I met Adriana Georgescu again in April 1990 in University Square in Bucharest. I knew that she was now living on the other side of the Channel in a British town. That she had changed her name, after a new marriage, to Westwater. That her appearance had been changed not only by the passing of time but also by the incurable trauma of her prison experience. I had followed year after year her evolution and her tragedy. Still she seemed to belong amidst the youth here. When they sang with humour – a humour pierced by bullets – the "golanilor" anthem. And then, kneeling, when they picked up another refrain, "Oh Lord, please come Lord, to see what is left of the humans". Between the lyrical-revolutionary illusion of the beginning and the disconsolate premonition of the end was Adriana's real place.
Adriana Georgescu was a symbol of the obstinacy with which Romanian students and youth in general defied the Soviet occupation after the war. Near Mihai Fărcăşanu's unmistakable silhouette leading the Liberal Youth demonstrations, and inseparable from it, was Adriana's golden hair, athletic slenderness, confident laugh. Newspaperwoman, very young attorney, just out of the University, then General Rădescu's Chief of Staff, the anti-communist resistance found in her an emblematic figure. She was also to become one of the first sacrificial victims of the first show trial in the long series that Nicolschi imposed upon Romania, a series that was to lead to the unfinished symphony of horror at Piteşti. That diabolical stage hadn't yet been reached, but even these initial exercises had been enough to change Adriana's whole existence, henceforth accompanying all the stages of her life with their unending nightmare.
When we met in Paris at the end of 1948, despite what she had been through, Adriana seemed unchanged. She was still General Rădescu's Chief of Staff, stopping here on the road of exile that was to take him to the United States. Adriana could still laugh as well as before, she hadn't given up hope. Of course it was also true that all of us, students or recent graduates, in Paris in sufficient numbers to turn Boulevard St. Michel into a sort of Calea Victoriei away from Romania, we all shared the same recklessness of our age. I only knew one exception: Virgil Ierunca. He walked among us actively pessimistic and was the only one whom I never heard using at New Year or other holidays the ritual formula, "Next year in Bucharest". I myself had come to Paris with the firm belief that Malraux could be convinced to set up international brigades to free Romania.
But I had come to a Paris that was convalescing after one war and unable to prepare for another, and I was among Marxists, Marxist sympathizers, communists, and other fellow travellers for whom Moscow was an anti-fascist Mecca. Among the representatives of the Great Powers who made up the Nuremberg Tribunal, the representatives of the Gulag were trying the heads of the Nazi concentration camps.
One couldn't talk about the satellite-ization of the East without being labeled a fascist. Our stubborn refusal to admit to the division of Europe and the flagrant injustice of the peace was not dulled by aggressive contact with reality. We printed newspapers, we agitated, we held meetings, we knocked on all the doors, we wanted to open eyes that had chosen to remain closed. Such an out-of-sync attitude cannot be explained only by our youth. A very mature Grigore Gafencu did the same thing at a different level. In the United States Committees of the Captive Nations were formed – we even had two, one led by C. Vişoianu, the other by General Rădescu and Mihai Fărcăşanu. The legitimacy of regimes that came to power in falsified elections seemed easy to challenge.
And we kept fighting. Without weapons, without those tanks in which we still dreamed of returning to Romania. We fought with our pens, with our words. Only in 1956, when we saw in amazement that the bloody suppression of the Hungarian Revolution took place without any reaction from the Western Powers (a single United Nations plane carrying the General Secretary of the UN to the Budapest airport, in answer to Imre Nagy's desperate call, would have probably been enough to stop the slaughter and to change the course of history), only then did we realize that our wish was in vain. And since then there have been many types of exiles. The ones determined to continue – true courage, said Simone Weil, is to fight when there is no hope – did it, each in his own way, living their life as a hiatus between what was, and what had almost no chance of coming into being. Others more or less adapted. Others assimilated. And in the waves of exile that followed some were strictly "economical". Seldom "political". In 1956 there occurred the first great loss from the first great exile: Grigore Gafencu, while coming back from a radio station where he had launched a last appeal to save a revolution which could have spread beyond Hungary's borders, was brought down by a heart attack.
But it wasn't yet 1956 when I saw Adriana again in Paris. We still lived with the conviction that eyes must be opened. In the cafés of St. Germain-des-Près, instead of talking about existentialism and looking for Sartre and his cohorts, we came up with a strategy. Adriana would write an eyewitness account, and I would translate it into French. The sooner the better. The urgency was measured by the number of prisons that were filling up in Romania. We agreed that she would bring me every day what she had written the previous night. When she didn't have time the night before, she would write at my house and I would translate it on the spot. "My house" was in fact an attic room ("chambre de bonne" the French call it), the kind poor Parisian students had in those days. And for the first time in my life I was quite poor. But I admit I didn't completely dislike this bohemian lifestyle, which I hadn't known in Romania: university eating halls, rooms without running water, unlit staircases.
There, at 44 Boulevard Raspail, Adriana climbed daily to the seventh floor, and of course there was no lift. Sometimes with three or four pages written in a hurry, sometimes without any so she had to write while I prepared something to eat. Because Romania had broken cultural ties with France we were left without stipends and had only minimal student aid. I didn't really know how to behave when one is left with nothing, but for some reason poverty was connected in my mind with mămăliga. So we looked in all sorts of specialty stores for corn flour, which was rather expensive in those days, out of which, I due to my ignorance, Adriana due to her extreme concentration on the manuscript, we made a rather poor mămăligă. We ended up with some lumpy stuff which we complemented with American chocolate. Various American charitable associations sent food and second hand clothing parcels for East European refugees. They shipped it all together so that our chocolate smelled of... moth balls. We smoked and we drank, Adriana tea and I coffee. And we worked.
When she left, usually late, down the unlit staircase, Adriana sometimes dropped the pages that had been translated, or threw them crumpled into the waste-paper basket. They weren't very important to her, she wrote with a single goal in mind: "to open eyes". During our breaks we behaved childishly or even ridiculously: we put Romanian words to the French Partisan song and imagined ourselves in the first battalions that would throw open the prison doors. We projected the obsessive, in those years, images of the French resistance onto the Romanian reality. And after an intermezzo of hallucinations we would start again: she to write, I to translate.
When she got to her first experiences with prison and torture, Adriana put her fountain-pen down. Her whole body started to tremble. Her teeth were chattering. (This trembling has accompanied her throughout her life, it has been her eternal present.) I gave her another cup of tea. I opened the window that looked out over the Paris roofs. But she was still in the darkness of the Bucharest prisons. Before starting to write again, she told me, still trembling, all the things that she couldn't put down on paper. Then gradually she calmed down and wrote, torturously, sparely, allusively about the unnamable. She threw those pages into the fire immediately after I had translated them into French, seemingly believing that by burning them she could also consume her past. The paper turned into ash but her burden remained.
But even among her prison memories were episodes that were not tragic. She remembered with humour and tender emotion her prostitute and thief cellmates. In order to translate Romanian slang into French, a friend introduced me to one of his resistance comrades who talked only in argot. Plain, massive, primeval even, seemingly still holding in his hand the machine gun which he hadn't yet completely set aside (he told me he kept his weapons hidden under his bed), a simple and courageous man – he had also been behind bars for honourable reasons – he told me everything he knew. Thanks to him the Dâmboviţa felons, thieves, and prostitutes were able to talk just like those on the shores of Seine. A single word remained unchanged: "rag" – the friendly way Adriana's prison-mates called her. I remember it because Adriana and I adopted this name and used it later in our conversations, and after her departure for England in our mail. Never "dear Adriana" or "dear Monica". We used "rag" instead as a sort of a link – unconscious? – between what we were hoping for then and what was never going to happen.
Adriana busied herself not only with the writing of the book, finished in record time due to our rhythm and working style. She was always active. As a member of the Liberal Party. As Rădescu's secretary. She made things clear to politicians, newspapermen, she went to meetings, she kept talking, she kept talking. At the trial brought by the heads of the democratic parties from East and Central Europe against the communist author of a book that was making waves in those days, L'Internationale des Traîtres, Adriana, in her deposition, warned the West that if it failed to do something for the "other Europe" it would eventually be faced with neurotic societies. Her prophecy, based in part on her own suffering, was confirmed by the state of Romanian society after 1989.
The book was published by Hachette in 1951. I signed the translation with a pseudonym (Claude Pascal). I had a hostage in Romania: my mother. In spite of this she was arrested in 1958, at the age of 70, sentenced to 25 years, and in the end murdered in prison through the denial of medical care. Not, however, because my pen name was deciphered, but absurdly (and what wasn't absurd in communist Romania?) for "espionage". How? By sending me printed silk scarves on which she supposedly drew... military maps. Needless to say, my mother didn't know how to draw maps and I never received any scarves from her.
Despite the leftist milieu, Au commencement était la fin was favourably received in the French press. Adriana assumed that the Romanian Embassy bought the whole edition so that the book wouldn’t reach the public. I don't know if this was the case, totally or partially, although such "mass purchases" were used by the communists at the time. In any case the whole edition sold out.
What is left to say is why I think the publication in Romania of Adriana Georgescu's book is salutary and of current interest. Salutary because we suffer, and are going to suffer for a long time, from Romania’s image in the media as the Eastern European country with the weakest dissident movement. And, with a few well-known exceptions, this is a fairly accurate description of the last decades. But not of the first decades after the war. The resistance movement in Romania after 1944 was probably more numerous, more unified, and more determined that that in neighbouring countries. And longer lasting. In September 1947 in Vienna, after I had clandestinely crossed a border (even though my passport was in order… but that is another story that I am not going to tell here), I was in the office of a French officer in order to get a new visa in my passport already filled with stamps. Behind his desk there was a huge map of Romania with small flags marking the resistance bases in the Carpathian mountains. The officer wanted to know if I was aware of any other resistance centers. I wasn't. I was aware though of the resistance that was more or less open in society ("civil society" we would call it today; and it existed in those days).
I was the delegate of the Literature Department of the University of Bucharest to a large student congress in May 1947 in Cluj. The communists and the various "fronts" behind which they were hiding wanted to force us to stigmatize and "fire" the professors resistant to the new order. We withstood the pressure so well (universities from the whole country were represented) that the congress ended without any positive results for the communists and with the Royal Anthem being sung in a large hall filled with students. I was lodged in the medical student dormitory, and we plotted in long sleepless nights what tactics to follow. Among the intellectuals there was the same determined attitude. Together with Ştefan Augustin Doinaş and other members of the Sibiu circle we went to see Lucian Blaga. Blaga wanted to know details about how the Bucharest writers and university professors were surviving. His long periods of silence were punctuated by anxiety and determination. "Silent as a swan", Blaga was listening to the future.
I think this initial resistance has to be emphasized in order to re-establish the truth, to honour those who are no longer with us, and to rid ourselves of one of our rare undeserved complexes (so many are justified!).
As far as the current interest of this testimony goes… I assume it isn't necessary to dwell on it. The readers will judge for themselves. For me it was enough to meet Adriana again in University Square in 1990.
There are some essential differences though. In 1945 we had a civil society, but also the Red Army, in a land abandoned to Soviet "influence" . In 1989-1990, the society, with a few well-known and wonderful exceptions, seems ill, "neurotic", Adriana would say. On the other hand, Europe is no longer divided, and the Red Army is busy at home.
In 1945 everything depended on foreigners. Now everything is in our hands. In principle, there is no reason for the beginning to be the end.
Paris, March 1991
See also: http://www.romanialibera.ro/a123276/la-sfarsit-a-fost-inceputul.html (in Roumanian)