Hungary north korea hospital
Hungarian doctors and nurses in the May 1 procession of 1956 in Sarivon, North Korea. Source: fortepan.hu

Hungary builds new hospitals, for example, in Vietnam. In 1950, the Communist leadership of the country felt it essential to help their Korean and Chinese comrades fighting against the United States by sending a complete hospital with the crew to the Far East country. Interestingly, the hospital is in operation still today.

Interestingly, the first contact between Hungary and the Korean Kingdom was established at the end of the 19th century. Hungarian travellers and doctors visited the Kingdom before and after the Japanese occupation. American and Soviet troops retook the country from the Japanese forces in the final days of WWII, but the winners of the war could not decide the fate of the Penninsula. Since the negotiations on reunification failed, in 1948, separate governments were formed: the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea in the south.

Hungary, as a country under communist leadership set up diplomatic ties with North-Korea almost immediately and in 1950, the first Hungarian ambassador arrived in Pyongyang. When the Korean war started, Mátyás Rákosi, hated and feared leader of the Hungarian communist regime, offered Hungary’s help and agreed with Soviet leader Stalin and the North Korean leadership that

he would not only send a team of doctors and nurses but a fully functional hospital with 200 beds to the Far East country.

Hungary north korea hospital
The cooperation between Hungary and North Korea. Source: fortepan.hu

The first crew and the equipment started their long journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway in the summer of 1950 to heal those wounded during the war. By 1951, there were 8 separate medical teams in North Korea and China, all working between horrible circumstances and being continuously threatened by the US air raids. For example, the first equipment sent to North Korea was destroyed by American bombers.

Therefore, Hungary sent a second team of doctors with a hospital for 400 people. Interestingly,

during the North-Korean occupation of Seoul, the today capital of South Korea, the Hungarian unit of doctors lead a hospital for 2,500 people.

Finally, the Hungarian doctors moved to Sarivon, a big North-Korean city south from the capital, Pyongyang where they created the Mátyás Rákosi Hospital.

Hungary north korea hospital
Hungarian and Korean doctors together in Saviron. Source: fortepan.hu

The hospital treated wounded soldiers there until 1953 when the two Koreas signed an armistice agreement which is still in effect. Among the Hungarian doctors, there were some well-known persons, too, for example, Frigyes Kulka, father of popular Hungarian actor, János Kulka, László Gyarmati, brother-in-law of the famous Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti, and Miklós Böszörményi, an outstanding specialist of pulmonology.

The last Hungarian team of doctors started their journey towards North Korea in 1956. Since the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the relationship between the two countries grew cold. The North Korean government ordered the almost 1,000 Korean students to return home immediately, and the last Hungarian doctor had to leave North Korea in 1957.

In the 7 years, the altogether

225 Hungarian doctors and nurses spent in North Korea they helped more than 120 thousand patients and did more than 7,000 surgeries –

the Hungarian News Agency said then. Today, a bilingual column commemorates their deeds in the garden of the hospital. The Mátyás Rákosi hospital is still in operation and, based on information, bears the name of the Hungarian communist leader even today. 

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