Hunger, persecution, misery. Most of us are lucky enough to have never experienced such things. However, that wasn’t the case for most Romanians alive today, who have had the misfortune to live a very different life, marked by fear, dire poverty, and. ultimately, tragedy.
All totalitarian regimes come to power promising renewal, new beginnings and a better, more prosperous future. All that they ask in return is that you cease to think for yourself and do everything exactly as you are told to do without question and without hesitation in the name of the higher goal, be that the supreme ruler, the state, or the party.
Throughout the four decades (1948-1989) that the communist regime was in power in Romania, it masqueraded as democratic, patriotic, and dedicated to the betterment of all Romanians, only to commit atrocities against the very same people it swore to protect. These atrocities vary from place and time, but they affected people of all ages and the scars that they left on Romanian society are visible to this day.
While we have tried to spare you the gruesome details make no mistake, this devastating story is the stuff of nightmares.
Source: Online communism photo collection, #Z198
The Securitate was, as many would later call it, the “instrument of terror.” Its agents arrested, tortured, sent to labor camps, and killed thousands of people. Their mission was to purge the country of its “bad seeds” and maintain the control and dissemination of the communist ideology.
Formed in 1949 and continuing to activate until the 1990s, “The Securitate” short for the Department of State Security, Romania’s secret service. Used to spy on its own people, the Securitate employed around 11.000 agents and had more than half a million informants, out of a population of 22 million by 1985.
With approximately 1 in 30 people being an informer and spying on colleagues, friends, and relatives, feelings of suspicion and paranoia were flying very high. Anyone who dissented against the communist doctrine would have to be rooted out or “re-educated,” as it was called back then.
Basically, if you simply complained about your job to a coworker who happened to be an informer you could wake up with the Securitate knocking on your door to sack you up in the middle of the night. You’d then return a week later unable to tell anyone where you were or what happened to you.
So, freedom of speech and freedom of thought did not exist, you were either for the regime or against it. And if you were against it you had to be re-educated to fully be a member of the communist society in which all were equal; with some, of course, being more equal than others.
Source: Andrei Pandele
The year 1967 marked the year Romania’s leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his communist party would sign the abortion decree banning not only pregnancy interruptions, but contraception too. This was a measure of increasing the country’s natality. But in an odd twist of fate, the generation he so desperately wanted was the one who actually executed him in the end.
What you should know about the ban is that it lasted until the fall of communism (three decades), criminalized abortion and imposed mandatory gynecological revisions (both the doctor and the woman would be guilty). People over the age of 25 who didn’t have children were forced to pay a celibacy tax, which was around 10% of one’s salary.
With no condoms, no morning-after pill, and abortion being outlawed, it was a lot harder for one to have an active sexual life in Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Romania.
To avoid unwanted pregnancies women started to look for alternatives. Those with better financial situations would get contraception from abroad or pay doctors to have safe abortions, but those without material possibilities would end up dying. According to the Center for Statistics and Medical Documentation, 9,452 women died during the abortion ban due to self-inflicted abortions and clandestine procedures. But the monstrous consequences are far greater. Read below for more details.
Source: Online communism photo collection, #BA225
Because of Ceauşescu’s pronatalist policy, many women had to carry their pregnancy to term even though many of them didn’t have the financial possibilities of having children. As such, Romania’s orphanages became overcrowded, with the total number of children in orphanages rising to 500.000 by the fall of the regime.
The biggest problem was that these orphanages were underfunded and the people who worked in them were untrained. This led to the children there being severely abused, as it became common for up to 4 babies to be put in the same crib, many times left in their own
feces, besides being underfed and receiving no affection whatsoever from their caregivers, which alone can lead to the death of new-borns. However, whenever Ceauşescu would visit an orphanage, as with anything else he visited, the staff would put on a facade and make it look like the orphanage was in pristine condition. The children in the orphanages would often fight amongst each other, and those that had severe handicaps would most often be left to die.
Most of these children have endured horrible neglect, cold, hunger, beatings, and often, sexual abuse. As you can see in the video below, most children with congenital defects lived in appalling conditions. Graphic footage, viewer discretion is advised:
Source: Online communism photo collection, #A420
During the first years of the communist regime in Romania, when it tried to implement a stalinist version of communism, approximately 2500 clergymen were arrested with the tacit approval of the Orthodox Church’s hierarchy. Religion was considered an instrument of exploitation and discouraged by any means necessary.
During Ceaușescu’s dictatorship however, the church, primarily the Orthodox Church, was merely used as another propaganda system. On the one hand, Ceaușescu allowed the construction of 300 churches in the year 1966 and used the Church to further communist propaganda. On the other hand, he imprisoned priests for holding sermons that condemned atheism, ordered priests to be relieved of their duties for criticizing the state, and demolished many historical churches and monasteries in order to make way for his urbanization and industrialization plans.
For Ceaușescu, the Church seemed to be just another means to an end. Even the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church had to placate the regime and promote communism. The patriarch during Ceauşescu’s time in office, Teoctist, even went so far as to condone the regime’s violent crackdown of revolutionaries in Timişoara 1989. Even when the regime brought in the army to shoot unarmed peaceful protesters on the steps of the Timişoara Orthodox Cathedral, he still openly supported the regime.
Even though the communist regime claimed that everyone was equal, ethnic minorities faced underhanded, if not discrimination at every turn, with the Hungarian minority being the worst hit, as its cultural and political leaders faced persecution and imprisonment in a series of show trials. The Hungarian aristocracy, alongside the rest of the bourgeoisie and the Romanian aristocracy, had its land and property confiscated, while they themselves were sent to penitentiaries or labor camps.
Aside from that, the regime also attempted to fix the “Jewish Problem” (Problema evreiască), that had plagued Romanian antisemites since the 19th century and had culminated with Ion Antonescu’s genocide of Romanian Jews during the Holocaust in 1941-1943, in which up to 380,000 Jews were slaughtered. The solution put forward by the regime, starting with the 1950s, was to sell its Jews to the newly formed state of Israel in a win-win type of situation in which Romania would receive money for each Jew that it sold (usually around 3,000$), and Israel would increase the population of the new state with the received Jews. For the Jews of Romania, emigrating to Israel, aliya, became the only alternative to a better life in a country where it became more and more difficult to live as a Jew.
In the case of Romania’s ethnic German population, they faced persecution the very moment the Soviets stepped foot on Romania’s soil, when they were deported to the USSR under Stalin’s orders to send ethnic Germans from Southeastern Europe to mandatory labor in order to punish them collectively for the crimes of Nazism. Around 60,000 to 75,000 ethnic Germans were deported to the USSR in January 1945. But, even after that, the ethnic Germans of Romania faced discrimination and were subjected to deportation for forced labor in Bărăgan. Suffices to say that the conditions were so horrific that many of them died because of these deportations.
Source: Online communism photo collection, #W053
Before Ceaușescu’s installation as head of state, Romania had similar despotic leaders who used the Marxist views of equality to enslave its rural population. Thus, in March 1949 began “The Collectivization Program,” a forced communist initiative to allegedly confiscate the wealth of the rich in rural regions and give it to the peasants who worked for them. In practice however, the owner of the land became the state, and the gains of the land was equally redistributed to all peasants regardless of how much or how little they worked on the land which, in turn, led to lower productivity.
They program would eventually force peasants to give a large percentage or quota of the land production, most of the time through violence. By 1962 more than 90% of the agriculture land was collectivized. More than 50.000 peasants who revolted in one way or another were arrested and imprisoned. Many of them would be sent to forced labor at the Danube-Black Sea Canal, where thousands would die due to the horrifying work conditions, as they had to dig a canal through all of Dobrogea using mostly shovels and pickaxes. As a result, the place was nicknamed the Canal of Death.
Fast forward to the austerity policy (see below) in the 80s and farmers were once again obligated to give a great percentage of their produce to the state. Schools and university students were employed in the millions to contribute to the harvest of the land in a practice that became known as “patriotic duty” or “agricultural practice.” The working conditions in the fields ranged anywhere from gruesome back-breaking labor to simply picking apples or peaches, depending on where each group was sent. Most importantly, no one received any pay for this.
The year 1980 marked the official year Romania would become impoverished and hungry until its revolutionary outbreak in 1989. That year Ceaușescu signed the austerity policy in Romania which detailed the conditions in which Romania would plan to pay its entire external debt, which had increased to 20 billion dollars.
Most of Romania’s production would be exported, import would be cut drastically, and consumption would be squeezed as numerous shortages of food, energy, medicine, fuel, and other basic necessities dramatically lowered living standards.
Because of the energy cuts dozens of babies died in their powered-out incubators, hot water ran only once per week, car owners were allowed to buy only 30 liters (8 gallons) of fuel per month, regional radio and television stations were shut down; there was only one television channel allowed to broadcast for just 3 hours per day.
Historians argue that because life conditions had become so wretched and miserable, by the end of 1989 the Romanian revolution against communism would culminate with the execution of the tyrant leader and his wife, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu.
If you book a tour to our Museum of Family Life during Communism, you’ll hear more about the austerity policy and the real-life conditions in which Romanians lived in the last communist decade from one of our truly passionate and knowledgeable historian team members.
If there’s something we’ve learned from these seven facts about Romanian communism is that these nightmarish tales are not fictitious stories told merely to shock the reader. They are bits of history that show how the face of true evil hides behind deception, manipulation, segregation, and coercion. Truly good political intentions never enforce freedom limitation to such extent and with such extreme measures upon their citizens.
The worst of human nature has bent the destinies of millions of people. Learning about the cruel fate of those before us, keeping alive the muttered voice of those suffering defenseless, might seem like a small act in the vastness of unrestrained forces that govern our erratic fallibility. Yet it’s anything but. Continue to remember those who have undeservingly perished and advocate for human rights, your courage and support will always inspire others for goodness and greatness. Thank you for supporting us!
Note: We strive to provide accurate facts and data; if you find something inaccurate, please contact us!