This blog is the “story behind the story” of one man and his life before, during, and after WWII, a survivor of Eastern Europe during some of its darkest days.
I write this blog in parallel as I write the story of my great uncle Stefan, who withstood forced labor, torture, an 18-year sentence for sabotage, seven months of solitary confinement in Hungarian prison, a Serbian-lead prison break, and escape into the hills as he watched fellow Jews transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. For nearly a year, he and his brother lived in dirt dugouts, holes in the ground left by uprooted trees. They were kept alive, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, by the heroic kindness of an old man, Ilya Paliok, and his family.
Transylvania blue is a traditional house color in the region of Eastern Europe where my great grandparents were born. Blue is a color, a mood, and a euphemism. In all of its connotations, it suits the story of my great uncle and his past.
It’s a history that spans the rise and fall of empires, the drawing and redrawing of nations, the horrors of genocide and the grace of survival. My task, which I chronicle here, is to write the story of Stefan, a complicated man who was born into a region in upheaval and who survived through his own strength, strategy, and ambition, as well as the compassion of heroic individuals who helped save his life.
Now more than ever, we need to remember the particular history of this man and the region of his origin. From history, we already know the possible results of today’s reactionary, xenophobic, and corrupt political leaders and the movements they nurture with propaganda and hatred. Clues to our future are locked up in the untold lives of people like Stefan. It’s my hope that storytelling can save the world.
Thank you for reading and please follow my encounters with new resources and insights as I attempt to reconstruct a recent history that already has become buried in time.