The Passion of Domnica
The name Domnica Burdet (1932-1994) only appears in the archives of the Securitate, on a tombstone found in Rebrisoara (Bistrita-Nasaud) and in the memory of the few who discovered her story.
At 16 years of age, while she was defending her mathematics thesis, she was removed from the teacher’s training college in Nasaud and taken to the Securitate’s office basement where she was brutally beaten in front of her father.
He was a member of the National Christian League, an anticommunist organization in Transylvania, which had gathered a few tens of supporters from the villages of Rebra, Rebrisoara, Parva and Lusca between the years 1948 and 1949.
They were considered to be “anticommunist in their philosophy” and “enemies who were furiously opposing the communist regime.”
United in their admiration for Iuliu Maniu and gathered around a radio where they clandestinely listed to The Voice of America, the partisans waited for the intervention of the Anglo-Americans in Romania.
Their total adherence was sanctioned through an oath.
“In the name of the All-Powerful God, I pledge my faith in His Majesty King Mihai I and to my Romanian nation, to fight for the liberation from the yoke of communism. I pledge my faith in the Committee of the National Christian League, which is against communism, and the submission to the State and the decisions they make in all domains. I solemnly swear to keep all of its secrets hidden from each and every person so help me God!"
These secrets could be kept from anyone with the exception of the inquisition, lead by the most feared institutions of those years.
Informants by profession, volunteer traitors and people who were determined to give testimony under torture traced the circle of suspects. The adversaries of the system were annihilated through crime and through hard years of prison.
She dreamed of becoming a teacher
Domnica, a teenager with curly, long hair, who dreamed of becoming a teacher, was accused for favoring the transgressor. From the moment of her arrest, she served a grim year in prison, during which she was beaten almost daily.
She served part of the year at the Securitate headquarters in Bistrita and the other part at the Cluj Penitentiary.
In the evening, in her cell, she would whisper litanies. The next day she would receive the Holy Sacrament yet again from the river of suffering.
On February 11, 1950, she was released and put on a train to Bistrita, but not without being aggressed one last time. It was the method her torturers used to say their final good-byes. She was 17 years and two months old.
When she arrived home, she found out that her father, Ioan Burdet, had been killed by the Securitate on the 24th of June in the summer of ’49. He was buried on the Dealul Crucii (Hill of the Cross), at the boundary between Rebra and Rebrisoara, beside Leonida Bodiu and Dumitru Toader, prominent figures of the National Christian League.
The main accusation was that she hadn’t turned in her father
Domnica Burdet started school at 5 years and 9 months without her parents’ knowledge. Her father, who was an innkeeper from Rebrisoara, caught on only at the end of her first trimester.
The wife of the priest who was also a teacher and the godmother of Domnica told Ioan Burdet flatly: “I’m not giving her back to you to take home. She’s the smartest of them all. Go to the doctor and ask for a note that says she has the aptitude to be in school despite the fact that she’s not even six yet."
Her father complied and promised the girl that he would support her.
Domnica completed the first four grades in her birthplace, middle school in Bistrita and finally pedagogic high school in Nasaud, then called the “Normal School.”
Four months before graduation, on the morning of February 12, 1949, she was arrested and taken to the Bistrita Securitate office where her father had also been taken.
The investigating bodies subjected children to overwhelmingly difficult sentences. These can be found in Domnica’s file at the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives as well as in the files of the main members of Nasaud’s anticommunist organization.
The main accusation was that she failed to betray her father and the leader of the National Christian League, Leonida Bodiu. Exactly how the martyr Pavlik Morozov had probably betrayed him.
Consequently, on the February 12, 1949, the liquidation of the Christian League began in an atmosphere of terrible violence. By March, they had arrested more than 70 supposed members of the group.
Involved in the Bistrita investigations were the writer Teohar Mihadas and the poet Constant Tonegaru, accused of taking part in the National Christian League.
The former had been excluded from the field of education for having publically opposed the ideologies of the teaching staff. Teohar Mihadas survived imprisonment for seven years and lived to tell the tale in his memoir “On Mount Ebal”, published in 1990. Here, he shared episodes of the ferocious cruelty that was manifested in the basement of the Securitate’s office.
The passage where he describes the torture Domnica Burdet was subject to is terrifying.
