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A World Torn Asunder: The Life and Triumph of Constantin C. Giurescu

Author: Marina Giurescu, MD

“Are you the author of The History of the Romanian People?”

“History is being written differently nowadays,” the prison official spit out.
“It’s possible, but the facts remain the same,” Constantin replied.

Chapter Twenty-Six

The Prison that Kills You Silently

Constantin disembarked first, by virtue of his position at the back of the truck. The guards yelled, “Move, move it faster. Gather in the center of the yard and await your orders.”

The men stepped down one by one and assembled slowly, despite the shouting. Constantin glanced around the courtyard and saw a dark building with rows of barbed wire windows and thick stone walls. A tall watchtower stood guard at one corner. Men in uniforms holding guns stood by the front gate and around the tower, and two soldiers were posted at the front door of the building. A man presumed to hold the highest rank, as judged by the stars on his shoulder boards, held a paper. This “welcoming committee” shoved the prisoners in a large room where names were called out and checked off a list.

When Constantin’s turn came, he was asked, “Are you the author of The History of the Romanian People?”


“History is being written differently nowadays,” the prison official spit out.

“It’s possible, but the facts remain the same,” Constantin replied.

The soldier stared back coldly but did not strike out at him. He might have been in a hurry, or perhaps he knew the prisoner’s ultimate fate and that was punishment enough.

Trucks were heard coming up the road while the prisoners awaited their cell assignments. Gates opened once again, trucks pulled into the courtyard, and a new round of shouting commenced. More frenzied activity, and minutes later another larger group joined them. Constantin glanced around, and at once he recognized several former ministers, university professors, and army generals. They nodded at one another but otherwise obeyed the guards’ instructions.

“No talking whatsoever,” a soldier insisted after someone greeted an old friend.

Much later they would find out about the journey others had taken to travel here. Unlike Constantin’s van, another one had no partitions inside so all the men sat huddled together. General Cihoski was inside it and he went mad on the first day of the journey, never to recover; he died soon after reaching his destination. Another van stopped for the night, and when the prisoners fell asleep, the guards came upon them with loaded guns, simulating an execution. Yet another group was detained at the Interior Ministry in Bucharest for over a month. Space was scarce there and the men slept in tight cells, packed like sardines. Almost nightly they were awoken by the agonizing screams coming from those tortured just doors away. Constantin’s friend Nick Cornateanu was in that group and would recount the stay as “a month in hell.”

As for now, men stared at the new arrivals, eyes questioning the faces and searching for silent clues. After names were shouted out loud, each man was then escorted to his assigned cell. Some were paired up, or even placed in small group cells. Others, like Constantin, would be held in solitary confinement. The cell assigned to him that first day was number 21 on the ground floor. The guard walked him down a grungy hallway, and turned left into another one with parallel rows of identical doors. There was a door at the opposite end, and judging by the layout, it might have led to the courtyard. Sentry guards stood at each end of the hallway. Constantin avoided looking at them, guessing that eye contact would be insolent. So instead he focused on his mental arithmetic game: 21 was 3 x 7, lucky seven—perhaps another sign he might survive.

The cell itself offered little optimism otherwise—a 15 x 6 x 11 feet cold stone box with a narrow bed, heavy metal door, and a high window that barely allowed a glimpse of the sky and tower. The floor was wooden plank, the ceiling was arched and several horizontal pipes for heating hung beneath the window. He took stock of the bed with its straw mattress and meager pillow, a pale blanket folded to the side. The sight of a bed suddenly made him ache with fatigue. It had barely registered just how tired he was until now, after two virtually sleepless nights and days, so he lay down as soon as the guard left. Minutes later someone opened the door. He would later vaguely recall being offered cold water from a pitcher, and then fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke, the sky’s light spelled early morning; “I must have slept over twelve hours,” he told himself.

That first morning he was handed his tin cup, a shallow bowl, and a spoon.

“I don’t get a fork or knife?” he had asked.

The guard laughed sarcastically. “You’re quite thick, mister! Don’t you get it? You could use those to kill yourself or injure us.”

