Now, I am joyful for one thing: I came out of the gulag and these prisons without being bitter and vengeful. I even met the one who tortured me badly, and I did not tell him anything. I did not reproach him anything. I thought about my sins, and I remembered how many times God saved me. So I thought I have to forgive as well, and I tried to find excuses for him: this is how the times were… I tried to put myself in his place, and I managed to forgive him.
I used to meet with many of the survivors who stayed in prison with me. We used to talk. They were surprised that I could forgive, because not all forgave. I used to tell them even when we were in prison:
“We must forgive, so that we don’t come out from here with this hatred, so that we do not go out to get revenge.”
It was not difficult for me to forgive those who wronged me, but it was very difficult to convince my comrades, those who were together with me. After they came back, they thought about revenge with hatred. They really considered getting revenge. There are so many methods; we could have had revenge and no one would have found out. But I did not agree to it, and they began to blame me and wonder whether I was a traitor. They were amazed: “How can you pray for these people who did so much evil?”
I explained to them that I pray for those people so that God would illumine their minds and they would see that they were doing evil. If they had understood, they would have immediately stopped doing evil, torturing so much. This is what we have to do; otherwise, we would remain bitter, and evil immediately is formed within our souls and attacks us first of all. This stain of sin is developed within the soul. This is what I told them.
Later, when some of my comrades from prison began to die, I told those who were still alive that they had to prepare so that they would not leave this world being bitter, but rather peaceful. I used to tell them that we had to prepare to have a peaceful death. You must conquer this peaceful death; otherwise, evilness harms us badly. I am glad I could do this, and I did not find any of them to leave this world in a bitter state.
If I look back, I can say that the prison helped me to get closer to God. All tortures, all atrocities made me understand my only escape was from God. How much they wanted to destroy me, to murder me during investigations! But God helped me and I resisted. I went through all this, and I was freed from prison. Who helped me? Nobody helped in the gulag; God helped me.
I do not regret that I went through this experience of the prison. If I did not go through it, I may have been a totally different man. I may have become a communist, or who knows what other things I may have done. How can I know what I could have done… Who knows what may have happened to me if I did not go to prison? If I think about my situation before the first prison, when I was a school principal, I may have gotten married, joined the communist party…
When I came back, I found that all my colleagues who were like me, teachers, professors, those of the same age with me who had not been to prison—they were all directors. They were already heroes of the socialist work, had cars and all kinds of things. I may have been the same way if I did not go to prison. Now, see, God helped me; I am healthy and I can help one or the other. I thank God for the help He gave me. Each evening, before going to sleep, I pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness for every evil I may have done, and I forgive all who wronged me.
Below, you can see Nicolae Istrate’s testimonies. The interview is in Romanian.