Romanians emigrated to Siebenbuergen

(Late) repatriates in the migration society

Gwénola Sebaux

Prof. Dr. Gwénola Sebaux is Professor of German Studies at the Université catholique de l'Ouest in Angers (France). In 2012 she completed her habilitation in German culture and history at the University of Nantes with the thesis "Migration Policy and Identity Issues in 'Post-National' Germany. A Critical Analysis". Her main research interests are migration policy and migration issues in the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the history and contemporary history of the German minorities in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. She is a member of the Franco-German Historical Committee and the Scientific Advisory Board for Studies on Historical Migration Research (SHM).

In Romania before 1945, Germans, especially Transylvanian Saxons and Banat Swabians, were the second largest minority after the Hungarians. Their emigration has permanently changed the socio-cultural landscape of Romania. In Germany, the majority of them feel well integrated and have very active national networks.

Photos from the beginning of the 20th century show members of the Transylvanian Saxons in their festive costumes. (& copy akg-images)

The resettlement of Germans from Romania is part of the general east-west migration in Europe against the background of the Cold War and after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Conversely, the migration of German settlers to today's Romania was part of the great continental emigration from the German-speaking area to Eastern and Southeastern Europe and to the Habsburg countries. With the relocation to the Federal Republic in the second half of the 20th century, the history of German colonization in the East, which went back to the Middle Ages, ended.

Just like the other, more "classic" immigrants, resettlement required complex and in some cases lengthy political, social and societal negotiation processes. The now largely completed admission process of the (late) repatriates has long-term effects that continue to this day in German society. The meaning of the particularly relevant term "post-migrant" is therefore also quite informative in terms of emigrant policy.

Historical review

The history of the Germans in the areas that later became Romania began in the middle of the 12th century with the immigration of recruited settlers to Transylvania, a core area of ​​what was then the Kingdom of Hungary. From the beginning of the 18th to the early 19th century, after the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire, further groups of German settlers came in several trains to the Banat and the Sathmarer Land. These areas became part of Romania after the First World War.

"Romanian Germans" is the collective name for these very different German-speaking groups, which differ in the time and place of their settlement as well as due to their diverse cultural traditions. Instead of the "German minority" one would have to speak of "German minorities" in the plural in Romania. The most important German-speaking groups historically, numerically as well as culturally and politically, are the Transylvanian Saxons in central Romania and the Banat Swabians in what is now western Romania. Despite massive resettlement during the Cold War and after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the two German minorities were able to maintain themselves to some extent as a linguistically, culturally and politically independent community by moving closer together. Other historically significant German settlement centers were completely or almost entirely extinguished during the Second World War as a result of Romania's territory ceded to the Soviet Union and because of the flight from the Soviet troops, as in the case of the Buchenland Germans, the Dobrudscha Germans and the Sathmar Swabians.

The Transylvanian Saxons
The first and oldest group are the Transylvanian Saxons. Around the year 1150, German farmers and petty nobles followed the colonization call of the Hungarian King Geza II and settled in Transylvania. Most of them came from the Rhineland and the Moselle, but also from what is now Luxembourg and Belgium. The other population groups - Romanians, Szeklers and Hungarians - generally called them "Saxons" and henceforth referred to themselves as such. They should open up new settlement areas and secure the land militarily from the Ottomans. In return, they were granted far-reaching privileges such as religious freedom and administrative autonomy. Since the Reformation they have been predominantly Evangelical Lutheran. In 1930 around 230,000 Saxons lived in Transylvania. This number shrank to around 170,000 by 1977 and to around 100,000 by 1989. According to the 2002 census, it was only 18,000. The surprising election of the Transylvanian Saxon Klaus Johannis, the former mayor of Sibiu / Hermannstadt, as President of Romania in November 2014 brought this now very small minority into the focus of the German media and public.

The Banat Swabians
After the Habsburgs had recaptured the Banat, a historic region in the Danube area, from the Ottomans in 1718, they undertook the planned settlement of the strategically important border area. As early as 1718, craftsmen and engineers came to build fortifications and factories in Timis¸oara, the most important city in the Banat. The "colonists" came in three "Swabian trains": under Emperor Karl VI (1722–26), under Empress Maria Theresia (1763–1773) and under Emperor Josef II (1780–90). The regions of origin were the western and southwestern German areas of Rheinpfalz, Trier, Hesse, Lorraine and Franconia as well as Bavaria and Württemberg. The German settlers formed Roman Catholic settlements that stood out in a predominantly Orthodox environment, sometimes ethnically mixed, but more often closed. The neighboring countries Romanians, Hungarians and Serbs called them "Swabians". This external name became the own name.

A specific group was formed by the miners from Austria and Bohemia who settled in the south of the Banat (mountainous region) from 1720 to the middle of the 19th century. In 1930 the Germans made up more than 22 percent of the Banat population with 237,000 people and thus formed the second largest ethnic group after the Romanians (51.6%) and ahead of the Hungarians (16.5%). In the 2002 census, only around 25,000 people in the whole of the Romanian Banat claimed to be German.

Situation at the beginning of the 20th century
Despite strong assimilation efforts by the Hungarian state in the last third of the 19th century, Saxony and Swabia were able to preserve the German language and culture. After the unification of Transylvania with Romania after the First World War, the Karlsburg resolutions of 1918 raised great hopes for greater self-determination.

However, the promised freedoms were hardly put into practice. Politically, the German minorities had little freedom, but culturally they were at least allowed to develop further. This was done, among other things, through the further or reconstruction of an educational network with famous educational institutions such as the prestigious Banatia in Timis¸oara, which was particularly viable in the cities, but also in the rural communities. In the 1920s, it became the largest German educational institution in Southeast Europe.

The very active club life, the German church structures as well as the peasant festive customs and traditions were also of central importance. The "Saxons" and the "Swabians" kept a strong sense of community for centuries through lived customs. Closely connected with this was a pronounced awareness of history (colonization myth), which was promoted in the early 20th century and in the interwar period by German newspapers, literature and major anniversary celebrations.

Nevertheless, the two most important German minorities experienced some historically motivated rivalries. The established and at times politically strong Transylvanian Saxons were considered to be a "minority supporting the state" in Romania, while the Banat Swabians, due to a history of only three hundred years, were "only" an "economic" minority (at least until the Second World War) and were also part of the upper class and by the other ethnicities were highly valued.

In the current perception, the historical differences in status have not yet been fully overcome, even if the two groups have a lot in common. During the 1930s and 1940s, as a German minority, both were carried away by Nazi propaganda, partly forcibly and partly of their own accord. Due to the German-Romanian rapprochement, they were allowed to form the "German Ethnic Group in Romania" in 1940 under the strong control of Berlin . From 1943 around 57,000 Romanian citizens of German nationality, some of whom were enthusiastic about National Socialism, served in the Waffen-SS and in the Wehrmacht. Both ethnic groups experienced the fate of deportation and discrimination in communist Romania. Ultimately, both were equally affected by the massive resettlement to Germany.