Pursued by 21 Colonels

** Translated by Antonia Sampalean **

September 19, 1983. A young woman, completely overwrought and all cried out, heads towards the market of Drobeta at a quick pace. She looks desperately around her. She’s not sure what she’s looking for.

Her gaze falls upon a car that passes by her with a French license plate. She follows it for a while and then a little longer, until the driver parks. He gets out of the vehicle along with a woman who seems to be his mother.

The young woman walks by them and says something. At first, the man looks confused. After they exchange a few words, the three of them head towards the market.

She keeps her distance, giving the impression that she doesn’t know them. But they continue to talk. Afterwards, she discretely follows them through the food stands while they do their shopping.

When they get back to the car, the mother and son put their grocery bags in the trunk. The woman catches up to them and throws a folded piece of paper right next to the bags. She quickly moves away without looking back.

They’ll never see each other again.

November 5, 1983. One and a half months later, the content of the folded piece of paper is read on Radio Free Europe.

It’s a letter addressed to the radio station. In it, the young woman recounts the story of what had happened the morning before approaching - out of sheer desperation - the unknown French man.

fotocopie pasaport adriana olteanu LM_2

When they entered my apartment, they started to terrorize my husband, to pull his hair, to beat him, to drag him on the floor, and finally, they handcuffed him.

They grabbed my hands while they assaulted me, and they prevented me from attending to my 8 month old baby who had woken up from all the noise produced by these assassins.  

I will not be humiliated any longer by Romanian officials and I want to ask that not only you publicize my letter in the Western press, but grant me international help to raise my children who are truly innocent.”

Signed: Adriana Olteanu (Image).

When they arrested her husband, Ion Olteanu, the authorities didn’t present any evidence nor did they specify which charges were laid against him.

But it didn’t matter. The Olteanus knew where this was stemming from.

We had written some letters to Ceausescu and to the Council of Ministers in which we expressed our discontentment with the regime, and with its disregard for human rights.

I said that I consider myself a free person and I wish to live as a free person.

For as long as political opposition continues to be condemned in Romania, there can be no such thing as free unions and the clauses from the Heksinki Declaration are therefore completely disregarded. If the communist regime fails to understand and does not make the necessary changes, we will have to leave Romania, ” recounts Ion Olteanu today.

In addition, the Olteanus had appealed to leave the country, definitively so. Their case was to be made public by Amnesty International in a 1985 report.

Even if they did eventually manage to live the American dream, the Olteanu couple continues to feel imprisoned by the story that has haunted them since their youth.

Six years ago, in 2010, Ion Olteanu returned to Romania, followed shortly after by his wife. Together, they began to rustle through the past, looking for answers and hoping that in this way, they’d find their peace.

The Olteanus were able to get possession of their files from the National Council for the Study of the Securitate’s Archives (CNSAS).

They discovered that 97 people, of whom 21 had the rank of colonel, had pursued them. There were also two generals from the Securitate.

Olteanu states that one of them was Aron Bordea, for whom the CNSAS released a verdict saying that he belonged to the political police. In the 1980s, he was the Chief of Administration (Internal Information) for the Securitate and he is the uncle of the magistrate Adrian Bordea, the president of Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) in 2014.

They tried to find out what happened to those who had initiated the creation of their file. They found out that many of them still worked in local administration or other state institutions.

This is the story of a family who wished to immigrate to the United States 33 years ago.

And who is now seeking justice.

Youth

Ion Olteanu (now 64) grew up on the shores of the Danube, in the town of Orsova Veche, 25 kilometers away from Drobeta-Turnu Severin. He used to look longingly towards the Serbian side of the river, only a few hundred meters away.

“I was a free human. Even when I lived under the communist regime, I always said what was on my mind. I got into conflict with the authorities and with my bosses because I freely expressed my opinion.

I was dissatisfied with the fact that the communist regime had imposed a kind of lifestyle in which I couldn’t find myself or integrate.”

He lived in Orsova between the ages of 7-17. A great joy in his childhood was fishing.

“I was a hopeless fisherman, often fishing on the Danube. It was a small town and the frontier officers often came to us and asked if we had seen strangers. If we didn’t speak, they would bother us and take our fishing poles. “

He became an eccentric teenager and in the 12th grade he ran away with his principal’s daughter.

