January 26, 2016

2246 ROMANIA (Maramureș) - Sighet Prison

Sighetu Marmaţiei (Hungarian: Máramarossziget), until 1964 just Sighet, is a city located in north-western Romania, along the Tisa river, on the border with Ukraine. In 1897 the Austro-Hungarian authorities (at that time the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) built here a prison, on the occasion of the "First Magyar Millennium". It was a prison for common criminals, but during the WWI was used also for the incarceration of political prisoners.

After 1918, when Transylvania (including Maramureş County) united with Romania, it functioned as a prison for common criminals, and after 1945, the repatriation of former prisoners and deported persons from the Soviet Union was done through Sighet. Between 1948 and 1950 (the communist regime was already set) it became a place of imprisonment for pupils, students, and peasants from Maramureş, members of the anticommunist resistance in Maramureş.

On 5 and 6 May 1950 over one hundred dignitaries from the whole country were brought to the Sighet Prison (former ministers - even prime ministers, academics, economists, military officers, historians, journalists, politicians), some of them convicted to heavy punishments, others not even judged. The majority were more than 60 years old. In October-November 1950, 45-50 bishops and Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic priests were transported to Sighet.

The penitenciary was considered a "special work unit", but in reality was a place of extermination for the country’s elites and at the same time a safe place, not possible to escape from, the frontier of the Soviet Union being less than two kilometres away. The prisoners were kept in unwholesome conditions, miserably fed, and stopped from lying down during the day on the beds in the unheated cells. Humility and ridicule were part of the extermination programme.

In 1955, following the admission of communist Romania (RPR) to the UN, some of the political prisoners were set free and some transferred to other places, while others were kept under house arrest at Sighet, out of around 200 prisoners, 52 had died. The prison became again an ordinary law one. However, political prisoners continued to appear in the following years, and many were kept secretly in the local psychiatric hospital. In 1977, the prison was closed.

The Civic Academy Foundation took the ruin of the former prison in 1993 and transformed it into a museum dedicated to what happened under communism in Romania and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Together with International Centre for Studies into Communism (founded in 1993 by Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan), forms The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance. The cells have been transformed into museum rooms, each with its own theme.

"The greatest victory of communism, a victory dramatically revealed only after 1989, was to create people without a memory - a brainwashed new man unable to remember what he was, what he had, or what he did before communism. The creation of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance is a means of counteracting this victory, a means to resuscitate the collective memory. [...] To the question, Can memory be relearned? the answer of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance in Romania is a resounding Yes.”(Ana Blandiana)

Sighet Prison - Wikipedia
The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance - Official website

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