Photographs by Kent Klich / Essay by Herta Müller
Umbrage Editions, 2001
ISBN 1-884167-10-1

St. Laurence Children's Hospice, Cernavoda, 1997

More than a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the overthrow and execution of brutal Romanian dictator Nicholae Ceausescu, the worst AIDS epidemic among children in the world bears out its infamous legacy in Romania, still one of the poorest and most fractured societies in Eastern Europe. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, government hospitals and orphanages were told to systematically treat the malnourished and anemic children with a fast-fix "pick-me-up" consisting of transfusions of unscreened plasma, blood later found to be tainted with HIV. Over this last decade, thousands have died; but almost 10,000 children with AIDS remain, still alive. The tragedy continues.

Magnum photographer Kent Klich traveled to Romania from 1994 through 1999 to document the appalling aftermath of Ceausescu's horror. In Children of Ceausescu, Klich gives us visceral images and brief life stories of the boys and girls who still suffer from the state's mass experiment. Compassionate yet unflinching, these photographs give us a glimpse of the daily lives of these children, both terrible and mundane. They run and splash in puddles, they laugh out loud, but they also know disease and death intimately and live, and die, facing the realities of their infection.

Cernavoda Orphanage, 1997

KENT KLICH was born in Sweden in 1952. He studied psychology at the University of Gothenburg. After earning his degree he worked with adolescents with a history of social problems. In 1983 he met Beth R. a drug addict and a prostitute, together they made The Book of Beth (Aperture, 1989), documenting her life and including case records from her childhood.

Klich's work in the 1990s in Mexico City with street children was recently published by Journal and Syracuse University Press, with a text by Elena Poniatowska, as El Nino: Children of the Streets, Mexico City. He joined Magnum in 1998 and his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in Europe and elsewhere, including the Rencontres de Perpignan, France 1999.

HERTA MÜLLER was born in Romania in 1953. After refusing to cooperate with Ceausescu's Securitate, she lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats before she was able to emigrate in 1987. She is the author of Traveling on One Leg (Northwestern University Press, 1998) and The Land of Green Plums (Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1996), among other titles. In addition to the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award she has received many prizes for her work including Germany's most prestigious literary award, The Kleist Prize. Herta Müller now lives in Berlin.

Text Excerpt from
by Herta Müller

On my first day [as a kindergarten teacher], the director of the kindergarten took me to my group. As we entered the classroom, she said somewhat cryptically, "The anthem, children!" Automatically, the children sprang to attention and formed a semi-circle, hands pressed to their sides, heads back, eyes turned upwards. Little children had jumped up from their tables, but little soldiers stood in the semi-circle and sang. There was more screaming and bellowing than singing. It seemed to be the volume and standing to attention that counted. The anthem was very long, and a great many verses had been added in recent years. I think it had reached about seven verses by then. Having been unemployed for so long, I was completely out of touch and didn’t know the words to the new verses. After the last verse, the semi-circle broke open and the children started rampaging around again. The stiff little soldiers were boisterous little children once more. The director took a cane from the shelf. "You’ll need this," she said. Then she whispered in my ear and called four of the children over to her. Take a good look at them, she said, and sent the four back to their places. Then she told me that their parents or grandparents held senior functions in the party. The one little boy is the party secretary’s son, she said, so you have to be particularly careful. He can’t stand being contradicted, and you have to protect him from the others, no matter what he gets up to. Then she left me alone with the group. There were about ten canes lying on the shelf, pencil-thick switches as long as rulers. Three of them were broken into pieces.

It was snowing outside—the first big fluffy flakes to lie that year. "Let’s sing a song about winter, shall we?" I said, "Who knows a winter song?" A winter song? They didn’t know any. So I asked them for a song about summer instead. They shook their heads. Well then, how about an autumn or a spring song? At last, a little boy said he knew a song about picking flowers. They sang about grass and a meadow. So they do know a summer song after all, I thought, even if that’s not what they call it here. But it was over as soon as it had begun: after the first verse about summer, we were back to the cult of personality. In the second verse, the most beautiful of the red flowers was given to our beloved leader. In the third, our leader was happy and smiled because he loved every child in the land. The children did not register any of the detail in the first verse—the meadow, the grass, picking the flowers. From the very first word, their singing sounded feverish, and they became increasingly over-excited. As they reached the part about the flower-giving and the leader’s smile, their singing became louder, faster, more discordant. Although the song devoted the first verse to summer, it denied the children the chance to learn about its imagery. But it also denied them the chance to learn about the act of giving. Ceausescu would often pick up children and hold them in his arms but these children had spent several days in quarantine first to make sure they had no infectious diseases. The song required the children to suspend their critical faculties. And this was how they kept the kindergarten under control.