Bikacs:  A Short History

Written by Henry Fischer

Edited by Jane Gilbert

Centuries ago, numerous communities had been established and once thrived where Bikacs is currently located in Tolna County.  As a result of the Turkish occupation after the disaster at Mohacs in 1526, however, the whole region reverted to wilderness. Its population had either gone into hiding, been killed, enslaved, or fled to the north.  When the Turks failed to capture Vienna in the siege of 1683, they fled back into Hungary with the Hapsburg forces on their heels.  The Turkish occupied Buda and Pest fell quickly, and the Hapsburg forces moved on into the south liberating what had once been Greater Hungary from one hundred and fifty years of occupation and neglect at the hands of the Turks.

At the request of the Hungarian nobles eager to reclaim their lost estates, the Hapsburg  Emperor Charles VI issued the call for settlers to redevelop the recovered “new territories.”  This invitation was extended throughout the Holy Roman Empire where the House of Hapsburg held sway, and as a result, a massive population movement began that was to be forever known as the Schwabenzug...the Great Swabian Migration that lasted for most of the 18th century.  The first phase of this migration was originally designed to colonize and settle the Banat in present day Yugoslavia and Romania, but the vast majority of the recruited settlers “jumped ship” along the Danube and settled on the estates of Hungarian landlords.  This was especially true in Tolna County in which Bikacs is located.  Many assumed that the first settlers in Bikacs and those who followed them were part of this Schwabenzug.  In reality, however, the first settlers of Bikacs came from Western Hungary, the narrow strip of territory along the Austrian frontier that the Hapsburgs controlled after partitioning Hungary with the Turks.

The invitation to settle in the “new territories” was also spread abroad in what remained of Hungary and Slovakia. Throughout their history, the German settlers in Tolna County were well aware of Hungarian and Slovak settlements alongside of their own.  But for many, these German settlers who spoke a distinctive dialect of their own and claimed to be Heidebauern were a mystery to most of their neighbors.

What proved to be unique in both the settlement and ongoing life and development of Bikacs was that it remained a purely Heidebauern community.  In contrast, Gyorkony, a nearby village, welcomed Hessian settlers into their midst. 

The earliest records seem to point to the founding of Bikacs by Heidebauern settlers some time between 1725 to 1736.  Strangely enough, however, the birth records of the Roman Catholic Church in Paks on the Danube lists its first baptism as Jakob Pamer of Bikacs in 17.04.1721.  This entry is soon followed by the other familiar Heidebauern names of Hackstock, Fritz, Weiss and Matern whose associated family members were listed as residents of Bikacs.  This seems to indicate that this original settlement was done on the sly.  There was a royal decree that stipulated:  “Peasants who leave their master’s estate and flee to another County, must be ordered to return at the command of the Emperor.”  In effect they were fugitives and were most secretive about their origins that would confound researchers in the future.  Their landlords simply kept quiet about their numbers and origins for the sake of their own advantages.

 The original settlers of Bikacs were from an area of southeast Austria called "Burgenland."  This area includes Vas County, the Heideboden (Moson County) and the region around the Neusiedler See.  Some also came from Steinamanger (modern day Szombathley).  These settlers came in small groups, usually extended families, and over a number of years.  They were renowned for their agricultural skills, vineyard cultivation and cattle raising which they introduced into the village economy.

 According to the church records, the settlers came to Bikacs to escape persecution and find freedom to live out their Evangelical Lutheran faith.  The Lutherans had been forced to go underground after the Decade of Sorrows in the late 17th century when over 800 Lutheran and Reformed Churches throughout Hungary had been confiscated, and the pastors and schoolmasters had been exiled or sold as galley slaves in Naples. For all intents and purposes, these Heidebauern passed themselves off as Roman Catholics publicly, but formed household churches in their homes and maintained their Lutheran heritage and teachings in that way.  There were probably other reasons as well, such as the fact that the nobles promised them more freedoms and privileges than they enjoyed at home, and there had been some severe droughts in Western Hungary.

