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Europe's first communism memorial, The Sighet Museum, marks 20th anniversary
A visitor walks behind the bronze statues of Romanian former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (L) and his wife Elena Ceausescu (R) inside an exhibition hall of the former communist era prison. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL MIHAILESCU.

SIGHETU MARMATIEL (AFP).- Former dissidents and political prisoners gathered in Romania on Sunday at a museum commemorating those who suffered abuses under communism, set up 20 years ago at the site of a prison where scores died.

The Sighet Memorial Museum in the northern city of Sighetu Marmatiei, housed in a former high-security jail, was created three years after the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed in 1989.

It retraces the nightmare suffered by hundreds of thousands of Europeans who lived behind the Iron Curtain between the end of World War II and the fall of communism.

Harrowing testimonies of arbitrary detentions, torture, forced labour or deportation, gathered by historians, are exhibited in the cells of the former prison.

"In our jail, it was cold, we did not get enough food. They (the communist authorities) managed to exterminate the individuals in a silence as deep as death itself", wrote one Romanian detainee, Cicerone Ionitoiu.

"Here you can hear the voices of the victims," said Romanian poet Ana Blandiana, who founded the memorial museum with her husband Romulus Rusan.

"We chose the Sighet jail because it was a nightmare for democracy in Romania," Rusan told AFP, recalling that more than 200 Romanian politicians, intellectuals, priests and journalists were secretly detained in the prison, of whom 54 died.

More than 600,000 people were sentenced and jailed in Romania between 1945 and 1989 for political reasons, according to the memorial museum.

"For people who lived in Western Europe, it is very important to see what our reality was like in the former Communist bloc," Petruska Sustrova, a former Czech political prisoner, told AFP.

"This memorial is very important, not only because of the past but because the danger of totalitarian regimes has not disappeared," she said.

The Sighet Memorial project also includes a communism research centre and summer schools for students and teachers from the region.

More than one million people have visited the museum since its opening.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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