I have returned. Thanks to everyone who offered their best wishes and prayers for my safe return. In this post I will try to give some idea of what last Sunday was like.
For the past year, I have been in e mail correspondence with Reverend Joszef Soos of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Ginta, Romania, formerly Gyanta, Hungary. My grandfather, Stephen Pazar, was born in Ginta in 1896. His father, also Stephen (Istvan in Hungarian) was the town doctor. I had taken the train to Oradea, Romania, the nearest city, and took a cab to Ginta on Sunday morning. The cab driver had no idea where Ginta was located. Between him and his dispatcher who spoke some English, we negotiated a fare and he roared off. I couldn’t help but think about various Transylvania cliches on this foggy morning. We zoomed through small towns until a sign loomed up, welcoming us to Ginta in Hungarian and Romanian. He dropped me at the church as Reverend Soos and I had agreed, turned around, and left as fast as he had come in.
There is only one way in, and the same way out, of Ginta. The town is dominated by the church. A gentleman came up and asked if I was the American, and please follow him. We went to the parish house where I met Pastor Soos, his wife and family. They had house guests; two of his cousins, their spouses and children were visiting before the start of school the next day.
Service was at 10:30. Mrs. Soos gave me a hymnal and we walked to the church. Two rows of men greeted me as I walked into the church with the pastor and his family. I learned that the church had been built in 1858, and the town was sufficiently prosperous that they had hired a Budapest architect to design it. The pipe organ had come from Rome. I also learned that the church had been recently restored. In the Calvinist tradition, preaching is central so the pulpit is in the middle of the sanctuary, and elevated. Joszef later told me that he only preaches there on Christmas and Easter, and when there is a large funeral.
Hungarian being a phonetic language, I was able to sing along and actually understood a few words, like “Isten”, “Lord”. I also understood a few words from the sermon. Rev. Soos acknowledged me in Hungarian and English. After the service, he led me on a tour of the town before lunch, with another walk after lunch.
As we walked, Joszef gave me some idea of the history of the town. The town is first mentioned in the 1200’s. The Tartars invaded in the late 13th century and the local population escaped into the wood and survived the invasion. The woods were cleared and the Hungarians hired Romanian laborers to work the fields. The town became Protestant in the 17th century, and had always been Hungarian. He told me that Ginta was once prosperous enough to have had a hotel, across the street from the doctor’s house. Then Joszef said, “Here is the doctor’s house.” It was the doctor’s house then, and it is still the doctor’s house.
I was blown away. My grandfather was born in that house. It looked large enough for my great-grandfather’s large family; my grandfather was the youngest of nine. Joszef told me that the front part of the house was the clinic was where the women came to have their babies.
Joszef also told me about the massacre of civilians by the Romanian army in September, 1944. Hungary and Romania had been on the same side as Germany. With the Soviet army advancing, Romania switched sides which Hungary could not do because Germany had invaded Hungary and a German army occupied Budapest. Hungarian troops retreated through the town. The townspeople not knowing the situation, celebrated the arrival of the army to protect them and put on a feast for the Hungarian soldiers. This enraged the Romanian commander who ordered the killing of all the civilians his troops could find. His soldiers rounded up 48 inhabitants, aged 2 to 76, and had them shot. Then he ordered his troops to burn the parish house, which stored records, probably including my grandfather’s baptismal record from 1892. Joszef told me that the townspeople did not talk about the massacre. When he came to Ginta he raised money for a monument. By then the government in Romania was democratic, and could not stop the erection of the monument. But no representatives of the Romanian government came to the dedication ceremony.
Lunch was a traditional Hungarian Sunday feast. First, clear goulash soup with noodles and vegetables. Then stuffed cabbage rolls, followed by apple strudel and coffee. Everyone spoke English, and I was made to feel as if I were part of the family.
After lunch, we set out again. Several towns fold greeted Joszef; he told me their greeting to their pastor if they meet him on the street was, “Peace comes from God.” Joszef explained that the Romanian Communist government had seized the church school building and only returned it after a lawsuit. Ditto the church grist mill and several other buildings. They were all in some degree of dilapidation.
Then we came to the cemetery. When I met with family members in Budapest earlier, I had learned that my great-grandfather had died in Gyanta. His widow, my great-grandmother, had returned to what was then northern Hungary, now Slovakia, but the family history did not mention where he was buried. Could he be buried in Ginta? I wanted to find out and Joszef was willing to take me into the cemetery.
In my earlier post I mentioned that the cemetery was overgrown. “Overgrown” doesn’t do justice to the jungle we encountered. Cousins Tibor and Zoltan let Joszef and I advance into the forest without them. By now it was sunny and warm, no more fog. It was hard slogging. We dodged brambles and saplings and found a few grave stones, but none for my great-grandfather. Some of the monuments were askew. If the monument had been wood instead of stone, it would have been long gone. Finding that grave, or any grave in the old cemetery in Ginta, would be another adventure for another time.
We trudged back to the house. Joszef changed back into his black suit and tie and black cape for the 4:00 service. Pretty soon it was time to go, the kids had school tomorrow and everyone except me had to be at work. One group of cousins going to Cluj-Napoca dropped me in Oradea.
What did I learn, or feel? It was sobering, to say the least, to stand where the inhabitants were herded to their deaths in 1944. I felt the same way at the Dohanyi Street synagogue in Budapest. These were not vast battlefields. The intimacy of the scale only enhanced the horror of the deeds.
At the same time I could almost see in my mind’s eye the prosperous town of the 1890s. If modern Ginta is a town of ghosts, Gyanta was a bustling burg. The town could afford an architect-designed church, a hotel, and a doctor. These people were substantial farmers and merchants. My family was not from Gyanta, but they certainly were an important part of the town.
I headed back to my hotel, exhausted but elated in making these connections. I will remember that Sunday afternoon for the rest of my life.