Germans of Hungary

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Germanic Hungarians (German: Ungarndeutsche, Hungarian: Magyarországi németek) are the German-speaking minority of Hungary sometimes called the Danube Swabians (German: Donauschwaben)in Germany, many of whom call themselves "Shwoveh". There are 131,951 Germanic speaking Hungarians (according to the 2011 census). 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, Slovakia, and several former Yugoslav republics). Hungarian Germans refers to the descendants of Germans who immigrated to the Carpathian Basin and surrounding regions, and who are now minorities in those areas. Many Hungarian Germans were expelled from the region between 1946 and 1948, and many now live in Germany or Austria, but also in Australia, Brazil, the United States and Canada. However, many are still dispersed within the country of Hungary.


The immigration of Germanic-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 Germanic migration can be distinguished in Hungary before the 20th century. The first two waves of settlers arrived to the Kingdom of Hungary 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 Germanic-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 end 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 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 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.


At war’s end, the Hungarian government had not yet decided how to treat its ethnic Germans. Opinions were divided with the Hungarian Communist Party and its ally, the National Peasant Party, calling for the expulsion of all Germans, whereas the major democratic party, the Smallholder Party, favored only deporting former Volksbund and Waffen SS members. In May 1944, the Government announced that there was no Swabian question but only a question of German fascists. They then resolved to deport former Waffen SS soldiers and confiscate the lands of the members of the Volksbund. Shortly thereafter, however, they did ask authorization from Moscow to deport 200,000 to 250,000 ethnic Germans to the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. As this figure clearly was much greater than the number of Volksbund adherents, the issue really became one of eliminating an unwanted ethnic group rater than one of eliminating only German fascists. The German population in Hungary, however, was never subject to the same brutal persecution and excesses as in Poland, Czechoslovakia, or the former Yugoslavia.

The initiative for including the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Hungary in the Potsdam "Big Three" conference, in August 1945, came from the Soviet Union. They together with the Hungarian Communist Party wanted to use the argument of the collective guilt of the Swabians to cover their real purpose for a radical land reform. In the Spring of 1945, Marshall Voroshilov demanded from the Hungarian government the complete expulsion of the Germans from Hungary. All those ethnic Germans who declared German as their native language were considered eligible for transfer. The Hungarian government estimated the number to be removed from Hungary to be from 200,000 to 250,000.

Certain categories of Hungarian Germans were exempted from deportation, most importantly those who had been active members of democratic parties or labor unions or had been persecuted by the Nazis for claiming Hungarian nationality. At a later date, in 1947, industrial workers in critical industries, miners, indispensable craftsmen or agricultural workers were also exempted, unless they had been members of the Volksbund or Waffen SS. Exemption Committees were established by the Government, but in reality they were under the control of the Communist Party. Thus it occurred, on occasion, that wealthy Swabians who had not been members of the Volksbund were expelled whereas working class Germans, now members of the Hungarian Communist Party, were exempted, even though they were previously members of the Volksbund.

Voices were raised in Hungary against these arbitrary expulsions. The liberal parties, particularly the Smallholder Party and the surviving democratic press, criticized the sweeping nature of classifying every ethnic German as a traitor. Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty (he was of Swabian origin), as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary and a fierce anti-communist, repeatedly protested the property confiscation and expulsion of all ethnic Germans. He addressed world public opinion, strongly condemning what was happening in Hungary. These protests had no effect, and with the increasing communist domination of the Hungarian Government, the opposition was gradually eliminated. (In 1949 Mindszenty was tried for treason by the Communist Government and given a life sentence. In the 1956 Hungarian revolution, he was given asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, from whence he was finally allowed to go into exile in 1971. )

The expulsions occurred in two phases: The first phase lasted from January to June 1946. After a short interruption in the summer of 1946, they continued until December 1946. The refugees were sent to the American Zone of occupation in Germany. The transfer of ethnic Germans began again in August 1947. Because the U.S. Government refused to take any more refugees into its zone, they were sent to the Soviet Zone of occupation. About 50,000 Swabian Germans were transferred to camps in Saxony from which they were later dispersed to other areas in the Soviet Zone. But by this time the majority of the ethnic Germans that remained in Hungary were anxious to leave, as living conditions for them had become unbearable. Ironically, in this last expulsion, the most skilled and industrious German workers were driven out of Hungary. This had a long-term detrimental effect on the Hungarian economy. The expulsions were completely discontinued in the autumn of 1948.

In total, 239,000 Swabian Germans were forced to leave Hungary. About 170,000 went to the US Zone in Germany, 54,000 to the Soviet Zone and 15,000 to Austria. It is estimated that in these expulsions about 11,000 ethnic Germans civilians lost their lives.

Those ethnic Germans who opted for Hungarian nationality in the 1941 census, who stated their native language as Hungarian and were completely integrated into Hungarian society, generally were able to avoid deportation. By 1948, with the communists dominating the Hungarian Government, the issue of nationalism was replaced by class warfare. Communist Party leader Rakosy stated that the remaining Swabians, mostly skilled workers, should be reintegrated into the Hungarian State. In October 1949 a general amnesty of all Germans was announced. Six months later, in May 1950, the expulsions were officially stopped, and all Germans who remained were given Hungarian citizenship. This created its own crisis among the residual German community in Hungary, for now they could not leave because they were Hungarian citizens.[4]

Treatment in Post-War Hungary[edit]

Things began to improve for minority groups, including the Hungarian Germans, under a program of economic liberalization called Goulash Communism. This movement, led by the then- General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, János Kádár, guaranteed certain economic rights to minority groups, as well as rights to practice their own cultures. In 1955, a new organization, the Association of Hungarian Germans (German: Verband der Ungarndeutschen), was founded. A major focus of the group was the teaching of the German language in Hungarian schools. Because of the government's position on German culture in the recent past, very little German was taught in schools at the time, and the group's organizer feared that "a mute generation" had been raised by the Hungarian school system. The group's organizers felt that the Hungarian German youth had a very poor command of the German language, including limited speech comprehension, which they found disturbing. The group met with success in the 1980s, when German gained status as a minority language, thus gaining legal standing in the Hungarian school system. The number of bilingual schools has continued to rise. In 2001, 62 105 people declared to be German [5] and 88 209 people had affinity with cultural values, traditions of the German nationality.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Expulsion of the German Communities from Eastern Europe at the End of the Second World War" (PDF). Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute. December 2004. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  2. ^ Randolph L Braham: A népirtás politikája, A Holocaust Magyarországon ISBN 963-7675-85-X
  3. ^ "Das verlassene Mägdlein. Volkslied aus der Zeit der großen Ungarnzüge im 18. Jahrhundert" in Deutsche Gaue Bd. IX (1908), p. 31. reprinted in: Daniel Häberle, Auswanderung und koloniegründungen der Pfälzer im 18. jahrhundert, 1909, p. 162, Franz Eichert, Der Gral, Volume 20, Issues 1-6, Fredebeul & Koenen, 1925, p. 384, Karl Strölin, Die Schwaben im Ausland, Württemberg, 1935, p. 51, Katalin Árkossy, Maria Mirk, Sprache und Gesellschaft eines ungarndeutsches Bergmanndorfes im Spiegel seines Liedergutes: Sprachgebrauch in Pilisszentiván/Sanktiwan bei Ofen, 1997, p. 8.
  4. ^ Ulrich Merten, Forgotten Voices; The Expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4128-4302-7 Pages 195,196,197,199,200,203
  5. ^ "18. Demographic data – Hungarian Central Statistical Office". Retrieved 2015-08-26. 
  6. ^ "18. Demographic data – Hungarian Central Statistical Office". Retrieved 2015-08-26. 

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