The Germans In Romania

There had been groups of German colonists in all the historical provinces, which came to make up Greater Romania at the end of 1918. But these Germans had not immigrated into Romania: they had come to Bessarabia when it belonged to Russia (and was returned to Soviet Russia in 1940, after an ultimatum), to Dobrogea when it was Turkish, and to the other territories – Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina – when they were under the sovereignty of the Hungarian Kingdom or, later, of the Austrian Imperial House. What follows will be a short presentation of the German colonist groups, any intention of informational completeness being excluded from the start by the limited scope of this paper.Hungarian kings invited German colonists to Transylvania as they set about conquering it – centuries 10 to 13. The first German colonists settled down along the middle course of the Danube in the 11th century. Answering the Arpadian kings' call, German colonists came to Zips (Spiš, Slovakia) and to Transylvania in the following century. The Hungarian Chancellery named both groups "Saxons", although most of them came from West Franconia, their homeland being the Rhine region and the region west of the Rhine. IThe colonisation of the inter-Carpathian Plateau with Transylvanian Saxons was initiated by King Géza II (1143-1163). The so-called Saxons were direct subjects of the king. They were allowed to keep their German common law and elect their judges freely. Having been explicitly called to defend the Crown, they only had to relinquish some part of their income to the royal exchequer and fulfil the obligation of military service for the king. According to the Adreanum Act (1224), issued by Andrew II, the Saxons that the had settled down "from Orăştie to Drăuşeni" were to be one community and answer before a single judge appointed by the king.Beginning with the 14th century, the autonomy of the Saxon-administrated territory grew continuously until finally in 1486 Matthias Corvinus ordered the union of all Saxons living on "royal lands" as "The Intact Unity of Transylvanian Saxons" (Universitas Saxonum) under the law of Sibiu. This didn't represent so much the formation of the Saxon people, but rather an important event in the Saxons' development as a political nation. As such, they were one of the three nations in the Transylvanian Assembly, together with the Hungarian nobility and Szekler upper class. Transylvania was the only European country where the assembly was made up according to ethnic criteria. The largest people in Transylvania at least from the 18th century on, Romanians were not represented in the Assembly and therefore had no rights; only a few Romanians, who had managed to reach the noble class, were able to play a political part. In the first half of the 16th century, two important events took place, the consequences of which can be felt even today for the Saxons. After the defeat at Mohács (1526) at the hands of the Turks, the Kingdom of Hungary crumbled, and in 1542 Transylvania became an autonomous principality under the lax sovereignty of the Ottoman Gate. Consequently, the importance of the Transylvanian Assembly grew, with the Saxons, as a nation that supported the state, being co-responsible for its affairs. This feeling of a historically-inherited responsibility for the destiny of the entire country is still alive today, however much subdued.The second crucial event of the 16th century was the Lutheran renewal. By separating themselves from the Catholic church, the Saxons acquired their own religious life, which complemented their political involvement and increased their autonomy. Humanism, the Reform and the development of Saxon towns, which became important artisan and commercial centres, were the most important features of Saxon history in the 16th and 17th centuries. As far as legislation was concerned, their jurisdiction was strengthened through the "Eigen-Landrecht" ("Common Law", 1583). This book of laws was the legal foundation of the Saxons on royal land up until the revolution of 1848-1849. However, this is where we should mention that approximately one third of the Saxons had settled down not on royal land exempt from feudal dues, but on the borough lands of the nobility, where until 1848 they shared the fate of the Romanian and Hungarian peasants, who had no rights whatsoever. In 1688-9, Transylvania was conquered by Austria. Although the Leopold Diploma (1691) recognised the Saxons' fundamental rights and liberties, the Austrian Imperial House endeavoured to administrate the empire in a centralist manner, and curb the autonomy of the lands it had just conquered. Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790) was especially active in this sense, supporting numerous reforms in the area of administrative law. Although Transylvania continued to enjoy a certain amount of freedom in its new position as grand principality, its importance in the eastern-European space began to dwindle. The economic competition it faced from the Austrian crown lands and its position at the edge of the monarchy, forcing it to provide raw materials, led to a stagnation of the formerly blooming Saxon crafts and trade, which nevertheless, were still clearly superior to the Hungarian and the Romanian. The advent of the Austro-Hungary monarchy in 1867 had devastating consequences for the Saxons. Their exclusive subordination to the Hungarians' power forced the Saxons to adopt a defensive stance that seemed almost hopeless. There were many laws given in the eastern (Hungarian) half of the imperial-royal monarchy that were globally directed against all non-Magyars. It's true that the Saxons experienced an economic revival, but much of their energy went on fighting the Magyarisation efforts, a fight they came out of more victorious that not, as was later appreciated. On 8 January 1919, soon after the union between Transylvania and Romania (1 December 1918), the Saxons adhered to the new Romanian state on the basis of a majority resolution adopted by their representatives. However, before long, their trust in the resolution passed by the Romanian National Assembly at Alba Iulia (the so-called Alba Iulia Decision) proved to be no more than a political illusion. The leading Romanian parties and personalities disregarded the group rights that Romania had accepted by signature to grant the Saxons and the Szeklers at the Versailles peace negotiations. This notwithstanding, the Saxons were able to preserve a certain degree of autonomy in the areas of economy, forms of association, education and culture. It was in the end World War II, the ensuing deportation to forced labour camps, the successive waves of expropriation directed at private and communal property, and the communist efforts to level away all traces of ethnic specificity that led Saxons to question their will of continuing their history of over eight centuries in Transylvania. IIThe Banat Swabians came to the western territories of today's Romania at a much later time. Together with the Germans in the mountainous Banat to the south-east, they make up a second large group of German colonists, who used to be and still is more or less equally numerous to the Transylvanian Saxons. The Swabian settlement was not the result of a spontaneous popular movement, it was a measure taken by the Austrian state. Its successful war against Turkey (1716-1718), prince Eugen's victory at Petrovaradin and the conquest of Timişoara on 13 October 1716 forced the Turks to leave the Banat region, which was then annexed by Austria as a result of the peace negotiations at Karlowitz. The Austrian successes in the east and south-east concurred with territorial losses in the west. This move to the east brought a fundamental change in the ethnic make-up of the empire, so it can be said that the first half of the 18th century already contained the signs of the fall that would come about two centuries later. A new Austrian administrative territory appeared under the name of the "Timişoara Banat", ruled over directly by the central authorities in Vienna. As a Crown province, it was subordinated to a governor. Having adhered to the principles of mercantilism at a very early stage of its history, Austria now had a colonising space at its disposal, which it colonised accordingly with Austrian subjects from the western territories of the empire. The idea behind colonising this area was to increase the inflow of tax-money, since Banat had been not only impoverished under Turkish domination, much more oppressive here than in Transylvania, but also deserted by many of its inhabitants. Most new settlers came to Banat from the west and the south-west of the German Empire. As with other groups of colonists, this one too decided to emigrate on account of the social and economic situation in Germany and its neighbouring countries. The colonisation of Banat was done in three stages. The first began after the Passarowitz Peace Treaty (1718) under emperor Charles VI, and ended at the time of the Turkish war (1737-1739). The second period of colonisation started as Maria Theresa came to the throne, and was terminated by the annexation of Banat to the Kingdom of Hungary in 1778. The last important stage of colonisation took place under emperor Joseph II between 1782-1787. Although controlled by the state, colonisation did not go very smoothly, and this partly because people in the recruitment territories were not explicitly informed that the Austrian public exchequer would be expecting tax-money straight away. Another reason was that the new Banat colonists were peasants; however, Vienna was more interested in mining and tended to invest in this field, with a view to challenging the industrial supremacy of England, France and Holland. Moreover, many German princes opposed the emigration of qualified workforce, the kind the Court in Vienna wanted. But despite some social tension and other various shortcomings, the colonisation of Banat, as well as of the territory north of the river Mureş up to the town of Satu Mare, was in the end a success. Over the following century, the western parts of today's Romania not only caught up with Transylvania, but in certain fields (mining, transportation, industry) even surpassed the economic level of the Saxon-inhabited territories as early as the 1810s and '20s. The Germans in the western territories were not burdened with the medieval dues that the Saxons still had to pay, a definite setback in the modern era, and consequently succeeded in developing the colonised territories up to the level of their lands of origin, i.e. close to Crown-land level. The fertility of the soil and the various types of ore available allowed the Banat Germans, after only a few years of tax exemption, not only to pay those taxes, but also to tend to their villages, transforming them into impressive communes, and begin the modernisation of towns. Beside Germans, there also came to Banat Czech, Italian, French (Walloon) and Spanish colonists. They were all with few exceptions Catholic, a main, but not exclusive, criterion, of their being accepted by the Habsburg imperial house. Once under Hungarian administration, the new German colonists were more receptive to its political efforts than the Saxons or the Romanians. Since there was no religious matter at stake, Magyarisation was more successful with them than with the Saxons. After 1918, their adherence to the Romanian state was declared hesitantly. They would have preferred to remain in the same state with Swabians on the Danube, but this was impossible: the new borders after World War I took into account the respective majorities: Romanian, Hungarian or Serb. IIIThe Satu Mare Swabians in north-western Romania were not the first Germans in that area; as early as 1230, the Germans that had settled there received a diploma of privileges from the Hungarian king Andrew II (who had only a few years earlier granted the Saxons the Act Adreanum). The German population on the border with Hungary continued to receive immigrants from the west, but the German groups were assimilated by the Hungarian or the Romanian communities. The Satu Mare Swabians of today are not, therefore, the descendants of the German colonists in the middle ages. They were called for the first time in 1712, before the first wave of Swabians came (see above), by count Alexander Karolyi. The reason was the early 18th century "Curute (anti-Habsburg fighters) wars", which had had devastating consequences for this area. The Satu Mare Swabians lived in 40 villages, some purely German, others mixed – Romanian-Hungarian-German. The list of the immigrants' names and their places of origin indicates that the Satu Mare Swabians came from over 130 places, most of them in Württemberg. They are therefore the most entitled to be called Swabian. Their lot was, however, cruel: their settlement on domains of the nobility brought them conditions of almost unbearable serfdom, while the effects of the Magyarisation policy of the 19th and 20th centuries, to which they were very much exposed as a Catholic and unconsolidated ethnic group, can be felt even today. In the 13th century, Germans came to Maramureş from Zips (the Zips Saxons). Among them were not only peasants, but also craftsmen and miners who contributed greatly to the development of this territory. In the 18th century, German colonists from central and western Europe joined their community, and together they have been able to preserve their ethnic specificity to this day. IVThe Germans in north-eastern BucovinaThe Ottoman Empire was forced to cede the Bucovina region to Austria (1775) after one of several Austro-Turkish wars in the 18th century. Bucovina was mostly inhabited by Romanians, but there also lived there Ukrainians, Jews and other ethnic groups. The Austrian colonisation went along similar lines as in Banat. Officers and administrative personnel were followed not only by many common Germans, but also by Poles, Magyars, Armenians et al. The Germans came from Zips, from the Rhine-Main area and from Baden-Württemberg. It wasn't German peasants and craftsmen, but rather miners, who were active here. In the 19th century, Bucovina had the outlook of an east-European Switzerland. Multilingualism was widespread here more than in other places, while German as the state language was known by the entire upper class. Both the teachers and the students at the German university in Cernăuţi had the most varied ethnic backgrounds; this model was unfortunately lost after 1918. After being annexed to Romania, Bucovina and the CernăuţiUniversity were increasingly Romanianised, with the decisive blow for the resident Germans coming in 1940, as northern Bucovina was ceded to the Soviet Union. The evacuation before this date and the subsequent persecution both in northern and in southern Bucovina (left to Romania) largely deprived the remaining Germans of the essentials of their ethnic life. The Germans in Bessarabia (a province which nowadays is no longer part of Romania) were colonized by Russia, which had taken over Bessarabia from the Turks after the Bucharest Peace Treaty (1812). The Russians continued their efficient colonisation policy in their new acquisition, a policy pioneered by Catherine II (1762-1792) in other parts of the Russian Empire, such as the Volga area (the Germans on the Volga). In 1919, the year when Bessarabia was returned to Romania, around 80,000 Germans were living there, out of a total population of 2,3 million, with Romanians as the crushing majority. After the Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia, most Germans were "taken home" to the German Reich; World War II took care of the remaining ones, as it did if the Germans in Dobrogea (a Turkish region until 1878). Today there are still Germans living in Bessarabia (officially the Republic of Moldova, independent since August 1991), and also in Dobrogea, but since 1940 they haven't had a proper community life anymore. VA final observation is due at the end of this brief presentation of the German population groups in Romania, whose existence is seriously endangered by emigration to Germany, on the rise after the events in December 1989. At a global look, all the groups mentioned are, indeed, Germans from Romania. But this is a purely geographical notion, which overlooks the separate lives that each of these groups led, most of the time without conference or mutual support. It is true that during the interwar period, after all these Germans had ended up inside one state, Romania, the German deputies in the Bucharest Parliament spoke on behalf of all Germans in Romania (around 750,000 in 1938). However, there was no unity of thought among the several German population groups, while their assimilation in the "German Ethnic Group in Romania" only brought them disadvantages after the war. Through its economic, social, cultural and political activities, The Democratic Forum of the Germans in Romania, established in December 1989, is nowadays trying to represent and defend the interests of the inland Germans, without intending to uniformise the German population groups by disregarding their characteristic features.

by Thomas Nägler