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Hungarian POW Released From Army

October 17, 2000

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ A Hungarian soldier got a long-overdue promotion Tuesday and was discharged from the military after 56 years of service, most of them spent languishing in a psychiatric ward in Siberia.

Andras Toma, 74, shed tears and then shielded his eyes against camera lights with his cap as he was promoted from private to sergeant major at a military ceremony.

``No one in Hungarian history has been in the military this long,″ Col. Pal Kiss of the defense ministry said after the formal document releasing Toma from the army was read out.

Toma was a Hungarian conscript in 1944, when he was captured by Soviet troops in Poland and ended up in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp. He was considered mentally unbalanced because his native Hungarian was mistaken for gibberish, and in 1947 was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Kotelnich, 700 miles east of Moscow.

While his comrades were repatriated in the years after the war, Toma was forgotten.

He languished in the hospital for 53 years, rarely speaking to anyone, until a chance encounter with a Hungarian-speaking Slovak doctor who thought he recognized his language. The Hungarian embassy in Moscow was contacted last December, and Toma was flown to Budapest in August.

``Many, many people worked long and hard to determine `Uncle’ Andy’s true identity and the effort was successful,″ said Deputy Defense Minister Janos Homoki as he presented Toma with his new insignia.

``Don’t leave it there,″ Toma told an officer when the case bearing the stripes was put on a chair.

The ceremony ended the formalities surrounding Toma’s return. Later this year, he is to be reunited with blood relatives _ proven to be so by DNA tests _ in the eastern Hungarian village where he grew up.

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