“One commits crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The line that separates them is not
clear. But the Penal Code distinguishes between them on the concept of premeditation.
We are now living in the era of premeditation and perfect crime. Our criminals are no
longer those helpless children who plead love as their excuse; on the contrary, they are
adults and their alibi is an irrefutable one: ‘Philosophy,’ which can be used for anything,
even for transforming murderers into judges.”
These words were written by Albert Camus in the preface of his novel, The Rebel. He, for
all his masterly discontent, did not know that in a country not too distant from his own
France, one engendered and nurtured in the spirit of French thought, in fact, Romania,
the paroxysm of a whole series of crimes was reached in secrecy after August 23, 1944
crimes of a nature so different and unnatural that neither Camus nor any other
Westerner could have believed them possible, or even have imagined them.
An operation to invert and reverse human nature is something that defies the imagination
of any normal human being. Except for the victims and their torturers, only a few, a very
few, persons, who have had the opportunity of informing themselves, can give credence
to those crimes, and furthermore can understand the deeper significance lying beneath
the physical facts.
It is true that the last four decades constitute an era of crime, crime coldly and logically
calculated, even justified as rational. Such crime now dominates the whole world. It
enters into everyday preoccupations. It has become something normal, often
commonplace. It has come to be accepted as natural, so that people no longer take
cognizance of it or comprehend the real threat to the very existence of humanity.
No one can have the patience to compile a list of all the crimes consummated in these
four decades, nor could he do it in a lifetime. They would have to encompass the civil
war in post-Czarist Russia with its forced collectivization, the crimes of which have since
become well known and recognized as such by the world’s leaders. They would have to
include the Greek civil war in which the Communists ravaged whole regions; also the
so-called “People’s Tribunals” that came into being after the war; the bombing of
defenseless cities and hospitals; the present camps of slavery and death in all countries
under Communist control; Budapest in 1956. But all these are but a few chapters
selected from the long story of unleashed evil. They prove either that man has come to
feel the necessity to kill as intensely as he has felt the desire to live, or that through a
logical perversion of a desire to accomplish an ideal he can easily and with scarcely a
twinge of conscience be made to murder the very persons to whom he once intended to
give happiness destroy them in the conviction that this is what he must do, that there is
no other way.
All such crimes have one characteristic in common: they are perpetrated in the name of
humanity, the class struggle, the liberation of the people, the right of the strongest, all at
the discretion of the individual. They all have the same goal: the biological destruction of
the enemy, a principle applied by Stalin with fanaticism. The dead cannot defend
themselves, nor can they accuse.
Such crimes have long been notorious and endlessly repeated. They have become
commonplace and trite. But there is a deeper horror one of which the world as yet knows
nothing. What happened in the prisons of Romania after the nation was subjugated by
the Soviets enlarged the domain of crime beyond what people believed possible. Crime
has been expanded beyond the biological limits and placed on other coordinates and in a
dimension heretofore unknown. Perpetrated in cold blood and cynically, with sadism
never met before, crime now aims not to destroy the body, but the soul.
The biological destruction of an adversary no longer satisfies, or pleases; or maybe it
does not pay any more. The wrecking of the victim’s mind and soul is more appealing
and more useful: the destruction of human characteristics; the reduction of man to a level
of total animality; a definitive dehumanization that transforms what was human into a
docile, malleable protoplasm, instinctively responsive to all the trainer’s whims a zombie.
What is about to be told is, I believe, a unique experience. But it did not spring from
fancy, from a brain that had passed beyond the threshold of rationality. In order for it to
be possible, a distinct evolution was necessary on a plane of thought, on a philosophic
plane, through a long period of upheavals, of breaking down and replacing all values in
which man has so far believed. It was necessary that “speculations of pure reason and
physical determinism converge with human sciences from which man is virtually
eliminated.” (G. Thibau, Babel ou le vertige technique)
What up till now was considered an unassailable truth that man is a divine creation has
been replaced by a desiderate taken as truth that man is a creative divinity. The old
values and the concept of man have been discarded. In the light of new realities and
relationships, the experimenters crystallized the entire materialistic harvest of the last
centuries into a venom worthy of the concept which spawned it. It was necessary that
God be dethroned, and that in His stead man be exalted; not an actual man but a
hypothetical one, one existing only in the imagination of his creators. The divinization of
matter resulted in the confusion of man and matter, with man’s submission to matter. This
last conclusion permitted the experiment to be made without inhibitions.
When no difference is recognized between a piece of iron subjected to shaping and a
man subjected to psychological experimentation, the same working methods may be
applied both to iron and to man and the same desired result will be obtained. By virtue of
such reasoning, stripped of all human sentiment, it was possible to have toward man the
same attitude the sculptor has toward a piece of marble. He carves away to produce
from amorphous rock a model existing in his imagination. It does not matter if he is not
successful there is plenty of marble; and if the treatment applied to man is also
unsuccessful, again it does not matter of men there are more than enough.
One single thing may seem paradoxical that men have dared treat others of their own
kind as though they were unlike themselves. Those of whom I shall tell arbitrarily
considered themselves different from their fellow men and felt justified in subjecting them
to unprecedented treatment. They assumed for themselves the role of creator but denied
this to others, as if the latter were kneaded from a different and inferior matter. This was
possible because the normal sense of values had become so distorted that even the
experimenters themselves were not sure but that a deed conforming to the “principle”
today would not be declared tomorrow a crime and they be punished accordingly. But
until then, for them the crime was legal. What is worse, they even proclaimed it a salutary
act. They gave the torturer an educator’s certificate, and his victim, by virtue of the same
contorted logic, they accused of being an odious criminal.
What were the methods used and what were the results of this experimentation in which
the fashioning of a new kind of man was attempted, a man of whom even the most
primitive savages would be ashamed?
Only the simple facts can tell us. They, above all other considerations, remain irrefutable
proof of an era in which disdain for the human condition has reached its lowest level,
greatly exceeding anything thus far found in concentration camps.
This is a characteristic of the Twentieth Century, and the contribution of Soviet Russia to
the history of mankind, to the history of the nations she has been subjugating, that of
having given, through Communist methods, the name to this century: the “Century of
It was in 1951 that I had the first indications that something of a very disturbing nature
was taking place. This was exactly the time at which the experiment reached its paroxysm
in utmost secrecy. It was completely unknown to those who remained outside the
immediate circle of involvement.
I had been condemned, and was serving my sentence in the Aiud penitentiary when one
morning I was taken by two officers and transported to the Securitate in Cluj without
being given any reason. My anxiety was only natural in a penitentiary regime in which
one could never know for certain whether or not his fate had been decided. I was
particularly disquieted now by the fact that I had engaged in no anti-Communist activity
in Cluj: I had never been there.
My first night in Cluj I spent in a vain attempt to adjust to a cell six and a half feet long and
two feet wide. The second night I was taken out into the searchroom and there I found
myself in the company of three other prisoners, who had been brought from the prison of
Gherla. I knew them. Two were students from Bucharest; the third was a worker.
Although we had been tried separately, the two students had been engaged in activities
connected with mine. We were placed in an automobile and taken to the depot. At eleven
that night we left for Bucharest on a fast express train, guarded by two Securitate
officers and a guard-sergeant. Bound in pairs by handcuffs, we were kept in a
compartment that was unlighted to prevent our being recognized by other travelers.
It was night. Now and then the moon shone through the car window lighting the faces of
the three. They were strange faces. I had passed through many prisons in Romania; I
had met thousands of prisoners, but never had my eyes rested on such faces. Beneath
the pallor common to all prisoners their faces reflected an exceptional physical
weakness. And over the emaciated faces a shadow of terror a fixed expression of terror
which stemmed from some uncommon experience gave all three a frightening
appearance. When, late in the night, the student who was handcuffed to me fell asleep
from exhaustion and rested his head on my shoulder, I could no longer suppress a
reaction to the fear that overcame me; I moved my shoulder to wake him up. His head,
illuminated by the light of the moon, appeared to be that of the corpse of one who had
died surprised by a horror so hideous that it had accompanied him into the world
beyond. In former times he had been a swimming champion and a man of courage.
Speech among ourselves was strictly forbidden. Every now and then our eyes met, and
there I could read the same terror that was impressed on their faces a terror akin to
madness. As we passed through Predeal, the worker, who sat opposite me, asked me
unexpectedly, “Your mother is a small dark-complexioned woman, is she not?” His
accurate description of my mother surprised me; he had never seen her for the simple
reason that she had never been in Romania. I did not answer him.
Later he spoke to me again, but this time about another matter. “Have we passed
Pirinei?” “We are approaching Sinaia,” I answered, convinced though that he was not
hearing me and that he was present only in body.
The two students hardly spoke. In the morning we arrived in Bucharest. We were taken
into the depot’s police office which was an indication that we were to continue our trip.
Our escorts left us for a few moments. It was then that one of the two, the one shackled
to me, began to extol Communism! It seemed that what he had to say was directed to the
other two, not so much to convince as to demonstrate that he could correctly repeat a
learned lesson. And he seemed in a hurry to prevent the other two from being first. He
uttered the hackneyed meaningless words repeated by the Communists on all street
corners, but coming from his mouth they took on for me a profound significance. I was
amazed to hear him speak thus because I knew him well and knew how he had felt about
Communism. And it was generally true of all prisoners that life in prison tended to
strengthen the convictions we had held previously. And then he uttered a flagrant lie
claiming that there was decency in the officers of the Securitate.
Again at night we resumed our travel toward Constanta I recognized the railway line.
When the sergeant, a farmer from the Apuseni Mountains, asked with some hesitancy,
“Do you believe in God?” the same student hastened to answer that neither he nor any of
his acquaintances had ever believed in God. This statement came from one who, I knew
well, was educated in the Christian faith. This time again I read terror in his eyes. Again
he answered with the same haste as though to prevent a statement from someone else
that might be disastrous, and his eyes seemed to express the same desire for approval
by the other two prisoners. But they only looked into emptiness. The sergeant lowered his
head. He certainly had expected a different answer.
“Why were you arrested?” the other student was asked later by one of the Securitate
officers. “I was a member of a terroristic organization at the Faculty of Letters in
Bucharest. I was so fanatical that during the interrogation I denounced no one not even
the greatest criminals in the group.” And then, as if feeling embarrassed (or “unmasked”
as I was later to learn) he endeavored to correct his statement “not even the most
responsible of the group, those who led the secret organization.” My bewilderment was
shared this time also by the two officers who, as myself, heard perhaps for the first time
from the mouth of a political prisoner such a characterization of his own activity. No one
could possibly answer my own unspoken questions. The other two were still staring into
nothingness. How could I suspect at that time everything they had gone through,
conditioning them to make statements of which, a few minutes earlier, I would not have
believed them capable?
Then we arrived. In the search room, taking advantage of a moment when the guards
were not present, I asked the oldest, “What position are you going to adopt during the
investigation?” “We must confess the whole truth. What’s the use of suffering torture now
that everything is lost? The Communists have won the game and are on the right track.” I
did not listen any further. His answer was a non-sequitur; I was trying to develop a
posture which would avoid implicating our friends in activities which had been a subject
of previous interrogations, and which we could anticipate would be again taken up in the
forthcoming questioning. But he was broken.
There followed the isolation, hunger and terror of the unending inquisition. Alone in my
cell, completely cut off from mankind except for my stone-faced investigators, I began to
forget the three. Every now and then the officers reminded me of them by reading
statements concerning matters of which only they and I had known. But my own
suffering did not allow me to dwell too long on this; it remained an ominous enigma that
troubled me from time to time.
Later on, in the summer of 1952 I again came into contact with individuals who reminded
me of the puzzle I had partly forgotten. Other prisoners, transferred from the forced labor
camps on the Danube-Black Sea Canal, brought news that increased my suspicions
regarding an entire category of prisoners who had once been most dedicated and most
faithful defenders of the nation’s freedom the student body. Accusations were brought
against them which to the unknowing observer seemed utterly revolting. And yet the men
who told me could not be lying. For they were speaking from experience, of what they
had themselves suffered. The “re-educated students,” they said, beat them, denounced
them, were spies for the secret police, increased the work norms, and tortured any who
could not meet them. All these were accusations of an enormous gravity. I wanted to
believe that because the majority of these men were simple and untutored they erred,
making generalizations on the basis of their own personal experience, for I had known
the students in a totally different light.
But further news, instead of refuting what I hoped was not true, actually confirmed
aspects which entered the domain of the tragic. This time it was a student who spoke to
me. I had known him in years past at the Polytechnical School in Bucharest. At first he
would not speak; he was afraid of everyone. But when I told him I came to Constanta
from Aiud where, up to a few months previously, nothing out of the ordinary had
happened, he loosened his tongue. It was from him that I found out for the first time
about the “unmaskings.” All the students who were at Pitesti passed through these
“unmaskings.” He told me it was impossible for him to explain, but that something
terrifying took place there. They were tortured in such a manner that all absolutely all
students became informers, so that they were robbed of their manly nature and became
simple robots in the hands of political officers. They were de-personalized.
“Who did the torturing?”
“The ‘re-educated’ ones.”
“Who were these ‘re-educated’ ones?”
“Other students who preceded us in ‘re-education’, in ‘unmasking’ as it is also called.”
“Who began that and where?”
“I know neither for sure, but I believe it to be a general phenomenon in all prisons. And
wherever it has not yet occurred, it will, sooner or later. It is said that the initiators were
three students from Iasi: Turcanu, Titus Leonida, and Prisacaru.”
He stayed a little longer in our cell, but he avoided talking any more. “If they ever hear I
have been talking, I am a man sentenced to death,” he whispered as he was taken out of
A month later other acquaintances completely verified what had happened in the canal
labor compound. “Beware of the students as you would of Satan in person, even if they
come under a mask of friendship. They are perfidious. They have done a lot of evil and
some continue in their wrongdoing.”
“Why is it that everybody talks thus about students? What happened to them that they
became so depraved? For you know well that they were not like this before.”
“I do not know and I do not want to know what happened to them. I am telling you only
that they bite badly on the sly. Beware!” We did not know at that time and perhaps he is
still ignorant of the fact today that in the process of degradation, their souls were killed.
They had passed through hell.
I learned more from another youth who had passed through the Pitesti prison. He talked
to me about the “unmaskings” in a more precise manner. He mentioned students whom I
had known and what they had become after they passed through there dispirited,
broken, transformed individuals. But he could not explain through what kind of inner
crisis he himself had gone in order to reach that stage. The ordeal through which he
passed was, as he told it, a sequence of tortures truly unique as to length and depth. But
what he told me was still inadequate to permit me to fathom the depth of the
transformation of soul that had to take place to produce such results. His fragmentary
story brought to my mind another case of several years past which struck me as unique.
In February of 1951, on our way to Aiud, the group of prisoners, of which I was a
member, were lodged in transit at Pitesti, where we awaited the prison van in which we
were to be transported on the last leg of the trip. I was surprised by the thoroughness of
the search to which we were subjected there much more strict than the one at Jilava.
And Jilava was considered the toughest prison in the whole of Romania. Then followed a
rigid isolation. I could not see even a single face of another prisoner in the Pitesti prison.
Occasionally at night, but more often during the day, indistinct groans reached my ears
from beyond the wall separating us from the prison proper. I attributed them to the usual
tortures found in all prisons. On leaving, a young man from this prison was added to our
group. He was an engineer named Eugen Bolfosu. For the next two days, the time it took
us to reach Aiud, he spoke but rarely and then only in monosyllabic answers to my
questions. But on his face was imprinted the same terror I later read on the faces of my
travelling companions from Cluj. Having arrived at Aiud, during the search the engineer
was asked from whence he came. When he uttered the word “Pitesti”, he was
immediately isolated for several days. Later he was taken out, and I met him in the prison
shop. He would riot tell me the reason for his isolation. The Aiud political officers knew
what was happening in Pitesti, and the engineer dared not talk lest he suffer the
consequences. Or perhaps he was at that time a simple robot who acted only at the
command of the “politruks.”
