poppy image  The Demise Of The Ethnic Germans poppy image
Of Hungary, Romania And Yugoslavia.

This is the story of the demise of the ethnic Germans of Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II. It is an abridged and revised version of an article that first appeared in the February 1991 issue of The Heimatbote, “The voice of the Danube Swabians in Canada and the USA”

We live in a region of the world where the majority of people are unilingual English-speaking, who depend solely on one source of information, a media that magnifies the news to reflect favorably on some groups, while denigrating or discrediting others. Truth and balance don’t seem to matter, and disinformation, omission and the double standard are the accepted norm.

Since very few are exposed to other points of view, and critical analysis is frowned upon, people tend to believe what they read in the papers, hear over the radio, or see on television. They find it hard to believe anything that have not read in the papers, such as the expulsion and extermination of the Danube Swabians in Southeastern Europe (1944-1948), an atrocity of major proportions which has been covered up for close to half a century, by the very media the majority assume to be free and reliable. In light of the above, it is high time to counterbalance the one-sidedness of news managers with some pertinent facts.

Not only in North America has there been a conspiracy of silence on this subject, but also in Germany, where every third person is a refugee from communist oppression. Children are taught about the “Holocaust” in school, but nothing of even greater atrocities committed against their own people, both during and after World War II. Even more incomprehensible, to me at least, is the fact that the few Danube Swabian periodicals published in North America, including this one (The Heimatbote) have ever broached the subject – at least not in English. Yet, they have found space for interminable and repetitious articles (only the dates seem to change) about banal costume festivals, sausage feasts, ethnic dolls and other trivia.

I sympathize with those who escaped the jaws of death in their homeland and understand that their only wish is to live in peace in a free society. I did not suffer physically during the war, so I have no personal ax to grind. Still, the fact that 1.6 million decent Danube Swabian people could be uprooted from their native soil, to be deported or massacred – not because of any wrongdoing, but solely because of their German extraction, and that this was never reported by the mainstream media, that gets my dander up.

I cry to heaven at the injustice of it all, with no results. Still, as editor of a Danube Swabian paper I have a moral obligation to publish this article. If it does nothing else, it will at least relieve my conscience of the stigma of having done nothing.

Not having a country to call their own, Danube Swabians have an identity problem. So, for the uninformed masses: Danube Swabians are descendants of German pioneers who settled in Habsburg Hungary (now also Romania and Yugoslavia) after the territory was recovered in the 17th and 18th centuries from 150 years of Turkish rule by German troops commanded by the legendary Prince Eugene of Savoy, a Frenchman in the service of the Habsburg monarchy. This took place decades before the USA became an independent republic and the English took Canada from the French, and some 200 years before Romania and Yugoslavia even existed.

In their long sojourn on the Danubian Plain, far from the contiguous German-speaking areas of Europe, the Danube Swabians became a recognizable ethnocultural society with their own distinctive speech, an amalgam of southwestern German dialects. It is akin to Pennsylvania Dutch, and because of its antiquated word forms is not readily understood in Germany. They also developed their own unique customs, culture and traditions. Despite the fact that they had practically no contact with Germany, they became scapegoats who bore the brunt of the hatreds against all things German, caused by the Reich Germans in occupied countries and especially the hatred motivating effect of Allied propaganda.

In the summer of 1945 the leading statesmen of the victorious powers of World War II met at Potsdam to divide Europe between them and to mete out collective punishment to the German people for their alleged transgressions. They also sanctioned the cruel expropriation and expulsion of the entire German ethnic group of Hungary, with the sanctimonious proviso that it be “orderly and humane”. The expulsion was anything but humane. Innocent people were driven from their hereditary homeland at gunpoint with but a few minutes notice and had to leave everything behind that was dear to them – forever. Why?

