The Turning Point and Escape

Lajos and I had decided to set our wedding date for November 4, 1956. During the summer months I had spent considerable time with the preparations for my marriage; frequently visiting the farmers' market, where I had bought fresh fruit and vegetables for canning. I was saving money out of my earnings, to buy linen goods and small household items, as they were deemed necessary for our future life together. Unfortunately finding an apartment for us had been the biggest problem. We had become quite frustrated after hunting through the poor selection. In the end, the solution came from Lajos' family.

Two of his sisters were in the progress of building a duplex on the very same street where their mother and Lajos were living. One half of the duplex had been finished and already occupied by them, but the other half was still in need of a roof and finishing work. A room, kitchen and bathroom would be given for our use if we would do the necessary work and shoulder the expenses. Upon this agreement on the following weekends, and sometimes after work, we had put all our energy into the project. An electrician and a plumber were hired to do the professional work. Only the roofing work was delayed, because the late delivery of the roofing material. With the autumn approaching our days got shorter, but the rainy season had not started yet.

Lajos and I at Margit Island, Budapest, September 1955

Lajos and me at Margit Island, Budapest, September 1955.

On Tuesday, October 23, 1956 my day had started out just like any other working day. There was no indication of the upcoming events that would drastically change our lives. In the early afternoon somebody had came back from the city and was telling us about the large groups of people who were gathering and marching on the streets and boulevards. Because our management and party officials were not available to comment, we took the liberty of packing up our work and going home way before our quitting time.

What had happened previously, without our knowledge was this. A large group of communist students had organized a meeting on October 19, 1956 to announce their solidarity with the students in Poland who were revolting against their Russian dictators. This riot had led many students to think that perhaps Hungary also could throw off the Soviet dictatorship. On October 22nd a committee of students had prepared a list of grievances. On the next day they had planned to gather at the statue of the Polish General, Joseph Bem for a public meeting. But instead of the handful the students had expected, they found a large crowd of fifty some thousand excited patriots yelling and chanting "Russians must go home". The same evening the student committee had made a fruitless attempt to present their list of grievances at the Parliament. Late that night the Hungarian radio station (Radio Budapest) had been taken over in a bloody battle between the AVO men and the civilians. The AVO men had started to gun down and kill the young students, who had no firearms at that point.

On the next morning the city was blanketed in a thick fog and was completely still. All the streetcars and busses had been halted and the stores had remained closed. It was obvious to me that people were not going to work today. I had decided to attempt a five mile walk to go to my betrothed's home. The fog was still thick but more people had appeared on the street. I could hear some distant rifle shooting. Barely had I walked three blocks when I bumped into Lajos and his sister Kati, who had came to take me to their house. And that is where I was staying during the five days fight that followed between the AVO men and the freedom fighters (young students, working men and a battalion of the Hungarian army), and ended up in a bloody battle with the Russian tanks.

During the fight hundreds of Hungarians got killed and bodies were scattered all over on the streets. In a surprise attack from the rooftops the fighters threw homemade gasoline bombs (Molotov cocktails) and had managed to burn out twenty tanks and eleven armored cars. Finally the remaining Russian tanks were turning back to withdraw from the further attacks.

For the next five days the people in Budapest made a big mistake in believing that Hungary was at last free from the Russian domination and a new liberal government would replace the AVO terror. Even so, we had to postpone our wedding for an unknown future date.

Early morning on November 4th the loud and constant noise of the Russian tanks woke us up. They were coming back into the city in force to crush the revolution. One hundred and forty thousand armed Russians swept through Budapest. They totally destroyed some eight thousand houses and shot out just about sixty percent of all the windows in the city. About thirty thousand Hungarians were killed or wounded, not counting the ten thousand who were buried alive in the collapsing buildings. The public transportation was completely destroyed and we had to walk several miles through the rubble and charred bodies to find an open grocer or a bakery. We also took a trip to visit Keresztem and Keresztapuka. The front room of their apartment with the balcony had been severely damaged by the shooting; that room that was in my use before the deadly attacks.

