“They hanged me by my hair from a hook in the ceiling and pushed the chair and the table from beneath my feet. My hair stuck to the hook, and I fell to the ground. That is how I lost my hair. Despite undertaking treatment, it never grew back. However, I still said nothing. I didn’t sell anyone out. If I would have spoken, they [the communists] would have killed half the village! After I fell to the ground, they beat me bloody, breaking my ribs. I eventually fainted,” recalled Elisabeta Rizea years later after the communist regime in Romania ended.
Elisabeta Rizea (1912 – 2003) was a “simple” woman, without too much education, who spent her entire life in only two villages (Domneşti and Nucşoara) both located in her natal county of Argeş, under the Făgăraş mountains. Her entire wealth was a little parcel of land, a small wooden house and a few domestic animals.
Despite not having higher education or a substantial amount of wealth, which would more likely justify the risk of opposing such a terrible regime, Elisabeta’s sense of justice, fairness and private property, as well as her love for the land and the Romanian rural life were strong enough to determine her political position: in opposition to Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s communist system.
Elisabeta was the nice of Gheorghe Şuţa, the leader of the National Peasants’ Party who was killed by the communists in 1947, following the “election without options” of 19 November. If there was a single event that shaped her view of the communists more than anything else, it was the death of her uncle.
Indeed, this was the decisive factor in determining Eisabeta to resist those who wanted and worked towards collectivisation and sovietisation of Romania, as well as towards the destruction of those who opposed or had different views other than socialist ideals.
Once the communists took hold of Romania, Elisabeta supported the anti-communist resistance (Arsenescu-Arnăuţoiu) from the mountains, supplying the fighters with food, information and money. Her husband, Gheorghe Rizea, also joined the resistance group and fought against the communist regime which, at first was authoritarian, but slowly became totalitarian in nature.
However, the actions of those in the resistance group and of Elisabeta and Gheorghe Rizea quickly attracted the attention of the secret police of the communist regime (Securitatea). Agents from Securitatea began hunting down everyone who was thought to be an “enemy” of the Party.
Those caught suffered greatly, often being brutalised and tortured so that information about other members of the resistance could be extracted. Among those arrested was also Gheorghe Rizea, who was condemned and imprisoned for almost 15 years.
Elisabeta sustained the anti-communist resistance for 4 years before herself being arrested in November 1950. She was labelled an “enemy of the people” and her house was named “lair of bandits”, appellatives which were considered the most horrific crimes by the communist authorities. In 1951, Elisabeta was sentenced to 6 years in prison.
She was put in chains and sent to Pitesti prison. There, Elisabeta spent her years in a maximum security cell.
The prison from Pitesti is famous for its terrifying psychological experiments that the totalitarian left conducted on students. In 1948, about 1000 students from various universities (Iasi, Bucuresti and Blaj) were arrested and subjected to what’s now known as the Pitesti Experiment, through which the communists tested Soviet brainwashing methods.
The horror the students endured was published in a book by D. Bacu, called “Neoamenii” (translated as “Non-humans”, not “Sub-humans” – the communists attempted the complete eradication of one’s humanity). The Soviets planned the Pitesti Experiment between 1949-1951. Its aim: to completely transform the individual’s psychological makeup. The motto from the Pitesti prison was: “Destroy them through themselves”.
It is in this environment that Elisabeta Rizea spent 6 years of her life, before being freed in 1956.
However, Elisabeta was not “re-educated”. Her anti-communist believes were as strong as before. Therefore, she began immediately to continue to support those that were still trying to resist the totalitarian left.
A few years later, between 1958 – 1961, a new wave of arrests took place. This time, the secret police captured Gheorghe Arsenescu, the leader of the anti-communist resistance, alongside others, including Elisabeta.
Under a fake trial, as many of them were of such nature under the communist regime, Elisabeta was sentenced to 25 years of forced labour, 10 years of civic degradation and the confiscation of her entire property.
“They [the communists] took everything from me. My husband, my father in law, everyone was in prison because I fed those from the resistance group”, Elisabeta recalled years later.
She was tortured again to the point of fainting. However, Elisabeta said nothing about the others in the resistance group.
“Captain Cârnu came with a heavy rubber bat and a leather belt. ‘Confess!’ he demanded. ‘We will give you 300 lei,’ he continued to which I replied: ‘Sir, I am no Juda to sell them for 30 silver coins.’ He pushed me down, tied me and bit me with the bat from the back of my head to my toes. But I didn’t talk. If I would have talked, they would have killed half of the village! I was praying to God to help me not to say anything”.
Elisabeta was eventually released in 1964, following the decree of amnesty towards political prisoners. However, when she returned home, Elisabeta found nothing: everything was taken (stolen) by the authorities.
For the next 30 years, she was closely monitored by the communist secret police, because she was still considered an “enemy of the people”.
Her story was made publicly known in 1992, thanks to a documentary series called “Memorialul Durerii” (the Journal of Pain).
Elisabeta Rizea was only one of many men and women who had the courage to stand against the totalitarian left, seeing through their lies of common good and unity, while standing for individual’s right to be independent and live life on one’s own terms.
However, the price paid by these brave souls was great: the women from the Arnăuţoiu family (one of the anti-communist leaders from Argeş) were exterminated in prisons and the men were condemned to death. The only survivor from that linage is Ioana Voicu Arnăuţoiu, who was only 2 years old when her parents were murdered. Only after the 1989 revolution, the truth about what happened began to surface.
Elisabeta Rizea died at the age of 91, in 2003. However, a couple of years prior to her death, in 2001, she had the honour to meet the Romanian Royal Family.
“I love my king more than anything. I wish he was still Romania’s king, welcomed in his country,” she said.
The Royal Family honoured her death with a message in 2013, marking a decade from Elisabeta Rizea’s passing away.
“Today, ten years after she stepped into a more peaceful world than ours, the only thing that we must do is to not forget her story. Only in this way, the sacrifice of the Romanian peasants, armed in the mountains to save the nation, will be honoured in the years to come. The danger of diluting the national and state identity does not disappear in the time of the iPad.
May she rest in peace!”