Former jail keeps raw memory of Communist repression in Romania

1 / 2
2 / 2
Updated 22 July 2013
0

Former jail keeps raw memory of Communist repression in Romania

Sixty years ago, as the Iron Curtain sealed off Eastern Europe, Teodor Stanca was among millions sentenced to jail, death or forced labor for opposing Communist rule.
Today, as survivors of this dark page of history are getting older and fewer, 80-year-old Stanca says he hopes a Romanian jail-turned-museum will remind future generations that “freedom needs eternal vigilance.”
“The Sighet Memorial for the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance,” as the museum is known, is the first of its kind in Europe.
More than one million people have visited the memorial in the northern town of Sighetu Marmatiei, which was founded 20 years ago on the site of one of the most notorious political prisons in Romania.
About 200 politicians, priests and intellectuals were held there in secret between 1950 and 1955, when the Communist terror reached its peak in Romania. Fifty-four of them died.
The former jail “prevents people from forgetting those who sacrificed their lives to defend democracy,” Stanca, a retired engineer, told AFP at an exhibition dedicated to the student movement he led in 1956 to call for more freedom.
The museum includes a research center, a memorial to those who resisted and summer schools where young people meet with former political prisoners and historians from around the world.
“We want to inform foreigners and Romanians themselves about the sufferings endured by people living under totalitarian Communist regimes from the end of the Second World War until 1989,” poet Ana Blandiana, who founded the museum with her husband, told AFP.
Blandiana’s books were banned under Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s last Communist dictator, who was toppled and executed in 1989.
In Sighet, each cell shows a different aspect of the brutal repression of Communist rule, from the massive surveillance by the Securitate secret police to torture. Detailed accounts of forced labor remind visitors that tens of thousands of Romanians had to work like slaves building a canal toward the Black Sea.
“Since 1993, even before the archives were opened, we recorded thousands of hours of testimonies from survivors,” Blandiana said.
The extent of the suffering had largely been hidden.
“There are two different memories in Europe,” said Stephane Courtois, a French historian who edited the bestseller “The Black Book of Communism.”
“In the West, we had a glorious memory of Communism — the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front, anti-fascism, resistance to Nazism. Here it was the exact opposite. People talk only of terror, torture, misery,” he told AFP.
Stalinist purges in the former Soviet Union and Communist repression in Eastern Europe claimed millions of lives in the 20th century, according to historians.
In Romania alone, more than 600,000 people were sentenced and jailed between 1945 and 1989 for political reasons.
Stanca was one of them.
“In the jail, we suffered from hunger, we did not get any medical assistance, we were continuously humiliated,” he said.
He was then sent to a labor camp to erect dikes along the Danube river.
“I think only the pyramids were built with such inhumane physical work,” he added.
But despite the grim conditions, detainees tried to resist.
“We fabricated paper to write poems by mixing dust we scratched from the walls, a bit of soap and water. If we were caught it meant seven days in the ‘black room’,” or punishment cell, he said.
Verses were transmitted using Morse code from one cell to the next.
When he was on the verge of dying, his fellow inmates forced bread into his mouth and saved him, he said.
The museum also dedicates several rooms to repression and resistance movements in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
“In Romania, we discovered that more than 200 revolts of farmers took place against forced collectivization but had remained unknown to the public,” said Blandiana.
“Understanding what took place — the repression we felt for about 50 years — you can understand the hangover from this period of totalitarianism in Romania, and why the country still struggles to establish the rule of law and a solid democracy,” she added.
The task has not been easy in a country where former Communists and informants still hold key positions in public life.
“This memorial is very important, not only because of the past but for the future,” said former Czech political prisoner Petruska Suskova.
“The danger of totalitarian regimes has not disappeared.”


Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

Updated 17 December 2018
0

Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

  • Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered
  • Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview

LONDON: Meghan Markle’s father directly appealed to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on Monday to intercede and end his estrangement from his daughter, the wife of Prince Harry.
Former US actress Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, married Harry, the queen’s grandson and sixth-in-line to the throne, in a glittering ceremony at Windsor Castle in May.
But the immediate build-up to the wedding was overshadowed by her father, Thomas, a former lighting director for US TV soaps and sitcoms, who pulled out days beforehand after undergoing heart surgery.
Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered.
When asked what message he had for Queen Elizabeth, 92, Thomas Markle said: “I would appreciate anything she can do and I would think that she would want to resolve the family problems.”
“All families, royal or otherwise, are the same and they should all be together certainly around the holidays,” Markle added.
Markle said that Meghan, 37, had not sent him a Christmas card but that he was hopeful that they could at some time build their relationship.
“Please reach out to me,” he said of Meghan. “I love my daughter very much and she has to know that... Just send me a text.”
“All I can say is that I’m here she knows it and I’ve reached out to her and I need her to reach back to me. I love her very much,” Markle said. “This can’t continue forever.”
Harry, 34, and Meghan are expecting their first child in the spring of 2019.
“I am certainly hoping that everything goes well and that they produce a beautiful baby and I’ll get to see a little Meghan or a little Harry — that would be very nice and I look forward to that happening,” Markle said.
“I think she’ll make a great Mom.”
Markle dismissed reports that Meghan could at times be rude. She was, he said, very polite as she had been raised on Hollywood stages.
When asked if she was a social climber, her father said: “She’s always been a very controlling person and that’s part of her nature but she has never been rude.”
Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview.