I Missed the Liturgy Today


I did not go to the Liturgy today and I felt bad for it. There was a certain emptiness within me, which made it quite easy to feel some frustration and blame my external circumstances for my absence. But then I realized that I was not ready to go to the Liturgy and that my going there would have meant nothing, even if, on the surface, it may have been a fulfillment. The regret that I did not go the Liturgy manifested the absence of Liturgy in my soul. If I had lived liturgically, so if I had tasted of the Cup on every moment, regret could not have translated to emptiness and frustration, but it would have remained a longing for something that somehow I already have.




I missed the Liturgy today, and missing it I was somehow blessed.

Discussions with Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan



Today, I am hosting again the blogs of my students after our visit in Romania. This time, you have their stories after Mrs. Ana Blandiana and Mr. Romulus Rusan talked to us at the Permanent Exposition of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Sighet. The students’ blog for the entire trip can be found on this page: http://www.methodistcol.edu/blogs.aspx. I am publishing the blogs exactly how they appeared on the school’s website.

The students are taking a course on Suffering and Forgiveness in the context of communist persecution.

We thank Mrs. Ana Blandiana, Mr. Romulus Rusan, and Mrs. Ioana Boca for their generosity in opening their hearts to us.



July 27, 2015


Alexandria Ervin

Day two started out with breakfast at the hotel and then class followed by lunch. After lunch we walked to a museum dedicated to the information and story that is displayed at The Memorial To The Victims Of Communism And To The Resistance in Sighet, Romania. This museum exists in Bucharest because Sighet is so far away and it is so important to tell this generation of the horrors that communism brought to the country of Romania. Basically it is a museum within a museum. There we met with two people: Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan. Both experienced what it was like to live during the communist regime and both had parents that directly experienced the horror and torture of being controlled by communism. 
Mr. Rusan began by sharing with us the story of how Romania was taken over and the history of how they became the country they are today. After WWII, in 1945 the Soviet army imposed a communist government in Romania. They of course proposed this to the citizens of Romania as a good, wonderful thing that would work, but in fact this was a lie. In 1946 elections were held but these, too, were fraudulent and soon after the elections innocent people began to be arrested and the “brainwashing” began. Mr. Rusan shared with us many details of what went on in Romania during this time; it is just absolutely astonishing to think of the things these people went through, and for no reason at all!
Our second presenter, Ana Blandiana, took us through the museum. Each room held different posters of what is in the museum in Sighet. She was very knowledgeable about the information displayed and gave great detail so we could understand. Again both presenters showed great desire to inform and teach others what really happened to the people of Romania during this time.


Abbie Baker

On our second day here in Bucharest, we visited Memorialul Sighet. This was the permanent exposition in Bucharest that presented a memorial for the victims of communism that is organized in the northern part of Romania, in Sighet. Sighet prison contained 56 cells and was built in 1897. We got the chance to meet and listen the founder of the museum, poet Ana Blandiana, and her husband, historian and writer Romulus Rusan. They explained how labor camps, prisons, deportation camps, and places of confinement were organized all over Romania during 1945-1989. I noticed on the map attached, there were many more deportation centers in the southeast portion of the country.


Many common criminals were confined in this prison, along with political prisoners, among whom there were many priests from the national churches. Today, the former prison is a museum dedicated to what happened under communism in Romania and the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The cells have been transformed into museum rooms, with their own theme of the different distortions that caused so many people suffering and death. There was a cemetery of unknown grave sights of those who had passed.
I also learned that people were deported from one location to another within Romania for no reason at all, but only because the state wanted to have a buffer zone between Romania and former Yugoslavia.  Among the dead were people from ages of just one day old, up to 100 years of age. People were taken from one location to another for no reason at all.
Coming back to the Sighet prison, there was a place at the memorial called the Space or Recollection and Prayer. This memorial was built into the ground, where there was an open cross on the ceiling. Rain and snow are able to fall down on the table, and the reflection from the water makes an outline of a cross on the walls. Visitors can light candles and place them into the sand placed of this table. I would love to visit this memorial from the way it sounds. We learned that from Bucharest, the actual Sighet prison is about a 14-hour train ride from where we were. I really enjoyed listening to the founders of this memorial and learned lots!


Gynger Biddison

Re-education through torture
Today we went to class for two hours in the morning, lunch, and then an exhibit of a Communism memorial in Bucharest. The one thing that really evoked emotion from me was the exhibit that called “Re-education through Torture.”  Throughout the day, I began to understand the concept of re-education. In our class, we learned about how communism is really about breaking relationships. For it to work correctly, this is the first step. In order for the government to have total power, you need to break up families and communities. The two ways we talked about how you can fight against communism are: you can let it demolish the government itself and think that we are good, they are bad, or the other option is to fight against oneself, to fight against the feelings of hatred that may be born into your soul. In a way, I think the people who suffered in prisons and labor camps won because many of them forgave their torturers and did not let their hearts become filled with hatred and anger. Aspazia Otel Petrescu was one woman who, while being beaten badly in prison, saw the guard look at her and she realized he was enjoying beating her. When she then felt hatred for the guard, she immediately asked the other inmates around her to pray for her that she could forgive this man. In her eyes, the battle was to forgive and not feel hatred. This is the most amazing part to me. How could these poor men and women look beyond what was being done to them?
 
“When you suffer a little, you become hateful; when you suffer a lot, you forgive everything” (Fr. Roman Braga, who was in prison in Pitesti; he died this year at the Dormition Monastery in Michigan, USA).


Alexa Jontz

Today’s lecture really caught my attention. There was a PowerPoint slide that was titled Communism and the Church. One of the sentences in the slides states, “Communism is a doctrine that apparently desires union, equality”. This sentence boldly stands out to me because equality, in my opinion, is not a good thing. Equality sounds like a good idea but is it really? We should want there to be differences in individuals. We should want to have uniqueness between people because if we are all the same, then we can be replaceable. If everyone were the same as each other, it would defeat the purpose of life on Earth. This is the main idea of communism. The regime wanted to shape their society to function all the same way. This is connected with the whole destroy one- destroy them all.
Today in class we spoke about the Seven Homilies from the book written by Father George Calciu. The first Homilies is called The Call. This one is about reconnecting with other people. This section discusses how the regime wanted to create a “new man.” The communist regime in Romania was similar to the one in Nazi Germany because they both wanted to re-educate and create a new man so that society functioned as a mechanism rather than individuals in connection with one another. The second homily is called Let Us Build Churches. This section focuses on the importance of developing your own uniqueness. For me, this is an important section because it makes one realize that even though people are different from one another, there is always something that binds them together. The third homily is titled Heaven and Earth. I enjoyed reading this section because it is about the importance one’s presence can be to another. There is always a third presence in the connection between two people, whether one calls it heaven or love. The fourth homily is titled Faith and Friendship. Faith and hope gave people something to live for during the time of communism. The fifth homily is titled Priesthood and Human Suffering. The important idea from this section is that we, the people, take care of creation-take care of others. Being present with those who are suffering makes a bigger difference than telling them that you understand them and giving them false hope for the future. The sixth homily is titled Death and Resurrection. “Forgive yourself, before forgiving others.” This section points out that in order to truly love someone, you have to sacrifice your own life. I cannot relate completely with this statement because I have not sacrificed my life for a child or marriage. The last homily is titled Forgiveness. “Genuine forgiveness takes place in love.” This statement is important to understand because one gives forgiveness freely. One does not have to necessarily deserve forgiveness in order to receive it.


Natalie Wolfe

Class in Romania:
Conducting a class in a foreign country is different from how classes are done at Methodist. We do not have a lecture every day while in Romania, but we did today as well as yesterday. We will not have another lecture until Friday. Our lecture is held at another hotel, which is about a seven to ten minute walk in downtown Bucharest. Walking around Bucharest (the capital of Romania) is similar to walking around the streets of Chicago, but with more historical European architecture. Once we get to the hotel we take turns taking a small elevator to the seventh floor where we walk around a narrow winding hallway until we reach a business room.  Class proceeds in the small business room where there is a dinner-sized table that we all sit around. Having a lecture is more like having a dinner conversation or a business meeting, which I like because it is more intimate and feels like a conversation rather than a lecture. Class lasts around two hours, during which we discuss readings from Father George Calciu’s book (famous religious figure during communistic era), important events and details about what took place during the communist reign, or places that we will be visiting. We go through power points and take notes just like in a normal class, as well as watch short videos and documentaries. The videos we watch are typically of places we will visit and/or people involved in the history. Videos are also used to help provide a visual of a specific topic being discussed. Overall the informational aspect of lecture is similar to what would be found at school. One major difference about class in Romania versus class at Methodist College is that at Methodist the class is very cold while in Romania it is very hot. Adjusting to the extreme differences in environment is very difficult and can unfortunately make it hard to focus on the information and the discussion. When we do not have lecture we are substituting lecture time by visiting a museum, monument, or historical site that relates to the history we are discussing and reading about.


