The Piteşti prison (Template:Lang-ro) was a penal facility in Piteşti, Romania, best remembered for the brainwashing experiment carried out by Communist authorities in 1949-1952 (also known as Experimentul Piteşti - the "Piteşti Experiment" or Fenomenul Piteşti - the "Piteşti Phenomenon"). The latter was designed as an attempt at violently "reeducating" the mostly young political prisoners, male members of banned groupings such as the National Peasants' and National Liberal parties, as well as those who claimed inspiration from the fascist Iron Guard or Zionist members of the Romanian Jewish community.
The experiment's goal, compliant with the regime's take on Leninism, was for prisoners to discard past political and religious convictions, and, eventually, to alter their personalities to the point of absolute obedience. Estimates for the total number of people passed through the experiment range from 1,000 to 5,000. It is considered the largest and most intensive brainwashing torture program in the Eastern bloc.
The prison itself was built at an earlier stage — according to Eugen Măgirescu, work on it had begun in the late 1930s, under King Carol II, and had been completed during Ion Antonescu's rule (see Romania during World War II). For a while after the proclamation of a Romanian People's Republic, it continued to house primarily those found guilty of misdemeanors.
The early stages of "reeducation" had occurred at the prison in Suceava, being soon adopted in Piteşti and, less violently, in Gherla prison. The group of overseers had been formed from people who had themselves been arrested and found guilty of political crimes, and was headed by Eugen Ţurcanu, a student at the University of Iaşi and former member of the Iron Guard, who had joined the Communist Party before being purged. Ţurcanu, who was probably acting on the orders of Securitate deputy chief Alexandru Nikolski, selected a tight unit of reeducation survivors as his assistants in carrying out political tasks. This group was called the Organizaţia Deţinuţilor cu Convingeri Comuniste (ODCC, "Organization of Convinced Communist Detainees"), and included the future Orthodox priest and dissident Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa and the Jewish Petrică Fux.
The wave of Suceava inmates who had passed through the early stages was sent to Piteşti, where the initially humane treatment became subject to increasing restrictions — according to Măgirescu, the situation rapidly degenerated in June.
Stages of "reeducation"
Detainees, who were subject to regular and severe beatings, were also required to engage in torturing each other, with the goal of discouraging past loyalties. Guards would force them to attend scheduled or ad-hoc political instruction sessions, on topics such as dialectical materialism and Joseph Stalin's History of the CPSU(B) Short Course, usually accompanied by random violence and encouraged delation (demascare, lit. "unmasking") for various real or invented misdemeanors.
Each victim of the experiment was initially subject to regular interrogation, during which torture was applied as a means to expose intimate details of his life ("external unmasking"). Hence, they were required to reveal everything they were thought to have hidden from previous interrogations; hoping to escape torture, many prisoners would confess imaginary misdeeds. The second phase, "internal unmasking", required the tortured to reveal the names of those who had behaved less brutal or somewhat indulgently towards them in detention.
Public humiliation was also enforced, usually at the third stage ("public moral unmasking"), inmates were forced to denounce all their personal beliefs, loyalties, and values. Notably, religious inmates were dressed as figures of Christ, and all others were required to address them insults; they had to blaspheme religious symbols and sacred texts.
The inmates were required to accept the notion that their own family members had various criminal and grotesque features; they were required to author false autobiographies, comprising accounts of deviant behavior. According to Dumitru Bacu: "By injecting gradually into the victim's subconscious information different from what he had always accepted as real and true, by altering and constantly deprecating existing reality and substituting for it a fictitious image, the re-educator at last achieved the final purpose of the unmasking: to make the lie so real to the victim that he would forget what had formerly for him made sense." This led to a "complete reversal, for an indeterminate time, of the values in which the student had always believed".
In addition to physical violence, inmates subject to "reeducation" were supposed to work for exhausting periods in humiliating jobs (for example, cleaning the floor with a rag clenched between the teeth). Malnourished and kept in degrading and unsanitary conditions, inmates were prevented from engaging in contacts with the outside world, and forced to cover their eyes in the few instances where they could walk out of their cells.
It has been argued that techniques used by the ODCC were ultimately derived from Anton Makarenko's controversial pedagogy and penology principles in respect to rehabilitation. On at least one occasion, Makarenko was allegedly cited as inspiration by Ţurcanu himself.
The prison also ensured a preliminary selection for the labor camps at the Danube-Black Sea Canal, Ocnele Mari, and other sites, where squads of former inmates were supposed to extend the experiment.
Ending and legacy
In 1952, as Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej successfully maneuvered against the Minister of the Interior Teohari Georgescu, the process was stopped by the authorities themselves. The ODCC secretly faced trial for abuse, and over twenty death sentences were handed out (Ţurcanu was held responsible for the murder of 30 prisoners, and the abuse exercised on 780 others); Securitate officials who had overseen the experiment, including Colonel Teodor Sepeanu, were tried the following year — all were given light sentences, and were freed soon after. Responding to new ideological guidelines, the court concluded that the experiment had been the result of successful infiltration of American and Horia Sima's Iron Guard agents into the Securitate, with the goal of discrediting Romanian law enforcement.
Abandoned and partially in ruin, the building was sold to a construction firm in 1991 (after the Revolution of 1989; several of the facilities have either been torn down or suffered major changes). A memorial was built in front of the prison's entrance.
- Cesereanu; Cioroianu, p.316-317; Măgirescu; Rusan; Wexler
- Ierunca, p.41
- Măgirescu; Rusan
- Cioroianu, p.316-317; Măgirescu
- Bacu, passim; Cioroianu, p.317
- Cioroianu, p.317
- Cesereanu; Măgirescu; Rusan
- Cesereanu; Cioroianu, p.317; Măgirescu; Rusan
- Cesereanu; Cioroianu, p.317; Măgirescu
- Cesereanu; Cioroianu, p.317
- Cioroianu, p.317; Măgirescu
- Bacu, p.103
- Bacu, p.104
- Cioroianu, p.318; Măgirescu
- Cioroianu, p.318
- Rusan; Wexler
- Cioroianu, p.318; Rusan
- Dumitru Bacu, The Anti-Humans. Student Re-Education in Romanian Prisons, Soldiers of the Cross, Englewood, Colorado, 1971. Originally written in Romanian as Piteşti, Centru de Reeducare Studenţească, Madrid, 1963
- Template:Ro icon Ruxandra Cesereanu, "Contra-spălarea creierului ori contrareeducarea ca posibil concept" ("Counter-brainwashing or Counter-reeducation as a Possible Concept"), in 22, Nr. 684, April 2003
- Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005
- Virgil Ierunca, Piteşti, Editura Limite, Madrid, 1981
- Template:Ro icon Eugen Măgirescu, Moara Dracilor. Amintiri din Închisoarea de la Piteşti ("Mill of the Devils. Recollections from Piteşti Prison"), at Procesulcomunismului.com
- Template:Ro icon Ilie Popa, "Memoria în prezent" ("Memoria at Present"), in Memoria
- Template:Ro icon Romulus Rusan, Geografia si cronologia Gulagului romanesc ("The Geography and Chronology of the Romanian Gulag"), at the Sighet Memorial site
- Template:Ro icon Cassian Maria Spiridon, "Tragedia Piteşti", Convorbiri Literare, September 2003
- Template:Ro icon Teodor Wexler, "Procesul sioniştilor" ("Trial of the Zionists"), in Memoria