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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Escaping Transylvanian Wolfes To The West


Escaping Transylvania to the World
From the Romanian Gulag to Old and New Cultures - Memoirs

By Dr Olga Lazin

Chapter 1   -  How the University Really Worked in Romania

In 1963 when I was born in Transylvania, the “golden age” of socialism was in full “progress”.

The city of Satu Mare was undergoing catastrophic transformations, as it was forcefully modernized, and people from the villages were forced to work in huge, socialistic factories. Along the Somes river, the tiny village of  Vetis, where my ancestors on my father’s side were born, is now a heavily populated colorful and diverse grew into a lovely place. On my mother’s side, Bixad, in the Oas region of Romania is still a beautiful traditional village, with houses spread far apart, not all jammed together. My mother was “osanca”, as they would say in the old days.
Transylvania belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary (Transylvania) as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire[.After World War I, in 1918 Transylvania became part of Romania again. In 1940 Northern Transylvania reverted to Hungary as a result of the Second Vienna Award, but Romanian queen Maria reclaimed it after the end of World War II.[1]

All of Romania was seized for its oil by Nazi Germany (1940-1944), “liberated” by the “Soviet Union” (1944-1947), and “re-liberated” to become the Popular republic of Romania (under USSR remote control) as the Cold War was beginning to freeze the Iron Curtain into to place.

The first “president,” Gheorghiu-Dej (1965) ruled as puppet of Moscow, but when he died, his Sec Gen of the Communist Party of Romania, Nicolae Ceausu, was elected as the second “president” (1965-1989), shifting his savage dictatorship into a harsher “nationalistic Gulag” than known in the USSR.  At the end of 1994 the Russian military organized “presidential” elections of “people’s committees” in the region.[2] The end of the war occupied some formerly Romanian northeastern territories occupied by the Soviet Union, with Red Army units stationed on Romanian soil. In 1947 Romania forcibly became a People's Republic (1947–1965).

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My parents: Eugen & Magda in 1963, picture

For two decades I neither understood the dimensions of tragic situation of Transylvania (located in northeast Romania on the Ukrainian border), nor did I understand that I would have to escape the Gulag of Romania by the skin of my teeth.

For peoples of the world Transylvania seems to be a far away place, where most people know the werewolves and vampires have been rumored to roam & lurk in nature. In the imagination of people everywhere, whose beliefs are soaked in mystical folklore, even today it is hardly possible to have a rational conversation on any subject matter. Most occupying forces never understood either the culture of the Romanian people or the distinct culture of Transylvania.
Naturally I am a bi-national citizenship, but without belonging to any of the two countries. Summoning my unconsciousness to write this autobiographical piece, I need to reaccustom myself to thinking of the distinct cultures of the region.
Once in general school I excelled in Romanian and American Languages.


The population consisted of Romanians, Hungarians (particularly Székelys) and Germans.
These languages are still being spoken on the Territory of Maramures County, including Rroma, or the Gypsy language. I always liked and loved the Romanian language, so I decided to become a Professor of Romanian Language and Literature.

As a twist of irony, I ended up liking my English Professor, Spaczai Tiberius, and learned British English real fast with him.


After getting married in Satu Mare, on the Hungarian border, my parents moved to Sighetu Marmatiei, when I was only 3 years old. In the North West corner  of Romania, closer to Ukraine than to Hungary.

 My childhood was marked by attending the best School in Sighet (Number 3), and fights, as I had to protect my little brother Alexandru. I was known as the student-poet, the class poet, and I won some pretty prizes for my poems. 
 I grew up in the Maramures region, where I have I have my first memories. The region was much nicer, ethnically more diverse, better climate, and more geographic diversity, with the Mountains of Gutinul and the rivers if Iza and Tisa, as Tisa was the natural border with the Ukraine.

My parents, Eugene & Magdalena were very supportive of my studies and paid huge tuition fees when I got into the College, Mihai Eminescu in Baia Mare.

I was admitted to the University in Cluj, in the heart of Transylvania, namely the American Language and Literature – Indian Language And Literature Department of Philology. The professors, started reading the mounds of new Decrees every day, which made me laugh, and staff of the university was suspicious of me not believing their “expose” in the classrooms. Professors were trying to befuddle us with words from a wooden language, totally bent toward twisting our brains into confused submission. Professors, securitate officers acting as sweaty bureaucrats, uneducated idiots trying to tell us what to think. Not one professor asked us, “What do you really think, all of you?” Each professor had their favorite students and made sure they pointed it out in class, stifling any competition, and showed openly their favoritism or nepotism.
When I reached 22 years, I started being argumentative, and started criticizing professors, esp. the history professor. I was getting so sick at academics yelling at us, and being forced to do the military service as a woman in the academia. After all, Americans were coming to take away our socialist country.
We couldn’t t buy books in English, and I was an English major.
We couldn’t talk to foreigners, and the atmosphere was dreadful in classes. Speech was not free; one couldn’t argue in class, or make any real analysis or debate. You had to regurgitate what they were telling you, and read whatever was there in the old books stacked in the communist library. I was an English major, but could not get the books in English necessary for the Exams. They did not exist. Talking to foreigners in English or answering one question was a crime, according to a stupid decree. Abortion was a crime for 20 years. Doctors performing it ended up in jail, and so did the pregnant women. 5 years jail for an abortion. If my uncle from Canada visited us, we were all under surveillance, the entire family. Even today, in 2014 one has to go and declare if you have family visiting from the USA or CANADA for some bizarre security reasons. Well after 22 years, not much has changed in poor Romania.
Nobody underwent this.

I was a professor of Romanian and English in Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures County, at School #2. It was very exacting commuting all the time from Tisa where I lived in our private Museum (Pipas Museum of Art) to Sighet. So, finally I decided to leave in 1986, and traveled to the border, as well as paid a smuggler to take me to Yugoslavia. We were caught on the border and sent back in 1984.
The jail was so cold in Timisoara to keep the bacterias and viruses, that it made everybody sick internally with the cold and the flue.
The blanket was as warm as a kleenex tissue. Moreover there were no pillow, and the concrete slab where inmates slept was a back-breaker.
The lights were on 24 hours a day, blinding all of us, and there was constant observation. Every hour one was awakened to be counted. All under the guise of watching out for suicides. But everyone could be clearly seen by the guards, and there was no need to sleep-deprive inmates, as they were doing. There was also someone in the higher echelon ripping off the food bill. They served only baby carrots, and spicy beans. Cicory coffee was loaded with Brom.


My poor mother was so confused by the propaganda, that she started crying when I was freed from jail, feeling very emotional after the death of the nation’s father, Ceausescu.

Fed up with all the restrictions, and full of frustrations, I hit the border with Yugoslavia.
I have been unfairly jailed as I tried to leave the country in 1986. I was ready to give up my freedom, just to escape an impossible country, with impossible leadership.
In 1989, Ceausescu finally pardoned everybody who tried to escape the horrendous conditions in the country.
The first act of freedom I have performed it was to secure a passport for myself. And got married to Valerian Pipas, a famous violinist from Virismort Tisa in Maramures county. Otherwise the consulate would not have given me the visas. Conditions were one has to be married, and own a house.{ }
I have been teaching English in Sighet, Tisa, and Giulesti, as well as Camara for another 10 years. Conditions were absolutely horrific; no heating in schools, no teaching material, and constant harassment from colleagues of being informed on.

After I finally left Romania, after an execution squad shot Ceausescu.
Shortly after, I have met American professors from UCLA, who were doing a study on the effects of the Cold War in post-socialist countries. My observations were very valuable to Dr Wilkie who then asked me to guide the academic group through Eastern Europe. They were traveling in a German Opel (a U.S. made car). I took them to the Museum of my friend, D-ra Mihaly de Apsa, in my hometown, Sighet. We went to the Merry Cemetery, and it was dusk by the time JW arrived in Sighet at the Marmatia Hotel.

I’ll start by explaining the places I went in 1991, on one of the most beautiful part of Romania, through Pasul Prislop.  We went Around Romania, visited the monasteries of Moldova, C-lung Moldovenesc, Suceava, Sucevita and Agapia monasteries. Then we went to Lacul Rosu. We took the scenic road to Cluj Napoca, where I was trying to get the plane in order to fly out to Paris, in France. I had all the visas. But there was no flight. Nobody took credit cards, so JW had to take out a lot of cash, so that we can travel safely.

