Victor Metea – Partizan at 18

“I knew what had happened in the USSR to the Church, the family and property”

“Unhealthy” origins

Victor grew up in the village of Ileni, near Făgăraș, attended high school in Sibiu and was then admitted to medical school in the capital. Before that, he had been rejected in Cluj because his father was a slave driver. He witnessed the violent arrests in the spring of 1948, when students and teachers considered dangerous to the new regime were eliminated. After leaving school, he sought work in Cluj, Brașov and Sibiu, but was rejected for the same reason: “unhealthy origins”.

His parents, the owners of a wealthy household, were classified as petty bourgeois and came under the scrutiny of the newly installed power. Victor Metea’s father was already under surveillance. The notes of the first informers in the village are kept in the archives of the CNSAS: “He is a fierce enemy of the regime. He listens to foreign radio stations. He doesn’t talk to party members. He talks about the Americans coming. He avoids voluntary work and communal meetings. He says that the communist regime makes a mockery of the people and that he doesn’t want to live in the colony with Dr. Petru Groza”. This was reason enough to send him to prison or even to death row.

When Victor returned home, his parents were constantly followed, some of his old friends were arrested, and the militia and security forces carried out frequent and violent searches in all the villages in the area, usually at night, without explanation. Wanted by the authorities on several occasions and fearing arrest, Victor and his father run away from home. For a while they hid in the fields or with relatives, then Victor made contact with other refugees and joined the resistance group in the Făgăraș Mountains – one of the largest and longest-lasting anti-communist resistances in Romania.

Against the social order

Victor was 18 when he went to the mountains. He was one of the youngest members of the group. For years, true to his desire to become a doctor, Victor carried physics and chemistry textbooks in his backpack, along with the essentials for survival. He was known among the partisans for his endurance and the ease with which he could overcome obstacles. Gheorghe Hașu (about whom I wrote in the January issue) called him a “racehorse”, and his older colleagues teased him: “He has no spleen! If you let him choose the path, you can be sure there won’t be a more difficult one”.

Seven years later, after he had been captured, Victor told the Security Service about his motivation for going to the mountains: “Even before I ran away, I met young people from the villages and we talked about the Church, God, man’s behaviour in society, individual property, the family, the army and the monarchy. I was brought up with these values. My father had been the commander of the village paramilitary training centre during the Second World War and had received anti-Soviet literature. We knew what had happened in the USSR to the church, the family and property, and we were worried. My hatred of the regime grew as I saw the increasing imprisonment of myself and my father, who was considered a slave driver. I was deprived of certain rights, so naturally I turned to those who were persecuted. I didn’t do any politics, I was against the system of social organisation”.

Family persecution

Ioan Metea, Victor’s younger brother, was arrested 18 times. All without trial or conviction. He was beaten and threatened to inform on his brother, then released. After 1990, he recalls the investigations (in his memoirs Brazii se frâng, dar nu se îndoiesc – vol. IV): “In Sibiu, I was locked up in a small, damp cell with no window. I couldn’t see anything, but when I took off my shoes I could feel the rats gnawing on my boots. I had a clothes peg, a board and that was it. At the interrogation a colonel dressed in a white coat, like a doctor, threatened to castrate me with a scalpel if I didn’t give him information about my brother. When they took me to Făgăraș, there was electricity. They would tie my hands or feet to the wires of an electric magneto and turn the crank until they had used up all my strength. In addition to this system of torture, they also beat me on the soles of my feet after tying my hands and feet over a piece of wood. At other times they would cover me with a plank and beat me with a sledgehammer”. When the investigation began, Ioan Metea was 16 years old and in his second year of high school. He dropped out of school after the first series of arrests. He was harassed for decades, even after the armed resistance group was eliminated from the mountains.

Virginia Metea, the partisan’s mother, was also persecuted and cruelly beaten. Sometimes she was taken at night, sometimes straight from the field. When she recovered from the beatings, she would get in touch with Victor again – leaving notes at his post office or food parcels with the people who took him in when he came down from the mountains. Investigations show that he never gave any useful information to the Security Service.

When old Metea heard that his wife and son were being tortured at home, he gave up and surrendered. He had been in hiding for almost two years. He was first sent to the Canal, then to various prisons around the country. Victor Metea’s father died in prison, it is not known exactly where – probably in Botoșani in 1962.

Convicted in absentia

Together with the other 12 members of the armed resistance group in the Făgăraș mountains, Victor Metea was convicted in absentia in 1951. The authorities tried to persuade the villagers of Făgăraș to stop supporting the partisans by holding a public trial in the absence of the accused. Victor Metea was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a further 10 years’ deprivation of liberty. He was 22 years old.

The other fighters received even harsher sentences. Hundreds of people who helped them were arrested, but hundreds more joined the fight. The war heated up and the clashes in the mountains between the Security Service and the partisans increased. The difficult years of resistance that followed were summed up by Victor Metea in the Investigations of ’57: “We were hoping for the outbreak of war, when we could have worked to overthrow the regime. To do that, we had to stay alive at all costs. And that was quite difficult. Our situation was impossible from every point of view.

“Exiled from one place to another, with no one waiting for them”.

The impossible situation to which Victor Metea refers was made up of small and seemingly hopeless events. Some of them are recounted by the leader of the group, Ion Gavrilă Ogoranu, in his memoirs published after 1990 (Brazii se frâng, dar nu se îndoiesc – vol. I).

This is how Victor Metea and Gheorghe Șovăială – another partisan – spent a winter: “For three months they lived only in the snow, in one place they were expelled, in another place no one expected them. They found some frozen potatoes, which they ate and became very ill. They were thirsty, because snow water does not quench thirst. And they slept mostly in the forest or in deserted places. Sometimes they made a fire if they had something to roast or boil, but never for warmth, lest they get used to the Boers. For weeks the wolves howled around them at night. For ten days they sheltered in an old fox’s den, which they enlarged, but hunger drove them out. All winter long they dreamed of a piece of cheese and porridge. They crossed the River Olt in search of food, but the bear followed their tracks and arrived before them. They dragged themselves to the foot of the mountain in early April, panting with hunger. That’s how we met them, a few days later. When we asked them how they had survived the winter, George summed it up in these words: The gypsy’s dog also comes out of winter, but only its skin knows how”.

Another situation on the edge was experienced by Gavrilă Ogoranu and Victor Metea at the beginning of spring. After a winter in which Victor had contracted pneumonia and had been treated with a single dose of penicillin, which had been difficult to obtain, the two retreated to the foot of the mountain. They were hoping for a break after a night and a day of continuous walking through sleet and snow without food. They reached the Daffodil Glade (near the village of Vad), now a nature reserve. Before communism, as now, a flower festival was held here on 21 May, the feast day of Saints Constantine and Helen. The communists were annoyed by the combination with the religious holiday and tried to move the custom to the day when the two partisans were hiding there. They found themselves surrounded. Ion Gavrilă describes the solution of the moment (Brazii se frâng, dar nu se îndoiesc – vol. I):

“I took out my prayer book and began to behave like a man who reads. Only I wasn’t reading, I was praying. Victor pretended to be fishing. In the clearing, drums were beating, fanfares were singing, mouths were squeaking. On a stage, young people from the villages sang and played for the amusement of the secretaries, activists, deputies, collectors, officials, presidents and merchants seated at tables in the sea of daffodils. Young people competed to entertain those who sent their parents to the canal or even to the firing squad, the symbolic image of a people of serfs, trained over the centuries to wink and lick the hand of those who chained them and beat them.

Someone would come to our house from time to time. Once a militiaman came. Two children went to the old man with the rod and marvelled at the troll, and the old man taught them how to fish. Their parents called them to eat, and my God, what an appetite for roast meat! We looked at the clock and it seemed as if the minutes had stood still. Two girls were picking flowers in the grass across the water, and when they saw a handsome boy fishing, they kept walking past him, trying to strike up a conversation. We were afraid someone would come and meet us, especially Victor – his village, Ileni, was only ten kilometres away. During the day we sat without our shirts, so our dirty and torn clothes wouldn’t show. At night we tucked in the blankets up to our necks to sleep. Finally we saw the militia trucks leaving. We thought we were saved.

“These secrets are due to being investigated”

After 7 years of fighting, Victor Metea was captured by betrayal along with the last partisans in the Făgăraș mountains. Only one had escaped: the leader of the group, Ion Gavrilă Ogoranu, who would remain in hiding for another 21 years.

Victor’s stubbornness made life difficult for the investigators. An informer in his cell reports: “Victor Metea takes exception to the way the investigating lieutenant expresses himself. He says it’s a disgrace to be investigated by someone who doesn’t speak Romanian well”. Indeed, the minutes of the hearings are full of grammatical errors. Taking his chances, when he receives the statements to sign, Victor makes some corrections. Another informer says: “He came back from the investigation very angry that Gavrilă was being accused of immoral acts that were not true. He says that all efforts to uncover such things will be in vain. The same is being said about him. He’s angry that they’re trying to discredit them in public: They don’t just want to kill us, they want to morally compromise us. They’re going to write novels, too, that we were villains and easy people. They think they’ll only succeed with people who don’t know them. He feels clean before God. He says they had a firm ideal they were fighting for, a highly moral agenda and activity. They didn’t force anyone, people helped them willingly. He is convinced that “these secrets will be investigated when things change in the country”. Asked about possible partisan killings, Victor says: “It’s true that I had a gun with me, which creates fear. I personally did not point the gun directly at anyone. During the whole time in the mountains I fired twice, during clashes with the Security Service, when we were surrounded. That was the strategy, so that we could retreat”.

Punished for refusing to appeal

In the summer of 1957, after a year of investigations and torture, the “mountain gang” was put on trial. The accused were not allowed to speak and the military prosecutor began his plea: “I do not think I am wrong in saying that there has never been a trial like this in the annals of our people’s justice. These defendants, a gang of counter-revolutionary terrorists, have no interest in the achievements of our socialist construction. These criminal bandits fought to undermine and overthrow the democratic order of our people and the victorious advance of the working people.

They were sentenced to death, and the reactions at the time of the sentencing are the subject of a telegram sent to the Third Directorate of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs: “Victor Metea said: ‘It’s a good thing it happened, because now it’s over! Better dead than tortured in prison. He expressed regret that he had not personally requested the death penalty. He went on to say I got nothing from this regime. I was taken out of school, I didn’t get a job, my father was persecuted because he was considered a boss. I fled not for these reasons, but because of the attitude of the state authorities towards me. All these statements were made in a harsh and spiteful tone. He did not sign the appeal.

Victor’s decision not to appeal angered the investigators. In the following months he was forced to ask for a retrial and to explain himself. He finally declared that he did not trust the communist justice system and never had. As punishment, he was kept in Jilava for another winter and continued to be investigated – even though his sentence was final.

Although the partisans in his group were executed in November 1957, Victor Metea was shot five months later, on 23 April 1958. He had just turned 29.

(Ioana Hașu – Orthodox Family Magazine, no. 3 (50)/2013, pp. 13-16)

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