From the West to the East and from the East to the West:
identity avatars of the French Banaters
by Smaranda Vultur
Translated from French by Nick Tullius. Published at DVHH.org
27 May 2007 by Jody McKim Pharr
Text presented at the oral history conference "Visibles mais pas nombreuses: les circulations migratoires roumaines"
[“Visible but not numerous: Romanian migratory movements”] Paris, 2001
The end of the Second World war caused, among other events, a vast movement of populations. Refugees, deportations, emigrations, repatriations, work camps, detention, are all part of this picture commonly referred to as “vicissitudes of history”. Associated with the great changes which took place at the political level, the age, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship and other criteria of belonging - when it was not just simply the interplay of circumstances - caused brutal changes in the destiny of thousands of people.
Starting on November 1, 1948, France welcomed 10,000 refugees, coming mainly, but not exclusively, from the Banat (Romanian, Yugoslav or Hungarian) [Oberläuter 1957: 5 and 8]. This event was the result of long and complicated interventions, resulting directly from the context of this post-war period. The refugees represented only a small part of a population which had been moving from eastern Europe towards the west since 1945, crossing Austria towards Germany [cf note 4] and settling in specially-constructed setup camps in these two countries. The large majority of them were ethnic Germans, who had left Romania and Yugoslavia. They had lost their citizenship, which had been withdrawn from them by these countries, and were now stateless persons, waiting for various western European countries or the United States to grant them asylum. A member of this group, Jean (Hans) Lamesfeld from the Romanian Banat, whose ancestors had come from Lorraine (Thionville), organized a Committee of the “French Banaters” in Vienna. With the support of French officers of high rank, he was able to obtain the invaluable support of Robert Schuman. With that support, the project of transferring to France “several thousand Banaters (of the three hundred thousand envisaged at the beginning) originating from the Banat de Temesvar (Timisoara)” was successfully implemented [Noiriel 1991: 135].
A 1953 PhD thesis by Pierre Guillot confirms the presence of a part of this population in La Roque sur Pernes, Vaucluse. There is general agreement that the attempted settlement of a part of the new population was the most successful here [Guillot 1952-1953: 11-13, 226; Noriel 1991:135)]. The thesis mentions the arrival of the newcomers as a return to the motherland. To further clarify who these “French Banaters” are, and who they once were, the author takes us back in time by two centuries, and describes for us, in more than half of his thesis, their migration throughout the eighteenth century, as colonists to the eastern European territory called Banat, and their travel in the opposite direction in the twentieth century.
Examining the histories of these two colonization's in opposite directions is useful, despite the very different historical circumstances and a time lapse of 200 years, as a kind of pattern to any discussion of memory regarding the immigration of Banaters to France. The idea which supports this symmetry is clearly underlined in the preamble to the thesis: “Alsatians and Lorrainers emigrated, two centuries ago, to colonize the Banat, and now they returned to France.” “In sorrow and in happiness, they did not stop being French in their heart, so that after 200 years of absence, they returned the same, unchanged, perhaps even more in love with the land of their ancestors” (Guillot 1952-1953: 2, 211).
The exodus after the war and ambiguities of identity
Colonists in the myth of the “good colonist” or “civilizing hero”
In conclusion, two little stories & a question
References to other magazine excerpts, titles of articles referring to the Banaters of La Roque sur Pernes
Seltour, Charleville, Saint Hubert, Triebswetter Mercydorf, Rekasch, Ostern and Gottlob.
Related Article: The Colonization of the Banat Following its Turkish Occupation - With particular emphasis on emigration from Lorraine and Luxemburg (Southern Belgian province of Luxemburg)
Starting on November 1, 1948, France welcomed 10,000 refugees, coming mainly, but not exclusively, from the
Banat (Romanian, Yugoslav or Hungarian).
To further clarify who these “French Banaters” are, and who they once were, the author takes us back in time by two centuries,...
In an article published on May 9, 1946 in Le Monde, under the title A French minority from Eastern Europe, the goal of which seems to be to prepare public opinion for the settlement in France of Banaters as war refugees or immigrants, Francis Cabour recalls the history of this minority by starting with the eighteenth century. According to data available to him, of the 4580 families settled in the Banat by 1770, through successive colonization's by the Habsburg Empire, 1855 were from Lorraine, 873 from Alsace, 639 from Luxemburg, and 1000 were German. Like many authors, he mentions the progressive Germanization of this population and places in contrasts with the efforts of this group to maintain its French identity while facing pressures of all kinds. He draws attention to the responsibilities of France which “ignored its remote sons” finding themselves in refugee camps, and being unable to return to Romania or Yugoslavia. He talks about the efforts of a committee formed to “obtain for the refugees the attribute of protected French” and the attention that the government should pay to the displaced persons in Germany, specifically “to the uprooted population of Temesvar,” “a race of robust pioneers, with simple and wholesome customs,” who “in search of a land to cultivate and a fatherland in which they would no longer be a minority, turn their glance towards our country,” which in turn, concludes the author, “has a need for them.”
In the same spirit is an article published on February 8, 1947, in Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace [Last News of Alsace], where the director of the newspaper, Maximilien Felsenstein, one of the people who supported the project of Jean Lamesfeld, speaks “about an immigration that could be accomplished quickly and would provide us with a first class labour force, an indisputable enrichment of our agriculture, and a marvellous human element, the more so as it is of French origin and it asks us today to be admitted to the national home.” As he elaborates further, “its traditions are those of Alsatians who preserved the feeling of their origin throughout the vicissitudes of history.” Edouard Delebecque, mayor of La Roque sur Pernes at the time when the French Banaters settled in the village of Vaucluse, also speaks about “these emigrants who seek to reintegrate into the motherland” (1951: 77).
On the other side of Europe, in Timisoara/Romania, Emil Botis, publishes in 1946 a small book entitled Recherches sur la population française de Banat [Research on the French population of Banat] (included in the bibliography of the thesis of Guillot) to show that, even though they disappeared from the statistics in 1910 under the generic designation of Germans, the French Banaters continue to exist and to identify as such. Botis reproduced, by quoting Grisellini, statistics of the first census taken by governor Count de Clary in 1770, which counted a population of 317,928 inhabitants, of which 42,201 were Swabians, Italians and French (Botis 1946: 17). The census of 1840 counts 6150 French beside 207,720 Swabians, 576,230 Romanians, 202,210 Serbs, 59,342 Hungarians (Botis 1946: 17). Hungarian statistics of 1910 indicate only the presence of 287,545 Germans (Botis 1946: 18), and no French. The most important census taken by the Romanians in 1930, after the division of the Banat in 1919 between Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary, also indicates the presence of 221,762 Germans, which “hides a population whose “ethnic origin” is undoubtedly French” (Botis 1946: 19, 20).
This disappearance from the statistics is explained by Botis by the principles of the censuses in question, which take as their priority criteria the mother tongue of the people being registered, the language “which is taught by the parents and which one usually speaks” (Botis 1946: 21). However, those who spoke French at the time of colonization, in the eighteenth century, including the vast majority of Alsatians and of Lorrainers, were Germanized until the middle of the nineteenth century; some were even Magyarized.
“its traditions are those of Alsatians who preserved the feeling of their origin throughout the
vicissitudes of history.”
The book by Botis was also published under the auspices of the Association of the Descendants of Former French Colonists of Banat, an association recognized as a legal person on August 6, 1945 by the Court of Timis-Torontal, and led by Dr. Etienne Frécôt. It is easy to see its similarity with the Committee of the French Banaters, which had been created in Germany shortly after 1945 under the auspices of a Banater, Mr. George Reiser, in Rastatt (Guillot 1952/1953: 15) or with the Committee of the French Banaters created by Jean Lamesfeld and his compatriots in Vienna, in order to register the Banaters (in a broad sense, including the Donauschwaben) who wished to emigrate to France. The committee even produces an identity card in four languages (German, English, French, and Russian), bestowing an identity of “French from the Banat” to all those registered.
The approach used emphasizes a strong identity, maintained over time, a relation of equivalence between the nation and the ethnic group, a representation of the nation based on the idea of belonging, similar to the relation which links a mother with her sons or the tree with its branches (see Guillot 1952-1953: 248), an organic image of the body of a nation. The soul of the nation is transmitted across time, and in spite of all appearances or circumstances acting against this feeling of conservation of a French identity.
The soul of the nation is transmitted across time, and in spite of all appearances or circumstances acting against this feeling of conservation of a
The exodus after the war and ambiguities of identity
In reality, things are much more complicated, especially for those looking at statistics, because the populations which interest us here are listed, in the relevant bibliography, under various labels; the designations given to them only approximate reality. Connecting the two ends of their history, that of the colonization of the Banat, and that of their emigration (settlement) in France in 1948, we find them on the course of these two parallel accounts, under the names Alsatians and Lorrainers (and even Luxemburgers), Moselers, Swabians (or Donauschwaben), Germans, French, French Banaters, stateless refugees, or simply Banaters. The latter is the identity that they want to be recorded in their identity cards on arrival in France in 1948, with the agreement of Robert Schuman, to avoid being registered as ex-Romanians or ex-Yugoslavians (cf Lamesfeld 1973: 10). When they left Romania, following the German troops in retreat, they had an identity card on which they were registered as Germans. In the special circumstances of their arrival at La Roque sur Pernes, Jean Lamesfeld even declares them to be the “first true Europeans” (cf Senzer 1963: 68).
... Alsatians and Lorrainers (and even Luxemburgers), Moselers, Swabians (or Donauschwaben), Germans, French, French Banaters, stateless refugees, or simply Banaters.
Romanian statistics for the year 1950 indicate that of the “emigrants of German ethnic origin” coming from Romania following the events precipitated by the war, 148,600 were in Germany, and 51,000 were in Austria, for a total of 199,600 persons (Poledna 2001: 126).
For the Romanian Banat, a comparative glance on the censuses indicates a very clear downward evolution of the population of German origin (which includes the former “French colonists” of the Banat) from 1930, when it was 23.7%, to 1992, when it amounts to only 3.6% (Poledna 2001: 223). In 1941 the same area (Romanian Banat) had 221,762 inhabitants (23.1%) of German ethnic origin (cf Poledna 2001: 189-190). In 1956, the statistics indicate a percentage of 14.5% (173,733 inhabitants) for the same category (Poledna 2001: 192). It is necessary to include in these data reflecting a progressive reduction of the German population of Romania, not only the exiles, the refugees, the emigration, but also the deportation in January 1945 of 70,000f ethnic German from Romania to the Donbas (women between 18 and 30 years and men between 17 and 45 years), of which 15 to 20% died in the work camps and mines, where they took part in the “reconstruction work” of the USSR (Baier 1994). A part of those who returned from Donbas between 1945 and 1949 were directed towards Germany, Poland or Czechoslovakia, without being able to return to Romania, and thus appearing among the war refugees of Germany or Austria. Those who returned to the Banat only exposed themselves to a new deportation to the Baragan, between 1951 and 1956. The number of Germans deported to the Baragan is approximately 10,000, out of 45,000 deportees that included Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, etc (cf Weber 1998 and Konschitzky, Leber, Wolf, 2001).
As one traces the population of French origin which had left Romania after the war, or that which remained there, it is necessary to pay attention to the interferences of criteria of national identity with criteria of regional or ethnic identity, and to the criteria according to which these identities were assigned. And one should especially not ignore the powerful and often very brutal impact of politics on the criteria of identity attribution.
Not all the refugees in Germany or Austria in the post-war years were actual refugees. Following an agreement signed on May 12, 1943, between Romania and Germany, 54,000 Germans of Romania were serving in the Waffen-SS (Guillot 1952-1953: 175; Poledna 2001: 72).
As Poledna explains very well “they fought until the end of the war as Romanian citizens in the army of Reich, and were taken prisoners as German soldiers” (Poledna 2001: 72). Obviously, at the end of the war, they could return to Romania only by taking great risks, and they lost their Romanian citizenship (Poledna 2001: 72). The great majority remained in Germany.
The “German Ethnic Group” (“Deutsche Volksgruppe”) created in November 1940 on the territory of Romania and led by Andreas Schmidt, the son-in-law of SS general Berger, had an active role in the so-called “volunteering” of the Banat Germans for service with the Waffen-SS. From June 21, 1943, any opposition to enrolment is punished with death, and repressive measures are taken against the Autonomist Party of the Banat, supported by the population of Alsatian and Lorraine origin. Already in 1939 the “representatives of French Banaters, alarmed by German propaganda, asked the Romanian National Rebirth Government in power at the time, to recognize the French minority as a national group distinct from that of the Germans of Romania” (Frécôt, quoted by Botis 1946: 35). Even if the members of the French diplomatic mission in Romania were not insensitive to this request, the action remained without consequences, perhaps due to pressure from the Nazi circles of the Banat, which reacted negatively (Botis 1946: 36-37).
It was not the first time that Banaters of Lorraine and Alsatian origin expressed their will to be recognized as a distinct group. In 1919-1920 at the Paris Peace Conference that decided on the partition of the Banat between Romania and Yugoslavia (with the Batschka remaining in Hungary), their delegates had asked for the creation of an autonomous Lorrainer province under the protection of the French State (Cabour 1946, Botis 1946, 34) or of a “neutral and independent republic of Banat” (Guillot 1952-1953: 150). After the partition it becomes necessary to follow the history of French Banaters and their parallel stories in the three countries. In general, this is the approach taken by those who, on various occasions, tried to follow their traces in the villages where they were more numerous, like Seltour, Charleville and Saint Hubert in the Yugoslavian Banat, or Triebswetter (Tomnatic), Mercydorf (Mertisoara), Rekasch (Recas), Ostern (Comlos), and Gottlob in Romania (Hecht 1879, Hess 1927-1981, Rosambert 1962). The series of circumstances and events occurring there allow us to us see how, from time to time, the conscience of a French (or Lorraine) identity re-appears and affirms itself, in spite of the linguistic assimilation.
Those who returned to the Banat only exposed themselves to a new deportation to the Baragan...
54,000 Germans of Romania were serving in the Waffen-SS ...
“German Ethnic Group”
created in Nov. 1940...
“volunteering” of the Banat Germans for service with the Waffen-SS.
From June 21, 1943,
any opposition to
enrolment is punished
with death, ...
Colonists in the myth of the “good colonist” or “civilizing hero”
What remains is to find out where this French-speaking population came from during the three successive stages of colonization of the Banat under Charles VI, Maria Theresia, and Joseph II. More recent studies, like that of Bled (1988) or Lotz (1977) provide a synthesis of the data from various older sources (indicated in their bibliography). According to this data, the colonization of Lorrainers and the Alsatians must be seen in a larger context, including first of all the Donauschwaben or Swabians. Jean Paul Bled (1988: 162) shows that these are generic names; beside the Germans from Württemberg, we also find colonists from the Palatinate, from Bohemia, from Baden, from Bavaria, as well as Luxemburgers (Guillot 1952-1953: 45). During the first colonization, the Lorrainers were divided between already existing localities, such as Mercydorf (Mertisoara-Carani), founded in 1733 by colonists come from Friuli and Trentino, where 150 families from Lorraine were settled, so that in 1750, the Lorrainers account for 58% of the village population (Rosambert 1962: 6; Bled 1988: 163). The number of Lorrainers settled in the Banat becomes more important between 1764 and 1771. After 1771 their numbers start declining, as the imperial authorities are no longer paying the travel expenses of the colonists. Here are some data concerning this period, provided by Bled (1988: 164-165):
...the colonization of Lorrainers and the Alsatians must be seen
in a larger context, including first of all the Donauschwaben or Swabians.
April 1764: the arrival in the Banat of 300 Lorrainers.
Sept. 1769-August 1770: 2367 families leave Lorraine.
April 1770: 930 Lorraine families settle in the Banat.
1766-1772: 31 new colonies are founded, of which 21 have German names, and 3 have French names: Charleville, St Hubert and Seultour. Founded in 1770, the first by 75 families, the two others by 62 families, they count a vast majority of Lorrainer and Luxemburger (they are also called welsch villages). “Although having German names, the villages of Gottlob, Ostern and Triebswetter are populated mainly by Lorrainers and Alsatians” (Bled 1988: 165).
Other sources (Boulanger 1992, 1:7) indicate that in 1772 there were 272 inhabitants in Charleville, 283 in Seltour and 320 in St Hubert. The number of descendants from Lorrainers and Alsatians still present in the Banat (which Banat? N. N.) in 1940 would have been 521,000 in a population of 1,740,000 inhabitants.
According to Guillot (1952-1953: 49), out of 40,000 Swabians that came to the Banat between 1722 and 1729, 15,000 were Alsatians and Lorrainers (he calls those from the Mosel “these false Swabians”). He also quotes (Guillot 1952-1953: 50) the census of 1740, under Maria Theresia, which counts 18,000 Alsatians and Lorrainers among the 43,201 Swabians. But it is necessary to take into account the fact that, among those who came first, many died because of the unfavourable climate, the famine, the diseases (including the plague epidemics), or the hard living conditions at the beginning of colonization.
Asking “what was the number of Lorrainers in the wave of first immigration,” Rosambert recognizes that it is almost impossible to determine it with certainty (Rosambert 1962: 5-7) and the numbers are fairly relative for all the periods of this colonization. The areas of Lorraine from which they came are French-speaking (Château Salins, Metz) but also German-speaking, like the area of Bitche (Bled 1988: 164). It is difficult to affirm at the same time that the villages settled by the Lorrainer or Luxemburger colonists were purely French villages, because often these colonists also spoke German (Lotz 1977: 38).
... out of 40,000 Swabians that came to the Banat between 1722 and 1729, 15,000 were Alsatians
and Lorrainers (he calls those from the Mosel
“these false Swabians”).
In the little historical discourse that Delebecque devotes to the ancestors of Banaters who arrived in La Roque sur Pernes in 1950, he affirms that “at the end of the (nineteenth, N. N.) century the population of Alsatians and Lorrainers in the Banat had risen to 500,000 souls, healthy and strong souls in vigorous bodies, able to endure the hot seasons and the extreme colds of a continental climate” (Delebecque 1951:79). These qualities of adaptation, like the French soul, like their attachment “to the nourishing earth” remained intact over the centuries, making them the best of the colonists, “an incomparable workforce, in the service of an iron will” (Delebecque 1951: 82). Their future in France in 1950 is especially related to these qualities: “the hope is justified, because these men, these women, these children of the Banat did not lose these vital forces of their race, which made them incomparable colonists” (Delebecque 1951: 82).
It is under the sign of this identity, of colonists by vocation, that the two stories, that of the emigration in the eighteenth century from the West to the East of Europe of Alsatians and Lorrainers which colonized the Banat, and that of the reversal of direction, by the German refugees, including the Banaters still conscious of their French (or Lorraine or Alsatian) origin after the Second World war, are rejoined. The myth of the “good colonist” creates the framework which makes the two stories significant in a plan which exceeds the concrete context of the course of events, to place them, through a unifying story, in the colonizations of memorable and exemplary events.
... like the French soul,
like their attachment
“to the nourishing earth” remained intact over the centuries, making them
the best of the colonists,
In conclusion, two little stories and a question
Sunday August 7, 1960, was a day of celebration in La Roque sur Pernes in Vaucluse. In the presence of many officials and of Jean Lamesfeld, their president, the Banaters celebrated the tenth anniversary of their settlement in the village. For the occasion, they ordered a 3 meters long and 1.5 meters high triptych painted by Marie Louis Lorin (M. H. 1960) to install in the old village church, which was built in the eleventh century. The painting represents the three stages travelled by the colonists, from their departure from the Banat, to their arrival in France: 1. Their country of origin, Banat, devastated by the flames of war, 2. Convoys of refugees, preparing to cross the Danube or, according to others, the Rhine 3. The arrival in La Roque sur Pernes. This work is intended to show what many articles written about the colonists of La Roque sur Perne called “the Odyssey of the Banaters.” It is perfectly symmetrical with another triptych, which served as its model, and which was painted in Banat, at the beginning of the twentieth century, by Stefan Jäger. Jäger was a fairly well known painter in the Banat, and a museum dedicated to him can be visited today, in his hometown of Hatzfeld (Jimbolia, Romania). His triptych represents the voyage from the West to the East of Europe, i.e. the colonization of the Banat in the eighteenth century. This large painting can be admired today in the hall of the German Democratic Forum of Temeswar/Timisoara. It immortalizes the history of a creation, that of the arrival of the colonists of German extraction (Swabian, in the generic sense, as mentioned and explained above) in the Banat, and a myth of foundation, that of the good colonist, of the civilizing hero. It is in these terms that Swabians like to speak about their arrival in the Banat, and the reference to this collective history does not fail to be called upon even when they tell the story of their life (Vultur 2000).
The same terms are used by the newspapers to describe the accomplishments of the Banaters who arrived in the nineteen-fifties in Vaucluse, at La Roque sur Pernes. Le Méridional of April 1, 1959, for example, mentions that “dying out a few years ago … the small vauclusian village is reborn each day out of its own ashes, thanks to the work of the Banaters”. Another paper announces: “They made flowers grow on stones. The Odyssey of Banaters ends in the Provence” (Senzer 1963).
Le Provençal of Tuesday January 5, 1960, also comments: “Between Pernes and La Roque, the Lorrainers of Central Europe made new happy valleys out of old deserts”. After mentioning in his thesis, that at the end of the year 1950, 60 Banaters (the colonization started with the settlement of 5-6 families N. N.) recruited in Alsace and Lorraine, where they were living as refugees (they had immigrated from the Banat two years earlier), arrived in La Roque, Guillot (1953: 224-226) goes on to say: “They came to revive a village, they came in the end to try a great experiment … a most splendid reconstruction, i.e. a true colonization, unique in its kind and currently unknown in the other countries of Europe.”
It is true that in 1951 Edouard Delebecque, then mayor of La Roque sur Pernes, had published in Avignon a book about his village, entitled “A village is dying out”. An “unexpected appendix” is added to the end of the book, announcing the arrival of the first Banaters in “this dying village” (Delbecque 1951: 77) and to examine “the realistic attempt of a rebirth of the village”. The statistics also indicate that in 1950 La Roque sur Pernes was a village destined to perish. In 1861 La Roque sur Pernes had 383 inhabitants; in 1949 only 88 remained. (Oberläuter 1957: 12). The French Banaters could thus resume the settlement work, to which they were accustomed, and La Roque sur Pernes “could become, after having failed to die, a flourishing model village” (Delebecque 1951: 85). In 1989, the village had 400 inhabitants and 40 children attended the village school (Heuberger 1989).
At the end of April 1999 I took a trip to La Roque sur Pernes as part of my research on the Banaters. I had conversations with six Banaters, men and women, who still live in the village. Three of them were from the Yugoslavian Banat (Homolitz, Brestovacz, Ploschitz), and three were from the Romanian Banat (Keinbetschkerek/Becicherecul Mic, Tolwadia and Tschawosch). All my interlocutors belonged to the generation born between 1923 and 1935 (the mother of one of them, over 80 years old, was unable to talk). Their children had been born in La Roque sur Pernes and spoke mainly French; only sometimes, not always, they also spoke the German dialect of their parents. The grandchildren spoke only French, although some learned German at school as a foreign language. I recorded the stories of their lives, or whatever episodes of their life they wanted to retell. Dramatic episodes of their post-war period exile, as well as their arrival and settlement in La Roque sur Perne were obviously included in their stories.
The interviews were conducted in French, because I do not understand German very well, nor the Swabian dialects still spoken by my interlocutors. The Romanian Banaters understood a little Romanian; one of them inserted Romanian sentences in his story. A woman was still able to recite Romanian patriotic poems learned at school in Romania.
These interviews deserve a separate analysis, which I cannot undertake here. The memories of the events, as they are expressed by the people who are the protagonists of the history evoked in these pages, as well as the narrative staging through which these events are presented to us, must be seen in relation to the other types of documents presented here.
Ten years before my voyage, Andreas Heuberger (1989, article in Der Donauschwabe) noticed that of the 30 (German) families initially settled in La Roque and surroundings, fewer than 10 families remained in the village. He acknowledges that the lack of contact between the German inhabitants of the village and Germany led to an almost perfect assimilation of the German Swabians, who had become ganz normale Franzosen (French like all the others). Actually, the bonds with Germany are still being maintained, either through family connections, or through voyages to Germany at the time of the “home village festivals” (Heimatfeste). Every two years or even each year, the latter reunite people from the same Banat village, living today in France, in Germany, in Romania, in other European countries, in the United States, or in Australia. Monographs of these villages, prepared with the active support of their former inhabitants, and containing a very broad and very well-made documentation of the community history and of the Heimat, are in the possession of all the families which meet at these festivals. The reunions, as well as the monographs, maintain the idea a common belonging and contribute to the periodic rebuilding of a common memory of those who live today in France, in Germany, in Romania. It is an identity thought about in terms of Heimat.
Following the very useful advice of Professor André Burguière, I visited the town hall of La Roque, and thanks to the very friendly support of the mayor and the secretary, both of whom belonging to families Banater families, I was able to examine a rather rich archive. Most of the documents used can be found in this archive, including the doctorate thesis written by Guillot, three years after the arrival of the French Banaters in La Roque. Of special interest for the problem which concerns us here is the collection of extracts of articles written by those who came to visit the village, at various times, to see what happened to the Banaters settled here.
It is interesting to analyze the formulas of identification of the Banaters, through which several different views are presented:
they are presented to us, especially at the beginning, as the perfect incarnation of a continuity with their French, Lorrainer or Alsatian ancestors;
they are called Banaters, which erases the differences of origin in the Romanian, Yugoslavian, or Hungarian Banat;
they are called Donauschwaben or Germans when considering an assimilation, especially a linguistic one;
the newspapers of Provence and Vaucluse insist on the fact that they became ‘Southern French’, and praise their capacity to integrate.
It is easy to see that their identity is perceived in each case as substantialist or dynamic. The identity border (Barth: 1995) perceived in terms of origin, language, religion, local belonging, regional or national, is subject to ongoing negotiation. It also changes as a function of the viewpoint, which may be inside or outside the group.
What identity did my interlocutors of La Roque sur Pernes claim at the time of my visit, and in the context created by my visit? First of all, all of them are of French nationality, and some even explained that, by agreeing to live in France, it was normal to become French. In these discussions, the nation is seen either as contract-based, or as organically grown. They learned the French language, which they hardly knew when they arrived in France, and they encouraged their children to integrate. Some appreciated marriages outside of the Banater group, for the same reasons. On the other hand, they read German newspapers, coming from Germany, produced by the Donauschwaben community, primarily to keep themselves informed about what is happening in the Banat, but also about the events relating to the community of the former refugees, now living all over the world. Those hailing from the Romanian Banat say that they feel even a little Romanian, at least in their hearts. After my voyage over there, one of Banaters undertook this year a pilgrimage to the Romanian Banat, to Temeswar/Timisoara, Triebswetter/Tomnatic, Tolwadia, and Banlok, to do research on his ancestors. After preparing himself thoroughly for this trip, his impassioned research produced an impressive family genealogy.
By declaring themselves French, did the former Banaters finally become French Banaters, or had they always been French Banaters?
...in the Banat, and
a myth of foundation,
that of the good colonist,
of the civilizing hero.
“They made flowers grow on stones. The Odyssey
of Banaters ends
in the Provence”
“They came to revive a village, they came in the end to try a great experiment … a most splendid reconstruction,...
...lack of contact between the German inhabitants of the village and Germany led to an almost perfect assimilation of the
German Swabians, ...
By declaring themselves French, did the former Banaters finally become French Banaters, or had they always been
This article in the original French:
De l’Ouest à l’Est et de l’Est à l’Ouest: les avatars identitaires des
Français du Banat
by Smaranda Vultur
Editions de la
in Théorie de
« Les Lorrains
dans le Banat »,
et la Lorraine,
(1988), Actes du
Nancy II et
Banat, n° 2.
(Albert), « Deux
Barbe) au Banat
Cahiers n° 35 du
Cercle Jean Mace,
The Nation as
a Local Metaphor,
année, 4 e.
série, tome XI,
Soltur in Banat
Walther ), LEBER
droit d’asile en
La Roque sur
Sint ut sunt,
aut non sunt?
sociale la sasii
(André), « Survivances
le Banat de
danach – Die
( Les Allemands
du Banat par
Und über uns der
referring to the
Banaters of La
Roque sur Pernes
M. H. (1960),
Jg.10, n° 36, 4.
(Roger), « Les
(1967), n° 87,
"Besuch in La
leben die vor
26-28 Jahren in
die Steine zum
Banater endet in
September, n° 7,
Roque sur Pernes
- das Banater
Dorf in der
Jg. 39, n° 28,
"From the West to the East and from the East to the West: identity avatars of the French Banaters" Republication granted by Prof. Vultur