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The History of the German Lutheran Congregations In the Banat
Taken From: Die Geschichte der deutsch-evangelischen Gemeinden Des Banats
By Hans Walther Röhrig, Leipzig, 1940
 Summarized and Translated By Henry A. Fischer

  After 150 years of Turkish rule and following the Peace of Passarowitz in 1718, the Banat came under Austrian control and was designated an Imperial Province governed by the Royal Chamber in Vienna.  Through war and devastation the land was depopulated, only the eastern areas occupied by the Turks were an exception and presented a better picture.  In Temesvar, alongside families of Spanish Jews, there were also small numbers of Serbs.  Count Florimundus Mercy, the governor of the Banat was given the task to resettle the swamp infested wasteland which the Banat had become.  Even before the Settlement Patent of Charles VI in 1722, promising certain rights and privileges for any would-be colonist, individual Germans, mostly craftsmen and former participants in the military forces during the War of Liberation began to settle in the Banat , mainly in the towns and cities.
  The one hundred year long resettlement of the Banat and the other Danube areas was divided into three phases, the so-called Schwabenzug or the Carolinian, Theresian and Josephinian colonization periods named after the respective sovereigns.
  Within the framework of this study it is the third period under Joseph II that is most important and covers the period from 1782-1788.  It was only in this period that large numbers of Protestants arrived in the Banat.  They consisted of approximately 3,000 families; a portion of those came directly from the various German principalities, while others resettled in the Banat from other areas within the Habsburg Empire, especially from Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Hungary itself.
  The numbers of Germans in the Banat in 1839 numbered 224,807; in 1880 the census reported 364,080; and in 1910 there were 426,240 persons.  By 1939 the combined Danube Swabian population in the Romanian and Yugoslavian Banat was estimated at 450,000.
   Charles VI, whose government policy was highly influenced by mercantilism that projected economic advancement through increased population and productivity, was unable to carry out a systematic settlement in the Banat due to the many military campaigns in the area and the ongoing incursions of the Turks in the south.  In contrast to the population policies of Maria Theresia, which also included large numbers of non-Germans, Joseph II’s policy was specifically “Germans only.”  Although the colonists themselves were not politically motivated, they were used for political ends to populate and secure the border areas in order to strengthen the southern borders of the Empire.  The settlers were farmers and tradesmen and not a “nation” of their own with narrow social, political and religious boundaries of their own like the Transylvania Saxons who had preceded them by six hundred years, nor the Serbs who, under the leadership of their Patriarch, had sought refuge from the Turks and found asylum in the Banat.  The Germans came simply as settlers whose sense of community was their extended family and their neighbors.  They placed little importance on externals and focussed on the tasks of settlement and maintaining the traditions of home.
  It is not obvious why Germany was to be the chief source of these settlers.  At that time every state was interested in increasing its population, bringing in settlers who were non-Germans and hindering the emigration of its own people to other lands and territories.  But political might prevailed and because they were surrounded by “mightier” neighbouring states, the German principalities lacked that.  Larger states like England and France, as well as Prussia, hindered emigration by law and decree.  The southwest German principalities attempted to do likewise, but the “Wanderlust” that was encouraged by the colonial publicity agents proved stronger.  The populations in this area were locked into the estate landlord system; the border areas along the Rhine had been devastated and ravaged for decades by foreign troops and had endured their occupation.  Economic need and social oppression through the “serfdom” system also added to the discontent.  The Protestants (both Lutheran and Reformed) in the Pfalz (Palatinate) were persecuted due to the re-catholicizing policies of their ruler Karl Theodore and, as a result, were engaged in various streams of emigration.  Following the Joseph II Edict of Toleration, which also applied to Protestant settlers, in the Danube areas a virtual emigration fever broke out.  The promise of toleration and the other privileges granted to settlers, i.e. land, houses, livestock etc. lured would-be German colonists.  Despite censorship, control of the mail, the difficulties involved in securing proper exit documentation and all kinds of other impediments in the southwest German principalities, very few of those who left did so without the proper credentials.  The reports sent home by the colonists or those who made a return visit home only stimulated the interest of others to leave and join them in the new land.
  In addition to the political and economic issues, the social pressures and the religious reasons there must also be acknowledgment of the basic wanderlust which was at issue among these land loving people between the Rhine and the Mosel who were bonded together in many ways.  It is the compulsion and drive to wander and seek adventure that is common to the southwest Germans who would colonize the Volga, Galicia, Bessarabia, North and South America and the Danubian provinces.  This “Swabian” roving spirit created not only the Danube Swabians but resulted in other ongoing migrations, so that thousands of them later left for North America and either remained there or returned.  In addition to all of the other reasons and causes of the emigration, those of Swabian and Franconian origin left as restless spirits in search of a new life just over the horizon.
  The designation of the Germans living in the Danube region as “Swabians” is as inaccurate as referring to the Germans in Transylvania as “Saxons”.  (Translator’s note:  In North America there was a parallel in calling the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania the Pennsylvania Dutch.)  Because the first settlers appear to have been Swabians, that apparently is how the designation originated.  In Serbian they were called Svaba and in Hungarian they were called Svabok, and the term was subsequently applied to all Germans in the Danube basin.  In 1922 the identification of all Germans in Szatmar, Banat, Batschka, Swabian Turkey, Croatia and Slavonia, Syrmia, Bakony Forest, Western Hungary and the Budapest plains as the “Donauschwaben” was suggested by the ethnologists Sieger and Rüdiger in Vienna, even though only a small proportion was actually of Swabian origin.  Regardless not only of the many differences that affected dissimilar groups in various localities, but also of the shifting political situations and borders, the Danube Swabians still shared a basic common history.
  To give the reader a flavour of the historical situation into which would-be Protestant settlers would come, in response to the invitation of Charles VI to settle in the Banat, is this decree of January 1, 1718 by the State Council in Temesvar:

