The local and regional activity of German organizations in Hungary between 1924 and 1945

Principal investigator: Ferenc Eiler

Period: 2015-2021

Grant, funding agency: NKFIH K 112448

Research history:

During the examined time period there were two major officially recognized German minority organizations. These organizations, with the exception of a short period of rivalry (1938-1940), attempted to organize the unity of the German minority, and to advocate its interest in a diverse political setting against the mostly antagonistic Hungarian public administration. The research does not include the period between 1918 and 1922, as the influence and effect of the organizations operating during this time period was limited and periodic. The German Cultural Society of Hungary (Volksbildungsverein) was active between 1924 and 1940, whereas the Alliance of Germans in Hungary (Volksbund) between 1938 and 1945. The assessment of the history of these organizations concluded in conflicting evaluations at times in the last four decades, as standpoints and views were fundamentally different. The given topic of the local organizations and their programs, inner development and their leadership’s connection and relationship to the ruling Hungarian and German government at the time have been assessed, evaluated, and published in relevant Hungarian studies and monograph. These publications were mainly built on processed information and data found in Austrian archives and sources. With regards to these findings, a distinguished attention should be paid to the work and achievement of Loránt Tilkovszky, Béla Bellér, Norbert Spannenberger, Gerhard Seewann, Márta Fata, Johann Weidlein, Miklós Füzes. These works mainly emphasize and focus on the macro level, although regional interrelations are mentioned occasionally as well, describing the motivational factor of certain local events. Yet, these correlations and interrelations are referenced only to depict processes and tendencies of the given period. Consequently, the close examination of regional leadership of the organizations in question and their relationship and activities towards local communities (such as discussions, participation in various celebrations, and lectures) should be systematically processed and unfolded as it has not been thoroughly researched to this day.

The same deficit of researches can be noticed in connection with the activities of countryside and urban German minority organizations due to the fact that the relevant scientific and micro historical studies are insufficient or are lacking academic standards. This inadequacy is the consequence of various factors. First of all, the researchers were reluctant to investigate local history as it had a low prestige. In addition, the documentation and data related to national, regional and local organizations were destroyed or simply disappeared. Occasionally, some papers in connection with the operation of local German organizations were published in the publications of the county archives of Tolna, Baranya, Pest and Bács-Kiskun, although most of these studies were not very detailed regarding the topic of this planned research. In recent years, however, there were a number of monographs published, in which the topic was discussed merely as an antecedent of the expulsion of the German minority. Such examples can be found the studies and Ph.D. theses of Réka Marchut, Gábor Gonda, András Grósz.

Research questions and objectives:

The main aim of the research is to examine the activity of German organisations in Hungary both at the regional and national level. The research will focus on the interwar period. Based on the findings, a map of activities and conflicts will be produced, which will be a novel result in this research area. With the help of the available archival sources and German periodicals, it intends to reconstruct the activity of Volksbildungsverein and Volksbund leadership towards the local German groups. In addition, it will collect and summarize data and information about the activity of local groups.

A/ Regarding the activity at the national level, we seek answers to questions such as: Which regions and settlements were visited frequently by leading members of the German organizations? If there were major differences between settlements in this respect, what could have been the underlying reasons for these differences? What were the goals and aims of these visits (lectures, harvest parties etc.), considering the fact that these visits were excellent opportunities to develop or generate structural changes in the organization? Furthermore, the research could provide answers as to which counties, settlements or districts faced conflicts due to visits that took place. According to records, friction appeared on both at the county and at the local level. Differences of opinion were recorded between the organizations and the public administration, teachers and pastors. Thus the research attempts to shed light on the underlying reasons of these conflicts. In addition, the database would offer a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast the activity of the leaders of Volksbildungsverein and Volksbund, the reasons or motivation of local visits, and the triggered reactions of public administration to the visits. A further object of analysis will be the differences of activities of the two organizations during the short period of their parallel operation. (The time frame between the death of Bleyer in 1933 and the establishment of Volksbund will be a vital aspect of examination with regards to the internal opposition (“Basch-group”) of the pro-government “Gratz-group”, and to their activities in the countryside.

B/ The database recording the activity of the organizations on the level of settlements will assist the identification of various forms and characteristics of local groups and their changes during the operation of the organizations. (The research attempts to focus on mainly local organizations and groups, and will not take into consideration the activities on the national level) The database will also reveal the list of settlements where the number of hosted activities were the highest. It will depict the differences of activities carried out on the regional level and the fundamental reasons behind such differences. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to note that the data will not only give precise details of the activities, but also it will unfold the nature of public administration and its mentality in connection to the German minority, and the attitude of the administration when handling problems related Germans. Facts might also surface as to which settlements faced the most conflicts and what were the motivation behind the discrepancies in this regard. Moreover, the research will highlight the intricate nature of friction between the German minority and the public administration or the Hungarian inhabitants, and conflicts that took place within the German community. Taking the enquiry one step further, with the help of content analysis we will look at the details of specific accounts and reports from the point of view whether they were made or given by officials of the public administration, or by journals and periodicals of the German minority.

The main object of the project is to produce a monographic analysis which presents a new approach—compared to the existing academic achievements—in its resource material (database), in its research method, and its implementation. Consequently, the research will contribute to a more thorough understanding of the German minority living in Hungary between the two world wars and it will exhibit data and details from a new and unprecedented academic point of view. In addition, it will provide vital information in connection to the minority related politics and its practices, the activities of the public administration on various levels, and the set of prevailing attitude towards the minority issue.

Research methods:

The research will face the difficulties that previous authors and researchers were also confronted with, namely the fact that the archieve of the two German organizations were destroyed with the exception of a limited number of items. Unfortunately, most preserved documentation that can be used to reconstruct the topic were written and kept by various ministries, administrative authorities or ecclesiastical offices in several counties or districts. (From the mid-1930s, lord lieutenants were required to report monthly to the prime minister’s office and to the ministry of interiors about the minorities and their activity in their administrative area. This fact significantly helps with the examination of this period.) In addition, the German journals and periodicals produced by the organizations contain vital information about settlements which should be taken into consideration when realizing the project. These cited publications are complementary as they present different points of view. The material found in archieves present the attitude and disposition of the public administrations, whereas the German journals and periodicals depicted and pictured the events in a favorable way, and they were supportive in their rhetoric towards the organizations.

The research will build on methodology fundamentally related to politics and the history of the organizations. Naturally, the research will incorporate aspects of social history as well, which will be a vital facet at the final stage of the work when the collected database will be summarized. In addition, a whole chapter of the monograph will discuss the issue of value and evaluation differences between the organizations and the public administration by cross-examining specific recorded events. In this phase, the methodology of content analysis will play a major role. 

Sources

A part of the records to be used are stored in the National Archives of Hungary, mostly among the documents of the Department of Minorities and Nationalities of the Prime Minister’s Office (K28) and the reserved documents of the Ministry of Interior (K149). (Luckily, a great number of the land agents’ reports, which are valuable sources on the history of minorities, have been conserved.) In addition, twelve county archives (Bács-Kiskun, Baranya, Békés, Fejér, Győr-Moson-Sopron, Sopron, Komárom-Esztergom, Pest, Somogy, Tolna, Vas, Veszprém counties) contain the confidential documents of the land agents’ reports on the activity of the German minority.  Should only fragments of these document sources be found in the county archives, by researching the township level (files of the ludex nobilium) the original land agents’ reports on minorities could hopefully be found. Where it is allowed, the documents will be photographed, making work in the archives and processing significantly faster and easier. Where photographs are not allowed, copies will be made of the documents. The documents stored in the National Archives of Hungary and the archives of Pest, Baranya and Bács-Kiskun counties will be studied by the lead researcher. (A significant portion of the preceding is already at the disposal of the lead researcher). Archivists with a subcontract will research in the remaining nine county archives based on the criteria set by the lead researcher. In addition to the archive documents, another important source group is represented by the reports and articles published in the papers of the German organizations. These sources (Sonntagsblatt, Neues Sonntagsblatt, Deutsche Zeitung, Deutscher Volksbote) will also be studied by the lead researcher. These sources, in addition to regularly reporting the important events at the township level, complement the archive sources, since, unlike the archive sources, they present the events from the point of view of the national leadership of the minority, and not from the perspective of the land agent.

Research results in 2019:

A database of more than 6,000 items has been completed, and the map building on these items will be posted on the Institute's website in early 2020.
It will be a dynamic map displaying the events. Visitors can filter the content by using a free-text search engine and a settlement name search engine. In addition, the search can be further narrowed down to a specific year or time period, and even to simple events and / or conflicts. This way, basically everyone can create a map for themselves that suits their interests.

In order to provide a user-friendly display, in addition to specifying the events and related dates, we made the Wikipedia page of the involved settlements, and the nationality and denomination data sets of all censuses for the settlements available under a respective link both in the database and on the maps. The links for the census data point to the page of the Library of Parliament entitled “Ethnic Database of Settlements in Hungary 1870–2011”. The database was compiled by László Sebők.
For the settlements whose administrative boundaries have changed during the years, in addition to giving the settlement’s current name, the settlement’s name that was used in the given period is indicated in brackets before the event. If the exact date of an event cannot be determined, only the month and the year are given, and the absence of the exact day is indicated by 00 (e.g., March 00, 1935).
The range of database and events displayed on the maps is updated from time to time in parallel with the processing of the sources.

A monograph summarizing the results of the research is being prepared.

Previous research results:

During the research, archive documents as well as the weekly newspapers of the German minority were examined. As a result, a database of approximately 6,500 items was compiled that forms the basis of a dynamic, filterable table and of an activity map.

In 2018, we organized a conference on the lives of local German communities. The title of the conference was: The last 100 years of the Germans in Hungary. Local communities and minority policy.

Publications, databases:

Database and map (in Hungarian):

A magyarországi német szervezetek helyi és regionális szintű aktivitása 1924 és 1945 között

Articles:

Magyarország nemzetiségpolitikája a két világháború között (1918-1938). KISEBBSÉGKUTATÁS, 2018/2 sz. 40-67.

A kisebbségek kategorizálásának kísérlete, mint politikai fegyver a magyar-német kapcsolatokban (1930-1931). REGIO, 2017/1. sz. 41-71.

A magyarországi német szervezetek történelempolitikai törekvései és a német kisebbségi sajtó (1921–1944) In: Filep, Tamás Gusztáv (szerk.) Ünnep és felejtés: Emlékezet, identitás, politika. Budapest, Kalligram Kiadó, 2018. 87-118.

Eine feste Burg ist unsre Nation? Ungarische Nationalitätenpolitik in der Zwischenkriegszeit. (in press)

Magyarország nemzetiségpolitikája (1918–1989). In: Eiler Ferenc – Tóth Ágnes (ed.): A magyarországi németek elmúlt 100 éve. Helyi közösségek és nemzetiségpolitika. Argumentum, Budapest, 2020.

Edited volume:

Eiler Ferenc – Tóth Ágnes (ed.): A magyarországi németek elmúlt 100 éve. Helyi közösségek és nemzetiségpolitika. Argumentum, Budapest, 2020.