The 60 second history of the Donauschwaben

The wars conducted by King Louis XIV of France made living conditions intolerable in areas such as Rhinelands, Alsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, Pfalz, Trier and Mainz.   In areas such as the Black Forest and in the valleys along the Danube and Neckar Rivers many impoverished people decided to seek better conditions elsewhere.   Between the years of 1711 and 1787 there were 3 waves of more than 150,000 people who migrated to six areas which were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire controlled by the Hapsburgs.   Today these areas are primarily part of Romania, Serbia and Hungary.  The Banat Province was one of the primary areas of settlement and later came to be known as the "breadbasket of Europe."

The city of Ulm, Germany was part of the Swabian region that was the most common point of departure by boats called "Ulmer Schachtels" which took them to Vienna.  Others followed the Danube by covered wagons.   The Hungarians called all of these settlers Swabians even though they came from different areas of Germany.   They have also been called Donauschwaben or Danube Swabians or Schwobs.

A well known verse describes the conditions the 3 waves encountered:

Die Erste hat den Tod,
Der Zweite hat die Not
Der Dritte erst hat Brot.

"The first encounters death,
the second misery,
only the third has bread."

Jobs in the US, homesteading laws, the avoidance of military service and heavy taxation were some of the major factors which lead 197,000 Donauschwaben to leave primarily for the United States and Canada between the years of 1899 and 1911.   In addition, companies sent agents to the area to recruit workers.   Many anticipated earning money and returning one day to buy land, but most stayed in their new countries.

The countries of Romania, Hungary, and Yugoslavia (Serbia) divided the Donauschwaben area following World War One and they became the largest minority group in each of the countries.   There were political tensions; however, most made an effort to remain in the homes many had lived in for a century.

The aftermath of World War Two was very difficult for the Donauschwaben.   Many were sent to labor camps in the Soviet Union.   Others were placed in concentration camps established in their villages.  Many died from starvation, malnutrition, and disease.   Those who survived and returned to their homes found they were no longer welcome.   Land was confiscated without compensation and cruel and harsh treatment was the rule of the day.

There were approximately 1.5 million Donauschwaben living Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia before World War II.  A million people either migrated, or died during the war or in labor and concentration camps.   In 1983, only 550,000 Swabians were estimated to remain. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many more have left.


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