A Tragic Event: August 23, 1944

This is our translation of a fragment of Radu Mărculescu’s book, Suffering and Enlightenment in Soviet Captivity, entitled A Tragic Event: August 23, 1944.

Meanwhile, history followed its course. Purposefully displayed at the club entrance, the military map showing the evolution of combat in Europe indicated a lava-like flow of Soviet units towards our lands, marked by arrows and red flags that looked like knife thrusts into our country’s territory.

Further to the West, other arrows and flags told the story of the Allied Forces landing in Normandy. It was the beginning of the end. Under the pressure of a new balance of powers, the events that had long been under gestation were forced to prematurely come off. This is how the “Act of August 23” was born. The news stroke us like thunder, during the evening roll-call, at the bright and peaceful dusk of the day. Codler[1] took a cruel joy in bringing the news to us himself, after the roll-call. He read His Majesty’s Proclamation[2], which announced that Romania had ceased to fight alongside Hitler and had turned against Nazi Germany, in order to liberate Northern Transylvania. At the end of his euphoric speech, Codler briefly commented on the event in triumphalist words, which triggered the applause from the minority who had betted on the Soviet card. They were relieved to know that they had avoided the legal accountability for their acts. (As for the moral accountability, this remains to be seen on the Final Judgment Day.) As soon as we were dismissed, we gathered in small groups. We were all sad and worried. Some of us started to cry. I instinctively embraced Father Beschia, and we cried on each other’s shoulders, as if a loved one were dead. The kind, humble and holy Father Beschia was my confessor. May God rest his soul in peace! Wiping his eyes, he asked me in a faint voice: “Professor, what is going to happen to our country? What will happen when those hordes will invade it?” Years later, after repatriation, I found out that back home the event had been celebrated with outbursts of joy, even by good Romanians. They had even opened bottles of champagne. Poor souls! As champagne foam rapidly disappears, their euphoria was meant to evaporate too, upon their first contact with the new “allies”. As for us, the prisoners of war living in the depths of hell and being burnt in “Satan’s boiling pot”, we had direct experience of the whole range of persuasion methods employed by this cunning and cruel conqueror, as we had been offered the sinister privilege of witnessing the whole process that led either to the destruction or to the satanization of its victims. We were therefore best placed to envisage the future of our country. This capitulation was a huge catastrophe for our history, and there was nothing left to do but to weep. And we all wept.


[1] Codler was, according to Radu Mărculescu, the Commissar of the POW camp. “He had been born in Romania, but had fled to Russia when the war broke out” – page 99 of the original.

[2] On August 23, 1944, King Michael I of Romania took part in the coup against the State and Army Leader Ion Antonescu.

Threshold of evildoing

This post is a fragment of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Part I, Chapter 4 (The Bluecaps), translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney.

Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that destroyed these millions? Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

There was a rumor going the rounds between 1918 and 1920 that the Petrograd Cheka, headed by Uritsky, and the Odessa Cheka, headed by Deich, did not shoot all those condemned to death but fed some of them alive to the animals in the city zoos. I do not know whether this is truth or calumny, or, if there were any such cases, how many there were. But I wouldn’t set out to look for proof, either. Following the practice of the bluecaps, I would propose that they prove to us that this was impossible. How else could they get food for the zoos in those famine years? Take it away from the working class? Those enemies were going to die anyway, so why couldn’t their deaths support the zoo economy of the Republic and thereby assist our march into the future? Wasn’t it expedient?

That is the precise line the Shakespearean evildoer could not cross. But the evildoer with ideology does cross it, and his eyes remain dry and clear.

Physics is aware of phenomena which occur only at threshold magnitudes, which do not exist at all until a certain threshold encoded by and known to nature has been crossed. No matter how intense a yellow light you shine on a lithium sample, it will not emit electrons. But as soon as a weak bluish light begins to glow, it does emit them. (The threshold of the photoelectric effect has been crossed.) You can cool oxygen to 100 degrees below zero Centigrade and exert as much pressure as you want; it does not yield, but remains a gas. But as soon as minus 183 degrees is reached, it liquefies and begins to flow.

Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.

Resistance through Faith

This is our translation of a fragment of Radu Mărculescu’s book, Suffering and Enlightenment in Soviet Captivity, entitled Great Friday. In April 1947, a group of Romanian officers who were imprisoned in a punishment camp for war prisoners in the former Soviet Union decided to celebrate Great Friday.

That year, winter was reluctantly saying goodbye to the Hell Hole in the taiga surrounded by frozen marshes. It was mid-April, during the Holy Week, but judging by the snow-rich landscape, one would have rather thought it was Christmas, not Easter time. There was no priest amongst us to perform the proper religious service, but we had a very rich choir, with baritones such as Rădoi, and deep bass singers such as Vasile Cotea, whose voice made the hut walls tremble. Part of our group was a young theologian, Ion Popescu, who knew how to conduct the Holy Liturgy, except for the eucharistic moment, which was reserved for a priest. It was the evening of Great Friday. We decided to chant the Lamentations at the entrance of the hut, where our food was distributed. Aligned along the wall, the members of the choir, conducted by Popescu – the theologian, started unfolding the harrowing burial chant: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” They went on and on until the grave, obsessive chant filled the darkness of the hut with catacomb reverberations. The rest of us kneeled down in front of the choir, and in a state of self-forgetfulness, we were spiritually following the Holy Body being laid in the grave.

All of a sudden, the door opened and a rush of cold air burst inside the hut, accompanied by savage yells, curses and dog barking. The choir continued chanting in strong crescendo. As if we had an understanding, none of us looked to the door to find out what was happening.

After all, there was no need to look, as we all knew what was all about. In his primitive way, the Major, a Soviet version of Caliban pulled out of the marshes of the wild taiga, was attempting to stop us from celebrating the Holy Easter.

“Stop it,” he yelled in Russian, accompanied by dog barking and automatic gun loading executed by three or four slanted-eyed chasovoys[1].

“Stop it, STOP IT,” he yelled again, using the dirtiest words to curse the holy matters. “Stop or you’ll end up in solitary confinement… Can’t you hear me? Are you crazy? Do you want me to shoot you down? Can’t you hear me? Answer right away!”

But the choir went on chanting and the rest of us completely ignored his presence, together with all his dogs and chasovoys. They simply did not exist to us, and no physical act, no violence could have convinced or compelled us to accept their existence. We continued undistracted even when, on Caliban’s order, two chasovoys grabbed two of the choir members and took them into solitary confinement. Those arrested did not try to resist, but continued the chant as they were being pushed into cells. As soon as our two comrades were taken away, Romică Vasilescu stood up, made the sign of the cross and started chanting, replacing the missing bass singer. His neighbour followed through, and this went on after each arrest. When the conductor himself was taken away, he barely had time to hand me the baton. I promptly took his place and the choir went on…and on… and no force in the world could have stopped it now, as everybody joined in, those in the hut and those in the cells, and the whole courtyard vibrated with the angelic chant “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” as if the whole camp had become sacred.

The dogs had stopped barking and were seated. They looked at us in curiosity, and so did the chasovoys.  Weary and resigned, the Major made a last attempt at finding support in the small group of political activists amongst us, who had not joined our action, and were seated silently on their beds.

“Hey,” yelled the Major, trying to cover the choir, “They are crazy, ain’t it?”

But to my surprise, the activists chose to remain silent, pretending not to hear him because of the choir. Infuriated, the Major tossed his hat on his head, cursed copiously and with a dismissive gesture towards us, as if we were a bunch of unresponsive mentally retarded, he got out of the hut which in that Great Friday evening had become a holy church. He left in the company of his dogs and chasovoys, overwhelmed by the grave and obsessive chant he had not been able to stifle.

Several minutes after that, the choir members who had been arrested returned to the hut, together with the conductor. This was the only way for them to continue the chant they had started in the cells. And as soon as they came back, we stopped this angelic chant and went on with the rest of the Lamentations. This is how in that hell hole we celebrated to the best of our powers the Holy Burial whereby resurrection and hope were granted to us.

[1] In the original “ceasovoi” – transliteration of the Russian word for standing guard

Did you fight for democracy?

This is our translation of a fragment of the third volume of Pine Trees Break, They Do Not Bend written by Ion Gavrilă.

After the establishment of the “Fighters in the Anticommunist Resistance” Foundation, several newspapers published editorials, one of them being written by Mircea Iorgulescu.

He repeated the insinuations advanced in previous articles and concluded rhetorically with a seemingly puzzling question: “Did the people in the Armed Anticommunist Resistance fight for democracy?”

I bitterly looked at this stupid question, and memories of those times came to my mind: Our country was under Soviet occupation and our army, under the command of generals such as Emil Bodnăraș and Walter Roman, marched singing in the streets: “Oh, Moscow, my country” and “Kremlin walls shining in the morning light”. SovRoms[1] dominated economy, culture and even the church hierarchy, cowardice and treason plagued more and more people. All the scoundrels, do-nothings, cowards and traitors rivaled each other in praising the communist regime and Generalissimo Stalin, and the textbooks (including the literature ones translated from Russian), Roller wrote the history of our country, Ana Pauker, Teoharie Georgescu, Vasile Luca led the country, Securitate, under the leadership of people similar to the abovementioned, killed people in the middle of the road, arrested and deported people at its will. We lived in fear of being arrested, either at work or at home, we feared betrayal by our own family and were not sure we had a country anymore.

How can this journalist imagine that under those circumstances we, who had given up everything, including our lives, would pause to think how Romania would look like when the communist regime would be over? How stupid can someone be to imagine that among our concerns were, at those times, privatization methods such as MEBO (Management and Employee Buyout) or selling factories for nothing to adventurers from all over the world or votes of no confidence in the parliament? Still, what this fake democrat, puppet journalist does not know is that we fought for democracy. All the armed or unarmed resistance groups were monarchists. And so were all the Romanians back then.

