Banat Swabians

Banat Swabians

The Banat Swabians are an ethnic German population in Southeast Europe, part of the Danube Swabians, who immigrated over 200 years ago to the Banat, which had been left sparsely populated by the wars with Turkey. This once strong and important German minority has now become quite small, most of its members having moved to Germany and elsewhere as a result of the Soviet Union's actions during the World War II and again for economic reasons after 1990. An attempt was made to establish an independent Banat Republic in 1918, however the province was divided against the population's wishes by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. The greater part was annexed by Romania, a smaller part by Yugoslavia, and a small portion around Szeged by Hungary. []

Banat and the Danube Swabians

The Banat colonists are often grouped with other German-speaking ethnic groups in the area under the name "Danube Swabians". Besides the Banat, these groups lived in nearby western Bačka, in Swabian Turkey (present-day southern Hungary), in Slavonia, and in Sathmar. All of these were then under Austrian rule.

The colonists' origins and recruitment

The emigrants were encouraged to settle in the Banat by the Austrian government in the 18th century to create a frontier province against the Turkish empire. They were offered free land and other benefits. The one requirement was that they had to be Roman Catholic in religion. [] Most of the settlers came from Alsace-Lorraine, Austria, Bavaria, Franconia, and the Palatinate. A small group can be traced to Middle Germany. However, comparatively few came from the Swabian regions of what was then known as Further Austria. Thus, it is unclear how the group came to be called the Banat "Swabians". Presumably it is because the majority registered and embarked from the Swabian city of Ulm. They were then transported on the "Ulmer Schachteln" (barges) on the Danube to Belgrade, where they set off on foot for their new homes.

The colonists were generally the younger sons of poor farming families and saw little chance of success in their native lands. Under Maria Theresa they received financial support and long-term tax relief. Many of the earliest immigrants never married, since there were few women among them. Craftsmen were financially encouraged, as were teachers, doctors, and other professionals.

Some, coming from French-speaking or linguistically mixed communes in Lorraine, maintained the French language (labelled Banat French or "Français du Banat") as well as a separate ethnic identity for several generations. [ [ Smaranda Vultur, De l’Ouest à l’Est et de l’Est à l’Ouest : les avatars identitaires des Français du Banat, Texte presenté a la conférence d'histoire orale "Visibles mais pas nombreuses : les circulations migratoires roumaines", Paris, 2001] ]

Beginning in 1893, Banat Swabians began to move to Bulgaria, where they settled in the village of Bardarski Geran, Vratsa Province, founded earlier by Banat Bulgarians. Their number eventually exceeded 90 families, and they built a separate Roman Catholic church in 1929 after disagreements with the Bulgarian Catholics. Some of these German speaking families later moved to Tsarev Brod, Shumen Province along with a handful of Banat Bulgarian families, to another Banat Bulgarian village, Gostilya, Pleven Province. Between 1941 and 1943, 2,150 ethnic German Bulgarian citizens were transferred to Germany as part of Hitler's "Heim ins Reich" policy. These included 164 Banat Swabians from Bardarski Geran and 33 from Gostilya.

Banat Swabians 1920-1944

The Treaty of Trianon of 1920 was the beginning of the end for the Swabians of Banat. The end of the Hungarian rule and the assumption of Romanian rule had some benefits. Towards the end of the 19th century, Hungary had undergone a period of Magyarization, during which it attempted to assimilate its minorities. Schools were required to teach only in the Hungarian language. Under Romanian rule, it was possible to have German schools for the first time since 1867. German culture flourished. Once again there was a German language theatre in Timişoara, and across the Banat more German newspapers were established. In 1921 a cultural association called the "Verband der Deutschen in Rumaenien" (Union of Germans in Romania) was founded. []

Economically, things did not go well. Black Friday and the subsequent financial crises of the 1930s hit the Banat hard. Many Swabians left the Banat to work in Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, never to return.

Also, after 1933, the Nazi Party was able to gain influence among the ethnic Germans of Eastern Europe, including the Banat Swabians. During the Second World War, many were drafted into the Romanian army and forced to serve on the Eastern Front. After 1943, a German-Romanian treaty allowed them to serve instead with the SS without giving up their citizenship. Towards the end of the war, some Banat Swabians also openly opposed the Nazis, who executed a number of them in Jimbolia (Hatzfeld).

Life after 1944

The Kingdom of Romania, formerly a German ally, switched sides and joined the Allies on August 23, 1944. Overnight, all ethnic Germans in Romania became potential enemies of the state. The approach of the Red Army caused a flood of refugees to flee for their safety to Germany.

