Anti-Communist Partisans in the Romanian Mountains

In 1990 in Romania, soon after the fall of the Ceauşescu dictatorship, 34 year old Ioana Voicu began searching for her real parents. She had been brought up in an orphanage, to which she now returned with a simple question. She wanted to find out who her parents really were, and the circumstances which had led to her being taken into state care. During her whole life up until this point, no-one had offered a single clue to help her.

The orphanage now gave her one lead, which led to another. And slowly the whole ball of string, and her own, astonishing story unravelled. Her parents belonged to one of the last anti-Communist partisan groups of Romania, who had held out in a cave in the foothills of the southern Carpathian mountains for more than a decade after the Second World War. She was born in that cave to Toma Arnăuţoiu and Maria Plop, in 1956. Just two years later, the group were betrayed, after an intensive manhunt by the Romanian secret services, the Securitate. In the Securitate archives in Bucharest, Ioana even found the first photograph of herself, being carried down a rope ladder in her mother’s arms, after the betrayal. There were also pictures of her father, her mother, and other members of the group. Her father was found guilty of treason against Communist Romania, and executed with 15 other members of the group, in July 1959. Her mother died of illness and mistreatment in the same prison. And Ioana was taken into care, aged four years.

We reproduce here two written documents, and several photographs from Ioana Voicu-Arnăuţoiu’s researches in the Securitate archives. Firstly her own text, explaining the exploits of her parents’ group, in so far as she has been able to reconstruct them from both written and oral sources. Secondly, an account written by Securitate officers, which trumpets their success in capturing and eliminating a group which defied the totalitarian state for so long.

A preliminary word seems necessary on the phenomenon of anti-Communist partisan groups in Soviet-occupied eastern Europe. Despite the Yalta Agreement in 1945, many people in the occupied countries continued to believe that western intervention, and the liberation of eastern Europe from the Soviets, was only a matter of time. Such partisan groups, usually made up of former soldiers, and often with uniforms, weapons, communication equipment, and enjoying considerable support among the local population, were especially strong in Poland, Lithuania and Romania. As the years passed, and the hope for western intervention failed to materialise, the efforts of the Communist authorities in each country to root out the last pockets of resistance intensified. Knowledge of the extent of such groups, and belated recognition of their struggles, has only come since the fall of Communism in 1989.

Nick Thorpe

The Story

Toma Arnăuţoiu and his younger brother Petre were at the heart of the most enduring anti-communist group of fighters in Romania. They came from the village of Nucşoara (Argeş county) on the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains.

In January 1949, Lieutenant Toma Arnăuţoiu was contacted by one Colonel Gheorghe Arsenescu to explore the possibility of setting up a group of partisans to fight the Soviet-imposed regime. Arsenescu was an experienced soldier who had seen action in Russia whilst Romania was an ally of Germany. Arnăuţoiu, who had just graduated from the cavalry school, fought the Germans in Hungary once Romania had joined the Allies against Hitler. Both had been discharged from the army as the new regime started promoting its own supporters. Their plan was to neutralise local authorities once the wished-for war between the Allies and Stalin’s Russia broke out, making possible the overthrow of the Communist regime in Romania. In March 1949 Colonel Arsenescu, alerted by the detention of members of a short-lived resistance group in nearby Dragoslavele which he had set up the previous year, retreated in a hurry to Nucşoara accompanied by Toma Arnăuţoiu. There they were joined by Toma’s brother Petre and his father Ion (Iancu) Arnăuţoiu, school teacher Alexandru Moldoveanu, priest Ion Drăgoi and his student son, Cornel Drăgoi. They met to discuss their plans in the homes of Petre Arnăuţoiu and of Gheorghe and Elizabeta Rizea (who after 1990 would become a symbol of those who survived the Romanian Gulag). Several future partisans and villagers who were to supply them with food, clothing, and weapons attended.

Twelve men and four women took to the mountains. One night, when venturing into the village for supplies, Arsenescu, the Arnăuţoiu brothers and two others were surrounded by Securitate (the communist secret police) troops in a house. In the ensuing shootout two soldiers were killed and Toma Arnăuţoiu wounded. The partisans managed to break free and rejoin their group, but it became clear to them that there was no way back. By July they decided to split: the group was too large to hide from Securitate troops combing the area, and disagreement was growing over tactics. Some stayed with Colonel Arsenescu, while others followed Toma Arnăuţoiu. In September Arsenescu left his group and went into hiding until 1960, when he was caught and sentenced to death.

The gradually thinning Arnăuţoiu group was to be chased by the Securitate for nine years. They regularly changed their hiding place and requisitioned food from shepherds, foresters or even chalets, always leaving a receipt for what was taken. During the summer they were also fed by sympathisers. The most trusted ones provided them with a radio set, binoculars, boots, and guns and kept them informed about developments in their area. They occasionally distributed manifestos or sent written warnings to the new village leaders. The youngest of the group kept a diary describing their harsh lives during the long winter months of sheltering in underground hideouts, surviving with little food, mostly maize occasionally mixed with bark. They clashed on several occasions with the troops chasing them or with Securitate agents posing as mountaineers. Of the initial 16 one surrendered, a few were caught, and a woman was shot dead. Their relatives and any villagers suspected of helping them were brutally questioned, detained or handed heavy sentences. Their correspondence was opened and their conversations monitored through microphones. The Securitate did not shy away from any method to secure information leading to the capture of the partisans.

Towards the end the group was reduced to Toma Arnăuţoiu, his brother Petre, Maria Plop (a former maid in the Arnăuţoiu house) and Constantin Jubleanu. They carved out a shelter on a rocky but wooded hillside not far from the hamlet of Poienarei. That is where a baby daughter, Ioana, was born to Toma and Maria.

With no progress in their search, the Securitate masterminded a plan to blackmail Grigore Poienăreanu, a former schoolmate and sympathiser of Toma’s to help with the capture of the group. The plan succeeded.

On the night of 19th of May 1958 the Arnăuţoiu brothers came down from their hide-out to the house of Grigore Poienăreanu to collect supplies. The Securitate had instructed Poienăreanu to offer them a glass of plum brandy laced with a powerful tranquiliser. Once they had drank the potion, they were unable to resist. They were arested and marshalled to the hideout where Maria Plop, the baby and Constantin Jubleanu had stayed behind.

Plop and Jubleanu were ordered to surrender. Plop, holding the child in her arms, came down a rope ladder.  Jubleanu fired at the Securitate troops and was shot and killed.

The partisans were taken to the Piteşti Securitate headquarters, where they were interrogated for one year. A martial court sentenced the Arnăuţoiu brothers to be shot alongside 14 villagers who had helped them in various ways. The Romanian Parliament rejected the appeal to have their death sentences changed. The 16, including three priests, and four members of the initial group who had already spent eight years in prison, were executed in the night of 18 July 1959 at the Jilava prison.

Maria Plop and the parents of the Arnăuţoiu brothers were handed heavy sentences and died in prison. Their sister and others who had helped them escaped the firing squad and were imprisoned till 1964, when almost all political detainees were released by a regime keen to trade with the West.

Ioana, the daughter of Toma Arnăuţoiu and Maria Plop was taken to an orphanage. She was adopted by a family unaware of her origins. She only discovered who her real parents were after the fall of communism. The story of the Arnăuţoiu group and the photographs are based on her research in Securitate files.

The detection and the capture of the Arnăuţoiu band in the Pitesti region

A Case Study of the Romanian Secret Police, the Securitate

The search

In the winter of 1956, the parents of the bandits Toma and Petre Arnăuţoiu were released from prison, and a decision was taken to install listening devices in their home. Part of their home was taken over by the police, and two Securitate officers moved in with them.

As the Arnăuţoius showed an interest in what the second room contained, it was decided that the officer in charge of the listening device should hide in a wardrobe every morning and that the windows should be opened for half an hour to allow fresh air. The Arnăuţoiu could thus examine the room.

The measure proved its usefulness. On various occasions one of the Arnăuţoius purportedly talking to the policeman who was cleaning the place carefully examined the room through the open window.

Once the room had been cleaned the windows were closed. The third policeman took over the surveillance, while the other two locked up the station and told the Arnăuţoiu family that if anybody asked after them they had gone to the village. In this way the couple under surveillance believed the police had gone, and that they could talk freely.

Infiltrating the supporters

The first set of measures consisted in recruiting informers in local villages, deploying agents to the target where listening devices were installed, and drawing up a plan to infiltrate agent “Mihail Mohor” into the area. Over time this agent was to penetrate the inner circle of the target Marinica Chircă, one of the main links with the band and of her sister who had recently completed a prison sentence for banditry.

“Mihail Mohor” was not the real name of the agent. He was a sincere and able operative. His activity was thoroughly by our organs. He accepted this assignment of his own volition, and our organs helped establish him in the area. In Nucşoara, in the Bahna hamlet there was a food store (…) and Marinica Chircă and her sister lived nearby. The agent had to be employed in the food store. The existing manager was promoted to create a vacancy.

As agent “Mihail Mohor” was a bachelor he asked an acquaintance to find a woman in the village who could cook for him, for a set fee. After a while the acquaintance told him he could get a meal at Ana Simion’s house (the sister of Marinica C).

One day Marinica C. asked the agent to lend her a few kilograms of oil, sugar and other foodstuffs. She said she would settle the bill when her son returned from his forestry job. The agent obliged and a few days later the officers manning the listening devices in Nucşoara recorded an interesting conversation between the hosts and Marinica C. Marinica C. informed the bandits’ parents about the arrival of a new manager at the food shop, and that he was taking his meals at her sister’s, that he appeared to be trustworthy, and that he did not appear to to be asking questions about anything. In the light of this discussion, our organs concluded that Marinica C. is prudent and keeps the bandits’ parents in touch with all the goings on in the village.

Thus it was established that Marinica C. had given the bandits’ parents the food recently taken from the store manager. Before leaving the house the bandits’ parents were overheard advising her to be careful and praying to God to help them.

As the agent “Mihail Mohor” had moved to Ana Simion’s house, he was able to monitor all the movements of the two women. He noticed therefore that the two sisters were repeatedly going out for a night and a day or even longer and that Ana Simion without prompting said she went with her sister to the market in Domneşti, to shop, or to visit the pharmacy, or the doctor etc.

Over several months, the agent “Mihail Mohor” established a relationship with Ana Simion, equivalent to the head of the household.

He sent continuous reports on the increasingly frequent outings undertaken by Marinica Chircă and Ana Simion. As our organs did not know the direction in which the two were travelling, in the autumn of 1957 a group of tourists, male and female Securitate agents, was set up. With the help of the Forestry Department they were hosted at the forestry chalet in “Bahna Rusului”. The agents dressed up as tourists and carried identity papers from the Forestry Department showing that they lived in Bucharest and were there for their annual holidays. They had met Ana Simion and Marinica Chircă before and were instructed to establish, by watching the main crossing points, which direction the two took.

On several occasions “Mihail Mohor” took Ana Simion to the market to buy garments and other goods for her, convincing him that he was a good mariage prospect.

In the meantime, our organs “invented” a female cousin of agent “Mihail Mohor”, the only living member of his family. The “cousin” was in fact a Securitate agent from Bucharest who moved to a safe house used by our organs in Miercurea Ciuc (Csíkszereda). Agent “Mihail Mohor” wrote to her explaining his new situation and his intention to remain where he was and marry Ana Simion.

The “cousin” in Miercurea Ciuc answered promptly wishing them good luck and conveying her wish to meet her cousin’s future wife.

They decided to travel to Miercurea Ciuc together in mid-January 1958.

To create a pretext for their detention, our organs instructed the agent to take with him some 20 kg of palinka (brandy), as a gift for his “cousin”(…).

When the train left Stalin City (Braşov/Brasso) two Securitate agents disguised as policemen started checking for offenders – that is liquor dealers. They then detained and took off the train at Sf. Gheorghe (Sepsiszentgyörgy) the agent “Mihail Mohor”and Ana Simion. They took them to the police unit in the railway station.

As instructed “Mihail Mohor” behaved badly, and as a consequence was manhandled by the police and locked up with his wife in a cell. During questioning, it emerged that Ana Simion did not know where the bandits were hiding and our organs concluded that recruiting Ana Simion was unlikely to help locate the hideaway of the bandits. She was freed and allowed to return to her home.

One day “Mihail Mohor” made the following report: “Coming home after work I did not find Ana Simion in the house. On the table I discovered a note from her. “I cannot bear this situation any more. (…) Don’t be angry with me for leaving. Make sure you give a loaf for me, too,” she wrote.

Nothing was missing from the house. Not even the few hundred lei of the agent’s savings. Ana Simion left with only the clothes she was wearing. Marinica Chircă also disappeared from her house.

The missionary

Our organs studied at length and in detail the situation of the priest Nicolae Andreescu (…) It became absolutely necessary to take him out of the area and recruit him. He was to be removed with great care, as – bearing in mind the most recent events – his disappearance might be interpreted by some as a Securitate measure.

The Religious Affairs Ministry (in Bucharest) asked its regional representative and the Bishop of Argeş to designate 5-6 priests to be sent on missionary work in northern Moldavia. Nicolae Andreescu was put under surveillance the moment he set off. On his way to the area where he was to carry out his mission, Andreescu was detained and taken to Bucharest.

For the first two days under interrogation priest Andreescu refused to make any statement concerning his involvement with the bandits. After seven days, however, our organs got a clearer picture from information gathered by agents sharing a room with him. They succeeded in making the priest talk. Nicolae Andreescu related how Ana Simion came to him a few days after her return from Miercurea Ciuc. She told him what had happened and asked him to go to the hiding place of the bandits and tell them to run away as the Securitate knew quite a lot about them. According to Andreescu, the bandits left their hiding place. He should cut off his links to them until Easter.

