Diary of labour serviceman Dr. Endre Szántó
The 230th Article of the Act II of 1939 provided for the labour service of public interest, which ordered the obligation to male residents of Hungarian citizenship who were unfit for military service and had reached the age of twenty-four. The training provided within the military framework had to be completed in labour camps for persons specified by law, and the duration of service was set at three months a year. The first labour battalions began their work in July 1939, so by the end of the summer of 1940 it became clear that the incompetence was not interpreted by the legislature in terms of physical health, but by origin and political reliability. The decree is thus difficult to interpret other than the supplement to Jewish laws.
These people were usually given a few weeks of formal training and then they were entrusted with the construction and repair of roads, railways, bridges and other military facilities. The need to establish a labour camp in Alsódabas was justified by the reannexation of Northern Transylvania and the accompanying increased military tasks.
Dr. Endre Szántó was called in September 1940 and demobilized on 20 December 1940. In addition to his diaries, the photos he took continuously during his service are of source value. The physician of the 7th century began writing his notes on 7 September 1940, in parallel with which he also took photographs with his Kodak camera. His photographs show not only his comrades, but also officers and the places on their way.
According to his description, the operation of the camp initially covered the villages of Alsódabas, Felsődabas and Gyón. The area of the labour servicemen was in Andrássy Street in Felsődabas. They usually had to stay in emptied, crumbling-walled farm buildings, where the beds were straw spread on the ground.
The diary also reveals that it happened that the enlistment of some centuries was so unprepared that the labourers spent the night in the open air. They typically got up at five in the morning, and after a depressing morning line-up and headcount check, they spent most of the day on the drill ground. A recurring element of the daily routine was the cleaning of dry peas, which was carried out in the courtyard of the gentleman’s casino of Alsódabas. At that time, they could even receive and send mail, access to newspapers, and the photographs show that the doctor's mother and sister were frequent guests here, so they could also receive visitors. At the same time, the unworthy abuses and punishments and the glooming caused by insecurity increased their feelings of exclusion. It is clear from the lines of the young sanatorium doctor that he often pondered on his situation. Why should he be here, what happens to him, his family, but what worried him even more was when this pointless service would end?
"These are my companions and not my patients"
After the reannexation of Northern Transylvania, the situation of labour servicemen deteriorated. The second half of his diary reports on this section. The chaos-dominated century, in which Dr. Szántó was also enlisted, was finally transported by train to the Maramures region to do earthwork on top of Priszlop near Borsa. Already on their arrival, there was almost a tragedy, because his medical chest had fallen off the car, fortunately his instruments and vials had survived the fall intact, but until he realized he had to heal in such a harsh place without drugs and his own instruments, it was quite a nerve-wracking discovery.
The rare mountain air, the inhuman cold and the dwindling supply characterized the period spent here. The hut serving as accommodation was very far from even the former residence barn. Deficiency became commonplace, not just in means and food; the kerosene or paper needed to write the diary was difficult to obtain, nor were the sanitary facilities available. For a doctor, healing in inhumane conditions, it was a problem of conscience that getting into the infirmary was often a matter of life for his peers. He also writes, "If I find someone healthy, it makes him sad." It was difficult to distinguish between the simulants and the ailing, as doctors examining with a stethoscope did not have access to internal medicine examinations. However, people who spent the nights on wet straw and worked in minus degrees were generally not healthy.
"All my efforts are to turn it all into memory as quickly as possible while I'm in it."
In the third part of the diary, the author writes for the first time why he undertook to write down what happened to him during his labour service. “This way, I can continue my notes, the significance of which for me is not only that I can fully record the story of each day and so I will not forget any small details, but also that in my monotonous life, which the mail makes varied once or twice from place to place, it also means fun.”
It also turns out from the chapter beginning on 18 November 1940 that by this time the weary people wanted nothing more but to return home finally. Their desire was rational, for the work for which they had been ordered was done. The news that they were scheduled to be demobilized on 20 December overwhelmed everyone. The following days were about waiting, while they also had to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, commemorating the governor (Miklós Horthy), the father of the army. Finally, on the morning of 9 December, the order was received that they could go to Borsa, the nearest settlement, but they stayed here until 17 December, only then did the already demobilized company leave.
The surviving notes in three booklets were published by Dr. Endre Szántó’s family: Marianne Szántó, Ervin Szántó and István Szántó. The publication of the documents related to the auxiliary labour service was launched by Jenő Lévai, Elek Karsai, the Holocaust Booklets (Hungarian Auschwitz Foundation-Holocaust Documentation Centre) and Ágnes Ságvári.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Dr. Szántó Endre munkaszolgálatos naplója. Szántó I., Budapest, 2009.