Shortly after hearing in December 1989 that the notorious Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was on the run from enraged demonstrators, Edward Serotta—who was working as a photojournalist in the Eastern bloc at the time—realized that Hanukkah would begin that evening. And then he got an idea:
I could just drive down to the Romanian city of Timisoara and photograph the Hanukkah party in the kosher kitchen run by the aptly named Mr. Pichel, [pronounced “pickle”]. And since there would surely be celebrations on the streets, just as I had seen and shot in Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, and Budapest [as their Communist regimes collapsed], I could take some pictures, sell them to newspapers, and earn a little cash.
On that day, December 22, 1989, I had no idea that the dreaded Romanian secret police, the Securitate, were locked and loaded and only minutes away from launching a massive counterattack across the country. They were out to find Ceausescu and reinstate him. I was heading right into their gunsights, looking for latkes.
So off Serotta set, joined by a Hungarian journalist:
We passed the city limits of [Timisoara] and all was silent as a tomb. Not a soul around. Not a car on the streets. We drove on and on, kilometer after kilometer, and everything was shuttered tight, the traffic lights were all on blinking mode.
As we drove closer and closer to the center, we began to hear what sounded like thunder. But it wasn’t. It was gunfire. Lots of gunfire. And as if to postpone arriving at our destination, I kept driving slower and slower until an army roadblock stood before us, complete with tanks and armed soldiers running into the city center and out of it.
More about: Communism, East European Jewry, Hanukkah, Romania