A short young man with a sleepy look on his face approaches two of his friends, bearing similar expressions, chatting softly in the House dining hall. "Good morning, George," he says to one, who replies with a toast-encumbered "Hello, Charles." Charles takes his seat, nodding to Robert, the third of the party, and says to him, "Joreggelt uram. Mi van?" Robert gives him a sleepy look, and replies, "Pokoli almos vagyok." George and Charles, one is not too surprised to learn, are Hungarians. Robert, however, is an American.
One year ago this week, these Hungarians were creeping and running through the forests of the Austro-Hungarian border, slipping from beneath the eyes of machine-gunning Russian guards, losing their way along the winding, zig-zagging line that separated a ruined Hungary from a reborn and welcoming Austria.
Now, about ten of them are at Harvard, fretting about hour exams, writing and rewriting papers, and trying at the same time to keep up contact with friends and relatives in Hungary, and to teach some Hungarian history and language to their new roommates and friends.
The journey to Cambridge, for the refugees now studying or teaching here, began as the Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest made it quite clear that there was no hope for the revolution and great danger for those who had participated in it.
Julius V., a sophomore, was a member of the revolutionary committee formed in his dormitory at the University of Budapest, and had fought the invaders in the streets, until he was warned that the Russians were closing in on him and his friends. The head of his dormitory was arrested, and he and his friends. The head of his dormitory was arrested, and he and his friends decided to flee to Austria.
Julius traveled in a group of five or six, and went the first half-way by train, the second half by truck. "Unfortunately," he recounts, "the border police stopped the truck; we had no alibi, and so they arrested us and held us for six hours. They took our names, and told us to go back to Budapest, but we kept on in the direction of the Austrian border." They crossed the bridge at Andau, which was later blown up by the Russians.
Other experiences were similar. Charles Fenyvesi, a sophomore in Kirkland House, decided to escape after he had been caught and released by the Russians. "According to law, we should have been shot," Fenyvesi recalls, "and so we sat waiting for two hours to be either shot or deported."
But prisons were overcrowded, food was scarce, and so he and the rest of his fellow guerrillas were released. They made their way to the railroad station, where they waited to take a train to Budapest. The train trip to the capital was "very thrilling," he remembers, and they embarked at a town twenty miles from Budapest, and prepared to spend the night at the station. At 3 a.m., however, a man came in to tell them that "undersirable people are coming in--you had better clear away."
There was no doubt in their minds as to who the "undesirable people" were--and so they cleared away. "We spent the night in the shrubs," he said. "It was raining, it was very cold, and it was very unpleasant--but who cared?" In the morning they started toward Budapest, had "a pleasant chat with the Russians" on the way, and "somehow, climbing, sneaking, and waiting in gates, we got through the lines to Budapest."
They arrived in the city at 11 p.m., four hours after the curfew, after which anyone in the streets could be shot on sight. "You don't feel danger in cases like that," he explains. "You don't feel that if you go through the street you may be shot."
"Early the next morning we left home. We headed for a border town, and every ten meters we met a family on the roadside--it was heartbreaking to see all these people with kids on their backs, and mothers with babies. As long as we could pick up people, we did, but we got so over-crowded that it was not safe, and the kids started to cry.
"We were stopped at four towns by the secret police. You have to have credentials from a town in order to live there, and when you leave, you have to give them up. When we reached Zalaegerszeg, a town fifty miles from the border, we were stopped again, and they made everybody clear out. Three of us were not stopped though. In the summer we had been working in Zalaegerszeg, and we had forgotten to turn in our credentials when we left, so we had documents with us which said we were residents of the town. That saved us.
"We went on some more, and at Copron, 15 miles from the border, we were stopped again. The captain said 'Go ahead,' another officer said 'Stop,'--typical Russian organization--and they ended up by putting everybody in prison. They put us into a small room with a shabby table in the middle--I slept there and had a very good place. There is no difficulty for me to sleep--even if I have classes.
"There was no food in the prison at all--not even for the police. An armed guard walked you to the rest room--the girls went to the same one. Even the secret police were not enthusiastic about their work; they were frightened, and weren't quite sure of themselves as yet. A couple were even friendly, and in the morning, they let us go. I slept the whole day, and in the evening I went to a movie with a friend who was with me; I said I wanted to see this movie before I left Hungary.
CROSSING THE BORDER