Com­rade Baron: A Jour­ney through the Van­ish­ing World of the Tran­syl­va­nian Aris­toc­racy

Jaap Scholten

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - BRADLEY A. SCOTT

He­lena His­tory Press Soft­cover $24 (404pp) 978-1-943596-02-7 Jaap Scholten has done an ex­tra­or­di­nary job of record­ing and pre­sent­ing the sto­ries of a per­se­cu­tion al­most for­got­ten.

In Com­rade Baron, Jaap Scholten ex­plores a har­row­ing his­tory lit­tle known in the English­s­peak­ing world. With a mix­ture of per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion, sym­pa­thetic in­ter­views, and as­tute his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis, he ex­poses the Ro­ma­nian gov­ern­ment’s cruel cam­paign against the aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies of Tran­syl­va­nia be­tween 1949 and 1989, when Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu’s bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship fi­nally col­lapsed. “I want to write down the sto­ries of a dis­ap­pear­ing world,” he ex­plains to a skep­ti­cal sis­ter-in-law in the in­tro­duc­tion. Those sto­ries form a grip­ping and tragic tale.

In 1949, mili­tia and se­cret po­lice of the So­cial­ist Repub­lic of Ro­ma­nia si­mul­ta­ne­ously ar­rested over 7,800 mem­bers of the coun­try’s aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies. Some were tor­tured or sent to hellish pris­ons or la­bor camps. Oth­ers were re­leased sub­ject to “Domi­ciliu Obli­ga­to­riu,” a kind of life­long house ar­rest. For decades af­ter­ward, the de­scen­dants of counts and barons lived a per­se­cuted ex­is­tence, spied upon and ha­rassed by the dreaded Se­cu­ri­tate, for­bid­den to travel, to ed­u­cate their chil­dren be­yond the el­e­men­tary level, or to hold any but the most me­nial jobs. In a sup­pos­edly class­less so­ci­ety, they be­came a down­trod­den un­der­class.

Scholten’s in­volve­ment in the story is deeply per­sonal: he is mar­ried to a de­scen­dant of one such fam­ily, and his re­la­tion­ship with the el­derly

sur­vivors he in­ter­views is ad­mir­ing and re­spect­ful. The early mem­o­ries gleaned from th­ese in­ter­views are ar­guably se­lec­tive and sen­ti­men­tal, but they are de­light­ful none­the­less: tales of beau­ti­ful man­sions, courtly flir­ta­tions, and pet bears; glimpses of a re­mem­bered golden age seen through a rapidly clos­ing win­dow.

The hor­rors of the per­se­cu­tion that fol­lowed are all the more shock­ing in con­trast. Scholten re­lates the sur­vivors’ tales and sup­ports those sto­ries with vis­its to for­mer pris­ons and la­bor camps, doc­u­ment­ing their ex­is­tence and the suf­fer­ing of their in­mates, as well as the ev­ery­day op­pres­sion of life as a “D.O.” In the fi­nal sec­tion of the book, he ex­am­ines the fate of the sur­vivors and their de­scen­dants in post­com­mu­nist Ro­ma­nia.

Jaap Scholten has done an ex­tra­or­di­nary job of record­ing and pre­sent­ing the sto­ries of a per­se­cu­tion al­most for­got­ten.

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