Introducing Ilona Fulop
For this post, I would like to take a little break from the Denes story and take you back to that bright June morning in 2003 when the team interviewed Denes Fulop and I met his wife, Ilona.
Unpretentious and friendly, Denes and Ilona met us outside our lodging and walked with us to their
home. They welcomed us through their garden gate, past lovingly tended flower beds and into their home. The crew immediately began setting up in the dining room, and it wasn’t long before the camera began to roll and the questions for Denes began – in Hungarian. This time I did not have a translator at my side, so Ilona and I moved to an adjoining room for coffee and conversation. Her warmth and fluent English made it seem as though I was talking with a friend, and the stories poured out as easily as the coffee. I pulled out a pen and notebook and began writing as fast as I could, recording this interview the old-fashioned way.
When I asked what life had been like for her family and her village, she described the situation in her home village, Geges. Every farmer, she said, was visited by an official of the state who was given the task of assessing and categorizing the villagers. All hardworking farmers were labeled kulaks. Just as in the Soviet Union, kulak came to be the communist designation for any farmer, wealthy or not, who resisted the confiscation of their land. Once labeled a kulak, you were by definition an enemy of the state. In 1959, when Ilona was still living at home, her father, a hardworking farmer, refused to sign away his land to the local collective. After repeated threats from local thugs and repeated refusals by her father, he had some help with his decision. One night a long, black car stopped in front of their house and two security men offered him one last chance to give in. When he refused, they took him away. For six months, his family didn't know what had happened to him. When he returned home, everything belonged to the state: the land, the cattle, and all the farm machinery. This story was repeated in every village of Romania.
In spite of the changes, her family continued to work the land, but when harvest time came, they could count on surrendering the grain to the local authorities. Most of the wheat produced in the region was shipped to the Soviet Union. Even though it was difficult, the family found ways to keep bread on the table. Her mother sold butter made from the milk she bought from other village farmers. In the fall, they traveled to the city of Marosvasarhely/Targu Mures with baskets filled with ripe red apples, fresh butter and palinka (a local brandy). They never had trouble finding buyers for their baskets.