The Period 1860 – World War I
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.
Carpathian Germans were not really numerous anywhere, and they settled in cities like Philadelphia and Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Schenectady, New York, the Greater New York area, Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio, and Danbury, Connecticut.
As opposed to for example Transylvanian Saxons or Danube Swabians, Carpathian Germans did not really have a strong sense of regional or historical ethnicity, and most saw themselves as German-Hungarians. And so, many of them just joined existing Hungarian or German, or even Slovak, clubs and parishes.
Unlike many of the other German immigrants, Carpathian Germans have not created many regional clubs or societies. Therefore, it is rather difficult to find historical material about them. Sources as the Deutsch-Ungarischer Bote (also named German-Hungarian Herald) from Cincinatti, Ohio, a newspaper for German-Americans from the old Hungarian Kingdom, have disappeared from U.S. libraries except for its last 6 months in 1918, but these historically relevant documents are miscatalogued as ‘the German-American Herald‘ at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago.
Some other likely source, the ‘Oesterreichisch-Ungarische Zeitung’, published in New York City and Chicago in the years 1881 – 1912, has completely vanished as well.
In New York City, on October 12, 1889, the first ZIPSER KUV (Krankenunterstuetzungsverein, or sickness-support society) social club was founded. The daily New Yorker Volks-Zeitung reported about their socials a couple of times per year. Small clippings from this publication give us an idea on the early life of Carpathian German Americans.
In 1893, for example, the Zipser KUV organized its 4th annual picnic in Maspeth, Queens, on June 19, and a party at Wavrac’s Garden in the Bronx on September 3. These New Yorker VolksZeitung articles make clear that besides Zipser Germans, there were also guests from different ethnic groups from Germany and Hungary.
The languages spoken there included German, Magyar, Slavic, and Croat. It’s hard to say how large this KUV was, but in 1905 it had 183 members, and a bank balance of $6,000.
In those years, there may have been several other societies. We know that, for instance, that on May 19, 1900, the New York Staats-Zeitung mentioned a Waagthal Frauenhilfsverein, (support group for German women from the Valley of the Waag, the main Slovakia river), and that on June 17 of that year the New Yorker Volks-Zeitung also mentions the women’s club, but details other than their benefit concert were not included.
The Interwar Years
We know a lot more about the ‘inter bellum’ period, thanks to the monthly Karpatenpost obituaries and an great publication Kurt Sauter in the 1986 Karpaten Jahrbuch.
After WW I had ended, and mail services had resumed, Carpathian-German Americans learned about the horrific events that had gone on in their home country, but there wasn’t much relief. Just like many other Americans from the German region, they were often attacked accused as they were seen as Germans.
This hate-driven atmosphere is perfectly described in David Kennedy’s 1980 work ‘Over Here: The First World War and American Society’, and Joan Jensen’s 1968 publication ‘The Price of Vigilance’.
Several Carpathian German Americans were discreetly helping their families abroad directly, but this wasn’t always very efficient. The founded local relief associations such as the Philadelphia-based Zipser Hilfsverein, and the Zipser House Association of Newark. At that time, some 15,000 Zipser were living in the United States, and New York resident Gustav Adolf Weiss decided to set up the Zipser Bund of America.
He organized a benefit fest in Fram Park, Newark, New Jersey in September 1919, followed by a huge manifestation in New York City in 1920. More than $1100 was were collected by the Zips.
Some other organizers were Miss Elsa Weiss and Adolph Kaltstein, all from New York. The Zipser Bund of America was institutionalized and came with a monthly, the Zipser Bote, that was published from 1920 to 1928. Until 1930, more than over 1 million Czech Crowns was sent over, and besides saving many lives from starvation during the WWI aftermath (fighting in the Zips went on until August 1919) the money was used to fund German schools in the Zips.
In 1922/23 Gustav Adolf Weiss visited the region, and he was leading a 120-member delegation to their old homeland in 1929. In 1933, Alexander Rothberg succeeded Weiss as president of the Bund. The Great Depression caused donations to get severely cut, as many Zipser were skilled workers and artisans who themselves were fearful of their livelyhood, but donations and contacts continued until WWII broke out.