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  • Beth Lantinga

Back to Prison


Though I wasn’t watching his face when Denes Fulop told this story, sometime later I asked whether this had been a hard one for him to tell. It was, and it took, I think, great courage and honesty to retell and relive this terrible memory. Evil is so corrosive that sometimes even the good are saved only by an act of grace.


“After three years, I finally left the Danube Delta Labor Camp and was sent back to my mother prison in Gherla. It came about because of an administrative solution of a typhus problem. Here’s what happened. The drinking barrels contained plain, unboiled Danube water polluted with sewage. So, when we came back from work on the levee, bone-tired and dry, desperately thirsty, we drank anything. Widespread typhus resulted from the filthy water.


When conditions got so bad that officials in Bucharest took note, the order arrived to send the sick ones back to their home prisons. The camp officials didn’t bother to really identify the truly ill prisoners. Instead they looked at the list and counted off every tenth person identifying them as typhus patients. I was one of the “sick by number” prisoners and was identified as one to be transported to the Gherla Prison.


When they called our names, we naively thought that we would be sent to the hospital and given care, medication, and bread. Instead they caused us terrible pain. We were taken out from the others and locked in a barrack. Our daily ration was 123 grams of bread, a little more than four ounces; we suffered from excruciating hunger.


But the night before we were transported to the prison was even more horrific. Among the prisoners going to the prison were two guards. My guard, Madescu was one of the most cruel, and he was with us in the barrack waiting to go to the prison. The government wanted him removed from the camp, fearful that there would be an international scandal because of his notorious cruelty. When he was our guard, each morning Madescu would stand in front of the door of our barrack with a club, waiting for us to come out. After half of us emerged, he would viciously club those who were still coming – even though he was a prisoner wearing a prison suit like the rest of us.


So one night, the forty of us were collected together along with these two guards to get ready for transport to the Gherla prison the next day. All of us were pressed together in a small room. There it was easy to return the cruelty of those two guards. Soon they were on the floor and people continued to kick and stomp them. I was shaking with hatred, and at that time I could not look at the guards as human. I couldn’t understand how they could be so cruel to us while sharing our situation. The only reason I didn’t join in the beatings was because my blessed friend Janos Dobri was with me and held me back.


Those two guards were badly beaten but not killed, and during the night they were bandaged. The next morning, we had to stand in a line while the two guards pointed out the people who had assaulted them. In retaliation, their attackers were savagely beaten in front of us, kicked and handcuffed. It was terrible because we had to walk four kilometers and the prisoners in chains had to drag themselves over rough terrain, over bushes and up and down the hills.”

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 © Beth Lantinga 2020