Pitesti Prison: The Inferno of Communist Experiments

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

Pitesti Prison was one of the many extermination sites used by the communist regime in its violent and total occupation of Romania. But, it’s the unimaginable physical and psychological tortures used here that single it out as a space of absolute evil. So dark that death appeared to be the best escape.

While such a landmark might not be on your list of places to see in Romania, we recommend you don’t miss it. It’s a sad, yet necessary history lesson for us all.

Pitesti Prison

Interrogation room

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. The Soviet-origin experiment aimed to achieve re-education through systematic torture. It transformed innocents into executioners and again into innocents, in a spiral of impossible violence.

As always, the victims were the ‘enemies of the state’. Their only guilt was the opposition to the forced communist regime, a vague accusation used to arrest or deport hundreds of thousands. In this particular case, the students were the ones who suffered one of the ‘most terrible acts of barbarism in the modern world’ (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).

Pitesti Prison

Prison corridor

Over 600 students were the victims of the Soviet methods in Pitesti Prison alone. One of them, Eugen Turcanu, became the representation of complete dehumanization. His transformation from a prisoner into chief torturer proved the success of this unimaginable experiment. At least one hundred students died because of the injuries, and only two could kill themselves. The complete surveillance made even this final escape from hell almost impossible.

Their suffering was only partially acknowledged at the time. Eugen Turcanu and other executioners received death sentences in 1954, but justice stopped there. The high-rank communist officials who approved the experiment were never convicted. It was just a typical case for the politics of the Romanian Communist Party.

Pitesti Prison

Handcuffs on a prison bed

From prison to Memorial in a couple of decades

The former Pitesti Prison became a memorial only in 2014. The cells are now exhibition spaces where you can discover key facts about the communist regime, 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.

But, most of the space presents the different stages of the tragic ‘Pitesti phenomenon’. As a reminder, a religious service takes place weekly in the former Room 4 Hospital in the memory of the victims. This was the biggest room in the former prison and the place of the worst tortures.

Pitesti Prison

Exhibition space, Pitesti Memorial

Just like Sighet Memorial,  Pitesti Prison shows the dark reality of political prisons during communism. This is maybe the darkest episode of the many that marked the violent communist regime in Romania.

Travel tips

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

TAKE ME THERE

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