Danube Swabians

Danube Swabians


 The Danube Swabians (About this sound Donauschwaben) is a collective term for the German-speaking population who lived in the former Kingdom of Hungary, especially alongside the Danube River valley. Because of different developments within the territory settled, the Danube Swabians cannot be seen as a unified people. They include the Germans of Hungary, Satu Mare Swabians, the Banat Swabians, and the Vojvodina Germans in Serbia's Vojvodina who called themselves Schwowe, and Croatia's Slavonia (especially in Osijek region). The Carpathian Germans and Transylvanian Saxons are not included within the Danube Swabian group.


Beginning in the 12th century, German merchants and miners began to settle in the Kingdom of Hungary at the invitation of the Hungarian monarchy (see Ostsiedlung). Although there were significant colonies of Carpathian Germans in the Spiš mountains and Transylvanian Saxons in Transylvania, German settlement throughout the rest of the kingdom had not been extensive until this time.

During the 17th-18th centuries, warfare between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire devastated and depopulated much of the lands of the valley, referred to geographically as the Pannonian plain. The Habsburgs ruling Austria and Hungary at the time resettled the land with people of various ethnicities from the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs including Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Germanic settlers from Swabia, Hesse, Franconia, Bavaria, Austria, and Alsace-Lorraine. However, despite their origin, they were all referred to as Swabians by their neighbor Serbs, Hungarians, and Romanians. The Batschka settlers called themselves Schwoweh, the plural of Schwobe in the polyglot language that evolved there. The majority of them went on board in Ulm Swabia and came to their new destination on the Danube with a kind of boats called Ulmer Schachteln.


The first wave of resettlement came as the Ottoman Turks were gradually being forced back after their defeat at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The settlement was encouraged by nobility whose lands had been devastated through warfare, and by military officers including Prince Eugene of Savoy and Claudius Mercy. Many Germans settled in the Bakony (Bakonywald) and Vértes (Schildgebirge) mountains north and west of Lake Balaton (Plattensee), as well as around the town Buda (Ofen), now part of Budapest. The area of heaviest German colonization during this period was in the Swabian Turkey (Schwäbische Türkei), a triangular region between the Danube river, Lake Balaton, and the Drava (Drau) River. Other areas settled during this time by Germans were Pécs (Fünfkirchen), Satu Mare (Sathmar), and south of Mukachevo (Munkatsch).

After the Banat area of Central Europe was annexed from the Ottomans by the Habsburgs in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718), plans were made to resettle the region, which became known as the Banat of Temesvár (Temeschwar/Temeschburg), as well as the Bačka (Batschka) region between the Danube and Tisza (Theiss) rivers. Fledgling settlements were destroyed during another Austrian-Turkish war (1737–1739), but extensive colonization continued after the suspension of hostilities. The resettlement was accomplished through private and state initiatives. After Maria Theresa of Austria assumed the throne as Queen of Hungary in 1740, she encouraged vigorous colonization on crown lands, especially between Timişoara and the Tisza. The Crown agreed to permit the Germans to retain their language and religion (generally Roman Catholic). They steadily redeveloped the land: drained marshes near the Danube and the Tisza, rebuilt farms, and constructed roads and canals. Many Danube Swabians served on Austria's Military Frontier (Militärgrenze) against the Ottomans. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary.

The Napoleonic Wars ended the large-scale movement of Germans to the Hungarian lands, although the colonial population increased steadily and was self-sustaining through reproduction. Small daughter-colonies developed in Slavonia and Bosnia. After the creation of Austria-Hungary in 1867, Hungary established a policy of Magyarization whereby minorities, including the Danube Swabians, were induced by political and economic means to adopt the Magyar language and culture.

Beginning in 1893, Banat Swabians began to move to Bulgaria, where they settled in the village of Bardarski Geran, Vratsa Province, founded by Banat Bulgarians several years prior to that. Their number later exceeded 90 families. They built a separate Roman Catholic church in 1929 due to conflicts with the Bulgarian Catholics. Some of these Germans later moved to Tsarev Brod, Shumen Province, together with a handful of Banat Bulgarian families, as well as to another Banat Bulgarian village, Gostilya, Pleven Province.

