Death and Life
This is the third and final blog of the second part from The Stolen Church. In the first two articles, we read about the background for the brainwashing experiment from Pitesti (Romania) and about its devastating effects. Read the blogs here and here. We end with the recovery process for those that survived.
The New Faith
After a few months of torture, the communists obtained absolute control over the students who became their faithful slaves. Maddened by terror, the students were mentally reduced to a state of infantile submission.
Their first duty as Soviet comrades was to subject another group of students, that had to be converted to the “new faith” of communism to the same tortures as they were. To prove their loyalty, of course.
If any of the newly converted prisoners were suspected to be too kind with those who they were supposed to torture, they were considered to be disloyal and the whole nightmare was restarted for them.
Also, the communists observed that for those who were inflicting pain on others, their imagination was exaggerating the impact of their actions and they used this too, making sure that the re-educated students were fully aware of their actions.
Over the years, many more students were captured and brough to Pitesti (and Gherla) for the brainwashing experiment. They were approached by older students who pretended to be their friends for a while and, when the victims least expected, the torturers would attack them and bring them to hell. In the cells of newly captured students, spies were placed to build fake relationships. This was aimed at bringing a false sense of hope and friendship that was then crushed with brute force and terror.
Often, a handful of students were brought into a room where others, newly re-educated ones were waiting for them. Upon command, to prove their faith to the communist ideal, the brainwashed students would violently beat the prisoners.
Some of the students were sent to the forced labour camps. The prisoners there noticed that these young men were behaving strangely. At first they treated the students in the same manner. But as soon as they learnt what happened with them, the prisoners from these gulags began to show more humanity towards the students.
Bacu described this in “Non-humans”:
“…a true abyss. The torture left scars on their skin and a deep, bleeding wound in their souls. Because they knew that pain and fear were real, these students became allies with anxiety and depression, transforming themselves in their own enemies, suffocating their minds and souls to keep alive their tortured bodies. The biggest fear was that at any moment the terror could begin all over again”.
In those gulags however, some of the prisoners showed the students compassion and empathy, slowly beginning the process of healing.
“Slowly, with care, the spiritual values which were destroyed were beginning to regain ground inside their hearts. Sincere empathy was the medicine”.
“A soul that was crushed for so many years, first and foremost, was in need of a kind word and not of logical explanations. Those that recovered were those that kept their faith in God: nothing shattered their faith and it served as the basis for their healing”.
As a political tool, the aim of brainwashing was to destroyed the psyche of those 1000 students who were hostile to the regime. However, the experiment had a higher purpose: to observe just how easy could a person be transformed into an obedient beast.
Thankfully, the fact that some recovered, proved that this transformation was not irreversible. The endurance of the individual shined through: the fact that each one of those who survived rediscovered their personality is testament to this.
The result of the experiment was described as “anti-human” – a concept that was the true ethos of communism more broadly.
One of the young students who survived and later became an Orthodox priest, Roman Braga, wrote in 1978: “I don’t think that there is a more diabolical mind than that of those who designed the Pitesti experiment. We were caught in between being and not being tortured, but not physically speaking – rather, spiritually and psychologically speaking”.
By attacking their humanity and religious believes, the communists aimed at destroying their identity.
The man in charge of the horrors that occurred at Pitesti was named Eugen Turganu, a man faithful to the Soviets. He was executed in 1954 by order of the communist Party because word got out of what was happening in that prison. Turganu’s crime wasn’t the fact that he tortured 1000 students but that his actions made the communist ideal look bad.
Death and Life
There is no way to defend yourself against the techniques described here. A human being cannot disassociate from themselves. Human beings have body and soul. Divine creation. As such, even if after tremendous suffering, life found a way back inside the bodies of these tortured souls: the primordial forces of creation renew the harmony between body and soul, putting the person on the path towards truth.