Ceausescu Bunker: Hub of Dreaded Securitate : Romania: The stronghold was where the dictator’s crack force was prepared to make its last stand.
Three levels below the basement of the Romanian Communist Party’s Central Committee building, there is a bunker built strong enough to withstand a nuclear attack. One room of its command center contains a wall of Japanese- and American-made equipment. It has now been shot to pieces, its wiring and circuitry ripped loose.
This was where Nicolae Ceausescu’s Praetorian Guard, the fanatical presidential protection unit of the Securitate, was prepared to make its last stand in defense of its leader.
It did not work out that way.
The three levels of the bunker are now occupied by soldiers of the Romanian army and volunteers of the Civilian Guard. At midday Friday, on the uppermost level of the bunker, weary soldiers slept on rows of folding chairs or on the floors of interconnecting rooms. Some ate quietly from cans of food, their assault rifles close at hand, as they rested from their shifts of tense guard duty in the narrow-carpeted passageways, which are interrupted by hatchway doors 2 1/2 inches thick.
The doors are painted battleship gray, labeled with coded letters and numbers, and each weighs 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. Each is closed by four massive hatch latches. The soldiers now on duty in this underground maze know that on the other side of these doors, a network of tunnels leads out into the city. There is only one other thing that soldiers know about those doors: that somewhere beyond them are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of trained and fanatical killers, Ceausescu’s last gift to the Romanian people.
The mood in the bunker is taut. The soldiers and their officers move cautiously and quietly and speak in low tones. They take no visitors to the lowest depths of the bunker. It is difficult to tell whether the tension arises from a sense of imminent danger, the strangeness of the setting or the experience of spending the last week in combat against a force of fighters whose lethal fanaticism seems a creation out of science fiction.
The fear is shared by the provisional government that has taken over from Ceausescu.
Silviu Brucan, the respected 73-year-old diplomat who is a member of the 11-man council at the top of the new National Salvation Front, warned Friday that the several hundred members of the Securitate who remain at large are planning a program of assassination against the new government.
“They realize they have been beaten,” Brucan said, “and we expect them to focus on the center, to decapitate the movement, to kill the leaders of our movement. Therefore, I have been traveling in Bucharest only in a tank for the last three days. I can tell you one thing--every time I moved, the tank was shot at. They know I am inside.”
Although the shooting in central Bucharest seems to have stopped, the sniping has not. On Thursday night, a woman was brought to the city’s main emergency hospital, wounded by a sniper.
The soldiers who wait now in the Securitate’s underground bunker are amazed and mystified by their opponents. A young army major and a 22-year-old Civilian Guard member (for the safety of their families, they asked that no other identification be used) told of the Securitate bunker and of the men they had been fighting.
The Securitate fighters, they believe, were part of Ceausescu’s crack presidential guard. In the first three days of the battle, when fighting went on across the palace square in front of the Communist Party Central Committee building, the Securitate fighters were wearing black jumpsuits with a red silk stripe down the right side. They wore black berets. They used submachine guns and high-powered rifles with infra-red sniper scopes.
“They used Romanian-made, Soviet-model rifles,” the major said. “They used small machine guns and other German, English or Italian weapons, all of the highest quality. They were very good shots. They shot only at the head.”
The tunnels these Securitate fighters used, the major said, have been explored only a short distance from the bunker.
“We’ve blocked them off,” he said, “to prevent them coming in. They can lock themselves in the tunnels.”
The two officers said they assume the tunnels are booby-trapped.
“Also in the bunker is a bomb shelter,” the major continued, “that we think could stand in a nuclear attack. It has a sophisticated air purification system and stores of food and water. There is a control room with instruments, communications equipment, covering one entire wall. There are telephones and televisions. At the moment they left, most of this equipment was destroyed. it was shot up, or ripped out.
“We also found a special room for the decontamination of men and equipment. There is an office near this and a room for sleeping, with beds and toilets. This is at the center of the bunker, with easy access from several directions.”
Through the heaviest of the combat, last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the officers said that the Securitate fighters sent men into the city in disguises, sometimes in army uniforms, to report on the positions of the army in the streets. They rigged up a loudspeaker and tape-playing device that broadcast sounds of heavy gunfire. When the soldiers in the streets moved and shifted their defenses to deal with what they thought was another battle, the Securitate fighters opened up on them.
It is strange to most Romanians that the Securitate kept fighting long after Ceausescu fled the capital Dec. 22, and stranger still that some have continued to hold out even after his body, riddled by the bullets of a firing squad, was shown on national television. For most of the soldiers, as for the general population, it is the description of captured Securitate fighters that paints the eeriest picture of all.
Not many, the major said, had been captured alive. Most apparently preferred to use their last bullets on themselves. Of the few that have been captured, he said, “some looked as though they had been drugged. They had no fear at all. Even if they were captured without arms, they attacked, they used anything they could pick up to fight with, even if they knew they could be shot immediately.
“These captured terrorists have refused completely any food or water and refused to talk completely. They say nothing.”
All of them, they say, are large and muscular, like athletes or weightlifters, and in the few cases of hand-to-hand fighting, have demonstrated their skill in karate or some other martial-arts system. Just who they are, or how they have been trained, are subjects of intense speculation to the officers and soldiers who remark on how “strange” the Securitate men appear.
“There are several opinions,” the major said. “They do not look like intelligent men. They look like machines.”
He confirmed that many think the Securitate fighters are, in fact, orphans, raised from childhood to devote their lives to the defense of Ceausescu. This may be little more than fantasy--there is not a single fact to support it--but it is hard to find a Romanian who does not hold this belief. It is as prevalent among the soldiers who fought them as among the general population.
Personnel at the city’s main emergency hospital have stories that support the descriptions offered by the soldiers and are, in their way, equally bizarre. Dr. Andrei Firica, the director of the hospital, and another senior staff physician say that 12 men admitted with wounds ranging from critical to minor during the violence were suspected of being Securitate men.
“It is possible that most of them were drugged,” said the staff physician. “They were overexcited, and it required large doses of sedatives to calm them, to make them sleep. Almost all had been drinking as well. All were well-developed physically, strong and muscular. Some told us they were athletes or practiced high-performance sports.”
All but one denied being in the Securitate. One, however, identified himself as a major in the unit and said he was sorry only that he had failed in his duty and that he should have killed more people, Firica said. Among the group, two were of Asian or Asian-Romanian parentage. Four of them, the doctor said, appeared to be Arab. They spoke fluent, unaccented Romanian. Some carried as many as four differents sets of identification papers, all conflicting.
“In general,” the doctor said, “their comportment was very strange. The pupils of their eyes were dilated. They had a fixed look, their eyes staring. Whatever story they came in with, they stuck to . . . . Some of them had no reaction whatever to normal dosages of sedation. To make them sleep, they were given heavy sedatives.”
After that, they were handcuffed to their beds. The last of them was taken by the authorities from the hospital Wednesday morning.
“There were two mysterious deaths--two men, both with minimal wounds. One had a broken ankle, one had a bullet wound in the shoulder. We don’t believe it was poison. We opened their mouths when examining them to check for that, for cyanide capsules. It wasn’t that. We don’t know why they died. It is a mystery.”
Since the revolution began, the hospital has treated 679 wounded, admitted 340, and received 116 dead. It was too overcrowded with emergency cases to perform autopsies on the dead Securitate men, so the mystery remains.
The mystery of wht remains in the tunnels behind the steel doors leading out of the bunker under the Central Committee also lingers, and neither the soldiers nervously guarding them, nor a fragile government still moving about the city in tanks and armored cars, is sure what to do about them--or how to clean them out.
AUTHORITY CONSOLIDATED: Romania’s new regime revokes Ceausescu policies. A21
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for the L.A. Times biggest news, features and recommendations in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.