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About the origin of the name and the family Verderber

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As well the origin of the name as that of the family are hidden in the darkness of history. It is tried here to summarize the few what is known. Fewer is known about the Jewish family branch which possibly has a totally different origin. An own chapter is dedicated to it (see The Jewish branch of the family Verderber and the Third Reich).

The history of the Verderbers cannot be separated from the history of the Gottschee. If you wish to know more about the Gottschee, and as German-speaking sources are recommended and as purely English-speaking source.

About the origin of the family

Apart from the Jewish family branch whose origin is totally unclear the Verderbers seem altogether to come from the Gottschee. That is assumed at least by the few known sources and we did not hear yet anything contradicting. If you know something other, please, send it to us!

An impression of the Verderber’s spreading in Austria-Hungary is given by the registration card-index of the former imperial-royal police direction of the city Graz (Styria) in Austria for the years 1892–1925. On each file-card there was summarized a whole family under the name of its head. Normally, the head of the family was the man; only unmarried women or widows had own cards. Also, children which founded an own household were transferred to own cards.

The card-index has 54 file-cards for the surname “Verderber”, other spellings of the name do not exist. Only two persons were protestant, the rest was catholic.

Following you find the places and years of the birth of the heads of the families. If there are more cards with the same place of birth, the time interval and the number of cards are given. Please note that not all could be deciphered doubtless and that the names of the places may be wrong.

Gottschee (20 file-cards):
Gottschee 1865–1900, 6 cards; Hornegg? (= Hohenegg?) 1892; Katzendorf 1896; Kerndorf 1872–1895, 4 cards; Mitterdorf 1880; Mrauen 1892-1902, 3 cards; Otterbach 1866/1868; Rain 1898; Taubenbrunn 1884; Unterloschin 1899.
Rest of Slovenia, especially Eastern Styria (11 file-cards):
Illyrisch-Feistritz (Illirska Bistrica, in the Coast Landscape) 1888; Laibach (Ljubljana, in the Krain) 1855–1903, 7 cards; Marburg (Maribor, in Eastern Styria) 1895–1901, 2 cards; Reifnitz an der Drau (what probably means Ribnica na Pohorju in Southern Carinthia ) 1851.
Graz and the rest of Styria (12 file-cards):
Eibiswald 1877 (but Nesseltal in the Gottschee is named to be the commune of competence); Feldkirchen 1878; Graz 1906–1916, 4 cards; Hartberg 1882; Pöllau (there are 3 towns of this name in Styria) 1883; Preding (thera are 2 towns of this name in Styria) 1892-1893, 2 cards; Söllau (not found on the map, may also lay in Slovenia (Eastern Styria)) 1887; Steinriegl (named to be in the district of Leibnitz, but not found on the map) 1886.
Rest of Austria (2 file-cards):
Gattendorf (Burgenland) 1867; Stronsdorf (Lower Austria) 1890.
Northern Italy, especially Southern Tyrol (3 file-cards):
Bozen (Bolzano, in Southern Tyrol) 1923–24, 2 cards; Triest (Trieste, near the Slovenian border) 1895.
Croatia (1 file-card):
Krapina (northwards of Zagreb at the border to Slovenia) 1900 (3 cards for the same person).
United States of America (1 file-card):
Brooklyn (but Gottschee is named to be the commune of competence) 1901.
Not to relate (1 file-card):
Vinfe? (perhaps meaning Vinje eastwards of Ljubljana in Slovenia) 1921.

The spreading suggests that the Verderbers above all settled from the Gottschee into the direction of Styria. That is obvious because the people of the Gottschee traditionally went to Austria as pedlars during the winter. They had got this privilege by emperor Friedrich III. on 23/10/1492, because their region was totally plundered and destroyed. The cause were raids of the Turks as well as the mismanagement of the house Habsburg (that means the Emperor himself) which governed the Gottschee.

By the way, the Verderbers also did not spread uniformly over the Gottschee. It seems to have given real Verderber nests (for example Oberberg–Unterberg (Gorenja Podgora, Dolenja Podgora) and Nesseltal (Koprivnik) during the 19th century), but also zones without Verderbers like Stockendorf (Planina) where no Verderber can be proved at least since 1792.

Naturally, the other question is: Where did the Verderbers come from until they settled to the Gottschee? That is leading us to the question how they got their name.

About the origin of the name

Photo: The miserable rests of Verderb in summer 2003, seen from the south.
Photo: The miserable rests of Verderb in summer 2003, seen from the south. Click on the picture to zoom it in a new window.

At the name Verderber the following attracts attention:

So, we have three obvious possibilities:

  1. The surname comes from the word “Verderber”.
  2. The surname derives from the village name “Verderb”.
  3. The village “Verderb” got its name from the Verderbers.

