The two World Wars of the 20th century remodeled Central Europe’s map entirely and also the status of many diverse Central European societies was changed drastically. Here, we shine some light on a few German and Hungarian minorities that lived in Slovakia at that time and in what way their troublesome historical past is represented in museums in contemporary Slovakia.
Today, it seems like ethnic issues play a big role again and actually we are rather skeptical that past horrific events may be repeated in a not-so-far future. Check out also this John Oliver video about Europe. Is he far besides the truth?
In this post, we will address in what way and to what extent the fate of Germans, Hungarians, and Slovaks is represented in modern-day museums, and in particular in the exhibit Exchanged Homes that’s on display in Bratislava. It is this exhibit’s aim to commemorate these peoples and the way they were affected by the immense population transfers that occurred after World War II.
It is interesting to see how different exhibitions are portraying the traumatic past and effects of the most forceful resettlements that took place after World War II. Many of these exhibits try to avoid the idea of “perpetrators” and “victims” as they offer usually multifaceted memories that relate to this so troubled and traumatic past and avoid to go along ethnic or national lines.
When talking about minority populations in Slovakia, some people from German descent, the Carpathian Germans, cannot be overlooked. During the days of the Hungarian Monarchy, this German minority was responsible for all economic developments and progress in the area that is now Slovakia.
These Carpathian Germans, together with some other nationalities, had been living together with Slovaks on what is Slovak territory today for some 900 years, but when WW II had ended, they were faced with brutal cruelty again forced upon them by Russian and Czechoslovak power politics, like also millions of ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe were confronted with.
Many Carpathian Germans lost their homes and even more lost their lives and many fled to other parts of the world to escape the atrocities. More than ninety percent of them found a new life in Austria, Germany, or overseas, but for the Germans who stayed back in Slovakia for whatever reason, became more and more difficult.
The Museum of Carpathian German Culture is located in Bratislava, Slovakia, and is famous for its collection of artifacts and objects that paint a clear picture of Carpathian German history, the tale of a national minority that lived in Slovakia for almost a thousand years.
The museum highlights clothing samples, photographs, and utilities and tools that these people used over the years. All objects are interestingly and clearly displayed in various cabinets and they are offering a colorful and pretty complete picture of the way how these „Slovak“ Germans lived in the country, their evolution, and the challenges they faced over the centuries.
The Bratislava Museum of Carpathian German Culture is situated in a beautifully restored 16th-century building next to the Bratislava Castle and the probably easiest way of getting to the museum is by walking there from the city’s New Bridge. This won’t take you longer than some ten 10 minutes on foot while, at the same time, you can marvel at the city’s impressive UFO bridge as well as the mentioned Castle along your way.
Around the 12th century, several Germans settled in the area of what is now Slovakia, requested to do so by a local Magyar leader. Muennichwies was the village that was entirely inhabited by Roman Catholic Germans who had their own culture and spoke German.
The town was established in 1113 and in modern-day Slovakia the name is Vricko and in Hungarian, it’s called Turoczremete. Other ways the name was spelled are Mönch Wies and Mönchwiese (Mönch means monk, and Wiese is meadow).
Collectively, these Germans are called Karpatendeutsche (Carpathian Germans), as they were living in the northern portions of the Carpathian mountains (the northern great Carpathian arc). Don’t confuse these people with the Transylvanian Saxons, another group of settlers who lived in the southern portions of the great Carpathian arc around the same time. These people are sometimes also (mistakenly) referred to as Carpathian Germans.
The American Census Bureau estimates that more than 55 million Americans claim partial or sole German descent. Most German Americans, though, are highly assimilated causing the use of the German language to have declined drastically in the United States. Here is a (limited) chronological overview of important dates and periods when it comes to Germans in America.
1608 – The first German settlers arrived in Jamestown.
1626 – Peter Minuit (Minuit meaning “Midnight”), also named Peter Minnewit was from the German town of Wesel (North Rhine-Westphalia). He became the governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and later, he became the governor of the Delaware Swedish colony.
1683 – Franz Pastorius, led a group of 13 families from Krefeld (Westphalia) to Pennsylvania in pursuit of religious freedom. They established Germantown.
1700s – More and more German-speaking freedom seeking religious groups settled in the British colonies. These groups included Baptist Dunkers, Swiss Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Amish, Moravians, and Waldensians and the majority of the German immigrants were part of the Lutheran and Reformed church. Most immigrants settled in Pennsylvania as redemptioners, meaning they got passage across the Atlantic Ocean if they agreed to work in the New Land for a four to seven year period of time. Most German settlers were skilled agricultural workers and craftsmen and the also were responsible got building the Conestoga wagon (famed for the American Frontier).
The contributions and achievements of German-Americans have through the centuries had a deep and lasting effect on how the United States has become the country that it is today. German immigrants, known for their hard work, thrift, practical skills, interest in the arts, crafts, and enjoyment of the good life, have definitely left their mark on American life and culture. Here we will highlight a few of the many German-Americans that played a prominent role in creating the United States as we know it today.
Many German immigrants contributed to transmitting and winning the freedoms that Americans are enjoying today. In 1735, the first key victory to gain freedom of the American press happened when John Peter Zenger, a journalist and printer with German-American roots, was granted the right by a jury to criticize the colonial government, and a Philadelphia-based German newspaper published the American Declaration of Independence first.
Thanks to, among others, obituaries in the monthly editions of the Karpatenpost, and a phenomenal article by Kurt Sauter (“Gustav Adolf Weiss & der Zipser Bund von Amerika“) in the 1986 Karpatenjahrbuch (pages 110-115), we now know more about that period. After World War I ended, and mail services started to function again, Carpathian German-Americans learned about dislocation and the atrocities and incredible hunger in their home region.
Relief was not an easy thing to organize. Like other German-Americans, the Carpathian Germans had been vilified and attacked as “hyphenate Huns”, and many of them were surely intimidated so they wouldn’t express their concern publicly with fellow groups of individuals who were German as well. David Kennedy describes that hate-filled atmosphere very well in his work Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980), and also Joan Jensen in The Prince of Vigilance (1968) sets a clear picture. Many Carpathian Germans were discreetly and directly helping their families in a great way.
It could well be that Anton Schmidt, a Pressburg tinsmith, was the first Germany-based immigrant from the area that today is Slovakia in Central-eastern Europe. Already in the mid-1750s, Schmidt married into the Pennsylvania community of the Moravian Brothers. Anton Schmidt was born in Pressburg in 1725 and died in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1793. Most probably, some more individuals immigrated to America as well in that period of time.
Later, between the 1860s and the start of World War I in 1914, tens of thousands of Carpathian Germans left Europe and emigrated to the New World. After 1900, many families immigrated to the area around Charleroi, Pennsylvania, especially people from the town of Muennichwies. Around 1940, Thomas Kendrick, a Muennichwies descendant, estimated the number at families in that area around three hundred.
More Carpathian Germans came to America, and families from the village of Metzenseifen settled in Cleveland, Ohio, to work at the factory of Theodor Kundtz (1852-1937). Kundtz was also from Metzenseifen who had gotten wealthy in the late 1800s manufacturing wooden cases for the sewing machines produced by White, at least that’s the story on a website of one of these immigrants’ granddaughter. Quite a few descendants of these Carpathian German families, with names like Eiben, Kundtz, and Mueller, still live in the Cleveland area.
In the years between the 1860’s and World War I, thousands of Carpathian Germans were emigrating to the United States. Several families settled in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, particularly from Muennichwies after 1900.
Thomas Kendrick, a direct descendant, estimated their number at some 300 families around the end of the 1930’s. Another Carpathian Germans group, from Metzenseifen, settled in the Cleveland, Ohio, to work for Theodor Kundtz, a Metzenseifener immigrant who by the end of the 19th century had become wealthy by building the wooden cases for White sewing machines.
Quite a descendants of these Carpathian German families (for example the Eiben, Kundtz, and Mueller families) are still living there.
Immigration List 1900 – 1921 from Muennichwies to Charleroi and the Mon Valley Area
1910 Census List (not in database) for Charleroi.
Immigration List Contributed by Thomas Tast, Germany
What follows is a list of those who emigrated from Muennichwies to the US, most to Charleroi and the Mon Valley area. Note that not all arrived through New York (Ellis Island). Others arrived in ports such as Baltimore. Unfortunately, records for ports other than NY are not yet available online. When known, the ship name is given followed by arrival port. The date is given in European style – date.month.year.
To complete and verify the information search for your ancestor at Ellis Island. Note that during this time Muennichwies was part of Hungary and in the last few years, part of Czechoslovakia. Its name in other languages is Vricko or Turocremete. You should also be aware that there were many misspellings. Be sure to look at a page before or after on the ship’s manifest as they typically took two pages. Here are the 1900 – 1921 listings: