Who Are Gottscheers?
Gottschee was founded at the end of the 13th century, carved out of the uninhabited mountain forests in what is today the south central part of Slovenia.
The county of Gottschee was colonized in 1300 by the Carinthian counts of Ortenburg with settlers from Carinthia and Tyrol, and by other settlers who came from Austrian and German Dioceses of Salzburg, Brixen, and Freising. The settlers cleared the vacant and heavily forested land and established towns and rural villages.
The area of lower Carniola (the duchy of Carniola was called Krain in German) that was to become Gottschee had been a strategic part of the Holy Roman Empire since the year 800. As a result, there were a number of important castles and fortifications in and around Gottschee.
In 1350, the emperor made available 300 families from Thuringia in Germany, and this group formed the basis of the population of Gottschee County as a German-speaking language island in a duchy mostly inhabited by Slovenians.
The people of Gottschee continued to preserve the customs of their ancestors. They also developed a distinct German dialect called Gottscheerisch. It was mainly a spoken language and those that were born there in the 1920s and 1930s still speak the language today.
In 1471, Gottschee received the municipal charter and city seal. About 100 years later, in 1574, Gottschee was owned by the Hapsburg Archduke Carl. Also in that year, there was an Urbarium (land register) produced with statistics of land, the number of villages, names of the owners, and taxes.
In 1641, Wolf Engelbrecht of Auersperg bought the county (Grafschaft) of Gottschee. In 1770, Maria Theresa ordered a count of all males in order to be drafted into the Austrian army. In that same year, all urban and rural dwelllings were counted and recorded.
In the late 1800s, the Gottschee ethnic and linguistic area of 331 square miles consisted of 176 villages organized into 19 townships and 18 parishes. The population was about 26,000 and like many Slovenians and other Europeans, Gottscheers began to emigrate from their homeland. Many immigrated to various areas in the United States and Canada, with large numbers settling in Cleveland, Ohio, and Brooklyn, New York.
In 1918, after World War I, with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Duchy of Carniola and with it Gottschee became part of the province of Slovenia in the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Gottscheers were given Yugoslavian citizenship. In 1929, the kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Slovenia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Today, the area of the former county of Gottschee is known as Kocevska, Slovenia. The city of Gottschee is known as Kocevje.
During World War II, the Gottscheers lost their homeland. When the German and Italian armies invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, an agreement between Italy and Germany gave control of the Gottschee land area to Italy. Nine months later, the German government resettled the Gottscheer ethnic Germans from their 650-year homeland. This was done in December 1941 and January 1942, when almost 12,000 Gottscheers were relocated to Brezice (Rann), Slovenia that had been incorporated into the German Reich during the war.
Between 1941 and 1943, many of the Gottscheer villages were destroyed in battles between the Yugoslavian partisans and the Italian forces. At the end of the war, the Gottscheers were forced to flee into Austria. Some of the refugees eventually found new homes in Austria and Germany, however, most immigrated to the United States and Canada, where they had friends and relatives who had immigrated to those countries prior to World War II.
Today, the largest number of Gottscheers and their descendants live in the United States, many living in Ohio and New York, with smaller numbers living in Austria, Canada, Germany, and Slovenia.