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                                                           BLACK SEA – DANUBE CANAL


Transylvanian Quarterly, August 1984





            In the S.M.H. Saturday, June 9, 1984, an article caught my attention in the World News.  Title: Ceausescu’s Mix of Myth and Reality, by Hella Pick of the Guardian, U.K.  Since I am Hungarian, born in Transylvania (Rumania today), I read this story with great interest, especially when I realized that it dealt with the establishment of the Black Sea-Danube Canal in Rumania.

            The story outlines how Rumania, during 40 years of Communism and 20 years under President Ceausescu, has been transformed from a backward country into an industrial nation . . .  “. . . increasingly prosperous country which is further blessed by a highly responsive system of popular democracy.”  

            The story continues that the 50 km. canal, opened in May, was built by the “heroic labour” of the Rumanian people and the people are being continually urged to pay homage to President Ceausescu’s anticipatory thinking.

            But I wonder, does the world really realize how much blood, sweat and human lives have been sacrificed to this project by Rumania and, in the later years, by President Ceausescu.  I wonder how many people are aware that, in the last 20 years, hundreds of thousands of people have perished in these death-camps in inhuman and appalling conditions, where they were used as slave-labour.

            SLAVE-LABOUR!  In the second half of the twentieth century, in the middle of civilized Europe.


                                                                                    Alex Sándor Kolozsy de Kolozs





This report is dedicated to all those unfortunate people who have perished in the Death-Camps of the Great Danube Canal, Rumania.


 It has long been the dream, in Europe, to establish a canal from the shores of the Black Sea to the Danube River, carving a waterway for shipping and heavy barges to journey right into Germany.  After World War II., the Rumanian leaders immediately adopted a plan to irrigate and channel the swampy marshland of the Danube Delta and also commenced the Black Sea--Danube Canal through Bessarabia to Constanta, a distance of 60 km. to eliminate the arduous 350 km. through the Danube Delta. 

            To greatly assist this project, Rumania has devised a scheme (as part of their plans for the Great Rumania) to dispose of the national minorities, which comprise 60% of the Rumanian population, including the original inhabitants of Transylvania, over 3 million Hungarians and 250,000 Csángós (Moldova).  During these years, the campaign against the minorities has escalated, taking every opportunity to eradicate the background and culture of over 1000 year Hungarian History in Transylvania.  Hungarian villages, sections of Cities and Suburbs, Schools, Universities, Churches have all been demolished or changed to Rumanian.

            Vast numbers of Hungarians have been forcibly removed from Transylvania in exchange for even larger numbers of Rumanians, to balance the population in the Rumanian favour.  Hungarian speech was strictly forbidden.  Anyone who objected or protested at these measures was arrested, beaten, tortured, sentenced to concentration camps and, on many occasions, to hard labour in the Danube Delta.

            “At first the venture attracted thousands of enthusiastic volunteers and ‘youth brigades’.  But as the Stalinist era became more repressive, so did the project.  More than 60,000 dissidents, priests, minority Magyars and landowners were put to work on the canal, usually as slave laborers.  Many died under appalling conditions.” (Romania’s Danube Connection, Newsweek/ January 30, 1984, written by Michael R. Meyer with Douglas Stanglin, in Bucharest. Reprinted by Free Hungarians, May1984)

            During these years, this project became a great financial burden, requiring a huge work force, preferably free slave labour.  So the chauvinistic Rumanian Government, with leader President Ceausescu, has devised an ingenious plan – to conscript free labour from the undesirable minorities and religious and political dissenters – to maintain the necessary quotas for the labour camps of the Danube Delta.

            “(It was) officially reported in Rumania, that one third of the Rumanians are police informers.  The Hungarians and Jews have been reported for everything imaginable.  In the 50’s, only those who have been forgotten have not been taken away from the county of Szilágy to the digging of the Black Sea – Danube Canal, as a slave.” (Transylvanian Hungarian Newspaper, USA, June 15, 1983, written by the late Transylvanian writer, Gizella Hervay.)

            During the last 30 years, it has been estimated that at least half a million people were used as free slave labour for this project – at least 75% were Hungarians from Transylvania and Moldova.  To ensure a constant supply of free labour, laws were passed “that citizens who publicly criticize the political or socio-economic situation in Romania, or the treatment of ethnic minorities are sentenced to terms of forced labor on false charges  such as ‘leading a parasitic life’ and ‘systematically refusing to work’” (Amnesty International – Forced Labour in Rumania)  The sentence was usually hard labour.

            With this law, they were free to dispose of all undesirable opposition, ethnic minorities, religious and political dissenters – the sentence: transportation to the death camps for the building of the Black Sea – Danube Canal.

