[corvina] Hungarian POWs in France
1945 - 1947
by Bela Tarczai
Translated from the Hungarian by:
Eva Barcza Bessenyey
IN FRENCH CAPTIVITY
1945 - 1947
I. French-Hungarian Relations
during the Second World War
After the June 27, 1941 declaration of war against the Soviet Union,
Hungary drifted deeper and deeper into the war. On December 7th
Great Britain declared war on Hungary and on December 13th, the
Hungarian government declared war on the USA.
Hungary never entered into hostilities with France, partly because
after June 22nd, 1940 the previously accepted France no longer
existed, and partly Hungary's interests dictated to maintain the
traditional Hungarian-French friendship. Diplomatic relations
between the two countries were kept up; the French institutions,
such as the Alliance Francaise and the French Lycee continued to
function. In the wake of the historic events, new important forms of
cooperation developed between the two countries.
Beginning with the second half of 1940. a considerable number of
soldiers and labourers escaped from the German prisoner-of-war
and forced-labour camps that were located near the Hungarian
borders. Contemporary sources estimate their number to be around
The main motive for this escape was the trust inspired by the official
and social treatment Hungary accorded to the Polish refugees that
became well-known even in the German prisoner-of- war camps.
The Hungarian government entrusted the care of these refugees to
the 9th Division of the Interior Ministry and the 21st Division of the
Defense Ministry. Surpassing the stipulations of the Geneva
Convention, these entities gave humane care to the Polish and
French refugees, as well as to those of other nationalities that
followed them later.
Germany's protests and attempts at interference made it more
difficult to look after this multinational and polyglot crowd. The
government's task was further complicated by the fact that many of
these refugees wanted to go on to rejoin the armies that fought the
Germans in the Middle East, in North Africa, or France herself. The
government looked at these attempts with good will and supported
The government established camps for the transient and resident
refugees but did not limit their freedom of movement. Their
livelihood was assured, in essence, by the soldiers' pay and the
civilian aid payments that were given them; furthermore, they could
accept work that corresponded to their profession. Several taught at
the Gymnazium (latin highschool) in Godollo or the Eotvos College;
others did research work at the Teleki Pal Institute and many became
French tutors in families. Some others did literary translations or
edited a newspaper. Their amateur theatre troupes entertained the
Hungarian public with performances of French classical dramas. Six
well-known researchers received a stipend of 600 pengos each.
Hungarian society received and accepted the French refugees with
great sympathy. They were invited to most social functions,
developed friendships and long-term relationships; some even
married Hungarian girls.
A paricularly stirring event was the celebration on July 14, 1943, the
anniversary of the French Revolution, at Balatonboglar in the
French camp. That year, this was the only celebration in Europe,
with a parade led by Col. Hallier, the French military attache, in the
presence of Hungarian military and vivilian notables.
The Frenchmen established contact with the Hungarian resistance
too. They helped plan and participated in the execution of several
actions of sabotage. With Hungarian help, over a hundred
Frenchmen escaped into Slovakia, there to join up with the
partisans. Their example was followed by many Hungarians. Col.
Hallier had planned the creation of an international brigade to help
the Regent in his attempts at a separate peace. He also counted on
the assistance in this action of the Polish refugees.
After October 15, 1944 when the far-right government came to
power, some high-ranking officers in the Defense Ministry warned
the French about the dangers they were facing. This enabled many
of them to go into hiding and thus avoid capture.
During the last months of the war, the de Gaulle Committee
functioned illegally at the French embassy with the express purpose
of furthering the return of the French refugees. Once the hostilities
ceased, it took over the diplomatic representation of the country; it
also took action for the improvement of the lot of Hungarian
prisoners-of-war in French camps.
The relationships established during the vicissitudes of wartime did
not end then. The generation that returned from Hungary continued
at home its action for the improvement of the Hungarian captives.
Their organization, the "Amicale des Evades Francais en Homgrie",
addressed a memorandum to General de Gaulle, alerted the
International Red Cross, initiated a press campaign, wrote letters to
the camp commanders asking them to conduct a review of the
Hungarians' situation. Thanks to these efforts, from the spring of
1946 on, there was great improvement in the lot of the Hungarian
captives; their status was upgraded to that of the free workers and
soon their return would be discussed.
It was in clear violation of international law that France kept over ten
thousand Hungarians as prisoners-of-war. The Fremch had no
moral basis for this action: for, aside from their not having declared
war on each other, no Hungarian soldier shot at a French soldier, no
Hungarian pilot bombed French cities destroying houses, and no
Hungarian took French prisoners. Despite all this, the French put
the Hungarian captives to work as if they had caused the damage.
For their work, they either got paid, or not - mostly not. Yet to this
day it never occurred to anybody at least to apologize to the relatives
of those that died as a consequence of the terrible conditions at the
camps, or to those who survived them and who will forever
remember their disappointment in the French: this is not the French
people we respected! We never provoked or deserved this treatment!
II. The Fate of the Hungarian Army
after October 15, 1944
Once the Arrow-Cross Party came to power, the government was
determined to fill the ranks of the army. As a result of the draft and
"total mobilization", about 1 million men carried arms at that time.
As the Soviet troops had crossed the Hungarian borders as
delienated by the peace treaty of Trianon on September 24, 1944,
the three fighting armies conducted their "defensive actions" on
Hungarian soil. The government sent to Austria and Germany the
reserves, the armies' supply forces, and about 60,000 cadets in the
hope that they will form the nucleus of a new army.
