LMC: Today, the 19th of June 2004 we are in Vâlcea with our uncle Ioniță and his wife Biza.
Live long and be blessed! May God give you both health and strength. I ask you to tell us your story of the Bug.
Ioniță: Now I should tell you whose son I am?
LMC: Who are you?
Ioniță: Should I tell?
LMC: Please do.
Ioniță: I am Ioniță Vâlceanul (*the one from Vâlcea) and I am on tape to tell that I am the son of Vâlceanu. Is this right?
LMC: Live long and be healthy!
Ioniță: I am with my wife Biza, daughter of Bălan and we have lived together for 89 years.
LMC: Do tell us whose son, are you? What was your father called, your mother, your grandfather?
Ioniță: My father, they called Tomiță Vâlceanu, son of Burcoși the old. His mother was Luta.
LMC: God bless their souls!
Ioniță: Grandmother Luta the big one. These old folks lived long too. My father lived 110 years. And I am 88 now.
LMC: Keep healthy, for many years to come!
Ioniță: I do not need them as the cemetery is waiting for me at home.
LMC: Do not say such things.
Ioniță: In the following I will tell you the story of the Bug.
LMC: I kindly ask you to go back in time and tell us al that happened, what kind of Roma are you?
The people listening do not know this, so they need to know for the upcoming 1000 years.
Ioniță: Indeed. We were at Bălcești. You father knows this as well.
Biza: Stop telling the women where you were.
LMC: He needs to tell.
Ioniță: We were at Bălcești and from Bălcești they gathered us to take all Roma people to the Bug, from all over the world.
Duda: They gathered us from all the places.
Ioniță: So, the gendarmes came and escorted us from one post to the next. On the roads, the gendarmes would beat us up, they beat us and killed us…
LMC: Tell us, how did the gendarmes pick you up? Were you in tents? What were you doing?
Ioniță: We lived in tents.
Biza: We did have wagons.
LMC: Were you married? Did you have children?
Ioniță: Look at her. Here she is.
We already had Marița my daughter, the Bădăcoanea one, you know her?
LMC: Yeas, I do.
Biza: She was two when we left.
Ioniță: We arrived in Tighina.
LMC: You arrived a little too fast. How old were you? You were 20 years old back then. I do expect of you to remember much more details, so these little children who listen will know what happened back there.
Biza: They took us on roads from one post to the next post, gendarme posts.
LMC: I wish you tell me how the travel was.
Biza: There were just roads.
Ioniță: I tell you of the sorrow we encountered…
Biza: We stayed in Tiraspol…
Ioniță: On the roads we were beaten by the gendarmes. In each post they would count us. We would arrive in the evening, sleep over and the next day we would travel further to the next post of gendarmes.
LMC: What about the road you traveled? How many were you?
Ioniță: We travelled in our wagons. We were only 7-8 families.
LMC: From Vâlcea?
Ioniță: There was Ițalo, my brother Operatu, Brati the old, your uncle, children of Toma, Nistor. We were a few families when they took us.
Biza: We were just a few.
Ioniță: And then we men on the road with all the people in the world.
LMC: Where did you met them?
Ioniță: On the roads, we met.
LMC: I mean where did you all come together?
Ioniță: At Craiova. From Craiova, they took us to Bucharest. From Bucharest to Buzău area. They would take us outside the cities. So, we traveled from post to post. For three months we traveled until we arrived in Tighina. Everyone.
LMC: Well, how did you cross the waters?
Ioniță: Should I tell this now? We arrived in Tighina.
Biza: Why don’t you tell also about Tiraspol where they took our gold?
LMC: No, not about Tiraspol…
Ioniță: Wasn’t that Tighina? Do not tell it to me … We arrived there and stayed overnight, all the gypsies of this world. We were to cross over, to cross the bridge.
LMC: How many people were there?
Ioniță: How many people? There were hundreds of wagons. Hundreds of people…You’d better who was not there?
Biza: We were around 4.000 people.
Ioniță: They gathered us all an put us wait
A voice: All the people of the gypsy world.
Ioniță: We waited for all to come together so they would cross us all on the other side of the water.
LMC: Where did you cross? On the bridge?
Ioniță: A bridge. It was a bridge like we use to have.
LMC: Tell us how you swallowed the golden coins?
Ioniță: There we indeed swallowed the goldies. I swallowed 30 big golden coins.
Ioniță: Biza swallowed 30 roosters, small golden coins. She lost them on the other side in Balaika.
I got them out and then I swallowed them back.
LMC: I heard that they gave golden coins also to the horses?!
Ioniță: One man put the gold in the throat of a hen and crossed her on the other side.
Biza: Kopali was his name.
Ioniță: But Dușan, he told on Mațo the old, and also Operatu, my brother, told on Kopali when he put the coins in the hen’s throat: „Dușan go and take that hen and get the gold coins out of her throat” (my brother Operatu, died burned because of this). And the gendarmes went and got the gold out of that hen’s throat, because of my brother who told Dușan to take the golden coins out of the hen’s throat.
I had my own gold coins from my father put in the water barrel, I had them carved inside the wood and then put the frame wood of the barrel on top of them. We did not use to quarrel with Dușan, as Dușan was a soldier and I was his host when he came on the way so I told him:
LMC: He was a soldier?
Ioniță: Soldier he was, and he was married to the daughter of Mațo the old and that is why he had revenge on Mațo.
LMC: But who was Dușan?
Ionița and Biza: he was a Roma of our kind. He was from Drăgășani. Well and so I told him: „Listen, Dușan, drink water out of the barrel but do not let the barrel out of your hands because my father’s golden coins are in that barrel.” And Dușan listened to me. He drank water out of the barrel and then left his way.
Biza: He was kind of related to him.
Ioniță: When I talk, why do you keep talking too?
And this is how Dușan did not tell on my golden coins.
LMC: But you did not tell him that the gold was in the barrel?
Ioniță: But sure, I did: „Dușan, do not let the barrel out of your hands as my father’s gold is in it. Do not tell me in as you did with other people, because you traveled all the way with me. You are with me.” And he did not tell on me, except the coins from the hen’s throat. And he told on Mațo.
Mațo the old wanted to take his wife and could not get a daughter in law for his father so he told on the gold on Mațo in Craiova, anyway.
We gathered our things and crossed the water. They gathered all Roma on a large field, the gendarmes did this.
LMC: Were you separated from your parents?
Biza: We were separated.
Ioniță: We crossed the bridge and we were in Tighina, in Russia, we were not in Romania anymore. Over there some clothes, that were put outside to dry, were stolen from the wire. And when those clothes were stolen, a nasty gendarme, gathered us all in the yard of the gendarme headquarters. He put a row of gendarmes on one side and a row on the other. And they had bats in their hands, thick ones, like an arm, and they put each and every Roma to pass the rain of bats. Like over there, there was a large stable and, in the front, at the gates, were gendarmes with forks in their hands. When we would run to the gates, they hit us with those forks, when we run to the stable, they would hit us with the bats, and we fell one on top of the other until we reached the ceiling. You hear? We reached the ceiling… They took Lemi the old and Mațo and they tied their legs one on one chair and one on another chair and put a pole in between and tied them up and hit their legs so the legs were swollen and the poor men could not walk any longer, they were bailiffs, all this just because of that small theft I told you about.
And when we came there in those cages the gendarme gathered us…
LMC: Please tell…
Ioniță: The gendarme put us one next to the other, just like piling up wood and when one would talk, he would walk over our heads with his boots as over a bridge and take out the one who spoke and say: „You feel like talking, just come with me…” and he would hit him twenty lashes on the bottom or the feet, on the soles.
This is how it was, I tell the truth, I tell no lies.
LMC: I listen… I know.
Ioniță: But they kept two people behind. They let us the rest go. And they told us to pay for all. And so, rich or poor we discussed together to pay the two off and get them out, the ones left behind. The gendarmes asked: „Are you paying?” and we said: „We pay.” For those who had no money, we payed and we got out of there. We helped each other out, what else were we supposed to do?
They took us once more from there and we traveled for one month and a half on the road until we got to the Valley of Tears. There we found Mîrado. There we found all your relatives from all over the world, from where you know them.
Biza: Ilie Ceanbango…
Ioniță: And they took us to that valley. They had been there for a while in that valley, and they let us in the Valley of Tears. Mârado was the leader there, he took us with the wagons to work on the field, gathering hey. We worked for a while there and then came our turn to be taken with our wagons with our horses and to take us into a forest.
Biza: During this time, they were building up the huts.
Ioniță: You should stop talking….
