There had been numerous communities that once thrived where Bikács is now currently located in Tolna County in southwest Hungary. As a result of the Turkish occupation after the disaster at Mohács in 1526 the whole region reverted to wilderness; its population was decimated; the survivors were enslaved or went into hiding while some fled to the north. When the Turks failed to capture Vienna in the siege of 1683 they retreated back into Hungary with the Habsburg forces hot on their heels. Buda and Pest quickly fell to the Imperial forces and then the victors moved on into the south liberating what had once been Greater Hungary from one hundred and fifty years of occupation, destruction and neglect.
At the request of the Hungarian nobles who were eager to redevelop their devasted estates the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI issued a call for settlers to cultivate the wilderness in the recently recovered “new territories.” This invitation was extended throughout the Holy Roman Empire where the House of Habsburg held sway and as a result a massive population movement began that was to be forever remembered as the Schwabenzug…the Great Swabian Migration…that lasted for most of the 18th century. The first phase of this migration was originally designed to colonize and settle the Banat in present day Romania and former Yugoslavia, but the vast majority of the recruited settlers “jumped ship” along the Danube and settled on the estates of Hungarian landlords. This was especially true in Tolna County, in which Bikács is located. It was assumed by many that the first settlers, and those who followed them to Bikács, were part of this Schwabenzug, when in reality they came from Western Hungary, the narrow strip of territory along the Austrian frontier that the Habsburgs had controlled after partitioning Hungary with the Turks.
The invitation to settle in the “new territories” was also spread abroad in what remained of Hungary and Slovakia, and throughout their history the German settlers in Tolna County were well aware of Hungarian and Slovak settlements alongside of their own. But these German settlers who spoke a distinctive dialect of their own and claimed to be Heidebauern, remained a mystery to most of them.
What proved to be unique in both the settlement and ongoing life and development of Bikacs was that it remained a purely Heidebauern community, unlike Györköny, which later welcomed Hessian settlers in their midst. The earliest records seem to point to the founding of Bikacs by Heidebauern settlers some time between 1725-1736. But strangely enough the birth records of the Roman Catholic Church in Paks-on-the-Danube list the first baptism as Jakob Pamer of Bikacs in 17.04.1721. This entry is soon followed by: Hackstock, Fritz, Weiss, Matern and other familiar Heidebauern family names that are listed as residents of Bikács. This seems to indicate that this original settlement was done on the sly. There was a royal decree that stipulated: “Peasants who leave their master’s estate and flee to another County, must be ordered to return at the command of the Emperor”. In effect they were fugitives and were most secretive about their origins, which would confound researchers in the future. Their landlords simply kept quiet about their numbers and origins in order to have them develop their estates and increase their income.
The original settlers were from Vas County, the Heideboden (Moson County) and the region around the Neusiedler See and some came from Steinamanger (modern day Szombathley). These settlers came in small groups, usually extended families, over a number of years. They were renowned for their agricultural skills, vineyard cultivation and cattle-raising that they introduced into the village economy.
According to the church records the settlers came to Bikács to escape persecution and find freedom to practice their Evangelical Lutheran faith. The Lutherans in Hungary had been forced to go underground after the Decade of Sorrows in the late 17th century, when over 800 Lutheran and Reformed Churches throughout the Kingdom had been confiscated and the pastors and schoolmasters had been exiled or sold as galley slaves in Naples. To all intents and purposes these Heidebauern passed themselves off as Roman Catholics publicly but formed household churches in their homes and maintained their Lutheran faith in that way. There were probably some other reasons as well, such as the fact that the nobles promised them more freedoms and privileges than they enjoyed at home, and there had been some severe droughts in Western Hungary.
The most obvious telltale sign of their Heidebauern origins are their family names which can be found in the eastern and northern sections of the Neusiedler See region: Schmausser, Meixner, Fischer, Blaser, Forster, Hackstock and Hackl.
These original settlers signed a contract with Lord Daroczy who promised them religious freedom and the freedom of movement, which had been denied them in the past. This was similar to what the future “Swabians” were also granted by Count von Mercy in the other Tolna settlements.
We discover quite early that there were also Magyar (Hungarian) Lutherans among them, who had lived with them in the Heideboden. In 1734, Lord Daroczy officially granted religious freedom to the community. For the purpose of holding services, George Forster offered his home as a prayer house. The services were in both Hungarian and German, but eventually the Hungarians moved away and many joined the new congregation in Szárszentlörincz, while the Bikács congregation became a filial of the church in Györköny. The congregation also had a Levite Lehrer. He was probably one of the settlers and acted as the teacher in the school and as lay leader in worship, performing all pastoral acts except Holy Communion. One of them was named Istvan Salamon while another was Mihaly Ursini.
Life was hard and difficult in the early years. Infant mortality was high, and the average life span for adults was forty, and there were epidemics and then the plague arrived in 1740. But the community survived and grew and eventually prospered, with more land under cultivation and herds increasing.
But then the world intruded into the life of Bikács. The following is a partial translation taken from “Unsere Heimat Bikács 1736-1986”:
“On June 21, 1761 upon instructions from higher authorities the District Judge in Paks issued an order to put an end to all Lutheran church life in Bikács and denied the people of the village the right to practice their faith. Troops sent by the County Court arrived in the village and produced orders and arrested the teacher Mihaly Ursini and dragged him off to prison and put him on trial at Simontornya. He was stripped of his office and dismissed. He was no longer permitted to live in Bikács. The Lutherans were now without a leader and they were threatened not to elect a new teacher in his place. The authorities wanted to place a Roman Catholic in his position, but this unleashed great unrest and opposition on the part of the congregation. The teacher appointed by the County officials, a man named Metzger, fled the village after only a few days of being there.
