Family Story

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part Four

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

In the first part you learnt why and how the diary is born, in the second one you discovered that German and Hungarian military units couldn’t resist the Russian advance, bombs were dropped even during the Christmas holidays, a good pair of boots was worth its weight in gold and a doctor could help those in trouble anywhere and anytime. In part three you read about occasional forced work hours, the tampering with their medical supplies and medicines, the adventures of the wandering troop in Székesfehérvár and their approach to the capital city.

Let’s continue. It is already January 1945.

Friday, 12 January 1945

We set off on Friday morning, the terrible amount of snow that fell two days before has almost completely melted away and we arrive in Kőbánya via Soroksár, Szentimre, Szentlőrinc. On the way, we met a boy from Kőbánya who was on his way home and his family offered us lodging in one of their shelters.

Taksony – Kőbánya, Google maps

Saturday, 13 January

We are on the road early in the morning, because we want to get out of the Pest area as soon as possible, where heavy fighting is still going on and the shells are still whizzing over our heads.

Right at the start we are caught by two drunk Russians, I am released as a doctor, but Laci Harmat is thoroughly stripped, his pyjamas, handkerchief and small items are taken away. …

Soon another checkpoint, but the ID we got in Székesfehérvár proved to be good this time and we were released. Around 11 o’clock in Rákosszentmihály, another checkpoint, here things don’t go smoothly, they search me completely, take my maps (Hungary and Fejér county map), my stamps, my flashlight and even my ID card and throw me into a room where about 30 people are waiting to be judged.

Of course, we immediately get acquainted, besides us there are two other people with similar ID cards, they come from Bori, Serbia, where they worked in a labour camp, and they are going to Pestújhely, because they live there. They are terribly desperate. We don’t like it either, but what can be done, given the forced rest, we eat.

After about two hours, a Russian soldier with no insignia, who later turned out to be a G.P.U. captain, escorted four of us to a neighbouring courtyard, while the others, whose number had grown to at least 50, were lined up by armed guards and sent on their way to who knows where. I am the first to be called in and duly debriefed, then interrogated in detail. Where I have been, what I have done, from where to where, how I have been treated, etc.

While the others are being interrogated, I take the opportunity to wash myself thoroughly at the fountain in the yard. The sun is not shining, it is very cold, the temperature is around freezing.

During the interrogation I make the acquaintance of a Russian subaltern, with whom I have a long conversation, hand and foot, using a dictionary, which resulted in giving him a bottle of … that I had obtained from the pharmacist next door. As a token of his gratitude, the Russian brought me 4 pieces of cut meat, which I of course shared with the others, so we ate again.

After we had all been interrogated, we were escorted back to the building next door where we were being searched and now, we were placed in the inner room where there two tailors were already staying with moustaches. They have been working there for 3 days. There was a stove in the room, so we were immediately thoroughly warmed up. Since the house had a wooden fence, there was no lack of firewood, and I, as the eldest, fed the fire.

The only inconvenience was that there were Russian batteries set up about 200 m away from us, and the firing of these batteries was accompanied by a constant shaking. It was getting dark and we were hungry again. When the G.P.U. Lieutenant came in, we asked to be fed. He then arranged for us to be given bread, which we badly needed, as our stock was completely exhausted. We lay down on the parquet floor and slept very well …

Sunday, 14 January

In the morning we were given bread again, washed at the well and went back to the inner room, where an interrogation of those present took place in front of us. When about fifty or so people were collected, as they had been yesterday, armed guards took them away again. Towards noon, the G.P.U. Lieutenant came, brought our papers back and let us go. We asked him to write a few lines on our documents so we wouldn’t be caught again, but he refused. I have usually found that they are very difficult to provide anything in writing.

We set off at a fast pace and, following the instructions received from our friends from Pestújhely, we headed for Fót, as it was a shortcut to Vác. We managed to get on a Russian car heading for Vác and we were already making far-reaching plans for what we were going to do in Vác in the early afternoon when in Fót a Russian female traffic policewoman forced us off the car and even trashed our luggage.

