„Nothing else remains for you who enter, only hope!”

 

The view of the mine in Recsk where prisoners were forced to do heavy physical work with basic tools 10-12 hours a day in every season. The camp in Recsk „opened its gates” on the dawn of July 19, 1950. 1500 prisoners who were hauled here without a court decision were forced to work under minimal conditions of existence continuously in the stone mine in the camp created following the example of Soviet Gulag camps. As time passed and as the number of people in the camp increased the guards became more and more violent. They inhumanly chastised, tortured and starved the prisoners. The place already had five barracks by late autumn 1950. The camp had 1300-1700 prisoners at its height. When closing the mine in 1953 all prisoners released were forced to sign a confidentiality document confirming they would not tell anyone about the conditions in the camp.

 

 

 

Portrait of Ervin Ernst

Ervin was sentenced to 11 years of forced labor during a show trial in 1954. He was charged with organizing the overthrow of the people's democratic state. Ervin was only at the beginning of his 20s at this time. He spent 2 years in prison in pit no. 9 in Csolnok mine. He was released in 1956.

Quote from Ervin: “One has periods in his life where everything blurs, one day cannot be distinguished from another. In my view this is the essence of being in prison: you live by merely existing... At the same time there are days, events or maybe moments which get carved in your memory for good and appear as real and fresh even decades after.”

A dark cell carved into a rock on floor -3 in the fortress prison of Veszprém, Hungary. Mostly church persons were imprisoned here. Convicts were given only a sack stuffed with hay to use as a pillow.

A Böhring drill of the period which the prisoners used in the mine in Csolnok, Hungary.

Portrait of Ferenc Balogh

Ferenc was a 23-year-old university student when he was arrested in 1951. He was going to get married to his fiancée in 10 days’ time. He was charged with organizing Catholic youth camps. He was imprisoned in the Internment Camp in Kistarcsa, and for a long while his parents knew very little about where their son could be. He was released in 1953 when Prime Minister Imre Nagy ordered the closure of all internment and labor camps. After his liberation he married his fiancée who was then expelled from university for this reason.

Quote from Ferenc: “I was arrested by the people of the State Protection Authority at 2 am on May 11, 1951. I can never forget this. I was being interrogated for three months, day and night. Then they made me sign an internment decision. I did not want to sign it at first but I saw they would come and beat my head. They hit my head against the wall and kicked in me. I had to lie on the bed in the cell motionless because if I had moved I would have had to stand up and hold a sharpened pencil with my forehead against the wall.”

Detail of Internment Camp in Kistarcsa, Hungary.

 

Toilet bowl in one of the cells of Kisfogház. It was a frequent method of tormenting prisoners to feed them with salt and make them drink from the toilet.

Portrait of Sándor József Rácz

József wanted to become a physician and he studied at Medical University at the time of the 1956 revolution. He would have liked to become a surgeon. He was active in the organization of the revolutionary movements of 1956. He was only 22 years old at the time. He was arrested on February 1, 1957 after having been reported to the police. Judge Vilmos Szegedi asked for death penalty for him at first instance, whereas Judge Gusztáv Tutsek gave him life sentence. He stayed at the most dreadful prisons. Eventually he was freed at the time of the 1963 amnesty. A few months after the portrait was taken József passed away due to a long-standing illness.

 

Detail of mine in Recsk, Hungary.

Piece of a prisoner’s shoe in Recsk, Hungary.

Portrait of István Válóczy

 

István was merely 23 years old when he was summoned as a witness to a firefight in November 1956. He was interrogated and then, based on his own confession, he was arrested. The charges were organizing and leading the firefight. The court decision was life sentence, deprivation of all possessions, and 10 years of deprivation of political rights. Eventually he received amnesty after 5 years and 3 months, in 1963. He had just lost his mother while he was spending his years of imprisonment in the Central Collecting Prison, but he only learned it later from the guards. His wife also divorced him during the time of imprisonment when their common child was only 2 and a half years old.

 

Quote from István: “It was not allowed to look up during the walking hour in the prison but when it was raining or snowing we could see the sky reflected from the puddles. We were allowed to walk only with our heads bent down and hands at the back. When you come out of the prison you notice that the world is colorful. There are colors. Inside everything is grey. The days are grey. The walls are grey. The clothes of the guards are grey, everything is grey. The hopeless time spent in prison is grey. There is only one color: grey. Outside everything is colorful. The world is colorful, the flowers are colorful. The sky is blue.”

The inner facade of the Budapest Metropolitan Prison Service in Markó Street.

After 1945 the prison in Markó Street became the center of the jurisdiction of the people’s democracy. This is where they had trials and pronounced death sentences for war crimes and crimes against the people which were carried out in the courtyard of the prison. This is, for example, where Ferenc Szálasi and Béla Imrédy, former prime ministers were executed. The prison was so filled up by 1946 that 1800-2000 prisoners were crowded in a building originally built for 700 people. They kept 30-35 prisoners in a cell that was built for 6-7 people. The cells were full of lice and bedbugs which were impossible to eradicate under these conditions.

Pieces of the fence of the prisoners’ camp in Csolnok, Hungary.

The interior of a cell from the penalty unit of the Prison in Vác, Doberdó.

A windowless standing cell is one of the most appalling places in Doberdo, the prison in Vác, in which the locked-up prisoner could do nothing but stand. Squatting, sitting down on the floor or relaxing the body in any way was impossible. In case the prisoner got sick, fainted or could not take up the posture for the normalization of blood circulation – even if the person survived the time spent in the cell – they would suffer from an irreversible impairment due to the lack of blood circulation in the brain. As the prisoners recollect, almost all captives of Doberdo tried to commit suicide in one way or another after three days in the hope of avoiding their further suffering.

A stone from the mine in Recsk.

 

 

 

 

An Infernal Play       ( 2016 - 2019 )

 

 

A few years ago I happened to find a prisoner’s diary which contained the memoirs of a political prisoner from the '50s. I started reading it and a deep and a dark world opened up for me which grabbd my attention instantly and made me realize how little and superficial my knowledge is about this period of the Hungarian history. The more I read about the world of prisons the more I connected it to a visual symbol system which I wanted to bring to life through the photography.

 

My goal was to create an archive which collects existing places, objects and witnesses of the criminal justice system of the Rákosi' dictatorship and the early Kádár period. I have identified the timeline to be examined from the opening of the first labor camps in 1945 to 1963, the amnesty. I visualized this dark and chaotic period in a light-toned, transparent and easy to understand way which is factual and was controlled by historians. But why was it important for me to start the work as soon as possible? Because this world is disappearing unnoticed and with its last old surviving witnesses and scenes and this is the last moment to record what happened in the past for the next generations. I'm sure it wont be possible to do this in 3-4 years. Being aware of the time constraints my project was speeded up significantly. Preparing the series needed lots of background work including phone calls, long interviews, emails and archive research. I used an analogue large format camera, which is a very slow method, but the quality and the resolution of the images gave me more security to be able to use them for archiving purposes.

 

In 2017 I started mapping and documenting former prisons and labor camps which created a strong basis for my project. This part of my work is about the darkest prisons, labor camps and the old survivors who spent years in these places. They still bear the wounds of the past on themselves which could never heal. I think these scenes will be holding the remembrance of the physical and mental suffering of thousands for a long time. In 2018 I added a new and essential part to my work done earlier. It was necessary for making the period more complete and easier to understand for myself. I wanted to make the characters who were involved in political crimes speak. Since those who were directly responsible already passed away, there wasn't other option for me just to meet to their children. I choose children whose parents were important figures of the regime but somehow they became the enemies of it from one day to another. Similarly to the average Hungarian people, they had to face tortures, interrogations, show trials, imprisonment, executions. Of course, these children are not responsible for the actions of their parents.

 

Regardless the fact that we view this as an already processed period of the past, Hungarian society still carries and passes on the burdens and negative reflexes of the past unconsciously. Facing the past as it was never happened. The most important reason for this is that there wasn't social support for naming and calling to account those who committed these crimes so most of them died peacefully in the 80s and the 90s. After the collapse of socialism, in the joy of freedom, people started going abroad, enterprise and forget, and consequently those who suffered through this regime never received proper moral or financial compensation. I strongly believe that the period I wanted to shed light on determined the present and the future of Hungarian society. The different layers and the finer changes within the 44 years of state socialism were mostly defined by these initial decades, Rákosi’s dictatorship.