Mezöbereny lies in the center of the Great Hungarian Plain on the rail line from Budapest-Szaolnok-Arad-Bucharest, along the Körös River in Bekes County. Before the Second World War it had a population of 17,000, consisting of five nationalities and six religious communities: Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Reformed, Jewish, Baptists and Nazarenes.
The vast majority of the population, around 8,000 Slovaks and 3,500 Swabians formed the Evangelical Lutheran congregations, while 3,600 Magyars were members of the Calvinist Reformed congregation. From the inception of the community these three nationalities had good relationships with one another. It was only after World War One that any inter-marriage took place among the groups. The economic life of the town was centred on the products of a whole series of crafts and tradesmen, small businesses, some mills, two textile works and agriculture. It was one of the most prosperous communities in Bekes County through its industriousness and frugality.
The history of settlement goes back to the Stone Age. Traces of the Roman occupation are still evident. The first identifiable inhabitants were the Celtic people who were followed by other tribes moving westwards into Europe. The old Slavonic name Brnje became Bereny, and then in 1703 it received its present name: Mezöbereny. The entire area was often the scene of great devastation and successor settlements on the site were built on the ruins of the former.
From 1550 to 1561, not only Bereny but all of Bekes County became Evangelical Lutheran under the influence of the nobleman landholder, Count George of Brandenburg a personal friend of Martin Luther, and the uncle and regent of King Louis during his minority. ( See the last chapter in Children of the Danube) By 1563 the population in the area of Bereny numbered around 185 families, and 925 persons, among whom were some German settlers. There were trade ties between Bereny with Silesia and the German principalities.
With the fall of the nearby fortress of Gyula in 1566 the Turkish occupation of the area began. It would last for 130 years up to the Liberation of Hungary in 1695. During the Turkish occupation Bereny fell into ruins and its population enslaved, massacred or the survivors had fled into Western Hungary. It was in 1702 when 26 families returned to re-establish the community, and a year later in 1703 they cast a bell for their church tower which included an inscription identifying the community as: Mezöbereny.
This settlement again fell victim to raids from Serbian brigandes from 1703-1705 and was eventually destroyed. Until 1719-1722 the area was uninhabited and a virtual wasteland. The villages in the vicinity also disappeared entirely and were never re-established, although the names survived in folk memory.
Following the outbreak of the Kurucz Rebellion under Ferenc Rakoczi II in 1705 Bekes County fell into the hands of the Hungarian rebel forces and it was only in 1707 that Count Adam Vay who served the Hapsburgs drove them out of the area and a new colonization was undertaken. But law and order and a semblance of peace were only possible by 1719-1723, and the Hapsburg Charles VI decreed that Hans Georg Harrucker be granted the lands in the area, which was later confirmed by the Landtag (An assembly of clergy, nobles and free city delegates of Hungary) on May 3, 1723. He was the chancellor of the Imperial Court in Vienna and the lands were given to him for services rendered to the Emperor. As a result, he only paid the Emperor 13,000 Forint, since the Habsburgs personally owed him 24,000 Forint on their own as a result of loans. When he took over the “estates” on which there had previously been 63 communities before the coming of the Turks, only eleven of them still existed. Ten of them were Protestant and one was Roman Catholic. In the bill of sale, Mezöbereny was simply described as a Puszta (prairie).
But, already a year previously, the new owner had begun to recruit settlers for his lands. The first settlers came from the region of Szarvas and were Lutheran Slovaks. On July 23, 1722 the landlord contracted an agreement with them through their Lutheran schoolmasters who had accompanied them, Matheides Lorenz and Johann Grenercius, and they were given the following guarantees:
1) Free expression of their religion.
2) Construction of a grist mill, butcher shop, fishery and pub
3) Construction of a church and school and timber for that purpose
4) Freedom from paying the tithe (one ninth of all produce) for one year.
These original settlers were followed by others from all over Hungary, consisting of Slovaks and Magyars, as well as German Evangelical Lutherans from Hesse, Pfalz, Württemerg, Baden, the Upper Rhine and Alsace, all of whom were free peasants and were not required to provide the Robot (free labour to the landlord). Exactly where the German speaking population came from is virtually unknown in terms of information in the Church Records. Many of them had fled from Tolna County where they had originally settled, in order to avoid conversion to Roman Catholicism, many from the communities around Zomba. These settlers were joined by a few families from Klein Harta, most of who were Heidebauern from Western Hungary, while others came from Vadkert after originally settling there on their arrival from Germany. What was transpiring in terms of the migration of the Swabian Lutheran population was common throughout Hungary at that time due to the efforts of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to eradicate the development of Lutheranism in their territories. In spite of the diversity of the background of the German population in Mezöbereny they eventually spoke a common dialect that is associated with the Odenwald. The same dialect was spoken in Mucsfa in Tolna County, Jarek in the Batschka as well as Liebling and Semlak in the Banat.
In 1725 there were only eighteen German families resident in Mezöbereny, while in 1733-1734 the church records indicate over fifty family names. In 1754 under the leadership of Pastor Martin Wendik several of these families left for Nyiergyhaza and in 1784 some thirty families left to found Liebling in the Banat and in 1823 others left for Szemlak and Gyoma (1840) in the Banat.
For the first twenty years following settlement, the Slovaks and Germans shared a pastor and church building. They separated in 1745. Separate church records were instituted for the two congregations. The German records cover 1745 to 1771, and from 1771 to 1801 they were kept in Latin, and then later in Hungarian.
The first pastor of the German-speaking congregation was Rudolph Walter of Frankfurt who served there from 1747 to 1755. The church building was erected in 1769 and still stands to this day and serves the ongoing congregation.
In 1945 there were some 5,000 Swabians living in the town, but when the expulsions ordered at Potsdam by the Big Three took place, over 4,000 of them were deported from Hungary. The irony is that Mezöbereny was the most anti-Nazi and anti-Bund community in Hungary and the vast majority of the families belonged to the Loyal to the Homeland Movement to express their opposition to Hitlerism, and did so at great personal risk. But, they were all branded “enemies of the Magyar nation,” and sent to their ancestral homeland in cattle cars.