A bit of early Romanian history
More than 2,000 years ago Dacians lived on these lands, then the Romans came and the Romanized Dacians are the ancestors of today’s Romanians. After the Romanians left, the migrating peoples, the Huns, the Goths, the Gepidae, the Avars, but they were not able to retain the power and this fact allowed the Hungarians to extend eastwards from today’s Hungarian territory and to occupy Transylvania in the 10th century.
Why did Saxons come to Romania?
The Hungarian population with the help of the Szekely ( a people that speak Hungarian, but whose origin is still questioned). was not large enough to entirely occupy this new territory, so around 1150 King Geza II of Hungary invited merchants, craftsmen and German farmers to settle in the south of Transylvania, giving them land and certain privileges to attract them. The German colonists came from the Rhine area, Flanders, Belgium and Luxembourg and became known as Saxons. In exchange for the privileges they have been granted (such as the possibility of self-government, commercial activities, and some tax exemptions), the Saxons had to defend the southeastern border of Transylvania and make available a certain number of soldiers to the Hungarian Crown, during wars.
The Saxons formed their new homeland after the model of the one left behind. United by a common destiny and hostile circumstances, they have firmly preserved and cultivated their cultural identity, expressed primarily by their churches, which were the core of their religious and social life. To protect themselves from the invaders, they have gradually transformed their churches into true fortresses.
The rights of Saxons were officially recognized for the first time in 1224, rights that have been repeatedly reconfirmed. The Saxons used these rights against certain Hungarian noblemans who were trying to expand their power over the Saxon territories, as well as against their own rulers whenever they tried to expand their power.
Between 1526 – 1699 Transylvania was an autonomus country under the supervision of the Ottoman empire. Afterwards the Austrians took over and in 1867, following the Austro-Hungarian “Dualism”, Hungary became an autonomous state and incorporated Transylvania. Hungary launches a policy of assimilation, which means that the official documents are written exclusively in Hungarian, the village, City and street names are changed in Hungaian as are the people’s names. The administrative reform of 1876 led to the final dissolution of the Saxon and Szekely autonomy, and Hungary became a modern state.
So, is Transylvania part of Romania now?
At the end of the First World War, people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted their own national states. Thus, on 1 December 1918, in Alba Iulia, the Romanians in Transylvania declared their union with Romania. The Saxons voted for the unification of Transylvania with Romania, while the Hungarians and Szekely voted against. In 1920, the Treaty of Trianon formally established that Transylvania should be given to Romania.
In January 1945, the Red Army deported nearly 80,000 Saxons from Transylvania to labor camps in the Soviet Union; most of them were allowed to return back in 1949. The separation of a large number of Saxon families after the war, the destruction of their economic base and the widespread liquidation of their elite (the Saxons being treated as “Nazis” for a few years after war, confiscating their properties under this pretext) were factors that made life very difficult for most of the Saxons in Transylvania during the period that followed.
What happened to the rest?
Due to bad living conditions in the communist era and due to the lack of political freedom (they where not allowed to form parties), many Saxons decided to leave Romania, so that by 1989 approximately 250,000 Transylvanian Saxons had emigrated to Germany. But how did such a big number emigrate in Germany, while Romania was under communism and needed labor, being extremely difficult to emigrate. Many Romanians tried to flee the country during communism and were shot at the border. Well, the Germany through a negotiator paid between 1000-5000 euros in today’s money per person. In order to be bought, they had to file an application and enroll on a list, then wait for their turn. To get on the top of the list, they had to pay bribes, which often exceeded the amounts paid by the German government. As this was not enough, another big wave of Saxon emigrants (about 150,000) left Romania in the first years after the Revolution of 1989. Today, according to the remaining Saxons, their number is about 15,000. The majority of the Saxon population that remains in Transylvania is elderly, and in some former saxon villages either there is no saxons or there are at most a few dozen.