I fell in love with Jim Wilkie. After this I am going to call him JW.
I was deeply in love with James Wilkie, whom has hired me as a guide.
He said: “call me Jim”.  We finally left for Budapest after the airport visit in Cluj Napoca. We got through Budapest, finally, and then got out towards Austria and Germany.


Dr JP was worried that I was a spy, as we received special private rooms, and great Hotel deals, plus good lunches at the Monastery, where I was a good friend with Mother Superior.
Richard Beeson, who headed up Deutsche bank, London office, where he represented all EE countries, had convinced EE countries Central banks to deposit their golden cash at Deutsche Bank, London office. He reunited with JW in Prague, and Cracow, where the horrible polluted air blinded him.
In Budapest I obtained the Austrian visa, where I needed a transit visa.
Then we travelled to Kobentzl, overlooking Salzburg, talking about the economy. We even spent most of our time down Salzburg city, taking pictures, and JW was teaching me economics, how the world of development worked: finances, credit, interest. JP had more faith in me than ever.
Then we went to Munich, where we celebrated Oktoberfest. Then I took the plane to Paris, from Munich, to fly out to Bordeaux to meet the family, which invited me to France. JW had to go back to teach. He promised he would return for me soon.
After ten weeks in Bordeaux, JW came to visit me. In Paris, I was refused asylum in France. The national security Bureau headed by a Gris guy.

JW returned for me. It was a very wonderful fall, I Bordeaux, so we drove to see all the castles along the Loire River.
The 1st trip was to and along the river of LOIRE; we left in September, and came back in December. Then we went to Paris, and visited the Versailles, Champs Elysee, the Montmartre, and Montparnasse. We had everything to ourselves, and then we went to Marseille, listening to the PASTORALES, beautiful green lands of France.

In Marseille we stayed at the Sofitel, JW was overlooking the Bay, into town. And we went to the COTE Azure. We stayed at Hotel Welcome. Then rode over the serpentined Cornish roads, overlooking the Mediterranean, Cap Ferrat, and Monaco. Then JW had to fly out to teach again, and I flew back to Bordeaux.

LIFE with the nuns. I flew to meet Jim in NICE, in 1992.
It is now another beautiful stay at WELCOME, in Beaulieu sur Mer.

Jim came back 10 weeks later. The second time we travelled to Carcassonne, a fortified city, through Andorra (a gambling center, in the Pyrenees’). The Principality of Andorra was rich and ostentatious with baroque buildings.  And La Rochelle.
Then entered into Spain, toward Madrid, and stayed at Hotel Paris for a week, in the center of Madrid.
 Here we enjoyed the charales in the main plaza.

We left to Toledo, and then to the town of Trujillo. In Trujillo we went and took pictures while walking on the red roofs of houses, perfectly lined up for me to walk. I took great that I was free and nobody minded my business. Jim and I, we were only taking care of one another.
We went up to the Devil’s Throat (a town deep in a canyon, tucked into the mountains) to continue up in the mountains, and then went down to a walled town of Avila, to Trujillo, and continued to Madrid.

Then we headed toward El Escorial, the monastery, and then JW flew out of Madrid. I took the plane to France, and in Bordeaux I joined the nuns again, and continued my studies of Folklore at the University of Bordeaux, where I was writing about the mythical Lilith.


The road was majestic, and the flowers superb. To paint it in a picture of words, I am flashing out the pageant, of that beautiful Catholic Church, as we went down from La Rochelle, along the clean river, where we called to make reservations in a pretty tiny hotel, ahead of time, and we found a room with a high ceiling, perfectly warm and cozy.


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Out of many, Switzerland is my favorite European country; the majestic mountains and the rivers impressed me.
Monte Rosa’s Peak and Matterhorn were absolutely fabulous, left us breathless, and the chalet Michabell was looking down on Italy. The view out of the window was that of Matterhorn mountain in Zermatt.
I enjoyed the lovely scenery in Luzern, and Interlaken, with the beautiful lake with little bridges leading up to the center, all dressed up in geranium flowers. Multicolored geraniums flowers were hanging out from each houses’ window. The beautiful trip is to go up on a chairlift (telefericul) to wheel you up over the meadows, seeing cattle and, magnificent glorious view of the Swiss Mountains, and the peaks. It is a very gentle and slow trip.



