Elisabeta was born into a family of peasants (Șuța) in a village in Southern Romania – Domnești, Argeș county. She got married at 19 years old and took the last name of her husband, Gheorghe Rizea.
She was set on track for an ordinary country life, but little did she know that the end of World War II would mean the beginning of her own war with the communist authorities, imposed by the Soviet army during that time. Her uncle, a local leader of the National Peasants’ Party, was killed by the secret police, which led her husband to join an anti-communist guerilla group, led by Colonel Gheorghe Arsenescu. Thus, Elisabeta became an informant and supplies provider for the group.
In the summer of 1949, Arsenescu’s group was ambushed and, during their escape, two officers were killed, which led to an extensive investigation and search. Elisabeta Rizea was exposed by a fellow villager and sent to prison. She remained imprisoned for 18 months before she was put to trial and sentenced to seven years. Throughout this whole period of time she was beaten frequently until fainting, hung by her hair, scalped, burnt and ended up with broken ribs, broken knees and completely bald, yet she never betrayed any of the anti-communist fighters hidden in the mountains and continued to offer them food and information after her liberation. In 1961, when the leader of the group, Arsenescu, was arrested, Elisabeta Rizea was arrested again and sentenced to 25 years in prison, being declared “enemy of the people”, but she was freed after only three years because of a general amnesty adopted in 1964. She lived the rest of her life in anonymity in the home village of her husband, Nucșoara, and died of viral pneumonia in 2003.
Her bravery and loyalty to her peers and her own convictions only came to light after 1989, when the communist regime was finally abolished in Romania. In an interview she gave some time after the Revolution she stated that “the Communists took everything from us […] Still, what they could not take were our souls.”
Elisabeta Rizea is a remarkable example of how the values of freedom, dignity and democracy may be promoted by people of the humblest origins.