Hungary 1956 in Photos

Sandor Marai's beautiful poem about the Revolution (a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation in Hungarian)

Hungarian Freedom-Fighters Memorial at the Mac Arthur Park in Los Angeles

The Hungarian Freedom-Fighters Memorial at the Mac Arthur Park in Los Angeles and The Memorial Program of the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution at the Mac Arthur Park

After the fighting was over Rezso came to visit us a few times. He had been staying with my Mother in Klotildliget and had to walk the sixteen or so miles across the mountains of the Pilis. Unfortunately the weather had turned and it was raining for several days. Without a roof or cover, our unfinished apartment soon became saturated. Most of the people still refused to go back to work and were spending their days standing in the long lines to buy some food. However the food supply was low and sometimes it was all sold out before the hungry and tired customer got to his turn. It was rumored that the government was holding tight onto the food just to get the Hungarians back to work. We also got the news that the AVO was picking up the people by the hundreds and throwing them into jails or deporting them to Siberia. Every day thousands of Hungarians had been fleeing the country through the Austrian borders to find new life and freedom. "We have to leave also", Lajos had told me, and I agreed with him. Early next morning, on the 27th of November, I put a few clothes and all our documents into my small bag and we left secretly. My heart was breaking, because we could not even say a "Good Bye" to our families, but the hope for a brighter future gave me the strength to leave everything behind. Even today it is still hurting me because regardless of what had happened, Hungary is still my home.

The railroad station was crowded but the train was there. The ticket office was closed and none of the officials were visible. Nobody was talking, but we all knew of our intentions and kept it to ourselves. It took some hours until everybody got on board and somebody had volunteered to start up the engine. We had no seats and very little food but the train was heading west without any resistance or disturbances. We only made one stop at the city of Gyor, but nobody was at the station to stop us. Finally our train slowed down and halted at 9.30 PM at the station of the small town of Hegyko. We were told to descend from the train and to follow an old farmer who was taking about eighteen of us to his house. There we had to wait two more very tense hours until it was safe for us to walk to the border. It was a bitter cold night and we had to walk across a marshland on the icy and treacherous paths. By four AM we got to a small canal with a makeshift narrow bridge across. Occasionally Russian rockets were lighting up the eastern sky and distant shooting had disturbed the quietness around us. The Russian forces had blown up the bridge at Andau a few days previously, eliminating a major route for the escapees. The farmer told us that the other side of the canal is Austria; we have to walk straight ahead until we will find a barn where we have to wait for the Austrian Border Patrol. Then, one-by-one, he led us over the rickety bridge. He had hugged us and kissed our cheeks and we had thanked him and gave him some of our money for his kind service.

Map of the border area

This is the map showing the location of Hegyko on the Hungarian side and to the north is the Austrian town of Illmitz.

Austrian volunteers

The weather conditions can be judged from this picture of Austrian volunteers waiting to help us refugees.

At daybreak the Border Patrol found us and after about 8 more miles of walking we had entered Illmitz, a small farming town. The air distance between Hegyko and Illmitz is 23 kilometer, equals to about 14.4 miles. We were assigned to stay at a private residence for the next few days, and had been enjoying the good food and caring hospitality of a very kind Austrian farmer family. On November 30th in the late afternoon we had boarded a train to Vienna where they had fed us, and we made an attempt to send a message home thru the radio. We had spent the night on the train and the next morning we arrived at Ried, a city in northern Austria. Here an old school building was converted to a bunker house for the Hungarian refugees. On the following day we were requested to fill out the necessary questionaires and report to the authorities. When this was all done and approved, the Austrian government legalized our staying and granted us their protection. We had even received some spending money of 45 Schilling to each.

Our final destination was still very far from us, but things started to roll in the right direction. We had sent a telegram to my Godmother, Mady in Los Angeles, California, where she had legally emigrated with her daughter in 1948 from Budapest. A few days later we received her joyous reply, and officially she had become our Sponsor.

Every morning after breakfast Lajos left me to stand in line at the Lager Management Office. We needed to get on the list for the transfer to Salzburg, where the Emigration Department investigated the case of every refugee and arranged for the emigration. Finally on December 13th we got a number and the train tickets. On the next day, early afternoon, about two hundred of us were bused to the rail station and put on the train to Salzburg. People were cheerful and excited; one broke into song, and we all ended up singing together. I was looking at the tired faces of my brothers and sisters and was wondering about the tears in their eyes.

The city of Salzburg is the fourth largest in Austria, click to see its Wikipedia entry .
The Austrian Government had established two major camps for the Hungarian refugees. One of them was Camp Hellburn. When I look at the name of this camp now I have to laugh, because it is just the perfect description of the place where we were taken after our arrival in Salzburg. We had found the dormitory rooms littered and crowded. The Camp Commander was an old retired Hungarian Army officer who had the illusion of being on active duty. We were ordered to stand by our bunk beds three times a day for head counting and name calls. This was very stressful for most of us, but almost impossible for the families with small children. We were fed three times a day, but were constantly hungry, because of the poor quality and small quantity of the meals given. There was no Emigration Office or any other authority at the site. On Sunday Lajos and I had attended Mass in the Old Town where we met with other Hungarians who had been assigned to stay in the other refugee camp, Camp Roeder. That night after the head counts and name calls we escaped very quietly, but surely from Hellburn to Camp Roeder. I don't remember having any problem checking in to the camp, but I remember the nice clean bunk beds where we had spent the rest of the night in a well-deserved sleep.

