The Bible foretold that persecution of true Christians would reach a climax during the last days. (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:13, 17) Romania is a land where that prophecy has seen striking fulfillment. Yet, as this account will show, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania have let nothing extinguish the flame of truth that burns brightly in the hearts of God’s people. (Jer. 20:9) Rather, they have recommended themselves “as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much, by tribulations, by cases of need, by difficulties, by beatings, by prisons.” (2 Cor. 6:4, 5) May their record of integrity encourage all who desire to walk with God during these difficult times.
The year 1914 marked the beginning of the most volatile era in mankind’s history. In many European lands, it proved to be an era of ruthless dictators, extreme political ideologies, and horrific slaughter. Romania was caught in the middle of it all, and the people suffered greatly. So did those who, in obedience to Jesus Christ, were resolved to render “God’s things to God” and to refrain from worshipping the political state.
Prior to 1945, Orthodox and Catholic clergy took the lead in the attack against Jehovah’s people. They did this from the pulpit and by conspiring with and egging on politicians and police. The next wave of persecution came from the Communists, who kept up their brutal and systematic campaign for the better part of four decades.
Why was the good news able to make progress under those oppressive conditions? Only because Jesus proved true to his words: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 28:20) Let us now go back about one hundred years to the time when Kingdom seed was first cast on the soil of what is today called Eastern Europe.
Romanians Return to Their Homeland
In 1891, Bible Student Charles Taze Russell visited parts of Eastern Europe during the course of a preaching tour. But he was a little disappointed with the results. “We saw no opening or readiness for the truth,” he reported. In Romania that situation would soon change. In fact, Brother Russell himself would be instrumental in getting the work started there but in an indirect way. How so?
As the 19th century drew to a close, social and economic conditions in Romania caused many people to seek work elsewhere, including the United States. For some, their move resulted in more than material gain
Discerning that the two men had a genuine interest in the Bible, Brother Russell made it a point to introduce himself. During their discussion, he suggested to Károly and József that they consider returning to Romania to share the Kingdom message with their relatives and friends. Both men embraced the idea and sailed back to Romania in 1911, establishing themselves in the city of Tirgu-Mures in Transylvania.
While en route to his homeland, Brother Szabó prayed that someone in his family accept the truth. When he arrived home, he acted in harmony with that prayer by witnessing to his relatives, including his niece Zsuzsanna Enyedi, a Catholic, who gave him accommodations. Zsuzsanna’s husband was a gardener, and she sold flowers at the market.
Zsuzsanna attended Mass every morning before work, and each night, after her family had gone to bed, she went out into the garden to pray. Observing these things, Károly approached her one night in the garden, gently laid his hand on her shoulder, and said: “Zsuzsanna, your heart is sincere. You will find the truth.” True to her uncle’s words, this fine woman took the Kingdom message to heart and became the first person in Tirgu-Mures to dedicate her life to Jehovah. She remained faithful until her death at the age of 87.
Brother Szabó also witnessed to Sándor Józsa, a young man who worked for the Enyedi family. Sándor attended all the meetings conducted by the two brothers, and he learned fast. In fact, this 18-year-old soon began witnessing and delivering fine Scriptural discourses in his home village of Sărăţeni, Mureş County. In time, his ‘letters of recommendation’ came to include six married couples and 24 children
Starting from Tirgu-Mures, Brothers Kiss and Szabó preached throughout Transylvania. While in Dumbrava commune, 20 miles [30 km] from Cluj-Napoca, they met Vasile Costea, a Baptist. Vasile was a short, determined man and a passionate student of the Bible. Puzzled about Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, he listened attentively as József and Károly explained the Scriptures to him. After his baptism, Vasile, who also spoke Hungarian, gave a thorough witness to both Romanians and Hungarians in his county. Later, he served as a colporteur (full-time minister) and remained such until his death.
Brother Szabó also took the good news to Satu-Mare, a city in the far northwest of Romania. There he met Paraschiva Kalmár, a God-fearing woman who readily accepted the truth. Paraschiva taught her nine children to love Jehovah. Today her family of Witnesses spans five generations!
Another Romanian who learned Bible truth in the United States and returned to Romania prior to World War I was Alexa Romocea. Alexa went to his home village, Benesat, in northwestern Transylvania. Before long, a small group of Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, was formed and began to meet in the area. The group included Alexa’s nephews Elek and Gavrilă Romocea. Today, Alexa’s large family of Witnesses also spans five generations.
Severely persecuted for his Christian neutrality, Elek immigrated to the United States, where he attended a special convention of Bible Students at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922. In fact, he had the privilege of serving as interpreter for the Romanian-language section of the audience. Gavrilă stayed in Romania and accompanied Brothers Szabó and Kiss as they preached in Transylvania and visited fledgling congregations and groups. Later, he served at the first branch office.
A Romanian named Emanoil Chinţa was arrested during World War I and sent to a military prison in Italy, far from home. There he met some Bible Students who had been imprisoned because they refused to take up arms. Emanoil took to heart their Scriptural message. When he was released in 1919, he returned home to Baia-Mare, in Maramureş County, and zealously preached the good news and contributed to the formation of yet another group of Bible Students.
Thanks to the zeal and self-sacrificing spirit of the early pioneers of the good news and of those who listened to their message, the number of disciples multiplied and small groups of Bible Students mushroomed in the land. In fact, by 1919
Producing Spiritual Food
The printed page played a major role in spreading the Kingdom message and in feeding the spiritually hungry. To help fill the need for spiritual food, the brothers arranged to have literature printed locally by commercial printers. Beginning in 1914, a private printery in Tirgu-Mures named Oglinda, meaning “Mirror,” produced a 16-page, monthly edition of The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence as well as books and tracts
Literature in Romanian began to come off local presses in 1916. Publications included the booklet Tabernacle Shadows of the “Better Sacrifices,” an eight-page magazine Selections From “The Watchtower,” the book Daily Heavenly Manna for the Household of Faith (now Examining the Scriptures Daily), and the songbook Hymns of the Millennial Dawn. Starting in 1918, a printery in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., published and shipped to Romania a Romanian-language edition of The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence and the monthly tract People’s Pulpit, which boldly exposed false religion.
Because the good news was making fine progress, Jacob B. Sima, a Bible Student of Romanian origin, was assigned to help coordinate the work and to get it on a legal footing. Shortly after his arrival in Cluj-Napoca in 1920, Sima met with Károly Szabó and then with József Kiss. Of high priority was the finding of a suitable house in Cluj-Napoca for a branch office. There was a housing shortage, however, so the brothers set up a temporary office at a brother’s apartment. Thus, in April 1920 the first branch was established, as was the legal entity the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. For a time, the Romania branch also supervised the work in Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the former Yugoslavia.
At that time, the winds of revolution blowing through the Balkans began to sweep into Romania. Adding to the political volatility, anti-Semitism began to spread like wildfire, especially in the universities, and students in a number of cities went on rampages. The government reacted by forbidding public gatherings. Although the colporteurs had nothing to do with the disturbances, over 20 of them were arrested and treated roughly, and their literature was seized.
Nevertheless, the brothers continued to work hard in the field, and the demand for literature kept growing. Commercial printing, however, was becoming expensive, so the branch investigated other options. At that very time, a printery at 36 Regina Maria Street, Cluj-Napoca, which the brothers were already using, was placed on the market. After obtaining approval from world headquarters, the branch purchased this ideal property, which included two buildings
Renovations commenced in March 1924, volunteers coming from as far as Baia-Mare, Bistriţa, and Rodna. So that they could contribute toward the project, a number of brothers sold personal belongings, while others donated food and construction materials. They transported many of these items in special bags called desagi, which could be slung over the shoulder or carried on the back of a horse.
In order to upgrade the printery, the branch purchased, among other things, three Linotype machines, two flatbed presses, one rotary press, an automatic folding machine, and a machine for gold-embossing. Thus equipped, the printery soon set a new standard for print quality in the country.
Of the 8 members of the Bethel family, one supervised the 40 non-Witness employees who worked three shifts in the printery. And they worked hard, as reflected in the production report for 1924, the first year of operation. Printing in both Romanian and Hungarian, the brothers produced 226,075 books, 100,000 booklets, and 175,000 magazines! The books included the Bible study aid The Harp of God and the first of seven volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Divine Plan of the Ages.
After two years of preparatory work, the branch also printed a Romanian-language edition of the book Scenario of the Photo-Drama of Creation. As its name suggests, the Scenario was based on the “Photo-Drama”
Bible Study Classes Multiply
“Advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his Kingdom!” exhorted Joseph Rutherford at the 1922 convention at Cedar Point, Ohio. This stirring admonition electrified God’s people worldwide, moving them to greater zeal. In Romania the brothers reached out into new territories with the good news and made many more disciples.
How did new ones study the Bible in those days? They joined in classes called Berean Bible Studies. Questions were supplied, and printed material for the lessons was taken from various publications, which could be ordered by mail. The schedule for study was listed in The Watch Tower. More advanced students also benefited from the course International Sunday School Lessons, which helped them to become teachers of God’s Word.
Branch representatives would visit the study groups, give talks, and provide other forms of spiritual assistance. Regular shepherding and teaching, however, were done by pilgrims, or traveling overseers as they are called today. Six were serving in 1921, and eight just two years later. These zealous workers held meetings in hundreds of cities, towns, and villages and spoke to tens of thousands of spiritually famished people.
Two of these pilgrims were Emanoil Chinţa, mentioned earlier, and Onisim Filipoiu. On one occasion in Bukovina, a northern region, Brother Chinţa’s listeners included large numbers of Adventists and Baptists, some of whom responded favorably to the truth. Later, the two brothers were assigned to Bucharest, where they helped many more come to an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. One appreciative man wrote: “I thank God for sending Brothers Emanoil and Onisim, who had to work hard to convince and enlighten me. The Lord will do a great work in this city, but patience is needed.”
In the year 1920, the brothers held their first assemblies
The rapid growth in the ranks of Kingdom proclaimers, however, was not without opposition. In fact, from the beginning of World War I, the brothers began to meet with persecution from religious and political elements.
Enemies Exploit War Fever
Fired up by nationalism and egged on by the clergy, the political authorities had no sympathy for those who would not rally to the flag and kill for the country. Hence, when the first world war broke out, many brothers were arrested and sentenced. Some were even executed, including Ioan Rus, a newly married man from the village of Petreştii de Mijloc, south of Cluj-Napoca.
Ioan’s grandnephew Daniel relates: “In 1914, Ioan Rus was drafted for military service. Because he refused to go to war, he was taken to Bucharest and there sentenced to death. At the execution, he was forced to dig his own grave and to stand next to it facing a firing squad. The officer in charge then allowed Ioan to say a few final words. He chose to pray out loud. Moved by Ioan’s prayer, the soldiers had second thoughts and would not carry out the execution. The officer then took one of the men aside and promised him a three months’ paid leave if he shot the prisoner. The man accepted the offer and earned his leave.”
In 1916, Brothers Kiss and Szabó were also arrested but received a five-year prison sentence. Judged “dangerous,” they were held in isolation for 18 months in a high-security prison in Aiud. In what way were József and Károly “dangerous”? In the words of the judge, they had “proclaimed teachings other than those officially recognized.” Put simply, they were locked up not just for refusing to kill but for teaching Bible truths that conflicted with traditional theology.
From prison the two men wrote to the congregations and groups to encourage the brothers. In part, one letter said: “We wish to express our joy that our kind heavenly Father, to whom we owe gratitude, praise, and honor, has allowed the light from The Watch Tower to shine. We believe that our brothers appreciate The Watch Tower and guard it as a candle flickering in the storm.” Both men were released in 1919
Clergy Opposition Intensifies
When World War I ended in 1918, the clergy continued to oppose God’s people. One priest publicly criticized the Bible Students’ view of the immortality of the soul and the role of Mary. “The longing for a better life on earth is driving [the Bible Students] insane,” he wrote. “They maintain that we are all brothers and sisters and that people of all nationalities are the same.” Then he complained that it is difficult to take legal action against the Bible Students because they “put on the appearance of being truth loving, religious, peaceable, and humble.”
In 1921, priests in Bukovina wrote to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, requesting that the work of the Bible Students be banned. In fact, irate clerics in practically all areas where the truth had spread were fuming about God’s people. Orthodox, Catholic, and other churches organized hate campaigns, inciting individuals and mobs to attack the brothers. In a letter to world headquarters, the branch wrote: “In this country the clergy hold too many civil positions, and our work is, to some extent, subject to their mercy. Everything would be fine if they would observe the law, but they are misusing their power.”
In response to the clergy’s barrage of complaints, the Ministry of Religions approved the use of “public force” to hinder both the preaching and the meetings of Jehovah’s people. Thus, the police became an arm of the churches, arresting brothers on the false charge that they were disturbing the peace. The law, however, was not clearly defined, so sentences varied. The brothers’ good conduct also presented a problem. “The Bible Students cannot be condemned,” said one judge, “because they are often the most peaceable of men.”
Nevertheless, persecution intensified, and at the end of 1926, The Watch Tower was banned. But that did not stop the flow of spiritual food
Sadly, at about this time, Jacob B. Sima became unfaithful. In fact, in 1928 his actions led to the loss of the entire branch property and all the equipment! The brothers “have been scattered and their confidence greatly shaken,” reports the 1930 Year Book. Because of these distressing developments, oversight of the work was transferred to the Germany branch in 1929 and later to the Central European Office in Bern, Switzerland. Both branches worked through an office that the brothers subsequently established in Bucharest.
‘Please Do Not Burn My Book!’
Despite these additional trials, the faithful reorganized and continued witnessing, even opening up new areas. On August 24, 1933, the Romania office wrote: “The people are hungering after the truth. Our brethren in the field service write us that when they are engaged in the testimony work, the village folk accompany them in crowds from door to door that they might have further opportunity to hear the truth.”
In one instance, a needy woman requested a book that was being offered and even gave a modest contribution to the Kingdom work. When the village priest heard about the matter, he marched straight to the woman’s home. “Give me that book,” he demanded, “so that I can throw it into the fire!”
“Please, Father, do not burn it,” begged the woman, “for it has brought us comfort, and it will help us to endure in our misery!” The woman refused to part with the book.
Another woman who deeply appreciated the publications was a duchess whose servants were Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day she said to her employees: “You are no longer my servants but my brothers!” In another village, a brother told a group of curious children that he was proclaiming God’s Kingdom. The children, in turn, encouraged passersby to obtain the literature. “The books talk about God,” they announced. The brother, practically rendered speechless by this enthusiastic, unsolicited support, soon placed all his literature!
Nicu Palius, a soft-spoken pioneer, came to Romania from Greece to help with the work. After serving in Bucharest, he moved to Galaţi, a major port on the Danube. At the end of 1933, Nicu wrote: “For almost two and a half months, I worked among the Romanians, and Jehovah God granted me many blessings
Yes, despite the clergy’s hate campaign, many honesthearted individuals wanted to hear the good news. They included a town mayor who devoured several brochures and later declared that he eagerly awaited the new world. In another town, a man asked for a number of copies of the publications, promising to distribute them to all who were willing to read them.
The Work Is Reorganized
In 1930, two years after Sima proved unfaithful, Martin Magyarosi, who was a Romanian of Hungarian descent from Bistriţa, Transylvania, was appointed to oversee the work. After receiving six weeks’ training at the Germany branch, Brother Magyarosi set up an office in Bucharest. Soon thereafter, the Romanian-language Watch Tower, which had been published temporarily in Austria and Germany, was again printed in Romania, this time by a publishing house in Bucharest called The Golden Book.
After considerable effort, the brothers were able to establish a new legal entity in 1933
Still, these efforts helped to restore confidence and to advance the preaching work. Many publishers even started pioneering, while others increased their activity, especially during winter, when rural folk had more time. The brothers also listened to Bible-based lectures broadcast from abroad over public radio. These talks were especially helpful to people who did not attend meetings because they feared their neighbors or the priests. The Watch Tower announced program times, lecture titles, and radio frequencies.
Another provision that contributed to the advancement of the good news was the portable phonograph that was manufactured by Jehovah’s organization. During the 1930’s, congregations and individuals could order these as well as recorded Bible discourses. The latter served to encourage “not only the brothers but also those families who owned phonographs and who loved the truth,” said an announcement in the Bulletin (now Our Kingdom Ministry).
Further Internal Testing
The 1920’s and 1930’s saw increased light shed on God’s Word and on the need for each Christian to bear witness to the truth. A brilliant flash came in 1931 when the Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. More than just a label, this Bible-based name signifies that the bearer both upholds and proclaims Jehovah’s Godship. (Isa. 43:10-12) Bible Students who opposed the preaching work stumbled at this development and left the organization. Some even became apostate and assumed the name Millennialists. Would the faith of loyal ones withstand this test? Would they continue to carry out their preaching commission even in the face of opposition from both the clergy and the apostates?
While some gave in to the pressure, many carried on faithfully and zealously in Jehovah’s service. A report for 1931 stated, in part: “There are about 2,000 brethren in Rumania, and these under great difficulties have distributed during the year 5,549 books and 39,811 booklets.” The following year, the brothers did even better, placing a total of 55,632 books and booklets.
What is more, persecution sometimes had an effect opposite to that intended. For example, all the Witnesses in one area decided as a group to make their separation from “Babylon the Great” a matter of public record. (Rev. 18:2, 4) For five consecutive days, these courageous brothers and sisters streamed into the local town hall to draw up documents of withdrawal from their former church.
Community leaders were shocked, and the local priest was horrified. First he ran to the police station for help, but that proved futile. So he rushed back to the town hall and accused the notary of being a Communist for helping the people with their documents. Offended, the notary retorted that if the whole community came to him, he would help them draw up certificates of withdrawal. Thus the priest was stopped in his tracks, and the brothers were able to complete their paperwork.
“Are You Thinking of Shooting Me?”
In their sermons, the clergy railed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. They also kept up their pressure on the government to have the work banned. Of course, the Ministry of Religions, the political tool of the clergy, continued to use the police to harass the brothers. In one instance, a chief of police and a fellow officer unlawfully entered a home where Christian meetings were being held.
“I want to see your permit to hold religious services,” said the chief to the householder, a brother whom we shall call George.
Knowing that the chief probably did not have a warrant, George replied: “By what authority have you entered my home?”
The man had no answer, so George asked him to leave. Reluctantly, he made for the door. On his way out, however, he ordered his fellow officer to stand guard at the front gate and to arrest George should he try to leave the property. Later, when George did step outside, the officer arrested him “in the name of the law.”
“In the name of what law?” asked George.
“I have a warrant for your arrest,” he asserted.
As a former police officer, George knew the law; so he asked to see the warrant. As George suspected, the man had none. Because he was unable to carry out a lawful arrest, the man thought that he would try to scare George by loading his gun.
“Are you thinking of shooting me?” asked George.
“No,” retorted the officer, “I am not stupid.”
“Well, then,” said George, “why did you load your gun?”
With that, the man saw the folly of his actions and left. Not wanting a recurrence of this incident, George sued the chief of police for trespassing on private property. Amazingly, the chief was fined and sentenced to 15 days in prison.
In another instance, an elderly brother gave a fine witness in a court of law. The judge held in his hand two books published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Waving them in front of the brother, the judge accused him of distributing religious propaganda.
“If you sentence me because I proclaim the truth of God’s Word,” replied the brother, “I would view this, not as a punishment, but as a badge of honor. The Lord Jesus told his followers to rejoice when persecuted for righteousness’ sake because this is how the prophets of old were treated. In fact, Jesus himself was persecuted and even impaled, not for wrongdoing, but for speaking the truth that he had received from God.”
The brother continued: “So if this court sentences me for proclaiming Jesus’ message about the Kingdom by means of those two books, it would be sentencing a man who has committed no crime.” The judge dismissed the charges.
‘Nowhere Do Brothers Endure Greater Difficulties’
After 1929 the collapse of agricultural prices, widespread unemployment, and political unrest led to the rapid growth of extremist political groups, including Fascists. Furthermore, during the 1930’s, Romania gradually came within the sphere of influence of Nazi Germany. These developments did not bode well for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, the 1936 Year Book said: “In no part of the earth do the brethren work with greater difficulties than in Rumania.” From 1933 to 1939, there were 530 lawsuits against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, the prosecutors constantly called for the work to be banned and for the Bucharest office to be closed down.
Finally, at 8:00 p.m. on June 19, 1935, police arrived at the office, armed with what proved to be an illegal warrant. They confiscated files and over 12,000 booklets and posted a guard. Nevertheless, a brother slipped out through the back door and contacted a sympathetic lawyer, who was also a senator. The man phoned the respective authorities and had the illegal closure annulled and all files returned. But the reprieve was short-lived.
On April 21, 1937, the Ministry of Religions issued an order that was published in the official gazette and in the newspapers. The order stated that the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses was strictly forbidden in Romania and that those who distribute or even read their literature would be subject to arrest and punishment and their publications would be confiscated.
The brothers challenged the ruling. However, the government minister concerned, knowing that his case was weak, had the hearing postponed three times. Then, before the final date arrived, King Carol II declared Romania a dictatorship. In June 1938 a new order was issued against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Again the brothers filed a lawsuit. They also wrote an official memorandum to the king, stating that the Witnesses’ publications have an educational role, are not subversive, and do not incite public disorder. The memorandum even pointed to a previous superior court decision to this effect. The king forwarded the memorandum to the Ministry of Religions. The response? On August 2, 1938, the ministry closed and sealed the Bucharest office.
During this difficult time, a number of brothers
Anyone found with our literature was also arrested. A brother who worked in the woods as a lumberman took along his Bible and Year Book. One day police searched through everybody’s personal belongings and found the brother’s literature. They arrested him and made him go with them on foot for 125 miles [200 km] to court, where he received a six-month prison sentence. The prisons, incidentally, were overcrowded, filthy, and infested with lice. Watery soups were the only food.
World War II Brings More Trials
At dawn on September 1, 1939, German military columns stormed into Poland, triggering another global conflict
The new government suspended the constitution and issued a decree recognizing only nine religions, the principal ones being the Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran churches. The ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses stood. Acts of terror were common, and in October 1940, German troops occupied the country. Under these extreme circumstances, correspondence between Romania and the Central European Office in Switzerland virtually ceased.
Because most of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region lived in Transylvania, Martin Magyarosi moved there from Bucharest, establishing himself in Tirgu-Mures. His wife, Maria, had moved there earlier for health reasons. Pamfil and Elena Albu, who had also served at the Bucharest office, moved farther north to Baia-Mare. Working from these two cities, Brothers Magyarosi and Albu reorganized the preaching work and the underground production of The Watchtower. Their fellow worker, Teodor Morăraş, stayed in Bucharest, where he coordinated the activity in what remained of Romania until he was arrested in 1941.
All the while, the brothers kept busy in the ministry, placing Bible literature at every opportunity but with great caution. For example, they left booklets in public places, from restaurants to train compartments, hoping that the literature would catch someone’s eye. They also continued to heed the Scriptural injunction to meet together for spiritual encouragement, taking care, of course, not to arouse suspicion. (Heb. 10:24, 25) For instance, those living in the countryside took advantage of the traditional parties that took place at harvesttime, when farmers would help one another bring in their crops and celebrate afterward by telling jokes and stories. The brothers simply substituted Christian meetings for these parties.
“Pressed in Every Way”
Brother Magyarosi was arrested in September 1942 but continued to coordinate the preaching work from prison. The Albus too were arrested, along with about 1,000 other brothers and sisters, many of whom were released after being beaten and held in detention for six weeks or so. Because of their Christian neutrality, a hundred Witnesses, including several sisters, received prison sentences of from 2 to 15 years. Five brothers received the death penalty, which was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. Under the cover of darkness, armed police even dragged mothers and little children away, leaving their animals untended and their homes vacated for thieves to loot.
At the prison camps, the brothers were met by a “welcoming” committee of guards who would tie each one’s feet together and hold him down while another flogged the naked feet with a wire-reinforced rubber cudgel. Bones broke, toenails fell out, and skin turned black, sometimes peeling off like bark from a tree. Priests who patrolled the camps and witnessed these abuses would sneer, “Where is your Jehovah to release you out of our hands?”
The brothers were “pressed in every way” but “not left in the lurch.” (2 Cor. 4:8, 9) In fact, they comforted other inmates with the Kingdom hope, which some took to heart. Consider the example of Teodor Miron from the village of Topliţa in northeastern Transylvania. Prior to World War II, Teodor concluded that God forbids the taking of human life, so he refused to enroll in the army. Hence, in May 1943 he received a five-year prison sentence. Soon thereafter, he met Martin Magyarosi, Pamfil Albu, and other Witness inmates and accepted a Bible study. Teodor made rapid spiritual progress and, in a matter of weeks, dedicated his life to Jehovah. How, though, was he baptized?
An opportunity arose when Teodor and about 50 other Romanian Witnesses were taken by a roundabout route to the Nazi prison camp in Bor, Serbia. En route, they stopped at Jászberény, Hungary, where over a hundred Hungarian-speaking brothers joined them. During the stopover, the guards sent several brothers to the river to fill a water barrel. Having won the guards’ trust, the brothers went unsupervised. Teodor joined them and was baptized in the river. From Jászberény, the prisoners were taken by train and riverboat to Bor.
At that time, the Bor camp held 6,000 Jews; 14 Adventists; and 152 Witnesses. “Conditions were terrible,” Brother Miron recalls, “but Jehovah cared for us. A sympathetic guard who was often sent to Hungary introduced publications into the camp. Some Witnesses whom he knew and trusted looked after his family in his absence, so he became like a brother to them. This man, a lieutenant, would warn us if anything was going to happen. There were 15 elders, as they are now called, in the camp, and they arranged for three meetings a week. On average, about 80 attended as their shifts allowed for it. We also observed the Memorial.”
At some of the camps, Witnesses on the outside were permitted to give food and other items to their incarcerated brothers. Between 1941 and 1945, about 40 Witnesses from Bessarabia, Moldova, and Transylvania were sent to the concentration camp in Şibot, Transylvania. Each day they went to work at a local lumber factory. Because food was scarce in the camp, Witnesses who lived nearby brought food and clothing to the factory each week. The brothers distributed these items according to need.
Such fine deeds gave an excellent witness, both to fellow inmates and to guards. The guards also observed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were responsible and trustworthy. Hence, they granted them freedoms not normally extended to prisoners. One of the guards at Şibot even came into the truth.
When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, Jehovah’s Witnesses were released en masse from prisons and labor camps. Martin Magyarosi, then 62 years of age, returned to Bucharest only to find the old office stripped clean. Not even a typewriter remained! “The Lord’s work was recommenced with nothing,” said a report. In addition to getting the work organized, the brothers sought legal registration, and their efforts soon bore fruit. On July 11, 1945, the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania was registered.
This step facilitated the organizing of public meetings, assemblies, and literature production, all of which would reinvigorate the work and help to dispel much of the confusion and disunity that had developed. Indeed, during the first postwar year, the brothers produced nearly 870,000 booklets and over 85,500 copies of The Watchtower
The brothers began preaching openly even before the work gained legal recognition. They also arranged for meetings and special public talks. Regarding the Witnesses in Maramureş County, an eyewitness relates: “While the armies were still retreating, the brothers met together. You could see them coming from all the villages in the region, totally unafraid. It was a thrilling time. Some walked 50 miles [80 km] to attend, singing and witnessing along the way. Each Sunday, the chairman would announce the meeting location for the following Sunday.”
Public talks were advertised and delivered in towns and villages where there were few or no Witnesses. Starting out near midnight, the brothers would walk up to 60 miles [100 km] to these places, often barefoot because of the high cost of shoes. They took their shoes with them, of course, but carried them over their shoulder. Only when conditions got very bad
In Baia-Mare, Cluj-Napoca, Tirgu-Mures, and Ocna Mureş, the brothers held dozens of assemblies attended by hundreds of Witnesses and interested people. A highlight of the gathering in Baia-Mare in June 1945 was the baptism, held six miles [ten km] out of town. After the talk was given in a brother’s garden, the 118 candidates were immersed in the Lăpuşul River, which flowed by the garden. It was an unforgettable baptism in a beautiful setting.
In Tirgu-Mures, the brothers rented a theater that could seat 3,000. The day before the assembly, delegates began arriving by train, by horse-drawn carriage, by bicycle, and on foot. Some immediately started to preach and to invite people to the public discourse, which dealt with Noah’s ark. When the brothers saw placards with beautifully composed text advertising the talk all over town, many wept with joy. Never, they had thought, would they enjoy such freedom to preach the good news!
The brothers’ hard work was richly rewarded
First National Convention
On the weekend of September 28 and 29, 1946, Jehovah’s Witnesses held their very first national convention in Romania. The venue was the Roman Arenas (Arenele Romane) in Bucharest. The Romanian railways agreed not only to provide a special train but to reduce the fare by 50 percent! The train brought well over a thousand delegates from some of the farthest parts of the country to the capital. Many carried placards, arousing considerable curiosity along the way. The journey, however, was not without incident.
The clergy heard about the convention and tried to stop the train. On the Friday before the convention, local Witnesses began to gather at the station at 9:00 a.m., expecting to welcome their brothers within the hour. They waited patiently until 6:00 p.m., when the train finally pulled into the station. The excitement among the brothers as visitors and hosts embraced cannot be described. Armed police were there to maintain order, but they had nothing to do.
Much of Bucharest had been destroyed in the war, including some 12,000 homes, so accommodations were limited. But the brothers were resourceful. To provide extra “beds,” they bought a mountain of straw and spread it on the lawn of a brother who lived in a suburb called Berceni. Because the weather was unusually warm for the end of September, families of conventioners were able to retire comfortably with their children on a mattress of straw under starry skies. Today, on that very site stands an attractive new Kingdom Hall.
The 3,400 in attendance at the convention on Saturday morning were thrilled to hear that The Watchtower was once again being published twice a month in both Romanian and Hungarian. In fact, one thousand copies of the first edition were distributed among the brothers that morning. For a time the magazine contained four study articles so that everyone could catch up on the information they had missed during the war.
Sunday morning was set aside for witnessing. Groups of publishers could be seen everywhere, advertising the public talk. Their placards portrayed a hammer, a sword, and an anvil. The text read: “‘Swords Turned Into Plowshares’
That afternoon, Martin Magyarosi began the public discourse, saying: “Today, a peace conference of the great powers is being held in Paris. Here, at our convention, we have 15,000 in attendance. If you were to search every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses present, you would find no sword, no gun. Why? Because we have already turned our swords into plowshares!” With the scars of war visible everywhere, that talk was both powerful and timely.
Present on Sunday were the attorney general, a secretary of the Internal Affairs Minister, a number of police officers, and a group of Orthodox priests. Both the brothers and the officials expected the priests to create a disturbance, which they had threatened to do. But only one tried to interfere with the program. When the brothers spotted him striding toward the speaker’s platform during the public talk, they intercepted him, took him firmly by the arms, and ushered him back to the seats. “There is no need for an Orthodox priest to address this assembly,” they whispered in his ear, “but you are most welcome to take a seat and listen.” He did not try that again. Later, the attorney general said that he enjoyed the talks and was impressed by the orderliness of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Reflecting on the convention, a brother later wrote: “The conspiracy of the enemy completely failed, and the brothers returned home full of joy.” They also manifested a renewed spirit of peace and unity, which was encouraging because many had come to the convention with mixed feelings on account of divisions that had developed during the war.
Things did not look so bright for the clergy, however, for in many areas they could no longer count on the secular authorities to do their bidding in regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, this did not stop them from berating the brothers from the pulpit. Some priests, though, went further and recruited gangs of hooligans to beat up Kingdom publishers
Further Efforts to Restore Unity
Alfred Rütimann, from the Switzerland branch, spent two months in Romania in 1947. The plan was to hold a convention and to have Hayden C. Covington, from world headquarters, accompany Brother Rütimann. However, the authorities did not allow the brothers to hold the convention, and they refused to give Brother Covington a visa. But they did grant Alfred Rütimann a two-month visa, which enabled him to spend August and September in Romania.
His first stop was Bucharest, where he was greeted at the airport by a group of brothers and sisters who were wearing big smiles and carrying a beautiful bouquet, the traditional floral welcome. They took him to the Bucharest office at 38 Alion Street, the home of an interested man. The office had been moved there in January 1947. Because of the growing Communist threat, however, the brothers retained the office at 38 Basarabia Street as their official address. It had been acquired in July 1945, and it contained an old table and a couch, a broken typewriter, and a cupboard filled with yellowed booklets and magazines
Brother Rütimann met with Pamfil Albu, president of the legal corporation, and Martin Magyarosi, who had oversight of the work in the country. Both brothers also served as district overseers. Communication had been limited for a number of years, and the Romanian brothers were thrilled to hear about recent developments in Jehovah’s organization, such as the institution of the Theocratic Ministry School in the congregations and Gilead School to train missionaries. Naturally, all were keen to see the former get under way in Romania. In fact, the brothers immediately arranged to have the 90 lessons in the school textbook, Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers, printed in installments in both Romanian and Hungarian.
Brother Rütimann’s main objective, though, was to visit as many congregations and groups as possible to share with them the key talks they would have heard at the convention. Hence, he and Brother Magyarosi, who served as interpreter, embarked on a two-stage tour of the areas where the truth was well established, beginning in Transylvania.
Transylvania and Beyond
As in most places, the publishers in Transylvania made a great effort to attend the special meetings. And they were willing to stay up late because of the tight schedule of the two visitors. For instance, in the village of Vama Buzăului, the program ran from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
“The people have a different concept of time than we have,” Alfred Rütimann later wrote. “They do not mind rising at 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. for visitors, and they do not think in terms of minutes and rarely in terms of hours! Although they travel on foot
The next stop was Tirgu-Mures, then a city of 31,000. It too had suffered in the war, and hardly a bridge remained. Still, 700 brothers from 25 congregations traveled up to 30 miles [50 km] each way to the meeting place
The brothers also went to Cluj-Napoca, where 300 gathered, representing 48 congregations. While in the city, Brother Magyarosi showed Brother Rütimann the printery that had been lost in 1928 because of Jacob Sima. What had happened to him? “He died last year,” Brother Rütimann wrote in his report. “He had become a drunkard.”
Among the next stops were Satu-Mare and Sighet Marmaţiei, near Ukraine. The region had over 40 Romanian-, Hungarian-, and Ukrainian-language congregations. The local farmers and villagers had little need for the outside world. They grew all their own food crops as well as flax and hemp and raised their own animals, especially sheep. They also made their own garments and blankets and processed their own leather. The village cobbler made their shoes. Many of the brothers and sisters attended the special meetings dressed in their homemade, traditional costumes of embroidered linen and hemp.
For the second stage of their tour, Brothers Rütimann and Magyarosi went to Moldavia, in Romania’s northeast. Their first stop was the commune of Frătăuţii, where the local brothers, although poor, were outstandingly hospitable. In the subdued light of oil lamps, they fed their visitors fresh milk, bread, polenta, and peeled boiled eggs partly immersed in melted butter. Everybody ate from small bowls. “This food was very good,” wrote Brother Rütimann. That night the visiting brothers slept in the kitchen on beds placed near the oven for warmth. Their hosts slept nearby on sacks of straw.
The Witnesses in this region were zealous in the ministry and enjoyed Jehovah’s rich blessing, as the record shows. In the spring of 1945, there had been 33 publishers in that area. Now, in 1947, there were 350
Adding a truly rural touch to their trip, the brothers took a cart drawn by two horses for the next 74 miles [120 km] to Bălcăuţi and Ivăncăuţi. “The small but excellent Romanian horses can go on any road, however bad it might be, and at any time, day or night,” wrote a brother. Formed in 1945, the Bălcăuţi Congregation consisted of publishers who had belonged to an evangelical church. The congregation servant had been their lay preacher. The meeting at Ivăncăuţi was held inside a brother’s home on account of the rain. But that was a minor inconvenience for the 170 in attendance, some of whom had walked 20 miles [30 km] barefoot to get there.
In the final tally, the two brothers spoke at 19 locations to a total of 4,504 publishers and interested ones from 259 congregations. On his way back to Switzerland, Alfred Rütimann also gave talks in Orăştie and Arad, where a number of brothers walked 40 to 50 miles [60-80 km] to the meeting place. In fact, one 60-year-old farmer walked 65 miles [100 km] barefoot, such was his appreciation!
A major milestone in the history of the work in Romania, these special meetings were timely, not just because the brothers needed encouragement but because the spiritual harvest was ripe. Romanians were tired of oppressive rulers and the misery of war, and many were disillusioned with religion. Additionally, the drastic devaluation of the currency, the leu, in August 1947 rendered a lot of people penniless overnight. Hence, many who had opposed the Kingdom message were now willing to listen.
The special meetings were timely for another reason as well
The Iron Curtain Comes Down On Romania
In November 1946, the year before Alfred Rütimann’s visit, the Communists came to power in Romania. Over the next few years, their party eliminated any remaining opposition and accelerated the process of Sovietization, whereby Romania’s cultural and political institutions were aligned with Soviet models.
Taking full advantage of the calm before the storm, the brothers printed hundreds of thousands of magazines, booklets, and other publications, distributing them to 20 depots throughout the country. At the same time, many increased their activity and some started pioneering, including Mihai Nistor and Vasile Sabadâş.
Mihai was assigned to the northwest and center of Transylvania, where he continued to pioneer even after the Communist ban, under which he was long pursued by the enemy. How did he avoid capture? He relates: “I made up a bag that looked identical to the one used by men who sold windows. Wearing work clothes and carrying window panes and tools, I walked around in the center of the villages and towns where I was assigned to preach. Whenever I saw the police or someone who looked suspicious, I would advertise my windows in a loud voice. Other brothers employed different methods to evade the opposers. It was exciting work but risky
Vasile Sabadâş also continued to pioneer despite having to move often. He was particularly helpful in locating and assisting brothers who had been dispersed by the Securitate, the centerpiece of a vast security network of the new Communist regime. “To avoid arrest,” Vasile said, “I had to be cautious and innovative. For example, when traveling to another part of the country, I always sought a valid reason for doing so, such as a medical referral to a therapeutic-bathing resort.
“By avoiding suspicion, I was able to establish lines of communication among the brothers so that they could receive a regular supply of spiritual food. My mottoes were Isaiah 6:8: ‘Here I am! Send me’ and Matthew 6:33: ‘Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom.’ These verses gave me joy and strength to persevere.” Vasile needed these qualities, for despite being cautious he, like many others, would eventually be arrested.
Violent Attacks Against God’s Organization
By 1948 correspondence with world headquarters became very difficult, so the brothers often resorted to writing encoded messages on postcards. In May 1949, Martin Magyarosi forwarded a message from Petre Ranca, a coworker in the Bucharest office. He said: “All in the family are well. We had a very strong wind and severe cold, and we were not able to work in the field.” Later, another brother wrote that “the family is not in a position to receive any sweets” and that “many are ill.” He meant that it was not possible to send spiritual food into Romania and that many brothers were in prison.
Following a decision issued by the Justice Ministry on August 8, 1949, the Bucharest office and living quarters were closed, and all the equipment, including personal belongings, was seized. In the ensuing years, hundreds of brothers were arrested and sentenced. Under Fascist rule, Jehovah’s Witnesses had been accused of being Communists; but when the Communists came to power, the brothers were labeled “imperialists” and “American propagandists.”
Spies and informers lurked everywhere. The measures taken by the Communists, said the 1953 Yearbook, “have become so severe now that anyone receiving mail in Romania from the West is put on the black list and is watched carefully.” The report continues: “It is almost impossible to imagine the terror that exists there. Even the members of families are unable to put confidence in other members of their own household. Freedom is absolutely gone.”
Early in 1950, Pamfil and Elena Albu, Petre Ranca, Martin Magyarosi, and many others were arrested and falsely accused of spying for the West. Some were tortured so that they would reveal confidential details and confess to their “spying.” Their only confession, however, was that they worshipped Jehovah and served the interests of his Kingdom. After these ordeals, some brothers went to prison, others to labor camps. How did this wave of persecution affect the work? That very year
Brother Magyarosi, then in his late 60’s, was sent to the Gherla prison in Transylvania, where he died at the end of 1951. “Many and great have been his sufferings for the sake of the truth,” said a report, “especially since his arrest in January 1950. Now these sufferings have come to an end.” Yes, for approximately 20 years, Martin endured vicious attacks by the clergy, the Fascists, and the Communists. His example of integrity calls to mind the words of the apostle Paul: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) Though not imprisoned, his wife, Maria, also set a fine example of endurance under adversity. One brother described her as “an intelligent sister, fully devoted to the Lord’s work.” After Martin’s arrest, Maria was cared for by relatives, including her adopted daughter, Mărioara, who spent time in prison herself and was released in the autumn of 1955.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses Are a Fine Class of People”
In 1955 the government granted an amnesty, and most brothers were set free. But their freedom was short-lived. From 1957 to 1964, Jehovah’s Witnesses were again hounded and arrested and some were given life sentences. The imprisoned brothers, however, did not give in to despair but encouraged one another to stand firm. Indeed, they became well-known for their principles and integrity. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fine class of people, and they would not give in and renounce their religion,” reminisced a political prisoner. He added that in the place where he was held, the Witnesses were “the most liked prisoners.”
Another amnesty was announced in 1964. But it too was short-lived, for more mass arrests occurred between 1968 and 1974. “Because we spread the Gospel,” wrote one brother, “we have been tortured and taunted. We implore you to remember our imprisoned brothers in your prayers. We know that all of this is a test that we have to endure. We shall go on courageously preaching the good news as foretold at Matthew 24:14. But once again we urge you with all our heart, don’t forget us!” As we shall see, Jehovah heard the earnest, tearful prayers of his loyal ones and comforted them in various ways.
Satan Sows Seeds of Mistrust
The Devil attacks God’s servants not only from the outside but also from the inside. For instance, some brothers who were released in 1955 and who had held positions of oversight prior to their arrest were not restored to their former office. In response, they grew resentful and sowed seeds of discord. How sad that after standing firm in prison, they caved in to pride when set free! At least one prominent brother, in order to avoid punishment, even went so far as to cooperate with the Securitate, causing much harm to the faithful and to the preaching work.
God’s people also had to deal with differences in viewpoints in matters of conscience. For example, after being arrested, brothers were often allowed to choose between going to prison or working in the salt mines. Some viewed those who chose the latter as having compromised Bible principles. Others held that sisters should not wear cosmetics and that it was improper to go to a cinema or a theater or even to own a radio.
But on the positive side, the brothers in general never lost sight of the big issue
Another test began in 1962 after The Watchtower explained that “the superior authorities” mentioned at Romans 13:1 were human governmental authorities, not Jehovah God and Jesus Christ as previously thought. Having suffered much at the hands of brutal rulers, many brothers in Romania found the new understanding hard to accept. In fact, some sincerely thought that it was a shrewd Communist fabrication intended to make them totally subservient to the State, contrary to the principle set out at Matthew 22:21.
One brother spoke with a fellow Witness who had been to Berlin, Rome, and other cities. “This traveler,” he recalls, “confirmed that the new understanding was, not a Communist trick, but spiritual food from the slave class. Even so, I still hesitated. So I asked our district overseer what we should do now.”
He replied: “Just press on with the work
“That was excellent advice, and I am pleased to say that I am still ‘pressing on’ today.”
Despite the major obstacles to communication, world headquarters and the branch overseeing the work in Romania made every effort to keep the brothers abreast of revealed truth and to help them work together as a united spiritual family. To that end, they wrote letters and prepared appropriate articles for the Kingdom Ministry.
How did this spiritual food reach Jehovah’s people? Every member of the Country Committee had secret connections with the traveling overseers and congregation elders. These connections were maintained by trusted couriers, who also carried letters and reports to and from the office in Switzerland. Hence, the brothers were able to get at least some spiritual food and theocratic direction.
Loyal brothers and sisters also worked hard to foster a spirit of harmony within their own congregations and groups. One such person was Iosif Jucan, who would often say: “We cannot hope to be saved at Armageddon unless we continue to take in regular spiritual food and keep in close contact with ‘Mother.’” He was referring to remaining in touch with the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization. Such brothers were a precious asset to God’s people and a bulwark against those who tried to disrupt their unity.
Tactics of the Enemy
In their attempts to weaken the faith of Jehovah’s servants or to bully them into submission, the Communists employed spies, traitors, torture, lying propaganda, and the threat of death. Spies and informers included neighbors, work colleagues, apostates, family members, and Securitate agents. The latter even infiltrated congregations by feigning interest in the truth and learning theocratic terms. These “false brothers” did much harm and caused many arrests. One of them, Savu Gabor, even held a responsible position. He was exposed in 1969.
Government agents also spied on individuals and families by means of hidden microphones. Says Timotei Lazăr: “While I was in prison because of my Christian neutrality, the Securitate regularly summoned my parents and younger brother to their headquarters where they were interrogated for up to six hours at a time. On one such occasion, they bugged our home. That evening, my brother, an electrician, noticed that the electric meter was rotating abnormally fast. He checked around and discovered two eavesdropping devices, which he photographed and took down. The next day Securitate agents came and asked for their toys, as they called them.”
Lying propaganda often came in the form of recycled articles published in other Communist lands. For example, the article “The Jehovist Sect and Its Reactionary Character” was taken from a Russian newspaper. The article accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of having “the character of a typical political organization” whose goal “is to perform an undermining activity in Socialist countries.” It also urged readers to report anyone promoting the teachings of the Witnesses. To thinking people, however, this political howling was an indirect admission of failure on the part of the opposers, for it announced to all that Jehovah’s Witnesses were still very much alive and far from silent.
When Securitate agents captured a brother or a sister, their cruelty, expertly applied, knew no bounds. In order to get their victims to talk, they even employed chemical substances that affected the mind and nervous system. Samoilă Bărăian, a target of such abuse, relates: “After they started their interrogations, they made me take drugs, which were more harmful than the beatings. Soon I noticed that something was not right with me. I could no longer walk straight and was unable to climb stairs. Then I developed chronic insomnia. I could not concentrate and spoke haltingly.
“My physical condition continued to deteriorate. After a month or so, I lost my sense of taste. My digestive system broke down, and I had the feeling that all my joints were coming undone. I was in terrible pain. My feet perspired so heavily that my shoes fell apart in two months, and I had to discard them. ‘Why do you keep on lying?’ my interrogator would yell. ‘Can’t you see what you’ve become?’ I wanted to explode in rage and needed great self-control.” In time, Brother Bărăian recovered fully from this ordeal.
The Securitate also employed mental torture, as Alexa Boiciuc recalls: “The hardest night for me was when they woke me up and took me to a hall where I could hear a brother being beaten. Later I heard a sister crying, and then I heard my mother’s voice. I preferred to be beaten myself than to endure these things.”
Brothers were told that they would be pardoned if they divulged the names of other Witnesses as well as meeting times and locations. Wives were encouraged to leave their imprisoned husbands so that their children would have a better future.
Because their property had been taken over by the State, many brothers were forced to work on collective farms. The work was not so bad, but the men had to attend political meetings, which were held often. Those who stayed away were ridiculed, and their pay was reduced to almost nothing. Naturally, this situation created hardships for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would not participate in any political meetings or activities.
When raiding the homes of the Witnesses, government agents also seized personal belongings, especially things that could be sold. And in the middle of winter, they often wrecked stoves, the only source of heat in the homes. Why this cruelty? Because stoves, they said, were good places to hide literature. Nevertheless, the brothers would not be silenced. Even those who endured the abuses and privations of labor camps and prisons, as we shall now see, continued to bear witness to Jehovah and to comfort one another.
Praising Jehovah in Camps and Prisons
In addition to prisons, Romania had three large labor camps. One was in the Danube Delta, another was on the Great Island of Braila, and the third was on the canal linking the Danube with the Black Sea. From the beginning of the Communist era, imprisoned Witnesses often found themselves alongside former persecutors, who were arrested because of their links to the former regime. One brother, a circuit overseer, found himself in the company of 20 priests! To be sure, such a captive audience made for many interesting discussions.
For example, a brother in one prison had an extended conversation with a professor of theology who had formerly examined candidates for the priesthood. The brother soon discovered that the professor knew next to nothing about the Bible. Among the inmates listening in was an army general of the deposed regime.
“How is it,” the general asked the professor, “that simple craftsmen know the Bible better than you do?”
The professor replied: “At theological seminaries we are taught church tradition and related matters, not the Bible.”
The general was not impressed. “We trusted in your knowledge,” he said, “but now I see that we have been woefully misled.”
In time, a number of prisoners came to an accurate knowledge of the truth and dedicated their lives to Jehovah, including one man serving 75 years for robbery. In fact, this individual underwent such a remarkable change in personality that he caught the attention of the prison authorities. They, in turn, gave him a new job
Nevertheless, life in confinement was harsh, and food was scarce. Prisoners even asked that their potatoes not be peeled so that they could have a little more to eat. They also ate beets, grass, leaves, and other plants, just to feel full. In time, a number died from malnutrition, and all suffered from dysentery.
During summer the brothers in the Danube Delta shoveled and moved earth for the dam under construction. In winter they cut water reeds while standing on ice. They slept in an old, iron ferryboat, where they endured cold, filth, lice, and heartless guards who remained impassive even when a prisoner died. Yet, no matter what their circumstances, the brothers encouraged and helped one another to remain spiritually strong. Consider the experience of Dionisie Vârciu.
Just before Dionisie’s release, an officer asked him: “Has confinement succeeded in changing your faith, Vârciu?”
“Pardon me,” Dionisie replied, “but would you change a high-quality suit for one of lesser quality?”
“No,” said the officer.
“Well,” continued Dionisie, “during my confinement, no one has offered me anything superior to my faith. So why would I change it?”
At that, the officer shook Dionisie’s hand and said: “You are free, Vârciu. Keep your faith.”
Studying From Memory
“My time in prison was a period of theocratic training,” reflects András Molnos. Why could he say that? Because he saw the value of assembling with his brothers every week to study God’s Word. “Often,” says András, “the information was not on paper but in minds. Brothers would recall Watchtower articles they had studied prior to their imprisonment. A few brothers could even remember the contents of an entire magazine
When planning Christian meetings, responsible brothers announced the subject to be considered, and each inmate tried to recall all that he could on that topic, from Scripture texts to points gleaned from Christian Bible study aids. Finally, everyone met to discuss the material. At the meeting they selected a conductor who, after the opening prayer, led the discussion by asking appropriate questions. When everyone else had commented, he presented his thoughts and then moved on to the next point.
In some prisons, discussion groups were forbidden. But the brothers’ ingenuity knew no bounds. Recalls one brother: “We used to take the bathroom window out of its frame and paint the glass with a mixture of moist soap and lime that we had scraped off the wall. When dry, this instrument became a workable writing tablet, enabling us to inscribe the lesson for the day. One brother quietly dictated the words while another wrote them on the tablet.
“We were divided into several prison cells, which became study groups. Each lesson was passed from brother to brother within the cell. Because only one cell had the tablet, the brothers in the other cells received the information by Morse code. How so? As quietly as possible, one of us would tap out the article on the wall or on the heating pipes. At the same time, the brothers in the other cells would hold their cups against the wall or the pipe, and each one would put his ear to his cup, which served as a listening device. Naturally, those who did not know Morse code had to learn it.”
In some prisons, the brothers were able to receive fresh spiritual food from the outside by means of equally ingenious and resourceful sisters. For instance, when baking bread, sisters would hide literature inside the dough. The brothers dubbed this food bread from heaven. Sisters even got portions of the Bible into the prisons by folding pages into tiny blocks, inserting these into small plastic balls, and then smothering the balls with moist chocolate and cocoa powder.
The unpleasant thing about this arrangement, however, was that the brothers had to do their reading in the restroom, the only place they could be alone for a few minutes unsupervised by guards. When a brother finished his turn, he would hide the printed matter behind the water reservoir. Non-Witness inmates also knew about this hiding place, and many would enjoy a quiet period of reading as well.
Women and Children Maintain Integrity
Siblings Viorica and Aurica Filip were persecuted by family members, as were many other Witnesses. The girls had seven brothers and one sister. Viorica recounts: “Because of her desire to serve Jehovah, Aurica had to quit the university in Cluj-Napoca in 1973, and she was baptized soon thereafter. Her sincerity and zeal piqued my interest, and I began to look into God’s Word. When I learned about God’s promise of everlasting life in an earthly paradise, I thought, ‘What could be better than that?’ As I progressed in my study, I took to heart the Bible principles relating to Christian neutrality and refused to become a member of the Communist Party.”
Viorica continues: “In 1975, I dedicated my life to Jehovah. I had also moved away from home and was living with a relative in the city of Sighet Marmaţiei, where I worked as a schoolteacher. Because I chose to stay out of politics, the school authorities informed me that I would be dismissed at the end of the school year. Trying to prevent that, my family began to persecute both me and my sister.”
Even school children were subjected to intimidation, some by the Securitate. Besides suffering physical and verbal abuse, many were expelled from one school and had to enroll in another. Others were denied further education altogether. Agents even tried to recruit children to serve as spies!
Daniela Măluţan, who now serves as a pioneer, recalls: “I was often humiliated before my classmates because I refused to join the Union of Communist Youth, which was a tool for the political indoctrination of youth. When I started in the ninth grade, Securitate agents caused me many hardships, as did teachers and other staff members who were informers. From 1980 to 1982, I was interrogated in the principal’s office every second Wednesday with few exceptions. The principal, incidentally, was not permitted to stay for these sessions. The interrogator, a colonel in the Securitate, was well-known among the brothers in Bistriţa-Năsăud County for his hatred toward us and for the zeal with which he pursued us. He even came to me equipped with letters that incriminated responsible brothers. His goals were to undermine my trust in the brothers, to cause me to abandon my faith, and to induce me
“Not all my experiences were bad, however. For example, my history teacher, a party member, wanted to know why I was being interrogated so often. One day he canceled the history lesson and for two hours in front of the whole class asked many questions about my faith. He was impressed with my answers and did not think it right that I was treated so unkindly. After this discussion, he began to respect our views and even accepted literature.
“The school authorities, though, continued to oppose me. In fact, they made me leave school at the end of the tenth grade. Even so, I immediately found employment and have never regretted remaining loyal to Jehovah. Indeed, I thank him that I was raised by Christian parents who held to their integrity despite the abuses they suffered under the Communist regime. Their good example has stayed with me to this day.”
Young Men Put to the Test
In its campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Securitate especially targeted young brothers for maintaining their Christian neutrality. These were arrested, imprisoned, released, arrested again, and sent back to prison. The objective was to undermine their morale. One such brother, József Szabó, received a four-year sentence immediately after his baptism.
After serving for two years, József was set free in 1976 and shortly thereafter met his future wife. “We got engaged and fixed the date for our wedding,” says József. “Then I received another summons from the Cluj Military Tribunal. I was to appear before them on the very day set for our wedding! Nevertheless, my fiancée and I went ahead and got married, after which I presented myself to the tribunal. Even though I could measure my married life in minutes, the tribunal sentenced me to three more years in prison, every one of which I served. I cannot describe how much that separation hurt.”
Another young Witness, Timotei Lazăr, recalls: “In 1977 my younger brother and I were released from prison. Our older brother, who had been set free a year earlier, came home to celebrate the occasion with us. But he walked right into a trap
Observing the Memorial
On Memorial nights, opposers intensified their efforts to hunt down Jehovah’s Witnesses. They raided homes, handed out fines, and made arrests. As a precaution, the brothers met in small groups
“On the evening of one Memorial,” relates Teodor Pamfilie, “the local chief of police was drinking with friends until late. When he left to raid the brothers’ homes, he asked a stranger who owned a car to drive him. However, the car would not start. Finally, the engine came to life, and they drove to our house, where a small group of us were observing the Memorial. However, because we had completely covered all the windows, they saw only darkness and assumed that no one was at home. So they drove to another house. But there the Memorial was over, and everyone had gone home.
“Meanwhile, we concluded our program, and the brothers quickly left. Only my fleshly brother and I remained when two policemen barged in, stood in the middle of the room, and barked: ‘What’s going on here?’
“‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘My brother and I were having a conversation.’
“‘We know that a meeting took place here,’ said one of the men. ‘Where are the others?’ Looking at my brother, he added: ‘And what are you doing here?’
“‘I came to see him,’ he replied, gesturing toward me. Frustrated, the officers stormed out. The next day we learned that despite their zeal, the police had failed to make a single arrest!”
World Headquarters Appeals to Romanian Officials
The harsh treatment meted out to Jehovah’s Witnesses moved headquarters to write a four-page letter in March 1970 to the Romanian ambassador to the United States and a six-page letter in June 1971 to Romania’s president, Nicolae Ceauşescu. In their letter to the ambassador, the brothers said that it was “Christian love for our brothers in Romania and our concern for them that has moved us to write to you.” After listing the names of seven individuals who were imprisoned because of their faith, the letter continued: “It has been reported that some of the above-mentioned persons were very cruelly treated in prison. . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses are not criminals. They are not engaged in any form of political or subversive activity anywhere in the world, but they confine their activities strictly to their religious worship.” The letter concluded with an appeal to the government to “grant relief to the suffering Witnesses of Jehovah.”
The letter to President Ceauşescu stated that “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania do not enjoy the freedom of religion the Romanian constitution provides” but risk arrest and cruel treatment when they share their beliefs with others and assemble for Bible study. The letter also drew attention to a recent amnesty that resulted in many brothers’ being set free. “It was hoped that a new era would begin also for . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses. But unfortunately this expectation did not come true. The news we get from all over Romania today reveals the same very sad story: Jehovah’s Witnesses are still the object of persecution by the State. Their homes are searched, printed matter is confiscated, men and women are arrested and subject to hearings, some are sentenced to many years of imprisonment, and some are brutally treated. And this because they read and preach Jehovah God’s Word. Such things do not contribute to the good reputation of a State, and we are deeply concerned over what happens to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania.”
Two books were enclosed with the letter: The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life in Romanian and Life Everlasting
Things began to improve a little for Jehovah’s Witnesses after 1975, when Romania became a signatory to the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This conference guaranteed human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion. Thereafter, only those who refused military service were arrested and imprisoned.
Then, in 1986 a new constitution stipulated that no one, officials included, may enter a private dwelling without the householder’s consent except in certain legally approved circumstances. Now, at last, the brothers were able to feel more secure holding Christian meetings, including the Memorial, in private homes.
