Romanian workers restoring the casino in the Black Sea port of Constanta have found a 70-year-old message from political prisoners of the Communist regime hidden in the plaster.
The prisoners, who had been incarcerated in the Poarta Alba labor camp, were sent to rebuild the bombed-out casino in the 1950s, the state news agency Agerpres reported.
Constanta city hall said the message simply said that on 31 December, 1951, political prisoners were restoring the casino, naming the architect in charge, Joja Constantin, the chief builder, and a dozen other workers.
“This was a cry for help, written between tears and suffering by 14 of the 100 prisoners who worked to restore the casino after it was bombed during World War II,” the city hall said.
“This is testimony for the future, written on a piece of paper ripped from a bag of cement and incontestable proof of the past (which was) left behind in the hope that one day the families and friends will know that on December 31, 1951, these people were alive and working to rebuild the casino.”
Radu Cornescu, the architect in charge of the current restoration work, said the letter was found buried in in a window made of shells that looks out to the Black Sea.
„It is moving feeling just like when you find a message in a bottle in the sea or ocean. We are talking about people who didn’t know if they’d live to get out of prison. It’s like they were brought here for extermination, many of them barely weighed 40 kilograms when they arrived. They didn’t know if they’d ever be free again. „
„The casino has its secrets. These messages were a legend and today that legend is becoming reality.”
He said the message was discovered during work on the shell window, buried in the plaster. “It’s clear they were here because they couldn’t have hidden these messages,” he said.
“They had no way of letting their families know they were alive, so they decided to write down some simple thoughts and sign them.
“We hope that during future work we will find more messages from these people. We know that one of them was from Arad. But we don’t know anything about the rest.”
Constanta city hall says the window where the message was found was in a large room where shows were held, which was built in the 1950s.
The National Investment Company signed a contract for 56.6 million lei in 2019 to restore the casino, a project estimated to take 27 months.
The modern casino was built between 1907-1910 by a Romanian architect of French descent. It was bombed by the Germans in 1941.
Testimony written by one of the survivors revealed that prisoners worked „between 12 and 14 hours a day including Sundays. First time I was a bricklayer. Everything was destroyed in that building. There was nothing, no doors, no windows, no fixtures. It was a wreck.”
Prisoners slept in a seaside area, being the only place in the building where the sky wasn’t visible. There was no heating available, and they resorted to eating animal organs, according to testimony.
Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime that was in power from 1947 until 1989, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, according to historians.
After completion, the casino, which is considered one of the most important examples of Art Nouveau in Romania, will be re-opened and will used as a cultural and entertainment center, hosting cultural events and exhibitions.