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“The Jailers Hated Us Priests the Most”

Elder Justin (Pârvu) on His Years Spent in Communist PrisonsArchimandrite Justin (Parvu)He spent sixteen years in prison for his faith in Christ. He wound up there at a young age and came out a sick, half-dead old man.

Ten years ago, on June 16, 2013, one of the most beloved and revered Romanian elders, Archimandrite Justin from Petru Vodă Monastery, reposed in the Lord. He spent sixteen years in prison for his faith in Christ. He wound up there at a young age and came out a sick, half-dead old man. In 1948, he was imprisoned in Suceava prisons; in August 1949, he was thrown into Aiud; in September 1950, into the Baia Sprie labor colony; in January 1953, into the Cavnic mine; in March 1954, into Gherla Prison; and in July 1955, again into Aiud. This is how the ever-memorable Elder Justin himself describes the beginning of his sufferings, which dramatically and irrevocably changed his life.

The following account was initially published in the journal “Faith of the Nation” (“Credinţa Neamului”), Bistrița Monastery, Neamţ County, 1991.

Ten days in the Securitate’s attic

Hierodeacon Justin (Pârvu), 1942 Hierodeacon Justin (Pârvu), 1942 I remember in early May 1948, when I was in my last year at the seminary in Roman, some large men suddenly pinned me down, shoved me into a car together with five other seminarians and, showering us with threats, took us to the Securitate.1 Everything happened so quickly and stunningly that I didn’t even realize at first what was happening. Moreover, I naively thought that this could only be happening by some mistake, because I didn’t feel guilty about anything.

Since all the offices in the Securitate were packed with arrestees, including prisoners, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and students from various city schools, and since they had it set up so that those who were delivered there were to be kept in complete isolation so as not to have the chance to communicate with each other, they took us to the attic in some building, forced us to lie face-down on the floor, and left us to lie there with three big guys with pistols watching us. We weren’t allowed to move at all, much less speak. If we had to go to the bathroom, they’d lead us outside one by one, threatening to pull the trigger, and order us to look at the ground without turning our heads to the right or the left.

Thus, we spent ten days lying face down in the Securitate attic in the ominous darkness, pierced only by the dim flickering of a candle and the dirty curses of the thugs guarding us whenever they thought we were trying to move. But it’s quite hard to live there like a crucified man, day and night, face down, not daring to make even the smallest harmless movement. I remember, the time imprisoned in the attic was such a nightmare, agony, and despair that it seemed like an entire eternity, because it felt like it would never end.

An odious character

After ten days of this intense penance, the officers began to reveal their true colors and started interrogating us. One by one we were taken down from the attic to some rooms where they asked us all kinds of questions—some insinuating, some provocative, some ingratiating, some threatening. The interrogators, adept at torturing people, resorted to all kinds of baseness, not afraid to violate the elementary rules of respect, knowing no one would hold them accountable for it.

Hieromonk Justin, 1948 Hieromonk Justin, 1948 If you stubbornly remained silent or tried to insist on your innocence, you were immediately handed over to the bullies who specialized in brutal beatings and torture. For them it was a pleasure to torture you, to subject you to the cruelest torments until you passed out. When they saw that you’d passed out, they’d pour buckets of water on you until you came to, then they’d start in again with redoubled fury.

But I don’t want to tell you about these terrible things, but about a man named Constantin Doin, a terrible figure, a vile provocateur who did a lot of evil in his lifetime, casting a multitude of innocent people into the hellish prisons. I know all of this now, having since found out who this creature was and what he did; but then, in 1948, when I met him, I considered him an honest man, sincerely interested in the fate of the Romanian people, and that’s why I fell for his bait.

After the suppression of the Legionnaire rebellion by General Ion Antonescu, in 1941, Constantin Doin was sentenced to hard years in prison for active participation in the movement and other offenses. And when the communists seized power with the support of the Soviet bayonets, Constantin Doin was released from Aiud Prison under the condition that he would cooperate with the Securitate. In order to save his own skin, Doin, a man without scruples, without God, sold his soul to the devil and began frequenting different circles, to incite one here, to lie to another there, supposedly planning to organize “resistance” against the new authorities. And if someone fell into the net of his filthy intentions, the Securitate immediately knew about it, and he would be targeted as a hostile element. Especially since at that time it was necessary to prove, at all costs, Papa Stalin’s theory of sharpening the class struggle.

