Bickács In the Tolna

 

 The founding of Bikács by the High Sheriff of Tolna County, Baron Joseph Rudnyansky, officially began with the arrival of Heidebauern Lutherans in the early part of the 18th Century.  These pioneering families undertook all of the tasks and struggles associated with  settlement in an area that had become a total wasteland.   Devastation, ruins and wilderness is what the retreating Turks left behind.  The arrival of these settlers from Western Hungary was spread out over a period of several years from 1725 to 1736.  At least that was the official word…

 

  The actual settlement had taken place secretly and probably earlier.  A royal decree of 1719 stated:  “Peasants who leave their master’s estate and flee to another County must be ordered to return to their former master by the command and order of the Emperor.”  The nobles who were resettling their despoiled estates or newly acquired lands said as little as possible as to both the number of their settlers and their place of origin of their colonists.  They were simply too hard to come by.  That was especially the case when it came to industrious Germans…

 

  The Roman Catholic church records in Paks on the Danube which is nearby give us a glimpse of these early settlers who are mentioned living in Bikács as early as 1721:  Paul Mattern, Johann Khern, Leonhard Reth,  Heinrich Hagensturm, Friedrich Winckler, Mathias Vogel, Michael Stromburger, Johannes Weiss, Johannes Lang, Johannes Rohm, Johann Peter Fritz, Johann Peter Weiss, Heinrich Sammet, Paul Michael Mueller, Paul Hermann, Michael Galler, Johann Wilhelm Rausch, Friedrich Kreidemacher,  Peter Hackstock, Andreas Keller, Michael Piller, Jakob Seib, Kaspar Goldmann, Johannes Herber, Michael Frohlich, Sebastian Hauser, Jakob Jager, Johann Georg Becht, Martin Bernhard, Wilhelm Becker, Johann Georg Gobel, Baltasar Hoffmann, Peter Schmidt, Johann Martin Kotzmann, Philip Hermann and Peter Krempl,  On the distaff side we discover other familiar Heidebauern names:  Anna Barbara Gsellmann, Anna Barbara Herber, Katharina Fritz, Katharina Spiess, Anna Maria Braun, Anna Reichert, Anna Elisabeth Neuhauser, Maria Elisabeth Wunsch, Sabine Perkel, Eva Hermann, Anna Mannweif, Katharina Hobler and Josepha Messer.

 

  According to the Tolna County Archives, Bikács was established in 1725 and the following were the first settlers:  Mathias Paul, Gregorius Mattern, Mathias Hackstock, Mathias Schmausser, Paulus Schmidt, Mathias Meidlinger, Melchior Gross, Martin Pamer, Martin Singer, Johaqnnes Teubel, Michael Schmidt, Mathias Vogel, Michael Hanol, Gregorius Wimmer, Gaspar Eichorn, Johannes Nitsch and Mathias Gross.  Only the name of Mathias Vogel appears in both of these early documents.

 

  The County Archives also contain a second listing of the first settlers that was dated 1738 or 1739 and includes the following names:  Mathias Schmausser, Sebastian Strobel, Andreas Kracher, Mathias Hackstock, Paulus Schmidt, Hans Michael Engel, Michael Lehner, Melchior Gross, Laurentius Stiener, Andreas Stiener, Matthias Gross, Martinus Pamer, Gregorious Wimmer, Gregorius Pamer, Mathias Vogl, Johann Andreas Vali, Johannes Hiczer, Gregorius Mattern, Mathias Meidlinger, Jakobus Hackl, Gregorious Keim, Martinus Singer, Mathias Paul, Mathias Mexiner, Michael Hagen, Johannes Tajbel (Teubel) and Michael Schimdt.

 

  All of these settlers apparently came from Vas County, the Heideboden and the region west of the Neusiedler Sea.  Some came from Steinamanger (Szombathely).  This early colonization was not an organized nor a one-time-effort.  It was spread over a period of years as the various settler lists indicate usually coming in small groups or as single families.  Unlike the other settlements in Tolna County no settlers from the south western German principalities  settled in Bikács.  All of the inhabitants of the village came from Western Hungary where their ancestors had settled centuries before and had prospered with their vineyard cultivation, agricultural pursuits and cattle rearing.  Although they were primarily Heidebauern it was discovered that there was a special strain of Heidebauern among them known as the Heanzen who referred to themselves as Hienz.  They too were of Franconian and Bavarian origin but spoke a distinctive dialect and wore an attire that differed from their Heidebauern cousins.

