Why research our Ancestors and how did this begin? / Warum Forschung unserer Vorfahren und wie hat das angefangen?

Foreword

 

        How did this quest for our ancestry all begin?  Why take great pains in detail to learn the ancestry of our Spannbauers and its associated families?  What purpose does this serve us?  I have felt this is about the hearts of our ancestors who have turned their hearts to us, and many of our hearts have turned to them that will bind our family generation after generation who lived before us, whose we are now living and those who will come after us, like a link of chains.  We can sense the love of our past families, is it not natural to seek and learn why they are a part of us?  But there is more than the motivation to seek them that cannot be explained by words or feelings.  Genealogy is the study of our ancestors – their births, their childhoods, their dreams, their marriages, their occupations, their children, and their deaths.  And because these things in the past all have an impact on the present, in a very real sense, genealogy is a study of one’s self.

 

        First, I have been often asked to relate my experiences how and where I continued to trace the trails of our ancestries over and over to many individuals who got in touch with me or whomever I came across them.  I was and am always happy until it became very time consuming while attending to my primary duties with my family, work, church and this wonderful endeavor here.  I realized the power of the World Wide Web would help us find a better avenue.  So I hope my foreword here will provide good answers to many of your multiple and curious questions.  It is a wonderful project that thousands and thousands have sought to find their roots.  Of course, I am sure there were a few Spanbauers or related relatives of ours that have already researched to some extent but the general purpose is to create a network that can bring many more exciting and interesting discoveries.

 

        The story begins in 1970 when I was at nine years of age that unexpectedly opened a forgotten path of our past ancestors when I grew up in Decatur, Illinois USA.  One evening my family and I relaxed together to watch a television premiering a popular World War II movie that occurred in Europe.  As the events began to unfold, I became appalled to see American and German soldiers who fiercely fought against each other on the battlefields, and sometimes some innocent civilians were hurt or killed.  This disturbed me very much because we were Germans living in America!   I remembered my early childhood memories from many Sundays when my family and I would eat together with my German grandmother with German and American dishes served at the dining table.  My father proudly often said our Spanbauer family is a German family, and relished all of the German food on the table.  I didn't understand what that really meant.  Soon after dinner my sister Pauline took me upstairs to her bedroom to give me a geographical lesson.  She showed me a geographical globe display of the earth showing the land regions, countries, cities and oceans.  Pauline pointed where our home was located in the state of Illinois within the United States of America in North America or the western Hemisphere, and then trailed her finger eastward across the Atlantic ocean to Germany upon the European continent to illustrate the journey of where our grandparents came from.  It sounded like an adventure.

 

        But I asked my parents why were they fighting?  Who were the bad soldiers, the Germans or the Americans?  My father explained the Spanbauers were the "good" Germans and the fighting Germans were the "bad" Germans.  My mother explained there were many Germans who did not want to go to war because of a tyrant named Hitler who forced them to go and made many people suffer.  During a commercial break, I asked my father since my grandparents came from Germany; did they have a mother and father?  Yes, they did, and explained my grandparent's parents were my great-grandparents, and then the parents of my great-grandparents were my great-great grandparents, and so on.  They were called family generations to now where we exist on earth.  For some reason, my understanding of how a family tree grows ignited a flame of curiosity in my feelings that had to know them:  Who were they? Where did they live?  What did they do?  Where did they die and were buried?  My father explained with regret he did not know anything to answer my questions, because my grandparents never spoke about it and kept it to themselves.  Even my father’s two brothers or my uncles knew nothing about it.  Only two things were known that they came from Germany and spoke German.  It was strange that made my reason stare why we didn’t know where we came from?  After the movie ended, my mother brought out a very old scrapbook containing some papers and pictures of my mother’s ancestry from England and Scotland far as back to the 1770s, and briefly written accounts of who were they, how they lived and was buried.  I was amazed and it bonded my destiny to take me into an adventurous quest across the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond.

 

        Some time later, my parents took me to my grandmother named Mary Spanbauer (her original name was Maria Hanel Kindermann) to care for me while they attended a social function.  We sat down at the kitchen table to chat about a couple of things.  Soon I eagerly brought up the subject if she could speak German?  Her face suddenly became startled and impaled.  She reacted with a stern question asking who told me about it.   I explained it was my parents who told me that she came from Germany and could speak German.  With great hesitation, she said: “Yes, yes, that was a long, long time ago,” as if she wanted to conclude this to another subject.  My next question unwittingly came like a glass of cold water splashed at her face: “Who were the Spannbauers and Kindermann families?  What were their names?  What did they do?  Where did they live?  How did they live?  Where they are now buried?  Why did you and Grandpa come here to America?

 

        Suddenly, she cut me off and angrily rebuked at me with her chastising finger at my face and said: "THEY ARE ALL DEAD AND I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!"  I became startled and puzzled.  I only wanted to know about the family, but she cut me off and silenced me not to talk any further and walked away to her bedroom.  I was somewhat confused but in spite of her reaction, I could not take her "no" for an answer.  Thus began my long journey with only finding piecemeal information from time to time until the power of the Internet ignited an information supernova bringing forth more amazing discoveries.  In the beginning, I thought it was strange when most of my family knew my Grandpa Spanbauer was actually born in Germany but his obituary in the newspaper stated he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?  I did not understand why would my grandparents take great effort to cover their European origins?  Even when I inquired my uncles and cousins, they secretly acknowledged they came from Germany but knew nothing else more about it.  Why hush about it even when you don't know the truth?

 

        One day at my Grandma’s house, I became extremely bored and had nothing to do.  For some reason, I decided to rummage inside a small closet that stored a vacuum cleaner and some miscellaneous items.  At the bottom I found a crushed cardboard box containing some unkempt pictures and crudely typewritten and handwriting on some documents which resembled like a pedigree with many names of family units.  I could only decipher about half of it because it wasn’t well organized to show who were linked, here and there.  It was sometimes confusing and didn’t even say anything about Europe, but at least it was the best source I could find.  Suddenly I froze when my grandmother angrily went over my shoulder and pulled me out of it with a scolding and closed the door.  A long time passed when I could not resist finding out what other items were laying inside the box.  I found a curious picture of a man dressed in a military uniform that was obviously not American but probably not German.  In a rare moment, Grandma happened to be in a good mood.  I pulled out the picture to ask her who was he?  She said it was Karl, a good man of my grandpa’s brother in Austria.  I was thrilled but more confused because Austria and Germany were not the same countries, so how did these brothers come into the family of two countries?  Then she said nothing more, and as usual, she scolded me to put it back inside the box.  Then Grandma said the closet was going to be cleaned out with the box and other unusable items were going to be thrown away in the trash or into the fire while she closed the closet door.  I don’t know why, but my thoughts panicked that it could be lost for good.  Subsequently, I made up my mind and intended to take it with me when my grandmother was distracted with my father doing about a few things inside the garage just before my father took me home.  After I looked out to make sure she would not capture me again, I secretly returned to the closet and took out some papers and pictures and stuffed it inside my clothes to be brought home for safekeeping.  I was about 11 or 12 years old then, and she didn’t really notice it.  It wasn't a theft; it was more of a rescue.

 

        I remembered there were two occasions when some relatives came to visit my grandmother, one from Canada in 1971 and a couple from Germany in 1974.  The first one was a gracious and older lady named Elizabeth Spanbauer who came from Alberta, Canada.  I learned she was the wife of Wenzel Spannbauer; it thrilled me because I had never met another Spanbauer from another country.  She was very warm and cordial, and we became attached to each other, whom I affectionately later called my Aunt even though she was only an in-law relative.  My parents and I had a nice dinner with them with pleasant conversations.  My father said he really didn’t know how exactly we were related to Elizabeth and Wenzel.  So naturally I asked where she was born.  I became intrigued when Elizabeth said she and Wenzel were born in Yugoslavia.  She said something about my grandfather Franz who came from the same place. My grandpa was born in Yugoslavia?  The mystery just continued to deepen.  Where did that fit with Germany?  With great excitement, I began asking her a couple of questions when suddenly Grandma quickly stood up and angrily motioned her scolding finger at me and said: “Stop!  Talk no more of this!  It happened a long time ago and forget it!  Change the subject!  Talk about something else!”  I became embarrassed but puzzled why it was forbidden or wrong to talk about families?  Even a second attempt caused my Grandmother become very furious and agitated.  Even my curious father forced me to hush down and forbade me to pursue this subject.  Elizabeth was somewhat embarrassed, too and everyone became hushed and nervous.   After a few minutes, the tension went down as we started to talk about other subjects about our daily lives and general interests.  In the back of my mind, it could not extinguish my curiosity and I became more determined to find out if and when the time would be right.

 

        A second time came in 1974 when my grandmother’s cousins named Emil and Stefan (known as Steve in America) Kindermann from Ohio came to visit at her house that I was familiar during my younger days.  My parents and I were invited to meet them again for another wonderful family occasion.  They were brothers but I did not know again how exactly they were related to her.  But this time they brought and introduced an older couple named Josa and Ferdinand Pitl who were visiting relatives from Germany.  I became charmed by their friendly demeanor and was awed because I had never met any people visiting from Germany!  We had a very nice dinner together, but they could not speak English so we relied on Emil or Stefan to translate in German and English for us.  I learned Josa was related by blood to us.  After the dinner was over, I enthusiastically inquired Josa how was she related to us.  She was about to explain when suddenly my grandmother quickly stood up and angrily interrupted us.  She told me to maintain silence and my father forced me to hush down, even he became embarrassed and angry with me.  My father said to me in sign language that he wanted to know the same thing but warned me not to pursue this subject any further.  Everyone was hushed and moved on to other subjects.  Grandma’s reaction was so extremely strange and was there something to do from a forbidden past?  I was embarrassed again but a strong force seemed to strengthen my determination because it was useless to ignore it.   I wondered why was it more complicated than I thought.  Again, the time to know was not right yet.