In order to put down the unrest and opposition, the leader of the defiance, the son of the widow Schmidt was imprisoned in the fortress at Simontornya. But he was hardly the only Lutheran in Tolna County who found himself in chains because of his faith.
But the people of Bikács did not bend before this show of power, instead they appealed to the Empress Maria Theresia. But in spite of their opposition and protests as well as their appeal to the Empress they were unable to achieve their goal, for from 1761 to 1775 they were not allowed to call a pastor, and the pastor in Györköny was forbidden to visit or serve his congregation in Bikács. The Lutherans in Bikács were placed into the “spiritual care” of the Roman Catholic priests in Kajdács, to whom they owed their church dues.
It was during these difficult and oppressive years that followed, that a simple, pious midwife, who is never identified, taught the children how to read and write and the catechism, scriptures and prayer. The congregation held fast to their faith and met secretly in one another’s homes or haylofts in order to hold services as their parents before them had done in the Heideboden. These were sorrowful and difficult days for the villagers of Bikács…”
But in 1781 the longed for freedom they prayed for came through the Edict of Toleration of Joseph II, the new Emperor, and by 1784 they were granted permission to call a pastor and build a “prayer house.” In their submission to the emperor we discover that there were 104 houses in the village, housing a total of 130 families, numbering 697 persons.
Bikács had now arrived and took its place in the life of the County and nation of which they were a part, without giving up their identity, traditions or faith. That is what they handed down to their children. But times were changing. They lived through the Revolution of 1848 siding with the Hungarian nationalists under Lajos Kossuth, a fellow Lutheran, and bore the consequences of the Austrian backlash afterwards. They had become German Hungarians: Ungarn Deutsche. But they remained Heidebauern to the core.
Economic conditions were altered and the rural economy was dominated by the high price of land and without land how could a Heidebauern be a Heidebauern? America provided an answer and became an alternative. The first to leave Bikács were the young, and they did so in 1893. They went to earn money to send back home to buy land. That was the theory. It did not become a reality for many. But it took until April 1927 for the first of them to leave for Canada according to the church records and included Julianna Barbara Rempler nee Grunwald. But most of them returned home within the year.
With the coming of the Second World War, the population of Bikács was caught up in conflict. An organization that was known as the Bund sought to unite the German speaking population of Hungary to preserve their language in church and school and maintain their traditions and customs against the inroads of forced Hungarianization of the population. But with the outbreak of the war, the Bund was soon infiltrated by the National Socialists and their ideology (Nazism), and Bikács like every German speaking community in Hungary found itself divided in its allegiance to the Bund or remaining loyal to the nation of which they were citizens. It tore families and friends and neighbours apart. Hungary had joined the Axis powers in their invasion of the Soviet Union (Russia) and many men from Bikács served in the Hungarian Second Army at the battle for Stalingrad. It was the final loyalty test. And then the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Nicolas Horthy, agreed to the forced recruitment of all German-speaking citizens into the German Army and Waffen SS. In the fall of 1944 all men from the age of 17 to 60 years were forced to enlist in the Waffen SS. The population of Bikács was angered and protested but to no avail, for this was happening throughout all of Hungary.
By Christmas of 1944 the Red Army had overrun and taken all of Tolna County and Baranya and Somogy. They met little resistance. There were few battles, limited casualties and very little damage. It only took days…
Then the drums beat in the village street as the Klein Richter (town-crier) announced that all men between the ages of 17 to 50 years and all women 17 to 40 years were to report for registration for labour. On January 4, 1945 several transport trucks with armed Russian soldiers left with 49 persons from Bikács on board. On January 10th, trucks arrived again and took 42 more persons. They were taken to the Soviet Union as forced labourers to the area around Rostov in the coal mining region of Dombas in Ukraine. They were the “war reparations” Hungary had to pay for being an ally of Germany.
Many became ill. Typhus broke out in the camps. Labour methods were primitive and dangerous and as a result there were countless accidents caused by weakness and hunger and overwork. The first to become ill were sent home. But twenty-one of them perished there: fourteen men and seven women. There were three married couples that had to leave their children behind. There were three fathers with their sons and two fathers with a daughter.
But the worst was yet to come.
Three men met at Potsdam and redrew the map of Europe: the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the U.S. president Harry S. Truman and the British prime minister Winston Churchill. The Swabians of Hungary were ordered expelled back to Germany where they belonged to accommodate the Hungarians being driven out of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. This was part of the “humane population transfer” that would set all things right in Europe forever. It meant the expulsion of 15 million ethnic Germans throughout Eastern Europe, including Bikács in the Tolna. During the process, two million would die.
This tragedy was re-enacted in Bikács three times. It was a matter of the collective guilt of every German man, woman and child. On November 11, 1946 a total of 334 persons from Bikács were taken by wagon to Nagydorog as the bells in the church tolled and the rest of the population watched in silence and in horror. They were boarded onto cattle cars on November 14th and sent across the border into Austria on their way to Germany. Six women who survived the labour camps in Russia later joined them.
It seemed as if life was back to normal and then in late August the Klein Richter beat his drum along the village street and announced another expulsion. This involved 177 persons who left on September 1, 1947 heading across Hungary in cattle-cars towards Czechoslovakia and then on to Saxony and the Russian Zone of Germany, where they were later rejoined by twelve more of the survivors from the mines in Ukraine.
Then came the final group, on February 16, 1948. There were another 64 persons involved and sent to East Germany, where six others from the camps in the USSR later rejoined them. While at the same time, another eleven persons who were interned in Budapest after their release from the Soviet Union were also deported to East Germany.
In all, there had been 586 deportees. The vast majority of the families who had been deported to East Germany fled across the border into the Western Zones. In the meanwhile the remnant at home sought to find news ways to live their lives as faithfully as they could under the rule of the Red Habsburgs in the years to come.