This is the story of one of the most long-lived anti-communist partisan groups in Eastern Europe. It is linked to the Romanian village of Nucşoara (former county Muscel, now Arges) and to the Arnăuţoiu family.
In January 1949, Lieutenant Toma Arnăuţoiu of Nucşoara was contacted by one Colonel Gheorghe Arsenescu to explore the possibility of setting up a group of partisans to fight the Soviet-imposed regime. Arsenescu was an experienced soldier who had seen action in Russia whilst Romania was an ally of Germany . Arnăuţoiu, who had just graduated from the cavalry school, had fought the Germans in Hungary once Romania had joined the Allies against Hitler. Both had been discharged from the army as the new regime started promoting its own supporters. Their plan was that partisans would be able to neutralise local authorities once the wished-for war between the Allies and Stalin’s Russia broke out, making possible the overthrow of the Communist regime in Romania.
In March 1949 Colonel Arsenescu, alerted by the detention of members of a short-lived resistance group in Dragoslavele which he had set up the previous year, retreated in a hurry to Nucşoara accompanied by Toma Arnăuţoiu. There they were joined by Toma’s brother Petre and his father Ion (Iancu) Arnăuţoiu, school teacher Alexandru Moldoveanu, priest Ion Dragoi and his student son, Cornel Dragoi. They met to discuss their plans in the homes of Petre Arnăuţoiu and of Gheorghe and Elizabeta Rizea (who after 1990 would become a symbol of those who survived the Romanian Gulag). Several future partisans and villagers who were to supply them with food, clothing, and weapons attended.
Twelve men and four women took to the mountains. One night, when venturing into the village for supplies, Arsenescu, the Arnăuţoiu brothers and two others were surrounded by Securitate (the communist secret police) troops in a house. In the ensuing shootout two soldiers were killed and Toma Arnăuţoiu wounded. The partisans managed to break free and rejoin their group but it became clear to them that there was no way back. By July they decided to split: the group was too large to hide from Securitate troops combing the area, and disagreement was growing over tactics. Some stayed with Colonel Arsenescu, whilst others followed Toma Arnăuţoiu. In September Arsenescu left his group and went into hiding until 1960 when he was caught and sentenced to death.
The gradually thinning Arnăuţoiu group was to be chased by the Securitate for nine years. They regularly changed their hiding place and requisitioned food from shepherds, foresters or even chalets, always leaving a receipt for what was taken. During the summer they were also fed by sympathisers. The most trusted ones provided them with a radio set, binoculars, boots, and guns and kept them informed about developments in their area. They occasionally distributed manifestos or sent written warnings to the new village leaders. The youngest of the group kept a diary describing their harsh lives during the long winter months of sheltering in underground hideouts, surviving with little food, occasionally mixed with bark. They clashed on several occasions with the troops chasing them or with Securitate agents posing as mountaineers. Of the initial 16 one surrendered, a few were caught, and a woman was shot dead. Their relatives and any villagers suspected of helping them were brutally questioned, detained or handed heavy sentences. Their correspondence was opened and their conversations monitored through microphones. The Securitate did not shy away from any method to secure information leading to the capture of the partisans.
Towards the end the group was reduced to Toma Arnăuţoiu, his brother Petre, Maria Plop (a former maid in the Arnăuţoiu house) and Constantin Jubleanu. They carved out a shelter on a rocky but wooded hillside (in a place called the Fir Tree Ravine) not far from the hamlet of Poienarei. That is where a baby daughter, Ioana, was born to Toma and Maria.
With no progress in their search, the Securitate masterminded a plan to blackmail Grigore Poinareanu, a former schoolmate and sympathiser of Toma’s to help with the capture of the group. The plan succeeded.
On the night of 19th of May 1958 the Arnăuţoiu brothers came down from their hide-out to the house of Grigore Poienareanu to collect supplies. The Securitate had instructed Poienareanu to offer them a glass of plum brandy laced with a powerful tranquiliser. Once they had drank the potion, they were unable to resist when surrounding troops arrested them and marshalled them to the hideout where Maria Plop, the baby and Constantin Jubleanu had stayed behind.
Plop and Jubleanu were ordered to surrender. Plop, holding the child in her arms, came down a rope ladder. Jubleanu fired at the Securitate troops and was shot and killed.
The partisans were taken to the Pitesti Securitate headquarters where they were held for interrogation for one year. A martial court sentenced the Arnăuţoiu brothers to be shot alongside 14 villagers who had helped them in various ways. The Romanian Parliament rejected the appeal to have their death sentences changed. The 16, including three priests, and four members of the initial group who had already spent eight years in prison, were executed in the night of 18 July 1959 at the Jilava prison.
Maria Plop and the parents of the Arnăuţoiu brothers were handed heavy sentences and died in prison. Their sister and others who had helped them escaped the firing squad and were imprisoned till 1964, when almost all political detainees were released by a regime keen to trade with the West.
Ioana, the daughter of Toma Arnăuţoiu and Maria Plop was taken to an orphanage. She was adopted by a family unaware of her origins. She herself discovered who her real parents were only after the fall of communism. The story of the Arnăuţoiu group and the pictures on this site are based on her research in Securitate files.