The interminable lines looked like this bread line pictured here. We never knew what was sold at the end of a line we happened to come upon, but we knew we needed whatever people lined up to buy, so we joined the line.
If we wanted to eat, we learned at a very young age that we had to stand in long lines every day, often in bitter cold at 4 a.m. in hopes that the store would not run out of bread or milk by the time we made it to the front counter.
People carried cash and a shopping bag just in case they discovered hard to find items: toilet paper, aspirin, cotton balls, soap, potatoes, oranges, apples, flour, sugar, or cooking oil. From time to time, the shortage was so bad, we were issued rationing coupons. Once you ran out of rationing coupons for the month, you could not buy anything unless you were lucky enough to have extra cash to shop from the burgeoning black market of hoarders with communist party connections.
The ruling elite, of course, was fat and happy, shopping at their own grocery stores, usually located underground the local Communist Party headquarters.
It wasn’t that the country did not produce enough food in spite of its disastrous centralized communist party planning. The mad dictator Ceausescu was determined to industrialize the country at the expense of people’s food – he exported so much to the West in exchange for technology and hard currency that the Romanians had to make do with the leftover food not fit for export.
The agricultural five year plan was developed by communist bureaucrats who were community organizers with very little experience at producing anything and very little formal education. They were schooled in the fine art of radical agitation.
Around Christmas time and Easter, there would be more food sent to stores, the lines were shorter for a few days and the stores better stocked. But that did not last very long. People would wipe out the supply in no time and the store shelves would be empty again, with one very expensive salami hanging behind the counter or in the window, buzzed by flies.
But that was nothing compared to the Soviet plan to starve the Romanian population of Bessarabia in 1946-1947 in order to achieve collectivization. According to the 1897 census, almost 48% of the population was Moldovan and thus spoke Romanian. Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina were Romanian-held prior to the military occupation by the Soviet Red Army during June 28-July 4, 1940. To avoid a military conflict, Romania withdrew from the area following a Soviet ultimatum delivered on June 26. The Romanian province was recaptured by Ion Antonescu from 1941-1944 and then reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944. The regions were subsequently incorporated into the USSR.
I recently came across an eye-witness 25 minute documentary by Bogdan Parlea, “Marturii Despre Suferintele Romanilor din Basarabia” (“Witness to the Suffering of the Romanians in Bessarabia”), produced by the Fundatia Sfintii Inchisorilor and Fundatia Parintele Arsenie Boca. Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans died at the hands of their Soviet Socialist tormentors who confiscated their crops by force and shipped the food to USSR. Wheat and corn was left to rot and mold in uncovered wagons at train stations; it was done to leave farmers as poor and desperate as possible in order to better manipulate and control them. http://www.identitatea.it/foametea-din-basarabia-1946-1947/
According to Alexandru Moraru, the gazette “Moldova Socialista” (“Socialist Moldova”) reported on January 28, 1947 that the food industry in the region had exceeded butter production by 33.2 percent, meat production by 32.5 percent, and canned food by 101.9 percent. This was the food confiscated from the starving Moldovans who were too weak to bury their own dead. http://www.historia.ro/exclusiv_web/general/articol/canibalismul-provocat-sovietici-basarabia
It was a Soviet state secret - nobody was allowed to write or speak about the horrors that took place in Chisinau, Orhei, Balti, Cahul, and other villages, how collectivization agents took the last drop of food and grain from the farmer’s barns, and how the children of Moldova were kidnapped, brought into homes, murdered, cooked, and eaten.
Survivors were interviewed as eye witnesses to the communist power which forced peasants to pay confiscatory taxes as well as huge quantities of their crops to the Soviet state, leaving them with little to eat. The small crop yields resulting from a very dry growing season coupled with the forced confiscation in the name of collectivization caused mass famine. Ten percent of the 1.5 million population died of starvation and a large percentage that survived were severely malnourished, looking like Holocaust victims.
Anatolie Iov Spinei described how the crop yield in 1946-1947 was only 500-600 kg per hectare due to the draught that year and the forced quota to the Soviet state was also 500-600 kg.
Eugenia Ciuntu described how her family dug a large barrel in the ground and hid grain inside but the Soviet community organizers came with sticks and tapped the ground, finding the barrel in the soft dirt. They were tapping everywhere, even hay stacks, in an attempt to find every last drop of grain.
Petre Buburuz, Orthodox Priest, explained that the end game was to starve and kill as many peasants as possible, take their land, and establish the Soviet collectives, the “colhoz.” He described how people kidnapped other people and sold them for meat.
Margareta Spanu Cemartan talked about the “communist ideology to scare people, to bring them to desperation,” to make them acquiesce to become part of the collectivization when faced with the prospect of dying. Farmers will turn in their pre-determined quota of grain to the waiting trains, receive a receipt, and then the communist agents would come back for a second round of quotas, forcing them to sweep the last kernels of wheat and corn from their barns and give up their last chicken, cow, or pig. They were left with 8 children and nothing to feed them.
What did they eat? How did they survive? Parents fed their children first and chose to die the swelling and painful death of starvation. Nadejda Botea told how some men ground tree bark to feed their families. Valentina Sturza said that those found hiding food, were sent to Siberia 10-15 years in labor camps. Some survived by boiling non-poisonous weeds.
Ion Moraru said that every family had to turn in a certain quantity of everything that was produced on a farm, eggs, meat, grain, milk, cheese, wool, but not all peasants had all of these, so they had to pay extra taxes to make up for the shortage of food quota. Many were taken to the police precinct and beaten.
Those in charge of the collective farms were afraid to tell Stalin and his henchmen that the crop had been poor because of the draught. Consequently, the quotas were not adjusted to reflect the low crop yield.
People were so desperate to eat, they sold everything of value, icons, gold items, carpets, windows, doors, silverware, candlesticks, rosaries, including the clothes off their backs. According to Anatolie Iov Spinei, “Bread had become the currency. A carpet was worth a loaf of bread.”
Teodosia Cosmin talked about eating weeds. Her mom sold every piece of clothing in her daughters’ dowry trunks in order to survive.
Anastasia Ursachi talked about farmers keeping cows and goats in the house with them otherwise they were stolen and eaten. “Women carried babies to term, killed them, and fed them to the other children,” she said.
They ate all dogs and cats. Nadejda Botea described how a woman’s husband passed away; she put the body in the attic and fed him daily to her children. The weak were robbed of their food and possessions, so deep was the desperation.
Those who did not engage in cannibalism, were so weak, they were unable to bury their dead. They dragged them into mass graves and abandoned them. Some died when the new crop came in and families ate too much.
After watching this shocking eyewitness documentary with film footage of that time period, I will never again look at food in the same way. The inhumanity of a desperate human being in the quest for survival at all costs is glaring and devastating evidence why communists should never be allowed to take power again.