            “Decree 153/1970 has often been used by the Romanian authorities since its enactment to prosecute and fine members of the Neo-Protestant community who participated in unauthorized prayer services.”

            (Amnesty International)  These laws have been greatly abused by the Rumanians, who reported and denounced many thousands of minorities, since they well knew the harsh punishment.  Their attitude was “at least one less Hungarian!”.

            Cases are on record where Hungarians workers spoke in their mother-tongue during lunch break in the factory.  They were arrested, charged with “parasitic life”, whereas they were still employed at the time of their arrest.  Many times they were convicted and sentenced to the death camps without a proper trial.

            After the arrest, the interrogation proceeded for days, up to two weeks.  During this time, they were threatened, beaten and tortured up to 15 hours a day.  They were constantly pressured to sign a confession to their crimes and finally, after torture, which included finger nails being torn out, teeth kicked in and ribs broken, the poor victim was willing to sign anything just to escape the torture.  The sentence was passed by three or four highly ranked leaders in the Rumanian Communist Party, within half an hour of the signed confession:  hard labour in the Death Camps of the Danube Delta.

            Transport to the camps was either by high security Police Van, Freight trains with 100-150 prisoners crowded into each van, chained to benches, with little or no sanitation, to endure a journey of 3 to 4 days from Northern Rumania to the Danube Delta.  On occasion the transport was by freight ship in similar circumstances.  “Reports received by Amnesty International about conditions in the camps on the Danube Delta and the Danube – Black Sea Canal indicate however the conditions are similar to those of imprisonments and the prisoners of conscience confined there are subjected to degrading treatment by the authorities.” Amnesty International. 

            Conditions were similar in all camps, including Cemavada, Periprava, Medgidia, Galati, Incula Mare Brailei, Gradina, Salcia, Stoenesti, Ghilia, Tataru, Tichilesti and Valea-Neagra.  The slaves had to work ten hours daily and many times during lunch break for not fulfilling work quotas.  The life of the slaves or prisoners was extremely difficult.  They were forced to perform very heavy manual unskilled labor – digging ditches, carting soil by wheelbarrow, loading trucks, draining swamps, mixing concrete, building scaffolding.  This scene was similar to the Egyptian or Roman Empires of the past, where they used slaves to build pyramids or roads, almost unbelievable in the twentieth century.  Many times prisoners had to cultivate the land, raise pigs, load ships, drain marshlands in often unbearable circumstances, as in summer, working in 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat and steam, with the constant threat of malaria.

            “Visits by friends or relatives were not allowed, although official visitors were often shown around the construction sites in both the Danube – Black Sea Canal and Danube Delta areas.  Former prisoners of conscience from forced labor camps in the Delta area reported that, when official and/or foreign delegations passed through the camps, persons confined in them were removed to the holds of large ships or forced to hide behind reeds.  On a few occasions watchtowers were knocked down before foreigners visited the area and the entrance to the camp was sealed up with sacks of wheat.  The camps were then described to visitors as agricultural cooperatives.” Amnesty International.

            In various camps, the guards did not wear uniforms, so foreign visitors and journalists would not realize that it was a forced labor camp.  The food was described as appalling and uneatable.  Water rationed to two to three quarts a day with no showers or sanitation.  Epidemics were common, taking a heavy toll among prisoners.  The camps were shockingly overcrowded.

            “Many of the forced labor camps on the Danube Delta (especially those on the islands) do not have even basic sanitary facilities or any medical care whatsoever.”

Amnesty International.

            If any prisoners expressed dissatisfaction, the Rumanian authorities severely punished them and accused them of treason against the Rumanian state.

            During these years, the deteriorating economic situation in Rumania culminated in 30,000 miners in the Jiu Valley going on strike, August 1 – 3, 1977.  Although President Ceausescu visited the Jiu Valley and promised improvements, he did not keep his word.

            “. . . up to 4,000 miners, many of whom are members of Romania’s Hungarian minority population, were fired and forcibly removed to various places throughout Romania.  Many of the miners have either been assigned to forced labor camps in the Danube – Black Sea Canal or Danube Delta areas. . .” Amnesty International.

            Meanwhile, the canal has grown and is finally completed.  The ethnic minorities of Rumania have paid with the lives of their children.  They have paid with their broken bodies and shattered souls.  They have paid for this glorious Rumanian project. They have paid with their blood, since many of them have never returned.  Several hundred thousand have found their final resting place in the Danube Delta, buried in mass graves along the sides of the canal, all sacrificed to complete the Great Dream of President Ceausescu. 

            Report based on Amnesty International, Newsweek and information received directly from Transylvania.


Written by the Editor,

President of the Transylvanian World Federation, Sydney Branch

Alex Sándor Kolozsy de Kolozs