During the ban, spiritual food was smuggled into Romania as printed matter, stencils, or in some other form and was reproduced locally. Sometimes it had been translated into Romanian and Hungarian, but usually it had to be translated locally from English, French, German, or Italian. Couriers came in many forms, such as foreign tourists visiting the country, students coming to study, and Romanians returning from their travels.
The Securitate tried hard to intercept the couriers and also to find out where the literature was being produced in Romania. Prudently, the brothers operated from several soundproof, private dwellings in a number of towns and cities. Inside these homes, they constructed secret compartments, or rooms, where they set up their duplicating equipment. Some of these rooms were concealed behind fireplaces, which were normally attached to a wall. However, the brothers modified the fireplaces so that they could be moved, allowing access to a hidden entrance.
Sándor Parajdi worked in a secret printery in Tirgu-Mures, where he produced the daily text, Kingdom Ministry, The Watchtower, and Awake! “We worked up to 40 hours on the weekends, taking turns to sleep for one hour,” recalls Sándor. “The smell of chemicals permeated our clothes and skin. On one occasion, when I arrived home, my three-year-old son remarked: ‘Daddy, you smell like the daily text!’”
Traian Chira, a husband and father, duplicated and transported literature in Cluj County. Traian was given an old manual duplicating machine nicknamed The Mill, for which retirement was long overdue. It did the job, but the results would have won no prizes. So Traian asked a brother who was a mechanic to overhaul it. The brother inspected the machine, but his grave expression said it all
In the 1980’s a number of brothers were taught to operate offset duplicators, which were superior machines. The first to be trained was Nicolae Bentaru, who in turn taught others. As was often the case, literature production at the Bentaru home was a family affair, each member performing certain tasks. Of course, keeping these operations secret was a challenge, especially during the time when the Securitate spied on people and raided homes. Speed was therefore of the essence, so the brothers would work long hours all weekend to get the literature printed and out. Why on the weekend? Because they had their regular jobs during the week.
The brothers also had to be cautious when purchasing paper. Even if a customer requested just one ream
The Challenge of Translation
A small number of brothers and sisters living in different parts of Romania translated literature into the local languages, including Ukrainian, which was spoken by an ethnic minority in the north. Some translators were language professors who had come into the truth; others had taught themselves a different tongue, perhaps with the aid of a language course.
During the early days, translators did their work by hand in copybooks, which they took to Bistriţa, a city in the north, for proofreading. Once or twice a year, translators and proofreaders would meet to resolve questions concerning their work. When these brothers and sisters were caught, it was not unusual for them to be searched, interrogated, beaten, and arrested. Those who were arrested were detained for a few hours or days, released, and then rearrested
Dumitru Cepănaru was a professor of Romanian language and history, and his wife, Doina, was a medical doctor. The Securitate eventually caught up with them, arrested them, and sent them to separate prisons for seven and a half years. Doina spent five of these in solitary confinement. In fact, their names appeared in the aforementioned letter that headquarters wrote to the Romanian ambassador to the United States. During her confinement, Doina wrote 500 letters to her husband as well as to other imprisoned sisters to encourage them.
A year after Dumitru and Doina were arrested, Dumitru’s mother, Sabina Cepănaru, was also arrested, and she spent six years less two months in prison. The only member of the family who remained free, although closely watched by the Securitate, was Sabina’s husband, who was also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At great risk to himself, he regularly visited all three of his family members.
In 1938, Petre Ranca was appointed secretary of the office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania. This assignment
The loving labors of such integrity-keepers call to mind the words: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.”
During the 1980’s, brothers began to meet in larger groups
The program commenced with the wedding or funeral talk and continued with discourses on various Bible topics. Because speakers were sometimes prevented from arriving on time, other qualified brothers were always ready to fill in, usually with just the aid of the Bible, for there were no copies of prepared outlines.
During the summer, city dwellers flocked to the countryside for recreation. Jehovah’s Witnesses did likewise. However, they took advantage of the opportunity to hold small conventions in the hills and forests. They even put on full-costume Bible dramas.
Another popular vacation spot was the Black Sea, which was also ideal for baptisms. How did the brothers immerse new ones without drawing attention to themselves? One way was by playing a “game.” The candidates and some baptized publishers would form a circle in the water and throw a ball to one another. The speaker stood in the middle and gave the talk, after which the candidates were immersed
A Hall for Apiculturists
In 1980, the brothers in the town of Negreşti-Oaş, in the northwest of Romania, thought of an ingenious way to get legal approval to build a Kingdom Hall. In those days the State promoted apiculture, or beekeeping. So a group of brothers who owned beehives came up with the idea of establishing a local apicultural association, which would give them a legitimate reason to build a place to meet.
After consulting with the elders in their circuit, the brothers registered with the Apiculturists Association of Romania and went to the town hall to present their proposal to build a meeting place. The authorities readily approved the construction of a wooden building 111 feet long by 46 feet wide [34 m x 14 m]. Elated, the apiculturists and their many helpers completed the project in three months. They even received a special thank-you from town officials!
Because the inaugural meeting was to be well attended and would last for several hours, the brothers sought and gained approval to use the hall for a grain-harvest party. Over 3,000 Witnesses from all parts of the country gathered for the occasion. Town officials were amazed that so many turned out to help with the harvest and to “celebrate” afterward.
Of course, the celebration proved to be a spiritually rewarding assembly. And in view of the official purpose of the building, bees were often featured in the program but in a spiritual context. For example, the speakers pointed to the insect’s industriousness, navigational and organizational skills, self-sacrificing courage when protecting its hive, and many other traits.
After this inaugural meeting, the Bee Hall, as it was called, continued to serve the brothers during the remaining years of the ban and for three years after the ban was lifted.
Zone Overseers Help Promote Unity
For decades the Communists did all in their power to sow seeds of doubt and disunity among God’s people and to stifle communication. As mentioned, they had a measure of success. In fact, some divisions persisted even into the 1980’s. The visits of zone overseers helped to correct this problem, as did a changing political climate.
Beginning in the mid-1970’s, Gerrit Lösch, Branch Committee member at the Austria branch but now a member of the Governing Body, visited Romania on a number of occasions. In 1988, Governing Body representatives Theodore Jaracz and Milton Henschel went there twice, taking along Brother Lösch and interpreter Jon Brenca, then a member of the United States Bethel family. After these encouraging visits, thousands of brothers who had kept themselves separate from the main body of Jehovah’s people confidently rejoined the fold.
In the meantime, growing political changes sent tremors through Communist Europe, shaking it to its very foundations and culminating in the collapse of most of these regimes at the end of the 1980’s. In Romania, things came to a head in 1989, when the people revolted against the Communist regime. The party leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu, and his wife were executed on December 25. The following year, a new government was installed.
Freedom at Last!
As always, Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained strict neutrality as Romania’s political landscape changed. Nevertheless, for the 17,000 Witnesses in Romania at the time, the changes brought freedoms that most had only dreamed of. “After 42 long years,” the Country Committee wrote, “we are glad to send a joyful report about the activity in Romania. We are grateful to our loving Father, Jehovah God, who listened to the fervent prayers of millions of brothers and put an end to the merciless persecution.”
On April 9, 1990, the brothers gained legal recognition as the Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and immediately organized circuit assemblies throughout the country. More than 44,000 attended these gatherings
At that time, a Country Committee supervised the work under the oversight of the Austria branch. However, in 1995, after a 66-year interval, Romania once again had a branch office.
Sustained Through Economic Hardships
By the 1980’s, Romania’s economy had fallen into decline, and consumer goods were in short supply. Then, when the Communist government was toppled, the economy collapsed with it, leaving the people in dire straits. In response, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria, Hungary, and what were then Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia sent over 70 tons of food and clothing to their brothers in Romania, who were even able to share some of those provisions with non-Witness neighbors. “Each time assistance was rendered,” says a report, “the brothers took advantage of the opportunity to give a thorough witness.”
Besides material provisions, the brothers received spiritual food by the truckload. This abundance brought tears to the eyes of many, for these people were used to having perhaps one Watchtower for an entire group. What is more, as of the January 1, 1991, issue, The Watchtower in Romanian was published simultaneously with the English edition and in full color! These changes resulted in a sharp increase in placements in the territory.
From Discussion Groups to Regular Meetings
During the era of persecution, the brothers could not conduct certain meetings, such as the Theocratic Ministry School, in the normal manner. Instead, they met in small groups, read the information, and then discussed it. Usually they had just a few copies, or only one, of the material being considered.
“The Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook was printed in Romanian in 1992,” says Jon Brenca, now a member of the Romania Branch Committee. “Before that, a small number of brothers had a locally printed version of the book. In 1991 we began to train elders how to conduct the Theocratic Ministry School and give counsel. Often, though, the elders hesitated to offer counsel, which was given from the platform in those days. ‘The brothers will get upset if we counsel them in front of others,’ some said.”
There were also some misunderstandings. For instance, when a Ministerial Training School graduate visited a congregation in 1993, an elder approached him with a copy of the school schedule that mentioned that larger congregations could have a second school. Thinking that this provision was for more advanced students, the elder asked: “I wonder when we will be able to start giving talks in that school? We have qualified brothers who could advance to a higher level.” The visitor kindly clarified the matter.
“Circuit assemblies did much to educate the brothers,” explains Brother Brenca, “for they include a model Theocratic Ministry School conducted by the district overseer. Still, it took a few years for everyone to adjust fully to the arrangement.”
The Pioneer Service School commenced in Romania in 1993 and has helped thousands of pioneers to make spiritual advancement and to be more effective in the ministry. To be sure, pioneering is a challenge in Romania because it is almost impossible to obtain part-time work. Nevertheless, in 2004, over 3,500 brothers and sisters shared in some form of the pioneer service.
Help for Traveling Overseers
Brothers Roberto Franceschetti and Andrea Fabbi were assigned from the Italy branch to Romania in 1990. Their objective was to help reorganize the work. “At the time, I was 57 years old,” explains Brother Franceschetti. “Because of the economic conditions in Romania at the time, the new assignment was not easy for my wife, Imelda, and me.
“When we arrived in Bucharest on December 7, 1990, at 7:00 p.m., the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit [−12°C], and the city was blanketed in snow. We met some brothers in the city center and inquired about a bed for the night. ‘We don’t know yet,’ they said. However, a young lady whose mother and grandmother were Witnesses overheard our conversation and immediately invited us to her home. We stayed there for a few weeks until we found a suitable apartment in the city. The local brothers also gave us emotional support and encouragement, which helped us to adjust to our assignment.”
A graduate of the 43rd class of Gilead in 1967, Roberto, along with his wife, spent nearly nine years in Romania, generously helping the brothers to benefit from their decades of experience in Jehovah’s service. “In January 1991,” continues Roberto, “the Country Committee arranged a meeting with all the traveling overseers
“After explaining this arrangement, I said to all 42 brothers, ‘If you are willing to continue to serve as traveling overseers, please raise your hand.’ Not one hand went up! Thus, in a matter of minutes, we lost all the traveling overseers in the country! After giving the matter further prayerful thought, however, some changed their mind. Additional help arrived in the form of Ministerial Training School graduates from Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States.”
Jon Brenca, an ethnic Romanian, transferred to Romania from Brooklyn Bethel, where he had served for ten years. At first, Jon served as a circuit and a district overseer. He recalls: “In June 1991, as district overseer, I began working with the circuit overseers who were willing to serve full-time under the new arrangement. I soon found that they were not the only ones who had to make big changes in their thinking
The Kingdom Ministry School and the Ministerial Training School also helped to educate the brothers. During a Kingdom Ministry School in Baia-Mare, an elder wept as he approached one of the instructors. “I have been an elder for many years,” he said, “but only now do I truly understand how shepherding visits should be made. I thank the Governing Body for this wonderful information.”
The brothers had heard about the Ministerial Training School, but the thought of having one in their own country seemed just a dream. So you can imagine their excitement when that dream became a reality in 1999 when the first class was held! Since then, eight more classes have been held, and these have included Romanian-speaking brothers from neighboring Moldova and Ukraine.
