April 21st, 2011 21:30 EST
Julius Gyula Fabos: From Content Farmer to Slave Laborer Under Stalin
I was born into a hardworking Catholic farming family in Marcali, Hungary, about 125 miles from both Budapest and Vienna and Budapest. Three generations lived under one roof.
Our farm was highly diversified, growing several grains, potato, and beets and having three orchards growing apples, pears and several berries. We also had land parcels on the hills for vineyards. Our animals, ranged from horses, milk and beef cows, pigs, to chickens, geese, ducks and pigeons.
But in 1941, when I was nine years old, our quiet rural life was drastically changed when Hitler`s army marched through Hungary to invade the Soviet Union. We responded by hiding everything, while the armies attempted to confiscate all that they found. As the Soviet army changed direction, forcing Hitler`s retreat, they stopped at my town in early December, 1944, less than a mile from our house. Skirmishes and bombardment continued all winter till April, when they moved toward Berlin for the final assault.
My father moved our family to Fels`pÃ¡hok, around 20 miles from the front where we were safe. He kept some remaining farm animals and re-supplied us with food from our hidden supply. The war was brutal, scary and most dangerous. To experience all that at my young age was terrifying. During these years, however, we had contact with both the German and Soviet armies, befriending members of each to ease our situation. My father even bartered with a Soviet soldier, Ivan, giving him housing and food as Ivan was re-supplying his army.
After the war ended in 1945, we were occupied by the Soviets. At the beginning of the Stalinist communist era, I was studying in a school of agronomy. This changed in 1949, at the end of my third year, when I was dismissed as part of Stalin`s persecution against the prosperous farmers (labeled as KulÃ¡ks). First they confiscated about 95% of my father`s farm; soon after they jailed him. I had to maintain the few remaining acres.
When my fathers two-year sentence ended in 1951, we left Marcali to the north side of Lake Balaton, where we could hide our identity. There I became an undercover agronomist with the help of my father`s old contact. I was managing over 150 men and women in planting a 700-acre vineyard until I turned 21 and was drafted into slave labor, building a military school in MatyasfÃ¶ld. Luckily, a year later a sergeant took me out to do bookkeeping, serve officers` meals and get food supplies for the camp of 1,000 slave laborers.
But my good luck turned to disaster as the hardliners took over the country. They arrested me on sabotage charges, and sentenced me at the Military Court of Budapest for two years of hard labor. After living three months in an over-crowded military jail, I was taken to TolÃ¡pa to a coal mining camp, where we worked in a backbreaking coal mine, 1300 feet underground. Wearing eyeglasses, I faked total incompetence by falling and tumbling in front of the guards. After a few months, I was assigned to a construction ground crew, mostly building the security fences.
As the politics improved, I was released after serving only 15 months of my two-year sentence, just at the beginning of the summer in 1956. In receiving my military discharge and certificate, I was delighted to learn that my school of agronomy would allow me to complete my final year of study. I was assigned to a very caring, capable teacher/supervisor and finished with distinction.
With my degree in hand, I telephoned my old boss, Mr. Kozarich. He welcomed me back and assigned me strategically to Balaton Aliga, the northern most part of Lake Balaton, where people did not know about my troubled past. There I worked hard, supervising 150 workers while studying at night for a university entrance exam. But the Hungarian revolution broke out a day before the exam, on October 23, 1956. The revolution succeeded just in four days, but Nikita Khrushchev`s huge Soviet army crushed us just as fast. We were depressed and totally helpless.
A few of us from our state farm drove up to Budapest and found enormous devastation; the entire center of Budapest was in ruins. Streets were covered with burned-out tanks, destroyed by the so-called Molotov cocktails " gasoline-filled bottles thrown by brave Hungarian youths on the hot engine of the tanks, which burned the inside along with its occupants. It was an emotional tour, mixed with extreme pain and the resignation of such tremendous failure and loss. In returning to Balatonaliga, we had to consider our future options.
Having been released only five months earlier from jail and expecting reprisals from the Soviet authorities, I anticipated more imprisonment and torture. I had to find a safer alternative. By this time huge numbers of Hungarians were on the way to Austria, whose borders were free from the Iron Curtain; hence I was planning with three other colleagues to escape. I had been given a pistol to organize freedom fighters. Both Zoli Honeczi, an agronomist colleague whom we had elected as our leader during the revolution, and I knew we must escape. In early November we were ready. Another colleague, Bandi Desits, offered to get help from his brother, a veterinarian in the border town of JÃ¡k. Prior to leaving on two motorcycles, we typed up a fake authorization for us to recruit workers for the coming spring season from the border towns.
We then sneaked out from our farm toward the border, with one stop in Keszthely for our final lunch at my parents` house and to say our tearful good-byes. Imre Kelemen, a friend of Zoli, took Bandi on his motorcycle; I traveled with Zoli on his. The border town was about 95 miles from Keszthely. We arrived at Bandi`s brother`s house in late afternoon. We waited till the evening, when a couple of soldiers who were acquaintances of Bandi`s brother were assigned to guard the borders.
When it was dark enough we left with the soldiers on a horse cart. As we drove to the border, Soviet soldiers were moving in to close down the border. We were stopped at a checkpoint, where the new Soviet border guards arrested a dozen or more Hungarians. Our blood froze momentarily as our soldiers lied to the Soviet guards, claiming that we were all communist authorities from SzentpÃ©terfa, the border town. We were let go, a huge weight falling from us.
After traveling a few miles, our soldiers stopped their cart, pointing to some lights toward the west that were coming from an Austrian border town. We got off, thanked our soldiers, gave them all of our Hungarian money and walked towards those lights. After 40 "50 minutes walking we reached a small road and walked on it towards the town. Close to the first house, we saw a road sign for Eberau. It was indeed an Austrian sign, and we were free!
By Julius Gyula FÃ¡bos
Julius Gyula FÃ¡bos, PhD is professor emeritus of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the author of Son of a KulÃ¡k(iUniverse, 2010), available at Amazon.com.