Towards the end of WWII, in early 1945, every young woman between the ages of 18 and 30 and every young man between 18 and 45 who were believed to be German (everyone was declared as such if they had a German sounding name) were transported to the Soviets to do a “little work” as Hungarians called it.  The málenkij robot was a kind of forced labour (coming from the Russian words malenkaya rabota (маленькая работа) that also means “little work”) and despite its meaning it was not so little, as it often lasted for 5 years or more. Every person who had a German sounding name was forced to go, even if they have never been to Germany or didn’t speak German at all. wrote a moving personal article about the atrocities people had to suffer.

71 years ago in January 1945, young men and women “could not enjoy their Christmas presents and the new year, but were forced to get on trains going to the Soviet Union with only a change of clothes, bed sheets, and some food,” the author wrote.

The málenkij robot was a form of punisment for the German people, and was part of the “degermanization process.” There are no exact numbers, but approximately 600.000 Hungarians were captured, including 200.000 civilians.

The author’s grandmother (pictured above) was also transported to the Soviets even though not knowing one German word, just because one of her ancestors immigrated to Hungary from Germany in the 1700s, to try his luck. One of her uncles already died during the journey, and the rest travelled for 27 days in a cattle-truck. Thereafter they worked in a coal mine for 5 years eating nothing but cabbage soup and brown bread. The costs of the journey and the camps’ construction were deducted from the already shrunk wage they got.

There were awful conditions in the camps, any prisoner has a much better cell nowadays. Still, the author said that people worked without a word, and “were happy if they got hold of some potatoes, or got a letter from home. They went for a walk, if they had the time, they sang, and never complained, because it wouldn’t have helped them anyway.”

The reason the author told her grandmother’s story was to point out how easier life is compared to the suffering some people went through, and that it doesn’t matter if a photo is not perfect, if our salaries are not twice as high, if we’re not rich, or if we can’t go to a party at the end of the month. Her grandmother would probably say, wrote the author, that we shouldn’t feel bad, because it could always get worse, and we should value the things we already have.

Photo source: Szabó Eszter/

Copy editor: bm


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.