.Following the signing of the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718, after the Austrian Empire defeated the Ottoman Empire, the Banat Region is transferred back to the Habsburg administration. In response to the effects of the prolonged war that lead to depopulation the new administration decides to carry out a massive colonisation in order to revive the region, as Batt (2010, p4) explains: “However, the impact of the protracted military campaigns between 1683 and 1716 devastated the region. Towns and villages were destroyed, the rich and fertile land neglected, and the population dispersed.”
In three waves between 1718 and 1787 around 200.000 Germans from Rhineland, Alsace, Swabia, Bavaria and Austria arrive in Banat, settling alongside Romanians, Hungarians, Serbians and Jews, in the major urban centres but also establishing new villages across the region. The map below shows the extent of the colonisation together with the percentage of the German ethnics within the localities.
Census data shows a peak of German population in the 1930, when it made up for around 24% of the total population.
That was followed by a sharp decline after the WW2, when tens of thousands were sent to labour camps in the former USSR as war compensation according to Rusnac (2009 online).
Another cause of decline is the secret ‘repatriation’ deal between the Romanian and West-German governments under which in the 1968-1989 timeframe West-Germany paid the Romanian government between 2000 and 10000 deutsche mark for each migrant, according to their qualifications, reveals Adevarul(2014 online). Apparently this was part of a secret agenda as: “The Ceaușescu regime was set on a course of ‘national communism’ that aimed at homogenizing Romanian society both socially and ethnically. In Banat, meanwhile, Romanians had become some 83 per cent of the population of the two Banat counties.”Batt (2010,p12)
Another sharp decline followed the fall of the communist regime in 1989 when everyone was free to leave. The 2011 Romanian Census shows a mere 13129, less than 1%, ethnic Germans living in the region. Recensamantromania.ro(2011 online). As seen from the Census data, the ethnic composition of the region has suffered a dramatic shift since WW2, as there was a constant flow of population from east to west, with the German ethnics leaving the country, and Romanians from the Moldova and Oltenia Regions being encouraged to move west to Banat, with the result that today ethnic Romanians are the overwhelming majority.
Many villages became deserted and still are today, in others, ethnic Romanians from other regions were encouraged to migrate in order to repopulate. In many cases the change was so sudden that even the original German name of the localities was lost suggests, Rusnac (2009 online).
Nevertheless, the many newcomers largely managed to integrate themselves in their guest communities, keeping the spirit, to some extent, of the multicultural society that existed before, as Batt (2010, p21) suggests, referring to the Banat myth and regarding multi-culturality: “The ‘Banat myth’ is above all the story of a society of immigrants, and thus is, in principle, open to all who come to share in its relative prosperity and advantageous border location, providing they are seen as adopting the local ‘work ethic’ as their own.” The ‘Banat myth’, of peaceful co-existence of so many different ethnic and religious groups, is not really myth but as many historians had demonstrated was and still is reality, as Neumann (1997,p4) confirms: “Banat was a model of peaceful co-existence between 1800 and 1950, an example to others of mutual understanding and the creation of interethnic and interconfessional relations. Istvan Bibo’s book (1981), A kelet-europai kissallamok nyomorusaga, provides eloquent testimony of this.”
The overall contribution of the German community to the development and prosperity of the region over the last 200 years cannot be overstated according to Rusnac (2009 online). Batt (2010, p7) goes even further suggesting that: “the Germans were everywhere the leading ethnic group, and their overwhelming cultural hegemony can still be felt in Banat today. They drained the swamps, introduced innovative farming methods, viticulture and new crops such as maize, potatoes and tobacco, transforming empty grasslands and fever-ridden swamps into smiling fields within a generation”
A list of personalities from this ethnic group is impressive, including two Nobel Prize winners: Herta Muller and Stefan Hell. Wikipedia (online)