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The Walls Behind the Curtain

The Walls Behind the Curtain: East European Prison Literature, 1945–1990

Harold B. Segel
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    The Walls Behind the Curtain
    Book Description:

    Because of their visibility in society and ability to shape public opinion, prominent literary figures were among the first targets of Communist repression, torture, and incarceration. Authors such as Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn famously documented the experience of internment in Soviet gulags. Little, however, has been published in the English language on the work of writers imprisoned by other countries of the Soviet bloc.For the first time,The Walls Behind the Curtainpresents a collection of works from East European novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists who wrote during or after their captivity under communism. Harold B. Segel paints a backdrop of the political culture and prison and labor camp systems of each country, detailing the onerous conditions that writers faced. Segel then offers biographical information on each writer and presents excerpts of their writing. Notable literary figures included are Václav Havel, Eva Kanturková, Milan Šimecka, Adam Michnik, Milovan Djilas, Paul Goma, Tibor Déry, and Visar Zhiti, as well as many other writers.This anthology recovers many of the most important yet overlooked literary voices from the era of Communist occupation. Although translated from numerous languages, and across varied cultures, there is a distinct commonality in the experiences documented by these works.The Walls Behind the Curtainserves as a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and a quest for individual liberty that many writers forfeited their lives for.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7802-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Burrel, Spaç, Qafë-Bari, Ruzyně, Pankrác, Mírov, Leopoldov, Valdice, Jáchymov, Bytíz u Přibrami, Białołęka, Aiud, Gherla, Jilava, Piteşti, Recsk, Lovech, Belene, Idrizovo, Goli otok. These are names that mean little or nothing to many. But to East Europeans from Central Europe to the farthest reaches of the Balkans, they form an indelible part of their collective memory as the darkest page in the forty-five-year history of communism in the region. They are the names of detention centers, prison camps, and forced labor camps that corrupted the landscape of Eastern Europe from the end of World War II to the collapse of...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 15-17)

      Albania became an independent state in 1912, in the wake of the First Balkan War, after centuries of Ottoman Turkish domination.¹ Before being engulfed by World War II, the country made slow progress into the modern world. Throughout almost the entire interwar period it was ruled by a single individual, Ahmed Bey Zogolli (later changed to Zogu; 1895–1961), a member of a powerful feudal landowning family in the Mati region of northern Albania. Zogu first came to power, with Yugoslav backing, in 1924. But fearing Yugoslav designs on Albanian independence, he threw his lot in with an Italian-led coalition...

    • Jusuf Vrioni (1916–2001)
      (pp. 18-23)

      Best known as the esteemed translator of Ismail Kadaré into French, Jusuf Vrioni, one imagines, might have been spared the wretchedness of prison that befell so many other prominent (and not so prominent) Albanian literary figures. Unfortunately, his personal relationship with Kadaré and his immense service to Albanian culture by making Albaniaʹs most famous writer accessible to readers in a major Western language were insufficient when the heavy hand of the Communist regime reached out for him in September 1947. His offense? Allegedly spying for France. The son of an old aristocratic family, Vrioni was born on the Greek island...

    • Arshi Pipa (1920–2002)
      (pp. 24-29)

      Pipa was a scholar of Albanian and Italian literatures, a poet (mostly in the Gheg dialect, of which he was a staunch defender), an implacable foe of communism, and an intense antagonist of Albaniaʹs major contemporary writer of fiction, Ismail Kadaré. Accused of ʺcounterrevolutionaryʺ activities, he was first sentenced to twenty years in prison. The charge was later reduced to ten years.⁷ After his release in 1957, Pipa fled to Yugoslavia and subsequently to the United States, where he taught for a number of years at the University of Minnesota. Once in the United States, Pipa published several books intended...

    • Kasëm Trebeshina (b. 1926)
      (pp. 30-36)

      A highly esteemed poet, prose writer, and dramatist, Trebeshina had to wait until after the collapse of the Albanian Communist regime before being able to bring to light most of his literary works, which until the 1990s existed only in manuscript. Thirty years separate the publication of his first book, the poetry collectionArtani dhe Minʹja ose hijet e fundit të maleve(Artani and Minja or the Last Shadows of the Mountains, 1961), and the post-Communist volume of storiesStina e stinëve(The Season of Seasons, 1991). A native of Berat, Trebeshina left school in Elbasan in order to join...

    • Maks Velo (b. 1935 )
      (pp. 37-49)

      Born in Paris into an Albanian family, Velo was taken by his parents to live in Albania, in the city of Korça, while still a child. After attending local schools, he went on to study construction at the Tirana Polytechnic in 1957. Although he became an accomplished architect, Velo also began attracting attention for his artwork, exhibiting in a number of venues in and beyond Albania. He also began publishing articles on art and architecture in various Albanian journals and magazines. His career began to unravel in 1972 when a planned one-man show of a large number of his works...

    • Fatos T. Lubonja (b. 1951)
      (pp. 50-63)

      One of the most respected figures in contemporary Albanian journalism and political life, Fatos Lubonja is the son of Todi Lubonja (1923–2005), the general director of Albanian Radio and Television, who was purged in 1971. That same year, Fatos was taken into custody and sentenced to seven years in the Spaç copper mine camp on the basis of diaries critical of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha found in an uncleʹs attic. Another sixteen years were added to his initial sentence in 1979 when he was accused, together with other inmates, of ʺcounterrevolutionaryʺ agitation while in prison. He made his...

    • Visar Zhiti (b. 1952)
      (pp. 64-69)

      One of the leading poets of contemporary Albania, Zhiti was about to launch his career with a first book of poetry in 1973 when he fell victim to the purge of artists and intellectuals that followed the Fourth Plenary Session of the Albanian Communist Party. In April 1980, after several months in solitary confinement, he was eventually sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Released in 1987, he was allowed to work in a brick factory in the town where he grew up, Lushnjë. While in prison, especially in the Qafë-Bari camp in the mountainous Albanian north, and deprived of writing instruments,...

    • Besnik Mustafaj (b. 1958)
      (pp. 70-76)

      Poet, novelist, essayist, and diplomat, Mustafa was born in Bajram Curri and majored in French at the University of Tirana. After working for a while as a teacher, he joined the faculty of the university in 1982 and also was affiliated with the newspaperZërri i popullit(Voice of the People). In 1988 he became a translator at the Institute of Marxist and Leninist Studies and two years later editor in chief of the journalBota letrare(Literary World). In 1991 Mustafaj entered politics as a member of the Democratic Party of Albania and that same year was elected to...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 77-80)

      Long a part of the Ottoman Turkish empire, like Albania, Bulgaria—with Russian support—wrenched free of Ottoman control in 1908.¹ World War I was just a few years away. When it erupted, the Bulgarians threw their lot in with the Central Powers—Austria-Hungary and Germany—rather than with their staunchest backer before the war, Russia, with whom they shared close ties of language and religion. The motivation was simple enough—the ultimate enlargement of the Bulgarian state through territorial acquisition. Notwithstanding the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, sizeable South Slavic and Greek communities were still under Turkish rule. In...

    • Venko Markovski (1915–1988)
      (pp. 81-88)

      The author of the only book about the notorious Adriatic prison camp island Goli otok—Marshal Titoʹs Devilʹs Island—to appear in English, Markovski was a native Bulgarian who was born in Skopje, the present capital of Macedonia. He received his secondary education in Skopje but later studied at a university in Sofia, Bulgaria. Markovski truly had two homelands, Macedonia and Bulgaria. He made a reputation as a writer of poetry in Bulgarian while at the same time publishing in Macedonian and in fact played an important role in the creation of the modern standard Macedonian literary language as well...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 89-92)

      Unlike most of Eastern Europe between World Wars I and II, Czechoslovakia was by and large a political and economic success story. It had its problems, to be sure, but they seemed minor compared to those of its neighbors. As a new state born of World War I and the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire, it could look confidently toward the future. Under the leadership of two distinguished interwar presidents—Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), who became the first president of the new post–World War I Czechoslovak state in 1920, and Edvard Beneš (1884–1948)—its economy developed rapidly...

    • Jiří Hejda (1895–1985)
      (pp. 93-96)

      Hejda was one of the thirteen members of an alleged antistate terrorist group led by Dr. Milada Horáková (1901–1950), a well-known political activist tried and convicted in 1950. In the most notorious Communist-era show trial preceding the Rudolf Slánský case of 1952, Horáková, a former member of the Czech Parliament who had fought in the Resistance during World War II, was sentenced to death despite pleas on her behalf from around the world. The Czech president Klement Gottwald refused clemency, and Horáková and three other codefendants were hanged. The rest of the prisoners were given long prison terms, Hejda...

    • Jan Zahradníček (1905–1960)
      (pp. 97-104)

      Zahradníček was one of the foremost Czech poets of Catholic mysticism. Between 1930 and 1947, he had published some ten books of poetry, including the important collectionLa Saletta(1947), which was inspired by the account of the story of two French children who claimed that on 19 September 1846 they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on Mount Salette in the French Alps not far from Grenoble. Imbued with a sense of profound spirituality so soon after the end of World War II, this book of poems was followed in 1948 byZnamení moci(Sign of Power, 1948),...

    • František Daniel Merth (1915–1995)
      (pp. 105-109)

      A Catholic priest and a respected poet, Merth graduated from the Catholic Theological Seminary in České Budějovice in 1942 and that same year took holy orders. He served for two years as chaplain in the ancient town of Pelhřimov, before being appointed a priest in the Church of St. Prokop in České Budějovice. In 1948, he was arrested on the usual trumped up charge of antistate activity—presumably on the basis of his first book of poetry,Refrigerium, published in 1947 under the name František D.—and was sentenced to five years imprisonment, mostly in Jáchymov. He was freed in...

    • Jiří Mucha (1915–1991)
      (pp. 110-117)

      The son of the famous painter Alfons Mucha (1860–1939), Jiří Mucha had been associated with the Czechoslovak government in exile during World War II. He was taken into custody not long after the Communist coup of 1948 on charges of being a spy for the West. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 1951 but was released in 1953 in the amnesty for political prisoners that followed the death of Stalin and the Czech president Klement Gottwald. His major narrative about his imprisonment first appeared in English in 1967 asLiving and Partly Living. The book appears...

    • Lenka Reinerová (1916–2008)
      (pp. 118-124)

      Reinerová was a remnant of the once vibrant German-speaking Jewish community of Prague and the last female writer of that city to write in German. Arrested in conjunction with the Rudolf Slánský affair, she was placed in investigative detention for fifteen months, after which she and her family were required to live in the provinces away from Prague. Her major work dealing with her time behind bars isAlle Farben der Sonne und der Nacht(All the Colors of Sun and Night, 2003). It is an account of her arrest and imprisonment in a windowless cell where, in the company...

    • Karel Pecka (1928–1997)
      (pp. 125-141)

      Often referred to as the Czech Solzhenitsyn, Pecka was arrested as early as 1949 for contributing to an illegal newspaper. He was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment, serving time first in the Jáchymov mining camp and then, in 1956, in Bytíz u Přibrami. Peckaʹs literary career began in earnest in the 1960s following his release from prison in 1959. Not unexpectedly, much of his writing was inspired by his personal experiences, beginning with the novelsÚniky(Escapes, 1966) andHorečka(Fever, 1967) and the short story collectionNa co umírají muží(What Men Die Of, 1968), which he wrote while...

    • Eva Kantůrková (b. 1930)
      (pp. 142-150)

      A respected Czech novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, Kantůrková was born in Prague, the daughter of a Communist journalist and writer. In 1956, she received a degree in philosophy and history from Charles University and began a writing career with the newspaperMladá fronta. Her first novel,Smutečni slavnost(Funeral Ceremony, 1967) was followed by two additional novels,Po potope(After the Flood, 1969) andPozustalost pana Abela(The Legacy of Mr. Abel, 1971). Both were banned in Czechoslovakia. In 1981, Kantůrková was arrested on a charge of sedition and sentenced to a year in Ruzyně prison. She spent eleven...

    • Milan Šimečka (1930–1990)
      (pp. 151-157)

      The father of the well-known Slovak novelist Martin Šimečka (b. 1957), Milan Šimečka was a highly respected and influential Slovak writer and dissident. Although born in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia and educated at the University of Brno, Moravia, where he studied Czech and Russian literatures, his subsequent career developed in Slovakia. He moved to Bratislava, the Slovak capital, in 1954, where he taught at the University of Bratislava and then at the School of Performing Arts. He lost these positions, as well as his membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of...

    • Rudolf Dobiáš (b. 1934)
      (pp. 158-166)

      A prominent Slovak writer and journalist, well known for his works for children, Dobiáš was arrested while still a secondary school student at the age of eighteen and charged with antistate activity. He was sentenced to hard labor in the uranium mines in Jáchymov. After his release in 1960 he held a variety of jobs while finishing his studies at the Technical Secondary Chemical School in Bratislava. From 1975 to 1978 he pursued a career as a freelance writer, gaining a reputation for his childrenʹs books as well as for his radio plays, more than thirty of which were aimed...

    • Poets from Dobiášʹs Básnici za mrežami: Antológia poézie napísanej vo väzení
      (pp. 167-167)

      In his workDom opustenosti(House of Desolation, 1991), the poet and translator Janko Silan (1914–1984), a Catholic priest, publishes a letter to a literary journal. I permit myself to quote an excerpt from it as marginally related to the theme of this anthology. He writes, inter alia: ʺIn your letter I was struck by mention of silent poets. May I be permitted to point out that on your part it concerns, in my case, a misunderstanding. Although I myself do not belong among the silent poets, I have the honor to tell you that until now it has...

    • Vojtech Belák (1928–2008)
      (pp. 168-170)

      Trained in medicine and medicinal chemistry at the universities of Bratislava and Košice, Belák’s career was cut short when he was taken into custody on a charge of conducting preelectoral agitation against candidates of the National Front coalition of parties that headed the immediate postwar Czechoslovak government (1945–1948). In the Communist period, it was the instrument by which the Communist Party controlled virtually all social and political activity in the country. Belák was sentenced to two years in prison but was released by the amnesty of May 1955. Still under observation, however, he was unable to resume his medical...

    • Pavol Brodnaňský (1930–2004)
      (pp. 171-172)

      A student of natural sciences at the Comenius University in Bratislava, he was arrested in 1952 and sentenced along with others to twenty-two years in prison. He spent eight of these years toiling in the Jáchymov uranium mines before being released in the amnesty of 1960 by which political prisoners in poor health were permitted to return home. After several yearsʹ employment in a cellulose and paper factory in Ružomberk, where he had settled, he retired and became an official of the Confederation of Political Prisoners. His collection of religious and liturgical songs together with his poetry appeared in book...

    • Vojtech Jenčík (1920–1976)
      (pp. 173-176)

      A student at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Theological Faculty in Bratislava, he was consecrated as a priest in 1945 in the famous Concathedral of St. Martin in Bratislava. The following seven years he served in the Košice diocese. On 14 September 1950 he defended his dissertation on pastoral workers, which was based on the social encyclicalsRerum novarumof Pope Leo XIII and theQuadregesimo annoof Pope Pius XI. In 1952 he was briefly interned in the so-called centralized monastery in Mučenici where the Security Police came to arrest him. Two years later, the Supreme Court in Prague...

    • Alexander Rodan (pseudonym of Ján Pospišel, 1919–1990)
      (pp. 177-177)

      An editor by profession, he was arrested for trying to escape Slovakia and was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. He served eleven years, mostly in forced labor in the Jáchymov mines but also in Valdice. While in prison he composed two cycles of poems that he transcribed only after regaining his freedom. Both cycles still remain in manuscript form except for the excerpts published in Rudolf Dobiáš’s anthology. The first,Matke(To Mother), a sonnet cycle, dates from 1956; the second,Listy z väzenia(Letters from Prison), from 1963. Once out of prison, Rodan resumed his editorial career until his...

    • Štefan Sandtner (1916–2006)
      (pp. 178-179)

      Sandtner studied theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained as a priest in 1943. He was one of a group of friends who in the spring of 1951 attempted—unsuccessfully—to flee to the West across the Czechoslovak border. While recuperating in a hospital in Bratislava he was arrested and charged with treason. The court sentenced him to fifteen years in prison, most of it in Leopoldov and Mírov. While in the latter, a personal inspection found him in possession of several poems, among them his translation of the Czech poet Václav Renčʹs poem to the Virgin...

    • Marián Skala (pseudonym of Ján Krajňák, n.d.)
      (pp. 180-181)

      While a student at the Philosophical Faculty of the Comenius University in Bratislava, he was expelled after four semesters, and in June 1952 he was arrested and sentenced to five and a half years in the Jáchymov uranium mines. He was freed in 1956 and soon found employment as a reader at the Východoslovenské tlačiarne (Eastern Slovak Publishers and Printers) in Košice (Slovakia). In 1990 he was named subdean of the Greco-Catholic theological faculty of the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice. Two years later Pope John Paul II granted him the title of monsignor. Rudolf Dobiaš mentions that hardly...

    • Ladislav Záborský (b. 1921)
      (pp. 182-184)

      A much-admired Catholic painter of religious themes, Záborskýʹs arguably most famous canvas, that ofChrist as a Worker, was first shown at an exhibition in Košice in March and April 1949. Before long, it became widely known throughout Slovakia. Záborskýʹs success also became the source of his difficulties with the State Security apparatus. His painting was declared corrupt and a ban was imposed on the further depiction of Christ as a worker. His situation steadily worsened, and in June 1954 he was accused of treason and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. On Christmas day in 1957 he was conditionally freed....

    • Václav Havel (1936–2011)
      (pp. 185-200)

      The celebrated playwright, known the world over as a champion of human rights, a political activist, and subsequently as the president first of the Czechoslovak state and then of the new Czech Republic after 1993, was imprisoned on four separate occasions—in 1977, 1978–1979, and, in his longest stay, from June 1979 to January 1984—for a total of five years. What earned him prison time was his role in the publication of the Charter 77 (1977) manifesto and the organization of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (1979). Havelʹs letters to his wife Olga—Dopisy:...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 201-204)

      Like Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Communist Party had a relationship going back to the period shortly after World War I. Founded by Béla Kun (1886–1938 or 1939) in 1918, in fact, two years before its Czechoslovak counterpart, the Hungarian Communist Party became the driving force behind the first Bolshevik-style state in Europe outside the Soviet Union. However, the so-called Hungarian Soviet Republic was short-lived, lasting only from March to August 1919 when it was soundly defeated by the Romanian Army. The Romanians seized Budapest, drove Kun into exile, and transferred power from the Communist Party to the Social Democrats....

    • Tibor Déry (1894–1977)
      (pp. 205-208)

      Déry is known in the Anglophone world primarily as the author of the immensely popular novelNiki: Egy kutja története(Niki: The Story of a Dog, 1956)—which is still in print in English—about a coupleʹs love for a stray dog set in the context of the bleak Stalinist period of the Mátyás Rákosi regime. One of the most respected names in modern Hungarian literature, Déry had a long and productive career as a writer and a long involvement in his countryʹs political life. An early member of the Communist Party, he served briefly in Béla Kunʹs short-lived Hungarian...

    • György Faludy (1910–2006)
      (pp. 209-223)

      Of Hungarian Jewish origin, like Tibor Déry, Faludy became an immensely popular writer largely on the basis of two works: racy verse renderings of the fifteenth-century French balladeer François Villon (published in 1934 under the titleVillon balladáiand reprinted a number of times) and his autobiographical novelMy Happy Days in Hell(1962; published in Hungarian only much later asPokolbeli víg napjaim). Educated at the universities of Vienna, Graz, and Berlin, Faludy held radical liberal views that were incompatible with the political climate in Hungary in the years immediately preceding that countryʹs entry into World War II on...

    • Árpád Göncz (b. 1922).
      (pp. 224-228)

      President of the Hungarian Republic from 2 May 1990 to 4 August 2000, Göncz was a well-known writer and a hugely productive translator of English and American literature. For his part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and subsequent activities, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1957 but was freed after six and a half years in the amnesty of 1963. For the next few decades, because of restrictions on him after his release, he made a living primarily as a translator of English. Goncz learned English while in prison and later claimed that that was the only...

    • Ádám Bodor (b. 1936)
      (pp. 229-236)

      A Transylvanian Hungarian writer who lived in Romania until 1982—except for the period in 1944–1945 when his family moved from Cluj to Budapest—Bodor is the author of such eerie yet compelling novels asSinistra körzet(The Sinistra District, 1992) andAz érsek látogatása(The Archbishopʹs Visit, 1999). Bodorʹs entry into the Romanian gulag began in 1952 when he was arrested at the age of seventeen for his founding of the Illegal Anticommunist Organization (Illegális Kommunistaellenes Szervezet) as well as for his support for Áron Márton (1896–1980), the Roman Catholic bishop of Transylvania who had been sentenced...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 237-242)

      Poland regained its independence in 1918 after 123 years of partition by Russia, Austria, and Prussia. But the euphoria of national rebirth was marred by political and economic instability that dominated Polish life between the two world wars.¹ As elsewhere in Eastern Europe during the same period, power came eventually to rest in the hands of a right-leaning authoritarian figure with a prominent military past. In the case of Poland, it was Marshal Józef Piłsudski (1867–1935), revered to this day as a national hero. After conflicts with such neighboring countries as Ukraine, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union between...

    • Marek Nowakowski (b. 1935)
      (pp. 243-246)

      A Warsaw native and a graduate of the law program of Warsaw University, Nowakowski has long been admired for laconic short stories collectively representing a kind of chronicle of everyday Polish life under communism, with marginal social elements being a main focus. Before Solidarity, he had already published some eighteen volumes of such stories, among themTen stary złodziej(This Old Thief, 1958),Benek Kwiaciarz(Benek the Flower Peddlar, 1961),Układ zamknięty(A Settled Deal, 1972), andKsiążę nocy(The Prince of Night, 1978). With the advent of Solidarity, he became one of its most enthusiastic supporters, and after the...

    • Adam Michnik (b. 1946)
      (pp. 247-249)

      Michnik is an internationally esteemed journalist, essayist, and historian who played a major role in the Solidarity movement and was for many years editor of the highly influential newspaperGazeta Wyborcza. He won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1983, was named European Man of the Year in 1989, and was made a member of the French Legion of Honor in 2003. His collaboration in the 1970s with the reformist Komitet obrony robotników (KOR; Workersʹ Defense Committee) and later Solidarity, as well as his editorship of several illegal underground newspapers between 1977 and 1989, led to his arrest...

    • Tomasz Jastrun (b. 1950)
      (pp. 250-258)

      The son of the poets Mieczysław Jastrun (1903–1983) and Mieczysława Buczkówna (b. 1924), Tomas Jastrun is a well-known poet, prose writer, and journalist. He was a member of Solidarity and after the declaration of martial law managed to hide for a year before being arrested and placed in internment in Białołęka prison. From 1990–1994 he was director of the Polish Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, as well as Polish cultural attaché to Sweden. Most recently he has worked as a writer of feuilletons, a genre he was closely identified with in his earlier career, for the journalZwierciadło(The...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 259-266)

      The defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I resulted in a considerable enlargement of the Romanian state due to territorial acquisition.¹ However, satisfaction with the realization of the dream of incorporating all Romanian speakers within the confines of a single state was mitigated by the reality of the inclusion in the newly enlarged Kingdom of Romania of large numbers of non–ethnic Romanians.² Gaining all of Transylvania now meant that Romania had a sizeable Hungarian population; problems with this community continued not only through the interwar period but through the years of World War II, the Communist ascension to power,...

    • Nichifor Crainic (1889–1972)
      (pp. 267-269)

      Crainic was a poet, philosopher, theologian, and professor of theology at the Bucharest Theological Seminary and the Chişinău (Moldavia) Faculty of Philosophy. He was a leading pro-Fascist in the 1930s, an avowed admirer of Mussolini and Hitler who became known for his nationalistic conception of Romanian Orthodox Christianity as well as for his extreme anti-Semitism. His views, which were disseminated principally through his magazineGândirea(Thought) came to be known collectively as ʺgândirism.ʺ In November 1935 he also founded the extreme right-wing newspaperSfarmă-Piatră(Rock-Breaker), which was anti-Semitic, antidemocratic, and antiliberal and beat the drum regularly against the modernist literary...