 

        Grandma remained tight lipped as I became older.  At one time she said they moved to different lands and it was too much complicated to talk about it.  She said there were no immigration records of herself and Grandpa when they came to America.  But several years later in 1985, she seemed to have a little change of heart when she wrote me a letter saying that we would have a heart to heart talk about the family tree.   When I came home in 1986, I reminded Grandma about her promise to me.  She changed her mind and refused any further discussion.  I felt discouraged.  At my lowest hour, I petitioned to the Almighty God for help, and what could I do now or abandon it for good?

 

        On July 1986 on the day of my 25th birthday, I visited my Grandmother for a chat and it was customary for her to give me some money as a birthday present, but told her that I didn’t want the money but wanted something else for my birthday.  Then I said: “I want you to tell me about the Spannbauer family tree as my birthday present.”  She quickly hesitated and walked away from me.  A very strong feeling came over me and I bluntly spoke to her saying: “I am a Spanbauer!  And I am a part of the Spanbauers!  And the Spanbauers are a part of me!  And so is my Grandpa!”  Grandma looked silently at me and then walked down in the garage without saying a word.  I followed her as she rummaged around some old papers stored inside the drawers in a very old dresser coated with thick dust and cobwebs.  Finally she brought out a large envelope and laid it on the kitchen table.  The moment of truth didn’t even begin to sink in me when I saw it was a large envelope letter dated March 1936 written to Grandfather Franz, when he worked as a foreman for a greenhouse business in Medina, New York USA from his brother named Karl Spannbauer, then living in Braunau am Inn, Austria.   Carefully I pulled out the letter and to my amazement; it revealed a detailed family tree of my great-great grandparents Wenzel Spannbauer and Katharina Krieg and their six children, whom I was descended from one son Josef, who was my great-grandfather, then my grandfather Franz, and my father Paul.  The whole content of this letter was written in old German script but I found some English translations written on it by Grandma who translated some for my grandfather many years ago.

 

        Finally, a major breakthrough occurred on the day of my birthday in 1986.  I visited my Grandmother for a chat and it was customary for her to give some money to her grandchildren for their birthday presents.  I said: “I don’t want the money but I want something else for my birthday.  I want you to tell me about the Spannbauer family tree as my birthday present.”  She quickly hesitated and walked away from me.  A very strong feeling came over me and I bluntly spoke to her saying: “I am a Spanbauer!  And I am a part of the Spanbauers!  And the Spanbauers are a part of me!  And so is my Grandpa!”  Grandma looked silently at me and then walked down in the garage without saying a word.  I followed her as she rummaged around some old papers stored inside the drawers in a very old dresser coated with thick dust and cobwebs.  Finally she brought out a large envelope and laid it on the kitchen table.  It was a large envelope letter dated March 1936 written to Grandfather Franz, when he worked as a foreman for a greenhouse business in Medina, New York USA from his brother named Karl Spannbauer, then living in Braunau am Inn, Austria. The moment of truth did not even begin to sink within my mind I carefully pulled out the contents of the envelope. I discovered who were my great-great grandparents, Wenzel Spannbauer and Katharina Krieg and their six children, of whom I was descended from one son named Josef, who was my great-grandfather, then my grandfather Franz, and my father Paul.  The writing were written in old German script and were almost impossible for me to read, but I found a few English translations written by Grandma who translated it some for my grandfather many years ago because his German knowledge became diminished for nearly thirty years after he settled in America Grandma could read it but did not cooperate with my inquiries but that was all right; I would surely find someone else who could translate the entire contents of this letter.

 

        On the back of the page contained a historical summary of where the Spannbauer ancestors came from the Bohemian Forest. The record indicated they were farmers and royal servants of Prince Schwarzenburg who owned large tracts of land and estates.  It even mentioned my grandfather Franz and his brother (or my great-uncle) Wenzel (Bill) went to America.  I asked her where the Bohemian Forest is.  She refused to answer, but I later dug into geographical references and books that located the Bohemian Forest in the province of Bohemia of what was then a part of communist Czechoslovakia (remember it was still communist at the time of my first discovery and today is now the Czech Republic).  In spite of this major revelation on my birthday, Grandma still hesitated to say anything further but she questioned why I should pursue such a complicated and foolish venture because all original records were destroyed or scattered during the war?  When I asked about her Kindermann family, she refused and did not want to say anything further on that subject.  I remained quiet for now and wasn’t going to push my luck again until perhaps the next time would be right.  But my mind could not contain how amazing the hand of God had opened the way to reveal the long-lost and hidden trail back to the land of our ancestors.  It was one of my best birthday gifts, and God bless my grandmother, even if she did not fully understand it.

 

        Later on the same day, my Uncle Ted Spanbauer (Ted as his nickname, actually known as Theodore) and Aunt Margie visited Grandma while they were in town.  I excitedly told him about the letter of Karl Spannbauer, and he certainly was interested when he saw the letter.  Ted told me he found an "unknown" Spanbauer genealogist in a phone book named Charles Spanbauer living in Brevard, North Carolina USA, near his home in the Asheville area.  He contacted and visited Charles but they could not confirm how they maybe related.  So I made photocopies of Karl’s letter to Ted for him to pass it to Charles.  Eventually Charles copied it to his sister Catherine Spanbauer-Lincoln, then living in Germany as an English-German translator for a German drug firm.  Catherine was interested in researching her genealogical roots from the Bohemian Forest, and noted our ancestry came from this same region.  Some years passed after I graduated from college in 1991, married in 1993 and my grandmother passed away in 1994.  In October 1995, only the recent birth of my first son Karl, and six years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Catherine crossed the border into the Czech Republic to visit a small village named Böhmisch-Röhren, which is now called Cesky-Zelby.  She discovered it had a very old and neglected cemetery but there were some signs of renovations.  Catherine found and took pictures of several Spannbauer grave markers and left a note on a grave marker of Franz & Barbara Spannbauer of Schönberg #8 inside a candle bottle, which gave indications it, was visited and maintained.  On Saints Day, a lady named Anna Pobuda, then living in Wendelstein, Germany, went to visit the Böhmisch-Röhren cemetery.  She was a former Spannbauer who lived in the small village of Schönberg within the vicinity of Böhmisch-Röhren before she and others were driven out from postwar Czechoslovakia by the end of World War II.  Anna found Catherine’s note and contacted her.  From there, they began a correspondence and Catherine linked Anna to me, where she generously sent me information about Schönberg with some genealogical details of her side of the Spannbauer family.  We corresponded a few times but she later passed away several years later.  But thankfully and eventually, I found her grandfather Karl was the twin brother of my great-grandfather Josef!  Catherine Spanbauer-Lincoln also linked me to Robert Spannbauer of Akron, Ohio USA and in 1996 he sent me an in-depth genealogy of the Spannbauers far back to circa 1670.  I was extremely excited but still could not find a connection yet.  At least I was getting closer to cracking the case.  Uncle Ted also said there were a number of Spanbauers living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin USA but could not find a connection with them but later research indicated we may be related to them.

 

        As my family grew to four children, I had very little spare time to keep tinkering with the genealogies, but it did not cease in spite of my busy family life.   In 2007 I went into the internet to look for more information and came across the Bohemian Forest museum in Vienna, Austria at http://www.boehmerwaldmuseum.at/, led by Dr. Gernot Peter.  I got in touch with him by electronic mail, and sent my genealogical side to him, but we could not confirm which lineage and sources yet.  Then in 2008 a major breakthrough came through when Gernot emailed me saying “BINGO!” with several webpage references to Roman Catholic parish records of Böhmisch-Röhren scanned by the South Bohemian Regional Archives of the Czech Republic.  I could not believe such records survived to this day in spite of when ethnic Germans were driven out, their homes and personal possessions were seized, and many efforts undertaken to erase memories of German life by the people who lived under seven years of Nazi oppressive rule.  Even German cemeteries were vandalized and corpses taken out to make room for the non-German dead.  Unfortunately the bitter past cannot be changed, but God can change the evil become the good under the power of his grace.  It was not until in 2009 I finally found Robert, Charles and I were descended from a Mathias Spannbauer (1720 – 1764), because my great-uncle Karl’s letter cracked the hidden trail back across the Atlantic Ocean, by connecting through my grandmother, Uncle Ted Spanbauer, Charles Spanbauer, Catherine Spanbauer-Lincoln, Anna Spannbauer Podbuda and then Gernot Peter.  There is no higher honor deserved for Karl Spannbauer to have his name dedicated in this website.

 

        Now please allow me to fast reverse back to 1986 about my Grandmother's Kindermann family, and I will wrap it together why was Grandma was so extremely hesitant to tell about her and my grandfather's ancestry.  After she reluctantly told me some about the Spannbauers, but refused to talk about her side of the Kindermann family.   I petitioned to God for help and soon a thought came to my mind that I remembered Grandma had a brother who lived in Pana, Illinois, which is about an hour’s drive south of Decatur, Illinois.   I remembered him suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease when I was very young attending at a wonderful Kinderman family gathering at his home where all of his children and my grandmother's family (including myself) for a nice dinner and chatting.  Now I deduced that if Grandma was born in Europe, so would he.  Perhaps his wife, or who was my great-Aunt Corienna Kinderman, then living in Pana at that time might have some information where he came from and what was so secretive inside my grandmother’s mind.  Coincidentally, I learned there was a Kinderman family reunion coming together to celebrate Corienna’s 80th birthday in Pana in September 1986.  For some reason Grandma did not want to go but my parents and I went there and it was good to see Aunt Corienna and many cousins we had not seen for so many years.  During the festivities, she answered my preliminary questions that he was indeed born in Europe and she had some papers at home to show where he came from, but could not show it to me right now, but later to visit her at a convenient time.

