After Romania’s takeover by the communist party, a Department of Cults was created to monitor religious groups deemed a threat. For the Viskys, the Gospel was full and rich as they heeded Jesus’ call to offer both words and deeds to a hungering population, and they were labeled enemies of the state. When Julia continued the work after Ferenc was arrested, she, along with their seven children was sent to the Danube-Black Sea Canal camp, once described as a tomb of Romania’s educated class. Though life became difficult and often terrifying for the Visky family, Ferenc was never consumed by hatred. His revolutionary approach was a powerful testimony. This post continues the March 2003 conversation.
What Happened to the Visky Family?
“One of the strengths of the Romanian secret police was their ability to isolate and prevent communication, so for five and a half years I heard nothing about my family; I didn’t know whether they were dead or alive. They didn’t know anything about me either. Later I learned that after I was arrested, my wife continued to serve our congregation and had been deported along with our seven children. My eldest was ten years old; Peter was two, and Andras, the youngest, was one year old. They were sent to a Rumanian gulag, not really an island, but a sandy flatland encircled by the Danube Delta and the Black Sea. Totally desolate and isolated, not even birds flew there.”
The photo from March 2003 shows Ferenc, Julia, Marika and me. Marika, an orphan who lived with the Visky family, voluntarily accompanied Julia and the children to the Danube-Black Sea prison camp.
Here is how I learned what had happened to them. Prisoners were first held in transit prisons throughout the countryside. Once the interrogators there could not wring anything more from them, the prisoners were transported to the central prison. We called it the mother prison, but in reality, it was the wicked step-mother. Prisoners who were able to do physical work were taken to do hard labor because this was part of the sentence. Some went to the place on the Danube Delta to cut reeds in late fall and wintertime. Some slaved away digging the canal between the Black Sea and Bucharest.
Prisoners were free workers, that is, they worked unpaid, for free. When they were exhausted, discharged like an empty battery and unable to bear it any longer, starved and suffering from dystrophy, the weakened prisoners were hauled back to the main prison for repair. The doctors, men who had sold their souls to the authorities, assessed us. One would pinch our skin and pull it. If it stretched and there was nothing under it, we had a small reprieve, but if there was some tissue, some muscle under our skin, we were sent back to work.
About five years after I was arrested, I was working in a furniture factory at the mother prison, when an exhausted group was brought in from the Danube Delta. At night, because it was forbidden to talk, a Unitarian pastor whispered to me, “Feri, I have something to tell you, but don’t be frightened.” I thought that this was a good sign, but then he said, “I know for sure that your family has been deported.” This was a deep and cruel blow – you can imagine what this meant to me, but you know, even in a place like this, God does not leave a man alone. But first comes rebellion – ‘Isn’t it enough, Lord, that I am in this condition? Do my small children have to suffer too?’
That night, when I was lying on my back, God’s word from the book of Peter struck me. ‘Your brothers and sisters and relatives will be persecuted just as you are. Do you understand?’ I said, yes, I understand. I was able to say thank-you, my Lord. You know, it is a great blessing today that my children all know what this path means. I hope that a little – or more – of this can be seen in them today.
In 2003, Rev. Visky gave me this photo of his children and his praying hands.
“I was released from the smaller prison of Gerla into a larger prison called Romania. There were continual house searches, citations, compulsory registrations, and always the threat of new trials. My children were not exempt. While still students, my younger sons, Peter and Andras, were taken for interrogation. The guards were brutal with them, and when the boys came home, they told us about the interrogation and what had been done to them. I had to go the next day to meet with a major called Ratiu, an arrogant and brutal man.
Wanting to pressure me into passivity and servility, he immediately began shouting, forcing me to sit down, demanding answers to his questions. I told him that I would respond to his questions, but first I wanted to tell him something. I told him that I did not hate him. ‘In fact,’ I said, ‘In a certain way, I want to express to you my love – though it is an over-used word. You forbade my son Peter to tell me what had happened during your interrogation yesterday, but we are living openly with our children. They shared everything with us.’
Really, signs of this man’s hand were still on Peter’s face when he came home – a kind of Securitate slap. I told the major that I felt intense anger at first. ‘It’s one thing,’ I said, ‘to do such things to the father, but it is shameful to do it to a child. We never have to slap our son; he is such a good boy. I was so angry, but then I remembered the one who told me to love my enemies. I stood up and went to my son Peter and hugged him – and that face that you hit, I kissed. I kissed your handprint.’
You know, I think that Ratiu was deeply shocked and moved, much more than Peter or me. This was a real slap for him, God’s kind of vengeance, like his vengeance changing Saul to Paul. After that conversation, whenever he spoke with me, he talked with the greatest respect and never again shouted. Other times when we said goodbye to each other, I actually hugged this man. He was standing in great need of comfort and was devastated by this interaction with God.
After some months, we read somewhere that Dr. Ratiu was buried in accordance with the Roman Orthodox church’s liturgy. Who knows what thoughts passed through his mind in his last days? Who knows? There are many stories like this to tell, my children, but I always remember this: Greater is he who did all of this than me who survived to tell you. He is greater than my experiences. It helps us put all things in their right place.”