A Hungarian Memoir, POW Part 2

(A Hungarian Memoir, POW Part 2 – Camp Life)

(Part 2-Camp Life, continues with stories of my fathers experiences and thoughts about life a prisoner of war in a Russian labor camp.)

It was a bitter cold morning on the celebration day of the Russian Revolution November 7, 1946.  Ordinarily we would have had our head count outside, but today was special.  As a holiday gift from our captures head count was in the barracks.  One Russian guard and a prison commander went from room to room to make sure no one had escaped during the night.  Escape to where I used to think?  We were thousands of miles from our homeland in the isolated town of “Pikolov.”  The town located somewhere near lake Ladoga between Leningrad and Finland.  It was a small town with a factory in which I and the other prisoners of war worked. Nobody ever told us what they used to manufacture in the factory before the war.  The only thing we knew was train loads of machinery arrived from Germany to build a cement factory.

As far as escaping was, it was almost impossible.  Very few prisoners were physically capable of walking long distances not to mention the bitter Russian winter and the language barrier.  Even the few that where physically fit and spoke Russian fluently would think twice before escaping.  Being caught meant almost certain death in the punishment camp; where a prisoner worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week with only one meal.

The head count was in the morning and usually took from one to two hours.  Under no circumstances was a prisoner allowed to leave their area during the count.  Diarrhea was a common sickness between us and if someone wasn’t able to hold it until the count was over, they were forced to go where they stood.

When the bell would ring it let us know the head count was finished successfully.  Immediately after we formed a line and went to breakfast.  All of us were organized in brigades consisting of twenty to thirty prisoners.  This was the way we worked, ate and slept.

The breakfast was the usual for the past few months or so. The season called for potatoes.  Frozen potatoes were cooked in salty water and served with half our daily bread allowance, about three hundred and thirty-five grams.  You may ask me, “how was it?”  It was great as far as I can remember.  Frozen potato soup, cabbage soup, carrot soup, grain soup or wheat husk cereal with a trace of fish was the best tasting food I ever ate.  It would be for you too if you were starving to the point of death, barely able to pinch flesh from your bones.  Being hungry is not missing a meal or two, being hungry is when day after day, week after week and month after month there is barely enough to fill your stomach.  Nothing else occupies your mind except food!  Being hungry is when your hair falls out and you can pull a tooth out painlessly without traces of blood.  It is when you stop being and acting human and animal instincts takes over.  Survival of the fittest doing whatever it takes; lying, cheating, stealing and probably kill just for one thing to eat.  If I simply would say, “we had two meal a day,” perhaps six hundred and seventy grams of bread and a leveled tablespoon of sugar.  You could say “what are you complaining about?”  “You aren’t on vacation, you are a prisoners of war.”  I would say, you are right.  Was I or the others expecting bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast for breakfast or maybe a nice T-bone steak.  But I don’t try to compare the average American meal with the rest of the world, especially the menu of a prisoner of war camp. Not many places eat as we eat in America.  The food met the bare minimum required for a human to survive.  The people who fed us these “meals” were the same society of people who promised to deliver or create a “working mans paradise.”

To try to convince millions of hungry at home and abroad was the number one priority of the Communist propaganda machine.  I say their working mans paradise as very green and unripe.

(Part 3 scheduled for post next week Monday the 24th, and picks up with the “working mans paradise. Kati~)

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New Archive Links For Hungarian Genealogy in Romania

I should really place this in a new category with the other links and aids, but it will have to do for now.  A new blog follower mentioned she has done Hungarian research in the Erderly/Transylvania Region, so I am posting this information.

Romanian records for genealogy research are not the easiest to find.  LDS and other groups have not been able to microfilm records until recently.  Slowly but surely with grants and volunteers advancements have been made.

National Archive Romania:  This link is to the main archive page.  There is a button for the English version but it does not seem to be working.  In the middle of the main page, there is a drop down menu for separate county archives.

