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"A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler



Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors
     
 

German Evangelical Lutherans
From Tolna, Somogy & Baranya in Hungary to Steelton, PA

by Henry Fischer

The published church history of Trinity German Evangelical Lutheran Church indicates that in 1900 three families from “Western Hungary” had become members of the parish.  The heads of households that were listed in the publication included:  Georg Frey, Johann Schultheiss and Tobias Bitz.  The three families came from Swabian Turkey which is a region that covers the Counties of Tolna, Somogy and Baranya in Hungary.  In the annual report in 1910 the pastor indicates that sixty-seven families from Western Hungary were now part of the parish and in fact had become the majority leading to the exodus of some of “the more German families.”  In addition to these families from Hungary there were also several families from Semlak and Liebling in the Banat with whom they shared common origins. 

Congregational life and church activities became the focal point of the social life of this portion of the Danube Swabian population in addition to the Bitz grocery store operated by Henry Bitz the son of Tobias who had been a youngster when the family arrived in Steelton from Döröschke in the hill country of Somogy County in Hungary.  The store was located on Mohn Street named after a German family who had lived there in the past and where many of the Danube Swabian families resided.  His store and butcher shop became a meeting place where the language was familiar, the products were designed to meet their needs, where news from “home” was shared and marriages were often hatched and the sausages he made were reputed to be just like back home. 

These original Lutheran families came from the following villages located in Baranya County:  Csikostöttös, Bikal, Mekenyes and Nagy Hajmas.   From Tolna County there were families from:  Varsád, Udvári, Gyönk, Szárázd and Izmény.  The following villages were represented among the numerous families from Somogy County:  Miklosi, Szil, Hacs, Szabadi, Döröschke, Bonnya and Ecsény.  In addition there were families from the colonies established in Slavonia by families from Swabian Turkey:  Hrastovac, Klein Bastei, Pasjan, Antunovac, Sartovac and Kaptanovpolje. 

The major social problem in Steelton was drunkenness and the immigrant population bore the brunt of the blame and in many instances were guilty as charged.  With such a large number of “unattached” men in the community the saloons and houses run by bootleggers became the venue for social intercourse and its consequences.  The local newspapers constantly inveighed against the immigrant’s propensity to fall victim to the wiles of alcohol and its attendant results.  One incident in particular sheds some light on the issue.  Two men, one named John Gittinger and the other John Fisher were arrested for assaulting a woman in a saloon and were identified as ‘drunk German immigrants’ in the newspaper headline.  The name of John Fisher has obviously been Anglicized from the correct spelling: Fischer.  The next week the same newspaper reported that Trinity German Evangelical Lutheran Church had held a special meeting with regard to the incident and issued a protest to the newspaper to the effect that the two individuals were not Germans at all but Hungarians!  Even then the Danube Swains were prone to vacillate about their identity or perhaps the more German element in the congregation needed to have their say to protect their reputation. 

[Published at DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr  - Last Updated: 30 Jul 2014]