman Catholicism. Further, at that time, Bavaria tended to be more liberal and tolerant than the rest of the new state of Germany, and they wished to be able to preserve that. The Prussian elites who forced the unification of Germany, however (through warfare and blackmail), wanted to ensure that a) Catholics would be in a minority in the new nation, and b) that Prussian aristocratic elites would not face any competition for political power. If Austria were included, then many more Catholics would be included in the new state, and the might of the Austrian empire (such as it was – let’s say its wealth and prestige) would mean Prussian aristocratic landholders would have to make many compromises. So, Austria was excluded from the new state, and Catholics were vigorously persecuted as a minority for the first 20-or-so years of its foundation.

The history of the place seems incredibly complex, (but that seems true of most places I’ve tried to learn about in Europe.) A decisive moment for these developments was the Austro-Prussian War, in the summer of 1866.  Each side had ally states who were part of the loosely bound German Confederation, but the Prussians won that seven week war, and shaped the resulting eventual German Empire to the exclusion of Austria. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was then established in 1867 in the aftermath, as a constitutional monarchy (with Austria and Hungary as equal partners) that lasted until 1918.

So my grandfather’s parents and grandparents would have lived through these and other–often violent–transitions, but who knows how much or how little they were involved or effected by them personally in their small rural villages.  All of this helps me to understand just a little of the complex relationship between Austria and Germany in the World Wars of the twentieth century, (though my grandfather and all of my other Germanic ancestors) were gone from Europe by then. In each of those conflicts, there were some people who wanted Austria to be part of a wider Germany, and in the resulting peace treaties, that was explicitly forbidden. No wonder I find it all very confusing.

 

Johann Hochreiter

John Hochreiter at 31

John Hochreiter at 31

My most recent ancestor immigrant to this continent was my grandfather, John Hochreiter. He was born “Johann” on June 1, 1884 in Linz, Austria, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Johann Hochreiter (senior), born 1857, was a day-laborer originally from the village of Waldschlag, (now part of the town of Oberneukirchen), in the northern part of Upper Austria, an area called Mühlviertel. From the information I can gather, the next few generations of ancestors were from that area as well. His mother was born Anna Bartl, about 1851, daughter of the weaver Michael Bartl and his wife Katharina.

I turned to etymology for some clues this time. The name “Hochreiter” originally meant those persons who made higher-lying surfaces arable, who cleared forested areas for farms. “Wald schlag might mean “Forest Strike”, and “Ober neu kirchen” is “Upper New Churches.” According to Wikipedia, settlement and then village life probably started in the area of ​​the municipality Oberneukirchen in the 12th century. The spread and colonization of the forest clearing areas and the religious care of the settlers soon made a chapel or church building required.  One last etymology: “Mühlviertel” translates “Mill Quarter.” The Oberneukirchen economy was centered around agriculture and weaving for several centuries.

However, Johann and Anna did not stay in this rural area, the place of their families. For some reason, I would guess related to work, they moved about 25 kilometers south to the city of Linz where Johann was a day-laborer. It was in the city that their children were born—they had at least five sons, Johann (junior) in 1884, Georg in 1885, Franz in 1888, Franz Joseph in 1892, and Julius in 1895. (I seem to remember hearing stories that my grandfather was the oldest of several brothers—even eight, but that number might be a error.) They later also died in the city of Linz, in 1933 and 1930.

My mom told of a story that my grandfather as a young man had carried bread on his back to deliver it, or another story was that he delivered beer by horse-drawn cart. But in any case, at some point he became a waiter, and remained so until his retirement many years later. He left Linz in his twenties, somewhere about 1910 or 11, with a group of buddies, working as waiters in hotels as they traveled, going first to France, and then England. Finally they took the ship called “Lake Manitoba” and landed in Quebec, Canada on June 16, 1912. Then, he worked as a waiter at the new, and very grand, Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It was there he met my grandmother, Yvonne Tremblay, who worked as a chamber maid.

In late 1915, John emigrated once again, traveling via Windsor to Detroit, Michigan. By this point, Canada had entered the first World War, and he was registered as an “enemy alien.” I wonder if that contributed to his decision to come to the United States, which was still a neutral country. (According to that registration, in 1915 at 31 he was 5’3”, weighed 125 pounds, and had dark hair, and wore glasses.) He soon sent for Yvonne, and they were married in Detroit on January 14, 1916. She was just 18.

John & Yvonne Hochreiter 1916

John and Yvonne in Detroit 1916

They stayed in Detroit, and he worked as a room service waiter at the Hotel Statler (which had been completed earlier in 1915), until he retired (at 70) after my grandmother died in l954.

When I have wondered about why he left Austria, I haven’t found clear answers. It was a few years before war would break out there, so I don’t think it was about that. It seems perhaps he and his friends were looking for adventure, and they’d found a way to do it even without many financial resources.  As waiters, they could work wherever they could find hotel jobs.  I was impressed that these men continued to be friends years later in Detroit. My grandfather was a quiet man, and he died when I was only 13, so I never felt that I knew him very well.

Ironically, even though my siblings and I are of 25% Austrian ancestry, and our grandfather was the most recent immigrant of our heritage, I found it difficult to find a sense of connection to that culture and place. It has bewildered me as I have continued to explore the region in Austria from which he came. I’ll write more in a future post.