Peter Balo, “The Gulag: Through the eyes of a survivor”, (Remembrance in time, Transilvania University Press of Brasov 2012), pp. 11-14.
The below article has been made upon an interview with a Hungarian survivor of the GULAG – Mrs. Pintér. She spent eight and a half years in captivity, in several Soviet force-labour camps. My aim is to commemorate her and those millions of nameless people, becoming the victims of the communism. Mrs. Pintér was born as Magdolna Rohr, on the 24th of December, 1928. Her father worked as a clerk at a law firm, while her mother was a housewife, bringing up the children. She went to Bátaszék to primary school and then she maturated in Budapest. She was educated in a religious way, attended church school. She stayed in Budapest during the WWII, being an eye-witness of bombing the capital, the lack of food – all these things left a serious mark in her soul. Her personal tragedy started on the 23rd of September of 1945, when two Soviet soldiers appeared in their flat with a civil translator and they asked her to go with them. She was promised that they only wanted to talk to her. Getting in the street they pushed her in a car. Afterwards she was taken to a later demolished building to the Üllıi Str. (Budapest), and her interrogation has started. The interrogators asked her about her friends and the actions they had done together, but due to the lack of any such actions, the young girl couldn’t reply any of the questions. Then the Soviet officer took his pistol and threatened Magdolna with killing her on the spot. After the inefficient interrogation she was accommodated in an unheated room of the building, furnished only with a bed. The next day her interrogation continued, and then she could have some information to find out, why she has been captured by the Soviet authorities. It became clear, that a friend of hers wanted to leave Hungary, but he was caught at the Austrian-Hungarian border, and in his notebook they found the name of two English pilots, and also the name of Magdolna Rohr. That could be the base of the charges.
Being aware of her innocence Magdolna kept on denying the charges. One day a reinforced guard took her and the other prisoners, kept in the building to Szombathely, where they were accommodated under inhuman circumstances, in a coal-cellar. The next station was Eisenstadt that is situated in Austria. Among the poor supply with meal the night-interrogations have started. In the evenings a Russian woman was put in her cell, who constantly asked questions, but as she was innocent, she couldn’t answer any ofthem. This problem was “solved” by the Soviet officers by creating Russian-language confessions including false information. She couldn’t even read those confessions, but as she and the others were promised to go home if they sign those documents, all of them signed the false confessions.
Soon she was delivered again, again not home to Budapest, but to Balatonfüred. There, after a trial without any legal background she was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. After the sentence had been pronounced, Magdolna was taken to the prison of Sopronkıhida, to an unheated cell for two, where there were fifteen prisoners closed at the same time. The only fortune of hers – among the many afflictions – was that she and a woman from Ukraine was appointed to wash the officers’ clothes for a better supplement. She shared the extra food with the other prisoners, which meant an advantage for her later fate.
Following Sopronkıhida she was taken to Lemberg (today Lvov – in Ukraine). The journey by train, full of suffer, longed for three weeks, under inhuman conditions. There was only a hole cut in the floor of the overcrowded compartment. The prisoners could relieve themselves only through those holes; their sustenance was miserable and they were constantly suffering of thirst. It meant a serious mental shock for her that after arriving at the Lemberg camp, and having an obligatory bath, men shaved women’s hairs among the rude and vulgar comments of the guard. She spent only several days in Lemberg, and then she was taken to the Donbass camp – situated in the coalfield of Donbass (Ukraine), where she worked in the agriculture – on a potato-field. As it was usual at the similar places, the life was directed by criminals, so the violation and brutality, many times leading to murders, was an everyday phenomenon. However, there were some prisoners, whom she had formerly known from the Sopronkıhida prison, where she had shared her extra food with them.
These prisoners protected the new-coming, weak young girl being unversed about the local circumstances: she could be the first, to get food, and one time they even got back her stolen clothes. Soon she was entrained again, and after a journey, longing for several weeks she was taken to Irkutsk and then to Taiset (Russia today). During the journey she became seriously ill – became malarial, and she arrived in Siberia half-dead. Thanks to the treatment by a well-intentioned doctor originated from Georgia, who could get medicine for her, she got better. For her luck she was assigned to the camp kitchen as the assistant of another Hungarian prisoner. Thanks to the relatively hearty meal she strengthened and when she fully recovered, she became a seamstress in another camp.
But not that camp was the last station – she was delivered to several further camps, where the weak girl had to fulfil the hardest physical works: she participated in woodcutting, structural erection, and worked at the building of the Trans-Siberian railway – putting down the rails – under awful weather-conditions, and getting food with poor calorie. Officially, if the temperature was lower than -42 ºC, the prisoners were not taken to work, but in the reality they had to work even at -50 ºC, she had to work 12 hours aday, putting 6,5 m long logs on trucks. They had to build barracks for themselves, and they could have a bath only every three-four weeks. There was no medical service or even the basic medicine, so the diseases and epidemics were frequent. If somebody couldn’t work for his state of health, or refused working – for example for a religious reason – could be killed or trussed to a tree. There were many mosquitoes in Siberia in the summer, which could cause serious injuries in such cases.
The prisoners were guarded according to strict regulations: if any of them fell out of the march column, was shot down. Due to the above reasons the mortality was extremely high. The nationality of the prisoners was different; Magdolna told that at the camps she met Latvians, Lithuanians, Polish, German, Russian, Ukranians and even Coreans. It helped her survival that she learned Russian language, could adapt to the local circumstances, and she learned how to save her strength. Several times they could have the same logs measured by the supervisors twice, so one day they had to work very hard, but the next day they only imitated the wood-cutting, so they could get the ration after the execution the norm at 100%.
The turn in her fortune came in 1953, after Stalin’s death, when their guard informed the Hungarian and German prisoners that they could go home. After the plenty of suffer and false promises they didn’t believe the soldiers, but one day they were entrained again, and after a journey longing for several weeks they arrived in Lemberg (Lviv). There they spent six months, as Mátyás Rákosi, the communist dictator of Hungary considered them to be persona non grata. In the end he was forced to let them in the country on Soviet pressure. Later on the leaders of the communist party still took them unwanted in Hungary. When after the inhuman suffers the train, delivering the survivors from the GULAG passed the Soviet-Hungarian border (on the 3rd of December, 1953), the members of the State Security Authority (SSA) – the political police of the ’50-s – invaded the train, and the prisoners were seized. They were accommodated in Sóstó-fürdı near Nyíregyháza, in a camp, guarded by the SSA. They couldn’t even get in contact with their relatives. Several weeks later they received 10 HUF to buy train tickets, and finally could go home.
The delight to see her parents and friends, after so many years, was unutterable. Later the pleasure was shadowed by the fact that in the Socialist system of Hungary she was a secondary citizen. She was not allowed to talk about her “experience” in the Soviet Union, and hardly could get a passport. Up to her rehabilitation in 1976 her certificate of moral included the record of her being a criminal. Despite she was officially dispensed from any crimes – she never committed -, the services of state security detected her until 1989. Furthermore, she has been still suffering from the health-effects of her captivity: cardiac failure because of the hard physical work, joint gout due to the cold weather in Siberia, not to mention the mental consequences, which are not possible to forget.
After coming home she got married with Károly Pintér, whom she had met in Tajset in 1946 for the first time. Later they were taken to different camps, so lost each other for years. They met each other again on the way back in Lemberg in 1953. Due to the monstrosities the GULAG prisoners went through, and the further afflictions of them after getting home, it was quite prevalent that they got married with other former GULAG prisoners – only those, surviving the camps could understand each other. Magdolna Rohr and her husband became the members of the GULAG Foundation. She has been trying to protect the interests of the formers prisoners of the GULAG and works for the public commemoration of the victims.