Romania’s neutrality declared at the beginning of World War II was shattered a year later (1940) under the pressure of both Russia and Germany. Menaced by the spectre of disintegration, Romania, joining the Tripartite Pact, entered the war on the side of Hitler’s Germany with the support of the legionary movement.
After four years of war, on the background of a popular movement, Romania joined the United Nations, an action that brought about the collapse of the Germans’ system of defence in the Balkans.
But after ten years from the end of the military conflict, the Soviet tanks were still in the country. With their support, the political forces of the Left falsified the results of the 1946 elections and installed the communist regime in Romania. From this moment on, a fierce warlike prosecution followed directed against all the opponents of the regime (especially against the elite of the society).
In this context, in Romania, several prisons for criminal offenders had been transformed into extermination camps of “the enemies of the people”. In 1950, the prison from Sighet – built in 1897 – was given the sad name of “The Prison of Ministers”. During a single night (5/6 May) more than 100 dignitaries from all over the country had been imprisoned, some of them condemned to heavy punishments, many of these without a trial. In the autumn of the same year, 50 catholic prelates were also imprisoned in the penitentiary situated at two kilometres from the border of the Soviet Union.
Five years later, following Romanian’s joining of the Geneva Convention, some of these political prisoners were released while others were transferred to penitentiaries in different parts of the country. The consequence was dramatic – over 50 prisoners found their end in the prison cells from Sighet: Constatin Argetoianu, former Minister of Justice (1918), Minister of Finance (1920), Minister of the Interior (1931); Constantin I. C. Brătianu, President of the National Liberal Party; Dumitru Burileanu, Governer of the National Bank; Ion Cămărăşescu, former Minister of the Interior (1921-22); Tit-Liviu Chinezu, Greek-catholic bishop; Grigore Dumitrescu, former Governor of the National Bank; Stan Ghiţescu, Vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies, former Minister of Labour; Ion Gruia, former Minister of Justice: Ion Macovei, former Minister of Public Works; Iulia Maniu, one of the most important statesmen from the history of Romania, President of the National-Peasants Party, former Prime Minister etc.
The list of the victims of communism does not end here. Other important personalities of the Romanian and European culture had been condemned to long years of imprisonment in the “Romanian Gulag”: Ion Caraion, sentenced to death for “treason”, the death penalty being commuted for lifelong imprisonment; Paul Goma, writer, Ion Ioanid, sentenced to 20 years of hard labour; Constantin Noica, philosopher and essayist; Nicolae Steinhardt, Doctor of Law, writer: Petre Ţuţea, philosopher a. s. o..
The Civic Academy Foundation considered it necessary that, in the bloodstained cells of the Sighet penitentiary, a silent trial ought to take place, in which the jury (i.e. the visitors) should judge and condemn the deeds of the torturers.
In 1995, the Foundation takes over the derelict building of the former prison and turns it into a painful Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance. The organizers collected photographs, documents, letters, newspapers, books, manuals etc. A great number of workshops, symposia, meetings with the victims of communism have taken place, books with the victims’ testimonies, studies and statistics about the anti-communist resistance and its repression have been published.
In the courtyard of the museum there is a sculpture group (made by Aurel Vlad): “The Procession of the Sacrificed” – eighteen human bodies walking towards a wall that shuts out the horizon.
Each year, under the aegis of the Sighet Memorial, a Summer School is organised for 100 high school students who attend lectures given by professors from the country and abroad. This institution will remain an important landmark in the history of Europe, a landmark we never wanted to have. But the generations that follow ought to learn from the mistakes of the past. History is something we inherit and we cannot rewrite the events. Though we can forgive, we cannot forget.
The History and Archaeology Museum
Close to the Old Centre of Baia Mare, on a typically medieval, narrow street, there is a building which, during the Middle Ages, had been the Imperial Mint. Here, the gold mined from the Baia Mare basin was changed into ingots and coins. This is why the town was allowed to build fortifications, its inhabitants were granted privileges, and the town prospered from economic, social and cultural points of view.
At present, the building is the seat of the History and Archaeology Museum of Maramures County and the exhibits illustrate the evolution of the local history beginning with the 14th century. The section of archaeology brings evidence about the existence of human settlements in the area since the early times of pre-history.
In the absence of a systematically elaborated, monographic and objective History of Maramures, referring to all the stages of its development, this institution is the only “open book” which reconstitutes (evidently, only fragmentarily) – through palpable material evidences – the dynamic image of bygone times.
The proof of the existence of tumular necropoles allows the extension of one’s vision of the way of life and beliefs of an ancient population. The collection of medieval weapons (the broadsword of the town, thin swords, and chain-mail shirts) tell about medieval knights, heroes and covered by glory armies who battled for ideals and interests. The guild seals (of the silversmiths, goldsmiths, tailors and butchers) reconstitute the economic life and the fascinating treasures allow also the finding of the roads travelled by merchants.
In the precincts of the museum there is a Library of old books with patrimonial value – testimonies of an effervescent cultural life in the previous period. There are also photographs, correspondence, and documents which had belonged to personalities of the local culture (Ion Şugariu, George Pop de Băseşti), facilitating a sentimental contact with the work of these illustrious forerunners.
The management of the institution has launched different programmes and cultural projects with an interactive character in order to educate through the museum (e.g. “The live museum”), and to enhance the interest of the community for the knowledge of history. A series of temporary exhibitions were dedicated to multicultural regionalism or to objectives of universal patrimony (e.g. “The cultural heritage of Maramures under the aegis of the UNESCO”).
Besides these, the museum organises campaigns of archaeological researches in different parts of the county, some of the sites presenting an interest that passes over the country’s borders (such as the tumular necropolis from Lăpuş).
Along the years, the members of the staff have contributed with studies and scientific papers to the periodical “Marmatia” edited by the History Museum.
In order to configure the component elements of the culture of tomorrow it is necessary to identify the tendencies of nowadays culture, which often are pursuing the trajectories traced centuries (or even millennia) ago. Both museums and libraries are institutions of yesterday’s culture, the preservers of the sacred springs from which the culture of tomorrow will take its energy.