Pain and Fear
This is the second blog in a series of three, detailing the horrors suffered by 1,000 students at the hands of the communist regime in Romania.
In the first blog, “Destroy them through themselves“, I translated from The Stolen Church the part of the book that explained the aim of the brainwashing experiment from Pitesti – captured in the motto that is the title of the blog.
In this article you will read about the stages of this experiment and its impact on the mental health of those students. If you take anything away from this publication it should be this: SAY NO TO IDEOLOGY!
The Brainwashing Stages
For three months, each group of students was subjected to a system designed to make them obey every command of their new masters. They overdosed on fear. Their capacity to act freely was annihilated.
Some students tried to stop this nightmare by taunting the guards to beat them to death. However, they didn’t know that the guards were trained to beat them without killing them. Nevertheless, 15 prisoners managed to taunt the guards enough to be beaten to death and others, despite the precautions taken, successfully committed suicide.
Many however resigned to the torture, slowly starting to believe that they deserved it.
The process had three stages:
- The punishment and humiliation of those students
- The confession and shedding of previous beliefs
- The indoctrination and conversion of prisoners to the new system of beliefs
The Chinese version of the above included a full examination of the prisoner’s consciousness. The prisoner was forced to confess for his crimes against humanity, followed by punishment and reintegration. For more details on this see The Martyrs from China (Henry Regnery, 1956).
Pain and Fear
The prison from Pitesti was a building constructed in 1900, located outside the city and far away from any house. Nobody could hear the screams.
Initially, the students were divided into four categories based on how opposed they were to the communist regime. The communist secret police studied in detail their families, the students’ political activities and their religious believes.
The first group was made up of students who were easier to convince and to become faithful to the Party. To the last group belonged those who were vehemently opposed to the regime.
The groups of prisoners were brought into a room where another group of young people offered them the opportunity to cooperate through the confession of their anti-communist crimes. However, all of a sudden, the same group of people who offered them a way out began beating them violently. The guards joined them too. Soon, the students were overwhelmed and many were beaten to the point of fainting.
After the beatings, the prisoners were subjected to an exhausting regime of physical exercise and highly demanding work which included cleaning the floors with a dirty cloth which they were made to hold between their teeth. Behind each student cleaning the floor was another student, who was already re-educated and was responsible for overseeing those who were being brainwashed.
Every night, when the students were asleep, one of those who became faithful to the Party was hitting the prisoners’ heels with a rubber bat. This made each night an agonising experience, with the prisoners already exhausted from the slave labour being afraid to rest. Slowly, the students were falling into a passive state of desperation.
In the first phase, the experiments were aiming to associate hunger and thirst with pain and suffering. As such, when it was time to eat, the students were made to kneel on the floor, with their hands tied behind their backs and were ordered to eat boiling hot food as fast as they could. The bowls in which the food was provided were the same ones used for excrements. As a result, the lunch time was transformed into a new source of humiliation and pain.
Sometimes, a few students were being isolated from the rest and deprived of any movement and sleep. This was done to such an extent that those who were isolated lost their senses.
Eventually, some of the prisoners were no longer capable to negate the false accusations which were brought to them by the communists. They were confessing imaginary crimes in a process of self-hatred and self-flagellation, just to escape a few minutes of torture.
After a month and a half of torture, the students became very vulnerable. Those who were experimenting on them managed to penetrate deep into their psychic and to annihilate their personality and denigrate their humanity. At this point, the student would identify themselves with a criminal and a monster.
Those who were demasked (i.e. their previous personality was destroyed and replaced with that of Homo Sovieticus), were asked to confess their crimes on paper and in extreme detail. Nothing ought to have been omitted from these fake crimes. Through this process, the communists were violating the thoughts of these prisoners. The aim of all of this was to destroy every trace of who these students were before they entered the Pitesti prison.
The students were forced to negate their own identities – their “masks” – writing down a false autobiography in which they were defaming themselves, reaching conclusions from fabricated events which the communists alleged the students harboured in their subconsciousness.
Those who were conducted the experiment managed to transform lies into truth by eradicating the prisoners’ actual past.
Bacu wrote in “Non-humans”:
“This resulted in the complete reversal of the students’ belief system, for an undetermined period of time”.
Deep in their soul, the students still hungered for truth and peace. Their humanity was smashed like a mirror, and the image reflecting was now hideous. The need of tranquillity was so strong that they made lie truth so they can have peace.
The final blog from this series will be published next week. It will focus on the recovery of those who survived.