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A long history

Finding Hope and Togetherness in Every Turn

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What can be said of Donauschwaben history in a few words? Think of our own United States of America history. We are Americans for 300 years, like the Donauschwaben were, and are, for 300 years. 

A Glimpse of Donauschwaben History

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Donauschwaben History
The Donauschwaben are people that belong to a culture that developed under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The 15th and 16th centuries witnessed the conflict between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the powerful Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans conquered not only all of the Balkan States and most of Hungary, but eventually threatened the city of Vienna.  They controlled Southeastern Europe for more than 150 years, and during this time, war not only ravaged the land but also scattered the people. Some areas lost all traces of civilization.

When the Turks of the Ottoman Empire were finally defeated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1683, the main concern of the West was to repopulate the land again and to make it fruitful, as well as to provide a buffer zone against further Turkish encroachments.

Starting with Emperor Charles VI, and during the reigns of Empress Maria Theresia and Emperor Joseph I, farmers and craftsmen were encouraged to settle in the ravaged lands by offers of land ownership and freedom from the restrictions of the landholders in their homelands. 

Instead of with wagon trains, people travelled with barges eastward on the Danube River to reach their new homes. They settled on the potentially fertile land along the Danube, or the "Donau" in German, and some of its tributaries. They were able to keep their language and religion and developed strong communities in the region.


Many of the earliest settlers came from the Swabian region of Germany. Swabians (German: "Schwaben") are Germanic people who are native to the cultural and linguistic region of Swabia, which is now mostly divided between the modern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, in southwestern Germany. Early in the 20th Century, the combination of the Donau and Schwabians gave the name "Donauschwaben" to this unique German ethnic group. Other immigrants came from Alsace Lorraine, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Despite extreme hardships in the initial stages of development, in the span of 200 years, the colonists turned this swampy, disease and famine ravaged land into the “breadbasket of Europe.” The people maintained their German language and cultural heritage through the generations and lived in close-knit settlements, and it was very uncommon to marry outside the German community. As the population of the original settlements grew, new towns and cities were established further east. Through time, the economies of the areas evolved to include industry as well as agriculture and mining.

The number of settlers increased to such an extent that land became scarce and the traces of pioneer spirit still remaining caused many to seek America at the end of the 19th century. At the conclusion of World War I, when the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was dissolved and the area was parceled up between Hungary, Rumania, and Yugoslavia, many more came to America. Those that remained continued to prosper and maintained the cultural identity that had developed over the centuries. The language and the customs varied by region and village but the concept of an ethnic identity separate from that of Germany was taking hold. The Donauschwaben gained a reputation for business, engineering, industry, land and prosperity. 

The end of the Second World War saw about 250,000 Donauschwaben annihilated in the communist concentration camps of Tito. An estimated 25% of the German population perished or disappeared. 100,000 people from Rumania and Hungary were abducted to Russia for forced labor, and were forcefully displaced to the Baragan Steppes where many thousands perished.  The largest part of the surviving Donauschwaben were forced to flee in this ethnic cleansing.

Edited from milwaukee's site: After the end of World War I, the territories of the German Settlers were parceled out to Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Then, as a result of World War II and the advancement of communism, the hatred for German ethnic groups inflamed quickly and conveniently. Communism needs land and the wealth, so it is taken. Of course, children were also taken and left to die in these communist gulags as well, so there was no one left to lay claim to industry or property. Tito’s reign of terror demanded tribute in the form of human life and 250,000 died in his communist gulag concentration camps. Communism also needs free labor. Tens of thousands of men and women of the remaining Danube Swabians were deported as slave labor to Russian work camps or to the Baragan Steppes of Romania where they perished and were never heard from again. 

This meant many Donauschwaben became refugees. Most of the refugees fled to their German roots in Germany and Austria. From there, many continued on to the United States and Canada, which was still a beacon of hope and freedom. A large number settled in the Midwest, where there was already a sizable number of German and Donauschwaben people. Areas such as Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Akron and Cincinnati became popular cities in which to settle during the early 1950’s.

 New York, Rochester, Trenton, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Mansfield, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Los Angeles. (re-order this)

With their work ethic and hope, the immigrants adapted quickly to their new homeland and, still to this day, play a substantial role in families, the community and the economy. The Donauschwaben created organizations and associations such as German language schools, music bands, youth and sport groups, choirs, and dance troupes to preserve their language, songs, dances and customs - just like the generations before them.

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