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IN ROMANIA, 1918-1956

The National Minorities in Romania Between 1918 and 1944

The break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy with its population of over fifty million and the Paris peace treaties at the end of World War I resulted in changed frontiers and artificially created multinational states. The new state borders had not been drawn along ethnic boundaries, so the territories of the newly founded or enlarged successor states -- specifically Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania -- were formed at the expense of the neighboring countries1 and their people, for strategic, economic, and other reasons.

As a result, the interests of the various nationalities and religions living in the area were not reconciled, but were, in fact, often exacerbated. Nationalities that had been majorities -- often ruling majorities -- before the war in many instances now found themselves a minority in the new "national," states, while previously oppressed minorities now found themselves a ruling majority. The situation provided fertile ground for later revanchist and nationalist politics.

In the period after the peace treaties of 1919-20, the question of national minorities grew into a genuine European problem and eventually into a world issue.2 The new map of Europe meant that 40 million people -- or one-quarter of the population of East-Central Europe -- now found themselves living in states where they were a national minority. With regard to territorial and population losses, Hungary was one of the countries most adversely affected: as a result of the Trianon treaty she lost 71.3 percent of her territory, and 33.03 percent of her Hungarian-speaking population. Over 3.6 million ethnic Magyars now found themselves living outside the newly drawn borders of Hungary and in new countries in which they formed a minority; of this total, two million Magyars lived in compact areas along the frontiers drawn by the Trianon treaty.


In Transylvania, now part of Romania, the national minorities responded variously to their new situation. The bulk of the Hungarians -- once members of the majority people and now in a minority -- adopted a position of passive resistance, while a common recognition of their plight as a minority grew. Their first political move was to form an organization -- the non-partisan Hungarian Federation (Magyar Szövetség) on January 9, 1921. The Federation's aim was to represent the Hungarians in Romania politically, economically and through their educational institutions. Although the Paris Minorities Treaty (December 9, 1919) stated that minorities had the right to form political organizations based on their national communities, the Romanian government quickly banned the activities of the Hungarian Federation. But the idea of reconstituting the Federation remained alive and reappeared toward the end of the 1930s.

On January 23, 1921 (toward the end of the month in which the Hungarian Federation was first founded), on the initiative of the Transylvanian Hungarian writer Károly Kós, a pamphlet was published under the title "Kiáltó Szó " ("Warning Cry"; a literal translation is "yelled word"). The pamphlet's editors called on the Hungarians of Transylvania, the Banat, Crisana and Maramures to organize and become active politically. The pamphlet confronted issues facing the national minorities, condemned chauvinistic nationalism, and formulated a democratic program which called for coexistence of the Transylvanian national minorities with the Romanian people and marked out the political path to be followed by the Hungarians in Transylvania.

In June of 1921, again on the initiative of Károly Kó s, the Hungarian People's Party (Magyar Néppárt) was founded with a program based on the ideas in "Kiáltó Szó ." This party was the first political organization of the Hungarian middle class in Transylvania. Early in the following year another -- and somewhat more conservative -- movement was organized: the Hungarian National Party (Magyar Nemzeti Párt), founded on February 12, 1922. These two groups eventually merged (December 28, 1922) to form the National Hungarian Party (Országos Magyar Párt).


The National Hungarian Party based its nationality policy on the Resolutions of Alba Iulia and the Paris Minorities Treaty.3 The new organization actively represented the interests of the Hungarians in the Romanian Parliament, where the Magyars -- in their first major parliamentary action -- worked toward the formation of a coalition with the Romanian People's Party. The result was the "Pact of Ciucea" (in Hungarian, Csucsa)4 on October 23, 1923.

The German minority in Transylvania (unlike the Magyars who had been part of the ruling majority before the war) had a long experience as a minority and adapted prudently to the changed situation. The Saxons were the first Transylvanian nationality to form a political organization; on September 6, 1919 under the leadership of Rudolf Brandsch, they held a meeting in Timisoara/Temesvár to develop a common electoral program. In 1921 the Federation of Germans in Romania (Verband der Deutschen in Rumänien) was founded. Led by the Transylvanian Saxons but comprising all the German ethnic groups in Romania, it was under the leadership of Rudolf Brandsch until 1931, from 1931 to 1935 under the Banat Swabian Kaspar Muth, and from 1935 until its end in 1945 under Hans Otto Roth. The Transylvanian Saxons also convened their popular assembly, the Sachsentag -- this assembly also founded under the leadership of Rudolf Brandsch. They then established the German-Saxon People's Council in Transylvania (Deutsch-Sächsische Volksrat in Siebenbürgen), the highest political organ of their people, taking the role of the Nationsuniversität.

In 1920, to represent the interests of all the Germans in Romania, the German Party ( Deutsche Partei) was founded; it functioned until 1938 under the political leadership of Rudolf Brandsch and Hans Otto Roth. The German Party fought -- basing its argument on the Resolutions of Alba Iulia -- for a new law that would guarantee the national rights of the German minority in Romania. Between the two world wars, the interests of the German national minority were represented in the Romanian parliament by one to eleven members of parliament and two to four senators. The German Party -- like the Hungarian Party -- fought for the right of self-determination but without achieving more than minor concessions.


In 1927 the National Hungarian Party joined forces with the German Party and fought side by side with them for several national election campaigns. In the July elections of that year, there were eight Hungarians and seven Germans in the lower house of Parliament and one Hungarian in the Senate. The idea of creating a joint electoral organization was advocated by Hans Otto Roth; however, the pact was never realized because part of the German minority came to an agreement with the Romanian Peasant Party instead. The reason for joining forces with this Romanian party was the Germans' dispersed geographical situation: in order to be represented in the Romanian Parliament, the Germans had to come to terms with the government in power.