 

        Remember to note there was only one "n" instead of two "nn's" in Kinderman when my grandmother and her brother came to America.  At the reunion, I seized the opportunity to update and organize the genealogy of the living Kinderman family at the same time, but Aunt Corienna and I had a funny moment.  I fired my questions at her about her children of where and when they were born, married, names, deaths, burials and other pertinent information that were easily organized into family group sheets.  She was more than happy to share with me of what she knew until at one point she refused to answer.  I asked the second time, and she gave no response.  I asked the third time, she shook her head with her eyes closed.  I paused and wondered why she was cooperative and now she was not?  As soon as my racing thoughts caught up with my mind, I scanned at the family group sheet to see what caused it to go wrong?  Finally, my thoughtless mind realized I asked her a wrong question: “When did you die?”  I apologized for my mistake but we laughed together.  Aunt Corienna later died in 1996, but I think she still laughs about it for me at God's home right now.  The reunion was indeed a wonderful time.  I was busy with part-time school and work but finally I and my parents made arrangements to visit Aunt Corienna in January 1987.  She arranged a lovely dinner but would not discuss until we were finished eating and the dishes put away because I was itching for the moment of truth that was going to crack the secretive door of the Kindermanns.  She brought out some papers in an envelope with a German citizenship certificate issued in 1921, a Croatian Roman Catholic Church baptism certificate dated in 1900, a Yugoslavian passport issued in 1920, and a personally recorded map crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Bremen, Germany to New York City, New York (Ellis Island) USA in 1923.  That was all about she knew he came from Yugoslavia and did not know anything further about what those papers truly meant.  Aunt Corienna was gracious to trust me to make photocopies of these papers outside of her home with a strict charge to return it safely to her.  Now I had the evidence but could not understand it.  How was it that if he was born in Yugoslavia, but why did he have a German citizenship certificate if he actually never lived in Germany or Austria?

 

        The next day I visited Grandma and she asked me why my parents and I went to Pana to visit Aunt Corienna.  I told her that we went over to visit and talked about the family tree as I laid her brother's papers on her kitchen table.  Grandma understood as she read the papers.  I knew she could read and speak German, but was surprised she could read and speak Croatian!   Quietly she gazed through the windows and began to speak about her childhood in Croatia and some stories of her family.  Her father, who was my great-grandfather, was born in Wallern, Austria and at a young age he moved with his parents to Kutina, Croatia, which was then Hungary but is now the Republic of Croatia.  Later her father married her mother named Hermina Hanel who came from Dresden, Germany.  Grandma and her brother were born in Kutina in 1895 and then 1900.  He considered becoming a meat butcher but his father advised him to consider making something for sale.   So he ran some furniture making machines and sold furniture.  More details will be provided in my interview transcripts with Grandma in 1986 and 1987 (to be announced), but I was thrilled to be the very first American-born relative to peek beyond her ancestry door.  Like a serious history detective, I soon dug into some history books of Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries and studied geopolitical maps of that time.  Slowly I was able to piece a mysterious jigsaw puzzle together in order to gain a better picture.  I began to understand because of stagnant economic conditions, some German families moved from Austria to Hungary (now Croatia) at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that later disintegrated into the Royal Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the end of World War one.  I praised God for his goodness and was amazed how he prepared the way for me to find the key opening a door that was long shut down and nearly forgotten.

 

        The following summer in 1987, I had the opportunity to travel to Canada to meet with Aunt Elizabeth Spanbauer, then living in Taber, Alberta.  She was the one whom Grandma forbade me to talk with her about the side of our Spannbauer family when I first met her in 1971.  Now Grandma gave me her blessing before I departed to Canada and Aunt Elizabeth was looking forward to share with me of what she knew back in Yugoslavia and further back.  The resistance to know the past was now crumbling, but Grandma did hold back about one or two things that I did not learn until after her death.  The drive from Illinois, USA to Alberta, Canada was very beautiful with endless horizons of green prairies and purpled majesties of the Rocky Mountains for more than 2,000 miles.  It was a joyous moment when I finally arrived at her house and stayed with her for about one week to talk several things, going out with her children and visiting some places.  I asked Aunt Elizabeth many questions, recorded our conversations on the tape recorder, and recorded the names of all family members that she knew back then and now with the living generation.  She shared photographs and stories of great courage and perseverance by surviving the horrors of war during the darkest days of World War II.  She accounted many hardships when the Nazis, along with its Axis powers of Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria took over Yugoslavia in 1941.  As a result all males with German names, along with her husband Wenzel, were drafted to the German Wehrmacht or be shot for refusing to join.  He was sent to the Russian front for nearly four long years with only one back home pass in 1943.  As the war progressed, she tearfully described when Communist partisans captured her village of Toranj in October 1944 and drove her and her small child son and infant daughter out of her house because of their German names.  Under the threat of being further captured and certain execution by the Communists, she trudged her way north with her small children in tow towards Czechoslovakia, and finally ended up south at a displaced persons camp in British-occupied Austria by the end of the war.  Not knowing where her husband was living or dead, she wrote a letter to Uncle Karl Spannbauer in Braunau am Inn, Austria for help.  When Karl received her message, he immediately relayed back to her that Wenzel was safe and living with him.  Wenzel managed to escape capture from the brutal Soviets advancing from the East when Nazi resistance crumbled away.  Karl mandated his nephew Wenzel to rejoin his family and soon they were finally reunited at the displaced camp.  Eventually, Karl arranged with his brother or my grandfather to send money that assisted Wenzel and his family to re-settle a new life in Canada.  I cannot detail everything else but it I have recorded her stories in detail to never forget her great strength and courage during this time of unspeakable adversity that will be accounted at some future time.  I have never forgotten her testimonies and her story will penetrate your heart as it has mine.

 

        The following fall, it was time for me to return to full-time college studies in Washington, DC after a five-year hiatus.  I didn’t do very much genealogy for a very long time because of many strenuous studies, but I was able to do a few things when the opportunity presented it.  In Spring 1988 during a college vacation break, a few of my friends and I went to the U.S. National Archives to see if I could find the date and information of my Grandpa’s immigration record.  Upon my arrival I was somewhat intimidated when I entered the Microfilm Room containing thousands and thousands of microfilms.  Nevertheless a helpful clerk gave me some instructions how to find him.  Soon I found a Franz Spanbauer on an index showing him arriving on May 1907 at age 17 years old.  He seemed to be the right one using the year 1907 subtracted by his date of birth in 1890 = 17.  Then with an index reference number, I located a microfilm immigration record from a labyrinth microfilm collection.  It took me nearly four hours because there were four re-counted page numbers on each page until I found he came here on May 22, 1907!   Later before I went to visit home for the summer, I found Grandma’s record within 30 minutes.  Grandma had told me many years before there were no more immigration records and nothing would be found from wherever she and Grandpa came from.  I laid her immigration record on her kitchen table stating she arrived on October 6, 1912 from her hometown of Kutina, Hungary and destined for Dayton, Ohio to meet her Aunt Johanna Kindermann.  Her passage was paid by her father, Franz Kindermann.  She was silently surprised how I had become an expert detective, if you will.
 
        Yet I did not fully understand why would my grandparents take so much effort to obliterate all records and pictures to prevent anyone from knowing about their origins in old Europe?  I remember my father told me a few times when he was a young man still living with my grandparents in Decatur, Illinois USA just around the time of World War II, he came across and discovered some strange but old family pictures from Europe and the Spanbauer coat of arms on a burning pile of garbage that were just about to be reduced to ashes.  Fortunately he thought they were of great value and immediately rescued some of them but some others were unfortunately destroyed.  He was amazed to see the nameless relatives on the pictures that his parents never told him or his brothers and kept them hidden away from his parents until he could find the complete truth.  In fact, when he or his brothers tried to ask them about it, they immediately changed it to another subject.  Another time my Uncle Frank told me my grandparents asked him to forge some records to show they were born in Pennsylvania and Ohio when Grandma applied for a Social Security pension that required some proof place of birth because she was too embarrassed or ashamed to reveal her actual place of birth.  In spite all of this, the letter of Karl Spannbauer had miraculously escaped destruction because it became “lost” among in a mixed stack of papers that had shifted around in multiple boxes and drawers that were moved from house to house from Medina, New York, to Pana, Illinois to North Kansas City, Missouri and, finally at their last residence in Decatur, Illinois.  It remained undiscovered exactly 50 years until I took possession of it for safekeeping and preservation. 
 
