Keri: The Destruction of Ethnic German Lutheranism in the Swabian Turkey

Tolna, Baranya and Somogy Counties 1945-1948 
By Heinrich Keri
Translated By
Henry A. Fischer

“During the deportation to East Germany, on the night of May 28th, 1948 my sister Elisabeth gave birth to her son Konrad as the rolling, packed, sealed cattle cars moved across Czechoslovakia into an unknown future.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran National Archives in Budapest there are records and short histories of the individual congregations and parishes of the Tolna-Baranya-Somogy  Seniorat (Church District).   At the request of the Dean of the District the pastors of the Mother Churches authored these histories, while in the filial daughter congregations they were written by the schoolmaster, and are focused on the period from 1900 to 1950.  It should be further noted that during the 1930’s the pastors had already undertaken the task of writing the histories of the congregations from their beginnings up until 1900 at that time.

These later documents are now of great importance, since they are the only recorded source of information which we have of the destruction of German Lutheranism in the Tolna-Baranya-Somogy Church District as the pastors of the individual congregations experienced and lived it along with their parishioners.  It is remarkable how outspoken the authors are, in light of the political situation in Hungary in 1950, when others were arrested and imprisoned for far less, for giving expression to their moral outrage about the events they are recording and the injustices visited upon the Swabian population.

(Translator’s Note: The author provides a short history of the beginnings, development and spread of the German Lutheran congregations in Swabian Turkey in the 18th and 19th centuries before addressing the pre-war and war years which is the intent of this translation.)

The Volksbund (The Folk’s Union)

The Bund, as it was most commonly known by the Swabian villagers sought to recruit them into their movement that was National Socialist in its ideology.  (Translator’s Note:  National Socialist was the source of the term Nazi.)  Their aggressive followers allowed for no compromise and were on the attack.  Very often their local village “Fuehrer” or leader was an individual who was not a landowner and was not eligible to become the Richter (village major) or any other office holder in the life of the community.  These men set their communities at one another’s throats, which was such a sharp contrast to the two hundred years of village solidarity the Swabians had always known.  It was the beginning of the end.  It is understandable that the pastors opposed National Socialism and the Bund for more than one reason.  Throughout the Seniorat (Church District) not a single Lutheran pastor joined or supported the movement.

To characterize this situation, the following is the letter that Wilhelm Straner, the pastor in Kaposszekcsö, sent to his Bishop on February 6, 1941:

     “With a heavy heart I have to inform you that my earlier concerns about the Bund and its activities has been validated.  They have put their own people on the Church Council, who instead of furthering the work of the Church are in fact hindering it. The congregation is split into two parties, as is the whole community.  We have faithful church members, regular participants at worship, who without exception oppose the agitation of the Bund members who come to church but keep their distance and seek to carry out their own aims.  The leadership of the Bund carries out public anti-church diatribes.  They work to disturb the work of the Church, whether the activity is religious or cultural.  We had a wonderful youth choir with some fifty members.  As we began our winter program the local Bund Fuehrer had all of them added to the membership list of the Bund if they had ever attended a Bund event of any kind.  He strongly forbade the young people and their parents who participated in the Singing Society (Singstunden) to participate in Church activities because a “Bund member has no place in the Church.

       Along with the “school question”, (Translator’s Note: the decision as to which language  would be taught in the Church school) the Bund declared that the teacher  must teach only that which the Bund promoted, so for example there could be no teaching or reference to the Old Testament in religion classes…”

This is one example of many.  But it would be wrong to blame the activities of the Bund as the only cause for what was to follow.  For even without the emergence of the Bund the later reprisals would have still run their course.  Both the Bund members and their opponents would all share the same fate.  While the Bund leadership and their chief representatives in many of the villages joined in the evacuation in the face of the rapidly advancing Red Army, the ordinary members and the other villagers were convinced of their own innocence and remained behind.  They would have to pay the price.  All of the pastors, without exception throughout Swabian Turkey remained with their frightened and terrified flocks, well aware that their position and the life of the Church was now even in greater jeopardy than under the Nazis with the coming of Communism and what that would mean for them in the future.

Deportation to Slave Labour in the Soviet Union

At the end of the November and the beginning of December 1944, the Red Army occupied all of the territory south of Lake Balaton without opposition and the sufferings of the German population reached its high point.  All of the German villages experienced what the pastor of Keszöhidegkút describes:

     “As a result of the war and the occupation of our village, the inhabitants suffered much in the loss of material wealth, as well as most of their livestock.  There was a great deal of wine in the cellars and because of that the villagers suffered much abuse and the women, young and old had unspeakable things done to them…

       Added to this, the occupiers and the “new authorities” loved to carry out their actions on Sundays and religious holidays.”

Dezso Aisenpreisz, the pastor in Hidas wrote:

     “On the Second Day of Christmas, three hundred and fifty men and women were driven from their homes to provide labour service in the frigid winter cold.  The houses were filled with whimpering and crying family members and they ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.  No one came to the worship service that day.  On New Year’s Day and Epiphany the able bodied were driven out to work and this time the miners who had been spared in the past were also included.

      The bitterness and worry reached its high point when the people were forced to work day and night shoveling snow that was meters high, and then filling in trenches and having to walk several kilometers to and from work guarded by hateful sentries.

      On arriving home, with heavy hearts, they watched their beef cattle, horses, pigs and  fowl being taken away, but they were grateful to be in their homes.”

Much worse was the “malenki robot” (Translator’s Note:  Russian, meaning small or insignificant work.  It was the code word used for forced labour in the Soviet Union and would apply to all of the ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe which had been agreed to by Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta at the demand of Joseph Stalin)

The pastor in Bikács, Ferenc Rusznyak, wrote:

     “On January 4, 1945 there were forty eight persons, and on January 10th an additional forty-two, ninety persons in all were sent to the Soviet Union as slave labourers.”

     “The majority of them worked in the mines in the Dombas region of Ukraine. There were newly weds, single men and young women, and from among them, twenty-one of them perished there.  The number of men who fell during the war from the village numbered twenty-two.  With the deportation to Russia our war casualties doubled.”

Those who managed to return home often faced a tragic future.  Our pastor continued to write:

     “Because of the deportations to Germany, many of the survivors found no family members at home.  Parents, who had both been in Russia found that their only daughter was gone because she had been deported along with other relatives to Germany, and with broken hearts they tried to rebuild their lives,  because they were unable to join her.  Single young men and women found out that their parents were in Germany and had to find shelter with relatives or their Godparents.  Prisoners of war coming home from Russia learned that their wives and children had been deported to Germany and they were not allowed to join them.”

There were thirty-six persons in Keszöhidegkút who were dragged off to slave labour in Russia as they left the New Year’s Day service at the Church and were loaded on open wagons.  Numbers of them died in Russia and after five years there were still some of them who had not yet been released.

In Mekényes, it was on Christmas morning when sixteen young men (most of them sixteen and seventeen year olds) and thirty-one young women were taken to Sasd, and from there they were driven to Pécs on foot in the frigid cold.  On January 13th, five of the married women returned and the rest were transported to the Soviet Union.  From Kismányok there were forty-five persons taken to forced labour in Russia and twelve of them would never return.  From Varsad, the Mother church of the Swabian Lutherans in Hungary over two hundred and fifty men and women were taken.   They represented twenty per cent of the population.  From Csikostöttös there were sixty-seven persons, including the pastor’s daughter that was taken to the Dombas region.  Seven of them died there.


For those who remained behind at home further persecution was to be their lot.  Internment followed.  The purpose of which was to provide housing and farmsteads for new Hungarian settlers, who were refugees recently driven out of Czechoslovakia.

Sandor Andorka, the pastor in Kéty wrote:

     “During 1945 the congregation experienced further losses.  On April 29th, the village was surrounded by armed units, and all of the inhabitants except the officials, were ordered to assemble at the market place by the beating of drums in the streets.  Using various lists of names, the assembly was sorted into groups.

       The members of the Bund were loaded in horse drawn wagons and transported to Lengyel that afternoon to the castle of County Aponyi and interned there. Their entire property and all of their possession were confiscated, while they were declared to be criminals.  They remained in Lengyel for three weeks, and then they began to sneak away and hid in Hidas, while some of them returned to their former homes, while others found shelter with relatives and friends.”

In the history of Kismányok, submitted by pastor Johann Lang, he writes:

     “The 23rd day of May, 1945 was a sorrowful day for the village of Kismányok, the majority of the members of the congregation were interned in Lengyel. Settlers from Bukovina came to our village.  After about two weeks many of the villagers came home secretly and found shelter with relatives or their homes if the new settler owners would tolerate their presence.  Many of them fled to Germany.  The eighty new settler families soon exercised their rights as the leading element and took over all authority.  They placed the former residents in their service, which they welcomed as they really had no other alternative.”

From Hidas, we can read the following in Pastor Dezso Aizenpreisz’s report:

     “On April 29, 1945 at 6:00 am on Cantata Sunday, the whole population of the village was assembled in pouring rain, amid howling winds, in response to the beating of drums along all of the streets.  They were force marched to the village  meadow.  Some where released, but the others were sent out on foot to Bonyhad in pouring rain at four in the afternoon, and then they were taken to the assembly camp at Lengyel.   On this day again, the church was empty.”

Pastor Ferenc Ruszyak of Bikács provides us with this additional information:

     “There were other reasons for internment.  Families, which were not interned, continued to live in the village in houses that were assigned to them.  These previous inhabitants often came to verbal exchanges with the new settlers which resulted in an action on the night of November 25, 1946 when a group of people, including whole families were brutally attacked, assaulted and forcibly assembled and driven out of the village on foot to Györköny, from where they were taken to Pari on board wagons driven by the residents of Györköny.  Later, they were allowed to return.”

The Expulsion from Hungary Ordered at Potsdam

As the expulsions began in 1946, entire congregations went out of existence.

     “The years between 1945 and 1948 were filled with fear and worry about a possible expulsion.  No one showed any interest in the affairs of the Church, and no one took on any functions in the life of the congregation.  In August of 1947 and in March of the next year, around seven hundred persons were expelled from Hungary.  Through flight and the expulsion, the number of believers was reduced from  one thousand one hundred souls to one hundred and seventy-one believers.  The life of the congregation limped along from day to day.”

So wrote, Endre Liska the pastor of Varsad.

From Hidas we hear from Pastor Aizenpreisz:

     “Those who returned to Hidas from internment were packed together in some of the smaller houses.  In some houses there were up to ten families, usually in one room, the kitchen, the bedroom or hayloft.

       This tragic, sorrowful, nerve wrenching and soul searching time lasted until the Expulsion Commission carried out the verdict of those to be expelled on March 31, 1946 and nine hundred persons were transported away.

       On July 2, 1946 in the afternoon at 5:00 pm the second group of six hundred and  fifty persons were taken away.  After being shuttled back and forth for three weeks they were sent back from the border and were interrogated in the village of Hajos.

       On November 10, 1946 they were eventually delivered to Germany with the exception of some families who had returned to Hidas after their temporary stay in Hajos.

       On May 23, 1948 the last group of ninety persons was expelled.

The following is the report from Pastor Erno Hoffmann of Izmény:

     “The whole village was like a demolished anthill.  Village life was in a shambles. There were new worries every day.  The danger and threat was not only directed to those whose homes were confiscated but also those who were still in their own homes.  The new “arrivals” sought the opportunity to take over their homes as had the others before them.  Because of the uncertainty and threats many villagers took flight to Germany.  The Potsdam Declaration was in the process of execution.  In fear of what was coming they chose to flee into the unknown.  June of 1946 was set as the day for the expulsion, but it was delayed.  But the unrest among the people continued unabated.  On May 23, 1947 on the basis of a government order all villagers had to leave their homes, even if they were not members of the Bund.

       On August 19th, several families were expelled and the church membership had Dwindled…

     “On March 2nd, 1948 a long wagon column brought three hundred persons to the railway station, where along with others from various neighboring villages were transported to the Russian Zone of Germany. This was the most awful day in the life of the congregation and community.  Only a few people without land and property remained in their own homes.  They survived as day labourers.  Our large spacious church now is sorrowful to behold with so few worshippers.”

From Upper Baranya, and the village of Kaposszekcsö the pastor, Dezso Havasi writes:

     “In May of 1948 the expulsion of the Germans in Upper Baranya began.  In Kaposszekcsö the names of seventy-five families (numbering three hundred and five persons) was posted on the village bulletin board.  On May 9th, all of them received Holy Communion at the service of farewell.  The action began at 4:00 am on May 11th.  Several hundred wagons and teams of horses were prepared and stationed in various places where the expellees deposited the possessions they were allowed to take with them.  After an hour the officials set the column in motion with its cargo of weeping occupants proceeding towards an unknown destination.  It was at that moment when the church bells began to toll in defiance and continued until the last wagon was lost in the dust on the road to Dombovár.  From there the train headed for Germany on May 13th.  On May 19th the village had to relive the same sorrowful sight again as six more families were expelled, including one Hungarian Lutheran family.”

Pastor Gyula Klenner from Alsónána writes:

     “With the expulsion of the German speaking population, the congregation was de- populated.  On May 27th, 1946 there were one thousand, one hundred and sixty-two  persons expelled to Germany, followed by twenty-one more on February 17th, 1948. Since then the congregation counts forty-five members.”

The story was much the same in Bátaapáti, as Pastor Adolf Klenner informs us.

     “The expulsion of 1946 devastated the congregation.  Ninety per cent of the members of the congregation were expelled and those who remained were economically impoverished and forced to live in smaller houses and could only have six to eight Joch of land.  Here in the Mother Church there are one hundred and one members, without support from the wider Church the congregation will die out.”

While in Kéty, Pastor Andorka reports:

     “Our blooming congregation took a heavy hit and toll and has shrunk to an “outpost” in the Diaspora.  Of our one thousand members, over eight hundred were expelled. Those who remain are looking elsewhere to find a future.  Three families have managed to stay in their own homes having married a Hungarian.  In all, only seventy-one members remain here as well as thirty others living in the vicinity.”

In Kistormás, Pastor Gross writes:

     “On November 13th, 1946, and September 1st, 1947 as well as January and March of 1948 almost the entire population was expelled.  The congregation, which once had almost four hundred members is now reduced to twenty-nine, while in Kölesd there are eleven and all of what remains of the Felsönána congregation are five persons. 

       Seven to eight per cent of the population died as casualties in the war and forced Labour in the Soviet Union.  Of those who were expelled, many of them have died,  many from a broken heart, while large numbers have emigrated to North America.”

(Translator’s Note:  The author describes attempts by the struggling congregations to survive now reverting to the sole use of the Hungarian language in worship, with limited success, but some strong congregations emerging in Gyönk, Bonyhad and Ecsény.  I end with his concluding words)

We have no accurate statistics with regard to the losses experienced by the German Lutheran congregations in Swabian Turkey.  At the beginning of the Second World War there were about thirty-five thousand German Lutherans in Swabian Turkey.  The Dean of the Church District, in 1950 estimated the total losses to the Church were approximately 28,000 who were expelled, along with those who fell in battle, joined the evacuation or died at forced labour in the USSR.   Leaving a remnant of seven thousand that to all intents and purposes is now almost fully assimilated.

Until the end of the Second World War the bells of the twenty-seven Mother Churches and over twenty daughter congregations called the believers to worship in their own language every Sunday throughout all of Swabian Turkey.  Today, you can still hear God’s Word proclaimed in the language of Martin Luther in Szekszárd on alternate Sundays as well as in Bonyhad and Gyönk.