A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE

Her father was from the Ardeal – half Hungarian, half German. Her mother was Romanian. She considers herself to be the representative of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Lavenica Peșteșan was born in Comloșu Mare in the year 1957. Her maiden name was Spieler.

Her grandmother was born in Rusko Selo in 1907. The grandfather was born in 1899 in what was then the Boundary of Kikinda. Both born in what is now the national territory of Serbia.

My grandmother used to tell me, Mother Katica she was called: she was a blond beauty with curly hair. My grandfather, Father Ion was dark haired with a Roman nose. Two beautiful people.

My grandmother had been courted by a Serbian border guard. But there isn’t such a thing as a green horse and a well-behaved Serb, her parents told her they didn’t need any Serbians in the bloodline.

Father Ion was 8 years older than she was and he totally bewitched her. They decided they would elope.

The Serbian was jealous and had been watching Father Ion, because as a border guard there was not much to do. And the Serbian catches them as they’re leaving with the dowry. This was happening in Rusko Selo, a little way below Nakovo.

And bam! Upon leaving the house, the Serbian wants to confiscate the dowry. They took them with him, walked around from guard post to guard post. More to humiliate them than anything else.

They spent three nights in prison, but then the Serbian got bored with them.

They crossed the Bega Veche over a fallen tree trunk. That’s how Father Ion brough Mother Katica to Comloșu Mare. And when Mother Katica saw the thatched house Father Ion had brought her to, she wanted to go back home.

The family was poor.

Our family had no money, everything they did, they did through hard work.

Her grandparents build a house together.

A beautiful house, the ones who saw it told me. It was outside the village, on the last street, called lenie, on the road that headed towards the fields. Across the road was where the house was.

After the First World War a lot of inhabitants from Comloș emigrated to the United States. Lavenica’s gransdparents stay în Comloșu Mare.

I don’t know what the story of the exodus was. But I can tell you that my grandparents, who had to build their house, didn’t have time to think about it much.

That’s probably how it went – when people leave from one place to another they tell themselves:

”I’m going there because you can find this and that.”

And a lot of those who left for America were well seen – serious people, went to find work, went to submit, together with the Poles, the Czechs and most of this part of Europe after the First War, people from the Empire, they all left, but with the thought of returning and buying land.

Few settled there. They went there to make money, they sent the money back to Comloșu where other bought land for them. Then they came back for the land.

That’s how it was! The earth in Comloș was one of the best.

They bought the land and then came the Second War.

And that’s where the story with the land stopped.

Memories from the Second World War were passed onto her by her mother:

Bombing could be heard. And grandfather dug a ditch by the house where my mother and grandmother hid.

She knows about the deportations in the Bărăgan from the old women in the village.

The Germans were deported. And a lot of Romanians too. Especially those that went to America. An old lady told me it happened at night. The freight cars were waiting for them at the station. Felicia, my cousin, was born in the Bărăgăn.

She remembers how the village once looked like, after the period of deportation in the Bărăgan finished:

The Germans had their side of the village. Around the centre. And where the school is.

In school, until the 4th grade, there were two sections – the German and the Romanian one.

In the fifth grade the Germans joined us and we taught them Romanian. It was difficult for them to learn. Actually it was the Romanians that learned more from the Germans. That’s how Comloșu blossomed actually. By taking example from the Germans.

At the end of the 70’s, the Romanian government allows the ethnic German population to leave the country. Comloșu Mare starts losing its Germans.

They paid a lot of money for leaving. But when they got there they didn’t find what they expected they would. I don’t know how they could imagine that the Germans there would be welcoming them with flowers. Because they’re like them. They called them stupid Romanians or Gypsies, and the like.

So they were humiliated. It wasn’t easy for them.

Her husband becomes a lieutenant in the border police during the Ceaușescu regime.

Back then there was the classic border traffic with a passport. We visited the Serbs and they did the same. Their prices were lower and you could find anything. Anything!

I rode my bicycle to Nakovo to eat ice-cream. Romanians bought food, textiles. We were lucky the West was only a stone’s throw away. People didn’t get rich off the smuggling. But they earned a little extra.

There were also those who wanted to run over the border. They were caught and thrown into jail.

There were also those who made it. A man from Lunga just went through the cornfield calling after his dog and when he got to the other side he started running.

How was the Revolution experienced in Comloș?

On TV. A small protest on the street. We really waited to see what would happen. But I don’t want to really talk about it. It’s just that people started leaving. The border in Lunga closed and you could only pass through Jimbolia.

Comloșu Mare experienced the Revolution of 1989 on TV.

The Embargo happened by coming to an agreement with the border guard.

They carried fuel even in their pockets. Some managed to make money, others less so. Without counting the fear that the Serb would not pay for the fuel. It happened.

Her son lives in Austria, her dog is in Germany, but she prefers staying in Comloșu.

She says Comloșu Mare was a place where one always lived well.


This story was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. Volume I (2019).

Interviewer: Alexandru Drăgan.

Editing: Ana-Maria Ursu

Photo credit: Diana Bilec

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