Cazanele Dunării
Iron Gate, Romania
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Crossing the Danube, a way to freedom

Available in: English | Română

For Ingrid Popa’s family the instauration of the communism in Romania meant the beginning of a harsh persecution with many of her close relatives kept under surveillance, interrogated, and imprisoned by the regime. As a result, after her father’s arrest and imprisonment in 1947, the parents decided to clandestinely cross the border from Romania into Yugoslavia. They made a perilous crossing of the Danube in the spectacular area knew as Cazanele Dunării in a group consisting of twelve persons: besides the Popa family, there was another family of two parents and three sons, and three men who helped with the launch and also who took advantage of the opportunity to flee the country. “Then they planned to flee. Where? Because Romania was surrounded by countries dominated by Soviet troops, the only possibility was Yugoslavia. And then they decided to flee on the Danube. They paid somebody to help us cross the Danube. This was in August 1948. (…) The arrangement was to go to Băile Herculane because in those times you didn’t had permission to freely circulate in the country. My mother obtained from the doctor a certificate that she had arthritis and needs to go to Băile Herculane. So we all went to Băile Herculane with a family, Bezi, husband and wife. There, we met another family with three boys. It was an extraordinary amusement for us children because we were going on a trip with a boat to Cazane. And I remember that we were waiting the boat on the Danube bank eating fish. And the adults… the mothers were laughing, joking, but my father and Mr. Bezi were livid… looked like some ghosts. (…) The boat came, we got in it fast, and we looked at the water. Afterwards we found out from our parents that the man that should have taken us to Yugoslavia didn’t come. Somebody else showed up, one of his relatives, tall, bearded, fearsome. My parents told me that they gave them beer and wine. My mother had sleeping pills, and she gave them to him with the hope they would do something. But he was holding up, and there were three young men that were helping him manage the boat who realized that we wanted to flee and decided on the spot that they also did. Thus, they fought with the boat’s captain, but couldn’t defeat him. Then they cut the connection between wheel and helm and pushed us to the Yugoslavian shore across the streams of the Danube in Yugoslavia. So we arrived in Yugoslavia,” she recalled.

Ingrid Alina Fotino (née Popa)

Ingrid Alina Fotino (née Popa)

Born 31 May 1940, Bucharest. The interviewee comes from a family persecuted from the very beginning of the communist regime in Romania. Many of her close relatives were kept under surveillance, interrogated and imprisoned by the regime. Her father, a lawyer and the joint-owner, with his father, of a number of well-known firms in the textiles sector, was arrested in 1947 and imprisoned for many months at Jilava. The likely motive for the arrest was the fact that in 1946, as a consultant in the economic mission sent to Moscow to negotiate the strategies that were to be applied in the textiles industry, Ervin Popa was the only member of the delegation who refused to sign the final treaty, which he believed was to Romania’s disadvantage. Her mother’s sister, Lidia Gavrilescu, was imprisoned for more than four years in a series of women’s gaols, and her uncle, Constantin Niculescu, an officer in the navy, was imprisoned for five years at Aiud. As a result, in 1948, in an attempt to flee communism and the atmosphere of terror during the years immediately after the war, and following Ervin Popa’s arrest and imprisonment for a number of months in 1947, the Popa family (parents Ervin Popa and Ariana Popa, née Gavrilescu, and daughters Ingrid Alina and Alda) clandestinely crossed the border from Romania into Yugoslavia. They made the perilous journey across the Danube in a group consisting of twelve people: besides the Popa family, there was another family of two parents and three sons, and three men who helped with the launch and also who took advantage of the opportunity to flee the country. On reaching the other bank of the Danube, after a brief moment of jubilation, the Popa family was arrested by the Serbs and imprisoned in the camps at Kovačica and Zrenjanin. Conditions in the two camps proved to be very harsh, in terms of both food and hygiene and for both adults and children. After two years, they were taken to a camp in Bitola, (Macedonia), before being released in Greece. Regarding this camp, the interviewee mentions that the guards used to fake escapes as a means of disposing of prisoners. For example, on 30-31 January 1950, the Economu family, comprising husband and wife Narcis and Elena and two children, Liliana and Sandu, were part of a group of around twenty persons who were granted apparent leave to head to Greece. The release proved to be a ruse and all the members of the group were killed by the camp guards. It seems that the purpose of such tricks was to send a harsh message to Romanians thinking of fleeing from communism. The Popa family was released as part of a group of thirteen persons on 9 February 1950 and travelled to Greece, and then to Italy and finally Switzerland where they had acquaintances. They subsequently spent two years in France, where they began to rebuild their lives. They were familiar with French culture as Ervin Popa had taken his doctorate at the Sorbonne, and Ariana Popa, whose mother died when she was very young, had been raised by nuns at Notre Dame des Cieux and had learned French at an early age. The Popa family later moved to the United States of America, where Ariana Popa found a job at the French Lycée in New York and Ervin Popa in a textile company. Ingrid Fotino, (née Popa), lives in the United States of America. She is married and has two daughters.

Cazanele Dunării

Available in: English | Română

Cazanele is a part of the Danube Gorges, where the Danube separates the Carpathian Mountains. On this almost 9 km long sector, the gorge narrows to 230 m, the depth reaches up to 75 m and the river flows at a velocity of 5 m/s through the vertical rocky walls, which offer a spectacular view. Danube’s Boilers include Cazanele Mari ,(Large Boilers, about 4 km), flanked by the Ciucurel Mare Mountain, (Romania), and the Veliki Strbac Mountain, (Serbia), and Cazanele Mici, (Small Boilers, about 3 km long), enclosed by the Ciucurel Mic Mountain, (Romania), and the Mali Strbac Mountain, (Serbia), and part of the Porțile de Fier, (Iron Gates), natural park. Close to the Mraconia Gulf, a 40 m high and 25 m wide statue of the Dacian king Decebalus was carved into the rock. A visit to Danube’s Boilers was often used as a pretext to get close to the border with the intent to cross over to Yugoslavia in an attempt to flee to the West.

Cazanele Dunării

On this place

Crossing the Danube, a way to freedom

Crossing the Danube, a way to freedom

Ingrid Alina Fotino (née Popa)
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