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

"The most
terrible act
of barbarism
in the modern

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Unedited video clips from the feature-length documentary
"THE GENOCIDE OF THE SOULS. The Pitesti Experiment: Re-education through Torture".
A film by Sorin Ilieşiu. © VideoMedia Foundation.

Emil Sebesan: There was this horrible incident. We had a student of divinity among us, and they had him deliver the mass on the chibla... you know that is a barrel we used for a toilet. They wouldn't allow us to go to a proper toilet. So they placed him on the chibla and they used a bar of soap to carve a penis instead of the cross. And they made us take turns in kissing that soap penis while the student went through the religious service blessing us and so on... That's the kind of things they would do. Just to mock and humiliate us. And they made us commune on urine and feces. All of us. With a teaspoon. We had done it before, it wasn't anything new, but it was a terrible to know what they wanted it to mean.

The Virgin Mary was called a whore by all of them. Turcanu would tell us: "What, are you a believer in that whore, Maria? Who knows how many "Fathers" there may have been... Until she finally found a fool to say that God was the Father.'

Any attempt to cross yourself would mean at least one-hour beating. I think the only way people would cross themselves was with their tongue inside their closed mouth.

Emil Sebesan: You could only go to the chibla after they beat you until you wet your pants. Not the feces, though, you had to collect those in your tin plate. Once you did that, you realize you couldn't really empty or clean it and they would put your food ration on top of that... And they would make you eat it out of there. They'd push your face in it and have you eat it all with your spoon. If you asked for water, they'd give you urine - your own or someone else's, it was all the same to them. And they said, be grateful that you at least get to drink something.

The first thing they would do in such inquiries and interrogations was to dehumanize you. They wouldn't stop until you called your own father a drunkard and your mother a whore. It was unavoidable, you had to say these things to stop the beating. I remember they would organize religious mass on Sundays. There were two students of divinity from Cluj among us. They made these two provide religious service and had us carve a penis out of soap bar and then kiss it during the service. The priest would hold it up instead of the cross. And would bless you with it.

Emil Sebesan: People died, too. Beaten to death, I knew them.

Reporter: Did you witness any such killing?
Emil Sebesan: Yes.

Reporter: Can you tell us about it?
Emil Sebesan: Well I didn't actually see him die, but I saw how they tortured him. This man, Bogdanovici. I saw Turcanu jump with his heavy boots on the man's chest - repeatedly. And it wasn't accidental either. This he would do for minutes on end! Bogdanovici died crushed under feet. Beaten to death. Others, too: Petrica Cojocaru, to say nothing of Oprisan. Oprisan couldn't have had one inch of his body that was not bruised. I saw him naked in the showers. Everyone would exclaim: "Look at poor Oprisan!'

Emil Sebesan: This was extremely interesting. Everyone keeps silent about Pitesti. They were that scared. I did not even tell my wife what happened to me in Pitesti. Just as an aside: I once came home after the revolution and found my wife crying. "Why are you crying?" I asked her. She said, "I've realized after 20 years of marriage that you didn't trust me.' "What do you mean I didn't trust you?" "Why did I have to find out from other people what happened to you in Pitesti? You never told me. Why couldn't you trust me?" So I replied: "Sit down and listen to me. I'll explain it to you. You have a sister and two brothers. If I had told you, you'd have talked about it with your sister and brothers, and they would have spoken about it with their friends, and pretty soon the Securitate would hear it and seize me and beat the hell out of me again. Would you have liked that to happen?" "Of course not.' "Well, then. So you found out about it now. What could you have done about it anyway? Could you have made it disappear like it never happened? Of course not, so then why bother about it? Don't worry, it wasn't that I did not trust you.
Ghe. Gheorghiu: So one day they come and say to this man, "Now you expose your family. Confess how many gypsies your mother went out with, and your father... you must have had one of them gypsies for a father, didn't you. So start by talking about your father." He replied: "You humiliated me as much as you wanted, but I won't smear my father. He never did what you say he did. It's just not true. He was a man of honor.' They put him on the ground and all jumped on him... six or seven of them. Trampled him under feet, hit him in the head... How they trashed him!...
Ghe. Gheorghiu: At one point I could not stand it anymore in that cell. It wasn't so much the beatings, but I was shocked by the other things as well. Especially how they made those people eat their feces. It was that humiliating scene on Easter and on Christmas. Very troubling. All of it, it was just too much. And this man dying, though I did not see that, he was in the other cell. So one day, I took the glass jar from the guy, and broke it so they wouldn't hear me (I don't really remember how I did it) and I cut my wrist and just lay there. Unfortunately, they finished early with this guy - or maybe that was my good fortune, who can tell... and I did not lose enough blood... I had cut myself as best as I could....

Some time passed, and Turcanu came to me and said: "Come out, you punk. What was that scene all about? You thought you'd impress me?" And he grabbed me by the throat and banged me [against the wall]. "You don't get to die when you want. You'll die when we are finished with you, after you tell us all we need to hear.'

Traian Popescu: Had I not experienced the crisis and tried to end my life... but I also had another such moment in the cellars to make me want to end this Calvary Oratorio... I couldn't pray anymore, I was desperate. Why won't You take me to You? Why would you let all these things happen to me?" As I elaborated a line or two, the music would come along as well. When I did the Freedom Hymn and the Freedom Round Dance, the music and lyrics would come to me simultaneously, as I danced around in the cellar. Maybe the music would come first... And at that moment the lyrics would come to me as well. I haven't heard of anyone else being able to create symphonic music without a formal education and without pen and paper.
Dan Lucinescu: I would like to ask you, for your own sakes, to believe that what I am saying is true. It would be very unpleasant if you did not believe me.

At one point, after a couple of blows I received, I stopped feeling any pain. But a thought arose in my mind that was quite interesting. I wanted very much to cross to the other side. Expiation, my demise, seemed to me like a great solution to it all. I thought I wasn't really that much of a sinner, so maybe I would be accepted in the kingdom of heaven. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I looked at the two men in front of me and noticed their exhausted grimaces and the perspiration streaming down on their faces. And there was gratitude in my eyes, these people are helping me cross to the other side, I thought. And when they stopped and looked into my eyes and saw my grateful and friendly look, they dropped their clubs at once. There was silence in the room all of a sudden, and that meant that I had failed, in a sense.

Dan Lucinescu: Then there was this group of convicts who had to undergo horrible torture. They had this hatred for anyone who had studied divinity, and there was this man from Timisoara, a graduate for the divinity school there, a very devout, but also a very stout and chubby fellow. Their entire fury and effort was channeled towards him, they beat him up so badly that the man excreted for pain and then they made him eat his feces mixed with urine and everything. This was the most horrid thing I witnessed...
Dan Lucinescu: A medical school student, a very nice and special person, took a particularly violent beating as he stood up to them and would not cooperate. He had this unforgiving sense of humor that he directed against them. So when they realized he could not be broke and re-educated and would hang fast to his old ways - I was right behind him, he was to my left - his name was Pintilie, this medical student - They came with two tin plates, and then he stopped and was quite aware of what was happening, so he put it to his mouth and drank it all. After a couple of hours he started to puff up, he developed cerebral edemas, he stood up in the middle of the room and started lecturing something in French, then he fell down and could never stand up again.

Reporter: he died right there, in the room?
Dan Lucinescu: Yes hed died in that room.

Marcel Petrisor: You are haunted by the fact that you have been made to repudiate your own mother, that they made you mock-admit to having had sex with a sow, that sort of thing... Once you say these things, it's not very easy to forget them. In re-educating us, the beating and the violation of your body were atrocious, but not so much as the moral violation. Making you trample and defile the holy mystery of the communion, that was unbearable, and 99% of us were Christian believers. To deprecate yourself, claim monstrous things about yourself and your family so that they would be convinced that you were truly re-educated and were severed from your own past, that is truly horrendous.

To trample your own convictions, your ideals - even your own faith... and there's another terrifying thing, forcing you to become a torturer yourself for those who followed, who took their turn in being re-educated and have the same things inflicted on them that made you reach that state and become a torturer.

Reporter: Did any of you manage to avoid becoming a torturer for others?
Marcel Petrisor: Yes, quite a few - I mean those who committed suicide... This is horrifying, to have them force you into torturing another. Or have your good friend tortured in front of you, until you finally confess to whatever it is that they want you to say.

Marcel Petrisor: "The black liturgy" - that meant they would dress someone in bed sheets that were painted like the priest's cloth, and have him take confessions with the cross held upside down... they were mock-confessions of those who were forced to falsely confess about adultery, sodomy and so on... and in the end, they had us commune from the toilet, with excrements instead of... symbolizing the holy communion. That was horrible!...

The two peasants under the bed... they beat them and forced them to lie under their beds because they would not confess to there being no God, and would not renounce their faith. And they would whisper to one another: "How can we say that there is no God, as they would have us do, what will happen to us when we eventually get to meet our Maker? Better accept this punishment here.' Well, they could only take that much beating. In the end they, too, had to say what was asked of them.

Here's another physical torture. They had you shit in your tinplate, clean it up with urine, then they would put your meal in there. And then they tied your hands behind and made you kneel down and eat directly with your mouth, like a pig.

Translated from Romanian by Bogdan Stefanescu