The Expulsion and Deportation of the German Hungarians

 

of Gyönk

 in Swabian Turkey

 

  The submission that follows is based on my translation of portions of Zur Vertreibung und Verschleppung der Ungarndeutschen aus der Schwäbischen Türkei unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Ortes Gyönk/Jink by Josef Kiss published in München 1995 by the Donauschwäbisches Archiv.

 

  Swabian Turkey is a large German speaking linguistic island in contemporary Hungary.   It consists of the German settlement area in the southern portion of the Danube-Drava-Platte region and includes the Counties of Tolna, Baranya and Somogy.  During the 18th century it was part of the bishopric of Pécs.  The use of the designation Swabian Turkey for the area is a result of its occupation by the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries and the subsequent Swabian colonization that followed.  The term was first coined in 1840 and can be attributed to Hungarian research sources and initially referred to only the area that would become known as the Lower Baranya.  It was only after the First World War that the Germans themselves used the designation to describe the whole region with its 200,000 to 250,000 German speaking inhabitants in the 37,000 square kilometre area.

 

  The almost total devastation and destruction of Hungary was the result of the 150 year occupation by the Ottoman Turks.  In Tolna County there were only 45 inhabited villages in 1715 of the former 560 communities that flourished there in the Middle Ages and half of them had been recently resettled after 1690.  The former cultivated countryside had become a desolate wilderness.  The entire Highlands were covered by thick forests, thickets and brush.  In order to redevelop the region the Emperor turned the task over to the nobles and former military officers that had served him in the re-conquest of the territory for the purpose of repopulating and cultivating it.

 

  Recruiting agents were enlisted and sent to find would-be-settlers and immigrants in order to carry out this private colonization effort and the economic redevelopment of the liberated territories.  They especially targeted south western Germany.  The people who responded were from among the landless, small landowners, tradesmen and artisans that left due to poor harvests, hunger and famine, the heavy demands for free labour imposed upon them by the nobles, high taxes and the constant threats of wars and the ravages of war that they had recently endured all of which were incentives enough to take the risk and seek their living and better fortunes in Hungary.  The economic concepts of Mercantlism held sway at the time and the German nobles and landlords looked with disfavour at the prospect of losing their subjects and the valuable labour they provided and required the payment of an emigration fee of those who sought to leave for Hungary.  But they were unable to prevent a large number of their people leaving.

 

  From as early as May of 1712 large numbers of land seeking Swabians came on board the so-called UlmerSchachtlin taking ship at Ulm and heading down the Danube.  This Great Swabian Migration, as it would later be identified, was carried out in three major phases and known as the Schwabenzug.  Alongside of the private colonization programme carried out by the nobles and estate owners there was also a planned settlement programme carried out by the State on the newly won Crown Lands.  It was only in 1712 when the nobles began to aggressively recruit and enlist German settlers.  Ladislaus Döry de Jóbaháza, the owner of the Tevel Domain, was the first to appoint an agent to recruit colonists directly in Germany.  .Even though other nobles in Swabian Turkey attempted to secure German settlers following Döry’s example, it was only in 1722 that a large scale settlement began following the positive action by the Hungarian Lantag (parliament) in response to the Emperor’s call for German farmers and tradesmen to repopulate Hungary.  This action had the Emperor’s enthusiastic support.  As a result every Hungarian landowner had the freedom to openly recruit colonists under the Emperor’s protection in any region of the Holy Roman Empire.

 

  The most important estate owner who was involved in the resettlement of Swabian Turkey was General, Count Claudius Florimundus von Mercy, the colonizer of the Banat who was headquartered in Temésvár.  Shortly after, in 1722 he purchased extensive domains in Tolna County and sent his adjutant to Vienna who was given the task of convincing groups of colonists on their way to the distant Banat to change their minds and settle on the Domains of Count von Mercy.  He was able to quickly establish flourishing new villages because of his very favourable contract provisions with his settlers as well as his policy of establishing separate villages for different nationalities and religious confessions and seemed to show a preference for Protestants.  His policies and settlement provisions would have a great impact upon the German Lutherans in Swabian Turkey.

 

  After 1722 estate owners sent their recruiters to the river ports on the Danube and using the powers of persuasion or bribes, coaxed the settlers off of the boats and had them settle on their master’s estates.  This was also the case in Gyönk as Germans moved in and established one village after another.  From these beginnings over two hundred village settlements emerged and Swabian Turkey became the largest German speaking linguist island in Hungary with Pécs at its centre and would become known as Fünfkirchen by them.  Other major centres were Sexard (Szekszárd) and Bonnhard (Bonyhád).  It was in this swamp infested and forested region that fertile farms and cultivated fields of corn and cereal grain crops came into existence through the hard work of several generations.  The narrow deep long valleys became fruitful vineyards and orchards.  The beech and acacia forests provided shade during the hot summer.  The row of settlements was like a string of pearls with their rectangular houses, freshly whitewashed with their gable facing the street.  The local inhabitants wore the colourful traditional costumes and spoke the dialect they had brought with them from their Motherland as well as the culture that they cherished and expressed in their life together.

 

  As a result of the First World War the southern portion of Swabian Turkey was no longer part of Hungary and the peaceful countryside was about to face an onrushing destructive storm in the final year of the Second World War and the aftermath which followed.

 

 

The History of the Settlement of Gyönk

 

  The town of Gyönk is located in southern Hungary in the valleys of the Tolna Highlands, halfway between Simontornya and Szekszárd.  In ancient times these valleys had been visited by migrating tribes some of whom settled there.  Some of the archaeological finds from Gyönk are in the National Museum in Budapest and indicate that these valleys and hills had been inhabited in the Bronze Age.  During the time of the massive population migrations in the 6th and 9th centuries a large colony was established in the area by Avars.  In the Middle Ages there was a parish, church and resident priest.  During the Turkish occupation all three disappeared.  According to the Turkish Tax List we discover that the Turks established a larger village of their own.  In 1560 there were sixty resident families but by 1590 there were only thirty-three households.  Following the expulsion of the Turks in 1686 Gyönk became the property of the Magyari-Kossa family.  The more recent history of Gyönk begins with this family and was intertwined with them for a long time.

 

  The Magyari-Kossas owned a large estate with cleared acreage, forests and meadows.  But there was no one around to work the land.  The family were members of the Reformed (Calvinist) Church.  For that reason it is easily understood why the estate owner sought to settle his domain with Hungarian Calvinist colonists.  In 1704-1705 the first of them arrived.  Later in 1713 eight Hungarian Lutheran families from Veszprem County settled among them.  The few families were unable to adequately develop the vacant land.  His need for more settlers led the estate owner to seek help from the Emperor as did many landowners and nobles in the area.  This led to Emperor Charles VI writing to the German princes like Count Ludwig Ernst of Hesse in his own handwriting asking for settlers to come to Hungary.

 

  The major Lutheran emigration from Hesse took place from 1721-1730.  Following that it consisted of individual families or small groups.  A small group from Hesse arrived in Gyönk in 1722.  Because the estate owner did not live up to his contracted promises some of them moved on and settled in Mekényes.  In the following year a larger group from Hesse arrived and settled in Gyönk.  They were all Lutherans.  These settlers came from Upper Hesse (Ober Hessen) from Schlitz, Sandlos, Queck and Oberwegfurt.  The contemporary dialect spoken by the descendants of these early settlers and the Tracht (costume) they wore were a clear demonstration of their origins.  From information that appears in the Lutheran Church records other German Lutherans came from:  Mittel and Obersinn which are now located in Bavaria.

 

  An immigrant group that adhered to the Reformed Confession settled in Kismányok around 1720.  Their actual number is unknown but it was not large.  Misunderstandings developed between the Lutheran and Reformed settlers over the calling of a pastor and as a result community life became intolerable.  The quarrels that emerged poisoned relationships leading to a decision on the part of the Reformed to leave and settle elsewhere.  They accepted the offer of Count Styrum-Limberg and moved to Gross Säckel (Nagyszékely).  According to the church chronicle in Gyönk this resettlement occurred in 1722.  Because of a lack of available parcels of land and building lots for their houses their Roman Catholic landlord reneged on his promises.  For that reason the frustrated settlers were once again ready to move on.  The Reformed bishop, Peter Magyari-Kossa, became aware of the situation and invited his co-religionists a contract to settle alongside the Hungarian Reformed families in Gyönk.  The Hessian Lutherans arrived from Germany at the same time as the Reformed left Gross Säckel for Gyönk and the two groups both found a permanent home.

