History of the Danube Swabians
the book “The Last Generation Forgotten and Left to Die” The
History of the Danube Swabians”.
Rights reserved. ISBN No. 0-9701109-0-1
Immigration to the United States of America
The first Danube Swabians arrived in the
United States at the turn of the century. The credit for the initial
emigration obviously belongs to the travel agents. These representatives of the
steamship companies visited Eastern and Southern Europe with the encouragement
of the American government and of private enterprise, recruiting industrious
laborers to fill the demands of the rapidly expanding factories, mills and mines
in the U.S.A. The
influx of Danube Swabians lasted for 60 years; how many thousands came
is anybody's guess. But we can distinguish three periods of emigration; each one
of them characterized by different circumstances.
to World War I
For generations only the fittest,
the strongest, the most persistent colonists had survived famine, plague and war
in the Danube plain. With the achievement of relative prosperity and the
improvement of hygiene toward the end of the 19th century, this hardy race,
raising six to eight children per family, found itself in a population
explosion. Since there was no virgin arable land left to settle on, family
property was divided among the children, which led within two generations to
tiny holdings and rapid impoverishment. There were no factories in the area to
hire the landless; the Hungarian government did not promote industrialization.
Therefore the only remedies left were birth control and emigration.
Fortunately for these disadvantaged people the political and economic
situation in Western Europe had stabilized and the lot of the poor in the
Anglo-Saxon countries like Germany, England, Ireland, Scandinavia -improved. No
longer did they immigrate to America to open up the West and build the
factories, they preferred to stay home. It was this socio-political fact that
sent the steamship agents into the villages of Austro-Hungary, Russia, Italy in
search of new reservoirs of human muscle with promises of one dollar a day wages
In Hungary emigration was illegal until 1903. But it was simple enough to
travel illegally to the ports in Western Europe, there were no passports, and
one could sail to America, if one had the money and passed medical inspection.
In that year Hungary entered an agreement with the British Cunnard Line and
emigrants could now sail from Fiume (Rijeka) on the Adriatic Sea. This was an
expensive and arduous journey and most of our people preferred the illegal route
to the west. After a few years it became legal to also depart from Germany,
Holland, Belgium and France. The ensuing competition between steamship companies
lowered the one-way fare in 1908 to $8 -less than two weeks wages for a laborer
in the USA that is steerage. They offered one hundred cubic feet space per
passenger, including the iron berth with straw mattresses and a life preserver
as a pillow. There was no privacy. Salt water was used for washing, the men and
women separated from each other, steep narrow ladders lead up to the deck and
down from the deck. Up to 1,500 persons were hoarded on a ship. They had
guaranteed meals consisting of salt pork, dry peas and beans, gruel, rice,
noodles, sauerkraut, potatoes, hardtack, tea or coffee for breakfast and supper
during three weeks on an unfriendly, sometimes violent sea amid a vile smell.
Nevertheless, arriving in America, the immigrants stepped off the boat
with high hopes. First they had to pass general inspection: mental and physical.
Barred from entry were: idiots, insane, paupers, people suffering from a
loathsome or dangerous contagious disease, or a convict of a felony or other
crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, a polygamist, an anarchist, a
prostitute, a cripple, deformed or professional beggar. People with goiters,
abnormal growths, harelips, cleft palate, trachoma, ringworm, and tuberculosis.
Those with mutilated or paralyzed limbs were all sent back to Europe.
Danube Swabians usually landed in New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore.
After they passed inspection and were admitted, they encountered the sweatshops,
the robber barons, the loan sharks and cutthroats, the dishonest politicians, a
host of natives all ready to pounce on the “greenhorns” and take advantage
of them. Not knowing the language, the laws, the mores, the customs of the land,
they invariably had to learn how to survive the hard way. That did not
discourage them. They were used to hardship and they did not intend to stay.
Until 1910, 75% of the immigrants were males; none of them thought of
going to work on a farm. Their intention was to make money quickly, to live
frugally and save as much as possible in the shortest time and then return to
the “Heimat”, the tranquil villages of their ancestors. They found work in
the cities, in the shops, factories and mills. Single men and women, some not
older then 14 years old, who had to be accompanied by an adult stayed longer.