“They beat Domnica the hardest” “They threw themselves at me, working with great haste (…) tied my hands, pushed me to the floor and wove a large stick between my hands which were tied behind my knees. They lifted me with difficulty, hanging me between the desks with the soles of my shoe facing upwards. They threw a mask over my head so that I couldn’t see who was hitting me, my fur coat (…), they yanked some spikes out of the panoply and started to beat them into my soles of my feet with sledgehammers. I received over 120 hits (…). Slowly, I began to fall into what felt like an abyss. I stopped feeling anything. They untied me. They threw a bucket of cold water over me. I shivered violently from the cold and from the pain of thawing for minutes on end. They took out everything from the panoply, some little pouches full of sand. After they had arranged me into the position of a crucifixion, they threw a plywood board at my chest and they started (…) to throw the small pouches full of sand into the plywood. I spit blood for days in a row after that, even though there were not traces of bruises on my body. I can’t say that they didn’t apply new technology. This is why I later got tuberculosis. The women who were arrested were beat the hardest, as if they were horse thieves or worse: beat on the soles of their feet, on their cheeks, with fists, with horsewhips, with the toes of their boots, and the worst, they hit Domnica (Burdet…) They beat her with verve, the way “it is written in the book.” Pongratz struck her from her boots to her belly, her thighs and between her legs. Szabo slapped her with his freckled hand, covering her with blond hairs that became soaked in sweat. He slapped her over the face, neck, chest, and when he got tired of hitting with his own hands, he took out the horsewhip. One night, in front of her father who had been beaten to a pulp, they tied her into a ball and with the help of two bars that were skillfully woven between her knotted up hands and feet, they hung her up with her soles facing the ceiling and her breasts hanging out. The first sergeant Herta carried out the orders from Major Gligor who haughtily presided over the entire ordeal. Herta beat her over her soles with her own hair so industriously that all the poor student’s weakness left her – both her human weakness and her female weakness – to the infernal horror of her father who was before her, and also to the great pleasure of the major and of Herta, who was laughing towards his superior, in a trance-like state, waiting for a bravo.”
Ioan Burdet must have become white as a ghost when he witnessed the first beating administered to his daughter.
On the 24th of June, 1949, he was allowed to say his goodbyes to his daughter after his arrest in Bistrita.
“Take care of your mom and of your sister. I won’t be coming back,” he told her after kissing her on the forehead.
On the same day, Burdet, Bodiu and Dumitru were to be shot in cold blood on the Hill of the Cross. Their bodies were thrown into a communal hole near the place where they were killed.
Even the dead of the Hill of the Cross were sentenced in the absence of their trial.
Leonida Bodiu - 25 years of hard labor, 10 years of civic degradation and confiscation of property.
Dumitru Toader - 20 years of hard labor, 10 years of civic degradation and confiscation of property.
Ioan Burdet - 20 years of hard labor, 10 years of civic degradation and confiscation of property.
In addition, it was established that they were required to pay the state the costs of the trial, a total of 20,000 lei.
A wedding without guests
After her release (February 1950), Domnica returned home to Rebrisoara where she would be under house arrest for another 40 years. She rented a place beside her mother’s home because the communist regime had taken their parental home.
She tried to resume classes at the high school in Nasaud and the principal looked at her long and hard, not daring to tell her the truth. “Come back next week and we’ll see.”
The chief of police in Rebrisoara got her up to date with the latest news: “Where do you want to go? You aren’t allowed to go further than your porch without signing a declaration. You have no more rights.”
Domnica married Dumitru Purcelean in his native village in November 1951. Almost nobody attended their wedding even though her father-in-law had presided over the wedding ceremony of 50 families in the village. They were stigmatized.
Domnica had three children: Elizabeth, Olga and Vasile and her flame flickered and died in 1994. After the Revolution, she managed to attend a church service on the Hill of the Cross, where she put up an iron cross for her father, for Leonida Bodiu and for Dumitru Toader.
Olga Scurtu is 61 years old and an accountant in Bistrita. She bursts out into tears every time she evokes the tragic destiny of her mother. She doesn’t understand why a child had to suffer so much.
“What was my grandfather doing? On his hat, he wore an eye, which was the electoral symbol of Maniu with whom he sympathized. They discussed things among themselves because they felt the need to address the reality that they were living. They didn’t want to overthrow society, but what they did was enough for someone to put their names into the black book.
Was it worth seeing his child getting beaten up so savagely? Can you imagine what was going on in his soul? Domnica, my mom, was kept in the dark for an entire year, the blackest dark. She came back from Cluj in the exact same clothes she was wearing when they arrested her. What saved her there were the litanies and they fact that she could communicate using Morse code on the pipes in her cell.
When she got home, there wasn’t a single spot on her body that you could touch without it hurting her, she told me later. For what purpose? She was considered a spy when all she wanted was to become a teacher. When they released her, a woman from the village said: why did they let her go? Couldn’t they have shot her the way they shot her dad?” recounted Olga to PressOne.
Domnica spent the rest of her life in an atmosphere of fear, under the magnifying glass of the Securitate. She often told Olga: “Don’t even trust in your own clothes, because even they will lie to you. You need to wear three locks: on your heart, on your neck and on your lips! If the first two locks are broken, don’t let your mouth ever be opened. Your secret should never get in the hands of others.”
Domnica smiled only three times in her life after that incident. The first time was when she saw the iron cross being raised up beside the place where her father was killed.
The second time was when she met with an inhabitant of her village who had also served in a political prison. The third time was when she saw Valeriu Anania on TV, a Romanian bishop, after ‘89.
In April 2009, a team from IICCMER (Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile) headed by George Petrov successfully completed the exhumation of the remains of the three martyrs.
Two months later, on the anniversary of 60 years after the crime was committed, the remains of the three martyrs were reburied with military honors in the cemetery of Bistrita in the presence of a group of priests.
All of those who contributed to the downfall of the anti-communist cell escaped unpunished.
Liviu Pangratiu, the commander of the group (of which first officer, Major Liviu Herta and first officer Traian Sasarman belonged to) responsible for the execution of Bodiu, Dumitru and Burdet, and commander of the person who had actively participated in the beating administered to Domnica, died in 2011. He denied his involvement.
He was the vice-president of the Cluj Branch of the War Veterans Association.