I asked the young man who had passed through Pitesti if he had met engineer Bolfosu
previously. He told me they had gone through the “unmaskings” together and that he also
had been sent to Aiud a little later, but that before leaving Pitesti they were specifically
warned by the prison director not to talk. An indiscretion could cost them a return to
Pitesti if unmaskings were not to be started at Aiud as well and thus a new passing
through the awful ordeal. Who could disregard that threat without his flesh trembling?
* * * * *
My detention in the cellars of the Securitate of Constanta ended in May 1953. Following
twenty months of inquisition I was sent to the Gherla prison to continue serving my
sentence. I arrived there on the morning of May 6. I was immediately isolated, but in an
hour or two another prisoner was introduced into the cell. He arrived from Bucharest,
where he had been taken for a supplementary investigation, from Gherla, a month
earlier. We knew each other. He asked me:
“Have you been here before?”
“No, this is my first time.”
“Beware of the students as you would of Satan. If you do not, you shall experience very
unpleasant surprises. And moreover, you will suffer much needlessly.”
“Why, sir, is this the case? What have the students done, or rather, what has been done
to them that they have reached such a state? You are not the first person to warn me.”
“Personally I cannot explain it to you. Something has happened to them which for me is
inexplicable. And I certainly know them, for it has not been long since I was a student
myself. I simply cannot understand the nature of the profound transformations which
were forcibly induced. I do know they were tortured; yet torture alone cannot account for
their behavior. All of us have passed through the hands of the Securitate and, after some
more or less serious lapses, we recovered. But the students persist on an infernal path. It
is said they went through ‘unmaskings’. What the ‘unmasking’ consisted of, only time and
perhaps the recovery of some students could explain to us. But I am wary, and that is
why I advise prudence.”
After fifteen days of quarantine, I was taken to the prison’s shop for work. They put me
on the night shift from six in the evening till six in the morning. The first prisoner I met
there, or rather, to whom I was introduced by a supervisor, was a former student of
philosophy. After he asked me the reasons for my condemnation and my place of origin
inevitable inquiries addressed to all newcomers in any prison he told me with an
impassive voice, while he avoided looking at me, “Beware of me! I am a student. And this
ought to tell you much. Beware not only of me but of all students, especially of those who
are your friends. They can hurt you much more because you cannot perceive behind
the mask each of us wears the vast abyss that now separates us from what we were not
too long ago or what we wanted to be.”
Here, then, was one of them, one of those “unmasked”, who put me on guard against
himself as well as against others like him or possibly worse. But for him to have done
this, there must have yet existed in his soul a vestige of dignity and courage. Did he
succeed in his comeback? Did he escape the catastrophe without a definitive mutilation?
This was a puzzle which I was only later to unravel.
“Why do you warn me? I have nothing to hide. I serve a sentence for the attitude I
adopted against the regime. What importance may details have? And why do you sound
a warning even against yourself?”
“Because, if the ‘unmaskings’ are going to be repeated, I will not be able to keep quiet
upon questioning, and I am afraid that you would talk before I do. An unconfessed detail
can cost one his life. For by now we have been brought to the point of fearing for our
lives. We have become more cowardly than you can imagine.”
I was afraid to pursue the discussion any further. Who could tell me that this was not a
subtle trap set for me into which I might let myself fall, the more easily deceived by his
frankness? I let the passing of time bring the facts to light. But with this student I made
friends rather quickly. Shortly afterwards the ice thawed completely, opening up an
exchange of communications without reservation. It was from him that I obtained the first
elements of an explanation. For he was, in spite of his youth, a thinker possessing a rare
power of analysis.
What happened there at Pitesti could not be described in simple terms. In this, as in
many other instances, language is inadequate to express all we want to say. For this
reason we often have the impression that something is missing from the whole story. This
void can be filled only by the voice of our own soul as we try to live in our imagination
what others have lived through in reality.
It is a profound drama touching the most delicate fibers of the human spirit, having
origins that transcend the material manifestations of the everyday conflict. Little by little
this drama became my overwhelming preoccupation. During the three years I remained
in prison and for two more after my release, until 1959, my preoccupation was to
penetrate as deeply as possible into the secrets of this phenomenon in order to
comprehend it. Investigating discreetly, gathering even the tiniest admissions and hints,
listening to the revelations of those who had been victims, only to become torturers
themselves later on, I came to comprehend the tragedy that had been consummated
within the prison walls of Romania, and to understand how a psychological experiment,
as novel as it was criminal and degrading, could, over a period of time transform
humanity into inhumanity. Several scores of students with whom I discussed what
happened to them and whose confessions of their own experiences and personal ruin I
heard, provided me with the basic information. The present work is a composite picture
of their tragedy. It has been written to call attention to the “Pitesti Phenomenon,” but is by
no means an effort to exhaust the subject.
As incomplete as it is for the magnitude of the subject exceeds the powers of any single
individual I bring this book as a witness to my brothers in exile so they may more clearly
visualize the hell unleashed over their fatherland and over all the countries engulfed by
the Soviet Empire. What happened in Romania could have happened probably did
happen in every other captive country, the authors and perpetrators of the terrors being
one and the same people in all lands.
This is a testimony from behind the curtain, from beyond the tomb. I leave to the victims
the right to judge.
-The Bolshevik Secret Police in Romania took over the name of the Security Service
of Free Romania. (Translator’s Note)
-Bacu lived in Macedonia, where he was born and received his secondary
education, going to Romania when he entered the University of Bucharest. (Tr.)
-European universities are composed of faculties, which correspond roughly to the
colleges of American universities. The Faculty of Letters dealt with the classical and
modern languages and literatures and the other studies commonly called the Humanities.
-Political bosses in a Communist regime. (Tr.)
The inauguration of the Communist regime in Romania was the result of historical
circumstances in which the Romanian people undoubtedly played the least important
role. Whether it was short-sightedness or self-interest that caused Communism’s advent
in Romania, has now become a question for history to answer; to search today for the
determinants of this tragedy is perhaps useless, or in any event merely academic. One
fact, however, is certain. The Romanians not only did not want such a regime, they did
not even dream that something like it was possible, because perhaps as in no other
European country no Communist Party had existed in pre-war Romania, not even a
Communist problem. The clandestine Communist organization, according to both its boss
and the files of the police, had a total of 820 members and almost half of those were
agents of the state police! I met many of them in prisons, sentenced after 1945 for
“crimes against humanity”!
The surprise which benumbed the nation at first, later gave way to anxiety. The public in
its entirety reacted from the start against Communist violence, which was initially
supported by the short-sightedness of political parties and adventurers, but later on only
by the Soviet battalions and secret police.
The downfall of the monarchy on Dec. 30, 1947 marked the starting point; it was the
signal for a Communist offensive on all fronts to destroy the foundations of the nation and
replace them with Soviet tyranny. This new state of affairs compelled the Romanian
citizen to choose between two alternatives; one being collaboration with the Communists,
offering honors, a life free from want, and high position; the other carrying the risk of
joblessness, incarceration in the cellars of the Securitate, or even loss of life itself.
Instinctively or deliberately, the great majority chose the second, even though they could
not influence the course of events in their favor. The fight was so tragically unequal. On
the one side we have the live organism of Communism, perfectly disciplined, with
strategy perfected over three decades of subjugating the Russian people. This force was
small in number, to be sure, but the stakes were high, and knowing the risks, it was not
disposed to make any concessions that might weaken its position as victor or “jeopardize
its legal status.” It was in fact a foreign body determined to embed its fangs in the
arteries of the Romanian nation.
On the other side of the conflict we have an organically unblended community,
discouraged by the loss of a war, with the feeling of an unjust defeat yet in its heart, and
aware that it had been left to make the best of things by its own means the attitude of the
Westerners being more than manifestly one of disinterest in what happened in Romania.
In view of this unfavorable attitude of the Western powers, and because of a lack of
leadership to channel its efforts toward a possible and advantageous solution, a mass
reaction was impossible. To this, one could also add not too small a dose of naivete,
especially among politicians, who many times believed the opposite of the obvious. They
believed, for example, that the Communist occupation and the imposed regime were but
transitory stages and that sooner or later everything was going to revert to normal,
without the slightest effort on their part. While the people’s zeal was being wasted in
fruitless effort, the Communist Party was winning victory after victory, and the politicians
were making deals behind-the-scenes or forming tentative governments in anticipation of
the arrival of the Americans!
In the face of the new events, one observed a change in the make-up of the populace.
To the ranks of several hundred Communist conspirators and their international brethren
was gradually added a stratum of individuals of uncertain background, in large part
roustabouts and creatures from the more degraded and contemptible sectors of
humanity. To these were added in quite large numbers members of the minority groups
who were now installed in government jobs, most of the time without having the slightest
competence. Contrary to the professed principles of “class struggle,” the Communists
that were brought in from the Soviet Union (Ana Pauker, Bodnarenco, Chisinevski,
Tescovici, Moscovici, et al.,) encouraged ethnical dissension and the centrifugal
tendencies of national minorities, thus arousing and exploiting strongly anti-Romanian
sentiments by favoring non-Romanians for admission into Party membership and
appointment to low-echelon administrative positions.
On the “counter-revolutionary” front stood the flower of the Romanian nation, with the
front ranks occupied by students and young intellectuals, mostly of peasant or
middle-class origin. The young people had been anti-Communist for years prior to the
direct confrontation with the invaders for the Russians have always been looked upon as
such possibly because of the national instinct, or their education, or a natural pride. The
reasons for this anti-Communist posture are as various as are the forms taken
throughout the whole anti-Communist struggle.
Confronted by this situation, the Communists adopted measures which they deemed
appropriate. Completely disregarding all principles of social ethics, human decency, and
the Peace Treaty of Paris, which supposedly guaranteed freedom of speech, they
unleashed a wave of arrests. Every social stratum of Romania contributed its share of
victims, but the hardest hit were the students. How many of them passed under the
“protection” of the police, one cannot tell. From 1948, then, until the present time, violent
repression of discontent has continued, its intensity depending on the perspicacity of the
Securitate’s informers or on increase or decrease of the people’s resignation to their
fate. For manner and magnitude, the arrests of the night of May 14/15, 1948 remain
memorable. For on that one night, in the three most important university centers
(Bucharest, Iasi and Cluj) no fewer than 1,000 students were arrested. This figure
represents about 2% of all students at the time.
The methods of torture most commonly used by the Communist Secret Police were freely
applied in the interrogation of prisoners. For months, the military tribunals pronounced
sentences prepared by the Ministry of the Interior in advance of the “trials”, either behind
closed doors or in public for the benefit of journalists and Party activists. Sentences
ranged from hard labor for life down to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences of only two
or three years were extremely rare and given only where there was no evidence at all
against the accused.
Using a method long practiced in the U.S.S.R., that of segregating prisoners according
to their professional background and intellectual capacity, the Communists in Romania
grouped the students in a category apart from the others, and designated as their place
for detention the prison at Pitesti. This measure served another purpose, also that of
preventing them from exercising their influence (which was considerable) over the great
number of peasants and workers who continually swelled the ranks of political prisoners.
The influence of the students in Romanian society after the Second World War was as
great as it had been before the war.
One single fact is worthy of note here. Among the large numbers of arrested students,
hardly any were of minority origin! The “class struggle” theory here was undeniably
violated. According to the theory, of course, the enemies of Communism would have
included large numbers of the foreign ethnic groups that enjoyed a favored economic
position prior to the takeover and had presumably suffered correspondingly great
economic losses with the liquidation of “capitalism.”
Also it is worth noting that, just as the wealthy resident aliens had aroused no
apprehension in the Communist rulers, so the sons of rich Romanians were
conspicuously lacking among the students arrested. The basis for this remarkable
discrimination may lie in a conflict between two worlds based on motives entirely other
than those taught in Communist classes in Marxism-Leninism and in the “history” of the
Party and the working-class.
During the trials, sometimes relatives of the accused were permitted to see him once
more, but after sentence was pronounced, the doors were locked behind him, and tight
secrecy deprived the family of all news of him, until he was released if ever he was.
Oftentimes prisoners had been dead for years while the family waited and waited at
home for news, hoping that after 10 or 20 years they might be re-united with the loved
one who had disappeared. It was to be expected that such rigorous secrecy would
prevent leakage outside the prison walls of any report or even rumor of the crimes
THE PRISONS OF SUCEAVA AND PITESTI
When the wholesale arrests of students began, the Moldavian region was one of the
hardest hit. Since the university in Iasi, Moldavia’s capital, had for a long time been a
major center of all student movements of nationalistic character, an extremely large
number of students in the Faculties of Letters, Law, and Medicine of that university were
immediately seized and confined. The former Suceava Fort outside the town was used as
the place of temporary imprisonment for these students, inasmuch as both the
Securitate’s investigating offices and the trial chambers were within the fort, so the
prisoners could be produced at a moment’s notice by the penitentiary officials. Living
conditions in the fort (later transformed into a disciplinary prison) were considered
among the most severe of all the prisons of Romania, excepting perhaps only Jilava. To
the inhuman treatment and indescribable sanitary conditions (the fort is permanently
humid and without sunlight for most of the day) was added psychological terror produced
by the presence of inquisitors who were notorious for their sadism and their cruelty in
torturing prisoners. One of these officers was the Commissar Pompilian, whom the
Communists had inherited from the old regime; another was a certain Fischer from
somewhere in the vicinity of Iasi, where he had been a small shopkeeper until he was
transformed into a police officer overnight.
Ostensibly for administrative reasons, but in reality to prepare for the coming experiment,
the Moldavian students were kept in this fort for quite some time, even after their trials,
and were only later transported to Pitesti.
Among them must be mentioned one, Turcanu, a student of law originally from around
Radauti, who from the very first played the leading role in the tragedy. Turcanu had been
a member of the Communist Party in Iasi; after his record had been verified by the
Soviet occupation of Romania, he was assigned to lead a “voluntary” team, part of an
“international working brigade”, on a railway construction project in Bulgaria. After
completing this probationary work to the satisfaction of his masters, he was sent to a
school of Communist diplomacy and destined for a diplomatic post abroad. Then,
ostensibly, his brilliant prospects were shattered by a sudden arrest.
The reasons for his trial and subsequent imprisonment at Suceava are obscure. While a
high school student, he knew that some of his classmates were members of an
anti-Communist organization, with which, it was said, he had sympathized or even
Later at college he continued to maintain friendly relations with those former classmates
in high school who were now his fellow students in Iasi, and were continuing
clandestinely their fight against Communism. Whether Turcanu came to the university as
a Communist or joined the apparatus there, his superiors must have known at the time
that he was maintaining his acquaintance with the unsuspecting anti-Communists, but
that fact was “discovered” while the Communists were preparing him for a diplomatic
career and provided the legal pretext for a formal trial at which Turcanu was sentenced to
seven years in correctional prison for “conspiracy.” The real reason for sending him to
prison was a subtle one. He was considered by the Communists to be sufficiently reliable
to become their principal instrument in the initial phases of their experiment.
It is significant that both before the beginning of “political re-education” at Suceava as
well as throughout the experiment, Turcanu kept in direct and constant touch with
individuals who were not members of the Securitate’s inquisitorial staff at the prisons.
These individuals, who usually came from the Ministry of the Interior in Bucharest, must
have been of superior rank to those stationed in the prisons.
From his first days in the prison, Turcanu began to apply a plan previously formulated by
the officers of the Securitate, who were themselves no more than instruments in the
hands of their masters.
The initial phase of the plan consisted of a campaign of so-called “re-education” of the
students a process calculated to “integrate” the students into the Communist society; in
other words, forced political indoctrination.
From the beginning, Turcanu had as close collaborator the college student Titus Leonida,
also from the northern part of Moldavia, as well as another youth, Bogdanovici, who had
been still in high school.
The first step was the completion of statistical tables showing the origin of those
imprisoned at Suceava, their property, education, political affiliations, and other items of
personal information. The purpose of these statistics was to show that the great majority
of students were merely victims of the bourgeois reactionary education and that,
considering their social status, or “social class” as Communists say, their place was not
in the ranks of those opposing “Socialism” but, on the contrary, alongside the
Communists. If for reasons of opportunism, some peasants went along at the beginning
of this indoctrination, the great majority of the university students reacted against the
“re-education” propaganda with so firm a rejection that no doubt was left in the minds of
the “teachers” that such methods were futile. Neither promises of liberation from prison
as a reward for “re-education”, nor promises that they would be given holdings from the
land that had been taken for distribution to the peasants could shake the convictions of
the prisoners. They knew the realities of Communist rule too well to degrade themselves
by playing in such a farce.
To the lectures based on Communist pamphlets which political officers placed at the
disposal of Turcanu and his accomplices, the students responded with ridicule and
mockery. The Communist songs in “meetings of political re-education” were turned into
improvised parodies so clever and devastating that after a time the political officers
forbade Turcanu to allow singing at all.
Practically speaking, the “re-education” period at Suceava ended in failure, and
Turcanu’s activity was suspended when the prisoners were at last transferred from
Suceava. That preliminary phase had been designed simply to test the “fanaticism” of
those who were thus selected for the real experiment that was to begin at Pitesti.
Since they came from the same region, many of the students at Suceava had been
acquainted even before they entered the university and most of them knew one another,
so contacts were easily kept. At Pitesti, however, they were mingled with hundreds of
students from all the other universities of Romania.
The various groups thus assembled at Pitesti were of quite diverse social backgrounds
and political principles. The great majority of them were either Legionaries, or
members of the National Peasant Party; a few were members of the Liberal Party, and
there were several groups united only by their loyalty to the monarchy. There was also a
goodly number of small groups, lacking a clearly stated political position the so-called
“mushroom” organizations likened to the growth of mushrooms following a rain. The
proliferation of such groups was a consequence of the climate created by the
Communist Party itself. These groups also differed among themselves in the degree of
their dedication to the anti-Communist cause the criterion, incidentally, by which the
“dangerousness” of the accused was judged, and the basis on which the Communist
Securitate determined his punishment. Thus it was possible that for one and the same
offense the sentence could be five, or twenty-five, years, depending upon the
investigating officer’s own estimate of the degree of the victim’s “fanaticism.”
The regimen of detention at Pitesti was very severe. In the world outside the prison
nothing was known of what was taking place within the walls. The Communists brazenly
called the Pitesti prison “The Center for Student Re-education,” a clever title which
actually did tell the truth, but ambiguously, the man in the street understanding one thing
by “re-education,” and those who were implementing it, another. Rumors whose origin
could not be traced, but which certainly emanated from the Ministry of the Interior, were
designed to create the impression that the lives of students were not endangered; that on
the contrary, truly humane conditions were created for them; that in addition to decent
food, they had at their disposal lecture halls, movies, courses of professional
readjustment, entertainment, and other privileges. Since there were no other sources of
information, people somehow began to believe these rumors, particularly the parents of
the prisoners who hoped against hope that they might soon see their sons again; but this
hope was illusory.
The prison at Pitesti was relatively new as compared to other prisons in Romania. Built
by King Carol’s regime, it was meant to shelter dangerous common criminals.
Transformed into a political prison by Antonescu in 1941, it reverted to its original
purpose after 1944. In 1947-48 it was used for the first time by Communists as an
internment center for the National-Peasant Congressmen arrested for their
anti-Communist attitude in Parliament. A little later it was called the “Center for Student
Re-education,” under which name it was operated until 1951.
Situated to the northwest, outside the town limits, close to a small river and far from any
dwelling, it was a location almost ideal for torture, since no scream from within its walls
could be heard by outsiders.
In this “Center,” ideal for experimentation, were brought together all students arrested up
to the fall of 1948. They were divided into four categories according to the classifications
given when sentenced.
Category I consisted of students “retained” without even a pretense of legality, on the
simple basis of their political sympathies; for lack of proof of any offenses they could not
be convicted of anything. This did not prevent, however, their imprisonment for as much
as six or seven years!
Category II consisted of those sentenced to “correctional” prison terms for minor
offenses: sheltering persons suspected of anti-Communist sentiments, or failure to
denounce them; favoritism, membership in the Communist Party without activity on its
behalf, or simply suspicion based on some reported statement! Most of these had no
political orientation and were victims of their own refractoriness, of special
circumstances, or of the “subversive” organizations fabricated by the Ministry of the
Interior to keep its spies and agents busy and to force the Communist cadres to be
perpetually vigilant for signs and dissatisfaction or “deviationism.” The sentences of those
in this category varied from three to five years of “correctional” imprisonment.
Category III consisted of individuals condemned, with some legal justification, for
offenses classified as “plotting against the social order.” These received sentences of
from eight to fifteen years of imprisonment under a severe regimen. The greatest number
of students fell into this category, which contained those whose activity was discovered
but not in all cases confessed.
Those in category IV were sentenced to from ten to twenty-five years hard labor. They
were fewer than in category III. Here one found group leaders, men who had been
charged with special assignments, individuals of the student world having an unusual
influence over those around them, and members of groups that were thought to be
prepared for armed resistance.
In theory, this was the classification according to the gravity of the offense that is
practiced in prisons all over the world. But in practice, this classification and segregation
served to isolate the categories from one another, isolating the less “contaminated” from
the “fanatics.” Thus separated, the “minor” categories, deprived of their former leaders,
were less able to resist the pressures to which they were subjected. This was especially
true in the second category, which contained a large number of unstable individuals who
were somehow predisposed to submit more or less easily or, at worst, to offer less
Until the beginning of 1949, prisoners in the first three categories were allowed to
correspond with their families. once a month they were permitted to write and receive a
few censored lines and a food package of three to five kilograms according to their
category. Those in category IV were excluded from both privileges.
