JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
A tale by Johny Noer
… a circus arrived in Romania
It took the commanding lieutenant several days to hand us over to the Romanians. Not that he did so in any official way; he just brought us to the Danube-bridge and shouted: "That way!"
Before, however, he studied every passport, every single document, every file and every photograph to make sure that not one of us was left in his homeland.
Diligently he saw to it that every step of his mission was properly recorded on paper. The slightest doubt might never occur in the mind of any inspector that the Danish preacher and his family had disappeared into Romania. The Western heretics had been dealt with according to the strict command of the Headquarters.
As the convoy passed the bridge, I rolled down the window of my truck, pulling a long breath of fresh air into my lungs. A burden of weary emotion was trying to get hold of me. I forced it away by breathing more deeply. "Oh, Lord!" I prayed, "Help us to overcome!" I suddenly felt a new compulsion rising within me. I sensed how my spirit was lifted up. My mind, which couldn’t ignore the pain regarding the families left in Varna forced aside the troubles of the recent weeks and brought into focus the single task ahead: What was waiting us at the other side of the bridge?
I scanned the border post in front of me and saw the soldiers approaching.
Quickly I grabbed a book lying beside me on the front seat. It was written by a Romanian priest, who told about the persecutions of the underground church in the land of Ceausescu. A book about the Romanian heroes of faith, all silent now – shot, poisoned, burned, killed in car accidents, driven to suicide, disappeared in the vast empire of prisons and labour camps…
I hurled the book out of the window and saw it flying skywards across the rail of the bridge and, like a falling bird, downward towards the water. I didn’t want to get into trouble.
In the meantime the border guards had arrived. They stopped the convoy on the bridge, a white line indicating that from there on we entered Romanian soil.
An officer with his hands behind his back and escorted by militiamen with guns inspected the vehicles. "A circus?" he declared. He never wasted much time to get my answer, and as in that moment a donkey, which we had bought in Bulgaria, stuck out his head from a nearby truck, he declared once more: A circus!"
As the officer, whose actions and decisions evidently were distinguished by good sense, and as he had already made a note in the border-protocol that we were ‘a circus’, he just wanted his final question answered:
"All right! Let them pass!"
… and then we ventured into Romania. But only for twelve hours and only within the limit of three miles. Then we were back again. Ceausescu wouldn’t have us…
After the communist purge of Jewish ministers in the middle of the last century and the drafts of new constitutions Nicolae Ceausescu was elected president of Romania Dec. 9th 1967. Being at the same time general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party he was a powerful man. Shortly after, almost one and a half million members of the party approved the manifesto submitted to them by the Socialist Unity Front, which meant that the revolution had not ceased – but was well and alive.
Racking my brains I pictured page after page of Romanian history. "We are on the path of some decisive event", I thought. "The anti-God establishment in this country is still intact – and we are soon going to meet it!" I knew in an instant that we were heading for another confrontation. It hit us next morning 9 o’clock sharp…
Our battered Lorries, farmer tractors and land rovers with the large dusty wagons bumped into the parking lot of a huge factory. It seemed that we had one of these extraordinary runs of good luck, when the angels intervene, we had passed the border without problems. The Danish circus had settled on its first stop in Romania. Soon it should turn out to be the last as well…
In the early morning before dawn I saw the socialist working force - silently and sleepy - flooding into the factory. Hundreds and hundreds of pale, motionless faces. Everybody wearing the same clothes – here and there a person who wore some mento of the past: An army cap with no badge, leather boots (that had still not been bartered for food or taken away by criminals). Some of the men had shaven heads; others a growth of beard.
The columns of labour-ghosts closed ranks to enter the gate over which was written with huge, red letters: "Ceausescu the great son of our Fatherland!" Behind a fence there was the furious barking of guard dogs – trained killer-beasts pawing the air, their eyes bloodshot.
Outside, near the parking lot where our ‘circus’ was stationed I saw trolley buses delivering more masses of men of women. A second wave, then a third which stared at the foreign vehicles with dead but suspicious eyes.
Right across the other side of the building was a neglected corner of a park. I could see the sides of a ravine covered with the melting snow of yesterday. Some fine white pine trees were growing there. I noticed a pale, thin boy approaching: Curious! A circus? And wasn’t there a little cross round his neck? Could it be dangerous for a boy like him to talk to these foreign dealers in religious opium? Could a boy twelve years of age be thrown out of the Pioneers and be expelled from school? I didn’t dare say anything to him.
From the dark sky and the stillness of the air I sensed that it was too early for that boy to be up; he should still be in his bed! But perhaps he had arrived with his parents in one of the trolleybuses. Now they were inside the fence – and he was outside. Waiting for what?
He came near the wagons. With a certain anxiety I lifted my hand to greet him. He never saluted back. I wanted to say something, but the air was full of gloomy forebodings. This country was another system, which had experienced the wretchedness of forty years in this vale of sorrows. Soon, very soon it would spit me out. I gazed at the little golden cross round the neck of the boy. Then once more I lifted my hand. Yellow circles of light from the factory lamps were cast on the tiny, frail figure. The golden cross was blinking and blinking and blinking… then he disappeared.
The voice emanating from the officers walkie-talkie was metallic and cold: Communist arrogance! Everyone around the rotating blue-light listened. I listened too, but understood only a few words. The commander with the brown shoulder belt over his military tunic, nodded. He received orders. It was 9 o’clock sharp. Instructions were given how to bring the Danish Pilgrim Convoy back to the bridge…
The well-mannered, short-sighted Romanian captain peered with gentle eyes through his round spectacles and spoke in a tone of friendship rather than authority: "Would you please follow us back to the border, sir?"
This young captain didn’t know what he was up to. His main concern might have been to ensure a reasonable life for him and his wife and the little ones, he had at home. For this he would probably stop at nothing and he couldn’t in fact be bothered aboutthe fate of some foreign circus-people. If this young man were ever to be offered a better post in the system, he’d better carry out these small duties in an orderly and respectful way.
"You just follow me back to the border, sir!"
This young officer with the shoulder belt probably had a small house on the outskirts of town and a tiny vegetable garden, which kept him going in eating sauerkraut and provided enough for the upkeep of two or three pigs… and just now he wanted to finish this job as quickly as possible. Why, by the way,did these strangers turn up? And what about that huge cross, which was painted on one of their wagons? He had just re-read a great pile of Party directives, circulars and instructions about ‘the religious people and the Jewish question’. He had noticed the beginning of an important new drive – and on this Monday morning he didn’t want to be implicated in any intrigue having to do with the so called ‘believers’. His voice became more insistent – almost sharp: You better hurry up, sir, you’re going back to the border!"
Back home he had on his wall the initiation bronze profiles of Marx, Engels and Lenin (Stalin had been there as well – but was now taken away). And he had just had the visit of two comrades, who had briefed him on ‘a new phase in the struggle against alien influences’. These people from abroad were aliens indeed! Dangerous aliens, perhaps? Enemies of the people? Surely not innocent! At the border they would probably be exposed for what they really are and what their real intentions are entering Romania with such a convoy! Intruders! The captain now spoke with authority; it was a command:
"Get ready! You have a few minutes to pack up! Back to the border! Ten minutes and not a second more!"
We hooked the wagons on, and ten minutes later we were on our way back to the bridge, where another move in the political chess game between the two socialist countries on each side of the Danube began. We were part of the match. On which side would we end?