Max Banus, a journalist, sentenced in 1958 at 8 years for political opposition, has been “ransomed” out of prison, and in 1966 began working for “Radio Free Europe.” After 1990 he published his prison memories in his book, Cei ce M-au Ucis (Those Who Killed Me, 1991, Editura Tinerama), which contains 45 stories he lived or witnessed in the extremely cruelly Stoienesti Securitate prison. In 1961, three days before Easter, he witnessed an unimaginably cruelty done by Securitate: the crucifixion of a Christian.
I have to admit I’ve never heard about the Adventists before going to prison. I met them for the first time at Stoienesti camp.
Their problem started the first day of work. The others commented: “They are crazy, have you heard what their request is? They asked the commandant to provide the raw food and let them cook for themselves. They are not going to eat food prepared by others. And not only that! They said they are not going to work on Saturday. Not in the world. But they are ready to work on Sunday.”
A barber told me these things, spiced with many other details. I smiled but did not pay much attention to it. I knew the Securitate methods very well. One Saturday we returned to the camp very tired. I entered the building and thought I should rest a bit. All my joints ached. Suddenly I heard the sergeant yelling: “Everybody out! In rows!”
What the hell happened? Nobody had a clue. We took our place and the commandant came. We all feared him. He was violent, sadistic . . . brutal. And he was enraged now. He started yelling and shouting. I could not make out much of his speech, heard some of the words.
In short, the Adventists refused to work. Because it’s Saturday. What do these prisoners think? Do they think the regulations are going to be changed because of their foolishness? OK, he could understand they did not want to eat kitchen cooked food. He, the commandant was generous and accepted that. But to refuse working? They will be punished exemplarily.
Because they did not work today, each will get 20 lashes, 20 lashes on their bare feet soles.
I couldn’t sleep all night because of their moans and wailings.
Next morning, Sunday, they could barely walk. I talked to one of them, a peasant from Craiova. “Isn’t it a pity, to let yourself be tortured by them . . .” The man looked at me with goodness in his eyes. He did not reproach me, didn’t tell me it’s not my business and I shouldn’t meddle. “It’s not what you think. Others have suffered for their faith, too . . .” I did not understand what he meant. He was intelligent, and was speaking elegantly. “But you know that finally you will have to work on Saturday . . .” His answer was so determined, I felt uneasy about it. “We will not work on Saturday!” I let him alone, did not insist.
Next day, Monday, we went to work. I was curious to see what is going to happen to these Adventists. Friday night, the sergeant on duty summoned them and started to talk politely to each of them. “You should behave wisely. Please do not create trouble again tomorrow! Work and everything is going to be OK!”
Saturday morning the Securitate used different tactics. They divided the Adventists and scattered them in different work groups. No more than two were allowed in a work brigade. There were two in my brigade. I checked them briefly. They were very clean. Nice looking people, bright and sincere eyes. On top of that they were cheerful. “Maybe they decided to work,” I told myself. It was time to put an end to their ordeal. Both of them were from the Western part of the country, from Transylvania. Hard manual workers. One was from Hunedoara, the other from Deva. We started to work. Both of them were standing with hands in their pockets. They leaned on each other. Did not even touch their shovels. Ten minutes have passed. The sergeant looked at them with a frown that was growing. Next to him, a soldier with a ferocious dog. “You, Pigs! You really want to upset me? Take your shovels . . . and . . . start working immediately!”
No one said a word. I felt a shiver on my spine anticipating what was coming. The Adventists did not move. I did not even know their names. But I knew sergeant Tanase. He was a real beast. A well-known bully. The sergeant walked toward the older prisoner, who was about sixty years old. He hit him right in the face with full force. The prisoner fell to the ground. He stood up again with much difficulty. Could barely remain standing. “Son of a bitch, you will start working immediately!” yelled sergeant Tanase. The old Adventist could barely reply: “I am ready to work on Sunday.” The sergeant got angry, spitted on him, took out his gun and gave it to the soldier. He came closer to the Adventist, threateningly. “You, gangster, take your shovel and immediately start working! Now . . .” The following scene was unbearable. He started hitting him with his feet, palms and fists. The old prisoner’s face was barely recognizable. He fell to the ground in pain . . . The other Adventist, the young one, dared to say: “Sir, sergeant, you are going to kill him!” The sergeant stopped for a moment. Then his face darkened. Turning to the other one said: “You, what are you waiting for? You are young and strong, start working!”
It was true; he was tall, strong, around 30 years old. But he did not move, just looked at his suffering colleague, who was writhing on the ground. He started to help him when suddenly the sergeant exploded: “Leave him alone and start working!” The young prisoner did not answer. His countenance became calm. He knew very well what was coming. The sun was already burning. The sergeant abandoned his cap. His face was sweating. “You, bandits, criminals! You get me in trouble!” And suddenly, without a warning, hit the young one at the carotid. He fell at once. Somebody said: “You killed him!” The sergeant turned furiously towards the group the voice came from. “Shut up! The devil does not die so easily . . .” One prisoner came to help the young Adventist. Others brought water. Finally he came back and looked around him. They helped him up. He could barely stand. The sergeant came threateningly. “Are you one of those Adventists, aren’t you?” But he did not wait for an answer and asked again: “Why have you been sentenced?” The prisoner hardly breathed. Made an effort to reply. “Because I am an Adventist.” Sergeant Tanase started yelling again. “You, liar, you were sentenced because did not want to use the gun. Because you don’t want to work on Saturday. But now, you will work, criminal! You will work, or you will never leave this place alive!” His face was red. Sweat came down his face. Sergeant Tanase was 220 pounds and tall. He looked twice the size of the prisoner who was still writhing in pain. “Start working! Right now!” The young Adventist, who was nose bleeding, stuck his hands in his pockets. I admired him. He was simply going to commit suicide. Is he crazy . . . or what? The sergeant started to beat him again. And again the young fellow fell on the ground. The sergeant stooped, took him by the coat and dragged him to the center of the field. “You, criminal, I’ve found something for you!” Took a shovel and hit hard the ground with it. He tried it few times, to test it. Then took a tree branch and nailed it to the shovel in such a way that it looked like a cross. He bound the young Adventist to this cross, practically crucifying him. Then yelled at him again: “Are you going to work, or not?” The man did not answer. Actually, it was an answer . . .
The sergeant took a sharp shovel and placed its tip underneath the prisoner’s chin, forcing him to stare at the sun. We were looking at a crucified. On a cross. “When you decide you are going to work, I will take you down, and you will be free . . .” The young man could barely breathe. With a hoarse voice, he answered: “I am not going to work on Saturday . . .” “You will work, criminal! You will work, unless you want to die!” An hour passed. The crucified was so weak he couldn’t stand any longer, but he couldn’t move either. Sergeant Tanase was circling around him. “Aaah . . . don’t you think the sun is beautiful, bastard? Call on your God! Call him to save you!”
My mind refused to think. My head was spinning. A man was crucified in front of my eyes. And it was the last half of the twentieth century!
Several days passed. None of the Adventists gave up. Not one of them worked on Saturday. Every question, every insult, they simply answered: “I am ready to work on Sunday.” During the week, however, they worked normally, and were extremely serene each evening.
It was Friday. Friday night. I was anxious to see what the commandant would come up with. Surely, we will go out, in rows, and he will threaten us again. Some of us will be beaten. The one tortured by sergeant Tanase was feeling better. The Adventists were huddled in a corner and spoke hushed. A sergeant came to their corner. A tensed silence fell, suddenly. They looked at him calmly. The sergeant stopped right before them. “Maybe he will start threatening them,” I thought. He inhaled deeply and said: “Tomorrow you are not going to work. It is the commandant’s order. You will work on Sunday!” No one said a word. One could hear a pin drop. The sergeant turned and left. And when he was nowhere in sight, and no one could see them, they embraced each other. With tears in their eyes . . .
The Securitate, the beastly Securitate, was kneeled. By some simple people who believed in a more simple life. Too simple. The cruelty and bestiality were defeated.
By goodness.
By dignity.
By perseverance.
By unity.

The following research paper has been presented at the SDA Theological Seminary Scholarship Symposium held February 3-6, 2009 at Andrews University. Most information included here comes from the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) in Romania.

Adventism and Communism: A Love-Hate Relationship

Summary of the Presentation:
Today, about 25 % of the world population lives under totalitarian Communist regimes. China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba impose a very strict control on religion and religious activities. Twenty years ago the Soviet Bloc disbanded and Communism gave way to various forms of democracy. The archives of the secret police who implemented the totalitarian control are now open in Germany, Romania, and the Czech Republic. A short survey of the Securitate archives in Romania reveals the struggle of the Adventist church not only to grow but to survive. One can see the relationship between church and the Communist regime, but also the relationship between the official church and the underground church. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the methods by which the Communist government tried to influence the mission and activity of the Adventist church in Romania. This survey seeks to create a basis for a profile of the mentality and strategies used by a Communist regime, a profile that could be helpful to Adventist regional or world leaders when making decisions regarding situations in totalitarian Communist countries today.

The Adventist Church in Romania was persecuted long before Communism by both the government and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The records indicate that different governments treated the Church differently. As long as the National Peasants party was in power they outlawed the Church, while the Liberal party tolerated and even recognized the Church. For example Vlad Mocanu, the Union president, and Mateescu Tanase, the secretary-treasurer, were arrested because the Church collected funds for the needy and the orphans following the war and the famine in Spain. This initiative was considered “illegal” and the church leaders had to stand trial. The case was finally closed on August 29, 1939. Not only have leaders been persecuted but lay people suffered, too. In a village, the local elder and several Adventist families were arrested because they did not attend the blessing and dedication of an open air shrine. They were accused of antinationalism and spying for foreign governments. The local Orthodox priest, in his report, insisted that the shrine should be considered a national symbol since Romania is a Christian country. When the first Adventist primary school was opened at Fagaras, the national press commented negatively. Every initiative of the Church was seen as antinational, and an Adventist school was considered a dangerous place for young people to study. The Romanian Orthodox Church was behind many government initiatives against the Catholic or neo-Protestant churches. They pressured the government to restrict their activities, and even to deny them the right to evangelize or speak publicly about their beliefs. Before the 1941 census, Orthodox priests accused the Adventists of telling their friends to declare themselves Adventists so the total membership would justify official recognition as a religious minority. An interesting document, dated 1941, is a post-card sent by an Adventist member to his church elder where the term “brother” is considered suspect and the secret police began an investigation.

A Profile of Communism in Romania
A Communist regime considers religion as “the opium of the people.” Their strategy is to reduce a church’s activities to cause it to weaken and die. The final goal was to create an atheist society, but at the same time they wanted to be seen by the rest of the world as the promoters of democracy and religious liberty. This contradiction to destroy religion, but at the same time pretend that there was no religious persecution, existed in Romania. The Communist government of Romania used two institutions to attain this goal: the State Department for Religious Affairs, and the secret police called the Securitate. The first was supposed to promote religious freedom, while the second was the coercive arm of the state. After taking power, one of the main strategies of the Communists was to create a commission to study each religion and confession in order to understand how it functions, its strength and weaknesses, so a plan would be devised to destroy each of them from the inside. The Securitate was supposed to break any resistance against the Communist government by offering only two options: prison, or cooperation. More than 4,000 priests and pastors, regardless of their religious confession, faced this choice during the first years of Communist power, and an estimated 10 percent died in prison. Many of them agreed to cooperate at the end of their prison time. After 1965, when Ceausescu declared his independence from Moscow and the former USSR, the prison option became rare but recruiting clergy and lay people as informers for Securitate flourished.

Recruiting Securitate Informers
One of the common recruiting tactics was to send military draft notices or to summon a person to the local police station to check the address on the ID or some other papers. Others, who submitted requests for a passport or visa to travel outside the country, or requested approval to use a typewriter, were summoned to the Securitate or Internal Affairs Ministry headquarters. Some of them did not even reach the local police station but were approached on the way and invited for talks at the Internal Affairs Ministry headquarters, or at a special location. Some pastors were reprimanded for writing letters to people or institutions outside Romania, without first checking with the State Department for Religious Affairs, and were threatened with loosing their jobs if they did not cooperate. A recruiting session would last up to eight hours and during this time psychological pressure was used. However, there were informers eager to cooperate on their own initiative. “X considers his patriotic duty as a true Christian to cooperate in a sincere and loyal way. . . . The informer signed the agreement without hesitation, indicating his conscience is at peace, without conflicting his religious beliefs.”

Excerpts from a Recruiting Report
The scope of the recruitment: An “invigoration” of the Adventist activities has been noticed lately with a greater number of converts, strengthened networking between Adventist churches all around the country, and a number of illegal publications. This situation requires recruiting a good informer who would help us control the activities of the Adventists. We do not have enough informers among Adventists in this county. In the churches it has been noticed that there is an increase in the number of interests drawn by methods such as twisting the Scriptures, scaring people with the teaching about the Second Coming and the end of the world, and by making people distrustful of this life. Some propagate the teachings of the Adventist Reform Movement which is declared illegal in Romania.

Description of the candidate: He is objective and knows the facts. The candidate is a good communicator, with a sharp instinct, very analytical, and one who can act calmly and prudently in difficult situations. He is well prepared professionally and socially.

Place of recruitment: The office of the representative of the State Department for Religious Affairs. The candidate must be convinced that cooperating with us is a very important and noble assignment, which can be given only to serious and devoted people.

A Typical File of an Informer
Other people (especially pastors) cooperated because they sensed an opportunity to climb up the hierarchical ladder of the Adventist Church. The following case study is of a pastor who was already part of the Conference administration. Initially (1964), he declined the invitation to cooperate, but in 1976 he accepted and is described as “sincere, honest, sociable, communicable, changed since 1964 and encouraging now the parents to send their children to school on Saturday. His knowledge and character places him above his peer pastors, with the perspective to get to a superior rank at the Union, especially due to the support of the Adventist believers in the Teleorman County that represent one of the cores of the Adventist membership.”
The informer candidate was to be invited to the State Department for Religious Affairs for talks, and on his way back to be “accosted by chance” and brought to the Securitate office in order to impress and gain advantage over him. “If he would refuse or have doubts, talk to him without strings attached letting him know that we could solve his personal or church problems.” Finally the pastor agreed to sign the contract, adding that he will “keep this a secret and inform regularly.”
In a later report, the contact officer mentions that the pastor “reads literature and novels expanding his mind, and is in complete agreement with the Government’s Communist policies. He is nice looking, trustful, and nicely dressed. He says he is tired, overstressed, but otherwise healthy. He is ‘concerned’ by some of his colleagues’ comments that it was better for him to stay as treasurer at the Conference than to move to the Union. Earlier he objected to our request to ‘challenge’ some people to talk about sensitive issues. We decided he was wrong and explained to him that, by the nature of his position, he is required by law to inform us about events that take place, in spite of his will.”
The pastor informed freely, even enthusiastically, about colleagues, friends, and people in the Diaspora, often inserting additional information that was not requested by Securitate. Any time there was a chance, he denigrated his colleagues, especially the ones he saw as competitors for administrative positions, or those better than him. Some names come up frequently. He makes them seem to say what he wishes or thinks. For example, he is frustrated that one of his colleagues visited the Romanian group at the Marienhöhe College, Darmstadt, more often than he did, and is also trusted while he is not. The pastor is inflamed that some people consider him an informer and a traitor, and denies vehemently when somebody asks him publicly and directly about other potential informers. On his way back, he gathered information about the immigrants in the Romanian church in Viena, Austria. In a report, he informed about the proceedings and talks at the Conference constituency meeting (1989).
His last note is dated October 1989, shortly before Communism fell in Romania, during the time when mass movements and social and political tensions took place in neighboring communist countries. He indicates that some Adventist believers make “inappropriate” comments regarding the social movements in Hungary, and that he is “deeply concerned, even indignant,” about such people who manifest an unfit character. He suggests the Government should take action against them [the Union constituency meeting was coming soon, and an obedient and supportive attitude toward the government was explainable]. At the end of the report, the contact officer “suggests” he should nominate those making “inappropriate” comments.

Attempts to Control the Diaspora
Periodical evaluations of informers reveal that some pastors informed about their trips to Western countries, but also about Adventists in the Diaspora. Some informers received assignments to infiltrate Romanian Adventist churches in Viena, Austria, and Darmstadt, Germany. The immigrants were encouraged to meet separately from the host church in order to “better preserve their national identity, to educate and keep them from taking any illegal steps, or publish any type of samizdat or unauthorized publications in order to smuggle it inside Romania.” Plans were made that an informer pastor would try to convince the Diaspora members to invite him and somebody else (?) to hold bible studies and evangelistic meetings inside the UN Center for Immigration in Treiskirchen, Austria, so he could have access to and inform about illegal immigration and control it. The Communist government tried to find out the ways illegal immigrants use to exit the country.
Frequently, such an informer pastor would get into trouble because the Diaspora members would recognize their connection with the secret police. Such a case was reported in New York where an informer pastor raised suspicions when he refused to remain in the US when invited by several members of the Romanian community. Even the Securitate officer notes on the margin: “Should we believe that everybody encouraged him to stay, or is he trying to convince us how devoted he is and how many temptations he overcame in order to return to Romania?” Recognized and identified as an informer, he had to move to another host family because the initial one did not want to have anything to do with him anymore.
When people from the Diaspora wanted to send charity gifts to Romania, the informer pastors told the members not to accept the goods in order to demonstrate that people in Romania have everything at home.
Any pastor (or lay person) who decided to immigrate would be carefully observed, and his public image tainted. Such an example is Nicusor Ghitescu, a Seminary professor, who left the country for a health problem but decided not to return. The Union President himself told the pastors that Ghitescu was a liar, and no one should trust him because he has cheated the members, the Conference, the Union, and the Division. In a letter to the General Conference, the Union president asked them not to employ Ghitescu because he was a traitor. Unfortunately, for a couple of years, the GC followed the Union president’s advice, but in the meantime he organized a Romanian group and the local conference finally employed him as a pastor.
Another case is George Mateescu, a conference finance controller, who requested permission to immigrate legally. The Securitate ordered the Conference to fire him, and also to disfellowhip him, in order to discourage others to follow his “negative” example. When the Conference fired him, and he could not find another job because of his official request to immigrate, Mateescu went on a public strike without food, and wrote letters that were aired by radio Free Europe. Finally, he was allowed to leave the country. Even after he immigrated, Securitate made sure he was perceived negatively: “No one talked about him any longer, no one regrets him,” was written in a later report.
Not everybody decided or accepted to cooperate with Securitate. Some people refused to become informers. Two Adventist pastors are on record for refusing to provide lists with the names of people attending church services, the names of those who would not send their children to school on Saturday, and also their daily pastoral schedule. The pastors replied they would do it only at the Union’s request. The State Department for Religious Affairs representative threatened to withdraw their ministerial licenses. He asked them to request the Union to send their salaries by postal money order (so the government would have control over it, and use it as a leverage). One of the pastors, the treasurer of the Conference, refused saying the Union Conference did not instruct them accordingly. Later, another pastor, who agreed to cooperate with Securitate, informed the state that when he tried to get the requested lists directly from the churches, he encountered strong resistance from the local members. The members told him he had no right to do this, it is not his job. The informer started to preach from the Bible about the duty to obey the government. After the sermon, a member of the church told him he would not provide the information even if he would have to die.
Sometimes informers who initially agreed to provide information decided to step back or openly disobey orders. The records prove that several people were abandoned or excluded from the network of informers. Some continued to send and receive mail from people outside the country. Others deliberately did not communicate information about funds used in the church or in the underground networks. Some people gave only vague information, with no details, so their reports were considered useless. And some others avoided the Securitate officers completely, running from them in the street or hiding in stores so they would not be spotted.

Securitate’s Strategic plan for 1982-1983
One of the key documents for understanding how the Securitate worked and their strategy was the annual planning document. The Securitate evaluated yearly their activities and made specific suggestions for the future. For 1982-1983 they suggested that the following items be accomplished:
Operation Horizon (designed by Ceausescu to use foreigners for presenting a positive picture of Romania) was to be strengthened, since it resulted in a better image of the country in the West. A visit by Bert B. Beach and an article in the Adventist Review, where Romanian Adventists were declared “old-time Adventists,” was quoted as excellent results of influencing Western entities to present a nice picture of Communist Romania. Plans were made to positively influence future visits in 1983 of C. L. Wilson, B. B. Beach, Maurice Battle, R. Nixon, and R. Neals – from USA; Burbank Howard – from England; Edwin Ludescher, Gianfranco Rossi, Pierre Lanares, and Jean Zürcher – from Switzerland.
Spring ’83 was another specific plan to influence people from Western Europe to indirectly work for them. Jean Zürcher’s visit is detailed, and plans to tell him what to say after getting back home are spelled out. The delegation to the annual Division meeting was also to be instructed along the same lines. Besides the economic, immigration, and religious topics to be addressed, the delegation was supposed to contact Costica Balota, an outspoken person supporting religious freedom in Romania, who was considered hostile by the Communist government because of his letters aired by short-wave radio station Free Europe or sent to the US Congress. The delegates were supposed to encourage him to stop denigrating Romania because of the restrictions the government may impose on the free exercise of religion for the Adventist Church.
• The strategy included techniques for influencing people, compromising, misinforming, or discouraging them. Several people considered reactionary and hostile (most of them immigrated later), had to be neutralized and their activity stopped: Octavian Cureteu, Nicuşor Ghiţescu, Gabriel Isaia, Titu Cazan, E. Burghelea, Costică Balotă, Ene Gheorghe, Geo Caraivan, etc.
• Informers with good prospects had to be trained and upgraded for more efficient work. Several pastors from Cluj, Mures, Sibiu, Dolj, and Bacau counties were listed.
• Foreign Adventist students, who studied at Romanian Universities, were to be contacted and recruited as informers. They were usually well received by Adventist churches, which did not suspect any involvement with Securitate (no one knows for sure if this strategy succeeded).
• People who were involved in underground or illegal activities had to be closely monitored. Coconcea Octavian, Grigorescu Cornel, Sima Constantin, Neacşu Ion were suspected for producing, multiplying, storing, and distributing “mystical and hostile” literature.
• The recruiting activity was to be accelerated in order to cover all churches and hot spots, and the situation of the 28 Adventists and 29 Reform Movement Adventists spied on was also to be decided. 22 new Adventists and 12 Reform Movement Adventists were to be recruited during 1983 in order to cover the entire network.
• Of great interest were people who had access to the underground networks. A quarterly evaluation was to be done, with special emphasis on those who had information about the “illegal” or “clandestine” activities. For this reason, the pastors (or future pastors) were targeted, and people with authority and influence among church members as well. Special attention was to be given to Seminary students, or the potential candidates for administrative positions at the Union and Conferences.
• An atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, dissension, had to be created and maintained among church leaders so they would not work together.
• Very active people (or some they considered ‘fanatical’ but who were evangelistically active), who would decline to cooperate with Securitate, would be contacted openly so church members would become suspicious and distrust them, and so they would be isolated and their influence destroyed.
• Articles would be published in the national media describing the “true” intentions of the “fanatical” and “active” Adventists, so they would be discredited, compromised, and rejected by society. The factors that determined church growth had to be studied and strategies and methods devised to “unmask” and annihilate the effects of religious activities. People in factories, social organizations, schools, and institutions had to be informed periodically about these “antisocial” elements.
• For those who would not accept to cooperate, special strategies—like being caught in illegal meetings or activities—would be employed. Special search warrants were issued in order to discover groups meeting on Sabbath in their own homes. Such people would be fined, and even arrested and convicted for petty crimes or felonies.
• Dissident movements were not encouraged to develop because those were difficult to control. The Baptist, Pentecostal, and Brethren churches had a congregational structure, and was much more difficult to control than the pyramidal structure of the Adventist church. When the “Dew of the Morning” or “TKW” dissident movements appeared, Securitate made sure all levels of the church were informed and warned, so no new members would be attracted by such groups. The pastors involved were to be kept in public contact and blackmailed so they could no longer have any influence in the church.