Family men worked from 6 in the morning till 7 at night, six days weekly,
earning as much as $ 10, and returned home after 2-3 years to buy land with
their savings. Many made the trip several times.
By 1913 half of the immigrants were female, women with children coming to
join their husbands. How many Danube Swabians came during this period? How many
stayed? How many, encouraged by the steamship companies, returned? Legislation
was proposed in Washington at the time to halt the stream of the “migrating
birds”, those who come to work here and take their earnings out of the
country. In one year 50 million US dollars was taken to Hungary by returning
The “Lists of Alien Passengers” for the “Commissioner of
Immigration” shows nationality, country of which the immigrant is a subject or
citizen, which for Danube Swabians was Hungary. The next entry establishes Race
of People, meaning ethnic affiliation. Our people chose either German or Magyar.
For us, 80 years later, it is confusing and difficult to evaluate these records.
Many German sounding names are followed by the entry “Magyar”. Did these
people consider themselves ethnic Hungarians even though the may have been of
German descent? There are no US Immigration statistics breaking down the
Hungarian immigrants into Magyar, German, Slovak, Romanian, and Hebrew etc. Of
the 193,460 Hungarian nationals who came to the U.S.A. in 1907, how many were
Danube Swabians and how many of them returned home again, successful or
disillusioned, we shall never know.
The US Census of 1910 is equally indefinite. It solely establishes
nativity by place of birth, which for Danube Swabians at the time was either
Austro-Hungary or Hungary and the spoken language which most declared to be
English at the time of the Census.
The Danube Swabians who stayed in the U.S.A. identified themselves as
German-Hungarians. They usually settled closely together in the cities, deriving
strength and solace from each other. At that time there was no social security,
no unemployment benefits, no welfare, and no health insurance available. Out of
necessity the “Greenhorns” joined together in benevolent and relief
associations, in societies promoting social life, cultural experiences and
Critical Time Between the Wars
The First World War
stopped the traffic between Hungary and America both ways. At the peace
Conference following the defeat of Austro-Hungary, president Wilson approved,
among other measures, the partition of the regions the Danube Swabians settled
between Yugoslavia, Romania and Hungary. Apparently in order to insure
everlasting peace in Europe. As a result of the huge losses incurred through the
war and the chaotic disruption of production and distribution of agricultural
goods caused by the drawing of new borders, the economic future for the farmers
looked bleak. In addition, the Danube Swabians as a minority in their newly
assigned fatherlands had to contend with the antagonistic sentiments of their
new masters and their restrictive legislation infringing on their traditional
German cultural heritage. This gave impetus to the second wave of emigrants who,
feeling alienated in their own homeland, resolved to leave for good.
Several things had changed in the meantime in the U.S. In 1917, over the
veto of President Wilson, the Literacy Test for Immigrants became law in order
to exclude undesirable immigrants from certain countries. The Danube Swabians
had no problem reading the required “30-80 words in any language”.
By this time also the quota system was introduced in order to stabilize
the racial structure of the U.S. The number of aliens of any nationality
admitted into U.S. during any year was limited to 3% of foreign-born persons of
that nationality (country of birth) residing in the United States. The guideline
for the limited permits issued, was the 1910 census. In the case of the newly
defined Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary, an estimate was made of the number of
people to be admitted. In any case the numbers never reached the pre-war
figures. The combined total, for instance, for Romania, Yugoslavia, Hungary in
1924, counting all ethnic groups, was a mere 1,747. From here on it is
impossible to know how many of our people came to America. That information lies
buried in the records of Ellis Island, where it would have to be culled from the
individual registration forms.
Those who came after WWI had it easier. They found well-established
enclaves of German-Hungarians, Banater, Batschkaer, and Apatiner etc. in many
cities, as well as relatives, countrymen and organizations, which helped them,
overcome the initial culture shock. Only a small minority returned home during
the Great Depression. Most stayed and became citizens, bought property, raised
their families and became Americans. Their social life revolved around their
clubs and the parishes with German-Language services. They stayed apart from
other German-speaking groups and from politics.