They brought us to that forest to cut trees from there and to bring them to that train station. We had to load the train wagons with wood and send them back, to Romania, to our Romanians to our land. So we arrived in the woods. …
LMC: Where was this forest, in what place?
Ioniță: In Salvras, the Salvras forest, that it was called. We cut wood, loaded the wagons. Nobody would come along, not even the gendarmes, for the entire time we worked there. When we noticed that, we discussed all of us to get back to our huts, with our wagons and our horses.
LMC: Where were you staying there?
Ioniță: We had our tents, I told you, in that Valley. The tents were left on some pile. We returned to our tents and two days later the gendarmes came with machine guns. …
LMC: What kind of gendarmes? Were they Romanians, Germans?
Ioniță: They were even Romanians, Bessarabians were the worst from our ones… They came with machine guns and beat us up. They did what they wanted to us. The second day they took all our wagons and horses and divided them among the kolchoses and we were left only with the tents on piles.
Biza: The tents were left like that….
Ioniță: The Lăieți (group of nomads) were on one row, we were on another row. Every single night, the Lăieți would come over us. We had no rest because of them.
LMC: Which kind of Lăieți were these?
Ioniță: Lăieți from those of Bădulești, pauperism, that kind… They would take all we were wearing. And we stayed there for another whole month as they said they will put us into the houses of the Russians, because the snowfall was approaching, it was staring to snow now, you understand? And they made us 4 thousand huts. Now I will tell you about the huts, 4800 huts they made for us.
LMC: In Dumanovka?
Ioniță: In Dumanovka. There was a forest there you cannot imagine how big, like the Coțofan we have. Up there were they made the huts. Nearby, from where they made the huts, they built some streets, a city hall, they built a gendarmes headquarters: a camp. Do you know how a camp looks like? A camp they built.
LMC: Do you wish to see that place again?
Ioniță: I do not know where it is, I don’t remember.
LMC: Do you wish to see again that place where you have been deported?
Ioniță: I would go, but there is no one to take me there. Who would take me there?
LMC: I would.
Ioniță: Can you still find the people who were there, are they still alive?
There we stayed for one year, in the camp.
Biza: In those huts…
Ioniță: Whoever got out of the camp would be shot or he would get twenty-five lashes on the soles or the ribs…
LMC: Who would do this to you the Russians, the Germans?
Ioniță: The gendarmes, Romanians. A gendarme from Poctoava, Ineu was the commander there. From Poctoava. And we stayed for one year. We ate ripe corn kernels. We crushed them with a hammer and made some sort of polenta out of them. I tell yu the truth. The ones who had gold, lived there. The ones who had no gold …. died poor souls and were thrown out the window, mercy on them.
Bakro, my cousin ate the dog. Tabaco was the dog’s name. Should I tell you about this too?
LMC: But of course.
Ioniță: Tabaco was the name of that dog and Bakro slaughtered the dog and ate him.
Biza: Some would eat mules…
Ioniță: They would catch the mules of the Moldavians because there were Moldavians who had horses. They would get the mules in the huts, slaughter them, and had meat to live like pashas.
Biza: I think you ate that too.
Ioniță: I was roasting my peppers and corn kernels. ….
Biza: Do you know what they did? The Russian women did bazaar, that’s how they called them. But whoever they caught in the city, for example if they would catch me with my son, they would force him to dishonor me. It did not matter if there was a brother or a father it did not matter they would have him to dishonor me, forced and they would hit him on top of me, our Roma ..There was heavy bullying there in the Bug.
LMC: What did you do there? What was your occupation?
Biza: There was no occupation. What should I tell you? We ate whatever we could find. We would go to the sunflower fields and would eat seeds the whole day long and those who were caught were shot… They shot also …….
LMC: Whom did they shoot?
Biza: The shot Istrate son of Bâtu. He was staying there in the sunflower field, and they shoot at him and killed him in the middle of the sunflowers.
Ioniță: We stayed there for one year. After one year we went to that village where we were.
Father, mother, sister would go to the village and those who were caught, the gendarmes put them to make love to the mother, sister.
LMC: I know, I know…
Ioniță: If you do not believe me … you know the guy who was forced to dishonor his own mother. Only Mîrado would go to the city, Pulikă, Bărculikă, but the rest of us were not allowed to go there.
And they made papers and asked for us at the collectives. They took us from there with wagons and distributed un in villages.