        Over in time, my mind began to see through the eyes of my grandparents and other American naturalized German-speaking relatives who carefully kept a heavy veil of secrecy from where they came from their homelands and names of associated families to themselves from their American-born family members and friends.  What and why did those things have to do when they were a God-fearing people who faithfully attended church every Sunday, were responsible citizens, worked hard to make an honest living and maintained self-sufficiency that not even one of them were on public welfare before and yet so afraid to say about our ancestry?  Upon further review of many histories, the whole secrecy was attributed to the international political conflicts which unleashed two great destructive world wars in the 20th century which spawned ugly totalitarian governments far more cruel and absolute than the world had ever known on a massive scale in the history of mankind.  But there were also other reasons that included some fractured family relations, unpleasant memories of poverty and hardships, and unfortunately, strong anti-German sentiments were active in their adopted country.  They feared Americans would foment increased hatred towards naturalized and American-born Austrians and Germans and commit mobocracies that could cost their lives, properties and constitutional freedoms.  During World War I, the American Public viewed Imperial Germany being an aggressor as a beast with no regard for civilian causalities.  As a result, many products, streets, or landmarks were changed from German to English such as "Sauerkraut" (Sour Cabbage was a main German and American food staple) food label cans were changed to "Liberty Cabbage," "Schmidt Street" (Smith in German) changed to "Smith Street," "Dachshunds" became "Liberty Pups," etc.  When World War II ignited again in Europe in 1939, anti-German sentiments began to rise again in America until an event in 7 December 1941 when the Japanese Navy initiated a sneak attack that severely crippled the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor which catapulted a shocked America to declare war against Imperial Japan. 
 
        As a result, all naturalized and even American-born Japanese Americans were taken into military custody and herded into internment camps from their homes, businesses and personal possessions without compensation or due process of law.  The reality of the Pearl Harbor attack did not only bring America out to fight against Japan, but sentiments were very high that it would draw America to war against Nazi Germany along with the Axis powers of Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Vichy France.  Within three days on 11 December, Nazi Germany boldly declared war against the United States with the Axis powers being puppeteered to stand behind Hitler.  America had no choice but to join the Allies of Britain, Free France in exile and the embattled Soviet Union.  German nationals who had not yet become sworn American citizens were taken to internment camps for the duration of the war.  For these reasons, everything was hushed down into secrecy.  It was best to forget everything you remembered or knew it back in Europe.  Fortunately for my grandparents and the rest of Germans with full American citizenship, they were not caught up with the arm of the law, although there were a few instances of threats, slander and name calling.  By the end of World War II, Japanese-Americans were only compensated ten cents for each dollar value lost of their property and it was not until in 1988 the United States Congress and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for their unjust internment stating that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership" and awarded over $1.6 billion in reparations to them who had either suffered internment or were heirs of those who had suffered internment.
 
        Unfortunately, anti-German sentiments in America and Canada did not dissipate by the end of World War II.  When it was discovered a group of elite Nazis secretly led by Hitler, had conducted secret social engineering plans to eliminate the “Untermenschen” (“Sub-human people") in an attempt to create a perfect human race, the world was shocked and horrified to see a huge magnitude of ashes and innumerable dead bodies counted into the millions left over by the wholesale murders during the Holocaust that marked Germany's darkest page of human history.  Since then, Hollywood and popular media inter-weaved many of the fact-based, historical or biographical accounts with fiction or other novel ideas packed with adventure, romance and savagery into popular war movies and book novels such as: “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), “The Dirty Dozen" (1967), “Where the Eagles Dare” (1969), “Eye of the Needle” (1981), "The Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Inglorious Basterds" (2009) and so on.  They didn't seem to characterize the Germans who had no political ambitions like my grandparents, Aunt Elizabeth, and other Germans who were very peaceable and a hard-working people I have ever personally known.  In my younger days, my school friends and I thought it was a little fun to be a “good” Nazi because of one comedy television show called “Hogan’s Heroes” (1965-1971) depicting an irrational German officer and dumb soldiers manipulated by witty Allied Prisoners of War having their own ways with them.   Even comic books glorified machine-gun burping and grenade-popping American and British soldier heroes ripping up terrorized German soldiers shot down like toothpicks.  Toymakers advertised toy American soldier figures massacring German soldier figures with their armored battle kits, quite similar to Cowboys and American Natives during the old days of the American Wild West.  Propaganda often presented facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or used loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented to the public.  In those examples as indicated above, Germans were demonized as cold-heartened, brutal and void of conscience, similar to American Natives were characterized as inbred savages, uneducated and a warmongering people, and Arabs depicted as Islamic extremists with a political terror agenda, and so on.   All because of this, the desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.  
 

        At times during my youth up to high school, when I visited my grandmother's house with my parents, sisters and other American-born relatives for dinner or social chatting, occasionally we would turn on the television to see some possible movies.  Most of us would excitedly tune in if it was a World War II movie because we loved adventure.  Grandma would see none of it and always retreated into her kitchen or do some laundry, or sometimes angrily told us to turn it off.  At another time, I became interested in purchasing and collecting American, German and Japanese World War II military memorabilia from American World War II veterans because I loved to own "pieces of history."  One time when Grandma and Aunt Elizabeth came to visit my home and saw my military collection with a couple of medals, insignias, a few knives and other items, they became upset and horrified at me asking why would I do this?  They urged me to get rid of them immediately.  I tried to explain these items were just historical and highly sought and prized by military memorabilia collectors who had nothing to do with being associated with right-wing organizations or espoused fascist ideologies.  They did not accept my explanation that it was just for pleasure collecting valuables just like others collect rare stamps, coins, antique guns, knives, etc. 

