In this 2007 interview, James Craciun, an owner of Craciun funeral home, talks about his family's involvement in the Romanian and Italian communities of Detroit-Shoreway. Craciun's Romanian and Italian immigrant grandfathers settled in Detroit-Shoreway at the beginning of the twentieth century. His Italian grandfather owned an Italian Import store in the neighborhood at the corner of W. 65th and Herman. Craciun's father started the family funeral business on Detroit Avenue across the street from the old St. Mary's Romanian Orthodox Church in 1945. Craciun himself as been active in the community – as a businessman; a parent; a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel; and as an activists for human rights in Romania. In this interview, he tells a number of interesting stories about his Romanian and Italian grandfathers, and many stories about his involvement in fighting for human rights in Romania.
Craciun, James (interviewee)
Souther, Mark (interviewer)
Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
James Craciun [00:00:00] Jim Craciun, yeah.
Mark Souther [00:00:03] Today is Saturday, June 9th. My name is Mark Souther, and I am interviewing Mr. Jim Craciun of Craciun Funeral Home in Detroit Shoreway, and we're in the Gordon Square Arcade. Thank you for being with us today.
James Craciun [00:00:17] Yes and very honored to be here and of course the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood is the oldest Romanian neighborhood in America. When the immigrants were coming here at the turn of the century between 1880, probably 1910 when they started to come in big numbers, from Ellis Island, they were sent to Cleveland. Like they said, oh, Romanian, speak Romanian? Okay, go to... We're going to send you to Cleveland, and earmarked them to Cleveland because the ore docks were growing, industry, they needed the workers. And I guess the government figured out if they could send all the Romanians there or a great majority of them or at least a group of them, they could, in fact, make a community, which is always important. It was around 1904 that one leader in the community who had a saloon sent out a letter to, or passed out a letter, saying that, you know, we should have a meeting at my saloon regarding—this is in 1904—building a church so that we can marry our daughters, bury our dead, baptize our babies, because now we're going to be here in America. And they had one meeting there. The building is now presently Lantern Printery. It's located at the northeast corner of Herman Avenue. The address back then was like 165 Herman or 175 Herman. And it was Hurlia's bar, I believe. But anyway, so what happened was they had this meeting and the meeting went pretty good, the first meeting. Lot of men that were hard workers and well-known in the community that had some businesses already by 1904 all agreed that this is a noble thing that we should do to build a church, which would have been the first church in America. At the second meeting, there was a big problem because half of the people, half of the men there wanted a Orthodox priest because Romania has always been predominately Orthodox, probably 85 percent of its people. It's an Orthodox country, Orthodox Church. And about the other half of the people or less than half wanted a Byzantine Rite Catholic priest. There happened to have been a group of Romanians from an area of Romania where there were a lot of Byzantine Catholics. So a fight ensued amongst the Catholics and the Orthodox. So then there now was going to be two meetings in the community, one led by the Orthodox, one led by the Catholics. And the Catholics were getting a lot of help from Bishop Horstmann at that time. It was the bishop of Cleveland. And he wanted the Catholics really to have the first church in America. He thought that would be fantastic, and it being Byzantine Catholic, but the Orthodox who were greater in number were probably better organized. And they in early 1906 began the construction of their church. Actually the walls. Enter my grandfather, Juan Craciun. That's how they said it in Romanian. Jan Craciun and Mr. Getsop who were both about 15 or 16 years old. My grandfather came in right around 1905 and he was only 16 years old—and Mr. Getsop was the same way, he was about 16—and found themselves in Cleveland. And so they went, of course, and said, what can we do, and the first job that they were given was to protect the building site of the Orthodox church. I mean, actually, they gave them shotguns because at that time, you know, people would come there, steal your bricks. I mean, it was wide open. And plus, they were always worried about someone, maybe even the Catholics attempting to do something to the property because it was a real division in the community back then, right when that was happening. So my grandfather and Mr. Getsop were protecting the property. And this one evening, early evening, one of their younger friends that they had met, an acquaintance, lured them to have a beer at the local pub, which was probably some Romanian pub, and they had their beer. When they came back the walls had been knocked down, of the Romanian Orthodox Church, St. Mary's, which is located at 62nd and Detroit, presently being used by the Cleveland [Public] Theatre. And the first church that was built in America for Romanian people was St. Helena's Byzantine Catholic Church, because it took a while for the Orthodox to get going again. And that's located on West 65th here in our Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. So that was quite an interesting story about the first church and how they were fighting right from the beginning. So.
Mark Souther [00:05:05] How long before the St. Mary's was built?
James Craciun [00:05:07] Well, just within six months. Within six months, St. Mary's was built. They were all right next to each other. But the glory does go to St. Helena's. They were the first. St. Mary's today, presently, is the largest Romanian Orthodox church in America. It's the historical church of the community of America. And as I said before, it's really predominantly Orthodox. And Cleveland hosts the first cultural organization was created, the Carpatina Society. And that was, God, that was in 1902 they began talking about a cultural society. Carpatina, which later became the Union and League of Romanian Societies of America, headquartered right here in Cleveland, Ohio, with our communities involved as far as Detroit, California... Detroit because there's a lot of work in Detroit and the automaking industry... Alliance, Canton, Youngstown. Steel mills, I mean, the Romanians went wherever there was work and made their communities. We also have the first Romanian bank right here across the street from the arcade where we're presently located for this interview. And that Romanian bank was started because what, in those days, nobody wanted to loan any money to Romanian immigrants. They really had no collateral. They were hard workers but there was... They had nothing to put behind... So a group of Romanian men that were pretty successful, my grandfather being one of them, formed the first Romanian bank. In fact, the family that presently owns Pioneer Savings and Loan can still trace themselves to that... those meetings, too, and are still running the bank. The Peters family. So and there's a lot of firsts in our community here in Cleveland. The first Romanian baseball team was here in Cleveland. And I do have photos of that. And the first media dance group and the priest for St. Mary's Church wanted to build a very large cathedral. And the people in the community at that time felt that that was not going to work because there was a little depression going on around 1905 in Cleveland, in Cleveland—and I guess in the United States, actually—somewhat of a small depression going on, and that they had fought with the priest and decided to build a smaller church. And actually, after the church was built, that priest left and went to another community and the church actually went into default. And it was in 1911 that they formed an organization to raise money to keep the church going. So the first dance group was formed and my grandmother was in that and my great uncle George Farcascu who was the founder of that group and they traveled to all these little Romanian communities from Detroit to Canton to Alliance to Youngstown, you know, to raise money so that the church would not be, you know, given back to the bank or whatever. It was in default. And they saved the church at that time. And then a new priest came and the rest is all history. It was a strong community from there on. And the church was the center of the community. It was the cultural center and it was where everybody met and it's where their fund was for weddings, baptisms, funerals, and so that's it. Cleveland does hold that for being the first church for the Romanian people.
