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April 20, 2005


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I haven't seen the film yet but I met Irene at the Taipei Documentary Film Festival in 1999 and she was just doing her research then. She told me it was a weird, weird story...


I think that time has to do a lot with this; there are 40 years from that event.
I am in my late 30's but I don't remember my parents telling me about it either. In 1959 the terror was at its heights, especially after the 56 events in Hungary. In my family at least, there were two relatives imprisoned for political reasons. My mother's history teacher got the death penalty because he refused to teach by the communist history book, my father had to be adopted by an uncle with "healthy social origin" in order to go to university etc. so the bank robbery and the witch hunt that followed was probably ignored. That must have happened with a lot of people, concerned with their own "survival" under the regime.
Few more victims of the regime? Well, that's not news :)


Shouldn't this be titled, "Three movies about a bank robbery"?

I am thinking all three would make an interesting film festival, maybe combined with Dog Day Afternoon, or that Tarantino movie where they all wear suits.

Doug M.

No, two of the movies are about the first movie. "Great Communist Bank Robbery" apparently contains so much footage about the original, 1960 film that it's almost a "making of" documentary.

If you go back a generation or two, a /lot/ of people seem to have family members or neighbors who were imprisoned or simply disappeared. You have to know people moderately well, though... it's not something that comes up in casual conversation.

Dej seems to have been a right bastard all around. There doesn't seem to be a biography of him in English, alas.

Doug M.


The more recent movie was shown at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year (or maybe 2003, not sure.) Odd that the only Romanian contribution to that festival in a LONG time was so sinister.

Bernard Guerrero

"that Tarantino movie where they all wear suits."

Reservoir Dogs.

Bernard "Mr.Pink" Guerrero

Marian Soare


If you want to learn more about the Dej period of communism in Romania, try some books of Vladimir Tismaneanu (search on amazon.com or elsewhere in Internet, for example Stalinism for all Seasons). As a US university professor he has many publications in English. Now, blaming only Dej for the terror during the communization of Romania it is wrong. Initially communist party was pretty much directed from Moscow and had rather few Romanians members. After the death of Stalin and the destalinization started by Hruschiov, he turned the "patriotic" card and started, let put it this way, the romainanization of the communist party, as a way of gaining some internal legitimacy and to protect himself and his acolytes form the changes coming from Moscow.

The story in the movie should be read in this light. I believe that it was a set-up, just another episode in the power struggle that finished with consolidation of the Dej group against the group more faithful to Moscow.

Why not many Romanians pay attention to this story? I think, because it is a very fishy affair. More likely a big lie, which someone found fit to exploit it artistically. Even if some seed of true lies in this story, still looks like a communist party internal affair, the great dramas of that time were happening at the Danube-Black Sea channel, Sighet, Gherla, Pitesti, Ajud, Jilava, to mention only some of the Romanian Gulag places, or in the mountains were resistance groups fought until about 1964 or in the villages where the cooperativization was in full brutal progression. All the tragedies happened there appear to be less suitable for making a hit with the summer cinema festivals.

I had a grandparent taken to the Danube Black Sea channel, too.

Marian Soare


One reason why the original film may not have been widely seen is that it was (if I recall correctly) secret, only shown to Party higher-ups (though the documentary seems to suggest otherwise, so I may be wrong on that point). And perhaps it was pulled from circulation rather quickly, especially as Jews started to emigrate around 1961, obviating the need for an anti-Semitic campaign.
Am I right that you imply Pintilie directed the original film? He did make one by the same title, but that was in 1968; the original is from 1960 and by another man.
My grandfather was one of the individuals interrogated at the time (though not imprisoned); if I remember, I'll ask him some more details, but I think he too said that lots of people were arrested rather haphazardly that week; he, for instance, had withdrawn cash from the bank the day of the robbery, I believe.

Doug Muir

Hi Marian,

You're right that there was a conflict between Dej and the 'Muscovites', the Romanian Communists from Moscow who were much closer to Stalin. But that was finished long before 1959. Dej purged or killed all the major Muscovites in the early '50s. The last one to go was Ana Pauker, who was purged in 1952. (Dej let her live, although in powerless obscurity. She died in 1960.)

The Romanian gulag system also was quieting down by the late '50s. Over 100,000 people were imprisoned in the late '40s and early '50s, but by 1959 the number of gulag prisoners had dropped to 'just' 15,000 or so. (Much the same thing happened in the Soviet Union at this time, as Khruschev released over 90% of Stalin's gulag prisoners.)

This is not to say that everything was happy and shiny in 1959 Romania. The 1956 Hungarian uprising made the Dej regime very nervous, and led to a new wave of oppression. Fewer people were shipped off to prison camps, but dozens to hundreds were executed, and thousands lost their jobs, were kicked out of their homes, placed under police observation, demoted to manual labor, etc. It was a bad time.

Then there was a wave of anti-Semitic activity (sorry, anti-'rootless cosmopolitan') around 1960. It's not clear if the bank robbery was connected to this in any way.

Cristian, no, it wasn't Pintilie... I would have to go back and look. (Or you can. Google is our friend.)

Doug M.

Marian Soare

The class struggle was never ending, and always more acute. The idea that in '59 it was over, and maybe Deja people could take a vacation or something, it is plain naive. I don't know from were you picked the figures with imprisoned people, it is only now that some people talk about doing a census of the communists victims. They look more like underestimates. Many people were detained without any documents, legal trials etc, so with very little, if none, paper trails. And the archives are not yet open for everybody.


The class struggle may have been never-ending, but the internal Party struggle between "Romanians" and "Muscovites" ended in 1952.

Repression in Dej's Romania went up and down, but very broadly speaking, it got better after the internal Party struggle was resolved. The Danube-Black Sea Canal, for example, was started in 1949, but then work stopped five years later, in 1954, and most of the workers (the ones that were still alive... many thousands had died) were released then or soon after.

Figures are from Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 1948-1965 (2000). This book is available online as a .pdf file for a fee (about $10). He cites a number of Romanian works, including the "Cartea Alba a Securitatii", published here in 1995. He recognizes that the files are complete; all numbers are estimates, based on available data.

Whatever the numbers, though, it's clear that the number of prisoners dropped very sharply between the early and late 1950s.

This should not be a surprise. The same thing happened in almost every other Communist country -- the USSR, Hungary, East Germany, even Yugoslavia. The period from 1948 to the early '50s was a particularly bad time all over Eastern Europe.

Doug M.


A text with new figures about the victims of Dej period: "Cum e s ai un bunic criminal?" by Marius Oprea in "Dilema" Nr.68 6-12 May 2005. This issue has main theme the Gh. Gheroghiu-Dej case here. Some intreresting reads (and a lot cheaper than "The Economist").


donald  aberfeld

I was friendly with one of the robbers,sentenced to death and executed. I would like to get a copy of the movie .

donald  aberfeld

I was friendly with one of the robbers,sentenced to death and executed. I would like to get a copy of the movie .

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