 

  There is a theory that the Heidebauern were of Gothic origin while the Heanzen were Franks maintaining some of their ancient tribal differences.  To a great degree the Heazen were located in the area of present day Burgenland in Austria and the environs of Sopron (Ődeburg) in Hungary.  Together with the Heideboden villages they made up the vast majority of the German settlements in Western Hungary.  We can identify two families in Bikács who were definitely of Heanzen origin:  the Marths and Keims.  The Keims in particular were associated with the Royal Free City of Ődenburg as well as its neighbouring village of Harkau.

 

  According to the church records in Bikács the settlers came to Tolna County to escape persecution and find freedom to practice their Lutheran faith.  The nobles on whose estates they lived in Western Hungary were avowed enemies of the Lutherans and rather than waiting to be “welcomed back into the bosom of Mother Church” the Heidebauern left by night.  Often illegally.  That is why the settlement of Bikács was over a long period and the settlers came in small and insignificant groups in order not to raise any suspicions among the County nobles or Roman Catholic authorities.

 

  Other possible reasons for their migration have also been offered.  Western Hungary had experienced a series of serious droughts and crop failures in the past few years.  In addition the Heideboden was over-populated with refugees coming there as a result of the Kurutz rebellion in Hungary and the entire population was on the brink of starvation.  The nobles who were recruiting settlers to develop their estates in the recently liberated regions from the Turks also promised more freedoms and privileges than they had in Western Hungary.  Although there is no documentation available with regard to the contract Lord Daroczy signed with his settlers at Bikács he did promise them religious freedom and freedom of movement similar to the one contracted with settlers in Gyӧrkӧny.  Both of these freedoms were denied to all “Hungarian” peasants.  That would continue to be true for another century!

 

  On their arrival, the Heidebauern discovered that Hungarian settlers from Upper Hungary (Slovakia), most of whom were Reformed, were also moving into the new settlement.  The Heidebauern, the men in particular, were quite conversant in Hungarian and got along well with their new Magyar neighbours.  Both groups were able to obtain guarantees of religious freedom from Lord Daroczy in 1734.  As a result of that the Reformed quickly built a log prayer house before their master changed his mind.  Unfortunately they were without a pastor and were in no position to call a schoolmaster.  Georg Forster, a leading Heidebauern Lutheran lay leader offered his own home as a prayer house.  These prayer services were held in both German and Hungarian.  Later, many of the Magyars began to move away and German would eventually take over as the language of worship.  This Magyar-Heidebauern congregation became a filial of Gyӧrkӧny which had had a pastor since 1719 and was an officially recognized Mother Church by the County.  In that sense, the filial congregation in Bikács also had legal status in the eyes of the County authorities.  Or at least, so it seemed.

 

  In 1737, Lord Daroczy resettled the remaining Hungarian families on his Bikács holdings in nearby Lovasberney, paralleling the policy established earlier by Count von Mercy on his Tolna estates of not mixing nationalities and religious confessions in the same settlement.  In that same year the Lutherans in Bikács elected Istvan Solamon as their Levite Lehrer (schoolmaster and lay worship leader) as well as their village notary.  He would serve in this capacity from 1737-1753.  His successor was Mihaly Ursini, who served there under the supervision of Stephen Barany, the son of Georg Barany the Dean of the Seniorat (Church District).

 

  On June 21, 1761 the District Court Judge in nearby Paks issued an order on “higher authority” to put an end to Lutheran church life in Bikács.  A detachment of troops sent by the County officials arrived in Bikács and presented the schoolmaster Ursini with a State Warrant and dragged him off to Simontornya, the capital of the County to stand trial there.  He was stripped of his office and was forbidden to live in Bikács.  The Lutherans of Bikács were now without leadership and were threatened with reprisals if they elected a new teacher.

 

  The County Administration wanted to replace Ursini with a Roman Catholic teacher.  This resulted in an uproar in the community and led to the formation of official opposition to the Roman Catholic take over of their school.  The teacher appointed by the County officials, a man named Metzger, fled from the village after a very, very short stay.  Some village historians suggest his tenure was less than the first day.  In order to put down the unrest and opposition, the son of a widow named Schmidt, was accused of being one of the ringleaders among the dissidents and was subsequently arrested, questioned, tortured and imprisoned in the dungeon at Simontornya.  This widow’s son from Bikács was hardly the only Lutheran in Hungary who found himself in chains in prison because of his faith.  Countless Lutheran and Reformed lay leaders found themselves in the same situation throughout all of Swabian Turkey at this time resulting from the Empress Maria Theresia’s final attempts to stamp our Lutheranism in this part of her Empire.

