It is said that few movies can topple a real-life story and that often seems to be the case. Childhood in communism seems, for some of us, to be a very strange reality that we have never lived and will never experience. This is why I decided to interview Ioan (69) who revealed to be how his childhood went about in Communist Romania.
‘I was born in 1952 in Timiṣoara, that is in Western Romania.
I lived there for the first twelve years of my life. When I was a child, Timiṣoara still retained some of its ‘Mittel Europa’ appeal. It was still nicknamed ‘Little Vienna’ and rightfully so, it was a mesmerizing city. Unfortunately, now, most of its old charms have been lost to the former regime.
I lived my childhood during the darkest years of the Communist Repression.
People would get detained in the middle of the night and the next day everyone would pretend they never existed. I remember that even one of my father’s friends got arrested on made-up charges. Nevertheless, we, the children, never felt any of that. We lived an overall happy childhood back in those times.
My parents used to throw lavish parties, I was always on a visit and when I was not, we were the ones receiving guests, as my parents had an abundance of friends. Oftentimes, as the party lasted until late into the night, my parents allowed me to sleepover with the host’s children. They usually came to pick me up on the second or the third day. It was a lot of fun, it felt like a short trip for me.
Even now I am left astounded every time I remember the parties my parents liked to throw, they were nothing like the ones we throw today. Food and drinks were not as important as the refinement of the music, the dancing, the subtle jokes (with an erotic twist, most of the time), and the impish pranks our parents used to pull on one another.
Additionally, as my father was a chief engineer at a big enterprise back then, my mother liked to think we were on the right side of the tracks’ so they often went to the opera. Once, they even hired a professional opera singer to perform at one of their parties.
I had a happy childhood in communism, despite the regime.
I played a lot and read all day long. When I was eleven I read Stendhal’s ‘The Red and the Black’ and found it absolutely stunning.( When I read it later in life, as an adult, I wondered baffled what could an eleven-year-old find so intriguing in such a book?). I was lucky that I had already read all the compulsory reads for school by the time they were assigned to us. I could never read out of obligation. I have always solely readout of passion.
Besides reading, I played a lot. Me and my friends played football in the street (there were no cars back then). We also rolled about in the gardens and the yards where the children lived, played hide-and-seek in the basements and attics, and ran across tall bridges. I had Hungarian, German, Serbian, and Jewish playmates. My best friend was a Jew named Lică Schwartz. His father had been a victim of the Holocaust. He still had a number tattooed on his right arm. I felt very sad and lonely when Lică’s family emigrated to Ecuador.
I often came across sights that I could never see anywhere today.
As I lived my childhood in communism, I could see banners portraying the country’s political leaders and Russian leaders such as Stalin or Lenin were displayed all over the place. There were no commercials for yogurt brands or bank loans, but you could not turn your head without laying your eyes upon the red flag of the USSR, the emblem of the Romanian People’s Republic, or banners showcasing propagandistic messages or sayings such as ‘Stalin and the Russian people have bestowed upon us nothing but joy’.
On Sundays, the streets emptied out as everyone headed into their homes to listen to the football match on the radio. As I strolled past the windows, I heard commentaries in Romanian, German, Hungarian, or Serbian. However, when a goal was scored, everyone, regardless of ethnicity, let out a loud ‘ioooi!’.
I went to school in a classic 19th-century Transylvanian building, with an indoor yard and a tall front gate, its height equal to that of the entire edifice.
In school, I fell head over heels in love with a girl named Lavinia Gardeff. She had striking blue eyes and scrumptious fawn hair. She lived with her German mother, as her Russian father was always away, I do not know where. I heeded all her words and my mother took advantage of that. She asked her to urge me to eat and do my homework, as I ate scarcely and procrastinated a lot.
I was a pioneer when I was a little boy. If you have lived your childhood in communism, you have most probably been a pioneer too. All children had to be signed in for pioneering. We always wore a red tie and a spotless white shirt. I first wore the red tie proudly and saluted the older pioneers like a true serviceman would have.
When I was a child, our school textbooks and additional reads were of Soviet origin. They were beautifully illustrated and well written for the most part. When Romanian authors started writing them, they became insipid and bleak. Furthermore, you could find translations of foreign books more often than we do today. Nowadays, I don’t know why, but people seem to translate English and American books only. It is a shame, really! So many beautiful books go out of print because of this habit we have.
The 60s marked not only the beginning of Romania’s parting from Russian culture but also the beginning of Romania’s educational decline.
High-ranking officials in the educational department started to be named based on political connections and so, a great number of incompetent individuals took on prestigious roles in schools. Sixty years later and we still haven’t been able to rid ourselves of this issue.
But then again, I was a child. I did not understand all this. For me, the 60s marked the first time I saw a TV. My godfathers owned one and I thought it to be the most fantastic thing ever invented. Naturally, we couldn’t watch anything we wanted, only channels approved by the regime. Nevertheless, as living your childhood in communism did not involve a lot of technology, it was astounding for me to see those bright images flash across that tiny screen.
One night I saw my parents listening to the radio in silence at night. The broadcast was barely audible. I later found out that they were illicitly listening to foreign programs such as ‘The Voice of America’. They also listened to Opera concerts held in Stuttgart or Vienna, which was not allowed as well. They usually sent me to bed first but, as I grew older, they started to let me in on their secret. Through foreign radio programs, I discovered a world so strange and beautiful, but so far away from my own that I could never even dream of setting foot in it.
When I was twelve we moved to Bacău in Eastern Romania.
Back then, Bacău was a small town with an outstandingly active and bound-together Jewish community. Today, unfortunately, most of their achievements have been forgotten. A very talented Jewish actress, Lori Cambos, used to act in plays held at the local theatre. Today, there is not even a single photo of her displayed in the theatre’s halls. At least her daughter, Rosina, followed in her mother’s footsteps and is now a renowned actress in Israel.
I enjoyed my stay in Bacău and met some of my greatest friends here, some of which I still keep in touch with today. I attended school at School Number One, now named ‘Ferdinand I’ National College. Of course, during those times you could never name a school after a king so the new name was assigned to it after the revolution. Here I left behind my childhood days and stepped into adolescence.
To sum up, my childhood was a splendid one despite the terror of the regime. I had everything I wanted and I was happy thanks to my overactive imagination and exceptional sensibility. I don’t regret living through those times as they have turned me into the person I am today. I look back at my childhood my joy and reminisce it often. I don’t think I would change anything, even if I could.’
Interested in Romania? Don’t forget to check out this article about Romanian tourist attractions.