St. Johann and St. Peter in the Heideboden

 

   The source of this article is “Das Vergessene Heideboden: St. Johann und St. Peter” by Rudolph Kleiner published in 1993 in Vienna and is my personal translation and summarization of its content.

 

  From the Roman period of occupation to the coming of the Magyars, the Heideboden was heavily populated by various Celtic, Germanic and Slavic peoples.

 

  Bavaria began to play a major role in the history and development of the region beginning in 748 when they defeated the Avars and they would then hold sway in the territories they had occupied.  Their control extended as far south as the frontiers of Burgenland.  Around 750 a massive Bavarian colonization movement got underway as peasant settlers streamed into the region.  By 791, Charles the Great, (Charlemagne) and his army reached the Raab River.  The Avars were reduced to vassals by 796 and all of the region up to the Raab River was “Frankish” territory.  Following the founding of the Carolingian Őstmark (Austria) that also included most of Lower Austria the Heideboden served as a military buffer zone and defensive position.

 

  The population living in the area during this economic and cultural development came from Bavaria and Upper Austria.  They built the fortresses and castles and spread the Christian faith in the area.  The conquered territory up to the Raab River belonged to the bishopric of Passau.  Charlemagne awarded large tracts of land to the bishopric as well as German nobles.  To cultivate and work the new lands they called for settlers from Bavaria who were joined by many priest and monks.  There were also many Franconians among the population in what would become Wieselburg County, the future Moson Country of the Magyars.  By the beginning of the 11th Century, Misenburg (Moson), was a trading centre and totally German in population and character.  Both the towns of Wieselburg and Ődenburg were Carolingian in origin and preceded the coming of the Magyars.  The area was not unpopulated at the time of the arrival of the Magyar tribes as Hungarian historians maintain.

 

  Following the conversion of the Magyars to Christianity under King Stephen another large scale immigration took place around the year 1000 from Upper Austria and Bavaria that was concentrated along the western shore of the Neusiedler Sea and the area around Eisenstadt.  The central and southern Burgenland were affected the most.  The Cistercian Order arrived in 1203 and were granted large parcels of land that they colonized with new settlers in the 12th and 13th Centuries, most of whom once again came from Bavaria and Upper Austria.

 

  The young Hungarian King, Louis II, fell at the Battle of Mohács and his entire army was massacred by the victorious Turks in 1526.  In his will he left his Kingdom to the Habsburgs at the time of his marriage to Maria of Habsburg the sister of Archduke Ferdinand.  The Hungarian nobles were split into two camps.  The majority opposed the claim of the Habsburgs.  The Austrian Archduke sought to make Western Hungary, Slovakia and the region above Lake Balaton part of his realm.  The areas around the Neusiedler Sea (Eisenstadt and Wieselburg) had become part of Austria from 1043 to 1046 as a result of ongoing conflict with the Magyars.  The Hungarian King, Bela IV, gave the border towns of Wieselburg, Ődenburg and Eisenstadt to Frederick II of Austria in 1240.  The higher nobility sided with the claims of the Austrian Archduke and gained new landholdings and estates at the expense of the lesser nobles who opposed the Habsburgs.  As a result, the Poth family got their hands on the Domains of Ungarisch Altenburg  (Mosonmagyarovár).

 

  Following the conquest of most of Hungary by the Turks the Heideboden was raided and devastated in twelve major onslaughts.  Many villages were put to the torch, including both St. Johann and St. Peter and the population was massacred, enslaved or fled and went into hiding.  At that time Croatian refugees also sought sanctuary from the Turks in the Burgenland and settled there in large communities.

 

The Domains of Ungarisch Altenburg

 

  The villages of Andau, St. Johann and St. Peter belonged to the estates and were part of the Domain.   The first nobles to rule from here were the Poth family with the title of Count.  They were among the oldest German noble families in Hungary.  Henry III of Germany granted two brothers from the Palatinate (Pfalz) land in Hungary for their support in his conflict with Konrad of Bavaria.  The brothers were named Aribo and Botho.  When Andreas I of Hungary had to fight his brother Bela for the throne, Botho was on the side of the king but unfortunately Bela was successful in defeating him.  He freed all of the German knights who had been captured and allowed them to return to Germany or remain in Hungary and become his vassals.  Botho was among those who stayed and pledged allegiance to the new king.  During the reigns of Stephen, Ladislaus and Coloman the German nobles were given more and more land for their services to the crown.  Botho and his son purchased the estates of Pressburg and Valko from Dionysius of Weyke.  Aribo died in 1104.  His descendants abandoned their German name and adopted the Hungarian name Győr.  This was a practice others followed as well and eventually lost all of sense of being anything else than Magyars in the future.

 

  During the 12th and 13th Centuries the importance of the Both-Győr family grew during the reigns of King Emmerich and Andreas II.  In this period their first land grants in Wieselburg County were awarded through political manoeuvring on their part and the Domain of Ungarisch Altenburg fell into their hands.  The family owed this to one of its sons, Saul, who became the Metropolitan of the bishopric of Kalocsa.  Saul was the notary at the royal court of Bela III and later the royal chancellor.  He became a power behind the throne.  Therefore it was not difficult for him to secure political offices for his four brothers:  Botho III, Alexander II, Gepan I and Maurus I.  The Both-Győr brothers made the most of their positions and took over the estates in Wieselburg County.  They were the largest landowners in the County and laid the foundation for the future Domains of Ungarisch Altenburg.  

 

  Eventually Stephen II and Konrad I would become the heirs of this large land-rapacious family.  For his courageous service to the King, Alexander II was granted the villages of Ragendorf, Croatian Jahrndorf and Winden.  The family would also have political power in the Administration of the County serving regularyl as the High Sheriff.  Maurus increased his holdings in Baranya County.  Gepan was awarded Pécs County and the position of Paladin (Viceroy) of Hungary.  In 1269 Gepan was also awarded half of St. Johann and Neusiedel-on-the-Sea.  The last brother, Botho II, successfully unified the entire landholdings of the family.  They not only had political power and enormous landholdings they also had money and purchased additional estates.  The lesser Hungarian nobles raised a hue and cry about it because they considered the family to be interlopers and foreigners.  This put the clamps on future favours and their political power was lessened under Andreas II.  In 1239 there were only two males left in the Győr family line:  Maurus III (died 1249) and Konrad I.

 

  In 1241 the Mongol “Golden Horde” invaded the region.  All of the communities and villages between Raab (Győr) and Wieselburg were destroyed.  Countless people were massacred and women were raped and carried off.  Because of conflicts over their leadership the Mongols soon left and returned home to settle matters.  King Bela IV’s response was to order the construction of stone defensive fortresses throughout the land for protection in the future.  He did not have the support of the higher clergy and nobles in this undertaking.  Nevertheless many fortresses were constructed across Hungary.  Following Maurus’ death, Konrad I began to build a fortress at Ungarisch Altenburg and named it Ovár.  He took the side of Ottokar II of Bohemia, who was a Habsburg, against the Hungarian King.  He allowed Ottokar’s troops free passage through his domains and allowed them to destroy his neighbours’ villages and annexed other peoples’ property and Ottokar recognized his ownership.  All of that would shortly change.  In 1260 Ottokar married into the Hungarian royal family.  Ottokar forgot his friend Konrad and the Hungarian parliament confiscated all of Konrad’s estates in Wieselburg and Pressburg Counties in reprisal for his treason.

 

  Bela IV gave the fortress Ovár to Lorenz of Aba.  Later there was a quarrel between the king and his son Stephen and Konrad tried to take advantage of the situation.  He supported the prince and gained an advantage.  When the father and son were reconciled Konrad was rewarded by the return of the fortress and all of his estates in both Counties and all of his privileges as a noble.  Lorenz of Ab was compensated by being given the County of Eisenburg.  Konrad died in 1299.  His son Jakob succeeded him.  He died some time between 1314 and 1315.  His son, Konrad II, took the name Kéménd.  How long the domains remained in the family’s hands is now unknown.

 

  It appears that the family lost the domains after the death of Jakob and they became part of the King’s holdings.  In 1350 Ulrich von Wolfurt became the king’s castellan of the fortress of Ovár and eventually the domains were pledged to him and his heirs.  He was succeeded by his son Paul.  He died shortly after marrying Judith, the daughter of Duke Premko von Troppan.  In 1441 following his death she was remarried to Count Georg II of St. Georgen and Bőssing and brought the Domain as her dowry.  She died in 1450 and the Wolfurt family contested Bőssing’s claim to the Domain and they were successful in recovering it.  As the new owners of the Domain they visited their landholdings, market towns and villages that included:  Ungarisch Altenburg, Wieselburg, Pallersdorf, Ragendorf, Sandorf, Pfingstmark, Hallassen, Gahling, Strasssommerein, Zanegg, St. Peter and St. Johann and half of Kimmling.  (These are all now in Hungarian territory.)  Those that are now part of Austria include Nickelsdorf, Tadten, Neusiedel-am-See, Jois, Zurndorf, Deutsch Jahrndorf and half of Pama, Rust, Purbach and Stinkenbrunn.

 

  The Bőssings refused to give up their claim and continued to complain to the courts to get them back.  They provided badly needed money to Emperor Frederick III (1446-1493) and the Domain was given back to them.

 

  Upon the death of the last Bőssing heir, Louis II, gave the Domain to his wife Maria, the sister of the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I.  Queen Maria appointed Stephen Amade von Vadony as commander of the fortress of Ungarisch Altenburg.  Following the death of Louis II at Mohács, Ferdinand I confirmed that the Domain was the personal possession of his sister Maria in 1527.  It was now an Imperial holding.  During the Turkish occupation of Hungary the Habsburgs were powerless to avoid making concessions.  The administration of the Domain was left in the hands of an Imperial agent, one of whom was Karl von Harrach.  On October 7, 1619 he was installed as commander of the fortress.  In 1621 Emperor Ferdinand sold him the Domain for 302,000 Gulden.  Count Nikolaus Pálffy purchased the villages of Zurndorf, Nickelsdorf, Ragendorf, Strasssommerein, Kaltenstein and Pallersdorf for 70,000 Gulden.

 

  In 1648 the new owner, the Paladin of Hungary,  Count Janos Draskovics, paid off the remaining mortgage.  He would be in possession of the Domain for the next 24 years.  The Emperor then traded some other property to regain the Domain as an Imperial holding.  During the reign of Leopold I the second Turkish invasion occurred.  The commander of the Imperial Royal Army was Charles of Lorraine.  The future of the Habsburg dynasty hung in the balance facing this new Turkish threat but the Domain would remain in the hands of the Habsburgs well into the 20th Century.

 

The Communities in the Heideboden

 

  After the Turkish conquest of most of Hungary, the Heideboden was devastated and much of the population fled into Austria only to return later.  In 1566 St. Peter still had twenty-eight surviving families, while in St. Johann there were forty-one families.  After the battle at Mohács in 1526 Lutheranism spread rapidly among the Heidebauern.  Many of the bishops were powerless to oppose the Lutheran preachers.  Many of the estate owners and nobles were patrons and supporters of the new faith and assisted in its spread throughout Western Hungary.  In addition to the preachers there were merchants and traders who eagerly spread the Lutheran faith among the local population.  By 1557 two thirds of Hungary’s population had turned to Lutheranism.  The entire Heideboden had gone over to Lutheranism by 1540-1550.  The Heideboden would remain Lutheran for an entire century.  Through the efforts of Count Paul Esterházy and Bishop Georg Szechenyi the Counter Reformation was launched and the Heideboden was re-catholicized with the assistance of the Jesuits, Augustinians, the County officials and troops whenever it was felt necessary when they were met with resistance.

 

  There was also a constant new stream of settlers from the Steiermark consisting of farmers, townspeople and artisans when Lutheran worship was forbidden there.  Many of them fled to what would become the Burgenland.  Lutheran Swabians from around Lake Constance arrived in Apelton, Illmitz, Pamhagen, Wallern and Kaltenstein.  Lutheran exiles from Salzburg settled in St. Johann, St. Peter, Andau and Zanegg.  The population losses that had been incurred in the past were replenished.

 

  By 1890 there were twenty-eight large villages and 32 smaller ones in the Heideboden with a population of 85,000.  There were 55,000 Germans, 21,000 Magyars and 9,000 Croats.  Wieselburg (Moson) County was the only county in Hungary where the Germans formed the majority of the population.

 

  The following is a typical report of the experience of the German population in the Heideboden over the centuries given by Simon Muhr, a Lutheran from Strassommerein:  “In the year 1683 on July 2nd we were driven from our homes by the Turks.  We were in flight for twelve weeks and three days and then we returned only to find great devastation where once our homes had stood…”

 

The History of St. Johann and St. Peter

 

  On the basis of some historical evidence it appears that St. Johann was first established after the Mongol invasion.  There are references to a German village situated between Halbturn and the present village in 1267.  No information about its name is available.  In a letter to King Bela IV of April 1, 1267 the bishop of Raab reports that a stone church had been built in this village that year.  Village lore suggests that this village was destroyed by fire and that the inhabitants moved further to the south and built another church in what is now St. Johann.  A Hungarian map from 1296 indicates that there was a Mosonszentjános on the present-day site.  The first documented mention of St. Peter is in a tax list that is dated 1552.

 

  In 1687 the records indicate that in both communities the people were very poor and had to pay taxes toward the liberation of Hungary from the Turks.  On November 6, 1711 half of St. Johann was destroyed by fire.  Taxes were always on the increase.  If a peasant left the service of his lord he had to pay a fee to cross the village boundary for himself, any livestock he took with him as well as fodder, crops and any wagons.

 

  In 1705 the military government ordered that the timbered defensive walls be rebuilt around Ungarisch Altenburg.  The villages were assessed a tax.  St. Johann had to provide one hundred men and St. Peter sixty to provide five days of labour.

 

  The villages also had to provide for quartering and billeting troops.  In 1706 they had to provide provisions for an entire regiment.  At the time of Kurucz rebellion three cavalry regiments were stationed in the villages.  The conditions of the peasantry were deplorable.  The population was reduced resulting from various causes.

 

  The owner of the Domain was Maria Theresia the Empress.  In 1763 she gave the Domain of Ungarisch Altenburg to her daughter Maria Christina.  There were repeated fires and famines as well as epidemics both in terms of the population and the livestock.  The heaviest burden imposed on the villagers was the quartering of Austrian troops.

 

  In 1767 there were 188 families in the twin village:  1,134 persons; 249 women, 245 men and 364 boys and 276 girls.  All of the inhabitants were Roman Catholic.

 

Religious Life

 

  At one point in the life of St. Johann a Lutheran and Roman Catholic congregation shared a church building and cemetery.

 

  The Council of Trent 1562-1563 identified the need for canonical visitations to all the parishes in order to determine  true Catholic doctrine was being taught and preached and to strengthen it where it was found wanting.  Since the bishop could not personally visit every parish annually he sent a representative “visitor” on his behalf which became a common practice throughout Europe at the time.  The organizational and administrative affairs of the parish would be in the foreground during the visitation.  But the deepening of faith and correction of errors were a major agenda item during the period of the Counter Reformation in the 17th Century in Hungary.

 

  The canonical visitation in Wieselburg County in 1659 was carried out by Archdeacon Martin Szily from Komorn on behalf of Bishop Georg Szeczeny of Győr.  He visited St. Johann on March 10, 1659 when Count Draskovics was the feudal lord.  The name of the parish was St. John the Baptist.  He reported:  “The church is small and circular in form like a heathen temple! and it is not consecrated!  There is a stone tower with two bells which many not be consecrated either.  There is also a clock that the schoolmaster keeps in repair.  There is a wooden altar and two side altars.  The baptismal font is of stone.  There are pictures above all of the altars.  The roof of the church needs to be repaired as well as the wall around the cemetery.  The congregation has no source of outside income and the upkeep is provided jointly by the Catholic and Lutheran congregations.  There are a few German books available in the church.”

 

  He continues:  “The inhabitants of the village are all Germans and obstinate Protestants with the exception of two major households, sixteen cotters and several day labourers, hired hands and maids some 150 persons in all.  Johann Eberhard Vogell is the secular priest serving here has been properly ordained but has not been installed by the bishop.  The rectory is in pitiful condition especially when it comes to the roof.  The upkeep of the rectory is the joint responsibility of the Catholic and Lutheran congregation and its repair is planned for next summer.  The income of the parish is 104 Gulden.  Half is given to the priest and the other half to the Lutheran preacher.”

 

  “The school is maintained with the help of the filials in St. Peter and Andau.  Nothing has changed in the school since the visitation of 1648.  All of the pupils are Roman Catholic.  The school income is divided between the teacher and the Lutheran schoolmaster.  Count Nikolaus Drastovics, the feudal landlord, is accountable for these arrangements.”

 

  As a representative of the bishop, Szily also represented Count Draskovics and carried out a “secular” visitation on his behalf of the Lutheran congregation in St. Johann.

 

  He indicates:  “In 1659 the Lutherans built a church from the ground up.  It has all of the amenities.  The altar is made of wood and is embossed with gold.  The foundation of the altar is made of stone, the choir is made of wood, wooden candlesticks and a baptismal font made of stone.  The entire church is furnished in the manner of the heretics.  (translator’s note: pews had been installed).  The tower is of stone construction and there are two bells.  The Lutherans do not have a cemetery of their own but use the same one as the Catholics.”

 

  “The Lutheran preacher (translator’s note:  a term of derision used to deny the validity of their ordination) is Kaspar Kegelly.  He lives in St. Johann and receives an income of 104 Gulden from the filial in St. Peter and Andau.  He has two acres of land that he works himself and a meadow.  Every third Sunday he goes to Andau and holds services there in a farmer’s house.  He has a very nice parsonage; the upkeep is the responsibility of his congregation.”

 

  “There is a Lutheran school and a schoolmaster, Jakob Fabian, who teaches the children according to the usage of the Lutherans.  He receives 25 denars per pupil.  The upkeep and operation of the school is the responsibility of the Lutheran congregation. He also serves as the organist and bell ringer.”

 

  The Archdeacon also carried out a visitation in St. Peter’s and reported the following in part:  “The small church serves both a Roman Catholic and Lutheran congregation and the Roman Catholic priest says mass here on the 4th Sunday of the month.  The residents of St. Peter’s are all Germans.  Among the landowning farmers the largest majority of them are Lutherans.  The cotters and day labourers are more or less Catholic.  They number about 175.  The parish of St. Peter’s pays the parish 62 Guilden and 8 Kreutzer.  Half of it goes to the Lutheran preacher.  There is no school in St. Peter.”

 

  There would be another canonical visitation in Wieselburg on May 23, 1680 and this time the visitor is Archdeacon Kusmics.  He notes:  “The description of the church as provided in 1659 is accurate except that the side altars dedicated to St. Johan the Baptist are gone!”  Later in his report when he takes inventory of the furnishings and such he remarks:  “The silver chalice was returned to the church in response to the threats that I issued.  It had been hidden in the house of one of the inhabitants of village at the time that the church had been taken over from the Lutherans.  The local Richter (mayor) Michael Lang made the arrangements for its return.  (translator’s note:  the chalice was the symbol of Lutheranism in Hungary and still is today).”

 

The 20th Century

 

  After the First World War all positions of importance in the community such as the notary, teacher, priest, druggist, postmaster were filled by Magyars only.  Their task was to assist in making Magyars out of the local inhabitants.

 

  In the drug store no one was allowed to speak German.  Whoever spoke German was served in a rude manner.  Upwards of 85% of the older generation could not speak Hungarian.  Tickets at the railway station had to be ordered in Hungarian or they could not be obtained.  None of the civil servants knew a word of German.  The postmistress in St. Johann often brought that to the people’s attention saying, “Here one must speak Hungarian.”  That was ironic because she was of German origin herself, a Weber from Donnerskirchen.  Above all the priests set out to Magyarize their flock and fought every attempt to maintain old customs and traditions of the Heidebauern at every turn.

 

  Membership and regular participation in the Levente, a paramilitary organization in which males from fourteen years up participated weekly was compulsory.  To miss muster any week resulted in imprisonment.

 

  On June 30, 1940 the Bund was organized in St. Johann.  Young men from the age of fifteen to twenty-six years made up 90% of its membership.  On November 24, 1940 the Bund was organized in St. Peter.

 

  Forty to fifty of the inhabitants of the village joined in the evacuation in 1945 as the Red Army approached.  On Sunday, Easter Day, April 1, 1945 Russian troops occupied the village at 5:00 a.m. in the morning.  The population, mostly the elderly, women and children hid in their cellars.  Houses were robbed and plundered.  Women of all ages were raped.  One old man was shot for refusing to hand over his radio.

 

  In November of 1945 as “new settlers” arrived from all over Hungary the German populations in Gahling, Kaltenstein, Ragendorf, Strasssommerein and Karlburg were interned in Zanegg under terrible conditions.  On December 24th “new settlers” arrived in St. Johann and St. Peter and the German population were thrown out of their houses into the streets in the bitter cold and force marched to Zanegg.  Some of the inmates in the camp began to flee across the border into Austria seeking refuge in the Burgenland as their ancestors in the past had done over the centuries.

 

  Contemporary Hungarians refer to the expulsion of the Germans from Hungary as a re-settlement and not a deportation or expulsion.  The Hungarians of Slovakia arrived in Hungary with all of their livestock and belongings and were not packed into cattle cars like the German expellees were soon to be.

 

  Four weeks after the Potsdam Conference the village of Zanegg in the Heideboden was set up as an assembly camp for the Germans living in Wieselburg County.   For a start the residents of Kaltenstein were brought to Zanegg in August 1945.  They had not come far.  They were not questioned with regard to their political involvements.  They were forced on waiting wagons carrying only their personal necessities.  The sick were tossed on the wagons and in Zanegg they were divided up among the families living there.

 

  In September the populations of Maria Gahling arrived in Zanegg.  Up until winter the vast majority of the populations of Kimling, Ragendorf, Karlburg, Strasssommerein, St. Johann, St. Peter and Moson itself were sent to Zanegg.  All of the houses were packed with people, four to five families in each home.

 

  Police occupied and guarded the village.  The food among the internees dwindled rapidly.  Many rooms were unheated; the old and very young suffered from the cold.  There were few young men, most of them had been dragged off to Győr, while others who returned home after being released as prisoners of war fled to Austria.  The old men were taken to bring in the hay.  Many of them returned home badly beaten with black eyes and facial bruises.  The Zanegg Ghetto would become worthy of its name.

 

  The cattle car convoys that would take them to Germany were a welcome relief.  The expulsions began on April 7, 1946 with the reading of the names of those families and individuals who were to be affected.  The first railway convoy left on April 12th followed by others on the 14th, 17th and 19th.

 

  Later in 1951 when the returning Hungarian prisoners of war being held in Russia arrived in Budapest in the East Station, all of them had to disembark from the train and the German Hungarians (as they were now called) were separated from the others and put under guard by heavily armed Hungarian Secret Police officers at a nearby camp in Tolonc.  After many weeks and countless interrogations all of the German Hungarians were sent to the Tiszalok labour camp, including forty-four young men from St. Johann and St. Peter.  They would work on the construction of a hydro electric dam on the Tisza River for the next four years under appalling conditions before being released and sent to Germany.

 

 

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