Understanding Evil (The Ghost of Pitesti)

Whenever I discuss the Holocaust or the communist persecution in class, there is always someone who says, “I will never understand why the Holocaust took place.” Or, “I will never understand why they persecuted people in communism.” Humans who have not experienced torture cannot find an explanation (and explanations are usually rational) to evil.

But this is precisely the point: there is nothing to understand about evil. Evil is not rational–a human mind cannot make sense of it. A while ago, I was talking to someone who had encountered Fr. Roman Braga immediately after he arrived in the U.S.  Fr. Braga had been through the terror of Pitesti (see here a documentary: Beyond Torture; below, you may also watch it on this page). According to my acquaintance, when Fr. Roman Braga first arrived in the U.S., he used to talk about the tortures that took place in Romania during communism, but then he soon realized that nobody understood him. People were “normal”–I think I also heard Fr. Roman saying this: normal people cannot process what happens in communism. This means that they could not grasp with their minds the unimaginable events that took place in prisons like Pitesti: young students were crucified on the walls of the prison and murdered in beastly blows, or former friends were forced to torture one another. I have mentioned here only a small part of what happened in prisons.

There are, however, people who say that they know evil–and I think Fr. Roman Braga and many of those who went through Pitesti would be among them. But notice that they would not claim that they understand evil, but rather that they would know it. It may sound as if evil is a person, someone who is not among the things that can be understood, but someone with whom we can have a relationship. But this is a scary thought, for there seem to be only two ways of this relationship: evil takes hold of me, and I “know” it by becoming it, or evil is attempting to destroy me, and then I “know” it in my flesh.

Either way, the “relationship” with evil equals destruction: it annuls any other connection. I become a beast, utterly unconnected with anyone, or the sport of a beast, who severs all my relationships with anyone else. It is living the experience of hell, or the relationship with that which has no being. Truly nothing to understand about it. But something to which one is called to respond.


The documentary about Pitesti, Beyond Torture: