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

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

Danube Swabians - Nationality, Citizenship, and Inter-Ethnic Relations

by Nick Tullius

            The discussion of nationality and citizenship tends to stir up a heated discussion on the DVHH List. It has been a recurring theme over the years, but there appears to be still a lot of misunderstanding around this admittedly complicated subject, especially among newer members of the List. Rather than asking them to follow up on the subject in the archives, it may be simpler to summarize the conclusions of the discussions.

Some people use the two words citizenship and nationality as synonyms, but that can often be misleading. A better understanding requires a look into history and into the practices of other countries in the world.  

 The USA follows a policy called Jus soli whereby everyone born in the US is an American citizen. Under certain conditions, immigrants can also acquire American citizenship, thereby also becoming American nationals. To many people, this means that they acquired American nationality.

In many countries of the world, the Jus sanguinis policy is recognized, meaning that nationality, but not citizenship, is passed down from parents to children. The Danube Swabians provide a perfect example. Due to the changes of borders imposed on them by the powers above them, their citizenship often changed in accordance with the countries that took possession of the place where they lived. During those changes, their nationality did not change: They continued speaking German, learning German in school (except where prohibited), attending German churches, and following the traditions of their forefathers, such as celebrating their Kirchweih.

In recent times, the term “ethnicity” is sometimes used instead of “nationality”. Applied to the USA, it means that the Danube Swabians could be “Americans of German ethnicity”, a designation shared with German-speaking immigrants from other parts of the world, including Germany. However, in many European countries, where the circumstances of history placed people of various ethnicities, and where some Danube Swabians still live today, they continue to be recognized as a nationality, sometimes as one among many “co-inhabiting nationalities” (nationalities that live alongside a majority nation).

Not all the people colonizing the Banat, Batschka, etc. in the 18th century spoke German or were of German descent. Obviously, the concepts of race or "purity of race" would be misapplied in this discussion. And the colonists themselves were in no sense Danube Swabians as they are sometimes erroneously designated. But over many generations, the descendants of the colonists developed into a new, predominantly German-speaking group (sometimes referred to as a tribe), for which the group-designation “Donauschwaben” was coined. Their neighbours continued to call them Swabians or Germans (in their own languages) and they continued to refer to themselves as Schwowe or Schwobe, pronounced according to the dialect specific to every town or village. Their vast majority accepted their German nationality (or ethnicity) as natural, while remaining loyal citizens of whatever country they found themselves in.

Wherever people of different nationalities (or ethnicities) live together, assimilation is likely to take place. A simple example is a change of nationality by marriage into another nationality. An example of mass assimilation was Magyarization, a process by which non-Magyar nationalities (such as Swabians, Romanians, Croats, etc) were encouraged to adopt the Magyar language and culture, either voluntarily or by pressure.

Many politically aware Swabians wanted to remain patriotic Hungarian citizens, but maintain their German culture, their schools, theatres and newspapers. Others, especially in the cities, and often as a condition for employment, accepted the Magyar culture and even changed their names to make them sound Hungarian. The Swabians in the villages, especially in those in which they were the majority population, generally maintained their inherited nationality.

There was obviously also assimilation into the Swabian communities. As an example, over generations, the “French villages” of the Banat became indistinguishable from other Swabian villages. An interesting example is Johann Szimits (1852 - 1910) who was born as the son of immigrant Serbs of Orthodox faith in Bogarosch, but became the founder of Banat-Swabian dialect poetry. He considered himself a “Serbian Schwob”.

In the 1920s and 1930s the rising nationalism in Germany spilled over into other countries. At the political leadership level, Germany paid increasing attention to the Danube Swabians. While the overwhelming majority of them, especially in the villages, remained apolitical, they were often overwhelmed by what was happening to them. Some young Swabians returned from their studies in Germany as Nazi sympathizers. Some eventually volunteered for the SS, as did young men from counties such as Italy, Finland, Croatia, Albania, Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Ukraine, even Kazakhstan and Turkestan. But older Swabian men in the Eastern (Romanian) Banat had only a choice between two evils: join the Romanian army or join the German army. To join the armed forces of another country they had to be designated as “volunteers”, but they did not go to war voluntarily. Drafting the Banat men in 1943 into a war that was already lost is seen by many as pure exploitation.

The deportation of innocent Danube Swabian civilians to pay for the deeds of those “volunteers”, or for the damage caused by Hitler's armies, qualifies as a crime by any standards of international law. It stands in contrast to the fact that the population of Germany as a whole was not subjected to that deportation. It is hard to understand how Western democracies condoned that crime. The suffering of the civilian population at the end of WWII ranged from loss of all rights, loss of property, deprivations of all kinds, to exile and extermination en masse. And it remains inexplicable, that the genocide of the Danube Swabians is missing from many mainstream history books.

          We can only hope that the members of this List will not be confused by the many alternative spellings and one-sided interpretations promoted by persons trying to re-interpret Danube-Swabian history in their own, private, revisionist, and self-serving way. It is true that WWII has affected various Danube-Swabian families in many different ways, but we can only honour the victims and help preserve their threatened heritage and culture by presenting their true story. Despite occasional perturbations, I think that DVHH has been doing that increasingly well.

[Published at 2 Jul 2014 by Jody McKim Pharr]

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Danube Swabians - Nationality, Citizenship, and Inter-Ethnic Relations


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