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General view of the first National Grave Digging competition at the public cemetery of Debrecen, Hungary
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Z.Czegledi

Hungarian teams face off in grave digging race

June 3, 2016

Dozens of Hungarian gravediggers have competed in a contest to prove themselves the best in the business. Contestants were judged not only for speed, but for neatness and the style of their grave mounds.


The somber quiet of a Hungarian public cemetery was interrupted on Friday as 18 two-man teams competed to hand-dig graves with a mixture of precision, pace and panache.

The country's national grave-digging contest took place at a wooded cemetery in the eastern city of Debrecen - Hungary's largest after the capital Budapest.

"I don't think this is morbid," the Hungarian Undertakers' Association's deputy chairman, Zoltan Juracsik, told news agency Reuters. "This is a profession, and the colleagues who toil in competition today are proud and deserve our respect."

Gravediggers flash the victory sign while standing in a grave during the first National Grave Digging Competition in Hungary
The fastest team dug their grave in around 30 minutesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Z.Czegledi

A local team was the first to finish digging, taking around 30 minutes to excavate their resting place. Less speedy contestants took almost one hour to complete their holes. After a small break, the graves were then quickly refilled with dirt and topped with a mound the size of a large casket.

All contestants had shovels, rakes, axes and pickaxes - but no two teams appeared to use the same technique.

Graves were judged on neatness and whether they adhered to the regulation size: 200 cm long, 80 cm wide and 160 cm deep (6 feet 6 inches, 2 feet 7 inches wide, 5 feet 3 inches). Participants also received points for style - specifically the appearance of their grave mounds.

The winning team will be awarded a place in an international tournament against Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic later this year.

'Gravediggers are human, too'

Competition organizers hoped the race would help garner respect and attention for gravediggers and attract more people to the profession. High rates of cremation compared to burials currently threaten gravediggers' livelihoods.

"We are having difficulties finding replacements for our retiring employees. Young people today don't like to dig and work," said organizer Iren Kari.

Work in progress during the first National Grave Digging Competition organized by the National Association of Graveyard Operators and Maintainers of Hungary
Participants were armed with shovels, rakes, axes and pickaxesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Z.Czegledi

"These men see death every day. Sometimes people joke about them while they work, but gravediggers are human, too," said Kari, who also advocates for gravediggers to receive psychological support to cope with the strains of the job.

In many areas, the job must still be completed by hand due to crowded graveyards where mechanical diggers cannot fit.

"This job chose me," said 21-year-old competitor Csaba Halasz. "It's hard but it's worth it. Relatives come and thank me every time. The profession just lured me in."

rs/msh (AP, Reuters)

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