The expulsion was based solely on racial extraction and not on guilt or wrongdoing. For the Western Powers this was in violation of the guarantees expounded in the Atlantic Charter and was therefore a criminal act. As we have learned, the double standard is alive and well in the world, and ‘ethnic cleansing” is a crime the perpetrators have gotten away with for decades.

Throughout the centuries the Danube Swabians had been exemplary citizens of Hungary. Not only had they made the country a world leader in agriculture, they had also provided it with some of its most renowned doctors (Ignaz Semmelweis), composers, (Franz List) architects (Emmerich Steindl who built the beautiful Parliament Buildings in Budapest), etc. etc. Most of Hungary’s cities had large German populations. In 1880 more than 36% of Budapest’s population were Danube Swabians. Budapest is greatly indebted to its Germans for it was their engineers and architects who laid out the city’s main streets and squares, and created such classic edifices as the Parliament Buildings, the National Theater, the Opera, The Millenium Monument and the beautiful bridges that spanned the Danube.

During World War II Hungary sided with Germany to recover its lost territories and in the fight against communism. Without consulting the Danube Swabians, the government of Royal Hungary, a kingdom without a king, and the German Reich signed an agreement whereby Hungary’s Germans had the option of being drafted into the Hungarian army or joining the German battle groups. Since both countries were fighting the same enemy, it was not a hard choice to make. Most opted for the Germans, because the treatment of the common soldier in the Hungarian army was very rough. Besides, ethnically, culturally and linguistically they had more in common with the Germans. After the war they would be classed as “traitors” by the communists and were not allowed to return home.

Had they returned home, they would have been deported in any case, just like their friends who had joined the Hungarian army. In Hungary and other eastern European countries “nationality” has the same meaning as ‘ethnic group’ does here. Though they were Hungarian citizens, the 700,000 Danube Swabians in the country were classed as Germans, not Magyars. So, when a census was taken before the war, they classed themselves as “German”, as their ancestors had done before them. This was to be their undoing. The communist puppet regime used the census as a basis for their expropriation and deportation from Hungary. When two thirds of the Danube Swabians had been deported to refugee camps in war-torn Germany, where everything was in short supply, the Americans would not accept any more. When the deportations stopped only about 250,000 Danube Swabians remained in Hungary. For them, the uncertainty did not end until 1949 when they were granted some civil rights, just enough to allow them to keep quiet and work hard for the benefit of the communist regime.

It must not be forgotten that in some of those terrible post war years the Danube Swabians who remained in Hungary, as well as the majority of the Hungarian people, helped the Danube Swabians who escaped from Tito’s death camps in Yugoslavia by providing food and a safe route to Austria and Germany. During the 1956 Hungarian uprising, when the West looked on while the Russian tanks massacred Hungarian freedom fighters, the Danube Swabians in Austria and Germany were the first to help the escapees with food and temporary shelter. To the credit of Hungary, even the hated communist regime did not resort to mass killings, as was the case in Yugoslavia.

Since the overthrow of the communists in Hungary and the consequent liberalization, there has been a complete about-face in the country’s treatment of its German minority. Danube Swabians may now buy back their expropriated property and their children, of whom only about 15% still speak German, may learn German as a second language in school. The German language is again the lingua franca of Eastern Europe, a role it has played for a thousand years in peaceful trade and the spread of Western culture and values. Knowledge of German is considered a great asset in dealing with the West. Today after so many years of fear and repression, people are proud to speak their heritage language again. A German cultural center has been established at Pecs (Fünfkirchen) with the aid of Germany and it has become a mecca of German culture.

The wounds are healing and some Danube Swabian towns have even erected monuments honoring their war dead, no matter what uniform they wore, or wore no uniform, like the men and women who perished in Russian slave labor camps. Hungarian priests have blessed these monuments, because everyone knows that those who are honored were decent people, beloved members of local families, who were caught up in a war not of their making. They are regarded as victims of man’s inhumanity to man, and therefore worthy of remembrance.

In pre-war Yugoslavia the Danube Swabians were the largest non-Slavic national minority in the country. They made up only 4% of the total population in the country, but the counties where they formed a majority produced 67% of the country’s total agricultural exports. Hemp, an important foreign exchange producing commodity in pre-war Yugoslavia was 94% in Danube Swabian hands, as was a disproportionate share of the locally manufactured goods, such as articles for the home, wagons and farm implements.

In the spring of 1941 German and Hungarian forces broke into Yugoslavia and the Royal Yugoslav army disintegrated in a matter of days. Yugoslavia was, and is an artificial country. It was created by Western allies after the First World War to reward a Serbian dictator king for his part in starting World War One. The majority of its diverse people had no wish to be included in a country where they had no say. Between the wars the government did nothing to earn their loyalty. Still, when the country mobilized for war just prior to the German/Hungarian invasion 85% of the Danube Swabians answered the call to arms. Only 35 % of the Serbs in the same region showed up at recruiting centers. The main reason for their low turnout was due to the Hitler/Stalin pact. Tito, who was hiding in Zagreb under an assumed name, urged his communist followers not to fight against the Germans since they were ‘allies’ of Moscow. After the war the same man had the gall to call the Danube Swabians enemies of the state for not resisting the aggressor!

The Hungarians reincorporated Baranya and Batschka (Backa) into Hungary. Banat remained in Serbia but was under German occupation. Syrmia and Slavonia became part of a newly created state, called Croatia. From 1941 to 1944-45 the Yugoslav State did not exist and Danube Swabians were a minority in four states, instead of three.

After Hitler’s invasion of Russia the communists, now on the side of the Soviet Union, entered the war they had rejected just a couple of months before. There were no less than six major resistance groups in the unoccupied mountains of Bosnia who made sorties against German supply lines to Greece – but mostly they fought each other. The partisans, due to Churchill’s support soon gained the upper hand. They attacked isolated bases and when the outnumbered Germans surrendered they were killed on the spot. To satisfy the bloodlust of Tito’s primitive fighters, their bodies were mutilated in a manner which is utterly revolting to civilized people. The Germans retaliated by burning the villages that harbored partisans and shooting 10 hostages for every German that was killed. Violence begets violence, and this practice only intensified the struggle. There were so many forces fighting in the mountains the Germans didn’t know who was who. It was a battle fought with the utmost cruelty by all sides. This struggle took place far from Danube Swabian settlements, and they were not involved in the fighting.

In the fall of 1944, Tito’s Anti-Fascist Council gathered at Jajce in Bosnia and passed a resolution which in essence consisted of three main points. When the Yugoslav state was reestablished, those of “German” nationality, 650,000 people, the largest non-Slavic group in pre-war Yugoslavia, were to be dispossessed and deprived of all human rights, including the right to life.

Their property was to be distributed among Tito’s rough, unlettered fighters who were his main support. This was to be achieved through:

  • Mass liquidations.
  • Mass deportations.
  • Extermination through starvation and forced labor in concentration or forced labor camps.

The partisans would acquire the best homes in the country, as well as farms and livestock of the dispossessed. Tito, the great benefactor was indeed a good man who gave his minions and peasant fighters something worth fighting for. They didn’t have to work for it, all they had to do was kill, kill, kill.

When the Red Army drove through the neat Danube Swabian villages and towns in what was then the Hungarian Batschka and Baranya, Serbian Banat and Croatian Syrmia and Slavonia, partisan bands followed in its wake and took possession of their promised land. But first they had to liquidate the Swabians. The methods varied from place to place, but the result was the same, death via unspeakable torture. It happened so often that it was the rule rather than the exception. The first victims were usually the mayor, the town council, teachers, merchants, or anyone some partisans had a reason to dislike. The victims’ hands were tied with wire and they were taken into a building where they were slaughtered by bloodthirsty partisans who had long ago lost their humanity. With victims lying helpless in the center, thoroughly inebriated butchers danced the Kola in a circle and sang partisan songs. From time to time they would break off and in a frenzy of bloodletting took turns stabbing their prisoners to death, while relishing their screams and moans. Hefty partizankas (females) took particular delight in cutting the genitals off the victims while they still showed signs of life. The killing usually ended in the wee hours of the morning when the prisoners had been beaten to an unrecognizable pulp, and their tormentors slumped onto the blood soaked floor in drunken stupor.

When all the men in a community had been rounded up, and those who appeared to be better off than the others, the hated “capitalists” had been selected, they were then marched out of town where they first had to dig their graves, and were shot and buried. The others were deported to slave labor camps in Yugoslavia and Russia, where they were worked to death. Young women between the ages of 16 and 30 were rounded up and sent to Russia in cattle cars where they slaved away at hard labor in ancient coal mines and building sites. When they were released after five years, one in four was never to see her home or family again. The broken and ailing women could not return to their homes, but were transported to Germany. Some found family members and resumed normal lives. Practically all these women bear physical scars from which they will suffer for the rest of their lives.

The rest, the handicapped, women with young children, and the aged were forced out of their homes by coarse, well-armed partisans. One can imagine the tears and wailing of utterly defenseless women with small children whose husbands were away, who were probably also caring for parents or grandparents, when they were given but a few minutes to leave their home forever. House, furniture, photo albums, garden, pets, and animals and a thousand memories had to be left behind. They were marched along dusty roads in columns of four, accompanied by an armed escort. It must have been a sad sight, women carrying small bundles of a few necessities – all the possessions the partisans allowed them to take – and their small children clutching their mothers’ skirts, crying uncontrollably, while the guards threatened them with guns and yelled at them to get moving.

Old men who could not keep up were shot on the spot in front of families and grandchildren. Their bodies were thrown into a ditch. Old women fared no better, if they could not keep a steady pace they were severely beaten by the guards. One of the unfortunates was my wife’s grandmother. When she could only drag her feet after walking 30 kilometers, one of Tito’s brutes hit her over the head with a rifle butt. She managed to stagger into the camp but received no medical attention and eventually died of medical complications arising from the blow. The grandfather and four cousins later died of starvation in the same camp. And, some Danube Swabians want me to forgive and forget – and remain silent!

A dozen Danube Swabian towns like Gakowa and Rudolfsgnad had been designated as concentration camps by Tito’s henchmen and closest advisor, a Jew named Moise Pijade. He is also primarily responsible for the planned extermination of the Danube Swabians. The available houses in these towns had all been stripped of furniture and the “internees”, as they were officially called, had to sleep on a straw covered floor, 30 to a room. Others slept in barns or stables. There was no fuel to provide heat and no cleaning materials were issued, not even soap. Since the intention was to starve them to death, the only food they obtained in camp was swill.

Many were able to sustain life by stealing out of the camp at night at the risk of their lives and begging for food from local Serbs, former neighbors, who were mostly sympathetic and compassionate people. Had they not been so, no one would have survived in the camps. Let us not forget that.

Because there were so few survivors, the Tito regime closed the camps in the spring of 1948. Those who perished from maltreatment, starvation and disease are buried in nearby mass graves, where no marker may be put to remind passers-by of the atrocities committed there. The emaciated few who remained alive escaped into nearby Hungary, sometimes even with the connivance of the guards.

As soon as the partisans had taken over they selected young Danube Swabian women, preferably blondes, who were torn from families and taken to a compound at Pancevo, across the river from Belgrade. There, they were kept like caged animals to satisfy the sexual lusts of Tito’s elite troops, foul smelling partisan brutes. The girls who were from decent homes were physically and sexually abused by the most loathsome creatures. If they resisted they were shot. Theirs was a hopeless life and there was no one to help them out of their misery. Their lives were mercifully short. The inevitable happened, they all became infected with syphilis. To prevent it from spreading, the local army commander ordered the remaining 150 women to be taken to a remote pasture where they had to strip, and were then summarily shot to death. The reason they had to take their clothes off was that the partisans intended to sell them on the black market. Even in Yugoslavia at that time they would not have been saleable with bullet holes in them.

About 40,000 orphaned Danube Swabian children were left behind in the camps after their mothers, grandparents and good neighbors had died of starvation or typhoid, and there was no one left to care for them. They were taken to communist childrens’ homes in other parts of Yugoslavia and were given Slavic names consequently they soon lost their language and German identity. As the Turks had done in centuries past with their enemies’ children, they were raised as janissaries, fighters for Tito. However some 5000 of the older children ages 8 to 12, who would remember their German ancestry were sent to deportation centers such as Derventa Doboj-Usora.

Everyone of the 5000 was put to death in the local sugar refinery. A Croatian prisoner, Ivan Baras, who now lives in Germany, was an eye witness to this atrocity. He, along with other prisoners had to take the children from railway cars to the killing site and had a chance to speak to the confused and crying children.

He memorized some of their names and the place they came from:

Ruma, Putinci, Beschka, India, Tscherwenka, Weisskirchen, Futok and other Danube Swabian communities in the Batschka, Syrmia, Baranya, and Slavonia.

After the war, 5000 of the orphaned children were located and with the aid of the German Red Cross were eventually reunited with their relatives in the West. What happened to the other 30,000? No one seems to know. If they survived, two things are certain they were raised as janissaries and know nothing of their German background. From those who were released to the West we know that they were led to believe that it was the Germans who had killed their parents. It’s a cruel world!

With its best workers gone, Yugoslavia soon became a beggar nation and received massive foreign aid from the USA to keep going. When Willy Brandt, the Sozi (Social Democrat), a man of undetermined origin and a “Quisling”, was Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Tito received millions in reparations from Germany. Not much of this money, if any, benefited the people, for it was squandered by Tito on high living. The Danube Swabians were robbed of billions in property, but Brandt and Tito never discussed that. They were after all birds of the same color – red!

Ironically, many Yugoslavs have had to migrate to Germany to earn a living, including many who were involved in the atrocities. They swagger around and even boast of their exploits. They can’t be brought to trial because only Germans can be tried for war crimes. The morally bankrupt German government has even cooperated with the Yugoslav Secret Police to hunt down enemies of the regime, mostly Croats on German soil. The government also subsidized (communist) Yugoslav radio programs and Serbo-Croatian language schools in which, during Tito’ life time, children were taught to sing such heroic songs as ‘Over German corpses we shall march to victory”.

Armes Deutschland! Poor Germany!

With glasnost sweeping the East, both Croatia and Slovenia have held free elections in which the people opted overwhelmingly to secede from Serbian controlled Yugoslavia. Will the Yugoslav federation which, other than among the Serbs has so few friends within its borders, last another year? Who knows?

However before it breaks up it should come to grips with its horrible past and do the honorable thing by confessing its crimes. Others have done it in the past year and survived. Even if it does not compensate the Danube Swabians for their material losses – one can’t expect too much from a bankrupt country – it should at least allow those who grieve for their kin to visit burial sites and allow monuments to be erected over mass graves. It should admit that within its borders some of the worst crimes in European history were committed in our lifetime. Such crimes can not be forgiven. Since the perpetrators have reaped great benefit from their crimes, and have gone unpunished, it is a travesty for those in the know to remain silent.

After the First World War, in the Treaty of Trianon Romania, a backwater of Europe, received a large chunk of Hungarian territory, northern Banat, the showcase of 18th century German colonization. Temeschburg (Romanian-Timisoara, Hungarian-Temesvar) was largely inhabited by Danube Swabians and Hungarians. Because of its cultural amenities it was known as ‘The Vienna of the East”. Under its German Mayors it was the first city in Europe to install electric street lighting. The German Theatre, the high school, the offices of the agricultural cooperative, as well as the most important German newspapers were located there.

Today, Timisoara, the scene of the recent unfinished revolution, is a crumbling city. Under the communists the beautiful Danube Swabian towns and villages have slowly deteriorated to the point where they have become ghost towns. Under dictator Ciaucescu farms were collectivized and villages were leveled to make way for agro complexes, which turned out to be total failures. The commies even confiscated vegetables housewives grew in home gardens. No one was allowed to benefit from their labors, so even the inborn work ethic of the Danube Swabians disappeared.

There seemed to be no future and people didn’t have children. For years there was a pervasive feeling of dread and hopelessness among the people.

The borders were sealed and practically no one was allowed to leave the country. Some years ago Ciaucescu hit upon a brilliant idea. His Germans could be a foreign exchange-earning commodity. Germany needed workers to feed its booming economy. So what was wrong with selling his Germans – who wanted to leave anyway – to Germany? The German government was in agreement with his proposal and signed a pact with the devil to take 10,000 annually for an undetermined time, at 8000 Marks a head, or 14,000 Marks for professional people. In actual practice another 2000 or so had to be paid under the table to local commy henchmen to release their “Romanian citizens”.

For Ciaucescu it was an excellent deal, he got hard currency, got rid of an unwanted minority, and got their property to boot. As I see it, it proved yet again that the present German leaders have no moral backbone. In stead of paying money to a tyrant, they should have done the honorable thing and lodged a complaint with the United Nations about the human rights abuses in Romania.

Even if this had done no good, and it probably wouldn’t have, the dire need of Romania’s Germans would at least have come to the attention of the world community. Instead they helped keep a dictator in power, and thus became his accomplices.

The slave trading stopped when Ciaucescu was overthrown and killed. Of the 350,000 Danube Swabians in Romania only about 50,000 mostly the aged and ill remain. In a year or so even they will be gone, and the once flourishing Banat, the agricultural jewel of Austria-Hungary will have died a slow death.

The houses and churches are crumbling ad the once lush fields lie fallow and are overgrown with weeds. What Danube Swabians had toiled for and built has been destroyed – and the people go hungry.

A recent book about the Danube Swabians is entitled Strangers in the Fatherland. That is exactly what they have become in former homelands. The gentle, orderly, industrious, tolerant, peaceful, religious, albeit naively apolitical people are all gone. Since the bees (Danube Swabian workers) have left. The Danube Basin is no longer a land of milk and honey. Is that what the Allied leaders had in mind when they sanctioned the expulsion of the Danube Swabians?

People in former home countries should be reminded that if it had not been for the German ancestors of the Danube Swabians who liberated the region from the Turks, there might still be a Turkish Empire in Europe, but no Hungary, Romania, or Yugoslavia. In other words had it not been for the Germans, there would be no Hungarians, Romanians or Yugoslavs today. That they exist is the legacy the Danube Swabians bestowed on those who would not share the earth with them.

Danube Swabians are now scattered over four continents and have become good citizens of at least a dozen countries. They have had to adjust their lives and have learned a lot, but no one had to teach them anything about human decency, tolerance, multiculturalism and peaceful coexistence.

Despite their ordeal they have never lost their humanity or virtues. It is not within them to seek revenge, nor do they bear grudges or hatreds – even against their tormentors. Their greatest wish is to live in peace and they hope others would do the same.

Perhaps some day media controls will ease in this part of the world, as they have to some degree in Eastern Europe. What is needed is balance and an unfettered dedication to truth and justice.

Have the media on this side of the world something to hide? No? Then why the silence about the greatest per capita genocide committed in Europe in our time?

Those who have nothing to hide need not fear the truth!

Frank Schmidt

Copyright Heimat Publishers 1991
Fourth Printing March 1993

Published with permission from the Author
Republished with permission from the author

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