Our Slavic Fellow Citizens - 1910

Slovak Emigration
Chapter VI

Slovak Emigration: Origin and Spread

Obviously such a situation as has been described means that many will emigrate if the way only opens. Their own land has never fully supported them, and if America spread offers opportunities better not only than the wandering trades, which modern conditions are killing out in any case, but better than the possible earnings as hired hands in neighboring districts and countries, then to America men will go if they can.

The movement seems to have begun in the northeastern part of the Slovak district in Zemplen, Saros, Szepes (German Zips) and Ung.

This district is racially very mixed, containing large numbers of Jews, Germans and Ruthenians, besides Slovaks. The Jews have come in largely from Galicia (Austrian Poland) just across the border, whence many have migrated of late years into the Eastern Slovak counties of Hungary. They are a cosmopolitan element, alert to find every profitable opening, and have often piloted emigration movements.

The Ruthenians also are an overflow from Galicia, a continuation of the Ruthenian settlement in the eastern part of that province.

The German population, most numerous in Szepes, goes back to the founding of sixteen free towns by Saxon settlers in the twelfth century. The Jews and Germans may easily have been the means of infecting the Slovaks with the emigration fever, or it may have begun in other untraceable ways.

In any case it began much later than the Bohemian and Polish movements. One hears of sporadic cases of emigration to America from 1864 on; in the late seventies the exodus was already well marked, and by 1882 it was sufficiently important to be investigated by order of the Minister of the Interior and repressed by gendarmes posted on the frontier.

The American immigration figures indicate the first important Slovak influx in 1873, when 1300 immigrants came from Hungary, and a second in 1880, when 4000 came, rising to nearly 15,000 in 1884. Mr. Rovnianek says, "Previous to 1882 the immigration had been sporadic, but in that year the people began to come in companies of considerable size, and settled in the mining and industrial regions of Pennsylvania.

At Bartfeld, a town in Saros, we had an interesting talk with one of the earliest emigrants, a hatter who went to the United States about 1880. The account He gave was that a Jew from this town (which swarms with Polish Jews of the most typical sort, side curls, hats, looking almost like the old-fashioned cocked hat, worn by the men in some districts, and the enormous leather belts. Sometimes these appear to be a good foot and a half wide; they are studded with brass trimmings and serve as pouches for all the necessaries, especially tobacco.

This Jew was a dealer in cloth, but became bankrupt and went to America. He afterward came home, and his account induced others to go, among them the hatter. He went hoping to find work at his own trade, but he could find no one to tell him where hats were made, so that he had to take what employment he could get. He worked as a longshoreman, miner, etc. He was first in New York, then in Drifton, Pa., where there was a mine superintendent from Austria, then in Cleveland, and later in Boston, where he did get work at hatmaking.

Wages in the mines he found to be $1.25 to $1-30 above ground, and $2.00 under ground. Passage was cheap in those days $20 from Hamburg going, and under $23 as far as Oder- burg (the station on the Hungarian border) returning.

From the counties where emigration first began the Spread of movement has spread, affecting both the Ruthenians of Hungary in the counties to the east of the Slovaks, and the Slovak counties to the west of the first emigration district, and quite recently those to'the southwest also. Thus we were told that the movement had set in only three years before (i. e., in 1902) largely as a result of bad harvests and cattle diseases causing debt.

Zolyom is, in general, a well-to-do district. It is noted, even in this land of almost universally preserved peasant dress, for the archaism of its costumes and customs. In some places the men even wear the tight-braided pigtails; one on each side of the face, which one connects with pictures of Hungarian hussars of the olden time.

From the counties where emigration first began the Spread of movement has spread, affecting both the Ruthenians of Hungary in the counties to the east of the Slovaks, and the Slovak counties to the west of the first emigration district, and quite recently those to'the southwest The figures do not give Slovaks separately till 1899, but the earlier immigrants from Hungary may be assumed to be in general Slovaks with some Jews and others.

Emigration from Hungary, far from falling off, has shown, as is proved by the figures of the Hungarian authorities, an almost steady increase, rising from 24,846 in 1896 to 178,170 in 1906. Of this outflow the Slovaks make only a part. The Roumanians, Germans, Ruthenians, and other "nationalities" are also emigrating and the Magyar peasantry itself is seriously affected, which is to Magyar statesmen the gravest aspect of the case.

Since 1899 the American data for immigrants by country of origin have merged emigrants from Hungary in the whole group from Austria-Hungary except in the year 1905. The following tables show the Hungarian totals for emigration, 1896-1906, and both the American and Hungarian tables for 1905:

TABLE 6. TOTAL EMIGRATION FROM HUNGARY, AS REPORTED BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN HUNGARY, 1896-1906

YEAR No. of EMIGRANTS

1896 24,846
1897 14.310
1898 22,965
1899 43.394
1900 54.767
IQOI 71,474
1902 91,762
1903 119.944
1904 97.340
1905 170.430
1906 178,170

The American figures for Slovak immigrants since 1899, when they were first printed, are as follows:

Total 345,111

The loss of population by emigration for the two decades preceding 1900 as shown by the census is given for the chief Slovak counties in Table 9. This table also shows the percentage of Slovaks in the counties where they are most numerous.

Map VII, drawn from the same source, shows the relative intensity of emigration in all parts of Hungary as represented by the percentage of the population of 1900 reported by the local authority as having emigrated in 1899-1901.

It will be seen how great is the relative intensity of emigration in the Slovak counties. Szepes, Sa'ros, Abauj-Torna, Zemplin and Ung, and these counties alone, show a loss of 5 per cent or over of the population in three short years.

In Arva and Gomor the loss is 2 to 3 per cent. In Turocz, Lipta and Bereg the loss is 1 to 2 per cent. Even these last figures cannot be paralleled elsewhere in Hungary proper. Only in Croatia do we find in Modrus-Fiume county a loss of 2 to 3 per cent and in Agram (Hungarian) county a loss of 1 to 2 per cent.

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