translated by Dr. Helmuth Kremling
The answer to the question "Who are the Danube Swabians?" requires more than one or two sentences. It is therefore the intention of this essay to portray the origin, development, suffering and search for a new homeland of this German-speaking ethnic group. Special consideration is given to this segment which eventually settled in the U.S.A.
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
At the beginning of the 19th century a united Germany and Austrian army, under the leadership of General Prince Eugene, defeated the Turkish forces who had controlled southeastern Europe for over 150 years. In order to make this territory agriculturally productive, German settlers were encouraged to colonize the frontier lands. Approximately 250 years ago, in 1722, the first wave of Germans, invited by Emperor Charles VI, arrived in an area bordered by the rivers Danube, Tisza, Maros and the Carphathian mountains.
During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa the second major immigration occurred, between 1763 and 1770; the third wave followed in 1782 and was encouraged by her son, Emperor Joseph II. Unlike our (American) pioneers who traveled westward on wagons, these pioneers journeyed toward the rising sun on Danube barges. Since the majority settled near the Danube, they were later named the Danube Swabians.
Most of these Swabians came from the western lands of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and from Austria. Many of the settlers never saw the fruits of their labors, because famine and plague swept through their ranks. Their pioneer spirit prevailed, however, and they not only established a Christian civilization but in the span of 200 years made this area one of the most fruitful in Southeastern Europe. It was even referred to as the "Breadbasket of Europe." By 1900 the Danube Swabians numbered over one million and had achieved a relatively high economic and cultural status.
After the end of the First World War and the consequent dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which the Danube Swabians were a part, the various territories of the German settlers were parceled out to Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The separated and weakened communities continued to progress but life became more difficult as the animosity of the majority in the countries toward the prosperous settlements of an ethnic minority increased. These feelings did not bode well for the future and, along with the suicidal policies of Germany several decades later, eventually sealed the fate of the Danube Swabians.
As a result of World War II and the advancement of communism deep into Central Europe, the chauvinism and intolerance of some Eastern Europeans and communists was directed cruelly against the mostly innocent and defenseless German ethnic groups in these areas. The unsuspecting Danube Swabians who could not flee in time or who did not give up their homes so readily often became the victims of the boundless hate for everything German at this time. Tito's reign of terror demanded tribute in the form of human life and 250,000 succumbed in his concentration camps. Many of the remaining Danube Swabians in Romania were deported to Russian work camps or to the Baragan Steppes of Romania where tens of thousands also perished. German settlers were forced to leave Hungary for Germany or Austria as a result of the Potsdam agreement.
Most of the Danube Swabians consequently have disappeared from Eastern Europe; only in Romania approximately 200,000 still do remain.
SEARCH FOR A NEW HOMELAND
Some 12 million refugees fled to Germany and Austria after the war and in this number half a million Danube Swabians are included who were crammed into refugee camps there their fortunes appeared bleak. The liberal immigration laws of the United States and Canada gave renewed hope and the opportunity to start anew as their forefathers had done again and again. Several hundred thousands came to America while smaller numbers settled in France, Brazil, Australia, Argentina, and other countries of the world. The largest number, of course, remained in Austria and Germany where they are now living in fairly good circumstances.
In many places of Canada and the United States population pockets of Danube Swabians are found which were begun by countryman who had arrived before the two world wars and who later helped immigrants settle in the same area of the New World. Although there are Danube Swabians in almost all the urban centers of the United States, the greatest concentration are found in the cities of New York, Rochester, Trenton, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles.
The energy and honesty of the Danube Swabians made them a sought-after work force. They took advantage of the freedom provided in heir new homeland and many have gained prominence in business and public service areas. The Danube Swabians in their United States have proved receptive to social progress and justice without becoming supporters and fellow travelers of radical groups. Education is very important to these new Americans, and not only are many young Danube Swabians studying at various colleges but some are also teaching at these higher institutions. Many of the graduates are, for example, successful engineers, physicians, etc.
As the Danube Swabians had maintained their language and traditions in Romania, they also strive to maintain their culture in this country, Their attempts have met with success largely because of the many pedagogical, social, and musical organizations which these immigrants have created in this country. These organizations continue to be very active and find supporters and participants in other German and American circles. Believing that unity of effort produces better results, the various Danube Swabian societies have formed a national organization which also works closely with a similar organization in Canada. They are grateful for the support they have received from the public at large but also from government agencies including prominent politicians. The representatives of the Federal Republic of Germany formerly also lent their valuable support and the Danube Swabians often welcome them as guests in their new homeland.
Credit: The Trenton Donauschwaben