Control of Church Administrators
The Communist government tried to control the constituency meetings at all levels of the church. The records contain lists with names of candidates for administrative positions. Where two names for a certain position were suggested by the church, one was crossed out by the State Department for Religious Affairs or the Securitate. Every time the constituency meeting took place, a representative from the State Department was present to make sure the “directions” were followed. At the Bucharest Conference, in 1988, the delegates to the constituency meeting did not agree with the proposed name offered by the State Department and protested vehemently. The proceedings continued until late at night, and when the name of the new Conference president was announced, the State Department representative, George Carstoiu, hurriedly and nervously left and slammed the door. It was the first time in a long time that a constituency meeting opposed a certain candidate, although the records indicate that both candidates cooperated with the Securitate.

Control of Church Finances
The most effective means of control targeted the Church finances. By law, all the money received by the church had to be deposited in bank accounts. However, the money couldn’t be used without special permission from the State Department for Religious Affairs. The approved budgets were not even enough to pay a decent salary for the pastors, and barely covered administrative costs. Many requests for funds to repair church buildings or to build new ones were turned down, in many cases leading to the deterioration of the buildings to the point that they could no longer be used. The pastors’ salaries were very low, forcing some of them to look for additional sources of food and money. Some church workers raised honey bees and sold the honey, others functioned as photographers at weddings, baptisms, and funerals, while others worked part-time as farmers. This situation did not allow them to work full-time for the church, which was exactly what the Communists wanted. The Church could not employ or train new pastors without the State Department for Religious Affairs’ approval.
Although a religious minority, the Adventist Church had 20-30 times more money in tithe and offerings than the Orthodox Church. The Communists tried to annul the tithing system, but finally realized it was one of the basic Adventist doctrines. They tried to suffocate the Church financially. Faced with such restrictions, the leadership of the Church decided to create a parallel financial system. Only part of the tithe and offerings would be recorded officially, the rest entered a secret circuit (called the Secret Pocket) designed to help the Church survive and fulfill its mission. At a ministerial meeting, a Conference president publicly suggested that each church should retain funds for their local needs because the National Bank would not give cash for repairs, heating, or other local expenses. One informer added his interpretation to the communiqué (which the Government was happy to hear): “The proposal suggests churches should avoid the state audit and control at any cost, so they could use the funds as they wish. The Conference president wanted to be seen as a hero, having the courage to challenge the Government.”
That system functioned between 1950 and 1958 when the Securitate arrested all the leaders of the Union and the Conferences and tried them publicly for stealing the money of the believers. This was a clear attempt to give the Adventist Church negative publicity. However, the trial concluded that the funds were not stolen, so the Communist government accused them of mishandling the money and using them for other purposes. The new Adventist leadership was forced to accuse their brothers in court and make efforts to “recover” the money. Later, the secret system was applied on a local basis, so that financial committees could cover local church expenses.

The Intellectuals Seen as a Threat
Securitate paid a special attention to educated people in the church. Intellectuals were particularly targeted and spied on. Church elders from this category are mentioned from all neo-Protestant churches, Adventists in particular: Paul Gheorghe, Sandu Stroescu, Paul Bujor, Ene Paulini, Chiru Tudorel, Aron Mureşan, Lorand Szentagotai, etc. Some of them are listed for evangelistic abilities (Paulina Arcuş from Roman, and Aron Mureşan from Tulcea), others for musical talents (Vasile and Doina Cazan at Cluj and Chinari), while others taught children in the churches (Cornelia Orban at Craiova). A 1985 statistic made by the State Department of Religious Affairs shows that from a total of 4,445 neo-Protestant intellectuals, 2583 were Baptists, 864 were Adventists (325 in Bucharest), 536 were Penticostals, and 462 belonged to the Brethren.

Sermons as coded language
During the ‘50s and ‘60s the State Department for Religious Liberty had inspectors present at worship services to take notes and control what was said. Many times they would summon the pastor and ask for explanations regarding certain terms used in the sermon. For example, if the sermon focused on the parable of the talents, the inspector would accuse the pastor for using coded language by which he meant US $, and the members understood the message about capitalism being God’s favorite economic system. Poets were also a target for Communist authorities because they could very easily use metaphors and symbols with a double meaning.

Controlled Education
Adventist professors and children in state schools (no private schools were allowed during communism) were harassed and humiliated. The case of School no. 25 in Galati is relevant. Ilie Ranghilof was the executive director, and also an Adventist. Together with Stefan Ouatu and Maria Ciuplea, two other Adventist teachers, were accused of propagating Christian doctrines among the students, and also of registering too many Adventist students in the school, such as Preda Marius, Felea Gheorghe, Olteanu Leonard, Zotoiu Aida, Olteanu Lorina, Graur Sigilda, etc. The officials were concerned because on Sabbath the students would be in church and singing in the choir. They accused director Ranghilof of taking bribes from these students and their parents because he had been spotted traveling in their cars or borrowing their cars, being frequently called at home by them, or receiving “gifts” from them [the students and the director participated in literature distribution or church activities]. The parents of the other children were suspicious and envious. The Securitate decided to scatter them at other schools. Adventists children were frequently harassed because they did not attend school on Saturday. Their citizenship grades were lowered, as well as the other grades, in order to force them to repeat the school year.
In order to control children’s education, the Communist government declared children’s Sabbath School and Youth programs illegal. For more than thirty years the Church was faced with the impossibility to educate their children religiously. The religious education in the family became of paramount importance. In the 1980s, when Magdalena Dumitrescu, the wife of the Union treasurer, began unofficially reorganizing the children’s Sabbath School, she was threatened, and her house often searched for translated, typed, or photocopied material. Her husband would bring Sabbath School material from the Division, which was translated and circulated among churches. While the children would learn in their classes Sabbath morning, guards were placed at the doors to watch for intruders.
The Youth Hour was changed into a Music meeting, but similar programs took place under a different umbrella. The Securitate archives contains hundreds of musical programs from churches in Bucharest, with the names of the people involved and every song and word that was uttered. Similarly, there are many sermons preached in churches in the large cities (some even recorded on tape).

