Gyӧrkӧny in the Tolna


  The barren flatlands that would later become the site of Gyӧrkӧny were part of the land holdings of a nobleman from Western Hungary, Jónas Meszlenyi.  He was heavily involved in the administration of the Counties of Raab and Veszprem and served in the capacity of  vice-sheriff for over thirty years..  His economic ideas and his progressive attitudes led to the development and settlement of his estates as early as 1717 when he began recruiting settlers to reclaim the wilderness left behind by the Turks.  Some historians suggest a date as early as 1710 for Gyӧrkӧny’s actual beginnings.  These first settlers were a band of twelve Hungarian families from Raab and Veszprem Counties and four Heidebauern families from Wieselberg and Ődenburg Counties.  By 1722 the vast majority of the population were Magyars, 193 Lutherans, 13 Calvinists and 35 Roman Catholics.  The pastor serving the Lutherans was Georg von Barany who was to become the future Lutheran “bishop” of Swabian Turkey.


  There was a steady stream of settlers from the Heideboden who were later joined by the “new” Germans coming from Hessen later to be known as the “Swabians”.  This mixed ethnic-linguistic settlement would become entirely German-speaking in a very short period of time.


  Attempts at early regular church life among the Lutherans began in the spring of 1719.  The Hungarian settlers called Georg von Barany, then serving the Lutherans in Gyӧnk, to be their pastor.  The nationalities issue surfaced very early in the life of the community and the church.  In an attempt to reconcile their differences, Barany left with eight Magyar families in 1722 to found a new community and congregation in the neighbourhood at a site called: Szar Szentlorincz.  In the not too distant future it would become the “Vatican” of the Evangelical Lutherans in the stormy years that lay ahead.  Barany was succeeded by Pastor Stephen Tatay, a graduate of Halle University in Saxony.  Like Barany, he had been a student of Francke and was a banner bearer of the Pietistic movement that would sweep through the Evangelical Lutheran communities springing up in Swabian Turkey.  Tatay would serve in Gyӧrkӧny from 1723-1746.


  The newly established Lutheran congregations throughout the Tolna experienced extreme difficulties due to the restrictions imposed upon them  by the County officials and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  In most of their settlements the Bethaus (prayer house) was confiscated, boarded up or destroyed; the pastors and teachers were banished or went “underground”; and yet, strangely enough Gyӧrkӧny was spared all of that.  In fact, it flourished.  Primarily this was because of the friendly relationships between the local nobles, County officials and the pastors of Gyӧrkӧny.


  Whether by intention or design, the congregation made a practice of calling only pastors who were members of the lesser Hungarian nobility.  A group of nobles we would call the landed gentry.  It was because of the fact that they were members of the nobility and native-born Hungarians they could not be banished from the County or exiled from the country.  Gyӧrkӧny continued in this practice of calling pastors from the gentry class until the promulgation of the Edict of Toleration.  As a result, through its pastors, the congregation in Gyӧrkӧny was always in a position to play a leading role in the promotion and spread of Pietism throughout the Seniorat (Church District) and provided support to other nearby congregations who were without pastors or were experiencing great difficulty at the hands of Roman Catholic officialdom.


  Although Gyӧrkӧny had been established as a Heidebauern settlement they would eventually assimilate with the “Swabians” who settled among them.  The vast majority of these were Hessians.  The two groups would live separate lives for several decades.  They lived on their own streets.  Sat in their own separate pews.  Each maintained their own dialect, attire and customs until well into the 19th Century.  Many of the Heidebauern believing in the well-tested old adage “it is better to move than to switch” as their past history demonstrated moved on and participated in the establishment of Bikács which would remain a totally Heidebauern community up until contemporary times.  The majority of the Heidebauern in Gyӧrkӧny remained and became part of a prosperous Swabian community that would number over two thousand persons by the early 1940s.


  In the summer of 1944 the men of Gyӧrkӧny were forcibly drafted into the Waffen-SS because few Swabians throughout all of Hungary had answered the call to volunteer to serve in the German Army and the German “fatherland.”  Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, a country without a navy, had sold out the Swabians and handed them over into the custody of the Nazi government and the German military.  With the men no sooner off to war, the Red Army began its rapid advance from the south over running the Banat and the Batschka trapping hundreds of thousands of Swabians who were unable to escape the holocaust that was to come.  The Russians crossed the Danube into Hungary and began to move north…


  When the evacuations ordered by the Bund authorities, Hungary’s home grown Nazis, got underway, Gyӧrkӧny like most of the Swabian communities did not participate except for a few families.  For the most part these families were directly related to the leadership of the Bund or men who had volunteered to serve in the SS.  Russians troops entered the village in early December of 1944.  Under the pretext of ordering all able-bodied men and women to report for labour service in the district, the men and young women were marched out of the village, joining columns of Swabians from other nearby hamlets and communities.  Unknown to all of them and their families they were being condemned to slave labour camps in the Soviet Union.


  Several hundreds of them left in cattle-cars that were waiting for them at the railway station in Nagydorog.  Many came home sick and near death in the following years.  Others died in the camps never to return.  After 1947 the survivors ended up in the network of transit camps at Frankfurt-an-Oder in the Russian Zone of Germany along with tens of thousands of other Danube Swabians from Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia along with the Transylvania Saxons who had all shared a common fate because of their ethnic identity.  These young people would spend years in their attempts to be reunited with their parents.  Families.  Searching for their lost children.  Never finding their husbands who were still “missing.”


  None of them were allowed to go home.  Home.  The Heimat.


  When the implementation of the expulsion ordered by the Big Three at Potsdam took place in Gyӧrkӧny some 1,400 persons were deported and only 600 inhabitants were allowed to remain.  Those remaining behind included 200 persons who had gone into hiding or managed to escape the convoys as the winding columns of cattle-cars crossed Hungary into Czechoslovakia.  In small groups they returned “home” secretly.  Most of them on foot.  By night.


  There were three “shipments” of Swabians from Gyӧrkӧny as the Hungarian railroad manifest declares to this day.


  The following is a letter written by one of the expellees, whose name was on the A-List.  The first “shipment” of Gyӧrkӧny’s Swabians:


  “The A-List was posted on the door of the school.  You had two days to contest your inclusion on the list deserving expulsion from Hungary.  All such petitions could be placed with the village notary for a fee of eight Forints per person.  Many people were unable to pay the fee as they no longer had any money.  But the notary earned some 8,000 Forints for himself.  It was all really a sham.  They was really no way to get off of the list.


  Early in the morning, on Tuesday, September 2, 1947 a column of rattling Red Army trucks entered our village and under their captain’s orders, Hungarian policemen went from house to house and took the people they sought into custody allowing them two hours to pack all of their necessities.  We were taken  by the truckload to the railway station in Nagydorog.


  Here each of us was subjected to a body search by policemen.  They took all of our money, removed all of our jewellery, tore earrings from women’s ears, our wedding bands from our fingers even though the Minister of the Interior permitted each deportee two rings, one wristwatch, broaches, necklaces, earrings and 500 Forint.  The homes of all of the expellees were nailed shut as we left them for the last time.  We were told that if we returned we would have nowhere to stay.


  As we drove through our village for the last time, we saw the Telepesek (new colonists from Czechoslovakia) breaking into our vacated houses and stealing everything in sight.  While behind them came the government officials who had come to take inventory of our property.


  The convoy left Nagydorog at 3:00 a.m. on September 4, 1947.  We were all afraid we were heading for Russia.  On our knees in the dark cattle cars, men, women and children formed prayer circles as we pleaded with our Heavenly Father to spare our people that final horror and injustice.  For myself, and many others who had survived the labour camps it would have been a second sentence to Hell…


  But our Heavenly Father was faithful to us as He was to our fathers and mothers in the past…”


  Gyӧrkӧny shared the fate of 220,000 other Danube Swabians in Hungary but unlike the Swabian population, the Heidebauern who were included among them in the expulsion a much larger proportion of the Heidebauern were deported.  So ended for many of them a rich and tragic thousand year history in Hungary.


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