- London, United Kingdom
Pál Schiffer (1911–2001) was one of the most significant documentary filmmakers in Hungary in the 20th century. He was the child of a family that played a leading role in the history of the Hungarian social democratic movement. After the Second World War, his grandfather, Árpád Szakasits, was one of the leaders of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party who urged close cooperation with the communists. Szakasits became the president of the united party in 1948. He was also elected president of Hungary, but his career declined very rapidly. In 1950, he was imprisoned, as was Schiffer’s father, Pál Schiffer sr. This is significant because the consequence was a radical change in the status of their family. As Pál Schiffer remembered in 1988, as a little boy “usually I was taken to the Gorky School in a Mercedes from our seven bedroom villa on Rózsadomb, where I had a fantastically furnished room.” Until 1950, he was living in a bubble in other terms too: “everybody around me was talking about how wonderfully happy the country in which we lived was: everybody was content, feeling great, everybody was an enthusiastic supporter of the system.” When his father and grandfather were apprehended by the political police, they had to move from the capital to the city of Debrecen, where they lived in a small flat in a working-class neighbourhood. As a schoolboy, his entire world turned upside down, and he was totally shocked. He was confronted with the fact that people in his new environment were malcontent: “they were criticizing the system, complaining that they had to stand in line for bread, meat, and sugar, that they were afraid of the ÁVH [State Protection Authority], the police, the party secretary, and one another. I had to face it, I had been living a lie.” The six years that he spent in Debrecen were a formative experience for him, and when his family was rehabilitated and was able to moved back to Budapest in 1956, he decided to share his experiences with the members of the Budapest elite who were living relatively well. His father and grandfather became leading cadres of the Kádár regime, but he did not forget the Roma he had seen in Debrecen and the surrounding rural areas in eastern Hungary.
Pál Schiffer jr. graduated from the Academy of Drama and Film in 1963 and started to work at the Department of News and Documentary Films at the Mafilm Hungarian Film Studios. He also became a member of the Béla Balázs Studio, which gave young filmmakers opportunities to experiment. This is where he shot his first well-known documentary, Fekete vonat (Black train, 1970) on Roma communities trying to cope with the hardships of life, especially unemployment. As cultural sociologist Ferenc Hammer and film historian Andrea Pócsik observe, the film is overrated and does not reflect the insights of cutting-edge sociology of the time exemplified by the research of István Kemény. Schiffer himself did not consider this film a masterpiece either, and he was critical of his practices in the 1960s. As he explained in 1988, in the first phase of his career, he wanted to create documentaries for the cadres to make them aware of the dysfunctionalities of the system and urge them to consider reform. In 1972, by which time it had become clear that no real attempts at reform would be made by the regime, however, he realized that this top down approach would not work. This affected Schiffer’s filmmaking practice, and it also prompted him to invest more in arranging public screenings and to try to make a difference in wider local communities.
Schiffer started to accompany Kemény on his field research trips in the late 1960s, but only his later documentaries made in the 1970s show the influence of some of the findings of Kemény’s work. These findings were summarized in his fictional documentary Gyuri Cséplő (1978), which suggested that the question of poverty is not an ethnic issue and confronted viewers with social injustice and images of extreme poverty. However, according to Pócsik, their significance notwithstanding, these films ignored or failed to convey findings of Kemény’s research that transgressed the limits of officially acceptable discourse. They failed to raise the question of the responsibility of the system for keeping the poor in a miserable situation and failing to prize the grassroots efforts by the poor to make a change. Even so, the censors (the Chief Directorate of Film Industry) ordered some shorter parts of the film to be cut.In the 1980s, Schiffer continued to make documentaries on people living in parts of the country other than Budapest in marginalized statuses. On the eve of the regime change, he reflected on acting ion his own: his work was not in line with official cultural politics, the urban audience was not interested in rural poverty, the populist-nationalists felt his approach was alien to them, and for the democratic opposition he was not politically outspoken enough. Schiffer summarized his approach: “I think history is what happens to those who are suffering under history, to those who are not asked about what they want, to those who do not have a choice. But what has been loosened and tightened by the upper circles of politics, these people have tried to accommodate to this and take advantage of it for the benefit of their community.” He tried to avoid passing judgment and identifying who was responsible for the state of affairs, and instead he offered descriptions of small local communities entirely detached from politics and often deprived of agency. This enabled him to raise issues that were awkward for the Kádár regime and also to respond in a distinctive way to the general apolitical atmosphere of Hungary in the 1980s, when the principal strategy for citizens was non-engagement.
- Budapest, Hungary
Eginald Schlattner (born 1933) is a German writer in Romania and a Lutheran pastor in the community of Roșia, Sibiu county. He was imprisoned under communism for his writings and activity related to an alternative literary circle. Since 1989, he has published several volumes inspired by his experience under communism, which have enjoyed a notable editorial success in the German-speaking countries and then in Romania. Born in a middle-class German family in Arad, he spent his childhood in the small town of Făgăraș. The multicultural milieu of this small Transylvanian town inspired his later literary works. In January 1945, his father was among the members of the German community in Romania who were deported to the USSR. A student at the Protestant Theological Institute in Cluj between 1952 and 1953, Schlattner then switched to hydrology (1953–1957). His literary debut consisted of a story entitled “Gediegenes Erz” (Solid ore), for which he was awarded a prize in April 1956 by the official German-language newspaper in Romania, Neuer Weg. However, this story attracted the interest of the Securitate towards him in the context of the repression following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After reading passages from “Gediegenes Erz” during a youth reunion in Brașov, Schlattner was put under surveillance. Arrested in 1957 just before his graduation, he had to face the rigours of interrogations by the Securitate, while his manuscripts, correspondence, and books were confiscated. Some of his statements made during the brutal interrogations were used against fellow writers. He was practically turned into a witness for the prosecution during the so-called Trial of the German Writers, which took place in September 1959 in Brașov. Besides those involved in this trial, Schlattner was also sentenced in 1959 to two years in prison, but his sentence was compensated with the period he had already spent in arrest. Thus, his role in this trial continues to be subject of controversy, especially among the members of the German community originating from Romania. Released two years later, he was employed as an unskilled worker. It was only in 1969 that he resumed the study of hydrology. After graduation, he worked as an engineer until 1973. He then returned to the study of theology, graduated in 1978, and began serving as a Lutheran pastor in the village of Roșia, Sibiu county, and later as a prison chaplain. After his release from prison, he was continuously kept under surveillance by the Securitate until 1989. Schlattner’s complicated entanglements with the secret police made him one of those cases which provoked public debates on the use of such clear cut categories as victims and collaborators in the case of the communist regimes. It was after the regime change that Eginald Schlattner rose to prominence as a writer by publishing several autobiographically inspired novels with Paul Zsolnay Publishing House in Vienna: Der geköpfte Hahn (The beheaded rooster) in 1998, Rote Handschuhe (Red gloves) in 2000, and Das Klavier im Nebel (The piano in the fog) in 2005. International fame eventually brought him literary recognition in his native country, to the point of becoming cultural ambassador of Romania in 2002.
- Roșia, Romania 557210
Günther Schuller (b. 10 October 1904, Braşov – d. 14 July 1995, Braşov) was the son of the architect Albert Schuller (1877–1948), known as the architect of Jugendstil in the South of Transylvania. Günther Schuller was enrolled in the Honterus High School in Braşov, and then, between 1923 and 1929, studied architecture at the Higher Technical School in Munich (Technischen Hochschule München). After finishing his studies, he was employed in his father’s architecture office in Brașov. From 1945 to 1948, he took part in World War II and was deported to the Soviet Union. The deportation of a large part of the economically active population to forced labour camps in the Soviet Union was legitimised by the Soviet and Romanian authorities on the basis that the Romanian Germans “were considered part of the German nation” and guilty “for the Soviet human and material losses” during the Second World War (Baier 1994). Because of a work accident in the forced labour camp where he had been deported, Schuller lost his right arm. Despite this physical handicap, he continued to practice architecture, making a name for himself as a researcher and restorer of the historic monuments of Brașov.
Starting from 1948, Schuller devoted most of his activity to studying and protecting the historic heritage of Brașov. After he returned from deportation, he became involved in the restoration of many heritage buildings. In the 1960s and 1970s, he coordinated the restoration sites for the Kaufhaus (Merchants’ House, also known as Hirscher House) and for the White Tower, the Black Tower, and the Catherine’s Gate, which were part of the surrounding walls of the medieval city. In acknowledgement of his activity, between 1963 and 1968, the authorities appointed him head of the Directorate for Systematisation, Architecture, and Planning of Buildings, the institution in charge of regional activities of urbanism and architecture. After the 1977 earthquake, Schuller focused on researching its effects on the historic buildings of Brașov, and on identifying solutions to remedy them.
The most important restoration project in which the architect Günther Schuller participated was that of the Black Church, a monument to which he was particularly attached. Schuller had joined this initiative in the 1930s as part of the campaign initiated by the elite of the Saxons in Brașov to raise funds for the restoration of the Black Church, entitled Für unsere Schwarze Kirche (For our Black Church). Under communism, he took part in the restoration works in the periods 1968–1978 and 1981–1995 in various capacities. He became involved in key decision-making concerning the technical aspects of the restoration and supplied many historical or technical documents used by the architects and engineers engaged in the project. He supervised the restoration sites attentively because he did not want the works to affect the authenticity of the monument. While supervising the restoration works, he took many photos, on the basis of which today we can retrace the stages and technical methods used on the construction site at various times. In addition, Schuller, who was also a painter, made watercolours representing the monuments of Braşov. During the communist period, reproductions of some of these watercolours were commercialised by the local parish, and their sale helped the community to support the restoration financially.
Schuller contributed to the protection of the historic heritage also as an author who dealt with the history of the monuments of Brașov. His many newspaper articles drew the attention of the local community to the issue of protecting the city’s historic heritage. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, these articles contradicted the Ceaușescu regime’s policy of neglecting the protection of historic heritage, after the intensification of the urban systematisation process. This was a policy implemented by the Ceaușescu regime in the late 1970s and 1980s that entailed a radical restructuring of the urban fabric and the demolition of broad areas of the historic centres of the main Romanian cities, especially Bucharest and other county capitals in the Old Kingdom where the old city centres were less coherent, and to a much smaller extend in Transylvania and the Banat (Zahariade 2011, 37–40).
After 1989, Schuller became an active member of civil society and a supporter of the cause of those who had been deported from Braşov to the Soviet Union, and he was involved in obtaining reparations for the victims of deportation. For his entire cultural activity and especially for his achievements in the protection of Transylvanian historic heritage, Günther Schuller received the Herder prize from the Freiherr-vom-Stein-Stiftung (Federal Republic of Germany) in 1983.
- Brașov, Romania