Pitesti penitenciary – Romania

I’m supposed to write a blog post about the crimes of communism, but having lived in a country still haunted by this appalling political regime, I feel I cannot do justice and explain properly the terror that the communist era has developed into the mentality of Romanians. Some people will read this having little to no knowledge about communism; others will read it feeling they already know everything there is to know about the crimes in that time… However, I dare anyone to put in plain words the sheer brainwash activity that has happened for more than five decades (1947-1989) in a country still feeling the consequences of the Second World War.

Communism in Romania:

In the immediate years after the WWII, the communist-aligned parties gained more and more power through constant elimination of adversaries. Thus, in December 1947, the rightful king of Romania, Michael, was forced to abdicate (and flee the country) by a growing body of communists. As a consequence, the People’s Republic of Romania was formed. Although we can talk about numerous crimes in the build-up to the coup d’état that happened in 1947, the most terrifying and frequent crimes came after the regime was officially in power. Most of the intellectuals (academics, students, writers, poets, philosophers, and priests, among others) opposed the change in power vocally at first, as they were concerned that the new political regime will prove similar to the one in Russia, where J. Stalin imposed the Great Terror in the late 1930s   (The Great Terror a.k.a. the Great Purge was a series of repressive measures in the USSR that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Old Bolsheviks – thought to be enemies of the state). Unfortunately, their worst fears turned out to be completely true.

In a perfect Communist country, the underlying Marxist ideology is “From every one according to their aptitude, to all according to necessity”. This is a very good idea for small groups of people, where public pressure and collective power prevent the creation of a privileged class. This way, communism guarantees an equal distribution of power and wealth, which can be seen as an egalitarian society. However, both the theory and the implementation of Communism in a country are flawed because of:

  1. Human nature – humans are not as group oriented in modern society as they were millions of years ago when they were required to stay together in order to survive. The consequence of this is that nowadays, humans will not work beyond the normal efforts just to get a normal reward. To be more explicit, if someone can get £5 for producing 5 items, they won’t strive to produce 10-15 items because in Communism they will only get the same reward of merely £5.
  2. Privileged class – in all communist countries, the party is solely responsible for the implementation of the communist ideology. Although ideally the party should be there to maintain the social parity and collaboration, realistically, the party is the group that dictates everything as it possess all the power. Unfortunately, there are no checks of power within the communist regime and as such, the leader becomes all powerful and terribly abusive, not to mention obsessed with his “perfect” personality.

As I said before, the intellectuals in Romania had plenty to fear about the new regime, nevertheless because of the newly created privileged class. The implementation of communism in Romania was of a very high standard. Immediately after the communists took over, a command of terror was spread across the country and the very first victims were the people who had position of power previously and the people who did adhere to the new rules. Principals of schools, with years of experience in both tutoring and running schools were dismissed and uneducated people were put in their position. The reasoning was very simple: take a detractor and destroy him and in the same time, replaces him with someone whose loyalty you can buy easily. Because people who had no power previously were tasked to run various institutions/companies, they listened blindly to what the people in power told them to do, even if that meant hurting other people. Because it was forbidden to say anything against such practices, everyone who dared to display signs of rebellion would be taken away and some of them were never to be found again.

This led in 1949 to the conception of the single most terrifying creation of communism in Europe, a place of pure horror: the Pitesti Penitentiary. On the 6th of December 1949, this place started the process of re-education with the aim to destroy any form of mental health of an individual. Most of the people who suffered this process were students, academics, intellectuals or communism haters. They were all called “enemies of the state” and the military police would force other people to say untrue stories just so they could have a claim against them. A confession taken after the Pitesti experiment had finished tells the story of a young man who was brought in for questioning for plotting against the communist party. Even though he was innocent, there were claims from secure sources that he “wanted to rebel against the party”, thus becoming an “enemy of the state”. After hours of questioning and beatings, he was finally shown who the police’s informer was: his wife, whom he married just a few months before, had been beaten and persecuted until she capitulated, lying that he was an “enemy of the state”. This is how it all began for most prisoners as the military police had no real claim against them so they had to force other people into inventing such things.

As soon as they had proof of claims against you, you were then taken into the penitentiary where the horrific process would begin. It was very detailed and aimed at destroying the innate being and beliefs of an individual and it consisted of 4 stages:

    1. External denunciation – through continuous torture, you were made to invent claims against your closest friends and acquaintances so that the military police could detain and prosecute them as well
    2. Internal denunciation – After you were made to lie about your friends, you were forced to start insulting yourself until you lost any respect for your upbringing, for your values, for the world that you constructed for yourself. One of the stories tells about a very religious man who was constantly forced to relieve himself on the Holy Cross whilst insulting God and anyone who would believe in him. The key for this process was to keep going like this until all the principles of an individual were destroyed through constant torture and unmitigated pain.
    3. Public moral denunciation – the third step of the process required the individual, again under severe and constant torture, to start criticizing his parents up to the point where the mother would become the biggest whore that ever existed and where the father would become anything as bad as a “paedophile” or “incestuous scumbag” who raised you as a “scumbag” as well.

Torture is very well spread in times of war and totalitarian regimes, everybody is aware of that. However, the difference with the Pitesti experiment was that torture was constant, it didn’t stop at all; it was continuous until the last stage of the process, the 4th step which is basically the complete dehumanisation of an individual.

                  4. The victim becomes the torturer. After you’ve gone through the first 3 steps of the programme, you were forced to do  the whole process to your best friend, thus becoming an executioner yourself. This was the final straw that ultimately destroyed the personality of all those who were re-educated. By becoming a torturer and doing the same atrocious acts to your best friend, they assured that you won’t have any chances of coming back to who you were previously. The transformation and brainwash were complete in every way and this is what made the Pitesti Penitentiary one of the most terrible places of those times.

Countless people have died before word got out of that was happening there in 1952. The government acted as if it was surprised at the activities that were held at Pitesti and they quickly condemned some of the torturers to death to silence everybody.

Even though the Pitesti phenomenon has been finished for more than 60 years, I am still deeply disturbed by what happened merely 80 miles away from my home city. Similar experiments have indeed taken place in other countries (this re-education process started in China and was copied by others later), but none of them went through all the 4 steps in order to complete the process.

Marina Gogeanu

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2 thoughts on “Pitesti penitenciary – Romania

  1. The re-education process is absolutely terrifying and unfortunately, the socialist architecture erased almost all the emblems of the pre-communist Bucharest. The remaining of the historic core is represented by only few streets now and even though most of those streets’ buildings are in a state of disrepair, they symbolise the country’s survival and are conceived as an important part of Romania’s architecture.

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