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East European Perspectives: June 27, 2001

27 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 12
Stalinism With A Human Face?

Part 2: Ana Pauker And The Liquidation Of Lucretiu Patrascanu

By Michael Shafir

In his biography of Ana Pauker (Levy, 2001), the author does a magnificent job in reconstructing the evidence of Pauker's "right wing deviation." When she arrived to Romania in 1944, she was -- as was later time and again brought up against her by both Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and post-Communist Romanian nationalists -- criticizing the "home Communists" headed by Dej for having collaborated with the "bourgeois" parties in the ouster and arrest of Romania's war-time dictator Ion Antonescu. The move, she believed, had hindered the immediate establishment of a Communist regime with Red Army support. Whether Pauker was reflecting Moscow postures is, however, a question never raised by Levy and which must, for now, remain unanswered. On the communist side, the main architect of communist participation in the coup was Emil Bodnaras, whose records clearly show to have been the main NKVD agent in Romania. It is not to be ruled out that, as in many other incidents discussed in Levy's volume, several factions were at work within the Soviet leadership itself, and their policies, recommendations, or orders did not necessarily coincide. What is clear, however, is that she was from the start aware of her drawbacks. Urged by former Comintern General Secretary Georgi Dimitrov to take up the leadership of the party on her return (as she told a party interrogation commission in 1956), she replied: "Comrade Dimitrov, I'm a woman, I haven't been in the country throughout the war, I was in prison [before that], and I have no idea how things stand. Ten years have passed, and [leading the party] would be hard for me to do. I'm a woman, a Jew and an intellectual" (p. 71). Nevertheless, she effectively served as party leader till the PCR National Conference of October 1945, at which she proposed that the helm be taken by Gheorghiu-Dej. Yet there can also be no doubt that aided by Vasile Luca and Teohari Georgescu -- both former Dej allies, though this evidence is usually disregarded by the partisans of the "home Communists" vs. "Muscovites" approach -- Pauker's predominance in the party's secretariat became clear. As Dej would later describe the situation, "Although I was the general secretary, [Pauker] dominated [in the Secretariat] together with Vasile Luca and Teohari Georgescu. This was a permanent faction" (p. 74). And the faction, much at Pauker's inspiration, managed to neutralize many of Dej's attempts to toe the line advocated by Soviet advisers.

At this point one encounters some paradoxes. Pauker, who had criticized collaboration with the bourgeois parties in late 1944, by 1945 becomes the staunchest partisan of a continued coalition with the National Peasant Party (PNT) and the National Liberal Party (PNL), much in opposition to what Dej stood for. Was this the outcome of her closer familiarity with the then-valid theoretical grounds of "domesticism"? That the simplistic mind of Gheorghiu-Dej, an uneducated worker, would not easily grasp those theoretical intricacies is easy to understand, as indeed is Pauker's intellectual superiority, of which she was consistently (and often arrogantly) conscious. Yet Dej would hardly have opposed Pauker without believing that "his" line was the one reflecting Moscow's preferences. The dispute was solved (partly in Dej's favor) after March 1945, but not before the two factions traveled to Moscow to have Stalin personally rule on the matter. Still, a facade of collaboration with "bourgeois" parties was maintained after that date, even if these were little else than insignificant splinters claiming PNT and PNL identities. The full emulation of the Soviet model was to be given the "green light" only after the "Tito heresy" in 1947, with Dej managing to position himself into the trustworthy "pupil" of Iossif Vissarionovich.

But as Levy shows, Pauker's positions were above all dictated by the realization that the PCR was a largely non-existent, less than 1,000-member strong political formation upon emerging from illegality at the end of the war. The party's campaign of mass recruitment by turning a blind eye on the new members' political past and "class consciousness," of which Pauker was in charge and for which she was criticized upon her purge, stemmed precisely from that situation. Yet it remains puzzling that Pauker would encourage the recruitment of former Iron Guard members into the ranks of the party, with Dej opposing the move and stating that the Legionaries (as the Iron Guardists were also called), should be " vipers" (pp. 75, 77). The simplistic explanation would have it that, suffering from Jewish "self-hatred" and oblivious to the plight of her own kin, Pauker pursued a cynical policy of "ends justifying the means" in an attempt to enlarge party legitimacy. But Levy time and again shows that the Jewish communist leader was far from ignoring the plight of Jews and could not possibly have been insensitive to the signal sent by having the chief perpetrators of pogroms join the ranks of the PCR. The mystery, therefore, persists. Ironically enough, it would be Dej who, after 1964 and in an obvious attempt to increase party legitimacy after the emerging conflict with Moscow, would amnesty and liberate Iron Guardists from prison, in many ways thus vindicating Pauker.

Aware as she was that legitimacy can only be built if the party manages to attract to its side some segments of the ethnic Romanian intelligentsia (most of whom regarded with suspicion the prominence of Jewish leaders in the party's early-day hierarchy), "Pauker was known to have regularly appointed non-communist intellectuals, scholars, and cultural figures as Romania's ambassadors upon becoming foreign minister in 1947" (p. 76), thus once again pioneering Gheorghiu-Dej's post-1964 cadre policies. To be sure, there was a marked difference between the two policies: by and after 1964 Dej could blame the party's "anti-national" previous postures on Pauker, with no one on hand still in a position to respond.

The genuine nationalist among the Romanian communists was, however, not Pauker but Lucretiu Patrascanu. If Pauker owed her life to Stalin's death, Patrascanu's tragic fate was sealed by the Russian dictator's fatal stroke of March 1953. Under threat of political survival as the new leadership team in Moscow was opting for the so-called "New Course" and looking for leaders in Eastern Europe that could replace the unpopular Stalinist henchmen, Dej hastened the trial and execution of Patrascanu, who was shot in his cell in April 1954. A founding PCR member in 1921, Patrascanu was, like Pauker, an intellectual, which was reason enough for Dej to be highly suspicious of him. As one of the key participants in the palace coup that brought about Marshal Ion Antonescu's arrest on 23 August 1944 and as one respected by the leaderships of the "historic" bourgeois parties, Patrascanu was obviously a challenge to Dej from the very start of the post-war regime. As Levy indicates, "It was Patrascanu's name that was called out at the party's first public rally after the coup, and 'Patrascanu to power' was the slogan chanted at Communist rallies and meetings throughout September and October" 1944 (p. 135). His popularity, moreover, had skyrocketed after a speech he delivered in the Transylvanian capital of Cluj in 1946, in which he declared that he was "first a Romanian and only then a communist" and where he attacked Hungarian nationalism, against the background of the yet-unsettled fate of northern Transylvania.

This, however, made him highly suspicious not only as a Dej political rival, but also in the eyes of the Soviets and of those blindly following the Kremlin line. Pauker, as already indicated, had upon her return to Romania condemned the palace coup and her postures at the time were by no means friendlier towards Patrascanu than were those of Dej. According to Levy, this "fit the conventional wisdom of that period, which placed them on opposite poles of Romanian Communism -- she an international revolutionary and long-standing member of the Comintern hierarchy, he a Romanian patriot who placed his Romanian identity over party loyalties" (p. 136). When Patrascanu headed a Romanian delegation to Moscow to negotiate the armistice in early September 1944, Pauker was still in the Soviet capital and, under orders of the Kremlin, she would at first not even receive him, though eventually she did so. Outraged by the positions he displayed during those negotiations in defense of Romanian national interests, Pauker later confided to her family that she had considered Patrascanu to be "anti-Soviet" (p. 136). There was thus little ground to expect Patrascanu to take Pauker's side against Dej in the unending allegiance-shifts and factional intraparty fighting that was set in motion after the "liberation." According to Levy, for all his elitist contempt of Dej and his supporters, Patrascanu "apparently shared their view that Pauker and Luca's prominence in the party leadership was hardly in the party's interests, for 'a lack of popularity could not serve the building of socialism.'" Pauker was a Jew, Luca an ethnic Hungarian who could hardly utter a correct sentence in Romanian, let alone write it. As a consequence, in early 1946 Patrascanu decided to reach accommodation with Dej. But the Gheorghiu-Dej of 1946 was hardly the "National Communist" he would turn into more than a decade later. Personal animosities aside, he was no less a Stalinist than Pauker was. When Patrascanu delivered his fatal speech in Cluj, both Dej and Pauker were enraged.

By 1947, however, Stalin had ordered the Romanians to link Patrascanu with the arrest of the leaders of the "historical parties." The "Cominform stage" was about to set in, and both Patrascanu and Pauker were too intelligent and too experienced not to realize that willy-nilly their fate could become one. They held, as Patrascanu would later confess, a number of "discussions and conversations," attributed by Patrascanu himself to their "long-standing personal friendship." Yet it was Pauker-ally Teohari Georgescu -- at the First Congress of the now-rebaptized Romanian Workers' Party -- who accused Patrascanu of having fallen "under the influence of the bourgeoisie," which resulted in his being dropped from the Central Committee (CC), and, soon after, in his ouster as justice minister. To one not familiar with reading communist small print, Pauker's speech at the congress read like an outright indictment of Patrascanu. "There are no fetishes in our party," she said, adding that "No one can live on his past merits." Just two days earlier, at a Politburo meeting, she criticized him for having refused to undergo the ritual of self-criticism after his Cluj speech. But, as Levy correctly reads the speech, it was an attempt on Pauker's part to minimize damages by charging Patrascanu with no more than "political mistakes." By then, such charges were mere trifle, for, inspired by Soviet advisers, Dej was accusing Patrascanu of far more serious crimes, and above all of trying to flee the country. It was therefore not quite inaccurate that upon her purge Pauker would be accused of not sufficiently supporting the prosecution of Patrascanu and of ignoring the Stalin-inspired warning against the infiltration of party-enemies in its top leadership (p. 135).

Pauker opposed Patrascanu's arrest and when he was first detained in April 1948, unsuccessfully tried to obtain his release. Investigated first by a party commission urged by Dej to find evidence on Patrascanu's attempt to flee the country, Patrascanu broke down after being confronted with the testimony of Nicolae Betea. Betea himself was unaware that the scenario he proposed to Patrascanu had been a provocation masterminded by the secret services and Patrascanu finally ended in confessing he had accepted the proposal, though "only to get rid of Betea." One of Patrascanu's party-interrogators was Interior Minister Teohari Georgescu, a prominent member of the Pauker inner-circle. Shortly after the confession, the PCR Secretariat informed Patrascanu that his "self criticism has been taken into account." He was confident he would be released as a consequence, the more so as the commission was disbanded. However, a warrant for his arrest was formally issued in August 1948, ordering his transfer to prison. Yet this did not initially happen, and Patrascanu, accompanied by his wife, was sent to a lakeside village in the vicinity of Bucharest. Based on circumstantial evidence, Levy concludes that "two forces were working against each other" within the party, "one promoting Patrascanu's prosecution, the other endeavoring to mitigate it" (p. 142). Pauker-ally Georgescu would eventually have to face the accusation that he had allowed Patrascanu's transfer to the village of Snagov and that he had urged Patrascanu during the interrogation not to confess to anything he was not guilty of. By October 1949, however, the "show trials" in Eastern Europe had been launched. One of Laszlo Rajk's co-defendants in Hungary, Lazar Brankov, "confessed" that Patrascanu "wanted to carry out Tito's plans in Romania." It was all Gheorghiu-Dej needed. Delivering a major address to the third Cominform conference in November, Dej identified Patrascanu as a U.S. and British agent, together with Tito, Rajk, and Bulgarian Traicho Kostov. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would eventually note that the report had been, in fact, prepared in Moscow, but, as Levy points out, the message to the Romanian leadership was now clear: "direct the investigative organs toward the fabrication of evidence that would, by any means, confirm these accusations" (p. 143).

By January 1950, a resolution of a CC plenum praised Dej for heading the "struggle against the traitors infiltrated into the Party leadership" and calling for the "discovery and extermination of imperialist agents and agents of the class enemy," mentioning in this connection Patrascanu. The former PCR leader had been transferred, meanwhile, to the investigation of the Council of Ministers' Secret Service (SSI), whereupon he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide. Once recovered, he was transferred to the SSI headquarters, but shortly afterwards the SSI itself was disbanded and the investigation suddenly halted. So were all references in the press to Patrascanu as an "agent of bourgeois imperialism." According to Levy, "evidence suggests" that this was "the work of Ana Pauker and her allies in opposition to Gheorghiu-Dej. " The future Securitate chief, Gheorghe Pintilie, told a 1967 party inquiry into the Patrascanu show trial that despite the active interest displayed by Soviet advisers in the case, "some comrades in the party leadership" had argued at meetings he had attended that there was no evidence linking Patrascanu with other people meanwhile arrested in preparation of his show trial and in private told Cristina Boico (a French Resistance veteran and a Pauker subordinate in the Foreign Ministry whom Levy interviewed), that Pauker had been among those "comrades." Similarly, according to Pauker-friend and personal secretary Ana Toma (also interviewed by Levy), Pauker had opposed all attempts to put Patrascanu on trial on fabricated charges (p. 146). With the investigation transferred back to the Interior Ministry under Georgescu, Patrascanu now seemed relatively secure. By August 1950, however, Pauker suffered her first bout with cancer, underwent surgery in Moscow, and was for some time sidelined from the leadership. At that point, Remus Koffler, a former CC member detained in preparation of the Patrascanu case who had hitherto refused to make any incriminating confession, was approached by "someone in the Central Committee" (as the 1967 inquiry established) and lured "in the interests of the Party" to confess that together with Patrascanu, former PCR leader Stefan Foris (liquidated on Dej's orders in 1946) and other party members, he had served as an agent of the interwar secret police and had spied for Great Britain.

Though Koffler would retract his confession, Dej mentioned it in a speech delivered in May 1951. Yet Georgescu, still in charge of the investigation, was adamantly refusing to use physical force, Patrascanu would under no circumstances confess, while Pauker never mentioned Patrascanu in her speeches -- not even after the Cominform decided to place him in the same box with the other "imperialist agents." With Pauker's backing, Georgescu again halted the investigation in the summer of 1951. It was only after the ouster of the Pauker-Luca-Georgescu faction in 1952, with new Interior Minister Alexandru Draghici in charge of the investigation, that those involved receive the green light to "use all means and procedures of moral and physical force to obtain appropriate proof that Lucretiu Patrascanu had been an agent of the Siguranta and an Anglo-American spy." Soviet pressure to stage a trial of the Patrascanu group stopped, however, after the death of Stalin. Moscow's interest in having a genuine popular leader in charge in Romania, however, was apparently less acute than in Hungary's or Poland's case. Consequently, when PCR envoy Miron Constantinescu was dispatched to Moscow with Patrascanu's dossier to receive endorsement for his trial in 1954, the Soviets did not veto it. Soviet Premier Georgii Malenkov simply told him "Vashe delo" (It's your business) (pp. 151-152).

What remains -- and will probably forever remain -- unclear is to what extent Pauker's attempts to shield Patrascanu from his fate stemmed from her realization that she may share his fate, or from some leftover traces of humanity. In other words, was this a Stalinist self-defensive loser's posture or was it "Stalinism with a human face?" The evidence provided by Levy seems to point in both directions, and there are, indeed, sufficient reasons to believe it was a mixture of both. Many of those put on trial with Patrascanu (Koffler, who was executed, Jacques Berman, Hary Brauner, Emil Calmanovici, and, last but by no means least, Bellu Zilber, whose "confession" made possible the show trial) were Jews. By the beginning of 1953, evidence suggests, preparations were under way for combining the Pauker and Patrascanu cases. Zilber's "confession" was obtained after harsh torture was applied in September 1952, after the purge of the "Pauker group" -- the first time this occurred since his arrest in February 1948. A few months later he learned why: chief investigator Ioan Soltutiu told him he must now fully confess because "your defenders don't exist any longer. The party is now in safe hands" (p. 151). Similarly, Calmanovici -- who died in prison in 1956 -- was first arrested on charges of Zionist espionage and interrogated on his links with Pauker in March 1953, while Deputy Interior Minister Misu Dulgheru (also a Jew) was accused of having allegedly protected Calmanovici and charged with sabotaging the prosecution of arrested Zionists. As Levy points out, these were but "two among a number of details suggesting that the Pauker and Patrascanu inquiries were to converge into one show trial" (p. 218).

While this convergence had been probably not planned from the start and took off under the circumstances of the alleged 1953 "doctors' plot" in Moscow, Pauker had earlier had enough reasons to suspect Stalin had definitely cast the dice against her in the power struggle with Dej. Not even at the height of her power did Pauker ever feel secure. Ana Toma recalled that during a visit to Moscow in late 1944 or early 1945, Pauker told her to accompany her daughter Tatiana (then aged 16) wherever Tatiana goes and when she was summoned during the visit to the CC, she told Ana Toma "If I come out and go through the other door, you can take Tatiana and go to the museum. But if I don't come out of that door, then go to the hotel, pack up your things, and get away from here [with Tatiana] as fast as you can" (p. 78).

(Part 3 will appear on 11 July)


Levy, R., Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist (Berkeley: University of California Press), 2001.