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Chapter 23

The Birth of Popular

Following the military crippling of the Reich and its allies, the political regimes linked to Germany were eliminated and the German-occupied territories liberated. Then, the major problem became filling the political voids left by the ousted powers with governments capable of the political, economic and moral reconstruction of the war-torn countries of Eastern Europe.


There are two factors to be considered when tracing the progress of the Communists from an initially weak force to one which managed to take control of the governments of Eastern Europe: the omnipresent Red Army and the Communist-dominated resistance movements. Legitimized by the Soviet Union's status as a victorious power, the Red Army occupied Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, eastern Austria and the German territories between the Elbe and the Oder-Niesse line unresisted; it moved into Czechoslovakia and Poland as a co-belligerent and ally. Only Albania and Yugoslavia escaped occupation by Soviet troops, as they had been liberated and were still held primarily by indigenous Communist resistance fighters.

The presence of the Red Army had a definite influence on the selection of the new leadership in the Eastern European countries. The local

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commander-in-chief was in a position to support or dismiss the local authorities and to intervene in the interior affairs of the country. The occupiers controlled the media, and were in a position to authorize or censure any publication until the signing of the peace treaties. For nearly two years, these occupied countries were essentially controlled by Soviet authorities. Moreover, any activity contrary to Soviet interests could be legally construed as "anti-Soviet subversive activity" and the perpetrators arrested by the all-powerful Soviet military police. This method was frequently used to eliminate influential journalists or politicians who did not choose to collaborate with the Communists. The arrest in February, 1947, of the Hungarian peasant leader Bela Kovacs by the Soviet military police for anti-Soviet activities is but one example of these direct interventions in the interior affairs of the defeated states. The same tactics were also employed in supposedly friendly countries. Numerous high officers of the Polish Interior Army, including Puzak, a socialist who had presided over the clandestine parliament during the war, were arrested in early 1945 and secretly sent to Moscow, where they were tried (June 18-21, 1945) for "planning military action against the Soviet Union in conjunction with Germany." The accusation was ludicrous in view of the heavy tribute the Polish resistance had paid to the Nazis. But the Polish resistance was not of much value to the Soviets, since it was not dominated by the Communists. In Puzak's case, as in Kovacs', the Soviets were simply eliminating capable and popular politicians who were known for their anti-Communist sentiments.

Another method the Soviet military authorities used to make their presence felt in occupied countries was to tolerate, even encourage, extortion of the civilian population by Red Army units. In countries considered to be allies such as Poland or Czechoslovakia, or in defeated countries being treated carefully like Bulgaria, the behavior of Soviet soldiers was beyond reproach, but in Rumania, Hungary, Ruthenia, and especially in Germany, extortion and violence were the rule during the first few months of the occupation. Between August 23 and September 12, 1944, the Soviet troops went on a rampage of looting and raping through Rumania, a country which had voluntarily admitted the Red Army. Thousands of civilians were kidnapped and sent to the USSR, where they were forced to work on reconstruction projects, not to be repatriated until 1947 or even later. In Hungary, the behavior of Soviet soldiers was just as brutal. On Good Friday, 1945 , the bishop of Gyor, who was defending a group of women taking refuge in his church, was killed by Soviet soldiers. In Budapest, thousands of civilians were taken away to work in the Soviet Union until 1947. Even the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who had intervened on behalf of the Jews during their persecution, was kidnapped by the Soviet military police and never seen again. Such tactics revealed a deliberate intent to demoralize

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the population and to nip any resistance in the bud, preparing public acceptance for changes to come.

In Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, the Partisans committed the acts of violence. Yugoslavian Croatia was treated as a defeated country and thousands of Croats died in the Partisan-led punitive campaigns. Thousands of Hungarians and Germans were massacred in the reconquest of the province of Vojvodina. In Czechoslovakia, the Slovak "collaborators" and members of the German and Hungarian minority were victimized. The ulterior motive of the Soviets or Partisans in permitting or perpetrating the violence was to create a climate of terror in areas where their political plans might meet with resistance. The population was being bombarded simultaneously with propaganda by the local Communists, who offered collaboration as the only way to put an end to the violence.

