Racial Minorities





Carpathian "Elephants"



In the border country smuggling used to thrive a great deal. The main offenders were the Rumanians, who showed great ingenuity in this traffic. The customs officers and gendarmes did their utmost to put a stop to it, but the smugglers were equally determined to outwit the authorities.

One of their first dodges was hospitality. Wealthy Rumanians who derived a good deal of their income from smuggling began inviting the frontier guards to tea or supper so as to establish friendly relations between the villagers and the new authorities, or so they said. The gendarmes accepted these invitations with pleasure ; they felt flattered and praised the Rumanians for their generosity. It was some time before the officers realised that large-scale smuggling was going on while they were lavishly treated to food and drink.

When this trick ceased to work, feminine charm was tried. For a couple of crowns an hour the smugglers hired attractive girls to entertain the gendarmes while goods were being smuggled across the frontier. The gendarmes, whose life was dull so far away from home and civilisation, swallowed the bait, and the smugglers remained unmolested for months.

But when they found out how they had been duped the frontier guards decided to retaliate. It was intolerable that the State should be cheated so brazenly, that tobacco, alcohol, wine, pigs and horses should be brought to Carpatho-Ukraine duty free, and that other goods were serendipitously smuggled out of the country. The gendarmes asked for reinforcements. As soon as these arrived a close watch was kept on the frontier, day and night. Along the river Tisa, which formed part of the frontier, a chain of sentries was posted behind trees or in the reeds ready to apprehend the smugglers. In spite of these elaborate precautions, the law-breakers often proved too clever for the guards. During this time it was planned to smuggle a large herd of live-stock into the county. The deal looked very promising and the local men were determined to bring it off at all costs. In order to evade the vigilance of the customs men the smugglers bribed a youngster to drive a pig across the river and allow himself to he caught.

Everything went according to plan. As soon as the sentries spotted the boy and saw no one following him, they swarmed round him and took him and the pig triumphantly to the frontier post. At long last they had caught a culprit and from now onwards, so they thought, they would have the situation in hand. Half-an-hour later a huge herd of cattle crossed the river unmolested.

Gradually the gendarmes tumbled to these tricks, but they never quite succeeded in stamping out illegal trafficking. When at last they were getting the upper hand, war broke out and the military occupation of the country made smuggling a very risky and difficult undertaking.


East Slovakia Genealogical Research Strategies