Our Brestanica Branch hosts yet another permanent exhibition: Penal institutions in Rajhenburg castle, 1948–1966, dedicated to a part of the castle’s history.
After the end of the Second World War, in 1945, forced labour camps, officially called penal camps were established. The authorities with judicial, legislative and executive power, headed by the Communist Party, sent to them political opponents and people charged with various political offences. The secret police (OZNA, divided in 1946 into civilian (UDBA) and military (KOS) departments), normally convicted those accused without a trial or the possibility of defence. Penal camps, renamed in January 1946 Institutions for Forced Labour, ceased functioning in October 1946 but the category of penal forced labour for convicts was not abolished; under the new arrangement, the sentence was served in Penal Correction Homes (PCH). These were in Ljubljana, Maribor, Novo mesto and Begunje na Gorenskem; the last being replaced in June 1948 by a PCH in Rajhenburg Castle.
Preparatory work for opening the PCH for women in Rajhenburg Castle began in May 1948. The castle was adapted for the reception of convicts and, at the same time, they began to construct a building for staff in its immediate vicinity. The capacity of the institution was 600 persons.
The PCH in Rajhenburg was organised for the purpose of transferring to it prisoners from PCH Begunje, which had already been operating since 1 June 1946. Women, including young persons, who had been sentenced to strict imprisonment or imprisonment for more than six months served their sentence in Begunje. At the end of 1947, 49 convicted persons were imprisoned in Begunje.
A train brought the prisoners from Begunje to Rajhenburg at three in the morning of 30 June 1948. They had to walk from the station to the castle with a police escort, where they were allocated to pre-determined rooms. Political prisoners, those convicted of crimes against the people and authority, against general people's assets or cooperative property, or had been convicted of hostile propaganda, denunciation, spying or flight across the border with elements of hostile activity, were imprisoned in Rajhenburg. Three quarters were political prisoners and one quarter criminals convicted of various crimes. Due to the excessive number of prisoners, who came from all over Slovenia, hygiene and health conditions at the start were very bad. Because of the shortage of beds, two inmates slept in one bed, some even on straw mattresses laid on the floor. Similarly, they lacked blankets, towels, underwear and handkerchiefs, and they didn't have footwear at all. In 1948, there were 1,081 prisoners in PCH Rajhenburg, of which 756 were political and 325 criminals. At the end of the year, there were still only 705; some had been released after serving their sentence and others conditionally released, amnestied or transferred.
The basic aim of work with prisoners was re-education, mainly through work. So prisoners in PCH Rajhenburg performed various jobs in workshops, in the institution itself and on the estate. They worked in the workshops of the state industrial company »Pletilka«, where they sewed men's trousers, shirts, textile cushions etc. In the »house sewing room« they made clothes and underwear for the needs of the institution, as well as for the guards, and they often patched old clothes and bags. In the craft workshops they made lace, tablecloths and carpets and wove baskets from willow wands, rushes and corn leaves, they sewed slippers and made egg cartons. In the institution itself, the inmates worked in the kitchen, baked bread, worked in the laundry and were also »trusties« - on duty for performing various tasks. The inmates performed all sorts of farm work on the estate. In addition to women from farms, prisoners who had to perform heavy physical work while serving sentence were sent to do this work. They cultivated the fields and gardens and produced food, reared livestock and were also involved in dairying, fruit growing and distilling spirits.
Many prisoners from PCH Rajhenburg were sent to work on building the »Brotherhood and Unity« motorway; they worked in various labour camps in Croatia set up along the course of the construction route.
The majority of court processes against political prisoners – if not all – were staged. So in 1952 and 1953 almost all convicts succeeded with applications for pardon. The majority were later rehabilitated and their false conviction recognised. Many well-known Slovenes were imprisoned in Rajhenburg, including Ljuba Prenner and Angela Vode.
After the release of the majority of political prisoners, women convicted of various crimes, including murder and infanticide remained in the institution. In April 1956 there were still only 230 convicts in PCH Brestanica; in July 1956 they were transferred to PCH Ig by Ljubljana, and the women's PCH in Brestanica was closed.
Already on 4 September 1956, a new PCH was opened in Brestanica, this time an open type for men. In the first such open institution in Slovenia, there was space for 50 convicts. They lived in the guards' building and not in the castle as the women convicts had done before them. On 13 January 1959, PCH Brestanica was closed as an independent institution and instead of it, the labour settlement PCH Dob with an open regime was organised. The business unit PCH Brestanica »Bohor Business Management« was also transferred in entirety under PCH Dob. There were around 40 prisoners, mostly serving sentences of several years for crimes and economic offences. On the estate, they fattened cattle up to 400 kg weight. All work in the fields was devoted to the production of feed for fattening around 400 head of cattle. They continued business intensively right up to 15 July 1963, when PCH Brestanica was abolished and the estate, together with the livestock, was taken over by Brestanica Agricultural Cooperative.
A camp for Hungarian refugees who had fled from Hungary after the rising of October 1956 was organised in the castle. PCH inmates also participated in arranging the castle for refugees. The camp for Hungarian refugees operated until 1 November 1957.
After the camp for Hungarian refugees was closed, at the end of 1957 Brestanica Reception Centre was founded as a base for the reception of those who had been caught trying to cross the western borders illegally.
Its tasks included reception of individuals, their interrogation and also proposals for punishment for the areas of the districts of Maribor, Kranj, Škofja Loka and Nova Gorica.
A year later, a Federal Collection Centre of the Ministry of Internal Affairs FLRJ (Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia) for the reception of escapees from other republics of FLRJ was also established in the castle. The federal and republican centres operated separately, each in its own territorial region. With the possibility of legal business and tourist exits from the state in the mid-1960s the institutions became redundant and ceased operating.
In the middle of 1966, the Municipality of Krško handed the castle over to be managed by Brestanica Tourist Society, who began to adapt the castle into a museum.