These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Hanušovce nad Topľou: Forcing the pace

By James Thomson

    The railway viaduct above Hanušovce nad Topľou.
 The railway viaduct above Hanušovce nad Topľou.
 Martin Janoško

The railway viaduct which soars above the small town of Hanušovce nad Topľou, east of Prešov , is among the longest in central Europe. Forty metres above the valley floor and describing a 400-metre-long curve, it is an impressive engineering achievement (a sister viaduct of similar proportions can be seen just outside the town).

The project to build a railway linking Prešov with Humenné and eastern Slovakia was first developed as a public-works response to the 1930s depression by the Czechoslovak government. But after Hungarian occupation of Košice in 1939 severed what was the only railway link at the time, it became a priority project for the wartime Nazi-allied Slovak State.

In order to get the job done the authoritarian government turned to a favourite wartime solution: forced labour. Around 2,500 'socially non-adaptable persons' - code for Roma and Jews - were compelled to work at Camp Petič, as the forced labour camp was known.

It was based around the manor house, now a museum, which was acquired by the state in 1942 and formally opened as a barracks and hospital by wartime President Jozef Tiso himself in July 1942. The camp labourers were housed in a complex surrounding the manor house, guarded by a force of gendarmes.

Conditions were poor and there were numerous outbreaks of disease, but this was not a concentration camp on the Nazi model. Some of the workers' families were paid for their relatives' labour, and the forced labourers’ ranks were swelled by local peasants who left each summer for the harvest.

The viaduct was partially completed by 1943 and Camp Petič was closed in August of that year; most of the Jewish labourers were moved to another camp near Vranov nad Topľou, from where many were later transported to Nazi concentration camps in 1944. The Roma were not sent abroad, but moved to other labour projects or returned to their villages. Ironically, since wartime laws forced the expulsion of many Roma from the villages, some of them ended up living in the forests and aiding the partisans.

The viaduct in Hanušovce nad Topľou was blown up by the retreating German army in 1944, and re-built two years later by the same company that had overseen the original wartime project.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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