Traian Orban (b. Petroșani, 20 februarie 1944) is a vet by profession. However following his participation in the Revolution of 1989, this became an insignificant detail for his identity. As he presents himself, in a veritable declaration of faith in the mission taken up by the institution that he has run for more than two and a half decades: “At present I am a pensioner, a category II invalid and disabled since I was shot during the Revolution. I am the president of the Memorial to the Revolution Association, founded in 1990, an association that was set up out of the desire to honour the memory of the heroes, to create a centre of documentation, to find out the truth about the Revolution, to create a memorial complex of monuments marking the most important locations in the city, where people were killed.”
The Revolution of 1989 brought a change of regime for the whole of Romania, but Traian Orban’s direct participation in the revolt in Timişoara was an event that marked him profoundly with the drama of the events and radically changed his way of looking at life. Traian Orban was shot on 17 December, one of the bloodiest days of the events that took place in Timişoara at the start of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. As recalled by Traian Orban, the moment that changed his destiny unfolded thus: “I arrived in Liberty Square in front of the Macul Roşu [“red poppy”] confectionery. Some individuals had devastated the confectionery, taken the furniture out onto the tram lines and set it on fire. The second-hand shop in the square had also been devastated; people were coming out with clothes, with cameras, with TVs and other valuable objects. They were offered to the demonstrators. We refused to take them. We protested, but in vain – they got on with the job and disappeared with the objects. In Liberty Square the tanks arrived. One of the tanks was set on fire and headed quickly towards Unification Square along Str. Alecsandri, to the cheers of the crowd. The cordons of soldiers were trying to block access to the square. There was still no shooting. I took part in blocking a tank in Liberty Square; some young people positioned themselves in front of it, and tried to stick various objects into its tracks. I got my hand on a tank towing cable, and stuck it into the tracks, and I asked a young man to put a rag in the exhaust pipe, with the result that the engine stopped. Immediately to the cheers of the crowd, the tank stopped. Near the garrison in Liberty Square there were some cars. One of them was set on fire. I found out later that they were the cars of some military staff in Division 8, which had its headquarters in the square. After the burning of the car, the signal was given to start the repression; it was after 4.30 pm when they started shooting. They were probably using training bullets, because nobody was wounded. There were cheers; a lot of people were trying to withdraw from the square. We tried to head for the Opera along Str. Alba Iulia, but a column of demonstrators was coming from the Opera shouting ‘Freedom.’ The crowd in the square thinned out. I saw a few people being detained. I didn’t want to go away from in front of the garrison; I was shouting: “The army is with us!... Down with Ceauşescu!” I want to tell you that between 4 and 4.30 I talked with some conscripts. They told me they had been on alert since 5 am. They had weapons, but they didn’t have bullets. I offered them cigarettes. I noticed that after 4.30 the firing got more intense. I saw that pieces of plaster were falling from the walls, a sign that indeed they were firing real bullets. I was scared and withdrew into various buildings on the square. Then I went back into the square, trying to head towards the museum on the then Str. Karl Marx, but another column of demonstrators came from there too and I saw an officer being attacked by the demonstrators. They were beating him. We went back, back in front of the garrison, where before 5 pm three civilians with pistols emerged from the military garrison together with three men in military greatcoats and caps and with automatics in their hands. I saw that from the Division headquarters, where the statue of Decebalus is, they were firing from the balcony and from a window; I saw some conscripts trying to put out a fire, a Dacia car. At a certain point, when I was at the crossing of Liberty Square with Karl Marx, I talked a little with the soldiers and I heard that a soldier had been shot. Beside me someone was wounded, and I bent down over him to see what had happened to him. He was bleeding heavily and the blood splashed on my face and my clothes. At the same moment I was shot in the leg, before 5 pm. I cried out; I fainted with pain; I could feel I was being carried by some young people to a car, and I was taken by car to the County Hospital. The pain was very severe when they held me by the wounded leg. They thought I had been hit somewhere in the face, in the head, because I was covered with blood. In the hospital, I was undressed; I was put on a stretcher; they gave me first aid; but I was left in the corridor. Probably there were much greater emergencies. In the corridors, on stretchers, in wheelchairs, there were wounded people; some were shouting; there were dead there; it was beyond description. Stretchers were coming with wounded from ambulances, which kept bringing more and more wounded. I waited a long time; I was in the corridor; it was cold; it was winter. At a certain point, a stretcher-bearer came up to me and said he worked in the village of Şipet, in Dorna. He asked me how it had happened; I told him. He got to know me. I asked him to bring me a blanket and he suggested to some stretcher-bearers that it would be a good idea for me to be taken to the Orthopaedic Hospital. And so I got out of the County Hospital, where I heard that horrible things happened. I was transported to the Orthopaedic Hospital after about an hour; it was after 6 pm. I was taken into a ward; a preliminary toilet was carried out, but it was all an incredible shambles. The hospital was overcrowded. The next day I was moved to another ward. After about nine days, I heard that a team of doctors from Austria had arrived in the hospital; they treated me in an initial phase, and then I was transported as part of a convoy of ambulances to Vienna. On 27 December I was the first patient the Austrians operated on. They were a team of Austrian doctors from various hospitals; from the Polytrauma Hospital there was Professor Johan Poigenfurt, who was the head of the clinic. During the period when these doctors were treating the wounded, they were still shooting in Timişoara. These doctors were extraordinary. They saved a lot of people from perishing.” (Orban 1997)
Traian Orban is at present one of the leading figures in civil society in the west of Romania, a respected personality in the Romanian public space and one of the most insistent fighters for finding out the truth about the Romanian Revolution of 1989. As he confessed to the COURAGE project researchers, Traian Orban has a vision of communism, at least the communism that he experienced in Romania, that is utterly unequivocal: “It was a political system without a God; it was a system against human nature. It cultivated fear, opportunism, toadyism, laziness, snitching – just about everything that is low and base in people. It didn’t bring wellbeing to people; it reduced most of them to the verge of bare subsistence. Communism generated a lot of suffering through dictatorship, through the repressive system that it embodied, through the personality cult, through restrictions on human rights. With all sorts of limits imposed, with food rationing, with insufficient clothing. Nothing was for people; on the contrary it was against people, against people’s normality. With the hunger, with the cold, with the fear that it brought, communism was against people.”
- Timișoara, Romania
Lajos Ordass (originally Wolf) was a Hungarian Lutheran bishop. He was born in 1901, in Torzsa. He studied theology in Budapest, Sopron, and Wittenberg. He became a clergyman in 1924. Between 1931 and 1941, he was a pastor in Cegléd, and from 1941 to 1945, he was a priest in Kelenföld (Budapest). On 19 March 1944, he changed his name from Wolf to Ordass as a protest against the occupation of Hungary by Germany. In September 1945, the Lutheran church district of Bánya elected him to serve as their pastor. Three years later, the Economic Police of the State Protection Authority made a perquisition in his home. He was arrested and interrogated, but later he was released. On 8 September 1948, he was arrested again, and on 1 October he was condemned to two years prison for allegedly having “speculated with foreign currency”. The political leadership thought that Ordass was the main obstacle to a forthcoming “agreement” between the state and the Lutheran Church. The bishop did not want to resign from his office because he had been elected by the people of the Church, and he thought that he had never abused their confidence and would not do so even if under threat. However, he lost his office because of the ecclesiastical special disciplinary court, which had been threatened by the secret police, so it removed him from his office in an unlawful procedure just two months before his release (May 1950). He lived a life of withdrawal from public affairs until 1956, when his rehabilitation was finished in early October thanks to the meetings of the Central Committee of World Council of Churches and the State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs, which had taken place in August 1956 at Galyatető. He returned to his office to lead the Southern Lutheran Church District (which had been created in the meantime) on 3 November 1956. He was a bishop until June 1958, when the Church forced him to retire. He never returned to the leadership of the Lutheran Church.Ordass was a model bishop, rather than an epoch-making Church leader. He could not be the epoch-making Church figure he might have been because the communist dictatorship only allowed him to be active as a bishop for short, fragmented periods (1945–1948 and 1956–1958). In the last 28 years of his life, Ordass was either in prison (1948–50) or in the background (1950–1956 and 1958–1978), living as a retiree, isolated from active ecclesiastical service. In this period of some 30 years, Ordass created an interesting situation of conflict: the leaders of the Church and the party state were equally worried about the fact that he was a member of the Presidency of the Lutheran World Federation for 12 years. He couldn’t take part in the sessions, with the exception of two great assemblies, when he was elected to the Presidency of the Lutheran world organization.
- Budapest, Hungary
- Budapest, Hungary
Gerhard Ortinau was born on 18 March 1953 in a village on the Bărăgan Plain (Borcea), in a family of Banat Danube Swabians, a German-speaking population settled in this region during the eighteenth century by the Habsburg Empire. His family was deported from the Banat in 1951 as part of the forced displacements of population from the border region with Yugoslavia to areas in the Bărăgan (in South-East Romania), because his parents were labelled by the communist authorities as “former exploiters” (ACNSAS, I 233 471, vol. 1, 1).
From 1972 to 1976, Ortinau studied German and Romanian philology at the University of Timișoara. During his studies he was one of the initiators of Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of young Romanian-German writers, which also included Albert Bohn, Rolf Bossert, Werner Kremm, Johann Lippet, Anton Sterbling, William Totok, Richard Wagner, and Ernest Wichner, most of them students at the same university. The literature created by this group sought to be socially committed, to offer a critical view of society. Because of their non-conformist lifestyle and because they adopted in their literary texts ideological perspectives inspired by the neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt School and certain aesthetic principles which contradicted the literary canons of the time, Aktionsgruppe Banat was considered by the Romanian communist authorities to be a subversive group. Ortinau, together with his colleagues, was attentively put under surveillance starting from 1974, and subsequently he was subject to a series of repressive measures. In 1973, the Securitate became interested in Ortinau’s literary activity because an informer of the Securitate talked about the poems he had sent to the cultural magazine Echinox in Cluj, which the secret police considered subversive (ACNSAS, I 233 471, vol. 1, 6–7). Also, another informer highlighted in his notes the critical ethos of the poem Die moritat von den 10 wortarten der traditionellengrammatik (sic!) [The street ballad of the ten parts of speech of the traditional grammar], which included allusions to the abuses of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. This was published in 1974 in the magazine Neue Literatur (a publication of the Romanian Writers’ Union for the German-speaking public) because it had escaped the watchful eye of the censorship.
Because they felt they were being watched, the group members planned to influence the Securitate by agreeing to collaborate as informers. Thus, Gerhard Ortinau and William Totok agreed to become “sources” of the Securitate and supplied the secret police with a series of items of information trying to present the group in a positive light. This information was given with the agreement of the other group members,who were also kept up to date with the actions of the Securitate. By corroborating their notes with those received from numerous other informers, who discussed the group’s activity, the Securitate discovered their double game (Petrescu 2015, 135–136).
Based on this detailed information about his literary activity, on 2 October 1975, the Securitate searched Gerhard Ortinau’s house and confiscated many manuscripts, letters, and books (Totok 2001, 46–47). On 12 October 1975, Gerhard Ortinau, Richard Wagner, William Totok, and Gerhardt Csejka, the last-named being a supporter of the young Romanian-German writers, were arrested because they were accused of wanting to cross the border illegally (ACNSAS, I 210 845, vol. 2, 69). This accusation came when the four of them were heading towards the house of William Totok’s parents in Comloșu Mare, which was close to the border. In fact, the Securitate wanted to accuse them of undermining the regime. During the investigation, the local Party leaders intervened to ask for their release because their conviction for political reasons could have caused reactions in the international press (Totok 2001, 47–48). As a result, the four were released after about a week of interrogation, but the activity of the group of young writers was suppressed through repressive measure. In the following years, Ortinau continued to be persecuted by the authorities. In September 1977, the Securitate confiscated other manuscripts and forbade him from publishing (ACNSAS, I 233 471, vol.1, 162). After emigrating to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1980, he settled in West Berlin and continued his literary activity. He published several literary volumes such as Verteidigung des Kugelblitzes: Erzählungen (The defence of ball lightning: Stories; 1976) and Ein leichter Tod: Erzählungen (An easy death; 1996).
- Berlin, Germany
Gyula Ortutay was both an ethnographer and politician.
He was born in Subotica, Serbia, in 1910. His parents were Ilona Borsodi and István Ortutay, a journalist and editor of the Szegedi Napló. Following secondary school Gyula Ortutay began his academic studies at the University of Szeged. He studied Greek and Latin, and graduated in 1934. He was a founder of the Artistic Youth College of Szeged [Szegedi Fiatalok Művészeti Kollégiuma]. In 1935 he began work at the Hungarian National Museum. Later, in 1944, he joined the Hungarian Radio [Magyar Rádió]. During his carrier there, working with Patria audio publishers, he organized several ethnographic recordings with László Lajtha, Béla Bartók, and Zoltán Kodály. He wrote about these works in his diary. They recorded folk tales, folk songs, folk customs, religious songs, and also helped performers travel to Hungary. He launched his political career in 1943 through his contact with communist intellectuals. He served as Minister of Religion and Education between 1947 and 1950. While his political role gained importance, he also worked as an ethnographer and folklorist. In 1949 he presented the speech, “A magyar néprajztudomány elvi kérdései” [Theoretical Questions of Hungarian Ethnography], which defined the role of Hungarian ethnography in the socialist era. From 1951 Ortutay served as the Head of the Folklore Department at Eötvös Loránd University. Between 1949 and 1956 he was also the chairman of the Hungarian Ethnographic Society, and later, between 1957 and 1963, was the rector of Eötvös Loránd University. He was one of the most important academic figures of Hungarian folklore during the socialist era; he supported folklore collections and research, and highlighted the importance of informative work. He curated a very popular series for Magyar Radió, the Kis Magyar Néprajz [Little Hungarian Ethnography].
He was married to Zsuzsa Kemény.He died in 1978, in Budapest.
Gyula Ortutay edited several ethnographic journals, including Ethnographia and Acta Ethnographica.
He kept a diary between 1938 and 1977. It was edited by Tamás Ortutay and published in 2009–2010. It offers important reflections on the scientific life of ethnography during the Rákosi and Kádár eras, and also presents a private perspective on the historical changes that took place in Hungary.