Behind the Iron Curtain – an introduction

Behind the Iron CurtainRomania under Russian occupation is the study written by George Manu in English and handed in 1947 to the diplomatic missions of the USA and Great Britain, with the openly declared intention of objectively informing them about Romania’s situation under Russian occupation. The author signed under a pseudonym: Testis Dacicus.

For clarity reasons, I decided to first publish excerpts from the introductory study that accompanies the 2004 edition published in Romanian.

These will be followed by the publishing of excerpts from the original manuscript, reproduced with the kind permission of Şerban Manu, the author’s son.

Introductory Study to Behind the Iron Curtain

2004 Edition (Kullusys)

Author: Silviu B. Moldovan

(Excerpts selected and translated into English with the author’s kind permission)

George (Gheorghe) Manu was born on February 13, 1903 in a noble family of long standing. Through his parents Ioan (Iancu) Manu and Elisabeta (Zeta Cantacuzino) he descended directly from Prince Şerban Cantacuzino and Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu, as well as from numerous other rulers of Wallachia. He was also the grandson of General Gheorghe Manu, a hero of the Romanian War for Independence, founder of the Romanian artillery and a minister of King Carol I. It is a well-known fact that illustrious ancestry does not guarantee one’s worth, but mentioning Manu’s ancestors is not fortuitous.

It is a very fortunate example of a wealthy family who immigrated to Romania and put down deep spiritual roots that allowed them to strongly defend the national interests. In all probability, Manu family originated in Italy. Conrad Manno had distinguished himself as a knight in the army of Charles of Anjou in 1267. During the 15th and16th centuries one branch of the family left Italy and settled in Constantinople (eventually through Macedonia). By the end of the 16th century the family was already documented in Romanian Principalities and its members held various dignitary posts. […]

George Manu graduated from high school in 1921 (the last two grades in France). In 1925 he was awarded double major (both in Physical & Chemical Sciences and Mathematics) from the Department of Sciences – University of Bucharest. One year later he was awarded the Certificate of Higher Education in Physical Chemistry and Radioactivity from the Department of Sciences with the University of Paris.

He worked for the Curie Laboratory in Paris (The Radium Institute) during 1927 – 1933 when he prepared his doctoral thesis Research on the Alpha – Ray Absorption. He also attended courses with the University of Paris, Sorbonne and with Collège de France. In 1933 he was awarded a doctoral degree (Summa cum Laudae) from the University of Paris. At this turning point in his life George Manu declined the offer to work for the Curie Laboratory in France and readily decided to return to Romania. Once his degrees were recognized, in November 1935 he started to work as an Assistant Professor for the Faculty of Sciences in Bucharest.

Shocking as it may be from the current perspective of the Romanian society, such a decision was not at all surprising for a person of Manu’s standing. According to Mircea Eliade, a whole generation felt compelled to “vertically build” Romania – a natural continuation of what the previous 1918 generation had accomplished under far less advantageous circumstances – the “horizontal” consolidation of Romania – its unification. Deciding to stay or to return home was not perceived as a regress at that time. The country was rapidly developing; it had already established its place in the East-European hierarchy and in the European scientific network. Between the two world wars Romania was not a totally different world when compared to other West European countries – it had reached a different point on the same path.

In 1936 the President of the University of Bucharest proposed that Manu’s scientific works be exhibited at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. In 1940 Manu published under the auspices of the Romanian Academy the first nuclear physics treatise to be issued in Romania.

Manu’s academic career ran smoothly during the Second World War. In April 1945 he was awarded a tenure position in Radioactivity with the newly established Structure of Matter Department. Due to his political adherence he came under scrutiny by the commission in charge with “selecting” legionaries. But because there were no solid accusations against him, the University Chancellor decided for a lesser penalty: one-year suspension. It is at this juncture that Manu made another decisive move: he gave up his academic career and joined the newly created national resistance movement.

Based on his political option, George Manu was a legionary. He had joined the Legionary Movement in 1937, upon his return from Paris after completion of his studies. The Legion of Michael the Archangel had attracted that year many highly valuable young intellectuals. It was also the year when General Gheorghe (Zizi) Cantacuzino, a most interesting character of the early 20th century Romanian society, died. He was the chief of “Everything for the Fatherland” – the political expression of the Legionary Movement. He was also Manu’s uncle. The General’s death may have constituted a favourable circumstance for Manu’s joining the Legionary Movement but it could not have been his main motivation. In fact, Manu did not join the party while his uncle was in command (1935 – 1937), nor did he leave it when under high pressure. George Manu was not looking for a comfortable position through political partisanship. It is true, the movement was on its rise when he joined in but repression started soon afterwards and he assumed a leading role during harsh repression. Moreover, he somehow maintained his option when the communist regime used the Secret (Political) Police to crush opposition in Romania. Were he acting in his own interest, he would have changed his political option or would have given up political activity altogether in order to better concentrate on his scientific work.

The Legionary Movement was an original and most certainly puzzling mix of good intentions, abominable acts, adherence to a rigorous moral code and erroneous foreign policy decision-making. The permanent prescription of conduct according to Christian morality did not prevent some of its members from committing assassinations. It is stunning that the Legionary leadership did not explicitly and totally abjure those crimes. […]

The Legionary Movement is completely and definitively discredited due to disastrous governing. From a purely historical perspective we should note that the legionaries did not commit any murders after 1941. Moreover, due to their individual actions some of them were acknowledged moral models who rose above political considerations. True heroes had lived in the communist prisons and their generosity alleviated the sufferings of their prison inmates irrespective of their political ideas. We name a few: Valeriu Gafencu, Dimitrie Bejan or George Manu. [….]

In my opinion, a cold blooded rational analysis of Manu’s deeds would lead to the conclusion that given favorable circumstances, had George Manu (and some other comparable personalities) been given the chance to assume leadership earlier, the Legionary Movement might have had a chance to become an honorable party, similar to the (post-fascist) Italian Social Movement.

The most concrete and uncontestable result of Manu’s activity in the National Resistance Movement is the clandestine work he wrote under pseudonym – Testis Dacicus. This resistance movement gathered people who in 1945 – 1948 were preoccupied with freeing Romania from Soviet domination and tried to prepare for an eventual war opposing Soviet Union to the main western powers. There were no partisans fights in Romania. The anticommunist resistance had a certain degree of organization (no unitary organization at national level) and some small groups were armed. The authorities destroyed the National Resistance Movement in several stages marked by two important political trials: the first one in 1946 (known as “the trial of sumanele negre”) and the second in 1948 (the trial of the National Resistance Movement). In fact, these were stages of one and the same trial of the National Resistance Movement and for a better understanding they should be examined together, as complementary stages. This approach is a must for those who are interested in George Manu’s biography, as he was sentenced in both trials.

In the fall of 1946 the Military Supreme Court for Cassation and Justice heard the case of the “subversive organizations”. According to Decision no. 2 dated November 18, 1946, the Court sentenced 90 persons – top of the list General Aurel Aldea, Commander in Chief of Territorial Command (former Ministry of Internal Affairs after August 23, 1944). “Professor Manu Gheorghe” is number 85 on the same list, according to the minutes. He was charged with conspiracy to destroy state unity, rebellion and armed insurrection. The Court unanimously decided to sentence him to life-long forced labour with mitigating circumstances for conspiracy, 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, 5 years deprivation of civil rights, 50,000 Lei in trial expenses for rebellion and acquittal of any penalty for the armed insurrection charge.

For another year and a half George Manu continued his clandestine activity with dwindling results. On March 21, 1948 he eventually got arrested upon his return to Bucharest after a failed attempt to cross the border.