Vác, Google maps

There was a beautiful, mild and sunny afternoon and we continued our journey towards Dunaharaszti – Alag, where we soon arrived and now, we were on the Budapest-Vác Road. Given the sad experience, we try to avoid the traffic police … Soon we were reached by a gypsy family, who came in a cart and allowed us to put our belongings on it. Now relieved of our luggage, we continued our journey at a brisk pace and arrived in Sződliget in the dark of the evening, where we immediately went to the police station. With the help of the police, we were given a room and rested our weary body on a wide hammock. …

Monday, 15 January

In Sződliget, the situation is quite dangerous, because people are being caught on the road and taken to robot (Russian word meaning “work”, in this case “forced labour” – editor). … Accompanied by a policeman, we reach the highway, where we continue our journey towards Vác. Soon we arrive at the Vác-Hatvan crossroads, where we can see the Russian policeman and some soldiers from a distance, but there is no other way, we are forced to go in their direction. Identification, the pass is good, but we have to go to robot, this time to help reconstructing a railway line.

I desperately insist that I’m a doctor and my legs hurt…, but the soldier puts us in line and we leave for the workplace. The workplace is about 3 km from the crossroads and when we get there, after unloading our luggage at a railway station, we are told that we have to remove the railway tracks because the Germans have destroyed them and we have to put them back in place again. Nice prospects! For the time being we wait and wait, I don’t like this situation one bit.

A lieutenant comes along, I show him my paper, he nods, and says harasho, harasho (Russian word meaning “alright” – editor) but he can’t relieve us, only the captain can. I look for the captain, he’s nowhere to be found, meanwhile the train arrives bringing the rails but the train did not stop where it should have done, so that the rear wheels of one of the wagons jumped off the rails… How lucky we were.

And the two of us started going back and decided that whoever asked, we would say that the officer had told us ydy damoi (Russian expression meaning “go home” – editor). We luckily avoid three working teams, quickly take our belongings from the guardhouse and just as we were leaving the guardhouse, we ran into a Russian patrol. Of course, we are immediately checked, we show our documents, but they don’t want to let us go and as soon as they see my medical bag, they start searching for Sulfidin. They don’t find it, but they take away a significant part of my bandages. In the meantime, I wink at a young Russian who understands and shows us out. We ask him to escort us a long way, and then I give him 20 pieces of Sulfapyridine tablets with a sore heart. Unfortunately, everything has a price and only later did I realise what a high price I had paid!

We quickly head back and now have an unobstructed crossing at the road junction. Soon we are at the Vác police station where we are given a Hungarian-Russian language pass to travel to Párkánynána, the Vác police cannot issue a pass further than that. We make the pass signed and stamped at the Russian headquarters, now we have the Russian stamp and we are on our way.

Párkány (Sturovo) és Zebegény, Google maps

We are in the outskirts of Vác, when a Russian car stops and the captain asks where Nagymaros is and if there is wine there. I say I know the way, but whether there is wine I cannot answer. I tell him, it’s 13-14 km away and I can show him the way if he wants. The Russian agrees and we climb on board the car and set off towards Nagymaros. It’s cold on top of the vehicle, but we resist the temperature heroically, and make the 3-hour journey in about 20 minutes, … before we had caught a cold we had arrived. The Russians’ information was correct, because they had indeed found about 30 barrels of wine in a restaurant along the Danube. As we guided them and helped them to tip the barrels, they filled our bottles. The Russian was pleased and so were we, for having come so far! The wine turned out to have fermented and we couldn’t drink it, but the Russians must have drunk it.

In the street we are wondering where to find a place to stay, when an elderly lady comes by and, when asked, she says that we can sleep at her place if we are not afraid of the Russians. We take the risk, and soon we are sitting by a burning stove, eating, having milk, then cooking potatoes and having a delicious dinner. … Laci goes on a reconnaissance expedition, some pickles are found, and under the bed we find beautiful apples, a full basket and of course we pick a few, but leave the rest there.

Tuesday, 16 January

Starting from Nagymaros, we take a scenic route to Zebegény, where we deliver a message to Brulik bakers. We were given a good lunch and a two-kilograms loaf of bread on departure.

