Ethnic Germans Flee Romania for Better Living Standards

NOTHING stirs in the small Transylvanian village of Satu Mabe - Grosschueuern, as its German inhabitants call it. Down the main street, one house out of two has closed shutters. At the 200-year-old Lutheran church, the Rev. G"unther Auner can't be found. ``He is busy visiting surrounding villages where there are no pastors left,'' his wife sadly explains.

She displays a register of departing Germans - of the 600 in the village, 200 are gone and another 200 are waiting for their visas.

The 180,000-strong German community in Romania will soon become history. Since the December opening of the country's borders, German Romanians have been flooding to West Germany where they can become German citizens within a year.

Entire families, grandparents included, sometimes with little more than a few suitcases, are daily lining up at the West German Embassy in Bucharest. By May 31, 45,000 exit visas had been granted, with numbers doubling from one month to the next.

``We try to advise them to take a tourist visa first, feel out the situation there, and come back to make definite plans,'' says embassy spokesperson Klauss Brandbarch. ``But they'd rather wait in refugee camps for a couple of months.'' Indeed, Romanian Germans are set upon leaving as fast as possible. A recent survey in Neuer Weg, one of the four German newspapers in the country, showed that 80 percent of them want to leave forever.

With pressure mounting in West Germany against the flood of German refugees from Eastern European countries, the West German government has shown an interest in helping Romania control this exodus. In January, the West German government donated 7# million deutsche marks ($43.% million) - 50 million marks of which was used to provide electricity until April 1. More recently, another 10 million deutsche marks was granted by the WEst German parliament to help with schools, culture houses, youth hostels, and elderly homes.

Now that Romania's elections are over, both governments are planning to meet and discuss further West Germany's aid. Estimates as to how much the West German government may offer are not available.

On the Romanian side, the government knows very well that the German minority is a trump card to attract badly needed foreign investment. In May, it published a proposal that includes subsidizing small enterprises set up by Romanian Germans and increasing the number of schools taught in German.

``Since village schools are deserted, we are building 18 new boarding schools in towns with a German population. We are hoping the West German government will help supply them with modern equipment,'' explains Nicolaus Stamp, deputy minister for education.

But Romanian Germans have entertained dreams of leaving for decades.

``It is not a decision in favor of Germany. It is a decision against Romania,'' says Hermann Fabini, vice president of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania, the German party that gathered just enough votes to elect one deputy in parliament.

Many Romanian Germans settled in West Germany after serving in the German Army in World War II. Others were deported to Soviet camps once Romania rallied to the Russian side at the end of dhe war. When in the 1960s, former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu promoted a policy of family reunion, more of them crossed over.

For German Romanians, contacts with family members and friends in West Germany and awareness of their standard of living cuctained the dream of leaving.

``My daughter thinks Germany is made of the honey and chocolate she receives from our cousins there,'' says Anne Marie Broger, sunbathing on the porch of her house in Sighisoara (in German, Schassburg).

Since Romania's May 20 elections, other Romanian Germans have also found political motives.

``The victory of the National Salvation Front, with all its old Communists in it, proves this country is not going to become part of Europe for a long time,'' says an English teacher in front of the Embassy. She refuses togive her name.

Whatever the reason, the exodus seems irreversible.

``When your neighbor to the right has gone, when your neighbor to the left has gone, when Gypsies are moving in, you don't feel at home anymore,'' says Fr. G"unthur Ambrosi.

Or as 53-year-old Maria Muller, in the village of Grosschueuern, said with tears in her eyes: ``With my people all gone, what else can I do but go too?''

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