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.