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Harbinger of Things to Come? The Romanian Communists’ “Reeducation” Prison at Pitești

Victims of Romanian Communists' reeducation experiments at Pitești Prison. PHOTO: Uncover Romania/Diana Condrea

Given the growing threat of calls by Democrats and some Republicans to “reeducate” those they view as their political opposition — specifically, populists, nationalists and traditionalists (PNTs) — it’s time for a look back in history to see how Communists conducted such a reprogramming operation 70 years ago in Romania.

To illustrate with an example — and mind you he’s merely one of hundreds, if not thousands — here’s a comment by David Atkins, the regional director for the Democratic Party in California and an elected Democrat National Committee member.

Pitești prison (Romanian: Închisoarea Pitești) was a small penal facility infamous for mind-breaking and reeducation experiments conducted between December 1949 and September 1951 under the directives of the Communist Party (also known as Experimentul Pitești, the “Pitești Experiment”; or Fenomenul Pitești, the “Pitești Phenomenon”).

This Soviet origin experiment aimed to achieve re-education through systematic torture that transformed victims into torturers and back again into victims, turning the innocent into the guilty, in a spiral of impossible violence.

Between September and October of 1948, Pitești prison was designated as a detention facility for students who were members of the right-wing Iron Guard (Legionaries). Within three years, the death toll from the Pitești Experiment reached 22, and an estimated 5,000 inmates were mentally tortured and physically mutilated.

To hide the mounting death toll, often doctors were ordered to forge the cause of death on the death certificate to indicate diseases from which the detainee had previously suffered.

An important factor that facilitated abuse by Communist authoritarian regimes was their subjective definition of morality itself. Lenin declared that any action that seeks the welfare of the Party is considered moral, while any action that harms it is immoral. As such, morality itself is a relative concept (aka moral relativism), as it follows the needs of the group.

Historian Mircea Stănescu in his 2010 book asserted that the Communist regime did not consider imprisonment as a form of penitence but rather a method of elimination from the social and political life; and, eventually, as a political reeducation environment.

Accordingly, this is fertile ground for the development of an immoral thug caste that’s prone to becoming jailers and torturers.

Alexandru Bogdanovici and Eugen Ţurcanu first conceived of a Diversion and Reeducation Plan for Gherla prison. Its purpose was to continue the unmasking process, by non-violent means. The plan had three phases:

  • First, identification. Facilitate the creation of a pro-Iron Guard group, and boost its morale.
  • Second, provoke the unmasking of the group in a public gathering. Isolate the leaders and process them. Processing meant a confrontation of the leaders with the reeducated group, with the purpose of changing their political orientation.
  • Third, indoctrination of the prisoners with Marxist ideology via lectures and conferences.
Sadist and murderer Eugen Ţurcanu

However, this light-touch approach of unmasking was later hardened in 1949, when Tiberiu Lazăr, born in Budapest of Jewish origins, became Gherla’s warden. With Lazăr now in charge, beatings became common practice.

Aware that non-violent reeducation methods were not efficient, as the Legionaries were refusing to accept the communist agenda and doctrine, a violent reeducation program was proposed and initiated by the sadistic goons Țurcanu and Ion Marina.

They formed the Organization of Prisoners with Communist Convictions (ODCC), confessed their past crimes and beliefs, studied communist literature, and persuaded other prisoners to do the same.

The program, which was implemented at Pitești by a group of ODCC prisoners under the guidance of the prison administration, was designed as an attempt to violently “reeducate” the mostly young political prisoners, who were primarily supporters of the fascist Iron Guard (Legionaries) as well as some clerics.

Later, the prison was joined by those who opposed collectivization, who tried to illegally cross the border, members of resistance and, generally, opposers of the regime, even in nonviolent ways.

Ţurcanu was transferred to Piteşti prison in December 1949 and given use of Hospital Room No. 4. Here, he and other members of the ODCC began a new “experiment” on Legionarie prisoners.

Torture would begin suddenly and brutally, lasting day and night for weeks on end. They would regularly beat the victims with clubs and whips, force them to eat and drink their own feces, crucify them, sodomize them while screaming blasphemies and jump on victims until they died. When prisoners begged to join the ODCC, Ţurcanu made them confess their anti-communist thoughts and actions before others, accuse themselves of immorality and then join him in torturing other prisoners.

The experiment’s goal was for prisoners to discard past political and religious convictions and, eventually, to alter their personalities to the point of absolute obedience. Its aim was not to kill the inmates, but to “reeducate” them through humiliation, isolation and depravity.

The prison sections were isolated and the communication channels between the inmates cut off. The cells were overcrowded, and the food had a low caloric content (maximum 1,000 calories per day). There was little to no medical assistance, the sanitary program was done on a group basis. Many did not get to the toilet in the allocated time and had to do it in their own food tins, which had to be later washed and reused.

