Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   
Eagle icon

The Game Ancestry - Second Edition - Part I - Chapter 1

Introduction to Part I of the Game Ancestry

Geopolitical Background

Although our name Zwierzina is not German, the Zwierzina people were German-speaking. For one thing, every certificate of baptism so far obtained is written in German, and for another, all their given names are common among German-speaking peoples. They also married into families with German names.

For a short period (historically speaking) they lived in southern Moravia (Mähren), one of the parts which make up today's Czech Republic. Moravia was one of the regions where ethnic Germans could be found. Approximately 23% of the total population of Czechoslovakia before the Second World War was of German ethnic origin. The group of most interest to us is the one consisting of Bavarian-Austrians who settled in the Bohemian Forest and Southern Moravia.(2)

Earliest documents indicate that Germans were settled in the Czechoslovak Sudeten region by the 13th century. They flourished under the early Czech Dynasty (Premysl) which permitted them to settle this area. In the epoch, 1308-1437, Bohemia and Moravia were ruled by the Counts of Luxembourg and are said to have reached their "golden age". The ethnic Germans experienced their first great decline as a result of the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century (1420-1436). Following this war, however, new streams of German colonists arrived.

In 1526 Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia were turned over to the Austrian Monarchy. With the exception of the larger portion of Silesia which was lost to Prussia in 1742, the three provinces remained under Austrian domination until 1918.

In the 1770s, following the Seven Year War (1756-63), to which Bohemia and Moravia contributed the most money, there was poverty and actual starvation, which was one reason why the Bohemians and Moravians formed the backbone of Maria Theresa's "German" regiments.

It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the population of ethnic Germans experienced a second decline attributed to Slavic penetration of areas which had hitherto been exclusively German, a trend which continued after 1918.

According to a communication in 1948 by the Czech Ministry of the Exterior, 1,859,000 Germans had been expelled up to July 1947, and a further 400,000 had left earlier.(4) 3.7 million acres of land formerly owned by the expellees were confiscated by the Czech Government. Estimates of casualties suffered by this group during the expulsion actions of 1945-1946 range between 450,000 to 600,000.

At what point in time the Zwierzina family settled in Moravia, or where they had come from is not known .

Rulers of Austria who had an impact on our family
Maria Theresia 1740-1780
  with Franz I.  1745-1765
  as a widow 1765-1780
Joseph II. 1765-1780
  with mother 1765-1780
  alone 1780-1790
Leopold II 1790-1792
Franz II 1792-1835
Ferdinand I 1835-1848
Franz Joseph I 1848-1916
Karl I 1916-1918

Socio-economic Background

Five generations ago, my great-great-grandfather was a brew-master, and his family supposedly owned a coal mine, but starting with the next generation down the men in our family were career officers in the imperial and royal Austrian army. Most certainly my father Emo Zwierzina and his brother Hans were at least the third generation to so serve. With this in mind, an examination of the officers' social, and economic standing is practically an obligation, and a prerequisite to understanding our ancestors. Although the reign of Maria Theresa had ended shortly before my great-grandfather Johann Zwierzina was born in 1792, most of her rules and regulations governing the Army continued in force for at least the next 100 years, and have affected the three generations of officers with which part one of this book is primarily concerned.

About becoming an Officer

Austria had two military Hochschulen, the Military Academy at Wiener Neustadt, and the Engineering Academy in Vienna. There were also cadet training schools at Olmütz, Graz, and Milan, a Pioneer School at Tulln, and a Mining School at Hainburg. Only Wiener Neustadt and the Engineering Academy produced graduates who became officers immediately. The others turned out cadets. The Engineering Academy provided mainly for the Technical Corps, while Wiener Neustadt supplied the infantry and cavalry. By 1815 the latter had secured the reputation of being the first military training school in the land. A "Wiener Neustadt man" was supposed to represent the cream of the crop.

The Wiener Neustadt Military Academy was founded either 1752 or 1769 (depending which source you read) by Maria Theresia to provide free education to 191 cadets, and was especially intended for children of poor subalterns. This changed over time and gradually it became a foundation for the sons of well-paid generals and staff officers. Pupils entered at the age of 10 or 11 and remained there until they were 17 to 18.(5) The Theresianum in Vienna (also founded in 1752) was another free finishing school for 100 sons of poor nobles and officers.

Acceptance by, and entrance into a regiment were the crucial prerequisites for being a cadet. The 'owner' of the regiment had to accept a boy, and this often depended upon the father being known to him, or at least having the 'right sort' of military background. Such a boy became a 'Regimental Cadet', and essentially started as a private, and had to work his way up through every rank. Those that did not want to start as privates, and whose father was able to pay the Montourgeld (equipment fee) could join as Expropriis Gemeine, volunteers who wanted to become officers. They were treated just the same as regimental cadets, but the latter could only be appointed with the express permission of the regimental colonel-proprietor and had to be soldiers' sons.

