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Danube Swabians

According to the 1996 federal census, Germans make up the largest ethnic group in Saskatchewan.  Many people assume they came from Germany, but the vast majority came from German communities in Russia and the Ukraine, Galicia, Bukovina, and Banat.  A significant percentage of Saskatchewan’s Germans are Banat Donauschwaben

Donauschwaben is a term used to describe the ethnic German population that settled north of the Danube River in southeastern Europe.  It is a German word derived from Donau, meaning Danube, and Schwaben, meaning people of Schwabia.  After the Austro-Hungarian Empire had driven the Ottoman Turks out of the Danube basin in the few years before and after 1700, it resettled the depopulated area with ethnic Germans from the southern and western part of Germany, where one of the provinces was known as Schwabia. Many also came from farther north in Alsace and Lorraine and farther east as far as Switzerland, but all came to be known as Donauschwaben.  The term was first used in 1922 by Professor Robert Sieger in Austria to differentiate the “Schwabians” of southeastern Europe from those still in the Schwabian area of Germany. 

There were six principal areas of settlement, each several thousand square miles.  Banat, north of Belgrade, was largely Roman Catholic.  Batschka, farther west, was largely Lutheran.  In these areas the Germans made up about one-third of the population, mixing with Hungarians, Serbs, Romanians, and other ethnic groups. The other four areas were the Hungarian Highlands, west of Budapest; Sathmar, in today’s northern Romania; Syrmia and Slavonia, stretching from Belgrade west to Austria; and Swabian Turkey, west of Batschka and north of Slavonia between the Danube River and Lake Balaton. 

As the Hungarians gained more autonomy over their affairs from Austria, they tried to assimilate the minorities by mandating the Hungarian language in Education and official business.  All the minorities felt threatened by these initiatives, leading to political unrest as the dawn of the twentieth century approached.  This instability, combined with a shortage of affordable land and a lack of industrial opportunity caused many Donauschwaben to look to North and South America for new opportunities.  A few brave souls left for the Americas in the mid- to late 1890s.  Their favourable reports back to their home villages inspired a wave of emigration that lasted until World War I began in 1914, sparked by the very political tension that they had fled. 

Hungary was on the losing side in the War.  At War’s end it was forced to give up much of the territory that was home to the Donauschwaben.  Some remained with Hungary, some was given to Romania, and the largest portion was given to the newly created country of Yugoslavia.  Again the Donauschwaben felt their culture threatened, particularly in Yugoslavia, and immigration to the New World resumed until interrupted by World War II.  During the War, the Nazi Germans treated the Serbian people harshly.  After the War the Serbian government responded by stripping the ethnic Germans of Yugoslavia of their property and citizenship and interning the population in camps where a large percentage died of starvation, disease, and exposure to the elements.  After three years, the ethnic Germans were released from internment.  They then had to work for up to two more years to purchase their way out of the country.  Some were able to relocate to Germany which was already overflowing with refugees.  Many Romanian and Hungarian ethnic-Germans also relocated to Germany.  Some of these displaced persons continued on to Saskatchewan where they had family and friends and some bypassed Germany entirely due to the overcrowding. 

Saskatchewan’s Donauschwaben are largely Banaters, concentrated in the southern part of the province.  Clusters of Banat Germans are found in Regina, around Odessa/Vibank/Kendal, in an area encompassed by Weyburn, Parry, Bengough, and Minton, and in pockets around Rouleau/Drinkwater, Qu’Appelle/Indian Head, Rockglen/Fife Lake, Quinton/Raymore, Luseland, Holdfast, Humboldt, Alameda/Steelman/Lampman, and Hodgeville/GlenBain/Gravelbourg.  Some Banat villages that sent significant numbers of families to Saskatchewan include Zichydorf, Georghausen, Setschan/Setschanfeld, Glogon, and Gross-Zsam. 

The Coat of Arms of the Danube Schwabians was created by Hans Diplich in 1950.  The Imperial eagle is a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire under Germanic kings. The wavy line symbolizes the Danube River, on which or along which, the German settlers traveled to Hungary. The crescent moon is the symbol of Islam, representing the Turkish occupation of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The sun is the symbol for Christ. The fortress represents the city of Temeschburg (Timisoara). Its six towers represent the six main settlement regions for the Danube Schwabians: Hungarian Highlands, Schwabian Turkey, Slavonia-Syrmia, Batschka, Banat and Sathmar. The fortress stands on the fertile farm land made arable and productive by the Danube Schwabians.

Glenn Schwartz

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Further Reading

de Zayas, Albert M. Nemesis at Potsdam: The Expulsion of the Germans from the East 1944-1948. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

Engelmann, Nikolaus.  The Banat Germans.  Translated by John M. Michels.  Freilassing/Bayern: Pannonia-Verlag, 1966.

Lehmann, Hans. The German Canadians: 1750-1937. Translated by Gerhard P. Bassler. St. John's, Nfld: Jesperson Press, 1986.

Macartney, C.A.  Hungary: A Short History.  Edinburgh: University Press, 1962.

Tafferner, Anton; Schmidt, Josef; and Senz, Josef Volkmar.  The Danube-Swabians in the Pannonian Basin, A New German Ethnic Group. Translated by Joseph Hahn. Danube Swabian Association, USA, Inc., 1982.

Genocide of the Ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia. Santa Ana California: Danube Swabian Association, USA, Inc., 2000.

This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.