– Just a moment, my colleague is much older here in the cemetery, maybe he knows. I told you, they are buried, but who knows where. So some jerks came with a small excavator to look for them. There, in the cemetery of heroes.
– Down there?
– Under this cemetery. To see if there are any bones left of those buried. I told them, if I knew, wouldn’t I bury the bones there and take the hundreds of euros??
– You found bones?
– I found bones in a hole. I put them back, I put another coffin over it, you can’t see them anymore. Back in the day, it wasn’t like this, it was a shithole. Look, here I found bones. But we don’t know what happened to them. There were no graves here, it was a forest. We put them back in the ground over the dead, the priest won’t let youotherwise… but we don’t know exactly where. There was an old man, he had many sins in his life.
– And he’s not alive anymore?
– Not anymore, they found him dead in the house.
– He buries the dead?
– All the ones the police killed, the ones they took from the Danube, they brought to the old man. There are 2-3 Militia-men from that time, the rest have all died.
– Yeah, but I’m thinking the militia won’t talk to us.
– No way they’ll talk to you.
– Does the old man have kids?
– His son died a few years ago, same fate, they found him dead in the house. He brought me here to the cemetery to work. Nobody knows where or how they put them.
– Hey, these people are looking for the graves of the people who ere shot by the Serbs when they crossed the border.
– Hmmm… they’re around, but there are others above them. After the Revolution they gave burrial places over them.
– But they knew they were buried there?
– Yes. I found them. I found them, I left them there. The bones. Young men. This was the morgue. This is where I stay. By the cemetery. When I was a kid he used to cut them up and put them in the grave at night. Timisoara, Bucharest, Cluj, all areas. Lots of them.
– But did they have papers?
– Those who didn’t have papers wrote on the cross ‘unknown’. Those who had papers sent for the relatives.
– They still put a cross on them? Was there a funeral service?
– Yes, the priest came.
– Oh, and they sent for the family.
– After the family, yes. After relatives. During communism some families came and took them away, but if they didn’t come, the old man buried them here.
– This is where he burried them. He’d start at 3 in the morning.
– So they only buried them at night.
– Yes, only at night.
– Do you know how many were buried here? A number? There must have been a record.
– The city had a record somewhere.
– The Secret police. Who gives it to us? That you weren’t allowed to speak.
– We have a man here, two blocks away, they killed him and nobody knows anything.
– So back then, the cemetery wasn’t as big as you see it now. Down there it’s spread all the way down to the ravine. At that time the cemetery was up to here. From this road down there was nothing. That’s all it was. Up to here. This is where they put them. After the Revolution, this part was filled in. Wherever they could, the Communists would put them in.
– And this man you’re talking about, is he still known?
– The police beat him to death. They beat him there and had the gravedigger put him in at night so no one would see. That’s it. This gravedigger was, as they say, the right-hand man of the militia. He wasn’t allowed to talk. Those who knew how to pass to Serbia, knew the terrain, managed to get away. Who didn’t, they shot them. They shot them in the head.
– Most were shot up here in the Cazanele Dunarii. The river is narrower here. I was a kid, how much older and I remember. The Moldovans came, they crossed from the station here to the north, on this side where I have my house. “Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia!”, they said. They didn’t know, they saw the bank here, they thought it was Yugoslavia. But the police with rifles waited for them.
– Another boy came from Bucharest, just like them, he asked me. But we don’t know the number. Many. Young people. Girls, boys.
– So there were girls too. Because a lot of people only talk about boys.
– Yeah, students. A lot of them passed. They had guides. They paid for a guide from here, from Eselnita.
– The cemetery’s expanded a lot since then. 40 years, right?
– I used to find them, I’d tell them “Here’s another one shot!”. You left him there. What could you do?
– On the plateau the forest grew over them, weeds too.
— They were shooting at young boys. If you went over to the other half of the river, they wouldn’t shoot you. They weren’t allowed to shoot.
– And the Serbs never shot?
– Well, they weren’t allowed to shoot. They took them and put them in the camp and asked them where they wanted. Australia? They put you on the plane.
– I’m asking because I understand that at some point an agreement was made between Romania and Serbia.
– To hand them back. But not to shoot them. Lately.
– Last time meaning what year?
– After ’80, I think. I don’t know if there was still Tito. I don’t know how that asshole Ceausescu got the Serbs to give them back. In exchange for salt. But the Serbs didn’t give them all back.
– Many were left dead on the Serbian shore, because every one shot went out where the river took him. That if they shot you, they wouldn’t come after you with a boat. You stayed at the bottom. This is where he’d bring them all in, cut them up…
– What do you mean?
– They’d do an autopsy, take their scalps and cut them off. I used to watch them cut them up. And they said it was okay.
– A guy told me: “Let’s pass! We’re going to Australia!” I said, “You go!” He went into the water and he came right out because there were swirls.
– There used to be a building right here. This was the morgue. And here was a big clearing. And on it they were all naked. Girls. Boys. They were cutting them up and taking them out. And then they buried them.
– Why were they still doing autopsies?
– That was the law.
– I grew up here as a kid. You’re the only ones who ever came here for that. In 2000, there was someone else.
– Then if you grew up here, you must have seen a lot.
– I’d come home from school, see them cut up. I wasn’t allowed to come here. I’d watch him cut them and run.
– Terrible for a child to see that!
Photo credit: Diana Bilec