A Stranger’s Obituary

 

My wife likes to read obituaries. Seems a little ghoulish to me, but sometimes we find out about the passing of old friends or neighbors and get a chance to go pay our respects. More often, though, she is just reading about dead strangers. Every now and then she sees a life that sounds inspiring and shares it with me. Recently she showed me the obituary of a man from town named Iulian Pop who passed away at age 83.

An excerpt from the obituary reads:

Born in Romania in 1938, Iulian lost the best years of his life because he was imprisoned in his 20s – for reading the Bible. He escaped in January 1982 and emigrated to the United States. When Iulian arrived, he had $10 in his pocket and was granted political asylum. For Iulian, this country was truly the land of opportunity, and in two years he bought a house and eventually started his own machine shop company

What they sum up there is 75 words must be several books worth of stories. First, to be imprisoned for reading the Bible? Romania was communist at the time and communist countries always seem to view faith as a threat. If you are familiar with the group Voice of the Martyrs, their founders Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand were both imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian government for their faith in Jesus Christ. I read Pastor Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ and can only imagine what Mr. Pop went through during his time in prison.

Then in 1982, he escaped. Not released, but escaped. With communist countries, you didn’t just have to escape the prison but the country itself was a type of prison, in that the government knew many would willingly leave if allowed. Mr. Pop then came to America with basically nothing and had a successful life. The American dream.

When my wife points out one of these “only in America” type stories, she often does so with sadness. She will say, “We lost another good one and the ones they are being replaced with just don’t get it.” I know, people have been complaining about the younger generations since the beginning of time. But reading this man’s story, there are things that someone from my generation would understand that younger people may not. 

Having grown up in the ’70s and ’80s,  I see a story about a man jailed for his faith and think, “Of course, communism is evil.” “Of course, America is the land of opportunity.” Even most Democrats agreed with that.  The idea that someone could be locked up for reading the Bible was something I could never imagine happening this side of the Iron Curtain. I don’t believe younger Americans feel that way.

A few years back I heard college protestors yelling, “no free speech for hate speech.” And who exactly determines what is hate speech? Would the people chanting that hesitate to lock up people for reading and/or preaching parts of the Bible? I don’t think so. Do the people skipping down the road towards socialism not understand where that road ends? Do they care?

Rest in peace, Mr. Pop. I didn’t know you at all, but I now admire you. And your obituary shows us the very human side of the Cold War. The right side won that battle, but will we squander that victory?

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a sad but inspirational story, Vance. I’m amazed at the risks people will take in order to remain true to themselves and their beliefs. Mr. Pop would be pleased to know that many of us admire and would like to emulate him, even though he has passed on.

    • #1
  2. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Vance Richards:

     When Iulian arrived, he had $10 in his pocket and was granted political asylum. 

    Just want to point out that, being tortured because of your religion is grounds for asylum. The fact that America has a more generous welfare program than your country of origin, is not. Seems straight forward but . . .

    • #2
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    I wonder when people will read stories of escaped from the United States after being jailed for reading the Bible. Is that day far off?

    • #3
  4. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    You’ve nicely expressed what’s at stake, Vance. Our hope must be that most Americans aren’t as shallow and unreflective as the brash young neo-fascists who find virtue in censorship.

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I wonder when people will read stories of escaped from the United States after being jailed for reading the Bible. Is that day far off?

    Advocates of the dominant religion of atheist. utopian. class-based (aristocratic) totalitarianism (statism) only implement a law against reading the Bible when they have prepared the society for it.

    In the communist countries like the USSR, Red China, and to a lesser extent Nazi Germany, where society has passed directly from an old form of the statist religion (absolute monarchy, feudalism) to the new, this advance happens early.

    In America, it’s going slower, but in every decade since 1900, this Godless religion has made measurable advances, and these have suddenly accelerated.

    But even today, to quote the Bible in order to teach it to others is a crime or treated as a crime (which is practically the same thing), even though reading it isn’t yet.  On Ricochet even, this law is enforced not  directly by the State, but indirectly through fear of saying something “inappropriate”, or using natural honest English (“woman” instead of “transgender”, or “homosexual” instead of the statist priestly-approved “gay”) making it effectively the law of the land.

    • #5
  6. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I wonder when people will read stories of escaped from the United States after being jailed for reading the Bible. Is that day far off?

    Ah, but where would they go?

    • #6
  7. James Salerno Inactive
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Vance Richards:

    What they sum up there is 75 words must be several books worth of stories. First, to be imprisoned for reading the Bible? Romania was communist at the time and communist countries always seem to view faith as a threat. If you are familiar with the group Voice of the Martyrs, their founders Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand were both imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian government for their faith in Jesus Christ. I read Pastor Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ and can only imagine what Mr. Pop went through during his time in prison.

    Thanks for sharing, Vance. The Communists always go after religion first. Prior to communism and widespread socialism, the churches took care of social welfare. That simply cannot coexist with communism.

    • #7
  8. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    I always had a bit of a patriotic bent.  But what really made me a patriot was helping to resettle Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and then again helping political refugees from several hot spots in the 80s.  I had the honor of meeting many “Iulians.”

    • #8
  9. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    James Salerno (View Comment):
    Thanks for sharing, Vance. The Communists always go after religion first. Prior to communism and widespread socialism, the churches took care of social welfare. That simply cannot coexist with communism.

    I had a friend, who has passed away, that made repeated mission trips to a communist country over many years. The biggest trouble he was ever in occurred when he tried to hand out food to needy people. Only the government was supposed to do that. The Lord was with him and he was always able to get out of any situation and not get permanently thrown out of the country, as happened to a few other Americans. The little kerfuffle with the food got him a few hours in a police station and did not stop him. He and the local church leaders just found better ways to distribute the food.

    • #9
  10. James Salerno Inactive
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    JoelB (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):
    Thanks for sharing, Vance. The Communists always go after religion first. Prior to communism and widespread socialism, the churches took care of social welfare. That simply cannot coexist with communism.

    I had a friend, who has passed away, that made repeated mission trips to a communist country over many years. The biggest trouble he was ever in occurred when he tried to hand out food to needy people. Only the government was supposed to do that. The Lord was with him and he was always able to get out of any situation and not get permanently thrown out of the country, as happened to a few other Americans. The little kerfuffle with the food got him a few hours in a police station and did not stop him. He and the local church leaders just found better ways to distribute the food.

    This happens a lot. Especially in African countries where the warlord governments always skim off the top. It is very hard to find charities that ONLY help the people directly. Even if you can find a good one, they still run into the problems you describe.

    • #10
  11. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Vance Richards: My wife likes to read obituaries.

    In my family they were called “the Irish sports pages.”

    • #11
  12. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Jim Kearney (View Comment):

    Vance Richards: My wife likes to read obituaries.

    In my family they were called “the Irish sports pages.”

    Yes, my wife is Irish 

    • #12
  13. Mad Gerald Lincoln
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I wonder when people will read stories of escaped from the United States after being jailed for reading the Bible. Is that day far off?

    Ah, but where would they go?

    Believe it or not, Bibles can now be distributed in SCHOOLS in some former eastern bloc countries.  That includes countries like Hungary and Ukraine, at the least.

    https://www.eem.org/about/

    • #13
  14. Mad Gerald Lincoln
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    From a Eastern European Mission newsletter: From Bibles in public schools in Ukraine to now
    in Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

    • #14
  15. davenr321 Coolidge
    davenr321
    @davenr321

    Obituaries are great! At least when the writing is good. Ordinary people often lead interestingly if not fascinating lives, worth reading about. Some perhaps infamous, some tragic, some intensely sad, but generally good to learn about. Large families, ancestors, descendants, contributions they’ve made, and so forth. Some, like Mr. Pop, through his death, now, effectively lived to tell us of what life is like under a rotten, corrupt, evil dictator. That is an important story to tell.

    • #15
  16. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I wonder when people will read stories of escaped from the United States after being jailed for reading the Bible. Is that day far off?

    Ah, but where would they go?

    Hungary. Poland……most former Eastern bloc countries.  For old guys like me it’s “bizarro world”.

    • #16
  17. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I got to know two guys from Romania – one worked in a Carrabba’s here and the other I worked with. They both learned the A/C and heating trade and passed their tests.  The Carrabba’s waiter worked for an AC company to learn and worked at the restaurant so his wife and baby had insurance coverage. He started his own company.  The other one worked and bought a house. He told me he owned a piece of property in Romania but other than his mom and a distant uncle, had no one.  He said his mom had housing and a type of social security paid by the government.  I asked how much that was.  He said it amounted to about $80 a month. (!).

    He said socialized healthcare meant you got very little care. You had to stand in long lines to see a doctor and pay your way to get ahead in the line!  This was during Obama’s presidency.  When Obama was putting the Obamacare plans into motion, they both saw it plain as day and warned against it. They saw his socialized policies clearly.

    Interesting how those that have suffered under these regimes in other countries make it here with no illusions.  Yet Americans collect gov. handouts left and right and quit jobs. You won’t see these foreign kids burning cities and looting and stealing, or spray-painting our national monuments. They understand what America is and represents better than Americans.

    • #17
  18. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Also, the two Romanians knew each other through their Orthodox church. There is a strong connection and networking through church.  I noticed the same within the Hispanic community among those I know – through the local Catholic church. These are the threads that used to hold families together here.

    • #18
  19. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    I’ve known a couple dozen Romanian immigrants, mostly through the chess-playing community.  The first one I ever met was an old man named Virgil Parvenescu.  He was a heavy smoker and a priest who always wore his white collar.  I played many games with him in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  His story was that when the Communists took over shortly after world War II, they purged the country of priests and religion. The authorities hauled him out to a fake execution where they put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.  To his great relief he only heard the click of an empty pistol.  I think that was supposed to be a warning not to spread the gospel or he would be executed for real.  He eventually escaped by swimming across the Danube River in the middle of the night, no mean feat.  He somehow got to France and lived for a time (his French was much better than his poor English), before emigrating to the United States.

    Another guy I met early on is named Dimitru Ghizdavu.  He is an International Chess Master and played on the Romanian Olympic team. (Believe it or not, there is a World-wide “Chess Olympiad” that has been going on every two years since 1924).  He escaped in the mid 1970’s by walking into a police station in Canada and asking for asylum while playing in an international chess tournament.  Only select sportsmen were allowed to leave the country for international tournaments, and they were assigned guards to watch them while they were on foreign soil.  Dimitru had to sneak out of a hotel room at night with very few possessions to get past his guards.

    I took private chess lessons from him for several years and he told me stuff that would seem incomprehensible to the average American. In my favorite deprivation story he said that in his village they had very little to eat, and usually no meat at all.  One day a government truck arrived that had a load of “chicken heads.”  He said the villagers mobbed the truck and fought over the chicken heads.  It was the only meat that they had seen in a month. Dimitru is very short, perhaps 5 foot four inches.  When I saw the Borat movie that was filmed partly in a Romanian village, I could see the extreme effects of malnutrition that the communist years had inflicted on its inhabitants, as all the adults in the  village were of very short stature. Virgil, who had gotten out decades earlier, was a full six feet tall, if not more.

    • #19
  20. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Speaking of reading random obituaries……..

    When I was about 33 years old, I kept some old newspapers around just to use as a tarp for painting projects and such.  One day I picked up a torn sheet of old newspaper from the basement floor and was about to throw it out when I happened to glance at a name in semi-bold print – Michael Wilding.   It was an obituary for a boy who was my classmate  from kindergarten all through high-school, and was a wrestling buddy!!  I had been to his 7th birthday party and had talked to  him in a bar just a few years earlier.  I had no idea he had died from brain cancer, and never would have known had I not glanced at a piece of trash.  I sent his father a condolence card even though it was a couple years since he had died, and I explained the situation.  His father wrote back very grateful that I had written him.

    • #20
  21. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Vance Richards: My wife likes to read obituaries. Seems a little ghoulish to me…

    Not ghoulish at all!  I too love reading obituaries.  You learn so much about people and their lives, especially if they lived in your local area.  I posted on a similar obituary back in 2015 about a man who I considered lived the ideal life, “A Gentleman of the Old School.”  Reading little blurbs about people who lived good lives is of the highest merit.  They become models for us.

    • #21
  22. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    davenr321 (View Comment):

    Obituaries are great! At least when the writing is good. Ordinary people often lead interestingly if not fascinating lives, worth reading about. Some perhaps infamous, some tragic, some intensely sad, but generally good to learn about. Large families, ancestors, descendants, contributions they’ve made, and so forth. Some, like Mr. Pop, through his death, now, effectively lived to tell us of what life is like under a rotten, corrupt, evil dictator. That is an important story to tell.

    If I am extraordinarily lucky James Lileks or Peter Robinson would write my obit.  I bet they would find a way to highlight talents and accomplishments that would otherwise go unnoticed.  I am not sure there is enough raw material for writers like Rob Long, but one never knows.  

    Ricochet has had, from time to time, the “post of the week.”  Maybe we could have the Obit of the Week.  It would certainly give us an occasion to reflect upon our world in a thoughtful way.  

     

    • #22
  23. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Speaking of reading random obituaries……..

    When I was about 33 years old, I kept some old newspapers around just to use as a tarp for painting projects and such. One day I picked up a torn sheet of old newspaper from the basement floor and was about to throw it out when I happened to glance at a name in semi-bold print – Michael Wilding. It was an obituary for a boy who was my classmate from kindergarten all through high-school, and was a wrestling buddy!! I had been to his 7th birthday party and had talked to him in a bar just a few years earlier. I had no idea he had died from brain cancer, and never would have known had I not glanced at a piece of trash. I sent his father a condolence card even though it was a couple years since he had died, and I explained the situation. His father wrote back very grateful that I had written him.

    Excellent!! 

    • #23
  24. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Speaking of reading obituaries, Alan King did this comedy routine:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoGgbxX8iko

    • #24
  25. James Salerno Inactive
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    There are some great stories in this thread. I’ve always wondered, why are the stories of those escaping communist regimes not as romanticized as those escaping Nazis? Maybe romanticized isn’t the right word, but you really don’t see these get as much attention. Who is the communist version of Anne Frank? Solzhenitsyn? Maybe? Do they talk about him in public schools? Is there a communist companion to Schindler’s List?

    And due to how globally widespread communism became in the 20th century, it seems like there is a far greater volume of these tales. I think we know the answer, but it’s nonetheless interesting to ponder.

     

    • #25
  26. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Speaking of obituaries, today I was saddened to learn about the recent passing of Terry Teachout, theater critic at the Wall Street Journal.

    A long appreciation of Mr. Teachout’s life and work was published in The New York Times. A delicate task that, composing a respectful and appropriate goodbye to a conservative in a paper known to banish writers and editors who deviate from the house ideology. A close reading shows that the author understands his readership’s biases, but he more than gets the job done. Good writers often appreciate the contributions of other good writers, even across today’s ideological chasm.

    Another Teachout notice, this one from our side of the divide and certainly worth reading, is on David Reaboi’s excellent Substack.

    • #26
  27. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Speaking of reading random obituaries……..

    When I was about 33 years old, I kept some old newspapers around just to use as a tarp for painting projects and such. One day I picked up a torn sheet of old newspaper from the basement floor and was about to throw it out when I happened to glance at a name in semi-bold print – Michael Wilding. It was an obituary for a boy who was my classmate from kindergarten all through high-school, and was a wrestling buddy!! I had been to his 7th birthday party and had talked to him in a bar just a few years earlier. I had no idea he had died from brain cancer, and never would have known had I not glanced at a piece of trash. I sent his father a condolence card even though it was a couple years since he had died, and I explained the situation. His father wrote back very grateful that I had written him.

    That is an unbelievable story! I have done the same. I picked up a local paper several years ago and saw a tribute to a local real estate agent I knew and worked with. I had no idea!! I looked her up and it turned out she was sick and dies from colon cancer.  She was not old.  I was shocked and very sad.  This told me that you should not neglect your health at any age – get check ups – take tests. She was a spirited and sweet woman with a happy family.  They had everything. I also found out another sweet woman who sang in a church I attended passed away from brain cancer.  I didn’t know she was even sick.  We take so much for granted.

    • #27
  28. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Also, my sister sent me the Obit on the father of my high school boyfriend -a  family that I dearly loved and always have. I connected with them several times over the years.  What was amazing was the Obit was so cheerful – he was loved by his church – he built a dream home for his bride – his wife of so many years – he was known as Snake by his military mates – and a devoted Catholic and family man. It heartened me to read this – although sad.  He leaves a legacy well lived, loved, and grandchildren – one of which went into cancer research because that is what killed him.  

    • #28
  29. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    There are some great stories in this thread. I’ve always wondered, why are the stories of those escaping communist regimes not as romanticized as those escaping Nazis? Maybe romanticized isn’t the right word, but you really don’t see these get as much attention. Who is the communist version of Anne Frank? Solzhenitsyn? Maybe? Do they talk about him in public schools? Is there a communist companion to Schindler’s List?

    And due to how globally widespread communism became in the 20th century, it seems like there is a far greater volume of these tales. I think we know the answer, but it’s nonetheless interesting to ponder.

    I have long noticed the outsized coverage the Nazis received in our media and culture.  The History Channel was at one time dubbed “The Hitler Channel” because of their extensive documentaries on the Nazis.  I think part of this phenomenon is a drama thing.  The Nazis are the perfect tragic melodrama of a modern civilized culture gone insanely mad.  Their real story mimics the formula of thousands of fictional and science-fictional stories that have been written.  To add to this, there is ample film footage from both sides of the World War II combatants from which to tell the stories of what happened.  Film and pictures stir the emotions in a visceral way that the written word can only struggle to do.

    The Japanese were every bit as bad as the Germans during World War II, and much more vicious.  Their Asian Holocaust, which began as early as 1931,  may have killed up to twice as many people as the German holocaust.  But they are in a foreign culture that that doesn’t excite the dramatic brain cells of Westerners, and they left behind very little film footage of their destruction.  Same goes for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia that killed a higher percentage of civilians than any other modern-day holocaust.

    Communist killings, which outstrips all the holocausts put together, was done in complete secrecy from Western eyes, and leaves behind almost no film footage from which to create dramatic documentaries.  People who read are well aware of these modern atrocities, but people who watch movies (the majority of Americans) are not.

     

    • #29
  30. James Salerno Inactive
    James Salerno
    @JamesSalerno

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    James Salerno (View Comment):

    There are some great stories in this thread. I’ve always wondered, why are the stories of those escaping communist regimes not as romanticized as those escaping Nazis? Maybe romanticized isn’t the right word, but you really don’t see these get as much attention. Who is the communist version of Anne Frank? Solzhenitsyn? Maybe? Do they talk about him in public schools? Is there a communist companion to Schindler’s List?

    And due to how globally widespread communism became in the 20th century, it seems like there is a far greater volume of these tales. I think we know the answer, but it’s nonetheless interesting to ponder.

    I have long noticed the outsized coverage the Nazis received in our media and culture. The History Channel was at one time dubbed “The Hitler Channel” because of their extensive documentaries on the Nazis. I think part of this phenomenon is a drama thing. The Nazis are the perfect tragic melodrama of a modern civilized culture gone insanely mad. Their real story mimics the formula of thousands of fictional and science-fictional stories that have been written. To add to this, there is ample film footage from both sides of the World War II combatants from which to tell the stories of what happened. Film and pictures stir the emotions in a visceral way that the written word can only struggle to do.

    The Japanese were every bit as bad as the Germans during World War II, and much more vicious. Their Asian Holocaust, which began as early as 1931, may have killed up to twice as many people as the German holocaust. But they are in a foreign culture that that doesn’t excite the dramatic brain cells of Westerners, and they left behind very little film footage of their destruction. Same goes for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia that killed a higher percentage of civilians than any other modern-day holocaust.

    Communist killings, which outstrips all the holocausts put together, was done in complete secrecy from Western eyes, and leaves behind almost no film footage from which to create dramatic documentaries. People who read are well aware of these modern atrocities, but people who watch movies (the majority of Americans) are not.

     

    Good points, but I always thought it was due to a deep resentment in academia and Hollywood that wished Marxism would have worked.

    • #30
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