A short, stuttering kid left home at 11 to make something out of himself in Bucharest.
His parents, peasants from Scornicesti, could barely put food on the table for their 10 children. His father, Andruta, had three hectares of land, a few sheep, and would make ends meet by tailoring. “He didn’t take care of his kids; he stole, he drank, he was quick to fight, and he swore…” said the old priest from Scornicesti. His mother was a submissive, hard-working woman. The family slept on benches along the walls of a two-room house. Corn mush was their staple food.
Nicolae went to the village school for four years. The teacher taught simultaneous classes for different years in a one-room schoolhouse. The young Ceausescu did not have books and he often went to school barefoot. An outsider from early on, he did not have friends; he was anxious and unpredictable.
In a then cosmopolitan Bucharest – the first city he had seen – Nicolae moved in with his sister, Niculina Rusescu. Soon, he was sent to serve his apprenticeship at the workshop of shoemaker Alexandru Sandulescu, active member of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR), who initiated his apprentice in conspirative missions. Nicolae did not adapt to Bucharest.
The switch from a world in which he couldn’t find his place (his own village) to another in which he still couldn’t find his place (the intimidating city) marked him. “His initiation into the marginalized movement of the communists was his alternative solution for integrating into social life,” says sociologist Pavel Campeanu, author of the book Ceausescu: The Countdown.
Historians of the Golden Age never miss an opportunity to hyperbolize Ceausescu, the activist, as a “young hero,” arrested for the first time at the age of 15, and who, by the age of 26, had spent 7 years in prison.
The truth is that, in the 1930s, Nicolae was a rash, incompetent kid. “I had never heard anything about him,” says Constantin Parvulescu, one of the founders of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR). He would receive minor missions from his communist bosses. For example, in 1934 in Craiova, with three other young people, he caused a stir at the trial of a group of communists led by Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, who was at the time the leader of the Romanian Rail System union in Bucharest. Ceausescu and his comrades were arrested and beaten by the police.
According to the testimony of Ion Gheorghe Maurer, who would become president of the Council of Ministers, Nicolae had been paid to distribute manifestos and petitions just as others were paid to sell newspapers.
Until the mid-1930s, Nicolae traveled on “missions” in Bucharest, Craiova, Campulung, or Ramnicu Valcea. He was arrested several times. His record was beginning to convey the image of a “dangerous communist agitator” and “distributor of communist and anti-fascist propaganda.”
His first prison sentence: June 6, 1936, the court of Brasov – two years in prison, plus 6 months for defiance of the court, a 2000-lei fine, and a year of home detention in Scornicesti. The largest part of his sentence was served at Doftana. His fellow inmates say that the prisoner Ceausescu was envious, vengeful, and tough. But he knew how to get under people’s skin.
When he got out of prison, Ceausescu was no longer quite as anonymous. He became a leading member of the youth organization of the Romanian Workers’ Party (PMR). In Romania, there were about 700 free communists (led by Patrascanu, Foris, Pirvulescu) and about 200 more imprisoned (the generation that had taken part in Dej’s railway strike); a royal dictatorship has been instated, activist meetings were rare, money was scarce, member IDs and membership dues did not exist.
He was soon arrested again and sent to Jilava for three years for “conspiring against the social order.” Ceausescu spent the war years in prisons and work camps: Jilava (1940), Caransebes (1942), Vacaresti (August, 1943), Targu Jiu (September, 1943).
The bars isolated him from what was happening outside: the agreement between Hitler and Stalin; internal conflicts between communists; the loss of Basarabia and North Ardeal territories; the attempted legionary coup d’etat; the abdication of Carol II; the Antonescu dictatorship. Sealed away from the tumultuous history unravelling in his homeland, the prisoner plotted his own vision for Romania’s future.
This was an excerpt from “The Man They Killed on Christmas Day”. You can download the book from the link below: