Hungarian Prisoners of War in the Caucasus

András Knuth   

In most cases we talk about Armenians, who left their country, but this time I will speak about Hungarians who forced to live here in this beautiful countryside. My subjects are the hundred thousands of people, who became prisoners during and after the Second World War.

During my investigation, I found Hungarian prisoners in three camps in the Caucasian region, at Yerevan, Grozny and near Ganja, but it is sure, that they worked in other locations as well. The majority didn’t speak Russian, even less chance for Armenian, Azeri or Georgian, that’s one of the reasons why they worked mostly in simple public works. The soviets had ruined the oil pipes when the Germans attacked in 1941, reopening them was a simple and suitable work for them. Another concrete example can be the building of the Opera House in Yerevan, where the Hungarian prisoners also took their part in the work. Renovating roads, bridges, railways and building new public facilities were typical jobs. About 2-3% of the prisoners were able to do their old professions in workshops. The complete number of Hungarians in the Caucasian camps couldn’t be more than a few hundreds. I have found an official file, in this, 92 Hungarian military officers were required for the camp at Yerevan in June 1945.[1]

In the following part, if you let me, I will speak about my grandfathers, how they survived the last days of the second world war, and how they were captured, then relocated to the Caucasus.

My grandfather on my father’s side was an engineer. He had an average industrial company in Hungary. The 40’s was a rebuilding period for the company, and he inherited his grandfather’s business sense, who was the Court Supplier of Archduke Joseph August of Austria (1872 –1962).[2] The factory made some projects through the war, but the work become impossible to continue when the siege of „Fort Budapest” begun. During these days, the Soviet Red Army, and the following political, and secret-police forces organized the transport of people, p.o.w., citizens, everyone. As it happened in the Soviet Union, they had lists, quotes of numbers, and when they needed to fill it, they gathered civilians as well as the surrendered soldiers. There were two groups of captives, one of them had no trial on a court of law, and the reason of this gathering was, to compensate the war losses for the Soviet Union with work. The other group had trials on a war-court, and mostly had a 10 year penalty for war-crimes, they went to the famous GULAG camps. German name was a curse these days, and a western name like mine, is kind of a German-like. On top of this, he worked during the war, so from the soviet’s perspective, he was surely a fascist, and also a capitalist, because of the firm. We can say that he was the devil himself.

He was caught in January 1945, and was transported to a gathering camp at Gödöllő, near the capital. Since he had high skill in the heating business, he became the heater in the camp, this way he skipped a few labor shipments, and he was also able to help a Jewish fellow prisoner. This man was used to come back many times further, to thank this life-saving act. He was lucky, at one of the later transports, he just stepped out of the line, and walked home. This happened in the June of 1945, during his work here, his father passed, his factory ruined, and several other family members disappeared, or died.

My other grandfather was a simple shoemaker. He lived in Romania, inside the region called Erdély – in English; Transylvania. I think I don’t need to introduce this country, but it have several common with Karabakh. Traditionally, it was a Hungarian territory; we had the majority in the people, with many minorities, such as Romanians, Germans, and a noteworthy Armenian group. Transylvania was detached from Hungary after the First World War, with the signing of the Peace at 1920. June 4. After this tragedy, all the former citizens of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy become now the people of great Romania. They had no chance to reverse this act, but in the renewed Kingdom of Hungary (which had no king), the intention remained; “revision” was a true political program.

The chance for this came, when Hungary unfortunately floated into the hand of the German Third Reich, they good-willing judgment helped the Second Vienna Award, so, at 1940 August 30, Erdély become the part of Hungary again. In these times, my grandfather was a gendarme, and a he was transferred into the middle of the country, to Székesfehérvár. This was the place, where the soviet armies during a fight caught him at the first weeks of 1945. As a gendarme, there was no question, that he is a p.o.w., who served the fascists.

The long and painful journey started here, for him, and many of his comrades in the army, and even for the simple citizens. In the year 1945 the complete number of the prisoners of war were 4,1 million, most of them were Germans. The numbers of Hungarians are questionable, couple writing was made in this theme, and the numbers are between 600.000 and 700.000 from the whole country, with the recaptured parts, like Transylvania.[3] The prisoners went on foot to the relocation camps, near their capturing points. These camps were made of already existing buildings, like barracks, army bases and educational centers, for example, the camp at Gödöllő made of the Premonstratensian College. This was the best guarded establishment, with three barbed wire-fences, when my grandfather was here; more than a 45.000 prisoner were quartered here.

There were more than 50 of these camps in Hungary. The circumstances and the treatment were inhuman, the captives were able to adopt the labor camp life, where the sanitation was an unknown thing, and the food supplying was unresolved. Later in the camps, the prisoners get food in the ratio of their work. A difference between the labor camps and in this relocation camps was, that there were no work for the prisoners, and often no food neither. No surprise, that many of the captives died in their own country. The soviet and Hungarian authorities told the civilians, that they were going only for a short period of work, for example repairing an airfield, or road. Most of them didn’t even realized that they were going abroad, until they entered the wagons. Many captives tried to escape, a few of them managed, but there were example for volunteer comebacks. A short job was a better option than a long fear of the searching authorities. They didn’t know, that the Red Army, or the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), or even the Hungarians worked only for quotes, and the names didn’t even mattered. There were a couple of higher priority people, fascist, and they helpers, but the civilians from the streets were able to escape, like one of my grandfathers did. A tragically case was, when the numbers didn’t matched with the plans at a train in Budapest, the soldiers forced a few railroad workers into the wagons, just to fill them.

