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

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Sorin Iliesiu: "An attitude hostile to projects that present the crimes of communism"


The Vice-President of the Civic Alliance is contesting the selection commission organised by the Ministry of Culture

Film director and Vice-President of the Civic Alliance Sorin Iliesiu has contested the most recent session of the selection commission appointed by Minister of Culture Adrian Iorgulescu to evaluate cinematographic projects within the framework of the competition organised by the National Cinematography Centre, stating that the latter "has in an unpardonable way undervalued the two projects we presented at the latest competition". At stake is the project for a feature-length documentary film entitled "The Pitesti Experiment: Re-education through Torture" (director – Sorin Iliesiu; screen writers – Sorin Iliesiu, Alin Muresan), which was classed in 26th place with a score of 5.34. It should be noted that at the previous session of the competition, the same screenplay was rated in seventh place (the first below the line) with a score of 7.58.

Another feature-length documentary film, "Stalinism for All Seasons: Sequences from the History of Romanian Communism" (director – Sorin Iliesiu; screenwriters – Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Iliesiu), was ranked in 28th place with a score of 5.17. In the December 2006 session, the same screenplay was ranked in twelfth place (the first below the line) with a score of 7.67.

Funding for both projects was rejected. "We contest the correctitude of the evaluation at the last session of the competition. We signal the more and more hostile attitude towards projects that present the crimes of communism, which thereby attempts to censor access to our own history. In a symptomatic way, other projects with similar subjects, such as those signed by Lucia Hossu Longin or Marius Oprea, have been disqualified and cast to the bottom of the ranking," says Iliesiu.

The book Stalinism for All Seasons, written by eminent political scientist Vladimir Tismaneanu, is celebrated for the correctitude whereby it examines the communist regime in Romania. Of course, the film would have achieved the same thing using the means specific to the medium, argues the director.

"We contest the correctitude of the members of the selection committee, inasmuch as they have given the minimum scoring to both projects precisely in the categories of objective evaluation where the screenplays ought to have been awarded the maximum: originality, level of interest and novelty of the proposed subject, potential interest and impact on audiences, potential for international representation. Thus, even in these categories, we obtained minimum scores. Comment is superfluous."

It should be noted that public interest in the "Pitesti Experiment" has been confirmed by the success of an exceptional book recently launched in bookshops: Pitesti: Chronicle of an Assisted Suicide. The book is written by the co-author of the screenplay, Alin Muresan, as Iliesiu points out in a communiqué.

The Pitesti Experiment. Re-education through Torture

According to Sorin Iliesiu, the screenplay has been written for a film about "the most horrific barbarism of the contemporary world". Thus was the Pitesti Experiment regarded by celebrated writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, author of the books The Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich).

Historian Fran?ois Furet, a member of the French Academy, describes the Pitesti Phenomenon as "one of the most horrific experiments in dehumanisation that our epoch has known".

In his book, The Pitesti Phenomenon (published in Paris in 1981), Virgil Ierunca writes: "What has not, however, yet reached the general awareness is that in the Romanian Archipelago there was an island of absolute horror, such as no other in the entire penitentiary geography of communism: the prison at Pitesti". The following is a suggestive excerpt from Ierunca’s book: "The delirious imagination of Turcanu (the chief torturer – our 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 were baptised each morning: their heads plunged into a bucket of urine and faecal matter, while the others around chanted the ritual of baptism. This would last until the contents of the bucket started to bubble. When the recalcitrant prisoner was on the point of drowning, he would be pulled up, given a short respite in which to breathe, then submerged once more. One of those thus baptised, to whom the torture was systematically applied, ended up with an automatism that lasted for some two months: each morning he would go and put his head in the bucket, much to the amusement of the re-educators."

The Pitesti Experiment was one of the most diabolical inventions in the whole of history.

According to communist principles, the leadership of the Communist Party and of the Securitate attempted to falsify events, to cover up the truth.

"Unique" in terms of cruelty

The film intends to bring to light this terrible, almost unknown episode in Romania’s history. In brief, this is how the Pitesti Experiment is presented at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance in Sighet:

"Between 1949 and 1951, the destruction of society’s elites was well on the way to being achieved: the intellectuals, diplomats, priests, officers, magistrates, policemen, and politicians of the old ’bourgeois-landowner regime’ were in prison, the more industrious of the peasantry had been deported to forced labour camps. Collectively and individually they were labelled ’enemies of the people’. The younger generation had remained, an unpredictable social force that had to be annihilated. For them, the Pitesti Experiment was invented, named ’re-education’ by the Securitate.

The most barbarous methods of psychological torture were applied to ’recalcitrant’ young detainees – the majority students, of the most divers political and religious creeds – with the aim of making them humiliate each other, physically abuse each other, psychically mutilate each other, denigrating their past. This diabolical operation of depersonalisation and moral assassination unfolded from December 1949 in Pitesti Penitentiary, and then continued, with lesser intensity, at the Gherla and Tîrgu Ocna prisons.

The victims are transformed into executioners; the detainees are tortured by their own friends, by their own fellows in suffering. The aim: ’re-education’ through physical and psychical destruction, the transformation of young people into atheists, into informants upon their own friends. Ultimately, the majority of those ’re-educated’ ended up believing that they deserved every debasement and that they could only be partially rehabilitated, they themselves becoming the torturers of new prisoners. At the slightest hesitation they were again subjected to torture.

An end was put to the Pitesti Experiment by the mammoth investigation and trial of 1953-4. The verdict of 10 November 1954 sentenced to death twenty-two members of the Legionary commandos led by Eugen Turcanu (sixteen were executed). At trial, the Securitate officers and wardens who had implemented ’re-education’ were not incriminated, but were merely reprimanded during the course of the investigation for the ’lack of vigilance and criminal negligence’ that had ’permitted’ the experiment! In another trial, in 1957, the officers were given light sentences, and subsequently reprieved. The guilt of the Securitate king-pins was not even mentioned: Teohari Georgescu, Marin Jianu, Gheorghe Pintilie, Alexandru Nicolschi, Misu Dulgheru et al. The Pitesti Experiment is considered to be unique in the panoply of methods to destroy the human personality en masse."

From the ’menu’ of re-education

Methods used in the torture of detainees, the majority of them students, in order to obtain so-called ’unmaskings’ (source: documentary archives of the Sighet Memorial):
- Individual beatings and collective beatings in a circle
- Beatings using bullwhips, belts, broom handles, bed legs
- Hanging of weights (40kg) from the back of the person being ’re-educated’ for five to six hours
- Forcing the detainee to stare at a light bulb
- Ripping out hair by the roots using a special device
- Crushing of fingers and toes
- Chinese water torture
- Feeding detainees very salty food followed by deprivation of water
- Forcing detainees to head butt each other like rams
- Burning the soles of the feet
- Beating of shin bones
- Forcing detainees to lick toilet bowls
- Forcing detainees to take part in collective torture
- Hanging the detainee by the armpits with a rucksack of weights on his back
- Placement of fifteen to seventeen bodies over that of the tortured inmate
- Banging the detainee’s head against the cement floors
- Forcing the inmate to sleep in fixed positions
- Piercing of the soles of the feet with needles
- Forcing the detainee to stand facing the wall all night
- Forcing detainees to perform their faecal necessities in the mess tins in which they received food
- Forcing detainees to urinate into the mouths of other detainees
- Forcing detainees to eat scalding food directly from the mess tin, without a spoon and standing on all fours
- Immersing the detainee’s head in the toilet
- Beating of the rib cage

Romania had the historical misfortune to be the place where the most macabre experiment ever to have been imagined by the human mind was put into practice. The tortures at Pitesti and Gherla (and to a lesser extent at the Canal and Tîrgu Ocna) between 1949 and 1951 reached paroxysmal levels, taking advantage of the experience accumulated in the previous decades by the initiators and supervisors of the phenomenon in China and Russia. Related actions, generally named ’re-education’, had already taken place in China and in the Soviet Union, but 1949 witnessed a combination and development of the harshest methods of previous experiments.

Filming, under the guidance of former detainees

According to Iliesiu, the concept for the cinematographic transposition of the script will be based on the alternate editing, in parallel and by insertion, of the following materials, broken down into six categories:

In principle, eyewitness accounts of former political prisoners who, between 1949 and 1951, were victims of the Pitesti Experiment. The survivors are today between 78 and 95 years old. The Pitesti Experiment was carried out on more than one thousand political prisoners, the majority students at the time of their arrest. At present, there are less than one hundred survivors. Today, only a part of them do not wish to be filmed. The majority are in agreement. Up to now, we have agreed with around thirty-five of them to carry out filming of eye-witness interviews in order to capture for our documentary what they endured between fifty-five and fifty-eight years ago. We include in the script an excerpt from a pilot interview we made in June 2007.

Filming will be carried out in such a way that former political prisoners will be able to evoke, in front of the camera, as much as possible of the whole truth, subjectively and/or objectively, about the horrors of the Pitesti Experiment. The survivors will be filmed in frontal view, so that any suggestive details of the faces of those who experienced the Pitesti Experiment will be highlighted as they recount their ordeal.

The film will include sequences of archive film (mainly newsreels) from 1949-1951, as well as the years preceding this period, in order to present the historic context of the Pitesti Experiment.

Film will be shot in the prisons where the Pitesti Experiment was put into practice – the prisons of Pitesti and Gherla, the Canal, and Tîrgu Ocna, as well as at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance in Sighet. Both general shots and suggestive/significant details will be filmed.

Sequences reconstructing some of the methods used in the torture of detainees will be filmed.

For deontological reasons, but not only, these reconstructions will be performed under the guidance of former political prisoners who were victims of the Pitesti Experiment.

Characters (a maximum of fifty) played by actors, mimes and extras will be filmed on a set of relatively large dimensions, with a minimum of décor and costumes specific to the places of imprisonment and props specific to certain methods of torture.

Reconstructions with Dan Puric

For key moments of the reconstructions we shall make use of a mime troupe – ideally that of Dan Puric – as mimes have an extraordinary capacity to communicate using the expressivity of the body. In order to increase the coefficient of credibility, the sensation of reality that the audience will experience when viewing the film, the imagery will tend to be abstract.

Filming will be carried out in a visually abstract key: the personages in the frame, respectively the torturers and the victims, in other words the ’re-educators’ and the ’re-educated’, will be filmed in chiaroscuro, in silhouette, against the light, so that their shadows will be dominant in contrast to the minimal lighting. The shadow will thus become a new identity of the anonymous personages: an identity without identity. The images will be cut in significant details and wider frames. The image in silhouette will sometimes be that of the shadows of the personages in action or of shadows projected against a mouldering, greyish-white wall, with crumbling plaster and rectilinear or curved irregularities, so that the shadows will be broken, suddenly deformed, unpredictably dynamic. The shadows will be vertically elongated, like El Greco figures, by filming at an angle of approximately 45 degrees from the surface of the wall onto which they are projected. The imagery will exude an Expressionist air, but without ostentation, keeping within the limits of credibility necessary for reconstruction. The method of filming will exploit to the maximum the transfiguring potentialities of shadow and its expressive force.

Subsequently, in montage, the music to these images will likewise be abstract (piano music). This will then be mixed with the sounds of instruments of torture, with ambient sounds, with "screams" made by musical instruments (preferably cello, as the sound wavelengths of this instrument are closest to that of the male human voice). The sound will sometimes have a diminished echo effect. We should point out that in the film there will be no shouts/screams originating from the human voice.

In the same spirit of austerity as in the soundtrack, the words of the re-educators and re-educated in the image will be either absent or minimal. Sometimes the spoken word will be replaced by the written word on screen – subtitles with an explanatory role or in the form of dialogue, as in silent films.

Sometimes, a documentary voice will be superimposed over the images of reconstruction – the voice of a former political prisoner recorded today, narrating, evoking, explaining what we see.

Skeletal extras sought

In order to give credibility to the personages being performed (malnourished detainees), extras with a relatively skeletal appearance will be used (the detainees who endured the Pitesti Experiment were 35-40 kg).

The film will have minimal commentary, which will supplement – where required – the verbal discourse of the eyewitness interviews that are to be filmed. The commentary will include short excerpts from The Pitesti Phenomemon by Virgil Ierunca. The narrator of the film will be Professor Alexandru Zub, Member of the Romanian Academy, President of the Romanian Academy Section for Historical Science. Filmed in unconventional, informal settings, he will provide a narrative discourse both as a voice from off set and as a visual presence (in various frames: close-up, middle distance, far-off).

