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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nem! Nem! Soha!

No, I haven't lost control of either my mind or my keyboard. Today's blog title is Hungarian for "No! No! Never!" This was one of the rallying cries of the Hungarian Revolution against Soviet Occupation. The Revolution began fifty-six years ago today, on October 23, 1956. It is because of this Revolution that I was born, and also that I was born in the United States of America.

At the end of World War II, Hungary, among other places, was placed under the control of the Soviet Union. Between the actions of the Soviet soldiers and the Secret Police, and other things like very poor harvests, the Hungarian people suffered greatly during this regime. Many families had to hide their daughters in pigsties and woodsheds to protect them from being raped by soldiers. Even in the small village in Western Hungary where my family lived, people suffered from great hunger. Many people had to resort to eating plants that would normally be considered decorative, or even weeds. For their own entertainment, the soldiers would make boys have fistfights for a chance to eat a piece of toast. The Secret Police were no less cruel. One of my relatives, for example,was forced to wash a floor and then drink the dirty water out of the wash bucket. 

This sort of treatment, and much that was far worse, was rampant in Soviet-occupied Hungary. I have read and heard stories of people being taken away for questioning and torture. One was of a woman who was in poor health and was required to stand at attention on one foot until she collapsed. This torture was inflicted on her repeatedly for many days. I won't talk any more about the brutality of those times; I think that I have given you a good idea of the fear and pain that were a part of everyday life.

When the Revolution began, the Hungarians didn't really have any weapons to speak of. University students shoved rocks into the tracks of Soviet tanks. When the tanks stopped, they climbed on and pulled out the soldiers. Some people who don't really think fully when I say this will sometimes laugh, but my heart is filled with pride and sorrow for these brave people who so wanted freedom that when no other weapons were available, they fought with rocks. The Soviets were rousted from Budapest, but only for a matter of days. On November 4, 1956, the Soviet Army came rolling into Budapest, all of Hungary, really, with numerous tanks. They shot and killed men, women, children, even those who were already wounded. To show their "superiority," they tied the bodies of dead Hungarians to their tanks and dragged them through the streets. As many as thirty thousand Hungarians were killed. To this day, if you are in Budapest and look up at the walls of the buildings, you will see the bullet holes from the tanks. 

My father was a revolutionary organizer in his little town, so the Soviets had slated my father, mother, and my three siblings who ranged in age from three to six, for execution. So in the middle of a night in early November 1956, they walked out of Hungary and into Austria. I don't know how they got past the guard post and machine guns; perhaps the soldiers were busy elsewhere. But my family were part of an estimated two hundred thousand people who fled Hungary into the West. My parents were fortunate to have some relatives in the USA who sponsored them so that they could bring their family here, and here I was born.

I wanted to honor my Hungarian heritage on this, of all days. Yes, I ate some paprikas csirke (chicken paprikash), and my thoughts have been on what my family and their countrymen endured. There are also other ways in which I honor my Hungarian-American heritage. It is perhaps because of these combined heritages that my freedoms are so precious to me. I know from history how important it is to speak one's voice to preserve these freedoms. It is why I consider my ability to vote not just a right, but an almost sacred responsibility. It's also why any time I go to a baseball game, I am usually crying before the end of the National Anthem. These things remind me that both of the countries of my heritage, the USA and Hungary, are built on the sacrifices of people who were willing to die to make their world a better place, free from tyrants. It is in their honor that I say, "Nem! Nem! Soha!"