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Godfather of the Danube Swabians 

  There are numerous historical personalities who played a major role in the genesis of the people who would later become known as the Danube Swabians.  The three Habsburg rulers, Emperor Charles VI, Empress Maria Theresia and Emperor Joseph II have given their names and made their imprint on the three major phases of the Great Swabian Migration, the so-called Schwabenzug that took place in the Eighteenth Century.  Their Imperial imprimatur is solidly stamped upon the development of the communities that were established by the settlers who responded to their invitation to make a new home for themselves and their descendants in the recently liberated totally devastated and nearly de-populated Kingdom of Hungary.  But just as importantly alongside the Habsburg rulers there were numerous military commanders and heroes of the wars against the Turks who also played an important role after the Turks met their 911 in 1683 when Kara Mustapha and his vast Turkish host were routed and decimated in the fabled Vienna Woods on that memorable September day.  The once battered beleaguered frontier fortress town of Vienna after having withstood several months’ siege witnessed the chaotic flight of the Turkish army which would result in their full retreat across Hungary paving the way for its eventual liberation and reclamation.

  At the head of the Imperial forces in the continuing wars against the Turks were famed military commanders including Charles the Duke of Lorraine, Louis the Margrave of Baden, Maximilian Emanuel the Elector of Bavaria, Jan Sobieski III the Lithuanian King of Poland and the stalwart Austrian Commander, Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg the defender of Vienna with 20,000 troops under his command facing the 300,000 Turks.  He was left in charge after the near hysterical Habsburg Emperor Leopold I and his entire Royal entourage fled for their lives from the city.  But none of them matched the military accomplishments or reached the stature or fame of Prince Eugene of Savoy who became a living legend in his own time.  Prinz Eugen der edle Ritter.  He was portrayed as the Habsburg’s “Great White Knight” due to his heroic exploits in vanquishing the Turks at the gates of Belgrade, harrying them to the battlements of Peterwardein and surrendering to him without a fight at Temesvár.  In the folklore of the times and in the future the fact that he was French born and of Italian origin was either ignored or forgotten so that during the Second World War his name was given to the SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen made up of men from the Danube Swabian communities in the Yugoslavian Banat who would be engaged in the Partisan War under that banner. 

  This young French officer was born in Paris and grew up in the Court of Louis XIV, the so-called “Sun King” of France.  Eugene’s Italian mother was one of a string of mistresses of the King and Eugene’s own paternity was held suspect in Court circles.  Because of his poor physique and bearing he was destined for a career in the church but at the age of nineteen he was determined to seek a military career but was rejected by King Louis as unsuited for service in the French Army.  He in response left for Austria to serve Louis XIV’s archenemies, the Habsburgs.  That in itself indicates something of the state of affairs of the relationship between the two men.  While serving the Habsburgs, Prince Eugene would be surrounded by a circle of young French-speaking officers who were all united in their loyalty to the House of Habsburg and their antipathy for Louis XIV of France for various personal reasons and in most cases they were of a family nature.

  What we must remember is that serving the House of Habsburg was a matter of loyalty to a dynasty, not a nation.  Their commitment was neither to Austria or Hungary but to the Emperor.  This is precisely the way that the Habsburg saw it too.  They were not nationalists.  In fact, in the future, the Habsburgs would see that nationalism was their ultimate enemy.  That is next to Louis XIV of France at the moment.

  Following the uncontested liberation of the fortress of Temesvár in August of 1716 Prince Eugene of Savoy returned to Vienna to gain support for his plan to take Belgrade which was on the direct invasion route into Hungary.  Before he left he entrusted the administration of the city and fortress of Temesvár and the surrounding area, the Banat, in the hands of one of his most competent officers and closest friends, le Comte de Mercy of Lorraine, who would one day attain the rank of General Field Marshall in the Royal Imperial Army.  But at this point in his career de Mercy became the Military Governor of the Banat which had been declared a Crown Land. 

  Le Comte Claudius Florimund de Mercy was born in Longwy in Lorraine in 1666.  He came from a family of warrior lords who were prominent in the Thirty Years War but little if anything is known of their actual involvements.  His grandfather, Baron Francoise de Mercy, served as a Bavarian general who drove the French out of Bavaria and Baden but later died in battle at Alerheim in 1645 once again facing a French Army.  His son Pierre followed in his father’s footsteps in a military career and in his family’s hostility towards the French throne and was ennobled receiving the title of le Comte that he passed on to his heirs.  He became an officer in the Habsburg Royal Imperial Army and fell at the Battle of Budapest in 1686.  When his son Claudius had become sixteen years of age he had secured a place for him in the military.  Young Claudius rose in the ranks along with other young French-speaking officers and became a close friend of Prince Eugene of Savoy.  Like him, Claudius lacked the kind of physical bearing associated with the military and was blind in one eye and short sighted in the other.

  He received his commission as an officer for his role in the Battle for Vienna in 1683 at the age of seventeen!  Seven years of campaigning against the Turks in Hungary followed and he rose to the rank of Commander of Cavalry.  He served in the Italian campaigns during the War of the Spanish Succession over a period of five years after which he was called back to Hungary by Prince Eugene of Savoy to serve as one of his officers and advisers in a new campaign against the Ottoman Turks.

  He participated in the remarkable victory at Zenta in present day Serbia on September 11, 1697 under the leadership of Prince Eugene of Savoy, where de Mercy demonstrated his talents as a warrior, strategist, leader of men and a keen administrator.  The battle was fought on the east side of the Tisa River where the smaller Austrian forces ambushed the much larger Turkish army as they attempted to cross the river.  The Turks suffered 30,000 casualties while the Imperial forces lost slightly more than four hundred men.  The Battle of Zenta proved to be one of the most decisive defeats the Ottoman Turks ever suffered resulting in their loss of control of the Banat.  Le Comte de Mercy was once again promoted and reassigned to serve in Italy in the ongoing War of the Spanish Succession and still later served in the Rhine campaign where he was recognized for his success as an intrepid leader of raids and forays against the French.  He distinguished himself as a commander during these ten years and his fiery courage would become legendary in military circles.  Then once again Prince Eugene sought his services and de Mercy’s leadership of the forces assigned to him would become more than conspicuous at the Battle of Peterwardein in 1716.

