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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 confiscated.

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.

Kinga Széchenyi

Association of Hortobágy Forced Labour Camp Deportees







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