Pitesti Prison was one of the many extermination sites used by the communist regime in its violent and total occupation of Romania. However, the unimaginable physical and psychological tortures used here single it out as a space of absolute evil that made death appear to be the easiest escape.
While such a daunting space might not be top of your list of places to see in Romania, we recommend you to absolutely visit it. Because forgetting past tragedies can only make us prone to repeat them.
The ‘most terrible act of barbarism in the modern world’
‘Pitesti Phenomenon’ is the term used to group, if that’s even possible, the different types of tortures used between 1949 and 1951 in this prison. Needless to mention, the victims were the ‘enemies of the state’ whose only guilt was the opposition against the communist regime. In this case, the enemies were hundreds of students trapped at Pitesti Prison in the ‘most terrible act of barbarism in the modern world’ (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).
This Soviet-origin experiment aimed to achieve re-education through systematic torture. It transformed victims into executioners and again into victims, turning the innocent into the guilty, in a spiral of impossible violence.
Over 600 students were the victims of this experiment in Pitesti Prison alone. Eugen Turcanu, a prisoner turned into a chief executioner, was the representation of complete dehumanization. One hundred students died because of the injuries, and only two could kill themselves. The complete surveillance made this escape from hell almost impossible. Even more, the souls of the ones who survived were forever crushed.
Eugen Turcanu and other executioners were eventually sentenced to death and killed in 1954. The high-rank communist officials who approved the experiment were never convicted. It was a typical case for the politics of the Romanian Communist Party.
From prison to Memorial in a couple of decades
The former Pitesti Prison was opened as a memorial in 2014. The cells are now exhibition spaces where you can discover key facts about the communist regime in Romania, its means of repression, and complete control. Detailed information on the interwar elites and the outcome of WW2 present the dramatic end of the democratic era. Most of the space showcases the different stages of the tragic ‘Pitesti phenomenon’.
Religious service is organized weekly in the former Room 4 Hospital, the biggest room in the prison and the place of the worst tortures, in the memory of the victims.
Just like Sighet Memorial, Pitesti Prison brings to the present the brutal reality of the political prisons, probably the darkest episode of the many that marked the violent communist regime in Romania.
You can visit the Memorial every Saturday or on weekdays. Be sure to book your visit first on http://pitestiprison.org
Don’t miss the book shop Manuscript if you want to learn more about communist prisons in Romania.
More details about Pitesti Memorial on http://pitestiprison.org