Germans further down the Danube

Danube Swabians

The Danube Swabians (Donauschwaben) is a collective term for the German-speaking population who lived in various countries of south-eastern Europe, especially in the Danube River valley. Most were descended from 18th-century immigrants recruited as colonists to repopulate the area after the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire.

danube swab flag

Because of different historic developments within the territories settled, the Danube Swabians are not generally seen as a unified people. They include ethnic Germans from many former and present-day countries: Germans of Hungary; Satu Mare Swabians; the Banat Swabians; and the Vojvodina Germans in Serbia’s Vojvodina, who called themselves Schwowe in a Germanized spelling or “Shwoveh” in an English spelling; and Croatia’s Slavonia (especially in the Osijek region). The Carpathian Germans and Transylvanian Saxons are not included within the Danube Swabian group. In the singular first person, they identified as a Schwob or a Shwobe.

A large German population lived in Serbia. The city of Vrsac in Serbia is an example of a multi-ethnic city in the region, with Germans living alongside Serbians and even Italians and French:

The German military defeat in World War II resulted in flight or imprisonment of the almost entire German community (which numbered about 350,000 in Serbia’s territory. It is estimated that about 200,000 Germans were evacuated during the flight of the German army from Serbian territory, while about 140,000 who remained in the country were sent to prison camps run by the new communist authorities. After prison camps were dissolved (in 1948), most of the remaining German population left Serbia because of economic reasons. A Danube Swabian Society now exists in the United States (, illustrating that their specific traditions are still conserved in a very global environment.

donauschwaben in usa

Danube Swabian Youth Group in 2009, Linden Festival, Chicago

A recent film about Danube Swabians can be viewed on YouTube:

Transylvanian Saxons


Distribution of German population in South Transylvania in 1890

The Transylvanian Saxons (German: Siebenbürger Sachsen; Hungarian: Erdélyi szászok; Romanian: Sași) are a people of German ethnicity who settled in Transylvania (German: Siebenbürgen) from the 12th century onwards. The colonization of Transylvania by Germans was begun by King Géza II of Hungary (1141–1162). For decades, the main task of the German settlers was to defend the southeastern border of the Kingdom of Hungary. The colonization continued until the end of the 13th century. Although the colonists came mostly from the western Holy Roman Empire and generally spoke Franconian dialects, they were collectively known as Saxons because of Germans working for the Hungarian chancellery. They were part of the political life of the region, as part of the Diet and Gubernium, enjoying political rights alongside Hungarians and Seklars. Reformation was highly influential among them, as they have adopted Lutheranism, as well as Calvinism and Unitarianism to a lesser degree. Religious connections have proved beneficial, as educational and cultural exchanges between Transylvanian Saxons and communities in the German States and Netherlands primarily meant the community flourished in architecture, literature, theater, history and science among other fields.


Fortified village and church of Biertan (Birthälm). An Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, villages with fortified churches in Transylvania are seven villages founded by the Transylvanian Saxons. They are dominated by fortified churches and characterized by a specific settlement pattern that has been preserved since the late Middle Ages 

The Transylvanian Saxon population has decreased since World War II. Transylvanian Saxons started leaving Transylvania during and after WWII, settling first in Austria, then especially in Germany. The process of emigration continued during Communist rule in Romania, and even into the collapse of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989 when approximately half a million fled to homeland Germany.[1] The great majority of Transylvanian Saxons now live in Germany. Very few still live in Romania, where at the last official census around 37,000 Germans were registered, the number including also Banat Swabians and Sathmar Swabians. Despite this unfortunate decrease, it is note-worthy that the current president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, comes from the Saxon community.


Sibiu (Hermannstadt) in South Transylvania, is one of the German historical cities in the region. The city served as European City of Culture in 2007.

Carpathian Germans in Slovakia


City of Banská Štiavnica in Slovakia, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, an example of a Slovakian town with a German/Slovak heritage.

Carpathian Germans (German: Karpatendeutsche, Mantaken, Hungarian: Felvidéki németek, Slovak: Karpatskí Nemci) are a group of ethnic Germans living on the territory of present-day Slovakia (also called Slovak Germans (Slowakeideutsche) or Zips Germans) and in the adjacent Eastern Carpathians, i.e. Carpathian Ruthenia in Ukraine. The term was coined by the historian Raimund Friedrich Kaindl (1866–1930), then generally referring to the German-speaking population in the Cisleithanian (Austrian) crown lands of Galicia and Bukovina, as well as in the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the northwest Maramureș region of Romania. Germans settled in the northern territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary (then called Upper Hungary, present-day Slovakia) from the 12th to 15th centuries (see Ostsiedlung), mostly after the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241. Kings seeking specialists in various trades, such as craftsmen and miners, usually attracted the Germans.  The main settlement areas were in the vicinity of Pressburg and some language islands in the Spiš (Hungarian: Szepesség; German: Zips; Latin: Scepusium) and the Hauerland regions.


Kremnica (Kremnitz), another city in the Hauerland, inhabited by Slovaks and Germans before World War II

After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Germans participated in politics through a party named Zipser German Party. The installation of the Nazi regime in Germany in 1932 destabilized both the state and the German community. After World War II, the community lost its citizenship rights and were expelled from Germany between 1946-1947. Very few Carpathian Germans still live in the region now. According to national censuses, there were 6,108 (0.11%) Germans in Slovakia in 2007, 5,405 in 2001, 5,414 in 1991 and 2,918 in 1980. Their dialects, a product of centuries of distance from the German states, are unique in their mix of influence, but in dager of disappearing. Some of these accents can be sampled on this website: http://www.mantakisch.de

By Robin Burton

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