Romania's 'German' leader and his tragic dying tribe
Deported after World War II, sold like livestock to the West by the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu for hard currency, the Germans of Romania -- of which the country's new president Klaus Iohannis is a member -- have endured a nightmarish half century.
Once-thriving communities with roots going back to the Middle Ages survived decades of persecution only to be devastated by mass emigration the moment freedom came with the fall of the Berlin wall.
With their numbers falling from 800,000 between the wars to just 36,000 in 2011, many of these communities are now on the brink of extinction.
Their beautiful but impoverished fortified villages, which Ceausescu planned to raze, were emptied in weeks by an offer of asylum and a few thousands marks to help them settle in Germany.
Ethnic Germans began settling in Transylvania and in the deep alpine valleys of the Carpathian mountains as early as the 12th century, with the first settlers coming from the region around Luxembourg.
Saxons, Swabians and Lutheran "Lander" Germans followed, with others from the Stuttgart area arriving in the 18th and 19th centuries, each bringing their own dialects and traditions.
Some 63,000 German-speaking men were forced to join the Wehrmacht during the second world war, and later Moscow deported 75,000 men, women and children to forced labour camps in the Soviet Union.
"My grandparents were among those deported, and I remember them telling of the hell they lived through," Wiegand Fleischer, 38, a local councillor from Sibiu -- where Iohannis is mayor -- told AFP.
Between 1968 and 1989, Transylvania's Saxons and Swabians became literally "merchandise" -- sold across the Iron Curtain to Germany by Ceausescu's secret police, the Securitate.
Nearly a quarter of a million were sold in this way, with the price varying from 2,000 to 10,000 marks (1,020 to 5,100 euros), according to a former negotiator, Heinz Guenther Huesch.
"Every person had a price, according to their status and education," he told the Romanian media.
When the wall fell in December 1989, the slow drip became an exodus, with 200,000 leaving Romania in two years.
"Half of my classmates left in a few months," said Fleischer.
Even Iohannis' own parents left.
"Twice, once during communist times, and then after the fall of the wall, I asked myself if I should stay or go," Iohannis said during the election campaign.
"I decided to stay because this is my home and because I had a unique chance to contribute to the development of my home town Sibiu.
" Now in this very German-looking city of mediaeval and Hapsburg era buildings, Germans make up only one percent of the population of 137,000.
And most of them are elderly, Fleischer said.
With only the old and very young remaining, there are not enough teachers now to meet the demand for places in German-language schools.
© 2014 AFP