“I Have Found the Truth!”
While many people now receive a regular witness, some seven million
In one remote village, an 83-year-old woman received a copy of The Watchtower from one of her daughters, who had found it in a trash can in Bucharest. The elderly lady not only read the magazine but looked up every scripture in her Bible
She also spoke to her village priest and asked him why he had not told the people God’s name. The priest did not answer but asked to borrow the Bible and the magazine in order to examine them. The woman respectfully obliged, and that was the last she saw of her Bible and Watchtower. Later, when Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her village to preach, she invited them in, began to study God’s Word with the aid of the Knowledge book, and made excellent progress. Today, she and her daughters are all in the truth.
Free to Assemble at Last!
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania were overjoyed when in 1990 they gathered for the “Pure Language” District Conventions. For many, this was the first time they had ever attended a convention. The host cities were Brasov and Cluj-Napoca. Two weeks earlier, a delegation of over 2,000 attended a Romanian-language convention in Budapest, Hungary. Even though the conventions in Romania were just one day long, the brothers were thrilled to hear two representatives of the Governing Body speak, Milton Henschel and Theodore Jaracz. Over 36,000 attended, and 1,445 were baptized
In 1996, Bucharest was scheduled to host one of the “Messengers of Godly Peace” International Conventions. However, the Orthodox clergy did all they could to stop the convention. They and their minions pasted hateful posters all over the city
Under the circumstances, city officials had second thoughts and would not allow the convention to be held in Bucharest. Nevertheless, the brothers managed to secure sites in Brasov and Cluj-Napoca from July 19 to 21, and they were also able to organize much smaller conventions in Bucharest and Baia-Mare for those unable to travel to the other conventions.
News reporters were impressed that the brothers were able to remain calm and reorganize things on such short notice. Hence, despite the rantings of the clergy, the media coverage on the day before the convention was positive. But even the earlier negative reports did some good in that they brought Jehovah’s name to the fore. “In three weeks,” said a brother in Bucharest, “we got publicity equivalent to years of witnessing throughout the country. What the Romanian Orthodox Church thought would hinder us actually turned out to be for the advancement of the good news.” A total of 40,206 attended the conventions, and 1,679 were baptized.
At the “Doers of God’s Word” District Conventions, held in the year 2000, the brothers were thrilled to receive the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Romanian. Said one appreciative young brother: “I drew even closer to Jehovah as I read his name in my personal copy of this translation. I thank Jehovah and his organization from the bottom of my heart.”
From Bee Hall to Assembly Hall
With the exception of the Bee Hall, mentioned earlier, there were no Kingdom Halls built during the Communist era. So when the ban was lifted, the need for Kingdom Halls was almost overwhelming. However, thanks largely to the Kingdom Hall Fund arrangement, in recent years the brothers have been able to complete, on average, one Kingdom Hall every ten days! Simple, functional buildings, they are made from standard designs and with materials that are easy to obtain. As in other lands, the smooth organization and volunteer spirit manifested during construction, especially on quickly built halls, give an excellent witness to neighbors, business people, and city officials.
In Mureş County, the brothers approached the authorities for a permit to connect electricity to a Kingdom Hall under construction. “Why are you in such a hurry?” asked an official. “Processing your permit will take at least a month, and you won’t have much done by that time.” So the brothers took the matter to the director.
He also asked: “Why the rush? You’ve just laid the foundation, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” replied the brothers, “but that was last week. Now we are working on the roof!” The director got the message and issued the permit the very next day.
The first Assembly Hall in Romania, built in Negreşti-Oaş, has a seating capacity of 2,000 in the main hall and 6,000 in an open-air amphitheater. Brother Lösch was thrilled to be invited to give the dedication talk, which he presented in Romanian. Over 90 congregations from five circuits had helped with the construction. Even before the hall was dedicated, 8,572 attended a district convention held there in July 2003. Understandably, the Assembly Hall was a hot topic in the local Orthodox community. But the comments were not all negative. In fact, even some priests commended the brothers for their volunteer spirit.
No Weapon Will Succeed Against God’s Servants
When Károly Szabó and József Kiss returned to their homeland in 1911, little did they know the extent to which Jehovah would bless the work they were starting. Consider: In the past ten years, approximately 18,500 new ones have been baptized in Romania, bringing the publisher figure to 38,423. And 79,370 attended the Memorial in 2005! To keep up with this growth, a fine new Bethel home was dedicated in 1998 and expanded in the year 2000. A complex of three Kingdom Halls was also built on the property.
The foundation for this remarkable growth, however, was laid during periods of such vicious persecution that many of the details cannot be set down on paper. Hence, all the credit for the increase must go to Jehovah, under whose protective shadow his loyal Witnesses found refuge. (Ps. 91:1, 2) Concerning his faithful servants, Jehovah promised: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn. This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah.”
In order to retain that priceless “hereditary possession,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania are resolved to honor the tears of all of those who suffered so much for righteousness’ sake by imitating their precious faith.
[Box on page 72]
An Overview of Romania
The land: Covering 91,700 square miles [238,000 sq km], Romania is roughly oval in shape and about 450 miles [720 km] from east to west. Clockwise from the north, its neighbors are Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, and Hungary.
The people: Romania’s 22 million inhabitants include a wide variety of foreign and indigenous groups, such as Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, Roma, and others. At least 70 percent of the population is Romanian Orthodox.
The language: Romanian is the official language. It developed from Latin, the tongue of the ancient Romans.
The livelihood: About 40 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, forestry, or fishing; 25 percent in manufacturing, mining, or construction; and 30 percent in service industries.
The food: Crops include corn, potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, and grapes. Livestock is primarily sheep. Other animals include cattle, pigs, and poultry.
The climate: Temperatures and rainfall vary according to region. Overall, the climate is temperate with four distinct seasons.
[Box on page 74]
Romania’s Diverse Regions
A largely rural land, Romania is divided into several historical and diverse regions, including Maramureş, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Dobruja. Maramureş, the northern region, is the only territory never invaded by the Romans. The people live in remote mountain villages and have preserved the culture of their Dacian ancestors. To the east, Moldavia is renowned for its wineries, mineral springs, and 15th-century monasteries. Walachia, the southern region, is home to Romania’s capital and largest city, Bucharest.
Lying in the center of Romania, Transylvania is essentially a plateau entirely surrounded by the great arc of the Carpathian Mountains. Richly endowed with medieval castles, cities, and ruins, Transylvania is the home of the legendary Dracula, portrayed in fiction as a vampire. Dracula’s prototypes were 15th-century Princes Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Devil, and Vlad Ţepeş, known as Vlad the Impaler because of the way he executed his enemies. Naturally, tours of this region include their many haunts.
Dobruja, which hugs the Black Sea for about 150 miles [250 km], boasts the magnificent Danube Delta. The second longest river in Europe, the Danube forms the southern border of Romania and drains much of the country. Its ecologically diverse, 1,700-square-mile [4,300 sq km] delta is Europe’s largest wetland reserve and is home to over 300 species of birds; to 150 kinds of fish; and to 1,200 varieties of plants, from willow trees to water lilies.
[Box on page 87]
From the Cult of Zamolxis to Romanian Orthodoxy
In the centuries before our Common Era, the people inhabiting the region now known as Romania were the Getae and the Dacians, kindred tribes. Their god, Zamolxis, was apparently a deity of the sky and the dead. Today, nearly all Romanians profess Christianity. How did this change come about?
During Rome’s ascendancy in the Balkan Peninsula, the Geto-Dacian union posed a major threat. In fact, the union’s King Decebalus twice defeated Roman armies. Early in the second century C.E., however, Rome prevailed and made the region a province. Dacia, as it was called, enjoyed great prosperity and attracted droves of Roman colonists. They interbred with the Dacians, taught them Latin, and produced the ancestors of the present-day Romanians.
Settlers as well as merchants and tradespeople brought nominal Christianity to the region. In the year 332 C.E., Christendom’s influence increased when Emperor Constantine made a peace treaty with the Goths, a confederation of Germanic tribes that lived north of the Danube.
After the great schism of 1054, when the Eastern Church broke away from the Roman Church, the region fell under the sway of the Eastern Orthodox Church, parent to the Romanian Orthodox Church. By the late 20th century, the latter had a membership of over 16 million, making it the largest independent Orthodox Church in the Balkans.
We Sang as Bombs Rained Down
Profile: Learned Bible truth in prison. Spent 14 years in Nazi concentration camps and Communist work camps and prisons.
On September 1, 1944, as German troops retreated, I was one of 152 brothers who, along with other prisoners, were being taken from the concentration camp at Bor, Serbia, to Germany. On some days we had nothing to eat. When we did get a few scraps
Eventually, we reached a railway station, rested for about four hours, and then unloaded two roofless freight cars to make room for ourselves. It was standing room only, and we had no warm clothes
While stopped for two hours at a station about 60 miles [100 km] farther on, we saw some men and women carrying baskets of potatoes. ‘Potato sellers,’ we thought. But we were wrong. They were our spiritual brothers and sisters who had heard about us and knew that we would be hungry. They gave each of us three large, boiled potatoes, a piece of bread, and a little salt. This ‘manna from heaven’ sustained us for another 48 hours until we reached Szombathely, Hungary, early in December.
We stayed in Szombathely for the winter, surviving largely on corn lying under the snow. During March and April 1945, this beautiful town was bombed, and the streets were littered with mangled bodies. Many people were trapped under rubble, and sometimes we could hear their cries for help. Armed with spades and other implements, we were able to dig some of them out.
Bombs hit the buildings near the one in which we were staying, but not our building. Whenever the air-raid sirens sounded, everybody dashed for cover, terrified. At first, we ran too, but soon we saw that running was pointless, for there were no proper shelters. So we just stayed where we were and tried to remain calm. Before long, the guards stayed with us. Our God, they said, might protect them too! On April 1, our last night in Szombathely, bombs rained down as never before. Even so, we stayed in our building, praising Jehovah in song and thanking him for our calmness of heart.
The next day we were ordered to leave for Germany. We had two horse-drawn carriages, so we rode and walked for about 60 miles [100 km] until we reached a forest 8 miles [13 km] from the Russian front. We stayed overnight on the property of a rich landlord, and the following day our guards set us free. Thankful to Jehovah that he had sustained us both physically and spiritually, we said tearful good-byes and headed for home
[Box on page 107]
Christian Love in Action
In 1946, the eastern part of Romania was hit by a famine. Although poor, Jehovah’s Witnesses living in parts of Romania that were less affected by World War II and its aftermath donated food, clothing, and money to their needy brothers. For instance, Witnesses who worked in a salt mine in the town of Sighet Marmaţiei, near the border of Ukraine, purchased salt from the mines, sold it in neighboring cities and towns, and used the profits to buy corn. At the same time, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and other lands also helped by donating some five tons of food.
We Recalled 1,600 Bible Verses
Profile: Beginning in 1959, he spent just over five years in several prisons and work camps. He died in 2002.
During our imprisonment we were allowed to communicate with our families, and they were permitted to send us a ten-pound [5 kg] gift package each month. Only those who finished their work assignments received their package. We always shared the food equally, which usually meant dividing it into about 30 portions. In one instance, we did this with two apples. True, each portion was small, but it helped to alleviate our hunger.
Even though we had no Bibles or Bible study aids, we maintained our spiritual strength by recalling the things we had learned before our confinement and by sharing these things with one another. Our arrangement was that every morning a brother would call to mind a Bible verse. We then repeated this text in an undertone and meditated on it during our compulsory morning walk, which took 15 to 20 minutes. Back in our cell
One brother initially felt that he was too old to memorize many Bible texts. However, he had underestimated his ability. After hearing us repeat the passages out loud about 20 times, he too was able to recall and recite a large number of scriptures, much to his delight!
True, we were physically hungry and weak, but Jehovah kept us spiritually fed and strong. Even after we were released, we had to maintain our spirituality because the Securitate kept harassing us, hoping to break our faith.