 The most obvious telltale sign of their Heidebauern origins is that their family names that can be found in the eastern and northern sections of the Neusiedler See region.  These names included Schmausser, Meixner, Fischer, Blaser, Forster, Hackstock and Hackl. 

 The original settlers signed a contract with Lord Daroczy who promised them religious freedom and the freedom of movement that had been denied them in the past.  This was similar to what the future “Swabians” were also granted by Count von Mercy in the other Tolna settlements.

 We discover quite early that there were also Magyar (Hungarian) Lutherans among them who had lived with them in the Heideboden.  In 1734, Lord Daroczy officially granted the community religious freedom.  For the purpose of holding services, Georg Forster offered his home as a prayer house.  The services were held in both Hungarian and German, but eventually the Hungarians moved away and many joined the new congregation in Szarszentlorincz, while the Bikacs congregation became a filial of the church in Gyorkony.  The congregation also had its own “Levite Lehrer” which means “Emergency Teacher.”  He was probably one of the settlers and acted as the teacher in the school and as lay leader in worship performing all pastoral acts except Holy Communion.  One of them was named Istvan Salamon, while another was Mihaly Ursini.

 Life was hard and difficult in the early years.  Infant mortality was high, and the average life span for adults was forty.  There were frequent epidemics, and The Plague even hit in 1740.  The community survived and grew, however, and eventually prospered with more land under cultivation and herds increasing.

 But then the world intruded into the life of Bikacs.  The following is a partial translation taken from “Unsere Heimat Bikacs 1736-1986”:

“On June 21, 1761 the District Judge in Paks, “on higher authority” issued an order to put an end to the Evangelical church life and the exercise of the Evangelical faith on the part of the people of Bikacs.  Troops sent by the County Court dragged off the teacher Ursini producing orders to that effect and put him on trial at Simontornya.  He was stripped of his office and dismissed.  He was no longer permitted to live in Bikacs.  The Lutherans were now without a leader and they were threatened not to elect a new teacher in his place.  The authorities wanted to place a Roman Catholic in his position, but this unleashed great unrest and opposition on the part of the congregation.  The teacher appointed by the County officials, a man named Metzger, fled the village after a few days…

In order to put down the unrest and opposition, the son of the widow Schmidt was imprisoned in the fortress dungeon at Simontornya, but he was not the only one in Tolna County who found himself in chains because of his faith.

The people of Bikacs did not bend before this show of power. Instead they appealed to the Empress Maria Theresia.  In spite of their protests and appeals to the Empress, they were unable to achieve their goal.  As a result, from 1761 to 1775 they were not allowed to call a pastor, and the pastor in Gyorkony was forbidden to visit or serve his congregation in Bikacs.  The Lutherans in Bikacs were placed into the “spiritual care” of the Roman Catholic priests in Kajdacs to whom they owned their church dues.

It was during these difficult and oppressive years that followed, that a simple, pious midwife, who is never identified, taught the children how to read and write and also taught them the catechism, scriptures and prayer.  The congregation held fast to their faith with courage and met in one another’s homes or haylofts secretly in order to hold services as their parents before them had in the Heideboden.  These were sorrowful and difficult days for the villagers of Bikacs…”

In 1781 the freedom for which they had long prayed came through the Edict of Toleration of Joseph II, the new Emperor, and by 1784 they were granted permission to call a pastor and build a “prayer house.”  In their submission to the emperor we discover that there were 104 houses in the village, housing a total of 130 families, numbering in all 697 persons.

Bikacs had now arrived and took its place in the life of the county and the nation of which they were a part without giving up their identity, traditions or faith.  That is what they handed down to their children.  But times were changing.  They lived through the Revolution of 1848 siding with the Hungarian nationalists under Lajos Kossuth, a fellow Lutheran, and bore the consequences of the Austrian backlash afterwards.  They had become German Hungarians (Ungarn Deutsche), but were still Heidebauern to the core.

Economic conditions were altered, and the rural economy was dominated by the high price of land.  But without land, how could a Heidebauern be a Heidebauern?  America provided an answer and became an alternative.  The first to leave Bikacs were the young, and they did so in 1893.  They went to earn money to send back home to buy land.  That was the theory.  According to church records, it took until April 1927 for the first of them to leave for Canada.  Most returned home within the year, however.

With the coming of the Second World War, the population of Bikacs was caught up in conflict.  An organization that was known as the Bund sought to unite the German speaking population of Hungary to preserve their language in church and school and maintain their traditions and customs against the inroads of forced Hungarianization of the population.  But with the outbreak of the war, the Bund was soon infiltrated by the National Socialists and their ideology (Nazism), and Bikacs like every German speaking community in Hungary found itself divided in its allegiance to the Bund or remaining loyal to the nation of which they were citizens.  It tore families and friends and neighbours apart.  Hungary had joined the Axis powers in their invasion of Russia, and many men from Bikacs served in the Hungarian Second Army at the battle for Stalingrad…the final loyalty test.  And then the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Nicolas Horthy, agreed to the forced recruitment of all German speaking citizens into the German Army and Waffen SS.  In the fall of 1944, all men from the age of 17 to 60 years were forced to enlist in the Waffen SS.  The population of Bikacs was angered and protested, but to no avail. This was happening throughout all of Hungary.

By Christmas of 1944 the Red Army had overrun and taken all of Tolna County and Baranya and Somogy.  They met little resistance.  There were few battles, limited casualties and very little damage.  It only took days…

Then the drums beat in the village street as the Klein Richter (town-crier) announced that all men between the ages of 17 to 50 years and all women 17 to 40 years were to report for registration for labour.  On January 4, 1945 several transport trucks with armed Russian soldiers left with 49 persons from Bikacs on board.  On January 10th, trucks arrived again and took 42 more persons.  They were taken to the Soviet Union as forced labourers to the area around Rostov in the coalmining region of Dombas in Ukraine.  They were the “war reparations” Hungary had to pay for being an ally of Germany.

Many became ill.  Typhus broke out in the camps.  Labour methods were primitive and dangerous, and as a result, there were countless accidents caused by weakness and hunger and overwork.  The first to become ill were sent home.  But twenty-one of them perished there: fourteen men and seven women.  There were three married couples who had to leave their children behind.  There were three fathers with their sons.  Two fathers with a daughter.

But now the worst was yet to come.

Three men met at Potsdam and redrew the map of Europe:  Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill.  The Swabians of Hungary were ordered expelled back to Germany where they belonged to accommodate the Hungarians being expelled from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.  This was part of the “humane population transfer” that would set all things right in Europe forever.  It meant the expulsion of 15 million ethnic Germans throughout Eastern Europe, including Bikacs in the Tolna.  During the process, two million would die.

This tragedy was re-enacted in Bikacs three times.  It was a matter of the collective guilt for every German man, woman or child.  On November 11, 1946 there were 334 persons from Bikacs who were taken by wagon to Nagydorog as the bells in the church tolled and the rest of the population watched in silence and in horror.  They were boarded onto cattle cars on November 14th and sent across the border into Austria on their way to Germany.  They were later rejoined by six women who had survived the labour camps in Russia.

It seemed as if life was back to normal, and then in late August the Klein Richter beat his drum along the village street and announced another expulsion.  This involved 177 persons who left on September 1, 1947 heading across Hungary in cattlecars towards Czechoslovakia and then on to Saxony and the Russian Zone of Germany where they were later rejoined with twelve more of the survivors from the mines in Ukraine.

The third and final deportation group came on Feburary 16, 1948.  Sixty four  persons were sent to East Germany where they were later rejoined by 6 others released from the camps in the USSR.  At the same time, another eleven persons who had been interned in Budapest after their release from the Soviet Union were also deported to East Germany.

In all, there had been 586 deportees.  The vast majority of the families who had been deported to East Germany fled across the border into the Western Zones, while the remnant at home sought to find news ways to live out their lives as faithfully as they could living under the rule of the Red Hapsburgs.  That will be a future story to tell.