Any citizen could be nominated to be a cadet if he had the physical and mental aptitude, a clean slate and an income of 10 Florins/month (25 Florins/month in the cavalry). There was an initiation tax of 20 Florins (sons of officers from captain down, or sons of serving enlisted men were not required to pay the initiation tax). Anyone who qualified to be a cadet, could ask to write an examination to become an officer designate even straight from civilian life.

Some sort of class struggle must have already begun at this stage, because although there were "free slots" intended for sons of officers or aristocrats without means, more than half of all the students paid their way (about 800 Florins/year). The right to nominate cadets was transferred in 1868 from the regimental colonel-proprietor to the division commanders.

Attendance at cadet school was often voluntary, and the institution served less to instruct than to keep the cadets out of mischief. Time was expected to be the real instructor, and since it took on average seven years before cadets became officers, it was assumed that most of the practical side would be learned in due course.

While critics said that not much was learned in military schools because the teachers had not learned anything either, it was not just a place for academic learning, but geared to the formation of the specific character which a future officer had to have. Once in the mill of a military academy, it was practically impossible to get out, even if the parents wanted it. The State wanted to realize a return on investment. Physical inadequacy was about the only acceptable reason (unless one was expelled as punishment).

Unfortunately the price paid was an absence of worldliness and a poor ability to judge people. The other problem was that the trainees grew up oblivious of any material worries, spent their adolescence in a monastery-like environment, but then upon graduation they found themselves not only having to get by on a small pay, but they were also often entrusted with money belonging to comrades or troops (which for many represented a considerable temptation).

In the reform of 1867 an attempt was made to equate the education to civilian schools by teaching the same curriculum, and by making the report cards look the same "so that students could matriculate" and be better equipped to accept civilian jobs later on if the need arose. Some civilian jobs were saved for discharged soldiers (they had priority over civilian applicants). These jobs were thought not to require any special knowledge (e.g. lower executive posts with the Rail Way, Post, Telegraph, Mountain, Forest or Saline Ministries, etc.). The number of such jobs was considerable. In 1856 there were 2270, in 1859 there were 13425. Franz Joseph was against this preparation for civilian jobs, and caused Latin, Botany, Zoology, German Literature to be cut way back in the curriculum. He also insisted that students decide at the start for either Artillery or the Engineers. There were several ways in which the 17-18 year-olds coming out of a Kadettenschule could be admitted to the regiments: As Volontäre, as Regimentskadetten, or as the more senior Fahnenkadetten. Or, in the case of sons of serving officers, as Ordinari Kadetten.

About Promotions

Cadets next advanced to Fähnrich (ensign) in the infantry, or cornet in the cavalry. (Ensign and cornet were abolished in 1759 and made into Unterleutnant (second lieutenant), and the former Leutnant was made into Oberleutnant (first lieutenant)(6). These lower officer ranks (ensigns, coronets, lieutenants) made up the level called "subalterns".

Promotions in the Theresian Army were expensive and unpredictable. The pecking order was strictly maintained, (the familiar Du was not used in the officers corps before the 19th Century) and some of the arbitrary privileges of rank had become part of tradition. A newly appointed officer, for example, was unable to take up his duties until he had been "presented" to the Regiment by the major. For this onerous task the major was entitled to demand a present from the new officer (usually a brace of pistols). On a more official level, the Hofkriegsrat exacted a set fee for every advance in rank(7) starting at 50 Florins(8) for a new lieutenant, to 2000 Florins for the new Field Marshall.

The rank of captain was considerably more important, and therefore more prestigious. The Hauptmann, or Rittmeister (captain) was the head of the company, or squadron. He disciplined and administered the officers and men under his command, and answered directly to the regimental major. As well as being a first-class officer, the captain was supposed to present the image of a "... highly civilized man, since he stands general watch in field and garrison, and comes more to the notice of the generals than do the other officers ...".

The greatest power and prestige was accorded to the Inhaber (owner) of the Regiment through rights conferred in 1508 by Maximilian I. The Regiment carried the Inhaber's name. He exercised independent judicial authority, and in effect had power over life and death of his subordinates (jus gladii et agratiandi). The Inhaber was entitled to mete out corporal punishment (a right later curtailed by Maria Theresia in 1748). No officer, noncom, or common soldier could marry without the Inhaber's permission (this right to permit marrying was transferred by Kaiser Franz Joseph in 1868 to the Reichskriegsministerium). No officer was allowed to be more than 100 Florins in debt without the written permission of his regimental commander (this order was issued in 1753 as a measure against gambling).

The Kaiser passed a new regulation governing the promotion of officers on 13 April 1867. The main purpose of the new rules was to upgrade the qualifications of the corps by insisting on higher educational standards, and by normalizing the Tour (career path).

What was intended was that henceforth promotions should depend on ability and seniority rather than whim and patronage. The approximate ages for reaching certain ranks were computed as follows: Lieutenant at 20, captain at 38, colonel at 59/60, major general at 65/66. From what I have seen, these turned out to be mere guides, and became irrelevant in times of war when an officer could earn a promotion much more quickly "outside the Tour".

The new regulations had the other result, that after attaining a certain age (e.g. 54 for senior officers, 60 for staff officers, 62 for generals), an officer could no longer be promoted in active posts. Probably to ensure that these new rules were implemented, the Kaiser assumed the sole authority himself in 1868 for all promotions of officers.(9)

About the poor Nobility

Perhaps to encourage the officers corps during the Seven-Year War (1756-1763), Maria Theresia decreed in 1757 that she would bestow the Nobilitätsdiplom (patent of nobility) on any officer who had served 30 years and had an unblemished record. (This resulted in the creation of a landless nobility.)

Maria Theresia was not only a woman, but also a mother and a Roman Catholic, which probably accounts, at least in part, for her efforts to provide a free education to sons of the poor nobility, and to orphaned sons of officers, and to abolish such practices as corporal punishment and dueling. Yet, the edict of 1752 which outlaws dueling, makes one wonder if it was not simply meant to stop the waste of valuable officers rather than to avoid bloodshed.

While officers constituted a very respected and prestigious segment of the population, they were not very well paid. As a matter of fact, most of the respect and prestige accorded the career officer was in lieu of monetary recognition. (This is similar to the existing practice of handing out important-sounding titles, while paying a small salary). There were, however, considerable social benefits. The officers were allowed to mix with the highest of society because it was said that the golden porte-epée (sword knot) bestowed a kind of a knighthood, which placed both the lieutenant and the Field Marshall at their emperor's table.(10) Officers were sought-after marriage partners for middle and upper class maidens, and desired companions for the not-so-marriage-minded (as long as they did not mind the mustache, which was of course obligatory in the Austrian Army after 1854 for everyone except generals). They were expected to be at the same time dashing and well-mannered, interesting and elegant, and most of them spent the rest of their lives trying to live up to this image. They spoke the Schönbrunner Deutsch initiated in palaces of the Vienna nobility and in army officers' mess halls throughout the empire.

The problem arose with the noblesse oblige syndrome. If you wanted to be elegant, you needed tailor-made uniforms and riding boots. From Major up, you had to have the closest thing to a thoroughbred horse complete with a custom made saddle. You wanted to be seen in the best restaurants, at the most popular plays, and at every other gala event. Not all officers were, of course, in a position to compete in this dashing life, and probably many wanted no part of it. But society's expectations and peer pressure must have been tremendous. Besides, who would not want to be dashing and elegant?

In 1750 officers were paid by a complicated scale which combined cash salary plus a series of rations ("mouth portions", bread rations, fodder rations, and servis, the allowance for firewood and light). The monthly equivalent of a "mouth portion" was 4 Florins, and of a fodder ration 3 Florins. All officers above 2nd lieutenant always drew their servis in cash. To illustrate the two extremes, a Field Marshall in the 1750s drew an annual 10,000 - 10,800 Florins cash with 150 mouth portions, 45 bread rations, 54 fodder rations and 150 Florins in servis. The ensign had to content himself with 228 Florins pay, four mouth portions, two bread portions, one fodder ration, and four Florins in servis. Not much changed for the next 100 years. Although they received an increase in 1851 (see table below), the officers were still pinching pennies to make ends meet. Two would often share a room, and put their servants into a second room, thus saving the rent on the two additional rooms they would have required if each had rented separate accommodations for himself and his servant.

1851 - An increase in pay (per annum)

Rank
Charge
Rang
Pay Rate
Cadet Kadett   150 Florins
Sub-Ltnt. Unterleutnant 2nd Class 400 Florins
Sub-Ltnt. Unterleutnant 1st Class 450 Florins
First Ltnt. Oberleutnant   500 Florins
Captain Hauptmann 2nd Class 700 Florins
Captain Hauptmann 1st Class 900 Florins

Mounted officers received in addition 40 Florins/year for each personally owned mount, and 20 Florins/year for each service horse (feed was free). Additional moneys were available for quarters, supplies (e.g. heat). In "readiness state", an additional 20 Florins/month were paid to captains (also during war but then 30 Florins/months instead of 20). Field decorations also meant money: Silver Bravery Medal 1st class = 1.5 times the regular pay. Gold Bravery Medal = 2 times regular pay. If one had the Maria Theresia Orden, it was worth another 1200-1500 Florins/year of additional pension for life (being a hero was lucrative).

Officers were frequently disadvantaged by the extremely awkward bureaucratic process. The method of laboriously computing each minute component of each pay resulted (until 1856) in being paid not in advance on the first of each month, but after the fact, on the 20th of the following month. The officer found himself having to pay current expenses out of pocket, and then fighting the bureaucracy for reimbursement. This could be particularly painful because of the once-a-year adjustment rule which existed till 1853. In the case of a promotion from captain to major, for example, the poor captain had to upgrade his uniform, equipment and life style to that of a staff officer's (this included buying his own mount), but he had to do it out of his captain's pay.

Considering these less than rosy bread and butter issues, it was remarkable how good the morale of the officers corps was, and that they were happy to be part of a society whose principal stock in trade was an honorable character and devoted courage. A considerable change came in 1868 when the pay scales were modified until they reached the following levels:

1865 Adjustments to pay

Rank
Charge
Rang
Pay Rate
Lieutenant Leutnant   600 Florins
First Ltnt. Oberleutnant   720 Florins
Captain Hauptmann 2nd Class 900 Florins
Captain Hauptmann 1st Class 1200 Florins
Major Major   1680 Florins
Lieutenant Colonel Oberstleutnant   2100 Florins
Colonel Oberst   3000 Florins
Major General Generalmajor   4200 Florins
Field Marshal Ltnt. Feldmarschall Leutnt.   6300 Florins
  Feldzeugmeister   8400 Florins
Field Marshal Feldmarschall  
10500 Florins

A Lieutenant stationed in Vienna would have drawn in monthly payments:
 
Pay 50 Fl.  
Cost of living allowance 10 Fl.  
Rent allowance 38 Fl. 33 Kr.
Servant allowance 8 Fl.  
Total per month 106 Fl. 33 Kr.
Total per year 1275 Fl. 96 Kr.

This amount would seem quite adequate for an unmarried officer, especially due to the proliferation of officer messes, where good food and camaraderie was available at reasonable cost. Nor need one have wondered about the esteem enjoyed by these officers' messes, because Crown Prince Rudolf, as Regimental Commander, regularly attended and presided over dinner at one of them.

To really understand what these amounts were worth, an old shopping catalog, or other price list is required, but since none is available, secondary indicators have to suffice. First let us remember that soldiers were fed and clothed for free, but officers had to pay their way.

Soldiers were given daily 1/3 pound of beef and 1/2 loaf of bread. Three times a week each received 1/3 pound of flour, and once a week each one received 1/3 liter of peas, beans, etc. and 0.7 liter of potatoes. (A heavy eater could receive double rations merely by having his doctor say that he needed it.) The basic unit of calculation was the price of 1 pound (0.56 Kg) of beef, which was pegged at 8 Kreuzer. The soldiers were paid 3 Kreuzer per day, or 18 Fl. per year, which was stretched a bit through provision of duty-free tobacco and alcoholic beverages (Brandy was cheaper than coffee in those days).

An officer had to buy his food, and had to take on some additional expenses simply because of decorum. He was not permitted to travel on a bus, but expected to hire a carriage. There were fixed deductions from his pay for the regimental library (3 Fl/month), 5-8 Fl/month for Adjustierung (the taking care of uniforms, especially the white uniforms before 1868). The minimum furniture allowed was not enough, and he had to rent more (4-6 Fl/month).

The officer was provided "quarters", this meant one furnished room with lighting and heat. If he was married, the family did not qualify for quarters and he had to pay for it himself. Debts were frequent, and made easy. A creditor was allowed to get 1/3 of the officer's pay (even after retirement the creditor could only get 1/3 of the now much reduced pay). Sometimes comrades paid off a debt to avoid leaving a stain on the Regiment's name.

One author uses the year 1907 for a comparison of a lieutenant's pay of 840 Gulden to that of a Vienna food industry worker of 550 Gulden, or to a Vienna machine industry worker of 687 Gulden. He also points out how much lower the wages were in Galicia: 275 Gulden for the food industry worker and 412 Gulden for the machine industry worker. Then he points out that civil servants were paid 15% more than officers.

  About Marriage

"The Austrian officer was rarely discouraged from marrying, though artillery regulations of 1757 cold-heartedly stipulate that no gunner officer was to marry unless he could show that his spouse would have enough to live on if she became widowed." (11)

Until 1868 officers were required to ask their regimental commander for permission to marry. In order to receive permission, a number of bureaucratic conditions had to be met: The officer had to be 30 years old or older. If he wanted to marry at a younger age, the required Kaution(12) (Bond) had to be doubled. He could not be a staff officer or a subaltern in one of the military schools, or a trainee in one of these institutions. The bride had to be of good background and impeccable reputation, so as not to embarrass the officer, or the military in general.

Certain prescribed ratios of single to married officers had to be respected. The mobility of the Army units could not be compromised by too large a number of married officers. Certain units (including the artillery) were only allowed 1/6 of the officers to be married at any one time. The remaining units were allowed a 50:50 ratio.

A Heiratskaution (Marriage Bond) had to be posted, and the respective amounts deposited within 1 year of receiving permission, else the permission became void. The Bond had to be quite separate from the officer's pay and pension, and was intended to facilitate a standard of living expected of an officer (or his widow). There was a realistic preoccupation with the possibility of an officer's wife becoming widowed, and it was at least partly for this reason that she was required to have sufficient private income to continue living in a style expected of her. Nor was the amount of this private income left to chance.

The Bonds started at 200 Florins per year, and would go to 600 Florins depending on the rank. Since these amounts assumed a 5% return on investment, twenty times the amount of the yearly Bond had to be available (i.e. to get 600 Florins/year income, 12000 Florins had to be invested).

As of 9 June 1868 the Kaiser removed the right from regiment owners to give permission to marry, and transferred this function to the Reichskriegsministerium.(13)

About Pensions

Under Maria Theresia officers could retire with a minimum of formality. All one had to do was send in a request to the Hofkriegsrat, and serve on in his Regiment until the consent arrived (usually not very long).

