Vanishing Acts

 Fertile fields surround the village of Boszenfa in southwestern Hungary

Fertile fields surround the village of Bőszénfa in southwestern Hungary

In 1910 a census was taken in the village of Bőszénfa in Somogy County. It recorded a population of 984 people. 586 (59.6%) of these were ethnic Germans, while the 397 Hungarians (40.3%) were distinctly in the minority. Today, the village is almost entirely Hungarian.

Traces of this bygone German majority are few. A Roman Catholic Church first constructed in 1777 and rebuilt in 1902 is the most outstanding remnant. Though the church steeple is by far the most prominent piece of architecture in the village, the church is less than crowded during services.

What happened to the Germans can be summed up quite succinctly: World War II and Communism.Germans were a part of Hungary literally from the start. Istvan, the man who was crowned the first king of Hungary in 1000 and turned the Magyars towards western style Christianity, married the German born Giselle, who became the first queen.

The largest settlement of Germans occurred in Hungary during the early 18th century when the Habsburg’s brought them in to resettle the areas depopulated by the Turkish occupation.They came from Swabia, Saxony and Austria and soon thrived as farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. Their industrious spirit helped rebuild the country.

By the end of the 18th century there were over one million ethnic Germans living in the Kingdom of Hungary. Even after Hungary gained nominal independence in 1867, the German population continued to thrive.

They were at the forefront of creating a robust industrial sector in Hungary. Many came to share an allegiance with the Hungarians, but chafed at nationalist Hungarian policies that imposed the Magyar language on them.

Nonetheless, the Germans were allowed more leeway than other minorities due to their industriousness and powerful economic interests. In the smaller villages such as Bőszénfa their customs and culture exerted a pronounced influence on the way of life.

With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, seeds of the demise of Hungary’s ethnic German’s communities were sown. Separate organizations arose that lobbied to increase rights for the German speaking minority. One of these known as the Volksbund actually had members in parliament until the end of World War II.

Germans all over Eastern Europe were expelled in the years following World War II

Germans all over Eastern Europe were expelled in the years following World War II

Following defeat at the end of the war, the government of Hungary had not originally planned to evict the ethnic German populace. Nevertheless, pressure from the Soviet Union resulted in ethnic Germans being stripped of their citizenship following the end of the war in 1945.

Then in successive waves from 1946 to 1948 they were deported. The Hungarian communists found the German minority a convenient scapegoat, calling them examples of capitalist and bourgeois elements that had to be expunged from society.

The expulsion policy, like much else in post war Hungary, was haphazardly applied. Some villages were cleared out while others had their population left relatively intact for no apparent reason.

Yet the underlying intent was clear, Germans represented possible enemies of the state and must be separated from Hungary once and for all. Many of those lucky enough to avoid deportation were reduced to menial labor, especially in the countryside.

Following the failed 1956 revolution many ethnic Germans fled to Austria and West Germany. Even with the easing of oppression under “Goulash Communism” the German presence slowly dwindled.

By the time communism fell apart in 1989, over two million ethnic Germans had been deported or emigrated from Hungary.Today, there are about 60,000 Germans left in the nation. In villages they used to dominate ethnically, economically and culturally their presence has vanished.

A century ago, the Roman Catholic church in Bőszénfa was filled with devout ethnic German Catholics. Today in the same church, the village’s older Hungarian parishioners come to worship, but cannot fill the church. The empty spaces in the pews are a lasting reminder of a people who have all but vanished.

Monument to deported Germans in Elek, Hungary

Monument to deported Germans in Elek, Hungary

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About the Author: Leuko

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