    “Be it known to all, that no unbelievers, that is heathen, Jews, Turks, Lutherans or
     Calvinists and all other heretics mentioned above are hereby expelled from the city immediately and there will be no exceptions.”

  The following are some examples of the reasons given for this kind of policy.  Three reasons were given by Vienna for this need to exclude Protestants from its new settlement colonization program.  Absolutism was the Habsburg worldview; tolerance could only weaken the power of the state, and one uniform religious confession would strengthen the state.  Vienna further believed that the state would be endangered from a Turkish-Protestant alliance that might be forged if Protestants settled in the Banat in the very vulnerable border areas where the Turks remained active.  Thirdly, the tradition of the Vienna Imperial Chamber had always been supportive of the supremacy of Roman Catholicism and Maria Theresia embodied that in all of her religious policies.  In other regions of the Habsburg Monarchy, Hungary in particular, Protestantism had to be dealt with differently and some Protestants were able to settle there on private estates.  (Translator’s note:  Some of the first Danube Swabians from Germany were Lutherans and Reformed from Hesse and Württemberg who settled during the first phase of the Schwabenzug on private estates including the estates of Count Mercy, the governor of the Banat, on his domains in Tolna County, where large Lutheran and Reformed congregations later flourished.  Others settled on the east bank of the Danube at Kisharta, Vadkert and Meszobereny.)
 Protestants settlers joined in the migration down the Danube from the very outset and they received permission from the Diet at Pressburg in 1723 to do so.  They were guaranteed civil and religious freedom as they embarked at the riverports for Hungary; however those who continued on to the Banat were robbed of their pastors and teachers, their bibles and hymnbooks were confiscated and their settlements were placed under the jurisdiction of nearby Roman Catholic priests.  They assembled in private homes for simple services of Bible reading, singing of hymns and offering prayers.  Vigorous attempts were made to separate them from their faith, with limited results.  Other smaller groups continued to arrive but their numbers remained insignificant.  Most moved elsewhere or vanished into the general population, as did many of the families in Karansebesch serving there as border guards.  The latter reemerged at the time of the Edict of Toleration to form a Lutheran congregation.
  (Translator’s note:  The author appears to be unaware of the Lutheran settlements in the Banat that were established at Neu Palanka south of Weisskirchen in the spring of 1718 with the arrival of Hessian Lutheran settlers from Ober-Ramstadt located in the Odenwald.  Their first settlement was located at Langenfeld shortly after the Turks were expelled from the area.  A sister settlement was founded at Petrilowa shortly afterwards and congregations were formed in both of the communities.  A steady stream of Hessian settlers continued to arrive and established new communities at Orawitza, Russowa, Haversdorf and Saalhausen.  A Levite Lehrer (a teacher who was also theologically trained) accompanied the first group of settlers and held services in the various communities.  These original families sent word back to their home parish in Ober-Ramstadt and called the pastor’s son to come and serve them. With the assistance of Count Mercy, Johann Karl Reichard was secretly able to begin his ministry there in 1723. Shortly afterwards he was declared a fugitive and banished; he then fled to the Tolna estates of County Mercy to serve the congregation in Varsad.  All public worship was denied the Hessian Lutheran settlers in the Banat.  Some families and individuals, about eighty-five in all, left and followed their former pastor to Hungary.  All of the settlements were later destroyed by the Turks and the remaining population was massacred or carried off into slavery, although some managed to flee and found haven among their co-religionists:  the Transylvania Saxons.)
 Until Joseph II, an ardent proponent of the “Enlightenment”, decreed the Edict of Toleration in 1781 and 1784 in Hungary, to all intents and purposes, the  Banat settlers were Roman Catholics during the first decades of the Swabian migration. This decree should not be confused with religious freedom at this point, but simply tolerance.  A breach with tradition had, however, been made and this toleration of the Protestants (Translator’s note:  and Orthodox as well) was a giant step forward.  His Protestant subjects would always look upon him as their friend, although he always remained a devout Roman Catholic.  He invited the Protestants of the German principalities to settle in the Banat and the Batschka.  In addition, he specifically invited the Protestants in the Palatinate to come and find freedom from persecution.
  As a result of the Edict of Toleration, Protestant settlements consisting of Slovak Lutherans and Magyar Calvinists (Reformed) soon emerged in the Banat .  Earlier in 1774, a Hungarian Reformed congregation was established in the Military Frontier District in Debeliacsa.  Our study, however, is concerned with the German settlements.  The first of these was the Lutheran settlement in Liebling that was established in 1786 according to an official plan of the Imperial Administration in Temesvar and was located thirty kilometres south of Temesvar on the Brist Puszta (Translator’s note:  an open prairie.)  A distinction was made between those who took up land and those who were tradesmen, so that the latter received only a lot on which to build their houses.  The places of origin of the colonists in Liebling from 1787 to 1830 included the following:

Württemberg (Swabia) 50 families, Hungary 45 families, Rhine Pfalz 29 families, Hesse 20 families, Banat 14 families, Batschka 13 families, Zips and Galicia 13 families, Baden 12 families, other areas on the Rhine 4 families, Bavaria 5 families, Thuringia 2 families, Switzerland 2 families, Saxony 1 family, Transylvania 1 family and Silesia 1 family.

  Those who came from Hungary were primarily from Mezobereny, Kisharta and Vadkert, which were earlier Hessian and Heidebauern settlements on the east bank of the Danube.   (Translator’s note:  The Heidebauern were descendants of Bavarian and Franconian families who were settled by Charlemagne to help defend the eastern frontiers of his empire along the Danube in the 10th and 11th century in present day Burgenland and Western Hungary.)   These colonists were known to be rather mobile and would move on again after first settling in Liebling.  This characteristic was also true of those who came from the Banat and Batschka.  Many of the recently arrived Protestant settlers in the Batschka moved on into the Banat and as a result most of the Protestants in the Banat were of this type.  Some who had previously settled in the Banat but had held fast to their Protestant faith or could not obtain a pastoral ministry where they lived then moved on to the newly founded Lutheran and Reformed communities and settled there.
  The German Protestant community of Rittburg was established in 1786 consisting of 234 German families, mostly Lutherans.  By 1791 an emigration from Rittburg began.  The Germans left the community as a result of economic need, floods and low crop yields year after year.  The Lutheran congregation ceased to exist after 1800.  The officials in Temesvar re-settled the village with Hungarians and it became a Hungarian Reformed community.
  A few years after the founding of Liebling a new Protestant settlement was established and the Lutheran community of Franzfeld came to birth.  The places of origin of the first colonists were listed in the Heimatbuch celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of its founding:  Baden 43 families, Württemberg 5 families, Alsace 5 families, the Palatinate 4 families and Bavaria 1 family.
  The former homelands of the Liebling and Franzfeld settlers show that, in comparison to the rest of the Banat, they in actual fact were Swabians.  In comparison, in the Batschka most of the colonists originated from the left bank regions of the Rhine, especially the Palatinate.  This Swabian element is very rare in the Batschka.  In the Protestant communities in the Banat the process of mixing the various dialects was quickly set into motion, the characteristics of which markedly separated them from the Roman Catholic settlements.  In Liebling and the neighbouring Protestant communities their distinctive greeting was:  “Helf Gott!  (Translator’s note:  May God help you!” ). The village plan, the style of the houses and church were identical to the Roman Catholic Swabian settlements.
  Because of the high death rate and the ongoing further migrations there was a need for additional settlers soon after the founding of the villages.  Numerous colonists from Hungary and the Batschka answered the call for more settlers.  Even as this new stream of settlers moved in, there was an additional migration out of the area as well.  In 1787 families had moved on to other districts in search of better possibilities and opportunities.  Despite warnings, official decrees and laws, large numbers of families from Liebling set out for Russia to settle in the Crimea shortly after 1800.  Only some of them were successful, most were apprehended and forced to return to Liebling.  There is a record of seventeen families who were stopped in Transylvania in 1808 and were forced to return home.
  After 1830, as the community expanded many young single persons and married couples left for other districts of the Banat to find land and space in which to build their future.   In 1839, Adam Hörl of Liebling moved to Birda where he had been preceded by families from the Batschka villages of Kisker, Bulkes and Neu Werbass.  Soon other Lieblingers followed him.  In 1842 a teacher was called, and after his arrival the congregation was formed.  In 1880 there were 392 German Lutheran inhabitants and by 1910 they formed the majority in this former (ethnically) Romanian village (713 Germans out of 1,1119 inhabitants.)  The German settlement was done under the auspices of the landowner and patron of the village, Lo-Presti.  In 1850 Lieblingers moved into neighbouring Schipet which was a Romanian village and by 1936 they numbered 127 persons of whom 100 were Lutherans.
  After 1848 settlers from Leibling and Kleinschemlak moved into the mixed confessional and ethnic community of Klopodia, most of them day labourers who later were followed by a new wave of settlers. By 1871 there were 875 Protestants of both confessions in the community.  By 1936  only 400 remained there.  In the 1850s settlers from Liebling arrived in Neukaransebesch and discovered descendants of the Lutheran “Grenzer” families.  (Translator’s note:  The Grenzers were citizen soldiers living in the Military Frontier District who worked their land and took up arms when called upon, much like the American Minute Men.)
 In  Butin, which was also a mixed ethnic and confessional village where a Slovak Lutheran congregation had been established, settlers from Liebling also took up residence there.  They eventually numbered about 200 persons, although their number would be reduced to 40 much later.  In 1893/1894 several families moved to Ebendorf where a Lutheran congregation had existed for some time.  The youngest daughter settlement of Liebling is Waldau, established in 1808/1809.  The origins of the residents of the village were:  Liebling 36 families, Franzfeld 21 families, Birda 14 families, Kleinschemlak 10 families, Fager 5 families, Butin 3 families, Morisfeld  2 families and Schipet 1 family.
  The German community in Schipet is somewhat older and of its population 87 were born in Schipet, 17 had come from Liebling, 5 from Semlak, 5 from Kleinschemlak, 2 from Waldau, 1 each from Butin and Franzfeld and 9 Roman Catholics.
  Both of the above examples demonstrate two important facts:  the continuation of ongoing migrations into contemporary times and the close relationships maintained by the Protestant Swabians with one another.  The focal point throughout is Liebling.  It stands at the centre.  From here the new migrations had their beginnings but the daughter congregations remained in close contact with Liebling and one another, especially through marriage.  The isolated congregation of Semlak in the vicinity of Arad was incorporated within the greater Liebling parish.  There was also a close inter-exchange between Liebling and Franzfeld in the Yugoslavian Banat that also extended to the south and stretched into Serbia and Bosnia.  Through the division of the Banat between Romania and Yugoslavia following the First World War, the relationship and communications with Franzfeld were effectively cut off.  The Lutheran Swabian congregations in Romanian Banat following the First World War developed into a union of closely related congregations with Liebling at its centre.
  Another major chapter in the life of the Protestant Swabians in the Banat was the American emigration.  This began in the 1890s and affected the Protestants as much as the Roman Catholic Swabian communities.  Most of them would remain in America until they had saved enough money to return home.  The largest numbers of emigrants left for the US after the First World War.  Before the war years, about 100 Lieblingers lived in America, and after the war the number increased to 471.  This was equal to 10% of the population of the community.  However, in the last five years (1936) more Lieblingers returned than emigrated. [1] Economic reasons, the search for wealth and family expectations were the factors that drove the Protestant and Roman Catholic Swabians to leave during the escalation of Magyarization efforts by the Hungarians.  Nevertheless, one wonders if the basic wanderlust and roving spirit indigenous to the Swabians was also a compelling factor.
  There was another major Lutheran Swabian settlement in Kleinschemlak.  In this ancient Serbian district where Dazel Dsztoics owned the large Puszta, he invited Germans to settle on his estates in 1802.  Lutheran families from Baden and Württemberg came to settle there in 1805.  Because of poor relations with him, most of them moved on and it was only in 1816/1816 that permanent settlers arrived.  As a result it would become an entirely German Lutheran village.
  Semlak by Arad was also originally a Serbian district that was first established in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It was destroyed under the Turks and was resettled by Romanians, Hungarians and Ukrainians.  In 1819 the first Germans arrived, primarily from Mezobereny in Hungary (which had also provided numerous settlers for Liebling).  After Liebling, Semlak was the largest German Protestant community in the Romanian Banat with both Lutheran and Reformed congregations.
  With respect to the Lutheran congregations in what became the Yugoslavian Banat, we have already dealt with the founding of Franzfeld in 1790.  Mramorak was established in 1820 when six families from Hesse migrated there and were joined by twenty-three other families from Franzfeld and the Batschka.  In 1831 the congregation formed a larger parish.  In the 1830s the residents of Siawatz, Tscherwenka and Werbass in the Batschka settled in Pantschowa in response to work opportunities in the brickyards there.  A Lutheran congregation was formed shortly afterwards.  Daughter congregations emerged in the Yugoslavian Banat as far as into Bosnia.
  There were also Protestant settlers who chose to reside in the towns and cities of the Banat.  Quite early, it was recognized that the Protestant military personnel had a need for church life and ministry in Temesvar.  The congregation became a filial of Liebling at first and, then in 1824,  established a parish of its own.  Although they were few in number, Lutherans resided in Lugosch since 1838.  Between1848-1850 there was a large influx of Lutherans from Württemberg, Bavaria and Hungary that brought about a radical change, so that Lugosch became a Lutheran centre.  Industrial workers from all parts of Germany, from Slovakia and the Batschka began to move into Reschissa and among them were large numbers of Protestants.  German Protestant workers came to Ferdinandsberg in 1858 seeking employment at the soap factory operated by the Hoffmann Company.  Between 1856-1859, Germans from Transylvania, the Zips and Slovakia came to Steierdorf; most of them were Lutherans who numbered some 300-350 persons at the time.
  This overview of the urban Protestant population in the Romanian Banat will have to suffice for the present.  The urban congregations as well as the agricultural communities present a rather colourful background in terms of the origins of the settlers and the close relationships they developed with one another.
  The author provides the following statistics for December 1935 but only for the Lutheran congregations and does not include those of the Reformed.
Parishes or Mother Churches are in bold print while the filials (daughter) congregations are in regular type.

Romanian Banat



Number of parishioners



























Semlak by Arad


Yugoslavian Banat














Neu Betschej


Potiste Nikola








Gross Kikinda








[1] 1936 was 5 years within the original composition of this article.

[Published at DVHH.org 02 Feb 2008 by Jody McKim Pharr]

 Last Updated: 19 Sep 2017

Last Updated: 04 Feb 2020

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