Pensions were small: Ensign 100 Florins/year, Lieutenant 150 Florins/year, Captain 200 Florins/year.

And indeed, a memorandum of 2 April 1772 draws attention to the host of worn-out officers who could not be put up in the invalid houses: "There are many of these gentlemen who are unable to exist on such pittances, and consequently have fallen into the utmost penury or other circumstances which bring the rank of officer into discredit."

Pensions were revised in 1855 and were governed by the following principles:

All officers with a good service record are entitled to a pension, if it is determined that they are, through no fault of their own, unable to serve.

The determination is done by a tribunal, the Superarbitrium. Such determination is not required for generals, or officers with 50 or more years of service.

Basis for calculating the pension is the last rate of pay, length of service, wounds sustained, and campaigns taken part in.

The calculation is as follows:

For generals 1/10 of the last pay rate for the first 10 years of service, plus 1/10 for each additional 5 years of service (i.e. in the 41st year of service he would be entitled to 8/10 of the full pay he was receiving when active; in the 50th year of service he would be entitled to retire with a pension equal to 100% of his active pay).

For officers from colonel down, subtract 200 Florins from the respective base calculation.

Service time is made up of time spent in the k.u k. Army, and time spent in the public service - if the transition from civilian to military service was uninterrupted.

Any time spent in retirement, convalescing, vacation, layoff, in military school as a trainee, is not counted towards the calculation of pension entitlement, nor is any service prior to the resignation of an individual who subsequently re-enlists.

Each year spent on a campaign counts double.

Wounds inflicted by the enemy, causing disability, result in the credit of additional 10 years of service. If an arm or a leg is lost, or no longer usable, an additional 10 years are credited at the next higher rank's pay rate. In the case of two lost limbs, or blindness, the pension will equal 100% of the active pay of the next higher rank, regardless of the number of years of service.

Time spent as prisoner is counted as time of service, with the year in which capture occurred counted double as a campaign year.

Pension ceases to be paid if leaving retirement through returning to active service or a change to a civilian public service.

Express permission of the Kaiser is required to draw a pension while living abroad.

Pensions are subject to a character tax, meaning that whoever obtains the next higher rank at the time of retirement or subsequently, must pay the tax thereon in 12 equal monthly payments.

Pension entitlement ceases through (a) voluntary exit from active or retired status, (b) self-denial, (c) self-inflicted invalidity, (d) change from active to civilian service, (e) dismissal for political reasons, (f) degrading through court-martial proceedings, (g) A pensioner who has changed to civilian service loses the right to be readmitted to pensioned status if he marries without permission from the military authorities, or when he is officially removed because of his own fault. (This does not include, however, the lack of suitability).

These regulations guarantee an officer a minimum pension of 200 Fl. A generous amount considering that one does not even require 5 years of service. This generosity can only be explained by the fact that an officer enjoyed such high social esteem that the State was obliged to help him maintain an appearance of well-being even after retirement.

The effect of the new regulations was tremendous. By 24 March 1856 (in less than three months) 4935 requests for pension increases were received, many as a result of the new ruling which allowed crediting the years of service prior to having attained officer rank.

The one big disadvantage of this pension system lay in the fact that physical disability was the only condition leading to a pension entitlement. This lead to over-aging of the officers corps. Seventy-year-old staff officers, and even subalterns, were no rarity. The procedures for determining one's invalidity and qualification for retirement, were of course not entirely without bureaucratic opportunities for misapplication by the tribunals, which until 1862 tended to be almost purely military. This strongly militaristic orientation of the tribunals was finally changed to a more fiscally and medically oriented one. As a further move towards liberalizing the pension entitlements, the regulations were expanded in 1867 to recognize mental illness as a legitimate basis for pensionable disability.

After January 1849 widows and orphans of officers, who had died while serving, received the full amount of the pension the deceased officer would have been entitled to, unless where the orphan was "otherwise supported" (which mainly referred to their admission to the military schools or the institute for officers' daughters Hernalser Offizierstöchter Bildungs Institut in Hernals, the 17th district of Vienna). Until 1868 widows or orphans of officers who had died of natural causes received no pensions and were forced to get by on interest payments and their marriage bonds. However, regardless of the cause of an officer's death, widows who had married before the husband's promotion to officer, or who married only after he had been made a general, were entitled to the pension.

It is only fair to admit at this point that I don't find these elaborate pension rules very clear. Another author said it in a way which seems to be rather different, which does not help to make them any clearer:

Under the old laws of the empire, an officer was entitled to a pension equivalent to 40% of his pay after serving ten years, rising 2% every year up to 100% upon completion of 40 years.(14)

Family Zwierzina - Overview

Although the following chapters will acquaint us with individual members of the Zwierzina family, some over-all issues need to be dealt with at the beginning.

The available information about my grandfather Muki's four marriages and resulting large family is polarized to the children of the first marriage, and to those of the last marriage. Through her mother, my cousin Ida knew quite a bit about the first marriage, and my father Emo, coming from the fourth marriage, had dropped a few remarks over the years which, when added to the military records, did amount to a healthy fleshing-out of the information about his era. Next to nothing is known about the second marriage, and very little about the third. The descendants of the third, however, seem to have been the most homogenous, and kept in touch with eachother more, and at the end helped each other to find a permanent resting place.

Not surprisingly, there were petty preferences within the family. The many children of Grandfather Muki came from four different wives, and as Ida remembers, the children of the first wife did not like the children of the third wife, while they in turn did not like the children of the fourth wife. It is impossible to reconstruct the various bones of contention, but there was certainly some degree of snobbery involved. The first wife, Anna Edle von Steinberg came from a well-to-do family with a genuine, although, not a very old title. Her father was a colonel, and her maternal grandfather owned two estates in Bohemia, and she was consequently able to deposit the required Kaution (Marriage Bond), which was then put aside for the future benefit of the children. Small wonder then that the children of this marriage thought they had reason to feel that they were somewhat special. No money was set aside for any of the subsequent children. When the crop from the third marriage showed up some minor genetic defects, such as a pretty but clubfooted girl, and an epileptic, this feeling of superiority would have been reinforced. Also, starting with the second wife, there is no more mention of the Kaution, since it was no longer of paramount importance after the legislative changes of April 1869. It is understandable that the first-croppers would have seen all subsequent issue as have-nots, not only in terms of money, but also because of their lack of a title, and perhaps because they had been fathered by a retired captain, rather than a captain in active service (who could be expected to continue moving upward).

Because of its absence, money seems to have been a constant preoccupation, and Ida was quick to point out that Anna Steinberg wrote to her father begging him to send some money to her husband Muki. When I speculated about Muki's "temporary retirement" following the death of his wife Anna, Ida suggested that perhaps he had debts. In defense of some of the Zwierzina girls who became single parents, Ida also blamed the lack of money, which on the one hand encouraged them to go out and fend for themselves, but on the other hand prevented them from marrying officers because they could not post the Kaution (which implies that it was still expected even though it was no longer an absolute requirement of the law). Ida must be forgiven for being sensitive on this point because she was born to a single mother.

The possibility of inheriting something from the sale of a coal mine believed to be located in Böhmisch Krumau (Cesky Krumlov)(15) caused a small flurry of excitement in the family around 1910. Ida says her mother and some others were hoping to get something, but were told by the law firm handling the affair, that our branch of Zwierzinas had separated from the others too far back in time to be considered in the distribution.

So what kind of people were these Zwierzinas? Those about whom we know something appear to have had a laudable amount of self-esteem and family consciousness. There is sufficient evidence of their desire to "do the right thing", to be good, obedient, and brave soldiers - and then some, and to somehow demonstrate to the world that they were a cut above the masses. It is difficult to decide whether they acted with a bit of snobbishness despite their humble material means, or perhaps because of it.

What might help to understand the frame of mind these people were in, or tried to be in, is a statement made in 1913 by Field Marshall Conrad von Hötzendorf when he spoke of the attitude required of the army:

In the army of a state which is not uniform either from an ethnic, nor from a religious point of view(16), the military spirit must replace all the others. Particularly important is the care and nurturing given to the spirit of the officers' corps, where the spirit of chivalry, and a constant awareness of one's social status must be present. The seeds are to be planted in school but thereafter also everything must be supported which reinforces it, and everything avoided which is to its detriment.

We can see how great-grandfather Johann rushed to the church after his son was born, to ensure that his acknowledgment of paternity was promptly registered . We can see how this son, Johann Nepomuk acted bravely under fire, and acted responsibly when his sovereign appeared in mortal danger. We also see Johann Nepomuk's sons grow into good officers who also acted bravely under fire. We see some daughters taking brave, if somewhat drastic action to assert their authenticity by becoming single parents, or by emigrating to faraway places with different cultures, without showing fear or asking for favor. Later on we see descendants being produced who then show similar traits of fearless acceptance of their own challenges, and who overcome these challenges, each in their own way.

A mentality which produces good officers, and brave emigrants does not always permit the demonstration of love and affection in ways and degrees expected by those who feel most entitled to it. Among the Zwierzinas we can find too many instances where unhappiness has resulted from a lack of loving ways, or more likely from a lack of skill in demonstrating such feelings. We will be seeing indications that Johann Nepomuk's first marriage was not a bed of roses. We will see his two sons being defeated in the battle of the sexes at the same time as they performed superbly on the real battlefield. We will see how this type of failure continues to show up in Johann Nepomuk's grandsons and great-grandsons.