Constantin inspected his “dishes”: they were chipped and greasy. He decided not to say anything else, afraid of punishment. “I’ll clean them whenever I get some water,” he thought.

The first few days of imprisonment would later turn out to have been “atypical” for what would follow. The jailors had been caught unprepared for such a large number of “guests,” and a daily routine hadn’t yet been set in place. Formalities of new arrivals kept the guards busy and left little time for other “practices.” So the days were a little more lax at first. Prisoners were allowed to sleep a little longer; the food was a little better, and physical torture hadn’t yet started.

The location of the prison worried the inmates most at first. Since the guards spoke Romanian, they were still in their country and not Russia, and they thanked God today and every day for that. The road signs had pointed to the northern part of the Romania during the trip. The next clue was the ringing of church bells. Several tones could be differentiated once they learned how to listen closely. It meant there were a few churches and that, plus a large prison, indicated a sizable town. There weren’t many large cities in northern Romania, and by process of elimination the best guess became Sighet, the capital of the Maramures County. This would later turn out to be correct.

These same church bells also punctuated their days, heralding wakeup and lights out, breakfast, lunch, and dinner as the routine was established. The first days, however, were in many ways also the hardest. Memories of their families, home, work, and “normal” life in general were fresh and overwhelming. Constantin paced around his cell, obsessively counting the steps to quiet his emotions.

“I must focus on the numbers, and can’t let my memories take me over,” he would tell himself.

But thinking of the loved ones keeps me going even if happy memories tear at my heart,” he thought. “Quite a dichotomy.”

Even the simplest of chores, such as washing a handkerchief, became a dilemma. You washed it and you ran out of the drinking water allotted for the afternoon. You didn’t, and then you were stuck with a dirty garment in a tiny cell. Saving half of your meager lunch in its tin cup meant you couldn’t get water in the same cup and went thirsty for hours. And the list went on. The mind wandered often to the small comforts of home, the ones previously taken for granted: “One never appreciates the mundane until it’s gone,” Constantin would mutter over and over.

His thoughts maddeningly kept returning to Maria: “What could she be doing now? Was she been harassed after I left? Did Dinu arrive the day after the arrest to comfort her? How are they going to survive?”

Then he would abruptly interrupt such a train of thought: “I can’t drive myself crazy . . . I need to focus on my survival. I must come out of here alive, no matter what. If I don’t make it, I can’t be of help to them.”

He’d resume the pacing and the counting. But moments later Maria’s image would intrude again, “Is she preparing lunch? Or, perhaps she went to visit Emil and Wanda?”

“Stop it! Follow on with the arithmetic or all is lost.”

Pivotal to survival was food, but on only the third day barley showed up on their “menu.” Beans and a sliver of bacon had lasted less than forty-eight hours. Barley would become a fixture in their lives, being served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Its consistency varied between a pale “tea-like” liquid in the morning to a thicker puree of sorts mixed with oil, carrots, and occasionally other vegetables served later in the day. There would be weeks at a time when barley represented their only nourishment. As there was nothing to look forward to at meal times, Constantin had to look for other things to build his days around. After a few days, he figured out when to expect direct sunlight exposure in the cell. He remembered the sun’s rays being good for you, and so he settled upon sitting on the bed and facing the sun for its few minutes of exposure. He also recalled exercise being beneficial so he instituted three daily walking and stretching sessions around the cell. One would take place in the morning, one after lunch, and the final one after dinner and before sleep. A thousand steps would be counted each time. And time would also need to be marked in this purgatory—a short scratch by the door for each passing weekday and a long one for Sundays. Special signs were reserved for the birthdays of his wife and children, which he marked with a swirl of sorts. The most ornate one would be for his wedding anniversary, April 15. Would he still be in jail by the time the next one rolled around?

His jailers warned that “destroying” property in the form of chipping, chiseling and the like carried a “serious penalty” unspecified to date. Well, Constantin had taken the time to assess his surroundings early in his stay. After careful observation he had concluded that the chipped and peeling wooden frame around the door could easily sustain new scribbles. Keeping track of time and events that kept him connected to loved ones were worth the risk.

Peering through the pinhole window, however, was a bigger challenge and carried grave consequences. The guards, either in the tower straight across or the one outside his door, could have easily seen him, and being caught would have brought severe punishment. Little by little by trial and error, he discovered the vantage point from which an outside guard couldn’t spot him. As for the guard in the hallway, Constantin was served well by his hearing. Within days of solitary confinement, he felt a desperate yearn for any human contact, even if only visual. So he’d brave climbing on the bed, craving the sight of a familiar face, of those fortunate enough to be allowed a daily walk.

He was visited by the prison doctor during the first week, a mere formality, no longer than five minutes and supervised by a guard. “Do you have any ailments you are aware of?” he asked.


“Very well then,” he said. “Anything you want to tell me?”

“My right shoulder blade is hurting. I sleep under a broken window pane and the cool air hits me every night”

“We’ll see about that.”

A brief examination followed; the doctor then checked the name off the list and went on to the next cell.

Uniforms were assigned during the same first week. One by one the prisoners were escorted to a large room on the second floor, where Constantin thought he saw shelves with clothing. His glasses had been confiscated in Bucharest and were never returned, so details were lost on him. An officer stepped in and asked him to strip naked. A moment of terror took hold: what could be in store? As he had no choice but to obey, off came the shirt and pants. He then hesitated until the officer pointed to the underwear. “Off, take it off, and we’ll give you different ones.”

He received pants in the customary prison pattern, black and off-white vertical stripes.

“Why do I have to wear this uniform?” protested Constantin. “I haven’t even been tried, let alone sentenced.”

“Look, I get my orders,” he was told. “This is not my idea. Besides, you’ll have all your clothing in good condition when you’re released.”

“Still. . . .”

“Listen, do you want to make trouble for yourself?”

“Trouble” had fast become a ubiquitous part of the guards’ vocabulary.

“These pants are too small,” Constantin told him. “Don’t worry,” replied the guard. “They’ll fit just right in two weeks.”

And indeed they did. As for the uniform, its sight depressed Constantin. As a child he had seen a convoy of prisoners marching in front of his house. Those men were wearing striped attire like his, and their feet had been chained together. But while they had murdered, robbed, and stolen, he stood here guilty of having served his country, without as much as a trial or sentence.

With his clothes gone, the last physical link to his former life was erased. Also, the prison attire hinted at a long stay. Dark thoughts took over, but again he was determined not to let the guards see him depressed.

“Do I get a receipt of my possessions?”

“Here, I’m writing it now.”

He read the list carefully before signing it. Then holding a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, and bar of soap, he was escorted back into the cell.

Days passed, and would have blended into one another had it not been for the scratches on the door. The work assignments hadn’t yet been decided, so there was little to fill their days. A dreadful monotony awaited the inmates upon rising every morning to meals of barley three times a day. Hunger pangs took over after less than a week, and nothing abated it, obsessive famine dominating every hour of each day. Around the same time came his first shave, which was poorly executed by a large, brutal-looking, heavy-smelling barber. He received ten nicks that first time and soon learned to fear facial cuts more than worries about an unseemly beard.

A bout of depression overtook him on May 21, 1950—the day honoring Constantin’s patron saint and Saint Elena. Those had been his parents’ names, and thoughts wandered back to childhood celebrations and Maria’s feasts of years past. Visions of the table laden with roast meats, salads, and a cake glazed in chocolate cream emerged from his memory. The empty stomach hurt so badly that the pain seared from the front to the back of the body. As these memories rushed out, tears rimmed the corners of his eyes and despair set in. What would have normally been a day of cheer and glad tidings became one of mourning and sadness. Drained and exhausted, he was soon overtaken by a deep slumber.

He woke up vowing to focus once again on his routine. The day turned out to be special: he was taken out for his first walk in the yard. Orders were given before leaving the cell: “Head down at all times. You can’t look at the windows under any circumstance. No talking, arms behind your back, steady pace . . . if not you’ll get detention in the black cell.”

He had no idea what the black cell was, nor did he wish to find out. So he resolved to follow the guard, trying to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight. He breathed deeply, inhaling the scents of spring flowers and young grass, his eyes closed for a brief moment trying to pretend the cold square walls weren’t there. Despite keeping the head down as instructed, he couldn’t help but see men like him, walking or digging something. The other thing he noticed on that first walk was the total silence, interrupted only by guards shouting or the chirp of a bird: the men strictly obeyed orders during those first few weeks. With passing months the men would start mumbling, and brief dialogues followed when they felt emboldened enough.

Nights were interrupted at times by a shrill alarm. There were shouts, gunshots, chaos, and guards running up and down the hall and slammed doors followed. The first time this occurred, Constantin vowed if he were ever part of what was happening to at least hit a guard over the head before being killed. To the end, the prisoners couldn’t tell if an escape had been attempted or if the incidents were staged. However, the fear of God was instilled in their hearts, stifling any attempt to run away.

Without his glasses Constantin relied more and more upon his hearing. He learned to sit still on the bed with eyes closed, trying to decipher voices in the yard. One morning he thought he heard his friend Victor Papacostea’s voice. They had attended university and then taught together there. After making sure there was no one at the door, he climbed on the bed and looked out the window. He squinted, and then again, forcing himself to distinguish facial features—something . . . anything. Eventually he was pretty sure that he had recognized Victor among the woodcutters in the yard. Minutes later the same voice was heard again, and this time he was certain. Risking severe punishment, he climbed on the bed once again and called out his friend’s name. Had Victor turned his head slightly, as if confirming his identity? It had appeared that way. Constantin felt he now had a lifeline: a friend had been spotted.

Days later on a walk, he heard a whisper from the basement.

“Who is up there?” Was it bait? Should he answer? “I’m with the group of priests.”

Then there was silence. He would later learn there were four bishops and twenty-one Greek Orthodox and Catholic priests from Transylvania at the prison. Their opposition to the new regime and its crackdown on religion had landed them there.

Other acquaintances were eventually spotted—in the yard during walks, in the food line, or in the bathroom. Despite his poor eyesight, he was jolted every time by how thin everyone appeared. “I must be thin, too,” he told himself, as without a mirror he couldn’t fathom how emaciated he was becoming. Exchanges were mostly mere nods. Names were sometimes passed along and added to a growing mental list. At night as he lay down, he recounted those suffering perhaps just on the other side of his cell walls. He remembered what positions they had held, party affiliations, and any memorable events that might have involved them, and the circle began to widen. He might have had a cell to himself but he was not alone.

Within weeks, and coinciding with the warm summer months, the level of noise mounted in the prison. The prison had been built in 1896. While the interior was now shabby, decayed after more than a century of neglect, the exterior and its thick walls stood proud testimony to the builder’s skill. The paint was peeling, toilets did not flush, and pipes were rusty. The boiler/heater was broken and many windowpanes and light bulbs were missing. The prison, once again in high demand, was being renovated now. Despite this arduous activity, once construction was seemingly completed, the basement water pump still malfunctioned. When the floor flooded, prisoners were forced to carry water in small tins and use rags to wipe the floors. They complained, “The conditions are unsanitary, we’ll all get sick. . . .”

No one listened. Hepatitis, diarrhea, and typhus became rampant. Some lingered ill for weeks while others lost the fight in days. Other repairs were equally unsuccessful. The toilets still didn’t have drainage grates, and the draining pipes were still missing from the kitchen. Other work turned out better: windows were replaced, as were light bulbs, though the latter turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. The bulbs were now left on throughout the night, and many found falling asleep nearly impossible. As for the repair of the central heating system, it took almost a year. Wood stoves were used the first winter, and the number of logs used depended on the mood of the guards.

After several months, Constantin was able to gauge the layout of the jail. It was “T” shaped, with a big central hall, and stairs leading to the second and third floors and to the basement. There were cells on all three floors and they varied in size and position. For instance, cell 17 became the most “desirable” one due to its position above the boiler room, with a steady stream of heat in winter. Cell number 12 had the distinction of being the worst, very damp and with the least natural light. Constantin “Dinu” Bratianu, the president of the National Liberal Party died there; he was eighty-seven years old.

Besides cells, each floor had primitive “bathrooms”: a Turkish toilet and a separate room with a cold slab cement floor, a sink, and shower. The kitchen, food pantry, and administrative offices were on the ground floor. The barbershop and doctor’s office were on the second. A chapel used to be on the same floor, but it had been converted into a storage shack once the Communists took over and religious worship was more or less outlawed. In the basement one found a boiler room, water pump, and two cellars (for potatoes, carrots, turnips, and the like).

Outside there were two yards. The larger of the two had an abandoned barn, and the watchtower. There had used to be an access door to the tower from the yard, but it had been covered with cement to prevent any potential escape or suicide attempt. The guards now entered the tower through the house next door, which had been taken over by the state police. This was also decided in order to limit contact with the prisoners and maintain the utmost secrecy.

The smaller yard was where they could see green grass and flowers: a lilac bush, two apple trees, a small vegetable garden, and a hedge growing on two sides and covered in light purple flowers in early fall. Two majestic firs on the street side of the fence were first trimmed so as not to obstruct the sentries’ view, only to be chopped down later. Thick walls at least twenty feet tall surrounded the building and the yards, shielding it away from prying eyes.

It took Constantin and the others a while to understand who was guarding them, and what hierarchy was in place. The warden was a sickly man who had fought in Russia and had been taken prisoner there. He liked to reminisce about his early hardship, the lack of food in the Russian camp, and how he had missed his family. Perhaps in his way he tried to show the inmates how he “related” to their ordeal. He had acquired a habit of comforting them with hollow promises and words: “this too shall pass,” or “you won’t be here for long.” One couldn’t tell if he was indeed attempting to make them feel better, or if he was simply passing on empty statements. On occasion he was prone to a kind gesture; when Constantin was in solitary confinement, the warden brought him a sparrow. “Here, I brought you company, it’ll make time pass more easily.”

Constantin took the bird in his hand; he felt the shivers, opened his hand and released her. The poor sparrow flew around in desperate circles, knocking walls and flapping in every which direction. Constantin couldn’t bear the sight and opened the window. The bird eventually found her way out.

The warden’s demeanor was pretty even keel until he drank, which was frequently and heavily like most of the staff. Constantin later recalled one such instance in 1953 when he was going about doing his chores. He had seen the warden ranting and raving, and shouting slurred words. The inmates then found out from a friendly guard that the heavy American bombing in Korea had officials worried about the war spilling over into Europe. The warden had always been a good Communist lackey, even before the war when Communist Party ranks numbered less than one thousand members. He liked to preach its doctrine, and emphasized how the Communists didn’t shoot you but killed you silently. And indeed it was disease, neglect, despair, and madness which robbed the lives of those in prison, hardly ever bullets.

The ones the prisoners spent the most time with were the guards. Some were beasts whose cruelty could hardly be forgotten. Others simply carried on their duties indifferently, having steeled themselves toward the suffering of the inmates. A few showed that they still had a heart, trying to ease the prisoners’ pain by passing on news (internal politics, international affairs, fellow sufferers), or giving them extra food. Some of the inmates even ended up being favored by one guard or another, not unlike the “teacher’s pet” in school.

Some of the guards lasted on the job for years, while others left after weeks. A lot of it probably had to do with their demeanor—the ability to look tough and control the inmates and deliver the party line. As for the latter, their weekly sessions of indoctrination were to remind them how evil the capitalist prisoners were. Attributes such as “vampires, exploiters, or beasts” were regularly used to describe their heinous “charges.”

The guards were mostly known by their nicknames. Some had to do with their appearance or demeanor. Others simply fell into such categories as “Beasts,” known as B-1, B-2, and so on, or “Ass”—A-1, A-2, etc.

Constantin was favored by Ciresica “Little Cherry,” a short and stocky fellow with a round, ruddy face. Once in a while he brought around fresh carrots, at great personal risk. He knew prisoners craved fresh fruit and vegetables, and occasionally tried to supply them. Ciresica would walk into the cell and leave the door open. He had to have an unobstructed view of the corridor, as guards were as afraid of one another as they were of their superiors.

“Here, I have something for you,” he would then say and quickly open up a fistful of grapes or cherries. Other times he would gently touch Constantin’s shoulder and murmur a word of encouragement, “Don’t give up, stay hopeful.”

“Little Cherry” was also one of the few who didn’t swear or use harsh words. He revered Iuliu Maniu, the leader of the Peasant Party, and often brought him extra food or an extra cup of tea. Maniu, a former prime minister, had guided the party to near-victory in the 1946 elections. Mr. Maniu was seventy-seven years old at the time of his arrest, and he survived three years in prison, until 1953.

Another guard nicknamed the “Aviator” (who had worked in aviation before the war) also had a soft spot for Constantin. When later on Constantin was again in solitary confinement and ill with hepatitis, the Aviator brought him extra milk at times. He had also warned him to beware of informers, though Constantin refused at first to believe that friends and suffering fellow inmates could be capable of selling out each other. But the Aviator proved to be right and his words prescient. Some of the informers hoped for a shorter sentence, while others wanted more food or an extra blanket, and decided to do anything in order to gain them.

Though favored by Little Cherry and the Aviator, Constantin was despised by the “Mongoloid,” also known as B-1, who actually hated all the inmates. He was ugly beyond description, and his body odor was as awful as his temper and constant curses. The hatred toward his charges was palpable and perpetually manifest. None of the tasks he handed out were ever done to his satisfaction. The floors were never clean enough, the potatoes weren’t cleaned properly, and the wood wasn’t stacked just so. All these lapses made for endless opportunities to shout, hit, and make men repeat their chores.

B-2 was just as bad, an ex-convict who himself had spent five years in jail for murder. But being a good Communist, he was released and made a guard. It was also B-2 who came in one day accusing Constantin of having peeped out the window. “I saw you, you punk!”

“You must be mistaken; I was lying down on the bed.”

“Are you telling me I’m a liar?”

“No, I’m just saying I couldn’t have done it.”

“You, you, rat, vampire. Get out. I’m taking you to the black cell.”

He pushed him until they stopped by the door of the black cell.

“If you confess I’ll let you go.”

This happened early in his sentence, and Constantin was still quite naïve, not yet used to all the bestial tricks. He decided to confess, despite being innocent, in order to avoid the subhuman conditions of the black cell.

“Okay. I did it.”

“Oh, here we go, I knew it! You liar; you get in immediately. Twenty-four hours in here should teach you a lesson,” and opening the door, he pushed the prisoner inside.

Constantin did learn a lesson that day. Months later B-2 walked in front of the window and kept waving his hand. By now Constantin knew enough about their tricks not to respond. His silence infuriated the jailor whose gestures grew more agitated, only to be met by the same silence. Minutes passed, and then in a loud voice, he said, “The son of a bitch doesn’t want to look out.” “Or maybe he’s dead?” he said before adding, “No such luck.” Every time they crossed paths, Constantin stared at him with a hard, cold gaze, without words. Perhaps this silent treatment eventually affected B-2; or, perhaps a sliver of humanity rose within him. Late one summer he picked up two fresh tomatoes and offered them to Constantin. This gesture immediately drew his suspicion. Was he being baited? But being desperate for fresh vegetables, he grabbed the tomatoes and devoured them, thanking the guard.

The “Habsburg” was nicknamed for his Germanic look, blond and blue eyed, and his fine features. He presented an interesting dichotomy to the prisoners. The Habsburg was the one who subjected them to the ultimate humiliation—kneeling for hours at a time. He also took an almost manic pleasure in making the men repeat their chores. Constantin and cell 17 (Nick Cornateanu and others) were assigned to washing the floors one day. They had just finished their task when the Habsburg came by to inspect the outcome. He lifted up his eyes and exploded, “Did you look at the walls and ceiling? They are covered in dust! There, pick up your brooms and polish them off!”

The men dutifully did as they were told; when the guard returned, he started yelling, “What have you done! The floor is covered in dust now! Go wash it off!”

So the poor men wet the rags and started sweeping again. The floor and the walls gleamed now. But then the Habsburg suddenly noticed dust on some heating pipes on a far wall and demanded they be cleaned, too. That soiled the floor again so it had to be washed a third time before the guard declared himself satisfied.

Most guards were shallow and conceited, holding high opinions of their skill and position. A favorite quote of theirs was, “When I give an order, not even Christ himself can change it.” In reality they were for the most part uneducated and devious dirty scoundrels. At times they would make up stories such as, “Those in cell 17 spoke too loud.” They’d rush in, complaining of the noise, and then separate the inmates. The supervisors were then called and told, “The situation had been brought under control.” It was nothing but a childish ruse to make the guards look good to their superiors. The “every man for himself” saying was elevated to new heights at the Sighet Penitentiary.

“Pithecanthropus Erectus” was the cruelest and most beastly of them all. His appearance was barely human, and his voice more like a growl, often clouded in smoke and alcohol. No deed was too low for him, even being caught stealing food from the meager scraps of the inmates. He would hit the prisoners with real gusto, often knocking them down, and stand there watching them wriggle in pain. He was the guard who had driven Gheorge Bratianu, president of the Liberal Party and a prominent historian, to suicide, after repeated beatings and verbal humiliations. After one such ugly, violent row, Bratianu was found dead in his cell having slashed his throat with a ragged stone.

In contradistinction, the Barber showed occasional signs of humanity. It was perhaps because he himself had been a prisoner in Russia, forced to work in the cold darkness of a mine. During Constantin’s bouts of jaundice, he came by to check on him and offer words of encouragement. He had apparently known of inmates who had been yellow and ghastly sick and had survived. He was also the one they dared approach when something was desperately needed. There was little they dared ask for, but the Barber at least listened and didn’t hit them.

Another guard by the name of Gavrila Pop also showed his heart. When Constantin spent his first Christmas at Sighet in solitary confinement, the guard softly sang carols outside his door. He also brought him carrots on occasion, much coveted by the men chronically deprived of fresh fruit and vegetables. Gavrila disappeared after one year; perhaps his good deeds had become known and he was terminated or transferred elsewhere.

As for the security officers and military guards, their interaction with the inmates was kept to a minimum. They were the ones entrusted to safeguard the prison and prevent escapes. In due time they, too would receive nicknames such as “The Gorilla” and “Tuberculosis” (also named The Fish by others), mostly based on appearance. But any exchange with these armed guards meant interrogation and often resulted in severe punishment; it was to be avoided at all costs.

These were the men, and this was their home.

Copyright ©2012 by Marina Giurescu
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work in any form whatsoever, without permission in writing from the publisher, except for brief passages in connection with a review.
Disclaimer: This is a true story, and the characters and events are real.
However, in some cases, the names have been altered, but the overall chronology is an accurate depiction of the author’s experience.
Cover Design by Tatomir Pitariu
Senior Editor: John Nelson
Photo of Marina Giurescu by Scott Schauer Photography
Publisher: Bettie Youngs Books
Bettie Youngs Books are distributed worldwide.
If you are unable to order this book from your local bookseller, Espresso, or online, you may order directly from the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-936332-76-2
eBook: 978-1-936332-77-9
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012946784
Giurescu, Marina. 2. Giurescu, Constantin C. 3. Romania. 4. Soviet Union. 5. Communism. 6. Sighet Penitentiary. 7. Historians. 8. Michelson, Paul E. 9. Freedom. 10. Democracy.
Printed in the United States of America

DMU Timestamp: March 08, 2013 19:51

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