We had no hope that we would live to see the day of victory, but in no way we could have conceived that Romania, once liberated from the yoke of communism, would not resume the factual state of December 1947, when our constitution in force was the one dating back from 1923. And that constitution was more democratic than the surrogate that former communists and their offspring have hastily concocted for personal use.

[1] SovRom: Romanian-Soviet joint ventures established after WWII in Romania under Soviet occupation. Their role was to exploit Romanian resources to the benefit of the Soviet Union.

George Fonea – The Prisoners’ Poet

One of the most impressive figures evoked by Aurel State in his book is Captain George Fonea. They met on the Eastern Front, during WWII, and shared a strong friendship.

George Fonea was born on February 22, 1912 in a village (Gogoșu) in Dolj county (Oltenia region). His father had died in WWI, so George and his brother, Florin, were raised by their mother.

He graduated from military schools in Craiova and Sibiu and was assigned to Cernăuți. He wrote poetry for various literary journals and had a volume of poetry published in 1935. His translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems was published in 1938.

Shortly before being taken prisoner by the Soviets on May 12, 1944, he declines Major Joachim Ziegler’s offer to save his life and leave the front on a German speedboat provided by the Führer Headquarters: “It is true that I have no power to save anyone, but what would these unfortunate soldiers think for the rest of their lives remembering that I had abandoned them in such a crucial moment?” Soon after this he loses his left eye, being hit by a shell splinter.

When, after 11 years spent in Soviet prisons, George Fonea returns home, his health is seriously deteriorated, and he dies on October 29, 1957. Everything he had secretly written would be captured by Securitate. Fragments of his poems would survive in the memory of his admirers.

His funeral would be used by Securitate as a pretext to arrest those who had attended, among them Aurel State and Florin Fonea, the poet’s brother (who would soon die in hospital, because of the ill treatment applied during investigation).


The Cruelty of the Victor

As victors of WWII prepare to celebrate VE Day, it is worth remembering what this day meant for the vanquished, despite their unconditional surrender. In this post, an excerpt of James Baque’s “Other losses”, fourth chapter.

The spirit of Goethe, a holy spirit, keeps me alive.

Anonymous prisoner

At night, searchlights threw blinding light over the men lying in the shadowy holes. They watched uneasily the dark shapes standing high above them on the paths lit by the searchlights. Men shuffled along the slippery banks between the holes all night, lining up for water. Charles von Luttichau[1] lay in his hole curled up next to one of his brother officers wondering if he could get himself released before he was shipped to France. Men cried out in their nightmare sleep. He resolved to try again with the guards the next day. “I am half-American,” he thought, rehearsing his English. “My mother is American. I gave myself up to you. I don’t belong in here. I am half-American.”

He had not been captured in battle but was convalescing at home when he decided to surrender voluntarily to U.S. troops about to occupy his house because otherwise he might be accused of plotting further underground resistance.

“We were kept in crowded barbed wire cages in the open with scarcely any food,” he has said of his camp at Kripp near Remagen on the Rhine.

The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole. We were crowded very close together.

Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain, then after a couple of weeks we could get a little water from a standpipe. But most of us had nothing to carry it in, so we could get only a few mouthfuls after hours of lining up, sometimes even through the night. We had to walk along between the holes on the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men. So in the end we got perhaps five percent of a normal U.S. Army ration. I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”[2]

Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camp were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.[3]

One 17-year-old boy who could see his village in the distance used to stand weeping near the barbed wire fence. One morning the prisoners found him shot at the foot of the fence. His body was strung up and left hanging on the wire by the guards as a warning. The prisoners were forced to walk by the body. Many cried out “Moerder, moerder [murderer, murderer]!”[4]  In retaliation, the camp commander withheld the prisoners’ meager rations for three days. “For us who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness, it was frightful; for many it meant death.”[5]  This was not the only time when the commander withheld rations to punish prisoners.

[1] Von Luttichau, who survived three months at Kripp, later moved to Washington. He has written military history for the U.S. Army.

[2] Interviews of the author 1987-88, with von Luttichau of Washington, D.C.

[3] The statement by Charles von Luttichau of Washington, made to the author in May 1988, is confirmed by many other prisoners. The rainy spring is confirmed by a Canadian Army war diary including weather reports for north Germany for the period. The rapid onset of death is confirmed by the study in the U.S. Army Medical History of the ETO for May-June (Appendix 1). The space allotment is confirmed by several U.S. Army reports of overcrowding in the Rhine cages in the spring of 1945. The implication of common graves is confirmed by evidence from postwar discoveries. See note 16.

[4] Gertrude Maria Schuster, Die Kriegsgefangenenlager Galgenberg lind Bretzenheim (Stadt Bad Kreuznach, 1985), pp. 40-41.

[5] Gertrude Maria Schuster, op. cit.

George Manu’s Scientific Work

Today we post an excerpt of one weekly report published by the French Académie des Sciences in 1937. It is important because it speaks about the scientific work of George Manu – Georges Mano, as he was known by his physicist colleagues in France. The note authored by George Manu and presented by Jean Perrin is entitled: “On the relationship between protons’ kinetic energy and path. The case of artificial transmutations.”

You can read about it here and here.