The Final Solution according to the Romanian Communist Party

We present a number of testimonies from detainees who endured re-education at Pitesti and Gherla (excerpted from the archives of the Sighet Memorial), but we stress that, although numerous, they represent merely a fraction in relation to the incredible number of horrors and, in equal measure, the number of victims who did not live to tell the tale.

"What followed defied description. No one would believe it, anyone would say that it is from the realm of the fantastic: beatings on the head to induce stupefaction; beatings in the face, for disfigurement; thousands of blows to the back, below the ribs, in the plexus, on the soles of the feet. Dozens of faints and then all over again, for hours on end, and the eye at the peep hole always watching, always watching. They shattered my ribs, lungs, liver, kicking my bones, my kidneys with shod feet." Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill: Memories of Pitesti Prison, p. 15

"The soles of my feet had swollen, my hands likewise, my muscles were torn and black, my face and head totally disfigured. This was Turcanu’s first trick: he would completely disfigure you, grinning in pleasure, and then he would bring the other methods into play. I was completely black, I couldn’t find a single spot on my entire body that wasn’t black." Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill: Memories of Pitesti Prison, p. 16

"Some succumbed immediately, from the horror of the prison; others after a few punches, others after thousands and tens of thousands of beatings and other tortures, but they still succumbed. Death itself is a proof that they succumbed, whatever anyone might say! It depended on the constitution of the individual and on the place they had, if I can put it like this, on the Mendeleyev scale!" Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill: Memories of Pitesti Prison, p. 22

"There followed personal unmasking. I had to make a mockery of myself, say that I had been a hypocrite, a thief, a fraudster, that I had lied to others. I realised what it was they wanted and I spat out as much as they wanted." Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill: Memories of Pitesti Prison, in Memoria no. 13, p. 39

"In the so-called act of depersonalisation, the students were forced, under torture, permanent and unimaginable torture, to betray all they held dear: God, their own parents, brothers, sisters and friends. They were constrained to drink urine and to eat faeces! The human being was thereby annihilated. Disgusted at his weakness, he would never be able to recover himself before his own conscience. The pain was beyond the power of human endurance." Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill: Memories of Pitesti Prison, Editura Fronde, Alba-Iulia – Paris, 1994, p. 6

"They knew how to turn everything into an occasion for torture. Going to the toilet had to be carried out with dizzying speed. There were more than forty of us, and we all had to finish our business in half an hour at the most, which left no more than thirty-forty seconds for each; mostly we would give up and leave it until the next day, which would leave us even more constipated." Justin Stefan Paven, The Hell of Pitesti, in Memoria, no. 22, p. 71

"With indescribable fury they began to hit him, with fists, cudgels and feet. And to toss him from one to another, until the bloodied wretch fell almost senseless and could no longer rise. After they had given him a few more kicks to the head, two of them picked him up and threw him on the bunk, making him sit with his hands in his pockets and his head bowed, according to the order. Then another followed, then another, as though in a devilish ring dance intended to annihilate the last speck of physical and moral resistance of those who entered into their rabid game." Justin Stefan Paven, The Hell of Pitesti, in Memoria, no. 22, p. 66

"I came round with difficulty from my state of unconsciousness, I had a raging headache, pains all over, I could no longer see out of one eye, blood was pouring from my nose and mouth and, what was worse, from both ears; I was on the cement floor, I could no longer move, I was lifted up and flung onto the bunk. In the silence of the cell I could hear only disparate words from Turcanu’s speech: bandits, criminals, unmasking or death." Nicu IoniTa, Pitesti – The Agony of a Day, in Sighet Annals no. 7, 1949-1953 The Mechanisms of Terror, FundaTia Academia Civica, 1999, p. 588

"Our friends and colleagues were walking around the cell, agitated, with cudgels in their hands; a bitter surprise, a cruel disillusionment. At a signal from Turcanu they fell upon us; our friends were wielding their clubs with enviable dexterity and each blow was accompanied by a verbal aggression hard to imagine in intellectuals. We were dragged onto the floor, trampled and struck at random." Nicu IoniTa, Pitesti – The Agony of a Day, in Sighet Annals no. 7, 1949-1953 The Mechanisms of Terror, FundaTia Academia Civica, 1999, p. 588

"The food was insufficient and poor in quality, it was shared out by them, they gave us as much as they thought we deserved and we ate when and how they saw fit; either they would confiscate our spoons and we would be forced to lap the gruel like dogs, or they would pour boiling gruel into our mouths and force us to swallow it as quickly as possible. We weren’t allowed to drink water; the strenuous efforts caused abundant sweating and we couldn’t slake our thirst, it was terrible." Nicu IoniTa, Pitesti – The Agony of a Day, in Sighet Annals no. 7, 1949-1953 The Mechanisms of Terror, FundaTia Academia Civica, 1999, pp. 589-90

"The beast (Turcanu), who was around 90-100 kg in weight, gave me a powerful punch and I fell under the window shutter and burst my eardrum; then they undressed me (…) they tied my hands behind my back with a rope and my feet with another rope. What followed is indescribable… beatings on the head to induce stupefaction; beatings in the face, for disfigurement; thousands of blows to the back, below the ribs, in the plexus, on the soles of the feet. Dozens of faints and then all over again, for hours on end, and the eye at the peep hole always watching, always watching. They shattered my ribs, lungs, liver, kicking my bones, my kidneys with shod feet. (…) After the first bout of a few hours, Turcanu said to me: ’How much longer do you want me to stay in prison on your account? Either you do the unmasking or you go off to the angels after the others like yourself.’ And the second bout began. I passed out. Something was still alive in me, because I said to myself: ’I’m dead and in the other world.’ It was a kind of euphoria. I came round soaking wet and tied to the pipe of a radiator, which was there just for show." Eugen Magirescu, The Devil’s Mill, in Memoria no. 13, p. 38

"The culminating moment of this hell, however, was the punishment of poor NiTa Cornel on the evening of 28 February 1950… Turcanu set his pack on him. Rapidly punching him, he thrust him into a circle made up of six or seven torturers, who received him with punches and kicks, tossing him from one to another like a ball, until he fell dazed… Turcanu was walking up and down furiously and thinking of a new method of torture, I heard him give the order to tie his hands behind his back and give a signal to Vasile Puscasu, a giant of a man, who was the strongest of them all, to lift him up. Lifting him onto the edge of the bunk, Puscasu took him by his bound hands and twisting him round suspended him in mid-air, in a position that suggested crucifixion. The poor child, with his head thrust into his chest, still had the strength to release a heart-rending scream at the moment when his arms broke, then made desperate efforts to draw air into his lungs. Around him four or five torturers beat him with clubs, with terrifying sadism, on the head, on the legs, in an infernal thirst to destroy to life. After dozens of blows they released him to fall from a height. He collapsed inert, face down, without being able to move from the spot." Justin Stefan Paven, The Hell of Pitesti, in Memoria no. 23, p. 69

"Unmasking pursued the drying up of memory, brainwashing, renunciation of the beliefs and ideals you had, repudiation of the life that had formed you, condemnation of the society in which you had lived, abandonment of your family and accusation of your parents, brothers and sisters for the most abject deeds, in other words, what was pursued was the erasure of logical circuits and the destruction of the internal models of the world in which you had lived and to which you belonged. Re-education pursued the formation of different logical circuits and a different internal model of the surrounding world, a world as the Party wished it and which awaited you on your release. Unfortunately, in large part, it succeeded." Nicu IoniTa, The Terror – Psychophysiology and Psychopathology, in Sighet Annals 7, 1949-1953 The Mechanisms of Terror, FundaTia Academia Civica, 1999, p. 29

"Turcanu’s face became congested, his eyes seemingly spewed flame, his body trembled. I think that in my entire life I have not seen such a ferocious gaze as that which I see now! He rushes– in fact he hurls himself – at the military doctor. As though at a command, Puscasu, Steiner, Gherman and Patrascanu are behind him. Turcanu drags him by the collar of his coat into the middle of the room. He is of middling stature; his face has regular features. He is stretched out on the floor; the degenerate seizes his throat and strikes his head against the cement. Five-six blows. He rests his full weight on the victim’s throat; he strangles him. The doctor’s throat rattles, he struggles in the vice of Turcanu’s hands, he holds him for so long (I no longer have any notion of time). He strips him bare… Six of the team of torturers line up at a distance of one metre from each other. In front of them, two metres away, another six. All are holding clubs and belts. The doctor is gagged with a towel knotted behind his neck… After a time, the skin is broken all over his back and legs. The blood trickles down his legs. The cement is red…" Grigore Dumitrescu, Room 4 Pitesti Hospital, in Memoria no. 3, p. 25

"At Pitesti, for the first time in my life I longed for death and I longed for death ardently, but this right was taken from me, this possibility of dying." Testimony of Tudor Stanescu. Almira EnuTa, The Pitesti Phenomenon in the Romanian Version, in Annual of Oral History, Cluj University Press, Cluj, 2000, p. 386

Turcanu: "The Virgin Mary, the Great Whore"

"Turcanu did not abandon his victim until he passed through another terrible series of ordeals. The head of the victim plunged into the bucket of faeces and held there until the point of suffocation; the victim made to stand on all fours and eat from a mess tin, without a spoon, like a pig; made to defecate in the mess tin in which his ladle of peeled barley would be served at lunchtime: the mixture had to be eaten, otherwise, if he vomited, he would have to lick it up off the floor. When the victim was a theology student or a person with a certain religious feeling, he was made to genuflect to the bare bottom of one of the re-educated, to call that bottom an icon and to kiss it. He would have to label the Holy Virgin ’the great whore’ and Jesus Christ ’the great idiot crucified on the cross’. If it was known that the victim loved his parents, Turcanu would provoke him thus: Tell me, X, how did you sleep with your mother? or, Tell me how you caught your father raping your sister? The victim, after enduring the purgatory of re-education, was never abandoned, but was also drawn into the caste of executioners. The first victim introduced into the room was given into his hands. Knowing well the whole gamut of tortures to which he himself had been subjected, the executioner was invited by the rest of the caste to prove that he was indeed apt for a new life. If he did not do his duty properly, he went from being torturer to being victim once more." Ion Balan, The Prison Camp Regime in Romania, 1945-1964, FundaTia Academia Civica, 2000, p. 225

(...)

"Human dignity was debased, mocked: your face was daubed with toothpaste or boot polish, a toilet seat was placed around your neck and you were made to recite self-mocking poems; if you had an upset stomach, when you squatted over the bucket you would be admonished for being unfeeling, for spoiling the air; they made you lick out the toilet bowl; your head was held down in the bucket of urine and excrement until you started to suffocate; you were made to tug each other’s genitals or one of them would put his penis in your mouth; if you soiled yourself during beatings you were made to eat your own faeces and to lick the dirtied long-johns or to eat another’s faeces from your own mess tin, without being allowed to wash it after that; you were made to kiss each other’s bottoms; you were made to urinate in each other’s mouths; when you begged for water, you would be given urine from the bucket or they would urinate in your mouth, or others would spit in your mouth; you were made to spit in each other’s bottoms and then lick it up; they would wipe a stick smeared in faeces from the WC on your mouth and in your mouth; you were made to stick your finger up your bottom and then suck it." Costin Merisca, The Pitesti Tragedy. A Chronicle of ’re-education in the communist prisons, Institutul European, Jassy, 1997, p. 70-71

"If death had come immediately, however, it would have been much easier, but the torture continued. And when you no longer had anyone to comfort you or beside you, time became unbearable." Dumitru Gh. Bordeianu, Confessions from the Mire of Despair. Pitesti, vol. I, Editura Gama, Bucharest, 1995, p. 100

"The summit of degradation was when a part of us were forced to eat each other’s faeces. This unthinkable degradation went so far that some of us preferred to eat our own faeces so as not to be forced to eat another’s. This paranoiac torment lasted for some three weeks, while for others a number of months, during which time we were savagely beaten for refusing to submit, so that those weeks were for us the beginning of collective delirium." Dumitru Gh. Bordeianu, Confessions from the Mire of Despair. Pitesti, vol. I, Editura Gama, Bucharest, 1995, p. 140-1

The Hell of the Believers

Performances on religious subjects, black masses staged at Easter or Christmas, horrified the detainees. On such occasions, it was the theology students who were to suffer the most, dressed up as ’Christs’, clothed in cassocks smeared with excrement. They were made to take ’communion’ with urine and faeces, and instead of the Cross, a phallus was fashioned of soap, which all the others were made to kiss. Alongside them hymns were sung with scabrous words, in which the commonplaces were insults against Christ and the Virgin Mary. Sometimes the detainees would be stripped naked. Some survivors recount that the Commandments were reversed or given malicious meanings. At Easter in 1950, a theology student was clothed with a sheet smeared in excrement and a phallus made of soap was tied around his neck, before which all the other participants in the play had to prostrate themselves. A ’woman’ poured ’ointment’ (faeces) on his head, and the ’Jesus’ shared out ’faeces’ to the ’disciples’ saying: ’Take, eat, this is my body".

Sexual plays also performed

At the orders of Turcanu, naturally. On Good Friday, he shared out the roles: the ’ass’ is fellated by ’Mary Magdalene’, ’Joseph’ sodomises the ’ass’, which in its turn stands with its muzzle in the lap of the ’Virgin Mary whore’, concomitantly sodomised by ’Jesus’. The re-educated, headed by Turcanu, displayed a diabolical pleasure in mocking the faithful, nicknamed ’mystics’. Such scenes had a terrible effect on the victims, who as a rule found their only solace in faith. However, after participating in the black masses, their entire faith was shaken to its foundations, not because they took part affectively in these performances, as the majority acted robotically, but from a natural sense of guilt and shame.

Priest P.K., one of the most mocked of the detainees at Gherla, confessed amid tears to Octavian Voinea, who was trying to hearten him: "Mister Voinea, I have nightmares. I cannot sleep at night. I have sinned against God by comparing myself to Jesus Christ. The voice of a devil constantly whispers in my ear that I have suffered more than Christ." K. told him that he had been beaten on the soles of the feet and all over his naked body, forced to run naked around the cell shouting: "My shop was the church, a cesspool of commerce". The leader of the room made twenty to thirty men defecate: "Bandits, get ready to shit!" and K. was made to eat it all: "All your life you’ve eaten shit in the pulpit, now let us see you eat it to our face!" The tortures did not end there, for the same aggressor placed a bucket of faecal matter in the middle of the room, covered it with a blanket, and made Father K. administer the communion with ’the body and blood of Christ’ (…) After the service to consecrate the filth in the bucket, they gave him a spoon with which he had to serve them all, saying: "The servant of the Lord is administering the communion with the body and blood of Christ and he shall be cleansed."

Eugen Turcanu

After the action of re-education had failed at Tîrgu Ocna, Brashov and the Canal, and had also been stopped at Pitesti, the turn of Gherla came to halt the horror. In December 1951, Turcanu and ten of his collaborators were taken to Jilava Prison for investigation. The detainees who had collaborated with the Securitate and the administration of the prisons felt themselves betrayed and deceived.

Born on 8 July 1925 in Dîrmoxa, Eugen Turcanu was married and had a child at the time when he was sentenced, on 5 February 1949, by Jassy Military Tribunal to seven years imprisonment. His ties to the Iron Guard were tenuous at best, but were exploited to the utmost by the communist authorities when they needed a scapegoat for the crimes at Pitesti and Gherla. After 1941, there is no record of him having any connexion with the Legionaries or the Brotherhoods of the Cross.

Turcanu had five brothers. He married the daughter of a Bukowina lawyer, a Legionary, but began to flirt with the communists immediately after 23 August 1944. It seems that he enrolled in the U.N.S.R., a pro-communist student organisation, as well as in the Romanian Workers’ Party. Among former political prisoners there circulated numerous rumours about his activities in the period 1945-48, according to which he frequented a communist labour and indoctrination site in Bulgaria and a diplomatic school, enjoying the support of Emil Bodnaras. Turcanu had renounced his childhood sympathies for the Legion (he was sixteen when he gave up activity in the Brotherhoods of the Cross) and had taken a completely different path, intuiting the direction in which history was heading.

We have numerous descriptions of him from his victims. Dumitru Bordeianu describes him "as an uncommonly handsome man, with a large head but fine features, a broad forehead, sensual lips, chestnut to blond wavy hair, and a classical, Greek nose. His large eyes, exaggeratedly large and blue, were very expressive. When he frowned it terrified you. Chin specific to the wilful type. He laughed rarely and his laugh was pleasant, attractive. His well-proportioned body seemed that of a trained athlete. When he gave you a punch or a slap, he knocked you to the ground. When he was angry, he was so cruel that he destroyed everything in his path, like a ferocious killer. He was also of an uncommon intelligence and had a formidable memory. He could remember everything that each student at Pitesti and Gherla had declared. However, he was so satanised that you no longer knew what to believe of him. I likened him to a fallen angel. The will to power at any price had driven him to madness. He had become a degraded and satanised brute." Others remarked his character traits: "He was endowed with a remarkable will and intelligence, but was wholly lacking in scruple and dominated by boundless megalomania: he was capable of using any means to achieve his goal. When it was a matter of his own interests, he knew neither mercy nor any sense of balance."

He was imprisoned at Suceava in July 1948. He repeatedly declared that the action of Bogdanovici, commenced in the autumn of 1948, made no sense as long as their cases had not been tried, and so he bided his time, following events as they unfolded. Once the convictions began to flow and the sentences proved to be longer than most had been expecting, Turcanu took the initiative and joined Bogdanovici in his attempts to collaborate with the administration, also impelled by the agitation that the latter had produced among some officers from Bucharest. Dan Lucinescu says that Turcanu somehow acted parallel to Bogdanovici and that he was driven by feelings of revenge: arrested after the revelations of May 1948, he had sought to avenge himself on the Legionaries, but Bogdanovici had represented an impediment in this respect, due to his rivalry.

He created the Organisation of Prisoners with Communist Convictions in February-March 1949. He added in his declaration that he even had a notebook in which he noted his daily activity and conclusions.

Turcanu declared during the investigation that he had replaced Bogdanovici as leader because he was "more suited to lead, thanks to my position, because I haven’t had any Legionary activities since 1946, because I had been slipped into the Romanian Workers’ Party and was determined to lead that action," but he gives away the fact that he had some information from the authorities when he asserts that "I led that action so that in the eventuality that the state would embark on such an action it would be able to find at Suceava elements prepared and organised in starting such an action".

He arrived at Pitesti in 1949. He took direct part in the torture of hundreds of detainees at Pitesti, leading the aggression committees in the majority of cells, as he enjoyed freedom of movement within the penitentiary.

He was transferred to Gherla in August 1951 with the final transport from Pitesti and adapted to the situation he found there more out of necessity, inasmuch as Tanu Popa was in control of the ’re-education’.

Turcanu realised that the plans of the manipulators in the shadows had changed and he began to be prudent. In a discussed with Popa shortly after his arrival at Gherla, he drew the latter’s attention to the fact that if they were ever asked about the action they would have to "commit suicide. Better to die than to end up a traitor". He warned him to be prepared for this at any time, and in the end he laughingly threatened him: "Mind I don’t ever mistake you for Bogdanovici".

He was taken from Gherla to Jilava in December 1951 in order to stand trial.

A complex personality, Eugen Turcanu was ably manipulated by the true conductors of the action at Pitesti, who exploited to the maximum his thirst for revenge against those who had cast him into prison. From being a married man with a young child at home, with good prospects of a political career, he woke to find himself sentenced to seven years imprisonment for his old contacts with Legionary youth, and so the latter became his main target, exactly to the liking of the communist authorities. At the same time, ambition, vanity, unscrupulousness and pathological cruelty recommended him to run the torture. Turcanu was not only intelligent but also a good psychologist, because he knew how to talk to his victims. He threatened Visovan that he was preparing something special for him, so that the latter lived with fear in his soul throughout the course of his beatings. He told another, whom he had seen was frailer and more easily frightened (a philosopher by education), that he would not touch him, inasmuch as he would succumb by himself, something that did indeed happen after he had witnessed the torture of his fellow prisoners.

Turcanu’s powers transformed him, in the minds of his victims, into an omnipotent deity, simultaneously reviled and adored by the detainees who passed through his hands. He continued to exert this fascination years after he had been executed: Dan Dumitrescu and Aristotel Popescu were so terrified by the idea that Turcanu might appear in their cells at Jilava to resume his beatings that they ceaselessly denounced any detainee or guard who displayed any deviant comportment. Dementia impelled them even to refuse the bread left for them by prisoners from neighbouring cells, because they could not accept the idea that Turcanu was dead and constantly suspected that they were being put to the test."

Tudor BORCEA (Translated by Alistair Blyth)

ZIUA ONLINE - EVENIMENT - Friday, 15 February 2008. Original (Romanian) Version: http://www.ziua.ro/news.php?data=2008-02-15&id=3481