Northern Transylvania

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Northern Transylvania
Észak-Erdély (hu)
Transilvania de Nord (ro)
Territory of the Kingdom of Hungary (1940–1945)
Territory under the Allied Control Commission administration (1944–1945)
Territorial gains of Hungary 1938-41 en.svg
• 1940[1]
43,104 km2 (16,643 sq mi)
• 1940[2]
 • TypeMilitary, later civil administration (1940–1944)
Military (1944–1945)
Historical eraWorld War II
30 August 1940
5–13 September
• Military administration
11 September 1940[3]
• Incorporation
8 October 1940[4]
• Civil administration
26 November 1940[3]
• Battle for Transylvania
26 August – 25 October 1944
12 September 1944
• Romanian administration restored
9 March 1945[5]
10 February 1947
Political subdivisionsCounties[6]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Romania
Kingdom of Romania
Today part of Romania

Northern Transylvania (Romanian: Transilvania de Nord, Hungarian: Észak-Erdély) was the region of the Kingdom of Romania that during World War II, as a consequence of the August 1940 territorial agreement known as the Second Vienna Award, became part of the Kingdom of Hungary. With an area of 43,104 km2 (16,643 sq mi),[1] the population was largely composed of both ethnic Romanians and Hungarians.

In October 1944, Soviet and Romanian forces gained control of the territory, and by March 1945 Northern Transylvania returned to Romanian administration. After the war, this was confirmed by the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947.


The region has a varied history. It was once the nucleus of the Kingdom of Dacia (82 BC–106 AD). In 106 AD the Roman Empire conquered the territory, systematically exploiting its resources. After the Roman legions withdrew in 271 AD, it was overrun by a succession of various tribes, bringing it under the control of the Carpi, Visigoths, Huns, Gepids, Avars, and Slavs. During the 9th century, Bulgarians ruled Transylvania.

The Magyars conquered much of Central Europe at the end of the 9th century and for almost six hundred years, Transylvania was a voivodeship in the Kingdom of Hungary. After the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and the Hungarian defeat by the Ottomans, Transylvania became a semi-independent principality (the Principality of Transylvania) under local Hungarian nobility rule, but owing suzerainty to the Ottoman Empire. It then became a province (Principality/Grand Principality of Transylvania) of the Habsburg Monarchy/Austrian Empire as a Land of the Hungarian Crown, and after 1848, and again from 1867 to 1918 it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The dual monarchy dissolved after World War I.

The ethnic Romanians, who formed the majority population of Transylvania, elected representatives who proclaimed the Union with Romania on 1 December 1918. The Proclamation of Union at Alba Iulia was adopted by the Deputies of the Romanians from Transylvania, supported one month later by the vote of the Deputies of the Transylvanian Saxons. By Spring 1919, during the Hungarian–Romanian War, Transylvania came under administrative control of Romania. Eventually in June 1920 the Treaty of Trianon assigned Transylvania to the Kingdom of Romania.

Second Vienna Award[edit]

Romania in 1940 with Northern Transylvania highlighted in yellow
Romania's territorial losses in the summer of 1940

In June 1940, Romania was forced (as a consequence of Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) to submit to a Soviet ultimatum and accept the annexation by the Soviet Union of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Subsequently, Hungary attempted to regain Transylvania, which it had lost in the immediate aftermath of World War I. Germany and Italy pressured both Hungary and Romania to resolve the situation in a bilateral agreement. The two delegations met in Turnu Severin on August 16, but the negotiations failed due to a demand for a 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 sq mi) territory from the Hungarian side and only an offer of population exchange from the Romanian side. To impede a Hungarian-Romanian war in their "hinterland", the Axis powers pressured both governments to accept their arbitration: the Second Vienna Award, signed on August 30.

Historian Keith Hitchins summarizes the situation created by the award:[7]

Far from settling matters, the Vienna Award had exacerbated relations between Romania and Hungary. It did not solve the nationality problem by separating all Magyars from all Romanians. Some 1,150,000 to 1,300,000 Romanians, or 48 percent to over 50 percent of the population of the ceded territory, depending upon whose statistics are used, remained north of the new frontier, while about 500,000 Magyars (other Hungarian estimates go as high as 800,000, Romanian as low as 363,000) continued to reside in the south.
Ethnic map

The Hungarian population was in the unusual situation of being an overwhelming majority in an area of southeastern Transylvania, deep within Romania and far from the Hungarian border (the area, known as Székely Land, is today mainly in Harghita, Covasna, and Mureș counties), and not simply only in certain areas next to the Hungarian border as in the case of Czechoslovakia and Bačka or Baranya. The solution decided upon was to gouge a claw-shaped corridor through northwestern Romania, including a large Romanian-populated area, in order to incorporate this Hungarian-majority area within Hungary.

Population of Northern Transylvania, as per 1930 Romanian census:[8]

County Population Romanians Hungarians Germans Jews Others
Bihor (only the ceded part) 305,548 136,351 130,127 2,101 20,420 16,549
Ciuc 145,806 20,976 120,627 439 2,383 1,381
Cluj (only the ceded part) 256,651 141,607 85,284 2,669 16,057 11,034
Maramureș 161,575 93,207 11,174 3,239 33,828 20,127
Mureș (only the ceded part) 269,738 115,773 121,282 11,271 9,848 11,564
Năsăud 145,574 103,897 7,488 21,211 6,450 6,528
Odorhei (only the ceded part) 121,984 5,430 112,375 454 1,250 2,475
Sălaj 343,347 192,821 107,662 16,010 13,380 13,474
Satu Mare 294,875 178,523 74,191 9,530 23,967 8,664
Someș 219,355 169,942 33,870 351 10,546 4,646
Trei Scaune (only the ceded part) 127,769 17,505 105,834 760 707 2,963
Târnava Mică and Târnava Mare (only the ceded parts) 2,931 401 1,642 659 49 180
Total Northern Transylvania 2,395,153 1,176,433 911,556 68,694 138,885 99,585
Percent 100 % 49.11 % 38.05 % 2.86 % 5.79 % 4.15 %

Before the arbitration, in 1940, according to the Romanian estimates, in Northern Transylvania there were 1,304,903 Romanians (50.2%) and 978,074 (37.1%) Hungarians.[8] One year later, after the arbitration, according to the Hungarian census, the population of Northern Transylvania had dissimilar ratios, it counted 53.5% Hungarians and 39.1% Romanians.[9]


Hungarian troops marching in Zalău (Zilah) on 8 September 1940

Hungarian rule[edit]

Hungary held Northern Transylvania from September 1940 to October 1944. In 1940 ethnic disturbances between Hungarians and Romanians continued after some incidents following the entrance of the Hungarian Army, culminating in massacres at Treznea and Ip.

Crowds throw flowers to welcome the Hungarian troops into Kézdivásárhely (Târgu Secuiesc), September 13, 1940
Ethnic Germans giving the Nazi salute while welcoming the Hungarian troops

After some ethnic Hungarian groups considered unreliable or insecure were sacked/expelled from Southern Transylvania, the Hungarian officials also regularly expelled some Romanian groups from Northern Transylvania. Also, many Hungarians and Romanians fled or chose to opt between the two countries. There was a mass exodus; over 100,000 people on both sides of the ethnic and political borders relocated. This continued until 1944.[10]

On March 19, 1944, following the occupation of Hungary by the Nazi Germany army through Operation Margarethe, Northern Transylvania came under German military occupation. Like the Jews living in Hungary, most of the Jews in Northern Transylvania (about 150,000) were sent to concentration camps during World War II, a move that was facilitated by local military and civilians. Following several decrees of the Hungarian government and high-level consultations at a meeting on April 26 with László Endre in Szatmárnémeti (now Satu Mare), the deportation of the Jews was decided.[11] On May 3, authorities in Dés (now Dej) launched the action of ghettoization of Jews in the Bungăr forest, where 3,700 Jews from Dej and 4,100 Jews from other localities in the area were imprisoned. During the operation of the Dej ghetto, Jews were mistreated, tortured, and starved. The deportation of the Jews to the Nazi death camps was done with freight wagons, in three stages: the first transport on May 28 when 3,150 Jews were deported; the second on June 6, when 3,360 Jews were deported; the third on June 8, when the last 1,364 Jews were deported. Most of those deported were exterminated in the Auschwitz–Birkenau camp, with just over 800 deportees surviving.[12] The Kolozsvár Ghetto (in what is now Cluj-Napoca) was initiated on May 3, and was put under the command of László Urbán, the local police chief. The ghetto, comprising about 18,000 Jews,[13] was liquidated in six transports to Auschwitz, with the first deportation occurring on May 25, and the last one on June 9. Other ghettoes that were set up in Northern Transylvania during this period were the Oradea ghetto (the largest one, with 35,000 Jews), the Baia Mare ghetto, the Bistrița ghetto, the Cehei ghetto, the Reghin ghetto, the Satu Mare ghetto, and the Sfântu Gheorghe ghetto.[14]

After King Michael's Coup of August 23, 1944, Romania left the Axis and joined the Allies. Thus, the Romanian Army fought Nazi Germany and its allies in Romania – regaining Northern Transylvania – and further on, in German occupied Hungary and in Slovakia and Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, for instance, in the Budapest Offensive, the Siege of Budapest, and the Prague Offensive.

The Second Vienna Award was voided by the Allied Commission through The Armistice Agreement with Romania (September 12, 1944) whose Article 19 stipulated the following: "The Allied Governments regard the decision of the Vienna award regarding Transylvania as null and void and are agreed that Transylvania (or the greater part thereof) should be returned to Romania, subject to confirmation at the peace settlement, and the Soviet Government agrees that Soviet forces shall take part for this purpose in joint military operations with Romania against Germany and Hungary."[15]

Demonstration in Bucharest's Palace Square celebrating Northern Transylvania's return, March 1945

The territory was occupied by the Allied forces by late October 1944.[16] On October 25, at the Battle of Carei, units of the Romanian 4th Army under the command of General Gheorghe Avramescu took control of the last piece of the territory ceded in 1940 to Hungary. However, due to the activities of Romanian paramilitary forces, the Soviets expelled the Romanian administration from Northern Transylvania in November 1944 and did not allow them to return until March 1945.[16]

On 20 January 1945, Hungary accepted the obligation to evacuate all Hungarian troops and officials from the territory, to retreat to its pre-war borders, and to repeal all legislative and administrative regulations in connection with the incorporation of the territory.[17]

The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty reaffirmed the borders between Romania and Hungary, as originally defined in the Treaty of Trianon, 27 years earlier, thus confirming the return of Northern Transylvania to Romania.


Countryside landscape, Sălaj County

Northern Transylvania is a diverse region, both in terms of landscape and population. It contains both largely rural areas (such as Bistrița-Năsăud County[18]) as well as major cities, such as Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Târgu Mureș, Baia Mare, and Satu Mare. Centers of Hungarian culture, such as Miercurea Ciuc and Sfântu Gheorghe, are also part of the region. An important tourist destination is Maramureș County, an area known for its beautiful rural scenery, local small woodwork, including wooden churches, its craftwork industry, and its original rural architecture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thirring, Lajos (1940). "A visszacsatolt keleti terület. Terület és népesség" [The re-annexed eastern territory. Territory and population.]. Magyar Statisztikai Szemle (in Hungarian). Budapest: Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. 18 (8–9): 663.
  2. ^ Fogarasi, Zoltán (1944). "A népesség anyanyelvi, nemzetiségi és vallási megoszlása törvényhatóságonkint 1941-ben" [Distribution of the population by mother tongue, ethnicity and religion in the municipalities of Hungary in 1941.]. Magyar Statisztikai Szemle (in Hungarian). Budapest: Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. 22 (1–3): 4.
  3. ^ a b Csilléry, Edit (2012). "Észak–Erdély polgári közigazgatása (1940–1944)" [The civil administration of Northern Transylvania (1940–1944)]. Limes: Tudományos Szemle (in Hungarian). Tatabánya: Komárom-Esztergom Megyei Önkormányzat Levéltára. 25 (2): 87.
  4. ^ "1940. évi XXVI. törvénycikk a román uralom alól felszabadult keleti és erdélyi országrésznek a Magyar Szent Koronához visszacsatolásáról és az országgal egyesítéséről" [Law XXVI of 1940 on the reunification of the eastern and Transylvanian parts liberated from Romanian rule with the country under the Hungarian Holy Crown]. Ezer év törvényei (in Hungarian). Archived from the original on 2017-08-22. Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  5. ^ "Restoration of the Romanian administration in Northeastern Transylvania". Agerpres. 9 March 2020.
  6. ^ "A visszacsatolt keleti terület. Közigazgatás" [The re-annexed eastern territory. Administration.]. Magyar Statisztikai Szemle (in Hungarian). Budapest: Magyar Királyi Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. 18 (8–9): 660. 1940.
  7. ^ Hitchins, Keith (1994), Romania: 1866–1947, Oxford History of Modern Europe, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 978-0-19-158615-6, OCLC 44961723
  8. ^ a b Charles Upson Clark (1941). Racial Aspects of Romania's Case. New York: Caxton Press. OCLC 16006920.
  9. ^ Károly Kocsis, Eszter Kocsisné Hodosi, Ethnic Geography of the Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin, Simon Publications LLC, 1998, p. 116
  10. ^ A történelem tanúi - Erdély - bevonulás 1940 p 56. - The witnesses of history - Transylvania - Entry 1940 p. 56. - ISBN 978-963-251-473-4
  11. ^ "Ghetouri" [Ghettoes] (in Romanian). Northern Transylvania Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Istoric – Preistoria și antichitatea la confluența Someșurilor". (in Romanian). Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  13. ^ "135 de mii de evrei uciși in Transilvania de Nord" [135 Thousand Jews Killed in Northern Transylvania]. Ziua (in Romanian). 22 October 2005. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  14. ^ "The Holocaust in Northern Transylvania" (PDF). Yad Vashem. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  15. ^ "The Armistice Agreement with Rumania; September 12, 1944" (PDF). Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  16. ^ a b Rogers Brubaker, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 80
  17. ^ "Armistice Agreement with Hungary; January 20, 1945". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School.
  18. ^ "Recensamant - Bistrita-Nasaud - date demografice, populatia stabila pe varste, religie, educatie".

External links[edit]