Valeriu Gafencu in high-school
His last photograph before being imprisoned
Between the years 1946-1948 Valeriu and other older prisoners were sent to labor in some fields near Galda. There it was a milder regime, the prisoners would work, but they had time for praying and they lived in open spaces, and could meet daily.
Valeriu and his mother in the working colony of Galda
In 1948 this working colony was closed, and the prisoners were sent back to Aiud where the communist regime would confront them with its official atheist propaganda. After some time the majority of imprisoned students were sent to a special prison called Pitesti, were they were to be reeducated (here took place the horrific and famous Pitesti experiment). There are many things to be told about this horrific phenomenon, and the remarkable Christian resistance that took place here.
Valeriu was held in Pitesti only for a short period of time because from all the torturing, the cold and terrible hunger he became very sick with tuberculosis (a very contagious disease) and was sent to a penitentiary TB hospital called Targu Ocna. He saw this as the mercy of God Who saved him from the most abominable tortures that were ever conceived by a human mind and that took place in Pitesti soon after his departure.
An ex colleague of detention remembers about Targu Ocna: "His arrival in this penitentiary hospital was felt by the other prisoners (who knew his reputation) like a miracle. Valeriu would transform this sordid jail living into a truly Christian life. He is the blue eyed angel who obliges, by his very presence and prayer, to think about repentance and start praying, who would strengthen the ones around him and transform them inside for the rest of their life."
The people that met him during the horrific reeducation, comforting, encouraging, rising spiritually his fellow prisoners, compared him with another Apostle Paul of our days. That is way the sick from other rooms of the sanatoria would gather near his bed and listen to him, and receive strength to bear the powerful ordeal they lived. The power of his love would shine not only in the hours of the programmed extermination but also in the everyday life of the sanatoria, when death was so close to everyone.
Valeriu’s power of sacrifice was proverbial: it did not held count of person, ethnic origin, religion or political opinions. At Targu Ocna Valeriu was very ill because of his tuberculosis. In this state, when the sick usually clinch to the tiniest hope for survival, he was capable of a supreme gesture. A friend of his was allowed by the wardens to receive some antibiotics for treatment (this kind of medicine was rarely allowed in the hospital, although it was vital for their recovery from TB), but as he was recovering, he thought to give it to Valeriu who was near his death. But Valeriu donated the medicine to the also dying Richard Wurembrand (a converted Jew who in freedom would become a well known protestant pastor), saying he needed it more. Because of this medicine he recovered and, when liberated, wrote several books in which he gratefully remembers the one who saved his life.
The ones that stood by him along the years remember other extraordinary things about him. For example in Targu Ocna, he was to undertake an appendicitis surgery. When it was finished, Valeriu told the doctor he felt everything, because the anesthesia did not work. However, he didn’t utter a word during the surgery, only his forehead was full of a cold sweat.
Valeriu died on the 18th of February 1952, at Targu Ocna. His last words were: “Don’t forget to pray to God that we all meet there! Lord, give me the servitude that sets the soul free and take away the freedom that enslaves my soul!” His grave remains unknown for at that time all the prisoners were buried in a common pitfall and their head was smashed so that it would be beyond recognition. However, he asked to be buried with a small silver cross in his mouth and if God allows his holy relics may be found.
Valeriu remained in the memory of all who knew him for the rest of their life. There is not one Christian book that recalls the ordeals of the communist prisons that doesn’t mention his name. His deeds and words were passed on from prisoner to prisoner and helped many to survive the communist hell, until the general liberation from 1964. Since Romania has become a free country many of its prison saints come to light and are being honored by the faithful. Valeriu Gafencu is perhaps one of the most representative examples, and many call him the Saint of Prisons (this name was actually give by his fellow prisoners who knew him during his short life).
The icon of the Mother of God, protector of the imprisoned saints, at the new Orthodox Church near the old Aiud penitentiary
New Confessor Valeriu pray to God for us!