A day of schools and religious sites. Driving into Timisoara, I was struck by the strange mix of dilapidated, ornate neo-classical buildings and Soviet “style” apartment blocks. It’s easy to imagine Communist Romania just 28 years ago!
We expected a day on our own exploring Timisoara. But, surprise! Both my third cousin-in-law and the head of my grandmother’s village association, Seppi, showed up at our hotel within minutes of our arrival. We were well greeted to say the least!!
With a mix of translating Romanian, German, and English in trying to decide where to go, we made out our way to the site of my great grandmother’s school, which was bombed during World War II. We were told by Seppi that the school is now a Serbian College, for only Serbian students. That was the start of our observations of ethnic segregation. Even now, there are Hungarian, Romanian, and German schools, which all teach their own languages and culture. At first glance, it seems there is a lack of crossover or mixing among different ethnicities, and it is, in fact, ethnic segregation: both in 1930 to the present day. This makes me sad for the world that we live in.
After walking through the dust-filled streets, we went to the Piața Unirii, where my Oma and her Grandmother sold vegetables in 1946. For some time, my Oma and her brothers lived outside of Timisoara and they were at her house when Russian soldiers showed up to take them to escape (more on that later).
Sitting down to lunch, Seppi and Oma (my Grandmother) started to discuss the status of the church and graveyard in their hometown, Sin Andrei, which was a primarily German town in Romania. They talked about how the church was falling apart, how the Romanian government had no care for their history, and how they felt ignored and forgotten. Both identify as German, Yet, they do not identify as Romanian. It took my grandmother a few years after immigrating to see herself as an American, but even after 9 generations of living in Romania, and living the first 10 years of her life there, she doesn’t see herself as Romanian. She is German and Donauschwaben, first and foremost. Those identifiers are what matter.
I disagree with the “us vs. them” language and mentality that my grandmother and Seppi were using. “The Germans cultivated the land.” “The Germans had their history here.” It’s all about the Germans, and not about everyone coming together or trying to coexist and marry into different ethnicities. My family is very proud that they stayed within the Donauschwaben for 9 generations.
We then went to my great grandfather’s school, a teacher’s college. The college had been built by Donauschwaben for Donauschwaben to educate their own. It was not for the Serbians, Croatians, or any other ethnicities. Different people from different countries did not learn together. Seppi told us that even the engineering college had separate classes in the same college for Germans, Romanians, and Hungarians. They learned with their “own” people. I can see how this would create some type of homogenous group-think, which I see as very dangerous and inflammatory.
Of course, there were beautiful things that the teacher’s college created for my great grandfather. He became an avid gardener and bird lover, and he was taught to love nature by his teachers and by being in a nature society. As I was hearing about the nature society, a bird pooped on my back. I took this as a sign.
Tomorrow, we are heading to Sin Andrei, one of the villages that my Oma grew up in. I’m excited to see the church where my great grandparents were married, the streets where Oma played as a child, and the home where they all lived.