  During the crucial Battle of Belgrade in 1717 he led the cavalry in a brilliant and decisive charge which drove the Turks into their trenches which eventually led to their wholesale retreat resulting in the capture of the city.  This followed the capitulation of the fortress of Temesvár and later his subsequent appointment as Military Governor of the Banat when the course of his life and career changed.  He was now about to become the Godfather of the Danube Swabians.

  The scene for this was set at the meeting of the Hungarian Estates at the Landtag (a kind of parliament) held in Pressburg, present-day Bratislava, in 1722/1723.  The assembly passed a series of Statutory Articles to promote trade and industry and above all sought to repopulate the Kingdom of Hungary with colonists from the Holy Roman Empire.  Article 103 of the Landtag of 1723 can be looked upon as the basic constitutional law that formed the basis for the Danube Swabian colonization operations which followed.

  The Emperor Charles VI was called upon to undertake the resettlement of his Hungarian Kingdom with the assumption that it would be done with settlers from his Austrian hereditary lands and his extensive far flung Empire, the patch work quilt of principalities, duchies, bishoprics, free cities, states and fiefdoms that made up the Holy Roman Empire focusing primarily on the area of what is now south western Germany.  He wrote to the various German princes requesting their full cooperation and support and established the Neoacquistica Commissio (Newly Acquired Territories Commission) to carry out the colonization programme with le Comte de Mercy carrying out the major responsibilities as it pertained to the Banat which had been declared a Crown Land.

  This the first and earliest stage of the Danube Swabian colonization effort proved to be overwhelmingly focussed on the private estates and domains of the nobles in Hungary and was carried out in a rather random if not chaotic fashion while the settlement of the Banat would become secondary due to several mitigating factors which we will explore but primarily as the result of the ongoing threats of Turkish incursions.  In many ways this phase of colonization would resemble a land rush down the Danube in contrast to the next major colonization efforts which were State sponsored, subsidized, supervised and organized by Maria Theresia and Joseph II.  It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 persons were settled in this first phase of the colonization effort.  Unlike the settlers who would follow in the next two phases of the colonization the prospective settler in this first phase had to a have a personal “stake” of at least 200 Gulden in order to emigrate and assume some of the transportation costs.

  Le Comte de Mercy’s administrative skills would come to the fore as he undertook the task to re-populate the Banat.  His foresight and planning were exemplary both in terms of the recruitment of would-be settlers and the initial canalizing of vast areas of swampland in the Banat, developing communications systems and a postal service over a vast territory, and constructing roads, building bridges and digging canals.  As a precaution he rebuilt the fortifications of Temesvár in the face of the continued presence of the Turks in the area.  Between 1723 and 1725 the first land survey of the Banat was conducted under his initiative preparing the way for the coming of the settlers and the establishment of new communities and preparing for the arrival, support and housing of the settler families.  The canalization made vast stretches of land arable once more and the drainage of the swamps cut back the dangers and threat of disease and epidemics.  But the first step to be addressed was the recruitment of German settlers which Le Comte de Mercy undertook in 1722.

  For that purpose a recruitment office was established in Worms under the supervision of Johann Franz Krauss an appointee of the Emperor.  Handbills were distributed and offers were made to lure land hungry would-be colonists to emigrate down the Danube to the Banat.  At Worms his agents interviewed emigrants and arranged for their transportation, provided information and above all told the emigrants of the “wonders” of the Banat.  Of course they would also emphasize the generous terms that the Imperial Government offered to those who would settle on Crown Land.

  In addition to writing to the princes and other nobles for their support and assistance in providing settlers, Charles VI also wrote to the leading Roman Catholic prelates in the cities of Würzburg, Fulda, Mainz, Speyer and Trier to encourage any would-be settlers to leave for Hungary and settle in the Banat.  For Charles VI was determined to build a “bulwark of Christendom” in the Banat with Roman Catholic settlers to ward off the ongoing threat of the Turks.  This aspect of the Schwabenzug is repeatedly emphasized by many noted Danube Swabian historians.  What is either not so well known or often not acknowledged in their histories is the fact that the Emperor also wrote to the Lutheran and Reformed princes and church officials in Hessen-Darmstadt and Hessen-Kassel requesting their support for those of their subjects who desired to leave for Hungary promising them the freedom to practice their faith by a Royal Patent that he was prepared to personally issue to them.  

  Recruitment agents spread across south western Germany publicizing the benefits of emigrating to the Banat.  They were often veterans who had served in the Turkish wars who spoke first hand of the fertile land just waiting to be ploughed.  The agents targeted the Rhineland, Hessen and Franconia as well as Lorraine, the homeland of le Comte de Mercy, a region which would play a much greater role in terms of providing settlers for the Banat during the Theresian settlement which would follow decades later.

  In addition there were also agents of private landlords and Hungarian nobles who sought to recruit settlers for their devastated and undeveloped estates.  They were often in open competition with one another and with the Imperial agents not only in south western Germany but also in Hungary itself.  Some rather large groups of settlers bound for the Banat were lured off the ships by agents of the nobles at the river ports along the Danube at Harta, Dunafӧldvár, Paks or Tolna making promises that went far beyond what had attracted the settlers to Hungary in the first place.  Promises by and large that were never kept.  What often began as large convoys of ships and barges heading down the Danube for the Banat from Ulm and Regensburg often ended up as either half-filled or nearly empty vessels on their arrival in Temesvár.  In some cases the convoys never arrived.

  Despite these setbacks and the resulting limitations there were numerous settlements that were established in the Banat under le Comte de Mercy’s initiative and supervision.  The major ones were at Werschetz, Weisskirchen and Pantschowa along with numerous satellite villages in their vicinity one of which was named Mercydorf in his honour.  He travelled extensively throughout the Banat and was in touch with the various situations and difficulties that the settlers faced.  He developed close relationships with his local officials who were carrying out the work of settlement as well as with the colonists themselves to whom he became a paternal figure much loved and respected in his own time and later by future generations.  He promoted the mining industry in the Bergland, recruiting miners from Alpine Austria primarily from the Tirol and the Steiermark and introduced mulberry trees to establish silk as a secondary and cash crop for the settlers as well as promoting the cultivation of rice.  He set the foundations for what would become the future granary of Europe.  But all of this was only one aspect of his colonizing efforts and his God-fatherly role in the life and future of the Danube Swabians.   

  On April 24, 1722 le Comte de Mercy purchased the Zinzendorf Domain of Hӧgyész  in Hungary at the cost of 15,000 Gulden.  It consisted of a handful of scattered newly settled villages and massive thick forests and undeveloped prairies that covered vast tracts of land with deep valleys and steep hills which pass through western Tolna County making him the largest private landowner in the entire County.  Later in 1723 he received the title of Indigenat for his military services in the wars against the Turks and was given all of the rights and privileges of a Hungarian noble with the full approval Emperor Charles VI.  He now set out to develop his own private estate by recruiting settlers and found himself caught up in a conflict of interests.

  He was now wearing two hats.  He needed colonists for the Banat as well as for his own undeveloped estate and those who were most readily available were those heading for the Banat.  His future recruiting activities among them would earn le Comte de Mercy the title of “systematic settler stealer” by one disgruntled Hungarian historian of the period and raised the ire of Viennese Court officials and eventually his activities in this regard came to the attention of the Emperor Charles VI himself.

  De Mercy secured his settlers from the convoys heading for the Banat.  For that purpose he stationed his personal adjutant, Captain Tobias Vátzy, in Vienna where he contacted colonists who were on the ships bound for the Banat and counselled or persuaded many  of them to settle on the Tolna estate of le Comte de Mercy instead.  As a result of his activities large numbers of settlers passing through Vienna disembarked from the ships along their way down the Danube when passing by Tolna County and joined the waiting wagon trains that took them into the interior and settled on the lands of the Count’s estate.  This aroused great hostility among Viennese officials who pointed out that the settlers in question had been recruited at the expense of the Imperial government.

  Their animosity towards the young Capitan’s activities only grew worse when they stumbled on to the fact that he went out of his way to discover if there were Lutherans in the convoys heading for the Banat for the purpose of recruiting them for settlement on the Count’s Tolna estate.  In fact, it appeared that he showed a preference for Lutherans.  Although the stated official policy of the Emperor prohibited the settlement of Protestants in the Banat several hundred families had already arrived and settled there and were also being encouraged to leave and come to le Comte de Mercy’s estate in Hungary.  Some of these Lutherans bound for the Banat brought their own pastors and teachers with them and one such group left the ships at Paks-on-the Danube and were picked up by a wagon train and settled on the prairie which in future would become the village of Kistormás.  The group also carried a Royal Patent with them ensuring them of the freedom to practice their faith unhindered on their arrival in Hungary.

  When it came to settlers, it was simply a matter of supply and demand.  The nobles in particular paid no attention to such niceties as religion when it became a matter of their economic interests and welcomed both Lutherans and Reformed (Calvinists) to sign contracts with them and settled them on their undeveloped estates.  From 1721 to 1724 there was a massive immigration into Tolna County as more and more Protestants took up land on le Comte de Mercy’s estate along with those of his neighbours.  Six hundred Lutheran families from Hesse arrived in Tolna in that time frame and settled primarily on Comte de Mercy’s estate founding over twenty villages.  This led to protests by both civil and religious authorities that were eventually came to the attention of the Emperor.

  The Count received an order to appear in Vienna for an audience before Charles VI and his Royal Court to answer charges made against him.  The Emperor reprimanded him for his manipulation of the Banat-bound settlers by enticing them to settle on his estate and setting a bad example to the Hungarian landlords and nobles.  He also charged him with deliberately disobeying his directive and official policy of excluding Protestants from settling in Hungary including the Banat while knowing full well that he had granted many   Royal Patents for them to do so.  Le Comte de Mercy was not in the least ruffled by this royal reproof nor did he take it seriously nor allow it to effect his ongoing settlement project on his estate in Tolna County.  He knew full well the Emperor was only providing window dressing and was relieved that the Protestant settlers were not going on to the Banat where he sought to build a Roman Catholic bulwark of Christendom against the Turks and would therefore not have to deal with the problem had they arrived and settled there. 

  Unlike the other private estate owners and nobles in Hungary, le Comte de Mercy’s   settlement policies differed from theirs in several aspects.  He did not require Robot (forced work levies) of his tenants and subjects which often led to discontent, uprisings and strife on other estates.  He strictly enforced the right of his tenants to migrate as free peasants and sell their holdings and property when they left if they desired to do so.  It was a right that was denied to all Hungarian peasants and the nobles attempted to impose that upon the German settlers on their estates who had been promised otherwise in their settlement contracts.  While the others gave lip service to their guarantee with regard to religious freedom, only le Comte de Mercy lived up to it.  In his settlement agreement and contract with the Hessian Lutherans in Kismányok, Point Three stipulates:  “You may worship according to your conscience and freely exercise your religion as much as it is possible under the protection of your landlord.”  That meant that at times le Comte de Mercy would have to use all of his prestige and authority to protect their religious rights in the face of pressure from both the religious authorities and County officials.

  The most unique feature of his settlement policy was the proviso that only settlers from the same region, who spoke the same language and shared the same faith, would be settled in one community.  As a result on his estate in Tolna County there were German Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed settlements and Hungarian Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed villages.  In addition there were also several Slovak Roman Catholic and Lutheran communities.  It was a matter of separate development.  This was the Count’s strategy to avoid conflict between nationalities and confessions.  He appears to have had a deep understanding of his tenants’ situation and had a deep appreciation for their traditions and values as well as the issues and problems that beset them in the settlement phase.  In the years when there was famine and a poor harvest the Count would not only provide grain to his own tenants but also those of other landlords.  He had the foresight to build silos to store grain for the years when crops failed.  He built mills to grind the grain, delivered lumber to his tenants to build their first houses, dug canals, built Bethauser and churches and provided work and wages for the landless and tradesmen.

  He was very much an enigma to his Magyar contemporaries.  The nobles could not comprehend or fathom his approach to settlement or his relationship with his “peasants” who in their eyes were simply brute beasts of burden.  During his thirteen years of activity as a colonizer in Tolna County he established twenty-three communities with over one thousand five hundred family homesteads and over seven hundred smaller cottage plots for tradesmen and artisans.  His tenants honoured him as their “father” and held him in great respect in succeeding generations and his heirs who followed him were very much in the same mould and tradition and were the most powerful and wealthiest landowners in Tolna County and like the Count were revered by their tenants for their support during the very difficult times that they passed through.

  But there is still another fascinating aspect to le Comte de Mercy’s role in the life of the emerging Danube Swabians in the Banat that has taken a long time in coming to light.

  Johann Karl Reichard served as the pastor of the Lutheran parish of Ober-Ramstadt in the Odenwald region when emigration fever first hit Hessen-Darmstadt.  Some time in 1716 agents of the Emperor flooded the village with handbills with a promise of free passage to the Banat, which was in some remote corner of Hungary.  There was land for the taking and freedom from paying taxes.  There were all kinds of new opportunities for the young and adventurous, and the promise of a Royal Patent to guarantee the freedom to practice their faith in the new land.  The entire Odenwald was in an uproar and the pastor found it hard to know how to counsel his people as was also the case for most people who were in authority.

  The first emigrants from there left in the Spring of 1718 and over the next few years some five hundred families from the Odenwald settled in the faraway, unheard of Banat.  They boarded ships and barges of all kinds at Marxheim, the port of Donauwirth and began the long journey down the Danube River.  Eventually they arrived at Neu Palanka just south of Weisskirchen.  But as always, unknown to their families back home, some of them had jumped ship while passing through Hungary and settled on the private estates of Hungarian nobles and landlords.  The vast majority, however, settled in the Banat.

  The first settlement they established was at Langenfeld just shortly after the Turks had been expelled from the area.  By 1719 a sister settlement was founded in Petrilowa.  They formed twin Lutheran congregations with their own Levite Lehrer named Bay who would serve the steady stream of Hessians who continued to arrive establishing communities at Orawitza, Russowa, Haversdorf and Saalhausen.  Some of the new arriving settler groups were accompanied by Levite Lehrers as well and soon regular worship services were held and congregations were organized in all of the communities.  On being made aware of the situation the Jesuits in Neu Palanka had the Imperial Administration in Temesvár place the Lutherans under their “spiritual care” and assumed all priestly functions of baptism, marriage and burial that the Lutherans ignored in terms of practice.

  The Church Chronicle in Ober-Ramstadt reports that thirty-eight families numbering   eighty-two persons left for Hungary in October of 1723.  Other families followed later and they all settled in Langenfeld in what the pastor referred to as the Military Frontier District of the Banat which indicates how tenuous the situation was in terms of the continuing threats of Turkish raids in the area.  These colonists from Ober-Ramstadt   became part of the fledgling congregation in Langenfeld which issued an official call to Johann Karl Reichard the son of their former pastor to come and serve them.

  There are now some gaps in the story.  Or perhaps it would be better to say some silences.  Despite the pressures exerted by the Jesuits it appears that not only did the Lutheran congregations continue to exist but they also “officially” called a pastor.  There were always legal ramifications involved in such a process that required governmental   and administrative approval.  Inadvertently we discover that such approval was given to these “Illegal” congregations.  The permission to proceed was given by none other than le Comte de Mercy, the Governor of the Banat.      

  The next part of the story is preserved for us in the Church Chronicle in Ober-Ramstadt in this entry written by Pastor Johann Karl Reichard:

  “In the Spring of 1724, the eldest son of the present resident pastor, Johann Karl Reichard, who after prayerful consideration before the Lord, has accepted a call to serve as pastor among the Evangelical Lutherans in the market town of Langenfeld in the Banat.  At the congregation’s expense he undertook the six weeks long journey and has arrived there safely.  He has received the validation of his call as their pastor from the Imperial Administration of Langenfeld and now also serves the filial congregation in Petrilowa and the newly formed congregation made up of Austrian construction workers and miners and their families in the Bergland into whose pastoral care they were now all placed.  Langenfeld is located in the Banat of Temesvár, twelve miles from Belgrade and four miles from Temesvár.  As he labours in God’s name and upholds and comforts poor souls, I have placed my trust in God that He will protect, defend and preserve him as long as he is engaged in this ministry to which his father heartily commends his son.” 

