In his old age, Talleyrand used to say: 'Nobody who has not lived before the Revolution can understand la douceur de vivre'. Of course, there is in these words that idealization which always comes with the passage of time, and it is also possible to object that we have here the reflection of somebody who spoke about Court life, while the nobility did not represent more than one percent of the French nation in 1789. The present book does not intend to stimulate nostalgia, though this emotion would be justified, as, through the pages of the volume, we shall meet with the souvenirs of our parents. And, among the records collected here, many come from popular sources, from workmen, small shopkeepers or maids, a counterbalance to the witnesses from the upper?middle?class, who remember what they were seeing when they lived on their estates or at balls at the royal palace. One disproportion, however, cannot be denied: more attention is paid to minorities than to Romanians. It is not surprising: in Bucharest, the society was multicultural, as it is no longer, and the social changes brought about by the Second World War and continued over the next half century affected mainly two categories, exactly those two that were blatantly distinct: the aristocracy and the ethnic minorities. Both were on their way to extinction in the '80s, when Zoltan Rostas began his enquiry, hence, therefore, his interest. The social homogenization experienced by our generation is just now becoming an object of study, while we are witnesses to another stratification, this time without being enforced by ideology. The multiethnic character of the Romanian capital city, which so impressed foreign travellers of the 19th century, still exists, but is manifesting itself in a completely different way. For the old travellers, it was amazing to see Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Russians, together with French, Italians, Hungarians and Germans. Now, you notice on the streets Americans or Arabs, Kurds and Lebanese: we are even told that we shall soon have a Chinatown.


Since when have people felt that their city was changing so quickly that an attempt to write down the memories of places would be useful? Already in 1910 there was a book entitled Bucharest almost gone. The city its readers were living in was the Bucharest of King Charles I's jubilee, of which we have images left in the photos that illustrate Frederic Dame's book Bucarest en 1906. We have inherited from that time a few public buildings and some islands of houses, either in the neoclassical style or already built according to the fashionable 'national' taste of younger architects. This first stage of modernization, although less superficial than its conservative critics liked to say, brutally sacrificed many monuments. It was felt to be a disaster by those who had more sensitivity for history. One of them was Henri Stahl, the father of the better?known sociologist and author himself of the already mentioned book. He wrote these words which would be even more justified today: 'Because of the new avenues, useless imitations of Parisian boulevards, which are cruelly destroying the most picturesque old parts of our town, this craze of planting houses in a straight line like soldiers, because of the ruthless demolition of inns or of old houses in order to replace them by new buildings, pedantically imitating less tasteful Western architecture, we see the daily disappearance of the traces of the past in Bucharest'.1
After the First World War and even more so after the second one, the social fabric was torn apart, the group mentalities suffered erosion. To better understand these changes, several figures might be useful. One hundred years ago Romania had 87% of illiterates in a population of about 6,000,000. Only 15% were town?dwellers, and Bucharest was inhabited by 300,000. At the beginning of the century, every year Bucharest added an average of 587 newly built houses, most of them with only one floor, but also a growing number of them with two or three floors, and almost all had both courtyard and garden. Large areas of open ground were scattered everywhere: together they occupied as much as 2,800 ha from the total of 3,500 ha included within the city limits from Kiseleff to Filaret and from Cotroceni to Pantelimon.
If one looks at the ethnic composition of the population, about 200,000 were Romanians, sharing their Greek Orthodox faith with national minorities like Greeks, Bulgarians and Russians, who did not exceed 5,000. The Jews were 50,000, whilst in the whole country they were said to be 300,000, and the Armenians were less than one thousand (this was before the immigration brought by the Turkish massacres). The Jewish district of Bucharest was then in the Lucaci?Vacaresti zone, with a small extension of Sephardic families near the south bank of the Dîmbovita, along the left side of Serban?Voda street. The Armenians dwelled mostly around the streets Armeneasca, Spatarului and Vaselor, the Gypsies having their indescribable hovels behind the Coltea hospital, towards Calea Mosilor. There were some schools reserved for minorities: the Hungarians had one for boys, with 300 places, in Cantacuzino street, and one for girls, with 334 places1. For the Catholics, there were two schools: one, of 458 places, in Calarasi road, and another, with 250 places, in Fîntînii street, which was later called General Berthelot street. The Evangelical school (with 1,790 pupils in 1918, among which 1,200 were Romanian)2 was on Lutherana street, not far from the Lutheran church.
In 1878 the literacy rate in Bucharest was of 45% (with twice as many literate men as women). Bucharest of 1900 was already 63% literate, and 75% in 19123. With respect to professions, in 1906 Bucharest had 6,000 clerks, while there were 102,000 in the whole country; the University and the lyceums of the capital city employed 230 professors, out of a total of 6,000 (the teachers in secondary schools are not taken into account here). Artisans, mostly of foreign origin, were 4,500, and industrial workers more than 27,000 (their number in the whole country amounted to 50,000). There were 1,700 lawyers in Romania and 986 of them were active in Bucharest. For other professions the Bucharest figures are similarly impressive: 345 physicians, 350 engineers, 116 architects, 205 journalists, 70 booksellers and 20 dealers in second?hand books; even typewriters were sold by two firms4. Such details seem to suggest a dynamic intellectual life and a considerable modernization. However, Oriental and rural elements were still present, as shown by the 97 'simidjis' (Turkish pastry?cooks), 63 vendors of 'braga' (Oriental refreshing drink), 826 tavern?keepers and another hundred more who pretended to be 'owners of restaurants'. In those public houses, for the delight of the customers, 108 'lautari' sang and played popular music.
The food was as cheap as the currency was strong: a kilo of meat could be bought for less than one 'leu' and, as the book?keeper Merlaub liked to remember, victuals for one week did not exceed five 'lei'. For customers of more refined taste, grocers used to import lobsters and Ostende oysters.
Bucharest was by then a city where electric light had already been introduced - as, during the reign of Alexander Cuza, it had been one of the first European capitals to know illumination with petrol - but drinkable water was sold in the streets, from wooden casks. Snow was taken from the roads by cartfuls and thrown in the river which crosses Bucharest. The city was never perfectly clean, except during the two winters of the German occupation, when streets were cleaned following the strict orders of the military authority.


It was in that Bucharest that Mrs. Mandrea (the grand?daughter of Balcescu), Mrs. Goga (the niece of Odobescu) and Mrs. Vulcanescu, nee Falcoianu, spent their childhood. Their aristocratic families lived in a confined space, and what they knew of the city could be seen during a walk from the Cantacuzino and Manu houses, both on Calea Victoriei, to the Carp house, on Dorobanti street (where the Turkish Embassy is now), or the Sturdza house (then on Mercur street, in front of the cinema which was built later and called ARO, now Patria). It is a pity that in 1948, when General Manu's house was donated to the State and transformed into a nursery, the precious furniture, carefully preserved since the 1850s, was dispersed or destroyed. We lost then a unique chance to see, as it stood, still intact, in the photos or the family album, the interior of a noble residence, with portraits of Fanariot boyars, Oriental rugs and Biedermeier chests of drawers. Dating from the same time, but, however, very different, are the recollections of Gyula Kover or of that model bank clerk, Julius Gropper, who used to live in the popular outskirts of the town.
The period of the First World War is remembered by Margarita Vulcanescu, who was then in her twenties, belonging to the generation of 'jeunes filles en fleur' who went to hospitals to take care of the wounded. Like many of them, she never forgot that evening of 15 August 1916 when 'a carriage full of soldiers ran through the streets', and their bugle call announced that the Romanian army was called to war. The suffering of the city's population under the German occupation that followed is recalled by Leonida Merlaub who, talking about rationed food tickets, remarks: 'as it is now', in 1985! Eduard Korn, a photographer, remembers attending the trial of the journalists from Lumina and Gazeta Bucurestilor, who were sentenced for collaboration with the enemy (Slavici and Arghezi being among them).
Once more, the town changed after that war. Its inhabitants were said to be about 800,000, though, according to the official statistics, they were only 632,0001, and the 1930 census registered over 18,000,000 in Greater Romania. The percentage of national minorities amounted to 24% (minimum figure): 1,300,000 Hungarians, 800,000 Germans, 1,100,000 Jews, 792,000 Ukrainians, 290,000 Bulgarians, 200,000 Turks and Tatars, etc2. In Bucharest, our data show that 83% of the people could read and write3, this being the result of widespread primary education4. One also has to keep in mind that, after absorbing the population from the new territories, the rural areas, whose importance had started to decrease, represented again, in 1934, more than 81% of the total population5.
The capital developed, extending itself northwards, creating a new zone of parks around the lakes, and also prolonging seemingly interminable streets bordered by modest houses (for instance, Calea Floreasca). The appearance of the center changed with the introduction of tramway and bus lines, with the building of cinemas and blocks of flats. 'Today, Bucharest looks like a big construction?yard', Al. Cicio Pop proudly wrote in a guide intended to attract foreign tourists1. New boulevards appeared, streets were paved or even asphalted; cars became a common feature of the city, with garages and petrol?stations, although their speed was limited to eight miles per hour2. Bucharest was connected, through its airport at Baneasa, with the international airline Istanbul?Paris. Radio sets were no longer exceptional, and phones could be found in 11,000 flats in 1930, a figure which soon reached 50 0003.


In the early thirties, the Romanian part of Bucharest's population was estimated at 70%4. The other inhabitants included 3.8% Hungarians, 2.2% Germans, and, much more visible, 11% Jews5. Xenophobia was already widespread (see, in this volume, the childhood memories of Julius Gropper, going back to the time before the First World War). Witnesses agree that, after the war, 'Romanian nationalist feeling reached a hypertrophia', as Dr. Gramatopol said.
Professional diversity followed economic development. The number of servants had much increased, reaching 24.9% of the total inhabitants, compared with less than 7% at the turn of the century. Clerks had increased to 19.3%, but employees in commerce and credit did not yet represent more than 9%6. One could argue that two worlds were living one by the other: it is significant to notice the high rate of private servants, almost as many as industrial workers.
Factories were now integrated in the Bucharest landscape. Some of the people interviewed by Zoltan Rostas were familiar with them: Endre Kun was a blue?collar worker in a spinning?mill, Alexandru Sasareanu worked in the Malaxa steel plant. Nevertheless, for most men of that generation who did not belong to the intelligentsia, the ideal remained the family workshop or studio. A photographer, a watchmaker, a jeweler, a tailor, or a shoemaker, they grew up in those old houses of the petty bourgeoisie, which even nowadays, when we see them covered with green moss or stained with rust, make us feel as if we were in a small province town rather than in the biggest city of this country.
This world, generally peaceful, was from time to time shaken by dramatic events. Thus, Sasareanu saw the trucks carrying the corpses of the strikers shot at Grivita, in 1933. The 1941 rebellion of the Iron Guard is evoked by Demostene Gramatopol and by Leonida Merlaub, but also by Korn, a German whose conflict with the famous Nazi agent Arthur Konradi, the leader of the Union of the Reich?Germans, caused him to be expelled from all associations of the German community7.


Another topic is Communism: how it became a force of political change, how the people reacted to the regime in the fifties, and how they considered it in 1985, when their answers were taped by the author of this book. Among sixteen men and women whose interviews are here, only Endre Kun was a Communist sympathizer, though not a party member at that time. When he says: 'I led the workers of that factory to Colentina, where we greeted the Russian troops at their arrival', we realize that the scene really happened. The photos showing the Soviet soldiers, as they came straight from Moldavia, surrounded by cheering crowds, have been for years in the textbooks, but they were hardly credible - the normal reaction would have been to hide in the cellar, as Eduard Korn did. Except in this case, everybody talks about adapting to Communism in terms which suggest obedience and conformism (Korn took the name of 'comrade Cornea'): it was a traditional strategy of survival. For instance, Sasareanu managed to keep his job because he had a friend who was personally acquainted with one of the Communist leaders, etc. Experiences of prisons are seldom mentioned. One needed courage to speak about it. One who dared to do so is Dr. Gramatopol, a physician who had defended the Jews when they were deported and who, in 1985, had the bravery to declare himself a partisan of constitutional monarchy. And, of course, this painful subject is discussed with Mrs. Vulcanescu, whose husband, a man of great integrity and dignity, died in prison. Such memories about Mircea Vulcanescu or about Alice Voinescu have a special interest, not only because they illustrate the moral resistance to tyranny by the elite of Romanian intellectuals, but also because, through them, one glimpses the solidarity between the families of political prisoners and the survivors who were bringing news.
This book may equally be read in order to understand how it was to live in Bucharest under Communism. Large parts of the town were demolished; Ceausescu's orders did not care about the past. Gone were the savings and the hard work accumulated in the houses that were destroyed. The 1984?1985 winter had been terrible, and throughout the conversations collected in this volume we find allusions to the harsh cold or to the need for food. Only a few words, however, since such things were a daily reality known to everybody. In the words of a retired worker, who still thought as a peasant: 'Life is no longer as it was some fifty years ago?now we live between today and to?morrow'. Then, this same Sasareanu concludes: 'It's so shocking that one should scream to heaven'.


In the late eighties and still today emigration was another cause of homogenization. It is one of the reason why the remains of the aristocracy and ethnic minorities could be discovered only with great difficulty. For those who did not leave the country, assimilation was hastened by marriage. Daughters started to marry outside their traditional family circles; in many cases, Jewish names were exchanged for Romanian?sounding ones. The people who adopted this strategy felt the need to merge with the ranks of the majority. Thus, these interviews have seized the last opportunity of learning about a still unaltered identity.


This book uses sources of the 'life history' type, an empirical form of oral history. This method is still new in Romania and, even abroad - first in the United States, then in Canada, Britain and Italy - it was introduced only after the last war. In this country, oral history research is currently led by Smaranda Vultur (Timisoara), Doru Radosav (Cluj), Irina Nicolau (the Museum of the Romanian Peasant), Mariana Conovici (the G.I.Bratianu Center at the Romanian Broadcasting Company) and Georgeta Pop (the Civic Academy). And of course Zoltan Rostas, who started twenty years ago by investigating the past of the Gusti?Stahl school of sociology, and who in this book studies the multicultural city that Bucharest was in the first decades of the 20th century.


Old people patiently told him the stories of their lives. We are witnesses as the interviewer stimulates the flow of memory. After the French Revolution, memoirs of those who were involved in the events or suffered their consequences appeared by dozens, if not by hundreds. The terrors of the elapsed century were incomparably more widespread and produced a considerable number of testimonials. The interest in such accounts has grown in proportion, as also criticism by readers always ready to question the author's objectivity. Of course, memoirs can never be neutral, especially when a public personality has a past to defend. Nowadays, the reader is more interested in the minutia of everyday life and feels sympathy for the ordinary man who has never climbed on the stage. Instead of being regarded by his contemporaries, he gets the posthumous advantage of reaching the audience of a later generation. The tape not only helps the faster transmission of memory, but also offers a pledge of sincerity. How many diaries do we know, which are not obsessed with politics or flooded by philosophical abstraction?


The recorded interview is spontaneous, it does not resort to books. Of all our interviewees, only Agop Cividian makes explicit mention of the authors he has read: Morgenthau, Lepsius, and T.E. Lawrence. He says: 'I read any book I can find' and his historical culture is not negligible. For the others, historical context does not even exist: the attitudes of Mrs. Mandrea and Mrs. Goga were influenced by their genealogy, while history took for Dr. Gramatopol an aggressively didactic form. It may be observed that both the Armenian and the Greek were proud of belonging to an ancient race. Peasants lacked any trace of historical vision; the uniformity of time, as they perceived it, would not permit such an idea. Vilma Kovacs, the charwoman who returned to her village in Transylvania, tries to remember when a man of her village died: 'I do not know? we had sown the clover?it was either in '59 or in '69?when was that collectivization?'
Ethnic minorities lived in closed groups, having only casual meetings with their Romanian neighbors or with other minorities (at the Evangelical school, or at the Turnverein Association, where German nationalism was not welcome, until the Nazis imposed it). The majority language was generally adopted, for instance by Turkish?speaking Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, or by Romanian?speaking Jews in Bucharest. Entertainment gave many opportunities to socialize: excursions to the Andronache Wood, dancing at the Hungarian Association in Zalomit street. The seeds of civil society were sown.


From one interview to the next, some facts or some people recur. For instance, both Kover and Korn remember that, during the years 1908?1910, they used to see King Charles I going for a walk without a guard. The old king still exists in the recollections of Mrs. Mandrea or of Mrs. Goga, who were invited to receptions at the royal palace and who heard his voice. He must have been an approachable character, since he stopped to talk to schoolboys. The king's funeral in 1924 has engraved in Eduard Korn's memory the image of the crowded Victory Square, as I see it in an old photo, preserved among my family papers. Some people who answer the questions asked here knew each other: Lizica Goga and Margarita Vulcanescu were acquainted. I grew up myself in the neighborhood of such people. I remember having once seen the birdlike profile of Anina Radulescu?Pogoneanu; I met sometimes (always with dislike) Dr. Gramatopol's nephew; my mother paid visits to Mrs. Mandrea; I loved Sandu and Nina Sturdza in whose hospitable house at Sinaia I was kindly received; Virgil and Catul Bogdan were my mother's cousins.
The recorded interviews, about 25, were conducted in Romanian or Hungarian. They took place in Bucharest in 1984?1985. Considerations of space prevented us from using more than 16 of them, and those that are used are themselves truncated. These texts refer mostly to Bucharest, but, for the coherence of the experience they describe, the volume includes also pages about Transylvanian villages, about the exile of the White Russians in France, about what an officer in the Romanian troops saw in the Soviet Union during the war. This applies also to the recollections of an Armenian born in Turkey about the massacres of Asia Minor in 1915.
The city we have lost is alive here. As it was once remarked, such an exploration of a still recent, but irrecoverable, past makes us understand 'what an extraordinary force of absorption, of integration and of adaptation could be found' in old Bucharest1.
Andrei Pippidi
Director of the Romanian Institute for Recent History


Note
1. H. Stahl, Bucurestii ce se duc, Valenii de Munte, 1910, p. 3.
1. Alexandre A.C. Sturdza, La Terre et le Race roumaines, Paris, 1904, pp. 53, 58?59, 60?61, 83, 88. Frédéric Damé, Bucarest en 1906, Bucarest 1907, pp. 124?136, 139, 356, 523, 547?548, 552?557.
2. Virgiliu N. Draghiceanu, 707 zile subt cultura pumnului german, Bucharest, 1920, p. 293.
3. Fr. Damé, op. cit., p. 520?524; L. Colescu, Stiutorii de carte din România în 1912, edited by Anton Golopentia, Bucharest, 1947, p. XIX.
4. Fr. Damé, op. cit., p. 159?161.
1. Olga N. Greceanu, Bucurestii, Bucharest 1929, p. 54. The figure of 632,000, according to the 1930 census, can be found in The Handbook of Central and East Europe, Zürich, 1932, p. 583, and is confirmed by Enciclopedia României, III, Bucharest, 1939, p. 61.
2. Handbook, pp. 549?550.
3. L. Colescu, op. cit., p. XIX.
4. Ibid., p. XI.
5. Guide de la Roumanie, p. 8.
1. Ibid., p. 122.
2. Handbook, p. 578.
3. Ibid., p. 580.
4. Guide de la Roumanie, p. 126.
5. Enciclopedia României, II, Bucharest, 1938, p. 557.
6. Ibid., p. 558.
7. Florea Nedelcu, De la Restauratie la Dictatura Regala, Cluj, 1981, pp. 99, 105, 379?380.
1. Al. Paleologu, Stelian Tanase, Sfidarea memoriei, Bucharest 1996, p. 43.