“An Old Friend”
Final Days and Thoughts
(My father wrote more than one draft of these memoirs, with corrections and adding of various details. I’ve attempted to write them as accurately as possible and combine all of them into one version. A few issues on time frame I’ve found confusing. The recent confirmation letter I received from the Hungarian Military Archives states he was a P.OW. until June 26, 1947, but they say no further information is available. He was “captured” in 1944 and until I make my next trip to the Hungarian archives I won’t know. In his writings he refers to 33 months in captivity, but my estimations are different. He always told my mother and I it was 3 months shy of three years. In any event it doesn’t diminish from the ordeals he and other prisoners of war endured. Kati~)
We were always told that soon we would be going home, after a while it became like all the other promises made and never kept. Out of 3,300 prisoners of war only 1,100 of us would return home; more than two out of three died in the Russian labor camps.
I remember the day when they told us that we were finally going home, but of course no one believed it. Then unlike before things changed; we were given better food, decent showers and a change of clothes. I knew in my heart that this was for real this time and we were going home. If I only knew what was to come those days before our release!
Two days before we left I and the other prisoners in our barracks room stayed up late talking about everything that happened and our upcoming release. I was so excited about being able to return home again and shared my anticipation with my dear friend Ferenc. We talked about remaining close friends even after our departure from Pikolov. I told him again as I had done many times before, if it wasn’t for him and his kindness I would not have survived al these many months. He was always there for me, taking me under his wing and giving me words of hope and advice. He was my father, friend and brother when I needed him the most. I shall never forget him.
The morning before we were to leave the camp, some of the other prisoners, Ferenc and I where ordered to go to the train station as part of a final working party. We were all deliriously happy, almost like a group of school children the day before summer vacation. Even the guards that day weren’t concerned with our whereabouts. A group of prisoners started to rummage around old barrels left of the side of the track. The barrels filled with a reddish colored liquid with a sweet odor to it. Some of the prisoners convinced, it was some sort of liquor that was left by the train. By now we all went over to investigate, including Ferenc and I. Before I knew it some of the others were helping themselves to the contents of the barrel. Even Ferenc kept insisting it was sweet and I should try it. I had an uneasy feeling about the entire thing and pleaded with him not to drink it, telling him it couldn’t be alcohol.
He wouldn’t listen to me and kept drinking with the other men and celebrating our upcoming release; I decided to wait and see. At first they were singing, laughing and acting drunk, though not long after my instincts were right. Thinks changed and one by one they started to become sick. It was nausea followed by blood tainted vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions.
I was in a state of shock as I saw y best friend dying an agonizing death before my eyes. Everyone who drank from the barrel died that afternoon. Later we would find out it was a petroleum mixture for airplanes or something like that; maybe engine oil or antifreeze.
It was a very sad day for me, he was my best friend who saved my live many times and now I was going home and he was staying here alone.
My time in misery was over. After they notified my family of my release, I was given train-fare to Budapest. From there I would travel to my hometown of Rakamaz. Many years later I can still vividly remember the look on my mother’s face as I walked through the door. She always told everyone that if anyone would come home from the war it was her son Laci. Yes I was home, but my life had changed forever……
(Personal Commentary: My father’s older brother Istvan died at the “Battle at the Don.” It was a very bloody and sad event in Hungarian history during WWII. His body like many others was never recovered and his KIA status was only confirmed by a family friend that said they saw him “go down” during the battle. I have not been able to get records from the archives about him either (2002). So for now, I end my father’s story here. There is much more to tell from the war’s end to when he left Hungary in 1956. Those stories can only be told second-hand from the memories of others that knew him; as well as documentation. Regardless of the outcome or even the “skeletons” that may surface along the way, we will all have to decide and ask ourselves…”what would I have done under those circumstances?” I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given because of the sacrifices of both my parents. Was my life perfect and without hardship? No! As a parent myself, I understand those sacrifices and the lengths a person is willing to go to for those they love; not to mention self-preservation. I now understand better, how war and other tragic events in a persons past can have a lifelong effect upon them. “Lucky”…as my father often referred to is as, holds individual meaning.
In my opinion, human’s have this inherent need to turn off certain “switches” to survive and function as normally as possible. Finding other ways to express emotions, is a balancing act on a narrow wire; teetering and yes at times even slipping… Was he perfect? No; possessing a conscience, yes. I feel we are all obligated to stop judging an entire generation as an all-encompassing whole.
I’ll leave you with my thoughts for now….. Kati~)
Rest in Peace..my Dear Father (Kedves Apám)