We hear bad news from people on the road, there are Germans in Esztergom and they are constantly shooting at the Helemba-Garamkövesd road. The front is right in front of Párkány and the rumours that Komárom has been captured by the Russians are lies. But we go on blindly, driven by the desire to go home and hope that the (Russian) troops released at Pest will push the front further. We want to be at their heels and follow them immediately. 

We arrive in Szob, then cross the bridge over the Ipoly and reach Helemba at around 15:30. We find some quarters for the night when we hear that the road to Garamkövesd has been mined by the Germans to the point that it is not passable during the day. This would be the only way to get to Parkany. We get our things together and pack our bags to take advantage of the evening twilight to get to Garamkövesd yet by the end of the day. It’s supposed to be at an 8-km distance, but it seems we are very tired, because we can hardly walk at the end. Right at far edge of the village we find a house where we can stay for the night.

A four-engine bomber of the US Air Force bombing the railway bridge in Szob in 1944, Source:

Apparently, it was all the same now, I slept on a sack full of corn stalks, I could sleep, I even slept well, but when we woke in the morning we immediately packed and moved on. Going through the village, we reach the Garam military bridge, but here the guards won’t let anyone through, supposedly in a day or two crossing will be allowed, but not now. Nothing can be done about it, we have to go back and take shelter in a nearby house, just in case if crossing the bridge becomes possible.

In the meantime, one of the policemen asks me to see the local doctor because he is sick and needs some medicine. I go to see him, he is in a terrible state of neglect, his flat and consulting room have been ransacked, he himself is dirty, neglected, full of wailing and lamentations. What should we say then about our own affairs?

With the assistance of the entire population of the country, the Hungarian authorities took everything from us and made people, who had worked all their lives, into outcasts, condemning them to definite perdition, showing no mercy to anyone, from the infant suckers to the elderly. Yeah, that was different, we didn’t mean it, that’s what they say now, but … with very few exceptions, everyone stole and looted the Jewish stuff they could get their hands on!  The Russians were much better than the Hungarian gendarmes and at least they didn’t make exceptions. They take the watch from the Jews just as they do from the Christians.

I myself have been through a lot, the result of 16 years of my medical work has come to nothing, but as long as I can work, I will not despair. They cry and cry for mere material goods, but they are at home and their relatives and brothers are at home, but what about our relatives, where are they? I could go on and on about this, but that is not my intention, I intend to write the story of my wanderings.

Soon, I leave the ‘kind’ colleague and manage to get my shoes repaired in a Russian schusterei (German expression meaning “shoe repair shop” – editor) and return to my lodgings. After lunch, we noticed that civilians were being allowed across the bridge, and we immediately rushed over and managed to get across. We couldn’t take the highway because the Germans were shelling it so we took the Nána road to Parkany.

On the Nána-Párkány road, as we passed, I met Lajos Perlblum, with whom I had been together in Óbarok for quite some time. Both of us are thoroughly surprised, we greet each other stormily and slowly tell each other our stories. It turns out that he had simply been forgotten in Parkany to help the civilian population. We go to his place and enjoy his hospitality for two days. He lives in Dr Hermann’s doctor’s office in Parkany, or rather in the basement, because there are constant shots fired. We also move into the basement.

Wednesday afternoon we meet a nice, friendly, kind-hearted Jew from Parkany, who was hiding from the Arrow Cross in the area and has already returned home together with Ödön Schatz, who welcomed us with great joy. He has already taken under his protection two women and a boy who escaped from the Komárom ghetto and hid somewhere. They are currently living in the Tóths’ shelter. … they have decided to move to Uncle Schatz’s house, but here they are afraid of the Russians. Uncle Schatz thought that I, as a doctor, could protect them, and indeed I succeeded to do so during my stay in Parkany. The next morning, two more former forced labourers, also from Komárom, arrived at our place. They escaped from their troop in Győr, joined the Slovak partisans and fled from there to Pest, where they managed to survive with false documents until the Russians reached them.

(Photos are for illustration only.)

The end of Part Four.

And don’t miss the fifth, in which you’ll find out how a doctor managed to get food in hard times, what the war situation was like on the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border, and how much Uncle Ödön Schatz’s hospitality meant. They arrive in Pest, where they meet many of their fellow citizens from Győr.