Escape from Hungary

 

The Hungarian revolution liberated us on October 26, 1956. Our euphoria was short-lived, however, because on November 4, the Russian army invaded.

At supper on December 1, my parents said: “You must absolutely not tell anyone. We are going to try to escape from this war-torn place. We will try to get to Canada, a much more peaceful country.”

To a ten your old this seemed like a fantastic adventure. A guide had to be hired, which was difficult because anyone caught helping people to cross the border illegally was shot on sight. Eventually, we found someone who cost us all our savings and possessions.

We left on December 4th, planning to take a train to Szombathely, about 20 kilometers from the Austrian border; spend the night there; and start hiking on foot at dawn the next morning. We planned to arrive at the border around seven pm when the guards usually retreated into their tents for supper. We reached Szombathely at 10pm, slept a few hours and left again, on foot, at 5am. The day was sunny but cold, about five degrees Centigrade. On we trudged. At dusk, we finally approached the dangerous areas of the border on a dense forest path. Sporadic machine gun fire and the rumble of diesel engines sounded in the distance. Our guide, George, stopped us at the edge of a dirt road.

“Lie down and be quiet!” he whispered. We did so just as three Soviet tanks rolled by. As they passed, they randomly sprayed the forest with machine gun fire. We lay still for ten more minutes, too frightened to make the slightest noise. “Who are they shooting at?” my mother asked. “Not rabbits, I’m sure.” The guide answered. Finally, we snuck across the road, back into the forest. It was dark now, but occasionally flares were shot into the air to light up any escapees in the forest. Each time, we fell to the ground and lay still, covered with mud and snow, and shivering. About thirty minutes later we came to a river.

“It is only waist deep,” said George, pulling hip waders from his knapsack. We were not as well prepared! George went first. We followed. My father carried me across, but I was soaked up to my waist. “Hurry up,” George said. “We must reach the border by seven.” We dragged ourselves on, everyone out of energy by now. After about thirty minutes we reached the top of a hill, and could see several miles in each direction. “This is as far as I go,” announced our guide. “Are we in Austria?” my father asked. “No, but see that light on the top of the next mountain?” The light was several kilometers away. “That’s Austria. Just follow the light. If they catch me, they shoot me on sight.” “But you agreed to take us to Austria!” my father pleaded. Then the guide literally vanished into the forest. We were on our own. The light of Austria, seen clearly from the top of the hill, disappeared as we descended into the valley. “I have my boy scout compass!” I proudly announced. My father got down on his hands and knees. We covered him with his trench coat. Under cover, he lit a match. Re-emerging, he pointed. “That way is West.”

Two hours later, utterly exhausted and about to collapse, we saw village lights below. “This could be Austria or Hungary.” My father said. “In either case, we can go no further.” It was two o’clock in the morning. We dragged ourselves to the first house and knocked on the door, conscious of our appearance: drenched, shivering, covered with mud. An elderly matron, her head covered with a shawl appeared. “Osterreich?” Austria? My father asked? “Ja! Willkommen!” she answered - a toothless smile, arms outstretched to hug me, the smallest.

We spent about four months in Austria, obtaining travel permits, and came to Canada in April 1957. We did indeed find the peace and prosperity that this great country provided.

 

By: John Rakos

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