By Duncan B. Gardiner, Ph.D., Certified Genealogist
© Copyright 1997 Duncan B. Gardiner and FEEFHS, all rights reserved
The ethnic German population of Slovakia (148,000) amounted to about five percent of the total according to 1930 census statistics. Most of these German speakers were descendants of people who came to Upper Hungary (Slovakia), as early as the 1100s.
These ethnic Germans emigrated to Hungary and other lands east of the Elbe seeking fertile farmland on which to settle due to scarcity of land in their native areas. The invention of a heavier plow in about 1000 A.D. along the Rhine River allowed farmers to turn over the heavier, wet soils of northern Europe's river valleys. The three-field crop rotation method was adopted about the same time.
Together, these innovations produced a more abundant food supply which led to growth in the population and subsequent settlement of previously untilled areas of Western Europe. Further population growth resulted in the need to find new settlement areas. These were found in the lands beyond the Elbe River-from eastern Germany eastwards. At first, the migrants were people from the Rhineland and Saxony.
By the end of the Middle Ages, these ethnic Germans were a significant minority of most East European countries, the areas we now know today as Slovakia, Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. For example, Bohemia (the western part of the current Czech Republic) up until 1945 had well over 30% ethnic German population. Moravia had about 22%.
During the early Middle Ages, the territory of Upper Hungary was relatively thinly settled by Slovak and Rusyn agriculturalists along with some Magyar landowners and margraves. Compared to the densely populated Rhineland and northern France, Upper Hungary (Slovakia) was a frontier region. The Germans, known for their skills in the crafts, farming and mining, were invited as settlers by a series of Hungarian rulers.
In 1241, the Mongols invaded Upper Hungary for a short period and all but destroyed many of the early settlements. The Germans were again invited to settle. The main period of this later settlement was under King Bela IV (1235-1270).
German immigration continued until the time of the Black Death, beginning in 1346 and lasting some years (with outbreaks in 1347-1360 and 1380-1381 in Hungary), which decreased the population of Europe as a whole by at least 25%. In some places the mortality rate was something like 75%. The resultant smaller population reduced pressure to emigrate.
The German population of Upper Hungary during the Middle Ages is estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000. The Germans were among the most influential and prosperous citizens, dominating the political and commercial life of the major towns. In some towns, only Germans were allowed to own houses and belong to certain trade guilds.
The Turks invaded Lower Hungary in 1526 occupying most of Hungary until 1683. Many Magyars, among them many members of the gentry, fled to Upper Hungary where they gradually began to play an important role in the economic and political life of the area. Over time, they gained equal political status both for themselves and the Slovaks. The Germans began to lose their economic and political monopolies in the cities.
By the beginning of the 1800s, many towns which were founded by Germans or previously had a majority of Germans became predominantly Magyar and Slovak. Towns with a majority German population, previously distributed generally over most of Slovakia, gradually shrank to three distinct areas (called Sprachinseln 'language islands' in German): The Pressburg area in the southwest, Hauerland in Central Slovakia, and the Zips in Eastern Slovakia in the High Tatra Mountains and to the South.
The Zips (Slovak Spis, Hungarian: Szepes) is the best-known German settlement area in Slovakia. The first German settlers arrived in the 12th century. Known as the Zipser Saxons, these early immigrants were apparently from the Lower Rhine region, Flanders, Saxony, and Silesia.
In the early period, the Zips was a single continuous region stretching from the northern border with Poland to the present-day Slovak-Hungarian border. Over time, the Zips divided into two regions, the Upper and Lower Zips (German Oberzips, Unterzips).
The Upper Zips towns, in the valley of the Popper (Sl. Poprad) River, stretch from Deutschendorf (Sl. Poprad) and Leutschau (Sl. Levoca) in the South to the Polish border along the Tatra Mountains. The most prominent towns were Deutschendorf, Kaesmark, and Leutschau. Very early, the Upper Zips towns formed the Zipser Bund 'Zips League' (Slovak: Spolocenstvo Spisskych Sasov), a federation of towns whose members were governed by the Zipser Willkuer, a civil and commercial legal system modelled after that of Magdeburg.
Most of the Upper Zips towns had charters from the Hungarian king and were not subject to a local seigneur; they elected their own governing officials. The economy of the Upper Zips towns was varied: traditional crafts (masonry, blacksmithing, leather working, etc.), textiles, mining, farming, commerce.
In 1412 the Emperor Sigismund, to finance his war with Venice, mortgaged 14 of the original 24 Zipser towns to the King of Poland, to whom their income belonged until 1772.
The original Zipser Bund towns were Bela, Deutschendorf (Poprad), Dirn (Odorin), Donnersmarkt (Spissky Stvrtok), Duerelsdorf (Tvarozna), Eisdorf (Zakovce), Eulenbach (Bystrany), Felka (Velka), Georgenberg (Spisska Sobota), Großlomnitz / Grosslomnitz (Velka Lomnica), Hunsdorf (Huncovce), Kabsdorf (Hrabusice), Kaesmark (Kezmarok), Kirchdrauf (Spisské Podhradie), Kunzendorf (Vlkovce), Leibitz (L'ubica), Leutschau (Levoca), Menhardsdorf (Vrbov), Muehlenbach (Mlynica), Neudorf (Spisska Nova Ves), Palmsdorf (Harichovce), Rießdorf / Riessdorf (Ruskinovce), Schwabsdorf (Svabovce), Sperndorf (Iliasovce).
The list of towns changed from time to time between 1248 to 1673. In 1674 the fraternity was disbanded, a victim of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
The 1930 census indicates that there were 25,162 Czechoslovak citizens of German nationality in the Upper Zips towns. The Lower Zips towns stretch from Neudorf (Spisska Nova Ves) in the North to Metzenseifen (Medzev) in the south, along the valleys of the Hernad and Goellnitz Rivers. The major Lower Zips towns were founded as mining communities; iron mines replaced the early gold and silver mines as the more precious metals gave out.
In contrast to the Upper Zips towns where the German population was partly replaced by Slovaks, the Lower Zips towns had a bigger influx of Hungarians after the Turkish occupation of Lower Hungary in the 1500s. The Lower Zips had a flourishing iron forge industry until the 1860s and exported hand-forged farming implements all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire and abroad.
The Industrial Revolution caused a decline in the Lower Zips metalworking industry. Many of the miners and blacksmiths emigrated to larger industrial centers in Austria-Hungary, elsewhere in Europe, and the United States.
According to the 1930 census, there were 13,141 Germans in the Lower Zips. The major Lower Zips towns were Goellnitz (Gelnica), Dobschau (Dobsina), Einsiedel (Mnisek nad Hnilcom), Metzenseifen (actually two towns, Obermetzenseifen and Untermetzenseifen, Sl. Vysny Medzev, Nizny Medzev), Schwedler (Svedlar), Schmoellnitz (Smolnik), Stoß / Stoss (Stos), Wagendruessel (Nalepkovo).
Hauerland (also called the Kremnitz-Deutschprobener Sprachinsel) is in Central Slovakia and is so called because a number of the town names are formed with the German word Hau 'clearing' as a suffix. Many of the German towns in this area were early mining communities, the best known and earliest of which were Karpfen (Krupina), Koenigsberg (Nova Bana), Pukanz (Pukanec), Schemnitz (Banska Stiavnica), Dilln (Banska Bela), Kremnitz (Kremnica), Neusohl (Banska Bystrica), and Libethen (Lubietova). The 1930 census shows 41,255 Germans in the Hauerland, concentrated in the Deutschproben (24,415) and Kremnitz (10,662) areas.
Pressburg (Bratislava) and its environs can be considered a continuation of the Bavarian-Austrian settlement area-Vienna is only a half hour's drive southwest of Bratislava. In the middle of the 19th century, ethnic Germans formed over 60% of the population of the city of Pressburg. The Germans in this area were tradesmen, craftsmen, and farmers. In 1930, there was a German population of 31,000 in Pressburg itself and 19,000 in the environs.
According to the Czechoslovak census of 1930, there were 154,821 ethnic Germans in Slovakia, most of whom were Czechoslovak citizens. Throughout Eastern Europe the bitter feelings engendered by the German role in World War II resulted in the forcible expulsion of the German population to East and West Germany. Almost all of them were expelled from Bohemia and Moravia and most from Slovakia as well. At the end of 1946, after the evacuation, about 24,000 ethnic Germans remained in Slovakia.
