Family Story

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part III

The misadventures of a Medical Doctor from Győr in the final days of World War 2

In the first part, you learned why and how the diary is born, and in the second, you read about how German and Hungarian military units cannot resist the Russian advance, how bombs are falling during the Christmas holidays, how a good pair of boots is worth its weight in gold and how a doctor can help those in trouble anywhere and anytime.

Let’s continue. We are still in 1944, but the last two entries in this chapter were written in January 1945.

Tuesday, 26 December

In the morning, we have a serious discussion about how to proceed, because the luggage is very heavy on foot. It’s true that we are relieved, because apparently while we were rolling barrels of petrol in Felcsút, our luggage was searched and the more valuable things were gone. Jancsi Freiberger was most seriously concerned because he had jewellery, that was gone now. In my medical bag the alcohol was missing, all the bandages, injections and 100 gr Wetol disappeared. As a result, the bag was almost completely empty, but miraculously syringes, pincers etc. were not missing.

Censorship stamp on a letter, Source: HDKE

We discovered these losses only this morning. In view of the large number of Russian reinforcements, all of which were heading towards Bicske, we were already thinking of going back, when we saw a large caravan with 2 wagons, also heading towards Székesfehérvár. As it turned out, they were in a similar situation like we were and so we quickly joined them. We were able to put our backpacks on the wagon and were able to continue our journey. At around 4 pm we arrived in Baracska, where we managed to find accommodation and stayed overnight.

Alcsút – Baracska, Google maps

Wednesday, 27 December

The next morning, we continued our journey and soon reached the Budapest-Székesfehérvár road full of marching people, where some members of our party broke off because they were on their way to Ercsi. We continued on the Balaton route and we were stopped only once by the Russian for a “robot” (Russian word for physical work). After half an hour we were released from the robot. Around 2 pm we arrived at the road junction to Adony and here we unfortunately had to be separated because the waggons arrived home, meaning that they did not continue the route with us to Székesfehérvár.

Baracska – Velence Lake, Google maps

So, we continued our way along Lake Velence, passing abandoned cottages, until we found one with a stove and a bed. Here we spent the night. Tomatoes were found in the pantry, so we even had a delicious hot tomato soup and soon fell asleep.

Thursday, 28 December

Unfortunately, we had to pick up our backpacks again in the morning and sadly trudged on. The weather was not good either, the mildness had been replaced by severe cold and we almost had to hurry. We had hardly walked for half an hour before we spotted ox-carts ahead of us.

We immediately charged on and soon caught up with them and of course loaded our packs on the carts. It turned out that some of the ox-carts had come from the village Tab, where they carried ammunition for the Russians and were now on their way home. Three of the unknown forced labourers on the carts were from Tab, they would certainly get home soon through Székesfehérvár, where we were also heading.

Hungarian soldiers on the front, Source:

The people of Tab are urging us to go with them, but we are sticking to our original plan. My feet are really suffering from the constant pressure of the short shoes, but I can’t sit still because of the cold, and I’m just trudging along. As we get closer to Székesfehérvár, the sound of shelling gets closer and closer and the three of us put our heads together worried about the hours ahead of us. We have just come from one front-line and are now running into another.

We ask the Russian soldiers how far the front-line is, but either they don’t know or they don’t want to tell us, and they just say “daleko”, far away. Finally, one says 15-20 km, that’s something solid but not very reassuring.

Finally, we arrive in Székesfehérvár at 2 p.m., and after saying good-bye to the people of Tab and the ox-carts which have done such a good service, we decide to look immediately for the town-hall to find the Headquarters, both to get a certificate, or some sort of a document, and to offer our services to the citizens of Székesfehérvár.

Velence Lake – Székesfehérvár, Google maps

Still about 100 m away from the Headquarters, a Russian patrol intercepted us and took us to the G.P.U. (Soviet political police agency) to identify ourselves. After half an hour of waiting we are brought in front of a Russian captain, we confirm who we are with the help of an interpreter and we are released but no document of any kind is given.

We continued our way to the town-hall where we hope to obtain some sort of a document …, but the situation is not so simple. After a long wait, I speak to the mayor, as a senior citizen, who tells me that the Russian authorities do not want to issue any documents and that we need a certificate in Hungarian and Cyrillic. As doctors, we are not really needed, but he advises us to talk to Dr Berzsenyi, the director of the hospital, he may be able to employ us.

The situation is not at all promising, meanwhile it is completely dark and we decide to spend the night in the basement of the town-hall, in the police station room. We make a pretty good bed out of mattresses and lay our tired, tormented bodies to rest.

Forced labourers in Hungary, Source: – Braham

The next day morning we went to the city general hospital to speak to Dr Berzsenyi, but he was not to be found. Instead, we met a forced labour doctor there, whose explanations led us to give up waiting. We got back to the city, where we thought the Communist Party would give us a certificate. The Communist Party was in a frenzy and they couldn’t give us any certificate since the Cyrillic text and stamp were not ready and we would have to wait a few days. 

In the Party Office I meet Dr Pál (Pali) Alpár, who graduated under me in Pécs, and he offers, if nothing else, to take us to the military hospital installed in farm stables, where he will provide us with accommodation and some food. Considering that we have no other choice at the moment, we accept the offered solution and move into the basement of the said military hospital, where we will find a place to stay in rather miserable conditions.

The conditions in Székesfehérvár are not very rosy, the front line is about 9-10 km away from the city, the shelling is almost regular, day after day in the evening hours, so we spend all our time in the basement.

Székesfehérvár 1945, Source:

… We received the desired identity card at the beginning of January, although it does not have the Russian stamp on it, but it looks good and as time has proved, it was worth waiting for.

