Vacationing in Style…in 1950s Socialism

After 1945, organized vacations for workers were declared to be a constitutional right, although when it came to these activities things nonetheless still came up short. Articles about workers and working women on vacation were written in Nők Lapja (Women’s Magazine) and in the factory magazines, with the intent to encourage readers to take part in leisure activities that were previously only enjoyed by other social classes, such as traveling and bathing, which were considered bourgeois.

Just as in other areas of their lives, there was an official discourse telling people how they should spend their free time and what was considered appropriate behavior. Therefore, for those going on their annual vacation, it was best to go rest and relax so that they could return to their jobs rejuvenated, where they could once again work on building socialism as a useful member of society. Relaxation during the socialist period was one of the ways that the era could be compared favorably to the previous Horthy era in the socialist discourse: the capitalist era represented backwardness, while socialism represented modernity.

With this in mind Nők Lapja compared working women’s vacation opportunities in capitalist and socialist countries. Piroska Zsigó, who worked at the Rudabánya iron ore site, spent her vacation in Siófok as it was customary for a woman worker: at night she woke up and looked out the window of the holiday cottage, since it was impossible to even dream something nicer. She listened to the rustling quiet, then on the following day she went dancing with her girlfriend on the Beloiannisz luxury boat with a capacity of 600. According to the article’s author, a French woman worker said that although France has a lovely beach, bright sunshine and comfortable hotels, she had never been able to enjoy them because she never earned enough to set aside for a summer vacation. Nők Lapja’s fashion report from the early 1950s encouraged the women workers vacationing by Lake Balaton to assemble their outfits for their “workshop holiday” from the State Department Store’s ready-to-wear collection. “Women workers, office girls and young mothers tan their skin to a golden brown. Of course it’s not just the sun, water, sports and rest that make the girls and women pretty, but the fun cotton and cool linen outfits.”

The weaver Erzsébet Piszkei spent her summer at Galyatető, in the same room where Katalin Karády, a popular actress from the interwar years, had stayed. “I have never before been in such a wonderful place, especially when they told me that the room where we stayed had been Katalin Karády’s. There was a beautiful bath below it, and the sun shined brightly.”

Opportunities for vacation (or the allotted time-share) were limited, however, throughout the entire Socialist era. Only the larger plants had their own vacation properties, with the smaller ones receiving a proportional amount of time-share at the locations owned by their labor unions. During the summer of 1951, 120,000 people vacationed at the 350 labor union vacation properties. Even for the decorated workers it wasn’t all gravy, since they frequently could not take their children with them and also had to spend their time with strangers. Each group had to participate in evening programs designed for everyone to get to know each other, and they also had to participate in cultural programs. Additionally, there was a person responsible for writing a report about what happened with each group. The following is an excerpt from one of these reports: “It’s typical, that the older (outstanding worker) comrades did not spend much time tanning or bathing, but tried to occupy themselves in their rooms, such as by telling old soldier jokes. One of the comrades, who was sleeping on a bed, had cigarette papers inserted between his toes which were then lit. A miner from Pécs (Comrade Pap) had the rug pulled out from under his feet.”

So, in reality, while the propaganda presented these vacations as an achievement, in its organized format only a small minority could actually enjoy it, and even then it was too structured to be completely enjoyable. While a benefit to the workers, it was nonetheless unable to smooth over the various social problems that continued to exist.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth

Image credit: Fortepan/FOTO:FORTEPAN