At the beginning of April, 1945 the fighting units were pushed out
of the country and from that moment on they headed West on
purpose to avoid capture by the Soviet forces. Thus, during the last
few months of the war, all over Germany were Hungarian army
units, either settled in or still moving towards the West.
In December 1944, with the occupation of Aachen, the Allies
stepped on German soil. After some rest, they launched a threepronged
attack for the occupation of Germany. They made
prisoners-of-war of those Hungarian army units that they found in
their way. The commander-in-chief of the army capitulated to the
Americans on May 1, 1945 in Tann, Bavaria.
In the end, there were 300- to 350,000 Hungarian soldiers and
cadets that were captured by the British and American forces. It is
estimated that about 700,000 were made the captives of the Soviet
The French role in the final stages of the war must be mentioned
separately since it touched directly our soldiers.
On January 31, 1945 on the Island of Malta, Roosevelt and
Churchill coordinated their military plans for the last part of the war.
They assigned no role to France in these plans. Yet in the second
half of April, the 1st army of Gen. Lattre de Tassigny arrived on
German territory from the South and occupied some land around the
Lake Boden. It so happened that some remnants of the Hungarian
army (such as the 55th anti-aircraft unit from Szeged and the
mountain troops of Miskolc) found themselves facing French troops
and about 7,000 Hungarians became French prisoners-of-war. (For
the record, French sources put at 280,000 the number of prisonersof-
war captured outright, including those that became their captives
in the course of the "war of liberation".
III. Hungarians in French captivity
France finished the second world war on the side of the victors but
her situation, at the end of the war, was dire. Destructive armies
swept twice through her territory. Not only did the country have to
be rebuilt but the wounds that Frenmch honour suffered had to be
healed. Gen. de Gaulle's endeavours were focussed on the need for
an adequate supply of manpower for this re-building. He also
wanted France to be, together with the British and the Americans,
part of the process of Germamy's pacification and de-nazification.
In February, 1945 it was decided to give France 1,750,000
prisoners-of-war for this re-building; this decision was based on the
principle that whatever Germany destroyed she should rebuild.
The Allied Powers made their second major decision at the
conference in Yalta but it was not carried out until June. They
granted France powers to occupy certain territories in Austria and
Germany. This meant that any prisoner-of-war camps on these
territories automatically came under the control of de Gaulle's army.
However, before transferring these camps, the British and
Americans re-grouped their inhabitants in order not to have to
transfer the German prisoners that were residents of their zones of
occupatipon. This enabled them to organize their release more
efficiently. In addition to the reconstruction of France, the Allies had
another overwhelming interest in mind: namely, to secure for
Germany's inhabitants the minimal necessities of life. Therefore,
they wanted to free as soon as possible those prisoners who were
agricultural labourers or workers in certain key industries.
Selecting those prisoners that were to be transferred was left to
chance. And "chance" favoured the Germans as they filled the
leading positions in the camps. They could exert some influence on
"chance", thus putting all the non-German prisoners at a
disadvantagr. As a result of this "chance", some 60-70 thousand
Hungarians were transferred to Fremch captivity from the British or
In the Austrian territory ceded to France the Hungarian prisoners
were lucky in that the territory's commanding officer, Lt. Gen.
Emile Marie Bethuart, in accordance with the Geneva Convention,
did not consider them as prisoners-of-war but as internees. He also
had a personal reason for doing so: he owed a debt of gratitude to
his former colleague in Belgrade, Vasvary Jozsef, for helping his
family escape at the beginning of the German onslaught against
Yugolavia. However, he could not stop the recruiters who, with
some promise or other, lured thousands of young Hungarians to
join the Foreign Legion.
In the French zone of Germany, Gen. Pierre Koenig was not that
tolerant. He maintained his position that "unconditional surrrender"
meant, for the prisoners, deprivation of all their rights; thus they
could not demand application of the Geneva Convention. As a
result, the prisoners of all other nations received the same treatment
as the Germans. It must be mentioned here, though, that 3-4 months
after the armistice, no differentiation was made between the
nationalities of the prisoners, nor were they registered personally.
The quetion of nationality became interesting only when some
countries, such as Chechoslovakia - who counted themselves on the
side of the victors - started inquiring about their citizens.
The 7,000 Hungarians who were captured by the French "in their
own right" along the shores of Lake Boden found themselves in a
peculiar position. Their treatment was haphazard. Some were sent
on to labour camps in France; the others were treated in the same
manner as the Russian forced-labourers who were considered
refugees and awaited shipment home. This situation made some
trickery possible. The most determined ones escaped; others
obtained American IDs and went home with them. The remainder
received permission to work and move freely within a 30 km. strip,
a privilege of which they made good use.
Those prisoners that were obliged to spend time in the camps of
Friedrichshafen and Bregenz found the treatmrent and attitude of the
French soldiers tolerable but suffered a great deal from the brutality
of the colonial troops. The Poles, whenever they assured the camps'
guard, were understanding and helpful.
Food supplies, even in the workplace, were scant and monotonous.
They only received wages for their labour from 1946 on. The last
event before their return home was the night spent in Strasbourg,
where they were lodged in the dungeons of the fortress, on musty
straw, without any comfort, awaiting the departure of the liberating
Some Hungarians found themselves in the French zone of Germany
and spent time in such large French-controlled camps along the
Rhine as Mainz, Remagen, Sinzig, Bad-Kreuznach, Bretzenheim,
and Bingen-Dietersheim, to name just the most notorious. These
camps, surrounded by barbed-wire and guard-towers, open to the
elements, contained several thousand prisoners characterized as
"transients". Camp slang liked to describe the camps with one word:
the Rhineland camps earned the adjective "muddy"; Bad-
Kreuznach and Bretzenheim became the "Valley of Tears"; while the
later ones, such as Brienne-le-Chateau was nicknamed "The Louse-
Palace", Attichy the "Hungercamp", Poitiers and Dieppe the
"Deathcamps". These nicknames were based on the most vivid
memories of the camps.
The inhabitants of these camps were extremely varied. The
victorious powers put into camp anyone they could catch from
Kriegshelferinen, Hungarian army nurses, the children and old
parents of the Volksturm, the Hungarian cadets and railroad-men
(they, too, wore some sort of uniform) to the woumded and the
lame. This hodge-podge of camp inmates was transferred to the
These transfers were to the Hungarians' advantage in one thing
only: the French tried to eliminate "camping under the stars", i.e. in
the open. This in June-July 1945. There were some groups of
prisoners that got a roof over their heads in August only - since
April! The solution to the problem was simple: they closed the camp
and removed the inhabitants to the interior of France. Some camps
remained; such as Bretzenheim where the prisoners were allowed to
build their own barracks.
They were transported by railroad in open wagons. To the loadng
station and from the point of arrival to their camp, the men were
marched in rows of five, all the while accompanied by the guards'
shouts of "Allez vite!" On German territory the population's
sympathy and helpfulness were palpable but any offer of assistance
was rather brusquely refused by the guards. On French territory, the
population gave all manner of expression to the hatred and anger of
their defeated enemies. The prisoneers were spat upon and had
stones thrown at them. At a suburban station near Paris, a young
boy armed with a huge stick constantly hit the waiting prison
transport and yelled: "Boche kaput!" A passenger train pulled onto
the parallel rails; the people in it urged the youngster on
enthusiastically while spitting upon the prisoners. Unmentionable
epithets filled the air. Onto another train of open wagons someone
threw an iron bar from an overhead passage, killing one prisoner
and woumding others.
Elsewhere a mechanic (with a sense of humour) let the water meant
to refill the locomotives run onto the prisoners in their slowly
moving train to the great glee of the populace. Thus, each and every
one of them tried to exact revenge for some injury inflicted by the
Germans during the occupation. The traditional enmity between the
two peoples also played a role: the spirit of "revanche" was alive and
In his book published in 1998, K.I. described a tragic incident that
occurred during a march. On August 14, 1945, the French
ransferred 12,000 prisoners, among them 8,000 Hungarians, from
Bingen to Mainz, by marching them the distance of 15 km. On their
way, the prisoners noticed a field of turnips; they all jumped ranks
and started gathering them in. "Since they were many, they pulled
them out of one another's hands. The guards, at first, fired into the
air to bring the crazed men back to the road. But this was in vain; the
men just kept running about the turnip field. Then the guards in
Jeeps started firing their machine guns in front of the men in the
hope that the earth they churned up would stop them. Since this did
not have the desired effect either, they brought their strafing closer,
occasionally hitting someone crawling up front. This action lasted
some 15 minutes and caused many deaths among the Hungarians.
IV. CAMPS AND CONDITIONS IN THE CAMPS
James Bacque, Canadian author and an expert on the question of
prisoners-of-war, estimates that there were about 1,600 camps in
France. According to the prisoner-of-war management, there were
80 where Hungarians were also held. However, this seems
inaccurate as during my research some 140 names of camps were
mentioned. This divergence illustrates the difficulties that a
researcher into French - and generally Western - captivity must face.
There are very few documents on this topic in the archives available
to Hungarian researchers. Special literature on this subject does not
single out the Hungarian prisoners. There is nothing left, therefore,
but to question the prisoners themselves. This poses other
problems. Most prisoners can only revive the memories of past
events: their documents were lost, confiscated by the former regime
or were destroyed by the prisoners themselves - out of fear or
precaution. Fortunately, original (not reconstructed) diaries have
surfaced and books that could be considered reliable source material
were also published. In the course of my research I personally
interviewed several hundred prisoners-of-war; many of them
summarized their experiences in writing. This enabled me to
compare the summaries that pertained to the same place and same
event. The names of places gave me the most problems: the
prisoners, not being familiar with foreign languages, could neither
orally nor in writing give me accurate geographic names that I could
use for comparison. Fifty years have passed between the recollected
events and the revival of their memory. It is undoubtedly true that
memories can fade in such a long time; it is also true that the
personal emotions have calmed down and the events were viewed
not through the beautifying mist of distance but with an attempt at
Ever since one can freely talk in Hungary of the events of the
Second World War and its consequences, there is much comparison
among the treatments at the various western prisoner-of-war camps.
The Americans were easy-going and unpredictable; the British were
correct and generous; the French were like the Soviets except that
the captivity did not last as long.
Should we want to discuss the conditions in the French camps:
hunger, the infestation of lice and the diseases were made doubly
worse by the obvious hatred, the spirit of "revanche" that found
expression in constant humiliation of human dignity. At Saint Jean
d'Angely, a sergeant on duty ran through the barracks in the
morning, whipping the prisoners awake delivering a monologue
about how he, himself, was a prisoner of the Germans at the same
camp, how he was treated in the same way by the Germans, and
how he is now paying them back.
In his book, "Historique du Service des Prisonniers-de-guerre de
l'Axe" published in 1948, Gen. Buisson, commander-in-chief of all
prisoner-of-war camps, explains away the highly critisized
conditions at the camps by saying that they were what could be
expeted under the circumstanes.
Granted that France was in ruins, her economy destroyed, her
inhabitants rebellious. Still, all valuables of the prisoners did not
have to be confiscated during their frisking (sanctioned by the
Geneva Convention) nor seven youngsters at camp No. 105 at
Strasbourg flogged publicly for stealing some potatoes in their
hunger. It was not necessary to keep the weakened prisoners
standing for hours on the Appelplatz with the excuse of controlling
their numbers. It is a pity that the Red Cross could not live up to its
mission. In some camps the prisoners never even heard of the
existence of the Red Coss during their whole stay. It is a different
matter that some of the aid or the donations never reached their
destination but ended up on the black market. For this reason the
commander of the camp at Poitiers, for instance, was relieved of his
duties. At Saint Jean d'Angely, lacking other accomodations, the
prisoners ordered to office duties were sitting on sealed boxes
containng Red Cross shipments. The smart ones pilfered them. The
non-commissioned Fremch officer explained that these were
received under the German occupation when French prisoners were
there and therefore were not intended for the present prisoners.
Naturally the clerical staff could no longer enter the office-barracks.
From what the former prisoners said, it would appear that the
conditions in the camps were bad but varied. They depended to a
great extemt on the camp commander's good will and on how he
could handle the German "Stammpersonal" (basic personnel). In
some cases the opposite occurred: the Stammpersonal influenced the
commander. The craftsmen/artisans, particularly the tailors, that
found themselves in the camp, were in great demand and could do
many favours for the French through the intermediary of the
Stammpersonal. The "atelier de couture" at Poitiers, for instance,
made a series of women's suits out of American blankets. There can
be no doubt as to their final destination.
From July 1945 on, in the corral No. 6 of the camp at Voves, 1,100
Hungarians were mixed in with the Germans. The corral's
commander hated the Hungarians, no one knows why. When
introduced, he made beautiful promises but never missed am
opportunity to make his power felt. A few day after our arrival, 14
can-openers and 6 bars of American soap were missing from the
kitchen. The Lagerfuhrer (camp leader) naturally suspected the
Hungarians of this theft and declared that the corral shall receive no
food until these valuables were found. What could we do but make
up the loss from our own stores. It was not too hard as we managed
to save a few of these pieces from the supplies the Americans sent
that we had carefully hidden during the searches.
The officer in charge established quite a court for himself. It was
composed of young Hungarian men eager to serve. It had a cobbler,
a tailor, a barber, a draftsman, an orderly, and even a gypsy
clarinetist. In the hope of getting extra food, these worthies watched
for every wish of the big boss. There also were in this court some
men of German origin from around Budapest; these acted as
intermediaries with the French in their business.
All this begs the question: didn't these conditions attract attention or
could they not be mentioned to someone of authority? The reply to
this lies in the fact that the prisoners lost all their rights under the
terms of unconditional surrender. The actions of the Red Cross were
limited which made its protesting, as an institution, impossible. The
complaints of the prisoners themseles only reached some
subordinate officers and stopped there. Those Frenchmen who had
direct contact with the prisoners had no idea who the Hungarians
were. As soon as we mentioned our capital, Budapest, to elicit some
faint knowledge, they immediately talked about Bucharest. Some
more conscientious Frenchmen tried to explain our presence by
maintaining that, after all, we joined the Wehrmacht voluntarily and
therefore we had to share its fate.
It is worth noting how the higher-ranking French officers viewed
the situation and their subalterns' behaviour. Their opinion varied
greatly and many tried to find excuses, as we can see from the
declaration of Gen. Buisson. A high-rankimg French officer told
Kulifay Imre, pastor of the Hungarian protestant mission in Paris,
that the career officers did not take part in the plunder of the
Hungarians. In Poitiers a guard shot in the night a prisoner who,
half asleep, looked for the latrines. The major brushed away our
protest by saying that the Hungarians cause a lot of trouble.
At the end of July 1945 the Hungarian captives at the camp at Voves
- among them the cadets of the Artillery School at Hajmasker - were
transferred to St. Jean d'Angely. At that time, the about 800 cadets
were properly attired, in impeccable Hungarian uniforms. On
Sunday, July 29th, the camp commander ordered them to take
baths. They were to undress at one end of the bath-house and get
their clothes back at the other after the bath. In the meanwhile, the
clothes were taken away tp be "disinfected". In vain did the boys
wait for their clothes - they never came back. Instead came dirty,
ragged - and naturally - lousy German and Italian uniforms rhat they
had to wear. They looked more like scarecrows than soldiers. The
reply to the long and protracted complaining was that the Hungarian
uniform looked too much like the French for the prisoners to wear
them. Within a few days the "maquis" guards who, until then served
in civilian clothes, started strutting around in Hungarian uniforms.
That much for credibility. It must be mentioned in this connection
that at the change of clothes not everybody got a shirt - or, if they
did, it was the wrong size and could not be worn. Therefore, some
of the cadets appeared at the flag-raising ceremony and parade
dressed in trousers only. Which provoked the camp commander to
comment to the pastor of the Paris protestant mission that "the
Hungarian lacked manners".
These actions, the necessary exchanges, not to mention the usual
wear and tear of the clothes made the Hungarians blend in with the
remaining "feldgrau" (dirt grey) masses. It would have been useful,
though, had the various nationalities been given outward
expression. The Austrian-born German soldiers recognized the
importance of this and wore a red-white-red ribbon ostentatiously
either on their caps or jackets.
Once the the territory for the French occupation was established
masses of prisoners were transferred to France from the British and
American camps. For their accomodation, Gen. Buisson's remark
remains apt: "as can be expected in the present situaion." In that
country in ruins there truly were very few buildings or
accomodations offering minimal comfort. The barracks-camps
established by the Germans, the available army barracks. and
imdustrial buildings were all used.
In his recollections, F.K. describes how they were transferred into
the French prison system from the hospital in Feldkirch. The
supervising doctors quickly discharged the patients. The remainder
had to endure many humiliations and privations before they were
shipped to Strasbourg. There they were housed in the subterranean
dungeons, sleeping on fusty straw. They received food just once a
day. They became so weak they could barely stand. F.K., 173 cm.
tall, weighed just 48 kg.
V,K. remembers that at Brienne-le-Chateau the prisoners were
lodged in the fortified palace which was surrounded by barbed wire.
The German were housed on the upper stories, the Hungarians
jammed into the cellar. There were mo possibilities for personal
hygiene; instead, twice a day they were assembled for a head-count.
K.G. remembers being captured at Sothofen at the end of March,
1945 and being marched to the Lake Boden. In Weiden, in a burntout
textile factory, Moroccan soldiers guarded them whence they
were taken to Tutlingen. Here, in a gigantic open-air camp, about
200,000 prisoners were jammed in. They had no food or water. The
guards got frequently drunk; then they would start shooting at
random. It almost seemed as if they were afraid of the prisoners
which made them nervous. It happened that they would shoot one
by one the men sitting on the latrines.
He also desribed the conditions in a Toulouse prison. He was
transferred there because he wes wrongly accused, with four of his
companions, of poisoning a farmer's pigs. The prison-guards were
extremely rough with them, beating and kicking them. On top of it
all, they had to watch the executions of some war-criminals.
J.J. relates: "They took us from Bad Kreuznacht to Epinal and
handed us over to the French who marched us to Luneville. It was a
cruel thing to do as we were very weak and many of us fell out of
the line but we were not allowed to care for our companions. We
had to leave them behind. As we crossed a village, the guards
started to beat the men on the edge. Afterward, the officer in charge
politely apologized saying that "this was the only way they could
protect us from the population's anger". In Saint- Jean-d'Angely,
several thousand prisoners were jammed onto the cement floors of
the barracks. The French locked us in every night; for our needs,
they placed a "pail" near the door. This was just the cut-off half of
an oil-barrel. As no one anted to sleep next to the "pail", there were
fights every night. But the crowding was such that inevitably
someone was pressed against the stinking receptacle. There was no
light in there and every night, almost every minute, the quiet was
broken by arguments and fights among the men who wanted to heed
nature's call. One can imagine what the men who were obliged to
sleep next to the receptacle looked like in the morning. Food was
scarce until the end. What the Hungarians missed most was bread of
which there was little.
R.L. writes: "When on July 28th the French took over the camp at
Rennes, their first action was to assemble us with all our belongings
and what we received from the Americans. They confisated
everything. All we had left was what we wore or carried on us. As
for food: for breakfast, we received 1/2 l. of mulberry-leaf tea, for
lunch 1/2 l. warm water with a few strips of lettuce- or cabbage
leaves. For supper we had scrounged some coarse, greenish-yellow
bread which we could eat only toasted. In the evenings, there were
lots of little fires going in the camp so that we could toast the bread
and roast the acorns that we gathered in the nearby forest."
Details from F.J.'s recollections: "After three months of captivity
with the Americans, we got transferred to French supervision. One
day we just noticed that at noon Frenchmen in civilian clothes came
on as guards instead of the Americans. They gave us nothing to eat
saying that they had nothing themselves. However, they let us out
one by one to steal some potatoes in the farmers' nearby fields but
we were to stay within shooting distance. In exchange, we had to
give clothes or shoes to the guards. I, too, exchanged clothes with
one of the guards but I rued the day: instead of my good trousers, I
received a pair full of lice.'
Health care was sketchy also: there were few doctors and fewer
medications. Those that suffered from diarrhea - the most frequent
illness - were put in the prison hospital but received no effective
treatment. I am quoting from H.J.'s letter: "In the camps along the
Rhine, we had neither a roof over our heads, nor any medical care.
There were many deaths daily, caused by hunger or final debility.
The Red Cross could not offer effective help. Using their postcards,
I managed to let my parents know 4 times that I am alive."
Dr. M.K. writes that in most camps there were 1-2 people who
provided medical care. These were mostly medical students,
working without supplies of medication or bandages. "In the
hospital in Hagenau, where I, myself, spent some time, and where
German physicians cooperated, conditions were adequate. The
prisoners who suffered work-related accidents were brought here."
I know of 10-15 deaths in the "one potato" camp in Bingen. Some
starved to death; others, in their weakened condition, fell into the
latrine and drowned.
S.B.ïs report of the fate of eight 22-year old men: "In captivity, one
was shot to death; one starved to death; one became ill after his
return home and died within six weeks; one was in no condition to
be transported home; one was dropped off the train; two came home
infected with TB; and only one was healthy."
As for the prisoners' spiritual care, it is hardly worth mentioning.
There were few Hungarian army chaplains and the prisoners could
not communicate with the German pastors. Occasionally the pastors
of the Hungarian missions would come from Paris but they could
not go everwhere. In general, the prisoners tried to encourage one
another but deep depressions ending in suicide were common.
Working was the only possibility to better conditions. But because
of bad organization and the Germans' influence, this was not always
open to the Hungarians. There were camps where they could not
work at all, except at some tasks around camp. These were pretty
depressing: moving the dead, cleaning the latrines, trashcollection...
On the one hand, work relieved the monotony of their
barbed-wire enclosed lives, on the other it raised the odds of
survival as those that worked received extra food. It also opened
possibilities for wheeling and dealing and they sometimes even
received wages - or at least vouchers redeemable later.
As in Baden-Baden M.K.'s weight dropped to 38 kg. he was sent to
a family to improve his condition. After the successful cure he
volunteered to pick up mines as the authorities promised to let
anyone go home who survived a week. This, of course, came to
nothing. At canp, he worked as a chauffeur - without pay, naturally.
K.L. left the camp at Fort-Corneilles-en-Parisi daily to eork in the
surrounding fields. According to him, ridding the fields of the mines
cost many a Hungarian life or limb. He received no pay for his
On the other hand, O.F. did work and even received pay in the form
of vouchers. However, these were confiscated from him and his
companions at the screening camp at Kaposvar without any
The most fortunate prisoners received work on farms or in industry.
The French farmers appreciated good workers and considered them
members of the family. They even received marriage proposals.
However, the slave-market atmosphere of the workers' placement
was most humiliating. The prisoner were lined up in the marketplace
where the prospective employers eyed them, chose among
them, felt their muscles. The chosen ones or the prisoners detailed
for camp-work had to labour barefoot, or at best in clogs, to prevent
Although it sounds incredible and seemed hopeless, many tried,
with little success, to escape. The French population did not
sympathize with the prisoners. But to escape to the American zone
was a sensible undertaking as the escapees were always repatriated.
The Americans even kept an official record of the French treatment.
The French punished the recaptured escapees very harshly
(sometimes even by execution) despite the Geneva Convention's
In the camps, the general opinion held that the rough treatment of the
French was motivated by their hope to recruit the young prisoners
for the Foreign Legion. It is a fact that the :egion's recruiters
regularly showed up in the camps and tried to lure the young men
away with attractive promises. The temptation was great,
particularly during the first few months of captivity, the "starvation
period". Many of our Hungarians joined for a variety of reasons.
Some did not wish to go home for some shady dealings; some were
fired by the spirit of adventure; and others, the rationalizers, just
wanted out of the depressing camps for a little while. Those that
signed up were transported to a legion base. Sooner or later many
returned: some were judged unfit, others got scared of the hardships
of the legionnaire's life. The numbers differ on how many
Hungarians did join the Legion and how many lost their lives in
Indochina or Algeria. Accordng to Tamas Stark's well-established
calculations, about 20,000 Hungarians served under the Legion's
In September 1945 Gen. Eisenhower stopped the transfer of
prisoners to the French. He did that once he learned of the illegalities
that occurred in the French camps. The world press started writing
about them; now the Red Cross also intervened more forcefully.
International medical teams visited the camps and separated those
who became too weak to work. Most of these were handed over to
the Americans and were placed in rehabilitation camps. From that
time on there was improvement in the French camps also and finally
the repatriation of the Hungarian prisoners was discussed.
The Hungarian consul in Paris, Vilmos Erodi-Harrach, reported in
November 1945 that although the French government does not
become involved in the repatriation of the Hungarians, it wishes to
ease their lot by creating Hungarians-only camps, by offering them
employment possibilities, and by putting the sick prisoners into
On March 9, 1946, Gen. Buisson informed the Hungarian
delegation of the International Red Cross that the French
government had decided to liberate the Hungarian prisoners. This
was to start as soon as their transport became possible across the
Beyond the ponderous bureaucracy, the prisoners received faster
and more effective assistance from society. This was provided, first
of all, by the Frenchmen who had fled to Hungary, the escapees,
and the pastors of the Hungarian missions of Paris. The latter
rescued some 160 cadets from the camp at Dieppe where they were
consistently subjected to the homosexual advances of their arab
guards. These were placed in French families until the details of
their repatriation was worked out. The Red Cross freed 42 cadets
from Andernach in August 1945 and placed these, too, in French
Frere Albert, a monk of the Marist order, and Jean Cottin, an
escaped lieutenant, armed with Gen. Buisson's credentials, visited
the camps, took aid, and forwarded messages to the prisoners'
families. The chief of th Hungarian Red Cross mission in Toulouse
succeeded in liberating five prisoners languishing in the dungeons of
the fortress who were convicted on fictitious charges.
There were Frenchmen who, in their own way, tried and managed
to help prisoners. Mme Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, a
professor of Egyptology at the Sorbonne, intervened for special
treatment for her Hungarian colleague and three of his companions
at the camp at Poitiers. In the small town of Petitville, in the
Calvados, a teacher and a clerk at city hall together helped five
Hungarian prisoners. In Saint-Jean-d'Angely chance brought an exrefugee
from Hungary to the guard. As soon as he discovered the
Hungarians among the prisoners, he arranged for them to have 3 dl.
milk a day to improve nutrition. A French farmer, returning from his
orchard in the evenings, would throw a hatful of plums over the
There are countless little incidents like these in the diaries and
journals. They seem insignificant, yet, at the time and under those
conditions, they could save a life. They prove that in and around
those prisoner-of-war camps, cruelty did not reign supreme.
The repatriation of the Hungarian prisoners did finally start in March
1946 and ended, to all practical purposes, at the end of 1947. From
that time on, prisoners showed up only sporadically at the screening
camp at home.
V. THOSE WHO DID NOT RETURN...
The Second World War produced some, hitherto unknown
phenomena of warfare. The consequences of some of these can still
be felt in society.
One of these is that the belligerent countries had more civilian losses
than military. It is strange that an accurate count of these civilian
casualties is still not available; all there is are estimations. These
well-founded estimations are good for establishing parameters but
are not satisfactory to families who don't know where their loved
ones are resting.
In Hungary's case the new phenomenon is that most of the military
and civilian fatalities are buried outside of our borders and the final
resting place of many is unknown.
The Hungarian prisoners' French captivity only lasted one or oneand-
a-half years. But many of them died during that time as a result
of fighting, bombing raids, epidemics caused by the primitive
conditions of the camps, sporadic medical care, personal tragedies
(shootings and suicides). The dead were buried someplace around
the camp, in marked - sometimes unmarked - temporary graves.
In the 1950s, on the basis of an agreement with France, the German
Popular Association for the Care of Military Graves, created in
1919, searched out the tombs and burial places that they could find,
opened them up, identified the remains and saw to it that they were
reburied in military graveyards in northern France or Germany,
without regard to their nationalities. At the same time, they
organized a record-keeping and information service too. This is how
the scattered remains of the Hungarian war dead ended up in these
beautifully planned and maintained military cemeteries.
Unfortunately, 10 years after the end of the war and the prisoners'
captivity it was impossible to find every grave and to identify all the
remains. Therefore we could only find partial listings on the
cemetery records of those prisoners who had died in France. We
suspect that many were buried in mass graves of the unknown dead.
The question of how many men lost their lives in French captivity is
justified. As it became apparent earlier, the answer is not easy as
most counts are based on approxmations. In his book Never again
war..., dr. Papp Tibor writes: "No exact count is available of their
numbers. According to some estimations, they numbered in the ten
thousand." (This applies to all prisoners-of-war in western
The starting point for an educated guess of the number of prisoners
who died in France could be the data on Hungarian soldiers buried
in France collected by the German Popular Association for the Care
of Military Graves. The organization declared that it did not have a
complete list as, in the course of finding the graves and reburying
the dead, they were unable to locate every tomb and identify every
body. The fact that during the last stages of the war several
Hungarian units were under German command and received
German identification numbers complicates the issue. There were
prisoner-of-war camps under French supervision in Germany also
and those who died there were buried in German cemeteries.
The French themselves are uncertain about the mortality numbers.
The prisoner-of-war administration set the mortality rate at 2.4%.
German researcher doubt this figure and contrast it with the 3.5%
mortality rate at the camp at Rheinwiesen. To paper over these
contradictions, the Frenmch invented the new statistical theory of
"perdus pour raisons diverses" (lost for various reasons.)
One must not forget that in the autumn of 1945 the Americans took
over several thousand weakened and ill prisoners, some of whom
could not be saved. Their death improved French statistics. To
further complicate matter, the French declared that they were not
responsible for the death of prisoners who were already ill or
wounded when captured.
In Hungary herself, only the prisoners' recollections are available
but these are not very reliable as most only remember that "there
were many deaths". The Hungarian losses were not recorded
separately either by the French or the Germans. The only concrete
fact that emerged was the declaration of some of the artillery cadets
from Hajmasker who said that from April to October out of 790
cadets 70 died.
After all this, even the most conservative estimates will give a figure
of 1,800 dead minimum, i.e. a mortality rate of 3%. If we contrast
this with the peace-time rate of 1/1000 applicable to this age group,
one will grasp the severity of our losses.
According to the German Popular Association for the Care of
Military Graves, about 400 Hungarian soldiers are recorded and
buried in the graveyards listed in the annex.
For decades after the end of the war we had no means to
commemorate our compatriots who died in the war. Bow, thanks to
the German Popular Association for the Care of Nilitary Graves, we
have the lists of the dead and the names of the cemeteries. On
October 10, 1992, in Niederbronn-les-Bains, the Association of
War Veterans erected in the great hall of the military cemetery a
commemorative column which honours all the soldiers who died in
Since May 26, 1992, in the hero's cemetery in Miskolc stands a
memorial to all those who died in eastern or western captivity. Tere
are always fresh flowers at the foot of this memorial signifying the
respect and devotion of those who cannot go to their loved ones'
actual grave. And here they say their prayers for those who never
Bacque, James: Der Geplante Tod (Planned Death); Ullstein, 1989
Bajomi Lazar, Endre: Francia Menekultek Magyarorszagon (French
Refugees in Hungary) Budapest, 1980
Karoly. Istvan: Francia Hadifogoly voltam (I was a French
prisoner-of-war), Muskolc, 1998
Dr. Papp, Tibor: Soha Tobbe Haborut! (Never Again War!),
Tarczai, Bela: Magyarok a Nyugati Hadifogoly Taborokban
(Hungarians in Western Prisoner-of-War Camps), Budapest, 1992
- - : Piros volt a Parolim (I wore Red on my Collar), Miskolc,
FRENCH P.O.W. CAMPS
Bregenz Rum am Innsbruck
Feldkirchen St. Peter / Winberg
Agde Camp de Livron
Amboise Camp de ThorŽ
Auberchicourt / Nord Chalon sur Marne
Bar -sur-Aube Cherbourg
La BŽgude Comper-en-Concoret
Camp des Sables-Fortet Dragignan
Camp des Anamites ƒpinal
Camp des Defends par Chateauroux Ergm
Farges/Morbihen Mulhouse-St. Louis
Ferriere-la-Vorrerie N. OrlŽans
Fountainebleau Nouvelle Annecy
Fort Moselle Parche
Fort Cormeilles Pau, Ville de
Fort de Noisy/Paris Piemont
Grabyle Phehac/S Ardour
Grandville Quieri Lamotte
HŽrault de Beziers Rivesaltes
La FlŽche Rouen
Lamballe Saint Fons/Rhone
La TrŽmouille pres Tulle Saint Jean d'AngŽly
Le Havre Saint Priest/Isere
Lens/Mericourt Satonay Sausheim
Lisle s/Tarn Sermaise-les-Bains
Luneville SŽte/HŽrault Montpellier
MŠrzwiller Venissieuy par Lyon
Metz Vernet d'Ariege
Montelier Vitry le Francois
LIST OF GERMAN MILITARY CEMETERIES
IN FRANCE WHERE
HUNGARIAN "POW'S" ARE ALSO RESTING
Mont de Hiusnes /DŽpartement Manche
Bergheim /DŽp. Haut-Rhin
Niederbronn /DŽp. Bas-Rhin
Solers /DŽp. Seine-et-Marne
Fort de Malmaison /DŽp. Aisne
Noyers-Font-Maugis /DŽp. Ardennes
Andilly /DŽp. Meurthe-et-Moselle
Marigni /DŽp. Manche
Berneuil /DŽp. Charante Maritime
Ploudaniel-Lesneven /DŽp. Finistere
Dagneux /DŽp. Ain
Ste Anne d'Aury Morbihan /DŽp. Touraine
Lommel /DŽp. Limbourg, Belgium
La Cambe /DŽp. Calvados
Orglandes /DŽp. Manche
St. AndrŽ /DŽp. Eure
Beauvais /DŽp. Oise
THE CEMETERY AT POITIERS
At the time of completing this report, only one list of the dead
Hungarian "POW's" is known to us. They are buried near Poitiers,
France. The list contains 62 Hungarian names. We have reason to
belive, that most of the cemeteries near the camps mentioned
before, hold the greaves of many hundreds of other innocent
Heartfelt thanks to the German War Graves Commission of Kassel,
for making the list available to us.
Name Grave No,
Abay, Alad‡r 1040
Ambo, Istv‡n 1157
Bajkai, Imre 1420
Bart, Jenš 1335
BŽres, Andr‡s 1287
Berta, Gyšrgy 1540
Boganos, Gyšrgy 1501
Bottka, Lajos 1494
Csizmadia, Ferenc 1397
Buday, Mih‡ly 1120
Dud‡s, Jozsef 1347
Durko, Imre 1318
Ebner, J‡nos 1155
Ešrdšgh, Bertalan 1364
Erdšs, J‡nos 1187
F‡skerty, PŽter 1527
Fekete, Gyšrgy 1288
G‡l, K‡roly 1196
Gombos (Gšmbšs?), Tibor 1218
Haido (Hajdœ), B‡lint 1240
Joszi, S‡ndor 1156
Kammel?, BŽla 1239
Karsay, Ernš 1651
Kepes (KŽpes?), Viktor 1263
Kiss, Ferenc 1244
Kiss, Mih‡ly 1480
Koll‡r, L‡szl— 1341
Koltai, K‡roly 1340
Konyha, Lajos 1281
Ligeti, P‡l L‡szl— 1507
Liha, G‡bor 1406
Marastzo (?), Vilmos 1468
Mih‡ly, Antal 1421
Nagy, Istv‡n 1305
Napholcz, J—zsef 1259
P‡ter, Mikl—s 1407
Parocski, DŽnes 1528
PŽter, AlfrŽd 1253
Piller, Gyšrgy 1203
Porkol‡b, L‡szl— 1458
Rosza (R—zsa?), Demeter 1215
Sallai, Antal 1183
Sanda, Istv‡n II(?)
Serester, Andor 1514
Serfšzš, J—zsef 1253
Somogyv‡ri, Jenš 1282
Szabš, Albert 1591
Szaba (Szab—?), Lajos 1197
Szantner, J—n‡s (J‡nos) 1217
Szške, S‡ndor 1262
Szoreni (SzšrŽnyi?), Ott— 1241
SzŸcs, Istv‡n 1205
Szuer (SzŸr?), J—zsef 1056
Tak‡cs, ElemŽr 1427
Tšršk, J—n‡s (J‡nos?) 1195
T—th, J—zsef 1513
Udvardi, J—zsef 1384
Varga, Istv‡n 1271
Varga, J—zsef 1356
Vaska, Gyšzš 1416
Weisz, Istv‡n 1248
Zs—ri, Gyula 1289