Communism vs. Religion in Romania: How churches were saved from demolition by a brilliant engineer

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The Communist regime in Romania, during its most repressive decade (the 1980s), became increasingly anti-religious. This movement, combined with the megalomania of the ruling Ceausescu family, meant that any monument that reminded the people of their traditions and past had to be razed to the ground or, at least, hidden from public sight. This was the case for churches, which carried a lot of symbolism for the deeply religious Romanian people, and which started to be demolished one by one, along with entire neighborhoods of old, bourgeois houses (such was the case of Uranus neighborhood — about this in a future article), in order to make room for North-Korean-style apartment blocks. Seeing the architectural massacre that was committed against dozens of centuries-old churches, a group of people from the entourage of the Ceausescu family tried to convince them that it is better to simply “hide” the churches from public view, behind the new soviet-style buildings. A major contribution to winning this argument was a technique developed by construction engineer Eugen Iordachescu, which enabled entire buildings to be literally moved in one piece hundreds of meters away from their original location. You can see glimpses of this technique in action in the following documentary (in Romanian language):

The idea came to Iordachescu while observing how waiters carry many glasses on a tray in restaurants. The principle behind it is simple: as long as there is a stable and rigid base, any number of objects can be safely moved around. Iordachescu’s technique involves several active and passive pumps which raise the building into the air, while hydraulic jacks are inserted underneath the building. The whole process is monitored using topographic devices. Once the building is stabilized into the air, train tracks are inserted underneath it, in order to facilitate the movement.

Moving technique (source: Adevarul.ro)

It is believed his technique was only accepted by the Ceausescu family because they wanted to prove him that it cannot be applied successfully. Mihai-Voda Church is one of 13 churches that were saved from demolition by applying this amazing technique. The price: the church had to be moved from sight, and hidden behind the new blocks of socialist apartments. With a history of over 400 years, the church was actually part of a monastery building complex, which used to be one of the landmarks of Bucharest in Medieval times, because it stood high above the city, on one of the hills of the city (Spirii Hill). The monastery is said to have been founded around 1591 by King Mihai (Michael) the Brave, while he was still just a local ruler. Later, he managed to unite the Romanian provinces in a short-lived country that exceeded Romania’s current borders.

There is very little that is left today of this medieval monastery: only the church and the bell tower survive, while the National Archives building (part of the monastery) and the monk houses have been demolished in 1984. Tourists must struggle to find the church, as it is not very easily accessible from the main boulevards of the city, despite being located very centrally, and it is no longer visible from other areas of the city.

church-front

How is it possible for a church that once stood high above the city, on a hill, to suddenly become hidden? The church was literally moved 289 meters to the East, and also lowered from the hill by almost 6 meters, despite weighing 3,100 tons. The same thing happened to the bell tower: it was moved 255 meters and lowered 5 meters, using the technique developed by Iordachescu.

Moving of Mihai Voda Church
Moving of Mihai Voda Church (source: Adevarul.ro)

Its new location is now on Sapientei Street, behind the blocks that were errected in 1985 and afterwards. The moving of the church actually took several months to complete.

Eugen Iordachescu filed more than 30 patents for various techniques and ideas, and is considered by many to be the “church savior” of Romania. He was born in 1929 in Braila (a city in Eastern Romania), and graduated the Institute of Construction in Bucharest. Throughout his life, he was a professor and author of several publications.

Eugen Iordachescu
Eugen Iordachescu (source: Adevarul.ro)

The violent beginnings of Communism in Romania: a portrait of Max Goldstein

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Many believe Communism was a somewhat natural evolution in the history of Romania: otherwise the political regime in Romania would not have become one of the most powerful, prominent and repressive in Eastern Europe, and its political figures would not have been celebrities of their time. However, this is far from the truth. The early communists in Romania were few, weak, and had little to do with either the socialist or the workers’ ideals. In fact, most of them were not even Romanians, but foreign (mostly Russian) agents infiltrated in the country with the goal to overthrow the government.

Such was the case of Max Goldstein, an early Communist anarchist of Jewish origin, who is responsible for several violent terrorist attacks on Romanian political figures of the 1920s.

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(Source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

During the years that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Communist Party (Comintern) recommended violent actions against democratic governments, as a way for local communist parties to take control over nations. Such was the case in Romania, where Max Goldstein and his accomplices planned and organized multiple terrorist attacks in support of the Leftist movement. In the early 1920s, workers’ movements were just beginning to gain some momentum in Romania, as industrialization of the country finally picked up the pace. In October 1920, a general strike of the Communist supporters was cracked down by the Police, and several participants were arrested. In response to this government action, Max Goldstein tried to kill the Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs, Constantin Argetoianu, in November 1920, by placing a bomb under his train wagon. Fortunately, the explosion destroyed only half of the wagon, which happened to empty at the moment. The reason for the attack was that the minister was a vocal opposer of the Communist movement at the moment.

At the moment of this first attack that drew a lot of media attention, Max Goldstein was not a complete beginner in terrorist activities. He had already lost one arm during experiments with different explosives, and he is believed to have trained extensively in Odessa (at that time, part of Russia) in subversive attacks. He wore a pirate hook as an arm replacement, as can be seen from one of the few surviving photos of him:

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(Source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

Locally, Max Goldstein was also backed by the extremist faction of the Socialist Party, which in 1921 broke away, and formed the Communist Party. His terrorist activities were financed by CEKA, the Russian secret police. The climax of his revolutionary activities was the bomb attack he conducted on the Romanian Senate on December 8, 1920. Together with two other Jewish accomplices, Saul Ozias and Leon Lichtblau, he organized the terrorist bombing of the Senate building, which killed the Romanian Minister of Justice, Dimitrie Greceanu, and two other Romanian senators: Demetriu Radu and Spirea Gheorghiu. The President of the Senate, Constantin Coanda, was also severely wounded in the attack.

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(Mugshot of Saul, source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

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(Mugshot of Leon, source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

However, it is believed that the real mastermind behind the bomb attack was Abraham Grinstein, the Jewish leader of the terrorist services in Odessa.

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(Mugshot of Abraham Grinstein, source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

Nevertheless, Max Goldstein executed the plan by improvising a clock bomb using two German bombs, and placing it under the Senate tribune during the night. The intent of the attack was to ignite a Communist Revolution. At the time when he committed the attack, he has already been sentenced to 10 years in prison for crimes against the state, but managed to escape from prison. He managed to evade the Police on several occasions by carrying false identity papers, despite being regularly monitored by “Siguranta”, the Romanian secret police of that time.

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(Blueprints of the bomb, source: Bucurestiul strict secret)

After the Senate bomb attack bomb attack, Max Goldstein managed to flee to another Romanian city, Iasi, where he established an illegal printing house for Communist propaganda, which he financed with money from the Soviet secret police, and he managed to operate under cover until April of next year. He was finally arrested one year later, as he was trying to enter the country under cover, from Bulgaria. At the customs control, he shot a border patrol, after failing to bribe him. While crossing the border, Max was carrying 15 kilograms of explosives. After the shot, he is chased by the police, and finally captured after an exchange of gun fire. He was sentenced to lifelong forced labor after a massive trial against several prominent communists, and finally died of pneumonia in Doftana Prison in 1925. During the trial, he never regretted the bomb attack — on the contrary, he was proud of it, considering a great professional achievement.

The Senate bomb attack is a significant moment in Communist history, as it soon lead to the official banning of Communism in Romania, through the “Marzescu Law” (we will write about this in more detail in a future article).