The Early History of the German Settlements in Békés County


  This short study of the history of the German settlement of Békés County was contained in an article entitled:  Beiträge zur Volkskund der Ungarn Deutsche published in 1975 in Munich and is partially translated.


  There are five communities in the Békés Counity that have a large German population:  Jula (Gyula), Elek, Mezӧbereny, Almas Kamaras and Gyoma.  In a census of 1920 a total of 12,000 persons in these communities claimed German as their mother tongue.  This accounted for 2 1/2% of the entire German population in Hungary.  As a result it was often overlooked compared to larger German populations located elsewhere in Hungary.


  The dialect spoken is similar to that of the northern tip of the Banat in Romania and there are close family relationships between the two populations.  The Békés Germans were in a diaspora situation and were separated from compact German settlements elsewhere.  From the time of their arrival the Germans found themselves as a minority among Hungarians, Slovaks and Romanians and had to learn how to live together.


  Békés was occupied by the Turks from 1566 to 1694.  The population was drastically reduced during their occupation.  They were massacred, enslaved or they fled from the region.  During the War of Liberation at the end of the 17th Century and the Kurucz wars which followed the whole area was depopulated.  The lands now reverted to the Royal Imperial Chamber in Vienna.  A slow growth in population began in the years after 1710 and for some time it came in two major streams.  The return of the former Calvinist Hungarians who had fled the wars and the movement of serfs from the north to the south. In this second movement there were Lutheran Slovaks and Calvinist and Roman Catholic Hungarians.  On arriving they also met Orthodox Romanians from the eastern Great Plains.  As an example of the situation, in 1719 there were 333 families living in 11 communities in all of Békés County.


  An important factor after the end of the Turkish rule for the development of the County was the appearance of private estate owners.  The Habsburgs gave lands to foreign (mostly Austrian) landlords for services rendered to the Crown or in payment of their debts.  Most of Békés County as well as lands in Csongrád and Zarand including Elek were awarded to the Imperial Supply Commissioner, Johann Georg Harrucker, in 1720.


  Harrucker was an enthusiastic supporter of the Royal Government in Vieanna and was among the leading economic figures of the time.  He promoted mercantilism in terms of economic development.  His estates were only of value if they were populated and developed.  In the interest of repopulating his estates he began to organize a planned settlement with people living within Hungary.  He followed the practice of other nobles and landlords.  In 1722 he settled Slovaks in Szarvas, in 1723 more Slovaks in Mezӧbereny and in 1724 he settled Romanians in Ketéghyháza.  He followed the principle of settling linguistic, ethnic and religious groups separately.


  Because serfs were not permitted to migrate without their estate owner’s permission, Harrucker sought additional settlers from south western Germany.  The Royal Chamber favoured bringing in Roman Catholic German settlers to protect and defend the Empire against “rebellious Protestant” Hungarians.  This plan was put into effect in 1712 by Sándor Karolyi of Szatmar.


The Settlement of Jula, Elek and Mezӧbereny


  The first Germans to respond to Harrucker’s invitation did so in 1723 and arrived in the autumn of 1723 in Gyula after having reached an agreement with him.  They were followed by another group in 1724.  In all, they numbered 100 families.  They were Roman Catholics.  The contracts they signed was significantly better than the one that the Slovak Lutherans in Szarvas and Mezӧbereny had agreed upon in 1722-1723 or the Hungarians already living in Gyula.


  Understandably the Germans were received in a less than friendly manner by the resident Hungarians who had preceded them.  As a result, Harrucker moved the Germans onto an island in the river that bordered the Hungarian village and gave it its own administration as Német (German) Gyula.  It was totally separated from Hungarian Gyula by the river and only one wooden bridge connected them.  The Hungarians were three times more numerous than their German neighbours.


  The tax conscription list of 1735 reports there were 41 families inhabiting Német Gyula.  Some of the families had migrated elsewhere.  The growth in population was curtailed when plague broke out all over Hungary in 1738 resulting in 249 victims in Gyula.  Franz, the son of Harrucker brought in new settlers in 1743-1744.  Their number cannot be estimated.  The County tax conscription list in 1744 lists 160 family “heads” in Gyula.  In 1764 there were 175 families registered in the island village.  According to the names about 70% were German.  The place of origin of these German settlers can only be surmised from this evidence in the church records:  “aus einer Ortschaft names Arin in Ober Deutschland.”  (From a locale named Arin in Upper Germany.)  No such community exists.  Conjecture by researchers suggests the area around Würzburg, Koblenz, Trier and the Rhineland.


  Elek was also established by two streams of settlers.  The first was the organized migration carried out by Harrucker in 1724 consisting of Roman Catholic Germans to the unpopulated, abandoned, ruined town of the Middle Ages.  Their number is not known.  In both 1732 and 1735 there were 50 families.  It was founded strictly as a German community.  The plague hit in 1739 resulting in 148 deaths.  The second wave of German settlement consisted of 60 families.  Although no copy of the contract between the settlers and Harrucker has been discovered it is assumed it reflected the Gyula agreement including migration rights.  The places of origin of the two groups can  be determined as follows:  the first group came from 90 different villages and the second from 47 identified locales.  They came from northern Bavaria, Franconia, Würzburg and Bamberg.  The dialect they spoke was basically East Franconian.


  The settlement of Germans in Mezӧbereny was also part of the organized settlement plans Harrucker had for the ruined village.  Contrary to his own policy there were three nationalities:  Hungarians, Slovaks and Germans adhering to two different religious confessions: Calvinists (Hungarians) and Lutherans (Slovaks and Germans) lived together in peace and managed to thrive.  We can trace the migration of these German colonists within the borders of Hungary from the Danube and Swabian Turkey to south of the Great Plains.


  In 1723 Mezӧbereny was re-established by Slovak settlers.  The first German family moved in some time in the same year coming over from Gyula.  The first organized group of Germans arrived in 1725 consisting of 18 families.  These families received three additional years of exemption from taxes than the Slovaks had.  In 1760 only six of these families remained in Mezӧbereny.  Meanwhile in 1740 another 21 families arrived and in 1751 an additional 27 families.  In the records available from 1760 from among the Germans in Mezӧbereny, 32 families came directly from Germany and 33 families came from various Counties of Hungary.  Most of those from Germany had already been in Hungary for a decade before coming to Mezӧbereny.  Those arriving in 1725 and 1760 traced their origins to Württemberg, Swabia, Saar, Hessen and Westphalia.  The others who came in 1725 came from Harta (Kisharta) and Soltvadkert in Pest County.  Both of these communities were settled a few years before with Germans from “Schwabenland“.  Between 1740 and 1760 eleven German families migrated to Mezӧbereny from Baranya County and ten families from Tolna County.  The blended dialect that developed from their various backgrounds is closest to that of Mucsfa in Tolna County whose settlers originated in the Odenwald in Hessen.


Neighbouring German Settlements


  The establishment of settlements in Békés County began at the same time as those of the Imperial planned emigration carried out in the Banat by the Governor Count von Mercy.  There was little or no contact between these settlements and those in Békés either before or after 1745 due to the distance involved.  (100-200 kilometres).  The only way to maintain contact with language and culture was the development of a chain of German communities in neighbouring Arad County.  These too were largely part of private colonization efforts and were mixed in terms of their population:  Hungarians, Germans and Romanians and there were also Serbs and Slovaks on the scene.


  St. Martin (Szentmarton) in Arad was established between 1744-1746 consisting of Hungarian and German settlers.  Harrucker brought the Germans from Upper Bavaria.  The Roman Catholic parish was a filial of Elek until 1749.  The inhabitants of Zarand that Harrucker first settled remained there only until 1751 before moving on elsewhere.  Around 1740 the market town of St. Anna was founded with mostly German settlers on the estates of Jakob Bebics but its inhabitants spoke six different languages.  In 1748 Baron Peterffy settled 40 German Roman Catholic families from Schwanebeck and the Harz in Borosjenӧ.  After only a few years all of them had left except for 13 families.


  By 1830 there were 21 communities in Arad County with a German population that numbered 17,000 persons.


  In the last quarter of the 18th Century organized settlement by the Imperial government and noble landowners continued.  The Germans in Mezӧbereny participated in this.  In 1788 there were 30 families that migrated to Liebling in the Banat in Temes County.  In 1823 more German families in Mezӧbereny moved into Semlak in Arad County.  There were also 20-30 families from Mezӧbereny and the Batschka that moved to Oroszhaza where they were quickly Magyarized.


  In 1830 the Pest and Vienna Financer, Samuel Wodianer, settled German families from Mezӧbereny, Semlak and Soltvadkert in Gyoma.  This former Hungarian town now had a German “quarter” and they received free lots and gardens for their houses.  Their houses were all located on two streets.  There were about 30 to 40 families involved.


  In 1840 German cotters (landless day labourers) founded a village in the nearby puszta (open prairie) at Elek and called it Almas Kamaras.  Eighty families were involved in the contract signed with Wodianer and they raised tobacco.  Until 1847 the German population was part of the Elek Roman Catholic parish.  In 1852 the population of the village was 1,022.  In 1860 German families from Elek also moved into Ottlaka and lived in their own quarter of the village.




  From the very outset, the Germans living in Mezӧbereny with Hungarians and Slovaks attempted to maintain their independence and identity.  The largest group were the Slovaks who made up 49% of the population.  In 1805 they were 47%.  In 1864 they were 40%.  In 1880 they remained at 40%.  The Germans were second in number and the Hungarians were third.  They lived in different sections of the community and had their own administrative council.  Harmony reigned.  The three groups took turns in leadership with equal representation at all levels.


  The Protestant Churches played a leading role in the history of Mezӧbereny.  Between 1725-1745 the Slovaks and Germans formed a single Lutheran congregation and had a common church and pastor.  In 1745 the Germans called their own pastor but the church was still held in common.  It was only in 1788 when the Germans built a church of their own.  There were now two Lutheran congregations.  The Lutherans were also quite familiar with their Hungarian Reformed neighbours.  The extensive persecution of all Protestants in Békés County in the decades before Joseph II and the Edict of Toleration had strengthened the relationship between them in sharing in the same struggle that built up a sense of solidarity among the three nationalities and two religious confessions.


  According to the tax conscription list in 1840 there were 29 German families in Gyoma and 24 of the families lived in houses beside one another on one of their two streets.  They were given representation in the community administrative council.  A Lutheran congregation was founded in 1840, followed by the building of a church and opening of a school.  The crowning achievement in the life of Mezӧbereny was the establishment of the first Gymnasium (Junior College) in Békés County in 1802 in which the students used all three languages:  Slovak, German and Hungarian.

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