We don’t know in which day of the calendar we would have celebrate now the National Day of Romania if, 100 years ago, in August, 1916, Romania’s Kingdom wouldn’t have entered the Great War on Entente’s side (according to the political treaty concluded only few days before with the alliance consisting of France, British Empire and Russian Empire), so at the end of the war the right of the union with Transylvania, Crisana Maramures, Bucovina and Banat was acknowledged. The moment proved to be unfavorable, the Romanian army was insufficiently prepared, and in a pretty short time, the South of the country was occupied by the forces of the Central Powers and the chaos and the caused human and material damages were huge. Although an unimaginable disaster occurred and despite the fact that it has been defeated, faith or almighty God have decided in its favor. At the end of the war, the defeated Romania became Greater Romania, following a series of annexations of the regions populated by Romanians.
Starting from the desire to find out how people, especially soldiers, have resisted to this huge challenge of the World War I, The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant launched in December 2015 the project called “Letters from the Front”. As a first step, we have released a challenging invitation to the public, hoping that many people will be seduced by this subject and they will look in their own “box in the attic’, in the ancient family papers, for testimonies from the period of the World War I: letters, diaries, frontline notes, photos. The second step is, of course, to gather and to publish them in a witness volume that will recover the memory of those days, reproducing their image and spirit in a manner which is as complete, honest and less embellished as possible. Few things can be more honest and clarifying regarding a war than the hot lines written in those days, from the middle of the fire and madness that included the whole European continent. The whistling of bullets and shells, the wounds, the fears, the prohibitions from the trenches, the isolation from the family, the direct contact with death and the suffering of others, the longing for the loved ones, the hopes are somehow diluted, inevitably, in the history pages, in the literature and even in the memories of the former combatants. Only then, at the most present tense, the dimension of the frontline life has an absolute truthfulness and a maximum clarity. That’s why gathering a part of those ancient notes 100 years after Romania has entered the war, provides us a more authentic, unfiltered picture of the experiences full of humanity, otherwise than reports, propaganda or official history managed to do it.
I must admit that at that moment, right after release of that invitation, I had a kind of concern, that 100 years since the Great War, few are those who have pages from the letters or diaries of the former combatants. To my great joy, some people have answered with enthusiasm to the invitation, and therefore more and more documentary materials have been gathered, so that the picture of those days became clear, through the letters, postcards from the Romanians in the Kingdom, as well as from the Romanians, Hungarians and Germans in Transylvania, through the frontline diaries, photos and stories of the war prisoners. Besides, in one year of researches, I found documents that I dare to call today “pure gold”, not only in the chests or office drawers of some families, but also in the files of institutions such as The Historical Service of the Army and the Cluj Directorate of the State Archives, or in the shelves of the collectors (and I would name first Daniel Mladin). I must mention that, paradoxically or not, sometimes an ancient bad thing can turn into a new good thing. For instance, there was an important center of the military Austrian – Hungarian censure in Cluj, where the letters sent by the soldiers to those from home were often read and confiscated. Those letters are now held by the State Archives in Cluj.
From the first postcards that reached my hands, I have understood that receiving a letter in the war days was probably the greatest possible joy, both for those on the front and for those from home. If I would have to summarize the content of those pages, I’d say that the longing and the love for those close, suffering, fear and all kind of lacks were overwhelmingly present. Similarly, those papers were full of the care for the family and the household left as they were or even worse, occupied by the enemy; they were full of advices for those from home, of news about defeats, tactical mistakes and endless withdrawals.
I want to thank from the bottom of my heart to all those who have helped me to start and develop the project called “Letters from the Front”. From now on, only the rigorous of publishing counts. Without any doubt, this book is dedicated to those people caught in the middle of the fight, taken all together by the great history, somehow kidnappedfrom the small histories of each one. It’s worth to remember them even now, after 100 years.
National Museum of the Romanian Peasant
Always updated. Since 1906
National Museum of the Romanian Peasant is part of the European family of the Arts and Popular Traditions Museums. It’s a national museum, under the patronage of the Culture Ministry. Being the holder of some extremely reach collections of objects, hosted by a historical monument building, constructed in a neo-Romanian style, it practices a totally special museology. Its original style of exposure is also found in the museum’s publications, in the actions of the Missionary Museum, the Village School type, or in events like exhibitions, concerts, conferences and film screenings.
National Museum of the Romanian Peasant appreciates that is useful to maintain a discussion on the peasant’s image and its universe. The museum is searching a complex peasant that can be known only by successive images, each of them assuming o fragmentary perspective. The appropriated museology of this option can only be a searching museology, a flickering museology reborn with every gesture, opposing to everything that risks to become routine, process, cliché or recipe. The Peasant Museum is trying to create a fresh museology, released from ordinary ideas and museum trends, a museology that is simple, supple and discrete, in which the most important thing is the respect for the peasant’s objects ad for the nobles of the world from where peasants come.
We re-discover a forgotten world, we present its beauty, its simplicity, its power… in a modern and original museum formula for which, in 1996, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant was granted “the European Museum of the Year” (EMYA), being the only museum in Romania enjoying this award.
PHOTO SOURCE: ‘LETTERS FROM THE FRONT’, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE ROMANIAN PEASANT ARCHIVE, DANIEL MLADIN COLLECTION