Category Archives: History, Herstory, Ourstory

Learning lessons from the past to shape the future

The ‘Great Communist Bank Robbery’ of 1959, the ‘Ioanid Gang’ and Jewishness in Soviet-era Romania…

Reconstruction of the 1959 'Great Communist Bank Robbery' in Bucharest

I recently caught a documentary film called Marele Jaf Comunist AKA Great Communist Bank Robbery. It was about a 1959 payroll heist in Soviet era Romania.

The gist is, a small group of armed robbers held up a van carrying wages to the Romanian National Bank – an unthinkable crime in a ‘Socialist’ state.

After a major police dragnet which saw scores of suspects arrested, interrogated and in many cases tortured, the cops drew a blank. Then eventually a lead turned them onto what became known as the ‘Ioanid Gang’ (named after two of its members) – five men and a woman. All were Jewish-Romanians, and either state functionaries or officers of the Securitate.

They were made to ‘confess’, and compelled to play themselves in a docu-drama film made to illustrate how they carried out their dastardly crime. This film, Reconstruction, was later shown to high ranking Party officials and trusted journalists. Subsequently all were found guilty at trial (their Party careers conveniently forgotten – now they were simply a ‘corrupt and rotten element’, a ‘swindler’, a ‘fake intellectual’, an ‘adventurer’, a ‘gangster’, and a ‘marginal element’…) and all but one sentenced to death.

A 2001 documentary film, also called Reconstruction (which I haven’t yet managed to watch), later covered the topic. Finally, in 2004 the aforementioned Marele Jaf Comunist was made, looking at the robbery, the police investigation, the making of the original documentary Reconstruction, and efforts by the son of one of the gang members to review the Securitate files.

One strand which could have been covered more in depth was the specific details of the suspects’ prior involvement in the Party and the apparatus of the state, and in particular the wartime resistance activities of some of them. One suggestion made during the film was that the execution of the five condemned men was a ruse so that they could be ‘disappeared’ and used as agents of espionage elsewhere. Again, this was not pursued with any real vigour.

So can anyone point me in the direction of any (English language) books which cover the story in depth? It seems entwined with the issue of Jewish emigration from Romania, anti-semitism, and purges within the Partidul Muncitoresc Român/Partidul Comunist Român as Gheorghiu-Dej steered towards an undestalinised ‘national communism’, so any suggestions on that front would also be welcome, as would pointers to good works on the Securitate.

Many thanks 🙂

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FAIL #002: Centurion

FAIL #002: Centurion

Just what is it with Roman history?

I’ll allow ‘Ibernia’, but ‘Calsdonii’? ‘Britania’?

No way, Centurion art department, no way!

Wikipediaphile: Avvakum Petrov, Patriarch Nikon, schisms and “shit-faced Pharisees”

Whilst I find his editorialising facile and his constant précises irritating, I have really enjoyed Martin Sixsmith’s radio series ‘The Wild East’, which distills a thousand years’ or so of Russian history into fifty fifteen minute episodes.

There’s just enough detail to give you a bit of an overview, and plenty of titbits to encourage you to go investigating things further, even if it’s only wiki-hopping.

Episode 8, ‘East Into Siberia’, got us into some fascinating stuff about the Raskol schism in the Russian Orthodox Church caused by Patriarch Nikon‘s seventeenth century reforms, particularly concerning Avvakum Petrov.

Petrov was an ‘Old Believer’ who held no truck with Nikon’s nonsense, which led to his exile and ultimately his burning at the stake. It also gave him reason to write a marvellously undiplomatic autobiography, where he rails against all sorts of people, whilst also tossing out some great lines of self-effacement (“[I am just] another shit-faced Pharisee wanting to drag the Lord to court!”).

Nikon at once (1654) summoned a synod to re-examine the service-books revised by the Patriarch Joasaf, and the majority of the synod decided that “the Greeks should be followed rather than our own ancients.” A second council, held at Moscow in 1656, sanctioned the revision of the service-books as suggested by the first council, and anathematized the dissentient minority, which included the party of the protopopes and Paul, bishop of Kolomna. The reforms coincided with a great plague in 1654 and Russians were also greatly concerned about the upcoming year 1666 which many considered the year of the apocalypse.

Heavily weighted with the fullest ecumenical authority, Nikon’s patriarchal staff descended with crushing force upon those with whom he disagreed. His scheme of reform included not only service-books and ceremonies but the use of the new-fangled icons, for which he ordered a house-to-house search to be made. His soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of these heretical counterfeits and then carry them through the town in derision. He also issued an ukase threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such icons in future. Construction of tent-like churches (of which Saint Basil’s Cathedral is a prime example) was strictly forbidden, and many old uncanonical churches were demolished to make way for new ones, designed in the “Old Byzantine” style. This ruthlessness goes far to explain the unappeasable hatred with which the Old Believers, as they now began to be called, ever afterwards regarded Nikon and all his works.

(Yes, there is an inevitable book tie-in, which seems to be the radio script verbatim.)

Never forget our dead: Fred Hampton, RIP

Fred Hampton

Born, 30th August 1948

Murdered, 4th December 1969

Assassinated by the State.

Hart broken: Dodgy right-winger David Hart dies on Twelfth Night

You know, that sometime-advisor to Thatcher, freelance strike-breaker, self-appointed guardian of the citadel, playwright, he who bankrolled failed drug dealer Paul Staines, etc, etc, etc…

Anyway, he popped his clogs yesterday. No mention from Guido yet.

FAIL #001: The Gallic Wars

If there’s one thing that the Asterix books teach us, it’s that no one remembers Alesia. If there’s one thing that cheap ‘documentary’ television teaches us, it’s DON’T LEAVE THE ONSCREEN TITLES TO THE UNPAID INTERNS.

J18 + 10

J18 stamp