Exterior walls were built around the prison and within the penitentiary perimeter. The inside and outside yards, separated by barbed wire fences, were now completely isolated by concrete walls.

Detainees, who were subject to regular and severe beatings, were required to engage in torturing each other, with the goal of breaking past loyalties. Guards would force them to attend scheduled or ad-hoc political instruction sessions on topics such as dialectical materialism and Joseph Stalin’s “History of the CPSU(B) Short Course,” usually accompanied by random violence and encouraged delation (demascare, lit. “unmasking”) for various real or invented offenses and wrong-think.

Inmates were forced to stay in uncomfortable positions, such as lying down with the head raised and a needle pointing at the back of the neck so as to never fully experience deep rest.

They were forced to walk on all fours in a circle, each licking the anus of the one in front, or behave in obscene and perverted ways during mock religious services.

“Prisoners’ whole bodies were burned with cigarettes; their buttocks would begin to rot, and their skin fell off. Others were forced to swallow spoons of excrement, and when they threw it back up, they were forced to eat their own vomit,” historians recount.

Torture was applied as a means of exposing the intimate details of a prisoner’s life (“external unmasking”). Many prisoners would confess imaginary misdeeds. During the first of this external unmasking, the detainee had to confess all his actions that were hostile towards the regime.

This phase itself was split into:

  • The inside exposure: The person was forced to reveal all the activities aimed against the penitentiary regime and administration, since incarceration. The purpose was to expose all subversive activities and also verify the “correctness” of the prisoner. The process was done in public, under the surveillance of the reeducator, and prisoners had to be actively involved and ask questions in turn.
  • The outside exposure: Detainees had to reveal their hostile behavior prior to the arrest, especially the actions that may have harmed the interest of the Communist Party: subversive organizations (the resistance), the activity of the historical parties after their dissolution, acts aimed against the party members during the war, espionage, etc.

The second phase represented the internal unmasking, where an autobiography was requested from the inmates; the degree of defamation it contained was considered directly proportional to the mental shift of the prisoner towards the reeducation program. They had to present their family members as immoral, criminals and incestuous, in public. The anti-regime actions that had them imprisoned were as such presented as being caused by the depraved environment they were educated in.

The second phase of “internal unmasking” also required torture to reveal the names of those who had behaved less brutally or with relative indulgence to them in detention.

The third and last phase was the post-unmasking, and it consisted of discussions concerning Communist doctrine and practice. While during the first and second phase, the person had to prove the past was left behind and his loyalty stands with the Party, the purpose of the third phase was to strengthen the theoretical foundation of this process.

Public humiliation was also enforced, usually at the third stage (“public moral unmasking”). Inmates were forced to denounce all their personal beliefs, loyalties and values. Notably, religious inmates had to blaspheme religious symbols and sacred texts.

The inmates were required to accept the notion that their own family members and communities had various criminal and grotesque features. They were required to author false autobiographies, comprising of accounts of deviant behavior.

Guards chanted baptismal rites as buckets of urine and fecal matter were brought to inmates. The inmate’s head was pushed into the raw sewage. His head would remain submerged almost to the point of death. The head was then raised, the inmate allowed to breathe, only to have his head pushed back into the sewage.

Inmates subject to “reeducation” were supposed to work for exhausting periods doing humiliating chores, such as cleaning the floor with a rag clenched between the teeth.

After the reeducation program’s initial success at Pitești, the regime intended to spread the practice to other prisons as well. This was also due to ideological reasons, as workers and peasant were at the forefront of the Communist propaganda.

Elsewhere, work on the Danube–Black Sea Canal started in the summer of 1949. It was meant to be the final destination for the old political and social elite.

Political prisoners were forced to work under extremely harsh conditions, subjected to an extermination regime and targeted for the next stages of the reeducation process.

While the emphasis was set more on work-driven slavery reeducation rather than violence, the two functioned in parallel, and a great number of working prisoners ended up in mass graves.

However, in 1952, there was a policy shift away from hardline methods and the program ended. In the post-Stalin era after 1953, the Romanian regime investigated and prosecuted the worst of the abuses.

The Piteşti Experiment, in which roughly 5,000 prisoners were forced to torture each other to the point of insanity and sometimes to death, became the quintessential example of the evil of Romanian Communism.

The victims of Piteşti are seen today as anti-Communist martyrs. Individuals tortured in other Communist prisons, including people incarcerated as fascists, are even widely regarded as saints because of the unique spiritual experiences they had in prison.

The ODCC secretly faced trial for abuse. More than 20 death sentences were handed out on Nov. 10, 1954.

Eugen Țurcanu was held responsible for the murder of 30 prisoners and the abuse exercised on 780 others. He and 16 accomplices were executed by firing squad on Dec. 17 at Jilava Prison.

