Hungarian Students Recall Escape On 1st Anniversary of Revolution
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
"At about 8:00 we had our last meal in the country. We wanted to have a good breakfast, and we had two hot chocolates and some candy, which lasted us all day. Then we started. It was cold and raining, and we just watched for signs saying 'Vienna' to see whether we were going in the right direction. We could have been caught, but we were sure of ourselves. One hundred yards from the border we saw a Hungarian peasant's house, and he invited us in. He wouldn't accept any money, and was shocked that we would offer it.
"We waited in the house two hours, then we ran the 100 yards to the border. There was a police barracks 50 yards away from where we were, but they didn't notice us. In September, as a sign of good will to Austria the Hungarian government had removed the barbed wire, the mines, and the dogs from the border--it had been impossible to get through before. The border zig-zags, and we got into Austria and back into Hungary several times, but finally we crossed it. It wasn't a joyous thing at all; just crossing that no-man's-land. It was rather sad-leaving behind everything."
Once across and into Austria, Fenyvesi and the other new refugees found helpful villagers who led them to the big camps that were forming to take care of the large influx. "A half hour after we crossed we started to court nice Austrian girls," Fenyvesi recalls, "and we felt like human beings again." a chance to read certain books I other-wise couldn't read, and it gave me a hope that I could live in this country. Besides, I felt that a middle-class boy should learn English."
The Austrian camps were an unfortunate introduction to the refugees' new life. One large one, at Eisenstadt, had been a Russian soldiers' barracks, and there were Russian signs all around the walls. "The first day there we erased them," Fenyvesi says. The camps were over-crowded, the food consisted of black coffee, American cheese, beans, and meat every day. The refugees did nothing at all for four days--"it was very depressing."
Those who were encamped at Eisenstadt were moved after a while to a pleasanter camp in Salzburg, where college students were given rooms in a separate, and fairly comfortable building. Other refugees, however, had the "depressing feeling that their whole future would be in a camp," Julius recounts. At Salzburg they were given showers and shaving lotion,--"a great thing; we felt like new-born babies."
While in the camps they made their decisions of what they would no next. Fenyvesi and George Heimler, also a sophomore in Kirkland House, wanted to go to the United States because it offered the most opportunities for scholarships and college education.
They arrived here by plane and boat, on dark nights and on cold foggy mornings. "I always arrived everywhere at night," Fenyvesi remarks, while Heimler laments that "we coudn't even see the Statue of Liberty." Many of them were met by journalists and photographers. "My first impression of American," one refugee student relates, "was of American photographers and reporters. Their first act was to sit on the table or put their feet up. I thought this was a common American social custom."
When these interviews were finished, they were taken to Camp Kilmer, a large former army barracks in New Jersey that had been outfitted to provide the most pleasant interlude possible before the Hungarians were settled in their new homes. Kilmer was a great improvement over the Austrian camps, both because of its better facilities and because the refugees there knew that it would be only a matter of days before they would be permanently settled.
Kilmer was outfitted with recreation halls, movies, good food, and comfortable barracks, which were "pleasant and warm," Fenyvesi recalls. "Everybody said 'That's America.'" he added. He was assigned to "a typical American family" in Washington: "a husband, a wife, two kids, one cocker spaniel, and a turtle." Others were assigned to similar places, or stayed with relatives.
After their arrival in the United States, the Hungarians started looking for work and college schalarships. Fenyvesi found employment in a printing office in Washington, which was doing work for Senator McClellan's labor investigating committee. In delivering reports, he met many of the the late Senator McCarthy. Heimler the late Senator McCarthy. Heinler worked in a shoe factory for a while, and then went to the University of Illinois for an English course, where he stayed in a fraternity house. He found the students there quiet, friendly, and had several dates with local sorority belles.
Julius washed dishes in a Boston hotel, and became active in the Association of Hungarian Students in the United States. He attended the organization's summer conference in Chicago, where he was told by friendly natives, "Please don't walk alone at night."
The students saw or were seen by the World University Service, which served as the liaison between them and universities which were becoming interested in offering scholarships to Hungarian students. Heimler and Fenyvesi were offered scholarships by Kirkland House, which raised $1200 for Heimler, and received an anonymous scholarships, which it gave to Charles.
Why did they choose Harvard? "A degree at Harvard would really be a great thing," Julius says, while Fenyvesi became convinced of the University's excellence after he visited Cambridge last spring. After he was here one day, he "learned to like Harvard and hate Yale, to like the CRIMSON and hate the Lampoon." He felt at first that Harvard might be too far away--"every Hungarian has the feeling that to go too far away is not good. We are a little country," he explains.
Julius liked the geography of the East Coast, seeing in it a resemblance to Hungarian topography. When he was passing Rochester and Buffalo on his way to Chicago, he noted that these places were strange."
Now that they are here, they have become immersed in study, and in writing papers in a foreign tongue. "I have to read math problems three times before I understand them," Julius says. Though they like Harvard they are not entirely in accord with Harvard's methods of education vis-a-vis the Hungarian and continental way. "You are not exactly students in the same way I was in Hungary," Heimlet asserts. "You have more freedom here, but I don't think it is good. You have a course, you write four or five papers a year, you write two finals, and they give you a grade. It doesn't really show your knowledge. I think you ought to have oral tests--every day--as we did in Hungary. There spoken tests count a lot more than written tests, and you never knew when you would be called on. They want to make sure that you study, and you've got to keep up."
Julius likes the greater freedom of choice at Harvard, but prefers the Hungarian method of placing "all civil engineering freshmen together, and having them attend all classes together. Here, you don't know many people in your classes and you lose the opportunity of helping one another. Harvard, though, gives the possibility of expanding your interests."
Now that they are in the United States, most of them want to stay. They see only gloom in Hungary's future, and feel that to return there unless it is free is foolish. I don't believe Hungary will be liberated in the near future," says one; "and my decision not to go back springs from an appreciation of the American way of life. Pretty soon I will grow roots here, and I will not want to go back."
Julius is somewhat more hopeful. "If Hungary is freed, I would like to go back immediately," he says, "but I think I would like to finish my studies here first. If the country becomes free, we must have contact with all foreign groups; if there is such a need, one can help who is studying abroad." Heimler, however, definitely wishes to remain here. Asked if he might go back, he throws up his hands and says, "No, no, no, no, no--not back. I'm staying--even if Hungary is liberated."
But though they have been away from fighting and rebelling for a year, the anti-Russian spirit still flames hot within them. They have not yet been approached by Soviet agents who have been trying to persuade some refugees to return, but they wish they would be. "I wish I could talk to one, so there would be one less alive," Julius says. Another refugee says glintingly, "If such a person approached me, he wouldn't survive too long. I have a little energy I would like to expend."
Happy in the United States, they still correspond with home, but letters are few and widely spaced. Parents sometimes say the opposite of what they feel, and often adopt codes so they can tell their sons at Harvard what is really going on in Hungary. "Your friends" means "America;" "red ink" means "the truth;" "winter coat" means "changes;" "he's resting" means "he's in prison;" "the Square" may mean "secret police."
But for most of them, home now means the United States. One of them sums up their feeling: "I find that this is a country where one's aim of life can be realized, where nothing impedes your facilities, and where the individual can realize his dream. The United States means a happy future," he concludes, putting his feet on the table