A conference was held with the title "Scenes of captivity: Kazakhstan"


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  • 2019. February 22.

It is a lesser-known fact that the biggest labour camps of the Soviet Union were in the area of today’s Kazakhstan. In the sub-units of GULAGs, i.e. KARLAGs, with a centre in today’s Astana, tens of thousands of Hungarian prisoners faced the cruelty of guards and the extreme weather. The conference was organized by the Committee of National Remembrance, the Association of Prisoners and Forced Labourers (SZORAKÉSZ) and the Erzsébetváros Jewish Historical Museum (EZSIT).

Hungarians in Soviet camps in Kazakhstan is one of the less explored areas of Gulag and Gupvi research, although many Hungarians were held prisoners there, for example János Rózsás and Árpád Gagóczy. In order to make up for arrears the Committee of National Remembrance, the Association of Prisoners and Forced Labourers (SZORAKÉSZ) and the Erzsébetváros Jewish Historical Museum (EZSIT) organized a conference on 22 February with the title ‘Scenes of captivity: Kazakhstan’.

In terms of Hungarian researchers it is only Ágnes Gereben and Miklós Kun who have been examining modern Kazakhstan. As Áron Máthé, vice chair of NEB said, the commemorative tour was organized in 2017 by Eleonóra Matkovits-Kretz from the Hungarian side, the leader of Pécs-Baranya Ethnic Circle of Germans in Hungary. At the time Erzsébet Menczer, the chairperson of Szorakész returned to Hungary with a list of 1600 names of victims -as we learned from her talk. In the same year, by an initiation from Szorakész, and supported by the GULAG Memorial Committee the Hungarian embassy in Astan with András Baranyai as leader erected a commemorative monument of Hungarian prisoners in the memorial centre where the former ALZSIR lager used to be. Two professors of Eurasian National University held a talk on Hungarian prisoners in the camps of Kazakhstan.

As Kristóf Murádin János, lecturer of Sapientia Hungarian University in Transylvania pointed out -the massive deportation of Hungarians took place due to the pressure to bring the quota of prisoners of war, resentment over the losses of the Red Army, also to secure supply as well as to rebuild the Soviet Union at the fastest speed possible, but economic considerations, however, were often pushed in the background -as we can see from the quoted answer of the camp commander of Jezkazgan. This is well demonstrated by the fact that in the infamous Kolima camps the cost of producing 1 gram of gold was in fact the price of 1.5 gram gold -István Bajkai, MP said in his opening speech. A similar tendency i.e. assigning secondary importance to economic tendencies can be seen in the camps of Kazakhstan. The prisoners of camp 330 that consisted of more units in Akmolinsk (Astana today) worked at railway construction sites and in mines, but some prisoners had to build houses as well. According to the data from 1945-46, 795 German, 1626 Japanese were held prisoners, and among 57 other nationalities, there were 796 Hungarians as well -as Roza Muszebekova’s lecture revealed.

The camp unit in Zholymbet belonged to a gold mining company, Kazzoloto under the supervision of NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs). The main building of the company was built by Hungarian prisoners, along with many other ones related to gold mining and the local cultural centre too. The mines were very deep under and the climate conditions were extreme (in winters it could be 40-45 °C) while the prisoners’ daily calorie intake was nowhere near the amount necessary for that type of work.

Although some camp hospitals were opened in the unit after a while, the medicine supply was extremely poor; even slightly improved food was not enough for prisoners suffering from dystrophy (malnutrition) to stay alive. In camp 330 the death rate was especially high among Romanian and Hungarian prisoners. Just between August 1945 and April 1946 48 Hungarian prisoners died and in 1945-46 72 prisoners lost their lives altogether. The cause of death was often recorded as tuberculosis and severe injuries beside dystrophy.

Although camp 330 Akmolinsk was eliminated in October 1947, therefore 611 Hungarians could return to Hungary, the 1413 prisoners of war taken from western armies along with the 891 prisoners from eastern armies were relocated to camp 99 in Spassk, Karaganda. The unit in Zholymbet was still in operation but those held here were considered prisoners of camp 99.

Spassk camp 99 which operated from 1941 to 1950 was one of the largest ones, where prisoners of war were directed from Siberia  said Arajlim Muszgalieva in her talk. The working conditions were far from ideal. As we know from the memoirs of I. P. Gnetov, commander of the camp, in the beginning prisoners were buried in mass graves of 50-60, but later individual burials were in practice. During the operation of the camp 1139 Hungarians were held there for a longer period of time, but hundreds of other Hungarians went there. According to the data available, 60 died there.

The camp functioned as a ‘collection site’ as well, in the sense that the prisoners of eliminated camps were relocated here. After the elimination of the camp in Akmolinsk as well as that of camp 39 in Jezkazgan in 1948, prisoners were directed here. The infamous Jezkazgan camp was for ‘extremely dangerous’ prisoners. They were made to work in copper mine, but they were taken to sand mines, brick factories, as well as to railway and dam constructions. Lajos Gulácsy wrote it in his memoirs: “Women were taken to work the same way as men. [...] The work was incessant all year around. In summer the temperature went up to 40-50 [°C] degrees in daytime and cooled down to 10 degrees by the morning. This difference in temperature was very burdensome for the body. In winter it was 20-45 [°C]. On 2 September everything froze and it was winter until 25 April but the work went on. How successfully? Often what we built in winter, collapsed in the spring in the sudden heat.”

Reading the lines above, it is not surprising that the death rate in the camp was more than 50%. 576 Hungarians were taken home to Hungary from Jezkazganin 1947, but the pardon did not concern everybody. In February 1948 there were still 109 Hungarian prisoners in the camp.



conference Áron Máthé