Social and Private Life Spied On
Many Romanian Adventists used to gather once a year in the country for a week-end, something similar to a camp meeting. It was a traditional place, a clearing in the woods where paperwhite narcissus grew abundantly. The Securitate archives reveal that informers were present even there. Pastor Cornel Constantinescu, the organizer, is mentioned, as are pastors from other districts (i.e. Dan Popovici Basarab), as well as the members and visitors from other parts of the country. The plate numbers of the buses and cars of those who came were listed. During the summer, church youth from different parts of the country used to meet and organize summer camps. Such meetings were considered suspect and illegal, and many times the young people had to move to another area or to go home earlier due to reports filed with the local police and authorities who enforced the orders.

From Bibles to Toilet Paper
Religious literature was drastically controlled, especially Bibles. These could not be printed in Romania during the Communist regime. However, they were printed in the West and smuggled into the country by different venues. They had to be stored in inconspicuous places, sometimes even under building materials deposited in the courtyard. Although sometimes wet or molded due to the way they have been smuggled in the country, people were extremely happy to own a Bible. Most of them came underneath cargo barges on the Danube River, wrapped in plastic tarps, and abandoned at night in predetermined unpopulated areas where people were waiting in the bushes. Traian Aldea wrote his memories about those dangerous but rewarding trips to the Danube shores. However, Securitate got hold of informers who provided information on the whole network. The last known transport of Bibles on the Danube was seized, people arrested, and the Bibles sent to a paper factory and reprocessed it into toilet paper. Other Bibles continued to come in cars and trucks with double walls or compartments.
People like Alexandru Sima, Gheorghe Alexandru, Cornel Grigorescu, Neacsu Ion, Octavian Coconcea, Radu Grigorescu, and many others risked their lives in order to provide, print, and distribute religious literature. Others were contact persons, or simply covering for those who were risking their lives. Many times the Communist printing presses were the very places where religious literature was printed. The State Department for Religious Affairs would approve 3,000 Sabbath School Quarterlies to be printed for all 65,000 Adventist members. With great risks (and usually great sums of money), Octavian Coconcea would persuade the printers to run 30,000 more. The same story happened again and again. The inside informers filed reports, but local representatives of the State Department were bribed, too, in order not to report it to higher levels. There were instances when Securitate became suspicious and they cracked down on the whole network. Some people were arrested, the printers lost their jobs, and the church representative had to be moved or demoted.
When the church needed more than Sabbath School Quarterlies, or daily devotionals, the underground network stepped in. People who knew English or French would get hold of a book and start translating it into Romanian. Others would type the manuscript on old manual typewriters, with up to 15 copies at a time on special thin paper. Then others would bind the books and distribute them. During the ‘80s, when photocopiers became available in Romania at certain state institutions, the underground network would pay the person who was supposed to guard the photocopiers in order to allow them to make more copies from one of the typed manuscripts. Usually such persons were Securitate agents, but they were human, too. It is also true that religious literature was unknowingly produced by the Securitate itself. Some books and brochures were printed at the very Casa Scanteii (the Spark House) where Communist propaganda materials were printed. However, the informers indicated exactly where the copying machines were located and suggested that these should be tightly controlled.

Demolition of Church Buildings
Church buildings were demolished in spite of member’s fierce opposition, or the presence of representatives from the US Embassy. Letters to Nicolae Ceausescu, the then President of Romania, and to the government were of no effect. Suggestions from high rank architects to move the buildings on rails were rejected. Members barricaded themselves inside the building, although electricity, water, and sewage had been cut. Women and children made a chain around the building so the bulldozers would not push forward. They threatened to meet and worship on the ruins if the building was demolished. The peak of the tension was reached when authorities brought a crane in order to tear off the roof of the building, but the members together with children and women stood on the roof. President Ceausescu himself had to come and assess the situation from a distance. He ordered the building demolished at any cost, even if the people would be harmed. The strategy was to place a trusted person among the members, who would speculate a moment when the vigilance would be low and open the gates of the compound so the soldiers and inmates surrounding the building would enter. Unfortunately, the pastor himself was the one to convince the members to allow an engineer to stay with them under the promise to help them better resist. Less than 48 hours later, the “engineer” opened the gates and the crowds flowed inside, crushing the resistance, hurting people, breaking doors and windows, and making the building unusable. The pastor was “rewarded” by being allowed to travel outside the country and meet his brother who lived in the West. His name is not even mentioned in the reports regarding the events. The church moved and functioned in a tent for the following 10 years, because no building permit was received.
A year later (1987), another Adventist church was scheduled to be demolished (together with the Union headquarters, the Seminary, and the Publishing house), but because of other social protest movements in the country, Ceausescu’s attention was diverted. However, reports indicate that members threatened to meet in their own houses and apartments if the church were demolished, which the government feared. US Embassy counsels frequently visited the Union headquarters, and this, too, delayed the demolition. The names of Mrs. Susan Sutton, secretary of the US Embassy, and Martin Wernic, from the US State Department, and other diplomats from the political section of the Embassy are mentioned.
Other churches did not benefit from the visits of Western diplomats. The Communist government refused to authorize building permits for churches or delayed them as long as they could. Until 1990, only 525 Adventist churches existed officially, but the number doubled overnight after Communism fell. That shows how many churches met “illegally” until they had the chance to have their own building. Usually they met in private houses and sometimes even in high rise apartments. This worked well for house churches, but members fought hard to have a building they could call “Church” because of the mentality of Eastern Orthodox people who would never feel comfortable worshiping in an apartment or private house.
The records show only a few situations in which the members built their churches without permits, only to be fined and to face the prospect of having the church demolished, but there were many such instances. The situation at Sepreus, Arad, became very tense when the Communist authorities ordered the church to vacate the building which was almost finished, and brought bulldozers to raze it. The mothers with their children stood in the way of the bulldozers and, in the end, the bulldozer drivers refused to hurt anyone and left. The authorities had no alternative but to give a building permit and allow the members to finish construction. The same situation happened at Oinacu, Giurgiu.

The following is a Cover story article that appeared in Adventist Review, June 14, 2001.

By Petre Cimpoeru

We had no other choice. If God’s Word was to see the light of day, cloack-and-dagger was the word.

It all started in 1977 when a powerful earthquake hit Romania. The seismic event not only shattered buildings and lives, but also shook the hearts and consciences of people to their very foundations, awakening them from fear and spiritual apathy. That’s when a small group of Adventist believers from the Labyrinth church in Bucharest (the largest Adventist church in Romania at that time) decided to start an underground activity: the publication and distribution of Adventist literature. This was dangerous business, since the Communist government considered books by Ellen White subversive and prohibited their publication.

The leader of the group was Alexandru Sima, a courageous man who in his youth had been a gang leader. He’d been converted to Adventism in prison through the example of a few Adventist young men who’d been incarcerated for refusing to do military service on Sabbath. Once he became an Adventist, Alexandru announced that he was ready to spend as many years behind bars for the Lord as he’d been imprisoned for gang-related activities. And sure enough, the opportunity presented itself soon after he was released. Realizing the need for religious literature in Romania, he dedicated himself with enthusiasm and full energy to the worthy cause, even while fully aware of the consequences.

He Made Me an Offer
My own passionate love for books started in my early years, and I had accumulated a library that included thousands of volumes. My parents raised and educated me to have a deep respect and devotion for the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White. So when I heard that Brother Alexandru was publishing the Ellen White books in secret, it did not take me long to touch base with him. When I first approached him to buy The Great Controversy and Patriarchs and Prophets (both by White), he examined me carefully. Only after drawing upon his intuition and his vast experience with people did he determine that I was trustworthy. At the end of that first conversation he carefully explored the possibility of my collaborating with him in his publishing endeavors.

It was an offer that took me completely by surprise, and I asked for some time to think about it. It wasn’t an easy one to accept, considering that Communist prisons were not exactly gyms for muscle building or places to study for law degrees. But after my wife and I had given it considerable thought and prayer we accepted. Deep within our hearts we were convinced that in a time of spiritual emptiness and atheist brainwashing, the Lord’s messages of love and hope needed to reach as many people as possible in Romania.

The very real danger of being caught and arrested by the police, or denounced by the many moles infiltrating our churches, seemed small in comparison to making known the message of hope the Lord gave to His servant, Ellen G. White.

Because I’d been teaching the Romanian language for many years, Alexandru wanted me to proofread the books, to prepare them for publication, and to translate some from French. My wife was asked to help with typing manuscripts. The only copies of Ellen White’s books in existence in Romania at that time were translations that had been produced in the archaic language of the 1920s and 1930s. New translations in the contemporary vernacular were clearly needed.

Far From Simple
All seemed very simple to begin with. We just needed to buy a typewriter and start our work. But what would have been straightforward in many other parts of the world did not prove easy to do in Communist Romania.

The Communist government of Romania, one of the most Stalinistic in Eastern Europe, was suspicious of any activity it could not control. And in order to prevent the spread of antigovernmental activity, they had registered all typewriters. They wanted to make sure they could identify all sources of printed material. Only after the police had verified that you were reliable did they give you a permit to buy a typewriter, with the police taking samples from every machine to create a dossier.

After we waited some time, the approval to buy a typewriter finally came. Our first typewriter was a blue portable Olivetti. The first materials we produced were Bible studies and D. A. Delafield’s book Ellen G. White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I translated from French. Because we did not have any available copy machines, we used onionskin-type paper and carbon to create six to eight copies at one time.

The light keys of the typewriter had to be hit very hard in order to create clear copies, so we used only two fingers. The work was extremely difficult and after several hours a day we felt excruciating pain.

When the government fired me for the second time from my teaching position (for refusing to work on Sabbath), what began for me as a part-time activity (with the publishing venture) very soon became full-time.

To conceal our cooperation we met Alexandru or his wife in very remote places or in crowded bus stations. We would use two identical bags. And in the big crowd waiting for the bus, we could exchange them undetected. One would contain new manuscripts, while the other would contain materials prepared for publication.

We avoided talking on the phone, except in extreme situations, since most of the phones were bugged. For emergencies we established a code word. Our code word was medicine, intentionally a very common word to avoid any suspicion. If in a telephone conversation this word was used, we knew immediately that a critical situation had developed and we had to hide all materials in our possession.

Penetrating the Communist Stronghold
Casa Scanteii was the largest printing house in Romania. Here the Communist Party published all its atheistic propaganda books, including those of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The building was a gift from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the Communist Party of Romania, and it stood as a symbol of the eternal friendship between the two parties and countries.*

With his ingenuity Alexandru was able to make connections at what was, in fact, the heart of Romanian Communist propaganda. For many years Adventist books were printed in this very place—during the night and over the weekends, on the best printing materials available in Romania, using the best technologies in the country. Periodically we would smuggle out of the place a truckful of Adventist materials and take it directly to Alexandru’s house. In his basement a bindery had been installed, and here he and a few close friends would bind the books. After the new books were ready, a few collaborators would distribute them to different parts of the country. As a result of this daring activity, most of the Ellen G. White books, printed in beautiful editions, made their way throughout the entire country of Romania. These included all nine volumes of Testimonies, Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Great Controversy, The Desire of Ages, Education, The Acts of the Apostles, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, Spiritual Gifts, and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing.

