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András Toma: The Last And Forgotten Prisoner Of the WWII

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Name: Andras Toma
Born: 5 December 5, 1925, Hungary
Died: 30 March 30, 2004, Hungary

The second World War ended with the nuclear bombing of Japan in August 1945. The Allied Forces started withdrawing, borders were redrawn, new alliances forged, nations were born, and some territories were lost for good. In all this melée, Andras Toma was forgotten for half a century.

András Toma was a Hungarian, who worked as an apprentice with a blacksmith until he was conscripted to serve in the second World War. He was part of a Hungarian-German expedition and was captured and taken as a prisoner of war (POW) by the Soviet Army in 1944. In an unfortunate turn of events, Toma ended up in a psychiatric ward in Kotelnich, 600 miles east of Moscow. Toma spoke old Hungarian, which was not understood by many, hence he was relegated to a mental asylum and soon forgotten.

A visiting professor, who was part of a delegation to Kotelnich, chanced upon Toma and heard a dialect of Hungarian being spoken which he had not heard for many years. Further inquiries led him to a town in Hungary and DNA testing established the identity of the person in the asylum. He was not András Tamas as per the official records of the asylum but András Toma. He was not speaking gibberish but a peculiar Hungarian dialect. And he belonged to Sulyanbokor in Eastern Hungary, close to the Ukrainian border.

Toma was 19 when he was captured near Krakow, Poland, during the Soviet’s Vistula-Order Offensive in 1945 and sent to Boksitogorsk POW (prisoner of war) camp near St. Petersburg. Subsequently, he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital located in Kotelnich, which was his home for the next 53 years. This final transfer deleted Toma from the POW records. As a result, the Hungarian government was unable to trace his whereabouts. He was officially declared deceased in 1954.

During Toma’s internment at the sanatorium, he was regarded by both the patients and staff as an oddball, a mute, or a person who had invented his own language, as the Hungarian language was completely unknown in the town of Kotelnich. His attempts to speak were dismissed as gibberish. The Hungarian language belongs to a very small, specific group of languages called the Finno-Ugric group. This language does not originate from much larger groups such as the Romanic, Germanic, or Slavic, and most Russians do not understand it. After 53 years of captivity in a mental asylum, he was returned to Hungary.

Toma is the last Prisoner of War from World War II to return to his home country. Toma grew up in Sulyanbokor, which is about 10 miles west of Nyíregyháza, the county capital. Toma spoke a lot on his return but it was difficult to follow what he was saying, his pronunciation of often old-fashioned Hungarian, dotted with occasional Russian, was hard to follow. He seemed to have lost the sense of time in his recollections, one moment he spoke of the construction of a church, then taking part in the construction of a building, the next moment it was the roar of a cannon during battle. From his description of the weapons, researchers believe Toma was part of an artillery regiment. His memory of money is about the pre-war Hungarian currency, the Pengo.

As a gesture of gratitude and a recognition of his ordeal, the Hungarian Ministry of Defence promoted him to the rank of Sergeant-Major and provided him with the soldier’s salary for all the years that he had been absent, as his service had been continuous in the eyes of the law. Four years after his return, Toma died of natural causes, aged 79.

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