Over many decades Burgenland’s rich history has been marked by the number of emigrants who have chosen to emigrate to other countries. Of all Austrian provinces, Burgenland has represented the largest group of emigrants. In 1922 alone 61% of those Austrians emigrating to America were from Burgenland and in 1923, the number reached 72%. For those two years, Burgenlanders left their home country at the rate of 600 people per month or the equivalent of an entire village every month.
When the steamboat replaced the sailing boat in 1875 the pre-WW I migration of Burgenlanders to America began. About 1880 the first Burgenlanders settled in Chicago and in Pennsylvania. As Dr. Dujmovits, President of the “Burgenländische Gemeinschaft” (Weltbund der Burgenländer, World Federation of Burgenlanders) recalls, “There was a time when almost every Burgenlander had an uncle in America and an aunt in Vienna.” Born 1932 in Eisenhüttl near Güssing, Dujmovits represented the typical fate of a family of emigrants. His mother was the only one of her family who remained in Austria while all her cousins, uncles and aunts lived in America. “This has also shaped me for when World War II came unexpectedly, we received enormous help from our relatives in America. During the war Burgenland was a combat area, and, later, during the Russian occupation, we suffered for several years. During this time more than 100,000 packages, as well as dollar contributions, arrived from relatives in North America. These years also revealed the paradoxes of history: families which had previously been wealthy and had not been forced to emigrate suffered because they had no relatives in America on whom they could count for support. My grandfather was in America and helped my great grandfather in Burgenland after World War I. At the same time he sent money to a friend in captivity as a Russian prisoner of war in a camp in Vladivostok,” Dujmovits recalls.
Before retirement Dujmovits, who had studied history and geography, was the principal of a secondary school in Güssing. He had also published a comprehensive history of the Burgenlanders emigration. In a census which he conducted in 1975 he came to the conclusion that about 100,000 Burgenlanders were living abroad, including those offspring aware of their ancestry. Some 78% were living in the U.S. (78,000), 12% in Canada, 3% in Argentina, 2% in Brazil and 2% in Central America, Uruguay and other countries. Later some also went to Australia and South Africa. In the 1950s when America began placing restrictions on immigrants, people began emigrating to Switzerland and Germany. There was a genuine wave of emigration to North America until the end of the 1970s. Due to the dollar crisis in 1979, there was a brief wave of return-emigration. The census conducted by Dujmovits revealed that some 66,000 Burgenlanders had emigrated, of which 14,000 had returned. Another 20,000 - 30,000 had emigrated before the turn of the century who could not be registered because they never possessed a passport. At that time entire families left their villages and left nothing behind.
The Founding of the Burgenländische Gemeinschaft and the Charter flights
The Burgenland Association (Burgenländische Gemeinschaft) was first established in 1956, and current President Walter Dujmovits felt that it was precipitated by the withdrawal of the Allied Occupation forces in 1955. This created a strong desire on the part of Burgenlanders in Austria to connect with their families in America. Increased air traffic, including charter flights, created new opportunities to travel for families wishing to reconnect. The Burgenland Association was founded to publish a newspaper for Burgenlanders all over the world. “Burgenländische Gemeinschaft,” was originally the title of the newsletter initiated by the founder of Burgenländische Gemeinschaft, Dr. Toni Lantos. Copies of the publication were sent to various Burgenlander associations throughout America and soon many subscribers became members of the Association. Later charter flights were organized.
“My relationship to the Burgenland Association began 53 years ago,” Dujmovits recalls. “When I was in America for the first time in 1956, the Association was established. As of today there are only two people from that time who are still active- Joe Baumann and myself. He was responsible for building up the organization in America, and I built it up here in Austria.” The first President of the Burgenland-Germeinschaft was Dr. Lantos, who headed the Eisenstadt-based organization for five years. He was followed by President Gmoser and for 25 years the organization was located in Mogersdorf. Dr. Dujmovits, who had been the vice-president since 1958, succeeded him as president. The office moved from Mogersdorf to Güssing and Güssing received the official title, ”City of the Burgenlanders Abroad.”
Joe Baumann came from the village of Poppendorf near Heiligenkreuz, which was largely depopulated due to the emigration of many Austrians to Canada. While Burgenland was still under Soviet administration, he worked for the City Administration of Heiligenkreuz when a group of former Burgenlanders had come from America to visit Poppendorf. It was during this visit that he met his future wife and decided to go to the U.S. As he recalls, “at that time there was no State Treaty in sight, and we thought the Russians would never leave Austria.” In 1955 he arrived in the U.S., and it became his second home. After several jobs he began to work at a travel agency in New York, and became instrumental in organizing charter flights for Burgenlanders to Austria and to America. “With the help of charter flights we made it possible for more than 30,000 people to visit their relatives. I still receive letters from people who have moved elsewhere, writing: “Joe, if it hadn’t been for you, we would never have seen Burgenland.” Because the word spread we had flights full with Burgenlanders; I also went to the airport in New York to help those who had connecting flights to Toronto or Montreal. For those who came from Austria it was an entirely new experience. It was a lot of work but very rewarding, and I am happy that I was able to do something for the Burgenlanders. Many of us still had memories of houses covered with straw roofs. I am grateful to the government of Burgenland for rebuilding Burgenland so that today no one has to consider emigration for economic reasons.”
Burgenlanders in the U.S. and Canada
During the first half of the 20th century, Burgenlanders in New York often formed groups and created private initiatives to fulfill the basic needs of the emigrants. For example, when they came to the U.S. there were no health insurance benefits available. In New York one group formed an association in 1923, called the “Krankenunterstützungsverein” (Sick & Death Benefits Society), where each member made a small contribution and received health benefits in return. For many years they have been electing a “Miss Burgenland,” who receives a trip to the picnic of the Burgenländische Gemeinschaft held every July in Moschendorf near Güssing. In 1937 another association was formed, the “Brüderschaft der Burgenländer in New York” (Brotherhood of the Burgenlanders in New York), which over the last number of years also has held elections for a ‘Miss Brüderschaft.’ Burgenlanders also formed an Austrian soccer club, playing a sport which was not played in North America at that time. Today, it sponsors other events such as the Christmas Party and the Anniversary Dance, as Baumann, who is a member of all three clubs, explains.
Burgenlander associations in North America are concentrated in four main regional and city areas: New York, Chicago, Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) and Toronto (Canada). Every five years a high-level delegation comes from Burgenland and is mostly headed by the governor or deputy governor to visit those four cities and their regions. The visit of the Bishop from Eisenstadt has always been a highlight for Burgenlanders in the U.S. and Canada. As Baumann recalls, at all of the places visited they had some 400 people attending.
When asked how the Burgenlanders have been able to maintain their unique cultural heritage and why they identify themselves more as Burgenlanders than as Austrians, Dr. Dujmovits refers to the history of Burgenland, which was until the end of WW I part of the Hungarian area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Burgenlanders often perceived themselves as German-speaking Hungarians and nurtured close ties with other groups of German-speaking minorities of Hungary like the Danube-Swabians. In lists compiled in Chicago, the Burgenlanders always appeared as a group of their own. A weekly newspaper Eintracht still appears in German in Chicago and was published in the 1920s and the 1930s “as the voice of the Germans, Austrians and Hungarians here in Chicago.” It was only during the last fifty years that Burgenlanders began identifying themselves fully as Austrians living abroad.
Dujmovits notes that in parallel to the Burgenländische Gemeinschaft there is a group of descendants of Burgenlanders who have formed their own internet platform, the “Burgenland-Bunch.” They regularly inform each other through online newsletters and a website with approximately 10,000 visits per month. Although the generation of emigrants and their children is becoming smaller, there is a growing awareness of ancestry among the third, fourth and fifth generation. The Burgenland-Bunch was founded in 1996 by Gerry Berghold, who established a Genealogy Group, whose purpose was to research the heritage of the Burgenland region in Austria and adjoining regions of former Western Hungary and to provide helpful information on Burgenland genealogical matters in English. Burgenland-Bunch also provides help to gain Burgenland genealogical data for its emigrants living elsewhere. The association helps to locate original villages based upon emigrants’ Hungarian, German and Croatian names and identifies parishes and locations of municipal offices and available church and civil records. A monthly newsletter, in addition to their website, publishes family names and data appearing in old records, and items and articles of historical and cultural interest relating to Burgenland. The group also links a network of researchers through email, and is actively engaged in uncovering records available for genealogical research.
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