One afternoon at the end of 1979 I received a rare telephone call from Alexandru’s wife, during which she used the magic word medicine, signaling that there had been some dangerous development. Immediately we hid all our manuscripts and any proof of our underground activity.

A short time after we received the alarming call, an Adventist minister, a close neighbor and friend, who was informed about our underground activity, wanted to visit us. He came to the entrance of our building but quickly realized that something was wrong because of the suspicious persons he saw moving back and forth. From the way they were dressed and from their physical appearance he realized they were secret agents. Returning home, he changed into his son’s high school uniform, then came back to our place without being suspected. Our friend’s visit reinforced our conviction that something had gone terribly wrong, and we would have to act immediately.

At that time my wife and I lived with our 10-year-old daughter in an apartment building with eight stories. Feverishly gathering all the materials, we put them in bags and covered them with vegetables for camouflage. To take them out of our apartment undetected, we went onto the roof of the building (we were living on the sixth floor) and then split—my wife and daughter getting out of the building on a lateral exit and I using the opposite exit. The night was very dark, which served our purpose well. We succeeded in getting all materials out of the apartment undetected, and we met at the bus station. From there we traveled to my mother’s house—she lived alone in a different part of the city. There we hid all materials on the bottom of a big wooden box that my mother used for coal.

The next Sabbath we heard that Alexandru Sima and one of his collaborators, Alexandru Pencea, had been arrested. The police had searched their homes and found them full of Adventist books and manuscripts. After a long interrogation, which tested their moral and physical stamina, Sima and Pencea were taken to court and sentenced to two years and eight months, respectively. During this time I expected any moment to be arrested myself, as the intent of the long interrogation was to get the names of all collaborators.

Later on I learned that I escaped arrest and imprisonment because Brother Alexandru did not try to extricate himself from the responsibility for the publishing activity by implicating me and other collaborators. Despite the fact that police suspected my wife and me, they did not have enough concrete evidence of our activity to arrest us. Nevertheless, the sword of Damocles hung over our heads until the moment we left Romania in April 1980 for the United States.

Unfortunately this story does not end here. After his release from prison Alexandru Sima continued his underground activity. A few years later he was killed in an explosion that demolished three quarters of his house. The cause of the explosion never became known.

These years of underground activity were the most exciting and unforgettable in our entire lives. We were thrilled to see all these beautifully and professionally produced editions delivered into the hands of avid readers of the message of God. We considered ourselves soldiers in Christ’s army, and rejoiced greatly at the thought that so many people thirsting for the Lord could find meaning and direction for their lives.

Looking back at those years, we realize that never before had we experienced a deeper sense of fulfillment. Every available moment was dedicated to the activity of filling up the spiritual emptiness created by the atheist propaganda of the Communist government of Romania. I intend this article as a small tribute to all those who labored anonymously and valiantly for the Lord during that difficult era in Romania, when the government engaged in open war against God and against His people.

Our church should be very proud of its sons and daughters who exhibited courage and dedication for the Lord and for His church, putting themselves at great risk to publish and disseminate Adventist literature during those critical times of trial and tribulation behind the iron curtain in Communist Romania.

*After the revolution of 1989 the name of the building was changed to the House of Free Press.

Petre Cimpoeru is the associate librarian/assistant archivist for special collections at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California. He also served several years as assistant professor in the History Department at La Sierra University and at California State University at San Bernardino. Today he works with the very same books he was publishing under enormous danger in Romania.

Postscript and Update

About four years ago I was sent by the General Conference (GC) to organize and computerize the library of the Adventist Theological Seminary at their new campus (the largest in Eastern Europe). They needed accreditation from the GC Education Department, and one of the conditions was to have an organized library. The assignment gave me an opportunity to renew my friendship with the Romanian Union president, Pastor Adrian Bocaneanu; and since then I’ve been in frequent contact with him, gleaning many important details about the work in the country.

The Romanian Adventist Church is the largest in Europe—73,559 members (out of a population of approximately 23 million) worshiping in 1,063 churches.

After the fall of Communism in December 1989, the Adventist Church grew at the rate of 4,000 to 5,000 a year. Religious freedom from the government has given rise to input of Adventists from outside the country, and missionaries from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe have organized evangelistic campaigns in the country with great success. The church has a radio station, Vocea Sperantei (Voice of Hope), which broadcasts all over Romania. Recently Adventist programs, including Bible studies, were broadcast also on television.

The church is currently working on a Romanian NET program for next year (February-March 2002). During 2000 the membership growth slowed down for the first time in 11 years, and church leadership hopes Net 2002 will create a new momentum to reverse that trend.

Satan, as always, will throw up obstacles. More than 80 percent of the Romanian population are Greek Orthodox. Orthodox leaders do not look favorably at the progress the Adventist Church is making, and evangelistic ventures have not been without harassment.

From a Distance
A year after I arrived in the United States in 1980, I took the initiative to publish Signs of the Times for Romanians living in America and in all the free world. The magazine was officially recognized and supported financially by the GC. After the fall of Communism in December 1989, I was able to form a nonprofit organization (with four other Romanians) to support the missionary effort in Romania.

Among other things, more than 40,000 Bibles have been printed and sent to the home country. Missionary meetings were organized in different parts of Romania, and lay missionaries have been paid to go from house to house distributing Adventist literature and giving Bible studies. The organization also helped with the construction of many new churches as well as with improvements on existing buildings. Our schools also received books and audiovisual materials.


  1. I’d like to know more about the research paper entitled ‘Adventism and Communism: A Love-Hate Relationship’. What is the name of its author? Are there more publicly available papers like it – by the same author or by others?

  2. Radu, you will find the information about the article here. It is slated for publication this spring. I will post the information as soon as it will become available. I am not aware of other articles about the Adventist church and communism in Romania.

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