Aftermath of World War II
Immigration of Germans
into the United States after World War II was forbidden. That law also applied
to “Volksdeutsche” (ethnic Germans), the designation used by the National
Socialists and adopted by the Allies in order to identify people of German
descent living outside the borders of the Third Reich included the Danube
Swabians. There were millions of German refugees from Soviet occupied lands
languishing in the overcrowded barrack compounds scattered throughout British
and American occupied Germany and Austria. They were homeless, hungry, without a
job, vegetating from day to day, without hope for the future. Many refugees
remembered the addresses of relatives and friends overseas and wrote to them.
The Danube Swabians in America, on their part, also had fallen upon bad
times during WW II. Native Americans openly expressed anything German was
suspect and sentiment of hatred, fueled by the war propaganda, toward German
individuals and associations alike. It took great courage and material
sacrifices on the part of the Landsleute in the USA to show concern for and try
to alleviate the plight of their brothers in Europe. It is to their credit that
they took action. They sent thousands of food packages to the suffering in the
camps and they initiated political action in order to have the immigration law
Due to the persistent expansionistic tendencies of the Soviets Josef
Stalin, the thinking in the American congress changed in the late 1940s. Marxism
was now perceived as a threat to Western democracies. This was exactly the same
reason that motivated Danube Swabians to fight in the war. As a landowning,
God-fearing people they had been willing to die before surrendering their land
and their churches, the two pillars of their existence, to the communists. The
arguments of those who now pleaded before the Senate for the admittance of the
Volksdeutsche to the USA found sympathetic minds and in 1950 the immigration law
was changed, assigning to the Volksdeutsche 50% of the German and the Austrian
The International Refugee Organization (IRO), several religious
organizations, American consulates in Salzburg and Hamburg started with the
registering, screening and dispatching of ethnic German refugees, the Danube
Swabians among them. Every person had to pass a rigid medical examination, get
political clearance and have a sponsor in the States guaranteeing lodging and a
paying job. Those accepted left on troop transports, on luxury liners or by
airplane, glad to escape the hopeless oppressiveness of war ravaged Europe. It
is estimated that 40,000 Danube Swabians came, definitely came to stay, to start
life anew with nothing but their willingness to work hard, to secure a living
for themselves and their families, to learn the language and become proud
citizens of this country. Of course, they still found prejudice expressed toward
the individual “Nazi”, but in their place of employment, the Danube Swabians
earned the respect of the others with their willingness to work, their
trustworthiness and their ability to get along with everyone. The war in Korea
and the full employment associated with it gave the last immigrants an
opportunity to earn sufficient money and lay the foundation for a secure future.
Once established, the immigrants of the 50s searched for their identity.
The experience of the last 30 years had shaped them; they could not readily
identify with the old-timers, the German-Hungarians. Neither did they accept the
second-class label Volksdeutsch. Rebuffed by the German Germans (Reichsdeutsche)
in their regional clubs, they chose to be known as the “Donauschwaben”, the
Danube Swabians and as such affirmed their oneness with their brothers and
sisters all over the world.
By the early 1960s immigration of Danube Swabians to the US had come to
an end. Those Danube Swabians belatedly leaving Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia,
even today, due to the economic and social support they receive, prefer to
settle in the now prosperous Germany.
A very few American Danube Swabians also have returned to Germany and
Austria, never to Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia, only to come back again to
the United States with the realization that they have found here a new homeland
for themselves and their descendants.
The information on “Coming to America” was supplied by Michael
Bresser Ed. D., of the Rutgers University Ed. D. Educational Psychology. They
are excerpts from his article published in 1987 in the “Festbuch zur 30.
Jahrfeier” of the Danube Swabian Association of the U.S.A.
Danube Swabians in North America
As shown in Michael Bresser’s comments,
Danube Swabians have been immigrating to North America, in particular the United
States as early as prior the two World Wars. As further stated it is very
difficult to identify them or trace them to their place of origin. A classical
example is my great-great-uncle Josef Ergh who came Batschsentiwan to the United
States in 1905 and his family that followed him here in 1907 as well as his
sisters who came here in 1909. They are listed in the ships manifest that took
them across the ocean, archived in the records of Ellis Island, as coming from a
town in Hungary that is spelled differently three times. If we did not know that
they were relatives coming from the same town and did not know that several
different spellings of the town’s name existed, we could not have been able to
determine that they were indeed members of the same family. Once here in
Cleveland, my great-great-uncle opened a barbershop in a Hungarian neighborhood
on Buckeye Road. He spoke perfect Hungarian and therefore, one would not know
that he was a Danube Swabian except for us, our family. While he remained with
his family his sisters returned to Batschsentiwan. One interesting note is, and
all of us Danube Swabians should be proud of the fact, that his barbershop was
dismantled the day he retired and reassembled in the Cleveland Auto and Aviation
Museum where it can be seen today.
also learned that the German-Hungarian emigrants arriving from Hungary organized
themselves into various interest groups and clubs with names like “Die
Deutsch-Ungarn” and “The Banater”. There they were active fostering their
culture and traditions as well as language, mostly in songs. Very little is
known however, about their businesses and daily lives although we know of many
businesses whose founders were of German extraction, and several of them indeed
were Danube Swabians, like in Cleveland the Blasius brothers from Obrowatz,
Stefan Fischler from Futok and Johann Gerber of Batschsentiwan.
brought them together was the strong inherited character, the desire and need of
the Danube Swabians to socialize with other fellow Danube Swabians, who
experienced the horrors of the Second World War and the expulsion from their
homes by the communist governments in their home countries. Homes their
ancestors had built during the past 250 years. The Danube Swabians now uprooted
by the hundreds of thousands, their homes destroyed, the survivors left homeless
and penniless. But not only that, they were also deeply scarred by their ordeal,
the suffering from the loss of family members and were often now all alone in a
strange new world they have come to, to seek new opportunities, new homes, to
seek new lives and live in peace.
after their arrival in the United States and Canada, and after they had made new
friends and acquaintances, the urge to form new club communities where they
could speak their language did grow ever stronger. They organized themselves in
many interest groups, however their primary goal was to maintain and foster
their inherited culture and customs they brought from their homeland. In most
cases, it was the only thing they had left from their home country to hold onto
besides their families and friends. First, many of them were organizations to
aid other Danube Swabians with social problems, like housing, employment and
give them support to build new lives and new homes. One of their foremost
concerns was their youth. Bringing them together was accomplished by organizing
dance groups, choruses as well as with a variety of sports clubs, mainly soccer
(football). These soccer clubs attracted young men who in turn attracted the
young women; they became very popular and enjoyed a large following. For the
Danube Swabians the Sunday afternoons became a place to socialize and unwind
among friends. German language interest groups were organized followed by German
language schools to teach the children German as well as German history. The
result of the programs required many hours of work, dedication and patience by
many volunteers. Their efforts brought rewards. Although the programs originally
intended for our children, attracted also their parents and grandparents. It was
the parents and grandparents attracted by the activities, who became a viable
support group for other functions of the Danube Swabian Societies. It was a win,
win situation from the start from which everyone involved benefited and thus,
became the springboards and the cornerstones for the Danube Swabian Societies of
today in North America.
need to establish contacts with groups from other cities and to establish a
national Organization developed soon after their arrival. From this need the
head organization “The Society of Danube Swabians of North America” was
founded in 1957. The sport of soccer was among one of the first inter city
contacts bringing young people together for that purpose, and establishing
friendships across the states. Society meetings hammered out other types of
functions, such dancing, and singing as well as social and political interest
groups giving them directions and goals to follow. Many of the Danube Swabians
had the desire to meet with relatives in other cities and the need to visit them
grew ever stronger. It did not take long before arrangements, in the sixties,
were made to hold an annual “Danube Swabian Day”. During such times memorial
services were held for the victims of death camps, chorus performances, youth
dance performances as well as inter city youth dance competitions, among other
functions. But most important, meeting with long lost relatives and friends from
their old home towns and the socializing of young adults, who would eventually
be asked to carry on the tradition of our culture.
than 60 years have passed since our expulsion that brought the end of the Danube
Swabians in their home country, as we knew it then. As we look at the
accomplishment of the “Last
Generation of Danube Swabians” born in their home country. In the free
world they live in today, one can only admire them for their never fading in
themselves and the persistence to leave the fruits of their labor for the
generations to come. How could they achieve the wealth they have achieved in
such a short span of time one has to question? The answer lies in the strong
inherited character they acquired as survivors. By being used living all their
lives on foreign soil, and being exposed to the many political changes and the
pressures existing there and from their work ethics handed down from generation
to generation. The school systems they created back home, where young women were
taught to knit, sew, cook, and bake as well as good housekeeping and childcare
from early on in life. While the same time, their oncoming men were taught not
only how to hold a hammer and nail, but also the necessities they needed to know
how to raise farm animals and farm products and process them. This valuable
education continued in the environment of a good home under the supervision of
their parents and grandparents.
post WW I changes they were exposed to, like the closing of their schools
forcing them to go to Austria and Germany to study. The post WW II changes they
were exposed to, like the deportation of many to Russia. The expulsion from
their homes in Hungary, the expulsion from their homes in Romania and
deportation to the Baragan planes. The expulsion from their homes in Yugoslavia
and incarceration into death camps as well as forced labor camps. All of these
factors helped them to become useful, productive and prosperous citizens in the
New World the live in today.
it understandable that the survivors of the Danube Swabians, who were dealt the
lowest hand in the stack of cards of politics, who landed at the shores of equal
opportunity, would rebound under this environment of their new gained freedom!
are the last generation, expelled from our homes our forefathers had built and
have survived the insurmountable odds placed in our lives. We whose forefathers
had amassed a wealth in riches and culture, and who inherited this wealth and
riches, came to the United States with only a suitcase, which held all of what
was left of our possessions. We came to the United States, a strange land we did
not know. We came here with new hopes to establish new roots. Some of us came
here deeply depressed for we had lost our homes but also a mother, a father or
both. Some had lost a brothers or sisters some came alone after losing every one
of their family members.
the last Generation came here to work again with our bare hands and with the
sweat of our brows to establish a new life and a new home, as our forefathers
did in the land of the Danube Swabians. This however, was by no means an easy
task as one might want to believe; it was a difficult uphill struggle for all of
us. We had to find housing mostly in poor neighborhoods because of the lack of
money. More often then not we were exploited at the work place, because of the
language barrier or the lack of education which had suffered greatly, especially
by those of us born in the thirties, who lost anywhere from two to six valuable
school years. We had now go to evening schools not only to learn to speak
English but also take academic classes to further our education. However, it
took perhaps not more than five years after our arrival and we were proud owners
of a car and even had a house to our name.
may not have made a giant industrial impact in this country, but have never the
less made a distinct economical impact in the local communities where we live
today. Today, we the Danube Swabians not only take working places in this
country but also are in a position to give thousands of jobs to the American
people in our factories, our construction businesses, our tool shops and farms.
Most of our children have obtained higher education and are professionals,
doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and entertainers and as such have much
to offer. Thus they have contributed to the common good and welfare of this
country, even though our descendants may no longer speak German, the language of
their forefathers. They still recognize themselves as Danube Swabians, members
of the youngest of the “German
Volksgroups”, to foster and maintain the heritage and culture of their
ancestors in their community centers, we the “Last generation” have built for them.
the successful lives, many of the Danube Swabians enjoy today, none of them have
forgotten who they are. They have not only been able to establish themselves
financially but also as great supporters of the Danube Swabian heritage and
culture in North America. It would take pages and pages to write about their
unselfish contributions of their many hours of dedication and labors of love.
There are thousands of names connected with the many achievements. We need to
thank them all what they have accomplished to uphold the traditions and memory
of our ancestors by erecting monuments in their names. Pause there and spend a minute in silent prayer in
have earned it.