Zipser Germans

The Zipser Germans (Romanian: Tipteri, Hungarian: Cipszer) are a German-speaking ethnic group in northern Romania in the region of Maramures.

The name Zipser is applied to immigrants who originally came from Zips (then in the Kingdom of Hungary, now Spis in Slovakia). Today in Romania they still make up the main part of later immigrants from Upper German dialect-speaking areas. Traditionally, most of them have been employed in foresty.

The Zipsers and other German-speaking groups in Romania are currently represented by the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (DFDR).

Spis, Slovakia is bordered to the west by the High Tatras and the Belanske Tatras, to the south by the Low Tatras and the Slovenské Rudohorie (Slovak Ore Mountains), and to the north by Spisska Magura. Spis county came into being in the middle of the 12th century a the time of King Gejza and of the German colonisation which influenced Spis's entire history.

During 1920 the Zipsers formed their main political party (The Zipser-Deutsch Partei), which worked closely with the Magyar political parties.

The Zipsers were German speakers who lived in 30 odd small towns in and close to Spišs County (today’s north-eastern Slovakia and south-east Poland), including the towns of Levoča, Kežmarok, Poprad, and Spišská Nová Ves. In this border region of the old Hungarian Kingdom, ethnic and estate lines were often indistinguishable.

German Towns in Slovakia and Upper Hungary: A Genealogical Gazetteer.

Excerpt from the article adapted from a chapter in his book

By Duncan B. Gardiner, Ph.D., Certified Genealogist

By the beginning of the 1800s, many towns which were founded by Germans or previously had a majority of Germans became predominantly Magyar and Slovak. Towns with a majority German population, previously distributed generally over most of Slovakia, gradually shrank to three distinct areas (called Sprachinseln 'language islands' in German): The Pressburg area in the southwest, Hauerland in Central Slovakia, and the Zips in Eastern Slovakia in the High Tatra Mountains and to the South.

The Zips (Slovak Spis, Hungarian: Szepes) is the best-known German settlement area in Slovakia. The first German settlers arrived in the 12th century. Known as the Zipser Saxons, these early immigrants were apparently from the Lower Rhine region, Flanders, Saxony, and Silesia.

In the early period, the Zips was a single continuous region stretching from the northern border with Poland to the present-day Slovak-Hungarian border. Over time, the Zips divided into two regions, the Upper and Lower Zips (German Oberzips, Unterzips).

The Upper Zips towns, in the valley of the Popper (Sl. Poprad) River, stretch from Deutschendorf (Sl. Poprad) and Leutschau (Sl. Levoca) in the South to the Polish border along the Tatra Mountains. The most prominent towns were Deutschendorf, Kaesmark, and Leutschau. Very early, the Upper Zips towns formed the Zipser Bund 'Zips League' (Slovak: Spolocenstvo Spisskych Sasov), a federation of towns whose members were governed by the Zipser Willkuer, a civil and commercial legal system modelled after that of Magdeburg.

Most of the Upper Zips towns had charters from the Hungarian king and were not subject to a local seigneur; they elected their own governing officials. The economy of the Upper Zips towns was varied: traditional crafts (masonry, blacksmithing, leather working, etc.), textiles, mining, farming, commerce.

In 1412 the Emperor Sigismund, to finance his war with Venice, mortgaged 14 of the original 24 Zipser towns to the King of Poland, to whom their income belonged until 1772.

The original Zipser Bund towns were Bela, Deutschendorf (Poprad), Dirn (Odorin), Donnersmarkt (Spissky Stvrtok), Duerelsdorf (Tvarozna), Eisdorf (Zakovce), Eulenbach (Bystrany), Felka (Velka), Georgenberg (Spisska Sobota), Großlomnitz / Grosslomnitz (Velka Lomnica), Hunsdorf (Huncovce), Kabsdorf (Hrabusice), Kaesmark (Kezmarok), Kirchdrauf (Spisské Podhradie), Kunzendorf (Vlkovce), Leibitz (L'ubica), Leutschau (Levoca), Menhardsdorf (Vrbov), Muehlenbach (Mlynica), Neudorf (Spisska Nova Ves), Palmsdorf (Harichovce), Rießdorf / Riessdorf (Ruskinovce), Schwabsdorf (Svabovce), Sperndorf (Iliasovce).

The list of towns changed from time to time between 1248 to 1673. In 1674 the fraternity was disbanded, a victim of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

The 1930 census indicates that there were 25,162 Czechoslovak citizens of German nationality in the Upper Zips towns. The Lower Zips towns stretch from Neudorf (Spisska Nova Ves) in the North to Metzenseifen (Medzev) in the south, along the valleys of the Hernad and Goellnitz Rivers. The major Lower Zips towns were founded as mining communities; iron mines replaced the early gold and silver mines as the more precious metals gave out.

In contrast to the Upper Zips towns where the German population was partly replaced by Slovaks, the Lower Zips towns had a bigger influx of Hungarians after the Turkish occupation of Lower Hungary in the 1500s. The Lower Zips had a flourishing iron forge industry until the 1860s and exported hand-forged farming implements all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire and abroad.

The Industrial Revolution caused a decline in the Lower Zips metalworking industry. Many of the miners and blacksmiths emigrated to larger industrial centers in Austria-Hungary, elsewhere in Europe, and the United States.

According to the 1930 census, there were 13,141 Germans in the Lower Zips. The major Lower Zips towns were Goellnitz (Gelnica), Dobschau (Dobsina), Einsiedel (Mnisek nad Hnilcom), Metzenseifen (actually two towns, Obermetzenseifen and Untermetzenseifen, Sl. Vysny Medzev, Nizny Medzev), Schwedler (Svedlar), Schmoellnitz (Smolnik), Stoß / Stoss (Stos), Wagendruessel (Nalepkovo).

© Copyright 1997 Duncan B. Gardiner

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Last Updated: 17 Sep 2012
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