Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part 1:
Jakob and Katarina Agreed to Marry Before They Ever Spoke to Each Other (A True Example of Love at First Sight . . . and First Sound)
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Texas recently hosted the birth of Luke Webel, a boy born of German stock, furthering the biogenetic impact of his paternal grandfather’s immigration to America. Like his older brother (Nate Webel), another native Texan, Luke Webel will learn that his paternal grandfather’s parents decided to marry each other before they had had their first conversation!
How could this be? The answer requires some family history that stretches back, ‘cross the Pond, to war-torn Europe, during the years when and after Adolf Hitler strove to establish his “Third Reich” empire. What follows is just the first portion of an amazing adventure in German immigration: “Volkdeutsche by the Dozen”, an ethnically German family of “expellees” seeking refuge in America (under the amended Displaced Persons Act) from Communist tyranny.
How Two Native Texans Descend from Post-WWII Refugee Volksdeutsche
How did little Luke Webel arrive in Texas, during the summer of AD2012?
Luke’s parents are Stephen and Erica Webel, whose lives (and those of their daughters and sons) are in constant motion (due to Steve’s professional responsibilities teaching English to students in Asia), yet they periodically alight and reside (just long enough to catch their breaths) in Arlington, Texas.
Stephen Webel (Luke Webel’s father) is the son of Chaplain Robert (“Bob”) and Marcia Webel, who currently reside in Florida.
Chaplain Bob Webel (Luke Webel’s paternal grandfather), as an eight-year-old, was one of the “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen” who flew from Munich (Germany) to New York, arriving at Ellis Island, March 19th of AD1950.
Bob Webel’s parents—Jakob Webel and Katarina (Schleicher) Webel—who immigrated to America with their surviving ten children, have repeatedly illustrated the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction”: Bob’s parents actually chose to marry before they even spoke to each other.
In other words, their marriage decision was a case of love at first sight—and sound. (Because Jakob was looking for a girl who could sing well!)
The best way to appreciate their decision to marry, and their earliest days as a married couple, is to read a transcribed interview that one of their daughters had with them, about their amazing journey from Vinkovci (Yugoslavia/Croatia) to Medina (Ohio). But first, a bit of family background information would be helpful.
Jakob Webel Decided to Find a Wife
Jakob’s unusual approach to securing a wife cannot be understood apart from an appreciation of Jakob’s native church heritage, and an appreciation for how that heritage was perpetuated inside a Yugoslavia that was then dominated by peoples of other religious traditions, mostly Roman Catholic Croats and Eastern Orthodox Serbs, as well as some Muslims and Lutherans.
In Jakob Webel’s mind it was vitally important, when he selected a wife, to marry within his family’s faith tradition—it would have been unthinkable to marry someone of another faith.
But the Webels of Yugoslavia belonged to a church tradition that was only a very small minority religion: German-speaking “Evangelical Rebaptizers”.
And in Jakob’s community he saw no likely prospect for a wife, so that meant that Jakob must travel to another village (by train!) where there were people of his same faith, and from where he would—God willing—find a suitable wife, whom he would commit his earthly life and future to, in holy matrimony.
However, one other thing was indispensable to Jakob Webel, when selecting a wife: whoever she was, she must be a good singer of Christian songs, the kind of songs sung by German-speaking Evangelical Rebaptizers.
After Seeing (and Hearing) Katarina Once, Jakob Proposed Marriage
Would Jakob find an attractive girl, good at singing, suitable for marrying, for living with “till death do us part”, a fitting help-mate to raise a family with?
As Jakob prepared to survey the potential “candidates”, he had no foreknowledge about how World War II was about to erupt. Jakob could not then have known how the Christian faith and loyal character of his soon-to-be wife (as well as his own Christian faith and character) would be severely and repeatedly tested—amidst the unthinkable atrocities and unimaginable tragedies that would be ravaging and ruining central Europe during the AD1930s and AD1940s.
But, as time would tell, Jakob was about to make the perfect choice, and that “perfect choice” (Katarina Schleicher) would herself agree with Jakob’s choice.
