The Danube Swabians: A People with Portable Roots


172 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919303-61-7





Reviewed by Leonard Wertheimer

Leonard Wertheimer was Languages Coordinator for the Metro Toronto Library Board.


This is an engaging book about a well-established ethnic group in Canada which, however, is less known to the general public than, say, Canadians of Italian or Ukrainian origin. The Ethnocultural Directory of Ontario 1980-81 includes Danube Swabians with Germans, since their language is German, though a particular dialect.

The history of the Danube Swabians is of special interest to Canada on account of a certain aspect of “multiculturalism.” After the liberation of Hungary from the Turks at the end of the seventeenth century, the Danubian plain was almost depopulated; for a variety of reasons, it was decided to resettle the area with Germans. Although settlers came from all parts of Southern Germany, they were called Swabians because the first settlers came indeed from Swabia; the term Danube Swabians (Donauschwaben) was coined only as recently as 1922. The area of their settlement was at various periods Hungary, Austria, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. The problem of “biculturalism” was approached differently in each state. The Swabians themselves were peasants who maintained their language, their way of life, and their dress almost unchanged for 200 years and well into this century. They came to Canada in two waves, the first after World War I, when economic conditions as well as the attitudes of their Hungarian fellow citizens changed after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. These immigrants came to North America with the idea of staying a few years, earning enough money to return to the homeland and to buy more land. Of course, most of them stayed on. The second wave came after World War II under far more tragic circumstances: because Hitler claimed all German-speaking peoples as part of the German nation (the term in use then was Volksdeutsche), the Danube Swabians incurred the distrust, wrath, and revenge of Hungarians, Rumanians, and Serbs; the author cautiously admits that some, at least, adopted the Nazi creed without, however, fully realising its portent. In any case they were expelled, initially to East or West Germany. Their dialect, way of life, and poverty precluded successful settlement in Germany, which itself was war-ravaged, and thus they came to Canada, where many already had relatives to sponsor their immigration.

This book is mainly a personal narrative by the author, who was born in Hungary and came to Canada at the age of seven. She tells her own experience and that of others known to her. Of particular interest are the stories of the immigrants’ painful lives in their new country, for which they were totally unprepared. There is also a searching examination of the Swabians’ history, their way of life, and its validity both in the old and the new country. A number of traditional legends, superstitions and poems enliven the narrative.

At the end of each chapter are explanatory or bibliographic footnotes. There are many photographs, as well as three coloured illustrations whose relevance to the text is not clear.


Frey, Katherine Stenger, “The Danube Swabians: A People with Portable Roots,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,