Constantin Silvestri left Romania in December 1958, a year of resounding achievements in his career. At the first international festival George Enescu he had conducted the opera Oedipe, the public and critics alike had been amazed by his concert tour in the USSR, and he had been awarded the Grand Prix du Disque by the Charles Cros Academie1
for his recording of the 9th Symphony by Dvorak.
In the first six or seven months spent abroad he conducted in Paris2
, collected a second Grand Prix du Disque with two works by Enescu3
, he made a tour in Australia and signed new contracts without clearing them with the Ministry of Culture or the state Agency acting as an impresario (OSTA). Yet his prolonged absence from Romania did not raise suspicions.
But when a London newsletter published by Ion Rațiu4
reported the conductor had decided against returning to Romania, the bells started ringing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs took up the matter on 28 July 1959 in a top secret note5
referring to a cable from the London station received two days earlier:
"Constantin Silvestri is not in London. At the end of June he sent a postcard to Comrade Minister Bălăceanu saying he was in Australia from where he would travel to the U.S.
At the beginning of July an article published in the news sheet of the defectors in England, "Free Romanian Press Agency", showed that CONSTANTIN SILVESTRI had asked the American authorities to be granted asylum, that he had decided not to return to the motherland and that he had written about this to our authorities in Bucharest. The same article also referred to MÎNDRU KATZ6
, director of the Foreign Intelligence Department of the State Securitate, adds the following resolution on the note:
"Comrade Moiș, in order to urgently find out if this element defected (as we are asked to clarify by Comrade Pintilie8
) it would be good for the Emigration Department to check with the Ministry of Culture what data they have received through their channels. Then let us see what our comrades in the U.S. are telling us."
To this effect instructions were also sent to the Legation in Washington. Ambassador George Macovescu9
referred to as "Miron"10
in a note of 11 August 1959, who knew the conductor, is tasked to "send a personal letter to Silvestri inviting him to the Legation on his arrival in the U.S."
It is not clear whether Silvestri went to the Legation because he had been invited by letter, but an unsigned and undated note11
informed Bucharest how the visit proceeded:
"After his tours in Australia and Mexico, Constantin Silvestri arrived in the U.S. at the end of August. Here he visited the R.P.R.12
legation in Washington where he discussed with comrade minister MACOVESCU and afterwards went together to see comrade Ambassador SILVIU BRUCAN13
, the R.P.R.'s permanent representative at the U.N.
Silvestri told the above mentioned as follows:
- He obtained an entry visa for the U.S. at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico after long delays, during which time he received a proposal to stay on in the U.S. (...)
- During the same discussion Silvestri said he had sent a letter to comrade GHEORGHE GHEORGHIU-DEJ14
, asking that a three months exit visa for Switzerland be granted to his wife, after which they would return together to Romania.
At the beginning of September Constantin Silvestri had arrived in Paris from where he was to travel to Switzerland. There he intended to buy a villa. From Switzerland he would travel for concerts to Berlin.
In his conversations with comrade minister MIRCEA BĂLĂNESCU15
in Paris, Constantin Silvestri said that he was free for ten days and could come to Romania, but he feared he would not be allowed to leave again and that was the reason he would only come to Romania when he would finish his concert schedule in the West, where he had signed many contracts.
We point out that the defectors' papers carried a note that "the conductor Constantin Silvestri refuses to return in his country having chosen freedom".
During his discussions in Washington Constantin Silvestri denied that he had such intentions (...)"
The Securitate was trailing Silvestri whereever he went. We find out what he did, what he said, whom he met, etc. Their task was made easier by the fact that, as a Romanian citizen, Silvestri was not able to travel without visas. To begin with he was dependent on the R.P.R.'s legations or embassies for obtaining the visas. Thus in East Berlin, where he conducted a concert in October 1959, he sought assistance in obtaining a multiple entry visa from the French Embassy.
His visit to the Romanian embassy in East Berlin and Silvestri's unguarded comments were to land him in trouble. On 10 November 1959 the station sent the Ministry of Internal Affairs a secret note entitled "The hostile activity of the conductor CONSTANTIN SILVESTRI and his intention to remain abroad"16
"A discussion took place on 5 November at our embassy in Berlin. The participants were CONSTANTIN SILVESTRI, Zenaida Palli17
, Bujor from the Radio and comrades from the embassy. The discussion lasted from 18:00 to 01:00 hr. At around 20.00, having drank a larger quantity of țuică (plum brandy), CONSTANTIN SILVESTRI started talking more freely. He tried to justify his staying abroad. Comenting articles in the emigree press concerning his intention of not returning to his country, CONSTANTIN SILVESTRI said on several ocasions he did not get an exit visa (from Romania) "because of the Securitate" therefore mising scheduled concerts. And he would not return home "until he received guarantees that his departure would not be scupperred by a Securitate officer".
He also stated that "as long as the country does not escape the terror of Finance and of the Securitate it will not be a country as he wishes it to be".
One of those present contradicted him, showing he was wrong, as the Securitate could not prevent him from travelling as long as long as the state leadership authorised it.
Being asked by one of the comrades at the Embassy from whom did he wish to receive guarantees, SILVESTRI answered ‚from comrade Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, personally'."
The authorities soon realized that the conductor would not return to Romania. On 13 February 1960 the Station in Viena reported18 that Silvestri had told the Romanian Minister that "he feared to travel to his country to discuss with the leadership because of the Securitate organs. (...) SILVESTRI was concentrating his venom on the Securitate organs who had made his life a misery and who do the same to other artists in the R.P.R. (...) From all the above and from the way he related them comrade NICUȚĂ19 came to the conclusion that SILVESTRI would not come back to Romania... He nevertheless wanted to maintain a channel of communication."
The Ministry of Internal affairs came to the same conclusion. It considered Silvestri "a traitor"and ordered repressive actions, in the first instance so as to determin him to come back.
On 23 February 1960 the Criminal Investigation Directorate of the M.A.I., under the signature of Sacuritate Major Simon Jack, ordered a search of Silvestri's home20. Silvestri was charged under article 194 of the Criminal Code as follows: "The deeds of a Romanian citizen who, having been entrusted with a task abroad on behalf of the state or a public interest, refuses to return to his country constitutes a crime of treason and is punished with 5 to 15 years of penal servitude, suspension of civic rights and confiscation of assets."21
Yet Silvestri had not travelled abroad "with a task on behalf of the state or a public interest", but in response to personal invitations to conduct a series of concerts.
On the same day the order was issued Major Simon Jack accompanied by Captain Hurgoiu Ioan searched Silvestri's home which led to "the discovery and removal" of albums, adnotated maps, hundreds of photograpgh, including one of George Enescu with a dedication for Silvestri, books, letters, amongst which one written to Petru Groza22, a suitcase etc.. On the official search record signed by the two Securitate officers and by Viorica Silvestri, the conductor's wife, it is specified that "no objection was raised as to the legality of the procedure. The search started at 19:30 and ended at 01:30 on 24 February 1960."23
On 6 April 1960, the Presidium of the National Assembly under the chairmanship of Ion Gheorghe Maurer24, revoked "as a result of some serious deeds" the decorations and titles which had been bestowed on Silvestri: the Labour Order Class 1, that of People's Artist of the R.P.R., and that of Emeritus Artist of the R.P.R.
On 27 April 1960 - according to a minute - 1284 disks, 288 tapes, 50 parcels with musical scores and books, 21 parcels with arts books, 20 batons, postage stamp books and philately albums were sealed, packed and taken into storage at the Ministry of Education and Culture.25
A Memorandum (no.371)26 aproved by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Alexandru Drăghici27, on 20 August, details the actions of the Securitate:
"On 23 II 1960, on the order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a search was carried out at the home of the conductor Constntin Silvestri, in Strada Paris 19. During the search some items of interst to our organs were removed and the personal belongings of the conductor were sealed in his office pending further instructions. (...) As other tenants were to move in Strada Paris, we proceeded to hand to the Ministry of Education and Culture musical works, tapes, disks, books etc. on the basis of a minute. During the hand-over we again sorted out all the objects, and part of these which were of no interest to the Ministry of Education and Culture were taken by our organs."
It is noteworthy that while the Securitate were sorting out and removing certain items from the conductor's and his wife's home, the authorities did not prosecute Silvestri for "treason". Such a trial would have caused international outrage and would have shawn the limits of freedom in Romania. The authorities did not resort to the courts. They left the case into the Securitate's hands. The Securitate was prepared to confiscate goods even without a court sentence. Furthermore it made it a primary aim to get hold of Silvestri's assets. For the value of the hundreds of books and disks ilegally removed from Silvestri's home was nothing compared with the value of his paintings and philatelic collection, consisting of 14,424 postage stamps.
In a "top secret" memo28 to his superiors Securitate Colonel Mihail Nedelcu29 suggest a possible avenue:
"The analysis of the items removed from the Silvestri family apartment does not point to data of interest to the M.A.I. organs or other cultural organisations in our country. At the same time, only some of the items are commercially viable: the briefcase, the stopwatch, the electric iron, the albums with postage stamps, the purse etc. (...) We specify that all the other goods the named Silvestri C-tin kept at home and which are much more valuable than the ones in the custody of our organs, were left in his wife's care (...). If we were to capitalize on these goods belonging to the aforenamed, they should be dealt with as goods with no owner, as no sentence imposing the confiscation of his assets had been pronounced."
Two months later in a follow-up memo30 Colonel Nedelcu spells out the solution used in order to get hold of Silvestri's assets:
"On the basis of the endorsement by comrade Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant General Vasile Negrea31, (...) goods belonging to the aforenamed Silvestri C-tin, who in 1958 - being sent on a tour in the West - refused to return to his homeland, were confiscated. In order to cover up the actions undertaken against the aforenamed (bearing in mind he had not been prosecuted for treason) the items were confiscated on the basis of Decree no.111/1951 being considered as having no owner. (...) The instructions of the Finance Ministry no.1529 of 2.VI.1963 for enforcing the decree stipulate that "any goods abandoned for one year by their owner, unknown or absentee, are to be considered goods without an owner".
The decree was to be widely used in order to confiscate the assets of those who opposed the regime and were in hiding in order to avoid detention. They were deemed to have "abandoned" their goods and properties.
The question now for the authorities was how to get hold of the artwork listed and entrusted to Viorica Silvestri, the conductor's wife.
A memorandum32 dated 23 January 1964 and signed by the Securitate Lieutenant Colonel Neagu Cosma33 describes the developments in Silvestri's personal life and the strategy to be followed in order to "solve the defector's case":
"After committing his act of betrayal of the homeland, Constantin Silvestri was not prosecuted as it was felt he could be persuaded to return home. In this framework discussions were held with Viorica Silvestri, who travelled twice to Western Europe in order to attain the proposed aim, but without success. In 1962 Silvestri Constantin sued for divorce in a Paris court. Silvestri Viorica was allowed to travel to France for a longer period in order to prevent the court from reaching a decision and to make a last attempt to persuade the defector to come back to his country. (...) Silvestri Constantin was obliged to support Silvestri Viorica while abroad with a monthly pension of 1,000 Francs. Once Silvestri Viorica was out of the country, in order to have a better control over the goods in her home, the named Ionescu Marin34 who occupied a room in her flat was recruited by us so that his room could be used as a 'safe-house'. (...) In the summer of 1963 Silvestri Viorica fell ill and was taken to a hospital in Switzerland. From the data we obtained by checking the mail she was suffering of leukaemia. In the opinion of doctors who were consulted by our host (Ionescu Marin) who described to them the symptoms of her current condition, it emerged that Silvestri Viorica was in a terminal condition and that she would shortly decease. (...) Immediately after Silvestri Viorica's death, in order to avoid the loss of the valuables amongst the Silvestri family assets, it would be possible for the traitor Silvestri Constantin to be sentenced and handed the additional penalty of confiscating his assets."
Viorica Silvestri was indeed seriously ill and from her hospital bed tried to save the paintings and artwork that had given her and her husband so much joy.
The letters to her relatives intercepted by the Securitate reveal her concerns and her wish to leave everything in order after her death. She sent to Romania a hand-written will and designated her heirs. To little avail, as Constantin Silvestri's assets were not only of interest to the state but also to a couple of high officials, well known art collectors and admirers.
Two Securitate documents in Silvestri's criminal prosecution dossier reveal what was to happen.
The first35, of 12 June 1967, issued by the 4th Directorate replies to an enquiry that "the Minister of Justice and the President of the State Committee for Culture and Arts are from now on dealing with the resolution of Silvestri Constantin's case, without proceedings for a criminal offence being instituted against him".
The second, a "Report concerning the goods of Silvestri Constantin's family"36 issued by Department "C" of the Securitate on 19 January 1968, states that:
"On 15 November 1966, the Silvestri C. family home was visited, as authorised by the M.A.I., by the Minister of Justice and the President of the State Committee for Culture and Art who enquired about certain art objects (paintings, rugs, etc.). As Silvestri Viorica deceased on 19.02.1967, our office approached the Direction for Criminal Investigations of the M.A.I.37 asking them to tell us how to sort out the Silvestri family assets. On 12 June 1967, through a memo no. 522326, we were told that Silvestri C.'s case was still being handled by the Minister of Justice and the President of State Committee for Art and Culture."
The Minister of Justice was Adrian Dimitriu, who held office from 1965 to 1970, having previously presided over several court martials in notorious political trials. The Head of the State Committee for Art and Culture was Pompiliu Macovei38, who might have met Silvestri in 1958 while serving as Romania's Minister in Paris.
The story of Silvestri's art and stamps collection is finally summarised in a June 1968 Memo39 of the 13th Department of the Securitate. It lists all the inventories of Silvestri's goods that had been carried out since 1960 and concludes as follows:
"No criminal proceedings for treason, as per article 94/5, were instituted against Silvestri Constantin, so that the ordinance issued by the M.A.I. organs for a sequestration was illegal and void. (...) In consequence, no criminal investigation can be reopened against Silvestri Constantin. His assets cannot be confiscated under the provisions of Decree 111/51 because, having been for a period of time under his former wife's care, they are not assets without an owner. (...) After the death of his former wife, Silvestri Constantin authorised through a warrant of attorney his mother Cariadi Ana40 to look after his personal goods. This could not be done because his home had been sealed by the state security organs. Thus we propose that goods belonging to the Silvestri family, some of which are currently sealed by the state security organs, and others in the custody of the State Committee for Culture and Art, should be inventoried by the Public Notary of Bucharest sector 1, who in turn would entrust them to whom they saw fit until the distribution of the estate was decided."
The Public Notary put into effect the decision of the State Security Council. The collection of painting was entrusted to the Arts Museum of the R.P.R. In the warrant of attorney for his mother, Ana Cariadi, Silvestri talks about 90 paintings. Part of them might well have ended in private collections.
The music scores and manuscripts were given to the State Committee for Art and Culture. After Constantin Silvestri's death on 23 February 1969, his mother received from the "state organs"41 two albums with photos, several school certificates and diplomas and her son's birth certificate from 1913.
1 The Académie Charles Cros is composed of fifty members specializing in music criticism, sound recording, and culture. It acts as an intermediary between France's policy makers in the cultural field and professionals in music and the recording industry. Each year since 1948, the Academy has given out a Grand Prix du Disque in recognition of outstanding achievements in recorded music and musical scholarship.
2 One of the concerts organised on the 25th anniversary of the O.R.T.F. In: Teodor Bălan, Prietenii mei muzicieni, Ed. Muzicală, București, 1976, p. 173
3 The Dixtuor op.14 and the Chamber Symphony for 12 solo instruments
4 Ion Rațiu (1917-2000) a prominent Romanian exile during the Cold War years, founder of The Free Romanian Press, he set up the World Union of Free Romanians. After the fall of communism he became vice-president of the National Peasant Party in Romania and its presidential candidate. Between 1996 and 2000 he served as vice-president of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies.
5 S.I.E. Dossier no. 11131, p.41, C.N.S.A.S.
6 Mîndru Katz (1925-1978) pianist discovered as a child prodigy by George Enescu. He made his debut with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra. After defecting during a tour in England he settled in Israel in 1959. He played under Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult, Sergiu Celibidache, etc. His discography includes works by Bach, Beethoven, Khachaturian and Prokofiev, as well as violin sonatas of Brahms and Franck (with Henryk Szeryng). Mîndru Katz died on stage during a recital in Istanbul.
7 Nicolae Doicaru (?-1991) served as director of the Foreign Intelligence Department of the Securitate from 1959 to 1978. As early as 1949 he had been appointed Head of the Constanța Regional Securitate Direction where he became known for the harsh treatment inflicted on political prisoners used as forced labour on the Danube-Black Sea cannal.
8 Gheorghe Pintilie (1902-1985), born Timofei Bodnarenko (and also known as Pantiușa) was the director of the Foreign Intelligence Department of the Securitate from 1948 to 1963. His name is associated with the notorious psychological and physical torture methods applied in the Pitești prison.
9 George Macovescu (1913-2002) joined the Communist Party in 1936. He served in the Romanian Legation in London in 1947-1949 before becoming Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a seven years break in which he taught and edited a literary newspaper he became Romania's ambassador to Washington. He subsequently served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1972 to 1978.
10 Miron appears to be a code name
11 S.I.E. Dossier no. 11131, p.67-68, C.N.S.A.S.
12 R.P.R. - Romanian People's Republic, official name of the Romanian state from 30 December 1947 to 1965.
13 Silviu Brucan (1916-2006) - Born Saul Bruckner in Bucharest, Brucan became the post-war editor-in-chief of the communist daily Scânteia in which he advocated repression and harsh punishment for the leaders of democratic parties. At the height of the Stalinist period he served as Romania's ambassador to Washington (1955-1959) and to the U.N. (1959-1962). He later served as head of the state radio and television company. Out of favour under Nicolae Ceausescu, Brucan ended up in March 1989 as one of the six former communist high officials expressing cautious criticism of his leadership. After the fall of Ceaușescu Brucan was part of the small group who pressed for his summary trial and execution. But he did favour real democratic changes in Romania.
14 Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej - led the Romanian communist party for over 20 years, served as prime minister (1952-1955) and President of the State Council (1961-1965). After the war Stalin accepted Gheorghiu-Dej as general secretary of the party although he had not spent time and had not been trained in the Soviet Union as had been the case with most Communist leaders in Eastern Europe. In 1952 Gheorghiu-Dej purged the leadership of his rivals including some seen as being closer to Soviet policies and became prime minister. While maintaining internal repression he began to inch away from Moscow's commercial and foreign policy. He moved closer to China and, after freeing political prisoners established closer relations with Western countries.
15 Mircea Bălănescu was deputy editor of the Communis Party daily Scânteia. He later served as Romania's minister in a number of West European countries.
16 S.I.E. Dossier no. 11131, p. 61.
17 Zenaida Palli (or Pally) - Romanian mezzo-soprano
18 Ibid. p. 13.
19 Constantin Nicuță - communist official employed in the Romanian academia in the ‘50s, he served later as R.P.R.'s minister in Vienna and Paris.
20 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p. 104, C.N.S.A.S.
21 Criminal Code, Ed. Științifică, București, 1960, p.112
22 Petru Groza (1884-1958) - Imposed by the Soviet Union as prime minister of the first post-war government of Romania dominated by communists, Groza served in this capacity till 1952. He played an important role in repressing the democratic opposition and abolishing Romania's monarchy.
23 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p.105
24 Ion Gheorghe Maurer (1902-2000) - Leading member of the Politbureau of the Communist Party, President of the Presidium of the Grand National Assembly (head of state) and Prime Minister from 1961 to 1974, he supported Nicolae Ceaușescu's successful bid to replace the deceased Gheorghiu-Dej at the helm of the party.
25 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p.108-112
26 Ibid., p.115
27 Alexandru Drăghici (1913-1993) - From 1952 to 1965 he served either as Minister For Internal Affairs or a Minister for the State Security. As such he was in charge of the Securitate. From simple soldier in 1950 he rose to being a Colonel General by 1955. He was also a candidate and later full member of the Politburo of the Communist Party. Drăghici owed his accession to Gheorghiu-Dej to whom he grew close while in war-time detention. Gheorghiu Dej used him in eliminating rivals to the party leadership and entrusted him with carrying out the most repressive campaigns against real or perceived opponents of th communization of the country. Together they resisted any moves towards destalinization. This was used to ease out Drăghici by his old rival Nicolae Ceaușescu, who succeeded Gheorghiu-Dej as party leader.
28 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1,p.119, C.N.S.A.S.. The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Vasile Negrea, wrote in the margin of the memo: "Proposal rejected. They should be made use of."
29 Mihail Nedelcu (1906-1982) - director of the Regional Securitate Direction in Argeș (1949-1951) and Cluj (1952-1957) counties, later in charge of the combating sabotage in Cluj county (1957-1967). Rose to Lieutenant General and retired in 1967.
30 Prosecution Dossier 49467, vol.1, p.120, C.N.S.A.S.
31 Vasile Negrea (1911-1994) - general secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (1957-1961), Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs (1961-1968), First Deputy Minister until his retirement in 1969.
32 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p.127, C.N.S.A.S.
33 Neagu Cosma (1925-2007) - Head of the 2nd direction of the State Security. Ha was later appointed Commander of the School of Active M.A.I. Officers.
34 From a "letter sent from Paris on 26.03.1965 by Viorica Silvestri to Scherer Jeni in Str. Râureanu" it appears that the real name of "Ionescu Marin" was Toroapă: "If you are of the same opinion, you can lock up the small rug in the entrance hall. I feel that after three years, Toroapă who had married, can afford a rug for the entrance hall." In Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p.158, C.N.S.A.S.
35 Prosecution Dossier no.49467, vol.1, p.160, C.N.S.A.S.
36 Ibid., p.161
37 M.A.I. the Ministry of Internal Affairs
38 Pompiliu Macovei (1911-2008) - academic, chief-architect of the city of Bucharest, minister of culture, first deputy minister of foreign affairs and Romania's ambassador to UNESCO.
39 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.1, p.180, C.N.S.A.S.
40 Constantin Silvestri's mother took the name of her second husband, Thomas Cariadi. She was born in 1891, in Bucharest, in a family of Czech stock (Havricek) who had moved to Transylvania in 1948.
41 Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, vol.2, p.32, C.N.S.A.S.
- Theodor Bălan - Prietenii mei muzicieni, Editura Muzicală, București, 1976.
- Eugen Pricope - Silvestri - între străluciri și cântece de pustiu, Editura Muzicală, București, 1974.
- John Gritten - A Musician before his time - Constantin Silvestri, conductor, composer, pianist, Warwick Editions, London, 1998.
- Raymond Carpenter - Constantin Silvestri magician - A view from the orchestra, R M A, London, 2011.
- Codul Penal, Editura Științifică, București, 1960.
- S.I.E. Dossier no.11131, C.N.S.A.S.
- Prosecution Dossier no. 49467, 2 volumes, C.N.S.A.S.