He grew up in a Christian family during Ceaucescu’s communist regime. As his schoolteacherstried to brainwash him with their atheistic philosophy, he wondered about God’s existence. But during a daring escape attempt when he was only a teenager, God revealed Himself in powerful ways.
Aurel experienced some tensions in the school system because he came from a Christian family. “Teachers would make me stand up in class and mock me,” he recalls. “We were taught that there is no God, and that man is his own god,” he says. “They washed the brains of people – telling them there is no Creator.”
At 16, he began to question the faith of his family. He wondered who was right, his parents or his schoolteachers. “I said, ‘God, if you are somewhere and you still reveal your identity to people, I need to know you are there.’”
During the next two years leading up to his 18th birthday, Aurel began to dream about escaping Romania. President Ceaucescu had launched his own version of the Cultural Revolution inspired by trips to China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. More and more, he used neo-Stalinist tactics to influence the direction of Romanian society. Aurel and his family watched the deterioration of their beloved country at the hands of the heavy-handed regime.
Even as a teenager, Aurel’s heart began to yearn for freedom, and he plotted his escape.
His first challenge is that he lived on the east side of his country, near the border with the former Soviet Union. He would have to cross 600 miles to get close to the western border with Yugoslavia. His first thought was to attempt to cross the river Dunube (Danube in Germany), which straddles the border with Yugoslavia. The river is often a mile wide in many places as it flows toward the Black Sea.
“My original plan was to cross the river, but I didn’t swim very well. There are a lot of soldiers with boats and they have sensors to detect additional noise. You can be detected very quickly,” he notes.
Once spotted, a swimmer is no match for a motorboat. “They come after you very quickly and in most cases they will spike you in the water. Then you drift downstream and they have a screening point where they collect all the bodies.”