Mihail Decean Exhumation of martyr-heroes with an excavator

In the 1960’s, when I was a high school student, either because I was overwhelmed with the unrestrained desire to find out more about my family or out of sheer curiosity, I dared to ask those closer to me, my father, my mother, my elder brothers, even aunt Virginia and uncle Florian what had happened to Petru Decean. Had he died or was he still alive? Under what circumstances had he disappeared?

Their answers were not only elusive, but given in fear and hastily and followed by the serious warning to mind my own business, for such concerns of mine were not only useless, but they could also do me harm. They were very strict and once we had talked about something and settled it, we would never talk about it again. This became obvious to me after a few unsuccessful attempts to start the same conversation again.

I tried to talk to Nicolae Decean, my father’s eldest brother, about his nephew Petru Decean, who was thought to have disappeared, since nobody knew for sure that he was no longer living until his exhumation. In 1968, when I was a teacher at the Vocational School in Cugir and Nicolae Decean was living with his daughter Timi in the same town, he told me with an unusual gravity that I remember even today: Hey kid, mind your own business! We can talk about anything if you want, but not about this! This uncle of mine was notoriously severe, but also with a certain sense of humor. (I quote here a dialogue we had from my memory: “Well, nephew, do you know that I was the head of a Hungarian Gendarmerie post?” “Yes, I do. Father told me.” “Well, that’s why people say I wear a moustache, ha ha ha! But it’s not true; you should know I wear it because my father also used to wear one!”). He would joke with me about his very big, curly moustache, urging me to start growing one myself, because that’s what “real men” do.

My father’s youngest brother, Cornel Decean, was the least willing to talk about Petru’s disappearance. He would just turn away as if he had not heard my questions about Petru. While a law student, in 1969 or 1970, I asked him why Petru had been transferred from the Faculty of Law in Cluj to the one in Bucharest.

Uncle Cornel is the one I understood best, because his son-in-law, Vasile Florea, although he was very nice to his family and relatives, was a counter-intelligence officer in the Romanian Army, therefore a Securitate agent. I do not know how it happened, but his other son-in-law, Costel Pârvu, was also a Securitate agent, so my poor uncle had no other choice but to keep quiet. He was the head of a railway station and could not take the risk of losing his job (he managed to keep it until he retired).

Eventually, my father told me that Petru Decean had been missing since one day in February 1949, when he came to visit us in Mihalţ, took me in his arms in the backyard of our house and threw me up two or three times, while I was desperately screaming as loud as I could and floating in the air, scared by his Homeric laughter; I was barely three years old then, but fear engraved on my infant memory that moment which I remember even today, although vaguely. My suspicion, also sustained by my father, is that cousin Petru visited, on one pretext or another, all his close relatives, knowing he would go into the mountains. Accepting the fatality of death, he might have had the premonition that he would never return to his folk. Mărioara, his sister, confirmed that his farewell visits had really taken place.

Brothers Florian, Mihăilă (Ilă) and Cornel Decean had a strong and enviable relationship until the end of their life, an unshakable friendship since their early adolescence, when, after both their parents had prematurely passed away, they took care of one another, their legal guardian being maternal Uncle Salcău. Their elder brother and sister, Nicolae and Virginia, had got married and had to take care of their own families.

I do not know whether my elder brother, Nicolae Decean, became a law student inspired by his cousin Petru Decean, the partisan, but I certainly studied law because my brother had done it and I wanted to be like him; I was supposed to call my elder brothers dad Niculuţ and dad Nelu (Cornel) and I always called them like this while they lived, as this is a sign of respect in our rural culture in which we spent our childhood. None of my elder brothers had given me detailed explanations about the disappearance of our cousin, Petru Decean, who was 5 and 7 years their senior.

The only person who spoke with me about Petru Decean openly – this happened in 1980 - was Aurel Cerghidean, a man from my village. He was 10 years older than my cousin (and also a distant family relative) and he would visit me incognito in Timişoara, but what he told me was hardly credible, since each time he would come up with a different story about Petru. The only thing that never changed in his story was that Petru had fled to the Apuseni Mountains to escape the Securitate agents who were chasing him.

The only relative with whom I had longer talks out about my partisan cousin and how much she, her parents and cousin Simion Ordean had suffered was Petru’s little sister, Maria (Mărioara) Decean, but only after 1989. She told me the same things she wrote in her book entitled Spovedanie târzie (Late Confession, Editura Napoca Star, Cluj-Napoca, 2012).

I get along very well with Mărioara, although we fight from time to time. We are both hot-tempered, but we always come to terms quickly and our arguments are not very frequent.