27 April 2014

A view on Pressburg

The members of the German ethnic minority ousted from Slovakia could have not found a better site for their memorial than the hill of Braunsberg, rising on the Austrian side of the “Porta Hungarica”. A particularly funny fact is that this is one of the favorite Austrian site of excursion of the inhabitants of Bratislava, a point with a great view on their capital. Those who want to take the best picture of Lamač/Lamacs/Blumenau, Devín/Dévény/Theben, the Kamzík/Zerge-hegy/Gemsenberg, or the castle hill of Bratislava/Pozsony/Pressburg, must climb up to the memorial. With many Slovaks already the name “Felvidék” (Upper Region), the historical Hungarian name of their country beats off the fuse. What will they think about the country of “Nordkarpatelnand” and its German-speaking cities?

A view on Preßburg

The border between Hungary and the Austrian principalities was virtually unchanged since the agreement of 1043 between King Samuel Aba and Emperor Henry III. For almost 900 years, the Danube entered to Hungarian land between the Röthelstein rising on the northernmost peak of Braunsberg, and the Dévény Castle across the river, through the archipelago of the so-called Porta Hungarica. For centuries, those arriving by boat to Hungary looked with a curiosity mixed with thrill when leaving the secure German lands and entered the wild Hungarian puszta. The settlers of the so-called Schwabenzug and the 13th-century Bavarian settlers of Pressburg and its surroundings may have been seized with the same feelings. 

The former German ethnic minority of Pozsony county was intrinsically linked to the Germans in Burgenland, forming a contiguous area with them. From the 16th century on, the area originally inhabited by them became a war theater in the battles against the Turks. The destroyed towns and villages – as no more settlers came from the German lands – were gradually inhabited by Slovaks and Hungarians. Despite the ongoing decrease and assimilation, at the time of the last census of the Hungarian Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century still there were about fifty thousand Germans living in the Pressburg area, 32 thousand of whom in the city itself. Among the villages in the area between the Danube and the Lesser Danube – the Csallóköz/Große Schütteninsel/Žitný ostrov – Dévény/Devín/Theben, Főrév/Rosenberg/Ružinov, Dénesd/Schildern/Jánošíková, Torcs/Tartschendorf/Nová Lipnica, Misérd/Mischdorf/Nové Košarišká, Csölle/Waltersdorf/Čela-Rovinka, Pozsonyligetfalu/Engerau/Petržalka and Dunahidas/Bruck/Pruck-Most pri Bratislave were of German majority.

"Die Karpatendeutschen in der Slowakei 1914-1945" - Paul Brosz 1972.
Thus, contrary to popular belief, the Csallóköz was never “pure Hungarian”. The German villages were mainly located in the district of Somorja/Sommerein/Šamorín. The German settlement area also extended on the wine-producing royal free cities on the Eastern slopes of the Little Carpathians, Modor/Modern/Modra, Bazin/Bösing/Pezinok and Szentgyörgy/Sankt Georgen/Svätý Jur, where the formerly strong German majority has been replaced by Slovaks.

View on the Braungsberg from the Hainburg Castle

After 1918 the ethnic relations in the Pressburg area underwent a major change. In less than 10 years, due to the strong Czech and Slovak immigration, the German and Hungarian majority of Bratislava and the nearby villages disappeared. In the so-called Hauer Land on the border of Nyitra and Turóc counties, as well as in the Lower and Upper Szepesség / Zips this process was somewhat lower.

It is less known, that in November 1938, with the first Vienna Award, not only Hungary (and, to a minor extent, Poland) received some areas from the Slovak territory of the former Czechoslovakia, but Germany as well. German troops marched into Dévény/Theben and Pozsonyligetfalu/Engerau, the latter having become in the meantime an outskirt of Bratislava with Slovak majority. These two settlements were annexed in the Bruck an der Leitha Kreis in the Niederdonau Reichsgau, composed from Northern Burgenland and Lower Austria.

The acquisition of Pozsonyligetfalu/Engera was of strategic importance for the Germans, as from this area, wedged between Hungary and Slovakia, they could completely control the rail and road traffic of Bratislava. In the autumn of 1938 Hitler himself visited Engerau, and watched with binoculars the formerly German-majority Hungarian coronation town Pressburg/Pozsony.

The Dévény/Devín Castle from the Braunsberg

Not much later the German ethnic minority of Slovakia was destroyed at a tragic speed, together with their 800-year long history.  In the territory of Slovakia, the first atrocities against the Germans started already in 1944, primarily in the Hauer Land, next to the center of the Slovak uprising. With the nearing of the Soviet army, the Germans started to organize the resettlement of the German minority to Austria and further to Germany. Barely 20,000 remained from the 150,000. Those who remained, fell under the Beneš Decrees, if they could not prove their “anti-Fascist” activity. Women, children and elderly people had virtually no chance to stay. The “democratic” Slovak National Council decided that the country must be cleaned from the Germans. Their heads were shaved, they had to bear signs of distinction, and were deported in camps of concentration. This fate fell also upon those who, after the war, tried to return to their native houses, which were at best occupied by Slovak settlers, and in the worst cases they found only burnt ruins.

Today in Slovakia about 5000 citizens of German ethnicity are registered, mainly in the capital. From time to time they also make a pilgrimage to the memorial that rises above Hainburg.
Translated by: Tamás Sajó

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