Between 1941 and 1943, a total of 2,150 ethnic German Bulgarian citizens were transferred to Germany as part of Adolf Hitler's Heim ins Reich policy. These included 164 Banat Swabians from Bardarski Geran and 33 from Gostilya.[1]

After the treaties of Saint-Germain (1919) and Trianon (1920) following World War I, the Banat was divided between Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary; Bačka was divided between Yugoslavia and Hungary; and Satu Mare went to Romania. Before World War II, the biggest populations of Germans in the Vojvodina were at Hodschag, Werbass, and Apatin.

Although precise figures are not available, scholars believe that there may have been approximately one million ethnic Danube Swabians in the region before World War II. In 1935 the scholar Paul Gauss asserted there were around 500,000 in Hungary, 450,000 in the Vojvodina, and between 230 to 300,000 in the Romanian Banat area, with an additional 60,000 in Satu Mare (Sathmar).


The Danube Swabian culture is a melting pot of southern German regional customs, with a large degree of Balkan and mostly Hungarian influence. This is especially true of the food, where paprika is heavily employed, which led to the German nickname for Danube Swabians as Paprikadeutsche. The architecture is neither Southern German nor Balkan but is unique to itself. The houses, often made of stamped mud and straw walls or mud bricks, are ubiquitous throughout the Vojvodina region. Georg Weifert was responsible for developing one of the most famous beers in the Serbia/Yugoslavia region and later became an important banker and politician in Belgrade (his image currently features on the Serbian 1000 dinar note).


The Danube Swabian language is only nominally Swabian (Schwowisch in the Bačka). In reality, it contains elements or many dialects of the original German settlers, mainly Swabian, Franconian, Bavarian, Rhinelandic/Pfälzisch, Alsatian, and Alemannic, as well as Austro-Hungarian administrative and military jargon. Loanwords from Hungarian, Serbian, or Romanian are especially common regionally regarding cuisine and agriculture, but also regarding dress, politics, place names, and sports. Other cultures of influence include Serbian and Croatian, Russian (for communist concepts), Romanian, Turkish (Hambar), English (for football), and general Balkan and South Slavic loanwords like Kukuruts (corn) or "Grumbiere" {potatoes} [this is not accurate:'Grumbiere' derives from 'Grundbirne' (lit. 'Ground pears') and is common in Allemanic and Rhenish German dialects] B. The plural of loanwords is in most cases formed in the Danube Swabian way. Conjunctions and adverbs from the respective contact languages may be integrated as well.[16]

Many German words used by speakers of Danube Swabian dialects may sound archaic. To the ear of a Standard German speaker, the Danube Swabian dialect sounds like what it is: a mix of southwestern German dialects from the 18th century. Due to relative isolation and differing proximities to nearby German speakers (Austrians and Transylvanian Saxons), the language varies considerably, with speakers able to distinguish inhabitants of neighboring villages by the words they use for such things as marmalade (Schleckle being one variant), or by how many (usually Hungarian) loanwords they employ. Herman Ruediger, a German sociologist, reports that in his trips throughout the Batschka in the 1920s, he noted that Danube Swabians from widely separated villages had to use standard high German to communicate with each other because their speech was so different.[17]


As is the custom in Hungary, Danube Swabians often put the surname first, especially when writing, for example Butscher Jakob (see photo of memorial). Danube Swabian villages tend to have relatively few family names as the villagers stem from only a few families, but usually the same family name does not appear in more than a couple of villages, meaning that there are many Danube Swabian family names. The names come from throughout southern Germany, from assimilated Hungarians, and occasionally from Balkan and Italian origins. There are usually no middle names, but often double first names, if a distinction can be made. The variety of first names is few, since children were usually named after grandparents or godparents. Popular names for women include: Anna, Barbara, Christina, Katharina, Magdalena, Maria, Sophia, Theresia, and many two-name combinations thereof. Popular names for men include: Adam, Christian, Friedrich, Georg, Gottfried, Heinrich, Jakob, Johann, Konrad, Ludwig, Mathias, Nikolaus, Peter, Philipp (or Filipp), and Stefan (or Stephan). With so few names in villages, other modifiers or nicknames were almost always used to distinguish people. The modifiers were often size related (e.g., "Kleinjohann" or "Little Johann"), occupation related, or location related (usually by prefixing the streetname).

Coat of arms

A coat of arms designed in 1950 by Hans Diplich has been adopted by many Danube Swabian cultural organizations. Its blazon is "Parti per fess wavy 1 Or, an eagle displayed couped Sable langued Gules; 2 parti per fess Argent and Vert, a fortress Argent roofed and turreted Gules surmounted with Sun and Crescent waning Or; chief wavy Azure".

It depicts:



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