All three opinions have representatives. Let us discuss them the one after the other.

The family legend of the robbery knight Verderber

The first possibility is represented by a legend which was given from Michael Verderber, born on 11/12/1884 at Taubenbrunn (Golobinjek), parish Nesseltal (Koprivnik), to his descendants. It is unknown where the legend comes from and how long it is told, but Michael Verderber seemed to have it from his father. In the other parts of the family it seems to be unknown what depreciates its credibility. If, however, someone knows the legend from his own family tradition, he may please announce it to us and tell us his version.

The legend itself is told as follows:

Once upon a time there was a robbery knight who was very bad, so he was called the “Verderber” everywhere. Finally the Austrian troops came and besieged him in his rock castle which was built in front of a cave. The Austrians besieged him for two years without any effort and could neither take the citadel nor starve it. Because the robbery knight supplied himself with food through a secret tunnel.

Once a day he sent his servant with fresh fruits to the Austrians hoping that this would motivate the Austrians to give up. But the Austrians corrupted the servant to help them. The servant told them that the robbery knight had a very regular motion, and he would place a candle light into the window above at the right moment. Thus it happened, and in the night the Austrians shoot the robbery knight from the toilet with a cannonball. The ball is still stuck in the wall.

Then the Austrians killed everyone living in the citadel. They only let alive the robbery knight’s brother who was a very religious man. All the Verderbers descend from this brother.

The good thing of this legend is that it is not totally pulled out of thin air, but has a true kernel. The rock castle is Lueg Castle (Predjamski Grad) near Adelsberg (Postojna), and the robbery knight was Erasmus Lueger who lived during the second half of the 15th century. Lueger supported the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus against the emperor Friedrich III., and after the emperor let decapitate a friend of Lueger, Lueger killed a relative of the emperor in a quarrel (or a duel – it is a question of interpretation). Lueger flew into his castle and from there he fell upon trading caravans. Kaspar Rauber, the captain of Triest, besieged Lueger for about a year. In 1484 Lueger was betrayed – as described in the family legend. Though he was not hit by the ball of the catapult, but he was slew by the stones falling down after the impact. Also, the ball is not stuck in the wall because the castle of today was built in 1570.

The first possibility is discussed in a very different manner for the Jewish family branch. There is a disputed theory that – at the time when Jews had to accept “civil” names – the Jews had to pay for a nice name and if they did not, they got an insulting name like Verderber.

We also may speculate that the Verderbers originally were Jews and insulted as “Verderber”, then converted to Catholicism and finally settled down in the Gottschee. (See About the origin of the Jewish family branch.)

Verderb and the banished rebels

A representative of the second possibility is parson Josef Erker in his “Geschichte der Pfarre Mösel” (History of the Mösel parish), published in the Gottscheer Kalender (Gottschee calendar) of the years 1927–1930 (and to find under Josef Erker writes as follows (in an analogous translation from the German original):

Verderb – Verdreng

Downwards on the right side of Reintal there are Verderb – Verdreng. These two villages tell with plainspoken language about the misery and the sad fate of the colonists in that landscape. Verderb = Middle High German verderp means waste, spoilage, ruin, destruction and therefore the ruin, misery, and the need, which was waiting for the colonists here. It remembers to people’s tradition telling in correspondence to the well-known Valvasorian Note about the 300 Franconian-Thuringian rebel families which the German emperor (Karl IV., 1347–1378) condemned to death.

But the count which ruled the Gottschee at that time proposed him:

Give them their lives and send them to the wilderness down there. That will be worse to them than killing them.

The emperor accepted, and so the inhabitants of today reached the landscape down there. Doubtless the Middle-German (Lower German) immigration was meant, and this worst land was probably to the greatest part settled by the former rebels from the German empire. They doubtless called the whole unfruitful landscape there Verderp, that is Verderb, especially if they compared it with the better fields they might have had earlier outside in the empire. Verdreng is probably the Middle High German verdrine = Verdrängung (meaning displacement, supersession, ouster) thus the area where they were displaced to for rebellion from their old nice home.

Verderb – Verdreng are two villages which are always mentioned together and are listed in that way in the old Urbar (Verderb – Verdreng five and a half Huben (square measure of unknown value)). At the beginning Verderb and Verdreng were presumable area names like Mooswald, Göttenitz, and Gottschee; perhaps the whole landscape down there had this name, including that what today belongs to the parish exclave Skrill. That would simply explain the frequent occurrence of the family name Verderber in the Gottschee region. The little village Verderb alone would reach out to explain the frequent occurrence of this family name.

Verderb and Verdreng are also named Verderb and Verdreng in Slovenian language.

The last sentence is not fully correct: Verderb and Verdreng have – as mentioned above – the Slovenian names Ferderb and Podlesje.

There are more absurdities. The “Gottscheer Kalender 2002” (Gottschee calendar, published by the Verein Gottscheer Gedenkstätte, Graz-Mariatrost, Austria) tells that Verderb and Verdreng were founded during the 16th century.

From a map made in 1930 to describe the course of settlement in the Gottschee we receive that Verderb and Verdreng are mentioned in the Urbarum of 1574 but not in the earlier documents of 1339 and 1363. That contradicts neither to the story of parson Josef Erker nor to the description in the Gottscheer Kalender nor to the robbery knight legend.

If we look besides Verderb and Verdreng at the depressing names of further villages in the neighbourhood like Ober- and Unterfliegendorf (meaning Upper and Lower Fly Village) and Ober- and Unterpockstein (which may be interpreted as Upper and Lower Pock Stone) we naturally may argue that the village names are essentially founded on the bad live circumstances and the unfruitful land there. This explanation needs no rebel families and would also fit for the 16th century.

In every case the question remains open how the Verderbers were named in former times and where they came from.

The Verderbers as local judges

The third possibility is represented in the article about Thomas Verderber and the Verderber House in Retz. According to this the Verderbers gave their name to the village Verderb. Therefore the Verderbers were so-called knight-citizens, hereditary citizens, patricians or citizens as witnesses and sealers. They officiated as local judges and wore a necklace as a sign of their office.

That means that the Verderbers were better situated people. If that was real then it seems that there remained very few from it in the 18th and 19th century.

From that we have an explanation how Verderb got its name, but it is still an open question where the family name comes from. That means, the two other possibilities are again brought into play here:

Naturally we may assume that the name Verderber had existed earlier – from which reason does not matter – and that some of the family members settled down in the Gottschee. But we have no reference to Verderbers which did not come from the Gottschee.

The legend of the seven brothers

There is a story said to exist which perhaps fit to that. According to it the Verderbers descend from seven brothers which emigrated to the Gottschee. If anybody heard of this story he may please announce that to us, because we do not know if there is a confusion with another story. The old person who was named as source does not remember of the story.

The different spellings of the name

As well in the Internet as in the church books we find besides Verderber the similar sounding names Ferderber, Verderbar, and Ferderbar.

The spelling Ferderber seems above all to be spread in Croatia, less in Slovenia. For both languages it is an obvious spelling because the V is spoken there as W, and the letter W does not exist. Therefore Ferderber is a spelling after pronunciation.

Verderbar and Ferderbar may be imagined as further variations which are motivated by a corresponding pronunciation.

The fact that there are all of the four spellings in the church books of Altenmarkt upon Kulpa (Stari Trg ob Kolpi) for the same families, indicates that they are only different spellings but not different names and different families.

Here are two proofs:

Baptism book 1812–1819, pages 165–166:
24/12/1813, Oberberg 9: Maria, daughter of Petrus Mourin and Maria Ferderbar. Sponsors: Georg Shutte and Maria Fugina, neighbours.
13/12/1816, Oberberg 9: Margaretha, daughter of Petrus Mourin and Maria Verderbar. Sponsors: Georg Shutte and Maria Fugina, neighbours.
Family book since 1846, pages 88 and 91:
Oberberg 4: Georg Verderber, born on 10/11/1805, registered with the whole family and the note “Earlier resident in loco no. 10.
Oberberg 10: Georg Ferderber, born on 10/11/1805, registered with the whole family.

Generally there are only the spellings Ferderbar and Verderbar in the baptism book for 1812–1819, apart from some cases where perhaps Verderber is written, but that is not sure to encipher. However the family book since 1846 only has the spellings Verderber and Ferderber. Because we cannot assume that all families changed in the meanwhile, there only remains that the preferred spelling of the Names changed.

By the way, it is obvious that the spelling with F often exists in Altenmarkt, which is situated at the croatic border (which is the Kulpa river), while it seems not to be found in Unterdeutschau (Nemška Loka) which lies little more northwards. And also not in Nesseltal (Koprivnik) which is another piece more in the north, at least since 1840.

It is unclear if there are more spellings of the name Verderber. Possibly Werderber is another spelling. If we assume that a Verderber from the Slovenian or Croatic speech area pronounces the name written as Verderber according to his language as Werderber, then he possibly uses the spelling Werderber when he emigrates to a country where the letter W exists. But we do not have any proof yet. If you have a proof, please, announce it to us!

Similarly the spelling Werderbar is perhaps based on Verderbar, if it is not only a clerical error. Because we only have the published lists of immigrants to New York through Ellis Island (see The emigrants to America) as a source.

On these lists there is a lot of other names similarly written like Verderber, but it is unknown, which of them are clerical errors, other spellings or even other names.

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