For a son of immigrants who has realized the American dream and won appointment as a U.S. district judge, a trip to Romania this summer was the perfect capstone. Judge David Sam, whose family name Sirb was changed by his father to Sam for `Uncle Sam,' was invited by the U.S. State Department to accompany five other judges to Romania during the month of August.
In an effort to assist the Romanian government in their transition from communism to democracy, the American delegation met with Romanian judges, supreme court justices and attorneys to explain how strongly Americans feel about an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and the protection of human dignity and human rights.Sam was impressed with the sincerity of the Romanians and convinced that "they will not return to the old system even if they have to shed blood and resort to revolution. Romanian judges and lawyers have the same concerns that we do, that justice prevails and that evil and wrong do not take over the control of the system. When Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he outlined truths that are eternal for human beings everywhere - things that are not given to men by governments, but they are born with those rights."
In Sam's opinion, "the Romanian people believe deeply in those things." He was also moved by "the beauty of Romania and the pride they have in their history, and with their oppression from the Nazis and the communists. I was impressed with their joy of living and their humor."
After several days, Judge Sam and his wife, Betty, were allowed to leave the delegation to travel to the village of his parents' birth, a distance of 170 miles - from Sibiu to Beliu in Western Romania near the Hungarian border. It was a whirlwind trip. They arrived in Beliu at about 1 p.m. and had only three hours to accomplish their purpose.
With the help of a Romanian attorney who accompanied them, they talked to villagers and showed them some pictures of Sam's mother and father. In a matter of minutes, one gentleman said he recognized the pictures and took them to the peasant home of Teodor Sirb, Sam's cousin, where they found Sirb working in the field with his wife and children.
A neighbor came over with the intention of proving to Sam and his wife that they were indeed in the right house. "He pulled out a picture of my mother and my brother John standing by a cow. He said that his father and my father were boyhood friends and my father had mailed this picture to his father in the 1920s."
Sam's father had left the village in 1914 and immigrated to Gary, Ind., to work in the mills. He escaped with money stitched into his collar and hidden in his boots. When he made it to the United States, he sent for his pregnant wife. As a teenager, Sam asked his father how he could leave his 19-year-old sweetheart.
"I've never forgotten his response. He said that was one of their easier decisions. `Because we left Romania we could have 11 children and give you life and birth. But one thing we could never give you is what is more important than life - and that's freedom.' "
In 1947 his father discovered that his younger brother was still alive in Beliu and had a 1-year-old son. They tried to get them to emigrate, but before they could complete the arrangements the brother died of a heart attack.
That 1-year-old son is now 45-year-old Teodor Sirb, Sam's cousin and only living Sirb relative. When Sirb came into the house, they had an emotional meeting. "He grabbed me and kissed me on my cheeks and forehead and nose. He wept and I couldn't withhold my emotions. I asked him where my father was born. With tears in his eyes he pointed down and said, `right here - my home was built on the site of his old home.' I asked him where my mother was born, and he said, `across the street, face to face.'
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