Paul Goma: “Who am I?”

Paul Goma died last week in France of coronavirus. For those who do now know about him, read the short article about his works and about his activities as a dissident to the communist regime in Romania. Below, you can find a text about himself but also about how people tend to place others (and most often themselves) into categories. It is my translation of the introduction of his The Colors of the Rainbow ’77 (Humanitas 1990). His words speak of freedom.

Photo from: https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/romanian-dissident-writer-paul-goma-dies-of-coronavirus-in-france-media-report/

There have been many years since I approach a mirror, unless I shave. Even then, I don’t do it to see myself–I know me to the point thatI’m indifferent to myself–but rather to avoid cutting me.

However, since I arrived in the West, I surprise myself before a mirror, even without intending to shave. I know me, and I don’t really care for the face across the path; however, I repeat others’ questions:

What are you, Paul Goma? Are you a dissident? An opponent? A communist, a fascist? An anarcho-syndicalist, a free-tradist? Are you on the right, on the left? Are you on the center-three-quarters-toward-the-north-east-faced-to-south-south? What are you?”

Knowing me to the point of indifference, I don’t answer. If I were asked–even through me–“Who are you?”, I would have answered, “I don’t know,” but this would have been an answer. However, “What are you?” is not a question, but an aggression. A violation. An insolent, imbecile summation, as any summation, which does not require an answer but only requires of me to “choose” a certain group, a certain rubric, to choose, I, a numbered cell.

Since I came in the West, I have been always asked:

What was the movement for human rights in Romania, in 1977? A reformist movement? A movement of opposition? Possibly free-tradist? An annex to Charter 77? A nationalist spurt? Was it a soviet diversion? A version à la roumaine of Trotsky-socialisant euro-communism? What was it?”

Since it was no longer about me (even doubled in the mirror), I was forced to answer, to explain not what it was, but what it was not; questions vitiated answers.

Incidentally, I am a writer. By structure, education, formation, incidentally I think and I act according to a moral code. All the political Talmuds scare and sicken me. At home, I learned to be for good and against evil–any color it may have, regardless of whether it has the swastika or the hammer and sickle on the forehead, regardless of whether it dictates in the name of nationalism of internationalism.

[…]

Incidentally, I am a writer: that animal who narrates that which he knows, even if, at times, he does not know what he narrates.

We are all to blame…

“We’re all to blame, all of us… if only everyone could be convinced of that…”

These words are uttered by another character in Dostoevsky’s Devils, Shatov. If you are familiar with other works, such as Crime and Punishment or Brothers Karamazov, the idea that we are all responsible for the sins of others is not a novelty. Let me mention only Zosima here, or even Mitya, the eldest or the Karamazov brothers, who says, “We are all cruel, we are all monsters, we all cause suffering to people… but… I’m worse than anyone.”

You may also be familiar with one of the prayers before the Eucharist, which is said by all people participating in the sacrament together, at the same time: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.”

All of these words, including Shatov’s, bring forth the same idea, that we all have responsibility for the suffering of the others. However, if Zosima’s and Mitya’s words seem to emphasize the responsibility that one accepts–a responsibility that precedes him–Shatov’s expression has a different flavor: “if only everyone could be convinced of that…”

Shatov utters these words after he finds out that his wife, whom he hasn’t seen in three years, is pregnant and is about to deliver a baby. With no questions, no judgments, no .accusations, he runs to find a midwife. In a moment in which he could feel that he has been wronged, he says, “We’re all to blame, all of us…” It is, I take it, a description of the human condition: we are born into this world, we participate into it, and so we must acknowledge that its scars are manifestations of our own behaviors.

Still, in the midst of this pure feeling, Shatov says, “if only everyone could be convinced of that…”

This is such a human reaction, and, at the same time, the seed of our judgment for our brethren… The desire to have the others see that they are just like you, responsible for their and your suffering, is one of the most understandable desires one could have, be it in interpersonal relations or in society.

Consider a married couple as an example for the former. You feel your spouse has harmed you, and your suffering may blind you first. But then you may still realize that you are to be blamed, for in this world of sinners “I am the first.” You see her absence or her blow as manifestations of your own lack of presence, of your own inadequacy, and so your perceived suffering is transformed in love. Still, a thought creeps into your heart, “if only she could be convinced that she also is to blame…” And this is not because you consider that she has any guilt, but rather because we are all made out of the same mud, we live in the same world, and thus we are touched by all of its impurities. And just this little thought brings your defeat… For you no longer say, “I am the first sinner, I am first responsible for all,” but rather that she is the first one, even if you don’t realize it.

Societies… When the third comes in, and so the political, Shatov’s words become even more dangerous. “If only everyone could see how they are responsible for the lives of the others…” Of course, I am responsible as well, but they must see it, too. They must see that this world depends on them. There is one step from the beauty of Shatov’s words to ugliness and death. These words are the creed of any totalitarian communist society, which comes to claim that we are all responsible and equal in that responsibility. And those who do not see it are “enemies of the people,” individuals who must be eliminated, sent to Siberia or executed in dungeons.

“We’re all to blame, all of us… if only everyone could be convinced of that…” Of course, if everyone could be convinced of that, then there would be no suffering. Shatov may not have to face a group of people dedicated to causes. Still, even so, Shatov’s words invite us to vigilance against our own hearts: the demons never leave us alone, even in moments of beauty.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 30 years

I participated today in the celebration of 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event was organized by the Alumni Office of the Eureka College. Here’s my talk.

WEST GERMANY. 1962. West Berlin. The Berlin wall. Contact email: New York : photography@magnumphotos.com

Thank you, Mrs Shellie Schwanke, and thank you, Dr. Jamel Wright, for giving me the occasion to be with you on such an important event. As all of you, I look forward to hearing John Morris’s remarks, so I will be brief.

It is an honor to participate in the celebration of 30 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I speak to you as someone who spent his childhood behind the Wall, in one of the countries that belonged to the Warsaw Treaty. I am a former “enemy.” As such, I will begin with recollecting these early days of November 30 years ago, in my hometown, Fagaras, Romania. As always when there were important news coming from the West or news that demonstrated some unrest among people in the East, we were glued to two radio stations, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. At times, the phone we had in the house were covered with pillows, so that “they,” as we called them, would not be able to listen to what we were doing in the house. We lived in a paranoid state, in which we were not afraid of those people who were beyond the Berlin wall, but rather of “them,” the unnamed multitude who could decide on a whim your entire existence. Those who lived during communism, in East Germany, Romania, the Soviet Union, or elsewhere, know that we always talked about them—an impersonal them, but a powerful one, for all the aspects of our lives seemed to be dependent on it. They listened to everything you said; they were giving potatoes at the grocery store; they could put you in prison; they could turn you to the secret police; they were the secret police. They were the “bad guys.” But somehow theywere also us.

In fact, this separation between them and us, between friends and enemies is, perhaps, one of the main problems with communism. For a society that claims to unite all people, to unite all proletarians, it is surprising that it begins with a wall. But a communist society needs walls because it is based on a notion that divides people on moral grounds. If you think in a different way than the establishment, you are an “enemy of the people,” and as such you need to be deported, imprisoned, or simply murdered. These objectified enemies could change: wealthy peasants, intellectuals, priests, but they all shared one characteristic: by freedom of thought. In any case, as Anne Applebaum says in her Gulag: A History, “people were arrested not for what they had done, but for who they were.”[1] They were objects that did not fit the new order.

The Berlin Wall was not only a physical entity, but it also was a metaphysical one. The enemies that the communist regime wanted to keep out were ideas expressed in freedom. But the communists also wanted to keep their internal enemies in, to persecute them, to change their souls and, if all of this were not possible, to take them out of existence. The regime established a wall that did not separate nations, but people who had different ways of perceiving the world. Instead of protecting its own people, the regime built a wall so that they could not escape persecution. I do not know of people attempting to run away from the West to an Eastern communist society. And so the celebration of 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is important because it also celebrates the fall of a regime that persecuted its own people. 

But all of this can be interpreted wrongly, with the same approach the communist regime had when dealing with human beings. “Let us eliminate the communists,” some may say, “build a wall between them and us, so that we would never be corrupted by their way of thinking.” This would mean that we replace an evil wall with what we may consider a new and improved moral wall. If we are, however, to truly follow these words, ‘tear down that wall,’ then we may remember, in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Price Laureate and a victim of deportations to the Gulag in Siberia, that the line between good and evil does not separate people. I quote:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.”[2]

Indeed, many memories of people who have gone through communist persecution emphasized precisely this: that the fight against evil does not presuppose fighting other human beings, annihilating their ideas, or building walls between them and us, but rather fighting precisely against the temptation of the heart to see in one’s adversary an enemy. 

Now, 30 years after the tearing down of this wall, let us remember the words of pastor Ferenc Visky, who was imprisoned in Communist Romania for his beliefs: “The source of cruelty is always fear,” he says. “Whoever tortures you has a great fear inside of him. He is more afraid than the one being tortured. And you have to understand his state, because if you do not understand, then you have lost, and the torturer has lost also. This is the problem of suffering, that you will see that the man who tortures you is more afflicted than you who are being tortured.” Let us also remember the words of Fr. George Calciu, who spent 24 years in a Romanian communist prison because he believed in God and openly spoke against the communist regime: “Slavery to ideas is as serious a form of slavery as any other.”  Let us not allow our own slavery to ideas to build walls against others within our hearts and let us tear down the walls that still harm us by accepting all within our souls.


[1]Anne Applebaum. Gulag: A History. New York: Anchor Books, 2003, p. xxxvi.

[2]Archipelago Gulag. Vol II, New Work: Harper Perennial, 2007, p. 615.

Healing Responsibility

 

“I do not understand why people talk about the past: who hurt you, why they hurt you, what kind of guilt they may have, or how you feel about it. All this does not matter; what matter is what you do now. If my child is sick, I am not worried about whether it was right for him to get sick, but rather what I have to do to make him better.”

I no longer remember who said this to me–it may have been during a confession. It suggests a state of presence. If I am to fully respond to what is given to me now, I cannot be also attached to why I am where I am and why the other is where he or she is.

However, should not the torturer face justice? Should not the torturer go to prison for the crimes he has committed? If we answer from the same perspective of the lines above, the answer cannot be either yes or no. Rather, the question itself is not to be asked. Of course, society should ask it and give an answer to it. But it is not a question that I, a person, can ask.

The brother of the prodigal son is upset when their father rejoices that his younger son returned. The older brother believes that it is not just to not make him suffer; it is not just to celebrate with the fattened calf and put a ring on his finger and a robe on him. The older brother is a man of the past. And I think that many of us, at a moment or other in this life, feel like the older son.

I recently read of a monk, Fr. Evghenie Hulea, who was imprisoned by the communists when they took power in Romania. Fr. Hulea was sent to the Canal, a labor camp, where many intellectuals, priests, peasants, or students lost their lives. The fact that he was a monk brought upon him mocking and tortures. Still, anytime he was mocked, he answered with an open heart, “God bless you, my child!”

It is the kind of forgiveness that the father of the prodigal son has. It does not matter where the son was, what he did, and why he came back. He now faces him, and if he does, the father is responsible for the son’s well being. Not a moral responsibility, but a healing one, which stems out of love. The prodigal son may leave again. He may take the robe and the ring, sell them, and drink the money with his friends, mocking the weakness of the father who killed the fattened calf without even thinking. Still, the father, who is always present, will have the same answer if the son ever comes back (and even if he does not): “God bless you, my child!”

_________________

P.S. For a more academic discussion on healing responsibility, see Two types of responsibility in Crime and Punishment

Smiles in an absurd world

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In Pray for Brother Alexander, which recently came out in English (see here from Punctum Books), philosopher Constantin Noica recounts one of the irrational moments that took place while he was imprisoned. He was around 50 years old, sharing the cell with a young man, Alec, an athlete, who was part of the national volleyball team. While Alec was in East Berlin for a tournament, a friend told him to go to the other side. He didn’t like it, so he came back. Received well at the beginning, he finally ended up in prison, something that the young man could not make sense of. “It is of no importance” (23), Noica says. The conversation ends between them because Noica is taken to interrogations. He returns to the cell obviously beaten. The young man asks him, “They have beaten you, haven’t they?” (24). Noica confirms, and the young man says, “But it is of no importance, I know” (24). “That’s what I wanted to say: they beat me without a reason.”

