Carmen and Octav

I first heard of Mrs. Carmen Bjoza and her story a couple of months ago, when I visited Fort 13 Jilava Prison in Romania with some of my students. Mr. Octav Bjoza, her husband, who had been imprisoned by the communist regime for four years, accompanied us along the cold, dark walls of Jilava (I wrote about it here: A Plea to heal Jilava in my body). At the end of our visit, Mr. Bjoza came into our bus and, standing with playful eyes, like a young adolescent, told us: “I have to tell you another story.” [1]

He started telling us about Carmen, the love of his life, whose memory kept him alive during his four years in prison.


The young Tavi (in Romanian, the nickname for Octav or Octavian is Tavi) had fallen in love with Carmen when he was 16. She was only 13 years old. He was taken to prison three years later. It was a young love, but they had already started exchanging love notes. For four years and four months, he rarely heard from her. Those were the times when prisoners were not allowed to communicate at all with people from outside of the prison. But then, after three years, when they were taken to forced labor, they were allowed to receive some packages from home if they did their norm. The young worked for the old people, who could no longer accomplish their norm, so the young always fell short. For the very weak older political inmates, a package from home could represent a chance of survival. As the other young men, Mr. Bjoza worked for the weaker among them, so he could not receive what his family sent him. When he finally was allowed to get one,  his package contained one soap called “Carmen.” It was the sign that Carmen was waiting for him.

“You receive unbelievable powers when you receive such a message. The soap exists even today, in my small exposition in Brasov.” Brasov is the town where Mr. Bjoza presently lives.

Our bus was at the gate of the prison, so we could not stay there for a long time. A large part of the prison is still functioning today; it is only the former political section that is no longer holding detainees. Our host, the officer who arranged our visit, politely invited us to leave. But Mr. Bjoza said, “Wait, I did not finish.” “One day, in those conditions of terrible hunger, I saw that my colleagues, the inmates, put some small pieces of bread on the window, to dry them. ‘How could they do it?’ I thought. I was dying of hunger and they had more bread than they needed! Then, one morning, while I was marching toward our assigned work place, I saw a bouquet of lilies of the valley, just two yards away, under a willow in the Danube Delta. Instinctively, I went there and grabbed them. I continued to march, holding them in my hand. The lilies of the valley bloom early in the spring…” In an interview to, which I cited above, Octav Bjoza mentioned that it was already autumn when he saw the lilies of the valley. It was, as he called it, “an anomaly of nature.” And he continued. “I was a skeleton with some lilies of the valley in my hand, in the midst of other skeletons.”

“After a few more steps, I realized that it was the birthday of my girlfriend, who remained home. She was 20 years old. I hid those lilies in the ground, then in the hay from our mattresses, wherever I could, and you can still see them today, after 54 years, in the exhibit I have.



“That day, when I returned to the camp, my colleagues called me aside. In conditions of total clandestinity, they had crushed the bread crumbs in a small bowl and mixed them with some jam, making a small cake, 2 centimeters thick, on which they wrote, ‘At 20 years old, for Carmen from Tavi.’ I began crying incessantly, making a pool at my feet, and I ran someplace at the end of the concentration camp, to hide. In three-four minutes, I was back, though, and I thanked them. I have not shed one tear since then, even though my parents and my only son died. I have not shed one tear since then… It’s not good… The guards made a machine out of me.”

One more quote, from an interview Mr. Bjoza offered to (

“During winter, they kept us in some holes in the ground, one meter (one yard) deep, with some hay on top. I survived keeping my eyes on Carmen’s name, which I had scratched on a beam.”

Today, Mrs. Carmen Bjoza fell asleep. Memory eternal!

[1]Mrs. Annette Müller, a journalist who was writing about communist persecution, accompanied us during the visit. She kindly shared the audio files with me, and the quotes follow those files—of course, translated from Romanian to English. For those of you who speak Romanian, here is an article about the love story between Carmen and Octav Bjoza: The picture of Carmen Bjoza comes from this article. You can also see there a picture with Octav Bjoza when he was 19, the age of the arrest. The pictures in Jilava were taken by Ioana Hasu.

About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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