Cristian Borz’s 15 year crusade to recreate the home of a founding father to modern Romania

Iuliu Maniu was a leader in forming modern Romania after World War I. He served as Prime Minster from 1928 to 1933. Maniu fought to protect the rights of Jews during the 1940’s and his party led the opposition to the Communist Party in the 1946 elections.

In the book Romanian Diaries – 1944 to 1947, Senior US Representative to Romania, Burton Berry, says “Iulia Maniu has an enormous political following in the country, and I believe the respect in which all Romanians hold him eclipses that held for any other Romanian.”

Sentenced to prison by the Communist Party, along with thousands of other political dissidents, Maniu died in Sighet Prison in 1953. There was no death certificate, tombstone, cross or family notification to accompany his death.

For decades, Maniu’s family members have tried to locate his remains. Along with philosopher Mircea Vulcănescu, Bishop Ioan Sociu and the Orthodox monk Daniil Sandu Tudor, Iuliu Maniu is counted as one of the great missing figures of the communist penitentiary system.

However, in a very strange and almost magical way, Maniu’s presence in Bădăcin, a small village in Sălaj County, is felt more concretely now than ever before.

Here, Cristian Borz has embarked on a 15 year mission to bring home the last prominent politician of Greater Romania.

It’s the middle of September in Bădăcin and there are autumn crocuses all over Iuliu Maniu’s pasture. Borz has finished building a fence around what remains of the Maniu family property.

The old house, nestled in a vineyard, is connected to the cemetery by an alley lined by rustling “noble” trees. The setting evokes images of a thriller film where the criminal returns to the crime scene, full of regret.

Volunteers, repairing the fence. Cristian Borz’s Facebook page.

The memories of the old church cantor

Cristian Borz, a Greek Catholic Priest, was sent to reestablish the parish in Bădăcin.

“The bishop told me: You have to go to Bădăcin, to reestablish the Greek-Catholic church and to implement Maniu’s will and testament.

Iuliu Maniu’s testament had become public in the early ‘90s. More so than a parish, a mission was assigned to me,” relates the priest.

Having just arrived home from work, Borz was surprised to find a reporter and a photo journalist poking around his little hilltop church.

When I arrived in Bădăcin, I knew that he was the Prime Minister and a founding father of the union of Transylvania to Romania in 1918. But what really impressed me were the memories of the village people.

The church cantor was a little old man who had personally known Maniu. He had such a sharp memory that whatever he said could be verified in documents and with historical dates. He was an extraordinary person who left a real impact on me” recounts the priest Cristian Borz.

That’s how he also found out about Maniu’s joy in financially supporting the good students in the village all the way through university.

A bust of Iuliu Maniu seen from his memorial home.
Iulia Maniu’s childhood home desperately needs a new roof.

The conversations with the elderly cantor ignited a deep passion in the young priest’s legal efforts to reclaim the land belonging to the legendary political figure. A passion and a frenzied search: where had Maniu been buried?

“There were three prior attempts at finding the remains of Iuliu Maniu. The first was in 1971. His sister, Nena, wrote to Ceaușescu asking where Maniu had been buried. To her surprise, she was visited by a Securitate officer who said: We’ll give you his remains, but don’t cause a scandal. Just call a priest and that’s it.”

“The family was thrilled. They were promised that they’d be called to the exhumation process. After a month, the same officer announced that the remains would be brought to them in Cluj. What the Securitate officer did not know was that Maniu had been wounded in the First World War and had a rod in his left foot. That was the first thing the family checked and the rod was not there. The Securitate officer’s medical and legal certificate stating that these were the authentic remains was phony.” (Cristian Borz)

In 2006, the last political prisoner in the Sighet penitentiary, Alexandru Szatmari, declared in an interrogation session that Maniu’s remains had been put in a crate right after his death. He stated that because the crates were so short, Maniu’s feet were cut off.

“As a result, they began digging in the cemetery that was dedicated to the political prisoners of the Sighet penitentiary and they found a skeleton that was missing its feet. Samples were taken from the skeleton and sent to the National Institute of Legal Medicine in Bucharest.

Then, the samples disappeared. No one knew if they had made it to Bucharest. In the spring of 2007, the government prohibited anymore digging in the Sighet Cemetery of Political Prisoners. Since then, no one has done anything,” says Cristian Borz.

Borz is wearing a t-shirt with a slogan on it from a Christian summer camp that he organizes annually: “Put your soul into everything you do.”

“For 15 years I’ve been taking care of this place with the desire to renovate it and to make it accessible. But, every time I get close to accomplishing it, something else comes up and then something else again. I don’t know why there is this fear, this passive resistance.“ (Christian Borz)

Maniu’s friends nicknamed him “The Sphinx” for pioneering the concept of a secular pastor.

“He’s the only political figure who was able to weave politics with Christian morality. He didn’t differentiate between the two. Today, this seems to be an unreachable ideal. However, Maniu demonstrated that it’s possible.

Maniu celebrated his birthday on the feast of Saint Demetrius. It was in memory of his grandfather, Demetriu Coroian. In the hierarchy of his values, God was first, and then love for his people and for his family. That’s how he was educated. He lived these values to the end.

Inspired by Catholic tradition, Maniu never married. Shortly before his death he mentioned being in love with a woman named Clara. But he dedicated his entire life to politics” said the priest of Bădăcin.

In the cemetery at Bădăcin, you’ll find an empty tomb and a cross with Iuliu Maniu’s name above it.

With a gentle voice that accompanies dusk’s approach over the leaves, Cristian Borz tells us more about Maniu. He is absolutely poetic, lacing history together with an aroma of parables.

You can almost see Maniu strolling through the apricot orchard, steadying himself on a bamboo cane, and wearing his suit with the frayed cuffs. In his other hand is a hat and his breast pocket is crammed full of cigarettes and candies.

Cristian Borz explains the restoration plans of Maniu’s House.

After gathering numerous documents and witness statements for his family property reinstitution request, Father Borz ended up writing a book.

Titled “The Monograph of the Village of Bădăcin and the Maniu Family,” the book is already in its second printing. It’s been enlarged and revised. From now on, the village and the man who was prime minister three times will be permanently memorialized. They are chained together in martyrdom. Twenty-three of Maniu’s family members were behind bars in the 1950s.

How a myth is built

It wasn’t only the stories of the Maniu family that started to find their way back to Bădăcin. All sorts of family belongings started to reappear. It was as if they had their own will and in a miraculous way found their way home.

“Maniu’s nephew, Ionel Pop, documented in great detail, the state of the family home in 1946. Pop actually grew up in the home. Every room is explained in such detail it seems Pop had a sense that it would be torn apart and pieced together decades later.”

In the basement of the church in Bădăcin are the objects that were recovered from the home of Cecilia, Iuliu Maniu’s sister. Her life met a chilling end after being put under house arrest in Șimleu Silvania. She died of starvation.

Borz picked up a desk and a rug from Maniu’s study from an old man in Baia Mare who wanted to return it before he died. After lingering in the office of a prosecutor, Maniu’s cane and hat were recovered from someone trying to sell them online.

Other personal items belonging to Maniu were found in different stages of the restoration of the home.

“It is as if the place wanted to save itself,” said Cristian Borz, constantly coming up with astonishing stories.

Carrying your cross to the end

Restoring Casa Maniu (the Maniu Residence) is now a life mission for Cristian Borz. In 2015, he initiated a worldwide fundraising campaign for the restoration. By the end of February 2015, he had raised 4,575 Euros, 4,505 US dollars, 155 pounds, 100 Canadian dollars and 117,133 RON.

He has deconstructed 7 decades of interior modification to return the home to its 1947 structure. The foundation and the wall were also fortified. He needs to raise another 182,000 Euros to get the home back to its original state.

“Now, the problem is the roof. Twice, we were refused permits by the local government. The Institute of Patrimony told us that we are eligible and offered to help. But on the 6th of September, I received a list with all the documents that are missing in the file and as a result, kept us from accessing funds from the national restoration program.”

Cristian Borz has three children, two girls and a boy. Each year he takes his girls on a walking pilgrimage from Bădăcin to Sighet. It includes visits to the birthplace of three patriots with roots in the Sălaj: Simion Bărnuțiu, Iuliu Maniu and Corneliu Coposu. Borz calls it the ‘Journey of Romanianism’.

“Getting closer to Maniu has really changed me. While reading about him, I am awed by the strength of his character. Toward the end of his life, even though he was alone in his cell, no one ever heard him complain. Nicolae Carandino, the former director of the newspaper “Justice,” said other prisoners argued with the guards about their loneliness, hunger and cold. Sometimes they yelled, swore or screamed. Maniu quietly carried his cross to the end,” said Father Borz.