Since the Middle Ages and until the Second World War, Bethlen was one of the most prominent noble families in Transylvania. Among its members one can find soldiers, politicians, diplomats, and scientists. The Bethlen family shares a centuries-old tradition of supporting the Hungarian culture in Transylvania by erecting churches, funding schools, and financing priests, teachers and students. Two branches of the family are known to scholars. Iktári Bethlens include among their members Gábor/Gabriel Bethlen, prince of Transylvania (1613-29). The other branch of family tree is the Bethlen de Bethlen/Beclean, which includes the Prime Minister of Hungary István Bethlen (1921-31), Béla Bethlen, the last government commissioner of Northern Transylvania under Hungarian administration during the Second World War, and György Bethlen, the president of the Hungarian National Party representing the Hungarian minority in Romania in the interwar period (Ablonczy et al. 2014; Bethlen and Romsics: 1989). Countess Anikó Bethlen, who lives in Târgu Mureș, is a present-day-descendant of this family. She was born in Cluj on 7 October 1938. Her father was Count Gábor Bethlen, an agronomist, and her mother, Éva Ferencz-Mihály, was a paediatrician. Her maternal grandfather, Zsigmond Ferencz-Mihály was legal adviser, while her maternal grandmother, Adrienne Bochkor, was the daughter of judge Mihály Bochkor. Paternal grandparents, Count Bálint Bethlen and Baroness Marianne Bánffy, were the owners of four estates, the former of Criș and Chiraleș, the latter of Ciuguzel and Sărmașu. Her grandmother’s brother, Baron Dániel Bánffy, was the Hungarian minister of agriculture in the period 1940-1944, when Northern Transylvania belonged to Hungary (Máthé 2016). After the Second Vienna Award, her father worked in the Transylvanian Hungarian Economic Association (Demeter and Venczel 1940; Farkas 2004; Hunyadi 2000) as secretary, and played an active role as organizer of public education lectures in villages. The family fled to Budapest in September 1944, when the front line approached Northern Transylvania. Meanwhile, her youngest sister Rózsa got brain inflammation and died at the age of sixteen in a nursing home. In August 1945, they returned home after two weeks spent on train. At this time, Anikó Bethlen got the polio virus that would affect her for lifetime. Upon their return, the family had no other choice but to live on the estate of Șincai, which had been spared by the 1945 land reform, unlike the paternal grandparent’s estates and properties, which were placed under the CASBI [Casa de Administrare și Supraveghere a Bunurilor Inamice
– Agency for Handling Enemy Assets] administration (Vincze 2000) with the apparent goal of keeping them safe. From 1945 to 1949, the seriously ill Anikó remained in Târgu Mureș with her maternal grandparent, while the rest of the family won its subsistence with manual labour on the family estate in Șincai. On 3 March 1949, the family was forcibly relocated to Târgu Mureș, where they had to live under house arrest [domiciliu obligatoriu
] for fourteen and a half years. The persecutions against the family also meant professional restrictions and implicit deprivations of the means of subsistence. Anikó’s mother taught health at the local apprentice school, then she worked with the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology, then became a school doctor in the art school and eventually got a position as family doctor in a district. Her father only got a job after the house arrest sentence expired in 1963 in the remote region of Dobrogea, near the lake Razelm, but returned later to Transylvania and worked in the villages nearby Odorheiu Secuiesc (Oláh-Gál 2011). In March 1946, the grandmother enrolled Anikó Bethlen to the Reformed elementary school of Târgu Mureș. After the forcible suppression of confessional schools in 1948, she went to the former Jewish school in today’s Horea street, where she attended compulsory primary education. After seven classes, she was denied the right to continue her studies as the director of the Hungarian-language high-school bluntly stated that until he would be in charge, “a countess Bethlen won’t be allowed to go to school there.” The family decided to move her to a physiotherapy hospital in Sibiu, where she lived among the Saxon and the Romanian communities between 1952 and 1954. The ideological thaw which followed the death of Stalin allowed her to successfully complete her studies in the same high-school in front of a special commission led by the Transylvanian intellectual and left-wing political activist Edgár Balogh, himself just released from prison in this new political context. Following the survival technique which her family developed during the time of persecution – her grandmother Marianne Bánffy used to give private lessons of foreign languages – Anikó Bethlen started teaching French, German and English to the children of the local party leadership. She also taught such lessons to retired and elderly people who wanted to leave the country. Teaching fees were the only source of her subsistence until 1989, although her disability entitled her to a financial support from the communist state, which was nonetheless denied to her on political grounds. During the entire communist period, the intervention of relatives living abroad made it repeatedly possible for her to travel to Switzerland for treatment. It is important to notice that these repeated exit visas granted by the communist authorities were not conditioned by a collaboration with the secret police, as it was customary in Romania. Her file of informative surveillance, which is currently preserved in the Archives of CNSAS, illustrate that she was constantly observed by the Securitate during the 1970s and the 1980s. Countess Bethlen was subjected to operative surveillance, which means that the secret police used informants to collect information about her and her activities, listened her phone calls, retained her private correspondence, and sometimes provoked her with anonymous letters. She was warned twice by the local branch of the Securitate in Târgu Mureș, in 1981 and 1984, for allegedly carrying out a "hostile activity against the regime." owever, the secret police monitored rather her relations abroad than her activity of collecting (ACNSAS I0264646/1-7; I82862/4; R229601/4; R310575/2-4). As for her opinion on the communist regime, Countess Bethlen is rather silent, considering the sufferings she and her family had to endure. Under communism, such attitude was largely adopted by most of those who experienced traumatic events in the family. For them, silence represented an “attitude of defence” to gradually become a “way of life” (Mihăilescu 2006, 170).
After the 1989 revolution, she got a compensatory pension granted to formerly dislocated citizens, and in the 1990s she established the Bethlen Foundation to support disabled people. Following the family tradition, she used her experience and financial resources to help those who suffer from physical disabilities. The foundation also operated a bookbinding workshop in Târgu Mureș. The Countess Bethlen reckons among the property of the foundation all the objects belonging to the collection.