The highly publicized “trial of the group accused of conspiracy, espionage and sabotage” (also known as “the trial of the great finance” or “the trial of the National Resistance Movement”) followed. Twelve persons were accused: Alexandru Popp, Ioan Bujoiu, George Manu, Max Auschnitt, Nicolae Mărgineanu, Dimitrie Gheorghiu, Alexandru Balş, Horia Macellariu, Gheorghe Bontilă, Nicolae Petraşcu, Eugen Theodorescu şi Nistor Chioreanu. This trial too resulted in a heavy sentence: life-long forced labour, life-long deprivation of civil rights, 20,000 lei civil penalty and assets seizure. One of the main “evidences” brought in support of the high treason charge was Behind the Iron Curtain – a work wrongly considered “intelligence report” that allegedly provided foreign powers with important state secrets.

The National Resistance Movement trial and the “intelligence report” did not benefit from early literary reconstructions comparable to those of the “intellectuals trial” (Noica – Pilat group). Nevertheless, they had a major role in the escalation of political trials and marked numerous destinies.

Several members of the Popp – Bujoiu group wrote their memoirs: Nistor Chioreanu, Nicolae Mărgineanu, Horia Macellariu, Eugen Theodorescu and Nicolae Petraşcu (the latter two covered only the period prior to the establishment of the communist regime). George Manu died in prison, so he did not have the chance to write his memoirs. However, besides his other actions, he wrote this exceptional volume, which speaks for his love for the country where he was born and that he refused to betray. […]

By its scope, degree of elaboration and documentation, Behind the Iron Curtain is in fact a book. Due to the quality of presentation and arguments, Securitate (political police) agents concluded they were dealing with a “top traitor”. […]

Manu’s work is not a hostile reaction of a wealthy citizen confronted with social change, but a patriot’s attempt to intelligently use the (rather scarce) opportunities to reveal Romania’s real situation (de facto under military occupation). The manuscript bears a dramatic note: “I am the author of this book (intelligence report) that I wrote in English; it was subsequently translated into Romanian and I handed it to the British and American diplomatic missions in Romania.” This note should not mislead us: Manu wrote it by dictation, as Securitate investigators asked him to do so. They also required him to sign each page of the typed manuscript and to mark the changes done after typing. […]

Readers of the book will realize that, contrary to the accusations, George Manu presented unclassified information that contributed to a better understanding of Romania’s situation. In fact, Reuben Henry Markham, Christian Science Monitor’ correspondent had done the same in his Rumania under Soviet Yoke (Boston, 1949). The title is almost identical to Manu’s subtitle and there are also many similarities in content. We have no indication that Markham read Manu’s “intelligence report” but he clearly describes the same realities and therefore indirectly confirms Manu’s opinion.

On January 17, 2000 the Supreme Court of Justice discharges George Manu of the previous accusations of conspiracy to destroy state unity and rebellion. This decision has practically nullified the judgments of the sumanele negre trial, ensuing a high number of acquittals. […]

Despite remarkable efforts in recent years, there is still insufficient knowledge about George Manu and his actions. Romanian society has difficulties in assimilating its recent history and the destinies of many outstanding characters and of the whole Romanian nobility to whom George Manu belonged.

We hope that once published, Behind the Iron Curtain will contribute to a better knowledge and recognition of the work that George Manu carried out besides his scientific activity, free from any trivial political interests, in the service of the Romanian nation. He did not act on a whim or driven by momentary courage and he paid with his life for his actions.

Note: George Manu died on April 2, 1961 at the prison in Aiud, after having impeccably endured detention. It is our intention to detail in a future work the disputed circumstances of his death (triggered, as they say, by the prison’s commander Gheorghe Crăciun’s decision to condition the tuberculosis treatment upon Manu’s cooperation in the detainees’ reeducation). Manu had rejected previous captatio benevolentiae of the authorities, attempts that included an offer to work in a nuclear research center in the Soviet Union. At the same time, Manu never missed an opportunity to ease the sufferings of other political detainees.

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