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This chapter traces the origins of Romanian German entanglements with communism in Romania. It then explores the memory of their complex relationship to communism by focusing on the memory convulsions around two significant Romanian German books of the post-communist period, namely Eginald Schlattner’s Rote Handschuhe (2001) and Carl Gibson’s Symphonie der Freiheit (2008). Schlattner’s novel dealt with his own involvement in the famous ‘Authors’ Trial’ in 1959, and reactions to his work uncovered deeply repressed memories of Romanian German entanglements with communism. The broad reception, far beyond the Romanian Germans community, of both novels at the heart of this chapter revealed radical shifts in Romanian German memories of communism away from the orthodox narratives of communism during the Cold War. The once dominant Romanian German exceptionalism peddled by the Landsmannschaften fell apart not with the end of communism but, quite rapidly, in the twenty-first century.
Who are these Romanian Germans? This chapter maps out the materials from which Romanian Germans constructed their identity from the late nineteenth century into the interwar period. It starts with an overview of the history of Germans in the region before engaging in detail with three key identity myths that emerged from and around that history. The final section embeds those identity narratives in a transnational web of reception and affirmation spanning interwar Europe. In making sense of their experiences in the twentieth century, this chapter argues, Germans in Romania used long-standing narratives that had been important to the two communities of Saxons and Swabians, picking and choosing older ‘foundation myths’ from these groups according to the needs of the circumstances in which they found themselves. These myths were highly malleable and usable by a variety of actors in the community, not just elites. Romanian Germans thus returned to three key themes time and again: Saxon privilege and superiority, a sense of being under siege, and the Swabian path of ordeal.
Yet the history of Romanian German identity in modern Europe, charted in this book, is characterised by a remarkable mixture of stories, voices, and developments. Throughout their history, Romanian Germans continually grappled with the question of who they were and where they belonged. Forged out of the shards of empire, they constantly renegotiated their place in Europe. They were early enthusiasts of the enlarged Romanian state after 1918, German nationalists, defenders of the Nazi war effort and Nazis themselves, victims of post-war repercussions, and good or bad citizens of communist Romania and of West Germany, as well as European bridge-builders. Their internecine battles of the interwar period over belonging continued into the Cold War period, when Romanian German disagreement over emigration from Romania stirred up passions for decades to come. They fell out with each other over their Nazi past and their role in communist Romania. And, even after all that, they were still unsure how to understand their position in a new post-1989 world.
The National Socialist period was the central formative experience for Romanian Germans, and their identity debates were refracted through the legacy of National Socialism and the Second World War. This chapter charts the origins of these debates in the interwar period, places them in their respective contexts of Cold War Romania and West Germany, and explores the reverberations of these debates in post-Communist Europe. The circle around the Romanian German literary magazine Klingsor in the 1920s and 1930s rehearsed many of the arguments that were to occupy the Romanian German émigré public in the 1970s and 1980s. If the Klingsor writers were part of an interwar European right-wing ‘youth’ movement, then the same ‘old men’ of the 1970s and 1980s formed the vanguard to a turbulent revisionist decade over the fascist past. Far from being a parochial debate about a marginal group, the Romanian German memory wars and ‘little historians’ dispute’ of the 1980s reflect a European and transnational process of making sense of European fascism, war, and expulsions.
Romanian Germans came to exist as a group under the pressure of political circumstances after 1918. In the century that followed, Romanian Germans tried to make sense of their experiences in modern Europe through their stories and memories. If the story is ostensibly about a shrinking group of German speakers mainly from the Banat and Transylvania in Romania, the introduction frames their century as a study of practices of identity, memory, and transnational migration. In an introductory excursion into Romanian Germans as a group, this chapter sets out ground-breaking ways of understanding minorities. The introduction challenges scholars to reassess the performative element of identity and memory, moving away from essentialist explanations of minorities and diaspora towards a more vibrant and transnational approach.
After 1945, Romanian Germans explored multiple possibilities in their search to define a Heimat, taking us beyond the known narrative of the ‘other homeland’ in Germany. Their most hotly contested issue – where did they belong? – turned particularly acute during the Cold War, as the Romanian German community became more fractured and physically separated. Romanian German identity in this period, this chapter argues, was flexible and far more transnationally defined than often assumed. At its heart were opposing views of ‘regionalism’, nationalism, and belonging. Romanian German identity debates during this period operated on different scales in the community, which made identity contestation particularly messy. If the Landsmannschaften (homeland societies) in Germany encouraged greater emigration from Romania, other Romanian Germans, especially those close to the Lutheran Church, pushed back. Meanwhile, as this chapter demonstrates, the realities ‘on the ground’ reveal a rich cultural history of transnational Romanian Germans communicating across numerous borders, constantly rethinking their own roles in an uncertain Cold War.
The Romanian German community underwent a transnational reinvention in mainstream Romanian and German society as a minority that (re)built bridges across Europe. For Romanian politicians intent on showing a ‘western face’ during EU accession, Romanian heritage served well as evidence of Europeanness. In Germany, even before the end of the Cold War, Romanian Germans were able to recast older Saxon and Swabian myths of civilising colonists as a new Romanian German European mission. Meanwhile, their increasing absence in Romania in the new millennium opened up spaces for wild fantasies of reconstructing Saxon and Swabian worlds: Romanian German activists attempted to muscle their way back into Romanian life as Romanians celebrated Saxon traces around Sibiu’s role as European Capital of Culture in 2007. All the while, British imaginings of an untouched rural Saxon world gave Romanian Germans a platform in Europe in the twenty-first century.
Romanian Germans, mainly from the Banat and Transylvania, have occupied a place at the very heart of major events in Europe in the twentieth century yet their history is largely unknown. This east-central European minority negotiated their standing in a difficult new European order after 1918, changing from uneasy supporters of Romania, to zealous Nazis, tepid Communists, and conciliatory Europeans. Migrating Memories is the first comprehensive study in English of Romanian Germans and follows their stories as they move across borders and between regimes, revealing a very European experience of migration, minorities, and memories in modern Europe. After 1945, Romanian Germans struggled to make sense of their lives during the Cold War at a time when the community began to fracture and fragment. The Revolutions of 1989 seemed to mark the end of the German community in Romania, but instead Romanian Germans repositioned themselves as transnational European bridge-builders, staking out new claims in a fast-changing world.
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