Ileana Mateescu (née Caraman)

* 1951

  • I: So, it was a Monday, after Whitsunday. In Mehedinți, on Whitsunday, there are lots of villages where they have a nedeie (summer fair) or I don’t know what they call it in other parts and for that reason, as it was a high holiday, almost all the villagers had noticed that trucks of soldiers kept passing. They couldn’t understand it. Something… They realised that something was happening, but they couldn’t understand what was going on. That Monday my parents arranged for twenty men from our village to do the second hoeing of the maize in our field. And mother woke up at four in the morning, so that she could make plenty of food. And just as she was cooking she thought to hear noises in the yard and so she decided to look. When she opened the door to go outside somebody pushed her back. That somebody had a gun, and it was with the gun that he pushed her and he entered the house. R: Did your parents have other children? I: Yes, my brother, two and a half years older than me, but just a little boy. And when that soldier – I couldn’t say whether he was an officer or a private – asked where the head of the family was, mama took him to the room where daddy was sleeping, they roused him in quite a rough way and he woke up, they demanded he sign a piece of paper, but they didn’t explain to him what it was about. They just said that he had to pack his bags in a few hours, to gather together the things he thought were essential, but not more than he would be able to carry on his own means of transport to the… R: Meaning a cart. I: A cart, yes… to the nearest station. In our case the nearest station was Strehaia, about 22 km from our village. For the moment, father, who had been in the war and couldn’t be easily intimidated, was overcome by surprise. He couldn’t believe that somebody could force him to abandon his home, especially as he’d never been in politics, he wasn’t guilty of anything and he thought that it was impossible for somebody to force you to leave. And so he didn’t pack anything. Mama was frantic, at first she began to weep and asked permission to go to her parents who lived next to the same yard as us. She wasn’t allowed to go even there. And by daybreak, they hadn’t packed anything, and nor had they even talked among themselves… They kept begging that officer to explain, to give details. R: They were in a state of shock. I: Yes. Yes. And as they didn’t receive any kind of explanation, as soon as it started to get light outside, mama saw through the window that across the street, at her cousins’, the same thing was happening. The house was… there were soldiers in the yard. And the same thing next door, where another of my mother’s cousins lived. And then they realised that it was no joke, that it wasn’t an attempt to intimidate or frighten them. And then mama was the first to gather a few things together and pack. My grandparents also woke up and they saw the commotion, they saw the army, they were frightened, too, and they tried to come. R: Your father’s parents? I: No, my mother’s. We lived with my mother’s parents. And so, they didn’t even allow them to come to us. We children were very close to grandfather and grandfather to us. And grandfather kept shouting at them to leave us… to leave at least the children, meaning us. They just ignored him for a time, after which daddy went into the yard and tried to see to the animals. They had… maybe this was also one of the reasons, as they had around two hundred sheep. He divided them up among the neighbours, after that he went to salt the cheese, he got on with his everyday chores. And the deadline was ten and the hour was approaching when we had to leave. They hadn’t packed very many things.

  • R: I wanted to ask you: you told me about those little children who died right then, after you reached Bărăgan. Do you know their names? I: Yes, I can tell you the name of a woman from our village, Florești, whose little boy of only a few months died. Ana Basica she was called. And that very young woman – it was her only child – lost her mind. The child was dead and she was sitting next to him with a kind of fan made of leaves to protect him from the flies… And the others wanted to take him and bury him but she wouldn’t let him go until her husband came, I don’t know where he’d gone, but he wasn’t there and she was sitting and guarding the baby. And that woman never recovered. The graveyard was also a big problem. In the beginning they traced the village boundary, but not a graveyard, and the number of dead was so large within such a short time that they had to do something about it… As I said, the first of ours to die was that old man called Haralambie Cațan. He wasn’t very old… R: He died as soon as he reached… I: Yes. Yes. And so in order to bury him, they had gave each family a few planks to use for the roofs of their houses, and from those planks they made his coffin. Among the deportees from my village there didn’t happen to be any priest and so in order to have some sort of a religious service, the Banat folk, who were more religious than the ones from Oltenia, knew the service, they knew how to chant. And they formed a choir and the choir accompanied him to the graveyard and that was the whole funeral. After that the graveyard quickly filled up…

