I was six years old when my parents sent me to a summer camp organized by the Romanian Railroad Administration (CFR). This was a yearly ritual for children of railroad workers. It was free, and to my parents’ delight it relieved them of the burden of feeding me for several weeks. In those days that was a substantial collateral benefit.
The government looked upon such camps as a convenient means of brainwashing its subjects from an early age. As part of the ritual of indoctrination we were given tours of the old regime’s decommissioned prisons, where our dictator du jour and his cohorts had presumably been incarcerated and tortured by the enemies of democracy. It was the Communists’ version of a trip to Disneyland.
The summer of 1952 was my coming of age as a preschool Communist larva. What better place to show me and my coevals the meaning of obedience to the country rulers than a visit to Dracula’s home town of Sighisoara (Schassburg in the novel)?
The strongman’s harsh treatment of those who broke the law was illustrated in a poem by Romania’s foremost romantic poet, Mihail Eminescu. As shown in the stanza below, Dracula made little distinction between lunatics and rogues:
O, leave the moldy chronicles of our forefathers to rest;
For they would gaze upon you with irony at best.
Rise once more, o Dracula! Take and divide these men
As lunatics and rogues in two big tribes, and then
In mighty, twin enclosures by force both tribes intern,
And with the torch of justice prison and madhouse burn.
[Note: Original English version by Corneliu M. Popescu; present rendition my paraphrase]
Presumably the Communist leaders imagined we’d take Dracula’s treatment of lawbreakers as an endorsement for the reign of terror they visited upon the so-called “enemies of the people” among our parents and relatives.
It’s strange how truly difficult of a laundry operation brainwashing really is. Those in charge of it deserve nothing but sympathy, for the more they try the less they achieve. As time went on and my generation turned into an increasingly cynical lot, we began to ask ourselves, albeit in secret, why Dracula did not return to finish the job by ridding the country of Communists.
That summer remained etched in my memory, because of that Transylvanian prince who stood up to evil with extreme prejudice and rid his land of crime.
But also because of the fruit orchards reserved for the Party leaders which we raided at night with impunity.