 
        Although I had a good knowledge of World War II history, but the younger generation and I had an absence of sensitivity of the sufferings borne during their time.  For this reason, my European-born relatives kept the shroud of secrecy until I began to feel it nearly two decades later.  By the time I was in college, I lost interest collecting military memorabilia and eventually sold it to the collectors.  Today I have a greater sensitivity of what happened during that war because now I know the greater truth of what happened back then.  When I was in public school, I remember some students taunted at me because of my last name because it was German, but it didn't bother me a great deal because unfortunately, open prejudice was "acceptable" then towards someone who had a Polish name, a certain color of their skin, a disability, etc.

 

         The forced occupation of countries and crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis were real and evil.  I cannot fathom why some people deny the Holocaust ever happened in spite of overwhelming evidences and countless accounts at that time.  We cannot reverse the course of the past, but care should be taken to what defines a German and a Nazi.  Unfortunately, these two words became unfairly synonymous since World War II because the concept of fascism and other extreme political ideologies has nothing to do with the family concept of culture and language of any given nationality but because of an ugly political ambition in Germany that spawned the seeds of self-destruction that led many disastrous consequences for mankind.  The same thing was also true for Croatians being associated with the infamous Ustashi or Russians being associated as Communist revolutionaries.  Many Germans did not care about Nazism before Hitler came to power and yet there were other Europeans who espoused the ideology of fascism, from which Nazism was deprived.  The same idea was true for Communism.  There were many American soldiers with degrees of German ancestry who bravely defended our country at two world wars.  Many German-Americans who contributed to the greatness of our nation such as Chester W. Nimitz, Commander of the Pacific Forces in 1941-1945; Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State during the Nixon Administration; Lou Gehrig, Major League Baseball player, and so on.

 

When my grandfather came to America in 1907 and my grandmother in 1912 as actual ethic Germans from Hungary, we can understand how they lived in fear of being unfairly targeted as enemies until they departed from this life.  Their countries of origin constantly changed with unstable political climates throughout Europe from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1941, Fascist Croatia from 1941 to 1945, Communist Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1991, before the peaceful establishment of the republic of Croatia and Czech Republic since 1991 to this present time.   During and after the wars, they feared arrest and deportation to a country with a strong agenda of revenge or imposed death penalties against ethnic Germans in Communist Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia or otherwise expelled to live in impoverishment in a devastated post-war Austria or Germany.  In 1946 through the agreements conceded by the three Superpowers (United States, Britain and the Soviet Union) at the Potsdam Conference, it allowed Communist Czechoslovakia to ethically cleanse or drove out the ethnic Germans who had co-existed with the Czech population in the western portion of that country for nearly a thousand years.  Most ethic Germans were also driven out from Yugoslavia in spite of their citizenship being born there and even called it their homeland.  My European-born relatives could have become a people without a country and guaranteed human rights.  What terrible consequences could have transpired if the Nazis actually won the entire battle of Europe from the capitulation of the British Isles to the Ural Mountains of Russia and from Norway to Northern Africa? 
 

        By the time I graduated from college in 1991 and eventually got married, my Grandmother’s mind slowly faded away in her final years until she passed away in 1994.  I knew she took some of her secrets to the grave but I would find out someday.  Before I could travel to Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, it was my priority to visit Yugoslavia in the hopes to gather some crucial genealogical information but unfortunately some internal political disagreements in this country broke out into a civil war which made travel impossible until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire later in 1995.  I could not travel because of my expanding family until I learned my sister Pauline planned to travel to Europe in summer 2006.  I earnestly asked her if she could stop over in Croatia to see if some lost relatives and gravestones of our great-grandfathers Josef Spannbauer and Franz Kindermann could be found.  Indeed she found their grave sites and found some lost relatives on the Kindermann side.  Finally my dream came true in 2008 - I traveled to Croatia, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, and found many amazing discoveries that cannot be accounted here, but it broadened my understanding and in-depth experience of where and how they lived many years before.  It was the greatest experience of my life and I plan to go back there again someday because there is so much to learn and see.  

 

        Ever since the information supernova called the Internet broke out in the middle 1990’s, more surprises and interesting accounts has continued to surface.  Earlier in 2009, I found more Spannbauer relatives in the Roman Catholic Parish records made digitally available by courtesy of the archives of the Czech Republic.  Among one of those things, I found my great-grandfather Josef was the twin brother of Karl, not Anton as was previously thought.  Nevertheless, this source continues to be a gold mine and may share the same wealth for you as well.
 
        Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  Please feel free to use this website to further your research in finding your roots that may have in common with mine.  The genealogical adventures and discoveries continue on!

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Eric F. Spanbauer

Family Genealogist & Historian

Woodbridge, Virginia USA

 

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