Sathmar, (now in Romania)
Rosina T. Schmidt

The County of Sathmar lies at the western edge of the Transylvania Mountains. Already back in 1230 Prince Andrei II of Russia mentioned that the queen Gisella established the city Mintiu in Sathmar back in the year of 1006 with ‘hospites teutones’.

Almost seven hundred years later, and after the many wars with the Turks and their centuries long occupation of that area the land returned to wilderness and forest all over again. After the Turks have been expelled out of Sathmar County in 1688 the new landowner count Alexander Kaerolyi received the permission in 1711 by the Emperor in Vienna to resettle his land once again with the settlers from Upper Swabia (Württemberg) where from the first Germanic settlers came from centuries before.

The count Kaerolyi sent his agent to southern Wuerttemberg and as per the agent’s accommodation invoices he visited the following places: Ringschnait, Ochsenhausen, Biberach, Ellemannsweiler, Stein, Lauperhausen, Schweinhausen, Waldsee, Weingarten, Ravensburg, Fieramoos, Reinstetten, Heggbach, Gutenzell, Ulm. We can assume that the first settlers who arrived in the county of Sathmar back in 1712 came from those towns. A list of names does not exist.

Sathmar (yellow colour) in greater Hungary

In June of 1712 a settlers contract has been signed in Bratislava. As per that contract each settler-family was to receive a parcel of land to erect their farmstead on. Their received one cow, two oxen and wheat to sow. That year 1400 settlers arrived from Swabia down the Danube River to Budapest and from there by horse and wagons to Sathmar. However, the preparations were insufficient, and death and hunger soon reduced the number of Swabians drastically. Instead of four villages as planed only one was established: Urziceni.

By 1720 count Kaerolyi once again advertised for new settlers. Those newcomers came from different Germanic areas and established the second Danube Swabian town: Foieni. In the years 1722 to 1736 another six villages sprouted where before stood count Kaerolyi’s thick forest. Eventually, over 2,000 ethnic German families settled in Sathmar during the 18th Century in 30 communities.

The life of the first settlement years was just as difficult as in other Danube Swabian areas. As it was usual on all manorial estates, the landowners requested from their settlers more and more taxes, in the form of free labour and other obligations disregarding the signed settlement contracts. Many a time the people revolted.

From the very beginning of their arrival in the Sathmar County, the newcomers went out of their ways to find a priest for their towns, who would also teach their children. As per the contract signed in 1712 the count’s estate would pay the cost and support for a chaplain for the first three tax-free years. After that the community would take over the responsibility for the support of the cleric.

As in the other Danube Swabian areas, the first colonist homes were constructed with adobe bricks with the roofs of houses and barns mostly covered with straw. Fire was often a large enemy and whole streets and sometimes also whole towns turned into ruin and ashes.

Crop failure as a result of bad weather was another major plaque besides the illnesses and hunger. But in spite of disasters, the settlers were successful to create out of the forests of Count Karolyi a loved homeland.

100 year later, by 1821 there were about 18,000 ethnic German inhabitants in those 30 towns and 100 years still later the population increased by 100%. Now there were over 40,000 Danube Swabians living in the County of Sathmar or about 1/3 of the total population.

By the end of WWI as in the other Donauschwaben areas, the treaty of Trianon in 1918 changed their political live-forever. In Sathmar they became Romanian citizen. However, the political change had no negative effect on our Donauschwaben at that time. The two nationalities Romanians and ethnic Germans were always living peacefully and working side by side.

Then in came the year of 1940 and with it the Vienna agreement. On August 30, the Premiers Teleki of Hungary and Gigurtu of Romania were called to Vienna. Hungary received northern half of Transylvania and the Sathmar area, taken from Romania. Another one of those peace agreements made and broken.

By 1944 the Danube Swabian life in the Sathmar region was extinguished just as it was in other six Donauschwaben areas.

After the horrendous World War II and uncounted losses of life on all sides, the boundary line between Hungary and west Romania made in 1918 was restored again.

One of those 30 Donauschwaben villages in Sathmar County was the village of Scheindorf. The last pastor of Scheindorf, Stefan Brendli wrote his account of the evacuation of the Swabian inhabitants and I have the honor of presenting it to you:

Evacuation of the Swabians

Stefan Brendli, the last pastor of the Scheindorf Church community, gives this account of the evacuation of the Danube Swabian inhabitants:

“On the ninth of October 1944 came the order that Scheindorf, together with the neighboring town of Hamroth, would be evacuated the next day. The people were in the fields, in the vineyard, and in the nearby forest, as shortly before noon crying women and girls ran in all directions to spread the news. I was just coming out of the woods with the church warden and his wagon, as we saw what was happening in the town. The town looked like an anthill that had been disturbed. We had been expecting this blow for a long time, but now, when it was becoming reality, everyone was stunned and alarmed. Everywhere on the main street there was violent debating and advice, back and forth talk. No one wanted to submit to fate without argument.