Charap and Freiberger are of the opinion that they will take advantage of the invitation from the village Tab and go there. It is beyond Siófok, so they are further from the front line. I, for my part, in the naive belief that Győr will soon be under Russian occupation, do not want to move, and Laci Harmat, who has now turned up also from Győr is with me in this view. Laci Harmat works in a Russian bakery and supplies us with bread, which we desperately need because it is hard to get.

The incoming news is all the more positive. The Russians possibly make reconnaissances directly in the vicinity of the town and Pali Alpár and the forced labourers there leaved on Saturday for Pest on 6 January, which they expect to fall soon. In any case, they do not want to stay in Székesfehérvár because the situation is very uncertain.

The three of us, and I separately with Laci Harmat, have a lot of discussions and decide to leave on Monday, 8 January. Freiberger and Charap aim for Tab. The two of us will take the Balaton Road to Pest. Laci Harmat has friends in Martonvásár, we will find out the situation there and then decide where to go. In the meantime, we learn from the British radio that the Germans have launched an offensive along the Pest-Vienna Road. A German attack has reached all the way to the Bicske area…

The front is getting closer and closer, the shelling is constant and we are really worried. On Sunday morning, 7 January, while cleaning up, Laci Harmat drops in and brings the alarming news that the Russians are evacuating the civilian population in the upper part of Székesfehérvár and they are very much in a retreat. We don’t think much about it, but vote to leave immediately, and so we part ways.

Freiberger and Charap are leaving for Tab, the two of us are heading for Pest after a tender farewell. We set off, thoroughly packed, and sure enough, we see … loaded Russian vehicles, ready to go, transporting wounded Russians, partly in Red Cross cars, partly in buses.

At the crossroads, a woman joins us, heading for Dömsöd, and we set off on the slippery road to the highway. We change our luggage at a 4-km interval and soon arrive in Pákozd, where we rest, eat, and are even requested to see a sick person. Then we continue our journey in heavy snow. After a few kilometres of walking, we manage to hop on a Russian truck carrying vine that takes us all the way to Velence. …

Székesfehérvár – Pákozd – Velence – Adony, Google maps

Meanwhile, a Russian car comes along and the driver asks us where Dunapentele is via Adony. I explain the route with the help of a map I have on me, the Russian is impatient and tells us to go with him as guides. The car tempts us, … so we get in. In pouring snow we arrived in Adony, where, having given instructions to the Russian, we disembarked and looked for overnight accommodation.

Master carpenter Béla Stanczel and his family made us very welcome. They immediately put us up in the front room, where there were 2 beds and 1 bedclothes, … we cleaned up and settled in. By the time all this was done … a Russian pilot captain and an interpreter came to say that he was sleeping here too. We agreed that he would sleep in one of the beds, Laci and I would sleep in the other one, and we would put the sofa in the other room. We had dinner with the housekeepers and soon went to bed. The bed is quite hard, two of us sleep in it, uncomfortable, but we woke up rested.

Our hosts offered us breakfast and were very kind, their postal address is Béla Stanczel, Adony, Magyar u. 306. All what they had, they shared with us, they didn’t ask who we were, what we were.

Monday, 8 January (1945 !)

In the morning we set off to the Danube to cross to the other side. The boaters crossing the Danube were taking good advantage of the boom and took people across for Pengo 50-100 each. There is no other choice, you have to pay.

We arrive in Dömsöd at around 3 pm, where we get very disappointed. The lady who came with us was the wife of a mill owner, … but there was nobody at home, the miller’s house had totally been stripped, only the bare walls remained, even the doors and windows were missing. The two of us looked for a place to sleep and managed to find a farmhouse, but in much more miserable conditions than the day before.

Adony – Dömsöd, Google maps

Tuesday, 9 January

We set off towards Pest in the bitter cold, but luckily, barely leaving the village, we manage to climb on a carriage and that takes us a distance of about 12 km. This gives us a great advantage and we stop at a farmhouse 8 km before Taksony, have breakfast and for the first time we drink tea without sugar. Later on, I will get very much used to this way of drinking tea, because unfortunately we don’t have access to sugar anywhere.

The cold has eased a little, but it started snowing again and we set off in a heavy snowfall. A 2-hours journey is covered in 3 and a half hours, because the snowfall has turned into a blizzard. We arrive in Taksony in a strong headwind and heavy snowfall.

Dömsöd – Taksony, Google maps

Already on the way, we decided to stay in a decent place, because we really needed a complete rest and we wanted to do some serious cleaning. The shoes I’m wearing are soaked through and my feet are soaking wet. We get very good accommodation at Gáspár Kresz, good hot foot baths, a thorough wash and a rest in a well-heated kitchen.

I find out that there is no doctor in Taksony and I am immediately called upon. People in Taksony beg me to stay there, but I am tempted to get closer to Győr and my wife, so I don’t give in to their demands. After a good dinner, we wake the next day thoroughly rested, but the police are here for me to go to headquarters immediately.

At the headquarters, I am checked, at first, they think I am of German origin after my mother’s name, but after I have managed to explain this, the captain declares that he will take me on as a conscript doctor. Taksony is a Swabian village and the male population of the village is recruited from 18 to 45 years while the female population from 18 to 30. So, I am forced to do 2 days of conscription, during this time Laci gets a good rest. I also have a few patients, thus money and food. The conscripts are taken by car through Hatvan. I ask the captain to allow me to get on the car to get to Hatvan, but the captain does not agree, a sad experience.

(Photos are for illustration only.)

End of Part III.

And don’t miss the fourth, in which you’ll meet drunken Russian soldiers, again skinning our heroes, who are then summoned by the Russian police, subsequently they help the Russians in their search for wine, while they move closer to Pest.