In the transcribed interview, quoted repeatedly below, the reader will notice that sometimes the replies of the Webel parents (“DAD” = Jakob; MOM = Katarina) don’t always fit the questions actually asked by the inquiring daughter (ROSIE). Notice also that Mom chimes in, frequently, to clarify (or correct) Dad’s memory on certain details.
ROSIE: …beginning with how you and Mom met …
DAD: [Then] I was in my early twenties … and then … I look for a girl of the same faith [i.e., German-speaking Evangelical Rebaptizer] and because I have no way to see and know that it is good for the family if they can sing and if it’s more or less inherited, if mom or dad can sing, then the children can too, so I went with a boy from the same town, from Vinkovci and he want to go to Beshka to see a girl and I went along to with be him and as it because it was a custom in the [Evangelical Rebaptizer] church. I could not go without their permission from the church so I had to speak to that. So I went with them, the boy in there I saw a girl who could sing good and which I like.
ROSIE: Now this [i.e., both Vinkovci, where Jakob then lived, and Beshka, where Katarina then lived] is both in Yugoslavia, right?
DAD: But it is about 160 to 200 kilometers and we traveled only by train. And I saw the girl and then we then went home.
ROSIE: Was that ‘on Sunday’ or ‘the whole day Sunday’?
DAD: The whole day Sunday, And then we went home but I was not, at that time, it was Christmas, no, at Easter time, and I did not think to marry then but when it came the fall, then I decide to get married and I want to go and went to the same town [i.e., Beshka] to see if that girl is still single and when I get to there, the girl was not at home, she was in town about 20 kilometers farther away, working as a how-you-say … a maid in the house. And I go forenoon [i.e., before noon] in the church Sunday there in Beshka and then we took the train, I went to Novisad to see the girl when I came there somehow the noise get around that I came, I do not know who brought it but …
ROSIE: Was there a church in Novisad?
DAD: Yes, a big, large church. There’s some boys believers, they were waiting for the train but till I came. That afternoon church was over and they had no singing in the evening because it was forbidden.
ROSIE: By the government?
DAD: By the government it was forbidden, the church service was in the houses and then the boys tried to arrange to have a singing you know … but there was no phone. We went from house to house, here and there, wherever there are girls and good singers and invited them. Me too, I went with the boys, invited and there was singing in private houses, then I made the decision to ask for the girl, for …
ROSIE: At this time you didn’t know her parents.
DAD: Yes, I already knew them but I didn’t talked to them.
ROSIE: You knew who they [Mathias Schleicher & Christina (Wolf) Schleicher] were?
DAD: Yes, I did, but by going home and there was her mom, and the girl was on the same train and so I talked to her mom, little bit.
ROSIE: On your way back to Vinkovci?
DAD: On the way back … but nothing about the marriage and then we pass Beshka, her mom get out from the train and I go farther to a crossroads where I have to change the train and there was our [church] elder and I stop in at his place. It was evening, not very late, but 8 or 9 o’clock, the elder was already in bed, and decide and went to talk to him and to ask for the girl and he asked me should he ask? I said no, I will talk with my dad [Reinhardt Webel] first, at home, and then my dad will wrote him. So I went home, Dad wrote him, and he asked for the ministering brother and the mom said yes, and make the story shorter, then but we never talked together before … Then I went, oh …
ROSIE: You mean she [i.e., Mom] answered you “yes” before she even talked to you one time in your entire life?
DAD: We “talked together” just by singing. And then some boy traveled there and same back and told me that Mom [i.e., Katarina Schleicher, soon to become Katarina Webel] said she could change her mind. I don’t know how though. Then I went back to see her, to talk with her. When I came there where she work in the household [as a maid], I was with her in the kitchen, maybe for a half-hour, maybe for an hour, but not longer. Then she agreed on the day when would be the wedding and so I went home. When the day came, we (from our church) went about four persons (and I don’t think more than that), four persons maybe only three – me and Dad [Reinhardt Webel of Vinkovci, Yugoslavia] and –
ROSIE: Aunt Rosie and another Rosie …
DAD: Yes. I …
ROSIE: Why did you do that?
DAD: Because it is expensive to travel, you have no money to go to that town.
ROSIE: So your father [Reinhardt Webel], Aunt Rosie, another Rosie came to the wedding?