 

  But the stiff-necked Heidebauern of Bikács true to their heritage did not bend an inch before this show of force.  Instead they appealed to the Empress Maria Theresia who “ate” Protestants for breakfast.  They dared to take her to task for her failure to protect her subjects!  Despite their opposition and protests, as well as their appeal to the Empress, they were unable to achieve their goal.  From 1761 to 1775 they were not allowed to call a pastor and the pastor in Gyӧrkӧny was forbidden to visit or serve his congregation in Bikács “on pain of death.”  The Lutherans in Bikács were placed under the “spiritual care” of the Roman Catholic priest in Kajdacs and were forced to pay a church tax to the parish of Kajdacs to underwrite the priest’s support.

 

  In the difficult and oppressive years that followed we are told that “a simple, pious midwife” who is never identified, secretly taught the children reading, writing, Luther’s Small Catechism, basic Bible history and Lutheran hymns.  The congregation for their part did not lose faith or courage.  They continued to assemble in one another’s homes or haylofts secretly in order to hold services.  These were sorrowful and difficult days for the villagers of Bikács especially for those families whose family members were arrested for their participation in “illegal” religious activities.

 

  In 1775 permission was finally granted for the calling of a schoolmaster.  When Samuel Getz was called by the congregation to be their schoolmaster the Roman Catholic authorities strictly ordered him to provide only an elementary education for the children.  He was informed that all of his teaching would be under the direction and supervision of Bishop Gabor Perlacky.  Under no circumstances whatsoever was he to engage in any activity that the Bishop might consider to be of a “churchly nature.”  Samuel Getz only lasted until 1778 when he left to serve the Lutheran congregation in Izmény.  His successor was Michael Leurer.  This one time tailor taught in Bikács until 1784 when he received a call to serve the Lutherans in Murga.

 

  The ancestors of the inhabitants in Bikács had to leave their old homeland for the sake of preserving their Lutheran faith.  Persecution had driven them from the Heideboden their ancient home and they were determined to find sanctuary in Bikács as had been promised to them.  It was really no wonder that their descendants would also resist and cling to their faith just as tenaciously.  The Roman Catholic authorities had simply underestimated the Heidebauern.  Bishop Perlacky and his County lackeys were just not equipped or prepared to deal with these seasoned veterans of the Counter Reformation.  It was the hardened veterans who would win.

 

  In response to the Edict of Toleration promulgated in 1781 the congregation in Bikács sought a new beginning…

 

  There were 104 houses in the village, housing some 130 families.  The total population was 697 and they applied for permission to build a church, call a pastor and become a Mother Church.  All of these objectives were eventually achieved but only after a second submission of their petition to the King that was approved in 1784.

 

  Bikács continued to develop and its people prospered as it took its place among its neighbours and shared in the future and destiny of Hungary.

 

  The French Revolution broke out and the Napoleonic Wars followed but they were simply news items that were announced in the village with the beating of drums by village officials.  These concerns were distant and far removed from the lives of inhabitants of the village.  Then came the Revolution of 1848 which was much closer to home as Croatian marauders roamed across the Tolna.  They often targeted Swabian villages for destruction because of the Swabians support of the aspirations of the Magyar revolutionaries.  These were the first stirrings of Magyar nationalism with its rallying cry of “liberty, fraternity and equality.”  Unfortunately no one told the Swabians that these three democratic ideals would be limited to the Magyars.  In fact, it was only intended to apply to the ruling class and the aristocracy.  In the aftermath of the First World War a new wave of Hungarian nationalism was unleashed and directed against the Swabians.  They were the only major minority left in what remained of Hungary after the Treaty of Trianon.

 

  In 1938 the Volksbund der Deutsche in Ungarn was established to unite the German-speaking population in Hungary in order to preserve their language in their churches and schools and maintain their traditions, customs and culture.  It was a front organization for National Socialism (Nazism) and became the cause of friction between the generations and social classes within the German-speaking communities which were torn and divided in their allegiances.

 

  In response another movement emerged in Tolna County in 1942 opposed to the Bund.  “Treu zur Heimat” (Loyal to the Homeland).  Families were divided in their loyalties.  Generations were in opposition to one another.  Friends and neighbours refused to speak to one another.  Bikács witnessed the same tragedy in its life together.

 

  The early victories of the Nazi war machine fuelled the fire of animosity between the two groups.  Then came the defeats and reverses at Stalingrad and North Africa and the heavy losses that were suffered causing the Swabian population to waiver in its loyalties.

 

  On April 14, 1944, the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Nicholas Horthy signed an agreement with the Nazi government ordering the recruitment and conscription of all Danube Swabians in Hungary into the German armed forces.  In the fall of 1944 all men from the ages of 17 to 60 years in the Danube Swabian communities were to report for mustering into the Waffen-SS.  This resulted in great anger among the German-speaking population everywhere both against the Bund and its leadership.  The uniform of the SS was feared and hated by the “loyal” Swabians.  The “Treu zur Heimat” leaders sought a legal defence against this action claiming they were Hungarian citizens and not part of the “Greater German Reich” and absurd invention of the Bund and the National Socialists of Germany.

 

  Regent Horthy and Hungarian officialdom played the part of Pontius Pilate, washing their hands of the whole thing and declaring, “What I have written.  I have written.”  The fate of the German-speaking population of Hungary had been sealed.  There were simply no alternatives for them.

 

  In November of 1944 as the front moved closer and closer to Bikács, a few families, (eight persons in all) attempted to flee Hungary.  They consisted of women and children.  All of the men had been drafted into the Waffen-SS.  The would-be refugees left for Dresden, Germany on one of the last trains out of Nagydorog.

 

  The retreating German troops were forced to give up Bikács and Tolnanemédi on December 4, 1944.  On December 5th they withdrew from Kisszékely.  On December 6th the Red Army occupied Simontornya.  The entire Tolna was now firmly in Russian hands.  The occupation of Bikács was relatively unspectacular.  The officer in charge of the retreating German troops had encouraged the elders of the community to release the wine from the wine barrels because drunken Russian troops would go on a rampage on entering the village.  Apparently after a raucous debate over the matter it was decided to drink as much wine as possible before doing so.  So legend has it.  The school and some homes were hit by mortar fire and two aged men were killed.  Dead Soviet troops were buried at the village war memorial and later interred in Nagydorog.

 

  The Red Army met little resistance in its occupation of the Tolna.  There were few pitched battles and limited casualties.  Very little “war” damage.  The total occupation of the County was completed within ten days.  Then a major front developed to the north at Szekésfehervár and the digging of trenches required the use of civilian labour from the Tolna.  Bikács had to provide its quota of labourers, both men and women.

 

  On January 4, 1945 a total of 49 inhabitants from Bikács were forcibly taken to the Soviet Union to the labour camps in the vicinity of Rostov in the coal mining region around Dombas.  They were later followed by an additional 42 persons on January 10th.  These two groups included both men and women and older teenaged boys and girls who were to be the war “reparations” Hungary was called upon to pay to the Soviet Union.  Hungary decided to pay only in Danube Swabian “currency” rather than their own.  Many of the deportees became ill there.  Typhus broke out in the camps.  Labour methods were primitive and dangerous and as a result there were many accidents caused by weakness from overwork and hunger.  The first to become to ill to work were sent home.  Twenty-one of them perished:  fourteen men and seven women.  There were three married couples who had to leave their children behind.  Three fathers were taken with their teenaged sons, two fathers with their daughters.

 

  Even when the noise of battle was over there was still no peace for the Danube Swabians.  In the Romanian Banat they were being resettled, sent to forced labour and internal exile in the eastern wastelands of the country.  In Yugoslavia Tito’s extermination camps were already in full operation and tens of thousands of the elderly and younger children had already perished at Jarek, Gakowa, Rudolfsgnad, Molidorf and in countless other villages. Now it was to be the turn of the Danube Swabians of Hungary.

 

  A meeting was taking place in Potsdam to make Europe safe from any future war…

 

  Somehow Europe and humankind would be safer if the Danube Swabians of Hungary, every man, women and child were expelled, deported, exiled and impoverished.  They were guilty of the ultimate crime:  being of German ethnic origin.

 

  In the summer of 1945 several families in Bikács were evicted from their homes without any of their possessions and placed in old run-down housing.  Up to nine families were placed in each of these houses.  At the same time “new settlers” appeared in the area and took up residence in the homes of the displaced families and also assumed ownership of their land and property.  They simply saw this as collecting their fair share of the “spoils of war” from the “disloyal” Swabian population as they continued to refer to the Heidebauern.

 

  On the night of November 25, 1945 the round up of thirty-one elderly men took place.  They were forced to march to Gyӧrkӧny.  They were imprisoned there in an open compound in a rainstorm along with many of the villagers from Gyӧrkӧny.  After several days, without explanation, they were released and returned home.

 

  The new settlers asked for the expulsion of the members of the Bund or be given permission to bear arms in the village as protection against them.  At this point there were only old men, women and children left in the community.  The men were either in labour camps or were prisoners of war spread all across of Europe and Asiatic Russia.

 

  Then word came that the inhabitants of Bikács would share in the fate of the Danube Swabians of Hungary…expulsion.  After eleven centuries of difficulties, invasions, religious persecution and oppression the Heidebauern now had to face the worst fate they could have ever imagined.  They would have to leave their homeland…

 

  The three crimes for which expulsion was the punishment was any one of the following:

 

                          1.  Membership in the Bund.

                          2.  A volunteer in the Waffen-SS and his family.

                          3.  A German family name that used its original form or spelling.

 

  This was a cover-up for the “collective guilt” of the ethnic German population in Hungary, whether man, woman or child.  There was really no rhyme nor reason for which names appeared on the expulsion lists posted in the German villages.

 

  On the night of August 9, 1946 the Land Reform Act was inaugurated in Bikács.  From among  its population of one thousand, eighty-three families (286 persons) were evicted from their homes and their land was confiscated by the State.  All of this happened at night…every night that followed filled the Heidebauern with fear and foreboding of what was still to come.

 

  Those selected for expulsion could not believe it.  Most of them were accused of being guilty of all three crimes!

 

  In January of 1946 the first cattle car convoy containing over one thousand Swabians from Budaӧrs left for Germany into an unknown future.  This first trainload was soon followed by countless others from throughout all of Hungary.

 

  On November 11, 1946 a long column of horse drawn wagons with weeping people onboard who had spent the night packing what little they were allowed to take with them left Bikács as the bells in their church tower tolled a painful farewell as the first deportees left for Germany in a rag tail caravan under Hungarian police supervision to the railway station in nearby Nagydorog.  The rest of the inhabitants of Bikács stood mutely by on the streets of their village refusing to believe what they were seeing.  The bells kept tolling even when the wagons and their cargo were no longer in sight.

 

  After being loaded onboard the cattle cars they remained on a siding until five in the afternoon of November 14th.  They crossed the frontier out of Hungary at Hegyeshalom, the beautiful and picturesque village of Strasssommerein of their Heidebauern ancestors on November 15th.  On the 18th they were placed in the custody of the U.S. forces at Salzburg in Austria and were taken to the Nurnberg region in Germany.  There was a total of 334 persons from Bikács in this convoy.  This group was later joined by six persons who had survived the labour camps in Russia who had not been allowed to return home to Hungary.

 

  On September 1, 1947 the second expulsion from Bikács was set in motion.  The expellees were piled into army trucks with not time to prepare or pack.  Those who were allowed to remain rushed hurriedly to their own homes to quickly gather food and blankets for the expellees.  On approaching the trucks they were met with sneers, shouts and threats from the Hungarian police who tried to prevent them from handing over their bundles of food, wrapped in blankets.  They beat and roughed  up the men but the women and teenagers picked up the fallen bundles and tossed them onto the trucks into the arms of their neighbours, families and friends as the trucks began to move away in the midst of shouts and screams and gun shots…

 

  It was in this way that the expellees from Bikács were able to survive “the humane population transfer” ordered by the Big Three at Potsdam.  This shipment of the “enemies of the Magyar nation” left on September 4th at 3:00 a.m. from the railway station in Nagydorog, travelling across Hungary, Czechoslovakia to the Russian Zone of Germany and the transit camp at Pirna in Saxony.  There were one hundred and seventy-seven persons in this second phase of the expulsion.  They were later joined by twelve family members released from the labour camps in the Soviet Union.

 

  On February 16, 1948 the third and final deportation began at 4:00 a.m.  The train left Nagydorog on February 19th and headed straight for the Russian Zone of Germany arriving in Torgau and Eisleben the small town where Martin Luther was born and died.  There were sixty-four persons in this final phase of the expulsion in Bikács who were joined by six family members released from the Soviet Union.  Almost at the same time an additional eleven persons who were interned in Budapest after release from the Soviet Union were also deported to Germany’s Russian Zone.

 

  In all, there were 586 Heidebauern who were expelled from Bikács.  Many if not most of the families who were sent to the Russian Zone of Germany fled across the frontier into the Western Zones.  Many others who had survived the camps in the Soviet Union were also later sent to Germany.  Only a handful were allowed to return to their home community in Hungary.  If they were it was simply a bureaucratic error.

         

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