Following the defeat of the Turkish Empire by the Austrians in 1699, the rulers of Austria, the Habsburg Monarchy, sponsored an organized emigration movement to populate the regions of southern Hungary that had been under Turkish occupation for the previous 150 years. The Habsburgs hoped to cultivate the lands of their new Austro-Hungarian Empire and spread the Roman Catholic religion into Eastern Europe. In order to accomplish this emigration movement, the Habsburgs offered incentives for hardworking Catholic German citizens to leave their homelands in Germany and create their own new homeland in Hungary. Incentives for settlers included land, building materials, and certain tax exemptions.
Many Germans, primarily those located in the southwestern Swabian (Schwaben) region of Germany, took the Habsburgs up on their offer. During the 18th Century thousands of Germans set sail down the Danube River using the German city of Ulm as their disembarking point. These Germans traveled to and settled around various areas along the Danube River in what today is known as the countries of Hungary, Romania, Croatia, and Serbia. The nameDonauschwaben (or Danube-Swabians) was given to these Germans because of their new settlement locations around the Danube River and their previous homeland of the Schwaben region in Germany. The Donauschwaben successfully fulfilled their purpose and re-cultivated the once non-farmable land and turned it into an agricultural paradise. This massive emigration of Germans to Eastern Europe is known as “der Grosse Schwabenzug” or the “Great Swabian Trek.”
In their new homeland, the Donauschwaben were able to live for many years in mutual peace among their neighbors of a different culture. However, this peace came to an abrupt end in the year 1944. Following World War II the Donauschwaben were driven from their homeland by the occupying Communists for the sole reason that they were German. Many of the Donauschwaben were sent to work camps located throughout Russia and the former Yugoslavia where thousands of them died under very harsh conditions or were just simply killed. The ones who were lucky enough to escape the hands of the communists fled to places such as Germany, Austria, Canada, and the United States. To this day the expulsion of the Donauschwaben is one of the most unknown and non-publicized acts of genocide the world has ever seen.
Throughout all those years in Eastern Europe the Donauschwaben could have easily dropped their German customs, language, and traditions and easily merged with those of their Hungarian and Slavic neighbors. However, the Donauschwaben successfully kept their German heritage alive and strong. Even today, following their expulsion by the Communists, the Donauschwaben are still carrying on those great traditions in areas all around the world. Today you can find various Donauschwaben societies throughout the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Europe.
The Donauschwaben are known primarily for their elaborate costumes. The Donauschwaben women often had their own unique Tracht for which the style varied from town to town. The art of creating an authentic Donauschwäbische Tracht is so time consuming and requires so much skill that the authentic trachts are still often only brought out for the most special of occasions. The costumes of the Donauschwaben men were very different to those commonly thought of for German men, mostly due to the influence of their neighbors of different Slavic backgrounds. The Donauschwaben men are mostly known for their black livel (vest), black trousers, black boots, and white trachten shirt.
The Donauschwaben were also known for the variety of events which they held throughout the year. Many of the Donauschwaben towns participated in events such as: Kirchweihfest (Church Remembrance Fest), Weinlesenfest (Wine Making Fest), and Schlachtfest (Butcher’s Fest). While many of these types of events also took place within other German cultures, the customs and type of dancing that took place at these events were unique to the way of the Donauschwaben.
The culture of the Donauschwaben is filled with many rich traditions and is one that the Danube Cultural Society seeks to preserve for many years to come.
Please click here to hear the Donauschwaben Hymne.