 

  In the archives of the Reformed Church their church chronicle included a speech from the occasion of a special celebration in 1877 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the building of their church.  According to this documented speech the place of origin of the first Reformed settlers from Germany were to be found in Hesse-Kassel.  But the chronicle indicates more precise information and locations of their origins in the area around the city of Hanau, the villages of Steinau an der Strasse, Ostheim, Isenberg and Lansenbold.  There were four Protestant congregations and churches in Gyönk.  Two were German speaking and two were Hungarian, one of each Confession.

 

  In the year 1752 there were 215 families living in the community.  The German farmers were exempt from paying taxes for six years and had the freedom to migrate.  Every year new settler families arrived.  Many could not deal with the climate, the heavy work and the privations they had to suffer in the early years.  This is dramatized in the church records with the large numbers that died during the 1740s on the basis of the Lutheran Church records alone.  The Hungarians lived in the northern part of the community while the Germans lived in the southern half.  The houses of the Lutheran inhabitants were all located on the Lutherische Gasse.  The residents who lived on the Neu Gasse most probably arrived in the year 1784.

 

  The settlers had to clear the land.  The soil they discovered was not very fertile.  For the most part they planted beans and peas and engaged in cultivating vineyards.  The area was surrounded by hills and valleys.  The wine and field crops that they produced were for their own use.  The oak forests provided the building material for their homes and for heating.  They made their own tools and implements.  All of their clothing was self-produced and self-made.  Each family raised sheep for this purpose as well as flax.

 

  The life of the Germans like that of the Hungarians was not without its troubles.  The rent collector and the steward of the estate owner were determined to pressure as much as they could get out of the farmers.  They demanded various kinds of free labour that went beyond their ability to give and still work their own land.  The complaints of the peasants and farmers increased everywhere.  In response, on December 29, 1766 the Empress Maria Theresia ordered that an Urbarium Agreement be negotiated by all estate owners and their peasant subjects to regulate the duties and rights of the peasantry in Vas, Zala, Sopron, Somogy, Tolna and Baranya Counties with a right of appeal granted to the peasants.  The landholdings for which a farmer in Gyönk had to provide free labour to the estate owners consisted of 34 Joch of land of which 22 Joch was cultivated fields and 12 Joch of meadows.  Each of these landholders had to provide one day a week of free labour using his team of four to six horses or oxen or two days week of manual or physical labour as required.  Those who had less land also provided less free labour.

 

  The legal rights of the German settlers were included in the Emperor’s Colonization Patent and its accompanying articles and were upheld in their so-called Urbarium Contract.  The German settlers who settled on the private estates of the nobles and landlords could not be dealt with as if they were serfs or made to stay on the estate against their will.  In the laws of the land the German settlers were identified as being indigenous and not foreigners since they remained under the jurisdiction of the Habsburg Emperor as they had always been.  They were able to establish and develop their religious life despite being harassed by the Roman Catholic authorities.  In their own parishes, the church and school had a major impact on the life and character of the community that the German settlers insisted upon establishing early upon their arrival in Hungary.

 

  The cornerstone of the present day Reformed Church was laid in 1775 and was dedicated in 1777.  The new tower was erected in 1835 because up until then Protestants were not allowed to add towers to their churches.  The Lutheran congregation currently worships in their third church building that was erected in 1896.  It is the largest Lutheran church building in southern Hungary.  With his Edict of Toleration in 1781, Emperor Joesph II lessened the restrictions imposed on the Protestants.  In the spirit of the Enlightenment the Edict of Toleration allowed Protestants the right to practice their religion publicly.  It also allowed for the unprecedented numbers of churches and schools that were built throughout the country in the final decade of the 18th century.

 

  All things considered it can be said the German settlers brought an element of stability to the region follow its liberation from the Turks.  On the other hand, their extensive cultivation of the cleared land resulting in the economic and commercial growth in the villages and towns was primarily due to their industriousness.  Living closely together the German and Hungarian populations existed in harmony even though at times there were elements of friction but it never led to serious hostility between the two nationalities.  That change first came with the developments during the Second World War and its aftermath which led to the tragic and fateful years that brought about the dissolution of the community.