    • Radu Gyr (pseudonym of Radu Demetrescu; 1905–1975)
      (pp. 270-273)

      A native of Câmpulung Muscel, the first capital of Wallachia about 150 kilometers north of Bucharest, Gyr became an active member of the Legion of St. Michael the Archangel at an early age. He rose to the rank of commander and head of the legionary movement in Oltenia. Already admired as a poet in the 1920s, he collaborated with most of the prominent literary reviews of the period and was honored in the 1920s and 1930s by such institutions as the Society of Romanian Writers, the Literary Institute, and the Romanian Academy. He enjoys the dubious distinction of being the...

    • Nicolae (Nicu) Steinhardt (1912–1989)
      (pp. 274-286)

      One of the most fascinating men of letters in twentieth-century Romania, Steinhardt, of Jewish origin and a distant relative of Freud and Einstein, began his career in the 1930s as a literary critic and as a writer (in French) on Jewish and Catholic issues (e.g.,Essai sur une conception catholique de judaisme[On a Catholic Conception of Judaism]). An implacable foe of communism on intellectual and moral grounds, and an ardent supporter of the much harassed and long imprisoned Romanian philosopher, Constantin Noica (1909–1987), Steinhardt was arrested in 1959 and sentenced to thirteen years of hard labor. He was...

    • Ion Caraion (pseudonym of Stelian Diaconescu; 1923–1985)
      (pp. 287-290)

      Caraion has a formidable reputation as a poet in Romania. He was born into extreme poverty in a small village in the Buzău district but left it in order to further his education in Bucharest. He eventually received a degree from the faculty of literature and philosophy from Bucharest University in 1948. By that time he had already made his literary debut as a poet with the volumesPanopticum(1943),Omul profilat pe cer(Man Outlined Against the Sky, 1945), andCîntece negre(Black Songs, 1946). An outspoken foe of totalitarianism, with a fierce sense of independence, Caraion went into...

    • Marcel Petrişor (b. 1930)
      (pp. 291-310)

      A native of Transylvania, deeply rooted in its traditions, Petrişor devoted much of his energy as a writer to a loving reconstruction of the Transylvania village life he knew from firsthand experience. In this respect he joins the ranks of so many other Romanian writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who found their inspiration among their countryʹs rural people. His debut volume of stories,Serile-n sat la Ocişor(Evenings in the Village of Ocişor, 1971)–Ocişor was the name of Petrişorʹs native village–set the pattern of picturesqueness, vivid characterization, and the intertwining of the mythical and mystic typical...

    • Paul Goma (b. 1935)
      (pp. 311-320)

      The leading literary dissident of Communist Romania, and a prolific writer, Goma was arrested on several occasions. From April 1957 to March 1958 he was incarcerated in Jilava, then transferred to Gherla from which he was freed on 21 November 1958. He was then placed under house arrest for the next thirty-six months in the village of Lăteşti, in the southeastern corner of Romania. Finally, in 1977, he was forced to emigrate. He and his family received political asylum in France where they have lived since and where, Goma claims, he continued to be harassed by agents of the Romanian...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 321-325)

      The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which replaced the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in October 1929, further exemplifies the extreme instability characteristic of most of Eastern Europe between World War I and World War II. The goal of a number of South Slav intellectuals as well as King Alexander I of Serbia was to create a super South Slav state that would finally succeed in immobilizing the strong nationalist and separatist tendencies in that part of Europe. In order to achieve this goal, it was reasoned that it was prudent to ban political parties and to concentrate all power...

    • Milovan Djilas (1911–1995)
      (pp. 326-333)

      One of the legendary figures of modern Yugoslav history, the Montenegran Djilasʹs Communist Party affiliation in the early 1930s while a student at the University of Belgrade brought him firsthand familiarity with prison at an early age. He served three years in jail in the time of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. During and after World War II his very close relationship with and support of Tito brought him high political office in the early 1950s. Things changed for the worse, however, as a result of Djilasʹs growing criticism of the Communist Party for what he perceived...

    • Igor Torkar (pseudonym of Boris Fakin; 1913–2004)
      (pp. 334-343)

      The bitter irony of Torkarʹs life was determined by his experiences during World War II. A chemical engineer by training, he had entered the national liberation movement not long after the outbreak of war. His main goal was to join Titoʹs Partisans. But before he could, he was turned over to the Germans by an informer and was transported to the Dachau concentration camp at the end of 1943. He was subsequently imprisoned also in Sachsenhausen and Klinger. Torkar survived the camps, but in a sense his real trial began after the end of the war. In April 1948 he...

    • Vitomil Zupan (1914–1987)
      (pp. 344-357)

      An important Slovenian poet, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, Zupan led a life of adventure and wandering. He saw action, mostly against the Italians, during World War II as a member of the Slovenian Liberation Front. Captured by the Italians in 1942, he was imprisoned in the newly opened concentration camp established by the Italian authorities at Gonars in Udine Province, Italy. He escaped in 1943 and joined Slovenian Partisans with whom he saw further action before being assigned to cultural activities, above all the writing of propaganda plays. It was during this period that he became friendly with the novelist...

    • Eligio (Ligio) Zanini (1927–1993)
      (pp. 358-365)

      A native of Rovigno dʹIstria (Rovinj, Croatia, after 1947), Zanini was a poet who wrote primarily in the Italian dialect of Rovigno. He trained to be a teacher at the Istituto Magistrale di Pola (Pula) and while still a young man fought with Italian Partisans during World War II. The transfer of Rovigno to Yugoslavia in 1947 had dire consequences for Zanini. The expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform led to his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in January 1949 on charges of pro-Soviet sympathies, effectively ending his budding career as a teacher and school official under the Italian government. He...

    • Branko Hofman (1929–1991)
      (pp. 366-370)

      A highly regarded Slovenian writer, Hofman is best known for his novelNoč do jutra(Night Till Morning, 1981), in which a possible murder and the experiences of an inmate on the Goli otok prison camp are interwoven. Although Hoffman himself seems never to have been imprisoned on Goli otok, his knowledge of conditions there prompted him to write a searing indictment of it. Composed between 1968 and 1974, the novel could not be published until 1981, just a few months after Titoʹs death. A best seller in its day, it was subsequently translated into Croatian (1982), German (1983), and...

    • Borislav Pekić (1930–1992)
      (pp. 371-383)

      One of the most important Serbian writers of the twentieth century, Pekić was born into a prominent Montenegran family. He graduated high school in Belgrade in 1945, but before being able to continue his education he was accused in 1948 of fomenting a student conspiracy against the state. This ʺconspiracyʺ was a prodemocracy organization with the name Savez demokratske omladine Jugoslavije (Union of Democratic Youth of Yugoslavia), which Pekić and some friends organized in 1947, with Pekić serving as its first secretary. Although he was sentenced to fifteen years at hard labor, Pekić was released after serving five years. He...

    • Dragoslav Mihailović (b. 1930)
      (pp. 384-391)

      As a Soviet sympathizer at the time of Titoʹs break with the Soviet Union in 1948, Mihailović, a Serb, was packed off to penal servitude on Goli otok in 1950. Until 1956, it may be recalled, the island was used for the imprisonment of political prisoners, above all Stalinists and Communist Party members and others favorably disposed to the Soviet Union. Mihailović spent two years there and later made it the basis of a massive interview-oriented documentary about prison life on the island (published in 1990 with the titleGoli otok). The greater part of the book is divided into...

    • Vlado Gotovac (1930–2000)
      (pp. 392-404)

      A prominent dissident in Communist Yugoslavia as well as a champion of democracy during the authoritarian regime of the first Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman (1922–1999), Gotovac began his career primarily as a journalist and radio and television editor, turning to poetry in 1956. By 1995, he had published seventeen volumes of verse. Although of a rural background, he became essentially an urban poet who championed the integrity of the individual and the need to preserve democratic freedoms. His prose writings are addressed to social issues, including totalitarianism and, later, the Balkan wars of the 1990s. He had already written...

    (pp. 405-406)

    The East European gulag, like that of the Soviet Union, now belongs to the history of the twentieth century, a ghastly century of wars, revolutions, mass murder, and programmatic human degradation. As we read through the vast and varied literature of the prisons, we are left, I believe, with two emotions: A profound loathing, almost impossible to put into words, for the architects of such a monstrous institution of debasement undertaken for the sole purpose of maintaining the power of a grotesquely flawed political system. And wonderment that there were those who were not only able to survive it but...