The food given prisoners was very poor. While a minimum of 1800 calories was officially
specified by the administration, the food actually given to students, as to all other
prisoners in Communist Romania, was normally limited to 700-800 calories, although on
very rare occasions as much as 1000 was given. Within a few weeks following arrest,
the effects of this substandard diet, aggravated by punishments inflicted mercilessly,
could be seen very clearly. All, especially the sick, became so physically weak that,
when not coerced, they would commonly spend hours on end in almost total immobility to
avoid using energy. Thus, for those fortunate enough to receive them, packages of food
from the outside were the most precious of gifts.
Medical assistance in the prison was practically nonexistent. It was limited either to
dispensing an aspirin, irrespective of the ailment, or to strychnine shots for those whose
nerves were shattered, a mere token treatment, and usually the number of injections was
limited to from two to four.
During this preliminary period, the prisoners of the first three categories, who could
receive monthly packages of food from their families, devised an ingenious system to
help the prisoners of the fourth category, who, sentenced to hard labor, were denied all
communication with the outside. The latter were incarcerated on the top floor of the
building. Thus the prisoners below, by having a rope lowered from the windows above,
could send up small quantities of food, especially to the sick and infirm. This was done,
however, at great risk, for those caught were sent to “cazinca” a special room in the
prison’s cellar full of dirt, with walls permanently dripping with moisture. The prisoner was
stripped down to a minimum of clothing and left without food for a period of time that
depended on the whims of the warden or political officer and which usually was in direct
proportion to the degree of “fanaticism” of the prisoner. And as the “cazinca” never
lacked for prisoners, an increase in the number of tuberculosis cases was soon
It was under these conditions that the Ministry of the Interior, after the preliminaries were
judged adequate, decided to begin the real experiment. Food packages and
correspondence with the outside were permanently discontinued. The guards’ terrorism
increased in intensity. Torturings in the prison basement increased in frequency,
oftentimes for reasons patently trumped up. Threats, with mysterious meanings implied,
frequent visits of the warden and political officers to the cells, unexpected searches at all
hours of day and night, and prohibition of every kind of activity under stiff penalty, were
signs of fast-approaching changes.
* * * * *
The group from Suceava, accompanied by Turcanu, had recently arrived at Pitesti.
Within the small circle of advocates of “re-education” at Suceava, a schism had
occurred. Bogdanovici son of the prefect of Iasi County who had threatened to disclaim
him and deprive him of his name if he refused re-education continued to champion a
system of re-education by persuasion, limited to Communist ideological lectures and
study of printed brochures supplied by the prison administration. He later confessed, just
before he was executed, that his aim was to limit brainwashing to theoretical discussions
and thus, by averting brutality, protect the students from compromising themselves; he
hoped, he said, to deceive the organizers of the experiment and to tergiversate in
anticipation of possible liberation.
On the other hand Turcanu and Titus Leonida professed the necessity of a system of
“re-education by force”, a system which by its very nature was elastic and unrestricted,
and which permitted any means for attaining its objective. It is, of course, understood
that no decision concerning the means to be employed could have been made without a
formal order from the prison’s administration. The proposal to use physical means was
much more complicated than the Bogdanovici approach, for its purpose was not simply
torture in order to elicit true or even fictitious confessions from individuals; its avowed
purpose was to change the convictions of one thousand students hostile to the
Communist regime. Turcanu and his collaborators would not have dared even to think of
doing such a thing without knowing in advance that they had the total support of the
Securitate and thus of the Communist Party, and it is not likely that they did more than
pretend to advocate as their own a procedure they had been instructed to use.
Just before he began to implement the “re-education by force,” Turcanu, we learned,
had been visited several times by emissaries from the Ministry of the Interior, with whom
he held private discussions for hours on end. Also, he himself was absent from Pitesti
for days, and no one knew whither he had gone or for what purpose. What was the
subject of his discussions and what promises he received could not be learned even by
his closest collaborators. Once the tragedy began to unfold, his role appeared clearly
and hideously. He was a simple agent carrying out an assigned mission.
The first act was the formation among the prisoners of an ostensibly spontaneous and
voluntary organization known as “the Organization of Detainees of Communist
Convictions.” It was obvious that this organization was officially approved: its members
claimed to be Party members, and their actions were to be for the “benefit of the working
class.” The organization being thus established, the process of implementing the
instructions given by the Securitate was begun.
-I.e., The Legion of St. Michael the Archangel, which was undoubtedly the
strongest, most resolute, and most devoted anti-Communist and nationalist organization
in Romania. (Tr.)
-Until they deposed young King Michael (Mihai) on December 30, 1947, the Soviet
maintained a pretense that their occupation of Romania was merely temporary, pending
the conclusion of a treaty with Austria, and accordingly the full rigor of Bolshevik rule
was not applied to Romania until 1948. (Tr.)
-[It may be well to remind the reader at this juncture that the primary function of the
Ministry of Interior in Romania has always been exercise of the police power of the state,
officially to maintain internal security, and also, under King Carol, to thwart and paralyze
the political opposition. The nearest analogue in the United States is the office of the
Attorney General (to which the F.B.I. is subject), and one can imagine the power of that
department, if it had direct jurisdiction over all the state, county, and municipal police
forces in the nation. When the Bolsheviks took over, they found ready for their own use
a highly centralized government with a powerful police system, and they needed only to
replace the Romanian officials with domestic traitors and imported alien terrorists. Editor]
-Hereafter referred to as O.D.C.C. (Tr.)