One by one, Cristea and Sears learned the detailed stories of the tortured Romanians. Many of them had been arrested at a young age, for “crimes” as small as keeping a letter addressed to Radio Free Europe. The authors uncovered painful truths about the Securitate, the Romanian secret police, and the interrogations, torture and beatings that occurred at Romania’s many extermination camps.
Some interviewees had memory loss, they said, because of harsh attempts at mind-erasing. Many of the survivors that Sears and Cristea interviewed did not want to talk, even 24 years later, in fear of being tortured again.
The terror was so widely spread that many Romanian people simply did not know whom to trust, according to the authors, who said the government saw anyone educated, such as doctors, or even college students, as potential threats. Many people lived on $300 a month, while their torturers lived on $3,000, Sears said.
People were blackmailed into turning in co-workers, neighbors and even family who could be seen as a “threat” to the government, Sears said. Despite widespread torture, many people, including the young generation of Romanians, were not aware of its history.
Growing up during the frightening time, Cristea himself did not realize the extent of what was going on. He said even today’s Romanian history books only have about two pages that touch on that time in the country’s history. It apparently became tradition to forget and not dwell on the past, despite the nature of what happened.
“We wrote the book for two main purposes,” Cristea said. “The first is to remind people what communism is all about and tell them what happened in Romania. The second is to make people aware that a dictatorship can slip into any country fairly easily. The government starts taking rights away, and it almost goes unnoticed.”