Who Is Eginald Schlattner?

Who is Eginald Schlattner and what story is he telling in his debut novel? For the readers in Romania, the Lutheran priest aged 65 who lives in his parish house at Rosia, near Sibiu, where he lives in a community mainly made up of Romanies, Romanians, and only a few Saxons of Transylvania, he is not yet a familiar name. Endowed with the gift of elocution, the author confesses in the numerous interviews given both to the written press from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and to the radio or TV that everything started from a story he told from the pulpit to the few parishioners he had, around the Christmas holidays. Prompted by the audience, he develops the story into a short story and then into a novel, the final literary act of a world and of a civilization over 800 years old, in multiethnic Transylvania: the civilization of the Saxons of Transylvania. Eginald Schlattner: Now, when the novel was presented in Vienna, by the publishing house, to an elevated audience of journalists and men of letters, I read in front of them only one page: how I used to walk with my father in Fogarasch around the fortress, and my father always had to take off his hat and greet in four languages: Hungarian, Romanian, Transylvanian Saxon and German, and he greeted the Jews in the language they spoke at home. When I finished reading that page, I said one thing: "Fogarasch is the same even today, it is only the Jews and the Saxons of Transylvania that are gone…" There is here an interesting analogy from a statistical point of view: about fifteen thousand Saxons of Transylvania and fifteen thousand Jews are left in Romania from the initial 800,000… many left and the reasons of their departure are legitimate. He who lived in the dictatorship period up to its last moments realizes that this regime destroyed you first socially, then ethnically, intellectually and, eventually, (he sighs) it intended to destroy you biologically as well. To die of hunger and cold. I mean, those who left had legitimate reasons to do that and therefore, the question is just as legitimate: "Why did some people prefer to stay?" I can only tell you that, although I had my reasons to leave (I was in prison, as a student, for political reasons, for two years, in solitary confinement at the secret police in Brasov, I was investigated for 23 months and when I came out all my relatives told me: "You have to leave for Germany! You have no future here!"), nevertheless I stayed. When, after prison, I went to the labor force department, they told me: "You are allowed to manual labor." I answered: "But I have almost completed my university education." "We are not interested," and they put me to the brick factory as a day laborer, for "manual labor". Thus, the reasons for leaving were many. Still… Rodica Binder: Why did you stay?E.S.: (smiles) Why I stayed... you can love a country and the people of that country through sufferance as well, and my soul is nestled there, and when I say that, I do not only mean my community, which doesn't exist anymore… I became a priest when I was 45, I was an engineer before, and if I became a priest I didn't do it for minor reasons, but out of an "impetus" of love and solidarity with my people, with the believers and with the oppressed people; this was the main reason. I know it was there that God called me, that he knows me by my name and that – what can I say? – I have something to accomplish… it is there that my biography, my existence is rooted. Coming here, I would feel an exile. Maybe I will be that fortunate as to die there, to be buried in the cemetery in Rosia, where the Romanians and the Gypsies will take me, as the Saxons of Transylvania will not have the necessary strength any longer… even if I die tomorrow (he laughs), the elderly that are still left will not have enough strength to carry my coffin. But there I am home… what else can I say? Cologneexcerpt from an interview by Rodica BINDERHumanitas, 2001, February 2001

by Rodica Binder