A tragic fate awaited the ethnic Germans of the Yugoslavian Banat. After the Soviet occupation, mobs of Yugoslav partisans came to seek revenge against anyone who spoke German. Over 300,000 Banat Germans were killed and the remainder eventually forced the rest into exile. Entire villages were surrounded by barbed wire and turned into concentration camps. Yugoslav citizens of remote German ancestry had to assume a collective guilt for what Hitler had done to Yugoslavia. Banat Swabians were stripped of their Yugoslavian/Serbian citizenship and basic human rights. Farmers were forced to share their homes with the arriving waves of ethnic Serb refugees from the Balkans, and many Swabian women and children were taken to Siberia to work in mines. This marked the end of Banat Swabians in Yugoslavia. Today no more than 15,000 remain in the Serbian Banat. They had been were forced to adopt Serbian names and deny their origin.

The situation in Romania was not much better. By January 1945, the country was completely under Soviet control. The head of the Romanian Communist Party, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, was called a "Romanian Stalin". In early 1945, many Banat Swabians were expelled or deported to labor camps in the Soviet Union, where thousands of them died. Those who remained, as well as those who fled, lost their citizenship and their property was seized. In 1951 over a thousand German-speakers were displaced and forced to found new villages in the Bărăgan Steppe of southeast Romania. Most were allowed to return home in 1955.

Some families from both Romanian and Yugoslav Banat managed to flee to Germany in the immediate postwar years and were helped to settle in France as "Français du Banat" by French minister Robert Schumann. [ [ Smaranda Vultur, De l’Ouest à l’Est et de l’Est à l’Ouest : les avatars identitaires des Français du Banat, Texte presenté a la conférence d'histoire orale "Visibles mais pas nombreuses : les circulations migratoires roumaines", Paris, 2001] ] .

In the 1960s, however, the political atmosphere relaxed. The policy of disenfranchising and dispossessing the German-speaking minority was ended. Once again Banat Swabians could enjoy the rights of Romanian citizenship.

Ironically, it was at this time that the final departure of the Banat Swabians for Germany began. Discrimination had caused many to decide to emigrate. This happened among the Transylvanian Saxons as well. Even though the German families of the Danube and Banat Swabians had lived in the area for ten generations and more, and although their culture had developed quite differently from Germany's, they no longer trusted the Romanian government.

The Ceauşescu era

In 1965, Nicolae Ceauşescu came to power in Romania. At first he opened the country to the West, but by the end of the 1970s, he had become ultra-nationalistic and an opponent of all ethnic minorities. Under his rule, any German who chose to emigrate had to pay a bounty of more than a thousand marks (depending on age and education) for an exit visa. Nevertheless, Banat Swabians annually left in the tens of thousands well into the 1980s. An economic crisis, as well as increased persecution of minorities - which included a village destruction project, caused 200,000 to flee Romania during that time. []

The "bleeding" after the fall

After Ceauşescu's fall in 1989 and German Reunification in 1990, almost all the remaining Banat Germans in Romania left for Germany. The ethnic German population in Romania is greatly reduced and includes mostly older people, as it was mainly the young who left. Some emigrants are returning, generally entrepreneurs with economic ambitions or as part of a development project.

In Serbia and Croatia the situation is similar. In Hungary less than 62,000 Danube Swabians left remain [ [ Hungarian census by ethnic groups, 2001] , the category Germans including mostly, but not only, the Danube Swabians] , but they do have political representation. One city and several villages have German-speaking mayors Fact|date=February 2007. Explusion of the German minority took place in Hungary only between 1945 and 1948.

The current situation

Of bout 750,000 Germans who once lived in Romania, less than 75,000 remain today. Only in cities with large populations is there a functioning German cultural life, sometimes helped by Romanian inhabitants. Still, the "Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung" is a strong weekly paper, and the German State Theater in Timişoara ("Deutsches Staatstheater Temeswar"), subsidized by the Romanian government, produces good German theatre. In Timişoara and Arad there are German language secondary schools, attended mostly by Romanian students.

The Banat Swabians who emigrated to Germany are generally well integrated into the society in which they live. They keep contact through cultural organisations ("Landsmannschaften"). In Vienna and in southern Germany, where most Banat Swabians now live, they maintain their customs and dialect, and offer support to those who remain in Romania.

The ethnic Germans (including Banat Swabians) left in Romania are represented in politics by the DFDR or "Demokratisches Forum der Deutschen in Rumänien" (Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania).

Famous Banat Swabians

*Geza von Cziffra, film director
*Johnny Weissmuller (born Johann Weißmüller), American actor and Olympic swimming gold medalist
*Nikolaus Lenau, writer
*Stefan Jäger, painter


*The information in this article is based on and translated from that found in its German equivalent.
* German-speaking Europe
* Banat Swabians in Bulgaria: cite book |title=Banatskite bǎlgari: istorijata na edna malcinstvena obštnost vǎv vremeto na nacionalnite dǎržavi |last=Njagulov |first=Blagovest |year=1999 |location=Sofia |publisher=Paradigma |language=Bulgarian |chapter=Banatskite bǎlgari v Bǎlgarija |isbn=954-9536-13-0

External links

* [] about Nazi war-time executions in Jimbolia (Hatzfeld) (in German)

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