Rumanian 'brigade' reduced
by death from 450 to 235
0 NE chapter in the book of Soviet slave labour —with priests as the victims—has come to an end. But another, with the same victims, has now begun.
The "priests' brigade," a group of 210 Rumanian priests working as a gang on the Danube Black Sea Canal project, have been quietly removed and shipped to Odessa in the Ukraine.
Construction of the 50-mile waterway in Rumania, the Kremlin's most ambitious post-war project in a satellite State, was abandoned a few months ago for reasons known only to Moscow.
A few of the brigade's aged priests, says an N.C.W.C. message from Vienna, were dropped from the slave labour lists and allowed to return to their homes in Transylvania and Banat (Rumania), with strict orders not to carry on their priestly duties.
'Filth everywhere' it is from these priests, dismissed by the Communists as of no further value, that the outside world has learned something of the incredible hardships, atrocities and murders perpetrated during the 30 months of
One priest, returned to a village in
Transylvania, said that of the original band of 450 Catholic Rumanian Eastern Rite priests. 215 have died or have been murdered since mid-1950.
He told of priests blown to bits in dynamite blasting operations, of drownings in the Danube, of slower deaths from exhaustion or malaria or typhus.
Conditions in the prison camps, he said, made skeletons even of the most hardy ones.
Rations were small. toilet facilities did not exist, filth was everywhere.
On occasions, Communist guards made sport of shooting at the priests -a sort of target practice. Many were wounded and some were killed.
"We had no communication from the outside world since August, 1950," the old priest said, "and we were completely isolated from our fellow-slave labourers."
Often during the night, he related, camp inmates would risk death to approach the barbed wire enclosure to talk to a priest or go to confession.
The old priest identified the original group of priests as predominantly Eastern Rite, but said that 10 were Latin Rite priests of German origin from the province of Banat.
While refusing to identify by name murdered priests for fear of reprisals to their families, he did say that Fr. Ion Heber, former secretary to imprisoned Bishop Pacha of Timisoara, was an inmate of the camp and that Fr. Joseph Waltncr, former director of the chancellery of Timisoara, died in the camp.
When the waterway was discontinued, he said, the Communists promised to restore citizenship rights to priests who would join the Rumanian Orthodox Church. Not one joined, and they were herded into a boat at the port of Constanta and sent to Odessa,