  • …indeed it was hard, I can’t tell you that I had a childhood. That part of my life is absent, because I had responsibilities from a very young age. When we were little, my brother was two and a bit, we had to tend the animals in the yard, and by 1953, when my brother was born, I already had responsibilities, I had to be a nanny to my brother, although I was not much older than… R: Two... I: Yes. And I should say that my brother almost died because I wasn’t a mother, a responsible nanny. Mama left us his share of food and I remember that one day we started to play, my brother and I, and we completely forgot about my younger brother, we didn’t give him anything to eat. And in the evening, when we saw mama coming home and we knew his share of food was untouched, my brother and I rushed to give him it to eat so that mama wouldn’t see that we hadn’t done our duty. And then my brother, who was older, but still a child, said: “I’ll open his mouth and you stuff it in.” And we filled the whole of his buccal cavity with everything mama had left and we were lucky that… because he couldn’t breathe, we’d filled his mouth, and he couldn’t even breathe through his nose because it was blocked… we were lucky that mama came and unblocked his mouth and he recovered. If she’d come back a few minutes or even seconds later he would have died. And so I didn’t have a childhood. All the fun we had was playing on those endless plains. In summer we took the cows to the field, with children the same age as us and… children are infinitely inventive when it comes to inventing games, we discovered different ways of playing, without toys. In my life there did I ever have a Christmas tree or toys? We made them from whatever we could find. My brother would make a violin from corncobs or a bicycle from sunflower stalks, we would knot our skirts or clothes and find thick stalks of grass, we would make a kind of roof and crawl under it and play there, each imagining something different…

  • Full recordings
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    Sighetu Marmaţiei, 15.05.2008

    duration: 01:01:48
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
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... I had no childhood...

Ileana Mateescu (née Caraman)
Ileana Mateescu (née Caraman)
photo: Arhiva foto a Memorialului Victimelor Comunismului şi a Rezistenţei

Born on 10 January 1951 in Gîrdoaia village, Florești commun, Mehedinți county.She was deported at the age of five months along with her family (parents Angelica and Gheorghe Caraiman and her brother, aged two) on the night of 17-18 June 1951 from Gîrdoaia to Rubla, in the Călmățuiului Valley. Together with the Caraiman family, another eight families were deported from Gîrdoaia, five of whom were close relatives, including the interviewee’s maternal grandparents, Gheorghe and Maria Predescu, who, although not included on the deportation lists, expressed a desire to accompany their children and grandchildren. The interviewee emphasises that the families were deported despite the fact that Gîrdoaia village was more than twenty-five kilometres from the border with Yugoslavia and therefore outside the officially established radius. The deportees were forced to leave their homes within the space of a few hours and were allowed to take only very few personal belongings with them. For example, the Caraiman family was allowed to take only enough possessions to fill their own cart, to which, besides their two horses, they also harnessed a cow. Once they reached Rubla, between Însurăței and Viziru, in the Bărăgan steppe, they were left in the open, with the authorities giving them nothing more than a plaque with a house number on it. Life for the deportees therefore proved to be not only restrictive, as they were in effect under house arrest, forbidden from leaving the area, but also very harsh, given the worsening weather and precarious food and medical supplies. While having to take constant care of their children and old folk, the Caraimans were forced to labour to build a shack and later a house to provide shelter during the looming winter weather. At the same time, together with the other deportees, they helped to build a church, cemetery, school, town hall, police station and dispensary, to create a semblance of normal everyday life. Through voluntary labour and great sacrifice, all these were built in Rubla, a village of 460 inhabitants, all of them deportees, by September 1951. The interviewee recounts that while still only a few years old she was given the huge responsibility of caring for her younger brother, born after the family was deported. Life for the deportees proved to be extremely difficult, above all for the children and the elderly, many of whom perished. The interviewee mentions the names of a number of those who died at Rubla: Haralambie Cațan, who died during the journey there; the Bauers, two elderly deportees from the Banat, the wife being blind and the husband paralysed, who were unable even to build themselves a shack and died when the first frost came; the young boy of one woman, who died soon after being deported. Nor was life any easier on their return to the Banat. When they returned to Gîrdoaia they were allocated a shed, rather than the house that once belonged to them. Ileana Mateescu later studied History at Bucharest University (1970-1975) and worked as a teacher. She now lives in Drobeta Turnu Severin.