“The principal gave me a huge beating in order to get revenge, I snatched his daughter and we took off into the greater world. We got to Cugir, in Alba, and I employed myself at the Mechanics Factory. It was a level 0 factory, and the people who worked there were exempt of military service. “

In Cugir, sewing machines, weapons and artillery were made. He worked there for three years until his father-in-law told on him to the Securitate. Ion Olteanu had returned home for holidays and had given his father-in-law a hunting knife that had been made in Cugir.

“We called them mini knives (and people knew that they were made at this particular factory). When I returned to Cugir, I found that my apartment had been trashed, they had issued me a warrant and I was kicked out of my workplace.”

He was sent to the army as a telegrapher in the Timisoara airport. He was 22 years old when he deserted and was caught in Orsova, on the shores of the Danube. He planned to cross over by swimming and head to Germany where he knew someone.

“I wanted to cross the border. Some former classmates – friends - turned me in. I was in need of some street clothing and after bringing them to me, they turned me in to the authorities. They brought me in to Timisoara, but I was not sent to the Military Tribunal because it didn’t reflect well on the system. I had deserted while on duty and they would’ve had too many problems because of me.”

After completing his military term, he returned to Severin where his father-in-law helped him to find a job at the County Council in Mehedinti. They knew the director of the strategic planning department. They had been colleagues in the Soviet Union.

During this time, his marriage began to suffer. Later on, he divorced and got custody of the little girl they had together. He wasn’t able to retain his job at the County Council. His father-in-law had once again intervened.

“I worked for four years in the County Council but they tried to kick me out and transferred to IJECOOP. I hadn’t asked for the transfer.”

While being an inspector at IJECOOP, he met his current wife, Adriana. She was a primary school teacher in a rural school and she commuted daily. In the meantime, he had completed his schooling as a civil servant and found work at CFR (The National Company of Railroads).

Jennifer

In 1982, a new child was born into their family, Bianca Jennifer. They liked the name of the protagonist from their favorite movie, Love Story.

However, her arrival on earth did not bring the Olteanu family a Hollywood-like romanticism but rather an Eastern-European drama.

“We went to register her birth and they didn’t want to give us her birth certificate. They refused to write Jennifer with two ns. After two months, my wife returned to the hospital with her because she had gotten meningitis.”

The Olteanus remember the night they went to the emergency room, utterly desperate, with their daughter who had fainted in their arms. The doctors told them to wait.

“They told us that the emergency room doctor was busy. We found her and she was there, reading a novel. My husband then said: Miss Doctor, start praying to God that our daughter will live because otherwise I’ll be going to jail for my whole life, but you will not be around to see it”, recounts Adriana Olteanu.

Finally, the doctor gave them a prescription for cold medication. They administered the medicine at home but the next day, their daughter was in a coma.

“At 6:30 in the morning, we were back are the emergency room and this time, we were in luck. That previous doctor was now off-duty and it just so happened that Doctor Romica Sima came by. He moved the baby around, saw that there was no reflex, looked into her pupils, and took her without saying a word.

He told us that she was in a coma and was taken to the Intensive Therapy section. For the next two or three weeks, he wouldn’t be able to guarantee that she would live,” continued Ion Olteanu.

Their daughter lived, and as a result, the Olteanu family considers Romica Sima to be their daughter’s second father. But as a result, because the treatment that was applied late, the child remained with auditory sequelae.

They say this was the straw that broke the camels back and decided to address their thoughts to Nicolae Ceausescu.

Ion Olteanu, astăzi. Foto: Lucian Muntean

Ion Olteanu today. Photo: Lucian Muntean

The Gunman

On August 30, 1983, they made an appeal to leave the country definitively. After a week, the problems began.

They were invited to the commander of the Regional Militia for the purpose of discussing their appeal to emigrate.

After our discussions, the commander realized that we were intent on leaving the country for good. He made up a false scenario asserting that my husband had not shown up for induction and presented him with a warrant stating that he should be brought to the Military Headquarters,” recounts Adriana Olteanu in her letter to Radio Free Europe.

Today, Ion Olteanu continues:

“The next day in the morning, I went to the headquarters and the officer on duty brought me to the commander. He saw him and gave the order: Draft his travel papers immediately along with his documents and send him to the Canal. He told me: Those of you who are sent to the Canal need to be reeducated.

I left the office of the commander and was told to wait on the bench in the hallway. The officer went in to the office to finish my paperwork. They had taken my ID card. With no one in sight, I quietly ran for it. The officer on duty at the gate asked me: What happened? I responded: It’s been resolved, done.”

Olteanu ran home at top speed and barricaded the doors. From the evening of September 6, 1983, his home was permanently spied on. The next day, the Militia members who had sent him to the headquarters began knocking on the door.

