More Saxon towns, Sighisoara, Sibiu

Hi friends and family,

For those of you who are asking, we will be getting to the opening soon, probably in the next installment. It is a long and pretty amazing story.

Brasov, where we just left (in our emails), Sighisoara, where we are going to, and Sibiu, where the Brukenthal Museum and the exhibition is located, are all Saxon towns. This is a history I was completely unaware of  until coming here. Saxons (Germans) were brought into Romania around 850 years ago by the Hungarian kings to help protect the mountain passes from Tatar and then Turkish attacks. The Saxons thrived until a Tatar invasion which left only 100 people alive in Sibiu. After this they fortified their towns. In an organized Germanic fashion they assigned each guild to build a tower and a section of wall around their towns. The guild was responsible to defend that section of wall and tower during attacks. So Sighisoara and Sibiu had the Ironsmiths tower, the Shoemakers tower, The Bakers tower, the Tinsmiths tower, etc., etc. I think Sighisoara has almost all its towers still intact.

The Tinsmiths' Tower and part of the defense wall, Sighisoara

Skipping way ahead, and I almost left this out because it is so depressing, but during WWII Romania sided with Germany. The Nazis came in and with the assistance of the Romanian government, carted off and exterminated hundreds of thousands of Jews and thousands of gypsies. As the Russians were advancing and the war began to turn, Romania changed sides and Antonescu made some effort to save the remaining Jews. Around 400,000 Jews in the Southern part of Romania were saved; the ones in the Northern part of Romania, under Hungarian control, were already gone. Too little, too late, Antonescu was executed after trial. I don't know where he was tried, perhaps at Nuremberg?

Furriers Tower, Sighisoara

After the Russians marched into Romania, they rounded up most of the able-bodied Saxon men and women (even though they had been living in Romania for over 800 years) and sent them to camps in Russia and to work in the coal mines where most of them starved to death. The ones who were left behind or managed to survive were stripped of everything, even citizenship. It's been a bloody mess here for a long, long time. Thus today the Saxon towns have very few Saxons left in them.

As for the Romanians, they seem to be descended from a mix of Roman settlers (my book says they were mostly Greek and Arab, but also Roman) and Dacians. Dacians were a mixture of different Asiatic nomadic tribes, similar to the Huns who settled Hungary and the Bulgars who settled Bulgaria. They look mostly European these days. A most helpful young woman at our hotel in Sibiu proudly said she was 100 percent Romanian; yet she has light blonde hair and very blue eyes.

Romania also has a sizable Hungarian population, and the Roma or gypsies.

Ropemakers Tower, which now houses the cemetary caretaker

Sorry, that was pretty depressing. Man's inhumanity to man (and everything else) seems to know no bounds. Fortunately, most people seem to be decent and kind; we just don't always have the gumption to stand up to the bullies. There is a reason why I am giving you this history, which will become apparent later.

When we were in Sighisoara (just overnight) we shared our dinner table with a Berlin producer and a Budapest actress who were making a movie in Romania about a Saxon man coming back to Romania. Some of these Romanian Saxons are slowly returning to Romania, mostly to Transylvania, which is the mountainous, forested country where (I think all of) the Saxon towns are.

The Clock Tower and Entrance to the Citadel - Sighisoara

I'm going to sign off with something a lot more light-hearted. We pass these horse-drawn carts frequently on the Romanian roads. I doubt an hour goes by without us seeing several of them. It's hard to get a good photo, though, as we generally whiz past each other. We saw an amazing cavalcade of about 8 of these wagons, all filled with colorfully dressed Roma yesterday. No good photo.

More later, I hope. We are leaving our good internet connection now, our super comfortable hotel in a northern Romanian spa town.


Era and Don