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  • While spending any amount of time locked  up in confinement is brutal for anybody,  

  • it is especially so for prisoners of war who  are now at the mercy of the people just days  

  • or even moments before they were trying  to kill. History is filled with tales of  

  • brutality towards captured opponents and  there is a wide variety of punishments  

  • that can be meted out for those unfortunate  enough to fall into the hands of the enemy

  • One of those punishments can simply be the length  of time itself for prisoners to be released,  

  • such as in the Vietnam War where US  POWs sometimes waited for six, seven,  

  • and even eight years before being returned to  their homeland. While these times might seem  

  • impossibly long for many, they actually do not  come anywhere close to the longest time someone  

  • has actually been held as a prisoner of war. That dubious record is held by a man named Andras  

  • Toma who was a private in the Hungarian army and  was captured by the Russians in World War Two,  

  • going on to spend 55 years in captivity. But how  does a private, the lowest ranking enlisted man,  

  • stay locked up for decades after the war  especially when the most senior leadership of  

  • Germany and other Axis countries were all released  within a decade of the end of World War Two

  • In the final six months of World War Two, the  situation in Europe was characterized by large,  

  • chaotic battles and an incredibly fluid frontlineBy the fall of 1944, the situation in the east  

  • was not looking good for the Germans and their  allies. Massive Soviet offensives finally pushed  

  • enemy soldiers off Russian soil for the first time  since 1941 and now the Russians were advancing in  

  • all directions along the front. Here begins Toma's story

  • Toma was born in a small village called  Ujfeherto in 1925 and grew up in the  

  • village of Sulyanbokor. During his time in the  village, he grew up with both of his parents  

  • as well as one brother and one sister. Toma  attended school in the small town and after  

  • graduation became a blacksmith apprentice. It was  here in the autumn of 1944 that army recruiters  

  • came looking for him and forced him into the army. Little is known about his service in the Hungarian  

  • army- which was allied with Hitler- during the  war. He likely participated in the defense of  

  • Nyiregyhaza, a larger Hungarian town not far from  his childhood village. From there, it appears that  

  • his unit was sent to Poland. There are differing  accounts of when exactly he was captured with  

  • some believing it was in the late fall of 1944  while some other accounts cite January 11, 1945,  

  • as the day of his capture in Poland. From the moment he was captured,  

  • Tomas' ordeal was a living hell. It is likely  that the Soviets rounded up survivors of his unit  

  • and marched them to one of a series of over four  thousand specially designed camps made exclusively  

  • for prisoners of war. Often, the guards were  brutal and were known to beat and kick prisoners  

  • who were falling behind or for no reason at all. From here, the men were likely put on crowded  

  • boxcars with up to sixty men in each car. The  beds along the walls were usually only two deep  

  • meaning those unlucky enough to not get one would  have to sleep on the floor or stand up aimlessly  

  • for hours until it was their turn for a breakThere was usually a stove in the middle of the  

  • car but fuel was scarce so the prisoners would  freeze in the cold winter months like when Tomas  

  • was captured. As for a bathroom, a small hole in  the floor of the car was all that was provided

  • Making matters worse was the intense pressure to  get the prisoners to their final destination as  

  • quickly as possible. The guards were under  strict orders to provide the exact numbers  

  • of prisoners reported and because of that would  make few stops for food and water along the way.  

  • During these rare moments, it was  common for POWs to try and escape  

  • but these men were always met with immediate  gunfire from the guards in any such case

  • The pressure to keep the exact number of prisoners  also meant that whenever someone died or escaped  

  • the guards would arrest any local citizens and  take them along now as "prisoners of war" ensuring  

  • that the car stays packed the entire way there. During the journey, it was here that the once  

  • perfectly sane Toma began to show his first signs  of mental illness. It was reported that because  

  • of the intense timeline to get the camps as  scheduled, those that died in the car from their  

  • wounds, disease, thirst, or who were shot simply  stayed in the car. Because of the lack of beds,  

  • prisoners like Tomas were forced to sleep on  top of the bodies of their dead comrades. By  

  • the time the men reached Russia, Tomas had already  begun to show the first signs of mental psychosis

  • Regardless of when he was captured, the first  records of his captivity come from a prisoner of  

  • war camp outside Leningrad on January 25, 1945.  Upon arrival, it was likely that he was sent to  

  • the camp infirmary to see the medical doctor to  address the mental breakdown he had suffered on  

  • the trip. It was this day that would send him down  the path towards his decades' long internment

  • When presenting himself to the medical officerhe told him that his name was Andras Toma.  

  • But because of the language barriermisunderstanding, or even poor handwriting,  

  • his name was recorded as Andras Tamas and this  would be his new identity for years to come

  • Compounding matters even worse was the fact  that he was one of the few Hungarians captured  

  • in a mostly German unit meaning he was  left with few others to communicate with  

  • since he spoke no German and very little Russian. His time at the prisoner of war camp was likely  

  • very tough. At the end of World War Two, Stalin  had told the other world leaders that because  

  • of the incredible casualties his country had  suffered during the war, he intended to keep  

  • prisoners of war for as long as he could as forced  laborers to rebuild the nation. Over four million  

  • foreign prisoners were used for forced labor by  the Soviets including at least 500,000 Hungarians

  • The prisoners were utilized for a variety of  projects which usually consisted of construction  

  • or other manual labor jobs to rebuild the damaged  infrastructure of the Soviet Union. It is unknown  

  • which camps Tomas served in since the records  for the time were sparse at best. To further  

  • complicate matters, these records were kept under  seal in the Russian archives until as recently as  

  • only a few years ago when the Hungarian government  received permission from the Russian government  

  • to unseal the records of over 400,000 Hungarians  who had survived captivity in the Soviet Union

  • While it is unknown exactly which camp or camps  Tomas served in, they were all without a doubt  

  • miserable places to be. For one, upon arrivalthe men were forced to give up their valuables.  

  • These would either be pocketed by the guards or  given to the local population since they were  

  • often in little better shape than the prisoners. After arrival, the men would be expected to work  

  • at least 8 but sometimes up to 14 hours a day. The  punishments for escape could be brutal with some  

  • camps giving immediate death sentences for anyone  who tried. But even if Tomas could have escaped,  

  • the locals were all told that even  the Hungarians were war criminals  

  • and were just as bad as the Germans, meaning  little hope of someone taking pity on them

  • The food in the camps was also universally poor  with many Hungarians reporting that most meals  

  • consisted of dry bread and some watered down soupThe men's' uniforms were reduced to rags and fuel  

  • here was just as scarce on the transports  in the winter. Often, prisoners would become  

  • infected with lice and other vermin adding  another layer of misery to the whole ordeal

  • At the end of 1947, Soviet records show  that his camp was shut down and he was  

  • transferred to a Soviet psychiatric hospital  in central Russia since the Russians claimed  

  • he was schizophrenic but was likely suffering  from PTSD from the years of abuse in the camps.  

  • For unknown reasons, his name was struck from the  official list of Hungarian prisoners at this point  

  • and Tomas would now begin the next chapter  of his internment living in obscurity

  • Once at the hospital, Tomas tried to communicate  with staff and fellow patients numerous times  

  • both by speaking and writing but every  time he was met with cold indifference.  

  • His native tongue is unlike any other  language in Europe and shares few common  

  • roots with any one of them, making Hungarianvery unique and difficult to understand language  

  • for those who are not familiar with it. Tomas' fate would be locked in after 1954.  

  • When the last batches of POWs were released he  was officially declared dead by the Hungarian  

  • government since his name was no longer  on the list of confirmed POWs still alive

  • During the decades Tomas spent at the hospitalhe spent practically every moment alone.  

  • He ate his meals while staring at the wall and  worked some small jobs in the hospital to keep  

  • himself occupied. Because of the repeated attempts  at communication failing, Tomas resigned himself  

  • to his fate and carried on each day hoping that  one day someone would be able to understand him

  • That day would take over fifty years. By 2000, new staff at the hospital decided that  

  • they would attempt to communicate with Tomas. They  did not believe that the language he was speaking  

  • was some made-up gibberish as other doctors had  claimed. They sought the help of one of Russia's  

  • most renowned linguists to listen to him and  see if he could identify the language. After  

  • listening to Tomas, the linguist immediately  identified the language as Hungarian and soon  

  • thereafter contacted the Hungarian embassy. After positively identifying that he was  

  • Hungarian and was not mentally disabled, the  work of identifying who he was proved difficult.  

  • Tomas had not had a prolonged conversation with  anyone in over fifty years. Getting him to come  

  • out of his shell was slow at first, but once  several officers from the Hungarian army came to  

  • visit him he began to open up more about his past. While it was hard to understand what he was saying  

  • since he spoke an older, less-used dialect of  Hungarian, the officers and medical staff began  

  • to piece together facts of his life before the  war. They then solicited information from the  

  • public and over one hundred families  came forward believing he could be  

  • one of their long lost relatives. In the end, through a DNA test,  

  • one of these families proved to be his actual  relatives. It was his brother and sister who  

  • had survived the war and were still living in  the same village they had grown up in. Tomas,  

  • after 55 years in captivity, was finally returned  to his native Hungary to a hero's welcome and 55  

  • years of back pay for service in the army. But he would not have much time to catch up  

  • with his family or enjoy the celebrity status and  back pay given to him by the Hungarian government.  

  • Sadly, in 2004, just over four years after  he's released, he passed away at home.

While spending any amount of time locked  up in confinement is brutal for anybody,  

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B1 hungarian war captured captivity army soviet

The Longest Held POW of WW2 (World War 2)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/12/31
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