Galizien Deutsche

The Galizien Deutsche are pretty hard to find these days. They existed as a group only from about 1780 to 1940 after which they were scattered and the context that created them disappeared. Most people simply call them Germans which I find odd because for the most part they never lived in Germany. I explain more about this below. But first we need a little history to understand how these people came and went so quickly.

In the 1700s the Kingdom of Poland's glory days were over. Even the radical reform of adopting the world's second democratic constitution (shortly after the USA) couldn't save it. Its neighbors Russia, Prussia and Austria sliced off chunks until in 1795 all that was left was the carcass and then they ate that too -- Poland disappeared from the map. Austria created from its portion a huge province called Galizien (Galicia in English, Galicja in Polish, Halychyna in Rusyn and Ukrainian). It stretched from Kraków in the west to L'viv and beyond in the east. There's an 1882 map online if you'd like to see one. (Also see the links section at the end of this page.)

L'viv (Lemberg in German, Lwów in Polish) had long been a rich, thriving city and it was to the fields south and east of it that Austria's rulers encouraged people to move from overpopulated areas in the west (today parts of Germany, Austria and France). Quite a few took the government's offer of free grain, tax relief and aboveground swimming pools and struck out for the east and thus, without even knowing it, became the Galizien Deutsche. Most of them passed through Vienna to get the subsidies that the government promised and as a result left behind a paper trail that survives today, most notably in Das Kolonisationswerk Josefs II in Galizien by Ludwig Schneider. The Galizien Deutsche founded a number of villages and lived in peace for over a century among their Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish neighbors. They mostly lived in villages by themselves but in some of the larger towns (especially Drohobycz) they lived in thoroughly mixed communities.

Fast forward to WWI (1914) by which time Austria had acknowledged Hungarian nationalism and re-christened itself the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867), Otto von Bismark had united a number of states into the new nation of Germany (1871) and my Galizien Deutsche ancestors -- my Mom's parents -- had already left for a farm north of Philly (1912). The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed after WWI and international treaty recreated Poland with borders significantly further east than today's borders. Most notably for our story, L'viv and most of the Galizien Deutsche landed in Poland.

This wasn't a great time for the Galizien Deutsche as the Poles weren't very kindly disposed to the German-speaking people in their country. Little did they know that the Poles were the least of their problems. A week before the Nazis invaded Poland to start WWII, diplomats from the Nazi and Soviet governments signed the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (1939) which split poor Poland again on a line a little west of Poland's modern eastern border ("...the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula, and San").

One month later, Molotov and Ribbentrop signed a followup treaty which spelled the end of the Galizien Deutsche in a single sentence of classic government doublespeak that cloaks mass, forced deportation in liberty's garb:

The Government of the U.S.S.R. shall place no obstacles in the way of Reich nationals and other persons of German descent residing in the territories under its jurisdiction, if they desire to migrate to Germany or to the territories under German jurisdiction. It agrees that such removals shall be carried out by agents of the Government of the Reich in cooperation with the competent local authorities and that the property rights of the emigrants shall be protected." (emphasis mine)

In the freezing cold of January 1940 the Galizien Deutsche were given just a little time (a matter of days, or less) to pack up their things and get herded onto trains to Germany (including, at the time, Poland which the Nazis had wiped off of the map -- their map, at any rate). The deportees were instructed to take with them a pedigree dating five generations back written out by the village priest which would attest to their German-ness and thus allow them entry into Germany. Many of these documents survive which is one reason genealogy for Galizien Deutsche is strong -- lots of field work was done in 1939. A few stayed behind, a few wound up in Poland, the USA and Canada (and a few other places like South America) but most ended up in Germany (East Germany, when it existed) and they still live there today.

Here is a scan of a map
of Königsau, Austria-Hungary Königsau from an 1877 Austro-Hungarian map

The villages that the Galizien Deutsche left behind remain, even down to the streets and houses they built many years ago. In many cases, remarkably little has changed. My grandfather's birthplace of Königsau, for instance, got renamed to Równe when it became part of Poland but they mean sort of the same thing. Königs-aue means "king's aue", an aue being sort of a flat place between hills and równe meaning meadow or something like that in Polish. Rivne in Ukrainian has the same meaning and that's the name of the village today. And although not as clearly delineated as it once was, it still retains its distinctive five-sided shape (one of only a few such towns in the world, surprisingly enough). It is populated by poor farmers in a country with a corrupt government and a broken economy. They still plow by hand in some places and the fact that little has changed since my grandfather left isn't a bucolic dream but a sad fact.


Why do I stubbornly insist on the term Galizien Deutsche (which I always misspell) when almost everyone else is satisfied with calling these people German? One of the things I seek to get out of genealogy is a finer appreciation of what makes us who we are. Sloppy generalizations don't help that; in fact they hinder it. When I discovered my mother's ethnic roots a few years ago, I considered her German as most genealogists would. But after thinking about it for a while, it seemed wrong. How could "German" apply to my mother when neither she nor any of her ancestors were born in or ever lived in Germany? When her parents were subjects of the Austrian crown? When none of her descendants live in Germany? I feel that calling her and the rest of the Galizien Deutsche "German" is to ignore their history for the sake of convenience. And if you're going to do that then you might as well not bother with genealogy at all.

If you really don't like my term, Germanic is another possibility. But it is not a very good one because it is very broad and thus not very informative. Consider, for instance, that Germanic languages include not only German but English, Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Yiddish, Afrikaans, Flemish and Frisian. Like I said, it is a broad term, and accuracy counts.