LMC: were you brought to the woods to cut trees?
Biza: We were carrying corn on our shoulders.
Ioniță: Let me tell you. Pulikă, my cousin chose us, your uncle as to say, he died but now we talk about him …
Whom did he choose? „Mister Ioniță, you go with me. He was a Bulibașa, I was, how do you call those, a brigadier that’s it … just as it is now. And he gathered a couple of us to make bricks, that a priest will take us to make bricks so he can build a church just like the ones in Romania, that is what that priest said. And we were called by the secretary of that village. What was there? We made a huge pit and we dug the earth from the valley and filled the pit with earth and at the end we watered it, and there were two wheels in the earth and there was a long pole and we pulled on that pole just like those wheel mules in order to soften the earth and so we did bricks. At the end, I went along near the priest so he can see me too, the priest.
LMC: What was the name of the priest?
Ioniță: I do not remember his name.
„Ioan, you stay only at the wheel, go up there on the roof and fix these tubes nicely.” And Bălea saw me, so he wanted to get me down, he was set to get me down, because I switched to easy work and he had to work down there… Then came the priest and when the priest came, he people told him: „ That one wants to beat up this men, he wants to get him down but we need him up here because he knows his work and does it well. Do not take him down.”
And then he took Bălea and hit him and Bălea got three shovels. I used to go with Pulikă to bring the bread. They gave us breads this big, oil. Huge breads, to bring them to the workers so they can eat. You hear, Lumino.
LMC: I hear, how could I not hear.
Ioniță: So, we were to bring the breads home. What was Pulikă doing? He would take out about twenty breads and let them at the houses so we could take them later. We lived there for a while and our camp was dissolved. The priest said to us: „Run away. Go to Burilovka to the other gypsies, there are many more over there.”
Mîrado was there, they were thousands of people
LMC: Forgive me, uncle, but I do want to ask you, did you build a church?
Ioniță: We made bricks, we burned them and at the end we left, it remained as that.
Biza: The war was coming back…. the war came….
LMC: Pulikă says in his testimony that they built a church, a monastery, they built something …
Ioniță This is the one he talks about, but there was no time to end it.
LMC: He too speaks about this church.
Ioniță: We did not have the time to raise it. They took us with the wagons and brought us away from there.
I was telling Pulikă that I cannot team up with him any longer. And I told Bandi the old, her uncle, and to Mîrado because they were the highest in rank there: „Uncle Bandi and uncle Mîrado, an cannot get along with uncle Pulikă because I cannot stand it any longer to be with him in the territory.”
So Mîrado stepped in and so did Bandi the old who was her uncle, Mîrado was fond of me because he was a friend of my father, so they took us and put us with their people together. We want to work, we dug out potatoes, we loaded train wagons, there was no escape. The Russians would come on horseback to get us out from the huts and sent us to work. We wnt to work and we worked.
Then came an order … there was a large pond, to get ice out. We were to cut the ice, take it out for them to put it in the cellars in summer, in pubs so we did this too and we got ice out of there. We stayed there for a long time. We stayed pretty long there. That Ilou came, who was paid by Mîrado and he told him: „Bulibașa take your people and run away! We leave you behind as the war line is getting nearm go back to Romania as you do not depend on anyone anymore.” So, our man told us: „This was it, get ready, we leave!”
And we gathered all our things and left, and we got back to the place from where we left. We came back.
LMC: Now I ask you, please tell us what you know.
Ioniță: She will tell you the same.
LMC: No, no, please tell us what else you were doing there in the huts.
Biza: Well now, people have died when we got on the road.
Ionița: That was when Ițalo left two kids on the road as she could no longer carry them…
LMC: Where did she leave them?
Ioniță: In the fields.
Biza: Near a fire.
Ioniță: She could not carry them any longer…
Biza: We had no wagons, we had nothing.
Ioniță: There were no wagons, no horses, we walked. And as we were walking, we had nothing with us. The snow caught up with us and we had no place to shelter. She had a small child in her arms. And that small baby …
Biza: He was six months old.
LMC: What was his name?
Biza: Istrate was his name.
LMC: God bless him!
Ioniță: I told her: „Let him domn and run as far as you can because we have no other option for him” I take my daughter, my father, my mother … so they do not die here.
Biza : And I remained with my kindred…
Ionița : She let him down in the snow with the small eyes open ….
