The Heroes Who Died Fighting Against Romanian Communism

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With the publicity around the commemoration of 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, few people remember that the Romanian anti-Communist Revolution of December 1989 was the bloodiest uprising against Communism in the Eastern Bloc.  1,104 people died across major cities in Romania, the majority in Timisoara and Bucharest. Some of these heroes are now buried in the the Cemetery of the Revolution Heroes in southern Bucharest.

The anti-Communist Revolution started in Timisoara (Western Romania) on December 16, 1989, and ended in Targoviste with the execution by fire squad of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. However, gun fire continued sporadically even after that. Not all bodies of the victims could be retrieved, as many of them were incinerated in the first days of the Revolution, in a desperate attempt by the secret police to hide any evidence of the bloody repression. The Cemetery of the Revolution Heroes in Bucharest in an eerie place: far from peaceful, nested in the hustle & bustle of a crowded Bucharest crossroad, it brings up painful memories of young and old people alike who sacrificed themselves for a better future. The words marked on some of the funerary stones are truly moving. Below is an attempt to convey the suffering they left behind, and commemorate their memory.

The words on the cross below translate as follows (it is actually a poem in Romanian, but the rhymes are lost in translation):

“You have left believing in life
You didn’t even say “Good-bye!”
You left us crying in the house
And off you went as the lightning.
Even if we can’t see you face
and we can’t hear your voice,
you will always remain in our minds,
and we will always see you in our dreams.”
Your wife & your children

Anti-communist revolution hero
Anti-communist revolution hero

Most of the inscriptions are painfully accurate accounts of the last moments of the victim’s life. Below is such an example:

When you left home, I begged you not to leave, so that you won’t be hit by a bullet. But you said you don’t want to be a coward, and regret that you didn’t put up a fight. Not one, but ten bullets ended your life, and left your parents in sorrow. We will never forget you!”

Anti-communist revolution hero

Here is another example of a death account, this time for the first victim of the Revolution who has fallen in Bucharest:

Anti-communist revolution hero
Anti-communist revolution hero

“He shouted “Down with Communism!” and offered flowers to the army troops in front of Dalles Hall (note: a building in central Bucharest). He wend on his knees and prayed for the dead of Timisoara city. It was the 21st of December 1989, 5:30 pm. He received 3 deadly shots. He was 19 years old and was the first victim of the Revolution in Bucharest. His nickname was “Micky the Rocker””

We can infer that this hero was a rugby player by the sculpture on his cross. Only his first name was engraved, although there is a detailed account of the last hours of his life:

Rugby player who died in the Revolution
Rugby player who died in the Revolution

“He raised barricades, he saw young people die, and spilling blood. He came home from University Plaza (note: location in central Bucharest) to go into mourning, and left home saying:
Mom, in everybody’s life, there is a train. You need to know when to get on it. For me, this train has arrived now. Now or never, this is a chance of a lifetime. Let me be, as I know better what I am doing. If something happens to me, take this money to take care of yourself.
His train of life only had two stops: one at the Romanian Television, and one at 21 years, 4 months and 10 days old.
His assassins remain unpunished.”

Epitaph of a soldier who died at Otopeni airport, the site of a major diversion by the repression forces:

Anti-Communist Revolution hero
Anti-Communist Revolution hero

“Hero fallen at Otopeni.
We will always keep you close to our pain-stricken hearts, forever alive. Titi”
“And you will turn into dust,
Because this is the world’s resistless law
You are born from nothing,
And you turn into nothing,
As nothing remains after you.”

As you can infer from the epitaphs above, the headquarters of the Romanian Television, University square (including the area near Dalles Hall and the Intercontinental Hotel, where a major barricade was raised by the protesters against repression forces), and Otopeni airport were among the “hotspots” of the Anti-Communist Revolution in Bucharest, where a lot of shooting took place, and many victims have fallen.

Some of the victims were really young, such as Ionescu Alexandru Radu, who was just a high-school student at the time.

High-school student who died in the Romanian anti-Communist revolution
High-school student who died in the Romanian anti-Communist revolution

This epitaph is also written in poem form (rhymes lost in translation), and dedicated to another high-school student who died in the bloody events of December 1989:

Epitaph to a high-school student
Epitaph to a high-school student

“Dear class master,
I ask for your forgiveness,
Because I will no longer attend class
I have quietly disappeared from the class book,
As my destiny wanted me to be somewhere else.

Too bad, because I had so many plans.
But I regret nothing,
Because I followed my youthfully impetus,
The best of all.

My classmates will understand this.
I will graduate through them, year by year
Climbing higher and higher,
Although I will always remain a high-school student.

Oh, I never wanted to bring this sad news to my mother,
But my only hope is my father,
Who was a soldier during these unjust times.

My natural decision was to be and to remain
A true Romanian through my youthful sacrifice.

I ask for your forgiveness one more time.
I can hear Christmas carols all around,
And the winter which bestows flowers upon my coffin”
(letter without a stamp)

Anti-communist revolution hero

Anti-communist revolution hero

“In Memorian
Engineer Torino Mateescu, who died on December 22, 1989. He paid with his life for our right to live in freedom”.

Families intentionally engraved the jobs of their loved ones on the funerary stones, to indicate that people of all social strata (including working class) rose up against Communism. Below, you have a high-school student, a professional driver, an electrician, and a turner.

This grave has an interesting sign next to it, resembling one of the placards of the revolutionaries.

Anti-Communist Revolution hero
Anti-Communist Revolution hero

It reads:

“While peacefully protesting for a free Romania, she was shot by the tyrants supporting the Clan of Ceau…”.

The relatives of the victim meant to say “Ceausescu”, but they probably deemed that his full name does not deserve to be engraved.

The next epitaph includes both a poem and an account of the last words of the victim:

Anti-Communist Revolution hero
Anti-Communist Revolution hero

“We didn’t know, just like other people
Who lived with their heads down,
That you were hiding deep inside your soul
Our burning dream of freedom.

That small piece of our hope,
Which remained in our hearts and grew stronger,
And broke through into the blue sky,
When you were holding hands together for us.

But the cruel beast who enslaved us
In caves of darkness and of suffering,
Didn’t want to believe that its power was fading away
Against the pure smiles of kids.

Innocent child, sublime child!
You’re just a cross lost in a cemetery!
When will people understand your deed?
Martyr child and anonymous hero!”

I’m going. If need be, I will sacrifice myself, so that you’ll have a better life. If I don’t go, and others don’t go, what will happen?” And so he went… He was (hunted) gunned down on the Christmas night between 24th and 25th of December. The perpetrators remain unpunished”

I leave you with the powerful words of one of the anti-Communist revolution heroes. These words should be in every history book out there:

Anti-communist Revolution hero
Anti-communist Revolution hero

Liberty is not served by someone on a tray! We will conquer it with our own blood!“, Luiza said. The next day, on the 21st of December 1989, in front of the Dalles Hall, Luiza would commit the supreme sacrifice, while shouting “Don’t run away! They are not shooting at us! They cannot kill all of us!” But a bullet put an end to her revolutionary elan. We will never forget her!
Nico, Mom & Dad

Enjoyed this article? Listen to more Communist stories and see Bucharest’s landmarks in one of our upcoming walking tours!

The Nuns’ Convent: the first church to be moved during Ceausescu’s Communist regime

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This rather inglorious little church, painted in white and with its beautifully-carved pillars covered by modern plastic windows is actually an important Medieval relic that has reluctantly survived Communism. Ironically, it’s hidden behind the headquarters of the Romanian Intelligence Service, the follower of the reputed “Securitate” (Romania’s secret police during Communism).

The Nuns' Convent
The Nuns’ Convent

Well, this church deserves more glory, so we decided to include it in the Tour of Communism and tell its story, because of several reasons:

  • it’s much older than it looks
  • it’s actually not in the original location where it was built
  • it has survived Communism in a rather spectacular way

So please read further!

The Nuns' Convent before being demolished
The Nuns’ Convent before being demolished (photo: Gheorghe Leahu)

The church is actually only a small surviving piece of a larger monastery — the Nuns’ Convent — which was built during the 18th century (most likely, prior to 1726) by Tatiana Hagi Dina, a nun who escaped slavery under the Ottoman Empire and wanted to thank God for this. The monastery (including its church) was doomed to be razed to the ground by bulldozers in what was to become the greatest peace-time demolition of a city: the “systematization” of Bucharest during the 1980s. This was essentially dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s vision to rebuild the entire historic center of Bucharest into a socialist civic center full of administrative buildings, the largest of them being the People’s House.

As you can see from the photo below (photographer: Andrei Pandele), the demolition of the monastery was well under way, when a brilliant construction engineer, Eugen Iordachescu, came up with the proposal to move the building, and with a rather ingenious solution for how to do that.

Partial demolition of the Nuns' Convent
Partial demolition of the Nuns’ Convent

The proposal was reluctantly accepted by Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, but soon the Communist authorities decided to use it as propaganda, thus covering up the demolitions, and bringing into the spotlight only the great technical achievement of moving buildings to “better” locations. The lack of proper housing for the working class, the devastating effects of the 1977 earthquake, and the need to develop a great civic center worthy of a Socialist power were also used by the Communist propaganda to explain this massive construction site in the middle of Bucharest, thus counteracting protests from Western media.

The Nuns’ Convent during its moving

The church was originally located near the current South-Eastern entrance to the People’s House, on a picturesque street bearing its name.

Old street near the Nuns' Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)
Old street near the Nuns’ Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)

The street was part of a intricate network dating back to Medieval times, all of which would disappear under the blades of bulldozers during the 1980s:

Network of old streets
Network of old streets

One of the conditions for allowing the church to be moved was that it would not be visible from any of the newly-built grand boulevards. Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were notoriously anti-religious, and would not tolerate seeing a church when looking through the windows of the Palace of the Parliament. Hence its current location, squeezed behind the Soviet-style buildings that would host the Romanian version of KGB.

Partial demolition of the Nuns' Convent
Partial demolition of the Nuns’ Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)

Sadly, after being moved in June of 1982, the church was only allowed to function for one more month, and then it was completely shut down until 1995, when it was officially re-opened.

Enjoyed this article? Listen to more Communist stories and see Bucharest’s landmarks in one of our upcoming walking tours!