To this end the students were obliged to crush under-foot everything they held most sacred – God, family, friends, love, wife, colleagues, memories, ideology – everything which bound them to the past, anything that might give them inner support while in prison. (Dumitru Bacu, The Anti-Humans)
The story of Communism in Romania may not be a unique story. The familiar elements all present their ugly heads. As the Bolsheviks came to power the lives of the indigenous population worsened precipitously — the ideology of the enlightened government against the backward people. Foreigners became policy makers. Peasants starved. Prisons swelled. Slave labor killed hundreds of thousands. And lastly, the indigenous intellectual class was suppressed. What is unique about what happened in Romania is how the intellectual class was suppressed. Rather than simple suppression through imprisonment and discouraging political activity, the intellectual class in Romania was subjected to sadistic experimentation in what has been dubbed “re-education experiments.”
The intellectual class targeted for re-education was a specific group of people. Rather than target older academics or those of influence, the Communist regime targeted university students for their experiments. These students were chosen for a variety of reasons. To become a student in a Romanian University was a difficult task. For example, to be a student, an individual was expected to know French and German as well as either Latin and Greek or English and Italian. This demanding language requirement as well as other academic requirements brought a high degree of prestige to the very word student. The prestige of being a student could not be bought either. The wealthy who wanted to send their children to university had to send their children to another country if they did not meet the requirements. The result was that a large portion of the student body came from peasant backgrounds.
The final, and perhaps most important reason for targeting students, was their ardent patriotism. Students in Romania were patriotic for a number of reasons. Just as our American rural class is disproportionally conservative, the Romanian students who mostly came from an agrarian background were also a highly conservative group. Furthermore an influential man on the student body was Corneliu Z. Codreanu. He established the Legion of Michael the Archangel (the Iron Guard or simply the Legionary Movement) in 1927. The organization’s principles were love of country, a code of honor and moral intransigence, the reciprocal loyalty of knighthood, rigorous subordination of body to spirit, and an absolute faith in Christ. These high-minded ideals attracted students and other intellectuals to the movement. Even 30 years after Codreanu’s murder by Bolsheviks in 1938 he had faithful followers, many being students who were still part of the nationalist Legionary Movement.
The most intense and psychologically damaging experiments were done at Pitesti Prison between 1949 and 1951. The primary victims were students, the majority of whom had previously been a part of the Legionary movement. The students were often arrested for being involved in “anti-Communist activities” which could mean essentially anything that the Communists found politically expedient. Often times being part of the Legionary Movement was reason enough to arrest a student but in other instances, telling an anti-Communist joke could be grounds for arrest. Regardless of how or why they were arrested, the true horrors of Communism made themselves apparent inside the walls of Pitesti. (more…)