Mark Souther [00:08:22] Speaking of the funerals, how did your family get into the funeral business? Was that your father?
James Craciun [00:08:30] Well, my dad started... My dad probably is the first Romanian funeral director in America, God bless him, but in '45 he decided after the war that he wanted to get into the funeral business, and we've served a predominantly Romanian and now Hispanic clientele, of course, because the old neighborhood's full of Hispanics and we love them dearly because they're in our Latin family. My mother's family is Italian, and my Italian grandfather had the first Italian import store here in Cleveland. And he has quite an interesting story. His name was Matteo Sciddari, and he came here [in] 1900, and he was about 16 or 17 years old himself. And he was a ruddy complected Italian. It was during the summer, too, which even made him darker. And they put him to work with, I don't know, Chinese and everybody else. They just would not give him a break. He couldn't speak English. And after the first year there, he realized that, wow, the ice man goes in Lake Erie, cuts the ice in squares, puts it on... the teamster puts it on the horse and buggy, sells it through the streets for three cents a square. And Grandpa says, gosh, I could cut that ice. I could sell those squares for two cents a square. So the second year that Grandpa was here—he was about 17 or 18 at that point—he went out on the lake. He worked hard and bought a saw, made a wooden sleigh where he was the horse, okay? Made a wooden sleigh and he cut the ice. I mean, away from where they were, of course. He put it on his sleigh and he went a couple hours before they did to sell the ice two cents cheaper. Well, that went on for about three or four days until the teamsters at that time, the first teamsters in Cleveland, really that, you know, the company not only sold ice in the summer, but in the winter. They were the ones that sold the coal. They... Aboutt four or five of those teamsters cornered my father, and these were the drivers, okay? And they beat him up. And they says, you know, you're not going to be selling ice like that. We do that. Well, they didn't know who they were tangling with because my grandfather caught each one of them alone and beat them up and started again doing it. Okay? Well, guess who became a teamster? My grandfather. He was one of the first Italian teamsters on the west side of Cleveland. He got the job because they said we can't, unless we kill this guy, there's no way we're going to stop him. He's too bullheaded, you know, so let's make him a teamster. So he sold the ice in the winter and the coal in the summer, I mean the coal in the winter and the ice in the summer. And it was... Actually the ice could be sold all year around for their ice boxes. People that could afford ice boxes. But it was a fabulous way to to earn a living, to be a teamster. Then as unions today, I mean, you know, you earn a decent wage. So that was Grandpa, his start. And that was at West 65th and Herman where he had his Italian import store. So that's my Italian grandfather—his start here.
Mark Souther [00:11:45] Wow.
James Craciun [00:11:45] Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:11:46] And so then he entered the funeral business and that was, you said, starting around World War II?
James Craciun [00:11:49] Right. Right. Well, all the boys went to war. My father, his brother, my mother, her two brothers. They all went to war. And when they came back, my father started the funeral business at the location, which was right across the street from his church, which is St. Mary's Armenian Orthodox Church, the old St. Mary's. In fact, when I look at that picture of the arcade there, I can remember them. That was... They all put money into the arcade through the '20s. That was where they invested their money to make that beautiful building and be a part of it, you know, with their stock. That was the first stock investment my Romanian grandfather made was in that building right there, the arcade. And in '29, it collapsed. And Grandpa always tells a story that in '31, they came to his billiard parlor, which is located at 54th and Detroit, and they they came from Coca-Cola Company and they were going to be opening some big plants in Cleveland. And they wanted... It was five cents a share. And Grandpa says, Get out of here! I'll never buy stock again! We all lost all of our savings. In '29, you come here now for some company, Coca-Cola, five cents a share. He threw them out, you know, said don't come back. So we always felt bad about that call, but what did they know? They just knew that they'd worked so hard and lost all that money in '29 in the arcade. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:13:14] So, then, through the Great Depression, how did he fare?
James Craciun [00:13:22] Well, you know, my Italian grandfather, who was, as I said before, was the teamster, he got the job because he had an Italian import store and he specialized in sparkling white wine. I mean, everybody was bootlegging in our neighborhoods. It was known for bootlegging. You could come from anywhere. You could go to the right person and get a bottle of whiskey or wine, and our neighborhood was well-known for that. And but Grandpa made sparkling white wine. And in the basement of the store, my grandmother had like a little restaurant there where the politicians would come in because he was an ice salesman. He had the ice cold, sparkling white wine. And so the politicians got to know Grandpa. And he became head of the city dump, which was Burke Lakefront Airport. He became the head foreman of the city dump Burke Lakefront Airport, which was in those days in the '30s paid in gold because there was [the] Depression going on and gold was still tendered, okay? So what happened was, Grandpa... The people began to lose their homes in the mid '30s. They began to lose their homes, you know. And my grandfather, instead of buying the homes and moving to be like a developer, like, say, the Carneys who did buy the homes of the people being thrown out of their homes and became one of the largest owners of property in Cuyahoga County, my Italian grandfather, which I'm very proud of, helped people to keep their homes. Numerous families in the neighborhood can thank my grandfather, that that was his choice was not to destroy his neighborhood and his Italian neighbors and families could keep... He was a very humble and good man in that sense. And we're very proud of that heritage of the family. Had he been a different kind of guy because he had money, had the job, had all kinds of things going on, we could have taken a different turn with the family. He was offered major properties, you know, because he had the money and he just didn't do it. So we're proud of that as far as Grandpa went. Another thing interesting about the Romanian community was in the early 1950s, the Union and League of Romanian Societies, which was centered right here in Cleveland—leadership was in Cleveland, and that was all the societies stretching across the whole United States, one central leadership—these were cultural societies that preserved dance and folk dance and singing and a place for us to maintain our culture with Romania besides the church. That was the Union and League of Romanian Societies. In the early 1950s, the man that became the president of the Union and League of Romanian Societies had... was going to Romania for about a month or two month every year. But by 1948, the Catholic Church had been officially closed in Romania and Stalin began his collectivization of Romania. Romania was one of the countries collectivized brutally. I mean, the family farm, which was the mainstay in Romania, very rich ground, was completely obliterated by the communist leaders because that's the only way they could take these very proud people, to take their power away from them, was to take their land away from them. So through the '50s, the stories are horrible. One member of every family, men, went to work on the canal, which was just a stupid canal that was just made for them to die at. Well, this guy that had become the president was spending a couple months a year in Romania. And my grandfather's always respectful of this man that, you know, because these issues were always, you know, pro-Romania, pro-Romania, pro-Romania even as things got worse. Well, my grandfather contacted Senator Joe McCarthy and told him that he can see, you know, he had an idea that this guy had something to do with Romania. And why was he going there? You know what I mean? Well, word got around that this is what Mr. Craciun was doing, my grandfather, who was, you know, his family had founded the first church he was a founder, the Farcascu family were founders. Pretty important people, in a sense. Somebody approached my grandfather and said, Look, you know, you still have a sister in Romania. You have family there, you know. Do you think you really want to be bringing any attention to Romania while the communists run it? Something could happen to your family. And this was the kind of thing that they did with Romanian immigrants, Czechoslovakian immigrants, you know, Russian immigrants especially. You know, they put this fear of God, that, you know, don't say anything because, you know, we're back home there. We can just, you know, eradicate your family members. Well, my grandfather at that point really got mad. My Uncle Joe was a district attorney out of Warren, Ohio, or had just become an attorney... No, yeah, he was a district attorney at that time. They formed the case with the help of Joe McCarthy, some one of his boys in the town. And they actually brought a case before the House Supreme Court against this man. And they won the case. The man had to admit that he was a communist. Can you believe this? The man was deported back to Romania and a neighbor that Mylod family, Mr. Mylod had gone to Romania and, you know, went there and saw him because he was this guy was a leader of the largest... And all of a sudden, you know, he's deported out of the country for having been a communist. They put him to work on a pig farm because he wasn't any good to them anymore. I'll never forget when that guy told me what they had done to him. But. So in the Romanian community they worked at, Senator Joe McCarthy did, although he gets all his bad press from a lot of people on the left that, you know, there's a red under the bed, Joseph Stalin, according to what we know in the Romanian community, had an active measure set up to control all fraternal organizations after 1950 since he controlled their countries. He was given Romania, Czechoslovakia at Yalta. He was then going to control their fraternal organizations in America. And guys like my grandfather that left at 16, they were Americans. They did not want control by Bucharest. But there was an effort by Joseph Stalin to do this. And you'll hear these stories in the Polish community here in Cleveland about the ones that, you know... And that was something that we did. And one of the events that happened as a result of my grandfather's work was that, number one, his sister, who was a nun in Romania, Sister Dominika, was never heard of again. But at this time, many people were never heard of again. As I said, one member of every family in Romania, a father, a grandfather, uncle, was sent to the prison camp, which was the canal. She was never heard of again after that. And my father, who had the funeral home, okay? The guys that were with this man that were like his entourage because he was the leader for the whole country? They said that they would never be buried from the Craciun funeral home. Now, we never said that they were communists because actually they weren't. They were with him, though. And he used them and their families to get his power, see. But that kept them in power, too, as leaders in the community. So our business was actually hurt because of that. Many Romanian leaders at that time refused ever to come to my dad because of what his father did, having that guy deported out of the country. But that's the struggle. And then, well, funny, it was in 1973, I graduated from Cleveland State. In 1974, my priest, Father Marino Frascati, sent me to Romania—I was going to Romania, and he said, How about smuggling Bibles and catechisms into Romania? Which I successfully did smuggle Bibles and catechisms into Romania in 1974. And subsequently in... I was a founder of the World Union of Free Romanians in Geneva, Switzerland, because communism had really... was destroying the country of Romania, literally. And we formed this organization in Switzerland. These were people from all over the free world from Romanian background. Met in Geneva in 1984, and I was one of those men there that formed the World Union of the Free Romanians. And I was elected to that board in 1986 as an executive position, which I do hold today. And there's still work to be done in this area of Romanian human rights because... And that's a whole nother story, but I don't know if you want to get into that. But we have four generations of Romanian dancing in our family from when Grandpa was like the manager of the first Romanian dance group, which I have a photo of, and then my dad and his sisters were Romanian folk dancers, all right, his children. Then their children, my dad's children, were Romanian folk dancers, my brothers and sisters and I through the [00:22:19]Shishatata [0.0s] group, which had been around for almost fifty years, and then after them, my little kids, Nicholas and Jesse Craciun, age 10 and 9, they're Romanian folk dancers. I'd like to tell you a cute story and then this, I guess this may conclude it. Little Jesse was in the car with me when he was 7 years old, and he'd practiced from about, let's say, from about March to June, and we were going to go to his first performance for the Romanian folk dance group. He's only 7 years old. And I was performing, too, because if he had to be there, I knew all the dances. I joined a dance group again with this set of kids I have. I got five all together. So we're driving in the car and Jesse says to me, Dad, I have to talk to you. Now, he's only 7 years old. I said, Son, what do you have to talk about? He goes, Dad, I told you that I don't want to be a Romanian folk dancer. I want to be a baseball player. I told you, I want to play baseball, not be a Romanian folk dancer. I said, Son, everybody in your family's done it from your great grandparents to your grandparents to your parents to now you guys, I mean, your brothers and sisters. He goes, Dad, you're destroying my life. You're destroying my life, Dad. Baseball. Think baseball, Dad. So, again, I tried to explain him that, you know, we have to do this. And so we went to the performance. Guess where it was. The Cuyahoga County Fair. So now he's got cotton candy, he's got rides, he saw animals. He had the greatest times. We're on our way home, his face is all full of cotton candy... I said, Jesse, what do you think about Romanian folk dancing? Oh, Dad, this is great. I love it. So there we go. We set another generation into Romanian folk dancing.
Mark Souther [00:24:05] And he can play baseball.
James Craciun [00:24:05] And he can play baseball. In fact, that's why I was late to our meeting. His baseball team is the West Denison League [cross talk], and I played in West Denison and now he's playing in West Denison. It's a wonderful life, I'll tell you something.
Mark Souther [00:24:25] I wanted to ask something that's a little off subject, well not off subject, but back to the communists in Romania. Was there also... I know in some other countries, the cities... that the capital city was where a lot of the very influential people also lived, and that they were shipped out and sent out into the countryside to work and that people were, you know, [cross talk] their places were given over to [inaudible]. Was that the same thing...
James Craciun [00:24:46] Same thing in Romania. The brutalization in Romania was second only to Russia in Ukraine because Russia was where they started. So, you know, the minister of justice of Russia at the time of Lenin, he said we must not only execute the white members of the white group, okay, we must also execute innocent people, because then this will really let them know the seriousness of our revolution. This Is how diabolical these people were. Lenin gave four orders, kill, you know, three or four orders. It was kill all white Russians, kill all priests, kill all landowners, and basically kill all the college and high school professors, okay, because they were going to create a new world, a new order. You couldn't have these people that knew history, and the church was... In a village the priest was more powerful than anybody because all the people went to the church every Sunday and that's where they had their parties, their weddings there. And that was, of course, brought here to America too back then. And the collectivization of Romania, just beyond human belief. The whole Catholic Church was decimated in 1948 when they made a decree that the Catholic Church would no longer exist in Romania. The good and holy Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, his name is Nicodim. Nicodim said, you know, how can you do this? You know, he was the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Because they were telling the Catholics they had to join your Orthodox Church, but their churches, you know, are apostolically succeeded. But there's a separation came in the 10th century between the pope, belief in him, as you know, the supreme or just a member of the synod, you know, of bishops where the Orthodox don't believe it. Well, what happened in order to permit this to take place, not only did they destroy the Catholic Church and its leaders, they killed Nicodim, the Patriarch of Romania, in 1947. They had him poisoned to death because he was speaking out. His Metropolitan, Mihalcescu, who stood right up and began speaking against this communist change in Romania, this diabolical effort being made to destroy the churches, the villages, he was poisoned to death too. So, you know, it was a... They just had to destroy the church because that's where the power was. And of course, the intelligentsia of Romania. And they did it. They did it. It took a long time. By 1973, there was only one bishop out of eleven that had survived the prison in Romania, only one bishop and a group of Catholics from St. Helena's here, the oldest remaining Catholic church in America, they went to see this bishop. And what had happened was John F. Kennedy, bless his memory, in 19— Actually, I should say around 19— In 1963 before he was assassinated, this church, this Ceausescu was trying to... He was brand new, but they were trying to get Western money because their economies were collapsing under collectivization. It just... It wasn't working, you know, I mean, people just weren't producing and they were starving. And they did this thing against Khrushchev in '56 that he was no good. And, you know, because people are starting to revolt. The Hungarians revolted in '56. So by '64, '63, Kennedy says, look and open up your gulags and maybe America will consider that. Well, this... They were opened up, one of them was opened up. These gulags were opened up to some degree. And in 19—, it was about 19— I'm trying, I don't wanna get my date wrong, might've been '70, '71. This group of people from St. Helena's went to see this bishop who had been released a few years before from the prison, living under a guard at his residence, okay? Was not allowed to act as a bishop anymore. What he did in the privacy of his room he could do, but he wasn't allowed to really, you know, act as a bishop. Well, they got permission to go visit this bishop. And they said to him, you know, Bishop, we are praying for you in America, the silent church of Romania, because you were closed in '48 and you're not allowed to exist as a church. And he looked at him and he said, It is not we who are the silent church. It is you who are the silent church because you do not tell the free world what has happened to us. You know, and again, it's all that fear again. People were afraid to speak out about what was going on because all of them had families back home, you know, and God, you don't want to be... And that's how communism keeps their terror. You know, you get a knock on the door. [makes knocking sound on table] Your neighbor gets a knock on the door. The father disappears from the household. What's that wife next door going to tell her husband? Look, you walk like a horse with your blinders on, because I don't want no knock on our door, you know, and that fear grips a country. There's still a lot of problems in Romania. Again, that's another story. Current Romania. You know, current Romania is being controlled by the KGB. The guy that's the president for almost, from 1989, at least until 2003, the guy that was the president was twenty years on Ceausescu's Politburo and twenty-five years First Party Secretary of the Communist Party. Can you imagine? You know, in 1996, I had the honor of advising the Clinton administration on the enlargement of NATO, and I was asked as a leader in the Romanian American community. We had Polish, we had Ukrainians, we had Hungarian leaders, and they were from all over the country. But they were people that had been picked as, you know, political and leaders of Romanian... of the communities which they represented at that time. They were considering, of course, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland for NATO. So the guy from Hungary stood up, an American, and he said, You know, Hungary fought in '56. We would really love to be in NATO. And everybody applauded the Hungarians because certainly they were fantastic. Then the guy from Poland stood up and I remember he was from Chicago. He was a big shot banker and president of the Polish National Congress. He said, Look, we Poles started it all, you know, in the early '80s with Solidarity. You know, our priests were killed, Jerzy Popieluszko. We had Lech Walesa, the leader, I mean, in the church. And we've never wanted communism. We're with the West, we're... We might be an eastern European country, we're a western European country. And everybody applauded. Then the Czechoslovakian man stood up. He says, Look, we have Václav Havel. He's a true historian who was imprisoned. He's a poet. He's a voice of our country. We love him. You know? He's a true... He was... He did it all. He's great, you know. We're Czechs, we're not communists. And everybody applauded. And they said, Mr. Craciun, would you give your opinion? And in 1996, when I did this, this guy was still running the country. And I said, we've got a different problem in Romania. The man that's currently running the country and the secret police, you know, in 1989 he said he wouldn't be the president because he had too much baggage. Then he decided to run in 1990 and it was... The whole election was a scam because his secret police just had the boxes already prepared. And I said they're not going to give up their country. They own the country. They're not going to give it up for some Western people that want to bring some kind of democracy there. Forget that. They renamed the secret police, okay? Never closed it down. One of the most evil secret police—and this is known by everyone—renamed. Those secret police from one village were sent to another village so no one recognized him. This 1989, 1990. In fact, there was one man in Chicago, I bless his memory. His name was Ioan Culianu, professor of history at the Chicago University. He wrote a dissertation called A Stolen Revolution. He told exactly how the West has been ripped off by this guy Iliescu in Romania that the secret police took over. Six months later, after he wrote that dissertation—and he was one of my mentors—he was found in the bathroom of the University of Chicago with his hands tied behind his back with a plastic tie and a bullet in the back of his head and all of his money in his pocket. That was in 1992, right on the property of the University of Chicago. What did that tell people like me in human rights? And at that time, I was told by some people, you better be careful, you know, because like an old Ukrainian dissident said, communism is worse than the plague. These people are very evil. They kill... The plague kills indiscriminately. But communism kills the voices, the flowers, the leaders of the countries, you know, or the people. Once their voice is done, the people have no one to listen to. So I said, you know, I said, let's give it an example. If this was 1945 and the war just ended and we're sitting around discussing, you know, a future Germany and a future France, and Eichmann decides he wants to be the president of the new Germany, what would the West have said? Get out of here! The Nazi Party and all of your Nazis are finished. You know, it's over. Done. You're out of here. We would never have permitted it. We didn't. But in Romania, we permitted the guy that was twenty-five years First Party Secretary... twenty-five years on the Politburo and twenty years First Party Secretary. I may have inverted that, but close enough. Good twenty years on either one, of the Communist Party. We permitted him to be the president. You know, another point I might give you that America influxed into Russia and into Romania. Well in Russia, we know it's closer to 70 billion dollars through the World Bank. And this was to help Russia with its micro and macro economical growth of its little towns and cities. For an example, say you wanted to start a tool and die shop. You didn't have proper, you know, collateral but... And the World Bank looked at it like a third world country. You would look at it, you know, let's help them. Maybe your apartment's worth twenty thousand U.S. in a sense, may be worth more in your currency, but we'll give you the loan. How much you need up to three million dollars? Well, I need a half a million. I need to do it. I have a plan. Draw a plan up. They give you the half a million. If you pay it for six months and your business fails after you've gotten that money, it's not considered a bad... It's just considered a bad loan. 70 billion dollars to the KGB evaporated in Russia. About, I think it's close to 7 or 8 billion in Romania evaporated in the exact same way, just evaporated. It was all given to KGBs. And they used this money to buy up the country. They now control—the very KGB of Romania, the secret police called Securitate—they now bought everything in Romania. They own everything. So these people that went to the factory and were slave laborers under communist system see the same guy now, he's the boss, he owns it. You know, it's a total ripoff. And unfortunately, this President Clinton, Clinton's man, Clinton had all the ambassadors there in 1996, U.S. ambassadors, and Richard Holbrook was the moderator. And Richard Holbrook said, Mr. Craciun, we're grateful of your understanding of this current situation in Romania, because we were never going to include Romania and we were worried whether we were going to hurt you or your community regarding that, because we know who Iliescu is. We will never put the likes of Iliescu into our NATO. Let's move up to 2003. President Bush is looking for allies for the Iraqi war. France is saying no. Germany's saying no. Because at this time, Iraq had not invaded another country. They were going to be invaded, okay? And so President Bush put his feelers out. Guess who raised his hand? Ion Iliescu, in 2003, raised his hand as President of Romania and said, We'll help you, Mr. President. What will you do for us? And George Bush's government said, We'll give you NATO. We'll bring you into our NATO. Can you imagine the very KGB that killed Mihalcescu? I mean, Nicodim, and I mean, right on down all these all these people, okay? That killed and maimed for so many years. This very KGB network with blood on their hands now walk around Washington with impunity. They're our allies. Pretty frightful, isn't it? Pretty frightful. And this kind of information gets me a bullet in the back of my head, you know, but that's the reality of it. It's... It's... It is very scary that, you know, that Bush has permitted this to happen. You know, I look at the harsh words Putin is throwing around. The scary thing is that they have the money today. They have money from oil like, you know, in Venezuela, you know, Chavez. He's kept money and he's a Marxist. He's for Castro. Let the whole world take a step backwards. Come on all together. Let's all take a step backwards for humanity, you know? And I am one that believes capitalism can be as evil as communism. That's why we have checks and balances in this country. And it's been kind of blurred with the Bush administration, kind of blurred. And we need to take back our country because it still is well-written and well... A good country and has good people in it and in the whole world needs to have us as a model, which we need to get back to where we should be with our nation. So, so this is the grandson of... Great grandson of those first founders that came here from Romania, still involved, still a member of the Romanian dance group. My children are a member of the Romanian dance group. We meet at St. Mary's on Warren Road and we include all the different churches. You don't have to be an Orthodox. I'm not. I'm a Roman Catholic at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel here. And I'm still wanting to preserve our culture, our heritage, which is so rich. You know, I've always felt lucky because my mother was Italian and my father was Romanian. So I had two of the neighborhood, the Italian and the Romanian. And then I married a girl whose grandmother was Anna Dever from 5217 Herman Avenue. The Devers, in 1910, had fifty-two first cousins on the west side of Cleveland. I mean you name it, O'Malley, you name 'em all. They were all related to my wife's family and I'm so proud of that. In fact, her husband, my wife's grandfather, was the first Slovak on the Cleveland Fire Department in 1916 because he was married to the Dever girl. She got him in there. You know, up to that time was all Germans and Irish, you know. It was pretty tough to get in there. So we... My family's pretty fortunate because we're Romanian, Italian, and Irish.
Mark Souther [00:40:07] Right. On the Romanian side, your family of course came well before the communist took power [Right] in '17 but how many—I'm not familiar with Cleveland enough to know to what extent political refugees made it into Cleveland all through the years of the Cold War. How big an influx was... [cross talk]
James Craciun [00:40:26] Right. Well, here, let me... Let me tell you. I'm glad you asked that question. I am currently the chairman of the board of the International Services Center, which is a United Way agency. We were formerly called the Nationalities Union. And our organization since 1915 has been welcoming the refugees that come to our city. Now, usually these refugees are people that come here with the agreement of the federal government, okay? And for so many years, the Hungarians that fled the communists in '56, let's say, or the Romanians that fled all the way from anytime after '46 to 1989, okay, when we perceived that there was a free country there, we took these immigrants, these refugees, and we welcomed them here. And really, there wasn't a lot you had to do for those people because they'd give 'em a couple of weeks worth of groceries just to start, and they'd be off working any job they could find and filling our cities, our city of Cleveland, because always... the inner city's always the got the, you know, the less expensive homes. And, you know, compared to a suburb that's building property, the city's homes are kind of older. And we've always filled our city with these refugees. And it was in 1989 at the so-called quote unquote "fall" of communism, and I got a nice quote for that, Dimitry Manuilsky for twenty years put there by Joseph Stalin, represented Russia to the United Nations. United Nations was founded like in 1943 by Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Joseph Stalin, who had killed 20 million people before 1939, was then our ally in 1939. And in 1945, after he accomplished his goal of capturing all of Eastern Europe, not a single gun fired, okay? He again left the West again. I mean, we were kind of hoodwinked inoto boxing Hitler. Take on the devil to box the devil, you know what I mean? Okay, we'll work with the devil to box the devil. But that didn't work. But anyways, this Joseph Stalin had put this Dimitry Manuilsky as the first representative to the United Nations, held that position for twenty years from about 1944, '45. Dmitry Manuilsky. We have the words of Dmitry Manuilsky, which were said, it's believed, around 1938. And here's what Dimitry Manuilsky said. He said, War between capitalism and communism is inevitable. We are not strong enough at this time. Our time will come in thirty to forty years. We will need the element of surprise. So we will begin by initiating the greatest peace movement the world has ever seen. To be electrifying overtures, unheard of concessions, the capitalist countries, stupid and decadent. Let me repeat that. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will leap at another chance to be our friend. 1989. And when their guard is down—I interjected that—and he proceeded, When their guard is down, we'll raise our clenched fist, and we will strike them. So right now you have Chavez in Venezuela, a very rich... a guy who can export Marxism to very poor, ignorant people that are not as educated as we'd like them to be in, you know, Central and South America. Nicaragua's back with the Ortegas, okay? Marxist supporter of... Colombia's completely in the hands of the M-19. You know, the revolutionary parties. And, you know, completely, I mean. And the guy from Bolivia, he's going to keep the cocaine growing because that's the way they make money is drugs sold in America, which are, which probably all made in Cuba, where they can be made without any problems, because that's how Cuba keeps things going. One of the most interesting things that ever happening in my life was my own mother was a student at St. Teresa's Academy, which no longer exists. It's now St. Joseph's Academy on Rocky River Drive. And this was in 1935. She was a senior. And they had a priest there and he was a guest speaker. And in 1933, President Roosevelt had open diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, okay? We had a diplomatic... Prior to that we had no diplomatic revolution... diplomatic recognition. But because there was a perceived thing that Stalin was industrializing his country and they were making a turn to... from... It was just a perceived thing. It was all propaganda, okay? Glasnost they call it, you know, where they set these things out. We opened up our diplomatic recognition. It would be two years later, while we had that diplomatic recognition that Joseph Stalin would exterminate anywhere from eight to twelve million Ukrainians in a false starvation, in a false, you know, he just starved those people to death. Famine. All right? But we still had our diplomatic recognition. One of the first people to enter with a group of Americans was that priest in 1933. And he gathered as many books as he could about communism and as many pamphlets—their pamphlets, the leaders okay? And people gave them to him too that knew this was a chance to get something out to the West. Well, he stood before those girls at St. Teresa's Academy, which is was located where St. Edward's is right now in Lakewood, and he said to them, he said, My dear young girls, he says, I have to tell you what's what could happen in the future of America. He said and I found this from the books that I read from Russia, and that's why I'm here to tell you this. He said, In the distant future, many years from now, again, this was 1935. Some of you will be mothers, some of you will be grandmothers, and you will wake up and you will see that the streets of your country, of your city, are littered with pornography and all forms of pornography. And your children will be on drugs, all kinds of drugs. And you will say to yourself, how did this happen in our America? And I tell you right now, the Soviet Union and its representatives have a plan to destroy America through the demoralization of the youth, through drugs and pornography. And my dear girls, it's nothing new. It's nothing new. It saw the fall of the Roman Empire, the Chinese and the Japanese. I mean, drugs and pornography have done it before. And one day my mother woke up and they were trying to put a dirty bookstore right across from the funeral home, which we stopped, and we were all at college during the Kent State and tin soldiers and Nixon is coming in and, you know, burn your draft card and smoke a jaybird. You know what I mean? And that's what was happening. And it's sad to say that some of us that are former people working with this problem of communism in the world, which have really been disarmed, basically we've been disarmed. Everyone thinks communism is over. I've just heard people say that there's no communism in China. Come on! You know? But anyways, we've been disarmed. But what was I going to say? There's something, something good. I'm glad I haven't lost my train of thought. There's just so much I want to say. And I'm not probably fully in line with what you're saying. But at least this history is important to understand and to know, you know, this, this, this history. And but America's at a crossroads, and I can only hope and pray. I always hoped that Romania would be the weak link in their plan, you know, but it's not working out that way. Yeah, I'd like to write a book about it myself. I've been thinking about it, I should write a book about it. I should. I should. It is amazing. It is amazing stuff. It is. When President Bush put Romania into NATO in 2003, I went livid I contacted the FBI. I said, look at here's the goods on Iliescu, okay? He's KGB, trained in Moscow, eleven years. We know all this. Okay? They even know it. But they couldn't go against the government. I mean, you know, would we have taken Hitler's men and put 'em in our government? You know, I don't think so. You know, I don't think so. But America has a real way of doing stuff like that to history. I mean, we, like Saddam Hussein friend one week, enemy the next, you know? And it's... and I hate to say it, but I still think it has to do with money and capitalism and this kind of stuff that that is a black eye on America when capitalism can be as evil as communism. You know, when we permit people to usurp the freedoms and rights of others for the almighty dollar or the almighty deutschmark or euro or pound, you know, or Chinese, whatever they call their currency. I did run for office, I ran for state senate. I was so committed against my opponent, who is Dale Miller, and I was committed because he was against school vouchers. Now, that's one area that's, oh, I'll fight for that. You take Our Lady of Mt. Carmel here at West 70th in Detroit. You take St. Rocco's on Fulton Road. You take St. Stanislaus in Slavic Village. You take Our Lady of Mercy. You take Metro Catholic. You have inner-city people staying in the city with the availability of an education that can one day get them into Magnificat, St. Ed's, St. Ignatius, Metro Catholic High School, Cleveland Central Catholic. I mean, this is... This is life. This is growth. This is keeping a face in the city of Cleveland. The moment the vouchers are gone, we're finished. Now, at the same time that he was for the vouchers, he was for the gambling. So now you take away the way the Catholics traditionally kept our schools by gambling, okay? We have our, you know, our gambling. Unfortunately, until we come up with a better way, which we do now have a better way, it's called vouchers. Now, we don't have to worry about how we pay our teachers. They can get vouchers in the inner city of Cleveland to help that student go to that school, okay? So take away the gambling, take away the vouchers. What would happen to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel? We'd never be able to give in our baskets enough for 3,000, 4,000 a kid, which is... They're given 11,000, the city of Cleveland, we're given 3,000. It's good math. It's fiscally responsible to keep the vouchers. We couldn't handle all the kids. So, you know, I was hoping to win. And you take a place like Max Hays here in Detroit Shoreway? That's our our trade school. They have done nothing with Max Hays in twenty-five years. There's not one union represented there. They've all left. But do you think we could use some bricklayers in this town? Why do we have to import 'em from Detroit when we build the stadium or when we build anything? We got import our bricklayers got to import our cement refinishers, and a lot of those young black kids and Hispanic kids and white kids that are in our mixed culture of kids and races, these kids need a chance. They're not going to be rocket scientists. There's at least twelve hundred right now in the Cleveland school system that are not going to be rocket scientists that we know of. The report of twelve hundred that couldn't pass the senior test. So they go to a place like Max Hays. There's no union there to take these guys, mold them into bricklayers, cement refinishers, eight or nine or ten of them a year in each field, carpentry. That was one of the things I was going to work on was that, as a state senator, because when you're a state senator people listen to you, you know, but we'll live to fight another day, hopefully.
Mark Souther [00:52:46] What are your plans for the future?
James Craciun [00:52:49] Well, I have five children. My first three while I built our funeral business with my brother, Joe Craciun, who's on the board of Detroit Shoreway. We worked very hard to build that business from the meager 65 funeral a year as a neighborhood funeral that our dad had now to over 300 funerals a year with a home in Middleburg Heights and a home here in Cleveland, the old Berry Funeral Home. It's now Craciun Berry, the historical Berry Funeral Home. It was hard work. It's hard work to build a business. Any man will tell you that to raise a family, it's hard work. It's day and night. And I had three kids and then two more came along. And now I'm not [unknown] anymore. I'm known. I'm active in the community. I chair United Way Agency. I'm trying to everything you should do in your community. And I'm also a funeral director. But you know what? I got those two little boys in Little League and Romanian folk dancing. My wife said to me, you got a chance to be a dad again. You know, let's do it this time. Let's not kill ourselves with so many organizations. And let's take some time. And I've been doing that. I've been having a good time with it, you know, and actually in the Romanian human rights end, hey, I'm out. President Bush's got the guy. I'm, you know, and his old gang in there, I'm against our... I don't want to be... I'm against, you know, I'm looking bad. My opinions are way out of line it appears, you know? So it's good. Let them, you know, let everything unfold. You know, I'm... It's kind of nice being a dad and a funeral director and active in my community without the human rights aspect of it or even taking on politics, because, boy, you know, it's rough business, politics. It's rough business [cross talk]. Yeah. You know, it was sad that I did not believe that the Jacobs and Ratners needed another couple billion dollars a year off the backs of the poorest people in our cities. You know, it was sad for me to believe that, but I believe by that and I stand by that, that this was a bad thing, gambling. And it is a bad thing. It doesn't help anybody. And they said, well, the people are leaving. Oh, yeah, they're leaving. And those are people that gamble. But you don't want to go create any new gamblers. It's not gonna be my family. I'm sure it's not going to be yours, Professor, is it, in there gambling? It's going to be the ones that can ill afford it, you know, and... And why couldn't the government... Why couldn't the state of Ohio set up maybe four gambling casinos full-service, run by the state of Ohio? We got talent out there we could hire, and maybe the workers then would have state salaries. There'd be plenty enough money with those couple of billions floating around. They could have state salaries with state pensions, dignified jobs that would be able to raise a family with, okay? I might consider that, although I'm against gambling—only for the Catholic Church because that's how we kept their schools, you know—but I can't be so close-minded about it. But that I might consider. But with the state of Ohio running it, you know, not some families written into our Constitution, getting 55 percent of the gross and giving us the 45 and making it look like, oh, we're giving you a 45 percent. I'm very opinionated and this is 2007. June, what is today's date, 9th, 2007, James Craciun, fourth generation, third generation Romanian American. One, two, three, four. Fourth from great grandfather, yeah. Still in the neighborhood, still going to church at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Two children in the school. It's one of the finest we've... We've helped to make it through Father Richard and the efforts of Matthew Zone, our councilperson, and, God, we've worked so hard to keep that inner-city school a fine school, teaching Christian principles and Catholic doctrine and I'm very strong Catholic. You know, when you look at America, you look at the infrastructure of high schools, colleges, hospitals. They were built by priests and nuns. St. Joseph's, St John's Hospital, [St.] Vincent Charity, John Carroll, Notre Dame. Let's keep going. You know, these high schools, St. Teresa's, that was one of the first, St. Ignatius from the turn of the century, before that, like from 1870s, you know? We built this infrastructure of education. We tried to show how it should be done. The Catholics. Why? Because we're going to get better every generation. We strive for that, you know? And we are important to America, the Catholics and the Christian people. We are, you know? We need to voice our opinions about life and society because, you know, our goal is to make a better world. We have families and that's what we want for them. So it's great to be a part of the world right now. There's a lot more stuff needs to be done.
Mark Souther [00:57:38] Well, I probably should let you go. I would like to interview you sometime again.
James Craciun [00:57:45] Okay.
Mark Souther [00:57:46] I mean, we could keep going [cross talk]... I'm always interested in hearing people's takes on things...
James Craciun [00:57:57] Yeah. Yeah. Well, you're looking at a guy that's fought for human rights for the better part of my life since 1974 when I saw communism. They said to me, the people of Romania when I left, they threw me out of the country because I was preaching revolution in '74, and you were supposed to do that, you know? You're just a tourist. You know, walk around like a tourist. Don't take pictures, don't talk about anything. The people said to me, Jimmy, when you go back to America, we're still here. Will you not be a voice for us? Will you forget us? And that's what they said to me, and it didn't happen. I didn't forget them. I didn't try to anyway. And I thank God for the ability to be a voice for them. But, God, it's getting a little dangerous out there right now and has been for the last... Human rights and for the Romanian circles, it's been pretty dangerous. They've gotten everything they've wanted. You know, they're NATO now and they're, you know, they're even going into European... European... They're pulling off a little coup right now that looks like they're trying to change. And it's all window dressing. It's always been window dressing because there is an international network of KGB. There's Chinese in it. There's Russians in it. There's Romanians in it. There's still Czechs in it. There's still Hungarians in it. There's South and Central Americans in it. There's gangsters... And they're gangsters. They create money, buy drugs, pornography. They own countries. They run countries. They steal what is a legal company. They steal their wealth. That's taking place right now, and Chavez is doing it. And a few other guys are doing it. The guy in Bolivia is doing it. They're taking the businesses away from bonafide corporations under the guise of it's for our people. Well they're going to control it. You know, I mean that's their money they're going to control. So, you know, I mean, there's just a lot of work needs to be done, you know, in view of all this stuff happening in our world. It's not over. There's nothing over. We're just dumbing down. We're not intellectual. We forget about the past. The history. We need more history professors.
Mark Souther [01:00:16] I'm working on it! Well, thanks so much.
James Craciun [01:00:21] So you're welcome.
Mark Souther [01:00:23] This concludes our interview.
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"James Craciun interview, 09 June 2007" (2007). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955022_999035.