Google+ Badge

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Honoring My Father

For those of you who have been reading from the beginning or those who know about my background, I imagine that the last thing you expected from me was a Father's Day post. But everyone can have some redeeming qualities, even my own father.

My father was born in a town in western Hungary in 1914. When World War II began, he enlisted in the Hungarian Army. Unfortunately, the German government misled the Hungarians, promising to restore the territories that Hungary lost after WW I if they would fight on Germany's side. Of course, we all know that the Nazis were lying, and they did not intend to serve anyone's needs but their own. I found out just a few years ago that my father was a prisoner of war of the Soviet Union for more than two and a half years. He never told me about it, but I am sure that he was badly treated, to say the least.

I remember seeing numbers tattooed on my father's arm, and asking why they were there. He simply said that some bad men did that to him in the war. He also had a bullet or bullet fragment in the same arm, so I know that the pains he suffered were both physical and mental. After being released from the Soviet prison, he returned to Hungary, which had been turned over to the Soviets in the aftermath of the war. The lovely little village where he met and married my mother, and my siblings were born, was controlled by soldiers who treated the locals very cruelly. I could tell many stories about what happened in the village during this time frame, but let's just say a few things. The people were not free to speak their minds or do things they wanted to do. Many people hid their daughters in sheds and pigpens to avoid having them raped by the soldiers. People were hungry, but the soldiers were well fed. Oftentimes, for their entertainment, they would make small boys have fistfights for a piece of bread.

On October 23, 1956, the Hungarians revolted against the Soviets. It makes me both proud and sad to know that since they had no weapons, they made use of whatever was available to them. University students went in front of Soviet tanks on the city streets of Budapest and put rocks in the paths of the treads to disable them. They would then climb on the tanks and pull the soldiers out. After only a matter of days, the Soviets returned with more tanks and soldiers, and killed thousands and wounded tens of thousands, many of them innocent civilians. The revolution was crushed by November 10, 1956. Since my father was pro-revolution, he was going to be executed, along with my mother and siblings. 

I am, again, proud and sad for my family's bravery. My father had been imprisoned, released to a country that was no longer under its own control, tried to regain his home, and then lost it forever. On a night in early November, 1956, my father, mother and siblings aged three, five, and six, walked across the border into Austria. (In retribution, the Soviet soldiers tore down their home.) My family came to the USA in either late 1956 or early 1957. They went from a lovely, green, beautiful village, to the city of Chicago with all of its buildings and cement and noise. I am not trying to excuse my father's actions. He abused every member of his family and killed my mother. But I have grown to understand some of his suffering. He died in March of 1982, and was gone for some years before any of his children even knew. 

I don't remember all that much about him. When I was about three years old I asked him why did he smoke, did it taste good? (I knew why he drank beer; I had done so myself a number of times.) He told me to see for myself, and made me smoke a cigarette. I can tell you that it was a cruel thing to do but it gave me a lifetime's worth of smoking prevention! He drank hard, and we often didn't have enough food because of this. But on the other hand, I have learned that he loved numbers and mathematics. He hated prejudice and racism. He said, "Winter has no season, so you always wear a coat to be warm." 

I do not know if I will ever have the emotional strength to forgive him for what he did to my mother, my siblings, and me. His actions have reverberated throughout my life and, in their own way, left me vulnerable to other events that have in some cases hurt me, and in others helped me. Some people think that the Bible says that you are supposed to love your parents, but that is not what it says. The commandment is to honor your mother and father. Although I do not honor all of his actions, I hope to be able to honor the bravery and sacrifices that helped me to be here today.