In the end, as a result of the work carried out on Nicolae Andreescu, he offered his full cooperation.

After meticulous preparation to attract the detainee Nicolae Andreescu, and convinced that he would follow their instructions, our agents went ahead with the plan.

Two “patients” were admitted to hospital and put in a ward with three beds. Andreescu was taken to the same ward with a leg in plaster. He “had suffered several fractures in a crash” (not true) and was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Before our organs launched the plan, the priest revealed that the last link to the bandits was “Gh. Marinache” (real name Grigore Poienăreanu).

Capture

Our organs had sufficient compromising material on “Gh. Marinache” (…) He was a heavy drinker, a homosexual, with a weak personality, known for his frequent hostile outbursts, and even engaged in public instigation (…)

Under interrogation, Gh.Marinache said he knew why he was there, that the game was up and he had decided to tell the truth. (Grigore Poienăreanu was interrogated in March 1958 by Captain Nicolae Pleşiţă, later to become first deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and head of the Securitate department collecting foreign intelligence).

During two days of interrogation “Gh. Marinache” gave extremely valuable statements about the bandits and their contacts. At every meeting he took food and plum brandy to them. So it was decided that at the meeting planned for May 19-20, 1958 the agent will take two kg of palinka and a snack.

The agent was instructed to pretend that he was drunk and felt sick (the bandits knew he could not keep his drink). He would ask to be taken to his house – as on previous occasions.

Everything went to plan: the agent “got drunk”, the bandits took him home and then returned to finish the palinka. As agreed the agent signalled the presence of the bandits at the sheepfold. Meanwhile the bandits carried on drinking and the “strong (drugged) palinka” had an immediate effect. (…)

The drink

Comrade Captain, (…) Everything is ready. Here are some details concerning the symptoms: Normal drunkenness – drowsiness – weakness in the limbs – loss of willpower – inability to act – some stand up, take a few steps, stumble and fall down, sound asleep for some 10-12 hours. The stronger-willed fall over and become lethargic with their eyes wide open – the mind ceases to work – in the end they fall asleep. (Document from File I 675)

Statement of Toma Arnăuţoiu – minutes of the interrogation of 9 February 1959: (…) I went to the sheepfold where I found Nicolae Sorescu and Petre Arnăuţoiu, I sat on the lawn and Poienăreanu offered us a glass of palinka. After some 20 minutes Nicolae Sorescu fell flat on his back and fell asleep. We kept talking and Petre Arnăuţoiu, too, fell asleep (…) I led Poienăreanu to his house as it was nearly midnight and returned to Petre Arnăuţoiu who was fast asleep, nearly stiff. I pulled him and shook him without realising what was wrong with him. On seeing he could not be woken, I also fell down next to him. This happened at around 01.00 hours. (File 1238, volume 43)

As our organs surrounded the sheepfold, the bandits somehow woke up. They tried to defend themselves but were unable to, although they carried weapons.

Petre Arnăuţoiu disclosed where the hiding place was and led our agents for a mile to the very place, the so-called Devil’s Ravines, where the bandits had built their latest dugout. The entire area was surrounded. After insistent calls, Maria Plop surrendered, and came down a rope ladder with her two year old daughter. The bandit Constantin Jubleanu refused to surrender, opened fire on our organs and was shot dead. (File 10764 continued)

(The shepherd Nicolae Ticu Sorescu provided foodstuffs to the partisans. For this he was executed. As agreed with the Securitate, Grigore Poienăreanu, alias Gh. Marinache, did not spend a single day in prison in spite of his previous actions in helping the group).

The Hungarian Revolution

Toma Arnăuţoiu – minutes of the interrogation of January 9, 1959. The interrogation started at 16.00 and ended at 23.00.

Answer: At the end of October 1956 I had a meeting with Nicolae Andreescu and Ion Constantinescu at the latter’s shed and he briefed us on the counter-revolutionary events in The People’s Republic of Hungary.

Question: What did you discuss regarding those events?

Answer: We expressed the hope that the communist regime would be replaced, that similar events would take place in the People’s Republic of Romania, that students and other elements would start the counter-revolution in Transylvania. Nicolae Andreescu and Ion Constantinescu were in a cheerful mood and displayed open hostility towards the democratic regime. We planned other meetings to find out more about the counter-revolutionary events in the People’s Republic of Hungary. (…)

Although the counter-revolution in Hungary had failed, Constantinescu and Andreescu told us that the fight against the communists was not lost, as the Americans and the British would intervene, and other elements at the UN would act to help replace the communist regime.

(Nicolae Andreescu and Ion Constantinescu were parish priests in Nucşoara and in the neighbouring village Poienărei. They both helped the partisans and were executed after the capture of the Arnăuţoiu brothers)

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