The Genocide of the Souls. The Pitesti Experiment.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"The most
terrible act
of barbarism
in the modern
world"

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Pitesti Phenomenon (1949-1951)

"However, what has not yet become universal knowledge is the fact that in the Romanian Gulag Archipelago there was an island of absolute horror, such as existed nowhere else in the entire geography of the communist penitentiary system: Pitesti Prison." - Virgil Ierunca, Pitesti Phenomenon. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, refers to the Pitesti experiment as the "most terrible act of barbarism in the contemporary world". Historian François Furet, member of the French Academy, regards the Pitesti phenomenon as "one of the most terrible experiments in dehumanisation that our epoch has known".

Between 1949 and 1951, the destruction of society"s elite was almost complete: intellectuals, diplomats, priests, officers, magistrates, policemen, and politicians of the "bourgeois-landowner regime" were in prison; the most industrious peasants had been deported to forced labour camps. Collectively and individually, they were all labelled "enemies of the people". It now remained to annihilate the unpredictable social force of youth. For the latter, the Pitesti experiment was invented (termed "re-education" by the Securitate). The most barbarous methods of psychological torture were applied to "recalcitrant" young prisoners, with the object of making them reciprocally humiliate each other, physically abuse each other and mentally torture each other. Victims were transformed into executioners; prisoners were tortured by their own friends, by their fellows in suffering. The purpose: "re-education" through physical and psychical destruction, the transformation of young people into atheists, into informers on their friends.

Examples of psychological torture: a) On Easter Night, prisoners who refused to make a total self-denunciation (to tell everything that they were supposed not to have declared during Securitate interrogations) are forced to take a "holy communion" of faecal matter; b) Those suspected of having concealed information about participants in anticommunist actions have their heads thrust by their torturers into chamber-pots full of urine; c) Prisoners are forced to spit in the mouth of their anticommunist leader, in order to force him to revenge himself by unmasking them; d) On Christmas Day, a prisoner is forced to go to stool on a bedpan, to "symbolise" the nativity of Christ, while the other political prisoners are forced to kneel and cross themselves before him.

"The delirious imagination of Turcanu [the head of the torturers – editor"s note] was unleashed above all when he was dealing with students who believed in God and who strove not to renounce their belief. Thus, some of them were "baptised" every morning: their heads were plunged into a bucket of urine and faecal matter, while those present chanted the rite of baptism. This went on until the contents of the bucket began to bubble. When the recalcitrant prisoner was on the point of drowning, he was pulled up, given a short respite in which to draw breath, and then submerged once again. One of those thus "baptised", to whom the torture was systematically applied, acquired an automatic reflex that lasted for some two months: every morning he would go and plunge his own head in the bucket, much to the amusement of the re-educators." - Virgil Ierunca, ibid.

Ultimately, the majority of those "re-educated" ended up by admitting that they deserved all manner of abjection and that they could only be partially rehabilitated, they themselves becoming the torturers of new inmates. For the slightest hesitation, they were subjected to torture once more.

This diabolical operation of depersonalisation and moral assassination commenced in December 1949 at the Pitesti Penitentiary, and was continued, at a lower intensity, at the Gherla and Targu-Ocna penitentiaries. The Pitesti experiment is regarded as unique in the panoply of methods designed to destroy the human person.

Excerpt from "UNOFFICIAL REPORT TOWARDS THE CONDEMNATION OF THE COMMUNIST REGIME IN ROMANIA (1945-1989) AS ILLEGITIMATE AND CRIMINAL", report presented to Traian Basescu, President of Romania, by Sorin Iliesiu in 19 October 2005.

This report was necessary in order that the criminality of communism might incontestably be condemned in full knowledge of the facts, as has been the case in the condemnation of the Holocaust, with an extremely large number of human beings having been exterminated in both these instances of genocide.

This report came in response to the appeal by the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, that the communist regime in Romania should be condemned on the basis of a report elaborated by a scientifically validated commission. This report is a summary of objective, documentary evidence, which has been rigorously gathered by a team of historians, under the guidance of the foremost specialists in the history of global and Romanian communism.

This report was appended to the Appeal for Condemnation of the Communist Regime in Romania as Illegitimate and Criminal addressed to President Traian Basescu, an appeal initiated by Sorin Iliesiu, launched by the Group for Social Dialogue on 10 March 2006, and signed by more than 600 public figures and 40 non-governmental organisations representing more than a million members. As a result of the Appeal, the President of Romania established the Presidential Commission for Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (made up of 19 members and 20 experts) – presided over by Prof. Vladimir Tismaneanu – who elaborated the Final Report (published by Humanitas, Bucharest, 2007, 880p.). On the basis of this Report, on 18 December 2006, in front of the combined Chambers of the Parliament of Romania, President Traian Basescu condemned the communist regime in Romania as illegitimate and criminal.

Unofficial REPORT towards the condemnation of the communist regime in Romania (1945-1989) as illegitimate and criminal

Report presented to Traian Basescu, President of Romania, by Sorin Iliesiu in 19 October 2005 (text published in 4 October 2005, completed in 19 Oct.2006 and updated in January-April 2006).

This text, for the most part, represents an extremely concise summary of the documentary materials elaborated since 1994 by the Civic Academy Foundation"s International Centre for the Study of Communism. The research council comprises Thomas Blanton (National Security Archives, George Washington University, Washington D.C.); Vladimir Bukovski (Cambridge University); Stéphane Courtois (Centre National de Récherches Scientifiques, Paris), Dennis Deletant (University of London); Helmut Müller-Enbergs (Federal Office for the Study of STASI Archives, Berlin); Serban Papacostea (Academician, Bucharest); and Alexandru Zub (Academician, A.D. Xenopol Institute, Jassy). Part of the documentary material has been drawn from the Memorial to the Resistance and the Victims of Communism at Sighet, founded by Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan in 1993. Arguments as to the objective and rigorously scientific character of this report towards condemnation of communism as criminal, whose material has been specifically taken from the Sighet Memorial, are as follows. In 1995, the Memorial was taken beneath the aegis of the Council of Europe. In 1997, the Romanian Parliament declared it a site of national interest. In 1998, the Council of Europe declared it to be one of the three most important sites for the preservation of memory in Europe, alongside the Auschwitz Memorial and the Memorial to Peace in France. At the 2004 international seminar in Weimar, it was recognised as the most objective and scientific of all the memorials existing in the former communist bloc.

Introduction

The references made by the President of the United States and the President of Romania to the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 and the Yalta Summit of 1945

At Yalta in 1945, three months before the close of the Second World War, the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain, represented by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, established an unofficial agreement with reference to future spheres of influence. At Riga in May 2005, sixty years after the Yalta summit, George W. Bush, the President of the United States, affirmed what hundreds of millions of people in the countries occupied by the Soviet Union had waited to hear for six decades: "The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history". "We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability. We have learned our lesson. No one"s liberty is expendable. In the long run, our security, and true stability, depend on the freedom of others."

In the spirit of the affirmations made by the President of the United States concerning the pact between Hitler and Stalin, the President of Romania published the following press communiqué, one month later (in June 2005): "Sixty-five years after the Soviet ultimatum to the Romanian authorities, the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, firmly condemns the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that led to the annexation of Bassarabia and Northern Bukovina by the USSR. President Basescu considers that Romania cannot ignore the suffering endured by our brothers over the Prut as a result of grave historical injustices. The President of Romania inclines respectfully to those people who had to learn to live with daily suffering, from that of being separated from family to that of being severed from language and nation."

Quotation from the testimony of Corneliu Coposu (1914-1995), the anticommunist leader and leader of Christian democracy in post-communist Romania

"The Romanian people was alone among the peoples occupied by the Soviets, in South Eastern Europe, in not capitulating but rather protesting by withdrawing to the mountains and forming resistance groups. The Romanian people did not give up the fight after all the nations around us had resigned themselves to the communism imposed by the occupying Soviet Army, namely: Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. From our party alone (the National Peasants" Party) 272,000 members were arrested, of whom a third died in prison. This was the true Romanian resistance. The victims of that resistance were the Romanian intellectual elite, Romanian army officers, the entire superstructure of the Romanian nation, headed by party leaders, all former ministers, former heads of schools, philosophical thinkers, and achievers in every field. Not one of them escaped communist persecution. Hundreds of thousands of people perished, dying in the fifty places of incarceration, in the concentration camps, the labour camps, at the Danube - Black Sea Canal, and in all the repressive institutions that hunted down everything in the Romanian people that stood for lucidity, thought, and the desire for independence. The communist regime concentrated, with the evident purpose of extermination, all those whom it regarded as representing the spearheads of anticommunist resistance. Prison did not even have the purpose of conserving detainees, but on the contrary provided a substitute when the regime hesitated to use the bullet. This is why there were so few survivors. Certainly, the goal was ninety per cent achieved. In any case, we were living witness to the Romanian proverb, Let God not give man as much as he can bear. Man can bear an extraordinary amount, well above the limit that one might allow oneself to imagine." (N.B.: these excerpts have been taken from the interview Corneliu Coposu gave to Lucia Hossu-Longin).

Presentation of historical events during the period 1917-1944, as relevant to the illegitimacy of the communist regime in Romania

  • December 1917: in Jassy, the Bolsheviks try to overthrow the Romanian government and drive out the future founders of Greater Romania - King Ferdinand and Queen Maria (the most celebrated queen of the epoch, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England and Tsar Alexander II of Russia; the last Tsar, Nicholas II, the cousin of Queen Maria, was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918).
  • March 1918: in Chisinau (Kishinev), the Parliament of Bassarabia (a Romanian province which had declared independence from the Bolshevik state) votes for the Union of Bassarabia with Romania.
  • November 1918: at Cernauti (Czernowitz/Chernovtsy), the National Council of Bukovina (a former province of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire) votes for the Union of Bukovina with Romania.
  • December 1, 1918 (the national day of post-communist Romania): at Alba Iulia, the National Assembly of Transylvania votes for the Union of Transylvania and the Banat (both former provinces of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire) with Romania. Thus, the union of Romanians within a single state was effectively achieved prior to the Paris Peace Conference that was later to recognise it. During the interbellic period, Romania (the surface area of Greater Romania was 295,042 square kilometres) becomes a powerful and prosperous state.
  • August 1919: the Romanian army occupies Budapest and liberates Hungary from the Soviet regime installed in March 1919 by Bela Kun (at the initiative of and supported by Lenin). Bela Kun had striven for the Sovietisation of Transylvania.
  • 1921: at the initiative of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Romania is founded and will be controlled exclusively from Moscow. In comparison with the other communist parties of interbellic Europe, the Communist Party of Romania has the fewest members.
  • 1924: in accordance with directives from Moscow, the Communist Party of Romania launches a Bolshevik revolution, with the aim of overthrowing the Kingdom of Romania and making Romanian territory part of the Soviet Union. The Romanian Communist Party is outlawed due to its anti-national and anti-state activities.
  • 1939: the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is signed by Hitler"s Germany and Stalin"s Russia; the pact includes a reference to Soviet "interest" in Bassarabia.
  • June 1940: by ultimatum of the Soviet government, which threatens immediate armed invasion, Romania is forced to cede not only Bassarabia but also northern Bukovina and the Hertza region, although the latter two territories have never been part of Russia. The Romanian populace will be subject to repression, terror and massacres, and the anti-Soviet elite will be exterminated.
  • June 1941: the government led by Marshal Ion Antonescu declares war on the Soviet Union and liberates the territories lost the previous year. The Romanian army will subsequently fight for three years alongside the Germans against the Soviet Union.
  • August 1944: by order of King Michael, Marshal Antonescu is arrested. Romania declares war on Germany, joining the Allies and lending them Romania"s entire military and economic might until the end of the war. The Romanian Army begins to liberate its own country, which has been occupied by German troops (liberation will be complete by 25 October 1944).
  • October 1944: Stalin and Churchill unofficially agree on future spheres of influence (insofar as Romania is concerned, Stalin demands ninety per cent influence). At the same time, the Romanian army liberates the north of Romania (north-west Transylvania was ceded to Admiral Horthy"s Hungary in 1940, through the Dictate of Vienna). While the Romanian army is liberating its own country from Nazi occupation, the Soviets occupy Romania, declare themselves "liberators" and install their own government in Bucharest, in the form of the Armistice Control Commission.

N.B.: Most of the data above have been taken from the official web site of the Romanian Presidency, respectively from the section on the history of Romania, elaborated by historian Ion Calafeteanu.

The communist regime in Romania (1945-1989) was illegitimate and criminal in the light of the following:

1). Betrayal of Romania's interests by the communist-dominated government imposed by Stalin in March 1945. The unjust and forced annexation of Romania by the Soviet empire, commencing 1945.

In February 1945, the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain, represented by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, participated at the Yalta Conference. Among the unofficial accords agreed upon was the ninety per cent "influence" of the Soviet Union in Romania, a percentage imposed by Stalin on Churchill in Moscow four months previously. At the same time as the sacrifice of Romania was sealed at Yalta, the Romanian army continued its campaign against Nazi occupation, liberating Hungary, Czechoslovakia and a part of Austria. It should be emphasised that, thanks to Romania, the Second World War was shortened by at least six months. In the war against Nazi Germany, the Romanian army lost more than 100,000 soldiers, with Romania thus ranking fourth in the world in terms of losses, after the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. It should also be pointed out that Stalin imposed on the Romanian Army a military strategy that was tantamount to partial extermination (at the maximum limit possible).

On 6 March 1945, immediately after the Yalta accord and in accordance with its unofficial provisions, Stalin imposed on Romania a puppet government, dominated by communists (led by Petru Groza, a pro-Soviet bourgeois politician). This government began Sovietisation of the country, eliminating democracy in order to establish communism and thus betraying the interests of Romania. A period of terror commenced: arrests, purges, deportations, and the internment in concentration camps of political prisoners. Censorship was imposed. One of the official charges of the puppet government was to organise "free and fair elections".

2). The illegitimate and forcible imposition of a communist regime through massive fraud in the 1946 elections.

In the conditions of terror imposed by the communists, the elections of November 1946 were won with a massive majority by the anticommunist opposition, who obtained between seventy and ninety per cent of the vote, according to documentary evidence and eye-witness accounts. However, the communists merely reversed this result, giving themselves seventy per cent of the vote. The massive rigging of the elections constituted a crime against the Romanian people, through theft of the nation"s will. After the elections, the pace of Sovietisation was intensified.

3). Betrayal of fundamental Romanian interests by the communist regime through acceptance of the unjust conditions of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.

N.B. The premises are presented in the historical preamble of this report, as well as in the preceding two paragraphs.

Within the framework of the 1946-1947 Paris Peace Conference and through the signing of the Peace Treaty of 10 February 1947, the communist regime in Romania, respectively the puppet government controlled by Stalin, was guilty of having accepted that Romania not be recognised as a participating ally in the fight against Nazism, but rather as a nation defeated by the Soviet Union. It should be mentioned that Romania fought for three years against the Soviet Union and for almost one year (at the end of the war) on the side of the Soviet Union against Germany. The communist power (in Romania) ignored the fact that Romania shortened the war by at least six months when it joined the Allied side in August 1944, with the Romanian Army sacrificing more than one hundred thousand soldiers on the front and thus ranking fourth, after the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain, in terms of loss of life.

Within the framework of the Peace Conference negotiations, the communist regime (in Romania) ignored the illegitimacy of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact between Hitler and Stalin, as well as the illegitimacy of the Soviet occupation of the Romanian territories of Bassarabia, North Bukovina and the Hertza region in 1940. The fact that Bukovina and Hertza had never belonged to Russia was not invoked, nor was the fact that Bassarabia had freely chosen to become part of Romania in 1918. Similarly, there was no invocation of the fact that Romania had legitimately entered the war in 1941 in order to liberate its own territories. By accepting the conditions of the Peace Treaty, the communist regime (in Romania) was thereby guilty of ceding to the Soviet Union the territories of Bassarabia, North Bukovina and the Hertza region, with a surface area of 44,000 square kilometres and a population of 3,200,000, the majority ethnic Romanians. Subsequently, the population were subject to forced denationalisation, ethnic persecution, deportation (including to Siberian labour camps), mass murder and other forms of extermination. The Romanian territories ceded by the communist regime were massively colonised by allogenous peoples.

Similarly, the communist regime agreed to pay the Soviet Union reparations of 300,000,000 dollars and accepted that Romania continue to be occupied by Soviet troops for a further ninety days. The occupying Soviet Army was to remain in Romania until 1958, at a cost of two billion dollars in maintenance.

Additional mention should be made of one merit of the Treaty and implicitly the communist power: restitution to Romania of the territories in north-east Transylvania that had been ceded to Horthy"s Hungary in 1940 through the Vienna Dictate.

4). Destruction of multiparty democracy through liquidation of the democratic opposition and the replacement of democracy with a single party dictatorship (1947).

By destroying the three traditional Romanian parties (the National Peasants" Party, National Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party), the communists made the transition from multiparty democracy to single party state, in form of the Romanian Workers" Party, subsequently renamed the Romanian Communist Party.

5). The forced abolition of the monarchy (1947)

After 23 August 1944, when the country sided with the Allies against Hitler, sacrificing more than one hundred thousand lives, Romania was transformed by the Soviets into a satellite state. Of all the nations that were to be Sovietised, Romania was the only country which had a king loved by the people. The King was thus regarded as the final obstacle to the imposition of communism. After having been recognised as instrumental in ending the war and decorated by the Russians and Americans, King Michael was forced to abdicate by the communists, and a Soviet-style republic was established.

"The military action begun on 23 August 1944 against Hitler"s forces was one of the vital turning points of the European front in the Second World War. This action was undertaken by the Romanian Army at the initiative and order of its supreme commander, Michael I. After August 1944, King Michael was the mainstay and hope of the overwhelming majority of the people, who rejected communist domination. On 30 December 1947, Michael I was made to abdicate under threat of force and bloody reprisals against one hundred youths who were being held under arrest." - Historical commentary by Academician Dinu C. Giurescu.

6). The forced and total Sovietisation of Romania (1948)

In 1948, the communists, who had already obtained absolute power through terror and fraud in previous years, began to impose their own economic and social system, in accordance with that already developed by Lenin and Stalin.

In 1948, practically all state institutions were re-established according to the Soviet pattern: the judiciary, education, the Academy, religions.

On an even greater scale, the communists continued their mockery of the judicial system, through political show trials, and subjected citizens to propaganda based on untruth, with the object of consigning the truth to oblivion. Mockery of justice and subjugation of citizens through propaganda can be counted as permanent features of the communist regime.

The constitution of a people"s republic was adopted. The Romanian Workers" Party was founded as "the sole party of the working class" and the supreme ruling organ of the state (the party-state). The leaders of the main religions were replaced (with the object of total subjugation of the Orthodox Church) and the Graeco-Catholic (Uniate) Church was outlawed. It was decreed that all means of production be nationalised (everything from the steel industry to the humblest cobbler"s workshop). In the countryside, the Soviet system of obligatory crop quotas was copied, as well as the division of peasants into the categories of "poor", "middling" and "kulaks". Thousands of arrests were made among anticommunist youth, but also in the ranks of the Communist Party (targeting those members inconvenient to Stalin or Dej, respectively the Patrascanu group). The free press was liquidated. The Romanian Academy was replaced en masse with proteges of the communist regime. Old members of the Academy were entirely excluded. Only a fraction of them were later readmitted, while the majority were arrested, with some dying in detention. Study of the Russian language became compulsory in schools, as well as study of the Bolshevik Party and the geography of the Soviet Union. The teaching of religion was outlawed. Participation in communist parades became obligatory (sometimes even at Easter), and in schools icons were replaced with pictures of the communist leadership.

7). Premeditated extermination of citizens through the actions of the Securitate, as well as other forms of repression (1948 - 1989)

In the 1950s, the Securitate sought, at the orders of the Party, to liquidate all potential adversaries of the regime. Thus was invented "administrative detention", without arrest warrant, investigation or trial. Under the pretext of "re-education through labour", hundreds of thousands of persons were sent to various labour sites, where they became victims of mass extermination through hunger, exhaustion and deprivation. Arrests were made on political grounds: plotting or propaganda against the regime, machination against the social order etc.

After 1965, the Securitate claimed to appeal, preventatively, to citizens" conscience. By this was meant an increase in the number of informants, who undertook in writing to signal any "dangers that threatened the homeland".

In the 1980s, the Securitate conceived a systematic programme of mass indoctrination and manipulation, through rumour, intrigue, frame-ups, provocation, creation of conflict between different segments of the population, censorship, and repression of the even the slightest hint of independence on the part of intellectuals. The scars of this violation of the national consciousness persist even today in the public mindset.

8). The premeditated extermination of political detainees (1945-1989)

The number of political detainees is estimated at between 500,000 (the minimum figure) and 2,000,000 (the maximum figure). During the Ceausescu regime, the number of political detainees as such was in the mere hundreds or thousands, since the real figures were deliberately camouflaged as common criminals or patients in psychiatric hospitals, the latter of whom were treated with electric shocks and mind-altering drugs.

In Romania there were over 230 places of political detention, a figure that includes interrogation and sorting areas, places of incarceration proper (prisons), as well as forced labour camps. If Securitate headquarters are included, where detainees were brought after arrest and subjected to interrogation, then this figure increases by more than 100. There were at least fifteen psychiatric hospitals employed for political ends, where detainees were subject to "re-education" treatment. In recent years, more than ninety execution sites, places where battles took place between the Securitate and partisans, and mass graves have been discovered.

The penitentiary regime for political prisoners was one of slow extermination, primarily through starvation, cold, various forms of torture, total lack of sanitary care, lack of hygiene, etc. Before arriving in prisons, political prisoners were regularly tortured using methods of extreme cruelty during Securitate interrogation. Many died during interrogation. In prison, the torture continued in other forms. Prisoners regarded as recalcitrant were isolated in total darkness, chained to a ring in the centre of their cells. They were incarcerated naked and barefoot. Food rations were reduced by half. In darkness and cold, starving, they were forced to stand all day and night.

We quote from the testimony of Corneliu Coposu (excerpted from the interview accorded to Lucia Hossu-Longin): "I passed through seventeen prisons. I went to prison weighing 112 kilograms and came out weighing 51. The cold was permanent. The temperature was almost unchanged from winter to summer because of the thickness of the walls. The food was extermination rations, approximately 400 to 500 calories per day: a biscuit made from a mixture of maize flour and broom-seed flour. I was beaten with sandbags, with wet towels in the showers- not to mention being suspended from an iron hook in order to be beaten on the soles of the feet. When I came out of prison- I had forgotten how to speak. Of course, each inmate, being alone, was excluded from any conversation. Communication with the occupants of the other cells was, for a long time, carried out through Morse code, by tapping on the walls, until the system was discovered, resulting in severe punishments. After that, communication was made through Morse coughing, which was extremely tiring, exhausting, especially given the extreme weakness to which the detainees had been reduced. Belief in surviving the communist holocaust was the foundation of resistance."

In the labour camps, detainees were exterminated through superhuman physical effort, slow starvation (between 500 and 1000 calories per day, compared with the 2000 to 2,500 calories of a normal diet), lack of medication, and inhuman standards of accommodation. All this was usually combined with torture if work quotas were not met.

After completing their sentences, many detainees were sent into internal exile, in conditions of extreme hardship; after two or three years, a new conviction often followed, signalling a resumption of torture until almost inevitable extermination.

There follow a number of examples of torture whose object was extermination (examples taken from the studies of Cicerone Ionitoiu): beatings with iron bars, spades and shovels, with some victims dying from their injuries and others remaining crippled for life; the denial of medical treatment to sick detainees, who were forced to continue working, contrary to medical prescription, resulting in many deaths; unclothed and even naked prisoners were kept in cells exposed to the elements during winter; detainees were trampled under horses" hooves; detainees were forced to work unclothed during winter and punished by being made to stand until noon in freezing water; the burial alive of detainees; some detainees committed suicide in order to escape torture, while others went insane as a result of the psychical and physical pressures to which they were subjected.

The Pitesti Phenomenon (1949-1951)

"However, what has not yet become universal knowledge is the fact that in the Romanian Gulag Archipelago there was an island of absolute horror, such as existed nowhere else in the entire geography of the communist penitentiary system: Pitesti Prison." - Virgil Ierunca, Pitesti Phenomenon. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, refers to the Pitesti experiment as the "most terrible act of barbarism in the contemporary world". Historian François Furet, member of the French Academy, regards the Pitesti phenomenon as "one of the most terrible experiments in dehumanisation that our epoch has known".

Between 1949 and 1951, the destruction of society"s elite was almost complete: intellectuals, diplomats, priests, officers, magistrates, policemen, and politicians of the "bourgeois-landowner regime" were in prison; the most industrious peasants had been deported to forced labour camps. Collectively and individually, they were all labelled "enemies of the people". It now remained to annihilate the unpredictable social force of youth. For the latter, the Pitesti experiment was invented (termed "re-education" by the Securitate). The most barbarous methods of psychological torture were applied to "recalcitrant" young prisoners, with the object of making them reciprocally humiliate each other, physically abuse each other and mentally torture each other. Victims were transformed into executioners; prisoners were tortured by their own friends, by their fellows in suffering. The purpose: "re-education" through physical and psychical destruction, the transformation of young people into atheists, into informers on their friends.

Examples of psychological torture: a) On Easter Night, prisoners who refused to make a total self-denunciation (to tell everything that they were supposed not to have declared during Securitate interrogations) are forced to take a "holy communion" of faecal matter; b) Those suspected of having concealed information about participants in anticommunist actions have their heads thrust by their torturers into chamber-pots full of urine; c) Prisoners are forced to spit in the mouth of their anticommunist leader, in order to force him to revenge himself by unmasking them; d) On Christmas Day, a prisoner is forced to go to stool on a bedpan, to "symbolise" the nativity of Christ, while the other political prisoners are forced to kneel and cross themselves before him.

"The delirious imagination of Turcanu [the head of the torturers - editor"s note] was unleashed above all when he was dealing with students who believed in God and who strove not to renounce their belief. Thus, some of them were "baptised" every morning: their heads were plunged into a bucket of urine and faecal matter, while those present chanted the rite of baptism. This went on until the contents of the bucket began to bubble. When the recalcitrant prisoner was on the point of drowning, he was pulled up, given a short respite in which to draw breath, and then submerged once again. One of those thus "baptised", to whom the torture was systematically applied, acquired an automatic reflex that lasted for some two months: every morning he would go and plunge his own head in the bucket, much to the amusement of the re-educators." - Virgil Ierunca, ibid.

Ultimately, the majority of those "re-educated" ended up by admitting that they deserved all manner of abjection and that they could only be partially rehabilitated, they themselves becoming the torturers of new inmates. For the slightest hesitation, they were subjected to torture once more.

This diabolical operation of depersonalisation and moral assassination commenced in December 1949 at the Pitesti Penitentiary, and was continued, at a lower intensity, at the Gherla and Targu-Ocna penitentiaries. The Pitesti experiment is regarded as unique in the panoply of methods designed to destroy the human person.

Forced labour

Forced labour - that is, the use of political detainees as labour in mines or on various construction projects - was widely used during the communist period and had mass extermination as its object.

The most notorious construction project was the Danube - Black Sea Canal, begun in 1950 and stopped in 1953. The labour force was provided by "reactionary elements", the majority of whom had been "administratively detained", which is to say without trial. The canal was nicknamed the "grave of the Romanian bourgeoisie". According to the most conservative estimates, over 40,000 detainees were held in concentration camps in 1950 alone. Another 20,000 were designated "voluntary workers".

Women in prison

There were a number of prisons reserved exclusively for women: Mislea, Margineni, Miercurea-Ciuc, Dumbraveni and Arad. Birth and maternity assumed wholly different dimensions in prison. Mothers were often tragically separated from their children.

9). Extermination of groups of partisans representing anticommunist resistance in the mountains (1945-1962)

Resistance against communism began to manifest itself immediately after the communists seized power. Not only those who directly opposed communism were arrested, interrogated, tried and condemned, but also their relatives, siblings, and parents. Confronted with this massive wave of aggression, those targeted took refuge in the mountains of Romania. The majority organised into groups of partisans, scattered throughout the mountains. Thus, between 1945 and 1959, there were groups of partisans in the eastern and central Carpathians (in Fagaras, Retezat, and Semenic), in the western Carpathians, in Bukovina, in the forests of Babadag, and in the Gutai Mountains. The partisans were armed with weapons salvaged after the Second World War. The groups of partisans, averaging between ten and forty members, did not represent a serious threat to the communist regime. They consisted of young and old, men and women (sometimes even pregnant women or women with small children), peasants, former army officers, lawyers, doctors, students and workers. They were of all ages and social and political backgrounds, aided by peasants, who provided them with food, clothing and often shelter. Communist propaganda labelled the partisans "bandits". The terrorisation by interrogators of the families and relatives of those in the mountains, the expulsion of their children from school and the use of brutal methods against them determined many partisans to surrender rather than have their loved ones be subjected to torture. They were given long prison sentences and had all their property confiscated, for the "crime of machination against the social order". Most were killed. The last partisans were captured as late as 1962. The anticommunist resistance of the partisans lasted between fourteen and seventeen years and was a spontaneous phenomenon, without, it seems, any co-ordination at a national level between the different groups.

10). Repression against the Church. The arrest or extermination of those who opposed communism (1948-1989)

The communist regime sought to uproot religious belief and impose atheism.

In the case of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the hierarchy were replaced in 1948, some of them dying in suspicious circumstances, others being arrested and placed under "house arrest" in monasteries. Throughout the period, around 2,000 priests were arrested. Moreover, a large number of monks and nuns were also arrested. In 1959, the Securitate and the Department for Religions reduced the number of monasteries and monks by two thirds, on the grounds that monastic establishments sheltered partisans and reactionary elements. Some monasteries were evacuated at gunpoint. Between 1959 and 1960, hundreds of priests were arrested on the grounds that they disseminated mysticism, preached against dialectical materialism or opposed the socialist system.

The Graeco-Catholic (Uniate) Church, the second-largest national denomination, with 1.5 million Romanian worshippers, was outlawed in 1948. A small number of priests signed declarations of conversion to Orthodoxy. Those bishops and priests who refused were arrested and exterminated. For example, Graeco-Catholic Bishop Iuliu Hossu - who at Alba Iulia had read the proclamation during the Great Assembly of 1 December 1918, when Transylvania united with Romania - died in captivity.

The Roman Catholic Church was regarded as a "den of imperialism", a "nest of spies and traitors" etc. because of its "foreign ties". A series of political trials resulted in convictions or expulsion. As in the case of the other denominations, Roman Catholic schools were abolished, and "reactionary" priests were removed and arrested.

Protestant and neo-protestant denominations were similarly persecuted, on the grounds that they were "controlled from abroad".

11). The arrest, murder, political detention or deportation of peasants who resisted collectivisation (1949-1962)

In the spirit of the "class struggle", peasants were divided into three categories: "poor", "middling" and "kulaks". Fighting against "vacillating" "kulaks" and "middling peasants", the poor had to be "enlightened" as to the benefits of collectivisation. Peasant resistance was strong: in the years following the Romanian Workers" Party Plenary Meeting of 1949 (at which collectivisation on the Soviet model was decreed), activists sent to the countryside were chased away, while in many villages there were uprisings and battles against the militia, resulting in deaths, wounded victims, arrests and deportations. According to Romanian Workers" Party data, more than 80,000 peasants were arrested between 1949 and 1952, with 30,000 prison convictions. Many peasants also lost their lives or liberty in the revolts between 1959 and 1962. The revolt at Vadu Rosca (in the Galati region), during which nine peasants lost their lives, was repressed by Nicolae Ceausescu personally. In other villages, cannons were discharged in order to intimidate and "enlighten" the peasants. By 1962, 96 per cent of the arable surface area of Romania and 3,201,000 families had been included in collectivist structures, according to the results announced by Gheorghiu-Dej.

12). Deportations with the object of extermination. Ethnic repression. The "sale" of Jews and Germans

In January 1945, more than 75,000 ethnic Germans were deported to the Soviet Union in order to "reconstruct" the war-devastated economy. Twenty per cent of them died. The survivors were able to return to Romania only in 1949-1950.

During the night of 18 June 1951, one of the most extensive deportations in modern Romanian history took place, second only to that of January 1945 against the ethnic German population. Around 45,000 persons were taken from their homes and deported to the Baragan steppe. These were Romanians, Germans, Serbs, Bulgarians, refugees from Bassarabia and North Bukovina, and Aromanians. They were taken in cattle trucks under armed guard and then, after a journey of between ten and fourteen days, left in the middle of the steppe, where they were forced to build themselves dwellings from mud bricks, with straw or reed roofs. The majority of the deportees were detained in eighteen such settlements until 1956, although others remained permanently.

After the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the Hungarian community in Transylvania was subject to persecution and numerous arrests.

Through the trials of Zionists in the 1950s, persecutions against the Jewish community in Romania were perpetrated.

The majority of Romanian citizens of ethnic German or Jewish origin left Romania in the 1970s and 80s, through a humiliating form of "sale", respectively payment of substantial foreign currency fees in exchange for approval of the request to leave communist Romania permanently. This constituted a crime from the cultural and spiritual point of view, committed against people who, living for centuries on Romanian territory, had made an extremely important contribution to the culture and civilisation of the Romanian people.

13). Repression against culture. The arrest of protesting intellectuals (1945-1989)

As soon as the communist regime came to power, the Party imposed a pro-Soviet, "proletcult" orientation in all fields of culture. Libraries and bookshops were purged of titles that were politically undesirable (over 8,000 titles). Nothing could be published or performed without approval. Measures were taken to eliminate anything that was linked to European or national traditions. The history of Romania was falsified. National traditions were replaced with the culture of "socialist realism". Numerous people of culture were thrown into prison, while others were forbidden to publish their works. This was a veritable cultural genocide, whose scars still deform the public consciousness.

14). Repression of student movements in 1956. The arrest of protesting students

The year 1956 saw the repression of the Hungarian uprising by Soviet troops. The echoes of this anticommunist movement were felt in all the countries of Eastern Europe. In Romania, those who reacted were students. In a number of university centres, there were protests followed by numerous arrests and ex-matriculations. The most well organised student movement was that in Timisoara, where there were three hundred arrests. However, organised groups were also formed in Bucharest and Cluj, where there was an attempt to link up with the anticommunist movement in Hungary. The reaction of the authorities was swift: students were arrested, courses suspended, teachers purged, and student associations set up to supervise the activities of students.

15). Repression of the workers' movements in the Jiu Valley (1977) and Brasov (1987). The arrest and deportation of protesting workers

In 1977, a strike involving thousands of miners in the Jiu Valley was repressed. Some of the miners, who were protesting against living conditions, were arrested and sent to prison, while most were forced to move to other parts of the country, in a form of camouflaged deportation. In 1987 in Brasov, a revolt against living conditions involving thousands of protesters, mainly workers, was repressed. Hundreds of participants were arrested and brutally interrogated. Many were forced to change their jobs and move to other parts of the country, as a masked form of deportation. The workers" movements in the Jiu Valley and in Brasov represent proof that the communist party was contested even by the working class, in whose name it claimed to govern. After intellectual and student resistance had been annihilated in the 1950s and 60s, in the 1970s and 80s even working class protests were crushed.

16). Repression of opponents and dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s. The arrest and assassination of dangerous opponents

In 1979, the Free Union of the Working People of Romania came into being (SLOMR), an organisation parallel to official ones. The founders of the new union and those registered as members were arrested and interned in psychiatric institutions to be re-educated. The SLOMR; the Paul Goma movement; the courageous actions of Doina Cornea, Vasile Paraschiv and other opponents of the regime from various towns and backgrounds; the "propaganda against the socialist order" undertaken by dozens of young people, including Radu Filipescu; engineer Gheorghe Ursu, murdered by the regime; diplomat Mircea Raceanu, condemned to death by the regime; and the clandestine newspaper "Romania", published by a group of courageous journalists, including Petre Mihai Bacanu, were all exceptional cases in a country that had been reduced to silence and submission.

17). Destruction of historical and cultural heritage through the policy of demolition in the 1980s. The forced eviction of a part of the Romanian population from their homes

The demolitions carried out in Bucharest in the 1980s involved large-scale destruction of historic and cultural heritage. The core of this project was to be a presidential palace, surrounded by ministries and other public institutions. To this end, as well as for other purposes, 29 churches and monasteries were destroyed, some more than three hundred years old, as well as numerous family homes, blocks and public buildings. Other churches were moved or left hidden from view behind the new buildings. The most notorious and unjustified demolition was that of the Vacaresti Monastery complex (dating from the eighteenth century) situated at the edge of the capital. Similarly, the historic centres of other towns were demolished to make way for "civic centres". Demolitions were also carried out in villages, with a view to "systematisation".

18). Criminal consequences of the "demographic policy" (1966-1989)

With the official object of increasing the population, from 1966 until the December 1989 Revolution abortions were forbidden, following a decree made by Ceausescu. Women of childbearing age were subjected to obligatory gynaecological examinations in order for them to be registered in the case that they were pregnant or to determine whether they had been using contraceptives. Women who did not wish to keep pregnancies resorted to rudimentary and extremely dangerous forms of clandestine abortion. It is estimated that up to ten thousand women died as a result of such attempts to terminate pregnancies.

Many children unwanted by parents were born with serious health problems. Infant mortality increased during this period; in order to decrease the official figures, births could be registered only after a two-week delay. Often, unwanted children were abandoned in hospitals immediately after birth, later being placed in Orphanages and Children"s Homes. Due to health problems and inadequate conditions, many of these children (probably a few thousand) died at an early age.

In 1987, doctors detected the first cases of AIDS among children, but these were not officially recognised and, consequently, not treated accordingly.

19). The intentional and unjustified obligation of the Romanian population to live in conditions of extreme poverty, particularly in the 1980s

A few examples of the causes by which the general health of the populace was gravely affected:

  • Starvation of the populace through "rationalisation of alimentation" and rationing of basic foodstuffs (meat, flour, eggs, butter, sugar, oil etc.)
  • Frequent failure to accord urgent medical assistance to the elderly
  • Deliberate heating cuts and chronic lack of hot water in blocks of flats
  • Deliberate electricity, gas and water cuts. As a rule, these cuts were frequent, came without warning and lasted for unpredictable periods. Similarly, resumption of gas supply also caused serious cases of poisoning (some fatal).

Moreover, during the 1980s, street lighting was wholly, or almost wholly, suspended.

20). Communist conceptualisation of fear and of material and moral poverty as instruments for the retention of power

All the forms of physical and psychical repression, all the forms of material and moral poverty explicitly or implicitly referred to above were instruments designed to crush human dignity, humiliate, dishonour, debase, degrade, and terrorise. All of them implanted in the Romanian psyche a mistrust of self and others, generalised fear, despair, exasperation, a feeling of futility, and fear and suspicion of others - colleagues, neighbours, friends and even relatives. All of them represented systematic means of perpetuating the communist regime and subjugating the people of Romania.

21). The massacre of civilians during the anticommunist Revolution of December 1989.

In contrast to all the other former communist countries of Europe, where communism fell without claiming any victims (or almost no victims), Romania was the only country where communism was overthrown at the cost of bloodshed. Unarmed civilians were massacred: more than one thousand dead and over four thousand wounded. The number of victims speaks for itself as to the criminality of the communist regime in Romania.

N.B.:

  • Special thanks to Romulus Rusan, Director of the Civic Academy Foundation"s International Centre for the Study of Communism.
  • A number of ideas were suggested by Vladimir Tismaneanu, professor of political sciences at the University of Maryland (USA), as well as by Prof. Serban Mihaileanu (Paris).
  • A number of sentences have been excerpted from "The Gulag in the Romanian Awareness", by Ruxandra Cesereanu (Jassy: Polirom, 2005).

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Initiated and elaborated by Sorin Iliesiu (Bucharest, October 2005)
Translated by Alistair Blyth