Petroleum field at Moreni (Wikipedia)
Petroleum field at Moreni (Wikipedia)

California dream?

In Pesti Napló‘s issue of January 23, 1917, a brief statement reported that in early February a three-member delegation would travel to Bucharest to represent the “centre of interest in Romania” to discuss the representation of Hungarian “economic interests” with the competent authorities. The Romanian capital was occupied by the central powers in December 9, 1916, the occupying authorities started their operation at the end of the year, thereby the travel seemed to happen at the right time. In fact, however, the occupation of Romania clearly demonstrated the different weight of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The occupying authorities were led by General Mackensen, the occupied area of 65,000 square kilometres was divided into 14 districts besides Bucharest. (The Romanian government, allied with the Entente, continued to operate in Moldavia, Iaşi.) Of these, only three Welshland districts got controlled by Austria-Hungary, although no Bulgarian or Turkish command was established anywhere. Civil administration was managed by the Romanian administration, and the ministries as well as courts continued to operate as well, though under the supervision of occupying forces. The German found a number of Romanian politicians and citizens willing to cooperate, and since neither occupying power had sufficient people to take over administration, this proved beneficial for everyone. The actual conflicts occurred around economic issues, primarily between the two allies.

For Hungarian political and economic thinking, Romania and the East offered the possibility of the great leap, the imperial evolution. Simon Krausz banker even said that there were no economic opportunities in the West, but in the East, Transylvania could be the springboard of Hungarian capital. Accordingly, “those with interest in Romania” did not lack significant plans, they primarily wanted to create the opportunity to trade eastward: to establish a rail connection with a Black Sea port (Galaţi) and ship the goods to the destination. Of course, they also claimed part of Romania’s resources: grain, oil, wood.

However, they were not really successful at implementing their great plans, which was also the responsibility of the Austrian-Hungarian diplomacy and military leadership. The structure of military administration also indicated that Germany would have the decisive influence. In addition, the Monarchy did not have representation in the Wirtschaftsstab (economic body), the most important body of the entire occupation, which was independent also from the military governor. After all these, it is not surprising either that the majority of exploitable resources ended up in German hands. For example, by the end of 1917, 272 thousand tonnes of oil was transferred from Romania, of which the German Eastern armies received 241 thousand tonnes and only 26 thousand went to Austria-Hungary, since a German company acquired extraction for a 30-year period. The distribution of grain was somewhat more balanced, but the crop did reach the increasingly needy civilian population. The monopoly of timber trade was received by a German-Austrian-Hungarian company, and the Monarchy received the shipyard at Turnu Severin.

However, the Monarchy was not always ready to solve more immediate problems with its ally either. After the Romanian declaration of war, Romanian authorities confiscated the property of 15,000 Hungarian subjects (guest workers, entrepreneurs). In principle, occupying authorities promised compensation– naturally from the Romanian state property. However, the compensation proceedings could not start for months. The German did not deal with the requests of Hungarian subjects, and the Monarchy did not have representation in the competent body or delegates in the occupying administration. The Hungarian government did not find any judges who could speak German and Romanian too and who would have undertaken the mission to conduct the proceedings.

The relationship was unequal on a larger scale as well. There was hardly any available capital behind the large-scale Hungarian plans, therefore even Transylvanian investments (e.g. gas extraction) offered opportunities for the German. Frustration could only be solved slightly by the fact that the recognition of Austrian-Hungarian occupiers – primarily refused in the beginning in the eyes of Romanians – gradually increased, while that of the German – who were highly respected in the beginning – fell sharply as a result of the activities of increasingly harsh occupying bodies.




Rigó Máté: Imperial Elites After the Fall of Empires: Business Elites and States in Europe’s East and West, 1867–1928. PhD disszertáció, Cornell University, 2016.

Corni, Gustavo: Occupation during the War. In: 1914–1918 online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.

Ristović, Milan: Occupation during and after the War (South East Europe). In: 1914–1918 online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.


Written by: Gábor Egry