Tiszalók: The Second and Third Act
by Henry A. Fischer
(For those readers who first heard the story of Tiszalók in the first posting on this site we now offer what we believe is the last act of the sufferings and destruction of the Danube Swabian communities following the Second World War.
In this Second Act we present a summary of the information provided in the 1994 edition of the Hauskalendar of the Ungarn Deustche. The term “Germans of Hungary” is used because ethnic German populations in Hungary other than the Danube Swabians were also involved in this injustice perpetrated against all of them.)
Tiszalók: Act Two
The ethnic Germans of Hungary who were interned at Tiszalók were made up of two groups of men; those who volunteered to join the SS and German Wehrmacht on the basis of the Accord signed by the Royal Hungarian Government and the Third Reich which took place February 24, 1942 and May 22, 1943 and the vast majority of them who were forcibly conscripted into the Waffen-SS in April 14, 1944 to serve for the duration of the war in the Reich forces through a special accord signed by the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Nicolas Horthy. This conscription involved those seventeen years of age and older and was compulsory throughout Hungary.
Following their registration and mustering the first men were called up to report for duty in early July. These men recruited in 1944 by and large remained in Hungary for a few weeks of training, were poorly armed and equipped and sent to the front with many of them serving in the defence of Budapest which was totally surrounded by the Red Army. Casualty rates were inordinately high among them on the Eastern Front in the last months of the war and those who survived were subjected to long foot marches into captivity.
They suffered from hunger and cold in the lumber camps in the forests of Karilaa, the mines of Siberia, in the forests and swamps of the Caucasus, the coal mines of the Donets Basin, the reconstruction of Stalingrad or slave labour in Kazakhstan. At times these men were “counted” as Germans and at other times as Hungarians. While other prisoners of war received parcels from home, they received none and did not know where their families were or what had happened to them. They also received no mail.
In 1948 the vast majority of the Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia were released. The ethnic Germans among them were made to remain behind. As the German prisoners of war were being returned in 1949 some of the ethnic Germans from Hungary were sent to special camps where Hungarian officers, police and others unfriendly to the new regime in power in Hungary were imprisoned. The trainloads of German prisoners of war returning home to Germany were searched on their arrival in Frankfurt-on-Oder for any ethnic Germans from Hungary who might have been among them and they were sent back to Russia to this Hungarian prisoner of war camp.
In December 1950 all of the inmates were placed in the custody of Hungarian government officials by the Russians and sent to Hungary. Instead of sending them to their families they were interned with political undesirables and were forbidden to have any contact with the outside world. From February to March 1951, over 1,200 of them were sent to Tiszalók to construct a dam on the Tisza River for a hydro project and provide irrigation for the Hartobagy puszta.
In quickly erected barracks of tarpaper they were put to hard labour with very little in the way of provisions or heat. About 400 of them were transferred to Kazinzbarcika to work with 500 Hungarian prisoners in the construction of a chemical works. The men were subjected to long interrogations and hearings for which they were forced to stand and were beaten and tortured. It was all part of their workday. Things were even worse for those punished for minor infractions of camp rules who were placed in the notorious “dungeon.”
Families, most of which had been expelled to Germany, were informed of their return to Hungary and they looked forward to a reunion at Christmas. When nothing happened the families began a letter writing campaign to all official agencies dealing with prisoners of war. Dr. Ludwig Leber a member of parliament from Württemberg appealed to the government in Stuttgart, the Bonn government, the US High Commissioner and the International Red Cross in Geneva for their assistance and help. Dr. Konrad Adenauer would also become supportive of Dr. Leber’s efforts.
On March 7, 1952 word was received that 43 of the men had been released and sent to Bishopswerde in what was now known as East Germany, the DDR. Lutheran World Relief workers learned about the secret camp at Tiszalók and Kazincbarcika and the slave labour of the inmates from these men. Their release of this information was the first public acknowledgment of their situation. The President of the DDR said the men in question were war criminals and the Hungarian Prime Minister Rakosi kept quiet.
With the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953 new hope emerged. The release of another 240 men to rejoin their families in the DDR in mid June 1953 encouraged even more hope for the others. The new Hungarian Prime Minister Nagy set a new course and sought to close the internment camp.
Dr. Leber spoke to Nagy personally by telephone in response to a mother’s urging in August 1953 and plans were made for action by the end of October 1953.
The prisoners knew nothing of what was transpiring. In August all of the remaining men were assembled back in Tiszalók. On Sunday, October 4, 1953 the new camp commander ordered an assembly of all of the camp inmates and informed them that their labour would be increased. The prisoners however demanded to know when they would be released. During that afternoon all of those who had dared to ask questions were taken out of the camp and imprisoned elsewhere. In response to that the other prisoners gathered in the camp courtyard and chanted louder and louder for the release of their friends and threatened to go on a work and hunger strike. Night began to fall but the prisoners continued with their chanting even though the camp was now totally surrounded by armoured vehicles. The prisoners were sprayed with fire hoses. A police officer shot his pistol in the air and brought more troops inside of the camp that began firing into the crowd of prisoners. Five men were killed and an unknown number of others were wounded.
Two weeks later the first transport of prisoners to be released was assembled. Between October 23rd and December 4th, 1953 six transports with around 1,000 ethnic Germans from Hungary passed through the transit camp at Pidding in Bavaria into the Federal Republic of Germany. John and Henry Heiczerder of Ecsény in Somogy County were in the last transport.
Tiszalók: Act Three
In this Third Act we provide a summary and translation of an article entitled: Dokumentation Eines Leidensweg 1951-1953 by unknown author.
Following the Second World War those ethnic Germans from Hungary still in the hands of the Soviet military had to pay the political debts of Germany’s National Socialism. This was done through brutal reprisals, internment in camps, deportation to forced labour in the Soviet Union or construction work in the interior of Russia and suffered the loss of their citizenship and lived “outside of the law,” and in ineligible for all due process. Old nationalist scores would be settled in the name of ideological correctness.
What follows deals with the sufferings of ethnic Germans from Hungary, prisoners of war in Russia and later in Hungary from 1951-1953; while for some it would last until 1955.
During the Second World War, Hungary was an ally of the Third Reich. The Hungarian government and a majority of the population were opposed to the provisions of the Treaty of Trianon in 1919 and its dismemberment of “Greater Hungary” into the various successor states. The First Vienna Accords between the Third Reich and Hungary in 1938 resulted in the return of the areas of Slovakia heavily populated by Magyars, as well as the Carpatho-Ukraine and northern Transylvania. In April 1941 Hungary also absorbed the central and northern Batschka of former Yugoslavia. As a result of this annexation of territory the Hungarian Army participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union and the campaign that followed.
The various ethnic German groups in Hungary were solicited and recruited to serve in the German Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS. The pact between Hungary and Germany allowed for the voluntary recruitment of the ethnic Germans in Hungary from 1942 to 1944. After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 all ethnic German men living in Hungary were called up to serve in German military units. They would become the scapegoats behind the expulsion of the ethnic German populations of Hungary after December 22,1945.
A portion of the ethnic German population fled from Hungary in 1944 as a result of the Red Army advance across its borders. Those who remained had to endure various forms of reprisals. From 1946-1948 a large portion of the ethnic Germans were expelled. Those who remained had their property confiscated and were oppressed at every turn. They were forbidden to speak German and the younger generation was encouraged to assimilate as a means of survival.
The ethnic Germans of Hungary who had served in the German military were assigned to reparations work as prisoners of war in the Soviet Union despite the Geneva Conventions. When all of the Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia were released in 1948 the ethnic Germans from Hungary were considered to simply be Germans and were not released with them. In 1949 when the ethnic German prisoners of war were released they were told that they were Hungarians because they had been born in Hungry and as a result they were held back again. After five years of Russian captivity the ethnic Germans from Hungary were taken out of the camps in 1950 and assembled at a transit camp in Kiew: Voronezh. In December 1950 they were transported by cattle-car to the Soviet/Hungarian border and handed over to the Hungarian State Security forces. These 1,500 ethnic German prisoners of war were transported to Budapest where they were incarcerated in a secret police interrogation facility in Tolonc. They were placed under strict security measures and slept on straw mattresses on the floor for the next few months. They faced constant interrogations and beatings. They faced all of this after five years of imprisonment, hunger and suffering of all kinds. The best years of their youth had been lost to them forever.
On arriving home in Hungary they were anxious for a swift re-union with their loved ones and a new life of freedom. Instead they were imprisoned again and began a new life of suffering with no end in sight. After repeated interrogations they were sent to Vác, north of Budapest where they were crammed into an old factory for four weeks.
During this time barracks were hastily erected at Tiszalók in eastern Hungary to accommodate them. At the end of January 1951 they were brought to partially completed facilities close to their future labour station. The barracks had no heat, few had doors and windows, the roof was made with tarpaper, the yard was full of moss and mud in which men sank to their knees. It was also the case in winter because of the water table level.
The Tisza River takes a sharp turn between Tiszalók and Tiszadada and it was here where the German-Hungarian prisoners of war were put to slave labour. Here at the camp they were made aware that they were no longer prisoners of war but war criminals. They no longer had a future “at home” and their free labour would build the greatest dam in the Hungary.
At the beginning of February 1951 the work began with picks, shovels and spades in cold rainy weather. The earth was loaded on conveyances pulled by horses. In the evening the prisoners who were soaked and wet were finally allowed to return to the barracks. They awoke at 6:00 am and arrived a work at 7:00 am. Each day, each man received a half litre of watery malt coffee, 600 grams of bread and 50 grams of marmalade. There were warm meals at lunch and supper, usually soup with 20 grams of horsemeat. This was not enough nutrition in terms of the hard labour they had to perform and the energy they had to expend.
Contact with civilian workers on the project was strenuously forbidden and made virtually impossible. But with time such contacts were made anyway. In spite of the authorities’ efforts to hide the fact that the inmates were prisoners of war from Russia the civilian workers managed to figure it out.
The men were interrogated regularly. Several of them were forced to sign confessions under torture. Others were taken away and never heard from again.
During their captivity in Hungary they were forbidden to write to their families. No one was to know that they were under strict security in labour camps in Hungary.
On October 4, 1953 the camp commander ordered an assembly of the camp inmates because some men had protested against his refusal to allow them to send and receive letters. They also wanted to know when they would be released. Many of them had now spent nine years in captivity as prisoners of war. They received no answers to their questions and were sent back to their barracks.
Eight to ten of the prisoners who had acted as spokesmen for the others were shortly afterwards apprehended one by one and locked up. As a result the other prisoners reassembled in the camp yard and shouted for the release of their comrades. The civilians at work nearby heard the shouts and the cries of the prisoners.
The protesting prisoners were ordered to return to their barracks by the Hungarian officials but the prisoners refused to move and continued to shout and chant for the release of their friends. Armed security personnel surrounded the prisoners on all sides. The commander ordered his armed men to take action. Water cannons were used against the prisoners to force them to disperse. Some of the men dragged out tables from their barracks for protection and stood their ground and the firemen faded from view.
Shortly afterwards a new group of fire fighters approached accompanied by armed soldiers. The prisoners marched in their direction and the fire fighters panicked and dropped their hoses and fled from the camp. The officer in charge of the security of the camp known as the Boxer because of his brutality entered the camp yard and shot one of the prisoners at point blank range. With that shot other soldiers who formed a ring around the camp inmates opened fire and the men headed for cover wherever possible.
Later the camp officials claimed they resorted to shooting only because they were attempting to prevent a mass breakout by the prisoners. Five men lay dead: Georg Gazafy of Batsch aged 49 years; Matthias Geistlinger of Kaltenstein aged 36 years; Josef Schutz of Budaörs aged 28 years; Hans Tangel of Bardhaus aged 32 years and Josef Widlhofer from Ödenburg (Sopron) aged 29 years.
There were also many wounded. It is a miracle that only five of them were killed. Those with minor wounds did not report them for fear of being dragged off somewhere. The badly wounded were transported away in trucks. None of them were ever heard from again. Years later civilians who lived in the area reported that they had been shot and buried in open fields.
After the terrible evening of October 4, 1953 the camp and barracks were a mess, broken windows, smashed bunks, bedding and clothes strewn about. Security guards armed with machine pistols stood at the barrack doors.
The next morning some military officers arrived from Budapest. They interrogated the camp inmates for four days. Two of the prisoners were condemned to five or six years in prison by a military court in Budapest and were blamed for the starting the prisoner uprising. They were imprisoned in the same facility as Cardinal Mindszenty, Count Esterházy and the Lutheran Bishop Lajos Ordas. In December 1955 the two men were finally released. This was not due to the grace of the Hungarian government but as a result of the pressure of the Allied Powers. The Hungarian government could no longer hide the fact of the fate of the ethnic German Hungarian prisoners of war.
The prisoners at Tiszalók were released shortly after the investigation ended. The first of several transports of prisoners of war were transferred to West Germany.