She was Romania’s Marie Curie, and she called herself a brilliant scientist, but Elena Ceausescu was a poorly educated peasant who had enough power to fake her academic credentials. She had this power because she was married to Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Elena didn’t graduate high school but managed to obtain her doctorate in chemistry, her thesis was on “the Stereospecific Polymerization of Isoprene on the Stabilization of Synthetic Rubbers and Copolymerization.” People snickered (privately for fear of being arrested) that she could not even pronounce the title.
But it didn’t matter, she added a long list of titles and honors to her resume, that included being president of the National Council for Science and Technology. Elena thought that she could change her image by adding titles after her name.
As she added more titles, she gained more power, until she was her husband’s second in command. She traveled abroad, demanding more honorary titles from prestigious universities. Some countries did not oblige, such as the United States, while some accepted, like Iran.
Eleven years later, in 1989, Elena was on trial after her husband’s regime was overthrown. The couple were charged with grave crimes against the Romanian people, which they refused to acknowledge. They dismissed allegations that they lived in luxury while their people starved, or that they committed genocide. It seemed that none of these accusations mattered to them.
What finally caught their attention? Allegations against Elena’s academic fraud.
When the prosecutor asked her who wrote her papers for her, Elena snapped, “Such impudence! I am a member and chairwoman of the Academy of Sciences. You cannot talk to me in such a way.”
After the trial ended, Elena and her husband were taken outside, and were shot.