The Lean Years after World War II

The Second World War ended in Europe on the 8th day of May 1945. Since Rezso and I were so young we were quite ignorant of the social and political changes taking place all around us. What was most apparent to us was the fact that our beloved home had been severely damaged and partially ruined by the occupying soldiers. Pieces of broken furniture and soggy Oriental rugs were scattered all over our yard. Obviously the soldiers had had horses in our living room and the keys of my Mother's grand piano had been badly scorched. Most of our food in the pantry had gone and what was left had to be cleaned from the shattered pieces of broken jars. Some of our paintings were still hanging but they had been slashed in many places. Thinking back now I just don't know how my Mother managed to survive. It took weeks of hard labor to make our home liveable in again. Our biggest problem was the shortage of food and I still remember us outside gathering up all the spilled beans and other foodstuffs from the dirt, to be used in cooking.

A new government had been elected in our village to restore law and order but the schools were kept closed for the rest of the school year. Rezso and I had to finish our classes by attending private tuition given by the local nuns of the St. Margit Order. My final exams were conducted at the nuns' catholic high school and Rezso had to take his exams at the high school of the Piarist Fathers, both in Budapest. I went back to the nuns in the following year also, but Rezso commuted to the Vorosmarthy High School in Budapest.

The value of the Pengo, the Hungarian currency, declined rapidly after the War ended. The new Government hurriedly printed out new paper bills in the nominations of 1,000 to 1,000,000 Pengo, replacing the 10 to 1,000 Pengo bills. Sometime during the Summer my Mother got back her pension, but we got nothing from my Father's pension. On the first of the month she would send us to the Post Office with a large paper bag to collect the money in. She gave us instructions to stop off at the bakers for a loaf of bread on our way home. By the time we got to the bakery with the bag full of Pengo we could only afford to buy a small packet of yeast with the monthly pension.

In the Fall of 1947 Rezso was commuting by train to attend his High School in Budapest and I was enrolled in the junior high of the local nuns of the Maria Ward Order. In school I reunited with some of our old friends and happily made new ones. With some help from our friends we had planted a new vegetable garden and harvested the fruits of our trees. When it started to rain we took trips with some of our friends to a near-by forest to gather the freshly emerging mushrooms. There, we also found some leftover bullets, hand-grenades and rockets; even an unexploded bomb! Fortunately we had been very careful to check out the fuses before touching the explosives.

My Middle School Graduation picture in 1948 at Klotildliget

My Middle School Graduation picture in 1948 at Klotildliget.

When the new currency, the Forint was put into use, the economy of our country had been somewhat stabilized. Even so, my Mother's small pension wasn't large enough for the three of us to live on. She was thinking about going back to work, but nobody would hire her. In the new communist government we had became "class aliens". Mother had decided to sell our home. She took a trip to Budapest and sold her wristwatch and wedding ring to pay off the tax liability on our property. The villa was sold for an amount much less than its worth, and by the end of 1949 we were moving back to Budapest.

With Mother and Rezso visiting friends in Klotildliget, 1949

With Mother and Rezso visiting friends in Klotildliget, 1949

The city was still recovering from the bombings and invasions. Before the Germans had escaped, they had blown up all the bridges over the Duna (Danube). Suitable apartments were very hard to find. Mother was finally able to locate a small, third floor apartment on the Buda side of the city. I had to discontinue my formal education and took a course of shorthand and typing. It didn't take me long to find a job, in a secretarial position. With the added income life became easier for us. Some friends of ours who owned a hillside villa had offered it for rent. We accepted the offer and took up residence in the summer of 1950. Our new way of life was going in the right direction. I was working 48 hours a week in a job I liked. Fortunately my co-workers were friendly and helpful. I had no problems with the management. On their recommendation I had enrolled in an evening school to study economical and social developments.

On the early morning of January 3, 1952, the AVH (abbreviation for the Hungarian Political Police) had come to our home to arrest me. Two men and a woman, and there was no explanation given. They took me to their headquarters for interrogation. I was kept in solitary confinement in a cold, windowless cell for 5 weeks. The single light bulb was kept burning for both days and nights. My cot was made out of hard wood and no pillow or bedding was supplied, except a rough horse blanket. The interrogations took place in the middle of the night. To keep track of the passing days, every morning I made a small scratch mark on the wall. The prison guards were constantly watching me thru the small peek hole on the door. At nights I had to sleep on my back with both of my hands above the horse blanket, otherwise the guard would bang on the door. It was very hard for me to sleep like that, but if I fell asleep they woke me up for the interrogations that were held on the upper floor of the building. Usually two or three men occupied the room, and they were showering questions at me from all sides. If I hesitated to answer, one of them came close and started to slap my face. One time a younger man entertained himself by burning several holes in my neck with his cigarette. After this treatment they made me sign the two typed-up pages of my confession without me even reading it. There must have been a few other rooms like this, because on several occasions I overheard the screams of the prisoners. One day, I heard a faint knocking on the other side of the wall of my cellar that I took for Morse code. I knocked back carefully and was listening to the footstep of the prison guard. Pretty soon my door was yanked open and the guard was yelling at me. The knocking was a set-up and they were just testing me. When they let me out to the toilet or occasionally to take a shower, it had to be done with the doors open. The water in the shower was always ice cold; a piece of rag was given to me for toweling purposes, and soap was non-existent.

While I can not go into the details of my shockingly destructive experiences during my interrogations and imprisonment, I highly recommend the reading of these books -

"Börtönvilág Magyarországon 1945-1956" (Fehérváry István), and "Emlékirataim" (Mindszenty József). They said it all. These books are written in Hungarian.

On the day of my transfer a brush was given to me that I could barely push thru my tangled hair. Without a word they took me upstairs and out into the freezing courtyard, where a large vehicle was parked. Small metal doors were visible on the side of the vehicle, and they pushed me into one of the dark compartments. The size of the compartment was about 5 feet by 3, there was no room for standing up, just sitting on the small metal bench that was attached to the back wall. After the door was locked I was sitting in there for a very long time half-frozen and numb, until the other compartments were filled up with other prisoners. The doors were banged shut and finally the vehicle started to move. For a few minutes I was thinking that it might be that they were taking me home, but after I heard the metallic noise of the wheels driving over a bridge, I knew where they were taking us. As I found out later Rezso was also arrested on the same day, and my Mother had been deported to a forced labor camp. After transferring me to a collective jail, I was convicted of underground activities against the communist government. In the same trial my Brother and three of our friends were convicted also.

Just recently my brother Rezso and his wife Edit travelled into Hortobágy to the old labor camp site where my Mother spent her time of deportation doing hard agricultural labor. The place is airy and deserted now, but a church was erected in memory of the victims of the Hungarian Gulag.

Tiszaszentimre, Hungary, July 10, 2010

New church

Tiszaszentimre, Hungary, July 10, 2010

This might be shocking for some people, but during those years there was a joke floating around in Budapest. The Hungarians are separated into three different groups: the first group who is already arrested, the second group who will be arrested, and the third group who is doing the arresting. Of course one had to be careful, a joke like that could result a few years in prison.

Shortly after the trial I had been transferred to a prison camp on a construction site where I was doing manual cement work from 7 PM to 7 AM, seven days a week. A few months later they put the prisoners on a train to be relocated to a prison farm. After few weeks of picking the cotton from the frost-covered plants I was fortunate enough to work in a dairy. It was an in-door activity of tending and milking the cows three times a day in a huge cement hangar. I was responsible for ten of the beasts out of the forty.

I wasn't permitted to communicate with my Mother or Rezso since the day I was arrested and my whereabouts were kept completely secret. Even so, a good soul had sent some information out to my Aunt Maria (Keresztem) and she had been visiting during the summer months. When the forced labor camps were disestablished in 1953, my Mother also came to visit with her sister. They had informed me that Rezso was working in a coal mine.

In February 1954, I was let out on parole after having been imprisoned for more than 25 months. On the morning of my discharge I walked 5 miles to the nearest railroad station wearing my civilian clothes that were wrinkled and strongly smelled of disinfectant from the storage. This overpowering stench and my jumpy nerves made me quite sick during my trip to Budapest. On arriving I took a taxi to my Uncle and Aunt's apartment in the IX. District. A few days later a doctor gave me a complete physical examination. He told me that I was suffering from liver enlargement as a result of the poor diet.

This is a bad picture of me after I got out of prison. Budapest, 1954, March.

During our imprisonment we had lost our old home completely. The AVO had confiscated our furniture and belongings. When my Mother had come home from the forced labor camp she had found the villa empty. I took up residence with my Aunt and Uncle (Keresztem and Keresztapuka) in Budapest. As the Godparents of Rezso and with having no children of their own, they had loved both of us dearly. My Mother was not permitted to reside in Budapest, and she was sharing a modest villa at Klotildliget with a former nun, named Gabriella Neni. The communist government had disestablished all the convents and orders, and fathers and nuns had to find new homes for themselves.

After his parole, Rezso was still working in the coal mine, because he was unable to find any other job. I was more fortunate; after I had regained my health, my old company took me back. Because of my background and recent history, I had to work first as a laborer in the supply department. However, for some reason unknown to me, the management had given me all their support by promoting me to the accounting department. To stabilize my position they had even sent me to an accounting course, conducted by the government.

Learning from my experiences I decided not to continue my studies of social and economical development. Instead, during the evenings I was attending free lectures at the Peter Pazmany University in music and art history. To replenish my soul, I went frequently to the theaters, concert halls and operas with my season tickets.

The Hungarian Opera House in Budapest

The Hungarian Opera House in Budapest

My other interest was to participate in the company's table tennis team where I had met Lajos, my future children's father. He was an outstanding trainer and a tool-and-die maker in our company. We had held our engagement in the month of May 1956, at Klotildliget, in my Mother's little room.

  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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