4 years in labor camps
8 months in the Belene camp
Offence: son of a provincial governor in the Kingdom of Bulgaria
Belene is home to one of the largest catholic communities in Bulgaria. The church is the oldest building in Belene – it was built in 1860. It also serves as a shrine to Monseigneur Eugene Bosilkov, who was killed by the communist authorities in 1952, along with Father Pavel Dzhidzhov, Father Kamen Vichev and Father Josaphat Shishkov.
Two main camp sites existed during all periods of the existence of the camp (1949-1987) – Site I and Site II. Site I is the closest to the bridge between the town of Belene and Persin island. It was used to house the people interned in the camp. Its construction began in July 1949 and initially it consisted of barracks and dug-outs for about 300 people. By 1952, approximately 2,000 people were housed there.
The internees were forced to perform hard manual labor on a daily basis.
This is the location of what was known as Site 3, where a number of ox and cow sheds were built in early 1952. Pigs, sheep and chickens were kept elsewhere around the camp. Livestock farming was considered light work, with a few internees on a lighter regime engaged in it. The majority of internees were engaged in logging, dike construction, and performed other hard manual labor. Because of the scarcity and poor quality of tools, this labor was primitive. Food was insufficient, the working day lasted up to 15-16 hours, and the daily work quota was highly inflated. All this quickly led to the complete exhaustion of the internee.
In 1951, about 2 years after the establishment of the Belene camp, the communist authorities prohibited the transfer of the bodies of the deceased internees to their relatives. Until the end of 1953 deceased internees were buried on Magaretsa island. Predela island was designated as the site of the secret prison cemetery in 1954. The bodies of murdered and deceased internees from the Lovech camp were also buried there. The camp slang, with tragic irony, began to call Predela island “Site Six”.
The story of Belene doesn’t begin and end with the labor camp. The Persina Nature Park is located here, and it is the home of hundreds of birds, among which we find the Dalmatian pelican. Against the backdrop of the setting sun and the pink Danube, the nature park offers a magical view.
The nature park was established as a protected zone in 2000 and includes the Persin Island, all other Bulgarian islands in this part of the Danube, as well as parts of the Svishtov-Belene valley. The park covers 217 km² and is of great importance for protecting the biodiversity along the Danube.
Belene has a centuries-long history. The ancient settlement was likely established around the end of 1st century BC – the beginning of the 1st century AD. From that time there are also records of the existence of a Roman customs house, Dimum. The name probably comes from the Thracian tribe "dimenzi" who inhabited the region.
Between 1951 and 1953, women without trial and sentence and without having committed crimes were forcibly sent to the island. This is the so-called Site IV of the Belene camp. After this period, women were sent to the Persin island, along with the men.
In 1951, about 2 years after the establishment of the "Belene" camp, the communist authorities forbade the bodies of the dead campers to be handed over to their relatives. Until the end of 1953, the dead campers were buried on the island of Magaretsa, and then on the island of Predela.