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  • Beth Lantinga

Released!

Life in Romania

In the last post, Denes Fulop told the story of his horrific journey from the Danube Delta labor camp back to Gherla prison. His sentence of 11 years was shortened by an inexplicable amnesty declared in 1964. In this post, he describes his post prison years.


The amnesty was unexpected and strange because the communist leadership in Romania was committed to Stalin’s brutal form of communism and resisted Khrushchev's efforts to liberalize the communist world. One would have expected the continuing incarceration of political prisoners. But there was an economic reason to show a more humane face to the west. Fulop explains.

"A few days ago I heard a story related to my release and amnesty. A pastor who had emigrated from Romania to the United States, Sandor Havadtoi, was part of a group who were aware of conditions in Romania. When Romania applied for improved trade status with the U.S., his Hungarian group wrote a letter to Congress requesting that they should award this to Romania only if political prisoners would be released. So to gain that advantageous status, in 1964, Romania issued a general amnesty and all the political prisoners were released. Several thousand were freed, even those with life sentences. I reached home on May 23, 1964.


Though we were released, it wasn’t a real amnesty according to international law. The Romanian authorities imposed other conditions. A prisoner’s civil rights would be restored only after five years and one-half of his or her sentence. I would have to wait ten years and would need to produce witnesses to my good character. I suffered another misfortune along with several other pastors who had been imprisoned, including Janos Dobri. The church was not allowed to employ us as pastors or put us back into our former positions.


Potential employers were frightened when they knew that I was a pastor and had been in prison. The ones responsible were afraid to hire me though some of them were quite nice about it. The head of the thermal bath center of Szovata, for example, accompanied me out and assured me how sorry he was that he could not employ me, but he could not take such a risk. He was afraid of the consequences.


Then there was the state employment office where I showed up every other day waiting patiently in line. I was never able to reach the window because the office was always packed with pushing, unemployed people. A lady who lived in our neighborhood was working at the window one day and noticed me and called me to her window. I told her that I would take any job she could offer. She asked if I was a pastor and had come from prison. When I said yes, she told me to come back the following day. In the meantime, she would ask Karoly Veres, the head of the sugar factory, if he would hire me.


He was a man who might do such a thing. Veres was a Communist who had been a party member during the period between the two world wars when such membership was illegal. Loyal Communists like him were given special privileges when the party later came into power. His loyalty was not questioned, and he was made head of the sugar factory. He employed me. As I knew him, he was quite a humanist who cared for his employees just as a father might.


My job, though, was awful. I had to load a conveyor with 110 pound sacks of sugar that were dropped from three stories up. The next person in line would weigh the sacks and either add or take away some sugar. Then the sacks would be sewed. I stood in the middle near a two meter wide tube waiting for the sacks to fall from above. The sacks came at irregular intervals; sometimes two at a time. Some people laughed and enjoyed themselves during the workday, but I had to take care to pace the conveyor properly for the person’s weighing the sacks. It would have been a tragedy if a sack opened up and sugar poured out.



The factory operated 24 hours a day, and we worked long shifts. I would stand looking up into the tube waiting for the sacks - to fall on my neck. I was surprised that anyone could devise such a job and learned that many people doing this job had suffered nervous breakdowns. Other jobs at the sugar factory were less stressful. People ate their apples, sugared their tea, and flirted with the ladies, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the tube, watching every moment for my sugar sacks. I spent almost a year in this job. During this time, I was constantly sending letters to the church leaders asking for a position as pastor. I still have some letters that were sent in response. Istvan Tokes, for example, wrote that according to church regulations and other

information provided only in oral form, I was still not employable by the church."

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 © Beth Lantinga 2020