DAD: Yes, from our church [in Vinkovci].
ROSIE: From your town, oh, from your church, okay. When was the wedding?
DAD: It was November, 1933.
ROSIE: So it would be Grandfather [Reinhardt Webel], Aunt Rosie, and a friend, right?
DAD: She was a member of our church.
DAD: But the wedding, the church service is the regular service, you know, and…
ROSIE: At the end, you get married, that’s it.
DAD: At the end, we are called forward, and then we got married, that’s all, then we went apart, there was supper up there at Mom’s parents’ place [i.e., at the Schleicher home] and there was an elder and the ministering brother and maybe 20 persons, that’s all. There was singing after that …
MOM: More than that . . .
DAD: Good. 20, 30 persons.
ROSIE: Singing at the [Schleicher] home?
DAD: At the home.
MOM: A couple girls came along from Novisad, where I was from.
After the Wedding, Married Life Began with Hard Work on the Farm
As time would begin to show, and as more time would continue to demonstrate, the simple wedding vows of young Jakob and Katarina were not a mere matter of happy youthful enthusiasm or ceremonial tradition.
Jakob and Katarina were promised to one another; there was no looking back. It was unthinkable to consider separate lives thereafter: these two young hearts were now truly “one” (see Genesis 2:24), loyal to each other (and also to their God), as later events would prove, again and again.
The young couple were faithfully committed to each other, before God and many witnesses (including themselves), and World War II’s horrors and deprivations would soon (and repeatedly) test that marital union. But the couple at least got started, as a new family, before those horrific challenges confronted them.
The interview transcript now resumes, at the conclusion of the wedding songs:
DAD: And then, for the singing and after the singing we went on the train and went home.
ROSIE: Where’s home?
DAD: To Vinkovci from Beshka. But the travel was very uncomfortable. We have to go from one train to another, so we spent the whole night traveling.
MOM: The whole day and the next day.
DAD: Yeah. The evening, next morning we get home. And then we get home, and the same day ….
ROSIE: Where are you talking – “home” to your father’s house?
DAD: TO father’s house, yes, live with Father now. Then the same day we get home, we undressed [i.e., changed from church/wedding clothing to work clothing] and went to the field working for the farmers.
ROSIE: What kind of work?
DAD: Cutting the stems for the cornstalks.
ROSIE: Cutting corn shocks.
DAD: Okay. We are all day in…
ROSIE: Did you set them up in little piles and bind them like the Amish people do?
DAD: Yes, yes, like the Amish people do.
MOM: It’s not the same day, but the next day. The same day was right around 4 o’clock when we came home. No, we had the supper, his sisters was all there and from all the married kids with the grandchildren and relatives, and we had the …
DAD: That was the before … that’s not Monday.
ROSIE: This was Monday?
DAD: We had supper at Mom and Dad’s place.
ROSIE: Then what did you do? You went to bed in the evening and then you got up the next morning.
MOM: We had singing, some sing, some wash dishes and some, you know, it was nothing, just so ….
ROSIE: Then you went to bed and got up and worked =the next morning and … in Dad’s field.
DAD: Yeah … yeah.
DAD: Yeah, all together.
ROSIE: You and her were together that day.
DAD: Yeah. And the rest of the family too.
ROSIE: Of course.
MOM: Aunt Rosie and all the others. We worked all day.
ROSIE: Now surely you didn’t live your entire lives with Grandfather.
DAD: We lived with Grandfather about a year and a half or something like that.
MOM: Yeah, the before Elsa [i.e., Elisabeth] was born.
ROSIE: Oh, you mean you had Reini [Reinhardt] there.
MOM: Yeah, we had Reini there and we still worked in the fields and all the chickens and all the ….
[TO BE CONTINUED, D.v.]
When Hitler’s ambitions reached Yugoslavia (in April AD1941), daily living became an unrelenting challenge to endure, a never-ending series of threats and dangers (including German Nazis, Croatian Ustaše, and Soviet Russian Communists, plus war-caused food shortages, property and relocation losses, illnesses and injuries, etc.), as a growing family of honest Evangelical Rebaptizers tried to survive long enough to hopefully, someday, rebuild a “normal” family life.
For two decades life was anything but “normal”, much less convenient and comfortable. Meanwhile the Webel family grew to include eleven children, though one died an infant in Yugoslavia (during WWII), leaving a dozen Webels.
How Jakob and Katarina survived the disasters and dangers and deprivations of WWI (and its aftermath) is a magnificent testimony, firstly to God’s providential care, and secondly to the Webel family’s persistent practice of survival skills.
All of those years, during World War II, as well as the refugee years leading up to March of AD1950 (when the dozen Webels successfully immigrated to America), are amazing chapters in the Webels’ amazing family history. And the Webel family “singing” continues…including some who came (by birth or otherwise) to Texas. But the reporting of the next chapters (God willing) must, for now, await another day. So, for now, this “chapter” rests with an appreciation that two native-Texan boys, Nate Webel (born in AD2007) and Luke Webel (born in AD2012), as well as their sisters, descend from German immigrant stock (“Volksdeutsche”) who trace back one ancestral line to paternal grandfather’s parents, Jakob Webel and Katarina Schleicher, who committed to marrying each other before they ever had their first conversation: a true case of love at first sight—and first sound.
><> JJSJ firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. James J. S. Johnson is a member of the German-Texas Heritage Society, and an occasional contributor to its Journal pages. A lover and teacher of Providential history and geography, Jim has taught at 4 different Christian colleges (LeTourneau University, Dallas Christian College, Concordia University Texas at Fort Worth, and ICR School of Biblical Apologetics) in Texas, as well as aboard 8 different cruise ships. As a C.P.E.E. (Certified Paternity Establishment Entity, credentialed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office), Jim maintains a strong interest in family history documentation. After studying under many teachers, at many schools, Jim happily acknowledges that his best teacher (under God) was Chaplain Robert (Bob) Webel.
This article (and its endnotes, below) began a series of family history journal articles. This “Part 1” episode was originally published as “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen, Part One: Jakob and Katarina Agreed to Marry Before They Ever Spoke to Each Other, A True Example of Love at First Sight…and First Sound”, Journal of the German-Texan Heritage Society, 35(1): 25-32 (spring 2013).
 The family history information in this article is derived from repeated personal interviews with Chaplain Bob Webel, mostly when he was visiting Arlington, Texas (during the summer of AD2012), and from the transcription of his sister (Rosie)’s interview of their parents, an unpublished family history titled “From Vinkovci to Medina” (which is further described below).
 Luke Webel was born during July of AD2012, in Plano, Texas.
 Nate Webel was born during November of AD2007, in Fort Worth, Texas.
 “Volksdeutsche by the Dozen” is the caption of an unidentified newspaper clipping, with a photograph of the 12 Webel family immigrants, who arrived at Ellis Island on March 19, AD1950, after a transatlantic trek that went from Munich to Copenhagen to Scotland to Greenland to New York City. The Webel dozen then were father Jakob, mother Katarina, Reinhardt (17, a/k/a Reini), Elisabeth (15, a/k/a Elsa), Karl (13), Adolf (12), Theresia (10), Robert (8), Rosalia (6, a/k/a Rosie), Jacob (4), Katherina (2), Daniel (2 months old).
 The Yugoslav-emigrated, German-speaking Evangelical Rebaptizers, when they immigrated to America, renamed themselves the “Apostolic Christian Church of the Nazarene”. (There is no ecclesiastical connection to what is popularly called the Church of the Nazarene).
 Like a violently erupting fumarole, the tragic history of Yugoslavia’s political factions is a series of internal fighting (dominated by Ustaše-led Roman Catholic Croats persecuting Eastern Orthodox Serbs, with Nazi and Russian Communists intervening with their own agendas), and that fighting is a major catalyst in this family history—as will be noted later, D.v., in future reports on this fascinating family history (see, e.g., http://www.icr.org/article/7056/ ).
 Certainly Jakob was thinking Biblically, on this point—see Amos 3:3 & 2nd Corinthians 6:14.
 Rosalie Webel Whiting, From Vinkovci to Medina (unpublished Webel family history, copy provide by Chaplain Robert Webel), pages 1-4, supplemented & clarified by personal interviews with Rosie’s brother, Chaplain Bob Webel, during July and August of AD2012.