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Anita Nandris-Cudla (1904–1984)

February 19th, 2003 · No Comments · Books, PEOPLE, Reviews

[b]Bucovina 1920’s Match-making:[/b]
“So it was decided that I should marry the young man from our village. My father was was not all satisfied. When the engagement was announced, the bridegroom sent, as was the custom, two men called match-makers. When the marriage was decided, the parents of the bride put out some wine and biscuits and invited the parents of the bridegroom. They entered the house with other guests, but the bridegroom remained somewhere in the garden. The parents of both bride and bridegroom discussed the situation, everyone else acted as witnesses. They announced what dowey would be give, They were obliged to be precise about this. There had been cases where the offers had been exaggerated; there had been cases of boasting to give so many cows, sheep or goats or so much land. Sometimes they did not keep their word. If this happened or if the witnesses were able to contradict them, then the bride and groom were obliged to produce all that had been promised. Thus my parents too found themselves in the same position. The father of the bridegroom spoke first. He said that he could not promise a large dowry as it was just the end of the First World War of 1914 and that he and three sons, that is the bridegroom and his two brothers, and so three people were not at home to carry on their household affairs. Men were called up to the age of fifty and youths from eighteen. The war had lasted four years, so anyone could imagine how many cattle horses and carts – i.e. the whole household – were destroyed when they returned healthy from the war and found nothing.”

(“Twenty years in Siberia”, Ed Culturala Romana, Bucharest, 1998)

“Then my father began to speak. As I said, he was not too satisfied. He would give a cow, and her calf, about four sheep and as far as land was concerned, he could give more as he had plenty, but he would not do so. E would give two hectars to the bridegroom and the same to the bride and they would see how they would get on with this amount of land. The maqtchmakers went off. One brought the bridegroom into the house, the other brought the bride and as was the custom they shook hands. Then everyone came to the table and drank to the future and arranged a date for the wedding…”

(“Twenty years in Siberia”, Ed Culturala Romana, Bucharest, 1998)

[b]A woman’s Gulag:[/b]
“So much misery and suffering I had never had before as I have had now. Can anyone imagine how – in a winter with 40 degrees below zero – could a woman have made a journey of 80 kilometres on a reindeer sledge through pathless snow-drifts, through forests, through wilderness? In the night I could see nothing but the whiteness of the snow. I hung on with great fear and attention to the “narta” for it was small and if they had tripped suddenly, I could easily have been thrown out to be abandoned in a snow-drift where I would never have been found.”

(“Twenty years in Siberia”, p.112, Ed Culturala Romana, Bucharest, 1998)

[b]Woman’s Hunger:[/b]
“But I was becoming very exhausted and could hardly drag one foot after the other. We quelled our hunger the best we could, but our bodies had not one of the necessary vitamins, for several years had passed sincesince we had seen vegetables or fresh fruit. If some dried products were produced, like dried onions, garlic, potatos, we workers did not get any, it all went to the ‘nacialnici’ – i.e. the Russians. So people began to be ill. To begin with, some red patches appeared on the feet, we were so sleepy that we fell asleep on our feet. Then our gums began to swell and to turn black, our teeth rattled like pearls and the hair on our heads began to fall out. We realized that the situation was serious and that we could not help it. The other people who came here about seven years before us said to us: ‘go out to the tundra and gather mulberries and eat as many as you can, because that is the only way to cure that illness’”.

(“Twenty years in Siberia”, p.98-99, Ed Culturala Romana, Bucharest, 1998)

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Anita Nandris-Cudla wsa a Romanian peasant-farmer from Bucovina, a historical province which for centuries was coveted by neighbouring empires: the Ottomans the Habsburgs and not in the least the Russians with their heir – the Soviet empire. Anita came from a typical farmer family and her education was limited to only a few primary classes, which allowed her to read and write, whilst her brothers were schooled to become medical doctors and academics.

As a result of the Stalin-Hitler pact, the Russians occupied Bucovina for twelve months, in 1941, before they were driven out by the Romanian armies. During this occupation from Bukovina alone some 41,000 people were deported to slave labour camps, in Siberia, in a spate of Bolshevic hatred. As part of this policy, in July 1941 Anita had been comandeered by the occupying Soviet troops together with her young children and sent in a cattle train wagon to Siberia.. Her husband was never to return. On the way out Anita scribbled a message on a handkerchief, put it in a bottle and threw it from the train, as it passed her home village for her friends and relatives to know of the family’s fate. Twenty years on and as many years of endurance, on her return to her native village which was now part of the Soviet Union Anita had written a heart-rending memoir in the simplest vernacular language which makes the fresco of human suffering deeply poignant. Anita’s narrative describes the deportations from Romania during the period of 1939 – 1945 and the political persecutions endured for twenty years in the Siberian prison camps.
One may well ask what is so special about Anita’s book when so many similar accounts starting with Sozhenetsyn’s had already “covered” the subject? The greta difference and perhaps strength of this memoir is that its author was an ethnic subject deported into a foreign country and one who came from an uneducated rural environment – the peasant stock. By contrast, all the other gulag stories reflect the plight, of the intelligentsia. It is a real miracle that such story was written at all and had been saved to be able to see the print: it had to wait another two decades for Communism to collapse before it could be published.

This memoir was translated in English by Mabel Nandris, (q.v.) her sister-in- law and the Irish-born wife of Anita’s brother the Byzantinologist Grigore Nandris, Professor at London University.

Anita Nandris’ tragic account could be published in Romania, only after Ceausescu’s was put down: communists were not keen to publice Stalin’s atrocities. The Romanian manuscript was printed in 1991 and its English translation seven years later.

There are, of course, several books published on the Soviet Goulag, the most famous of them being that of the Nobel-Prize laureate Aleksander Sozhenitzyn. But his and others testimonials reflect the perspective of intellectual deportees survivors of those camps and is usually presented from a Russian point of view. By contrast, Anita’s account stands out amongst them as the simple voice of the uneducated woman from an ethnic minority, the “salt of the earth’ whose strength of character was derived from strong moral and family values. It is people like her and her folk that make the backbone of the Romanian nation: the simplicity of Anita’s language stands out as an example of the peasant’s nobility and dignity in the face of naked aggression. It is an example to be remembered.

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Nandris-Cudla, Anita, “20 de ani in Siberia : Destin bucovinean”, Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 1991

Nandris-Cudla, Anita, “Twenty years in Siberia” , translated by Mabel Nandris, Ed Culturala Romana, Bucharest, 1998

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This Profile is an extract from the Anthology of Romanian Women:

“Blouse Roumaine – the Unsung Voices of Romanian Women”


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