Nicolae Ceausescu was born on 26 January 1918 in Scornicesti, in the Rumanian Administrative Department of Olt. He came from a poor peasant family.
In 1929, at the age of 11, he left for Bucharest where he worked as an apprentice shoemaker. Three years later he joined the Rumanian Workers Party. During the thirties, he became heavily involved in the fight against fascism and was arrested several times.
In July 1940, whilst under detention in the Tirgu Jiu camp, Nicolae Ceausescu met the communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and subsequently became his protégé. During these years in detention, he was able to study and obtain a diploma from the Bucharest Academy of Economics.
In 1944, on being freed, he was appointed General Secretary of the Union of Communist Youth, a position he held until 1945.
In 1946, he began his political career on becoming Regional Secretary of the Olteria Communist Party, and thereafter by his election to the Rumanian Parliament, the Grand National Assembly.
In the same year he married Elena Petrusca whom he had met in 1939.
Ceausescu continued to advance in his political career by taking up a seat in Parliament, and through occupying various ministerial positions. He also progressed through the ranks of the Workers Party, acceding to its Politburo as a full member in 1955. By then he held the second position within the party’s hierarchy.
On 22 May 1965, three days after the death of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Nicolae Ceausescu was appointed First Secretary of the Romanian Workers Party which he then renamed the Rumanian Communist Party. During the same year, a new constitution was adopted for the country which then became known as the Socialist Republic of Rumania.
In 1966, he brought in new laws which encouraged the demographic growth of the Rumanian population. The outcome of these policies was to double the birth rate, but also to increase the rate of infantile deaths and unwanted pregnancies, as well as the number of handicapped children, orphans, and other abandoned children who were put into State institutions. It was alleged that at the fall of Ceausescu more than 100’000 orphaned and handicapped children, living in the most dreadful conditions, were discovered in these institutions.
During the sixties, Ceausescu devised a plan of “urban and rural systemisation” the aim of which was to provide manpower and land to new state enterprises. Within the scope of this plan, more than 11 million people were to be uprooted to be relocated in “agro-industrial centres” when the plan came into operation in the eighties.
In 1967, Ceausescu carried out purges within the Interior Ministry. He got rid of pro-Soviet officers, and created a new State Security Department (Securitate). Agents of this new service were entirely free to set up surveillance procedures and control all contact by any individual with foreign sources. Anyone suspected of being disloyal to the regime was arrested and interrogated. Any opponents were harassed, put in prison or subject to physical abuse.
In 1969, Ceausescu was named President of the new Rumanian Security Council a position which allowed him to reinforce his hold over the country’s armed forces.
On 28 March 1974, a post of President of the Republic was specially created for Ceausescu who was appointed President for life by the National Assembly. He then attributed key government posts to many members of his family and entourage and set about reinforcing the cult of personality which surrounded him.
In 1982, Ceausescu set up a rigorous austerity plan in order to reimburse Rumania’s external debt. The majority of the country’s production was exported causing widespread scarcity and lowering of living standards throughout the country. It was alleged that more than 15’000 people died each year as a consequence of the austerity programme.
In November 1989, Ceausescu was re-elected as head of the Communist Party. Shortly afterwards, on 16 December 1989, anti-government riots broke out in Timisora in the west of the country. On the 17 December, the demonstrators marched towards the party headquarters in the town. Ceausescu was then said to have ordered the armed forces to fire upon the crowd. It was reported that more than 4’000 persons were killed in the course of these riots, but subsequently, however, this figure was greatly revised downwards.
The “Timisora Revolution” came to an end on 20 December when the demonstrators gained control of the town and were joined by some army deserters.
On 21 December, in order to demonstrate that he still retained the support of the population, Ceausescu organised a gathering of some 80-100’000 people before the headquarters of the Communist Party in Bucharest, He began a speech which was broadcast live on television. However, from the outset he was booed by the assembled crowd.
Following a last attempt at appeasement, Ceausescu, together with his wife tried to flee on board a helicopter on 22 December. At this point the army then took sides with the people. The couple were captured a few hours later about a hundred kilometres from the capital.