The Hortobágy of the deportees

Rails reaching toward the sky and forming a cross beckon to attract curious pedestrians down from the footbridge running parallel to the iconic Nine-Hole Bridge, to take a few steps into the puszta. Here one can devote a few minutes of silence or introspection to the memory of the victims of the Hungarian Gulag. The monument along Route 33 was dedicated by architect Sándor Haranghy “To the Memory of Deportees to the Forced Labour Camps in Hortobágy” in 1990.

The forced labour camp in Hortobágy was created by the Communist dictatorship in the early 1950s. Between 1950 and 1953, approximately ten thousand “undesirable” people were forced to move here, without a court verdict, from different parts of Hungary. Seven state farms in Hortobágy were initially designated as residences for the deportees, to which five more were added later. Until the dissolution of the camp system, nearly 10 thousand people were held here against their will. The designated state farms operated as forced labour camps. The camp of Borsós was essentially a prison for the bourgeoisie and intellectuals, while in the other camps, peasants and “kulaks” were primarily held as captives. During the first government of Imre Nagy, a political thaw began. In July, the government declared amnesty for all political prisoners, and ordered the police to evacuate all camps in Hortobágy by September. 

The history of the “Hungarian Gulag” and the more than 2500 families forced to live there was not discussed until the democratic transformation of the country, and the “strictly classified” archival materials remained inaccessible to historians until 1995. The surviving inhabitants of the camps eventually found each other, and in 2000 formed the Association of Deportees of Forced Labour Camps in Hortobágy. The association, counting nearly 1000 members, regularly holds meetings, including in Hortobágy, which became a forced part of their lives.

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