During the following days we made rapid progress: registration, picture taking, physical checkups and finally an appointment with the American Consul. The International Red Cross was very helpful in supplying us with some clothing items and toiletries. On December 22nd Vice President Nixon visited the Camp and expressed his country's support and best wishes for our future. On the next day after breakfast Lajos and I were taking a stroll on the campground when I heard somebody calling my name. In the young couple approaching I recognized my old schoolmate, Marika, who introduced her husband, Laci. We were overjoyed to find each other like that, and could not stop talking,telling our stories that was somewhat very similar. We found out that they were married a few days ago here in the camp by a Hungarian Priest. Our meeting had been very fortunate because they had already gotten their transfers for the next day to Munich, Germany. So, right then and there, we all went to see the Hungarian Father who took us under his wing and told us to come to Mass the next morning. After Mass he informed us that he had arranged our wedding for the afternoon hours. We had to go first to the Rectory Office in Salzburg to fill out the necessary papers in order to receive the Dispensation from the Bishop, considering our extraordinary urgent situation. A few hours later our wedding took place at a side altar under the dome of the Salzburg Cathedral. I was wearing my long dark green sheepskin coat over my warm-up suit, the outfit I had on when left my country. It was a snowy Christmas Eve and before we took the bus back to the camp, we had spent our last Schillings buying hot toddy at a pub to celebrate our marriage.

The domed ceiling of Salzburg Cathedral

The domed ceiling of Salzburg Cathedral.

On December 25th, Christmas Day, around 5 PM we had left Camp Roeder on buses for Munich, Germany. After one night staying in Hotel Szabadsag (Hotel Freedom) some American soldiers had escorted us to the Military Airport on the US Army Base. Our huge military transportation plane was named Atlantic, destination to USA. After twenty-two hours in the air with one stop off at Scotland, we landed someplace around the city of New York, but I have no recollection of the name of the airport. Two more hours of bus ride took us to Camp Kilmer, an Army Base at New Jersey. Again, during the following days we had to go thru the same administrative routine as before, but his time we had been provided with a Green Card. We were told also that our further transportation to the Sponsor had been arranged and paid by the Church according to our nominations. Our date was set to take the train to Los Angeles, California for January 3rd.

Unfortunately, I fell very ill and collapsed on January 2nd while standing in line for breakfast. I was running a high fever and in the Base hospital I was diagnosed with a bad case of bronchitis. Complications developed after I got a severe reaction to the Penicillin I was treated with. Lajos came a few times every day to visit, but I was completely out of it. I don't remember too much about what happened to me, but slowly, every day I was getting better. The fever was gone and the red blotches were gradually fading. They let me out of the hospital on January 7, and I was wandering in the blizzard for over an hour to find our barracks. Two days later we were taken to the Hoboken rail station and put on the train with the necessary documents and 15 dollars spending money for food. That evening Lajos went to the dining car and spent three dollars on his dinner. Next day we arrived in Chicago and had to wait three more hours for the connecting train to California. I was still pretty weak from my ordeal, but Lajos went out to the city to buy some sausage, bread and oranges for the rest of our trip. We had spent three more nights on this train speeding thru Mid- and the Western States. It had been an experience to see the rapid changing of the seasons from the East Coast to the West. I wish we could have enjoyed our trip more, but both of us were pretty tired and worn out by not having a bed to sleep in. When the train made stops I usually got off for few minutes to stretch my legs and to buy fresh oranges at the stations. On January 13, Sunday, at 5 AM we finally arrived in Los Angeles. It was pouring with rain and I was worried about our few paper bags that held all of our belongings.

My diary

These are the First and Last Pages of my loose-leaf Diary written during our "Trip" from Budapest, Hungary to Los Angeles, California.

  1. Home Page
  2. My Parents and our Family
  3. The Lean Years after World War II
  4. The Turning Point and Escape
  5. My new Family in a new Country
  6. Our New Life
  7. Visits and Achievements
  8. My Second Marriage
  9. Travels and Changes
  10. The Golden Years
  11. Reflections

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