In his treacherous and vile adventures, Doin came to us too, to our seminary, pretending to be a victim and calling us to open disobedience to the communist authorities, whose days were numbered according to him, because the people were ready to overthrow them and remove them from power. As a Romanian, as a young man brought up in the fear of God, in love and readiness to sacrifice myself for the freedom, unity, and independence of the nation, I couldn’t resist the temptation, and at Doin’s insistent requests, I agreed to demonstrate my commitment to the liberation of the Romanian people from the communist tyranny. My fellow students did the same thing, and they suffered the same fate as me.

It's not hard to understand that by doing this, I signed my own sentence, immediately turning into a dangerous opponent of communism who had to be annihilated. I wouldn’t have minded had I at least organized some kind of “subversive” event, had I participated in some kind of fight. But, even though I hadn’t done anything like this, for the Securists, the simple fact that I had put my signature on a document that Doin himself concocted was enough for them to seize me, accuse me, and send me to perish.

In order to mislead us during the interrogation, according to a well-planned scenario, Doin appeared among the arrested and interrogated, occasionally glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, giving me discreet signs saying be strong, don’t give in. And a few years later, the prisoners who were lucky enough to be released before me saw Doin in Iași, proudly marching in a uniform with epaulettes and blue tassels—proof that his kind masters rewarded him for his “services” rendered—in fact, the crime of genocide.

Misadventures in Suceava

When the interrogations in Roman were over, the other prisoners and I were transferred to the prison in Suceava—a large facility set up according to all the precepts of inhumanity. I estimate there were more than 800 detainees there from northern Moldova, Iași, Bacau, and Neamț. Most of them were students, lawyers, and priests—just like me, victims of the arbitrariness of the authoritarian communist regime.

As far as I could tell, we were brought there for a confrontation and to fill up our files with new “evidence.” Those captured in Roman were put face-to-face with those captured in Iași or Piatra-Neamţ to accuse each other, based on the same plot.

Romanian communist prison Romanian communist prison     

During the interrogations, which were conducted only at night, they tortured us to the point of exhaustion, forcing us to admit we were guilty of counter-revolutionary activities, and as a result, to give the names of the people we worked with and where they could find the weapons and ammunition depots we used.

There were torture chambers next to the interrogation rooms. The interrogation in Suceava began after we had passed through the torture chamber, where they beat and tortured us until we were spurting blood. In Suceava, they believed the beating hadn’t achieved its goal if the beaten weren’t screaming in pain. And the louder they screamed, the more violent and cruel the beating became. This was supposed to make an impression on those who were next in line for the torturer’s mill.

On another occasion, we who were being held there were seized from our cells and beaten just to satisfy the sadistic tendencies of the jailers. Because it often happened that the jailers came from the city, burning with alcohol, and poured out all their bestial rage and base instincts on us prisoners who had become poor walking skeletons after so much suffering. The prison guards’ favorite tools for beating us were metal rods and rubber sticks the size of a shovel handle.

And sometimes they weren’t content just beating us and resorted to merciless torture. They would stick needles under our nails or throw us into incredibly hot parasite ovens for two or three minutes. And when they’d pull us out, suffocating from the terrible heat, they’d pour cold water on us to “cool us off.” Thus, many of us developed pneumonia or tuberculosis and died prematurely. If I sit and think about it, it was a miracle that I survived the terrible trials I had to go through.

Hieromonk Justin Hieromonk Justin The food situation was no better. Among other things, I would like to tell you that in June-July, we ate only boiled grass soup. Grass cut in the field would be brought to the prison, chopped, boiled, and served to political prisoners. It was a great celebration if we found something made of beans or boiled rice in our bowls even once a month. Thanks to such a diet, we were all exhausted to the point where we couldn’t even stand on our feet, even though the guards were screaming at us, but we also started to swell up. If I pushed my finger into my skin, it left an impression—sure proof that my body tissue was decomposing and could no longer remove water. But our bodies also retained water because of the exorbitant amount of salt in the so-called “dishes” they treated us to.

After we all got sick, the doctor finally deigned to visit us. He glanced at us without asking anything, but a few days later we noticed an improvement in the menu. To give us time to recover, they started giving us soup with a few floating globs of fat, boiled cabbage, rice, and even boiled beans. But this indulgence turned into a new punishment for us, no less severe. Our stomachs were unaccustomed to such food and couldn’t handle it and most of us came down with dysentery. Being sent to the prison infirmary never helped at all, because you were left alone there, with no one to lend you a helping hand.

The torture of isolation from loved ones

But this “pampering” with food didn’t last long. As soon as those who hadn’t died from dysentery got better, they started giving us the usual slop again. In these conditions, any hope of satisfying our hunger came only when it was our turn to serve in the kitchen.

We had to do all kinds of work there under supervision: We carried water, we peeled potatoes, we washed pots and pans, we fed the pigs. We were so hungry that we were ready to gobble down the raw potatoes. But no one dared to, because if you were brave enough to bite a potato, the heavens would come crashing down on you and the warden would grab you and start bludgeoning you. Yet, they did us a favor: They would let us eat the potato skins when we took buckets of slop to the pig troughs. We’d stick our hands down in the slop and as soon as we felt a potato skin, we’d immediately shove it in our mouths.

In this vein, I’d like to tell you about one incident that’s both comical and tragic at the same time and that shows the state of degradation we’d reached. The prison director, a satrap with a heart of stone, had a purebred dog, not very large, but plump and stocky, who would calmly walk around the yard. Then the dog suddenly disappeared one day. The director immediately rushed off to look for it. He looked everywhere, but to no avail. There was simply no trace of the dog. Then they started interrogating and beating the prisoners. In the end, one of them confessed that he had sliced up and eaten the dog.

How he managed to do it, I never found out. Only one thing was sure: After this exploit, all the political prisoners were punished, given food only once in two days, at lunch.

Archimandrite Justin at Petru Vodă Monastery Archimandrite Justin at Petru Vodă Monastery After a whole year of torture and crucifixion, the jailers started preparing us for trial. And since we looked so bad, they started taking care of our food, to spruce us up a bit, so the judges or those attending our trials wouldn’t think we were doing so badly in prison. But they did it not by improving our menu, but by allowing us to write to our families to send us packages. Many were even given postcards, but not all of us, including me. Why? Because during the interrogations, I didn’t agree to declare what they wanted; that is, to admit to facts and acts that I hadn’t committed. And all those who resisted and didn’t give in weren’t allowed to write to their loved ones and get packages from them.

It was an extremely diabolical and absurd measure that spiritually hit me worse than all the beatings and humiliations I’d been subjected to. Can you imagine the pain I felt seeing that others were allowed to communicate with the outside world and get packages while I was kept in complete isolation?

In this situation, my sole hope and comfort was God. Every day I mentally prayed to the Heavenly Father, begging Him to give me strength to endure. And I firmly decided that if I ever got the chance to see the sunlight and breathe the air of freedom, I’d do just one thing: serve God and help those who need spiritual support. Then, in order to escape the inhuman world into which I was thrown, I got into the habit of daydreaming. Whenever I had moments of peace, I would build a world where I could move about freely. That’s how I created little joys for myself. And I taught others to do the same, as much as I could. No wonder the jailers hated us priests the most. They knew that through our bold way of being, through our faith in God, we were infecting others and strengthening them for resistance.

In this context, I can’t forget the sad case of Fr. Comănici, a monk from Neamț Monastery, who was arrested and imprisoned because he was denounced as having sheltered a Legionnaire who was being pursued by the Securitate.

Fr. Comănici, a very religious man, once found a secret entrance to the prison chapel. Until 1944, the prisoners had the right to pray and go to services in the chapel. And then one day, Fr. Comănici disappeared. We had roll call and he was nowhere to be found. The alarm was sounded throughout the prison. They scoured the place looking for him, but there was no sign of him. Finally, a few hours later, he appeared, beaming with joy that he was able to pray to God like a normal Christian, in the chapel. No one took into account the fact that he hadn’t tried to escape but only wanted to pray in the chapel. Thus, he was subjected to brutal beatings and thrown into an isolation ward, where for three days he was given only a piece of bread and a cup of salt water. After a while he developed jaundice, he was taken to the infirmary, and we never found out what happened to him.

In order to crush the solidarity of the prisoners and sow distrust and discord between them, the prison administrator resorted to re-education, indoctrinating us with communist ideology slogans. Every day, at certain hours, they took us to the hall where we had to read the “classics of Marxism-Leninism,” first of all, the theses of Papa Stalin, which were very fashionable for us then, and discuss them favorably. And so as not to cause any confusion or “deviations,” we were also assigned a propagandist, zealous in his own way, but limited. Apart from a few slogans he’d memorized, he didn’t really know anything.

Unfortunately, the re-education maneuver had its effect, and some of us, whether out of sincere convictions or opportunism, started apologizing for communism and lashing out at those who didn’t let themselves get caught in this trap. Thus, suspicion, adversity, and slander made its way into our ranks. And the saddest thing in this story is that those who converted to communism met a fate no better than those who remained true to their fundamental principles.

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