The Transylvanian Jews, the third politically relevant nationality, also organized in the 1920s, founding the Transylvanian Jewish National Federation. Because the official Romanian policy aimed at splintering the nationalities, the government supported Zionism and the Yiddish-language school network in an unsuccessful attempt to separate the Jewish minority from the Hungarian camp -- at a time when 11.1 percent of the urban and 2.1 percent of the rural population of Transylvania belonged to the Jewish religion and a decisive majority of them claimed Hungarian as their native tongue.5

Romania's National Liberal Party, which was based on the French statist-centralist model and which followed a nationalist policy, was primarily responsible for the oppression of the national minorities and the neglect of their rights.6 But the National Peasant Party was not much better when it came to discriminatory measures. It must be said, however, that between the two world wars it was still possible, under the protection of the institutions which defended the minorities to voice complaints against transgressions of minority rights and to cite supporting international agreements on protection of national minorities. Even if the results were insignificant, it was at least possible for national minorities to speak out before international forums, one the rights of self-determination promised to them, without incurring reprisals for their efforts by their government.7

From the 1920s on, Romania's minorities turned increasingly to the League of Nations in Geneva with their grievances concerning the government's repressive nationality policy. For example, C. Angelescu, a Liberal and Minister of Religion and Education from 1922-1926 and 1933-1937, drafted educational legislation which destroyed the national-minority school networks, brought into question the future of the property of the national minority churches, and contained economic, social and cultural measures. Complaints against these oppressive measures were often placed before the League of Nations. Thus, for example, between 1920 and 1940 a total of 47 complaints by the Hungarian minority in Romania were submitted to the League.8


After an unsuccessful political struggle to gain equal rights, the Transylvanian national minorities realized they could fight oppression only on the intellectual level; yet, they did not totally abandon their political claims either. The result was that politics and literature became inseparably intertwined; and the idea of Transylvanism arose, an idea which proclaimed the mutual cooperation of the Transylvanian peoples -- Hungarians, Romanians and Saxons. The ideal of national solidarity, however, took root only in literature, under the influence of the Hungarian and Saxon writers. The Saxon writers particularly welcomed the alliance because they saw in it a way to protect themselves against the official dictates of Greater Romanian nationalism. And as the Saxon Otto Folberth wrote: "It is certain that there has never been a more suitable time for the spiritual meeting between Hungarians and Saxons."9 The idea of Transylvanism, however, evoked hardly any reaction from the Romanians of the region.10

The thought of Transylvanism led to a renewal of sufficiently realistic Transylvanian ideals, of national self-evaluation and of interest in historical traditions. The Hungarian and Saxon intellectual leadership in Transylvania endeavored to shape their national consciousness and self-identity by a study of their historical past.

A gradual trend toward democratization coincided with this period of self-examination in intellectual life, softening to some extent the hitherto more rigid stance of the various nationality groups. It was most clearly manifested by the Hungarians in the founding of the Hungarian People's Party (Magyar Néppárt), democratic in spirit, in 1927; the Hungarian Smallholders' Party (Magyar Kisgazda Párt) and the National Hungarian Party Opposition (Országos Magyarpárti Ellenzék) in 1933; and the left-wing Hungarian National Workers' Federation (Magyar Dolgozók Országos Szövetsége -- MADOSZ) in 1934. In Transylvania the Hungarian liberal publicist, Mikló s Krenner (Spectator) had criticized the separatist policies of the Hungarian Party as early as 1926 and called on the Hungarians to work for a more wide-ranging and active democratic organization. The so-called "reform group" which formed around him, as well as the Hungarian Party, gave voice to the Hungarians' grievances. The reform group's authoritative journal, the Keleti Újság (Eastern News), published in Cluj/Kolozsvar devoted a series of articles to discussing the problems of national minority existence in Transylvania.


Toward the end of the 1920s representatives of the national minorities in the Romanian Parliament once again became active. It was during this period that the parliamentary debates on the church and school grievances led to the signing of a Concordat between the Romanian government and the Holy See (May 10, 1927). The purpose of the Concordat was to resolve the controversial relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Romanian (overwhelmingly Orthodox) state. But the Concordat also brought new restrictions, primarily by subordinating the centuries-old autonomy of the Transylvanian Catholic Church to the Romanian Catholic Archbishop, whose seat was in Bucharest.

The end of the 1920s also saw significant changes in the political life of ethnic Germans in Romania. The cooperative construction organization "Selbsthilfe," (Self-Help), which had been founded at the middle of the decade to deal with economic problems, assumed a political character with the advance of National Socialism, and the group changed its name to "Nationale Selbsthilfebewegung der Deutschen in Rumänien" (NSDR -- National Self-Help Movement of the Germans in Romania), which in turn later changed its name to "Nationalsozialistische Erneuerungsbewegung der Deutschen in Rumänien" (NEDR -- The National Socialist Movement for Renewal of the Germans in Romania). At the Sachsentag elections of October 1, 1933, this party won 62 percent of the votes.11 The more conservative German stratum -- particularly the Evangelical Church in Transylvania, and the Catholic Church in the Banat, to a lesser degree, -- resisted these new directions. The highest organ representing the German minority, the Volksrat (People's Council), continued to function democratically; but by the end of the 1930s the political weight of Berlin was increasingly felt. The result was the fusion in 1935 of the opposition and the new movement into the "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" (NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers' Party). After the dismissal of Fritz Fabritius, the political fate of the German minority in Romania was placed in the hands of Andreas Schmidt, a man who, under the guidance of Berlin, acted as "Volksgruppenführer."

A certain polarization could be observed at the beginning of the 1930s, a polarization which initially acted as a kind of psychological release for the national minorities. The government of the historian Nicolae Iorga (April 1931-May 1932) attempted to settle the national minority question by appointing a so-called Undersecretary for Minorities to the office of the Prime Minister.


The Transylvanian Saxon Rudolf Brandsch became minority undersecretary; and the Hungarian Árpád Bitay, a professor of theology, became special advisor to the minister. But the minority undersecretariat's duties were limited to acting in an advisory capacity; and on October 28, 1932 the Peasant Party abolished the short-lived office.

The next initiative came from an article which appeared in the Hungarian-language daily Ellenzék (Opposition) on January 10, 1932. Entitled "Let Us Build a Bridge" ("Verjünk hidat") and written by the journalist Miklós Krenner,12 the article proposed a spiritual reconciliation with the Romanians. The idea of "bridge building," however, evoked no response from the Romanians.

The rift between the Romanian people and their country's national minorities deepened increasingly in the 1930s because of the territorial demands made by Hungary on its neighbors, the creation of the Romanian "Anti-Revisionist League," the anti-minority campaign of the extreme nationalist Romanian daily Universul, and the emergence of the extreme right-wing political organization, the Iron Guard.13 The negative aspects of growing Romanian nationalism were directed against the national minorities, and were manifested primarily in anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarian excesses.

With the fall of the not yet quite fascist Goga-Cuza government of the National Christian Party, which had come to power on December 28, 1937, outright fascism took over in Romania. The Constitution of February 20, 1938 eliminated parliamentary democracy and established a royal dictatorship. The state of emergency, which had been introduced in 1933 and which lasted until 1940, now assumed an even more rigid form.

After political parties were banned, the nationalities in Transylvania turned to economic organization. At the same time a democratically oriented national resistance began to take shape; and the new Transylvanian realism became evident at the Conclave of Vásárhely,14 held October 2-4, 1937. The 187 Hungarian participants in the conclave came from groups with highly divergent and even conflicting ideologies. The outcome was that the Conclave could not draft a lasting program, and that the various factions soon broke with each other.

In the meantime, the royal dictatorship of King Carol II (1938-1940) abolished all existing political parties -- including those of the national minorities, and by a decree issued on December 16, 1938, they were merged into the National Regeneration Front (Frontul Renasterii Nationale). By the time the Hungarian People's Community (Magyar Népközösség) was founded on February 11, 1939, the constantly worsening situation of the Hungarian minority made it impossible for the new organization to have any significant effect.


The Transylvanian Saxons lost their traditional independence when on March 10, 1937, the Romanian state abolished their centuries-old economic basis, the institutionalized Nationsuniversitä t and SiebenRichter-Waldungen, dividing their property between the Romanian Orthodox and Saxon Lutheran Churches.15

Official public opinion rejected the National Socialism of the German minority in Romania, but early German successes in the war brought about an improvement in their position, as Romania realigned itself politically toward the German Reich. On February 6, 1938, before it fell from power, the Goga-Cuza government had recognized, by a direct settlement with Berlin, the People's Community of the Germans in Romania (Volksgemeinschaft der Deutschen in Rumänien). The significant turning point in German-Romanian relations came with the bilateral economic treaty signed by the two governments on March 23, 1939. The outbreak of the war six months later signalled the establishment of close ties with Berlin.

The New Political Orientation

In 1940 a series of international events determined Romania's political path and the fate of its minorities: primarily, the advances of the German Reich in East Central Europe, the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, and Romania's own territorial losses (Bessarabia, Northern Bucovina, Southern Dobrugea, and Northern Transylvania). These losses had far-reaching effects on Romanian domestic and foreign policies.

The German orientation of Romanian foreign policy was unquestionably influenced by the territorial losses. The reorientation toward the Reich was made official in September 1940 when the Gigurtu government resigned and the pro-German general, Ion Antonescu (ruled 1940-1944), came to power on September 5. This was followed a day later by the forced abdication of King Carol II and his escape from the country; his situation had become untenable because of the territorial losses. His son Michael then ascended the throne but only as a figurehead; real political power lay with General Ion Antonescu, until now Minister of War and backed by the Iron Guard. Antonescu, together with the Iron Guard, assumed unlimited power as "Conducator" (Leader).


The Antonescu-Horia Sima government proclaimed the "National Legionary State,"16 and adopted a domestic policy that was extremely nationalistic, anti-Semitic and anti-Hungarian. The regime's foreign policy was one of unqualified support for the Axis powers. On November 23, 1940 Romania adhered to the three-power alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and on June 22, 1941 joined Hitler's military campaign against the Soviet Union.

The failure of Romania's foreign policy to regain the lost territories cast a shadow on domestic politics: the Antonescu government blamed the national minorities, particularly the Jewish and Hungarian populations, for this lack of success. In contrast the German national minority's protection was ensured because it was under the protection of the German Reich.

On August 30, 1940, a German-Romanian protocol -- without consulting the German ethnic group in Romania -- was signed.17 It guaranteed, with reference to the Resolutions of Alba Iulia, complete legal equality for the Germans in Romania. The protocol was followed on November 20, 1940, by the so-called " Volksgruppen Gesetz"18 regulating relations between the German ethnic group (Volksgruppe) and the state; by this decree, the Antonescu government with reference to the Resolutions of Alba Iulia accorded legal recognition to the "German Ethnic Group in Romania." On October 12, 1940 so-called German military "instructors" (Lehrtruppen) arrived in Romania, beginning what was, for all practical purposes, a military occupation. The pro-German policy pursued by Romania during this period had social, economic, and cultural as well as political consequences for the German minority in Romania: its economic position improved, and its autonomous educational network was further developed.

The character of Hungarian-Romanian relations was markedly different: here nationalism was the guiding force, and tensions became so great in the summer of 1940 that, in order to avoid armed conflict, great power intervention was necessary. When, after the failure of Hungarian-Romanian negotiations in Turnu-Severin,19 the Romanian royal government and Hitler learned that the Hungarians intended to take armed action against Romania, King Carol asked Hitler -- on various occasions -- to act as arbitrator in the debate over Transylvania.20


There could hardly have been a more appropriate moment, psychologically, for Hungarian military intervention than the eve of the conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany. Following the signing of the German-Romanian economic treaty in 1939, the Soviet Union had indicated its approval of Hungarian territorial demands: at that moment, it considered Romania, rapidly moving toward fascism, to be a greater danger than the still rather conservative Hungarian regime. Additional moral support for the territorial demands of the Hungarian government was provided by the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia, Northern Bucovina and a small area of northern Moldavia (from the Herta-district) on June 28-July 2, 1940, after giving Romania no more than twenty-four hours to reply to an ultimatum. At the same time Bulgaria also realized its long-standing territorial claims against Romania by occupying Southern Dobrugea.21

Given his military plans, Hitler could not afford an armed conflict between Romania and Hungary. He therefore had Ribbentrop issue a two-day ultimatum calling on the representatives of the Hungarian and Romanian governments formally to request arbitration.

Ultimately, on August 30, 1940, the Axis powers issued the Second Vienna Award22 dividing Transylvania into two parts: Northern and Southern Transylvania. Northern Transylvania, with an area of 43,492 square kilometers, with 1,380,506 Hungarian and 1,029,470 Romanian inhabitants, was awarded to Hungary, leaving Southern Transylvania, with an area of 59,295 square kilometers, and approximately half a million Hungarian inhabitants, in the possession of Romania.23

The real motive behind the Second Vienna Award was to play Hungary and Romania off against each other, ensuring a balance of power in the Danube area by exacerbating tensions between the two countries. In this way, Hitler was better able to exert his control over the area, and to use the countries as pawns in his overall military strategy. Thus, Hitler was able to use Hungarian territorial revisionism and the revanchist policy of Romania that resulted from these territorial losses to secure increasing military support from both countries, as well as control of the Romanian oilfields. The Gigurtu government would actually have been willing -- for the first time in Romanian history -- to agree to minor territorial revisions in favor of Hungary but constantly growing extreme Romanian nationalist feelings in other quarters thwarted all such initiatives.


During the ensuing period, the conflict between Romania and Hungary was expressed most clearly in their treatment of the other's ethnic minority in their respective parts of Transylvania.

Under the guise of an anti-Semitic campaign, attacks were made by the Romanian government against the Hungarians of Southern Transylvania. In turn, the Hungarian government reacted with energetic retaliatory measures against the Romanians of Northern Transylvania, measures which were not justified in every instance and were sometimes excessive. Viewed from a historical perspective, the discriminatory measures of the Romanian government were more drastic than those taken by the Hungarian government; the Romanian measures were also more numerous and more effective. The Romanians perceived themselves to be in a position of strength: Hitler had a greater interest in Romania than in Hungary and Romania's contribution to the war effort was greater than Hungary's. Thus, the Romanians believed that, in case of an armed conflict between the two countries, they would receive more support from Germany and that an armed conflict could therefore only result in a more favorable solution to the territorial dispute. Romania had little to lose after the loss of considerable parts of its territory, and those losses, particularly the loss of Northern Transylvania, had angered Romanian public opinion considerably; the flames of outrage were further fanned by the government's propaganda for territorial revisionism. It is therefore understandable that the Romanian leadership was psychologically more prone to aggression than was the Hungarian government, that it took the initiative more frequently in instituting discriminatory and retaliatory nationality measures, and that its measures were more provocative in character than their Hungarian counterparts.

Just as Hungary's military strategy was focused, however, on the Transylvanian question till the very end, the fear of losing Transylvania lay at the heart of Romania's military strategy: in this way, an unbridgeable chasm developed between the two states, precluding any possibility of a reconciliation. The two countries' participation in the war, Romania's withdrawal from the Axis, and Hungary's attempt to do so and to compete for Hitler's favor were all determined by these territorial considerations. The Romanian army fought in the east to restore its western frontiers, not to recapture Bessarabia. Neither Antonescu nor Horthy sent their elite formations to fight on the Soviet front: each kept them on guard against the other.


Hungarian-Romanian tensions lessened only with the approach of the "common danger," the Soviet army (and even then, they lessened only temporarily). Both sides hoped for Anglo-American intervention, but, by that point in the war, it was impossible to act without the approval of the Soviet Union. Despite this threat, however, when the idea of Hungarian-Romanian discussions was proposed in March 1943, the Romanian representative, Iuliu Maniu, refused to coordinate Romania's efforts to encourage an Anglo-American occupation with similar Hungarian plans. Maniu's interest in knowing about the Hungarian plans was only part of an effort to forestall Hungarian diplomatic maneuvers in Transylvania.

The Years of Decisive Changes

The entry of Romania into the war on June 22, 1941, and its campaign against the Soviet Union had a considerable effect on the status of the national minorities living in its territory. Romania gave greater military support to Germany against the Soviet Union than did any other Axis ally.24 Whatever tensions had existed earlier between the Antonescu government and the German minority in Romania were relaxed by the joint campaign against the Soviet Union. No fewer than 45,000 Transylvanian Saxons and Swabians from the Banat fought in the Romanian army, and 60,000 Germans from Romania participated in the SS formations established, at the instigation of Berlin, in the spring of 1943 on the basis of a German-Romanian agreement. These developments were later to have serious consequences.

The Hungarian population of Southern Transylvania found themselves in a very different situation from the German minority. As "unreliable elements," many were either sent to the front in so-called "death brigades" or deployed behind the front lines in "labor service brigades."

A series of anti-Jewish laws were issued as well. For example, permits for Jewish-owned monopolies were withdrawn on December 31, 1940. A measure went into effect on April 1, 1941, that ordered the expropriation of all Jewish real estate in urban areas as well as the property of Jewish communities;25 only synagogues and the homes of rabbis were exempted. The expropriated property was entrusted to the National Center for Romanianization (Centrul National de Romanizare).


Furthermore, after August 1, 1941, Jewish males between the ages of 18 and 50 were drafted into "labor service brigades," and sent to work at the front under unspeakable conditions. According to the official 1942 census, the Jewish population of Romania numbered approximately 300,000, of whom 50,000-60,000 were engaged in permanent labor service.26 In addition to forced labor at the front and elsewhere, a significant proportion of the Jewish population fell victim to ultra-nationalist pogroms and deportations.

With the collapse of the German offensive in the Soviet Union and the approach of the Red Army to the frontiers of Romania, the idea of withdrawal from the war began to find support in Romanian political circles. Secret diplomatic contacts, aimed at preparing for this withdrawal, were made via the Czech statesman Benes, living in London,27 and through the German embassies in Ankara and in Teheran. Most Romanian politicians with the exception of Antonescu and his closest military advisors considered Hitler's war to be lost. It was at that time that the idea of withdrawing from the war arose. Two factors lay behind such thinking: one was the turn of the fortunes of war in favor of the Allied powers and the psychological impact of the entry of the Soviet army into Romania. The desire to withdraw was also based on the expectation of many Romanians that the Allies would invalidate the Second Vienna Award; the Soviets had, in fact, promised to return Transylvania to Romania as compensation for the loss of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina, and as an encouragement for Romania to launch an attack on German and Hungarian troops. This intention was confirmed by Benes, in a letter to the leader of the Romanian Peasant Party, Maniu, in which he wrote: "Romania obligates itself to compensate the Soviet Union in part for the damage it caused to the latter; [Romania] recognizes the rightful demands of the Soviet Union concerning Bessarabia and Bucovina, while the Allies, on the other hand, regard the Second Vienna Award, which they have never recognized, as invalid."28

On April 2, 1944, when the Soviet army reached the line of the Pruth and Siret Rivers the so-called "Focsani defense line," a new chapter in the history of East Central Europe was begun. Thereafter the affairs of this area were to be shaped by the great power policies of the Soviet Union. The first significant change occurred on August 23, 1944, when Romania capitulated and the Soviet army had occupied the country. It had become obvious to the Romanian leadership that Germany was going to lose the war and that Romania could regain even a part of its territorial losses only by changing sides and joining with the Allied powers, who had promised before the capitulation that Romania would regain Transylvania or at least "the greater part of it."29


The coup d'etat of August 23, 1944 was carried out by King Michael I with the aid of the National Peasant Party, the Socialist Party, General Sanatescu and other non- or anti-Communists. Following the coup d'etat, the king had Marshal Antonescu arrested and formed a new government headed by General Sanatescu. The new government ended the war against the Soviet Union and, on August 25th, declared war on Romania's erstwhile allies.

The Romanian capitulation of August 23, 1944, had immeasurably grave consequences for South-eastern Europe, both in terms of the general political and social situation and from the point of view of the national minorities. Romania's change of sides came unexpectedly for the German military leadership; the Balkan front collapsed and the Soviet army was able to advance unopposed toward Northern Transylvania and Hungary. The Romanian army, now fighting on the side of the Soviets against German and Hungarian forces, became increasingly hostile to the German and Hungarian populations it encountered: it regarded "the liberation" of Northern Transylvania "as a national war."30

The German population of Romania in its threatened situation continued to expect protection from the German army. It soon appeared, however, that the small German forces stationed in Southern Transylvania and the Banat region had also retreated. The new Romanian government immediately began mass arrests among the Hungarians and German population. Only a few people managed to flee to Northern Transylvania, which was still under Hungarian administration.

Although Romania's change of sides and its declaration of war on Hungary did not come as a surprise for the Hungarian leadership, it did cause a considerable disruption of Hungarian internal politics. The head of state, Admiral Horthy, (1920-1944) dismissed the pro-German Prime Minister Sztó jay and appointed Colonel-General Geza Lakatos in his place; the Germans' most trusted supporters, however, still continued to be members of the government. Horthy found himself trapped by the forces and political atmosphere he had originally created to support Hungarian participation in the war; it was to prove increasingly difficult for him to pull out of the Axis alliance. The Romanian action had a much more direct effect on the Hungarian leadership of Northern Transylvania, and it led the Transylvanian Party (Erdélyi Párt)31 to become more active.


The democratic-spirited Transylvanian Party, under the leadership of Béla Teleki, had already recognized that the status quo in Transylvania could not be maintained, and that the continuation of the war would have grave consequences for the Hungarians living there. This view was shared by left-wing Hungarian Transylvanian politicians as well, and, consequently, they made several efforts to establish closer links with the Transylvanian Party. As a result of discussions between a left-wing group and the chairman and representatives of the Transylvanian Party in the summer of 1944, it was concluded that an official action by Horthy was the only realistic means of withdrawing from the war. Subsequently, the chairman of the Transylvanian Party, Béla Teleki, and the representatives of the party, as well as Dániel Bánffy, one-time minister of agriculture, had several discussions with Regent Horthy and the members of the government. Teleki suggested, for the first time, withdrawing from the war. At that time, Horthy did not consider the situation ripe for carrying out this plan, but Prime Minister Lakatos promised to postpone the armed attack on Southern Transylvania that the Hungarian general staff had planned for the beginning of September. Despite this promise the attack on Soviet and Romanian forces in Southern Transylvania did take place, on September 5; however, by September 15, the Hungarian forces had retreated, with great loss, to Turda/Torda where they were subsequently engaged in heavy defensive fighting for several weeks. By that time, the Transylvanian Hungarian army group was no longer in any condition to fight; it was poorly equipped and consisted primarily of reserve units.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian leaders of Northern Transylvania formed an illegal Transylvanian Hungarian Council (Erdé lyi Magyar Taná cs), whose members included politicians, Church leaders, and representatives of social institutions and trade unions, supporting the Transylvanian Party's policy of withdrawal from the war. In the meantime, Béla Teleki and Dániel Bánffy, through the mediation of Ladomér Zichy, attempted to establish contact with the Soviet leaders in order to negotiate a cease-fire agreement and prevent Transylvania from becoming a battleground. Horthy instructed Prime Minister Lakatos to announce Hungary's surrender. The Council of Ministers, however, opposed this plan, and Horthy therefore decided to begin cease-fire negotiations with the Allied Powers without the knowledge of the government, following a meeting between chairman of the Transylvanian Party Béla Teleki and Regent Horthy on September 10, 1944. On September 12 the Transylvanian Hungarian Council demanded, in a memorandum, that Horthy ask the Allies for a ceasefire immediately. The Council also asked that a policy of reconciliation with the Romanians be initiated.


The memorandum of the Transylvanian Hungarian politicians had a considerable influence on Horthy's conduct but a majority of the members of the government felt that the Carpathians had to be defended against the Soviet army until the English and Americans could airlift troops into Hungary. They also hoped that if the Hungarian army could hold off Soviet forces for a few weeks, Germany would collapse and Hungary would thereby not become a theater of war.

Laws and Decrees Between 1918 and 1940 Relating to the National Minorities

The rights of the national minorities in the areas of Hungary annexed by Romania, including, above all, the right to the free use of the mother tongue, had been guaranteed by the Alba Iulia Resolutions, issued by the Romanian National Assembly on December 1, 1918,32 as well as by the Paris Minorities Treaty, concluded between the Allied Powers33 (Entente) and Romania on December 9, 1919. The Minorities Treaty became an integral part of, as well as a condition for, the Trianon Treaty of June 4, 1920, and guaranteed the minorities protection through the League of the Nations, the constitution and a promise to implement rights of minorities.34 The treaties contained further the exclusion of discrimination and the guarantee of cultural autonomy. It must be noted that the Trianon Peace Treaty did not provide for any form of self-government or any autonomous legal position for the national minorities living in the areas ceded to Romania. The Allied Powers had sought to make Romania accept, prior to the signing of the peace treaty, an agreement guaranteeing the rights of the national, linguistic and religious minorities within its boundaries. When Romania hesitated, the Allies warned the Romanian government in a strong note that unless it signed a treaty protecting the rights of the minorities, they would not recognize Romanian territorial demands.35 Only then did the signing of the treaty generally known as the Paris Minorities Treaty take place.


Article l of the Alba Iulia Resolutions36 proclaimed the union of Romania and Transylvania. Article 2 stated that "until the convocation of the constituent assembly the inhabitants of these areas shall possess temporary autonomy." Article 3 guaranteed in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 individual and national rights.

Paragraph 1 of that article proclaimed:

full national freedom for the coexisting peoples. All of the peoples have the right to public education, public administration, and the administration of justice in their own languages, provided by individuals chosen from among their own members. All peoples will receive rights of representation in the governing of the country and in the legislative organ, in accordance with their numbers.37

Paragraph 2 of Article 3 guaranteed "equal rights and complete religious freedom for all religious faiths." Paragraph 3 -- proclaimed the "unqualified realization of a pure democratic system in every sphere of public life," while paragraph 4 guaranteed "unrestricted freedom of the press, association, and assembly, as well as the possibility for freedom of thought". (The unification of Transylvania and Romania was subsequently ordered by decree No. 3631 issued on December 11, 1918 by King Ferdinand I of Romania).

The Resolutions of Alba Iulia were enacted despite protests by the Hungarians of Transylvania38 and without the general agreement of the German minority.39 On the Romanian side the Social Democrats, who supported autonomy for Transylvania, also objected to these resolutions. Objective, non-Romanian historiography is unanimous in its view that the annexation of Transylvania by Romania took place not on the basis of a referendum or self-determination, but by the force of arms.40 Ion I.C. Bratianu, Prime Minister of Romania and one of the leading figures in those historic events, later declared in the Bucharest Senate: "the integrity of the Romanian state and of the Romanian people was not the result of the Resolutions of Alba Iulia but rather of the treaty of alliance, . . . sealed by the deaths of 800,000 soldiers."41 (He was referring to the secret agreement which Romania had concluded with the Entente on August 4, 1916, and which had already, at that point, determined the fate of Transylvania.42)


There are divergent views concerning the legal significance of the Resolutions of Alba Iulia. From the point of view of Romanian statutory law they had no significance whatsoever, since the legislature of the new Romanian state did not incorporate them into the constitution or enact them as law; this view is confirmed by the international literature on the question.43 Even in Romanian legal literature, the Resolutions of Alba Iulia are but rarely viewed as law or as an international treaty.44 Of all the articles of the Resolutions of Alba Iulia, only Article 1, which proclaimed the union of Romania and Transylvania, was enacted into law (January 1, 1920). However, Romania attempted to represent the Resolutions of Alba Iulia -- above all Article 3, paragraphs 1 and 2 -- to the international community as if its provisions guaranteeing to "all the co-inhabiting nationalities wide-ranging national, cultural, and religious self-government," were integral parts of Romanian law.45 In fact, however, the new Romanian state increasingly issued laws and decrees which, on the basis of the principle "lex posteriori derogat priori," invalidated both the obligations undertaken in the Minorities Treaty and the sections of the Resolutions of Alba Iulia relating to the protection of the minorities. Despite the fact that in Article 1 of the Minorities Treaty Romania had agreed to abide by Articles 2 to 8 of that treaty as a fundamental international law, and that no law or decree contrary to the measures and provisions of that treaty could be considered valid, Romanian legal literature and the Romanian Supreme Court subsequently supported the view that international treaties had an even lower legal status than ordinary laws and that the government was entitled to disregard them at any time in pursuit of the national interest. Only rarely were dissenting viewpoints expressed by the Romanian legal community.

In the Minorities Treaty,46 Romania had agreed: "to guarantee to all the inhabitants of the country complete personal security and full freedom" (Article 2); "it acknowledges those persons living in the territory of Romania from the time when this treaty comes into force as citizens possessing full rights" (Article 3); and, similarly, "it acknowledges those who are Austrian or Hungarian citizens but were born in areas which became Romanian as citizens with full rights" (Article 4); persons described in the last two articles "can opt for gaining foreign citizenship while at the same time retaining ownership of their real estate in Romanian territory" (Article 3); the Romanian government guaranteed "the use of the mother-tongue without restriction in private and commercial life . . . or at political meetings . . . as well as in judicial procedures" (Article 8); the minorities possessed the right "to establish, manage and control charitable, religious and social institutions, as well as teaching or other educational institutions, with the free use of the mother-tongue and the free observance of religion" (Article 9); the Romanian government "guarantees facilitation of the use of the nationality vernacular in those towns and districts where nationalities live" (Article 10); finally, Romania agreed that "the Transylvanian Szekler and Saxon communities should be permitted local self-government in religious and educational matters under the supervision of the Romanian state" (Article 11). Besides establishing the general principles of national, racial, and religious equality, the agreement also obligated Romania to automatically acknowledge as Romanian citizens the approximately 300,000 Jewish inhabitants of the Regat (Old Kingdom) who had not been granted citizenship despite the categorical stipulation of the Congress of Berlin in 1878.


The newly established Greater Romania never fulfilled the obligations it had undertaken in the Minorities Treaties and the Resolutions of Alba Iulia concerning its national minorities.47 The very fact that Romania was initially unwilling to sign the Minorities Treaty indicates that the principles of the Resolutions of Alba Iulia were also unacceptable to it. It is characteristic that the liberal government of I. Bratianu had to be dismissed before Romania would sign the Paris Minorities Treaty. An insight into the views of the Romanian government was provided during debate over the draft Constitution of 1923, when one of the leading politicians of that time, Vintila Bratianu, stated: "The Minorities Treaty was an attempt to weaken the unified national character of the Romanian state and it pledged -- in a promise which we have fortunately not fulfilled -- to turn Greater Romania into a new and unfortunate Austria-Hungary."48 All these facts demonstrate that, in practice, the Minorities Treaty provided no international protection whatsoever for the national and religious minorities in Romania.

The reorganization of the territories annexed by Romania and the tasks of a provisional government were entrusted to a Governing Council (Consiliul Dirigent) of fifteen members, elected by the 212member Greater Romanian National Council (Marele Sfat National Roman). The Governing Council, which had its seat in Sibiu/Nagyszeben/Hermannstadt, was the executive organ for the unification of Transylvania in Romania, and had unlimited legislative and executive powers, which it exercised throughout the territory of Transylvania, supported by the Romanian army. As long as the Governing Council continued to function, Romania's promises to protect the minorities continued to be honored. However, an oppressive and restrictive nationality policy was soon to be instituted.49


The economic position of the national minorities in Transylvania was undermined during the first year of the Romanian seizure of power by the land reform of July 23, 1921.50 This measure struck primarily at the owners of the large and medium-sized estates, as well as public institutions, including the churches, schools and foundations, whose lands were confiscated. Non-Romanian researchers generally share the view that the redistribution of land benefited the majority nation at the expense of the national minorities.51 A large proportion of the expropriated wealth of the nationality churches became the property of the Romanian Orthodox Church.52 It is characteristic of the discriminatory nature of the law that the land reform, which aimed at the expropriation of the large estates, was carried out much more strictly in Transylvania than in the Regat, even though 40 percent of the land in the latter belonged to large landowners, while the proportion in Transylvania was only 10.8 percent.53 The indemnifications were also much smaller in Transylvania than in the Regat.54/SUP>The 1921 agrarian reform also deprived the Széklers of the communal properties they had been granted in the 18th century in return for their services as defenders of the frontier, while the properties of Romanian border soldiers were not expropriated.55

It is worth mentioning, in connection with the agrarian reform, that before the annexation of Transylvania by Romania there had been a predominance of small and medium-sized (Hungarian and German) landowners, relatively few large estates, and a small group of landless peasants.56

The Romanian government used the land reform for propaganda abroad, proclaiming that it had instituted democratically based ownership of the land. However, the real purpose of the agrarian reform was to undermine the economic superiority of the national minorities in Transylvania and thereby change the nationality balance of power.

The new Constitution enacted on March 28, 1923 57 (published on March 29) was markedly nationalist and statist in character. It declared Romania to be a "unified, indivisible national state." Although it guaranteed equality before the law for every citizen of Romania, its provisions in this area were vague and its formulations contradictory. It did not incorporate either the Resolutions of Alba Iulia, the guarantees in the Minorities Treaty, or the cultural autonomy of the Széklers and of the Transylvanian Saxons. It guaranteed only individual, not collective, rights. In the sphere of public administration it relied on the principles of decentralization, and thus did not affect, to any great degree, the system of local and county self-government that had existed before the change of power in Transylvania.


The 1920s saw a whole series of laws and decrees restricting the freedom of religious observance by the national minorities58 and endeavoring to destroy the network of schools providing instruction in the minority languages. This was the first occasion in the history of the Western-oriented Transylvanian nationality educational system, which dated back several hundred years, that a school system that had developed within the state system of the Balkans and was totally alien to the traditional Transylvanian spirit was established here.

These attacks against the national-minority churches and schools and other measures of this nature were part of an overall policy of Romanianization. Moreover, these discriminatory laws affected not only the school network but the whole public sector. The national minorities in the territories annexed by Romania became second-class citizens. Despite the fact that Article 8 of the Minorities Treaty provided for the unrestricted use of the mother tongue in private and commercial life, until 1926 all use of commercial signs and notices in the languages of the national minorities in the commercial sector was banned.59 At the same time, a law dealing with public employees introduced a compulsory examination in the Romanian language for all non-Romanian officials,60 which resulted in the mass dismissal of public employees belonging to the national minorities.61 These dismissed minority officials were generally replaced by Romanians.62

The discriminatory measures against public employees were followed by language examinations for teachers belonging to the national minorities. The draft legislation on this matter was an amendment to the December 22, 1925 Act on Private Education; it prescribed that even where national-minority teachers had already passed an examination in Romanian, they could be compelled to take further language examinations at any time and, in case of failure, lose their teacher certification. The results of these compulsory examinations were devastating throughout Transylvania.

The young teachers were failed in the qualifying examination and the older generation of teachers, who had gained their diplomas before the war, were sifted out through the language examinations. And, at the same time, if the number of teachers in a gymnasium was reduced to less than six, the school could be closed down.63


A law concerning the unification of public administration, enacted in 1925,64 abolished every form of local self-government65 on the basis of the principle of complete state centralization, thereby initiating a period of arbitrary centralized rule.

From the first half of the 1930s Romanian economic policy aimed at weakening and taking over the economic bases of the national minorities. Despite the general economic crisis, a large proportion of the German, Hungarian and Jewish national minorities in Transylvania consisted of an economically strong middle class, with well-established industrial, commercial, and cooperative networks. In handicraft and small-scale industry alone, German participation amounted to 25 percent of the national total in the 1930s,66 while, in 1943, 15.5 percent of all Romanian industry consisted of German enterprises.67 The cooperative movement proved to be the most effective method in combating the government's anti-minority economic policy. The Hungarian nationality in Transylvania already had a well-developed economic, commercial, and cooperative network at the time of annexation by Romania.68 Thus, the level of economic development of the national minorities in Transylvania exceeded in all respects the level of economic life in the Old Kingdom which stagnated in a state of corruption and underdevelopment between the two world wars. It was this difference in level of development that Romanian economic policy sought, and is still seeking, to equalize.

A legislative project for the "protection of national labor" aimed at restricting the economic life of the Romanian national minorities during the interwar period. It prescribed that at least 75 percent of the staff and 60 percent of the management of economic, industrial, commercial, and other enterprises with Romanian capital, were to be Romanians, with the remaining places going to members of the national minorities.69 The Industry Act of April 29, 1936,70 abolished the national-minority chambers of commerce and turned over their property to state chambers of commerce. The remaining properties of minority institutions were increasingly expropriated, even if they were not chambers of commerce.

The fiscal policy pursued by the Romanian government also contributed to the economic stagnation of the national-minority areas. According to an official publication of the Romanian Ministry of Finance, between 1924 and 1926 direct taxation in Transylvania exceeded that in the Regat by 205 million lei. 71 Similarly, other national-minority areas also paid higher taxes.72


From 1938 onwards the vital national-minority cooperative network was prohibited from functioning. As has already been noted, a law enacted in 1937 abolished the centuries-old economic foundation of the Saxon people, the so-called Saxon National University (Nationsuniversitä t) and the community of the Seven Judges (Sieben-Richter-Waldungen); only 100 of the 35,000 yokes73 of land originally possessed by the Saxon foundation remained after the law was put into effect.74

After the dissolution of the political parties, the royal dictatorship of Carol II (1938-1940) tried to find a solution to the national-minority question by way of the so-called Minority Statute of August 4, 193875 without, however, consultations with the nationalities. In any case, the government intended the statute merely as a piece of propaganda for foreign -- particularly German -- consumption. The statute was not a law, but only a statement of principle lacking the force of either a law or an executive decree. For a long time it was not even published in the internal press. This statute was supposed to guarantee, among other things, the use of a national-minority language in parishes where that nationality represented a majority of the inhabitants. During this period, for example, the post office accepted packages and letters which were not addressed in Romanian, and telegrams sent in languages other than Romanian did not require an excess charge. A few elementary and secondary schools with instruction in the languages of the nationalities were also reopened. Besides these measures, a decree of the Council of Ministers,76 issued on August 1, 1938, guaranteed the right to use place names in the languages of the national minorities. This had been a long-time demand by the nationalities in Romania, just as it had been a demand of the Romanians under the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy.

The new Constitution, enacted on February 20, 1938, and published on February 27 of that year, reinforced the royal dictatorship and introduced a further restriction of political freedom. The royal proclamation delivered on the occasion of the publication of the Constitution emphasized that "the peoples of other ethnic groups that have lived in the territory of United Romania for centuries will receive treatment identical to that of the Romanians."77


In the text of the Constitution, however, one cannot find any conception of national minorities or of their ethnic identity; rather, rights were guaranteed only for the majority people -- even though the constitution formally guaranteed them for all "Romanian citizens" -- and only when discussing duties was it stated that these applied to all Romanians "irrespective of ethnic origin or religion." In formulating the new constitution, neither the Resolutions of Alba Iulia nor the articles of the Minorities Treaty were included in the text.

The decentralization of public administration was regulated by the Public Administration Act of August 14, 1938, which divided the country into ten provinces, each with a royal governor at its head. The territorial-administrative division of the provinces everywhere ran contrary to historical frontiers, and the counties comprising them were organized in such a way as to ensure a Romanian majority everywhere.

The most unjust measure was the joining of the Hungarian-inhabited Trei Scaune/Háromszék region and Brasov/Brasso County, which also had a large Hungarian and German population, to the province of Bucegi, which had Bucharest as its seat; in this way the two counties were entirely excluded from the geographical and public administrative network of the Transylvanian basin.

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