S U M M A R Y
For more than half a century the famous Hortobágy
„Puszta” (prairie) had been guarding a well-kept secret
of en inhuman period of our history, the Hungarian Gulag,
the Stalinist Siberia of our country.
In the first half of the 1950ies Hortobágy
Puszta was the scene of the tragic fate of several thousand
deported Hungarian families. From 1950 to 1953 about
the thousand people were deported to the Puszta, families
in the thousands were in captivity in twelve labour
camps. For a long time even the still living victims
and witnesses did not dare to speak about the facts
and the documents of the restricted, inaccessible archives
were locked even for historians until 1995, five years
after the political changes.
In 1990 at least a thousand former Hortobágy
deportees gathered to celebrate the erection of their
first memorial the Hortobágy Cross at the famous
nine-arched bridge. This cross is made of rails to commemorate
the deportees, who after being driven out of their homes,
were transported in cattle cars to the fenced labour
camps. Since the time the Hortobágy Cross has
become a place of pilgrimage. The communist system covered
up most of the traces of the secret labour camps and
yet memorials and memorial tablets are set up one after
the other at the site of the different labour camps
for history and posterity. These memorials are shown
in our publication.
At the beginning of the 1950ies, when in Western
Europe the war was already forgotten, and peaceful rebuilding
was pursued, in the last years of Stalin, the Soviet
dictator, terror reached its highest level. There is
now extensive literature dealing with this period, however,
only in 2001 and 2002 the first two volumes of Outcasts,
based on the most recent research on Hortobágy
labour camps, were published.
A map shows the sites of the labour camps, and the
date when they were established. The number of people
refers to the year 1953, the time when the deportees
were released, we have to add to this number the estimated
number of those who died and that of the earlier released
children. This way the total number might be as high
as 10 thousand.
Anybody could have been on the deportee list, it
was enough to have a big, well-equipped farmhouse, or
a nice spacious apartment in the city or to have an
influential enemy. However, the purpose of the deportation
was clear: first of all to liquidate the urban and agricultural
middle class ant to terrify the whole society. This,
up to this day concealed and in our country unprecedented
deportation has no adequate term to define what really
happened. In the fifties the authorities used deportation
as code-name, and the deportees were called settlers.
The first wave of the State Security Authorities’
well-coordinated, secret action swept through the village
of the southern frontier line. More than two thousand
people were rounded up on 23rd June 1950, and the seven
first labour camps were set up. Then in 1952 the last
two camps were populated by people rounded up in some
provincial towns like Nagykanizsa, Miskolc, Szeged.
Armed groups of police and State Security raided
the families without any previous notice, after giving
the families half an hour to pack some of their belongings,
all of them, small children, old people and the sick
were taken away. In half an hour’s time they lost their
properties, belongings, their houses or apartments were
After their arrival in the Puszta they were crowded
into sheep-folds in groups of one or ever two hundred,
where they were forced to work long hours under terrible
conditions. Their documents were confiscated, and they
were forbidden to have contact with the outside world.
Medical treatment was almost out of reach, they were
taken to hospital only in case of severe emergency.
The decree the deportees got from the authorities
did not even mention the time period of the deportation,
they had no hope to get their freedom back.
After Stalin’s death the political system gradually
let up. In July a law was enacted to dissolve the forced
labour camps. From August to the end of October the
deportees were released in small groups, but the majority
was still expelled form their village or towns. They
did not get their properties back, this way it was very
hard to start a new life. Their past record and the
police or security observation documents followed their
steps until 1990. Young people had trouble to get college
or university admission.
The elderly and the parents’ generation could not
live to see the collapse of communism. We have erected
the Hortobágy monuments to commemorate our grandparents
and parents and so that future generations should be
able to learn from history.
Budapest, 23 June 2010.
Association of Hortobágy Forced Labour Camp