Balkan Insight: Bones of 54 Political Prisoners Found in Romania’s Gulag

15 Sep

Marcel Gascón Barberá


September 15, 202011:57

Archaeologists unearthed the bones of the communist-era political prisoners at the former Periprava labour camp in eastern Romania, where scores of dissidents died of hunger, cold and exhaustion.

A Romanian fisherman in Periprava in 2004. Archive photo: EPA/MIHAI VASILE

An archaeological excavation conducted by the Association of Former Political Detainees of Romania, AFDPR, has found the remains of 54 dissidents who died in the infamous Periprava forced labour camp between 1959 and 1964.

The area where the unmarked graves were found was established using “information obtained from elderly locals from the village and from some former employees of the labour camp”, the AFDPR said in a statement on MOnday.

“The deaths at this forced labour camp were caused by hunger and cold, by the lack of drinking water and medical care as well as by accidents due to the exhausting working conditions and the detention regime that many of them were subjected to in the camps and prisons that they were previously in,” the statement added.

Some of the detainees were shot dead, mostly when trying to run away from the camp, according to the AFDPR.

Researchers have established that at least 124 detainees died at the Periprava labour camp, which was situated in the mouth of the Danube where it reaches the Black Sea.

Periprava was one of the camps constituting what became known as the Romanian Gulag.

The Periprava camp functioned under the first Romanian communist dictator Gheorghe Gherogiu-Dej, who ruled Romania from 1947 until his death in 1965.

His rule was characterised by Stalinist repression of ‘class enemies’ and ‘undesirable elements’, and the suppression of any form of dissidence.

Thousands of Romanians were imprisoned or sent to forced labour camps such as the one in Periprava.

Ion Ficior (centre), former commander of the communist penitentiary labour colony at Periprava, arriving at the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest in October 2013. Archive photo: EPA/STR.

In 2016, Romania sentenced the former commander of the Periprava labor camp Ion Ficior to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity. Ficior died in 2018 at the age of 90, after serving two years of his sentence.

“We were forced to cut reed, sometimes covered in water to the waist, together with the water rats and the leeches, and under an unforgiving sun,” one witness told Ficior’s trial.

“We were full of pus-filled wounds from that Periprava sand,” recalled the man, who also recounted how prisoners had to drink water from the Danube in order not to die of thirst.


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