Excerpt 2 (Pine Trees Break, They Do Not Bend; Volume I, page 103)

Up, in the mountains

Full of optimism, all three of us returned at the foot of Făgăraş Mountains. Meanwhile, several things had happened. Mihai Moga, the medical student, was caught due to some absurd circumstances that left him unable to either defend himself or to flee. But the charges against him were not serious, so he was sentenced to prison and was freed after several years, when he would be of great help to us.

On the other hand, a new fugitive had joined us: Ghiță Haşiu, Andrei Haşiu’s brother, from Pojorta.  The insiders will know them as Ghiță and Baciu, respectively. One day, while Ghiță was away from home, Securitate agents came by car and searched his house.  It is difficult to understand why they headed straight to the summer kitchen, where Ghiță had a hiding place and a gun that he had saved for us. The agents were laughing when they left,  Ghiță found out what happened and did not return home.

We had a meeting on Saint George’s night, when we decided we should all withdraw in the mountains. The place called “La Mesteceni”,  above Gura Văii village, shall be our meeting place for the night of May 1, 1949. The group could have been larger – at one sign, hundreds of people would have left everything and would have joined us. But how would that have helped? With or against our will, we needed to take action immediately, on life and death. Therefore we decided that all those who were hiding and those who were free to move should remain in the villages where they were until we would need them.  As for us, we had nothing to lose, we were already chased and had been sentenced in our absence.

First, we looked for an adequate place to camp. We found a plateau, located at the confluence of two rivulets, on a mountain foot, as we call it. The place was protected by a young pine forest and could be very well defended even if we were attacked from all sides.  Pojorta Valley was far away, so we could not hear the water roar and a wide prospect opened to the surrounding mountains. After a day’s work, four tents were set up and trembling in the wind. They surrounded a square covered by moss. We used stone slabs as table and chairs. We would call this arrangement the “Table of Silence”[1]. We were on duty day and night at two of the camp’s corners. A cast iron pot was swinging on a pot hook above the stone hearth. The fire arms were placed in gun racks outside, at the tents’ door. As for the clothing, each of us had brought all types of clothes and footwear, for cold and warm weather, raincoats and blankets. We did not bring any pillows – we used instead sacks filled with dried leaves and moss. We had brought all our luggage in two rounds. The possibility to move it with only one transport, if necessary, was therefore out of question, and we were not yet aware of all the useless staff we had. As a result of our clashes with Securitate we had to abandon the surplus of equipment or to leave it in the caves under bears’ guard. In the end, we kept this practical uniform: a pair of light mountaineering boots that did not slip and left no traces; we also wore: a thick shirt, a grey thick cloth jacket that the rain could not penetrate and dried easily, with few pockets, having a small collar or none at all, without lining, so that it didn’t absorb humidity and it didn’t get hooked by the tree branches; we wore wedge trousers from the same thick cloth that made them comfortable to wear and tear resistant. The  trousers fit for summer time were made from a fabric that we once called devil’s skin: a very dense and tough fabric that was thought to last forever. Over the boots we wore leather leggings to protect our legs from bumps, water, snakes and cold. We also wore long underwear. In our knapsacks we had one bodywear change and possibly a sweater. But the most important piece of clothing was the sheepskin coat, crafted from lamb skins with autumn wool, tanned without salt, so that it didn’t absorb water. This coat was large enough to fully cover one’s body and long enough to cover one’s knees. We covered our heads with Russian sheep fur flap hats, with soft skin that spared us the sensation we were caring wood boards on top of our heads. We used a Romanian military knapsack, with leather straps attached at corners. This knapsack was waterproof, so we could carry water with it, if needed, and it also helped when we crossed rivers. A tent sheet large enough to cover us completely protected us from rain and snow. Our knapsack had to be filled with all these objects, plus: an Aluminum food kettle, possibly some food, some tools (needles, thread, awl, nails for our boots and all sorts of strings). Then we also had a sheath knife and we carried in our pockets matches or flint and steel, tinder and grass to light the fire, all these carefully wrapped to avoid humidity. A bar of unscented soap was a must, to avoid dogs chasing us.

Three objects were for us as valuable as gold, given the life we lived: the Russian flap hat, the German knapsack and the Romanian sheepskin coat.  The Romanian hat doesn’t cover one’s ears, gets stuck in the tree branches and is difficult to find in the dark, so one has to keep a hand on it all the time, to pull it on the head.  A Russian hat has flaps that can be tied at the chin, so the wind doesn’t blow it off the head and one can cross thick woods without fear of losing it – it falls only if the head falls. Irrespective of their form, Romanian traditional shoulder bags are not comfortable to carry, get stuck in the branches, their weight pulls on one side and they keep the hands busy. The German knapsack is best fitted for carrying heavy weight. It fits the back closely, it doesn’t swing, it leaves one’s hands free, doesn’t hinder when going through thick woods or steep places. When seated, it served as the back of a chair one could lean against and it could also be used as a pillow during sleep. And as I said, the knapsack that Romanian military used before 1944 is the most adequate. The Romanian sheepskin coat is the most necessary piece of garment. Once inside it, with the knees covered and the hat on, one could sleep in the snow. It doesn’t retain water, it dries easily and it keeps warm even when wet. As a drawback, it takes a lot of space due to its high volume but this disadvantage can be eliminated if the skin is well-tanned. When we were tired we would stop and, if wet, we would change our socks and body wear with the dry ones in the knapsack. We would then take on top of them the wet ones, so that they could dry and put the boots next to the head or, if it was freezing, close to the chest, to keep them from freezing – which would have rendered them useless. We would then put our feet in the knapsack. If it was raining, we would cover the sheepskin coat with the tent sheet and support them with the firearm: butt fixed between our knees, the gun leaned against our chest and we could fall asleep under the sheepskin coat.  When we were awake, our body wear was dry so we took off one layer and put them in the knapsack, we put on our boots, packed the sheepskin coat in the knapsack, folded the tent sheet – we were ready to go in a few minutes. When we were not in a hurry, we would first cover the earth with dry leaves or simply stir those which were already there, or some broken branches to prevent the sheepskin coat from coming into direct contact with the wet earth and with the water that was running underneath. It took us some time to learn all these things and we learned the hard way. At the beginning we had Russian padded jackets that once wet would take an eternity to dry, and when torn or holed, the branches would take out all the wadding.

As for the food, we learned a lot, too. At first we had taken with us all sorts of food from the villages: bread, bacon, pasta, rice. Gelu Novac had even brought a cookbook with diet ratio calculations and the respective calories amount. But we were not in the position to follow scientific rules. First of all, even free people had difficulties to find all those food products.  In time, we got to a standard food: mămăligă[2] and cheese. It was easier to get the cornmeal: our supplies came from the shepherds or the peasants. Cornmeal is quite resistant to mould and, even when moulded, it can be used if left for some time in the sun or if carried on top of the knapsack, in open air. The shepherds would provide us with cheese. At the time when we were in Făgăraş Mountains, the only type of cheese one could find was brânza de burduf[3] that had many calories in a small volume. We also needed salt and an aluminum pot that we carried on top of our knapsack and it didn’t make any noise when it bumped into the tree branches.  We would always take care to mask its metallic shine with soot.

The serious problems were somewhere in the future. For the time being, we were happy to be alive, healthy, optimistic and together. Later on, we would call these times the “Era of Romanticism”. Meanwhile, we continued to take contact with anticommunist forces from places we had never before visited.

[1] The Table of Silence is one of the three pieces of the ensemble that the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi dedicated to the memory of the Romanian heroes of the First World War. The ensemble composed of the Table of Silence, the Gate of the Kiss and the Column of the Infinite can be admired in Tg. Jiu, Romania.

[2] Traditional dish prepared by boiling cornmeal with water and salt.

[3] Strong, salty sheep cheese that is kept in a sheep’s stomach or in a tube of pine bark.

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