Other traits seem to run through the generations also: An indoctrinated sense of obedience, and the resulting inclination to follow orders. These are good qualities, and highly valued during certain periods when they are fashionable, but fashions change, and at other times superiors and employers expect their people to demonstrate independent, trail blazing thinking coupled with a natural ability to lead rather than to command. I suspect that the Zwierzina blood tends to be a bit thin in this department. It makes for capable, dependable people who are good survivors, but it would be difficult to classify them as "brilliant" when it comes to originality. What goes hand-in-hand with such obedience hammered into succeeding generations by military upbringing is that they would very naturally expect anyone with fewer stripes to obey them without hesitation. That was actually the case as long they were in the military, but their expectations were often cheated in civilian life, and most often in family life, with dramatic consequences when it became obvious that they lacked the skills to accept any kind of challenge to their opinion or to their authority in any other way than seeing it as punishable insubordination.

Could those traits be related to what appears to be a lack of family cohesion? The Zwierzinas do not appear to have been clannish. It should, of course, be remembered that in my grandfather's generation there had been four separate marriages with children as far as 34 years apart in age. The gypsy-like existence of an officer, which caused the family to be constantly on the move, was not conducive to establishing a close-knit family. Perhaps they did as well as they could under the circumstances, and there is actually enough evidence to show that family members reached out to each other with warmth and a feeling of belonging. An example of this is Hubert, the only surviving child from the second marriage, a boy who died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. He is said to have been taken over, and gently mothered by the third wife, whom he loved dearly. Another example is Helene, who moved to South America, married well, but kept helping her two sisters who are said to have been put into an institution in Brno because of birth defects. There was the touching, and enduring rapport between my father Emo and this story telling Ida and her daughter Dorli, despite the fact that Ida descended from the first marriage while Emo was a child from the fourth. Dorli spoke of Emo escorting the disfigured daughter of his half-sister Emilia (an action I greatly admire because I tend to be quite uncomfortable with disfigured people). Ida also credits Emo with having made an effort during the war to get hard-to-get food stuffs to her mother, Emo's half-sister Minne, who was by then over 80 years old and lived alone in Vienna while Ida was posted to Bucharest. She is quite angry at other relatives in Vienna who apparently did not do anything for old Minne. (I cannot help wondering why Ida did not stay with her old mother in Vienna instead of going to Bucharest? She had a powerful position and the confidence of her boss; she could have made a case for wanting to stay with her quite elderly mother).

There is also the text of a letter which in effect was the testament of Tante Netta, the first child from the first marriage, and the oldest of them all. In this letter, which I had the privilege to see in 1989, she lovingly remembers her sisters, and doles out her humble possessions accumulated during a lifetime of raising other peoples' children. And one of the latest pieces of evidence discovered, a grave in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof, indicates that Helene Gottlieb's daughters looked after each other even in death.

It seems, however, that the members of our family were no less self-centered than other humans. One of the most disturbing manifestations of this was the complete absence of interest about the unborn child of their brother Hans. Those of his sisters or half-sisters who attended Hans' funeral, seemed more inclined to blame his visibly pregnant widow for his untimely death than to offer support, or to ensure that they would know what sort of little niece or nephew they would inherit. This will unfortunately stay with me as a big disappointment, and I feel ashamed for my uncaring relatives who, for their own reasons, ignored the fact that this baby was their own brother's flesh and blood.

Since none of them were particularly well-off, it is easy to understand that each one would have looked out for number one. What would go naturally with that attitude is that the sisters would watch each other closely to see if anyone pulled ahead of the pack, became rich, or married well, or got into bigger trouble than the rest of them. Either extreme would be reason enough to avoid that person henceforth. The rich sister might think one was looking for help, while the one in trouble might expect to be offered help.

It is impossible to know if those that were still alive during World War II and after its end were trying to help each other at a time when some must have been badly in need of family support. (I am thinking for example of the Baroness Martha Pelikan who died in 1973 a childless widow at the age of 86. Did anyone visit her in her old age and loneliness?).

Much credit must go to the Zwierzina men who were not only good soldiers, but were at times downright heroic. Whenever I was able to find documents during my research, there was always plenty of evidence of bravery. Unfortunately, little is available about the military career of Johann Zwierzina1792, the earliest of these military men, but that does not mean that he did not distinguish himself as his son and grandsons did. As a matter of fact, his Conduite Liste for 1823 specifically states that he had been "brave before the enemy".

Some of the women also did very well, and some clearly demonstrated a pioneering spirit. One went to Egypt, another to Rio de Janeiro. (Remember that this was long before air travel). Some of the ones that stayed, had to make a life for themselves as single parents - probably a much more difficult undertaking in those days than it is today.

Judging by the ages attained by some of our relatives, it is a fair assumption that all of the Zwierzinas had good survival skills, and then some. Starting with great-grandfather Johann, who knew when and how to get out of the army, and then got along nicely in a civilian job, and his son Muki, who not only survived four marriages and two dozen children, and lived to a ripe old age only to succumb to intestinal cancer at 78, most of us have done rather well.

