Jaap Scholten has done an extraordinary job of recording and presenting the stories of a persecution almost forgotten.
In Comrade Baron, Jaap Scholten explores a harrowing history little known in the English-speaking world. With a mixture of personal observation, sympathetic interviews, and astute historical analysis, he exposes the Romanian government’s cruel campaign against the aristocratic families of Transylvania between 1949 and 1989, when Nicolae Ceaușescu’s brutal dictatorship finally collapsed. “I want to write down the stories of a disappearing world,” he explains to a skeptical sister-in-law in the introduction. Those stories form a gripping and tragic tale.
In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded into lorries. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Under the terror of Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceaușescu the aristocracy led a double life: during the day they worked in quarries, steelworks and carpenters’ yards; in the evening they secretly gathered and maintained the rituals of an older world.
To record this unknown episode of recent history, Jaap Scholten travelled extensively in Romania and Hungary and sought out the few remaining aristocrats who experienced the night of 3 March 1949. He spoke to people who survived the Romanian Gulag and met the youngest generation of the once distinguished aristocracy to talk about the restitution of assets and about the future. How is it possible to rebuild anything in a country that finds itself in a moral vacuum?
Jury, Libris History Prize
Shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for best travel book 2011
Winner of the Libris History Prize 2011
Combining a warm heart with the tenacious pursuit of truth, Jaap Scholten restores to vivid life the world of the Transylvanian aristocracy from its glory days to its tragic finale. Scholten thereby captures a missing piece of history and provides the reader with a gripping journey through a lost world.
Kati Marton, author and award winning former ABC News correspondent
I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable.
Petroc Trelawny, BBC Radio 3 presenter and journalist
Jaap Scholten, (Enschede, 1963) studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He has published seven books: collections of short stories and three novels. His novel, De wet van Spengler (Atlas Contact, 2008), was chosen “novel of the year” in the Netherlands. His latest book, Kameraad Baron (AtlasContact, 2010) is the winner of the Libris History Prize 2011. His novels and short stories are translated into German, French, Hungarian, Croatian. In 2011 Scholten created and presented a six-part television series for the VPRO about hidden worlds in Central and Eastern Europe. He has lived in Budapest since 2003. The English edition of Comrade Baron will be released by Helena History Press on May 1, 2016 and distributed worldwide through Central European University Press.