Mihail Decean Exhumation of martyr-heroes with an excavator
The casemate

I was in for an unpleasant surprise from my dear octogenarian cousin. And as one unpleasant surprise was not enough, I was in for a second. Yet the third that was expecting me was going to be a favorable one.

I started doing my own research. A woman from Bistra village, who asked that I never reveal her name, so I swore I never would, helped me to find a man living in the same village, Emil Goia, who had accompanied an important man from Bucharest to Muntele Mare (The Big Mountain), at Groşi, in order to identify the location of the mass grave where lay the remains of the five partisans. This happened sometime in the spring of 2010. Rumors were circulating in the village about people trying to find the mass grave where the partisans had been buried at Groşi, but the old villagers of Bistra are afraid of the communist Securitate even today, more than a quarter century after the fall of communism.

Emil Goia was courteous and cooperative. He even told me without hesitation the name of the important man from Bucharest, who was nobody other than the archeologist Gheorghe Petrov, the IICCMRE employee. He told me that he had been this man’s guide in the mountains, after the archeologist had previously talked to several old villagers and got to interview some of them. Two villagers had said they knew exactly where the mass grave of the five partisans was located, as they were among those who had buried them at the beginning of March 1949, two or three days after they had been killed.

Emil Goia from Bistra was also emotionally involved in the events. His mother’s sister, Alexandra (Sanda) Pop, who at that time was a student at the Faculty of Law in Cluj, had disappeared from the custody of the Securitate in Cluj in the spring of 1950, together with Mihai Angheluță, Ioan Bedeleanu, Emil Dalea, Mihai Florinc, Alexandru Maxim, Petru Mărginean, Simion Moldovan, Nicolae Nițescu, Emil Olteanu, Florian Picoș, Ionel Robu and Victor Vandor. They had all been given final prison sentences and never found dead or alive, until now; all of them had been members of the partisan group led by Major Nicolae Dabija. Sanda was in the camp on the Muntele Mare-Groşi on March 4, 1949, when the Securitate troops assaulted the camp. I quote a fragment from the declaration she gave on March 9, 1949 (she was interrogated at D.R.S.P. Cluj - Cluj Regional Directorate for People’s Security; quoted by Liviu Pleşa, op.cit., p.142):

On March 4, at the crack of ​dawn, half-asleep, we heard gunshots and alarm all around, the men were trampling us, I could not find my boots, I cannot say exactly who was the first person to leave the cottage, as I could not see in the semidarkness and I panicked, like everybody else. The first shots were fired by the members of our group from the cottage door. Then they fanned out in different directions, everybody was shouting, we did not know what was happening, Major Dabija and Iosif Maier stayed in front of the cottage for about half an hour, I was still looking for my boot when Major Dabija came in and lit the wick at 2-3-4, I’m not sure, pieces of TNT that he threw out right from the cottage door. That moment Decean came in with a wound in the leg – he’d been sleeping in the other cottage - and I looked for something to bandage his leg. At that very moment, Major Oniga shot Maier’s wife with the revolver Deceanu had had in his hand when he had come in. The following people were in the cottage, unarmed: Major Oniga [the traitor], Iuliu Breazu, Simion Moldovan, Elena Maier and me (Alexandra Pop). We all had not left the cottage from the first shots until we surrendered. Watching his wife getting shot infuriated Maier and he wanted to kill Oniga, but Major Dabija, who was still at the door, stopped him before disappearing suddenly. I asked Breazu and Moldovan to put Elena Maier on the bed so that I could check her wounds, but it was too late, she was lying in agony. I did not realize how quickly the time had passed. When I turned to Deceanu to finish bandaging him, I heard “Hurray! Hurray!” and a bullet passing by my head got stuck in Deceanu’s head. We could hear voices from outside shouting “Surrender!” Inside, we were desperate. Maier, who was the only one still defending us, had run out of bullets, and asked us to give him some more, I remember for sure giving him a few cartridges I had found on the floor and he threw them away together with the gun, then he shot himself with the same pistol with which Oniga had shot his wife [our emphasis], after he had ordered us to surrender. We went out in fear, jostling each other, the soldiers were shouting at us to come out that very moment, or else they would throw grenades inside. One of us, Lucian Mitrofan, was lying dead at the cottage door.

I quote this fragment in the belief that, given the contradictions it contains, it is an example of the interference of the Securitate agents during the investigation. They distorted the truth by distorting the declaration of the person who was being interrogated and forced to declare and/or write what the Securitate investigator dictated to her. It defies reason to believe that, under those circumstances, the armed husband, having seen his wife killed, took his own life before shooting his wife’s murderer. What I think is that the traitor Emil Oniga, infiltrated by the Securitate into the partisan group (Liviu Pleșa, op. cit. pp. 31-32), killed all the three partisans in the cottage: Ida Elena Maier, Iosif Maier and Petru Decean; since Oniga ran out of bullets, the other partisans in the cottage survived and were used for the falsification of the truth; the specific methods of the Securitate criminal investigation did not exclude physical torture.

