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  • Beth Lantinga

Klara Dobri - Hero of Faith

To her children and many who knew her, Klara Dobri was an unsung hero. Her husband, Janos, was a seminary professor and a leader in an underground movement that brought relief to Reformed folk suffering under the communist regime. However, over a period of fifteen years, intermittent imprisonments kept him away from his family for nearly twelve. During those years, the care of their six children was largely left to Klara, a district nurse. As an enemy of the state, Janos was not allowed to return to his position in the seminary after his release in 1964. When we met Klara in 2003, she was in her eighties but still strong. This part of her story begins after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and its reverberations in the city of Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvar, Romania.


“After 1956, Janos was accused of instigating rebellion when he distributed “One Sentence About Tyranny,” a famous poem by Gyula Illyes. The Securitate (secret police) came for him at night. My ill father was here, and my eleven-month-old son was sick. We couldn’t even enter the kitchen to make a coffee. We were terrified though we knew that this could happen and would probably happen at night. They didn’t let me pack anything for him. It was late at night and the children didn’t wake-up, but in the morning they knew. We had heard of others who had been taken. People were always afraid, even schoolchildren. Everybody knew what this life was like.

I didn’t know anything about his condition or where Janos was. Hoping to maybe see him, I once made an excursion to a prison with my two small children. We went to the Armenian cemetery because we had heard that the prisoners could see us from their windows. The children and I traveled there on the train. We arrived in the morning or maybe early afternoon. We watched the prison windows and saw someone waving. The prisoners saw us and though I learned it only much later, we saw men waving to us from the windows behind the bars. Janos was one who waved to us.

From returning prisoners I heard that he was very ill and had lost a great deal of weight because he refused to betray others. When somebody was taken by the Securitate, he was interrogated so violently that many others were arrested afterwards. But no one was arrested after he was taken; he betrayed no one. So, when he was sick, they didn’t give him medication. Those who came home told me that he was very weak and thin. They also told me that he would never come home because he would surely die because of his poor condition. After that he was sent to the Danube Delta Camp. "


"At that time, I really had no time to think. Life went on. I had to find food for the children; I had to work. So really, there was no time to dwell on our condition, but life was full of sorrow. People avoided meetings with us. Old acquaintances – I might as well say it – those who were in the seminary, avoided me. When Janos came home and asked me whether a certain professor had ever visited us, I told him no, never. Janos was angry because he had been tortured for information about this man many times. It was the Securitate’s method; people were tortured so that they would betray colleagues and others. But Janos never did such a thing; he was very strong. One can’t blame others, though, who because of weakness couldn’t resist torture.

I was a district nurse and was fortunate that I was not let go from this position. The authorities actually behaved quite well toward me. I did not have to sit in the office all day, but usually made field visits, so I could run home during the day to check in on the family. I did not have to watch over the children very much because they were all independent, and they were good students, thank God, all of them.

In the beginning I got some support, and my ten brothers and sisters helped. In summer time, they sometimes took the children for holiday to the countryside. My brothers and brother-in-law all stood alongside us. But life was hard for everyone, so we didn’t have high expectations. Food brought from the countryside kept us alive, and during that time a loaf of bread with some fat on it was enough for us."


"Like all the other political prisoners, my husband was released in 1964 when they all got amnesty. I don’t remember exactly when he came home. Maybe it was in February. When he rang the bell, my son Istvan went to open the door – he was in the first grade. Janos’s clothing was worn and ragged; he had broken shoes on his feet. My husband asked him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am Istvan Dobri.’ Then my husband said, ‘I am your father.’ Wide-eyed, Istvan blurted, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have thought it.’ It didn’t take long for the children to get to know him. It took some time, though, until he regained his old proper-looking self. Then Janos started his life again.

Janos Dobri

When he was released, he was advised to go back to the seminary to work again to get his old job back. He tried, but the seminary refused to take him, and he couldn’t get a job as a pastor either. Janos never collaborated with the Securitate forces, though they tried to ensnare him. They trapped others, but he was strong. They couldn't deal with him.

In the years after his release, Janos was he was always coming and going. He used to be a great organizer, and had many visitors from Holland who brought Bibles, prayer books, and hymn books. Much of the time we lived in tension and fear. There must have been phone taps and surely surveillance. I continued to care for the family.

Many people now remember him as a man of courage whose strength helped preserve the spirit in others. I was asked whether he passed along that strength to me too. Perhaps that’s true, but I was strong; I was brought up to be strong. In my family there were ten brothers and sisters and we lived in difficult circumstances. We had a hard life and I learned to be independent.

Looking back, I can say that, generally speaking, the Romanians behaved quite well toward me. The bishop’s office, however, did not pass the test with flying colors. I do understand those who wanted to avoid me. They were afraid; not everyone is courageous. Now, bitterness and anger are all gone. Those times were hard, but God always helped me not to be filled up with hatred.

Now, I would encourage the young to be strong in their faith; they can trust in the future because God can help us through anything. Even now I have the psalm book and the Bible beside me. During evening prayers, I usually sing a few songs. I used to love singing, but now my voice is gone. I sing only for myself. One of my favorites is Psalm 25 - Lord to you my soul is lifted. Let me never be ashamed . . . Many times now I can’t remember all the lines and have to look them up. I never used to forget anything, but now sometimes I do. After all, our lives end and we can only acquiesce."


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