The following article is a summary translation of a monograph entitled:  The History of the Banat German Mountain Folk Group by Julius A. Baumann. 

  This ethnic group traces its origins back to the settlers who came into this mountainous area of the Banat chiefly during the 18th century and up to the 19th century from their Austrian ancestral homes in Upper Austria, the Steiermark and Tyrol.  They would become a sub grouping among the German-speaking population of the Banat centred in Temesvar.  During their two hundred and fifty year history in the mountains skirting the Banat they became a unique “folk group” the so-called Bergland Deutschen and numbered about 50,000 persons according to the last Romanian census but never lost sight of their Austrian origins.  They were instrumental in establishing the most important heavy industrial complex in south east Europe on an equal economic par with the “breadbasket” of the Danube Swabians in the rest of the Banat.  They accomplished all of this as a minority amidst a large Romanian population.


  Not all of the Banat was the like the fertile lowlands historically associated with the Danube Swabian settlements in the 18th century but also included the highlands and mountain region where a well developed mining industry attracted the Austrian Alpine colonists.  Over one third of the Banat consists of the Carpathian Mountains and their attendant forests, uplands and highlands.  Together they formed the Iron Gates along the Danube and the passes through the mountains connected the Carpathian Highlands and the Balkans which became the point of entry of the tribes from the East into the Balkans.  Many Germanic tribes passed through or settled here; the Dacians, the Romans, and the Germans all engaged in some form of mining here.  In the time of Arpad in the 13th century settlers from Bavaria and the Steiermark arrived to take up mining and commerce.  They were followed by the Zipser Sachsen.  (German speaking groups who had settled in the mountains of Slovakia in the tenth century.)  Their mountain towns were later destroyed by the Turks and the territory was incorporated into the LugoschKaransebescher Banat and made part of Transylvania.


  Under Turkish rule the survivors had to undertake the work of mining in rather primitive conditions and the forests encroached upon the former settlements.  With the liberation of Hungary under the leadership of Eugene of Savoy the Habsburgs included the Bergland in the Royal Crown Land of the Temesvar Banat in 1718.


  In order to pay for the expenses of the war as well as the costs to redevelop the Banat, the mines were seen as a ready source of needed income.  Prior to the Peace of Passarowitz in 1718 and for the next century the Royal State Chancellery in Vienna was occupied with the recruitment and settlement of peasant farmers for the Banat.  But Alpine settlers were also in demand, especially from the Tyrol in order to re-establish mining and small industries in the Bergland.  It became an autonomous district in the Banat directly answerable to Vienna.  Some 10,000 settlers were involved in moving into this impoverished and backward region known as “Little Austria in Wallachia.”  They faced an enormous and difficult task.  While this was happening a new war with the Turks was just around the corner.


  Despite countless losses to Turkish raiders and their Wallachian (Romanian) allies the Alpine settlers persevered and formed a new “folk group”, a “second” German group in the Banat.  They maintained contacts with their ancestral homelands as well as forming relationships with the Banat Swabians to help form a mutual buffer amidst the Magyars and Romanians and provided mutual protection.


  They maintained their language, culture, traditions and mores, especially their music to preserve their self identity.  Industrially and economically they were linked to the Steiermark right up to the end of the Second World War.  Orawitz, one of their major towns became the leading cultural centre and the site of the first theatre in Romania.


  By 1733 the Bergland was providing over 50% of all of the copper in the Habsburg domains.  The major mining centres were at:  Russberg, Reschitz, Steierdorf, Bogschan, Lugosch and Orschowa.


  This development would result in the largest complex of heavy industry in south east Europe at the time of the fall of the Dual Monarchy.  During this period a kind of invisible “border” was evident in terms of the Bergland Germans and the Swabians.  Their origins and traditions differed greatly as well as the basic urban/rural lifestyle and economy.  But their natural linguistic and social ties were kept up.


  What follows is a glimpse of the history and experience of the Bergland Germans prior to the first phase of the Great Swabian Migration in 1723.