For example: (clicking on the down arrow, then on Bihor will take you to):

Direcţia Judeţeană Bihor a Arhivelor Naţionale

On that page you will find contact information:

Şef serviciu: Dr. Petru-Bujorel DULGĂU
Adresa: Oradea, Piaţa Independenţei nr. 39, cod 410076, jud. Bihor
Telefon: 0259/413876
Program Sala de studiu: Luni-Joi: 8.30-15.30
Program Relaţii cu publicul: Luni-Miercuri, Vineri: 8.30-16.30, Joi: 8.30-18.30
Audienţe şef serviciu: Luni, Joi: 12.30-14.30

Questions may be sent to the e-mail address above or mailed.  From my experience there is always someone available that understands English.

Now if you scroll down a little further you will then see a PDF file with available “FONDS.”  These are an index to available material.  Having briefly looked over it, it ranges from (1790-1991) approximately.  Some arranged in collections; not all collections are “indexed” and online.

The Romania Tourism link section on genealogical research reads in part:

“A new wave of emigration began in the late 1940s when communism became the political system of Eastern Europe. Civil records such as birth, marriage and death certificates, as well as other documents, are carefully preserved by the National Archives of Romania and are readily available to researchers.

Documents issued on or before 1890 can be found in the County Archives (Directia Judeteana a Arhivelor Nationale) while documents issued after 1890 can be found at the Civilian Records Section of City Halls (Oficiul de Stare Civila al Primariei).

When searching for records it is helpful to know the name of the town or village in which the document was issued or the event (birth, marriage, death) occurred, as well as the approximate date/year. The County Archives assist those interested in genealogy searches by providing a wide range of services, from making photocopies of desired records to conducting research on a specific topic.”

Search fees and hours of operation are on the site as well.

MAPS:  FEEFHS has a large collection of maps with place-names and dates.  Why is that important? Territories, countries, cities, towns, etc. change names over time depending on many factors; like war or occupation.  The name of the town recorded by an ancestor could be different from the name of the town today.  If we use the city of “Oradea”  as it is called in modern-day Romanian; before it was known as Nagy Varad, in former Hungary.  Records for that city, depending on date and transcription are listed under both or one or the other.

Northern Hungary 1882

Northern Hungary 1882

On a side note:  When searching records of surnames, remember that first names may also vary.  Alexander, Istvan or even Steve is easily converted to Alexandru in Romanian.  When ordering official copies of archive records there is a difference between a copy of the original church record and the government certified and translated copy of the original.  This might be easily confused with a siblings record, if the parents are the same.  Check the birthdate if you have one and note the variation of names in your research records.  I have found many examples of duplications of the same person/birthday with different transcriptions of the first name too.

I hope this post helps…..~Kati  (Have a great weekend everyone!  Off to the West coast!)

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Labor Day Weekend, The End of Summer

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer days.  In keeping with that theme, I’ve compiled this gallery and dedicated it to images of color, warmth, vibrancy and water. Kati~  (Have a fun & safe Labor Day weekend!)

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Project O – Article #0

This a great idea to raise awareness and to show people we can all have a voice and an opinion. Also to share how this differs in all parts of the world! So I am re-blogging the template for anyone that wants to participate. ~Kat

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Bison Bonanza Whidbey Island

Here is a series of photo’s from my friends bison farm on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  I was very impressive how well she took care of these beautiful animals.  She also invited the public to her farm at varies times of year.  It was a wonderful educational experience for everyone.  It was also my first time trying “buffalo meat,” which I have to say is quite good when cooked right.  When we transferred from Oak Harbor to another duty station, I remember my friend Liz gave me a stuffed animal, a bison.  To this day it sits on the dashboard on my car, I call it “Mr. Big.”

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A Hungarian Memoir, P.O.W. Final Days and Thoughts

July09Hungary2 012 - Copy (3)

“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……

Don Front Soldiers

Magyar faces at Voronezh, Russia 1942

(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)

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