Biza: He remained with the small eyes wide open like this…
LMC: Let her tell us because her heart is filled with pain when thinking about this.
Biza: Just like this I put him down in the snow and he remained with the small eyes wide open like that as the blizzard blew towards him. And so he died tied up and then we left.
LMC: How did you let him like that and left, what was your heart saying?
Biza: What could a heart say? That I too got lost from him. He was no more. We did not know of each other. I stopped existing.
LMC: was your heart hurting because of the child?
Biza: How could it not hurt. He just started to smile, to giggle.
Ioniță: we did what we had to do and crossed back here. We crossed back. We arrived in Tighina and the Germans took us and we crossed back to Romania their bridge made out of vans as they would not let us cross the bridge made of concrete.
Biza: They did not let uss cross back on this side.
Ioniță: But that German guy took us and he let us cross on this side, all of us Roma we cross the Dniester.
LMC: A German?
Ioniță: A German helped us, pour soul: „Follow me!” Mîrado promised him two golden coins but he said he does not want any gold from us, and he let us cross the bridge and so we came back here. It was a floating bridge made from ships, just like this. And we came on this side up to …
Biza: Listen, listen, how the typhus got us…
LMC: Please let her tell us too.
Biza: People got the typhus, but we did not. Operatu got it, it took Lubița away, as she died of typhus, that Lubița. People got the disease on the road, and they died on the way, her father survived Operatu he survived and came. We had no more gold, there was no one left, we had no tents, we returned poor as church mice and people would give us food for free, shelter to sleep … we were miserable…
Ioniță: Covered with lies. God beware…
Biza: My sister-in-law, Veta, God rest her soul, would gather the clothes from the dead gendarmes, from shot people and gendarmes. She took the clothes from them and put them in the train. I still laugh when I remember, there was Gaga, Tonu’s Gaga, Orja where Tortică buried her now, Ceandiri and Veta gathered a bag full of clothes, of guns that they took, pistols, from the dead people from the roads, as her children walked.
My feet were frozen, were burned when I came barefoot just like that on the top of the train wagons. The train stopped with the wagons with the wounded Germans. And they saw us up there and a German got out of his wagon and came to me.
He looked at my feet and he asked me, the German: „What did you do? ” On the road, I walked. The truth is, I put my feet in the oven because they were frozen when I run, they had thawed and formed … look, I still have marks left.
LMC: Will you show them to us?
Biza: I will. Look marks here, marks on all these toe tips, those were burned.
And that German guy went back to his wagon because he could not carry me inside and took medicine and cures and he bandaged my feet. And he told me, as we learned some Russian.
LMC: Was he German or Russian?
Biza: He was German. He taught me and showed me when and how to change bandages. Bless your mouth, when I got those bandages off after three od four days, I saw my feet healed. My toes were healed, and I could step like this again. There were Bratis children, true: Ilia, Poida, Deordi…
Biza: Ceandiri was with us because the girls were left with me. They would stray and run and searching the chests in train stations and they would bring us food, they would bring wines from the stations.
It was the Easter fast. We ate the Holy Easter bread after Pitești. Istratică was small, wore diapers, Măzărica was with us too.
When we saw that we arrived in Romania was when Mărunțelu git down in Pitești and we could still nt believe that we arrived in Romania. What we went through?
They were bombing, the hit the neck, they shot bombs and hit my uncle’s neck …
LMC: Which uncle?
Biza: My uncle, the brother of my father. Gogu was his name. It hit his neck, a shrapnel, and he was dead in the middle of the road. People died on the roads, bombs were flying over their heads like this on the roads when we came back and Germans, Roma or Romanians it did not matter…
When we came back to Romaina we owned nothing.
When we returned from there, we built a small tent, and I should tell you about my daughter. People were passing by, and she was healthy back then, she was about four or five years old, and people would pass us on their way to threshing grain. I and he, we were working with them, two people, and she said:
„You see, mother, my father is to blame because he told you to throw my little brother in the snow. He told you to throw him in the snow, it would have been better if he were here with us now.”
And both of us started to cry. Those people who passed by, they walked in front of the tent and started to cry too, and they brought us food because they pitied the small girl and the baby who died. She has just sent me money.
LMC: She cried for him too?
Biza: If I would not have left him, I would have had no chance to survive. My brother died too. We suffered a lot back there. Ludi and Orja died. Lubița was with Ilari, she was married.