Ștefan Foriș (born István Fóris, also known as Marius; May 9, 1892 – summer of 1946) was a Romanian communist activist and journalist who served as general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR or PCdR) between 1940 and 1944.
Foriș was born in Tatrang (Tărlungeni), Transylvania (part of Austria-Hungary at the time), and was a member of the Hungarian minority. His parents were István Fóris and Anna Kocsis. He completed his secondary studies in exact sciences at a lyceum in Brașov. During World War I, he was drafted in the Austro-Hungarian Army, rising to the rank of hadnagy. He also graduated from the Eötvös Loránd University's Faculty of Physics and Mathematics (1919). Aside from his native language and Romanian, he was able to speak German and French, and began to work as a journalist.
An active socialist, he took part in the movement that led to the creation of a Soviet Republic in Hungary, and joined the Hungarian Communist Party. After its disestablishment, Foriș settled inside the Kingdom of Romania, entered the Socialist Party in Brașov, and began contributing to left-wing publications.
Indicted in a 1927 trial held in Cluj, Foriș began a hunger strike and, after 27 days, was released in the care of his family pending trial. Instead, he illegally crossed into the Soviet Union, and served as the exile cadre of the PCR and its representative to the Comintern (1928-1930). He was tried in absentia by the Cluj tribunal, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment and to a 50,000 lei fine.
Despite the sentencing, Foriș returned to Transylvania, where he served as regional secretary, he was selected head of the Agitprop Section. He lived most of the rest of his life in hiding from the authorities; again jailed at Văcărești and Doftana in 1931 (or 1932), he was released in 1935, two years before the end of his sentence.
Ștefan Foriș became a member of the PCR Central Committee charged with activities involving agitprop (ca. 1936), and, with support from the Comintern, replaced the ousted general secretary Boris Stefanov four years later, after the start of World War II (he had crossed into Soviet territory earlier in that year, and, having reached Moscow, he was assigned the position a while after Stefanov had been deposed). Upon his return (having clandestinely sailed through Tulcea), he replaced Bela Breiner, the provisional overseer of the PCR, who had since died.
At the time, repression of the PCR reached its most severe phase (see Romania during World War II). By 1943, almost all the leadership of the party was either living in exile in the Soviet Union (forming the Moscovite faction of the party) or in prison either in Romania-proper or in Romanian-run labor camps in Transnistria (forming the prison faction of the party). Only three members of the communist leadership, Foriș, Remus Koffler and Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu were free, remaining active clandestinely, and constituting the secretariat faction. Foriș, Koffler, and Foriș's secretary and lover Victoria Sârbu oversaw the small group from a secret location in Bucharest. Among other persons involved in support for the PCR was the engineer Emil Calmanovici, who donated part of his fortune for this purpose.
In this context, Foriș became an obstacle to the rise of Communists held in the Caransebeș prison, a group formed around Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. He was also increasingly critical of his subordinates' behavior and ideology, which probably contributed to his isolation inside the party he led. Among prominent leaders who had received Foriş' reproaches were Constantin Pîrvulescu, Gheorghe Pintilie, Iosif Rangheț, and Emil Bodnăraș. The latter was even demoted by the general secretary in March 1944 — having been charged with keeping documents relative to planned sabotage actions, he was made responsible for the ease with which these were confiscated by the authorities.
During communications between Gheorghiu-Dej and Bodnăraș (who was disseminating rumors about having ensured Soviet approval and was viewed as representing the Soviet MGB), it was agreed in favor of toppling the PCR leadership. On April 4, 1944, just after a massive air bombing of Bucharest, Bodnăraș, Pîrvulescu, and Rangheț, captured and deposed Foriș at gunpoint, instituting a joint leadership (troika), which, during the same year, recognized Gheorghiu-Dej as the new general secretary. Soon after the action had been carried out, Bodnăraș reported to Gheorghiu-Dej, who was still held in prison, with an encrypted note:
"The inheritance [that is, the party documents] was passed down to us, and the head of the family [Foriș], his wife [Sârbu] and the family friend [Koffler] were taken to a good sanatorium [a house controlled by Bodnăraş' faction]."
Pătrășcanu, who represented an isolated intellectual grouping (which also included Miron Constantinescu and Grigore Preoteasa), agreed to support the move (his approval was probably obtained as early as 1943).
At the time, Foriș was alleged to have infiltrated the PCR as an informant for Siguranța Statului during the 1920s and '30s, and that collaboration with the authorities had ensured his freedom during the early 1940s. The official charge involved his "cowardice" in front of reactionary forces, probably due to his refusal to organize a partisan movement during the war.
After the event, Foriș was assigned a position on the editorial staff for the underground newspaper România Liberă, which he maintained throughout the final months of Ion Antonescu's pro-Nazi German regime. Following Romania's exit from the Axis camp in late August, when the PCR took power as part of the National Democratic Bloc (backed by King Michael I), Gheorghiu-Dej ordered Foriș to be taken into custody by the PCR's paramilitary forces; kidnapped in late September, he was set free in January 1945. After rumors that he had authored a manifesto questioning the actions of Gheorghiu-Dej, Bodnăraș and others, he was again captured on March 23, only to be released twenty days later. At the time, he authored his "Last Will", which ended with a statement of his faith in the PCR, the Soviet Union, and Joseph Stalin.
His last time in relative freedom occurred during late May and early June, when he was allowed to move in with his companion Victoria.
On June 9, a squad led by future Securitate chief Gheorghe Pintilie approached Foriș on the street, and again kidnapped him. Apparently, this happened while Foriș was purchasing supplies needed for a trip abroad, having planned to settle with his family in the home of one of Victoria's brothers.
After approximately one year, his killing was decided by a confidential vote at the top of the party (the final decision was taken by Gheorghiu-Dej, Ana Pauker, Vasile Luca, and Teohari Georgescu). According to later testimonies, Foriș was attacked by Pintilie and Pintilie's chauffeur, Dumitru Neciu (known to Teohari Georgescu as Petre Bulgaru, and to others as Mitea); Pintilie beat him to death with a crowbar, and the two buried him in a nearby yard, covering the hole with earth and debris. Two of his collaborators were killed in the same manner during the following days, and buried in similar circumstances (one of the two is known to have been named Nicolae Pârgariu).
For Gheorghiu-Dej, this opened the road for further attacks on the members of the secretariat faction, beginning with arbitrary arrests of PCR members who were pressured to testify against Foriș. The campaign culminated in the 1954 execution of Koffler and Pătrășcanu, at the end of a trial orchestrated by the Communist regime (it also involved Emil Calmanovici, who was allegedly killed in prison).
Rehabilitation and legacy
In April 1968, Foriș and Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu were rehabilitated by the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party which was by then under the leadership of Gheorghiu-Dej's successor, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Headed by Ion Popescu-Puțuri and charged with rehabilitation measures, a special party committee found suspicions of treason to have been spurious in Foriș's case, it also concluded that the latter had shown incompetence in handling party matters during his time in office, and that he had allowed the group to be infiltrated by Siguranța Statului agents.
Foriș's case was instrumental in provoking Gheorghe Pintilie's expulsion from the party. Nevertheless, the latter was still present at official ceremonies, and was decorated with the Tudor Vladimirescu Order only two years later. As the committee's main attribute was parting with the legacy of Gheorghiu-Dej, Foriș's case remained without other notable consequences (Teohari Georgescu himself was later assigned another office inside the PCR).
Several historians consider Foriș's dismissal as the complete rupture in historical continuity between the PCR as established in 1921 and the post-1944 grouping. According to Adrian Cioroianu, the final version of the PCR was entirely shaped by the group of Caransebeș prisoners.
Personal life and family
His lover, Victoria Sârbu, was born in Soroca, Bessarabia in 1909, to Jewish parents, and, as an unemployed graduate of the University of Iași's Faculty of Natural Science, worked as a courier for the Red Aid, before joining PCR defense teams for indicted party members. She carried out her activities as a party leader during the war, without ever having formally joined the party. At one point, her sister, Elena Pavel, was unsuccessfully courted by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej.
Among the charges brought against Foriș was his alleged attempt to seduce Constanţa Crăciun, a prominent PCR activist who supported Gheorghiu-Dej; he was accused of having pressured her to become his mistress at the time when she was already in a relationship with Ion Vincze, and of having thus caused her a nervous breakdown which had facilitated her capture by authorities. Under pressure from her interrogators, Sârbu partly confirmed the rumor, stating that she had become Foriș's partner soon after the incident.
Having also been imprisoned in December 1949, Victoria Sârbu was indicted in the Pătrășcanu-Remus Koffler trial, and, having been repeatedly tortured during the inquiry, served another six years. She was set free in 1955, after a medical examination concluded that she had developed a mental illness.
Vera-Victoria, her daughter with Ștefan Foriș, born during the 1940s, never fully recovered from the shock caused by the persecution of her parents; after 1968, she was awarded a pension from the Romanian state, and died during the late 1970s. Elena Pavel, who had since died, continued to be used as an asset in PCR propaganda for the entire period.
Following Foriș's disappearance, his mother Maria repeatedly petitioned authorities to answer as to his whereabouts. In 1947, a group of secret policemen allegedly acting on the orders of Gheorghiu-Dej, and supervised by Alexandru Nicolschi, kidnapped her from her residence in Oradea. They then tied rocks to her neck and drowned her in the Crișul Repede. During his hearing of 1967, Nicolschi indicated that one of his subordinates, a certain "Comrade Bîrtaș" of the Oradea section, had taken the initiative ("Comrade Bîrtaș had received the indication to talk to her and get her to return to Oradea and admit herself into an old people's home. Details of how Comrade Bîrtaș has accomplished the mission are not known to me").
- Criş; Tismăneanu, p.96
- Amintiri din comunism cu nepotul lui Foriş
- Betea, "Testamentul...",p.42
- Drăgoescu, p.22
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.42; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.42
- Criș; Drăgoescu, p.22; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Drăgoescu, p.22; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.42; Drăgoescu, p.22; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Tismăneanu, p.297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.42; Criş; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Betea, "Comunism - Dragostea..."; Frunză, p.55, 508; Tismăneanu, p.104-106, 119-122, 297
- Betea, "Comunism - Dragostea..."; Tismăneanu, p.119, 121-122, 297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.43
- Arvatu; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Arvatu; Cioroianu, p.49-50, 62; Criș; Frunză, p.146, 400-402; Tismăneanu, p.106, 119-122, 127-128, 297
- Bodnăraș, in Criș
- Tismăneanu, p.151
- Betea, "Ambiția..."; Tismăneanu, p.151
- Criș; Drăgoescu, p.22
- Tismăneanu, p.106
- Tismăneanu, p.104
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.44; Drăgoescu, p.22
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.44
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45; Drăgoescu, p.22; Tismăneanu, p.164, 297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45; Criș; Drăgoescu, p.22; Tismăneanu, p.297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.42-43, 45; Drăgoescu, p.22-23; Tismăneanu, p.127-128, 297
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45; Drăgoescu, p.22
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45; Criș
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45
- Cioroianu, p.50; Frunză, p.213, 218-221, 402
- Cioroianu, p.49-50
- Betea, "Comunism - Dragostea..."; "Testamentul...", p.42-43
- Betea, "Comunism - Dragostea..."
- Betea, "Comunism - Dragostea..."; Betea, "Testamentul...", p.44-45; Golopenția; Tismăneanu, p.155, 297
- Criș; Golopenția
- Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45; Criș; Golopenția
- Nicolschi, in Betea, "Testamentul...", p.45
- Criș; Tismăneanu, p.240
- Tismăneanu, p.240
- (in Romanian) Cristina Arvatu, "Răfuială cu șeful in stil gangsteresc" ("Settling Accounts with the Boss in Gangster Style"), in Jurnalul Național, October 5, 2005
- Lavinia Betea,
- (in Romanian) "Ambiția de a intra în istorie" ("The Ambition of Entering History"), in Magazin Istoric
- (in Romanian) "Comunism - Dragostea și revoluția" ("Communism - Love and Revolution"), in Jurnalul Naţional, June 15, 2005
- "Testamentul lui Foriş" ("Foriş' Last Will"), in Magazin Istoric, April 1997
- Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005
- (in Romanian) Adriana Criș, "Ucis de Partid" ("Killed by the Party"), in Bihoreanul, December 19, 2006
- Dragoş Drăgoescu, "Arma politică a reabilitărilor. Caruselul crimelor și liderii comuniști români" ("The Political Weapon of Rehabilitations. The Murder Carousel and Romanian Communist Leaders"), in Dosarele Istoriei, 2/I, 1996, p. 20-34
- Victor Frunză, Istoria stalinismului în România ("The History of Stalinism in Romania"), Humanitas, Bucharest, 1990
- (in Romanian) Sanda Golopenția, "Introducere la Ultima carte de Anton Golopenția (Anchetatorii)" ("Introduction to Anton Golopenția's Ultima carte (The Inquisitors)"), at Memoria.ro
- Vladimir Tismăneanu, Stalinism pentru eternitate, Polirom, Iași, 2005 ISBN 973-681-899-3 (translation of Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2003, ISBN 0-520-23747-1)
- "Italian Communist Party Organ Reports Attack on Gheorghiu-Dej" (report on Foriș's rehabilitation), April 29, 1968, at Open Society Archives
- Constantin Iordachi, The Anatomy of a Historical Conflict: Romanian-Hungarian Diplomatic Conflict in the 1980s. I.2: Nationalism and Communism in Romania
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