Securitate officials who had overseen the experiments were tried the following year. All were given light sentences, and were freed soon after.

In order to hide responsibility for the events, the Securitate tried to frame the prisoners themselves. As such, the number of people aware of the ongoing situation was limited.

Reportedly, except for its founders — Gheorghe Pintilie and Alexandru Nicolschi; leaders of the OS Iosif Nemeș and Tudor Sepeanu; and the prisons’ political officers — very few people from the Administration admitted to being aware that beatings and torture were being used on prisoners. As such, few were held responsible for the atrocities.


Read “Justice Comes Late for Romania’s Ageing Torturers”

Studies of the Pitești prison experiments resulted a term called the “Pitesti Phenomenon“:

“The Pitesti Phenomenon is the term used to group, if that’s even possible, the different types of tortures used between 1949 and 1951 in this prison. Needless to mention, the victims were the ‘enemies of the state’ whose only guilt was the opposition against the communist regime. In this case, the enemies were hundreds of students trapped at Pitesti Prison in the ‘most terrible act of barbarism in the modern world’ (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).”

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18 Comments on Harbinger of Things to Come? The Romanian Communists’ “Reeducation” Prison at Pitești

  1. Hi, Russ! It’s very refreshing to see this atrocity (which happened in the city I grew up in) exposed to the world to serve as a warning to the western man.
    All of my older family members on both my mother’s and my father’s side suffered when the communists took control of the country, from land and wealth confiscation to imprisonment in the russian gulag and deportation. I remember my mother telling me that she cried when she saw lemons sold piecemeal in a market in Prague in the summer of ‘89, because they were luxury items in Romania. What worries me is that both in Romania, and increasingly in the western world (mainly the US, but let’s face it, what the US does culturally the rest of Europe adopts it quite rapidly) these is a strong sympathy for this vile ideology. What people don’t get (or don’t want to) is that if/when the communists take over, there will be suffering on an unimaginable scale (see what happened in Russia, Hungary, Czezhoslovakia, Poland, Romania), all caused by the massive paranoia of those in control of the party. For example, there is this old joke: “Listener: Is it true that in Soviet Russia you have freedom of speech just as in the US? Radio Erevan answers: Why yes, you can chant “Death to capitalism” both in Washington and in Moscow”.
    I wish more people knew what went on behind the Iron Curtain, so that the purges and genocides committed by the communists would be just a stain on humanity’s cheek. But when you have us politicians calling out for re-education camps for HALF of the country, strap in, clench your asshole and brace for the rape. Before WWII, Romania was a low-tier first world country. After WWII and 50 odd years of communists in power, we barely qualify as a second world country. That’s what socialism brings.

    • You’d be shocked at how quickly you’d be decried as a “deplorable” for denouncing Communism. There is even an army of apologists who would claim that the atrocities in this article could never happen again. They’d also claim that the atrocities committed by every single Communist regime happened because people didn’t truly embrace Communism.

      Communism attracts losers who are too weak to enact their own sadism. It the collective revenge fantasies of ugly, wretched, and mean people. Communism is a Rat King of the dregs of humanity.

      Communism is just militant Judaism. Everywhere you find Communism you also find Jews. Even if exaggerated, everything that has ever been said about this race is true.

      • Just bookmarked the link. Since I love truthful history and it is so hard to find truthful history these days, I will read this document, likely in spurts, and will post the link on my blog (somethinghappeninghere.wordpress.com) with your permission.

        • Thank you for the link to your blog – saved. You certainly don’t need my permission – I am just happy to kick over the odd pebble and make a contribution to the collective dossier.

          Allow me to digress add

          “The Goths were to commit the civilisation-destroying blunder of the trusting assumption that others were wired similarly to themselves – or held to the same standards and possessed a similar worldview.“

          That quote is from the transcript of the final Part 4.3 of the series Our Subverted History, – The Germanic Peoples

          Setting: Theodoric – King of the Ostrogoths/Italy/Visigoths – circa 500 AD

          More of the transcript:

          “Having efficiently decimated all armies in its path […] and treating conquered subjects with magnanimous mercy, Theodoric may have marked the peak of Gothic and Germanic dominance of the region – dominance which would face an unexpected surprise attack, enabled in large part, it would seem, by that very lack of cunning and guile so often mentioned in their descriptions.

          A trait that acts as a great strength in homogenous environments creating high trust atmospheres in which justice and the nobler instincts can flourish can act as an equally great disadvantage in instances in which peoples and cultures mix indiscriminately – and begin to act in their own tribal interests, often covertly. The Goths were to commit the civilisation-destroying blunder of the trusting assumption that others were wired similarly to themselves – or held to the same standards and possessed a similar worldview. And in some cases they made the mistake of attempting to artificially impose this worldview, believing they might change the inner nature of foreign peoples by example or through compulsion.

          It is an unfortunate historical reality that the unethical and amoral man is nowhere more powerful and efficient than within a virtuous and just society. While those around him restrain their vices and through strength and discipline keep their baser nature in subservient check, ((he)) has no such qualms and thus his playbook is vastly larger with virtually nothing being off limits.“

          Source:
          • Our Subverted History, – The Germanic Peoples
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX8ljqgNH10

          My point is that we are trying to rationalise the concept and sense of decency according to the same humane standards and worldview that we hold. Don’t think it’s gonna work.

          Digressing further …

          I haven’t read this yet but it is highly topical.

          • The Sacralization of Violence: Bolshevik Justifications of Violence and Terror during the Civil War – James Ryan

          https://www.academia.edu/19600181/The_Sacralization_of_Violence_Bolshevik_Justifications_of_Violence_and_Terror_during_the_Civil_War

          He prefaces with a quote:

          “When we approach an enemy, to kill him, we kill him not because he’s an evil person but because we make use of the instrument of terror in order to create fear for others.—Feliks Dzerzhinskii, 1920

          He goes on …

          “The Red Terror of late 1918 was officially and widely proclaimed, and its purpose was indeed to terrify and to educate as well as to excise through execution or confinement to concentration camps harmful elements believed to be irreconcilable to the new Soviet order.”

          Finally, this reference is cited by Matthew Raphael Johnson in his review …

          • The Psychology of Torture – Sam Vaknin

          https://archive.org/details/ThePsychologyOfTorture

    • i read the anti humans several years ago , a truly frightening book
      a horrific look at the depravity of the communist / bolshevic mindset
      it is one of those rare books you will never forget

  2. WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IN THE LEAST BIT. THEY DO NOT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT OUR LIVES, INFACT THEY HAVE SPOKEN OVER THE TOP IN TOO MANY WAYS. I FOR ONE HAVE MADE PEACE WITH MYSELF WITHIN MY SOUL, WHEN IT COMES TO GOVERNMENT, AND ONLY LOOK FORWARD TO THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST. LET US TAKE ME FOR EXAMPLE, AND I TAKE PROUDLY THAT I HAVE ALSO MADE MISTAKES, AND SOME TOO MANY AS WELL. THERE WAS A POINT IN TIME WHERE (STILL MOVING TO FLORIDA FOR OTHER REASONS) I WAS DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH GOVERNOR RON DeSANTIS AND REALLY DID THINK HE WAS IN A NOTCH ABOVE IN AN ESCHELON, NOW SIMPLY DO NOT!!! HE HAS ALLOWED VACCINES TO COME INTO THE STATE OF FLORIDA, AND HAS STATED THAT HE WOULD TAKE THE VACCINE, AFTER THOSE WITH PRIORITIES COME FIRST. I CAN NOT ACCEPT THIS FOR ANY REASON IN ANYWAY, AS IT WOULD SUBJECT MY SOUL FOR ETERNAL DESTRUCTION. I FEEL THE SAME WAY FOR ALL GOVERNORS IN EVERY STATE. THESE GOVERNORS SHOULD NEVER ALLOW THESE VACCINES TO COME INTO THEIR STATES FOR ANY REASON, THEY SHOULD MAKE WAR WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND ALL PRESIDENTS, AND BURN THESE FREAKIN THINGS; HENCEFORTH, I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH NO DAMNED BODY, NOR DO I ANY LONGER GIVE ANY RESPECT WHATSOEVER, BUT WOULD I BURN DOWN A GROCERY STORE, PHARMACY, ETC…, NO, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO FORCING THESE VACCINES ON ME OR MY LOVED ONE, THEN I CAN SAY I HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO DO WHAT I AM GOING TO DO!!!

    • So far the only force being used to get ‘vaccinated’ is good old peer group pressure- a 20th century ploy that has always worked- especially on the boomers. At best the program is a world wide marketing scheme for overkill wealth to the usual 1%ers. At worst the program really intends population reduction through Russian roulette vaccination reactions. Four people in my midst have been jabbed. Nothing to report yet but the long run may tell.

      • Really get tired of the boomer bashing. Not all are idiots, just like not all in your generation are idiots.
        Cheers

        • Perpetual conflict among age, race, gender, location, medical history, etc ad infinitum. Permanent revoluton leads to continuous synthesis of Marx’s “classes”. At one point they will run out of classes to clash against each other, such as today we are delving into the absurd.

        • I’m a Millennial, and I can safely say that the exceptions prove the rule that all Millennials are garbage.

          The rally cry of my generation is –
          “meh, whatever.”

          I have far more enmity towards GenX-ers than Boomers. They all think that they are badass snowboarders and were in Soundgarden cover bands. Most are just soybeard computer programmers who listened to Nirvana.

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