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Census of the prison camp population in Romania, 1945-1989

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During its years of existence, the Sighet Memorial Centre of Studies, which is in the process of preparing a database, has managed to assemble a considerable number of documents, be it from former political detainees and deportees, be it from the archives of the Ministry of Justice.

Given their official character, the most important of these documents are the penal registration files of those who passed through the prisons and labour camps. Although they are just 93,000 in number (having been salvaged from a far greater number, which have disappeared or been destroyed), they constitute a sample of great scientific value, sufficient to establish numerous data characteristic of the Romanian prison camp system during the period 1945-1989.

For this reason, we have set up a historical/sociological/statistical project which we have named “Census of the prison camp population in Romania, 1945-1989”. Besides its importance in the continuing evolution of the museum, this research project will ultimately result in an academic study and a book.

In collaboration with statisticians and computer programmers, we have established a methodology that allows the extraction of all the following data from the tens of thousands of files: average age of prisoners; criminal charges (article of the penal code); average sentence in years (for the entire cross-section); average sentences over different periods (the 1950s, 1960s etc.); the education, profession, religious confession and sex of prisoners (in percentages); and many other similar characteristics.

After concluding the statistical study, we shall have an exact image of the internal structure of the prison camp system. We shall know the numerical capacity of the prisons at any given moment, the movement of prisoners from one prison to another, and the increases and decreases in the waves of arrests from one period to another.

Even if the number of files with which we are working is far fewer than the two million at which the total number of victims in the Romanian gulag has been estimated (detainees, administrative interments, deportees, house arrest, prisoners, political internees in psychiatric asylums, or people who, quite simply, were subject to interrogation), it is possible for us to appreciate that the cross-section available to us (c. five per cent) is representative. This cross-section will, through just proportionality, provide us with an accurate picture of what was the communist repression.

For the time being, we publish a number of preliminary results of this research in progress.

At the same time, through the publication of a number of penal registration files, we wish to give an idea of the mixture of cynicism and meticulousness that characterised the carceral bureaucracy.


Harta Gulagului românesc

Group penal registration files:

Penal registration files: