* 1917 †︎ 2011
For the beginning, how do you perceive the communist regime today and what was its impact on the Romanian society?
Before I tell you my impression regarding the communist regime, it’s my duty to make an observation. The penitentiary regime from nowadays is totally different from the times we have lived. I consider that the new generation cannot imagine the picture of a life in the prisons from those days, taking into account the liberty they enjoy today. Thus, I am obligated to tell them about the experience I’ve been through, making them aware about the atrocities communism produced in Romania.
The communist regime brought upon the Romanian people a life of misery, indigence and fear. The thousands of people who endured the tortures from the prisons had indeed a life of terror.
Up to me the regime from the Romanian prisons can be described as it follows. Firstly, we experienced years of extreme starvation. Secondly, I remember the long winters without any source of heat. Thirdly, there were the beatings and physical terror. Fourthly, it was the total isolation which gave you the impression you were in a tomb. Fifthly, we had to endure an everyday humiliation.
If I were to make a retrospective of the most representative moments spent in prison, it would be like this: the starvation started in 1947 once with my arrest at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but I stood there only for 3 months. I managed to recover quickly. But, it followed the period of the 50’s when I was imprisoned at Aiud, where I have experienced an excruciating starvation.
I’ve seen people in the point of losing their minds given the years of extreme starvation. We could not walk because of the swollen feet…we were crawling in the cell. The cold was a constant of those days…I remember the time spent at Aiud. That winter I cannot forget. Because we refused to work in those conditions, the guardians punished us by binding our feet in chains and making us sleep on the floor…for 6 months without any source of heat.
It’s beyond any imagination. Still, our chance was that we were young in those times, the majority of us no more than 30 years. We were 81 miners, brought there under the accusation of recalcitrant behavior. Regarding the physical torture… I remember the reeducation from Pitesti, which is representative and was used as model also at the prisons from Aiud and Gherla.
And ultimately was the isolation. The total isolation was destroying the possibility of any contact with your fellows, with your family, and life in general. The most representative case of total isolation is the prison from Ramnicu Sarat. This prison which started as an ordinary one was chosen for its cellular construction.
For a short period of time they put us two in a cell, because we were too many and there was little room left for the newcomers. Thus, I spent several months in the company of Cornel Velteanu. It was an amazing progress for my situation, giving the fact I endured months of total isolation. I felt blessed that one of my party colleagues was in the same cell with me. I suspect the guardians thought I was going to die due to a flue and that’s why permitted Velteanu to stay in the same cell with me. I remember that one of the prisoners died because of this flue, general Dobre. During the period I stood with Velteanu, we started to tell each other stories about our native villages. He was rather pessimistic about my situation giving the fact I was ill. They offered me a kind of treatment at the hospital from Vacaresti, but it was not enough, I needed more. I remember that at Vacaresti was a peasant that came in a critical state and got the attention of the doctors only after several days of pain. Realizing that was dying he asked me to tell his relatives about his situation. I tried encouraging him, but he was right. He indeed died that day.
Once I got back to Ramnicu Sarat I did not have the chance to be in the same cell with Velteanu.
For how long did you stay with Velteanu?
For approximately 3 months.
Did you meet him prior to Ramnicu Sarat? He also was member of the National Peasant Party.
Yes, I knew him before our incarceration. He was the nephew of Dobrescu. It was a relief for me to have someone to speak to during those moths. In rest, I was obligated to use the exhaustible language of Morse. It was extremely difficult for me when some of the comrades left the prison in 1962, like it was the case of Corneliu Coposu, Ilie Lazar and many others. I don’t recall when Velteanu left…
Did you meet him after?
Yes, I did. He left to Paris… We’ve got together in liberty.
Do you remember something else from the time spent in prison?
In the autumn of ‘62 something happened. One of the prisoners told us by Morse in French that we were being watched. Imagine transmitting a message by using Morse in French. In that moment I understood that something dangerous was going to occur. Indeed, after many years, the commander and the guardians figure out our means of communication. The victim of the commander’s anger has been Ovidiu Borcea. The commander took him in the basement and beat him in order to confess. He denied everything, but the commander took the measure of transferring him in other cell.
Did they give you medicines while being arrested?
I received medicines once, but I think it was God who wanted me alive.
You have mentioned that you screamed at Mihalache: Nelu Botesti. What did it represent?
The village I come from. It was near Mihalache’s native village.
What can you tell us about Vasile Luca?
To Luca, the commander of the prison arranged him a small joinery and was allowed to work in that place during the day. He had this privilege. I have never seen him, but some of my colleagues remember seeing him in the prison.
Do you remember a Christmas or an Easter while being in prison?
I can tell you a funny story. Priest Balica came with an idea of calculating when the Easter will be. In other prisons, people have drawn on the walls calendars. We tried to keep up with the time. We’ve got in the point knowing what date it was, what were the months with 30 or 31 days. Priest Balica used some kind of calculus pertaining to a French mathematician. We tried keeping up with the Christian life we were used to have outside.
Did you pray in the morning or evening?
I was praying all the time. My father was a priest and taught me all the prayers.
Was there any winter to remember?
The cold I do remember.
Describe your daily life in prison.
I looked over all my memories and actions… how my life has been until that moment. Then, I tried to look towards the future and find possible scenarios regarding our situation. I was reciting in my mind stories and poems. Also, I was walking from one corner of the cell to another. Even after getting out from prison I felt the necessity of walking in the room.
How much do you weight when you got out?
I don’t remember, for me it was important I was still alive.
When did you get out the prison?
I left on 1st of December 1962 and immediately after, in February, Mihalache died. After his death, the prison closed, while the prisoners were transferred to other places.
Which was your first impression when you got at Ramnicu Sarat? Was it night or day?
It was night and we managed to see through the cracks of the van we were brought with at the prison. We knew about its existence, still we were not quite sure about the place we were going to. They used the train to transport us at Ramnicu Sarat and then a van which took us to the prison. I wasn’t impressed about the prison, because in comparison with Aiud, where I have been imprisoned for many years, Ramnicu Sarat was a small prison.
The cellular from Ramnic had 34 cells, while at Aiud the cellular had more than 300 cells, so I wasn’t impressed. They put me in a cell and as soon as I snoozed, the noises of the bell awaken me: it was 5 in the morning. The guardian entered the cell and communicated me the program: "the awakening is at 5 o’clock. Once you are up, you do your bed." The cell had a bed , two buckets – one for water, the other one for necessities and a stove.
I think there was also a blanket. I remember also a small chair. This was all the furniture from the cell. The guardian told me: “you arrange the bed, you put the blanket on and you can walk only in the cell (most part of it being occupied by the bed). You are not allowed to touch the bed, the walls (they were conscious about the fact that prisoners were attempting to contact each other), you are not allowed to produce any noise which could be heard from outside. You can sit on the chair, but you should have your face oriented towards the peep hole so that you could be seen by the guardian every moment, making ourselves sure you didn't fall asleep."
The alimentary regime was the same in all prisons, in the morning we had a sort of tea, at lunch a kind of bagel…
You have mentioned the name of the prison’s commander, Visinescu. Did you meet him once you arrived at Ramnicu Sarat?
No. We were taken rapidly from the railway station and put in the van, and then we arrived at the prison. He did not come. Visinescu was a kind of major who had the custom to inspect the prisoners. I remember that after my release from the prison I met Visinescu on the street. I was not sure who he was, but he addressed me. His face seemed familiar, but I did not recognize him at the beginning. He said to me that although he had hundreds of prisoners under his command he remembered each and any of them, including me. Given his insistence of speaking to me I asked him why he has committed all those atrocities. And he answered that those were the times. Also, I tried to find out details about Mihalache’s death.
Coming back to Ramnic, do you remember any of the guardian’s names?
I knew none of them, except Visinescu.
How many of them were there?
Well, there was also a doctor who came to visit sometimes. In six years I recall maybe 10-12 faces of guardians. They were 1-2 on shift. One was watching the first floor and one the ground floor.
Did they address you in a specific manner?
They were calling us on our names, while we were calling them by “sir”.
Do you remember how the prison was organized?
Well, the prison had the shape of a T. There were cells at the inferior and the superior levels. They were meant to serve for more than one person, but we were forced to endure a mono-cellular regime. I was put under isolation from the first night I got there. The investigation was done in one’s cell. I don’t remember quite well the commanders and guardians from the prison. They seemed to me the same- puppets that were executing blindly the orders. Some of them were more zealous. It comes into my mind the moment I spoke with one of the sergeants. He was feeling obligated to do all those atrocious things. Still, at Ramnicu Sarat we enjoyed a walk once a week, although it was under the strict supervision of the guardians. Also, we had a so-called bath with cold water of 2-3 minutes once a month.
Do you remember something particular of the building?
I remember the stories about the cellar. I visited it after 1989 together with Coposu. The prisoners who got there had been tight in chains and beaten up. The young prisoners handled better the regime, while the elderly like was the case of Ion Mihalache were striving to survive each of the beating episodes. Generally, they harassed the sick prisoners. These realities made us to find ways in communicating to each other. I started to knock in the wall by using Morse. Someone answered….was Coposu. He did not know Morse very well, but I taught him.
How did you use Morse in prison?
Morse represents an association of line and dots. The dot could have been heard, but the line was more difficult to reproduce. We were a group of three persons who started to communicate to each other. It was extremely difficult to understand each of the words the others were transmitting through Morse, giving the fact that we learn different forms of Morse in other prisons. So, by using this language we found out information about others who were in the prison. I spoke with Ilie Lazar and Ioan Puiu. They told me that the leader of our party, Mihalache was somewhere at the first level, on the left. In this way I managed to find out details about the other members of our party. On the left part of the prison were Puiu, Coposu and Ilie Lazar, but more I was not able to find out. I used Morse also in other prisons, but in time the guardians started to notice our language and caught us. We’ve faced 10 days of isolation. In addition, we got a smaller quantity of food, and obligated us to sleep without mattress on our bed. If you had in mind to react, the punishment would have included beatings. Thus, we did not have the possibility to found out news about the other inhabitants of the prison. Still, we did not give up and invented all sorts of means for ending the terrifying silence in which we were forced to live in. So, we invented the Morse by using the squeak of the chair or Morse by coughing. The latter was used during our walks of 20 minutes. Some ideas were transmitted in two or three weeks. I lived 6 years in these conditions, if you can imagine… We were an active group of 5 prisoners who used this Morse: Ovidiu Borcea, Puiu, Coposu and priest Balica. The old prisoners were too sick to respond to our signs. But, the rest of us used as much as we could this form of communication. I tried during the time spent at Ramnic to find out information about Mihalache. Once I had the courage of looking outside the window and there he was walking in the backyard, strictly supervised by the guardians. I was shocked to see him like this, from the vigorous, strong man I knew, there he was before me an old and weak man, barely carrying his legs. In that moment I realized that was the first time I saw him after more than ten year, and what years. He must have been almost 85 years. So I thought I should do something for him realizing that he was not alone and people were still remembering him, especially me who I was a member of his family. And I stood there thinking at what to do… and I took the decision of yelling at him “Here is Nelu Botesti. Everything is all right.” The guardians were taken by surprise by the conversation and were unable to find out from which part the noises came. Mihalache understood my message, because while crossing in front of my window he stopped and was expecting for me to continue speaking to him. For months I continued sending him messages like this. It was extremely difficult to speak with him by other means, giving the fact he was in a cell from the first floor. Coposu told me that he managed contacting Mihalache during the period he was isolated at the first floor. He told him through Morse that other members of the party were imprisoned at Ramnic. After these conversations, Mihalache pealed and screamed “Here is Ion Mihalache. I am being tortured for refusing to give false statements. I am sick and I am being refused the treatment”. After this episode I heard how the guardians entered his cell and started to beat him. He was refused any form of collaboration with the regime.
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The communist regime brought upon the Romanian people a life of misery, indigence, and fear. The thousands of people who endured the tortures from the prisons had indeed put up with a life of terror.
Nephew of the famous political leader, Ion Mihalache, Ion Diaconescu was born on the 25th of August 1917 in the Village Botesti, Arges county. He has a degree in Polytechnics, was a member of the National Peasant Party and worked within the Ministry of Economy. He was arrested on the 5th of December 1947 and sentenced to 15 years of obligatory work. He was released from Ramnicu Sarat prison on December 1962, although remained closely watched by the Securitate. In 1989 he became president of the Christian-Democrat National Peasant Party, president of the Christian Democrat Convention, and president of the Deputy Chamber.