Germans of Hungary


Germans of Hungary

Germans of Hungary (German: Ungarndeutsche, Hungarian: Magyarországi németek) are the German-speaking minority of Hungary commonly called the Danube Swabians (German: Donauschwaben). Danube Swabian is a collective term for a number of German ethnic groups who lived in the former Kingdom of Hungary (today's Hungary, Romania, and several former Yugoslav republics). Hungary Germans refers to the descendants of Germans who immigrated to the Carpathian Mountains and surrounding regions, and who are now minorities in those areas. Many Hungary Germans were expelled from the region between 1946 and 1948, and many now live in Germany or Austria, but also in Brazil, the United States and Canada. However, many are still dispersed within the country of Hungary.


The immigration of German-speaking peoples into Hungary began in approximately 1000, when knights who came in the company of Giselle of Bavaria, the German-born queen of the first King of Hungary, Stephen I, entered the country.

Three waves of German migration can be distinguished in Hungary before the 20th century. The first two waves of settlers arrived to the Hungarian Kingdom in the Middle Ages (11th and 13th centuries) and formed the core of the citizens of the few towns in Upper Hungary and in Southern Transylvania (Transylvanian Saxons, "Siebenbürger Sachsen").[1]

The third, largest wave of German-speaking immigrants into Hungary occurred due to a deliberate settlement policy of the Habsburg government after the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire from Hungarian territory. Between 1711 and 1780, German-speaking settlers from Southern Germany, Austria, and Saxony immigrated to the regions of Southwest Hungary, Buda, Banat and Szatmár County. This influx of immigrants helped to bring economic recovery and cultural distinction to these regions. At the end of the 18th century, the Kingdom of Hungary contained over one million German-speaking residents. During this time, a flourishing German-speaking culture could be found in the kingdom, with German-language literary works, newspapers, and magazines being produced. A German language theater also operated in the kingdom's capital, Budapest.

Throughout the 19th century, a strong German industrial community developed, with glass-blowing, foundries, and masonry being particularly important. In response to this, the second half of the century saw the rise of a strong Hungarian nationalist political movement, whose purpose was to retain German economic power by assimilating the German-speaking citizens into Hungarian culture. As a mean toward this end, the German language was slowly replaced with the Hungarian language.

By 1918, at the onset of World War I, almost 2 million Danube Swabians and other German-speaking peoples lived in what is now present-day Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia and the former Yugoslav republics. Between 1918 and 1945 several factors greatly reduced the number of German-speaking residents in the kingdom so much that only thirty percent of the original German-speaking population was left after World War II. The number of Germans in the Hungarian kingdom was more than halved by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, as the kingdom was forced to make large cessions of its territory to neighboring countries.

In 1924, under the leadership of Jakob Bleyer, the Hungarian Germans' Peoples' Preservation Society (German: Ungarnländische Deutsche Volksbildungsverein) was formed to combat the forced dominance of the Hungarian language in schools and government.[citation needed] However, the Hungarian government proceeded with its Magyarization programs. In this situation, the German-speaking community of Hungary looked for foreign intervention in its language predicament.[citation needed] This fact was very interesting to Hitler controlled Germany, and the German and Hungarian governments used the status of German-speaking peoples within the Hungarian state as a political bargaining chip.[citation needed] In 1938 a National Socialist German organization was formed, The Volksbund der Deutschen in Ungarn under the leadership of Franz Anton Basch and it became the most influential political organization among the Hungarian Germans. In 1940 it became the official representative of the Hungarian Germans and it was directly controlled from Germany. The Volksbund had representatives in the Hungarian parliament until 1945.[2]

After the end of World War II, the German-speaking community in Hungary was seen as a scapegoat by Communists. The advancing Red Army, referring to "security reasons", deported about 600,000 civilians and prisoners of war from Hungary, of whom 40-65,000 were Germans.[1] On top of this, a great number of Germans, mostly members of Nazi organisations, who felt threatened by the prospect of being deported to Siberia, fled from Hungary as well (approx. 60-70,000).[1] Many Germans were sent back to Germany, first to the American-occupied area of Germany, and later to the Soviet-occupied area. Overall, approximately 220,000 Germans were expelled from Hungary. From that point on, the history of Hungary Germans focuses on two points, the fate of Germans who remained in Hungary, and the fate of the exiles.


The main factor that brought the expulsion of Germans from Hungary into focus during the Potsdam Agreement negotiations was the Czechoslovakian proposal of expelling the Hungarian-speaking population from Slovakia together with the Germans of the Sudetenland.[1] Eduard Benes demanded the expulsion of Hungarians alongside Germans from Czechoslovakian territory already in 1943 supported by the Soviet Union.[1] (He originally planned to expel 600,000 Hungarians, around 90% of the total Hungarian population at that time.[1]) Benes’ plan was not supported by the United States or Great Britain.[1] Due to the diplomatic pressure from the Soviet Union the treaty imposed the expulsion of Germans on Hungary.[1]

In Hungary, the Potsdam decision was the starting point of the expulsion process, whereas for Poland and Czechoslovakia the Allied Powers’ decision gave official recognition to the ethnic cleansing that had already been carried out.[1] Moreover, Hungary, unlike other countries, had never demanded a total expulsion of her Germans and did not start to expel the German speaking population after the end of the war.[1] The Hungarian Government rejected the idea of collective responsibility, for as long as it could.[1] The expulsion of Germans from Hungary was opposed by both the government and the population of Hungary.[1]

The expulsion of German-speaking people from Hungary began in 1946 in Budapest and continued until 1948. The Hungarian government was forced to take action by the occupying Soviet forces. All of their objections were rejected by the US and UK governments.

The Hungarian Parliament decided in the summer of 1945 that the German-speaking population must be expelled from Hungary, and they passed laws forming the framework of such a movement on December 22, 1945. They took effect under an executive order issued January 4, 1946. The expulsion orders affected anyone who claimed German nationality or German as a mother language in the 1941 Hungarian census, anyone who was a member of a German ethnic organization, former members of the SS, and anyone who changed their Hungarianized surnames back to their German equivalents. At first, expelled Hungarian Germans were sent to the American-occupied section of Germany, but this was stopped on June 1, 1946, because the Americans would not allow Hungary to pay its war debts by simply returning seized assets to the displaced Germans. Approximately 170,000 Germans were sent to the American zone of occupied Germany in this time period. Another round of expulsions began in August 1947, but this time the expelled Germans were sent to the Soviet-occupied area of Germany. Many times, Germans were expelled from Hungary because of forced evictions from their properties. This phase of expulsions was more haphazard and unplanned, as some villages of Germans were expelled, whereas others were left untouched. Most Germans removed in this round of expulsions moved to refugee camps in the Soviet-controlled German province of Saxony.




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