Thursday, 11 August 2016

Return to Budapest 1945

My father as goalkeeper, 3rd from right, front row

An excerpt from the transcribed tape of my father talking about his life. This is now 1945 and he is home in Budapest. Béla Boschán was my father's last employer before the forced labour brigades began. He offered my father work after he was dismissed from relatively humble post to post because he was a Jew.

"So we were back in Eötvös u. It was January and very cold, as is usual in Hungary at that time. Snow and frost. People were starving. There was a ceramic stove in the flat which heated two rooms. It worked on fuel, which was difficult to get. We didn’t do much in the next few days. We looked around the house for any food that might have been left there. Every now and again we heard the boom of large calibre guns.

I began to think of how to make a living. I remembered that the area where I had worked with Boschán was in a reasonable state so, about a week after settling down, I walked over there to see if I could find anybody. It was all in one piece but I found a note stuck on the door to the basement to the effect that if anyone wanted to start working they should report next Monday. The firm was called Boschán Ignácz, Vízvezeték és Központi Fűtés Szerelő Vállalat. [Ignácz Boschán, Plumbing and Central Heating Company] So I returned on the Monday morning and found Béla, who was of course my friend. We embraced each other, happy to be alive, and I learned that his two brothers, who were the ones with engineering qualifications – one had a university degree, the other had finished high school – had perished. Béla did the office and bookkeeping and he asked me if I would consider starting up the business in junior partnership with him and his brother’s wife. I said yes, I would do that, because I needed to earn some money quickly. It must have been mid-February, 1945.

Boschán’s workshop was in Honvéd u, very near the Vígszinház [Comedy Theatre]. It was mainly a store for materials, plant and tools, but there were a couple of machines there for bending aluminium, lead and zinc sheets – roof work. The cellar was divided into office, workshop, and store. Béla had also been in labour camp in the Ukraine and was extremely lucky because in his particular group over half were killed, mainly by typhoid. The rest were brought back. They were somehow dispersed in Eastern Hungary and no attempt was made to take them to Germany.

Sooner or later, two or three of the old work force reported for work – plumbers, heating fitters, and so on. At that time it was still quite risky to walk in the city because the Russian soldiers were not very selective and if they felt like taking a few people off the streets they just took them.
The behaviour of the Russian troops, even allowing for the fact that this was war time, was not as civilised as we hoped. They got a bad reputation for what they did in Budapest during the war. Of course, they were not as well-organised or as cold-blooded as the Germans had been, but they were so unpredictable that people were afraid. They changed moods from one moment to the other. I had little experience of this directly since we were rarely raided. I remember once when two young Russian soldiers came round demanding watches but we lived on the fourth floor and by the time they got to the second floor they had quite a collection and were happy. The majority of the liberating Russian forces did not come from Central Russia but from Uzbekhistan, Turkestan, Kazakhstan and Siberia. Some of them, possibly the majority, were very good hearted, but very childish and quite unsophisticated, therefore dangerous.

The city was full of them. My brother-in-law, Zoli, who came back from a camp in Transylvania, was walking on the street three days after he had returned. That day the Russians rounded up some 200 people, bundled them on to a lorry, and took them to barracks with a view to deporting most of them. Zoli, who was about 27 and had just suffered three years in labour camp, was rounded up with them. However he was ‘lucky’: he had stomach trouble and about half a day after he was locked up he started vomiting and the Russians were so worried that he might be carrying some infection that they kicked him out.

They deported about 110,000 people at this time from Budapest alone. I know of other people who were suddenly surrounded by a Russian patrol and taken off to Russia. There was no rhyme or reason in it."


Anonymous said...

Dear George: I have just seen your reference to Eltham in the Guardian article and am disgusted. Have you ever been to Eltham. Do you actually know anything about it, apart from the Stephen Lawrence murder 23 years ago?

I find the reference bigoted, ignorant and gratuitous.

There's no more racism in Eltham than anywhere else in the country, much less than the heavy Brexit areas, dasily identified in the 23 June poll.

The reference is insulting to all the decent people who live in this town and you are, actually, guilty of the thing you're complaining about.

John Webb, editor SEnine magazine

Gwil W said...

I enjoyed reading your dad's account of events and not least because he was like myself the most valuable man in the team, whatever they pay in transfer fees these days, the goalie. A good goalie is worth two strikers. But the football moguls don't see it that way. Here in Austria, particularly near the Hungarian border many fled from the Russian advance and the women were terrified of being raped, being of good Roman Catholic stock. The word was that the Russian officers were civilized and respected normal values and that the common soldiers had a philosophy which wax basically to kiss the baby, make love to the wife, and shoot the husband. One reason for the hate was that the Russians considered the Austrians as Germans because of the Anschluss and the fact Hitler was born an Austrian, but they were doubtless unaware that he had renounced officially his Austrian citizenship prior to the First World War during which he saved on the western front in France as a messenger in the German Army and received two iron crosses for bravery under enemy fire. My good lady only survived by being handed through the window of a moving train by a German soldier, perhaps his last act. Every country has its own propaganda and this is the reason we have these disasters from time to time. Nowadays the USA and the EU delight in sanction Russia and turning the screw but when it comes to the conduct of Israel the only thing they turn is the blind eye.

George S said...

Alas, they did in fact rape, Gwilym, it's not a propaganda story, but I don't think Russian troops were alone in that. War and rape have often gone together.

Gwil W said...

To the victor the spoils, as the old saying has it. And that includes writing the official version.

George S said...

Do you mean the winners were those who were raped? That they were Hungarian Jewish forced labour camp workers like my father? You mean they received the spoils and wrote the official version? Or do you mean the Russian troops of the time and the Russian imposed politicians and historians of the time? It's a little ambiguous. Official version are superseded by other official versions only to be subverted by unofficial versions that might or might not become official versions.

Gwil W said...

I mean that in all wars the victor, who obviously now controls the news reports and what is released in the public domain has the final say. It usually takes a generation or two before the real story comes out. For example the current war in Syria, it will be a good while before the real facts are revealed, and even then much will depend on whose official version you get to read. It will not have escaped your attention that the young man who is believed to have leaked on DNC Clinton chicanery was shot in the back and killed in Washington DC. Or it may have. When we know the truth there will be no more need for Reporters Without Borders.