BANAT, region in the southwestern part of Romania which for many years was regarded as belonging administratively to Transylvania, though it also benefited from an independent administration in the framework of the medieval Transylvanian principality. It was inhabited for many centuries by Romanians, Hungarians, Germans (Swabians), Serbs, and Jews. The languages spoken there were German and Hungarian as the official languages and other vernacular languages.
The region is still considered to be a classical multicultural one.
The Jewish population of the region belonged to two principal Jewish groups, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, who coexisted under satisfactory conditions. However, the *Hapsburg authorities saw in the Jews of the region a certain danger because of the privileged relations they had with the Turks in the Ottoman Empire, who were contending for the region.
After 1867 there was a degree of competition between the Austrians and the Hungarians in the two-headed empire over who would better succeed in assimilating their Jews, a situation which had consequences for the Jews of Banat as the competing parties tried to Germanize and Hungarize them, respectively. After 1919, with the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Banat became part of Greater Romania, which posed a language problem as most Jews did not speak the language. After the unification of Banat (as part of historical Transylvania) with Romania the region lost many of its multicultural specificities and a certain diversification set in. With the majority of Germans and Jews leaving the region under the Communist regime of Ceausescu, it underwent the most significant changes in its multinational history.
[Paul Schveiger (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.