The Mezins lived in Giulvăz and were among the richest people in the village. Two branches of their family, the Cipors and the Pătriconis, toiled on the Bărăgan Plain, harvesting cotton. What happened to everybody happened to them too: the army and the secret police turned up at their house. The Mezins took some clothes and food from the pantry, two wardrobes they would need to build themselves a shelter in the field near Ciulnița, a cow, a horse, some sacks of wheat and maize and a few chickens. They had to wait at the train station for a few days. The head of the household, Mita Mezin, went back home for a while; the soldier who was watching them granted him this favour. The next morning, Mita went into his courtyard. He stared at the deserted outbuildings, heard the starving cattle bellowing, the dog on its chain, barking, the chickens cackling in their pens. Hungry pigeons flew from under the eaves and the dovecote on the tall pole behind the grain barn and gathered around him. There are no words to describe his desperation. He ran his fingers through his hair and leant his head against the wall of the house. In just a few days, his hair had turned grey.
Sofia Mezin, Mita’s wife, was found by the militiamen and the soldiers after a long search. She was hiding in a double wall where the family kept their grain. The place could be reached from the attic. She was sitting between the walls, on a pile of wheat. When they shone the torch on her, they noticed something beside her. It was a photograph of King Michael of Romania at the age of fourteen, when he had been Grand Voivode of Alba Iulia. Sofia’s father had been the village mayor and he had once taken the young crown prince to Banloc Castle in a cart drawn by four white horses.
The soldiers also took Mita’s mother, Mărie Mezin, then eighty-one years old. The family shared the destiny of thousands of deported peasants: the long journey, climbing down from the train into a deserted field in a godforsaken area, the wardrobes turned into shelters and covered with tar paper and then, later, the dugout. That’s how the Mezins and everybody else around them spent an entire winter. After many of their animals had died of thirst, they dug a well that was more than 130 feet deep. The following year they built an adobe house, and people from the neighbouring villages started visiting them.
The old woman died there in the fields. She had begged her sons to take her back home. While she was lying on her deathbed, they told her she could rest in peace, because they were going to take her back to Giulvăz as soon as they were able to leave the Bărăgan wasteland. They promised they would bury her first in a shallow grave, so they could easily remove her from the ground when the time came to leave. They returned to their native village only after six years, old and sick. One of them died of cancer just after he had managed to reclaim his house.
Many years after the deportation, on his way to a sanatorium, Iepta, the son-in-law of Vasa, Mita’s brother, stopped at Ciulnița to revisit the places where he had endured so much pointless suffering. In the evening, as he was getting on the train, he slipped and fell under the wheels. In the darkness, a pointsman heard someone moaning on the tracks. When he moved closer to check what was going on, the man on the sleepers put his hands around the pointsman’s neck. As the pointsman picked Iepta up, he saw that only the upper half of his body remained intact. The pointsman fainted.
Iepta was buried not far from the old woman’s grave, in the land of Bărăgan, the land turned over twice a year with the ploughs of the gostat.
Twenty years after the deportations, in the capital city’s North Railway Station, three men of about thirty, one older and two younger, board the train bound for Timișoara. They carry heavy green backpacks, like forest rangers or hunters. They squeeze through the narrow aisle, checking their tickets against the enamelled seat numbers. They stop, slide the compartment door open, greet the other passengers, take their heavy burdens off their shoulders and rest them carefully on the luggage net above their heads. They sit silently on the bench until the train approaches Băile Herculane, where they intend to get off. When asked by a traveller if they are going to the spa, one of them turns around and, as he is putting his backpack on his shoulders, replies: ‘We are taking our families home from Bărăgan. We have washed their remains with wine and now we are bringing them home.’
By Viorel Marineasa & Daniel Vighi
Translated by Antuza Genescu
Read The Romanian Riveter in its entirety here.
Viorel Marineasa is a prose writer, essayist, journalist and editor. He is a member of PEN Romania and associate professor in the Department of Journalism at the West University of Timișoara, and he has written several books together with Daniel Vighi about the mass deportation of over 40,000 people in 1951 by the Romanian communist regime in its support of Moscow.
Daniel Vighi is a writer, professor of contemporary literature at the Faculty of Letters of the West University of Timișoara and president of The Ariergarda Cultural Association. He is an author of prose, essays, book publisher and organizer of cultural and civic events.
Antuza Genescu (b. 1968) is a freelance translator, teacher and writer. Besides several volumes of Romanian poetry and art albums, which she has translated into English, her work also includes translations into Romanian of various poets around the world (Sudeep Sen, George Szirtes, Fiona Sampson, Jean Portante, Alice Notley, Erkut Tokman, Kama Sywor Kamanda), as well as science fiction authors like Gene Woolfe, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Vernor Vinge, Orson Scott Card, Robin Hobb, Stephen King.