The actor loved by millions of Romanians who fooled the Communists. The life of Ernest Maftei, also known as Bădia: he saved 136 Jews from certain death

If you’re in the habit of watching Romanian films to remember your childhood, adolescence or even youth, you clearly know who Ernest Maftei, aka Bădia, was.

About him, many remember with nostalgia, the actor being, literally and figuratively, out of the ordinary. You would recognise him anywhere because of his unique physical appearance, which most likely reminded you of a Dacian brought to the present by a time machine you didn’t know existed.

Ernest Maftei in the film Vlad Tepes
Ernest Maftei in the film Vlad Tepes – 1975

Ernest Maftei was proud of being a legionnaire

In 1937, the man who was to become a much-loved actor joined the Legionary Movement and became a leader in the organization in Bacau County. He was only 17 years old, but his extreme political convictions led him to step outside the realms of a typical teenager.

Later, the communists placed him in the top three most dangerous people for communism in our country, yet he escaped.

With the destruction of the Legionary Movement, he remained alive (incidentally, among the few with such good fortune among his colleagues), one would have thought that young Ernest Maftei would have been frightened into a political shadow. This was not at all the case.

The newly established Legion of Archangel Michael gave him courage and, at only 21, he was put in charge of four Romanian counties by the “Captain’s” men. Some would consider this too big a hat for their heads, but Maftei “held on” to his newly acquired position and promoted with almost obsessive conviction the values of the extremists with whom he was a colleague.

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Moreover, he never kept his love for legionnaireism hidden, and after 1990, he joined the “Pentru Patrie”, a party with a legionary character, founded by former or current sympathisers.

ernest-maftei-film-scene
Actor Ernest Maftei, also known as Bădia, picture from his last years of life

However, he saved 136 Jews from death and escaped the Communists like the eye of a needle: they acquitted him on a conveyor belt

When he received orders from Bucharest to pick up 136 Jews who were suspected of collaborating with the Socialists, who at the time were also a group non grata, he did the opposite and hid them in Prăjești, at the stone quarry belonging to his father.

His father is arrested and imprisoned. “I had 13 trials, all of them acquitted! I have no criminal record, sir! That’s how I survive. You know why? No! In Bacău there were 80% Jews. Jews! The Legionaries died in the prisons, all of them! In ’39, they killed them. By September 29th – Armand Calinescu, you know the story. Where he caught them. There was me, who was 21, and four older ones who ran the county. And a list comes from Bucharest. There were also stupid orders!

I knew Codreanu, personally, but I wasn’t with murders and such! I’ve never done murders! As I told you, there’s a list of 136 Jews to be picked up. They were suspected of communism, in fact they did communism. All from Bacău. And I took the list with me and collected them all. My father was not a poor peasant, as I wrote in my biography in Bucharest. I took them all to my father in Prăjești! From home I took them, with my men, sir… It was the Legionaries’ organization! I found them all in one day.

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And when they came from the center for them, if they didn’t find them, it stayed that way. And they, they were all employed at my father’s, at the stone mounds by the roads and lodged with the peasants. Then they came to the trials! At all the ones we had, they were in the courtrooms! They got me out! In Galati, I had a hard, hard trial. The last one! I was chief then, in four counties! Well: When the theatre opened in Bacău, in ’47, I played at the opening.

The peasants came from my village with wagons to see me. The director of the theater was a Bernstein, also Jewish. And he said to me: “Many people came here and said you were a bandit! But a Jew came to me and said you were a great man! So don’t be afraid, I’ll protect you.” And he defended me, sir. I don’t know if he’s still alive, he was director of the Youth Theatre in Piatra Neamt. In Galati, Ionel Teodoreanu – Păstorel’s brother – and Radu Budișteanu, former Minister of the Interior under the Legionaries, defended me ex officio. He had gone, sir, to the front line. Antonescu pardoned those who went to the front line. Radu Budișteanu was still alive before ’90, he was 92 and wanted to go abroad. And they wouldn’t let him…”, he recounted, much later. Ernest Maftei, according to truth.ro.

He died at the age of 86, and films such as “Răscoala”, “Haiducii”, “Neamul Șoimăreștilor”, “Reconstituirea”, “Valurile Dunării” or “Osânda” will always remain in the collective memory of Romanian film lovers.

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