B l o g

“A Short Version of a Long History”

by Jerry Skinner

The world is a difficult place for people who are born with or develop severe disabilities. Even in the United States, social norms have marginalized the worth of those who are forced to cope with disabilities. Prejudices exist toward those who are unable to contribute to society. American tolerance of and assistance for the disabled is a recent positive development. Much of the world still lags behind viewing those who suffer in this way as “irrecoverable.” The term means beyond help and it was coined in Romania, where it is as if society has been historically conditioned to persecute and ignore anyone – child, young person, or adult – with any kind of disability. Life can be brutal and cold for them, whether their condition is from birth or accident.

Romania has always been a battleground. The Romans conquered the Dacians, and by the time Rome fell, they had extensively intermarried with Dacians, and by some accounts, with the Magyars and Slavs from the north. The Romanian people were then successively conquered by Mongols, Huns, Magyars, and finally Ottoman Turks. War and the shifting European alliances swept across the territories that would be Romania from the late Roman period until the Ottoman Empire consolidated its power around 1380 AD. If one could not fight, one did not survive. If one survived, one was called Romanian. The Ottomans brought Islam to the province of Transylvania, but the people were resistant for over 300 years. Wars and armed rebellions were almost constant. The death toll was immeasurable. In 1683, the Ottoman expansion was stopped by a European army just outside Vienna. History turned again, but Transylvania and the growing provinces of Walachia and Moldova were caught up in the struggle that involved Austria, Hungary and the militant state of Germany. In 1861, the two principalities of Walachia and Moldova, with the help of Russian pressure, became the Union of Two States, and gained a measure of independence from the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Preceding World War I (1914-1918), two Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) centered on competing European interests in the Balkan states, including the three states which are now called Romania. With the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Europe erupted into a struggle among the Central Powers of Austria, Hungary, and Germany/Prussia and the allied nations of France, Great Britain and Russia. Both sides offered Romania concessions and promises of conquered land if they would join in the war, but it remained “undecided” while its borders were swallowed by forces from both sides and its people were killed. Secret treaties and occupying forces rendered the Romanian government impotent while the great powers decided its fate and droves its people into a fascist political frenzy. The war ended, but the suffering in Romania continued, imposed from both the outside by others and by bitter, violent forces within. In 1918, results of the war, was formed a newly unified nation comprised of parts of Transylvania, Walachia, Moldova, along with several smaller provinces. The birth of modern Romania is called the “Great Union” The war also gave birth to the Iron Guard, a radical, fascist workers movement that caused violent strikes and protests in the streets. Anti-Semitism was unrestrained and support for the growing Nazi Party in Germany was widespread. More than a decade of unrest and violence passed. Then, in 1938, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia. Within a short period Romania lost Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, Dobruja to Bulgaria and Northern Transylvania to Hungary. The Iron Guard forced the Romanian king to abdicate and Romania fatefully chose to support Germany in what was then World War II.

Ottoman oppression, constant war and little regard for those who could not fight or grow their own food, set the stage for the Holocaust. The malignant Nazi ideology of death for the inferior took control of a national population that was desperate to survive, and desperate to blame someone for an incredibly bloody history. Estimates vary, but all agree that the death toll was enormous. Jews, Gypsies and those with disabilities were sought out, rounded up and slaughtered. Most estimates exceed 600,000. Few outside of Romania realize that the Romanians put more innocents to death than any country but Germany itself. The massacre is called, “The Silent Holocaust”. Still, the war was turning against Germany. When the German Army, and the large contingent of Romanian troops with them at the Battle of Stalingrad, were turned away with staggering casualties by the Russians, Romania was faced with a choice. Romania switched sides and welcomed the Russian occupation that followed in August of 1944. Again, history had set the stage against those with disabilities and handicaps. Some with disabilities, who survived two wars and an intervening period of civil brutality, faced the worst that was yet to come. Communism refused to admit to any imperfection in its ranks, would not tolerate those who could not contribute to the welfare of the collectivity. After almost 25 years of communist life, Nicolai Ceausescu took power and established his own especially virulent form of Communist totalitarianism. The tales of brutality attributed to Ceausescu’s years are extraordinary. He was truly evil. Christians and the disabled were his favorite victims. The society he created actually spawned disabilities. Alcoholism was rampant, even among pregnant women. Pollution, both chemical and nuclear, was considered part of an industrialized state. Industry was exactly what Ceausescu wanted. Prenatal care was poor or non-existent. The numbers of children born with disabilities climbed to alarming numbers. They were called, “irrecoverable” and were not welcome in most homes in Romania. As the mid-1980’s approached, the government tried and actually succeeded to a degree, in hiding hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities from the world’s notice.

But after several weeks of unrest in December of 1989, revolution exploded and a fleeing Ceausescu was hunted down and shot. Ironically, the Revolution had begun with government attempts to crack down on Christians in the city of Timisoara. Ceausescu’s hatred for Christians had been the beginning of his downfall. Finally, Romania was a republic and not at war with themselves or anyone else for the first time in nearly 100 years. Western news media streamed into the country to witness what had happened behind the “Iron Curtain”. The media found the horrific result of a history where the helpless and powerless were sacrificed to preserve scarce resources for a poor society, and even worse a society where no one cared that it had even happened. Children were found naked tied to institutional beds, without food, without human contact, and suffering from indescribable physical and mental handicaps. Thousands more, with less severe, but no more acceptable disabilities lived in sewers, parks, back streets and under bushes or benches on Black Sea beaches. An entire civilization of children with disabilities lived beneath the train station in the sewer system of Bucharest, the capital city. Communism had not created a paradise; it had brought Hell to earth.

RHM is one of many ministries founded to help as many of Romania’s disabled as we can reach. We will not touch many in comparison to the need. But, to those we do touch, we will bring hope, human dignity and the love of Jesus Christ. Pray that God will use RHM, RHM-RO, and other works of mercy to show Romanians that Christ highly values the individual personhood of us all, and is not limited by human ability or lack thereof.

FAST FACTS:

Area – 92,000 sq. mi. (Oregon , approx.)
Population – 19,600,000
Capital – Bucharest, population 1.8mil.
Population growth rate, -14%
Per capita GNP – $5,600 per person
Religion – Romanian Orthodox 70%
Roman Catholic 6%
Protestant 6%
Year of Nationhood – 1918
Years as a recognized people group – approx. 1800