Katrina Fornoff

Today we were lucky enough to speak with the founders of Memorialul Sighet about the history of Romania and how it was changed by communism. There are many topics to cover in discussing how Romania was changed forever, but I am going to speak about the horrific living conditions these men, women, and children had to endure just to survive.
Some back-story to why these persons become imprisoned will give a better insight on how brutal and inhumane the treatment was to these people in the camps and prisons. First, people could be thrown into prison solely because of the family they belonged to; they could also be arrested for speaking about a topic that was not approved, spreading propaganda against the communist party, or simply not agreeing with the party’s ideas. All of those would have landed you in the re-education program. Those programs used torture to change the way a person thought and acted. The topic that I would like to cover is that of the living conditions of the prisoners. The conditions described to us were unimaginable and inhumane at the least.
 
Some of the examples of the way the people were forced to live are that about 100 people were stuck into a large room and there was one window and a door. The best spot in the room would be in the back by the window or right next to the door. As the persons died or were taken, the next person that had been there the longest would take that spot. That might have been one of the best situations that was explained, but one of the stories told to us was about their living conditions. These prisoners were not given baths, a place to use the bathroom, fresh water, utensils to eat, or proper food. We heard how they were given very hot food, so hot it would burn their hands. The guards forced them to eat their food before the guards would get into the next cell. This caused burning of their faces and throats due to the temperature. The water the prisoners received at times was very high in salt and was impossible to drink; when they drank it, it caused them to get more dehydrated than they already were. 
 
Another story that was explained in the museum was how these persons were expected to use the bathroom. They were forced to use the bathroom in the same bowel they ate from. Note that none of this was ever cleaned and was not dumped. If the person spilled the food from the bowel, then they were forced to lick it off the ground or be tortured. If the person refused to eat, then torture was inflicted. The brutality against these prisoners is hard to hear, but the strength of the people is inspiring.   It is truly wonderful that some of the people who endured such brutality could forgive. The fact that these people looked to their faith to keep them strong and did not give up sends a clear message that you can be at your lowest point and yet persevere. 


Rebecca Morton

Today began with breakfast, after breakfast we had class. In class we discussed some the seven homilies given by George Calciu to his students during lent. After class we had lunch at KFC, which was very similar in that they served fried chicken, but different because they would serve French fries instead of mashed potatoes, and the store had many deserts, coffee, and alcohol. I find this very strange because I see KFC as a fast food restaurant and not some place where you would go and sit down and eat. After lunch we had a short break and then we went to visit a museum, The Memorial of victims of communism and of the resistance. The founder of the Museum, Ana Blandiana, and her husband, Romulus Rusan, came to meet with us and to inform us about the museum. Mrs. Blandiana’s husband started off by telling us some of the history of communism. To me it is amazing how many horrible things happened to people and how it has been sheltered from the rest of the world. Such things include the torture that the victims endured which was depicted by pictures drawn by former detainees.
 
These pictures showed people being bound and then having boards hitting the prisoners’ hands to break them, prisoners being electrocuted, being kicked in the mouth, etc. 
Another form of torture that did not happen in the prison was internal relocation. There was a barrier on the boarder of Yugoslavia and anyone that fell in this barrier was picked up and moved to the Eastern part of Romania. They were not given supplies and they had no money, so they had to start a new town by living off of the land.   I cannot even imagine what that would be like. These people did nothing wrong,  yet they were being moved so they did not “get influenced” by the other country during a moment in which Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, was in conflict with Tito, the leader of the former Yugoslavia. I just don’t believe that someone could be that horrible to another human being. 
Mrs. Blandiana also told us about the cemetery outside of the prison which held the bodies of the former prisoners. They do not know where the prisoners were buried because there were not any grave markers.



A Plea to Heal Jilava in My Body


I have read and I have spoken about Jilava, one of the most horrendous communist political prisons in Romania, with the occasion of a class on suffering and forgiveness that I teach; however, I knew nothing about it before my body felt the cold humidity that gets to your bones and the darkness that blinds you the moment you step into the Fort 13. The most surprising thing was to discover that Jilava, unbeknownst to me, was already a part of my body because it was already a part of my wounds.