  Located in the eastern portion of the Banat, the Bergland was outside the interests of the Magyars after Buda was liberated in 1683.  It was still not a secure zone in terms of the threat of Turkish attacks and incursions.  Vienna’s takeover of the Banat of Temesvar had little effect on any Hungarian aspirations in that direction at the time.  This eastern territory bordered on “little Austrian Wallachia” that had been first occupied by the Austrian military in 1718.  For over thirty years it had provided sanctuary to large Serbian and Romanian populations that had fled the Turks.  The Hungarians were in no position to develop or provide leadership in these distant eastern districts.  The Peace of Passarowitz (1718) was in reality a twenty-five year armistice in order to provide defence and security in the Banat of Temesvar and the eastern frontier which was a top priority in the scheme of things.  The Bergland was the key to the defence of the Banat because of its strategic location:  the Danube Narrows and the Iron Gates at Orschawa and access to the mountain passes in the area.


 Since 1233 the Banat Bergland had been a county forming the northern portion of the southern Carpathian Mountains until 1552 when Temesvar was taken by the Turks and the Banat was incorporated administratively within Transylvania under the direct control of the Turkish Sultan.  During the wars of liberation the Bergland rose up against the Turks but all of their fortresses at Lippa, Lugosch, Karansebesch, Mehadia and Orschawa fell into their hands.  Temesvar was under Turkish occupation until 1716.  Over 13,000 Romanians living in the Bergland were dragged off by the Turks to fortify Temesvar against the coming invasion.


  The surviving Germans in the Bergland were now a minority among the Turks and Romanians.  But because of their ties with the Transylvania Saxons they were able to maintain their existence and Karansebesch became the “second” city of the new Crownland of the Banat of Temesvar and had a German magistrate and 442 German households in the city.


  After the fall of Buda (1686) and the publication of the Emigration Patent in 1689, the Bergland was anxious for new settlers, miners, artisans, tradesmen and merchants.  In 1700, the towns of Orawitz and Altbokschon, with a combined population of 2,300, requested Roman Catholic priests to serve them.  In Karansebesch there were Jesuits and other parts of the Bergland were served my Minorites and Franciscans.  But the major increase in population was to come from another source:  the Romanians.  From 1658 to 1738 large groups of them settled in the Bergland and would become the majority.  In 1717 there were 40,000 Romanians and by 1778 there were well over 200,000.


  Much of the Bergland had been ruined and destroyed under the Turks.  Forest and swamps covered vast stretches of the area and the new settlers were indigent and joined in attacking and robbing the German settlements, towns and outlying farms.  Vienna saw the possibility of making military use of the Serbs and Romanians and developed a strategy for that purpose by establishing the Military Frontier District.  Because of the costs involved the Habsburgs needed to benefit from the copper production in the Bergland.  History was simply repeating itself.


  In the past other rulers had followed the same policy as far back as the Romans.  The Hungarian kings had done the same with Saxons, Bavarians and miners from the Steiermark and settled them in Upper Hungary (Slovakia) as well as Transylvania and the Bergland.  The Saxons were granted special privileges and established Neuberg in Serbia and the town flourished for two hundred years until the first Turkish attacks in 1412 which they repelled with their courage and bare hands.  Successive sieges followed until 1466 when the Turks finally breeched its walls.  The entire Saxon population was marched off in chains to the slave markets of Constantinople.  The same fate awaited the rest of the Bergland Germans when Temesvar fell to them as well.  Many of them were kept in the region and worked for the Turks as their slaves.


  With the resettlement of the Banat, one transport of miners from the Zips arrived in 1718 to re-establish the copper mines in the Bergland.  In 1721-1722 they were followed by five hundred others from the Tyrol, Neusohl in the Zips, Mollersdorf from Lower Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia, Salzburg and the Steiermark.   Other immigrants would join them as new mines and processing centres were opened.


  With the establishment of the new cities there was a need to build fortifications, bridges and barracks for defensive purposes.  The Danube River was used to transport masons, carpenters, artisans and tradesmen from Vienna in June 1722.  Many of them, including some miners came from the Tyrol.  Some of them went as far as northern Serbia to open new mines.


  One of the objectives in establishing the Banat of Temesvar as a Crownland was to drive a wedge between the Moslem Turks and the Hungarian Calvinists to prevent an alliance between them against the Habsburgs.  Bishoprics were in ruins.  In 1722 an Orthodox bishop came to Karansebersch from Werschetz.  In 1717 the Jesuits established themselves at Temesvar.  The first parishes were established usually serve by various monastic orders:  Orschawa (1717), Karansebesch and Lugosch (1718), Lippa (1719) and Orawitz (1720).  This indicates that large numbers of Germans were settling in the area.  Teachers and schools soon followed in the settlements.


