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A Journey through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy


Jaap Scholten, (Enschede, 1963) studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He has published seven books: collections of short stories and three novels. His novel, De wet van Spengler (Atlas Contact, 2008), was chosen “novel of the year” in the Netherlands. His latest book, Kameraad Baron (AtlasContact, 2010) is the winner of the Libris History Prize 2011. His novels and short stories are translated into German, French, Hungarian, Croatian. In 2011 Scholten created and presented a six-part television series for the VPRO about hidden worlds in Central and Eastern Europe. He has lived in Budapest since 2003.

In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded into lorries. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Under the terror of Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceaușescu the aristocracy led a double life: during the day they worked in quarries, steelworks and carpenters’ yards; in the evening they secretly gathered and maintained the rituals of an older world.

To record this unknown episode of recent history, Jaap Scholten travelled extensively in Romania and Hungary and sought out the few remaining aristocrats who experienced the night of 3 March 1949. He spoke to people who survived the Romanian Gulag and met the youngest generation of the once distinguished aristocracy to talk about the restitution of assets and about the future. How is it possible to rebuild anything in a country that finds itself in a moral vacuum?

Published by Helena History Press, Saint Helena, CA, U.S.A.

404 pages, 2016

ISBN 978-1-943596-02-7 paperback $24.00/ €22.00 / £18.00

Deluxe Edition with additional photographs (2017)

ISBN 978-1-943596-07-2 cloth $50 / €46.00 / £42.00


"This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh Fermor"   Norman Stone, professor of modern history, Oxford.

" presents an extraordinary oral history in which the last remaining members of the aristocracy tell how Ceaușescu carried out an extermination programme against the class enemy making it an urgent testimony about an aspect of recent history as horrifying as it is extraordinary, passionate and important work."  extract from the jury report of the Libris History Prize 2011.

"Combining a warm heart with tenacious pursuit of truth, Jaap Scholten restores to vivid life the world of the Transylvanian aristocracy from its glory days to its tragic finale. Scholten thereby captures a missing piece of history and provides the reader with a gripping journey through a lost world" . Kati Marton, author and award winning former ABC News correspondent. 

"I have enjoyed this book so much - such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable."  Petroc Trelawny, BBC Radio 3 Presenter and journalist.