Category Archives: Aurel State

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 Siege of the Towerless Fortress

This post is our translation of an excerpt from Aurel State’s The Road of the Cross (Drumul Crucii), the chapter with the same name, which gives a taste of life in Soviet camps during WWII.

At night, after the sound of taps, they gathered in groups near the barbed wire that secured the quarantine area and talked in whispers about the crazy life which had betrayed their beliefs and youthful enthusiasm. That life was now cruelly torturing its victims by putting them on hold.

Second lieutenant Mateianu, Marius and Arion’s military school trainer, an incisive but self-controlled man of expressive ugliness, who had a calling for being a public accuser, described the break between those who survived typhus and those who survived starvation.

‘We were in the upper camp’, and he pointed East, ‘three kilometres from here, in the former Oranki monastery. In May ’43 food started to come in: white flour, powdered eggs, American canned food, dishes and even tablecloths. Food was stored in a Roman style church with wall paintings of athletic saints, in the doubtful taste of Late Renaissance. A byzantine image of humbling beauty, painted in nuances of white, shined from above the iconostasis. It was the scene of Resurrection …. with a Christ shot in the head by a chasovoy[1]. Be on the watch’, he advised us, ‘if you ever get there when the trucks with bags arrive, just look at it! It is balm on soul.

So substantial food was brought in the camp where people had died of starvation. They said an order was given, to prevent prisoners from dying. During winter dead bodies were stacked like logs. Transportation could not cope with the number of deaths. In several days five thousand Italians had died. They reached the camp, frozen skeletons, entered the bathrooms and melted down while they were waiting for their clothes to come out of the delousing ovens. They were being sent to the other world already deloused. Some 13,000 of our nationals, the most resilient of the nations tried here, have died during these years. The common grave is beneath the footbridge, on the left, where the climb to Oranki starts. See how we are becoming stupefied? We are getting rid of them in a number. But beyond each figure there is a life, just like ours. And someone is still waiting for each one of them in the outside world! They were not killed in war. They were defenseless people, killed under the banner of the common good of humanity!’

[1] sentry

Fata Morgana

This post is our translation of an excerpt of the chapter with the same name from The Road of the Cross, book written by Aurel State.

The nightmare of that day of 12 May 1944 continued grotesquely while sleep knocked me down to the dawn of the second day of imprisonment. The fall from freedom into captivity had been so explosively abrupt that it left no linking passage, not even a descending one, between the two realms.

At lightning speed the news of the fall had pierced into the inscrutable soul. There was no way to doubt, escape or forget. The frontiers of both the subconscious and unconscious were more ruthlessly crossed than the successive positions that had shattered our delayed embarkation to home port. In the deep underground where we continued our existence objects and mechanisms were the same as in the realm we had fallen from. And places had the same names: Balaklava, Baidari… We bore the same labels, yet our broken stems were kept alive only by some external tissues and, wondrously, obscure saps still trickled through. Everything resembled what had been before, in the same way artfully crafted imitation plastic fruits resemble flavoured orchard fruits. Meanings were losing flesh though, and were honed to lancet sharpness, as if preparing for a long vivisection.

Like the original sin, our fall was irrecoverable, and we knew of no god who would send his son to redeem it. Even if the armed guard shoots me, death cannot erase the stigma of entering this existence. I felt ice-cold discovering this monstrous virginity of the soul. We were called to explore the pits, labyrinths and catacombs of our soul geology and we had no idea what was in store for us. Shall we continue our dreadful toil in the barren underground, as a reflection of the frolic in no man’s land, the land under the sun? Certainly, the similarity between the two realms entails grosser adversities for a man’s evolution and fulfilment in the ‘underground’ than in the world of tail coats, titles and conventional brightness. But what if the huge crusher roaring that I heard while sleeping towards the morning of captivity would not be suddenly stopped?

The other realm was connected to a replica plastic sun, and it was as big as human history, while the earth differed from ours by the people’s lack of beauty and occupation. Like war prisoners, they lay down and obsessed about finding in sleep an escape from their cruel fate. The roads were trodden by red ants that readily carried the bodies of the fallen ones, struggling to push them in the jaws that screeched while trying to break the diamond-like strength of spines and bones. The macabre output of ground resistances was poured into a continuous flow due to liquid jets that gargled in the crusher’s mouth. But what was really frightening was to see that people who would hardly bear the sound of a dentist’s drilling machine did not jump off the Fiolent rocks nearby, upon hearing the dreadful grinding screech.

After the nightmare we all seem to have retained the same image: the silhouette against the sky of an armed chasovoy(1) with his budionovka(2), standing in an improvised lookout tower. (Years later, in a camp in the north, a crazy war prisoner would transpose this first collective imagery drawing a circle in the sand: the earth. Then, faking the joy of someone suddenly struck by an idea, he drew at North Pole the sentry box of the big chasovoy of those times(3), whose moustache was the sole distinctive mark lent to the sketched figure. He then verbally adorned the figure’s budionovka with the northern star and, rubbing his hands in contentment, to stir my curiosity about the gist of his drawing, he girdled the earth with a barbed wire belt along the equator line.)

(1) In the original ‘ceasovoi’ – transliteration of the Russian word for standing guard

(2) Soviet star hat

(3) Allusion to Stalin

Aurel State – a Short Biography


We are starting today a series of posts dedicated to Aurel (Aurelian) State, author of Drumul Crucii (The Road of the Cross) – Memoirs from the Eastern Front and from Gulags.
As usual, the first post gives the author’s biographical data – in fact, our translation of the chronological data included in the book entitled Drumul Crucii (The Road of the Cross) published by Editura Rost & Fundația Sfinții Închisorilor in 2013.

Aurel (Aurelian) State was born on April 29, 1921, in Godeni – Argeș, in a farmer’s family.
After graduating secondary school, he enrolled for one year (1940 – 1941) at the Military School for Reserve Officers in Ploiești.
Starting with 1942 and until 1944 he takes part in combats on the Eastern front, together with Battalion 1 Vânători de munte (Mountain Hunters) – elite forces of the Romanian Army. He is wounded on 4 occasions and is awarded Virtutea Militară (Military Virtue Medal), the Iron Cross and the Order Mihai Viteazul.
Between 1944 and 1955 (when he returns to Romania) he is a prisoner of war in various Soviet camps.
In 1957 he comes top of the list after the exams for enrolment with the Department for German Language and Literature at the University of Bucharest.
In February 1958 he gets arrested for “plotting against the social regime”. To avoid being forced to testify under torture against other innocent people, he tries to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of Uranus prison.
In August 1959 he is sentenced to 18 years of forced labour and 7 years of civil degradation.
In August 1964 he is freed from Aiud prison, as part of the last group to be released: political prisoners who had rejected re-education.
Between 1964 and 1983 he completes his university studies, works as German teacher, translates literature into Romanian and writes his memoirs. Despite being permanently supervised by Securitate (Romanian political police), he manages to send (by intermediaries) the manuscript of his memoirs to Germany.
On November 19, 1983 he dies in hospital in unelucidated circumstances. At the end of 1983 a publisher in Freiburg (Editura Coresi) publishes the first volume of his memoirs under the title Drumul Crucii (The Road of the Cross).