Gheorghe Petrov climbed Muntele Mare at Groşi in 2009, then again in the spring of 2010, guided by Emil Goia and accompanied by one or two villagers from Bistra, with whom he talked and who could have helped him identify the exact location of the mass grave. When they arrived at Groşi, Emil Goia identified the supposed location of the mass grave and had the vegetation removed with a small machine. Gheorghe Petrov hoped he would come back later with his team from IICCMRE, maybe by the end of summer, after having obtained the official approvals to start the exhumation process.

Emil Goia agreed to guide me and my aunt Mărioara to that place in September 2010. My brave nephew, Ioan (Ionică) Borza, my maternal first cousin’s son who is also my godson, helped us to obtain an all-terrain vehicle in order to be able to reach that place on Muntele Mare, at an altitude of some 4,000 ft.

Emil Goia kept his word and without any hesitation he guided us up the mountain. He told me he was a professional driver and while in military service he had been the driver of the Romanian Third Army Commander, headquartered in Cluj-Napoca. So I asked him to drive the all-terrain vehicle up the mountain. This time he hesitated a little and then suddenly decided not to do it. So I had the pleasure to drive on an ascending mountain road that continued into a forest road, very hard to cover even with the brand new four-wheel drive vehicle that our Ionică had lent us.

We started our valiant expedition on September 18, 2010, accompanied by Mărioara’s niece (her sister’s daughter), Doina Bădescu and her husband, Ioan Bădescu. Early in the morning we left Cluj-Napoca, the town where my companions live. The weather was nice, so it was a journey without incident. We drove up the mountain until we reached a place from where driving would have been impossible, so we had to walk for about two miles. It was a difficult climb especially for my freshly 80-year old cousin, and it took us two hours to reach our destination; the fog was getting thicker and it was also drizzling and we could not see thirty yards ahead.

Our guide, together with Ioan (Nelu) Bădescu, a military neuropsychiatrist with the rank of colonel, had suddenly vanished in the fog while they were walking and talking about the army and certain people they both knew, as Nelu said later. I called them, asked them to wait for us, Mărioara, Doina and me, because we were far behind and could not see them. Nelu waited for us, but I had not seen or heard Emil Goia for more than half an hour, although we all cried out his name many times.

I panicked, being confused, angry and frightened by the dense fog, the drizzle and the falling darkness. We stopped and I started to cry at the top of my lungs: “Emil, tell them to come and shoot us too, they’ve already killed five people here, who cares if they kill another four!”

I do not know whether Emil Goia heard me, but Mărioara, Nelu and Doina were staring at me in great surprise. Our guide quickly appeared, saying that he had got lost in the fog while looking for the “casemate”.

This is what the Bistra people called the big stone-and-wood cottage that the partisans of the Dabija Group built as their leaders’ headquarters. We were about 10 yards from its ruins, but we could not see them because they were entirely covered with vegetation. It was Emil Goia who showed us the ruins of two parallel walls and another 16-foot long wall that connected them at the back of the big cottage dug deep into the mountainside. All three walls were built of stone; we could still see, under dark green moss, the round thick wooden columns and beams, broken and fallen among the ruins of the walls. On the edge over the walls and between them there were fir trees as high as Christmas trees. The highest and most beautiful fir tree which grew in the middle of the "casemate" impressed me a lot. It reminded me of the tall, proud and upright stature of Petru Decean.

Five years later, when I returned to the "casemate", I only found the dry stump of the young fir tree and clear traces indicating that it had been cut down with a saw...

In this “casemate”, the dead bodies of the partisans killed by the bullets of the Securitate agents on March 4, 1949 were piled up. Then the roof and the supporting wooden framework were demolished over them with explosive grenades. The Securitate agents had tried to burn the “casemate” down, but they failed. They gave up the idea of covering the dead bodies in earth. The logs were thick, still green and not burning, there was too much work and they needed too much earth to bury the partisans in the “casemate”, due to its large surface and depth. So they decided to bury the five dead partisans in the food storage facility of their former camp, which was dug in the ground on the lateral right side of the “casemate”, more than 20 yards away. Its roof was visible. They set it on fire. The roof burned above the five corpses, but the fire did not get hot enough to incinerate them; so, they covered the corpses with earth. The bodies remained in God’s hands for over 66 years, until their exhumation.

In the spring of 2010, Emil Goia took his small machine and removed the vegetation from an area of several square yards on the lateral right side of the "casemate", at Gheorghe Petrov’s request and according to his indications. This is how they marked out that area, assuming it was hiding the mass grave which had still not been found.