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.
In 1950, at the 1st post-war Slovak census, just over 5,000 citizens declared they were of German descent, though estimates were that the actual number had to be at least five times as many. At the 1960 census, there were only some 6 thousand official citizens that said they were from German descent. In 1970, that number was less than 5,000 and in 1980 not even 3 thousand. Check out also this post that is a chronological overview of German Immigration to America.
In Czechoslovakia, there was no education for ethnic Germans and intentional assimilation additionally caused their original culture to disappear as well rapidly. In 1989 though, when the Velvet Revolution happened, new hope was brought to minority groups and the result was that at the 1991 and 2001 census, almost 6 thousand citizens declared that they were of German origin, though, again, the reality was estimated to be at least double that number, though most had emigrated to parts of the world like the New World across the Atlantic.
So it is understandable that the relations between Carpathian Germans and Slovaks are not optimal, to say it nicely, though the relations between the Czechs and Sudeten Germans are even worse. Carpathian German organizations are at least recognized by Slovak and foreign official institutions whereas, for the Sudeten Germans, this is still problematic.
The fact of the matter is that in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, decrees from the period after WW II that restricted the Carpathian Germans’ social status and allowed the state to confiscate their private property, are still in existence, but for most of these citizens, the matter is predominantly an issue of morality. One way to solve this sort of issues could be the creation of a fund to compensate them for the inflicted injustices in Slovakia.
A Piece of History
Germans had been settling in the area that is now known as Slovakia ever since the rule of the 1st Hungarian King Stephen in the early 11th century and they could live in accordance with their German traditional laws. After the “Tartar Raids” of 1241, the Hungarian rulers invited the ethnic Germans to come to this part of their empire to bring life and economic activity.
At the end of the 14th century, the German immigration wave came to an end, but in the Middle Ages, estimates are that more than 200,000 Germans were living and working in Slovakia which was approximately twenty percent of the entire population.
The first German immigrant wave that came to the Hungarian monarchy consisted of craftsmen, merchants, and miners, but included as well clergymen and knights. German miners were experienced in processing precious metal ores and mining towns in the central portions of the Slovak area such as Banská Štiavnica, Banská Bystrica, and Kremnica became the financial and economic centers within the Hungarian monarchy during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.
Two merchant families played an important role in these developments: the eastern Slovak Thurzo family and the German Fugger family. They developed the ore mining industry under Hungarian rule to its peak. In 1762, under German supervision, the world’s first Mining Academy was established in the Slovak town of Banská Štiavnica. The Germans also contributed seriously to the development of America, as can be read in this post.
During the 14th century, it were the Germans that also founded the first guilds that were initially only open to German craftsmen. This explains why most craft terminology in Slovak is rooted in the German language. German engineering was also responsible for building numerous world-renown historical gems and treasures in Slovakia, for example, Saint James’ Church in the town of Levoča, known for its over 18 meter-high gothic altar, actually the highest altar in the world. Also famous are the technologically and historically interesting mining sites of Banská Štiavnica.
Most Carpathian Germans lived in three major Slovak areas, one in the Bratislava area, just across the Austria-Hungary state line and until the early 20th century, the city of Bratislava had actually a majority German-speaking population! The second area was in central Slovakia, in an area that’s named “Hauerland”. Here, German settlers came to mine precious metals and in the period 1200-1400, these miners founded 7 mining towns in the area including Banská Bystrica (copper), Banská Štiavnica (Silver), and Kremnica (gold). The third area was in the eastern portions of Slovakia, where the German settlers lived in the Spiš area. Noteworthy are the settlements of Medzev, Kežmarok, and Gelnica.
The history of the Carpathian Germans in Slovakia is gradually becoming more and more visible and recognized like can be seen, for instance, at the “Museum of the Slovak National Uprising” located in the city of Banská Bystrica and the Museum of Carpathian German Culture in Bratislava. The Carpathian Germans made a significant contribution to practically everything that’s related to Slovak culture and this is acknowledged and recognized by politicians and governmental institutions. As so many in Slovakia have said: “What and where would Slovakia have been without the contributions of the Carpathian Germans?”