During the night of October 10, no one in the town closed their eyes in sleep. After midnight, people came to church for confession. At the morning Mass at 7 o’clock, crying and sobbing was the prayer of the faithful. At the final prayer, the people said good-bye to house and farm, to church and school, to field and vineyard, to meadow and forest. Afterwards, teacher Martin Gyetko played the organ for a long time, since it would probably be the last time. With tears in his eyes, he squeezed my hand afterwards. Old Mesner let out a painful sigh with the words: ‘This is a hard thing.’ He also had tears running down his cheeks.

Around 11 o’clock, commissioned soldiers pushed for departure. But no one wanted to drive from their courtyard, although the ox, cow, and horse wagons stood by their houses ready for departure. At last, the soldiers had to threaten them. Finally, the first wagon drove out, and the others followed hesitatingly and thoughtful. They were telling each other that in two weeks they would be home again and everything would be better. Nobody believed this, though. At the church, they blessed themselves and tipped their hats. Many hurried quickly into church, and some took some holy water. Gradually, the town emptied. At the end, a horse and wagon drove from the courtyard with church objects and the St. Anne statue.

Now the bells began to ring from the tower. They announced to the world the tragedy of this Swabian town among other nations. They wailed and cried together with the people. Then, it also began to rain softly. Even heaven cried. The bells rang for a whole hour. Meanwhile, I watched the wagon train from the tower with two soldiers. The two soldiers were unable to hold back their tears either. The wagon train drove farther and farther away from the town. But it looked as if they kept stopping and looking back. As if, over and over, they wanted a last look at their house, their field. Who knew if they would ever see them again!

I stayed in the town. The next day, the last soldiers left the town. The long street was deserted. A few hours ago, each house and yard was crowded; and now suddenly this deathly silence. It disturbed the mind; it was frightening, as if a man who was fit as a fiddle died suddenly. After two days, I drove out after them and found them west of Grosskarol. Gradually, they were able to cope with the necessity of flight. It also helped that it was a beautiful, sunny fall day.

I turned to go back home. It was risky, but I arrived back in Scheindorf. There was not an animal left in the town. The soldiers took the rest, while they shot every living thing. At the edge of town, a few couples of mixed nationality remained. The looting of the Swabian farmhouses was carried out quietly. Even the rectory door had been broken. The next day, I was lucky to be able to reach Sathmar by military transport.

In the meanwhile, the wagon train from the community slowly made its way west. They had mostly oxen and cow teams, and the horses had to adapt themselves to their pace. Through Sathmar, Grosskarol, Nyirbator, Nagykallo, Nyiregyhaza, Polgar, Poroszlo, Heves, Jaszbereny, Rakoskeresztur, Budapest, and on October 28th, they reached Budaors. The approximately 400-kilometer trip took 18 days. They were in constant fear that the front would overtake them. Four miles from Poroszlo, there was a battle as they were going through the town.

In Budaors, where they met fellow countrymen from other towns, the news spread that the war was going over the border into Germany. They had thought they would be able to stay in western Hungary. Those who wanted to were told that they would be able to travel by train. Many who had oxen or cow teams chose to do this. The army took over their oxen and cows and wagons. For consolation, they were given a receipt for them. Those who took the train went to Thüringen”

“The people had taken from their houses what they were able to load on one or two wagons. Some slaughtered a pig that night. Mainly they brought clothes and bedding. Then kitchen utensils, tools; some brought a sewing machine, etc. Most importantly, they brought food. They had no problem with food, however, because from Budaors on, the army took good care of the refugees. Again and again, they came to a field kitchen, where they had a hot meal and were given food to take along on their journey. All the way to the border the wagon train drove, through Bia, Bicsk, Kisber, Veszpremvarsany, Tet, Rabacsanak, Csapod, Nagyczenk, Kophaza, and Odenburg. In Kophaza, all the wagons pulled by cattle had to be given up. Only the horse-wagons were allowed over the border. Here, the people also exchanged their Hungarian Pengo for German Mark. They were going into Austria. 287 head of cattle had left the town with the people. Before the border, they gave away the last one. The 136 horses they kept until the end of the line, which was in Enns, by Linz, Altmunster, and Traunsee in Salzkammergut. From Budoars to Odenburg, a distance of 250 kilometer, took 13 days. The 300 kilometers to Altmunster took another 13 days. The horse wagons arrived in Altmunster on November 26. They were happy after a month and a half, to unhitch their wagons.

On October 10, 692 people left their homeland. On the way, 5 people died, 2 were missing, 214 went to Thuringen, and from there went back to Scheindorf after the war. 471 people arrived in Altmunster; this number included 7 children who were born on the way.”

From the book: History of a Sathmar Schwaben Village “Scheindorf 1780-1970” by Stefan Schmied

Danube Swabian localities in Sathmar:

  • Petrifeld

Many a time I am asked why I bother of dwelling on our Danube Swabian history so much. The answer is easy. As Elie Wiesel in his book ‘Night” wrote:

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his and her duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He or she has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

September 2008