Another element contributing to Communist success was the ruined economy of the Eastern European states. While Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria were relatively well-off, other countries were devastated. Human loss had been heavy everywhere, and industrial potential as well as transportation and communication systems were barely functional. In Germany and the defeated countries, what had not been destroyed was dismantled and carried off as reparation. Moreover, the battles that took place on Hungarian, Polish, and German territory badly impaired agricultural potential, resulting in practically yieldless harvests in 1944 and 1945. Shortages of food added to the hardships. By clever manipulation of propaganda, large property-owners and speculators were made the scapegoats for the economic problems, while providentially stocked markets were attributed to the generosity of the Soviet liberators. Economic difficulties meant high inflation everywhere, particular- ly in Rumania and Hungary, where it surpassed all records in monetary history -- including the German inflation of 1923.

In addition, massive population shifts caused by the deportation of thousands of prisoners-of-war to the Soviet Union -- more than 300,000 from Hungary alone -- as well as the return of Polish emigrants to Poland, led to a sociological upheaval so great that normal political life was all but impossible. Finally, the civilian populations everywhere were so physically and morally exhausted by the five terrible years they had just lived through, that they were ready to accept any changes as long as they included a return to normal living conditions.


The political transformations that took place between 1944 and 1948 in Eastern Europe all resulted in takeovers of the governments by the local Communist parties -- under the guidance of the Soviet Union. "Popular

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democracies" or "people's republics" emerged in all of these countries. The Soviets thus achieved their goal of having the Western Allies recognize Russian dominance over this part of Europe with a bare minimum of conflict.

In the beginning of the postwar period, the Communist parties in Eastern Europe were small, with the exception of Czechoslovakia whose prewar Communist party membership had already been high. In general, the indigenous Communist parties had either been decimated by Nazi persecutions -- as in Germany -- or were opposed by existing social structures and attitudes stemming from historic unpopularity. In many cases, the links between local Communist parties and the Soviet Union added to their unpopularity. Despite these handicaps, the Communists had gained control of all of the governments in Eastern Europe by 1948. Their ascent to power varied country to country, as they compensated for their relatively small numbers with careful strategy. In some countries, the governments were rapidly and expediently transformed, while in others, the change took place in states, often by turning a coalition government into a single-party system.

The Method of Expedience

--Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia

In Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia, the Communist ascent to power was rapid; by the end of 1945, Communist regimes were firmly in place. The Soviets were particularly interested in Bulgaria, a Slavic country with a strong pro-Russian tradition dating back to its first days of independence. The country's revolutionary tradition in 1919-1920 was distinguished by both a strong agrarian movement and by its Communist party, whose secretary general, Georgi Dimitrov, was a highly respected figure in the Communist world. The Communists had taken over the resistance movement with the cooperation of Agrarians like Nicolas Petkov, and Social Democrats through the Fatherland Front formed in 1942. When Soviet troops invaded Bulgaria on September 8, 1944, the Fatherland Front led a general uprising involving the whole country and took over the government the following night. Provisory authorities were put in charge throughout the land. A provisory government was formed in Sofia under Colonel Georgiev, an ex-military man from the extreme-rightist Zveno group, who had gone over to the Communists. The Georgiev government immediately signed an armistice with Marshal Tolbuhin, commandant of the Soviet troops, and committed the Bulgarian army to the military struggle against Germany. While the army was kept busy outside the country after October 8, the Fatherland Front's militia moved in to police the country.

