Germans of Yugoslavia

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The Germans of Yugoslavia (German: Jugoslawiendeutsche, Croatian: Njemački Jugoslaveni, Serbian Cyrillic: Немачки Југословени, Nemački Jugosloveni), are people of German descent who live in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Slovenia. The Germans of the former Yugoslavia include both Danube Swabians and Austrians. The largest German minority in the former Yugoslavia is found in Serbia.


Due to incursions of the Huns in Europe and the associated migration period in the 4th century, Germanic people migrated to the Danube and the Mediterranean as early as the year 375. The first Germans settled in areas of former Yugoslavia approximately 800 years ago. The majority of Germans in the area lived in the Danube basin between Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, and were known as Danube Swabians. The Danube Swabians developed their own distinct culture and dialect. There were most likely also German settlers on the Adriatic who were absorbed into the local population. Among the Danube Swabians, mixed marriages of Germans with Hungarians, Croatians, Serbians and Czechs were common.

To some degree, following the political chaos of the interwar years (compared to the Habsburg regime under which many had lived), the German-speaking population greeted the German Armed Forces in the 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia. In fact, a small portion of the male population joined the combat units of the German troops and the Waffen SS; most, however, were conscripted. After the Second World War, most of those belonging to the Yugoslavian-German minority were interned at camps and eventually expelled from the country. The majority went to Austria and West Germany. However, there were a number of people who stayed, because they were married to local partners. These people and their descendants were no longer officially considered a part of the German population.

Current situation[edit]

There are currently approx 8,300 people in former Yugoslavia who acknowledge some German heritage. Many residents actively practice their German cultural heritage, and some still speak the local form of the German dialect, Shwovish. This dialect is a mixture of old German from the eighteenth century with many Magyar, Serbian, and Croatian words, similar to what was spoken in Yugoslavia before the Second World War.


Further information: Germans of Croatia

In Croatia around 2,800 people identify themselves as part of the German and Austrian Minority, the majority of whom are Danube Swabians. The “German and Austrian Minority,” as they are officially called, holds a permanent seat in the Croatian Parliament (Sabor).


Further information: Germans of Serbia

The largest German minority in the former Yugoslavia is found in Serbia. The majority of the remaining population of German origin lives in the northern Serbia in Vojvodina, an area that also has a sizeable Hungarian minority. The Hungarian and Serbian populations also refer to them as Swabian as well. They are known as the Danube Swabians or Banat Swabians.

The Serbian census from 2002 records 3,901 Germans in Serbia, of which 3,154 in the province of Vojvodina. In December 2007 they formed their own minority council in Novi Sad, which they were entitled to with 3,000 voter signatures. The president, Andreas Biegermeier, stated that the council will focus on property restitution, and marking of mass graves and camp sites. He estimated the total number of remaining Danube Swabians in Serbia and their descents at 5,000–8,000.[1]

Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]

The first Germans here were Saxon miners from Translyvania and northern Hungary (modern Slovakia) in the late 13th century. They assimilated into the local Roman Catholic population, although some of their descendants (Sasinovic for example, son of Saxon) were there during the Ottoman conquest of the territory and are believed to have converted to Islam.[2]

More recent German immigration started here following the Habsburg occupation of 1878. Some agricultural colonists came from Germany proper but most were Danube Swabians from nearby Bačka. The first settlers came from Silesia and the Rhineland, and created a settlement called Windthorst near the Croatian frontier. After the 1888 visit by Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria an offshoot colony was established and named Rudolfstal. Protestant Danube Swabians set up Franzjosefsfeld in 1886. "The government looked favourably on these farmers and gave them tax concessions; and in 1890 is passed a special law on 'agrarian colonies', offering up to twelve hectares per family, rent-free for the first three years and then on a low mortgage which would end after ten years if they took Bosnian citizenship. Altogether fifty-four such colonies were established, with a population of nearly 10,000."[3]

Following the collapse of internal security during World War II the Nazis decided to evacuate the Volksdeutsche population from Bosnia and a treaty to this effect was signed on 30 September 1942. The Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VoMi) organised an SS commando from Belgrade under Otto Lackman and "...went from village to village, accompanied by the military. They found the communities already victims of partisan raids and even came under attack themselves. By the end of November, VoMi's commandos had evacuated some 18,000 Volksdeutsche from Bosnia."[4]

Areas formerly settled by Germans include:


There is a German-speaking minority in Slovenia of around 1,600 people, centred on Maribor (German: Marburg). They are Austrian in origin, and are unrelated to the other German minorities in Yugoslavia.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sretenovic, Stanislav and Prauser, Steffen, The Expulsion of the German-Speaking Minority from Yugoslavia (European University Institute, Florence), p. 56.
  2. ^ .Noel Malclom, Bosnia: A Short History (1994), pp.24-25.
  3. ^ Noel Malclom, Bosnia: A Short History (1994), pp.142-143.
  4. ^ Valdis O. Lumans, Himmler's Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German Minorities of Europe, 1939-1945 (1993)