The source of the following information comes from a monograph published in 1975 under the title: Beiträge zur Volkskunde der Ungarn Deutsche and is my translation and summary of the contents. 

  There are five communities in the County with substantial German populations and include:  Jula (Gyula), Elek, Mezöbereny, Almaskamaras and Gyoma.


  In 1920 a total of 12,000 persons in these communities claimed German as their mother tongue.  This accounts for 2 ½ % of the German population of Hungary at that time.  For this reason it was often overlooked because of the larger German populations elsewhere in Hungary.


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


  Békés County was occupied by the Turks from 1566 to 1694.  The population was drastically reduced because many were massacred, enslaved or fled from the region.  During the War of Liberation at the end of the 17th century and the Kuruz Rebellion which followed, the whole area was next to being uninhabited.  The former estates and land reverted to the Imperial Chamber in Vienna.  After 1710 there was the beginning of a slow growth in population that began with the return of Hungarian Calvinists who had fled the wars followed by the gradual movement of peasants and serfs from the northern counties back to the south.  In this movement there were Slovak Lutherans and more Hungarian Calvinists as well as Roman Catholics.  But there were also Orthodox Romanians who arrived from the eastern portion of the Great Plains.  In 1719 there were eleven communities in existence in the County but there were only 333 families in all.


  An important factor after the end of the Turkish rule that would play a decisive role in the development of the County was the emergence of private estates and the return of land owners.  The Habsburgs also gave land grants to foreign (mostly Austrian) landlord for services rendered to the Crown or in payment of their debts or for their military services.  Most of Békés County along with lands in Csongrád and Zarand, including Elek, were awarded to the Imperial Supply Commissioner Johann George Harrucher.


  Harrucher was an enthusiastic supporter of the Royal Government and was among the leading economic figures in the Empire.  He promoted mercantilism in terms of economic development and believed that his estates were only valuable if they were populated and developed.  In the interest of repopulating his estates he began to organize a planned settlement with people from within Hungary.  He simply followed the practice of other nobles and landlords.  Like other landlords he settled Slovaks in Szarvas in 1722, and additional Slovaks in Mezöbereny in 1723 and in 1724 he settled Romanians in Ketegyhaza.  He followed the practice of settling linguistic, ethnic and religious groups separately.


  Because Hungarian peasants were not permitted to migrate without their estate owner’s permission, Harrucher sought additional settlers from south western Germany.  The Royal Chamber in Vienna favoured bringing in German Roman Catholic settlers to protect and defend the Empire against “rebel Protestant” Hungarians.  This plan was put into effect by Sandor Karolyi of Szatmar in 1712 with the Emperor’s blessing and Harrucher now followed suit.


  He began with focussing on settling Germans in what would become Deutsch (German) Gyula, Elek and Mezöbereny.


  The first Germans to respond did so in 1723 and arrived in Gyula in the autumn having reached an agreement with Harrucher.  They were followed by another group in 1724. In all they numbered one hundred families.  They were Roman Catholics.  The contract they signed was significantly better than the ones the Slovak Lutherans in Szarvas and Mezöberney signed in 1722 and 1723 or the one the Hungarians already living in Gyula were offered.  As a result the Germans were not well received by the Hungarians among whom they settled.  In order to avoid conflict, Harrucher moved the Germans onto an island in the river bordering the Hungarian community and gave it its own administration and named it Nemet (German) Gyula.  It was totally separated from Hungarian Gyula by the river and only one bridge connected them.  The Hungarians outnumbered the Germans three to one in terms of population.


  The Conscription Tax List of 1735 reports that there were forty-one families living in Nemet Gyula.  Some of the original German settlers had moved elsewhere.  The growth in population was set back when the plague broke out all over Hungary in 1738 resulting in 249 victims in Gyula itself.  Franz, the son of Hurracher, brought in more settlers in 1743-1744.  Their number however cannot be estimated.  The County Conscription List in 1744 indicates that there were 160 heads of households in Gyula.  In 1764 there were 175 families registered living in the island part of the town.  According to the names listed about 70% of them were Germans.  The place of origin of these German families can only be surmised from the evidence provided that they came “aus einer Ortschaft names Aprin in Ober Deutschland.”   (From a community named Aprin in Upper Germany).  No such community exists.  Conjecture suggests that they came from the area around Wurzburg, Koblenz, Trier or the Rhineland.


  There were also two streams of settlers who arrived in Elek.  The first was part of the organized migration that Harrucher set in motion in 1724.  He established them in the uninhabited ruined town that had flourished in the Middle Ages.  Their number is not known.  In 1732 there were fifty families residing there.  In 1735 there were 55 families.  It was established as a strictly German settlement.  The plague struck in 1739 and there were 148 recorded deaths.  The second stream of settlers numbered sixty families.  Although no copy of the settlement contract exists it is assumed it reflected the same terms as the Gyula agreement including the right to migrate.  The places of origin of these two groups of settlers can be determined as follows.  The first group came from 90 different villages and the second group from 47 identified places.  They came from northern Bavaria, Franconia, Wurzburg and Bamberg.  The dialect spoken was basically that in eastern Franconia.


  Part of Harrucher’s planned settlement included the ruined village of Mezöbereny where he also brought German settlers.  There they joined Hungarian and Slovaks who had preceded them.  The Hungarians were Calvinists and the Slovaks like the Germans were Lutherans and the three groups lived together harmoniously.  It is possible to trace the migration of these German settlers from within the borders of Hungary from along the Danube and in Swabian Turkey which lies to the south of the Great Hungarian Plains.


  Mezöbereny was re-established by Slovaks in 1723.  The first known German family moved into the settlement from Guyla in the same year.  The first organized migration of German families into the community took place in 1725 consisting of eighteen families.  These families received an additional three year exemption from paying taxes unlike the Slovaks who were living there.  By 1760 only six of these original German families remained in Mezöbereny.  But in 1740 another twenty-one families had arrived who were joined by an additional twenty-seven families in 1750.  In documents related to the settlement written in 1760 the records indicate that thirty-two of the German families came from Germany while thirty-three others came from various counties in Hungary.  Even those who came from Germany had already been in Hungary for a decade before coming to Mezöbereny.  The places of origin of those who arrived from Germany in 1725 can be traced to Württemberg, Swabia, Saar, Hesse and Wesphalia.  The others came from Harta and Soltvadkert in Pest County.  Both of these communities had been settled a few years before with Germans who were said to be from Schwabenland.  Between 1740 and 1760 eleven German families migrated to Mezöbereny from Baranya County and ten families came from the Tolna.  The dialect that developed from these various backgrounds is closest to that of Mucsfa in Tolna County most of whose settlers came from the Odenwald in Hesse Darmstadt.


  The settlement taking place in Békés County began concurrently with the royally authorized settlement programme in the Banat under the direction of the Governor, Count von Mercy.  Because of the distance involved there was little or no contact between the two German settlement areas prior to 1745.  As a result they maintained contacts with the chain of German settlements that were emerging in neighbouring Arad County.  These too, in large part, were located on privately owned estates and established on the site of former communities and market towns and most of them like those in Békés had mixed populations.  Most of them had Hungarian, German and Romanian inhabitants, while others also included Serbs and Slovaks in their population.


  Szentmarton in Arad County was established between 1744 and 1746 by Hungarian and German colonists.  Harrucher brought the Germans from Upper Bavaria.  The parish that was formed was a filial of the Roman Catholic priest in Elek until 1749.  The inhabitants of Zarand came at the invitation of Harrucher but they moved elsewhere prior to 1751.  In 1740 the mainly German market town of St. Anna was founded on the estates of Jakob Sebies but included six language groups in its population.  In 1748 Baron Peterffy settled forty German Roman Catholic families from Schwabeneck and the Harz Mountains in Borosjenö.  After only a few years all of them had left except for thirteen families.  By 1830 there were twenty-one communities in Arad County with a German population which was estimated to be 17,000 persons at the time.


  In the last quarter of the 18th century organized settlement programmes were carried on by the Imperial government along with private landlords.  The Germans in Mezöbereny participated in this ongoing migration.  In 1788, thirty families from the village migrated to Liebling in the Banat in Temes County.  In 1823 there was another migration of families to Semlak in Arad County.  There were also twenty to thirty families from the Batschka and Mezöbereny who migrated later to Oroszhaza where they were quickly Maygarized.


  In 1830 the financier Samuel Wodianer of Pest and Vienna arranged for the settlement of German families from Mezöbereny, Semlak and Soltvadkert in Gyoma where they formed a Lutheran congregation.  This former Hungarian town now had a German quarter and they were allotted free house lots and gardens.  Their houses were built on two streets and involved some thirty to forty families.


  Landless German families in Elek founded a new village in the nearby Puszta in 1840 and called it Almaskamaras.  They contracted their land with Wodianer and the eighty families raised tobacco.   The eighty German families continued to be part of the Roman Catholic parish of Elek until 1847.  In 1852 the total population of the village was 1,022.  German families in Elek also moved to Ottlaka in 1860 and lived in their own quarter.


  In Mezöbereny from the beginning of the German settlement among the Hungarians and Slovaks they attempted to maintain their independence and identity.  The Slovaks were the largest group and accounted for 49% of the population in 1760; were reduced to 47% by 1805; 40% in 1864 and remained at 40% in 1880.  The Germans were second in number and the Hungarians were the smallest group.  They lived in different sections of the community and shared in the administrative council with equal representation for all three groups at all levels of governance.


  The Protestant churches played a leading role in the history of Mezöbereny.  Between 1725 and 1745 the Slovaks and Germans formed a single congregation, built a church together and were served by the same pastor.  In 1745 the Germans called their own pastor but continued to worship in the same church building with the Slovaks.  In 1788 the Germans built a church of their own.  The two Lutheran congregations maintained close relations with the Hungarian Reformed congregation.  The massive persecutions that had been unleashed against the Protestants in Békés County in the decades before the Edict of Toleration had strengthened the relationship between the two confessions in the joint struggle they had waged and became the source of solidarity in the life of the village.

   In 1802 the first Gymnasium (junior college) in Békés County was established in Mezöbereny and the students and teachers used all three principle languages.  

  According to the Tax Conscription List of 1840 there were twenty-nine German Lutheran families living in Gyoma living alongside of one another on two streets of the village.  They had a representative on the community administrative council.  A Lutheran congregation was founded in 1840 which was soon followed by the building of a church and the opening of a school.

One Response to “ German Settlements in Bekes County ”

  1. Barbara Hoffer says:

    I am looking for family that live in Almaskamaras with the last name of Durst. Do you possibly have any information?

    Thank you,

    Barbara Hoffer

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