Humans for sale in Trading Germans
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Răzvan Georgescu's documentary has had its first public screening at the Astra Film Festival
There is no other way to put it: over two decades during the communist regime, Romania sold German ethnics to Germany. Thousands of people were purchased by Germany for millions of Deutsche Marks in a secret operation whose details remained a secret until not long ago. Răzvan Georgescu's documentary Trading Germans, first screened in Romania at the 21st edition of the Astra Film Festival, presents the complete picture of this unbelievable “transaction” that uprooted almost 250,000 people from their place of birth, transformed them into merchandise and sometimes forced them to forge new lives in Germany.
Starting with a quote from the 1975 Declaration of Helsinki on the reunification of families, which states that participating states should “deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with members of their family”, Trading Germans does not wait long before stressing how the Romanian interest in the situation was less humanitarian than economic. As it did with a similar deal involving members of Romania's Jewish community and Israel, the communist regime used earnings from this unexpected trade to pay off its considerable foreign debt.
Georgescu found and interviewed the people responsible for the operation, while Trading Germans also explores the Cold War spy-thriller characteristics of the activity. The protagonist of this real-life thriller is Heinz Günther Hüsch, an undercover negotiator for the German government between 1969 and 1989. He came to Bucharest practically as a tourist, without any protection or diplomatic status, to negotiate the “purchase of freedom” for German ethnics with the Romanian secret police, the much-feared Securitate. His mission continued under four different German chancellors. It was a secret operation, and according to the interviewees' comments, it was illicit in both countries, meaning that Hüsch and his Romanian counterpart, Stelian Octavian Andronic, were swimming in dangerous waters. The official picture of this bizarre relationship between Germany and Romania is painted by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany's Minister of the Interior from 1969-1974; Genscher's chief of staff, Klaus Kinkel; and Helmut Kohl's chief of staff, Horst Teltschik, among others.
Although generous with the details, numbers and statistics, Trading Germans does not neglect the human side of the story. Georgescu interviews uprooted people, asking what “homeland” means to them. The answers ignore ethnicity, money and politics, and it soon becomes obvious how deeply shaken these individuals were when they decided to leave everything behind and start a new life in Germany, scared of a dangerous future in communist Romania. An interviewee who starts crying, stands up and leaves the frame when asked what homeland means to her tells us more about the issue than statistics ever could. Aerial shots of giant oak trees planted by German settlers who came to the country in the 12th century – trees that are still standing to this very day – lend a new dimension to loss and continuity, while a rich collection of archive images retraces the history of the German community in Romania.
Produced by Hi Film, Februar Film and Georgescu, and co-produced by HBO Romania, Trading Germans is one of the highlights of the Astra Film Festival (6-12 October), unspooling in the city of Sibiu, where the documentary has certainly been anticipated with much interest by the local German community. After a national premiere at Astra, Trading Germans will be domestically released on 21 November.