The idea of being beaten without reason is scary. It goes against any notion of justice we may have, but it also places you at the mercy of forces over which you have no control, and this must produce fear. Indeed, the young man in the cell gets worried—perhaps his pride of a sportsman, as Noica suggests, is offended by the idea of being hit without being able to react, but it may also be a natural reaction when faced with the irrationality of beings who have power over you. Noica tries to clarify the situation and he says, “I was beaten because I did no want to take a cigarette” (24).

Of course, there is nothing logical about this either, and the young man responds naturally, “are you mocking me?” In fact, Noica was not mocking him. The interrogators wanted to know to whom he gave a book he received from the West—if I am not mistaken, it was Emil Cioran’s Histoire et Utopie, History and Utopia. Believing that if he gives them “a cloud of names” (24), as he says, he would confuse them, he writes down on paper 80-100 names. Noica then realizes his mistake: he assumed rationality from the part of his interrogators. Who would pay attention to so many names that have seen a book, he asked? The communists, apparently, would, and his interrogator writes down carefully all the names he had mentioned. And then he offers Noica a cigarette. Perhaps out of self-disappointment, perhaps because he wanted to show himself and to the investigator that he is not completely defeated and that he is not someone who just gives up his friends because of pressure, he refuses the cigarette.

“Take it or I dislocate you jaw” (25) the officer yells at him. Noica refuses, and the blow comes. To the young man’s surprise, this is when Noica took the cigarette. “But I would have never done this… After he hit me? Never….” (26).

The young man does not accept giving in when faced with lack of rationality. Any kind of craziness in the world must be rejected, he seems to believe, because it is just subhuman to accept it—one would give up one’s own moral dignity. This attitude is shared by many at the beginning of their incarceration. They keep themselves proud before their accusers; it is important for them to show that they have not been broken. They find in this the remaining of their human dignity. With time, many came to believe that this attitude is childish, stemming from innocence. We may liken this difference to the one between the attitudes young and older people have at times toward morality. For the young, things are often black and white. The old see this as resulting from their innocence: when you are young, untried by the sufferings of life, and unconnected with people for whom you feel responsible, you afford to be an idealist. Slowly, you start asking yourself whether your actions make sense in a world in which the suffering of those close to you makes no sense.

Coming back to Alec, the young man in the cell, he changes his tone, perhaps wanting to avoid offending Noica: “You know why you took the cigarette? Because you felt like smoking.” (26).

And Noica says, “My young sportsman is not stupid at all. In a way, he was right. The slaps I god had brought me to reality: nothing made any sense in that moment. I could smoke a cigarette” (26). Nothing has any importance in an absurd story. As Samuel Beckett may say, there is no point to wait for Godot. Within an absurd story, the question whether it is rational or not to oppose communism does no longer make sense. Should one then be pragmatic and follow one’s own interest, giving up one’s ideals? If we answer this way, we reject the line of dissidents who, often sacrificing their lives, opposed the regime. If we go the other way, we claim that we somehow can fix the world, and that there is an importance in refusing an absurd world.

*

The day of “liberation”:

“With the coat on my arm and with a small bundle of laundry, I come before the commander, who hands me a banknote, the equivalent of around ten bus tickets. I look at the prison commander before I come out of the door. We are both caught in a smile, and I remember William Blake’s verses:

There is a smile of Love

And there is a smile of Deceit,

And there is a smile of smiles

In which these two smiles meet.”

 

Noica’s Pray for Brother Alexander

 

 

This is just a short note to let everyone know that Constantin Noica’s Pray for Brother Alexander came out today. To my mind, it is a wonderful book in which you discover a kind spirit. On the publisher’s website, you can read an excerpt from the book.  You can also find the book on Amazon (see link here).

Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website (see link here):

Constantin Noica’s (1909–1987) Pray for Brother Alexander is a meditation on responsibility, freedom, and forgiveness. On the surface, the book describes events and people from Noica’s life during his time in a political communist prison in Romania. However, the volume is not a historical account only, but rather an honest introspection into how a human being may keep sanity when everything around him makes no sense.

Unlike his famous Romanian contemporaries, scholar Mircea Eliade, dramatist Eugène Ionescu, and philosopher Emil Cioran, who lived abroad, Constantin Noica did not leave communist Romania. Considered an “anti-revolutionary” thinker, Noica was placed under house arrest in Câmpulung-Muscel between 1949 and 1958. In 1958, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released after 6 years, and Pray for Brother Alexander covers his experiences during this time. In his writings, Noica rekindles universal themes of philosophy, but he deals with them in a profoundly original manner, based on the culture in which he lived and for which he also suffered persecution.

The volume will be of great of interest to scholars and students in history of philosophy and continental philosophy, but also to people interested in the recent history of Eastern Europe and the political persecution that took place after WWII in those countries.

 

Beautiful New Year

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Photo by Aida Matei, used by permission. 

White flowers sing at the gate of the heart. Whoever has lived divine love will understand me and will be happy for my happiness. (…)  Man is not saved in the monastery only. (…) The helplessness of human nature pains me, but love makes me happy” (Valeriu Gafencu)

These words were written 71 years ago by Valeriu Gafencu, on the new year’s night, in a communist prison in Romania, where starvation and terror were daily ingredients of life.

Alice Herz Sommer, Holocaust survivor: “Every day in life is beautiful. Every day.” “I knew that even in these very difficult situations there are beautiful moments. […] Even the bad is beautiful, I would say. Even the bad is beautiful… It has to be.

A beautiful new year to all.

Farewell! A poem by Valeriu Gafencu


The poem was written in communist prisons and memorized by Valeriu Gafencu’s friends.
I would be happy and grateful for any suggestions for improving the translation. You can see the Romanian version below. 


Farewell
 
Bleeding out from wounds so deep,
From gloomy, sunless days,
From hidden wounds, with bones so weak,
 Buried in pus always,
I’m crouching in my bed. An adieu,
I think, I’ll tell to all of you,
My dear friends!
 
Cry not that I depart from you,
That they will throw me like a piece of trash
Within a tomb where thieves will be my crew.
The creed for which I’ll give my final breath
Asked for a hard life and a martyr’s death.
 
With Jesus as my Lord and King,
I rushed through the narrow gate, entered the ring,
And with the devil I began to fight.
And I did fight all years, day and night,
So that I become another,
A champion,
A new man.
 
And I desired,
By this thought I was fired,
To take my people in flight
To our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Now, when I see that I am so sinful, that I crawl,
That I’m so helpless and so small,
That I need mercy in my illness,
And love, compassion, much forgiveness,
That only God can do all things,
Can change man’s shackles into wings,
I too become a meek, small boy,
I’m humbled,
And in my heart there’s joy.
 
From your high, eternal Heaven,
My Father, when you take me up to You,
Remember all my friends here on earth:
Give back to them, dressed all in white, a levin,
A soul that loved and understood them, too.

(the last stanza is missing)
 
 
 
In Romanian:
Rămas-bun
 
Sângerând de răni adânci,
De zile fără soare,
De răni ascunse şi puroi,
Cu oasele slabe şi moi,
Stau ghemuit în pat şi mă gândesc
Că în curând am să vă părăsesc,
Prieteni dragi!
 
Nu plângeţi că mă duc de lângă voi,
Şi c-o să fiu zvârlit ca un gunoi,
Cu hoţii în acelaşi cimitir;
Căci crezul pentru care m-am jertfit
Cerea o viaţă grea şi-o moarte de martir.
 
Luându-L pe Iisus de Împărat,
Năvalnic am intrat pe poarta strâmtă,
Luându-mă cu diavolul la trântă.
Şi ani de-a rându-ntr-una m-am luptat
Să devin altul,
Un erou,
Om nou.
 
Şi-am vrut
Neamul să-l mut
De-aici, de jos,
La Domnul Iisus Hristos.
 
Acum, când văd cât sunt de păcătos,
De mic şi de neputincios,
Că am nevoie multă de-ndurare,
De dragoste, de milă, de iertare,
Că numai Dumnezeu le poate toate
Şi lumea din robie El o scoate,
Devin copil supus,
Sunt umilit
Şi-s fericit.
 
Din cerul Tău înalt şi prea-ales,
Părinte, când mă vei lua la Tine,
Prietenilor mei de pe pământ
Redă-le Tu, în alb veşmânt,
Un suflet care i-a iubit şi i-a’nţeles.
(lipseşte ultima strofă)
 

The Death of a Grandma after Years in the Gulag

We are getting very close to the publishing of Do Not Avenge Us, the book with testimonies of Romanian from Bessarabia deported to Siberia. It will come out in a month or so. Since I am reading the final edits, I am again under its strong influence. I am posting here a new fragment: the death of  grandma (bunica, in Romanian), who was sent to die back home, after years in Siberia… The text is written by Margareta Cemârtan-Spânu, her granddaughter. 


One day, I received a letter from Niusia Scobioala who told me that bunica went home, to Bessarabia.

After I left for the orphanage, that village, Orlovka, was completely destroyed. If they took eight people to prison, no one remained to work, to take care of the farms. They moved all of them to Kuzminovka, where the horse brigade was. I do not know how bunica managed to survive there.

In the meantime, dad was writing complaints from prison to Moscow, saying that an old woman with no blame was dying because there was no one to take care of her. Just imagine, she was 78 years old, hungry and cold, and had no one to take care of her! The people from our village helped her from time to time, and this is how she survived for two more years. Then, they sent a committee of doctors to see if she indeed could not take care of herself, and they sent her home.

When she went back, the communists sent her to the district, in Răşcani, to see who she had in the village and who could take her in. Nasta, her eldest daughter, accepted to take her in, to take care of her. The communists left bunica there under Nasta’s care. Both her girls took care of her, but they could no longer do anything, because she already was completely dystrophic and regardless of how you would feed her or take care of her, she could no longer recover.

She stayed at Nasta’s around three months. Then, she called the priest at home, confessed, had communion, and when she felt that her last breath was close—she had a gift from the Lord, because she knew the moment—she went to her house. The daughters told her:

“Where are you going? You are weak. Where are you leaving?”

“I’m going to my house, so that I can die at home!”

She went to her house, which was then a policlinic, in the center of the village. She arrived at the well that she and bunelul Grigore dug. She tried to get water, but she instead spilled it on the ground, because she was very weak and had to use crutches. A young woman came to help her:

“What happened, are you sick? Are you going to the policlinic to get well?”

“I’m going to die in my house. Please, help me to get there!”

The woman helped her, and bunica went into the house. She opened a door, and a doctor was checking a woman. She opened another, and a nurse was giving an injection to a man. He yelled at her:

“Why do you open the door without knocking? What are you doing here?”

Poor bunica did not say anything. If at least he would have been a young man, who would have not known her and would have not known that it was her house, but no, he was instead someone of her age and knew all these things. When he was done with the injection, the man came out. Bunica, being helpless, was sitting on the threshold. He wanted to pass, but she was in his way. And he yelled at her again:

“What are you doing here? Your daughter took you in, go and stay there! Why did you come here? Are you coming to get well? Your health is finished!”

She barely whispered to him:

“I came to my house…”

“It’s no longer yours; it is the state’s! It’s not yours; nothing is yours here. Get up and leave, don’t stay in people’s way!”

Bunica went from the threshold to the porch and she suddenly stiffened up and gave up her soul there, next to her house. If not in her house, at least next to the house where she worked for so many years and gave birth to eleven children.

This is how her prayer, that she had said every day and night in Siberia, was fulfilled. God gave her not only three days, as she asked, but three months. She spent three months at home, in her village, and she died with a candle, confessed and communed. They buried her beautifully, with three priests, a memorial service, alms, and everything as is the custom…

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.

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The documentary about Pitesti, Beyond Torture: