Eugen Țurcanu (8 July 1925 – 17 December 1954), Romanian political prisoner, was executed for his role in the Pitești Experiment. Initially sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for his membership in the Iron Guard (to which he had in fact belonged, though he seems to have had a less important role than claimed), Țurcanu became the leader of a group of detainees whose role was to mistreat and torture other inmates, in order to "re-educate" them in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and obtain information that could be used by the Communist organs of repression. Although initially, his activities were at least tolerated, if not encouraged or directed by the regime, once information about what was happening inside Romanian prisons reached the West, he was investigated, tried and sentenced to die for his deeds.
Early life and first trial
Țurcanu was born either in Păltiniș, Dârmoxa (today part of Broșteni), or, according to his own assertion, Câmpulung Moldovenesc; in any case, all three are in Suceava County. In 1940-41, he was active in Frăția de Cruce, part of the Iron Guard, and participated in the Legionnaires' rebellion in Câmpulung. His links to the Legionnaires were in fact rather vague, but exploited to the hilt when he was used as the chief scapegoat for the actions at Pitești and Gherla. After 1941, when Țurcanu was 16 and the Iron Guard was suppressed, there is no further record of his participation in activities of the Guard or its youth wing.
Țurcanu had five brothers. He married the daughter of a lawyer and fellow Bukovinan; they had a son. After the King Michael Coup of 23 August 1944 he began to flirt with Communism and it seems he joined a pro-communist student association, and well as the Romanian Communist Party.
One of his victims later remembered him as "a handsome man, out of the ordinary...with brown hair tending toward blond...when he frowned, you were terrified...his well-proportioned body seemed that of a performance athlete. When he punched or slapped you, he knocked you to the ground. When he got mad he was so crude that he destroyed everything in his path, like a ferocious killer. Moreover, he was unusually intelligent and had an extraordinary memory... But he was so Satanized you didn't know what to think of him..."
For almost three years he took courses at the University of Iași Faculty of Law, becoming a member of the local Communist organization's politburo and being sent to Bucharest to pursue a career in diplomacy. However, his past was uncovered and he was arrested on 25 June 1948; through sentence nr. 137, handed down on 5 February 1949 by the Iași Military Tribunal, he was sentenced to seven years' correctional imprisonment for Legionary activity.
Țurcanu was first imprisoned at Suceava. There, a group of prisoners detained for their past Iron Guard sympathies, led by Alexandru Bogdanovici, started various initiatives meant to win the favour of the Communist authorities. Among these was the preparation of a memorial addressed to the party leadership promising a full cessation of political activity in exchange for their release, and the founding (with Țurcanu's involvement) at the beginning of 1949 of Organizația Deținuților cu Convingeri Comuniste (ODCC, "Organization of Convinced Communist Detainees").
He was transferred to Pitești prison on 22 April 1949 and, once there, tried to attract the notice of prison director Dumitrescu, with whom he only managed to speak at the beginning of June, when the latter was inspecting cells. After discussions with him, Țurcanu was recruited as an informer to the prison management, in the process benefiting from a much more favourable treatment than that accorded to ordinary prisoners: extra food, freedom of movement inside the prison, etc. During the summer of 1949 he identified, with the help of his collaborators, those detainees who served as leaders or role models for the others; the prison administration isolated these men in a separate section.
The idea of applying violent treatments on prisoners appeared after discussions with director Dumitrescu in November 1949. Subsequently, Țurcanu directly participated in the beatings of several hundred detainees. Many of these were nearly killed as a result of the beatings administered by Țurcanu and his acolytes.
On 18 August 1951 he was transferred to Gherla prison, where he continued his activity as torturer on a reduced scale until that December. On 19 December he was transferred to Jilava.
Țurcanu and the group of torturers he led were tried in September-November 1954; the head judge was Alexandru Petrescu, who had also presided at the trials of Iuliu Maniu and of the Danube-Black Sea Canal saboteurs. The indictment, drawn up by a military prosecutor, claimed that the activities of the accused came about following an initiative by Horia Sima, whose alleged intention it was to demonstrate to the West that detainees were mistreated and killed in Communist prisons, in order to compromise the regime and the Romanian government. Țurcanu was accused of having become head of the Câmpulung Frăția de Cruce in 1945, then of having founded the "National Liberal Christian Youth" (Tineretul Național Liberal Creștin), later joining the Union of Communist Youth. The indictment recognises that some prisoners died, including Corneliu Niță, Eugen Gavrilescu, Gheorghe Șerban and Gheorghe Vătășoiu, but also Bogdanovici, "who had been subjected to one of the most horrible extermination regimes".
On 10 November 1954, Țurcanu, together with a majority of his fellow defendants, was sentenced to death. He and sixteen accomplices were shot on 17 December, and his death was recorded at Jilava town hall on 5 October 1962. In 1957, the regime partially admitted its own involvement in the Pitești Experiment by imprisoning lower-level officials–employees of the prison, including its director.
- Final Report, p. 599
- Mureşan, p. 200
- Mureşan, p. 200-1
- Mureşan, p. 201
- Bordeianu, p. 94
- Mureşan, p. 203
- Mureşan, p. 83
- Mureşan, p. 86
- Bordeianu, Dumitru Gh. Mărturisiri din mlaștina disperării. (Cele văzute, trăite și suferite la Pitești și la Gherla), vol. I-II, ediţia a II-a, îngrijită de prof. Marcel Petrișor, Editura Gama, București, 1995
- Mureșan, Alin. Pitești. Cronica unei sinucideri asistate. Institutul de investigare a crimelor comunismului în România, Editura Polirom, 2007
- (in Romanian) Final Report of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania