Mihail Decean Exhumation of martyr-heroes with an excavator
Day two – September 1, 2015

The weather kept sunny and warm, as in midsummer. The same team of professionals and amateurs climbed up Muntele Mare, at Groşi. Gheorghe Petrov convinced cousin Mărioara to stay and rest in the hostel at Bistra, so that she would be able to climb up the mountain and stay there the following day.

The previous day, as I said, the place of the mass grave had been marked with rope tied to stakes pushed into the ground, in the supposed corners of the mass grave. The small pit from which the first remains of a dead partisan had been recovered was protected with a plastic foil. I was afraid that something unpredictable could happen there overnight, since to my knowledge there was no guard.

That day, while climbing up the mountain, we stopped about midway to take some water from a mountain spring by the roadside. The murmur of the water in the silence of the fir-tree forest around us and the wonderful landscape urged us to recollect good memories and dream. Had the partisans drunk water from this spring, had they admired the scenery while dreaming of a better time for their country, aware of the sacrifice they had assumed? We will never really know how much these people suffered for their families left at home, defenseless against the actions of the organized communist Securitate.

The water spring is close to Emil Goia’s farm, by the roadside. Within that farm he raised, at his own expense, a white marble cross in memory of the partisans and their supporters who sacrificed their lives for the good of the country. Any passer-by can see this cross. Emil, his wife and their three children met us with the courtesy specific to the inhabitants of the Apuseni Mountains.

Guarded or unguarded, we found the place intact. There were no smells coming from the mass grave to attract the wild animals of the forest. So much time had passed since March 4 1949 that all we could smell there was the moist ground dug and leveled a day before, mixed with the fragrance of conifers and the refreshing dew bathed in warm morning sunlight.

Now that the location of the mass grave had been discovered, the exhumation was attended by several people from Bistra, reporters from different radio and television stations and local and national journalists; they shot and took photos and interviews. Alin Stânea, Liviu Mihai Decean and Petru Stânea started digging with spades and shovels, under Gheorghe Petrov’s guidance. The diggings followed carefully the contours of the pit towards its interior, but not deeper than 16 inches towards its interior, all around the pit.

The lower left corner of the pit seemed to be the exact place where the remains of one partisan had been discovered a day before. Gheorghe Petrov’s accuracy in marking the contour lines of the pit, which surprised and shocked me, was becoming more and more evident, as more ground was dug out of the pit which became deeper and revealed the human skeletons stacked one atop of the other in a macabre pile of death.

Thanks to Paul Scrobotă’s diligence and dedication, with continuous help from Gabriel Rustoiu, the manager of the National Union Museum in Alba-Iulia, Horaţiu Groza and the other volunteers, with trowels of different shapes, spatulas, brooms, shovels and dust pans, the ground was removed and crumbled carefully in order to not deteriorate the remaining bones preserved in the ground. The bones appeared more and more clearly, like a horrifying image of some monstrous crimes – the very image of communism and its bastard child, the Securitate. 

Seven people had to work all day long to recover the remaining bones of the anti-communist fighters thrown into that mass grave after they had been killed wildly 66 years before.

The exhumation was not finished that day. The remaining bones could be seen only partially. It was hard to identify the five skeletons because two skulls were superposed, both facedown, and the one under them was buried at the bottom of the entire content of the mass grave. The removal of the skull was so difficult that there were moments when the archeologists had serious doubts about the number of the skeletons, due to the difficulties in identifying the fifth one. All the five skeletons remained mixed and superposed on the bottom of the mass grave until the following day, when Viorel Siserman, the military prosecutor from the Military Prosecutors' Office attached to Cluj Military Tribunal, arrived to a job already done. Gheorghe Petrov had kept him informed on the exhumation process on the phone.

The fear that the content of the mass grave could be desecrated during the night, if the place was not guarded, was now even stronger. At least that is what I felt. The IICCMRE representatives had no fear. They covered the mass grave with a tarpaulin not big enough to protect the entire surface of the grave. If it had rained, the water could have flowed into it. They did not even eliminate the great risk of finding the human bones floating in the rainwater the following day. In case of torrential rain, the flood could have scattered the bones down the mountain.

When I told cousin Mărioara about my day on the mountain, she was very worried; I aggravated her concern by showing her the photos I had taken during the exhumation, which she could see on the small display of my camera. The night did not pass easily for her. I was sorry that I could not be calmer and more relaxed when I told her what had happened on the mountain, that I could not help her believe that nothing bad would happen to the mass grave that sheltered her brother’s remaining bones.