Romanian labour camp survivors confront ex-commander

03 June 2015 by Isabelle Wesselingh, Bucharest (Romania)

Many in the Bucharest courtroom held their breaths when, after a long day of gruelling testimonies, Mihai Dionisie got up and walked towards the man who ran the Romanian labour camp where he was held nearly 50 years ago. But the 81-year-old witness, who had told the court of beatings, unbearable hunger and inhumane work targets, simply extended his arm and shook hands with the former camp commander.

Exhumations from May 2015 on a Periprava site believed to be a graveyard for camp victims (Photo: IICCMER)
Image caption: 
Exhumations from May 2015 on a Periprava site believed to be a graveyard for camp victims (Photo: IICCMER)

Despite his fragile health, Dionisie, travelled hundreds of kilometres to testify in the second trial for crimes against humanity ever held in Romania. At 17, he was arrested by Communist authorities for mobilizing a group of students opposing “Soviet abuses” in their country. He consequently spent a decade in the most gruesome political detention centres, including from 1960 to 1962 at the labour camp in Periprava, a remote Danube Delta village near the Black Sea.

A half-century later, Dionisie, slim and blue-eyed, faced Ioan Ficior, the potbellied 87-year-old camp commander. He is accused of having “set up a regime of extermination in which detainees were submitted to brutal beatings, lack of food, drinking water and medical care as well as inhumane working conditions,” as the indictment states. If convicted, he risks life in prison.

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