For 14 years, one Transylvanian priest preached to an empty church after the village’s ethnic German population emigrated from communist Romania in search of a better life.
Eginald Schlattner, 87, was the one of the only people left in the village of Rosia in central Romania after the entire Saxon community moved to Germany one year over the course of several months starting at Easter and ending at Christmas.
Undeterred by the empty pews, the Lutheran pastor still celebrated the Sunday service whenever he had the opportunity. He said he did it for himself and also „to comfort the good God”.
Rev. Schlattner, known as the „priest of the Saxons”, on Thursday received the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest tribute which is given to individuals “for services to the nation “., Deutsche Welle reported.
He was decorated for his loyalty to truth and justice. But it was not Eginald Schlattner’s preaching, rather his writing that gained him a wider audience.
After the collapse of communism, he wrote a trilogy of novels: „The Beheaded Rooster” ,“The Red Gloves ”and “The Piano in the Mist”.
The priest who speaks German, Hungarian and Romanian was spurred by a desire to express feelings that he had pent up during communism when all artistic work was censored.
His books which are written in German have or will be translated into several languages including Portuguese, French, Japanese, Russian and Romanian.
Germany’s ambassador Cord Meier- Klodt who presented him with the tribute said nobody expresses “Romania’s cultural diversity … more beautifully, more memorably or in a more European way than Schlattner does”.
As his reputation grew after communism ended, foreigners began to visit the village. People started to return to church in about 2000.
“The first people came from afar, Americans or Germans. There were a few curious village people including Roma children”, he said on Thursday.
After the foreigners went on their way, the German-speaking pastor began to preach to them in Romanian, Deutsche Welle reported.
During communism, more than 200,000 Saxons emigrated to Germany. Others were forcibly relocated from the villages to towns under Nicolae Ceausescu’s plans to urbanize the population.
The Transylvanian Saxons (Siebenbürger Sachsen in German) first arrived in the 12thcentury from areas that today are part of Luxembourg. Hungarian King Geza II invited them to develop the local economy and to protect the outlying regions of the Hungarian Kingdom from invaders.
Rev. Schlattner called the distinction „a reassessment of cultural merits, but also an assessment of a controversial biography.”
When he was 10, he swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler in Berlin and he later joined the Communist Party. He was arrested on political grounds in 1957 and after he was tortured, he became a collaborator for the feared Securitate secret police.
His books focus on taboo topics, such as the responsibilities or guilt for the communist past, “including his own guilt,” the ambassador said.
“He traveled the world but always returned to Roșia, to his parish, even if there weren’t any parishioners “, he said.
In his books, „the place of suffering is not abandoned, but it is transformed so that suffering leaves the place”.
Eginald Schlattner describes himself as „a name and a person with a controversial biography”, with „sporadic merits” and a “life of contradictions”.
He ended his public comments on Thursday on a religious note, saying that he often doesn’t know what God wants from him.
But he knows what he doesn’t want: „He didn’t want me to leave” the village of Roșia.
“The few remaining Saxons (in Romania) don’t live on a desert island. We live among the people. Although they speak a different language (from us) and have a different denomination, they are good, reliable neighbors. They are fond of us”.