THEY settled in Transylvania 800 years ago and prospered for centuries. But since World War II, life for ethnic Germans in Romania has been rough. Though not expelled en masse - as were their ethnic cousins elsewhere in Europe - the Romanian Saxons suffered for their blood ties to Nazi Germany. After the war, tens of thousands were sent to labor camps within Romania and in the Soviet Union. Those not condemned to hard labor still saw centuries of cultural tradition and prosperity evaporate under the harsh policies of Romanian communism. The collapse of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime in 1989 spurred an exodus as many Romanian Saxons sought a better life in Germany. About 100,000 ethnic Germans are in Romania today, down from a prewar population that approached 1 million. But Romanian Saxons may be seeing better days. Germany has poured millions into Transylvania - and other regions with many ethnic Germans - hoping to prevent further mass migration to the homeland, which has put an enormous strain on Germany's budget. Roughly $90 million of German aid has been funneled to Transylvania, according to Dieter Simon, head of the ethnic German community association in Brasov, the traditional center of Saxon culture in Romania. Reassuring words have accompanied the cash. German President Roman Herzog toured Transylvania in May, urging the Saxons to stay put. ''There is a future in this country for Romania's young Germans as conditions have improved,'' Mr. Herzog said. Romanian leaders are aware of the economic opportunity. President Ion Iliescu has expressed official regret for postwar abuses, and describes the Saxon community as a ''bridge'' for stronger ties between Bonn and Bucharest. Talk of a ''bridge,'' a term also used by Bonn, isn't taken so seriously by ethnic Germans here. ''It is an empty phrase,'' Mr. Simon said. ''I'm not sure the German government really cares about us.'' But he adds that Romania gives more cultural leeway to Germans than it does to the Hungarian or Gypsy minorities. He says ethnic Germans in Romania will stay: ''We are attached to this place. It's the land of our ancestors.''