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During the 1950’s, handwritten duplication, often with the help of carbon paper, was the simplest and most convenient method of reproducing Bible study aids. Although slow and tedious, this method did have one particularly useful side benefit
Mimeographs, or stencil duplicators, came to the fore in the late 1950’s. To make stencils, the brothers mixed glue, gelatin, and wax and then spread the mixture in a thin, even layer on a smooth rectangular surface, preferably glass. Using a special ink that they prepared themselves, they embossed the text onto paper. When the ink dried, they pressed the paper evenly onto the waxy surface, thus obtaining a stencil. These stencils, however, had a short life span, so the brothers constantly had to make new ones. And as with handwritten copies of articles, stencils also presented a security risk
From the 1970’s until the last years of the ban, the brothers built and employed more than ten portable, hand-operated duplicators. They were based on a model from Austria, and they used plasticized-paper printing plates. The brothers dubbed this machine The Mill. Beginning in the late 1970’s, a few sheetfed offset duplicators were obtained, but the brothers were unable to make the plates, so the machines sat idle. Starting in 1985, however, a brother who was a chemical engineer from what was then Czechoslovakia taught the brothers the necessary skills. Thereafter, both the output and the quality were markedly improved.
Jehovah Trained Me
Profile: Served as a printer during the Communist era and now serves as a special pioneer with his wife, Veronica.
I started to study the Bible in 1972 in the town of Săcele and was baptized four years later when I was 18 years old. The work was then under ban, and the meetings were held at the group study level. Nevertheless, we received a regular supply of spiritual food, even Bible dramas, which were presented as audio recordings along with color slides.
After my baptism, my first assignment was to operate the slide projector. Two years later, I received the additional privilege of purchasing paper for our local underground printing operation. In 1980, I learned how to print and shared in producing The Watchtower, Awake!, and other publications. We used a mimeograph and another small, manually operated press.
In the meantime, I met Veronica, a fine sister who had demonstrated her faithfulness to Jehovah, and we married. Veronica proved to be a great support to me in my work. In 1981, Otto Kuglitsch from the Austria branch taught me how to operate our very first sheetfed, offset duplicator. We set up a second press in Cluj-Napoca in 1987, and I was assigned to train the operators.
After the ban was lifted in 1990, Veronica and I along with our son, Florin, continued in the work of printing and distributing literature for eight months. Florin helped to collate the printed pages before they were pressed, trimmed, stapled, packed, and shipped. In 2002, all three of us were assigned to pioneer in the town of Mizil, which has a population of 15,000 and is about 50 miles [80 km] north of Bucharest. Veronica and I serve as special pioneers, and Florin, as a regular pioneer.
Jehovah Blinded the Enemy
Profile: From her early teens, she helped her parents duplicate literature. Later, she shared in translating publications into Ukrainian.
One day in 1968, I was hand copying a Watchtower onto paper stencils for duplication. Not thinking, I failed to hide the stencils when I went out to a Christian meeting. As soon as I arrived home at midnight, I heard a car stop. Before I could see who it was, five Securitate agents, armed with a search warrant, entered the house. I was terrified but managed to maintain my composure. At the same time, I implored Jehovah to forgive me for my carelessness, promising that I would never leave work out again.
The officer in charge sat down at the table right next to the papers, which I had hastily covered with a cloth when I heard the car stop. He stayed there until the inspection was finished a few hours later. While writing up his report
Even so, the men took Father with them to Baia-Mare. Mother and I prayed fervently for him, and we also thanked Jehovah for protecting us that night. Much to our relief, Father came home a few days later.
Not long thereafter, while I was copying some publications by hand, I again heard a car stop outside our house. I switched off the light, peeked through the covered windows, and saw several uniformed men with shiny insignia on their epaulets step out of the car and enter the house across the street. The following night, they were replaced by another team, confirming our suspicions that they were Securitate spies. Nevertheless, we continued our duplicating work but would carry our materials out through the garden at the back of the house to avoid detection.
“The road between us and the enemy,” Father used to say, “is like the pillar of cloud that stood between the Israelites and the Egyptians.” (Ex. 14:19, 20) Through personal experience, I learned just how right Father was!
Saved by a Broken Exhaust Pipe
Profile: One of the brothers responsible for literature production and transportation during the years of ban.
Early on a summer Sunday, I loaded eight bags of literature into my car. The bags did not all fit into the trunk, so I removed the backseat, put the other bags where the seat had been, draped blankets over them, and tossed a pillow on top. Anyone who looked inside would simply conclude that our family was going to the beach. As an extra precaution, I laid a blanket over the bags in the trunk.
After praying for Jehovah’s blessing, all five of us
At the town of Luduş, a policeman stopped us to examine our car for roadworthiness. After checking the engine number and testing the horn, windshield wipers, lights, and so on, he asked to see the spare tire. While walking to the back of the car, I leaned over and whispered through the window to my wife and children: “Start praying. Only Jehovah can help us now.”
When I opened the trunk, the policeman immediately spotted the broken exhaust pipe. “What’s this?” he asked. “You will have to pay a fine!” Satisfied that he had discovered a defect, he concluded his inspection. I closed the trunk, heaved a sigh of relief, and was never happier to pay a fine! That was our only close call, and the brothers received their literature.
An Encounter With the Securitate
Profile: Started full-time service in 1986 and serves as a member of the Bethel family.
When my sister Aurica and I became Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were treated harshly by our family. Hurtful though that was, it strengthened us for our future encounters with the Securitate. I had one such encounter on a December evening in 1988. At the time, I was living with Aurica and her family in the city of Oradea, near the border of Hungary.
I had in my handbag a magazine that I was proofreading when I went to the house of the brother who supervised the translation work. I was unaware that Securitate agents were conducting a search there and questioning the occupants and anyone who visited. Fortunately, when I saw what was happening, I was able to burn the material that I had in my bag without being discovered. After that, agents took me and other Witnesses to the Securitate for further questioning.
All night they interrogated me, and the next day they searched my official place of dwelling, a little house in the nearby village of Uileacu de Munte. I was not living there, but the brothers used the house to store materials for the underground work. Having made this find, the agents took me back to the Securitate and beat me with a rubber cudgel in order to get me to divulge the identity of those who owned or were directly connected with the items found. I implored Jehovah to help me endure the flogging. A feeling of peace came over me, and the pain lasted no more than a few seconds after each stroke. Soon, though, my hands got so swollen that I wondered if I would ever again be able to write. That evening I was released
With a Securitate agent tailing me, I walked to the main bus terminal. I had not told my interrogators where I was living, so I could not go directly to Aurica’s house for fear of compromising her and her family’s security. Unsure of where to go or what to do, I supplicated Jehovah, telling him that I desperately needed to eat and that I longed to sleep in my own bed. ‘Am I asking too much?’ I thought.
I reached the terminal just as a bus was about to leave. I ran and boarded it, even though I had no money to pay the fare. Coincidentally, it was going to the village where my house was. The Securitate agent also caught up with the bus, asked me where the bus was going, and then hopped off. I deduced from this that another agent would be waiting for me in Uileacu de Munte. To my relief the driver allowed me to stay on the bus. ‘But why am I going to Uileacu de Munte?’ I thought. I did not want to go to my house because I had no food there anyway and not even a bed.
I was still pouring out my concerns to Jehovah when on the outskirts of Oradea, the driver stopped the bus to let a friend off. I seized the opportunity to disembark as well. As the bus drove away, a feeling of happiness swept over me, and I cautiously made my way toward the apartment of a brother whom I knew. I arrived just as his wife was taking goulash
Later that night when I thought it was safe, I made my way to Aurica’s house and went to sleep in my own bed. Yes, Jehovah gave me the very two things that I had prayed for
[Box on page 155]
Young Ones Maintain Their Spiritual Focus
During the era of persecution, young Christians built up a commendable record of integrity, and many risked their freedom for the sake of the good news. Now they face different tests, and sadly, some have let down their guard. But others have maintained their focus. For example, a group of high school students in Câmpia Turzii discuss the daily text together during their morning break. They do this either in the school yard or on the sports field, and other students sometimes join in.
A young sister remarked: “Reviewing the daily text with my friends is a refuge for me, a brief escape from the company of students who do not serve Jehovah. I am also encouraged when I see that I am not alone as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The headmistress and some teachers have commended these fine young people.
[Box on page 160]
Legally Establishing the Good News
On Thursday, May 22, 2003, Romania’s Ministry of Culture and Religions issued a ministerial ordinance reaffirming that the Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, established on April 9, 1990, is a legal entity recognized by the State. Hence, Jehovah’s Witnesses are entitled to all the legal benefits granted to approved religions, such as the right to preach and to build Kingdom Halls. This recognition represents the culmination of many legal battles fought over the years.
1911: Károly Szabó and József Kiss return from the United States.
1920: Branch office is established in Cluj-Napoca. It oversees the work in Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia.
1924: Branch property, including a printery, is purchased in Cluj-Napoca.
1929: Oversight is transferred to the Germany branch and later to the Central European Office in Switzerland.
1938: Government closes and seals the Romania office, now in Bucharest.
1945: Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Romania is registered.
1946: Some 15,000 attend the first national convention in Bucharest.
1947: In August and September, Alfred Rütimann and Martin Magyarosi tour Romania.
1949: Communist government bans Jehovah’s Witnesses and seizes all branch property.
1973: Oversight is transferred from Switzerland branch to Austria branch.
1988: Governing Body representatives visit Romania.
1989: Communist regime collapses.
1990: Jehovah’s Witnesses gain legal recognition. Assemblies are held.
1991: The Watchtower in Romanian is published simultaneously with the English edition and in full color.
1995: Romania branch office is reestablished in Bucharest.
1999: Romania hosts its first Ministerial Training School.
2000: New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Romanian is released.
2004: First Assembly Hall is dedicated, in Negreşti-Oaş.
2005: 38,423 publishers are active in Romania.
1910 1940 1970 2000
[Maps on page 73]
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SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
[Full-page picture on page 66]
[Pictures on page 69]
In 1911, Károly Szabó and József Kiss returned to their homeland to preach the Kingdom message
[Picture on page 70]
Paraschiva Kalmár, seated, with her husband and eight of their children
[Picture on page 71]
[Picture on page 71]
Elek and Elisabeth Romocea
[Picture on page 77]
Construction of the new office in Cluj-Napoca, 1924
[Picture on page 84]
As persecution intensified, literature was produced under a variety of titles
[Picture on page 86]
Nicu Palius came from Greece to help with the work
[Picture on page 89]
Listening to a recorded Bible discourse, 1937
[Picture on page 95]
Martin and Maria Magyarosi (front) and Elena and Pamfil Albu
[Picture on page 102]
A circuit assembly in Baia-Mare in 1945
[Picture on page 105]
Poster for the national convention held in 1946
[Picture on page 111]
[Picture on page 112]
[Picture on page 117]
Listening device used by the Securitate
[Picture on page 120]
Periprava, a labor camp in the Danube Delta
[Picture on page 133]
[Pictures on page 134]
Veronica and Nicolae Bentaru in the secret bunker beneath their house
[Picture on page 138]
Doina and Dumitru Cepănaru
[Picture on page 138]
[Pictures on page 141]
Assemblies held in the 1980’s
[Picture on page 150]
First Pioneer Service School held in Romania, 1993
[Picture on page 152]
Roberto and Imelda Franceschetti
[Pictures on page 156, 157]
Thousands attended the 1996 “Messengers of Godly Peace” International Conventions, despite opposition from the clergy
[Pictures on page 158]
(1) Complex of seven Kingdom Halls, Tirgu-Mures
(2) Romania branch, Bucharest
(3) Assembly Hall, Negreşti-Oaş
[Picture on page 161]
Branch Committee, clockwise from top left: Daniele Di Nicola, Jon Brenca, Gabriel Negroiu, Dumitru Oul, and Ion Roman