A friend of mine named Margit lives in Medzev. She speaks the local German dialect as well as standard German, which she learned in Medzev's German-speaking school in the 1930s. Margit speaks very little Slovak. I asked her how she escaped being deported at the end of the war. She explained that when they heard the authorities were coming, they hid in the hills and returned only when the danger was past. In this way, many of Medzev's ethnic Germans were able to remain in their ancestral town.
This area (also called Sub-Carpathian Rus') was part of Czechoslovakia between the two World Wars and after 1945 was ceded to the Soviet Union. Because of this, the literature of the period after World War II dealing with the German homeland in Slovakia mention little of the Sub-Carpathian Ukraine. Germans settled in this area in the 1700s. Between the wars, the German population was about 10,000.
The list of towns given below are mentioned in Eduard Winter, (ed.). Die Deutschen in der Slowakei und Karpathorussland. Munster in Westfalen, 1926 (in German, `The Germans in Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia') pp. 87-89. Statistics showing German population along with the total population are from the 1921 census (Statisticky lexikon obci v Podkarpatské rusi, Praha 1928)
Berezinka, for example, had 89 Germans of 104 total population and the German population dates to the year 1728.
Berezinka (1728). 89/104
Barbovo, settled by farmers from Kleinberg and Kleinwedel (1736). 446/1169
Deutschkutschowa (Nemecka Kucova) (1763). 249/283
Dorndorf (Draciny), wood-cutters from the Sudetenland (1827). 191/312
Friedrichsdorf (Fridesovo) (1807). 13/314
Hrabovnice and Sinak, originally Rusyn villages, became about 50% German with the immigration of families from Bohemia (1837). 212/516; 155/159
Maedchendorf (Lalovo) (1763). 178/796
Neudorf (Novo Selo): 12 Bohemian German families (1856). 122/127
Oberschoenborn (Vysni Koropec), Swabians (1763). 334/502
Pausching, (Pausin) Swabian Schwarzwald farmers (1748). 430/605
Podhorod and Palanok (1600s).
Puznakovce, 18 Bohemian German families (1878). 97/416
Unterschoenborn, Bavarian Franks (1728) 0/266
Sophiendorf (Zofia), Bohemian Germans (1800s). 339/368
Zdenovo, settled by 9 families from Germany (1872). 64/710
Besides these towns mentioned by Winter, there are a number of others which show up in the 1921 census with a fair number of German citizens. There were 14 administrative counties in the Sub-Carpathian Ukraine between the two world wars. In the following table, the numbers after each county name are the German population and the total population.
County .............. Germans .... Total Population
Berehovo ................... 150 .... 52,138
Berezny ....................... - - ..... 25,044
Chust ......................... 625 .... 56,626
Irsava ........................ 320 .... 45,430
Mukacevo, city .......... 385 .... 20,865
Mukacevo, county ... 3838 .... 69,801
Perecin ........................ 88 .... 21,116
Rachov ...................... 993 .... 51,099
Sevlus ......................... 88 .... 60,505
Svalava ................... 1263 .... 44,144
Tacovo ................... 1862 .... 65,653
Uzhorod, city ............ 433 .... 20,601
Uzhorod, county ....... 156 .... 41,180
Volov ........................ - - ..... 30,391
TOTALS ............ 10,326 .... 604,593
German speakers in the Sub-Carpathian Ukraine were just under 2% of the total population.
About the author: Duncan Gardiner is a board certified and accredited genealogist who specializes in Czech, Slovak, and German ancestries. He had a Ph.D. in Slavic linguistics and is fluent in Czech, Russian, and French, using Slovak, German, Latin, and Hungarian for research. Since 1988, he has researched Czech and Slovak ancestries in the state regional archives of the Czech and Slovak Republics on twice-yearly trips. His other services include photographs of ancestral towns, and translations from Czech, Slovak and German into English.
The current article is adapted from a chapter in his book German Towns in Slovakia and Upper Hungary: A Genealogical Gazetteer.