Adriana Olteanu went to the post office to send an urgent telegram to the attorney general of the Socialist Republic of Romania. However, not only were the Militia’s eyes on him but also the Securitate’s.

The telegram never arrived because the director of the post office sent it to the Securitate. I found it in our file. Everyone was working for the Securitate, “ states Ion Olteanu, basing his facts on the content of his file given to him by CNSAS in 2009.

He relates how the Securitate and those who were closely affiliated with them reported every detail, and many times, the information they reported had nothing to do with reality.

For example, in one of the reports, it asserts that: “at 4:00 in the morning, Olteanu closed the light and went out on the terrace.”

Across from him, just in front of the building, there was a parking lot. On one side of the parking lot there was a van from the former Yugoslavia. The license plate number was noted and included in a report that was sent to the commander of the Securitate in the Mehedinti region.

The report affirmed that there was some connection between the van and Olteanu. The next day, the Yugoslavian’s van was dismembered at the border.

“They refused to believe that a Romanian citizen born during the communist regime could possibly think and write the way that I did.”

Adriana Olteanu remembers how during the week when they were held hostage in their home, they would send money to their neighbors using the clothes line from their balcony in exchange for food.

Things carried on in the same way until the 15th of September 1983, when Adriana was supposed return to work for the first day of school. She was told not to go, but rather to urgently present herself in the office of the Judicial Committee of the PCR (Romanian Communist Party).

“I went and met with someone there named Stoica, the regional secretary of propaganda, who told me that my husband was an enemy of the people, of the nation and that they would put him in jail where I’d never see him again.

He told me that I was a highly regarded teacher and that they’d have my divorce papers ready in 24 hours. I refused and was told that I’m therefore an enemy of the people, a viper, and a snake.

While he was speaking with me, he twirled his pistol around on the table. Just like that, with his finger on the trigger. I was thinking that I might meet my end right then and there while Olteanu was waiting for me at home. I would never return to my children.”

Adriana Olteanu. Foto: Lucian Muntean

Adriana Olteanu. Photo: Lucian Muntean

Chains

On the morning of the 19th of September 1983, 19 military officers appeared at the door of the Olteanu family apartment. Leading them was the attorney Constantin Sopalca (who until recently, was the attorney general of DIICOT Mehedinti up to March 2016).

“They said: Olteanu, open the door because you’re coming with us, while Olteanu responded: Do you have an arrest warrant? If you do, slip it under the door and I’ll leave my wife and go wherever you tell me to go. They broke down the door.” remembers Adriana Olteanu emotionally.

“One of them climbed on me with his boots and since then I have a fissured vertebra, I’ve lived my entire life in pain. They handcuffed my hands and feet. They took me like a dead man and put me in the car” continues Ion Olteanu.

Afterwards, Adriana Olteanu left her daughters in the house - the oldest was 11, and the other was 8 months old -, as she went to bring some clothes to her husband who had been arrested with only an apron on.

She didn’t forget the “mission” her husband had left her with. 

“During this time of unrest and sequestrations, Olteanu had written a letter and he told me that if something happens, to finish the letter and to try as much as I could to send it to Radio Free Europe. If the letter could make it out of the country, he’d live. If it didn’t, I’d never see him again.”

Adriana Olteanu managed to get the letter into the hands of the stranger with the French license plate, but this didn’t help her see her husband right away. They had already moved him into a penitentiary.

“They put me in the cell for dangerous criminals. I didn’t know why, I didn’t see any document or an arrest warrant. I hadn’t given any declaration. 

They put me in the first available police van and sent me to Jilava penitentiary. There, they put me on an anvil and chained my hands and feet. 

They used the chains of a ship’s anchor. Prisoners on death row were chained with screws to the wall when they would become mad; they chained me and nailed the chains with a sledge hammer.”

After many years, in the CNSAS file, Ion Olteanu learned the pretext the Securitate used to move him to Jilava was the result of a recommendation from a psychiatrist from the Mina Minovici Institute.

“Usually, anyone who opposed the regime was declared crazy. Interesting enough, there is a report from the Mina Minovici Institute, regardless of the fact that no psychiatrist there ever consulted me. In the document, I wasn’t declared crazy, just depressed with a tendency towards suicide.”

The diagnostic angers Olteanu because it nullifies the charges that were laid against him of being a no-show in military training. Someone with depression had no business being in military training. 

“In Jilava they had torture chambers. They gave me electroshocks. Sometimes, they hung me on a nail, like an animal. They would hang me upside down with chains around my feet and leave me there.

Every single day, they gave me a piece of paper and pencil so that I could self-denunciate. They wanted to know which foreign agency or enemy of the regime I was related to.  

The guards would come to visit with a butt or two of “Maraseasca” cigarettes and asked who wanted to smoke. Cigarettes couldn’t get into Jilava. Of course, in every cell, there was a snitch. There was one in mine, Ion Tarziu from Timisoara. Every time the guard came, he wanted to smoke the butt.

They would tie my chains to the bedframes and then give this Ion Tarziu a tin lid. With the end of a broom, he would beat the tin lid right beside my ear for half an hour until I thought my brains would burst out through my ears. 

Then once again they would give me a sheet of paper.”

Ion Olteanu knew the Securitate had mandated the abuse he endured, and this was confirmed when he received his file.

The Securitate had asked for information from his birthplace, in Prahova county, a month before his arrest. In addition, the Securitate’s people from Mehedinti seemed to have declared his sentence a few months before it was given to him.

In the penitentiary, Ion Olteanu began a hunger strike.

There was a man with me in the cell, Lazar Davidovici – an older Jewish man from Viseul de Sus, who was semi-paralyzed and who was accused of attempted murder. He was the only one I spoke to in my cell. The crime that he was really paying for was another: his daughter had left for Israel. 

This man had escaped from Auschwitz, he had his registration number tattooed on his hand. I remembered that number for 20 years, but unfortunately, I forgot it. I never thought to write it down.

Since I was on a hunger strike, this poor elderly man would come to me, crying and imploring that I eat the piece of bread that he had saved for me.”

The Terror

On November 5th, 1983, the letter Adriana Olteanu had sent through the stranger she had meet at the food market was read on the radio station Radio Free Europe by newscaster Ion Turcu.

Informative note addressed to the head of the Securitate in which the content of the letter read on Radio Free Europe is transcribed.

She didn’t get to hear that broadcast. On that day, she was in Bucharest visiting her husband in Jilava prison. However, all of Severin had heard it and by the time she had returned, they were ready to boil over.

“Olteanu asked me if I had any interesting news for him and I said that I didn’t for the moment. I wanted him to understand that I had written the letter but knew nothing else.

The intention of those from the Military Procurator who accepted that I visit him was for me to convince him to retract all that he had written and to renounce the idea of leaving for America. 

That’s not how the story unfolded after I returned to Severin. The denigration campaign against me had begun. I was summoned to see the person responsible for propaganda a number of times where I was told to convince Ion to renounce. It was the same story as when I went last time, he was spinning the pistol around on his finger.

I was harassed non-stop by a whole slew of people and I would be called to see them in their office. They would tell me that they would take my children. They would go to the school of my older daughter and threaten to take her to her birth mother. They would tell her that her father would not be returning home.

People would say that they don’t want to talk to me because we were traitors, they would say all sorts of insulting things,” remembers Adriana.

The Securitate’s people would summon her continuously and threaten her in various ways. Despite all this, Ion Olteanu says he was impressed by what he found in the report of Mircea Parvulescu, the commander of the Securitate in Mehedinti.

“I don’t know what to believe, maybe this man had something human in him. Those from Bucharest, from the Department of the State Securitate, had given him an order to take up measures against us.

He wrote that he hadn’t done it because my wife was dying of hunger with two kids and that she was selling her household items to survive. That’s what the Securitate’s file states.”

Adriana Olteanu remembers how hard things were financially speaking and how she was followed by spies. From the beginning of her husband’s arrest her case was taken up by people who were more than happy to serve the system.

As an example, the couple Paula and Jenica Cicic, who shared the same stairwell and lived on the ground floor immediately tried to cozy up to Adriana Olteanu. Today, she says that the two would go tell the Securitate everything they had heard.

Ion Olteanu adds:

“After two months of Cicic informing on them voluntarily on four separate occasions, the commander of the Securitate ordered that he be verified and recruited as an informer. I have his recruitment contract.

He was recruited on the basis of patriotic sentiments and being that he was indeed patriotic, he was given a permit to cross over the Serbian border.

Consequently, the man started to invent stories. Once, he wrote that a car with a license plate number that he couldn’t remember came from Timis to see my wife.

Inside the car was a man with curly hair (who seemed to be an Arab) accompanied by a blonde woman. Apparently he had a discussion with my wife about helping me get out of prison and assisting in my crossing of the border.

Cicic signs his informative note with the code name Stefanescu. But, to show you what the Securitate officers were like: an officer in one of the reports states that he has gathered the information from Paula Cicic who is the wife of the informer Stefanescu. So in other words, the Securitate basically ratted out Jenica Cicic.”

After reading his file, Ion Olteanu looked for his former neighbor in the phonebook. He discovered that he was the mayor of a village called Burila Mare in the Mehedinti county.

Olteanu believes that in the meantime, Cicic “corrected” his file from the Securitate which currently only contains the front and back covers along with his collaboration contract. However, he had left his mark in Olteanu’s report where informer Stefanescu had signed 14 informative notes.

As a result, Olteanu obtained a verdict of “political police” for Cicic.

The Securitate’s tailing report on the Olteanu family from February 1985.

Glucose

From the moment the letter was read on Radio Free Europe, Ion Olteanu stayed in Jilava for another three weeks. Afterwards, he was supposed to be sent to Timisoara for his sentence. He left with the police van but never arrived at the destination.

“What happened was that out of idiocy, or I’m not sure what other reason, they dropped me off in Severin. My former civil servant colleagues saw me in chains; the whole train station was looking at me. In Severin, I was also put in the cell for dangerous criminals."

By November 29th, 1983, he had reinitiated the hunger strike. He knew that the police van that was set to transport him to Timisoara was available only once a month. He was hoping that until the police van became available again, his health would be so significantly deteriorated that he wouldn’t be transportable.

After two weeks, they began to give me glucose. How: the guardian would bring a glass for me to drink. He would return after half an hour and see that I hadn’t drank it.

He would come back with three to four guards who would hold me and knock on my teeth with the duck’s beak to make me open my mouth. With a screw, they would lock my jaw in place and then they’d put a hose in my mouth and start pouring in the glucose. 

When they finished, I would stick my finger down my throat and throw up all the glucose. I would throw it up on them. They would swear at me, but at least in Severin, no one laid a hand on me. 

On top of that, the isolating unit where the guards stayed overnight was right in the hallway. I could hear them talking - Waited in line for two hours last night to get a piece of bologna, damn it, Olteanu is right!”

Olteanu still didn’t know that his letter had been read on Radio Free Europe but he took advantage of the guard’s attempt to force food down his throat and got them to promise him a visit from his wife.

When Adriana made him aware of the current realities, he realized that time was in his favor and he continued on with the original plan.

“If I continued the hunger strike until the police van returned, I wouldn’t be transportable - and that’s what happened. The doctor didn’t give his approval. On January 5th, 1984, a court of the Timisoara Military Tribunal made its way to Severin where Olteanu was imprisoned.

Dumitru Gant, judge of the first court and the one who sent me to Jilava, didn’t come. In his place came the president of the Military Tribunal in Timisoara. After 3:00 pm, after the civil process had been completed, they carried me to a room where only my mother and wife were allowed in.

The military’s registrar came to me and said: Prisoner, the court will ask you whether or not you admit to your deeds. If you say yes, you’ll be set free, if you say no, you won’t leave here.

I said that I admit to my deeds and they gave me a year’s suspension and an order to be immediately released. They took me to the penitentiary, called the commander and at the gate of the penitentiary I declared: I, the undersigned, will renounce my hunger strike today. They cut off my chains and let me go.”

A week later, he bumped into the guard who had cut his chains off. The man stopped and said:

Olteanu, if you have faith in God, then pray to Him all your life because they had the death sentence planned for you. I contacted him a few years ago and he had retired. He has two sons who are also guards. I asked him: Do you remember what you told me? Yes. Do you have the courage to say this in public? No, Mr. Olteanu, I can’t. Don’t you see what’s currently happening in Romania?”

1984

In the following period Ion Olteanu was sent to the Construction Material Factory in Drobeta Turnu-Severin as an unqualified worker.

“The Securitate’s person in charge of the factory was a man named Nica who had been my colleague in Orsova. We made bricks for mines that had to be loaded onto trains. These bricks weighed about 30 kilograms. The only person who loaded them up was Olteanu. Nica would threaten to send me back to jail and would follow me on the streets.”

Olteanu realized that he had no hope of a future in Severin. He thought about trying once again to cross the Danube.

He had the means to do so in Orsova, as it was the town where he had spent his childhood. However, he had to be able to justify his presence on the shores of the river.

As a result, he sought to move there and in 1984, he legally registered an apartment swap with someone from Orsova and took up residence. Everything was done legally.

Despite all this, no one wanted to sign an electricity contract with the Olteanu family. They lived in pitch-blackness, clandestine in their own home.

“They came to the door once in awhile and threatened to kick us out or take our children away.”

Today, Ion Olteanu congratulates himself for not trying to swim across the Danube. He realized that he was constantly followed and he found out that their pictures had been sent to all the border checkpoints.

“The current president of the PNT-CD party in Mehedinti, Victor Gurbina, had been an officer at the border during the communist regime. He came to me three years ago while I was protesting in front of the County Council in Mehedinti. He told me that 30 years ago he received an order from the Securitate to shoot me if he found me near the border, the same way they had killed thousands of Romanians who were trying to cross over.

Nonetheless, Victor Gurbina publically declared that he had collaborated with the Securitate very closely. When I asked him where are the Romanians who had been shot while crossing the Danube, he sent me to look on the Serbian shores.”

The alternative offered by the regime was to work in the navy’s warehouse.

We had to work with Duco, that toxic paint, in the shipping room. I refused and I asked them to reinstate my rights because I already had qualifications.”

But the pressure was coming from all sides. Olteanu recounts how the family who lived on the same floor as them was forced to move to make room for a safe house. In the new family that came in, the husband was an informant and now his son is a PNL councilor.

One day, we went to the market in Orsova and when I returned, the entire door was covered in feces: the peephole, the doorknob, everything. I’m a tough man, impulsive. When I saw that I broke the door, took a marker and my wife will tell you what I wrote on their door, explains Olteanu.

Adriana carries on with the memory: “You, rotten slaves, stop putting your crap on the door because the time is coming when you’ll need it for food.”

“We didn’t clean our door, we just barricaded it and it remained like that,” continues Ion.

In the end, he took up business. He sold products that were brought by the Serbians to Cugir.

“The enterprise was slight, the Serbians would come bringing their watches, electronics, jeans, sometimes bringing gold, stickers. They would bring Vegeta, sweaters for dresses. I would buy stock for 2,500 lei and I would go to Cugir where the salaries were four to five times bigger than anywhere else. They didn’t know what to do with their money. On payday, I would sell everything and earn double.”

Top of the List in Amnesty International’s Report

In 1985, Radio Free Europe read Amnesty International’s report referring to the incidents of 1984. Romania had two and a half pages reserved in the report. The document announced the release of the priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa and called attention upon some desperate cases.

Ion Olteanu was at the top of the list.

“Amnesty International has continued to receive messages from prisoners who had asked to immigrate. For example, Ion Olteanu, a civil servant from Drobeta Turnu-Severin, was arrested in September 1983.

A short while after he applied to immigrate to the USA, he received an order that obliged him to work on the Danube-Black Sea Canal. He refused to sign because he knew it was tied to his desire to leave the country. Consequently, he refused to make an appearance in front of the military’s crown attorney.

The Militia threatened to use force against him. His wife sent a series of complaints to several officials as well as a telegram to the Attorney General of the Military but the post office refused to sign and send her attempts.

On the 19th of September, the Militia broke into their residence and proceeded to severely beat him, then arrested him.”

The Visas

Two weeks after the publication of Amnesty International’s report, the Olteanu family received a telegram from the American Embassy, with the following content: “We ask that you urgently present yourselves at the Embassy.”

“We were received by the first consul, who said something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life: The government I represent in your country has given me the authority to offer you visas as political refugees because we consider that your life and the life of your family is in danger. Do you wish to go to the USA? Yes. Do you have passports? No. Do you have money? No. We’ll take care of everything, but you have to go to Rome. You have to get there on your own account.”

The Olteanu family was only ready for the road after a month and a half. It took them this long because Olteanu’s daughter from his first marriage had just turned 14 and the authorities had asked for individual documents for her. This included a written agreement from her birth mother.

Before leaving, the Olteanu family took on another risk. They accepted the favor that the director of the hydro-electric power station Iron Gates had asked of them.

He asked to send his son’s education certificates with them. His son was an engineer who had fled the country and was at an interment camp in Italy.

A Journey

Ion Olteanu - pasaport LM _0004

With these "passports for people without citizenship" Adriana and Ion Olteanu left Romania in 1986. 

The State had taken away the Olteanu family’s citizenship, but offered them passports that were valid for six months. That was all that was available to them to leave the Socialist Republic of Romania forever.

On February 22nd, 1986, Adriana and Ion Olteanu together with their daughters got on a train to Belgrade. In their possession were two vinyl suitcases and a screwdriver.

“The moment the train left the station I went to the bathroom and weakened the screw that was holding the mirror in place and stuck the documents behind it. I tightened the screw and threw the screwdriver out the window.

In Stamora Moravita, the border officials came directly to us: Definitive leave? Yes. You have to get off. You will leave tomorrow with the same train because we don’t have time now to check you things. Check what things? The train is late and you have too much luggage. You’re not allowed other than one change of clothing for each of your daughters. Yes? OK. 

I took a change of clothing for each of them and threw the bags out the window. Before leaving, the border official said: If I let you leave, it’s for your children.”

After the border officials left, some Serbian saleswomen who had filled their bags with Romanian macramé surrounded us.

“We heard that you’re leaving, our border officials won’t check your stuff. We’re going to put our luggage here and you’ll say it’s yours. That’s what we did and after we crossed the border, the Serbians gave us enough money to buy clothing and food for the children. Then, I went to the bathroom and took out the documents. I had tricked the Securitate once again.”

On their way from Venice to Rome, a Canadian student who was travelling the world was in their sleeper cabin. He was on his way to visit his sister who had settled down in Italy’s capital.

They had a night at their disposal to share their life stories. Olteanu says that a strong bond formed between them.

“By the end of the ride, he had promised to visit us in Rome and when he came to the hotel after three days, I told him that the engineer who I had visited in the internment camp needed a sponsor to be able to immigrate to Canada. So he stayed an extra three to four days in Rome and arranged everything with his parents in Montreal. The engineer still lives in Canada today.”

In Rome, the Olteanu family had to pass a test. For a week’s time, another representative of the US Embassy visited them on a daily basis. They were asked to tell their story each time.

Ion Olteanu says the Americans wanted to ensure that they weren’t spies.

“They asked us what our religion was and if we were by any chance Protestant so that a church could help us. I told them: Sir, we are Orthodox but they’re no good either. I’m a free man, I’m not into church. But you know what? I, Olteanu, would like take a chance at being wrong. And if He exists, then end up in hell I will. Why? Because that’s where I’ll meet those with whom I couldn’t settle accounts with on this earth.”

He said: We have a single political organization that can help but they can only accommodate you in New York or Phoenix, Arizona. Where do you want to go? Sir, I don’t know where Phoenix is but I’m not going to New York. So we ended up in Phoenix.”

The American Dream

After a long flight, an officer who presented them with their green cards welcomed the Olteanu family at the New York airport. They had to wait eight more hours to catch their connection to Arizona.

“Out of eight hours, I think my youngest daughter cried for six, pointing and saying Pepsi Pepsi. It was a dollar and fifty cents but we didn’t have a penny. We didn’t even know what a dollar looked like. It was horrible. Hundreds of people were looking at us like bullies who didn’t want to buy their daughter a Pepsi.”

Waiting for them in Pheonix was a Serbian who spoke Romanian and who tried to convince them to become Protestant. They politely declined and went on to the organization who could only give them enough money to expense their living for two months. The hotel they stayed in was full of refugees from all over the world. But it was also full of something else.

“That night, we discovered that Arizona is full of huge insects that climb on the ceiling and fall on top of children. We took turns keeping watch so that the insects wouldn’t get into the kids’ ears or noses. “

The next day, they found jobs in a hotel: she, as a housekeeper and he, as a dishwasher.

“My wife worked during the day and I worked at night. The bus cost a dollar and fifty cents but we didn’t have the kind of money. We would walk and meet half way under a palm tree. We’d talk for two minutes and then continue onwards, in separate directions.”

After the first week, they received their wages given to them as written checks. They had no idea what to do with them.

After a few weeks, Ion Olteanu gave an interview on Radio Free Europe and The Voice of America. He said that he didn’t take any money offered to him by the journalists but instead, he got something of more value: the phone number of the priest who had been in prison, Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa.

After five years of imprisonment he was released in 1984 and had moved to Cleveland, Ohio just six months before their arrival to the USA.

We went to Cleveland too and worked as cleaners for five years. We swept and washed crap in a way that not a single Romanian had ever done in their lives. But we were free.

After a year, we were able to buy a car and we had thousands of dollars in savings at the bank. After three years, we bought a modest home. After another four years, my wife was fortunate enough to get a job at Ritz. She earned a lot there, up to 100,000 dollars a year. She was the manager of the protocol department and received commission from the profits that were made.”

Despite the fact that they lived a comfortable life, Ion Olteanu never got over the traumatizing experiences he endured in the communist prisons.

“After being in the States for years, I had developed a tick. I would walk down the street with my daughter Bianca Jennifer and remember what had happened and get upset. At that point, I’d have to take three steps back and three steps forward, the way I did in solitary confinement. That’s the amount of space I had there.”

In addition, Olteanu states he has proof the Securitate followed him even in the States.

“We had files at SIE that we have yet to receive. After eight months of being in the States, Jenica Cicic was still receiving clear instructions to get my phone number and address from my parents. He didn’t manage to, that cadger. On top of that, two months before the revolution in 1989, the Securitate verified our files once again.”

“Report” for the Securitate from 15/06/1986, signed by Jenica Cicic with the code name “Stefanescu.” This was sent four months after the Olteanu family renounced their Romanian citizenship and left the country definitively.

The Return

The baby of the family, Christopher Romeo, was born in the United States. He’s their pride and joy: at 21 years of age, he graduated summa cum laude with two degrees in Chemistry and Biology.

When he was a baby, the Olteanus held off on Christopher’s baptism for a year and a half until they could return to Romania and make the pediatrician who had saved Bianca his godfather. The doctor is Romica Sima.

The Olteanu family was granted American citizenship in 1991 and was able to get their Romanian citizenship back in 1992.

In 2009, Ion Olteanu received his file from the CNSAS and that’s how a new chapter in his book became: the reestablishment of the historical truth. He decided to move back to Severin in order to care for his father who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer.

My father was the captain of a ship. Because of his function, he was forced to collaborate. Two years ago my father died, and thereafter, while I was looking through some documents, I discovered that he was obliged to sign a contract stating that he would make the functioning bodies of the Securitate aware of all discussions, incidents or suspicious situations not only with strangers but also with close relations. They informed one on the other. It was the system, a criminal system.”

Olteanu says that in the meantime he’s also been trying to take down the new political elite in Mehedinti. He knows that many of them were part of the Securitate during the communist regime.

To make me stop talking, they offered me land, money, positions of power. The lawyer named Balanescu came to offer me 500 squared meters of land. He was Deputy Ombudsman with two mandates: he was the president of the Bar and regional councilor. The president of County Council in Mehedinti, Adrian Duicu, had sent him.”

In 2011, Olteanu appealed the government to review his file, particularly where he was condemned for not showing up for military induction.

“Since Romania is a EU member, the president of the Timisoara Tribunal declined that this was under his jurisdiction in civil court and sent the case of the Court of Turnu-Severin. I won the very first trial, which led to the instant cancellation of my conviction. However, the crown attorney appealed the decision and I lost the trial at the Appeal Court in Craiova due to procedural errors.

They said: Yes, you have been a victim of the Securitate but the proceedings were no good.” They cancelled the initial acquittal. For me, it’s good enough those who put me in prison, (the military prosecutors), admitted that the Securitate ordered everything - beginning from my arrest and leading to my conviction.”

In addition, Ion Olteanu requested the file of the military judge, Dumitru Gant, and that of the military prosecutor Constantin Voda.

“I made a plea to the State Archives to grant me access to the files of the judge and prosecutor who convicted me.

I have an official document stating that the two files I asked for are secret files that I cannot have access to for how many years? 75 years! How much rubbish did these two individuals do to keep their records secret for 75 years?

State secrets are hidden for 50 years. I will die, my children will die and my grandchildren will be old before they see them. Interestingly enough, after having condemned me, they both withdrew and retired from the military magistrate even though they were not of age.”

Ion Olteanu

A screenshot of the email that was sent to him after seeking access to the files of the magistrates who had condemned him.

More precisely, Olteanu found out that the former judge, Dumitru Gant, became the prefect of Timis after 1989 and ran as a candidate for the Senate. His son is a deputy. 

“Gant is currently a lawyer in Timisoara and was involved in that scandal with the multi-million dollar contracts for the highway from Timisoara-Nadlac,” says Olteanu.

In regards to the military prosecutor, he continued to practice in civil courts.

“His wife was a judge. They retired two years ago and live in Craiova. I called him and said: Sir, do you remember, you put me in chains years ago? He said: I don’t know anything but call me in two weeks. So I called him back and he said: Don’t call me again, I was warned to avoid conversations with you. He hung up the phone.”

Ion Olteanu is determined to continue the investigation and in particular, to obtain the verdict of political police for the people who had signed letters in his file.

He believes that at this point, only justice can extinguish the flames of the fiery drama that he lived in the 1980’s.

“Only my mom and my wife didn’t inform on me to the Securitate. Even my father was obliged to provide information about me.”