On Friday morning, Oct. 13, Hans Weissgerber Sr. was laid to rest at La Belle Cemetery in Oconomowoc. It was a private, simple ceremony, with family members and a few friends in attendance. It was as Hans had wished.
Hans Weissgerber Sr. was 100 years old when he passed to eternal life, leaving behind a legacy that for those of us who knew him will carry us through our lifetime. It was his desire that his celebration of life should be a happy event, preferably on his 100th birthday. On Sunday, July 9, 2017, 300 people came together to relive the story of Hans’ life with him. It is the story of many of our ancestors who built the character of our nation. I was asked to share it as his obituary.— Hans Weissgerber Jr. My father, Hans Weissgerber Sr. was born 100 years ago in the little town of Drenovci, in Yugoslavia, where half of the villagers spoke German, and the other half Croatian.
His home was a fifth-generation farm, settled in the early 1800s by immigrant pioneers from Germany, who traveled down the Danube on large wooden rafts in search of land. The Austro-Hungarians had defeated the Ottoman Turks, and decided to settle the undeveloped lands on the Danube in Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania with families from southern Germany that were willing to leave all behind and become pioneers in a new world.
The Weissgerber family did well, and prospered in the little town of Drenovci. The Germans, Croatians, and Serbians in the Danube valley lived together in relative harmony for over 100 years.
It was in this remote and primitive environment that Hans saw his first iron wheeled steam tractor, his first Daimler Benz automobile and a double-decker airplane in the sky. One day, at the age of 18 years old, he met a beautiful, young, 16-year-old woman from a neighboring village. Her name was Maria.
His grandmother had known about Maria, so she arranged for Hans’ first visit to Maria’s home in the village of Calma in Serbia so that they could meet each other and approve of what they saw.
The next visit brought Maria to visit Hans in Drenovci, to check out what would be her future home and family, and a third visit was made to arrange and finalize their wedding plans.
Hans married Maria in 1935, a marriage that survived through good times and bad times, through sickness and health, through wealth and poverty, through trials, tribulations, uncertainty and success, a marriage that kept them together for 72 years.
The late 1930s were tumultuous and difficult years throughout Europe. Political and social upheaval and conflict enveloped all of Europe. Germany was challenging the world, and communism gained momentum in the Balkan nations.
My brother Jack was born in 1937, and Hans Sr. was drafted into the military in 1939. His first military duty was in King Peter’s Serbian army. As a trained horseman, Hans was assigned to the king’s cavalry, ready to ride into conflict with sword on one side and a pistol on the other.
A year later, the Germans decided to occupy Yugoslavia, and every ethnic German was forced to join the German army.
In 1942, with Hans still in the army, Maria bore a second son, me, Hans Jr.
On a visit home, just before arriving for his two weeks’ leave, his wife, Maria, was kidnapped by the communist partisans and held as hostage, only to be released in exchange for Hans turning himself in, to be blindfolded and led away to a distant camp in the woods by communist guerrillas.
After a week as a prisoner, Hans was freed by the partisan camp commander, who recognized Hans from an overnight visit to the family farm in years past. It was a fortunate situation that saved his life.
After a short visit with his wife and family, Hans returned to the German army for another three years.
As World War 2 came to an end, all German people in Yugoslavia were forced to leave everything behind, and flee their native land.
His father loaded up all he could on two horse-drawn wagons and together with Maria and her two children, Jakob and Hans, took off on a one-year-long wagon train journey across Hungary and eventually to Germany.
Hans saw his family the last time, on a quick overnight visit to the family wagon train as it was moving north to an uncertain future. He was not to see his family again, or know their whereabouts for more than two years.
After World War 2, in 1945, Hans found work as a butcher and wine maker in a town in Austria, always searching and looking for information as to the whereabouts of his family.
Finally, he found us, living in a small attic apartment in a farming village about 20 miles east of Heidelberg. I was only 5 years old, and to me, the man who moved into our home was a strange man, whom I did not know.
Life with seven people in a two-room apartment was impossible and the German economy was on its knees, and refugees were not welcome by the local population. So Hans gathered his family and traveled south to the Nice, France, where he was promised work on a farm.
When Hans arrived with a family of four, the poor farmer despaired. All he expected was a hired man to work his fields. There was no life for Hans and his family in France, so he packed his family back on the train and returned to Germany.
Money, food, and hope were running out for Hans. I remember the day we arrived at the train station in Offenburg. I remember that I was crying, my brother was complaining and my mother was in tears.
There was no food, and no money.
So Hans made his way into a restaurant kitchen and begged for food for his children. He came back with two overripe bananas and fed both Jack and me.
The next day, the entire family was placed into a refugee came with hundreds of other refugees. A few days later, Jack and I were transferred to a home for undernourished children in a Black Forest mountain village, for six months.
Maria found work with the French military forces, and Hans got a job working for the railroad, and he found a two-room apartment for his family.
Life began to improve. Soon, my father found a better job with a large printing company and two years later was able to build a small house in the city of Offenburg.
But, the search for a better life was always in the forefront of Hans’ mind. Relatives and other refugees, such as us, had left Europe to find a new future in countries like the USA, Australia, and Brazil.
So, Hans and Maria applied for emigration to all three.
In 1955 the USA decided to accept our family’s application. Hans packed up his family, boarded an old WW2 troop carrier for a 12-day crossing and moved his family to South Bend, Ind.
I remember my first hours in America. While waiting for our train in Grand Central Station in New York, my father took my brother and me to walk the street outside the station. The tall buildings, the lights, the traffic and the many people were simply mind-boggling. In fact, all this, this whole new world, was very scary, so we quickly returned back into the train station.
We lived in South Bend for only one year. The month after we arrived in South Bend, Studebaker, its largest employer, closed for good, devastating the economy throughout the area.
Hans and Maria then decided to visit relatives in Milwaukee, and check out work opportunities in that city. He was offered a job at the Uncle August Sausage Co., and forthwith moved his family to Milwaukee.
In 1958, he bought a small house near the intersection of Fond du Lac and Hampton avenues, by Capitol Court, and found a new job at the American Motors Assembly Plant in Milwaukee.
On weekends, Hans had a part-time job roasting spanferkel small pigs on a spit, for customers of Rupena’s Market at various Lake Country picnic resorts. Always restless, and in search of a better future for his family, Hans decided that he wanted to own a lakeside resort, where he could roast pigs and maybe build a restaurant.
After looking at three different lake resorts, he brought my brother and me out here, to the then Surf Resort on Okauchee Lake, and asked us to support him in developing a business at this site.
Well, after painful rejection from two banks, the First National Bank of Oconomowoc finally agreed to finance construction of a small restaurant and fiveroom motel here on Okauchee Lake.
In order to save money, Hans and Maria moved into the basement, behind the bar of the Surf Resort. We tore down the condemned buildings that were left from the former Lacy’s Resort, and after five years of hands-on construction, on June 15, 1967, the Golden Mast opened its doors.
Hans and Maria opened their restaurant with little experience, but with lots of heart. Both enjoyed cooking and with family recipes, perseverance and the support of committed and creative chefs, good food and caring service brought people back again and again. The restaurant venture proved to be successful.
I, Hans Jr., spent two years helping to build and open the restaurant. I returned in 1969 and decided to work full time with Hans Sr. and Maria.
In 1978, my brother Jack and his wife, Linda, joined the family business, and with the support of Hans and Maria, Jack and Linda redeveloped the Seven Seas Restaurant. Later, in 1983, we built and opened the Gasthaus in Waukesha, a restaurant committed to genuine German character, atmosphere and menu.
When the Gasthaus opened, Hans Sr. left his position as chef in the kitchen of the Golden Mast to Chef John Moosereiner, and assumed his new duty as host at the Gasthaus.
Retirement from life as a restaurateur was never an option for Hans Sr. Although Hans and Maria spent winters in Florida, springtime would always bring them back to Okauchee, to give direction and support to all of us in the business, to maintain the physical appearance of the property, and to inspire, and be inspired by, the many members of his great team, who have worked together and contributed to 50 successful years in business at the Golden Mast.
Hans Sr. is survived by his son, Hans Jr. (Marijo), five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Maria, and son, Jack (Linda). A private service was held Oct. 12, with a graveside ceremony on Oct. 13. Always appreciative of the success he was allowed to achieve, always grateful to God and this great nation, Hans Weissgerber Sr. completed his 100-year journey through life with humility, and so much to be thankful for.