Virgil Gheorghiu

Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu (September 15, 1916, Valea Albă, Romania – June 22, 1992, Paris, France), Romanian writer, best known for his 1949 novel, The 25th Hour.

Virgil Gheorghiu was born in Valea Albă, a village in Războieni Commune, Neamţ County, in Moldavia. His father was an Orthodox priest in Petricani. Having been admitted with top marks, he attended high school in Chişinău from 1928 to June 1936, after which he studied philosophy and theology at the University of Bucharest and Heidelberg University.

During the regime of General Ion Antonescu, he was a diplomat between 1942 and 1943, working as a legation secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania. He went into voluntary exile when Soviet troops entered Romania in 1944. He was arrested at the end of World War II by American troops. After the war, he settled in France in 1948. A year later, he published the novel Ora 25 (French: La vingt-cinquième heure, English: The twenty-fifth hour), written during his captivity.

The Romanian Secret Services, used the French communist agents to discredit Gheorghiu through a left-wing media campaign of smear. This was a well-rehearsed and effective weapon against Romanian anti-communist exiles. In 1952, a scandal erupted in Paris: it was discovered that before leaving Romania, Gheorghiu had written a book (Ard malurile Nistrului, 1941), heretofore unpublished in French, that scorned "the malicious Jew" and praised Hitler's troops. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel, who had written the preface for The 25th Hour, asked that his preface be omitted from future editions. Gheorghiu never clearly disavowed his anti-Semitic writings, but in his 1986 memoirs, he did write: "I am ashamed of myself. Ashamed because I am Romanian, like the criminals of the Iron Guard".

He continued to write, publishing over 25 books, including "Christ in Lebanon" in 1979 and "God in Paris" the next year. His last work, in 1987, was about South Korea. Gheorghiu was ordained a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Paris on May 23, 1963. In 1966, Patriarch Justinian awarded him the Cross of the Romanian Patriarchate for his liturgical and literary activities. He is buried in Passy Cemetery, in Paris.

Gheorghiu's best-known book depicts the plight of a naive young farmhand, Johann Moritz, under German, Soviet and American occupation of Central Europe. Johann is sent to a labor camp by a police captain who covets his wife, Suzanna. At first, he is tagged as a Jew. Later, he is "rescued" by a Nazi officer who determines he is a perfect Aryan specimen, and forces him into service in the SS as a model for German propaganda. Imprisoned after the war, he is severely beaten by his Russian captors, then put on trial by Allied forces because of his work for the Nazis. Traian, son of the priest Koruga, is a famous novelist and minor diplomat whose first internment comes when he is picked up as an enemy alien by the Yugoslavs. Once imprisoned, the two heroes begin an odyssey of torture and despair. In the end, Traian dies in a concentration camp, while Johann is forced by the Americans to enlist in the army, just as World War III is about to start, or to be interned in a camp (as well as his family) as a citizen from an enemy country.

In 1967, Carlo Ponti produced a film based on Gheorghiu's book. The movie was directed by Henri Verneuil, with Anthony Quinn as Johann, Virna Lisi as Suzanna, and Serge Reggiani as Traian.


Anonymous said...

La Cravache. another book.
All the best.