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Permanent exhibition

Penal Institutions at Rajhenburg Castle, 1948-1966

Penal Institutions at Rajhenburg Castle, 1948-1966

After the end of the Second World War, in 1945, forced labour camps, or penal camps as they were officially called, were established in Slovenia. The authorities, headed by the Communist Party, used them to incarcerate political opponents and people charged with various criminal political offences. The secret police (OZNA, which in 1946 split into civilian (UDBA) and military (KOS) departments) typically convicted the accused without trial or possibility of defence. Penal camps, which were renamed in January 1946 to Institutions for Forced Labour, ceased operation in October 1946. This did not, however, abolish the category of penal forced labour for convicts; thereafter, sentences were served in Penal Correction Homes (PCH in Ljubljana, Maribor, Novo mesto, and Begunje na Gorenjskem; in June 1948, the latter was replaced by a PCH at Rajhenburg Castle.

Preparatory work for opening the PCH for women at Rajhenburg Castle began in May 1948. The castle was adapted for housing convicts, while an additional building was built in its immediate vicinity to house the staff. The capacity of the institution was around 600 persons.

The PCH in Rajhenburg was established to enable the transfer of prisoners from PCH Begunje, which had been operating since 1 June 1946. The penitentiary of Begunje held women, including underage girls, who had been sentenced to strict imprisonment or imprisonment lasting longer than six months. By the end of 1947, 449 there were women convicts imprisoned in Begunje.

The prisoners were brought from Begunje to Rajhenburg by train at three in the morning on the 30 June 1948. Escorted by the police, they had to walk from the station to the castle, where they were allocated pre-determined rooms. They included political prisoners, those accused of crimes against the people and authority, transgressions against general people’s possessions or collective property, charged with hostile propaganda, informing, spying or fleeing across the border with elements of hostile activity. They were three quarters political prisoners and one quarter criminals charged with various crimes. The overflow of prisoners, hailing from across Slovenia, initially resulted in extremely poor hygiene and health conditions. Due to bed shortage, two inmates slept per one bed, and some were even relegated to straw mattresses on the floor. Blankets, towels, underwear, and handkerchiefs were in a similarly poor supply, and there was no footwear available at all. In 1948, there were 1,081 prisoners in PCH Rajhenburg of which 756 were political and 325 criminal transgressors. At the end of the year, there were only 705; some had been released having served their sentence in full while others were conditionally released, reprieved or transferred.

The main aim was to prisoner re/education, mainly through work. Therefore, prisoners in PCH Rajhenburg performed various jobs in workshops, at the institution itself, and on the estate. They laboured in the workshops of ‘Pletilka’, a state industrial company, where they sewed men’s trousers, shirts, textile cushions etc. In the ‘house sewing room’ they made clothes and underwear for the institution and the guards; they often patched old clothes and sacks. In the craft workshops, they knitted lace, tablecloths, and rugs; they wove baskets using willow wands, rushes and corn leaves; they sewed slippers and made egg cartons. Within the institution itself, the inmates worked in the kitchen, baked bread, worked in the laundry room and also served in the capacity of ‘orderlies’ on call, charged with performing various tasks. Inmates did all sorts of farm work on the estate. In addition to women farmers, this type of labour was also relegated to prisoners required to serve their sentence performing hard physical work. They cultivated fields and gardens, produced food, reared livestock, and also took part in dairy farming, fruit growing and distilling spirits.

Many prisoners from PCH Rajhenburg were sent to work on the »Brotherhood and Unity« motorway; they worked in various labour camps in Croatia set up along the course of the construction sites.

Most, if not all legal proceedings against political prisoners were staged. This is why in 1952 and 1953 almost all convicts’ petitions for pardon were granted. The majority was later rehabilitated and their false accusations acknowledged. Many well-known Slovene women were imprisoned at Rajhenburg, among them Ljuba Prenner and Angela Vode.

Most political prisoners were released, leaving women, who were charged of various crimes, including murder and infanticide. In April 1956, there were only 230 convicts left in PCH Brestanica; in July 1956, these were transferred to PCH Ig pri Ljubljani, and the women’s PCH in Brestanica was abolished.

As early as 4 September 1956, a new PCH opened in Brestanica, this time an open prison for men. This Slovenia’s first open-type institution was capable of accommodating up to 50 convicts. They were settled in the guard building and not in the castle as the women convicts had been before. On 13 January 1959, PCH Brestanica ceased operations as an independent institution and was replaced by PCH Dob, an open-type labour settlement. The economic unit PCH Brestanica »Ekonomija Bohor« [the Bohor Estate] was also integrated in its entirety with PCH Dob. There were around 40 prisoners, mostly serving several years for crimes and economic offences. At the estate, fattened cattle weighing up to 400 kg was reared. All farming was dedicated to growing feed to fatten around 400 heads of cattle. They farmed intensively right up until 15 July 1963, at which time PCH Brestanica was abolished and the estate, along with the livestock, was taken over by the Brestanica Agricultural Cooperative.

On 11 march 1957, a camp for Hungarian refugees, who had fled their country after the rising of October 1956, was established at the castle. PCH inmates also participated in preparing the castle for refugees. The Camp for Hungarian refugees operated until 1 November 1957.

At the end of 1957, after the camp for Hungarian refugees was closed, Brestanica Reception Centre was founded to serve as the base for the reception of those caught trying to cross the western borders illegally.

The centre’s tasks included receiving individuals, interrogating them and recommending punishments in the districts of Maribor, Kranj, Škofja Loka and Nova Gorica.

The following year, the Federal Collection Centre of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the FLRJ (Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia) for the reception of escapees from other FLRJ republics was also established at the castle. The federal and republic’s centres operated separately, each covering its own territorial region. With the legalisation of business and tourist departures from the state in the mid-1960s, the two institutions became redundant and ceased operations.

In mid 1966, the Municipality of Krško entrusted the management of the castle to the Brestanica Tourist Society, which began transforming the castle into a museum.

Author of the exhibition: Irena Fürst

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