Telling their stories: Two Dakota County residents take part in Iron Curtain documentary


select artwork courtesy Twin Cities Public Television

Constanta “Tantzie” Dinca Korolchuk came to the U.S with her two daughters, Camelia and Mirela, who were 14 and 8 when they left Romania. While she had to leave most of her possessions behind, she did have photos like the one shown here, when she arrived. Hannah Burlingame/Review

Vasile “Wes” Jura

On Nov. 5, a new documentary will premiere on TPT MN that will tell the stories of those who lived under communist rule in post-WWII Romania. Two residents who now call Dakota County their home lent their voices and stories to “Through the Iron Curtain-Romania.”

The Soviet Union’s influence cast an Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, beginning with the end of World War II in 1945, through the end of the Cold War in 1991.

The Socialist Republic of Romania existed from 1947 until 1989. Nicolae Ceausescu became general secretary of the communist party there in 1965 and assumed the role of president in 1974. He and his wife were executed as the socialist republic came to an end.

All who lived there have their own stories to tell.

 

Opening Pandora’s box

South St. Paul resident Vasile “Wes” Jura’s maternal grandparents lived in South St. Paul, having come from Romania in 1912. His grandfather had a restaurant on Concord Street that catered to those who worked at the Armour and Swift plants.

His father and his aunt were born in Chicago, and their parents worked the stockyards. 

“Most Romanians ... came and took the lowest possible work, which was the packing plants. They want to work for two, three years, make money and go buy land,” Jura says.

Jura says in most of Eastern Europe, it was important to build up wealth, but land is the number one thing people needed and wanted to acquire.

His father and mother’s parents were from the same town in Romania. When they moved back to Romania in 1930, both families ended up going back to the same small town.

“Because they were considered American, [and] they had a little more than the Romanians, they got thrown in a concentration camp,” Jura, who is now 73 and was born in Romania, says. 

According to an oral history dictated by Jura, he says his nightmare began in the little township in western Banat on June, 18 1951, what he calls “The Black Pentecost.” Jura, who was seven, woke up at 3 a.m., to a loud pounding on the door. The family had three hours to pack up their belonging before being crammed into a boxcar. Their destination was a concentration camp in Baragan. 

Jura says that after “four years, seven months and fourteen days,” authorities ordered them to pack up their belongings and get ready to leave. He was 11 or 12 when the family was sent back home.

Returning home to Banat, the family found the government had seized all their belongings

In May of 1970, Jura says the Romanian government, through the insistence of the American Consulate in Bucharest, let his family return to the U.S. Jura came to the United States when he was 24 or 25. 

He says in his oral history that upon seeing Lady Liberty — the Statue of Liberty — for the first time, there was a sense of hope.

“Even so, still, a whisper of doubt reminds you to be cautious; you just come across a new, young, unfamiliar world. Can we integrate?” Jura says. “Nevertheless oppressed for so long, deprived of hope allows you this right to fight the past, even if the frightening future may disapprove this journey.”

He spent most of his life working as a consultant and liaison.

 

A father’s sacrifice

Constanta “Tantzie” Dinca Korolchuk, who is 72 and lives in Inver Grove Heights, is from the town of Oltenia. She describes her father as an outspoken man who didn’t like what was happening in Romania after World War II when he came home after seven years in the army.

“He thought that the country would go the way people wanted. When the communists took over in ‘45, they start persecuting the people who were educated, have their opinion on how things should be,” Dinca Korolchuk says.

At the time, Dinca Korolchuk says the communist party was selecting all the people with no conscious, no education and probably no family, to do the “communist job.”

Dinca Korolchuk says it was about 1957 when the communist party started to take land from people, something her father was opposed to. One night at midnight, her father was picked up and taken to the communist party office, which was 40 miles away, and beaten up “pretty good.”

Dinca Korolchuk says this happened probably three or four times. 

“We were so scared when somebody was knocking on the gate that late. We didn’t know what’s going to be,” Dinca Korolchuk says, adding they didn’t expect it was going to be anything good.

When she was around 12, she says her father was forced to become a member of the communist party because he was like a leader in their village. If he didn’t become a member, his children could not go to school. Dinca Korolchuk says he was in the party because of the sacrifice he made for his children.

“All four of us have an education because of his sacrifice,” she says.

 

Leaving Romania

In 1980, her second oldest brother escaped Romania and later sent for their mother so she could see what the U.S. was about.

Her mother came back to Romania toward the end of one year, which was how long her visa was good for.

When she asked her mother how it was, Dinca Korolchuk says she replied “Tantzie, you have to go.” So she did.

In order to leave Romania and come to the U.S in 1982, one needed a family member “who wants to get the family together here.” Dinca Korolchuk says at this time Ceausescu received aid from the U.S and signed an agreement that he would let people be together. 

Dinca Korolchuk applied for reunification about a month after her mother came back, but the process took two years. In May, 1982 when she was 37, Dinca Korolchuk received the okay to leave. She was allowed two pieces of luggage and one for each of her daughters.

They left on July 10, and were in Italy for 10 days. This was their first taste of freedom. Dinca Korolchuk took money that she had hidden in one of her daughter’s shoes and exchanged it.

“Every single day I was buying them something,” Dinca Korolchuk says.

Their journey took them from Rome, to New York to Minneapolis. 

“One of the things that helped me to survive was I never dreamt to have what somebody else does have. I was thinking ‘I’ll make it, but I’ll make it on my own,’” Dinca Korolchuk says. 

She started working for a farmer in Inver Grove Heights, and then worked for a quality control company in Roseville for two and a half years.

One day with no job and no money she was walking by Gillete Co. and thought there had to be a job for her. A week after she put in the application she got an interview.

“Three weeks later I was having a job, a beautiful, wonderful job,” Dinca Korolchuk says, and she worked there for 17 and a half years.

 

The importance 

of stories

Jura says he was approached about being part of the documentary a long time ago. He was also in a previous documentary put together by the Heritage Organization of Romanian Americans in Minnesota and the Romanian Genealogy Society.

He says people who have gone through the things he has gone through don’t like to share their stories. The only reason he started talking about it was because of his granddaughter, who was researching her heritage for a class project. 

“In order to really believe, really trust something, you have to live it through. Think about drinking water mixed with fuel. How can you do that? Well, it’s impossible to think of that. Only when you’re thirsty enough and there’s nothing there — then you drink it,” he says. 

Jura says none of “us” like to be questioned about things like pain and suffering. He said that time “is a curtain for most of us, we just pull it and there’s no way to go out.”

He is working on a novel based on his experiences in Romania and here, the transition from one society to another.

Dinca Korolchuk was approached about three years ago to be a part of the documentary project. She says this is a project of stories.

“Each person has their own stories. People see things differently depending on their position, when they were in Romania and when their position being here,” she says.

Dinca Korolchuk says she thinks it is important to keep telling these kinds of stories. She says if the country doesn’t want to go back where it came from, freedom has to stay. Dinca Korolchuk says this means the government doesn’t need to decide everything.

“If nobody learns from Eastern Europe, they better open their eyes and look what happened there, because freedom is the only thing ...” Dinca Korolchuk says. “We create a good life, otherwise we become slaves. We become just instruments in the hands of the government.”

 

The documentary airs on TPT MN at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 5. For a full list of showtimes visit www.tpt.org/through-the-iron-curtain-ffrom-romania


 

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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