George Welker was born on January 9, 1934 in Schajkasch-Sentiwan, Yugoslavia and died March 12, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. He lived in Sentiwan until late 1943 when his family fled to Hungary as Russian troops advanced. His family eventually was placed in a working plantation with other refugees in Austria. They eventually settled in Buchenau, Germany. George came to Cleveland at age 18 in 1952. He became active with the soccer club in Cleveland that eventually joined the Society of the Donauschwaben. George was a pioneer for soccer in Cleveland and for the Donauschwaben Club. He was one of the first licensed referees for soccer and was the registrar for the Lake Erie Soccer League. He also volunteered extensively for the Donauschwaben German American Cultural Center (DGACC). He worked in manufacturing for several companies and retired from Ford Motor Company. He and his wife, Anna, were named German Man and Woman of the year in the early 2000’s.
Welker, George (interviewee)
Welker, Michael (interviewer)
Cleveland German-American Oral History Project
"George Welker interview, 10 September 2018" (2018). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 195015.
Michael Welker [00:00:01] So this is a recording of George Welker. The. Interview interviewer is Michael Welker. Geroge's son. and George is from Schajkasch-Sentiwan and lives in Parma, Ohio. OK, dad so we're going to start from the beginning. Tell me what you remember about
George Welker [00:00:20] my my my birthday and all that
Michael Welker [00:00:24] Your hometown and what life was like before
George Welker [00:00:29] OK. I was born in Schajkasch-Sentiwan January the nineth, 1934. I was the oldest of four boys. And I went to school for two years in Schajkasch And then we fled. We went to Hungary, to Austria, to Germany.
Michael Welker [00:00:57] So what did your family do in Sentiwan? What was their,
George Welker [00:01:01] My dad was a farmer and we had seventeen acres of land. We had two horses. We had a cow and we also raised pigs for our own use and we had about three dozen chicken, who laid from the eggs you know. I stayed there. My dad had to go in the army. In 1943. And then. We had to leave. Because the Yugoslavian partisans killed most of the Germans and put them in concentration camps, but we were lucky enough to have horses and wagon and we loaded our spares. Stuff that we could load on and fled. Through Hungary. Into Austria. We were there, in
Michael Welker [00:02:15] I'll tell you before I go there, how about what did what did you do? What kind of traditions did you have in Sentiwan? You know, the club here in Cleveland, we have the dancing and all that. Did you have any of those traditions? In Sentiwan or nah?
George Welker [00:02:29] No.
Michael Welker [00:02:29] No?
George Welker [00:02:30] Not that I remember, you know,
George Welker [00:02:33] Well, we had. [00:02:37]Jahrmarkt [0.0s] what they call the every year. We had a big like a fair. You know? I didn't mention.
George Welker [00:02:46] You know the big excitement for me.
George Welker [00:02:51] And we went to Austria, where people in Vienna. And then they told us we could go home. And we were put into boxcars.
Michael Welker [00:03:10] Now who was telling you all this? How did this happen? Who told you you had to leave or did you do that on your own?
George Welker [00:03:16] Now you're the burgermeister from the town that we were held up, told us what to do. So we got into boxcars and we went back to Hungary. And then in the meantime, my dad joined us. And he had a map. And he looked at the map. In which direction we were going and we were not going back to Yugoslavia we were going to Russia. They were and. In Russia tell my dad, stop the train. And made them turn around and back to Austria. There again, we were in the camp. And then, we had a chance to go to a big, a what do you call it.
George Welker [00:04:38] A big farm,
Michael Welker [00:04:40] A plantation.
George Welker [00:04:41] Plantation, Yeah. And we stayed there for two years.
Michael Welker [00:04:45] So was it just you staying at the plantation or where there are a lot of people there?
George Welker [00:04:49] There was quite a few people. I don't know exactly but think that there was at least 25, 30 people there.
Michael Welker [00:04:56] So the plantation they kind of used as a refugee?
George Welker [00:04:59] No, it was producing
Michael Welker [00:05:02] Oh so you were workers you were
George Welker [00:05:04] We were working. I was a cowboy.
Michael Welker [00:05:05] Oh, OK. So he was working you were working at the Plantation?
George Welker [00:05:07] I was watching cows about two dozen
Michael Welker [00:05:10] so like a ranch?
George Welker [00:05:12] Like a ranch. Yeah. And my dad. My mom was cooking for, for the people there.
Michael Welker [00:05:22] Yeah.
George Welker [00:05:22] And. Food was very scarce.
Michael Welker [00:05:26] Now, what years was that when you were at that?
George Welker [00:05:31] That was Forty six. 1946.
Michael Welker [00:05:34] So forty six and forty seven?
George Welker [00:05:36] Yeah, yeah.
Michael Welker [00:05:38] OK.
George Welker [00:05:38] So we. Stayed there. Until and there was quite exciting because there was all these abandoned war machinery and cannons and all that stuff. And, of course, we kids we took advantage of them. We were taking the powder out of the big cartridges now. We were building towns and set it on fire. And since there was no harvests for two years. That was all there were so many mice. You know, the aid. Good rains and stuff. So what happened? We found out that these things all have to entrences. I mean, one entrance of one exit.
Michael Welker [00:06:41] Oh.
George Welker [00:06:41] So we would pour powder in there. And took some strong little fire and ran because we didn't know where the other exit was.
Michael Welker [00:06:53] Right.
George Welker [00:06:54] And that exploded and the mouse would fly out. Dead. You know? That was our excitement. And then
Michael Welker [00:07:06] So when you were at this place, were you expecting still at some point to go back to Sentiwan or were you just?
George Welker [00:07:12] Yes, we thought we going go back, but. We didn't.
George Welker [00:07:17] Yeah.
George Welker [00:07:18] We went to a camp. A refugee camp. In [00:07:24]Canton, [0.0s] which is a part of Austria, and we were there, I went to school there. And then we had a chance to go to Germany. We went we took, you know, the train and went to Germany.
Michael Welker [00:07:46] Now, how did that come about? Did they, were you on some kind of a waiting list to go to Germany or?
George Welker [00:07:53] No, we just went on the train
Michael Welker [00:07:57] They were taking in the refugees in or
George Welker [00:07:59] They were taking us.
Michael Welker [00:07:59] Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:07:59] So when we came to Germany, we went again to a camp. And from there they showed that they the farmers wanted to help and they would bring the people, you know, draft them or whatever and interview them. And took them there. And we stayed I stayed there till I was 16 years old. I went to school in [00:08:32]Buchenau, [0.0s] is the town.
Michael Welker [00:08:35] So from age 13 to 16 or?
George Welker [00:08:44] I don't know.
Michael Welker [00:08:44] Well, how long were you in [00:08:45]Buchenau [0.0s] for?
George Welker [00:08:47] In bookenhough until I was 16.
Michael Welker [00:08:49] How many years were you there?
George Welker [00:08:52] I think we were there about four or five years
Michael Welker [00:08:56] So from about age 12 or 13.
George Welker [00:08:58] Yeah, yeah.
Michael Welker [00:08:58] OK.
George Welker [00:08:59] And then
Michael Welker [00:09:01] And what did you do in [00:09:01]Buchenau?[0.0s]
George Welker [00:09:02] In Bockenau I went to school. And after I graduated from school. I got in the neighboring town, I got an apprenticeship. As a cabinetmaker. And I. Worked there for two years and then we went. My dad bought some land. In Darmstadt.
Michael Welker [00:09:30] So you were 14 years old when you started, when you finished school?
George Welker [00:09:35] Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:09:35] Right? And then you graduated and went to an apprenticeship until you were 16 as a cabinetmaker. Did you how how were you received in [00:09:43]Buchenau [0.0s] did people treat the Donauschwaben any differently?
George Welker [00:09:47] The people treated us very nice. Some people even stayed there and they gave them land and help them build houses. And that be, my dad. Wanted to go to closer to a a bigger city, which is Darmstadt. And there he bought some land. And I got a job there again as a cabinet maker. And we build the house there. We bought the land very they gave it to us very cheap. Because it used to be a troop training site. And they split it up into lots, you know, which you could buy for very cheap. And I worked in that cabinet shop and when it came to the woodwork. I did all the windows and the doors.
Michael Welker [00:10:52] For the house
George Welker [00:10:53] and the floors all by myself, they let me use the shop on weekends, you know. I did that whole thing. But I never saw the house getting all the way finished. Because, you know, we Mommy and so so I decided I had a aunt in Cleveland. And I was in contact with her and she encouraged me to come to America.
Michael Welker [00:11:26] So in Griesheim that was where you were Griesheim by Darmstadt. And were there a lot of other Donauschwaben that had come there.
George Welker [00:11:35] There Was there was two settlements. One was the Donauschwaben, which was Protestant. But the other one was [00:11:48]St. Stephan [0.0s] Which was Catholic. And we did a lot of windows and stuff, you know, for those housing.
Michael Welker [00:11:58] So it was all Donauschwaben that were coming from?
George Welker [00:12:01] They were all Donauschwaben.
Michael Welker [00:12:02] And so did they have any traditions that they carried out then in Germany or were they dancing? Did they do any.
George Welker [00:12:09] Oh, yeah,
Michael Welker [00:12:10] Soccer.
George Welker [00:12:11] Dancing groups and singers and all kinds of stuff. But I didn't have the time to join any of them. I was busy making windows and doors.
Michael Welker [00:12:21] Yeah.
George Welker [00:12:22] And then I decided to take up my aunt here in Cleveland
Michael Welker [00:12:29] Now when had they come to Cleveland?
George Welker [00:12:31] They came in 1950.
Michael Welker [00:12:35] Oh, okay.
George Welker [00:12:35] And I, two years later, I came 52
Michael Welker [00:12:39] Now did somebody bring them over to Cleveland?
George Welker [00:12:42] My uncle, my aunt's husband had a brother here in Cleveland.
Michael Welker [00:12:48] Who had come here before the war?
George Welker [00:12:50] Yeah. But that one is
Michael Welker [00:12:53] And they sponsored them to come over and then your aunt sponsered you to come over
George Welker [00:12:55] Yeah, and then my aunt they sponsered me. And I came over here.
Michael Welker [00:13:02] And you are 18?
George Welker [00:13:03] 18, Yeah. Now they wouldn't let me in the country until I was 18. Then when I came here. I got a job right away. As they display builder.
Michael Welker [00:13:15] When you came here, you came with who? By yourself or?
George Welker [00:13:21] All by myself. Well, I came on a boat.
Michael Welker [00:13:27] Tell me about that.
George Welker [00:13:27] Well, the boat we were. Sent to [00:13:31]Hanau [0.0s] to a. Collecting can killed about. Was filled with, you know, and then we went on a troop transport. Well, to New York. And,.
Michael Welker [00:13:46] Were there other people that were coming to Cleveland?
George Welker [00:13:50] You was Mr. [00:13:52]Seil, [0.0s] my buddy, you know. And I worked in this play with [00:13:59]Mr. Seil [0.5s]
Michael Welker [00:14:01] And was Pete Tressler on the boat too? Uncle Pete?
George Welker [00:14:04] Who?
Michael Welker [00:14:05] Pete Tressler.
George Welker [00:14:06] Oh yeah, my cousin Pete came to. And then the thing was. Me, I got that job and I worked there for two years, but I always wanted to be a. Tool and dye maker or a machine, ou know, builder. And few shops down where I worked. I got to make friends there with the owner. And he told me, George, if there is a young man like you coming from Germany, we would like to hire an apprentice. So I said, John. How much you pay him? So he told me. It was a dollar and a quarter you know we made the dollar at the display shop, so I asked him when can I start? He said Monday. I said [00:15:04]"well listen", [0.0s] those people that hired me and I came over. I got to give them at least a week notice. All right. So I quit that.
Michael Welker [00:15:13] Tell me just make sure we get times down here. So, you are 18. So that was 1952 when you were 18.
George Welker [00:15:21] Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:15:21] And came to the country. So, and then, you work two years at a display building.
George Welker [00:15:25] Yeah
Michael Welker [00:15:25] till you were 20.
George Welker [00:15:26] Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:15:27] And then at age 20 is when you then came to tool and dye. And you lived with your aunt that whole time? You lived with aunt Sophie the whole time?
George Welker [00:15:36] No.
Michael Welker [00:15:37] No?
George Welker [00:15:38] Well, I lived until then. Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:15:40] Yeah.
George Welker [00:15:41] But then I met. Mom.
Michael Welker [00:15:45] And when was that?
George Welker [00:15:48] In. Fifty two no in fifty four.
Michael Welker [00:15:53] And when
George Welker [00:15:54] it's actually 53,
Michael Welker [00:15:55] OK,.
George Welker [00:15:56] Because we got married in 54.
Michael Welker [00:15:58] OK. And when you came here, how did you connect with other Donauschwaben people? I mean, how did that come about?
George Welker [00:16:04] I could not afford a car. And since I was not 21. You know, I couldn't find nobody to sign for me.
George Welker [00:16:11] Yeah.
George Welker [00:16:12] So I took the bus. And I got to know. Mom. And,
Michael Welker [00:16:19] Did you all live near each other or how how did you?
George Welker [00:16:21] No we we met at a dance at the German Sossenheim.
Michael Welker [00:16:26] Oh, OK.
George Welker [00:16:27] Which I had to take two busses to get to.
Michael Welker [00:16:30] Yeah
George Welker [00:16:31] And that's where we met and. We were in the same class, you know, she was from down where I was born and not in the same town, but
Michael Welker [00:16:44] So is that where all the Donauschwaben's kind of got together then before they formed the club that we have now, they were at Sossenheim and any where else?
George Welker [00:16:50] There was the Sossenheim. But then some people there were so many Donauschwaben. That they got together and form a Donauschwaben society over here.
Michael Welker [00:17:07] OK.
George Welker [00:17:08] And there I was very active in. You know.
Michael Welker [00:17:11] And where did they do they meet somewhere?
George Welker [00:17:14] They would meet at the Banater, Banater Club. Which was of the German but not Donauschwaben, you know, they took us in. And I was very active, I was not a good soccer player, but I was manager and I was the
Michael Welker [00:17:37] So that cub first started as a soccer club, or was it? A lot of different,
George Welker [00:17:41] No, it was a lot of different, you know, that the soccer club was not. We belong to the Banater they sponsored us first and then we went to the thing, you know. Joined the Donauschwaben. But the Donauschwaben, they always met at the Banater Club. So there I stayed. We were and I worked in that tool and die shop, but that was sold.
Michael Welker [00:18:21] Yeah.
George Welker [00:18:23] But I don't know, the year now when it was sold. But then. I bought a gas station. I Rented it actually.
Michael Welker [00:18:35] Yeah.
George Welker [00:18:35] And with Phil my friend that came with me.
Michael Welker [00:18:38] Yeah.
George Welker [00:18:40] But to me. It was. Too many hours. In the meantime, I had a family, you know.
Michael Welker [00:18:48] Yeah.
George Welker [00:18:49] And that was too many hours and I sold my half to my partner. And then I worked in a tool and dye shop.
Michael Welker [00:19:05] I'm different from that.
George Welker [00:19:06] Yeah. And then after that. I met a man at my cousin, Peter. That was the personnel director from Ford Motor Company. And I told them what I was doing and this and that. So he said, listen. We need. Tool room machinists, you think you could do that. I said oh, yeah. I work on lathe and this and that and, so, so so he said, come on down. And I'll Interview you. So I went and I interviewed. And then they hired me and they said. What shift would you like work here? And I said first said, OK? Then start Sunday night at midnight. They start the midnight shift, and, you know, I liked it. It was the downshift. All they did is change. Dyes and tools and stuff like that. And I did that for twenty five years, you know.
Michael Welker [00:20:29] So let's talk about the club a little bit now. So at the beginning, you started off just being a manager for the soccer club.
George Welker [00:20:36] For the soccer club.
Michael Welker [00:20:36] And what? Why? What brought you to that club? Was it because was it a language?
George Welker [00:20:44] Well, I got to know a lot of friends, you know, and they all belong to. So I joined it too.
Michael Welker [00:20:52] OK.
George Welker [00:20:53] And I was. Then from the soccer club, the money raiser.I put on different things, you know, like. Clam bake.
Michael Welker [00:21:04] Right.
George Welker [00:21:05] Steak roast and stuff. Until. They bought land. And build a big club and two soccer fields and all that. So we moved out there from the Banater Club. They sold the Banater Club. And they went.
Michael Welker [00:21:24] How important was it to you to make to keep the tradition? Was it just something that bonded together did you think it was important?
George Welker [00:21:31] Well I really never thought of tradition. I just made friends there, but I like you know, mom liked them. A lot of people from her hometown. I got to know, you know, and I stayed there. Right now, I'm not a member anymore, you know.
Michael Welker [00:21:50] Yeah.
George Welker [00:21:50] But I've stayed there all those years and I was helping with the building. And, and with the soccer field take good care of the soccer field. And I was very instrumental in raising money. I put on all kinds of, you know, 50/50 raffel. The stuff I was always in charge of that and we
George Welker [00:22:21] made big money. When I quit as treasurer, we had about eighty thousand dollars in the bank, you know. And. But then. Some people. The old people either died off or went some, you know, or they couldn't go there anymore. And the young people that took over. They had different ideas than I had, that's when I quit going there.
Michael Welker [00:22:52] Yeah, you also had your kids participate in that,.
George Welker [00:22:56] What?
Michael Welker [00:22:56] You also had your kids participate in different groups, too, right?
George Welker [00:22:59] Yeah.
Michael Welker [00:23:00] What why do you think that was important? What what made you decide to have your children dance in the dance groups or what else they did?
George Welker [00:23:08] Well. Well, since I had two boys. And they wanted to be active too. And I figured this would be a good place to go because they, after all, have the same idea. You know, the. And to preserve the language and the traditions and I know I'm not sorry that I did that,.
Michael Welker [00:23:36] What did you have, what were they involved with?
George Welker [00:23:39] What?
Michael Welker [00:23:39] What, what were your children involved with?
George Welker [00:23:41] Well, my children were both in soccer and in the [00:23:47]Kulturegruppe (cultlure group) [0.0s] and Brass Band.
Michael Welker [00:23:53] And so. It is still important to you to that we keep preserving these traditions, or how do you feel about.
George Welker [00:24:01] Well I think it is important, but not as important as it used to be, you know?
Michael Welker [00:24:08] Yeah.
George Welker [00:24:08] Because we went there because we talked the same language and now that changed.
Michael Welker [00:24:14] Yeah.
George Welker [00:24:18] I know that you and Rickie is not involved anymore Rickie, out, the oldest son, he was the president from the soccer club for six years, you know. And I'm glad I was there, but now age keeps me from.
Michael Welker [00:24:37] Going.
George Welker [00:24:38] From going. Now I stay home, watch TV.
Michael Welker [00:24:45] Why do you think none of your other siblings came over? None of your brothers.
George Welker [00:24:51] Well, they didn't come over because we had a good business in Germany, you know. My dad had a Miehle franchise they were selling and repairing motorcycle, bicycle, sewing machines and stuff. And I liked it so much over here, you know, I went back about five, six time for visiting, but I'm not sorry that I stayed.
Michael Welker [00:25:26] It seems to me from my experience that we seem to be carrying on the traditions more here in Cleveland, in the United States than the Donauschwaben did that stayed in Germany. Why do you think that is?
George Welker [00:25:39] Well, see, they intermarried. They alI spoke the same language in the smaller towns. They got to know each other. And they just that tradition wasn't much different in those towns than the Donauschwaben.
Michael Welker [00:25:55] OK.
George Welker [00:25:56] So they join them now. I don't know how many clubs there is left. I don't think there's too many left anymore.
Michael Welker [00:26:04] Right. OK. Well, anything else, I think that was pretty good. I think we got good information. Alright. Thanks
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