Despite the notoriously low pay of officers, the Zwierzinas seem to have acquired a sense of family pride. There is evidence that they would have liked to be more than they were, but there are also examples of having achieved more than could have been reasonably expected. There was the son of Eulalia Zwierzina, Alfred Schenk who became a General, the Cadet-Sargent Zwierzina who saved the life of Franz Joseph I, the two officers Hans and Emo Zwierzina, who were generously decorated during their careers in the Austrian Army. There is also the woman Ida Birman, who never knew her father, but worked herself into a responsible position, and who ensured a good, and safe education for her daughter Dorli in England. And there is this daughter Dorli, who rewarded her mother with academic honors of a magnitude never before achieved by any other of our Zwierzinas. And let me not forget the boy Felix, who at the age of 21 emigrated all alone to Canada, where he did well in three consecutive careers, acquired a university education through part time studies over a period of nine years, and ensured that the Zwierzina blood line did not become extinct (although his three sons carry the name Game instead of Zwierzina). And now that I have found him, I can add my first cousin Hans Nagati to the list of those that demonstrated good survival skills. Hans, the unborn child at the above-mentioned funeral of Hans Zwierzina, grew up in Egypt and spent World War II in an Egyptian internment camp. He moved back to Austria when he was 34, and then, at the age of 40, to Canada where he established himself in a steady employment which he held for 25 years. Hans raised two sons, both of whom have graduated from the University of British Columbia (they go by Nagati instead of Zwierzina). When I first met him in 1991 he was 73 years old, in exceptionally good health and did not look his age. More recently, now that he is 88 and a widower, he is still active although he had downsized from a house to an apartment, and he has now learned to use a computer for his correspondence. Between us we have five sons, and hopefully there will be someone among their descendants who will continue and expand on this family history.

The author finds himself unexpectedly, but very happily in the position of having to add another chapter to this family history. He also feels that an explanation is in order: In the foregoing text the mention of "the Zwierzina Family" has included only those members of the family of whom the author had knowledge. A miracle happened late in the year 2005 when an Austrian stranger stumbled across this family history's incomplete version on the Internet, and contacted the author. What became immediately obvious was that the author's grandfather, the earlier mentioned Muki Zwierzina, also had a brother named Moritz   (Mauritz in some of his documents), of whom cousin Ida did not know, or at least whom she never mentioned. The stranger who contacted me, Wolfgang Rainer, is a direct descendant of this Moritz Zwierzina because his mother Johanna Rainer, is a born Zwierzina and granddaughter of Moritz, and shares my great grandfather Johann Zwierzina1792 with me.  As can be expected, descendants from that one Moritz Zwierzina by now occupy a sturdy branch of the same tree. Indeed a very happy event, which is covered in later chapters complete with many photographs made available by my kind cousin Johanna Rainer (née Zwierzina).


Notes for Introduction to Part I
1. Saint Johann von Nepomuk (1350-1393) was a cleric and assistant to the Archbishop of Prague. He opposed the excesses of King Wenzel, and was tortured and thrown into the Moldau. Hence, patron Saint of Bridges.
2.
The Ethnic German Refugee in Austria. pp. 16-20.
3.
The Fall of the Dynasties (p.382).
4.
Sudetendeutsches Archiv. Verfall und Zerstörung der Sudetendeutschen Heimatlandschaft seit 1945. München 1965.
5.
Sked, Alan; The survival of the Habsburg Empire, Radetzky, the imperial army and the class war, 1984. Longmans, London, New York 1979, ISBN 0-582-50711-1.
6.
Either this information is incorrect, or the Kaiser was ignored, because all the Zwierzina held at one time the rank of "Fähnrich" - all of them much later than 1759.
7.
The word "rank" is used somewhat imprecisely. There was a "Charge" as well as a "Rang". Charge was the rank (e.g. captain), and Rang was the level within that rank, and was determined by seniority.
8.
Florin is the French word for Gulden which is what people called the currency. Before 1857: 8 Heller=4 Pfennig=1 Kreuzer, 60 Kreuzer=1 Florin, 2 Florins=1 Thaler. Starting in 1857: 1 Florin=100 Kreuzer, ½ Florin=1 Thaler. 1892-1918: 100 Heller=1 Corona (Krone).
9.
Die Armee in Österreich. pp. 465, 466.
10.
"...das goldene Porte-Épée verlieh den Ritterschlag und setzt den Leutnant mit dem Feldmarschall an seinen Kaisers Tisch." Die Armee in Österreich. p.443.
11.
The Army of Maria Theresia.
12.
See Grandfather Muki's chapter for a more detailed discussion.
13.
Die Armee in Österreich. p.467.
14.
Defeat and Disarmament. p.82.
15.
Subsequent research indicates that Ida may have been mistaken when she said the mine was in Böhmisch Krumau. It may have been Mährisch Krumau (Moravsky Krumlov).
16.
Ethnic mix was 24.6% German, 17.3% Magyar, 17.2% Czech, 11.2% Serbo-Croat, 8.6% Pole, 8.1% Ruthenian, 6.5% Rumanian, 2.9% Slovene, 1.6% Italian, 2.02% other. Religious mix: 75.7% Roman Catholic, 9.2% Protestant, 9% Greek Orthodox, 4.4% Jews, 1.2% Moslems, 0.5% other.

End of Part I - Chapter 1


Part II Back to ToC Back to TOP Next Chapter
Last changed 29 Jan 2007