Jilava is a hidden past. The driver who took our group there came in with us. He was a lover of history books and claimed that he read everything he could get about WWII and the period following it. However, he knew nothing about the horrors that Romanians brought on Romanians immediately after the war.

 

                    (Photos courtesy of Ioana Hasu)

Jilava is not, in fact, a museum. One can visit it mainly due to the goodwill and dedication of one man, an officer from the prison, Cristian Micu.  Otherwise, there seems to be no interest in conserving a place of memory, and Fort 13 is degrading in the absence of resources. Perhaps the degradation of the place helps to show the repulsiveness of a prison built underground. Keeping Jilava hidden cannot help us to reconnect with our past. When I visited Fort 13, the real encounter was with myself because I discovered there the humid walls that were already built within my bones, as I think they are within the bones of all Romanians. Jilava is part of our history, part of our darkness, part of our disease. We do not want to deal with it and we hide it even further, we bury it as a place in history that is not to be visited. But I know that I cannot recover as a human being unless I accept that Jilava is already within my own body, and it would have been impossible to genuinely discover this without the stench of those walls hitting my nose. Jilava needs to be available as a place to visit for all of us, so that we can reintegrate it and accept it as part of our nation’s body, as ugly and repulsive as it is. I cannot recover as a human being unless I reintegrate Jilava in my body. Since I am part of the body of this entire world, my sickness affects it. It is not only me who needs Jilava; the entire world needs it. My need to heal Jilava in my body is the expression of my responsibility for the beauty of this world.

Acknowledging Jilava as part of my body means acknowledging Jilava as part of this world. This has nothing to do with political ideologies. It is not about being an anti-communist; it is not about whether communism is a good or bad ideology. It is not about whether those who fought against communism were controversial or not. It is only about acknowledging who we are and giving ourselves a chance to heal.

I have no “right” to speak of Jilava. I am not a historian. I was not imprisoned there and no relative of mine scratched on its walls the words of Psalm 50. I don’t speak of Jilava out of duty either. I speak of Jilava because I cannot hope to be healthy without doing so. I speak of Jilava because I need to be healed.


I am the product of communism. I am someone who played soccer while others died in Jilava. I am someone who beheld the “glorious” day of the end of the construction of the Danube-Black Sea Canal on TV, without having a thought for the people who died to build it. I am sick, and my sickness is called Jilava. I am sick, and my sickness is called Aiud, Gherla, Sighet, Pitesti, Siberia. I want to be healthy again, but I cannot do it by myself. I need Jilava, Pitesti, Gherla, Aiud, Sighet, Siberia to resurface in my body.

We, those who have this sickness of which we are not aware, need to reconnect in our bodies with Jilava, Sighet, Aiud, Gherla, Pitesti, Siberia. These places are already part of our bodies. We are museums of communism because its dirtiness and ugliness can show in our bodies. If we reconnect with those places by visiting them,  each one of us can become in himself or herself a living museum of communism. At that moment, we have a chance to be healed.

Help Jilava by not allowing it to fall into oblivion; help it become a museum; doing so, you help us all to be healed.

 

Communist Persecution And The Use of Prisons For Torture


This article is written by Alexandria Ervin, one of my students who visited Romania this summer  for a travel course on Suffering and Forgiveness in the context of communist persecution. One often hears the question whether it is important to talk about a traumatic past. One possible answer can be seen here.
 
 
 

            There is much to be said and felt about the horrific events that occurred in Romania during the reign of communism. During the years 1946 to 1989 Romania was governed as a communist country and during these years unspeakable hatred and torture was displayed on its people. One prison in particular is said to be the place of incredible acts of humiliation and disgust: Pitesti Prison. Located in Pitesti Romania, Pitesti Prison was opened in 1941and operated as a political penitentiary from 1942 until 1977 (Fundatia Sfintii Inchisorilor). At first it appeared to run as a typical prison but in 1949 the “reeducation” of its prisoners began.

I struggle to wrap my mind around the things that happened at Pitesti Prison and about which I learned during my trip to Romania. Even doing my own research after returning home to the States I have a hard time finding the correct words to put together to even begin to fathom how humans could do such tortures to their own kind. To the eye, Pitesti Prison looked similar to a school building with its wide hallways and somewhat open feeling when you first walk through the front doors. When you see such an outward appearance, especially in comparison to Jilava Prison, which we also visited while in Romania you would not think that Pitesti would be such a frightening place.

 
Experiences  

Octav Bjoza, whom we met while visiting Jilava Prison, miraculously survived the terrible things that happened in these communist prisons. He did not go through the re-education in Pitesti, but he and gave us just an idea of some of the unbelievable tortures that where performed in order to “reeducate” the people of Romania. I certainly was not prepared for what he told us, and it still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about all of the pain and suffering people endured during communist imprisonment. He knew we were going to be visiting Pitesti and wanted us to know that although it may not look like such a terrible place some of the worst acts occurred there. Prisoners were made to eat feces and drink urine as part of communion and verbally state barbaric things towards God and their families. They were mentally and physically abused and humiliated as part of the “unmasking” process. We could tell that this was hard for Octav to speak of but I felt by looking at him that he wanted others to know the truth about what happened to the people of Romania since unfortunately many people are completely unaware.

Testimonies from Father George Calciu

Prior to our trip to Romania we were instructed to read a book about another man[1]that survived Romania’s communist prison experiments. Through his faith in God and will to live, Father George Calciu (1925-2006) survived to write about what he experienced in prison, including his time Pitesti. Father George Calciu explained that the communist government wanted to “create a gap between children and the older generation in order to build a new world and a new man” (Calciu 99). He stated that Pitesti was the place where people were sent in order to start this “experiment” in erasing their prior self. In general that seems to be what communism is all about, brainwashing people into forgetting what they previously believed in in order to create a person that is naive to ways other than how the government wants them to believe.

According to Fr. Calciu there were four steps that prisoners went through: the installation of terror, the unmasking, the denouncement of other people, and after all of that the changing of one’s soul” (Calciu 102). It is amazing that people like Fr. Calciu and Octav Bjoza are able to even speak of these times or re-visit the place that it happened. During our tour of Pitesti our guide and current owner of the building, Maria Axinte took us through parts of the prison and gave us some history of what happened inside those walls. Maria is a young woman who is helping to make the story of Pitesti known, but I could not help but to feel that while we were walking through the rooms at Pitesti that there was still much more that needed to be said about what happened there. I suppose there is good reason why many people that were imprisoned there do not speak of what they went through. Although many reports have been given Maria told us that still the people that live in the town of Pitesti refuse to believe that in that building lives were shattered and innocent people were tortured and killed.

Before visiting Romania I was unaware of what exactly communism was, but after just eleven days there I have a heartbreaking understanding and hurt for the people that had to live through it. The fact that no one was safe from it and anyone could be arrested without rime or reason is terrifying. Most of the time when people of faith are in a terrifying situation they are able to turn to God for comfort and answers. In the case of people life Fr. Calciu who spent years in communist prisons, they were unable to do this and in fact his faith helped to put him in prison. Amazingly through it all he never gave up his faith in God. Enduring hours and hours of torture he would ask God to forgive him and to help him get through another day. It was this unbelievable faith in God that allowed him to forgive his torturers and eventually forgive himself for the things he was forced to do (Calciu 104).

 
Conclusion  

My trip to Romania will be one that I will certainly never forget for it opened my eyes and taught me just how fortunate I am to live the life that I do. I will never have to fear being arrested for speaking against the government or voicing my religious beliefs. I will never have to endure imprisonment along with hundreds of other people and forced to perform grotesque acts and suffer being nearly beat to death. I say that I struggle with finding the words to describe what I learned about places like Pitesti because it is so hard to accept and believe that the people of Romania, innocent people in fact, had to experience it. While standing in the rooms at Pitesti I tried to imagine what it might have been like to be a prisoner there but the only thing I am able to come up with is tears of sorrow and sadness.


Camera 4 Spital, the place of tortures in Pitesti, is now a chapel.

[1] Father George Calciu’s Interviews, Homilies, and Talks. Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010

A visit to Fort 13 Jilava and Pitesti Prisons



I am hosting today the blogs of my students after our visit to Fort 13 Jilava and Pitesti, two of the most horrendous communist political prisons in Romania. Their blog for the entire trip can be found on this page: http://www.methodistcol.edu/blogs.aspx. I am publishing the blogs exactly how they appeared on the school’s website.

The students are taking a course on Suffering and Forgiveness in the context of communist persecution.

Mr. Octav Bjoza, who spent 4 years in 14 communist prisons, accompanied us in Jilava and helped us see the possibility of human dignity in utter darkness. The energy and goodwill of officer Cristi Micu inspired us. Without him, this visit would not have been possible. In Pitesti, Maria Axinte brought us in the presence of suffering, but also reminded us of the reality of beauty. Ioana Hasu blessed our entire trip with her presence. THANK YOU!


July 28, 2015

 

Gynger Biddison

Jilava is a prison outside of Bucharest. In this area, one building is being used still today as a prison. But one building was a “political prison” which was used for transitioning people during communist times. To give some background I will explain how this felt going inside. We took a bus to get there and when we got to the gate security stopped us. We had to give up our cell phones, chargers, and ear buds as a precaution so that we were not leaving any for the inmates. Once we passed through the gates we drove past the active prison. We drove down a windy dirt road to an underground tunnel where we saw a building, even more underground. This is Jilava, where human beings were no longer treated as people.
Communism took over the area. And anyone who not only opposed it, but made a comment about how they did not agree with something, were taken from their homes with no explanation and sent here. An example relating to us would be if students from the US went out with friends at night, made a joke about Obama, and the next day they were told to come out of their homes and taken in a van straight to Jilava with no explanation to them or their family as to why or where they were going. Some people stayed here for four years or more. They had absolutely no contact with the outside world, no letters, no visits, no packages, and no hope. When they arrived at Jilava, still not knowing what’s going on, there were guards lined up with baseball bats telling you that if you make it all the way to the door on your own two feet, maybe you will survive to someday come out of this place. The building is completely underground with grass grown on top of it so that outsiders cannot see it’s there.
The windows were completely boarded up so that they could not see the sunlight for days, or months. There are tiny cells with wooden formations used as beds. Sometimes there were up to 50 men in these tiny cells at a time. They had to defecate and urinate into a bucket and had another bucket they all ate from. These buckets were often switched. They did not shower for months at a time. In the cells the winters were very, very cold and the summer excruciatingly hot. The purpose of the people being imprisoned was to re-educate them, destroy them psychologically, and make them suffer. They would not just kill them, because that would be too easy. They kept them on the very edge of death. Since many were religious, Octav Bjoza reminded us that in Pitesti the prisoners were given feces for communion.
Octav Bjoza is a man in his seventies who survived Jilava. He was there in his 20’s for four years. We walked through the prison with him, and he pointed out what was done to them in what areas. No part of the prison had been renovated or updated, it is all exactly as it was when he was there. It is now considered a National Monument. As we walked through the dark concrete halls, I could not help but wonder how Octav came back here. After all that was done to him and how many people he watched die and suffer, does he ever recover or is it therapeutic for him to tell his story? He said some of the worst punishment was bending down, touching your toes, and your eyes were forced to look directly at your toes for up to 24 hours at a time. Can we even imagine? I don’t think my imagination can even come close. He said this made a lot of people crazy after time. Octav was joking at certain times and laughing, and I could not help but wonder how this is possible. Walking out of the old prison with tears in my eyes I felt truly blessed that I had the experience to walk through it and hear his experience first-hand. It is truly something you cannot explain- all the emotion that it gives you by being in the exact cells where so many souls were destroyed. As you walk through the musty, cold, dark cells you feel a certain tightness and pressure that makes you uneasy. There was no justice for Octav. He was not compensated in any way for his mistreatment. I felt myself wanting to look into his eyes and stand near him since I was so amazed at his story. I kept feeling so lucky to have the opportunity to meet one of the rare people that survived this monstrosity. Some stories will live on through survivors writing books, but soon all of the survivors will die and this will only be told in history books. That is the saddest part for me.

Katrina Fornoff

What kept this great man we met today going while he was incarcerated at Jilava prison was the wise words of an older gentleman. The strong words that made such a strong statement stick with me throughout the day. Octav Bioza recited, “You have to win against yourself, once you win you will be victorious- always victorious.”
Octav described the conditions and tortures he endured during his time at Jilava prison in great detail while taking us cell to cell. Close to the end of our time with him, he took us to the cell where he spent his time. He held his composure and modeled the victorious attitude that kept him alive. He mentioned that there is still not much known about the horrible things that happened at Jilava and Pitesti Prison.
When visiting the next prison, Pitesti, I was surprised to see that it was in the middle of the city. Understanding that it was outside of the city when it was constructed, it still had me wondering why a town would want to be around a place with such a torturous background. This question was answered quite simply- the people of Romania, if they did not go through this torture themselves, had no idea that these events took place. As discussed during our tour in Pitesti with Maria Axinte, who is the one who made it possible for people to see this prison, the prisoners were forced to sign documents that ensured they would never talk about the events that happened. The fear instilled in these persons was so real, that telling their loved ones was not worth putting their safety on the line. Many of these stories were not released until after the fall of communism in 1989, but still many prisoners did not speak.
Many of the stories that have been shared are from family members of prisoners. Families went years not knowing the suffering that their loved ones endured. With this, many of the facts died with the prisoners either in prison or later in life. As I learned today, not many people had the ability or courage to speak out against the communist role. One figure that arose was father George Calciu. He was imprisoned twice and spoke what the communist party did not want him to say many times during trial. Due to his courage to speak out against this power, he was forced to flee to America where he used his platform to help Romania have a voice that was suppressed. Father George helped bring the faith of the people back into believing that there is hope and peace within God.
The room where the tortures in Pitesti took place is now a chapel. 

Alexandria Ervin

Today was day four in Romania. We visited Jilava and Pitesti; both were used as political prisons beginning the mid 1940s until communism fell in December of 1989. At our visit to Jilava we were fortunate enough to meet a man who miraculously survived the tortures that happened there during his imprisonment. His name was Octav Bjoza. Just by looking at him you would never suspect that such a sweet looking elderly man would be able to survive through Jilava and be able to speak about it, let alone revisit the place where he was beaten and humiliated.
Octav gave us a detailed description of what the people went through during their imprisonment and took us throughout the prison to see the actual rooms where such horror took place. The original Jilava prison (Jilava has a new building that is an active prison today) was incredibly old and run down, like something you would see in a horror movie. The whole place had a bad vibe to me and the energy there was frightening. 
One of the rooms that I walked into was used as a holding room where they kept people in hopes of them dying from disease, rather than execution. Octav told us that they would put prisoners in the room that had deadly diseases such as tuberculosis so the disease would spread to all the other inmates. The trip to Jilava was truly unforgettable and the experience brought tears to my eyes. It makes the story of what happened in communist prisons so much harder to fathom when there is someone that can tell you firsthand what it was like to live through it. Although you could tell in Octav’s eyes that it was extremely painful to come back to Jilava, it is so important to share his story because so many people have no idea any of these events happened and it is a story that needs to be told. 

Natalie Wolfe

To prepare for our trip to Romania we read a book on Father George Calciu. George Calciu was born before the Romanian government fell under communistic rule. When the country fell to the communist party, many students, leaders, and various intellectuals were imprisoned for re-education where they were unjustly confined and endured brutal treatment. Father George was one of the students at the time he was arrested and thrown in jail. Today our class went to two prisons, one in Jilava and one in Pitesti to learn more about what happened within the prisons, and more specifically what Father George Calciu went through.
The first prison we went to in Bucharest was Jilava, the largest and more brutal prison during the communist period. The prison is twenty-five feet underground. The purpose of it being below ground is so no one could see the prison. The place was originally built as a military fort to protect Bucharest if it were ever under attack. George Calciu arrived in Jilava after he spent years in Pitesti and went through what is known as the re-education program. Octav Bjoza went to Jilava as well. While showing us the prison he discussed how they were greeted into the prison. He said that they would walk in rows towards the entrance of the prison while guards beat them. During this time, the guards yelled at them that whoever made it to the gate on his own feet may be among the ones who would come alive out of the jail. I picture Father George entering the structure in a similar way. We also visited one of the rooms that George had to stay in. The rooms were very dark since they were underground. Most of the rooms had no windows. If they did they were boarded up. The cells we saw were what I would imagine to be regular sized cells, but enough people would be placed inside one cell that there was physically no room for them to sit. Fort 13 Jilava functioned so that the persecutors were purposefully trying to kill the inmates without physically doing it themselves. It is amazing that Father George was able to survive being in this jail. 
Calciu was also sent to Pitesti’s jail where the inmates were all between the ages of 18 and 25. We also visited this prison, which was roughly an hour drive away. This prison looked much nicer, but this did not compensate for the equally horrendous acts done by the guards here as well. Father George’s faith helped him survive in his sixteen years in prison. His faith also helped saved hundreds of other people he encountered within the prisons, as well as the guards. In my opinion, he also played a huge role in bringing light to what was happening in the prisons, as well as aiding in ending the corrupted communist ways.

Alexa Jontz

Octav Bjoza is a man who survived the communist regime. He is currently 77 years old and is the president of the Association of the Former Political Detainees. He was our guest speaker at the prison of Jilava in Bucharest. I could not take my eyes off this guy, because I was so intrigued with every word he spoke. This man has experienced fourteen prisons in four years, and he said Jilava was the worst one for torture. The things Octav went through were horrible.
For what he experienced around 50 years ago, I would say he is in great shape. This man climbed numerous stairs with us. We visited not only the lower floor of Jilava but also the very top of the outside. Octav is at a healthy weight and stood around six feet tall. He did not use a cane nor hearing aids, but he did wear eye glasses. I could see tears in his eyes a few times, and I could tell it was difficult to hold in his emotions. However, this man has not fully cried since the one moment in prison when his fellow inmates reminded him it was the birthday of his girlfriend. Even though the prisons tried to mentally break him down, I think in the end all those experiences made Octav mentally stronger than he was ever before. As awful as Jilava was, it brought Octav to see the true meaning of a human being. It made his faith stronger. Octav experienced the most horriific things humans can do to other humans, but today I could still see kindness in his face. It is amazing to know that this man wants to educate the younger generation about the communist regime. He has spoken to nearly 6,000 young adults about his personal experiences with the regime. This is an experience that I will always keep with me. There is no doubt there was a higher power watching over Octav Bjoza during his years in prison.

Rebecca Morton

Today began with a visit to the Jilava prison. When we first entered the gates while still in our bus, they took all cell phones, la tops, chargers, etc. At first this seemed intimidating, but they explained that the prison still has parts that are active, meaning inmates are still held there. We drove down a long road and off to the right we saw several very old buildings that are falling apart. Concrete is falling off parts of the building, the paint is fading, and there are several cracks in the walls. As we got off the bus we met Colonel Micu, who is now in charge of the place. He began by giving us some history of Jilava itself.
In the 19th century, Jilava was originally 1 of 18 forts built around Bucharest by the military for protection. Since they were never needed, it was then turned into a prison.
We then had the pleasure of being guided through the prison by one of the former detainees named Octav Bjoza. As we entered the first building and the first room I began to feel an overwhelming presence of emotions. The room, which is probably the size of a typical American bedroom, held 50-75 people. There were no bathrooms so the political detainees had to use the bathroom in one bucket. They had water in another bucket, and often they had to switch buckets. When we were told some of these stories, I could not even fathom what it would be like to have things that are so inhumane done to you by another human. We then went to a second building where Father George Calciu (who is the priest our book is about) was held. The building consisted of four small rooms that were probably less than 10ft by 10ft. The rooms had no light, and no air ventilation. Each one of these rooms held approximately 4 people and were intended to kill the prisoners (actually that was the intent of the whole prison). The guards purposely placed a sick inmate, such as someone with tuberculosis, so that the other three would catch it and also become ill and die. When I entered one of these rooms I immediately began to feel claustrophobic. I began to feel sad, disgusted, angry, and so many other emotions.
We then began to enter the building where Octav was held during his four year stay at Jilava. The first room we went to held 150-175 people at a time. In this room they had an example of the foot chains that the prisoners had to wear. 
The next thing we saw was the hall where people were kept in solitary confinement. The beds were held on the walls and could have been raised by the guards out of the room, so the detainees did not have control of when they could sit or lay down on them. On the walls there were still lines of psalm 50 that had been engraved by an inmate. To me, this showed just one of the many ways that the inmates kept not only their hopes up, but how they kept their faith even in the darkest of times. 

Abbie Baker 

On our third day, our group got to visit Jilava prison. There was a gentleman named Octav Bjoza who told us his story of surviving this political prison. When we first got to the prison, we learned that there were two parts to the prison. One of these being an active part with common criminals as inmates, and the other was the old political prison that was in use from 1947 to 1989. When we walked down the stairs into the cells, you could literally feel the temperature drop. Some cells were pitch black, and some were boarded up so no one could experience sunlight. Bjoza was sent to Jilava when he was in his freshmen year of college. He explained that people were put in shackles that were on their hands and feet and were connected together. There was an actual pair of the shackles used on a table in a cell that we got to pick up. Bjoza said that if you did not do what the guards would say, they hit the shackles on your feet or hands until you did what you were told. The amount of pain and suffering that these people went through is mind-boggling, because in reality they did not commit any crimes. They were put through hell; luckily, Octav Bjoza survived and lives to tell his story. He said that the struggle was not getting through the beatings and tortures, but to overcome the mental struggle and believe in hope that you will survive- this was the real obstacle.