Alone in the Storm
Flowers and Forced Labour
Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, made his declaration of intent to make peace with the Allied forces, including the Soviet Union. That same day, the fascist Arrow Cross Party, with the support of the Nazi relgime, seized power in a coup. Instead of returning to his unit, George went into hiding.
Everything was in chaos. Lieutenant Ujvary called me into his office and said, “My boy, I am sorry to say that you have to pack your repair shop into boxes – everything. The unit is going far away. If you have some plans in your head, talk to Private Jozsi Denes, a gypsy soldier, and have some money ready. I wish you good luck, and if we survive this unfortunate and terrible war, we will celebrate together. What I have told you is confidential.” I shook his hand and replied, “Thank you very much, and I wish you good luck as well. You have been a real gentleman. Take care, and God bless you.”
I understood what Ujvary meant. I told Tibor and eight other close friends that I was planning an escape because, in view of the takeover of the government, the unit would almost certainly soon be forced to go to Germany to work for the war effort, and I asked them to join me. I told them we would have to pay somebody a bribe to look the other way while we escaped. We managed to put together some money that our families had given us.
The next evening, I asked Jozsi, the guard, to come to the repair shop so I could adjust the heels on his boots. I revealed our plan to him and asked for his cooperation. I gave him the money we had collected, an amount he was content with. According to our plan, he would be on duty during the morning at the side entrance, a fence of wood planks. He said he would intentionally “look the other way” for ten minutes. This would be sufficient time for the ten of us to escape by moving away a loose plank.
Everything was set. I put my repair equipment into boxes and left all my clothes hanging from the nails. At 5:00 the next morning, we left the room quietly. Jozsi was there, as he had said he would be. I was the last one to go through the fence. One of my legs was outside the fence when a German army unit, made up of about fifty soldiers, passed by. I pretended I was repairing the broken fence. The soldiers glanced at me but did not stop. In the last seconds of the ten-minute reprieve, I made it outside. What a close call!
I removed the yellow band from my arm and bid farewell to my friends. With money in hand, I boarded the first streetcar that came by. Luckily, it was almost empty and the elderly conductor did not seem to care who I was.
When I came back to Budapest after the war, I was saddened to learn that none of the friends with whom I had escaped survived the war.