Hard to track the way of the prisoners. Two main transit-stations received the prisoners in Romania, at Máramarossziget and Foksány. There were many brakes on the march, with a couple of other camps. In these camps they were randomly regrouped, according to the required numbers of the destination labor camps. This time, the soviet labor camp system was highly extended. There were camps in every Soviet Republics, like in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, near Yerevan and Nakhchivan, other in the neighbor countries, like in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, near Ganja, or the Chechen Grozny. These three camps were the main stations of the Hungarian prisoners, including my grandfather, who worked for unknown period at Ganja.

My grandfather was able to send letters home, twice a year, and this was a main difference between the famous GULAG camps and the labor camps for the prisoners of war. A well-known Hungarian author, János Rózsás was also a prisoner in the GULAG system, and wrote a couple of articles and books about it. He claims, that it wasn’t allowed for them, to write anything.[4]However, I have my grandfather’s letters, these are small, postcard sized papers, with empty writing space on one side, and a fillable form of address on the other. On these cards, the camps are only indicated by their serial number. With this data, the location of the prisoners are possible to track, of course only if we have the list of the camps with their serial numbers. No other option for receive information was available; naturally the letters went through on a censorship. This way, I managed to track my grandfather’s way across the camps.

In these times, there were no world-wide accepted rules in the treatment of the p.o.w, the soviets didn’t even sign the Geneva Conventions. The Council of Peoples Commissars made an act in 1931, but they never adopted it. The NKVD made an office for the case of prisoners of war in 1939. After the war started with the capture of Poland, at September 19, L. P. Berija erected the UPV (Upravlenyije po gyelam vojennoplennih), from 1940 – UPVI (Upravlenyije po gyelam vojennoplennih I internyirovannih), the Main Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees. A final act was made at 1941, which had many similarities with the Geneva Convention, but it excluded the Red Cross overseeing rights, the soviets didn’t allowed foreign inspectors, to check on the prisoners.[5]And in the practice, during and especially after the war, the bread rations were lowered, and the captives were often relocated.

For the prisoners the work and survival was a hard test, the returning was another. One of the most disgusting lie of the communist party of Hungary was that they are trying to do everything for their fellow-countryman. Still, winning the elections in Hungary was an impossible mission for the communists; they took over the leading of the country. Our leader, Mátyás Rákosi personally asked to stop the returning of the military officers in 1947. The picture was twisted, because the true Hungarian officers really fought against the communists, now on the lead, they were enemies. A negotiation started in 1948 in the case of the prisoners, but the Hungarian communists simply accepted the soviets offers, that’s why the homecoming started again, without the previous spotlight.[6] On the contrary, as almost all of the returners, my grandfather also enjoyed the hospitality of various Hungarian labor camps for years. After this, he never spoke about the hard years in the CCCP. Notice any positive thing in tragedies like this, is a rare gift, but my grandfather learned something in the Caucasus; after this torture, he was able to sense earthquakes even before they are happening.


  1. Dr. Füzes Miklós: Modern rabszolgaság: Magyar állampolgárok a Szovjetunió munkatáboraiban 1945-1949. Formatív Kiadó, Budapest 1990.
  2. Gereben Ágnes: Beszélgetések a Gulagról. Helikon Kiadó Budapest 2008.
  3. GULAG: A szovjet táborrendszer története. Editor.: Krausz Tamás. Pannonica Kiadó, 2001.
  4. dr. Kézdi György: A Knuth-féle vizvezetékszerelő ipari vállalat 1873-1949 /évfolyam dolgozat/
  5. Stark Tamás: Magyar foglyok a Szovjetúnióban. Lucidus Kiadó, Budapest 2006.
  6. Magyar hadifoglyok a Szovjetúnióban. Szerk. Varga Éva Mária. Rosszpen-MKTTK, Moszkva-Budapest 2006.

[1]Magyar hadifoglyok a Szovjetúnióban. Szerk. Varga Éva Mária. Rosszpen-MKTTK, Moszkva-Budapest, 2006., p. 90-102

[2] dr. Kézdi György: A Knuth-féle vizvezetékszerelő ipari vállalat 1873-1949 /évfolyam dolgozat/ p.  2

[3]Stark Tamás: Magyar foglyok a Szovjetúnióban. Lucidus Kiadó, Budapest, 2006, p. 110

[4]Gereben Ágnes: Beszélgetések a Gulagról. Helikon Kiadó Budapest, 2008 p.  262

[5]Magyar hadifoglyok a Szovjetúnióban. Szerk. Varga Éva Mária, 2006 p. 5-6

[6]Stark ibid 2006 p. 241-250

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