  In his memoirs which were later published in Germany, his son Johann Karl Reichard indicates that he travelled alone on his journey to the Banat.  His first destination was beyond Vienna, the Royal Free City of Pressburg on the Danube, modern day Bratislava.  There he was met by a pre-arranged contact at the Red Ox Inn.  He was taken by night to Myjawa.  There on May 1, 1724 he was ordained into the ministry of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Hungary by Superintendent Daniel Krmann.  This Slovak “bishop” was all of what remained of the leadership of the Lutheran church organization that had now gone underground along with its congregations and pastors.

  No explanation is offered for why his ordination did not take place prior to leaving for the Banat.  It appears that it was simply a well known fact in Lutheran circles that all of Hungary was under the jurisdiction of the sole surviving “bishop” to whom all pastors and congregations were responsible.  Throughout his memoir we discover that the young pastor was always in touch with some kind of underground network.  He always knew where to go and whom to see.  He travelled in disguise.  This was probably done at the suggestion of Bishop Krmann or one of his contacts as he made his way into Hungary.  A simple government clerk would not be questioned.  Their official garb would identify them as such.  He would easily pass the scrutiny of the Hungarian customs officials and Imperial authorities as he made his way down the Danube to Temesvár the next station on the Lutheran Underground Railway into the Banat.

  On his arrival in Temesvár some time in June the first thing he did was make his next contact.  He was then soon ushered into the presence of le Comte de Mercy.  He received his Instuktionen personally from Le Comte to prepare him for the situation into which he was heading in light of the control the Jesuits held in religious affairs and was then sent on his way with an escort.

  On June 24th, 1724 on St. John’s Day over six hundred Lutheran colonists from around the area gathered in the Turkish cemetery on the outskirts of Langenfeld to participate in an open air service.  The opening hymn was “O Gott, du frommer Gott” sung to the tune Darmstadt which was familiar to all of the Hessians.  Their twenty-three year old pastor preached on a text from the prophet Jeremiah:  “I answered, Sovereign Lord, I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.”  But the Lord said to me, “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say.  Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you.  I, the Lord, have spoken.”  Following the sermon infants and little children were baptized and then the celebration of Holy Communion began.  For this occasion Johann Karl had brought a chalice with him, a gift from the parish of Ober-Ramstadt the home parish of many of the settlers in Langenfeld.  That is how his ministry began.  It would soon end.

  The threat of the emergence and spread of Lutheran Church life in the Banat was not something to be tolerated by the Jesuits in the neighbourhood.  They immediately lodged an official complaint against the presence of a Lutheran preacher in their territory.  It would take them nine months before they would succeed in having him removed.

  Their numerous complaints to Governor de Mercy were without any results.  In turn they turned over the matter to one of the Jesuits at their headquarters in Temesvár.  He used his own personal influence with the confessor of young Princess Maria Theresia in Vienna resulting in receiving Imperial authority to have the young Lutheran pastor expelled.  Not even le Comte de Mercy could stand in the way of such a decree.  Pastor Reichard was declared a fugitive and an outlaw and was forced to flee.  A despatch rider from Temesvár sent by le Comte de Mercy warned him to do so.

  Johann Karl Reichard had entered the Banat in the disguise of as clerk.  In the Spring of 1725 under the cover of darkness after a tearful farewell he fled to Belgrade dressed in a military uniform that the Comte had sent with the messenger.  He wore the Ruba Veste Indutus, the red uniform of an adjutant of the Governor.  From Belgrade he travelled through what in future would be known as the Batschka by the later arriving Danube Swabians.  Once again he was in constant contact with a network of underground connections all of which had been orchestrated by le Comte de Mercy eventually taking him to the Governor’s Tolna estate in Hungary where he was eagerly awaited by the congregations in Varsád and Kalaznó where he would serve as their pastor from 1725 to 1731 before returning home to Hesse and later writing his memoir.

  With his expulsion from the Banat attempts were made by the congregations to maintain church life as best as they could under the leadership of their Levite Lehrers but they too were expelled within a year and all contact was lost with the congregations in the future.  On February 5, 1727 the Imperial Administration in Temesvár issued a decree to punish all heretics who entered the Banat which appears to have written a final chapter to Lutheran church life in the Banat.  In 1737 to 1739 the entire area where the Lutherans had been settled was entirely devastated by the Turks and the population fled north or were massacred or enslaved.

  The Lutheran Church Records in Varsád on the de Mercy estate in Tolna County offer an additional glimpse into the activities of le Comte de Mercy.  Several months after the arrival of Pastor Reichard in Varsád over eighty persons from the Lutheran settlements in the Banat who had fled from there with the assistance of le Comte de Mercy arrived and settled in both Varsád and Kalaznó.  Some of them have managed to find a place in the family histories of numerous families in Swabian Turkey including my own.  So in response to the question raised to me at last year’s event as to why I had attended since I had no connection to the Banat I submit that my Banat connection is perhaps older than that of many of you here today, with my heartfelt thanks to le Comte de Mercy, Godfather par excellence!

A Postscript

  In 1733 the military beckoned him once more.  He was made a General Field Marshall and placed at the head of 50,000 men stationed in Mantua in Italy.  He was tasked with reclaiming all that had been lost in the previous year when the Habsburg forces had been driven out of Italy by a combined Spanish and French Army.  Le Comte de Mercy was killed in action on June 29th at the Battle of Parma while personally leading his troops.

  He had never married and adopted his nephew who was also his Godson, Florimund de Mercy d’Argenteau as he his heir.  The younger de Mercy served as a military aid to his uncle at Temesvár.  At his uncle’s request he left his position in 1726 and took over the management of the family holdings in Tolna County and eventually became known as the “King of Tolna County.”  His major task was to continue the work of settlement and colonization.  He did so with a deep understanding of his tenants, and a rare sensitivity towards the issues and problems they faced and won their hearts and affections as had his predecessor in whose footsteps he followed.  

 

  The isolation the Children of the Danube experienced from the upheavals of history in the rest of Europe would no longer hold true in the second half of the 19th Century and  beyond.  At the outset, Emperor Francis Joseph’s attempts to preserve the position of the House of Habsburg in the face of the rising power of Prussia among the German states would inevitably lead to a disastrous war.  Austria’s defeat set the stage for the rise of the German Empire and the struggle for supremacy in Europe among the major powers resulting in the catastrophic wars of the next century which would destroy the only life the Children of the Danube had ever known.

  The agricultural sector was in a shambles in Hungary during the last decades of the century which had repercussions for the Children of the Danube among whom the landless were the fastest growing part of the population and among whom poverty had become a way of life.  Land was expensive and simply unavailable.  As in the past, the only remedy was emigration.  The first wave of emigrants from Swabian Turkey sought their future in Slavonia recently opened for colonization.  It was just the prelude for the massive emigration movement soon to take place to the New World.

  Some of the surviving emigrants and exiles will meet in a railway station in a small town in Canada as the final phase of the Schwabenzug takes place and the Children of the Danube transplant their roots in their new Heimat.    

To assist the visitor to this website gain an understanding of the origins, history and destiny of the Children of the Danube in Hungary the following articles provide information on specific villages, their early settlement and later development until their destruction during and following the Second World War.

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Children of the Danube 

Remember to Tell the Children:  The Pioneers

Remember to Tell the Children:  Strangers and Sojourners

Remember to Tell the Children:  Emigrants and Exiles Vol. 1

Remember to Tell the Children: Emigrants and Exiles Vol. 2

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   Children of the Danube

 

Numerous histories and studies of the Great Swabian Migration of the 18th century have been written and published, and the tragic fate of many of their descendants in our own time has also been chronicled.  Most of these are available in languages other than English. Much of that research forms the backdrop of “Children of the Danube”, which is the author’s attempt at telling the stories behind the history.  Personal stories that weave the tapestry of the lives of his extended family with those of the other families and individuals who joined them after venturing down the majestic, sometimes turbulent, Danube River, taking them on a quest that is common to all people: the search for the Promised Land.

 

  That is what they sought in the devastated Kingdom of Hungary, recently liberated after an oppressive one hundred and fifty year occupation by the Turks. Leaving the Danube River behind them, they would be confronted by a wilderness, disease ridden swamps, dense forests, isolation, primitive living conditions, marauders and brigands.  They would find themselves at the mercy of greedy landowners and rapacious nobles, and would have to endure the final onslaught of the Counter Reformation in their pursuit of religious freedom.  This is what awaited them, in responding to the invitation of the Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI.  It was hardly what the handbills circulating throughout south western Germany had promised.

   How they would respond, who they would become as a result of it, and what sustained and formed them into the “Children of the Danube”, as a distinctive and unique people among the Danube Swabians will unfold, in the telling of their tragic and yet heroic story.

Remember to tell the Children  The Pioneers

The Children of the Danube were on the move again.  They were the descendants of the settlers who had joined the trek down the Danube River in the Great Swabian Migration from Germany to the Kingdom of Hungary in the early 18th century.  Perhaps like their forebears, adventure may have been the driving force for some of them, while desperation drove others as they sought to make a life for themselves and their families.  They were faced with limited options if they remained in their original settlements: where   land was running out, restrictions against the Lutherans and Reformed were becoming more intolerable and the increasing and often unjust demands of the nobles made it more and more difficult to provide for their families.  For those reasons and others, the Children of the Danube were on the move everywhere but wherever they went they planted their roots deeply into the soil of Hungary and their faith, customs, traditions and language thrived and flourished among them in this new emerging environment for the succeeding generations.  The Pioneers tells this story through the lives and loves of three generations of the Tefner family in the unfolding story of Dörnberg where their lives intersected with the families who would eventually become part of the author’s extended family and which they shared with all the others who were part of their life together.

They found themselves isolated, confronted by a wilderness and created an economic miracle.  Destructive fires and raging floods, famine and drought, bandit raids and epidemics tested them but did not overcome their indomitable will, which was sustained by their faith.  A faith that was outlawed but continued underground unabated until the Edict of Toleration granted them freedom of conscience.  Nor would they simply cower before the injustices inflicted upon them by the nobles and authorities without protest.  Their lives were lived within the broader scope of the history of their times that played a vital role in their development, destiny and character.  Emperor Joseph II, the Bishop of Veszprém, Martin Biró von Padány, Anton von Kaunitz, Count Styrum Limberg, the Empress Maria Theresia, the three Counts von Mercy and countless other notable personages all make their appearance and leave their mark on The Pioneers in shaping The Strangers and Sojourners who would follow them in the next century

 

     It invariably comes as a surprise to most people to discover that there were Lutherans among the original Danube Swabians who were part of the first Great Swabian Migration of the 18th century into Hungary, known as the Schwabenzug.

 

     They were officially excluded from settling in the newly won territories taken from the Turks, but in order to secure settlers the Emperor Charles VI was not above making concessions with regard to his religious policy when it came to securing the kind of colonists he wanted even if they were Protestants.  He granted special Letters Patent providing for the freedom to practice their religion if settling in Hungary to those coming from Hesse, Baden and Württemberg.  The vast majority of these Lutheran settlers arrived in the 1720’s from Hesse and settled on the Tolna estates of Count von Mercy, the Governor of the Banat who was at the head of the colonization movement.  It was only through his intervention that these colonists were able to organize themselves into congregations and secure pastors and teachers, because when they arrived in Hungary they found themselves in the middle of the final phase of the Counter Reformation.

 

     Their Letters Patent often proved ineffective, because they were dependent upon the good graces of the Emperor, and that could change with the times and the seasons.  There was a sixty year long struggle on the part of the Lutherans to establish themselves and maintain their own church life and faith identity in the face of ongoing persecution, both by the Jesuits and the Hapsburgs, especially during the reign of Maria Theresia.  But some Mother Churches were able to survive and provided support to the struggling orphaned and shepherdless congregations.  In particular they were the congregations in Varsad (the oldest Swabian Lutheran congregation in the Empire), Kismanyok, Gyönk and the Reformed congregation in Nagyszekely.  With the Edict of Toleration in 1781 over fifty congregations in the counties of Tolna, Baranya and Somogy declared themselves to be Evangelical Lutherans and were legally allowed to organize themselves and develop their church life, but with some continuing restrictions placed upon them.

 

     The vast majority of the congregations who continued as “underground churches” did so through the special ministry of individuals who were variously called “emergency teachers” or “Levite Lehrer”.  They functioned as illegal schoolmasters, who also led the congregations in worship and provided some basic pastoral care including baptism and funerals.  They did not celebrate Holy Communion.  This emergency office in the life of their churches would become the norm in the future, for those congregations without a resident pastor, who were associated with a Mother Church in the area.  It was this model of church life that was brought to Hrastovac and Slavonia by the Lutheran colonists who came from the area known as Swabian Turkey that covered the geographical area of the counties of Tolna, Baranya and Somogy. 

 

     Large scale Lutheran and Reformed emigration into Hungary occurred during the third Schwabenzug under Joseph II.  These settlements were confined to the future Batschka and the Banat and they too would become part of the Church of the Augsburg Confession in Hungary as the Lutheran Church was then known.

 

 

This website exists to preserve and celebrate the history, traditions and heritage of the descendants of some of the  settlers from southwest Germany who joined the Great Swabian Trek into Hungary in the early 18th century.  They were part of a larger group known as the Danube Swabians but in order to highlight their own unique identity and history in Hungary they are described as the Children of the Danube.  For like the Children of Israel, they too were in quest of a Promised Land.  The reader is provided with access to resources and information about their history, culture, faith and tradtions.  It also provides assistance in researching their own family history and specifically introduces them to the settlements and villages in Swabian Turkey in the Counties of Tolna, Somogy and Baranya.

  The website also introduces the reader to the various books related to the Children of the Danube and their origins, history and destiny written by Henry A. Fischer.  It is interactive and your comments, questions and requests for additional information are welcome.

  You are now invited to enter the world of the Children of the Danube.

   At the beginning of undertaking my research into my family origins in Hungary, I ran across references in some Danuabe Swabian histories and studies to some settlers whose origins were not from the German speaking principalities within the Holy Roman Empire, but from France, Italy and Spain.   Most of these references dealt with the Banat in present day Serbia and Rumania.  When I managed to discover the list of the earliest settler families at Kotcse in Somogy County dated April 1730, a few of the Lutheran and Reformed settlers from the Palatinate and Hesse had non-German names.  The one that struck me in particular was Gaspari, which is Italian.  There were others that were of French origin but had been Germanized and this would be true in several other villages.  Names like Simon, Rollion, Wallis, Thorau and Lafferton to mention just a few.

   In my later research I discovered that several of these families came from the village of Russelsheim in Hesse, which was also true of some of my own family connections, the Wolfs and Bruders who were among the settlers in Kotcse.  That reference provoked consternation on my part later when I followed up on other aspects of the Counter Reformation in Europe that might have affected the persecution we endured under the Habsburgs and Jesuits in Hungary.  In investigating the barbarous Albigensian Crusades unleashed by the Papacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries in southwest France, there were also references to the persecution of the followers of Peter Waldo, who were known as the Poor Men from Lyon, a movement that had spread throughout Provence in France.  The survivors were later known as the Waldensians.  They were dissenters against papal wealth and power and the corruption of New Testament Christianity and became an underground movement as wandering missionaries that spread across Europe preaching an apostolic gospel.  Many of them were tradesmen and merchants and in this way their teachings against Rome were circulated everywhere.  I had found a reference to them in Odenburg  (Sopron) in Hungary in the 15th century when their mission there was exposed and then suppressed by the local clergy and several of the town folk both men and women were burned at the stake.  Odenburg would later become a stronghold of Lutheranism with the introduction of Martin Luther’s writings in the early 1520s when clandestine study groups emerged among the citizenry that led to the formation of a congregation that exists to this day.

   The persecution of the Waldensians by the papacy would go on for over eight hundred years, and yet they managed to survive, principally in the Piedmont valleys, in the alpine borderlands between present day France and Italy, and most of the Waldensian were of French and Italian origin, and found sanctuary in the mountains and a beneficent Savoyan princess.  But the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV of France in 1685 that ordered the conversion of all Protestants to Roman Catholicism led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Hugenots (Protestants) across the Rhine into Holland, England and the German territories, where a notable number received asylum into Hesse.  Unlike their other French compatriots the Waldensians refused to flee and stood their ground and faced crusading armies for the next thirty years, in which their numbers were decimated and many of the women and children fled into the French and Italian speaking cantons of Switzerland and southwest Germany.  In the end their resistance was broken and some ten thousand of them went into exile into Western Europe, primarily Holland and the German principalities that were Reformed or Lutheran while other hid in the mountains.

   Of those who fled across the Rhine, there were numbers who were settled in the territories of Count Ludwig Ernest of Hesse, who allowed them to form colonies of their own and allowed the use of their language in church and school.  The land they were given, was often not of the best, nor was there much additional land available to them as the colony grew.  One of these colonies was at Russelheim and is the link to our family history and our history of dissent.  The Gaspari family had its origins there and their many descendants spread throughout Somogy and Tolna Counties.  It was because of that I undertook a study of the history of the Waldensians that I would like to preserve for our descendants as part of their self-identity and heritage.

