Sighetu Marmației – the communist era memorial

One who doesn’t know history is doomed to repeat it” Goethe said. Many bad things happened in Romania’s history. Many have tried to silence their adversaries and their ideas. People can be killed, but their ideas will survive.

In the city of Sighetu Marmației we made a special stop to visit The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance. It’s a place where you enter as a curious man and you come out deeply shaken by what you find. It was, for many years, the place where communists tried to silence their political adversaries by making use of cruel means such as starvation, daily derision, unsanitary spaces, lack of light or lack of heat.
Seeing all the walls covered with the faces of the ones who suffered here is shocking. These people suffered not only here in Sighet but in dozens of other communist political prisons. Some of them couldn’t take the humiliation and the bad conditions and died. Others lived but were deeply marked by how they were treated here.

One of the well known prisoners here in Sighet prison was Iuliu Maniu, the artisan of the unification between Transylvania and Romania. He died here on a extreme cold weather on February 5th 1953. Like others who died here, the death of this great politician, former Romanian Prime Minister, former president of the National Peasants Party and the National Romanian Party in Transylvania, was due to the cold, hunger. He died at 80 years old, isolated, badly ill with no one to assist him.

the cell where Iuliu Maniu died
the cell where Iuliu Maniu died

The stories of those who got out of this prison are astonishing and show the inhumanity of the guards that followed the direct orders of their superiors, who in turn followed orders from the country’s communist leaders. They “took care” so that the food contained as few calories as possible so that the prisoners were always apathetic and unwilling to fight. They were almost always kept in isolation.

Political prisoners started arriving in Sighet in the beginning of 1950 when a group of 100 officials from all over Romania were imprisoned here. We’re talking about ministers, academicians, military, economists, political leaders, historians, journalists. Some were given long sentences, some were not even brought to trial. The objective was to eliminate the country’s elite because it had the capacity of influencing the population against the communist regime.

In 1993 Ana Blandiana, a Romanian writer, presented to the European Council a project that proposed converting the prison in Sighetu Marmației into The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and the Resistance. The project was approved in 1994 and was declared a national interest objective. In 1998 it was nominated by the European Council among the three places in Europe where people suffered enormously. The other two places are Auschwitz and the Peace Memorial in Normandia.

In 1995 restoration work began and they were finalised in 2000 after extensive works which included the main building structure and the foundation. It was then open to the public and we have the privilege of walking there as tourists, as free thinking people and we owe our freedom to those who suffered before us. We urge you to visit this place and maybe you’ll better appreciate your freedom, your freedom of speech, of opinion and democracy as a whole.



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