  The situation changed following the arrival of the future Danube Swabians and the Turkish Wars that followed in 1723 and from 1737-1739 that also involved the Russians.


  With the continuing immigration into the Bergland under Count von Mercy and the rapid increase of cooper production, it became the most closed German linguistic region in the Banat.  The Habsburg Emperor, Karl III (Charles VI) joined the Russian Tsar in a pact against the Turks.  In the spring of 1737 the Turks launched their offensive along the Danube.  This resulted in total catastrophes at Orschawa and Mehedia.  A Turkish corps went on a rampage throughout the northern Bergland.  Belgrade fell to the Turks once again.  Austria sued for peace and gave up northern Serbia and Little Wallachia.  Only the Banat remained of the territories won by Eugene of Savoy.  Not only northern Serbia but all of the Bergland fell victim to Turkish destruction.  The local Romanians joined them in attacking and sacking the German settlements.


  The last phase of destruction that the Bergland still had to endure was at the hands of the Kuruzen rebels under Rakoczi who supported the Turks against the Habsburgs.  All Germans who fell into his hands were sold into slavery.  This happened chiefly in the area around Orschawa and Mehedia and the border areas with Wallachia.  Orawitz and other towns were plundered and destroyed.  This was followed by the outbreak of plague.  As in the past hordes of Serbs, Romanians and others who had accompanied the Turks into the area now settled in the Bergland.


  The surviving Germans had no doubts that the Turkish threat remained real and they found themselves living along a volatile and insecure frontier.  With the death of Karl III in 1740 and the hostility of the Romanians all around them provided no real impetus for the Germans to rebuild and develop the area once more along with the mines.  Stagnation set in.  They now lived between two major Turkish wars.  The one ended in 1739 and the war of 1787-1791 was in the future.


  Following her father’s death, the Empress Maria Theresia’s coffers were empty and in order to carry out her colonization of the Banat she put a priority on the redevelopment of the Bergland and using its resources to bail out the enterprise.  She planned to get settlers from the Alpine provinces of Austria.  She also strengthened the Military Frontier District first established by her father shortly before his death in 1740.  This strengthening of the frontier not only provided security against incursions from the Turks but also kept the Romanians in their place in the Bergland.  The stabilizing effect of her policies resulted in an expansion of the mining industry.  Many of the new settlers who began to arrive came from the Steiermark and Salzkammergut.  The iron works were later converted to munitions and armaments manufacturing when political conditions necessitated it.  Between the years, 1773-1774 an additional three hundred German families from the Steiermark and Upper Austria settled at Orawitz.


  Under pressure from Hungary, Maria Theresia gave up the Banat as a Crownland and placed it under Hungarian jurisdiction in 1778 but this excluded the Bergland.  As a result there was great unrest among the Romanians and one of their leaders Horia led a peasant’s uprising that was down ruthlessly by the Hungarians.  In their convoluted way of thinking they blamed the Germans and their hatred for them only increased.


  In September 1788, Joseph II suffered a terrible defeat at Slatina and had to abandon the Bergland and the Turks and their Romanian allies created havoc in 143 districts and 36,000 people were killed or carried off as slaves.


  The 20th century would not be kind to the Bergland Germans.  After World War I the future state of Yugoslavia had its eye on the Bergland and even occupied it only having to give it up to Romania.  The German population had no great love for their former Magyar rulers because of their attempts to assimilate them and thought they would have a better opporuntity to survive as a minority in the new and enlarged Romanian state.  But Romanian nationalism would strive for the same ends and eliminate the minorities.


  Because orders issued by the SS High Command which had forbidden an evacuation of the Bergland Germans following the surrender of Romania to the Red Army on August 23, 1944 only a few thousand German civilians in Orawitz and Steierdorf were able to flee the advancing Red Army and did so against the wishes of German Army officials.  A new tragedy was being unleashed on the other 50,000 Germans who remained behind.

No Responses to “ History of the Banat Bergland ”

Leave a Comment