Back where it all happened. I had been the first journalist to get to the place of the Ceausescus’ deaths. It was the only execution of a European leader since the end of World War Two. But, 30 years later, questions remain about what really happened there.25 December 2019
The room where the Ceausescus slept on their final three nights is still kitted out with two camp-beds and blankets.
The desk of the base commander still has his one red and three white telephones on it. Displayed on the wall, a huge badge of the old Communist state, including a lone red star.
I was the first journalist to reach get to the barracks after the Christmas Day execution, and it was eerie to be back again. As I stood in their place of execution, I was imagining the Ceausescus’ final seconds as the soldiers lifted their guns – exactly 30 years ago to the minute. My watch confirmed: 2.45 pm on Christmas Day.
And the room where the trial took place still has its tables and chairs arranged just as they were.
My scoop had come about, as is often the case in our profession, more by luck than by skill.
Taking advantage of the relative chaos of a revolution, no-one had stopped me getting into the office of the new commander of the army, General Victor Stanculescu.
“Pity you didn’t get here earlier,” he said. “You could have come with me and seen the whole thing. But do you want to go there now anyway?” Of course I did.
So he laid on a military vehicle to take me to Targoviste, a journey of 100 kilometres.
It was two days after the killings, and the world was abuzz with conspiracy theories. The Ceausescus had been smuggled out of the military base, it was being surmised.
They were in hiding, went the rumours, and the pictures the world had by now seen from Romanian television were of dummies or actors made to look like the dead dictator and his wife. A French video analysis said the film looked fake.
Once there, it had not been difficult to piece together what had happened. As I was allowed to talk to anyone I wished, I asked numerous soldiers. All of them declared that the Ceausescus had indeed been shot dead.
I was fully convinced only when I walked into the barracks kitchen. A cook in a white apron told me she’d seen the whole thing, peering through her kitchen window.
I also discovered the reason there was no film of the execution as it about to start, nor of the first round of bullets.
The army cameraman had filmed the whole trial, and the death sentence, and the doomed couple having their hands tied up protesting, prodded as they walked past him towards the back door.
Then his camera battery failed. He frantically found an electrical point and started recharging it. A short time later, he heard gunfire. He shoved a battery back in, ran down the corridor then dashed outside. He captured only smoke rising from the two slumped bodies, then zoomed in on the bodies themselves – the images that flashed around the world.
The shooters, the lawyer, the commander of the base, and General Stanculescu all spoke to us in great detail later.
I was never able to track down the cameraman, however. He had, after all,, missed the climax of the historic event.
Conspiracy: no. Mess-up.
These days, the building and the execution site are simply relics. The soldiers have moved to an adjacent, more modern military base, and now only a trickle of tourists comes in to see where it all happened.
It’s curious, even ghoulish – but it is a place where history was made.