We then stopped at Kobentzl. In Kobenzl,Austria,  I visited the cemetery where Mozart was buried, and it was very uplifting seeing all the bridges and magnificent churches surrounding me from all directions.

In 1991 in summer I left France for the United States, more specifically to Los Angeles that is to UCLA, where I wanted to get my master’s degree in History.
Freshly arrived in L.A. I witnessed the 1992 riots. Buses were set on fire, and many stores were robbed in East-South Los Angeles, because of the Rodney King trials. Only later on I understood why o.J. Simpson was aquitted when he killed his wife and her boyfriend. The authorities were afraid of another riot on the streets of Los Angeles.
After searching all the Marina, we found a lovely hotel, Marina Del Rey, in Marina del Rey, where I stayed for a week, and we started looking for a place to live.
I have escaped from the bad world into the good world. We loved each other so deeply.

I moved into Westwood and enrolled into the UCLA’s Master program in summer 2004. I graduated soon after in 2005, but no family was present, as my mother died of a heart attack, and could never travel by plane.
I understood that I never had good communication with any of my husbands. I was sensitive and creative; and only JW could appreciate me.

My uncle Nicholas Lazin, who has fled to Hungary in 1947, and settled down in Oshawa, Canada, invited me to visit, Oshawa, in Toronto, Canada. It was wintertime in Canada, and it was a harsh experience staying there and getting accustomed again to cold weather. It just does not work with me; we don’t mix, the cold weather and me, it was as simple as that.

Discovering new places and peoples.

It was good escaping Ceausescu’s tyranny and discovering the hidden side of the word. I realized how we lived in the dark, and that there was better climate in Mexico than in Romania; and one does not be the prisoner of their own thoughts and limited spirit of the others, living the same nightmare, as I did back in Romania.
I know the nuns in Bordeaux were free spirits and happy women, with a great sense of humour especially the Mother Superior. We even visited Toulouse Lautrec’s castle, and spent time on the beach where the Atlantic Ocean met the Pacific Ocean. I had spent unforgettable moments of discovery, and fraternization with the nuns.

Because I have entered the Mexican state, in order to see the pyramids first, I tried to live also in Mexico, at a place called El Bosque del Secreto, but it did not work out. The air is too polluted in Teotihuacan, and around Mexico D.F. that I only visited the Pyramid of the Sun, and the pyramid of the Moon, and hurried to find a nice place. When I finally found the house surrounded by beautiful red bougambillas, I realized it was too isolated from town, without a car, far from the market, in one word, it was not feasible.

As all ironies are happening, when I arrived to L.A., the riots were in progress.
I was settling in marina del Rey. Then I left again to Toronto to see my uncle Nicholas, and cousin Caroline Lazin. I started teaching pretty soon, when I returned to UCLA.
Dr Lazin & her Students at UCLA:



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After 2 years in the Doctoral Program in History at UCLA, I graduated in 2001, in January. After graduation I have published my Doctoral thesis, and a second book on the bright and dark sides of Globalization with Dr James W Wilkie, Professor at UCLA. Our books are widely read around the world and are used to teach Courses at College and University level. To get the books, download them form:


OR


After 9/11 the whole world has dramatically changed for all Americans. And this will be the topic for another book. A book in which I will investigate what has changed exactly in these 22 years, and how. Why are we missing those things, as a collective. That is what we, immigrants from Eastern Europe have in common, in our collective memory.


At UCLA, with my students in History, 2014


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Copyrighted   © Dr Olga M. Lazin-Andrei 2014 Escape to the West
___________ _________//___________________________________
Written on a   E mail; olazin@ucla.edu


Twitter: olgamlazin

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HAPPY VALENTINE’s DAY CONTINUATION, Saturday. Feb 15th, 2014, Olga

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[1] More on the diversity of cultures in Transylvania: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Transylvania


I finally had the chance to leave the country when an execution squad shot Nicolae C. in 1989.
Obtaining visas to western countries was extremely hard in 1990, right after Ceausescu was shot. I convinced my then-husband Valerian Pipas to come with me to Bucharest and arrange for visas to France. I also needed transit visas through Austria and Germany.


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