The new government immediately instigated a radical purge of "war

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criminals" for its own expedience. The regents, numerous bourgeois party deputies, many high civil servants and other leading citizens, and any government officials in power since 1941, were arrested and taken before the people's courts. The official purge affected nearly 11,000 persons, and was followed by 2,138 executions, including those of the three Regents, Prince Cyril, Bogdan Filov and General Milov, as well as the former prime minister, Bagrianov. Looking ahead to the elections planned in late 1945, the Communists were able to eliminate the conservative right and the bourgeois

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party leaders with the assent of their Fatherland Front allies. Moreover, through their takeover of municipal administrations, they controlled the electoral lists. The non-Communist parties in the Front consisted of the Agrarian Union of Nicolas Petkov, the People's Union, the Zveno group and the Socialists. They were divided between presenting a single list under the Front banner and drawing up separate lists. Those favoring a single list won out, and those who favored separate lists regrouped around Nicolas Petkov. In the election of November 18, 1945, the single list of the Fatherland Front polled 88 percent of the votes. Suspecting fraud, the opposition called in vain for new elections. Bolstered by their success, the new government began to rework the country's institutions. Following the referendum of September 8, 1946, in which 92.7 percent of the Bulgarians voted for a republic, the monarchy was abolished and on September 15 the Communist Basil Kalarov became prime minister of the Bulgarian republic. The next month, elections for a constituent assembly began. The Front list polled 70 percent of the votes and gained 362 seats, including 275 for the Communist party. Petkov's opposition polled 30 percent of the votes, but won only 99 seats. With an absolute majority in the assembly, the Communists began to undermine Petkov, whose power base was centered in the countryside. He was accused of treason, arrested, condemned to death and quickly hung on September 23, 1947. After the elections, in October of 1946, Georgi Dimitrov became premier. The process begun on September 9, 1944, had led to absolute control of the state by the Communists. The constitution adopted on December 4, 1947, declared the country the Bulgarian People's Republic, confirming officially what Bulgaria had been in fact since the end of 1944.

In Albania, the establishment of a popular democracy was the direct result of the National Liberation Front's victory. Despite British support of the Zogist resistance, the National Liberation Front was already in control of half of the country by the end of the war. On May 24, 1944, a congress was held at Pernet, the first city to be liberated, to form a provisory parliament; a provisory government was also formed and called the Antifascist Committee, with Enver Hoxha, secretary general of the Albanian Communist party, as president. After the last German troops were expelled, Hoxha controlled all of the country except for a few mountainous districts held by supporters of King Zog. In early December, the Communists began to hunt down the Zogists and any national opposition. Hundreds were condemned to death by popular tribunals and summarily executed. Having eliminated the potential opposition, Hoxha called elections for December 2, 1945. The single list of candidates presented by the Democratic Front under Hoxha polled 93 percent of the votes. The constitution of 1946 then sanctioned these transformations and made Albania a popular democracy.

The resistance army's victory in Yugoslavia put Tito and the Antifascist

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Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in an excellent position to take control of the government. According to a compromise signed at the time of liberation by Tito and Ivan Subachitch, a representative of King Peter, Yugoslavia was to be a federal and democratic state. A constituent assembly was to decide whether the monarchy would be retained or abolished. When Tito signed this agreement in December, 1944, he was well aware that he risked nothing as he possessed a considerable advantage with his 800,000 soldiers. On March 7, 1945, in accordance with the agreement, Tito formed a government which included representatives of the royal government such as Soubachitch in foreign affairs, but which was dominated by Communist allies of Tito from different Yugoslav nationalities; the Slovene Edward Kardelj, the Serb Alexander Rankovitch, and the Montenegrin Milovan Djilas were most prominent among his highly-placed allies. Of the 28 ministers, 23 were Communist. The real power in the country was in the hands of Tito's supporters, who were placed strategically throughout the country. They controlled local governments, purged the legal system and the civil service, and dispensed summary justice through official and officious popular tribunals to eliminate "collaborators," or, more simply, political opponents. In addition, non-Communist newspapers were banned, and political meetings of non-Communist movements were impeded. The ministers who had come from London resigned in protest, while the opposition asked voters to boycott the elections. The only candidates were members of the People's Front, a vast organization that had replaced the National Liberation Front. It was directed by Tito and the Communists, and included a variety of groups such as the unions and the Young Communists. The elections were held on November 11, 1945, with all Yugoslavs invited to participate except for the several hundred thousand whose names had been crossed off the polling registers for political reasons. The People's Front won 90.48 percent of the vote. Over 11 percent of the voters heeded the advice of the opposition and did not vote.

The first decision of the constituent assembly in its opening meeting on November 29, 1945, was to announce the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. Its organization was then detailed in the constitution of January 30, 1946 -- modeled after the Soviet constitution of 1936. In 1946, the Communist world saw Tito as one of Stalin's most faithful disciples; he had certainly demonstrated that he'd learned how to purge and eliminate his adversaries. Tens of thousands of his opponents were physically eliminated in 1945 and 1946. The Croats were particularly targeted, even though Tito himself was of Croat origin. He came down hard on any of his compatriots who had-cooperated with Ante Pavelitch, the Ustashian leader, or had served in his army or government. Over 100,000 Croat soldiers who had taken refuge in Austria were extradited by the Anglo-Americans and given over to

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Tito. Thousands were executed. It was not enough to track down the "collaborators" of independent Croatia or occupied Serbia; the Chetniks were also persecuted. They had fought the Germans since the early days of the war, but Tito quickly accused them of "collaboration." Their leader, General Mihajlovitch, was condemned to death and executed in June, 1946. The Catholic Church was also hard hit, as hundreds of priests in Croatia, Vojvodina and Slovenia were summarily executed in 1945. The Archbishop of Zagreb, Father Stepinac, was accused of "collaboration" and condemned on October 11, 1946, to 16 years in prison, despite the fact that he had persistently played a moderating role, urging the Croat leaders to use restraint in Croatia.

--The Deception of Poland

At the end of the war, Poland was unique in being considered a friend and ally of the Soviet Union, and in having a legal government in exile with armed forces under its command. Some 100,000 of these soldiers, commanded by General Anders, fought alongside the Allied forces in the liberation of Italy. The others, in the Interior Army or AK, were engaged in a constant struggle against the German occupying forces within Polish territory. To stir up matters, the Soviets established a National Liberation Committee in Lublin made up of Communists and Communist sympathizers. On July 22, 1944, it declared itself the only legal government of Poland. After the failure of the Warsaw uprising and the elimination of the survivors of the Interior Army by the Soviets, the Lublin-based committee had ample opportunity to establish its own government in each area as it was liberated. In this way, the Communists and their sympathizers gained control of all the towns. At the Yalta Conference, the Big Three had recommended enlarging the National Liberation Committee to include representatives of the government in exile. The Poles in London, however, refused to cooperate with the Committee members. Despite opposition from the heads of the government in exile, the Socialist Arciszewski and General Anders, Stanislaw Mikolajcyk agreed to return to Poland on personal grounds. On June 29, 1945, a Provisional Government of National Unity was formed by Edward Osobka-Morawski, a pro-Communist Socialist, in which Lublin committee members held 17 of the 21 posts. Mikolajczyk and Gomulka were made deputy premiers, with Osobka-Morawski as president. Another Communist, Boleslaw Bierut, remained president of the provisory parliament, called the National Home Council. Most of the ministers were Communists or men with pro-Communist leanings.

The major accomplishment of the Polish Communist leaders and the Soviets during the period of the National Liberation Committee in Lublin, had been to instigate the creation of political parties that did not seem to be

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Communist. These parties used acronyms similar to traditional democratic parties, but were actually led by opportunists who had deserted the traditional parties for the Communists, and acted as fronts for the Party. To counter the Socialist party led from London by Arciszewski, Lublin set up a Polish Workers' party of Socialists led by Osobka-Morawski, which assumed the London-based party's name on September, 1944. A dissident Peasant party and a dissident Democratic party were created in the same way. The names of these new political groups were deliberately chosen to resemble those of recognized parties and thus confuse the population.

The provisory government should have organized elections immediately, but instead pushed the date back to January, 1947. A single list of candidates was prepared by the Polish Worker party (the Communist party) with the approval of the dissident parties from Lublin. Mikolajczyk was offered a quarter of the seats if he would only agree to the single list principle. He refused, but the die had already been cast. For an entire year before the voting, the government had been systematically undermining the traditional parties' efforts to reorganize; their publications were banned and their public meetings sabotaged. A smear campaign was mounted against the London members of the government who for the most part had refused to return to Poland under the circumstances. Survivors of the Interior Army were also targeted. They were accused of anti-Soviet activities, since some of them had tried to organize underground resistance fighting groups in the south of the country. It was, to say the least, a tough electoral campaign. The "official" candidates of the "democratic bloc" led by the Communists were given every opportunity to present their program to the voters. This was not the case, however, for the Independent Socialists and friends of Mikolajczyk, whose candidacy had to be requested in writing by 1,000 voters in each district. Communist-dominated municipal authorities disqualified over a million voters from the registers for trumped-up reasons, and consequently, the signatures of these disqualified voters were declared void on the opposition candidates, lists. In this way, 246 Peasant party candidates were eliminated and 149 of them arrested. Even more Independent Socialists were disqualified. After the ballots were cast, hardly any representatives of the opposition were allowed to observe the counting of the votes. Under these conditions, the January 19, 1947, elections resulted in a 90 percent landslide for the Communist block parties. The opposition was only able to elect 28 deputies, 27 of them from Mikolajczyk's Peasant party, and one Independent Socialist, Zulawski, from Cracow. At the first seating of the new parliament, Zulawski denounced the tactics used, daring to state, "The elections were not free; in reality, there were no elections at all, only an organized terrorism of the voter and his conscience." His speech was censured, as was one in a similar vein delivered by Mikolajczyk, who soon

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gave up the struggle and fled the country the following October.

In the four cases just examined -- Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia and Poland -- only minor differences caused by local conditions differentiated the expedient process by which the Communists rose to power. In the first stage, the Communists took control of key posts, aided by the groups they had infiltrated and supported by the Red Army and Communist-led resistance fighters. These infiltrations occurred at all levels of the police, the army and the secret police, and took place as soon as a real or provoked power vacuum occurred. Then, in the second stage, in control of the government, courts, and police, they called elections to legalize the new power structure a posteriori.

The Progressive Method

--Rumania: From Constitutional Monarchy to Popular Democracy

Rumania's progression from dictatorship to Communist regime by seemingly democratic steps, was a special case. Ion Antonescu's dictatorship was eliminated by the August 23 , 1944, coup d'etat by a National Democratic Front formed by the Liberals, the Social-Democrats, the Peasant Party and the Communists, under the initiative of King Michael. In its place, a short-lived national union government was formed under the leadership of General Sanatescu.

The new government immediately came up against a variety of difficulties caused by the onerous and costly presence of the Red Army, social tensions linked to galloping inflation, food shortages, peasant unrest instigated by Petru Groza's Communist Plowmen's Front, and worker unrest excited by the Communist-led Apararea Patriotica. (The latter group, composed of armed workers, had received aid for use against the Germans and Antonescu's Partisans at the time of the August 23 events.) The opportunity was ripe for the Communists to increase their strength: Rumanian Communist leaders in exile in Moscow were liberated and returned, such as Secretary General Gheorgiu-Dej, Anna Pauker, and Vasile Luca -- all three carefully selected and indoctrinated for their return to Rumania. In addition, numerous former supporters of Antonescu wishing to clear themselves joined the ranks of the Communist party en masse. The Communist party was consequently strengthened in numbers and influence. From October, 1944, onward, the Communists united to establish the National Democratic Front as the dominant political force. The established parties reluctantly joined, and soon found themselves thrown in with Communists and Communist-controlled mass organizations in the reconstruction of a new independent Rumania that had to be protected from

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the "enemies of democracy." Under these circumstances, General Sanatescu resigned on November 6, 1944, and formed a new government in which the Communists were given an increased number of ministerial posts. Gheorgiu Dej became Minister of Transportation, Lucretiu Patrascanu became Minister of Justice, Nicolai was appointed Minister of Social Affairs, and, most importantly, Georgescu was made under-secretary of state. Lack of a common point of view created discord in the cabinet, particularly in the face of recurring Communist-instigated rioting by workers. After only one month in office, the second Sanatescu government was dissolved and was replaced on December 5, 1944, by one led by the openly anti-Communist General Radescu. The Communists, however, retained all their previous ministerial posts. Rioting intensified throughout the country with demonstrations against high prices, and in favor of agrarian reform and nationalizations. Throughout this time, the Communists Petrescu and Georgescu concentrat- ed on "purifying" local governments, courts and police through purges. The army, which had joined the Soviets in fighting the Germans, was out of the country, but the few units stationed within Rumania did not escape the purge.

In early 1945, the Communists began to reap the fruits of their labors. They had managed to attract many of the discontents to their side, including the Hungarian minorityparty Madosz, the Hungarian People's Union, which had been harshly treated when the Rumanian authorities regained northern Transylvania. The Communists accused General Radescu of favoring reactionary elements in the country, and unleashed a country-wide campaign calling for his resignation. As in Poland, the Communists had infiltrated the non-Communist parties in order to sow discord and confuse the general population. The namesakes of the Iiberal and National Peasant parties sprang up alongside the originals, under the leadership of Georgi Tatarescu and Alex Alexandrescu respectively.

The political situation became more and more confusing. On February 24, 1945, the Communists organized mass demonstrations against fascism and the Radescu government in Bucharest. The Red Army provided trucks and gasoline to transport the demonstrators. Shots were exchanged that evening. The Communists blamed Radescu, who in turn broadcast his reply on the radio blaming:

. . . the stateless foreigners without God or country. . . . . . horrible

hyenas, the Jewess Anna Pauker and the Hungarian Vasile Luca, foreign

by their nationalities to the aspirations of the Rumanian people.

At that point, the Soviets decided to intervene directly. The Soviet vice-minister of foreign affairs, Andrei Vychinsky, arrived in Bucharest on February 27 and demanded to see the king immediately to call for a new government. When King Michael refused, Vychinski ordered the new

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commandant of the Soviet forces in Rumania, General Sussaykov, to disarm the gendarmerie and the Rumanian police as well as the garrison at Bucharest. The following day he repeated his demand as an ultimatum. The king hoped to placate the Soviets by replacing General Radescu with Prince Stirbey. Vychinski refused the offer during a stormy interview, and the king yielded to pressure, appointing the Communist Petru Groza as premier. On March 6, 1945, the Communist-dominated Groza cabinet took office. The liberal dissident Georgi Tatarescu, discredited by his collaboration with the dictatorship under King Carol II, became minister of foreign affairs. A short time later, Moscow sent Marshal Malinovsky to Rumania, officially to dismantle a so-called military plot against the Soviets supposedly hatched by Radescu and his friends. Nevertheless, the situation slowly began to ease. Under pressure from the British and the Americans, the National Peasant and Liberal ministers were even brought back into the government. The Communists, however, were in control of all key posts throughout the country in both the national and local governments. Knowing that they could always rely on the Soviets, they began tightening their grip on the state. In control of the judicial system, they were able to initiate purges, weeding out "collaborators" who refused to support the new government. The dictator Antonescu was tried at the end of May, 1946, and was immediately executed. Prominent members of the preceding regime were "rehabilitated."

Most of 1946 was spent paving the way for the November 19 elections. The electoral campaigns took place in a climate of tension and oppression. National Peasant and Liberal candidates who, along with Petrescu and the Socialist left, had refused to join with the Communists in preparing the list, were all but prevented from taking part in the campaign at all. Many of them were arrested and beaten by a police force that was once again brutal and unprincipled. The election results were not made public until four days after the polls had closed, and during this time the ballot-boxes had been in the hands of municipal authorities loyal to the Communist party. It came as no surprise, then, that the government bloc polled over 5,800,000 votes -- or 71 percent of the vote -- while the combined opposition polled 1,200,000 votes and was magnanimously granted 34 out of the 414 seats. This was still too much for the Communists. They decided to completely eliminate the opposition. The National Peasant party was declared illegal in August 1947; shortly before hand, on July 14, one of its leaders, Ion Mihalache, was arrested and charged with high treason as he was preparing to flee the country. The other Peasant leader, Maniu, along with several different party officials, were also arrested. Following a trial in front of a people's tribunal presided over by Colonel Alexander Petrescu, the former director of prisons and concentration camps under Antonescu, Jules Maniu and Ion Mihalache were condemned to hard labor for life.

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