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The Effect of Two World Wars on Transylvania's Territory and Population

Transylvania: Territorial and Demographic Changes

The two world wars significantly changed the frontiers of the EastCentral European countries and, in turn, the fate of the peoples living there. According to the Treaty of Trianon (June 4, 1920), about two-thirds (233,349 square kilometers) of the total territory of historical Hungary40 was transferred to neighboring states41-- most of them carved out of the pre-war Austro-Hungarian Empire. Table 1-2 shows the Hungarian territorial losses after World War I.

The approximately 103,000 square kilometers transferred to Romania included more than historical Transylvania. There were also parts of eastern Hungary: the eastern Banat, the Körös/Crisana region, Szatmár/Satu Mare and Máramaros/Maramures. Almost half the population of this area was not Romanian by nationality at the time of the annexation; the ethnic Romanians were represented by a slight majority of about 53.8 percent.

This study will now examine the phenomena of the nationality transformation during the past sixty years in the territory of presentday Transylvania--on the basis of the available demographic data and the conclusions that they permit. The task is made extremely difficult by the frequent territorial changes, territorial-administrative reorganizations, and the loss of population resulting from the two world wars, as well as from deportations and other arbitrary measures.

In 1914 on the eve of World War 1, the Kingdom of Romania had a population of about 7,900,000 and an area of 137,903 square kilometers, including Moldavia, Wallachia (later renamed Muntenia and Oltenia), and Dobrugea. Together these territories are known in Romanian terminology and in scholarly usage as Vechiul Regal (Old Kingdom), and in everyday usage simply as the Regat.42




 Population of Transylvania in 1910 According to Language 

Hungarian Statistics Romanian Statistics
Romanian 2,824,177 53.8% 2,871,733 54.7%
Hungarian 1,660,488 31.7% 1,618,246 30.8%
German 556,009 10.6% 556,009 10.0%
Slovak, Czech 42,000 0.8%
Ruthenian 20,482 0.3%
Serb, Croatian 54,055 0.9%
Other 106,071 1.9%
5,263,282 100.0% 5,248,540

Source: note 39

With the conclusion of the First World War and the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the territory of Romania more than doubled, to 295,049 square kilometers; its population reached 18,000,000, of which, however, some 5,200,000 (28%) were not ethnic Romanians. In addition to the territories annexed from Hungary, Romania's territorial gains included Bessarabia from tsarist Russia (44,422 square kilometers), the Bucovina from Austria on the basis of the Treaty of St. Germain (10,442 square kilometers),43 and some small border areas from Bulgaria and Dobrugea on the basis of the Treaty of Neuilly (23,262 square kilometers).44 In the Greater Romania thus created, the national minorities comprised one-third of the population; and the province of Transylvania thus created included one-third of the territory of that Romanian state. But the vicissitudes of the Second World War and its aftermath meant border and territorial changes not only for Romania but for Transylvania as well. The Second Vienna Award, concluded on August 30, 1940, divided the province into Northern and Southern Transylvania: the 43,492 square kilometers and 2,580,372 inhabitants of Northern Transylvania were returned to Hungary, while Southern Transylvania (59,295 square kilometers and 3,331,642 inhabitants) remained part of Romania. Combined with other pre-World War II territorial changes, it meant that the territory of Romania was decreased by about one-third. After the Second World War, Transylvania was reunited and again became a province of Romania by the Paris Peace Treaties of February l0, 1947.


 Hungary's Territorial Losses After World War I 

To Romania 102,787 square kilometers
To Yugoslavia 63,497 square kilometers
To Czechoslovakia 62,353 square kilometers
To Austria 4,107 square kilometers
To Poland 584 square kilometers
The Free City of Fiume 21 square kilometers
Total territorial loss 233,349 square kilometers
Retained by Hungary 93,343 square kilometers

Source: note 41



Changes in Population

 Every change of territory has resulted in alterations in the ethnic structure of the area's population. Between the change of power in 1920 and 1924, the territory of Transylvania lost about 197,000 Hungarians, including those who left voluntarily, were expelled, or escaped.45 At the same time a large number of Romanians migrated to Transylvania from the Regat, among them officials, merchants, soldiers, and peasants. By 1922 approximately 25,000 had left Romania, 93 percent of them from Transylvania.46

The national minorities were hard hit by the direct results of the Second World War -- political and territorial changes, forced resettlement, and deportation. The demographical picture underwent a drastic change. The first substantial shift of population resulted from the territorial realignments of 1940. The Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina precipitated the flight of 40,000 people; other major relocation projects from this area were also in the offing. According to official Romanian statistics 90,000 Germans from Bessarabia and 35,000 from Northern Bucovina were resettled as per the German-Soviet agreement of 23 August 1939; the actual numbers were, however, 93,000 and 43,600 respectively. After the agreement of September 5 and October 9, 1940 between Germany and Romania, about 77,500 ethnic Germans were resettled:47 52,100 ethnic Germans from Romanian-ruled Southern Bucovina, 15,400 from Northern Dobrugea,48 and 10,000 from other areas of the Regat. Most of the resettled ethnic German population, 88,000 from Bessarabia and 23,900 from Bucovina went to the eastern part of Germany. Nevertheless, about 35,000 came under Hungarian rule in Northern Transylvania, but after the Romanian coup d'é tat of August 23,1944, they were transferred to Austria, from where approximately 10,000 found their way to Germany at the end of the war.


Another result of the Second Vienna Award was, of course, that Hungary gained all of Northern Transylvania's population: 1,380,758 (or 1,380,506) Hungarians, 1,029,343 (or 1,029,470) Romanians, some 45,645 Germans,49 and about 124,626 persons of other nationalities. Southern Transylvania, which remained part of Romania, then had a population that consisted of 2,274,138 Romanians, 490,000 Germans, 363,000 Hungarians, and about 205,000 belonging to other nationalities.50 Approximately 160,000 to 190,000 of Southern Transylvania's inhabitants went to Northern Transylvania, either voluntarily, by escape, or by removal. These refugees were roughly 79 percent Hungarian; also included were 1,400 Romanians, about 1,000 Germans, 430 Slovaks, 60 Ruthenians, 30 Gypsies, and about 300 persons belonging to other nationalities.51 Of the approximately 1 million Romanians in Northern Transylvania, about 200,000 left after the area's annexation to Hungary. After the Romanian coup d'é tat in August 1944, the Romanian population that had escaped to Southern Transylvania returned to Northern Transylvania; in turn about 125,000 Hungarians and about 50,000 Germans from this area fled or joined the retreating German army as the Soviet and Romanian troops moved in.

Of Northern Transylvania's Jewish population, approximately two-thirds claimed Hungarian nationality; as a result, the security of their lives and property was guaranteed until the spring of 1944, when the German deportations began, abetted by a Germanophile Hungarian government.


The Loss of Population

 The two world wars brought about radical changes in the population of Transylvania, as in general in Central and Eastern Europe. Three nationality groups in the province--the Germans, the Jews, and the Hungarians--were particularly reduced in number. The number of Romania's national minority inhabitants--including those from Transylvania--who died, were killed, or deported, or disappeared in the Second World War has been estimated at between 700,000 and 800,000; of these about 350,000 to 400,000 were Jewish; 200,000 were German; and l 50,000 to 200,000 Hungarian.

The German population in Romania as a whole was almost halved by the war.52 According to information now available, the losses suffered by Romania's German population during the 1940s were as follows: 35,000 soldiers who died or disappeared,53 and another 50,000 who escaped from the Soviet-Romanian army, or were evacuated by the German army from Northern Transylvania to the West. In addition 27,000 Transylvanian Saxons, 35,000 Swabians from the Banat and another 18,000 individuals from different parts of Romania were deported to the Soviet Union in January 1945. The sources vary on the exact number taken, but findings so far indicate that approximately 90,000 to 100,000 people were involved, about 15 to 20 percent of whom never came back. Approximately half of those who did return settled in either the German Federal Republic or Austria.54

The German population in Romania suffered another blow in the forced resettlement carried out in June 1951: 40,000 Swabians from the Banat were sent to the area of the Baragan Steppes in the Regat and made to perform forced labor amid horrifying circumstances.55 Some of those thus deported were permitted to return in 1955, but in their absence their homes and property were taken by new settlers (Romanians and Gypsies).56

The 1939 to 1941 population transfer agreements that Bucharest signed with both Berlin and Moscow also sharply reduced the number of Germans in Romania, through the relocation of the German population of Bessarabia, Bucovina and Dobrugea.

The extent of the population loss suffered by the Germans in Romania can be readily seen by comparing the official figures for 1930 and 1948, as shown in Table I-3. These figures, however, are not entirely realistic since some of the Germans, fearing repression and deportation, did not claim German as their mother tongue in 1948 and others had not yet been returned from Soviet deportation.



German Population of Romania, 1930-1948

 Total Population of Romania by

Transylvanian Banat by national
Year Saxons Swabians language origin
1930 237,416 275,369 760,687 745,421
1948 157,715 171,022* 343,913

* Including Arad county

A large proportion of the ethnic Germans in post-war Romania have opted for emigration. The destruction of the basis of their economic and cultural life and Romania's nationality policy with its assimilative thrust, so destructive of ethnic characteristics, have forced many members of national minorities to leave. By the end of the 1970s, the number of Germans in Romania had decreased by 358,732, of which about 170,000 were Transylvanian Saxons and 159,738 were Banat Swabians, including those from Arad County. The policy of allowing families to be reunited has permitted thousands of Romania's ethnic Germans to emigrate to the German Federal Republic: as early as 1945 to 1949, 15,000 Germans emigrated to the West; they were followed by another 90,242 from 1945 to 1979 who left to be reunited with their families. The number of those emigrating to the Federal Republic of Germany is constantly increasing; experts estimate that 80 percent of the Germans in Romania want to emigrate.57

A catastrophe of almost incalculable proportions befell the East and Central European Jews from the early 1930s until the end of the Second World War. It differed in intensity, if not in basic nature, from country to country; their number of pre-war Romania was decreased by half during the course of the war: a large proportion fell victim to the racial hatred which escalated from the anti-Semitic excesses into mass murder. Others disappeared as a result of the deportations and a sizable number either emigrated or escaped.


The scale of annihilation and emigration is best illustrated by again comparing the census data for the years 1930 and 1948. The 1930 census showed 518,754 Jewish inhabitants, or 2.9 percent of the whole population of Romania, when calculated on the basis of language; 728,115 or 4 percent on the basis of national origin or religion. By contrast, the 1948 census showed 138,795 Jewish inhabitants in Romania as a whole, using language as the criterion.58

The data concerning the population losses suffered by the Romanian Jews (including those due to emigration) are somewhat contradictory. Using the category of nationality in the 1930 census as the basis for calculations and comparing them with the data for the year 1956, the loss amounted to 27 percent of the total population--209,214 including 15,000 from the Regat, Southern Transylvania, and Southern Bucovina combined; 103,919 from Northern Bucovina and Herta District, and 90,295 from Northern Transylvania.59 According to another source, by 1956 only 32.4 percent of the Romanian Jewish population of 1930 still lived on Romanian territory and by 1966 only 9.5 percent. 60

It can be assumed, however, that the numerical losses were considerably higher, amounting perhaps to 50-53 percent of the total Jewish population of pre-war Romania or, according to estimates, about 400,000 individuals.61 The largest proportion of the victims were inhabitants of the territories that were taken away from Romania: about 200,000 Romanian Jews either escaped from Bessarabia and Moldavia to the Soviet Union, fleeing the German-Romanian occupation, or lost their lives in the 1941-1942 mass murders carried out under the Antonescu government (the pogrom of Iasi).62 In Northern Bucovina approximately 80,000 Jews died or disappeared; and of the 178,799 Jewish inhabitants of Transylvania (with nationality as the criterion) approximately 100,000 lost their lives in Northern Transylvania in 1944, after the German occupation of Hungary.63

After the war Jewish emigration began immediately--most of it ultimately to the state of Israel created in 1948. The frequent territorial changes and illegal emigration make precise estimates difficult.

Between 1948 and August 1952, according to some sources, 128,609 Jews arrived in Israel from Romania.64 Other sources for roughly the same period (1949-1954) say that only about 93,000 Jews emigrated from Romania.65 Nonetheless, emigration has continued; in both 1975 and 1976 more than 2,300 Romanian Jews were given permits to emigrate to Israel.66


The scale of emigration is obvious: the 1977 edition of the Jewish Yearbook puts the number of Jews living in Romania at 60,000, of whom approximately 40,000 resided in Bucharest. 67 According to the provisional data of the 1977 official Romanian census, the number of Jews in Romania was 25,686 or 0.119 percent of the total population.68 The decrease can be attributed to Jewish emigration under the pressure of the present regime and a decline in the Jewish birthrate since 1935, in part a result of the fear of anti-Semitic persecution and in part an effect of assimilation.69

There are no precise data concerning the losses suffered by Romania's Hungarians during World War II; but based on comparisons made with pre-war population figures, the losses are estimated at 150,000 to 200,000.

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