  I have also translated a History of the Waldensian Church from German, and my handwritten notes are available to any who are interested. 

  Excerpts from correspondence with Pastor Ronald Lommel of the Lutheran Parish Nieder-Gemünden Hesse.

  As indicated, the following information is contained in some personal correspondence I had with Pastor Lommel following my visit to his parish a number of years ago.  At that time he was unaware of any emigration from Hesse to Hungary in the 18th century, but my visit piqued his interest and he undertook some research into the matter on his own.  I had originally gone to Elpenrod where the parsonage for the parish was located because at that time I thought that I had found the origins of my own branch of the Fischer family but my investigations there indicated I had to look elsewhere.

                                                                                          Henry Fischer

  After a long search and stumbling around in the Church Books and the old Family Registers, I can provide the following facts with regard to the Hungarian emigration.

  Johannes Fischer, Hainbach

  In the year 1724, Johannes Fischer from Hainbach left for Hungary.  His first wife, Anna Elisabeth had died the year before.  They had five children: Konrad born 04.05.1711, Johannes born 03.04.1714, Kaspar born 18.02.1716, Maria Elisabeth born 02.11.1719 and Elisabeth Katharina born 11.09.1722.  In March of 1724 he married a second time and his second wife was Anna Julianna born in Hainbach but residing in Nieder-Ohmen.  Johannes was born in Hainbach on 25.10.1689.

  Burkard, Bormann, Elpenrod

  He originally came from Altenburg near Alsfeld and married a Christiana Freiensehner in Elpenrod in 1698.  On 12.06.1709 a son was born to them and a daughter in 1713.  The Godparents were represented by proxies, that indicates the family was either not living there or just passing through.  There is a notation that he left for Varsad in Tolna County in Hungary in 1723.  

  Johann Peter Fischer, Elpenrod

  He was born on 09.11.1674 and married Katharina Schlosser of Elpenrod who was the daughter of the schoolmaster on 27.01.1701.  They had numerous children whose births are recorded in the Church Register.  A family researcher who had no knowledge of the  emigration to Hungary noted that all eleven of their children must have died because there is not record of any of them ever marrying.  However, in an older Family Register there is the notation, “left for Hungary in 1724”.

  Johann Peter Christ, Elpenrod

  Here I have to report on a special notation I found:  In a Family Register there is the following entry:  J. P. Christ who was born in Elpenrod in 1703 along with his wife Anna Elisabeth Carle from Elpenrod left for Gyönk in Hungary in 1724.  In the Church Books in Queckborn (located close to Grunberg in Upper Hesse) it is reported that a son was born to him posthumously (following his death) named George Dietrich on 20.09.1725 in Gyönk in Hungary and on the 22nd was baptized by a Roman Catholic priest in Bormont*.

  It is further reported that his pregnant wife married a countryman from Upper Hesse named Caspar Röder in Majos, Hungary on 20.06.1725.  (He in all likelihood came from Queckborn.)  Both of them returned to Queckborn and George Dietrich Christ married in Queckborn in 1751 as well as his step-sister Anna Katharina Röder.

  Johann Heinrich Jäckel, Hainbach

  He was the son of Johann Ludwig and Anna Katharina Jäckel whose maiden name was Weiss and came from Hainbach, and he was born in 1714 in Hainbach, he married Eva Vinkenstock from Nieder-Gemünden and had a son with her, Johann Valentin born 17.11.1740.  It is noted that he and his family along with two single sisters, Anna Maria born in 1711 and Katharina Elisabeth born 1728 went to Kistormás in Hungary and there are no further entries with regard to them in the Family Register.

  Anna Julianna Nagel, Nieder-Gemünden

  She was the daughter of Mathaus and Anna Barbara Nagel whose maiden name was Pabst from Nieder-Gemünden and was born 26.01.1730.  In Hungary she married Johann Konrad Zarth.  With regard to the fortunes of her brother Konrad born 18.03.1734 as well as her parents there is nothing available.  It is possible that they too…

  Pastor Lommel further writes:

  “Following our discussion I decided to immerse myself in all of the available information I could find in the area in order to discover if there was any evidence of the emigration to Hungary.  I was able to find two or three sentences about it in various village histories, for instance in Bleidenrod and Alsfeld.  And with regard to some of the family names you shared with me I found traces of them in Ruppertenrod, Nieder-Gemünden, Gross-Felda as well as others all in the immediate vicinity where I serve and these family names are still familiar to this day.  But the population in this area is not conscious of any large-scale emigration to Hungary.  Only the memory of the emigration to America 100 years ago is still spoken of.

  The major reason for the emigration to Hungary was the material poverty of the population.  Today we can hardly imagine the situation in which people found themselves and as the saying goes, they had nothing to lose.  The limited agricultural production could only meet the essential needs of the people and then there were always crop failures and famine.  The inheritance right meant that only the oldest son could inherit the family home and property, and the younger sons and daughters had to hire themselves out as hired hands and maids.  It was the same case when it came to the tradesmen, like the tailor, shoemaker, wagon builder, blacksmith, weaver only the oldest son could continue the family trade.  There were also shepherds and herders.  Most farmers were simply poor, very poor.

  It was no wonder that when the recruiters and soldiers who came into our area to publicize the invitation of the Austrian Emperor Charles III to settle in far off Hungary and be given house and land and freedom from paying taxes, it fell on receptive ears.  About fifty settler families from the area around Alsfeld were involved in the first wave of settlers down the Danube during 1719-1725 becoming the Danube Swabians in their new homeland according to H. Jäkel in his Zur Geschichte des Kreiss Alsfeld published in 1972.  Their descendants can still be identified by their Upper Hessian dialect and their allegiance to Lutheranism.

*This community or a facsimile of it is unknown to me

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