Gheorghe Zodian, my grandfather, was born in Barlad, Romania in October 1915. His mother was the unmarried daughter of a priest. In the maternity ward, she befriended another woman, who went on to lose her child at birth, so she gave little George for adoption. I think he was loved by his adoptive parents, although deep inside he always wanted to know his natural mother. I remember him telling me that he thinks his parents might have adopted him just to have somebody to take care of them in their old age, which he did, attentively. One of his favourite stories was that of a relative who had a field of watermelons and asked him to keep an eye on them during the night so that they don't get stolen, leaving him alone with a field of wet goodness below and one of stars above.
As the war was about to start, my grandfather went to some college for mechanics, and graduated first in a class that was best in the country. Around that time, he joined the Communist party. This party, as far as I knew, was the only party that was fighting for Romania to give up big parts of its territory to Soviet Russia -it even had this in its program- and as a result was not very popular. The party was in fact a Bolshevik export. However, my grandfather grew up in an blue collar neighborhood, and back then, workers had rather meager conditions. He joined the Party at a party, actually (“ceai dansant”).
The Communist party may have been illegal back then, as Romania was under German occupation and preparing to wage war against Communist Russia. So when the Secret Police arrested the “party goers”, my grandfather was arrested as well. They forced him to appear at the trial as a witness for the prosecution (“I see you're a good looking young man, why do you waste your time with these bolsheviks? Fogged about'em!”). Although he may have left the impression that he agreed, at the trial gave evidence which destroyed the prosecution's case, exonerating, among others, Gheorghe Apostol, who was to become one of the most important communist leaders of Romania in the 50s and 60s, at one point being considered a possible future Secretary General of the Communist Party (effectively, the leader of the country).
In 1942, after graduating, he was drafted to help with the war effort. He was the engine driver, working with two other people. My grandfather was sent to the Basarabeanca depot which was instrumental in ensuring supply to the frontline. He would usually drive the trains to Tighina (Bender), and he did not want to participate into that war, (like most Romanians actually, who had no interest or desire to conquer the Soviets). He went to the commander and asked to be moved to another railway depot, invoking teeth problems, hoping to be moved inside Romania. The commander told him he cares for his problems and moved him even closer to the frontline, 60 km from Dniestr (Nistru) in Razdelnaya. There, in the winter, he first met my grandmother.
The situation behind the front line changed dramatically after the Battle of Stalingrad. The Red Army, in counteroffensive, was progressing very fast. The time came for the Romanian forces to leave and my grandparents talked about it deciding to go together. My grandfather was supposed to drive an evacuation train, they packed everything and slept in the train. Hours before the scheduled departure, the commander woke him up and ordered him to drive a German evacuation train to Hagius, in Romania proper, leaving my grandmother behind, as she was a civilian. On his way through the hills and valleys, he encountered another German train which must've gotten stuck, due to its German mechanic's inability to drive it properly through the difficult terrain. Hoping to reunite with my grandmother, my grandfather did not stop in time, damaging thus the middle wagons locomotive (he even backpowered the train in order to avoid an explosion). He could have been executed for insubordination, but he luckily escaped.
In Romania, he had to work at Apahida, which was occupied by Germans and Hungarians. In 1944, an army officer approached him asking him to co-operate in disarming all German trains. My grandfather declined at first, reminding the officer that he was driving the trains with a German officer constantly at his back with an automatic gun and a phone. The officer said “that is your mission” asking him to stop the train in a valley where it was going to be ambushed, and left. My grandfather then created a diversion with the other guy working in the locomotive and carried on his “mission”.
After the war, he continued to work as a mechanic, and attended a University in the Geological Engineering program at night. He then climbed the hierarchy into administrative / managerial functions. The party then sent him to attend some courses in a Moscow KGB academy in a two year program. Upon his return, he was eventually made a minister in the Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (GGD) government tasked with transportation security. He eventually became a Colonel. His other functions included vice-presidency of the Geological Committee in charge with explorations.
During GGD's time, Romania was forced to pay reparations for the war to Soviet Russia. To ensure complete subordination, Russia maintained a significant military presence, making Romania (like most other Eastern European satellites) a de facto colony under occupation. GGD succeeded eventually in making the Russians leave, and thus a new era started in Romanian politics. Unlike other countries in the Communist block, Romania always tried to be different (as much as it was possible), since it did not have strong communist background (communism having been imposed on it) and, unlike Russia and most of its Eastern European satellites, it was not a Slavic country. Those years were in many respects special, as the forced industrialization program imposed by the communists had a forceful impact on Romanian life. It created industries that did not exist before, and it brought hope in many people's lives, as they moved to the cities, attended university, and enjoyed rising standards of living. But it was also a taxing time, with many shortages, political persecutions, human rights violations, mass executions, Stalinist purges, forced labour and very hard work (tight schedules, 80+ h work weeks). My grandfather got sick a few times (really sick), and pulled himself out by becoming aware of and applying the medical theories of his time. (Back then, all diseases were considered to be produced by germs, especially worms and the like.) He even went to Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia, where there was strong expertise in these issues. He also traveled with his Fiat to most European countries, and he considered this is one of his most satisfying accomplishments.
In 1965, after a visit to Russia, GGD fell ill and died. There were many rumors that the Russians poisoned him for being too independent, and the circumstances of his death are not fully known or understood. George Apostol was rumored to be GGD's replacement. However, much to everybody's surprise, Nicolae Ceausescu was elected Secretary General of the Party by the small circle of men in power (the Barons). My grandfather was terribly disappointed. He said NC was called “the Idiot” by almost everybody, and conversations stopped when he would enter a room. Shortly thereafter, he was asked by another high-ranking “komrade” to take part in setting up a group to oversee NC's personal security. “I am not a guard dog” answered my grandfather and he was no longer asked to “serve (and protect)”. He retired quite well, with a pension many times the average salary. He could have lived a very good life that way.
NC continued and expanded upon his predecessor's “independent politics” while pursuing an even stronger Stalinist agenda, at a time when even USSR was starting to relax their suffocating grip on their own people. However, the economy was not going as well as it used to, so to compensate for the inherent and inevitable decrease in the standard of living, NC resorted to an increasingly absurd and disgusting cult of personality. Most people hated it, but endured it for lack of an alternative.
In 1974, after secretly harboring for a couple of years, he presented in a local party meeting a document criticizing NC's use of the cult of personality. This happened during the days prior to the 11th Congress and the local party was being reorganized, so there were almost all the members of the organization in audience. He was hoping that his presentation was going to be some kind of catalyst for real change, perhaps even a more successful “Romanian Spring”. Unfortunately, the reaction it got from the other “aparatchiks” was panic and fear that they would have to suffer and / or be arrested just for listening. Unabated, he sent the material to other newspapers as well (Scanteia, Era Socialista), but, obviously, nothing was published. Unlike other dissidents, he only sent it inside the country. He got then standard dissident treatment: assassination attempts with cars, frisking, authorized and unauthorized searches, and finally, arrest by Securitate and disappearance for many months. During his internment, he was even told: “if you weren't who you were and did not know who you did, you'd be soooo dead by now”. Still, throughout this ordeal, every now and then my grandmother would find bouquets of flowers in front of her door.
Eventually they let him out. In the meantime, his family suffered a great deal because of this. Everybody (neighbours, co-workers) knew about it, secret service people tried to collect information about them (not too covertly and in an intimidating manner), and his children (Valeriu & Svetlana) were harassed and denied promotions. My father, Valeriu was refused even a visa for Moscow. Almost everybody in the family was at first very angry at my grandfather for doing this without any warning, but he did it this way so that they are protected from reprisals (which came anyway). Once out, my grandfather started a program to recover, containing a very healthy diet and rigorous physical exercise. He no longer had revolutionary dreams, but found solace in listening to Radio Free Europe.
In Iasi, where he resides, one of the most read papers at that time, the Opinia Studenteasca newspaper published an article calling my grandfather “the first nomenklaturist to openly criticize Nicolae Ceausescu”. Mr. Vericeanu, the chief architect, was in the audience when my grandfather presented his letter and was at least throughout the decades immediately after '89 an important figure in Iasi's life. As he was in the meeting where my grandfather read his accusations regarding the cult of personality, he has not forgotten my grandfather and has recently contacted him. At his suggestion, Titus Ceia made a short documentary for TeleM (a local TV station in Iasi) within a series about Iasi's history.
During my January 2005 trip to see them (after an alert regarding my grandmother's health) we spent some time talking (though not as much as I would have liked to) and I filmed some of it with my digital camera. Unfortunately, the camera is limited in the length of time it can film, so there are a lot of interruptions which annoyed my grandfather, making his story less fluid. There is even more material, and I plan to post it here as I obtain it (such as a story he wrote, or the materials re: the cult of personality). Until then, here is a film [I may have lost it since originally publishing it] I put together out of bits and pieces and the manuscript of a story my grandfather wrote in the 3rd person (to protect himself and others if he was to die after going public with his accusations).
The news of Valeriu's death was very painful to him; as a result, he could not find the strength to continue his program of rigorous exercise that up to that time kept his body functioning. Soon, he had to start taking pills, which he could not see well because of his cataracts, having to rely on his wife, Eugenia, whose sight wasn't that great either. A possible mix up in his medication sent him to hospital, where a pacemaker was implanted. It became more and more difficult for him to move around and had to rely on crutches. His body started failing him rapidly and was gone within a couple of years of his 90th birthday.
The latest echo of his life is this documentary: http://www.vimeo.com/4582710
Enjoy, and let me know what you think!