Academic journal article German Quarterly

Creating the New Man: Coercion and Torture in Eginald Schlattner's Novel Rote Handschuhe (2001)1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Creating the New Man: Coercion and Torture in Eginald Schlattner's Novel Rote Handschuhe (2001)1

Article excerpt

In their drive to establish a new order after the success of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks ascribed a special role to the New Man.2 They envisioned him to be both physically and mentally superior: a man of action; a builder, prepared to sacrifice himself for the greater communal good to the point of self-effacement; a hard-working, yet altruistic, figure, infinitely dedicated to the struggle for world revolution and the Party (Alt 19). He would no longer be a product of his environment, a victim of social and political circumstances, but a being endowed with freedom of choice and, thus, responsible for his actions (33-34). However, the Russian people could not transform into this being overnight and by their own efforts alone. In its role as vanguard, the Party had to ensure that, once presented with the ideal, people worked toward embodying it. Anyone who failed to do so out of his or her own will was educated by the Party through exposure to propaganda, persuasion and promise for rewards, and, ultimately, through coercion (36-62).

From the outset of their rule in Romania in the aftermath of the Second World War, Romanian Communists mirrored the values and strategies of their Soviet mentors. Thus they were no strangers to the idea of the New Man and the practice of re-educating those citizens who refused to embrace it. To achieve this goal, they used the Security Police, Siguranfa, which was modeled after the Soviet commissariat and placed under the direction of the NKVD and NKGB following the coup detat of 23 August 1944, when Romaniajoined the Allies, abandoning its previous alliance with the Third Reich (Deletant 114). Broadly speaking, its role was not very different from that of the political police who bore the same name and operated during the dictatorships of King Carol II (1938-40) and Marshall Ion Antonescu (1940-44). However, whereas the Siguranfa pursued only one group between 1938 and 1944, the Jews, and operated against a small number of opponents to the regime, after August 1944 its target became all of Romanian society (114). Intrusion into private lives and coercion at the hands of the security police became integral parts of quotidian existence. In August 1948, Siguranfa was reorganized and renamed Direcfia Generala a Securitäfii Poporului (General Directorate for the Security of the People), or Securitate, with the stated mission "to defend the democratic conquests of the People's Republic of Romania and to protect it against all internal and external enemies."3 To do so, the end justified all means, which included the surveillance of those who were loyal to the regime as well as dissenters; extortion, coercion, and torture; political trials; and, finally, severe prison and labor camp sentences for real or imagined dissidents and opponents. As Vladimir Tismaneanu has indicated, the "Romanian gulag" included the Danube-Black Sea Canal, which functioned as a "huge concentration camp to destroy the political and cultural elites and immortalize the triumph of the working class over the detested bourgeoisie;" the prisons in Sighet, Jilava, Gherla, Aiud, and Poarta Alba; and the most notorious re-education program, the Pitepi Experiment (36). In the program, primarily young political prisoners-supporters of the fascist Iron Guard, but also members of Romania's traditional parties, the National Peasants' and National Liberal parties, as well as Zionist members of the Romanian-Jewish community-were subjected to degrading practices, then called upon to re-educate each other using the same sadistic procedures.4

Eginald Schlattner's novel, Rote Handschuhe, addresses the torture methods and psychological manipulations the Securitate implemented to create the New Man of Romanian Communism.5 This autobiographical work details how the Securitate oí the 1950s destroyed individuals by adhering to the credo that anyone who was not for the cause of the proletariat was against it and thus an enemy (Lenin 340-61). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.