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Simon Hoggart's Obscene Ignorance

Simon Hoggart, in The Guardian, writes:

I can’t work out the current abuse for secularists now coming from various religious groups. I know of no wars started by anyone to impose lack of religion on someone else.

Where does the Guardian get these people? Did no one tell Simon Hoggart of The Guardian about communism’s civil wars on religion, in the name of atheism? Has he never heard of the Rumanian gulag at Pitesti, where communist prison officials undertook an experiment to torture religious faith out of the detainees, and remake them into ideal communists? Where things like this happened:

Performances on religious subjects, black masses staged at Easter or Christmas, horrified the detainees. On such occasions, it was the theology students who were to suffer the most, dressed up as ‘Christs’, clothed in cassocks smeared with excrement. They were made to take ‘communion’ with urine and faeces, and instead of the Cross, a phallus was fashioned of soap, which all the others were made to kiss. Alongside them hymns were sung with scabrous words, in which the commonplaces were insults against Christ and the Virgin Mary. Sometimes the detainees would be stripped naked.

Has he never heard of the late Protestant pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who survived Pitesti? From 1966 testimony Wurmbrand, then in exile, gave to the US Senate:

[Richard Wurmbrand:] A Westerner can’t understand God is here and knows that I will not tell you the while truth because if I will tell you the while truth, you will faint and rush out of this room, not bearing to hear what things have happened. But I will tell you that in a prison they crucified a cat before ourselves. They beat nails in the feet of the cat and the cat was hanging with the head down, and can you imagine how this cat screamed and the prisoners, mad, bead on the door, “Free the cat, free the cat, free the cat,” and the Communists very polite, “Oh, surely we will free the cat, but give the statements which we ask from you and then the cat will be freed,” and I have known men who have given statements against their wives, against their children, against their parents to free the cat. They did it out of madness, and then the parents and the wives have been tortured like the cat. Such things have happened with us.

[Sen. Thomas Dodd:] Did you have any fellow Christians like you imprisoned?

We had hundreds of bishops, priests, monks in prisons; my wife who is near me, she has been with Catholic nuns. My wife tells that they were angels; such have been put in prisons. Nearly all Catholic bishops died in prison. Innumerable Orthodox and Protestants have been in prison, too.

The point I was getting at – and I guess I did not make it clear – where the Christians treated any differently or mistreated any differently?

Everybody in prison was very badly treated. And I cannot be contradicted on this question, because I have been with physicians, I have much more broken bones than anybody, so either I broke my bones or somebody else broke them. And if I would not have been a clergyman but a murderer – it is a crime to torture a murderer, too. The Christian prisoners were tortured in a form which should mock their religion. I tell you again in the prison of Pitesti one scene I will describe you about torturing and mocking Christians, and believe me I would renounce to eternal life to paradise after which I long, if I tell you one word of exaggeration. God is here and knows that I do not say everything. It cannot be said. There are ladies here. There are other people hearing it.

One Sunday morning in the prison of Pitesti a young Christian was already the fourth day, day and night, tied to the cross. Twice a day the cross was put on the floor and 100 other cell inmates by beating, by tortures, were obliged to fulfill their necessities upon his face and upon his body. Then the cross was erected again and the Communists swearing and mocking “Look your Christ, look your Christ, how beautiful he is, adore him, kneel before him, how fine he smells, your Christ.” And then the Sunday morning came and a Catholic priest, an acquaintance of mine, has been put to the belt, in the dirt of a cell with 100 prisoners, a plate with excrements, and one with urine was given to him and he was obliged to say the holy mass upon these elements, and he did it. And I asked him afterward, “Father, but how could you make this?” He was half mad. He answered to me: “Brother, I have suffered more than Christ. Don’t reproach to me what I have done.” And the other prisoners beaten to take holy communion in this form, and the Communists around, “Look, your sacraments, look, your church, what a holy church you have, what fine is your church, what holy ordinance God has given you.”

I am very insignificant and a very little man. I have been in prison among the weak ones and the little ones, but I speak for a suffering country and for a suffering church and for the heroes and the saints of the 20th century; we have had such saints in our prison to which I did not dare to lift my eyes.

I am a Protestant, but we have had near us Catholic bishops and monks and nuns about whom we felt that the touching of their garments heals. We were not worthy to untie their shoelaces. Such men have been mocked and tortured in our country. And even if it would mean to go back to a Rumanian prison, to be kidnaped by the Communists and going back and tortured again, I cannot be quiet. I owe it to those who have suffered there.

Now, did the Rumanian secret police employ brainwashing techniques?

The worst thing has been the brainwashing. All the tortures of times before were nothing in comparison with brainwashing.

To describe very shortly brainwashing: First of all we were doped. The dope was put in our food. I did not know about this dope. But we saw only the results, a dope which gave two results. First of all, what the physician calls aleulia which means lack of power of will. The power of will was completely broken. If we were told, “Lift your hand,” I lifted it. If I was not told to let the hand down, I would never have left it down. We were at the same time very much undernourished. We had times when we received 100 grams, one slice of bread, a week. It was told to us, “We give you as many calories as you need to be able to breathe only,” and so our power of will has been broken.

Second, this drug or perhaps it is another drug, produces the delirium of self-accusation. I have seen prisoners knocking during the night on the door and saying, “Take me to the interrogator, I have new things to say against me.” Prisoners quarreled with their interrogators to say against themselves more than the interrogators asked from them. And then we have had in prisons the curious phenomenon that we as priests received confessions from other prisoners. Now everybody is a sinner, but not everybody is a criminal. Men who have never murdered confessed that they have murdered, that they have committed adultery, that they have stolen. They felt they had to accuse themselves. This has also been the result of doping. And after we were doped like that – that is the secret of all the Soviet show trials, in which the prisoners accuse themselves – then the time of brainwashing came. For 17 hours a day from 5 in the morning to 10 in the evening we had to sit like this. We were not allowed to lean. We were not allowed to rest a little bit our weary heads upon our hands. To close your eyes was a crime. Seventeen hours a day we had to sit like that and hear from the morning to the evening: “Communism is good, communism is good, communism is good, communism is good,” until you heard one who was already 20 years in prison under the Communists shouting, “Communism is good, communism is good, communism is good, I give my life for communism.”

It was after the technique of Professor Pavlov, a scientific suggestion.

In prison there were not only priests and pastors. We have had hundreds of peasants and young boys and girls who were put in prison for their Christian faith. These were separated and for them there was a special brainwashing, not only that “communism is good,” but “Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead. Nobody more believes in Christ, nobody more believes in Christ, you are the only fools.”

And so on. And I must tell you that you may know how far this brainwashing went. I do not like to pose here like a hero. I believed that Christianity is dead under this influence. I believed –

I did not hear that.

I believed that Christianity is dead under this suggestion. Nobody goes more to church. They gave us post cards. I have not seen my wife for 10 years. They gave me post cards, they gave to all of us post cards: “Write to your children and wife; they may come and on that day see you and bring your parcels,” so on that day we were shaved; we expected and expected until the evening and nobody came. They had not sent the post cards, but we did not know. Then came the brainwashings. “Your wives are laying in bed with men,” obscene words, “Your children hate you. You have nobody to love in the world. You are the only fools. Give up faith. Nobody is more Christians. Christianity is dead.”

I believed also that nobody is more a Christian. I had read in the Bible that there will be in the last time the great apostasy, that people will leave the faith and I believed that I lived now this time. But I said to myself if Christianity is dead, I will sit at its tomb and will weep until it arises again, just as Mary Magdalene sat at the tomb of Jesus and wept until Jesus showed Himself. Then when I came out of prison I saw Christianity is not dead. The number of practicing Christians in Rumania according to the figures given by the Communists themselves in 20 years of Communist dictatorship has grown 300 percent.

I have many more questions, but would you show your wounds and scars, if you have some?

I apologize here before the ladies.

Take your time. If ever a man was entitled to time, I think you are.

Look here, look here, look here. Look here, look here. And so the whole body.

What is the scar behind your ear?

Here they put the knife and said, “Give accusatory statement against your bishops and against the other pastors. Do you give or not? And they cut. It is true that they did not cut very deeply.

These are all knife wounds?

They tortured by all means. They beat until they broke the bones. They used red-hot irons, they used knives, they used everything. And what was the firs thing is not they beat, not what they did, but how they did it. They interrogated you very politely, and if you did not wish to say what they asked they said, “Well, we have the first. On the 15th you will be beaten and tortured at 10 o’clock in the evening.”

Imagine what 14 days were after this. We have had prisoners who during this time, which has been given to them, knocked at the door, “I can’t bear it. I will say everything,” before they have been tortured.

An interview with the late Father George Calciu, who was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian communists. Fr. George (and others who survived Pitesti) testified that part of the process of breaking prisoners down to remake them into the ideal communist man was to compel them to torture each other. But there were other prisons besides Pitesti. Jilava, for example:

I was very fortunate because I was among the sixteen people that the Securitate took to Jilava prison, where my [spiritual] healing began. In Jilava they built a special cell in a half-cylindrical shape. It was like a cylinder cut in two. We were underground; Jilava is built underground. Above the cell were seven meters of earth. You cannot see Jilava-the whole prison is underground. In this cylinder they built four cells with no windows, only a door. We had an electric bulb, day and night. They put four of us in each cell. In each cell there would be either a very sick man or a mad man. In my cell, I had a man -Constantine Oprisan- whose lungs were completely emaciated by tuberculosis. Twice a day he had to cough up fluid from his lungs. We would help him by giving him a hat or something, and he would cough and bring up all the discharge from his lungs-blood and everything. It was horrible to see him. On the first day I entered this cell, with me were Constantine Oprisan, my friend who saved me from suicide, and another student younger than us. Constantine began to cough up the fluid in his lungs. I was leaning against the door – surprised because I had never seen anything like that. The man was suffocating. Perhaps a whole liter of phlegm and blood came up, and my stomach became upset. I was ready to vomit. Constantine Oprisan noticed this and said to me, “Forgive me.” I was so ashamed! Since I was a student in medicine, I decided then to take care of him.

So I decided to take care of him and told the others that I would take care of Constantine Oprisan. He was not able to move, and I did everything for him. I put him on the bucket to urinate. I washed his body. I fed him. We had a bowl for food. I took this bowl and put it in front of his mouth.

He was like a saint. It was the first time that I was in contact with such a man.

Can you tell us more about him? How he taught and strengthened you?

He did not talk much. He talked to us everyday for about one or two hours because he was not able to talk very much. But every word which came out of his month was a holy word-only about Christ, only about love, only about forgiveness. He said his prayers, and [what a deep impact it had on us] hearing him say those prayers, knowing how much he was suffering. It was not so easy. Out of his gentleness of soul -he wanted to protect us- not to cough too much to spread the germs in the atmosphere. He was like a saint in the cell with its. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit around him; we felt it. Even during his last days when he was no longer able to talk, he never lost his kindness toward us. We could read in his eyes the spiritual light and the love. It was like a flood of love in his face.

Did he tell you stories about when he was head of “The Brotherhood of the Cross”?

Yes, he did. He told us about how he worked with the youth. I am sure he loved the youth and that he was loved by them. He was completely dedicated to man. He was a very clever man -amazingly clever. He was so kind with us. He did not talk much about himself. He talked about faith, about love, about prayer. He was praying all the time. It was not so easy to be in the cell all the time with the same people, you know. When there arose some conflict between us, he prayed. And his prayer was very effective. We were ashamed, just because he was praying, and we knew it. He was not praying in a loud voice, but his face was completely transformed. We understood that he was praying for us and we stopped [arguing].

He was in [such a terrible physical] condition because he had been tortured in Pitesti for three years. They had beaten him on his chest, on his back and had destroyed his lungs. But he prayed the whole day. He never said anything bad against his torturer, and he spoke to us about Jesus Christ. All the while, we did not realize how important Constantine Oprisan was for us. He was the justification of our life in this cell. Over the course of a year, he became weaker and weaker. We felt that he had finished his time here and would die.

Once a week we were obliged to shave. I would watch Constantine Oprisan, and my friends would shave. Afterwards, I began to shave and one of the others would watch Constantine Oprisan, because we watched him day and night. When anything happened, they would tell me to go to Constantine Oprisan, because I had told them that I should be the only one to take care of him, since I had hurt him that first day. I was sure that I had hurt him, and I felt very, very guilty. While I was shaving, Marcel, the student who was younger than us, saw that Constantine was ready to die. He said, “Go and see Constantine Oprisan; he is dying.” I looked at him. His face was completely emaciated. His eyes were open, but I saw that over his eyes there seemed to be a curtain of mist. His eyes turned inside himself. I was so scared, so afraid. I felt that he would die and I would be alone in his cell. I put my hand on his and said, “Constantine, don’t die; don’t die! Come back; come back!” I cried with a great voice! Immediately he came back. His eyes became clear. He looked at me. I was right in front of his eyes, you know, bent over him. I don’t know what happened in his soul, but I saw an immense terror in his face. His eyes were full of terror and he started to cry. I had the feeling that he had been ready to enter the spiritual world, and I had asked him to come back to the cell. This was a great terror, and so he started to cry. Tears were flowing out of his eyes. His face became the face of a child, a newborn child. He was crying like a newborn child coming out of the womb of his mother. Constantine Oprisan cried because I forced him to come back. In a couple of minutes he died.

How long were you with him in that cell?

One year.

After he died, everyone of us felt that something in us had died. We understood that, sick as he was and in our care like a child, he had been the pillar of our life in the cell. Then we were alone without Constantine Oprisan.

We took a towel and washed his body to prepare it properly to be buried in the earth. Then we knocked at the door and told the guards that Constantine Oprisan had died. They came after three hours. We had never left that cell before – that cell which had neither light nor windows. The water, was seeping into the walls; the straw mattresses were putrid under our bodies. So, after two hours, for the first time, the guard commanded me and my friend to take the body of Constantine Oprisan and go outside.

Outside it was so beautiful. Flowers and trees and blue sky. As long as we were in the cell, we forgot about the beautiful world. When we went out, we saw that the world had not changed. This vegetation, these flowers-hurt us. It was like an insult to us, because we were suffering, dying… but the universe did not care about us! The sun was going down and there was a golden light. Everybody was shining like gold. We put Constantine Oprisan on the ground. He was completely naked because we had to give his prison clothes back. His body was completely emaciated. We could not believe that he was a human being. He was completely emaciated; only bones, only bones. And I think that the bile at the moment of death must have entered the bloodstream, because he was completely yellow. My friend took a flower and put it on his chest -a blue flower. The guard started to cry out to us and forced us to go back into the cell. Before we went into the cell, we turned around and looked at Constantine Oprisan -his yellow body and this blue flower. This is the image that I have kept in my memory -the body of Constantine Oprisan completely emaciated and the blue flower on his chest. He was nothing but bones and skin -no muscle. Nothing else… his body lying on the ground with a blue flower.

Afterwards, it was very difficult. I may have sinned because Constantine Oprisan, before he died, said, “I will die, but after death, I will pray to God for you. All my prayers will be for you, because I do not want you to die to this cell.” And I am sure he prayed for us, because all three of us succeeded in leaving this prison to go to Aiud [Prison]. I am sure that Constantine Oprisan was praying to God for us. The sin I committed was that all the time I was thinking and invoking the soul of Constantine Oprisan to come and give us light. He never came, though for months I asked him to come and give us light. I think this was a sin I committed, for perhaps it gave him some unrest. I am sure he was very grateful to me that I took care of him. I am sure he loved me very much. He loved everybody. But I think for me he had a special love because I had a special love for him.

Was he older than you?

Yes, he was about six or seven years older. And I never had a repulsion for him after that first time. I took care of him with love and respect. He was like a child in my hands. I had to put him on the toilet, to wash him -to do everything for him. I was thinking that for this love through which we were connected, he had to come to me to give us the light of God…When I took care of Constantine Oprisan in the cell, I was very happy. I way very happy because I felt his spirituality penetrating my soul. I learned from him to be good, to forgive, not to curse your torturer, not to consider anything of this world to be a treasure for you. In fact, he was living on another level. Only his body was with us – and his love. Can you imagine? We were in a cell without windows, without air, humid, filthy – yet we had moments of happiness that we never reached in freedom. I cannot explain it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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