 

 

Measures Taken Against the Germans of Hungary

 

  The social and political situation and the various other influences that affected the Germans of Hungary in the 1920s led to a sense of insecurity among them.  The social problems inherent with the policy of Magyarization, the institution of the government land reform legislation and the maintaining of racial identity became the major themes of political parties and newspaper editors in addressing the proper place of the German population.  Hostile voices were raised against the German population because of their ability and elasticity in being able to conform and surmount the demands made of them which led to economic difficulties from the perspective of contemporary Hungarian authorities because of their large numbers of children and their excessive landholdings.  Enmity towards all things German and Germany itself was extended to the Germans of Hungary.  The political and cultural leaders of the German population fought more and more against these tendencies and received support from Germany in order to do so.  The traditional amicable co-existence between the Magyars and the Germans experienced a deep rupture in the 1940s.

 

  This rupture in their relationship led to the deepening of some basic existential questions and led to personal animosity, compulsory enlistment into the SS, forced deportation to the Soviet Union, expropriation and confiscation of property, the loss of political and civil rights, evacuation and eventually expulsion and resettlement.  The dynamics of European politics drew Hungary into the war in 1941.  Some of the revisionist goals of Hungary were achieved with the assistance of the German Reich and its policies beginning in 1938.  The reason and cause for Hungary’s entry into the Second World War was the hope of regaining more of the former lost territories of Greater Hungary in the past and the fear of the loss of territory to Germany’s other allies if they did not join the invasion of the Soviet Union.  The fact that it appeared that it would lead to a speedy victory also led to Hungary’s joining the Axis Powers on June 27, 1941.  Following the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944 new and more stringent measures were directed against the German population.  Military service in the German armed forces which in the past had been of a voluntary nature was replaced by a compulsory enlistment of German male population in 1944 and allowed for no exceptions regardless of the political preferences of those involved.

 

  The breach was now out in the open.  Since the beginning of the war the Hungarian government had left the organizing of the Germans of Hungary in the hands of the Third Reich and withdrew from playing an active role in these activities.  This passivity on the part of the Hungarian government in effect abandoned that portion of the German population that felt a sense of loyalty to Hungary.  For that reason the Hungarian government can be faulted for the divisions that emerged among the German Hungarian population.  With the founding of the Volksbund in 1938 a deep chasm divided the German population into two opposing camps between the members of the Volksbund that adopted many of the ideology of the Third Reich and those who identified themselves in terms of their Hungarian citizenship. 

 

  These divisions became more pronounced when the political ambitions of Nazi Germany were added to the mix.  The so-called Loyalty Movement came to birth among those who distanced themselves from the Volksbund and its objectives.  In allowing for the compulsory recruitment of the Germans of Hungary for the Waffen-SS demonstrates the Hungarian government’s willingness to offer up those who sought to be loyal citizens of Hungary even though their mother tongue was German and were of ethnic German origin.  There are many well known instances in which the Hungarian police appeared to assist in carrying out this enlistment.  As the front lines approached the borders of Hungary in the Fall of 1944 the German civilian population was ordered to evacuate and leave their homes and communities.  The VOMI in Berlin along with the Volksbund carried out an evacuation to the West.  The fear of the onrushing Red Army led to spontaneous flight on the part of their members.  They left on trains, went by car or like most left in wagon treks and flooded the roads and highways in the direction of Germany.  Many of the Germans of Hungary left their homes and possessions behind in order to save their lives but they were a small minority of the population.

 

The Deportation to the Soviet Union

 

  There were no internationally agreed upon principles at work in what would follow that sealed the fate of the Germans of Hungary in the areas occupied by the Russian military and all of what they were about to suffer.  The deportation of German civilians was ordered by the Soviet Military authorities neither for strategic reasons nor for the purpose of war reparations.  The Hungarian government was informed of the mobilization of all able bodied German men and women for labour service by the Assistant Governor of Bekés County and not the Soviets.  He had been instructed to do so by the Supreme Court Justices in the Counties that were to be affected and also informed all local authorities.  During the first days of 1945 the Hungarian government got in contact with the Commander of the Soviet military in Debrecen with the goal of attempting to secure the exemption of some of the deportees.  The reasons given for those affected were rather vague or of varied from person to person.

 

  The local community officials were responsible for the transporting of the deportees to an assembly camp.  The mobilization order called for labour service within the country.  The military officials and often the Hungarian civilian authorities informed the deportees they were being sent to the Batschka to help bring in the corn crop.  They also included men who had served in the Hungarian military back as far as 1939.  The perplexity of the Soviet military officials was obvious as they undertook their task when they began to carry out the mobilization in the villages around Pécs, Bonyhád, Szekszárd, Baja and other communities.  The assembly camps were located mostly in the County capitals and took in the Germans from a radius of forty kilometres.  The Soviet officials awaited further orders from Moscow and for that reason the deportees remained in the assembly camps longer than expected.  The final order came from the Ministry of the Interior of Hungary who in a decree of January 5, 1945 instructed the Assistant Governors of the Counties as a matter of record that the Russian military authorities had demanded that all of the apprehended German civilians were to be handed over for labour service.  They were further informed that they (the Hungarian officials) had the freedom of using their influence to allow for exemptions.  They could exempt anyone if it could be proven that despite their German name the person was Hungarian.  They were, however, unable to arrange for the exemption of any because by that time the lists of names had already been received and the trains had already carried them off to the Soviet Union.  The transporting of the deportees to Russian only began after the signing of the armistice between Hungary and the Soviet Union on January 20, 1945 in Moscow but that was not true everywhere, in some Counties it began a week later.

 

  If the Minister of the Interior had known the destination of the deportees thousands of them could have been saved.  His accountability lies in the fact that the people would have been better prepared for what lay ahead of them had they known as was the case in Bekés County where the Soviets had told the deportees the truth about their destination.  From the documents it is evident that this was a one sided affair and the Hungarian government and local officials were kept in the dark.  The agreement Hungary signed was for war reparations in general and nothing specific.  That the reparations meant slave labour in the Soviet Union is never mentioned.  (Translator’s Note:  Documentation now available indicates that this is false.  At Yalta Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to these terms and the Minister of the Interior was well aware of the fate of the deportees.  The writer consistently puts the best face possible on the actions of the Hungarian government throughout his presentation.)  The major assembly point for the deportation of the Germans from Swabian Turkey was a forest on the banks of the Danube in the vicinity of Baja.  It was the best location because it was next to the only bridge across the Danube   that had not been destroyed during the retreat.  Most of the deportees were taken to the Caucasus, the coal mines in Ukraine or the Ural Mountains.

 

  The later investigations carried out by the families of the deportees were able to verify this information.  Their official investigations had no political value except that the number of deportees although only approximate could be established.  The official results   of the research suggest 60,000 to 65,000 civilians were involved.  The number of survivors and those who perished is much less accurate.  On the basis of the statistics from the communities and archives of the Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners   of War in Debrecen we can estimate 50% of those who were deported.  The figures provided in the study entitled:  Die Verschleppung Ungarnländsichen Deutschen indicate that there were 11,455 deportees from Tolna, Baranya and Somogy County.  (Translator’s Note:  This figure grossly underestimates the number as newer studies indicate, one of which appears of this website.)   Many of those released from the Soviet Union were sent to East Germany and for that reason we cannot identify the exact number of those who survived.  Fortunately, the entry of the Red Army into Western Hungary came later.  This region was only occupied later in the spring and escaped the deportations.

 

  The difficult and hard work in the coal mines in the Donets Basin and the scarcity of food and poor nutrition led to countless deaths in the first years.  The first trainload of returnees began to arrive in Hungary early in the summer and fall of 1945.  They were all too sick to work any longer.  This would be true of all of the others who would be returning home.  Most of them were released in 1947 after the signing of the peace treaty.  Beginning in 1948 those who were not sick were also released.  These transports of returnees often had Frankfurt-an-Oder as their destination where a great many of their families had been resettled.  (Translator’s Note:  His use of this word to describe the results of the expulsion that he calls an evacuation of populations is an indication of his obvious bias.)  The last transports of survivors left Russia in 1949.

 

  The majority of the German civilian deportees originated in south western Hungary including Swabian Turkey.  In this entire region to have a German sounding name was all it took to lead to deportation to slave labour in the Soviet Union, the first station on the way of the cross for the Germans of Hungary.  It was their punishment for the collective guilt of the Germans of Hungary. (To continue)

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