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The Darkest Hour

As a form of collective punishment at the end of World War II, 250,000 men and women of German origin, including Hungarian citizens, were dragged away from Hungary to the GULAG and the GUPVI forced-labor camps, as prisoners of the military and the domestic authorities of the triumphant Soviet Union. The main objective of the camps was to satisfy the demand for human labor. An immense number of working-age women and men had to leave the country to work in the Soviet forced-labor camps. Their average age was below 20. Following their return, these physically – and often also mentally – broken people would be forced to keep silent about all this. As the events left their scars on the survivors, who have been carrying these marks ever since, so did the forced-labor camps and mines leave the landscape and the collective consciousness of humanity scarred forever. The stories they shared had a profound impact on me; I became close with the story-tellers, and already knowing their stories, I started to feel an urge to record the associated places, objects, memories, and feelings with my camera. I capture still remaining fragments of their memories and history, both in Hungary and in the post-Soviet region, salvaging their stories for posterity. As such, none of this is consigned to the past but stays with us as a reminder, preventing such monstrosities from occurring ever again. “I still have nightmares of Russia. It is a dream, but I always know that I am there. It is so terrible that I always wake up. We were starving, we didn’t have any clothes or anything,” as Mrs. János Lampert née Ilona Sulcz told me at the end of our conversation.

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