Family Story

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part Five

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. We learn about the behaviour of drunken Russian soldiers in part four, as well as the mutually profitable exchange of “goods” with another Russian, a repeated robot (forced work for the Russians), how important it is to have good ID papers, and the search for wine for a Russian army unit. Dr Bakonyi explains the difference between the behaviour of the Hungarian authorities and the Russian Army towards the Jews. This comparaison goes in favour of the latter.

Let’s continue.

Saturday, 20 January 1945

After Uncle Schatz’s house was fixed up, we moved in … The people who moved in are: the host, Ödön Schatz, the two ladies from Komárom and their son, the two Slovak partisans and us two. Uncle Ödön Schatz, the ladies and the boy are in the inner room, the four of us in the first room, which is a doctor’s surgery, waiting room, operating room during the day, but very often a discussion room, especially when I am not at home.

We fix outside a publicity board and the next morning the first patients appear, the number of which has grown and during my whole stay in the parish. I have had almost no free time except in the evenings. My stay in Párkány began on the 17th of January and lasted exactly one month, until the 17th of February. The situation in Párkány is not very encouraging as there are Germans in Esztergom opposite and they are shootings every day. These firings are totally irregular and unpredictable. A significant number of the inhabitants of Párkány are living in cellars, partly because their houses are ruined, partly out of fear …  

The bombed Párkány Bridge, 1980, Source: Fortepan

We did not go down to the cellar, of course, but took up residence in the apartment. Luckily, nothing happened to us. I went to visit the bedridden patients after the morning appointments were done and I usually went home for lunch only around 2 pm. After lunch, if I had some free time, I would play a game of patience …, but it soon got dark and I had to stop.

Our group tried to get all the food we needed.  I played a significant role in this, because some of the patients paid the fees in kind, flour, fat, bacon, etc. Fortunately, we had no meat problems, because the butchers in Párkány still had access to some beef for slaughter … we paid 10 Pengő per kilo of meat. The inmates of the Schatz house consumed a lot, because the number of those present was constantly increasing due to the returning forced labourers of Párkány, furthermore all those who lived further away were stranded here, because it was impossible to go further.

The front was only 20-25 km away in the direction of Komárom, so it was impossible to move on. Some of those who had arrived, seeing the situation here … went back to Nagymaros, Vác, Pest or even further. And so did the 2 Fleischmann brothers, brothers-in-law of Jóska Wolf, and time has proved them right. They wanted to go to Ács, but when they saw the situation, they turned back. Some of the people from Párkány also went back, as well as Laci Harmat. A decree was issued that all those who did not live in the former Czechoslovakia should return to the motherland. In my case, of course, the decree was not applied because the doctor was needed. I can say without boasting that “the young doctor from Győr” – this is how people called me – earned honour and respect in Párkány.

Párkány village (SK) before WW2, the Basilica of Esztergom in the background, Source:

The days pass in unison. … we are in constant contact with the Russians in order to learn something of the situation at the front. The shelling is definitely sounding nearer, … I sense what is coming, I keep everything in my backpack.

On the 14th of February the Germans did a nasty shelling, 2 shells hit right in front of the house and our remaining windows were broken. Luckily, I was not at home, the window where I normally read and write was smashed to pieces. Nobody in the house was hurt, a lucky coincidence!

The situation on the front seems to be calming down a little, but there is a strange tension in the air. The Russians are nervous, they are conducting repeated searches. There are remarkably few Russians in the place and we are in a constant state of suspense, but we are just waiting.

On Friday evening, 16 February, at Uncle Schatz’s request, all the Jews and half-Jews here came together for Friday night prayer and dinner. We also had two Russian guests and forced labourer Béla Kovács, a baker from Esztergom, baked a delicious white traditional Jewish loaf for the festive dinner. We had no idea that this would be a farewell dinner for us …

In the afternoon of the same day, I spoke to the local Catholic chaplain about sending a message to my wife in Győr via the Vatican. He replied that all contact had been broken and it was impossible. Perhaps he will remember my request and now that the Germans have retaken Párkány, he will somehow be able to send the news that I am alive and well.

Saturday, 17 February

The shelling can be heard from close by, people withdrawn to the cellars, conspicuously few sick today, news of the Germans coming back. The Russians are silent, but one of them spits out that something is up.

We pack up completely and wait. Rehberger, who is in Nána, also comes for news, because the mood there is also very bad. We send him back to inquire what is happening with the Russian hospital in Nána, because if there is a retreat, it will surely be moved. At about 5 p.m. he comes back in a state of breathlessness that the hospital has been sent on its way. We do not wait any longer, but pick up our things and move off at a strong pace. The people from Párkány are standing frightened at the gate, the Russians are waiting, fully loaded and ready to go, and a familiar Russian officer tells us to hurry.

Garamkövesd (SK) signpost today, Source:

Unfortunately, we can’t get to the bridge at Garamkövesd because the area is under water and we have to take the highway to Kőhídgyarmat. The highway is packed with retreating Russian troops and under constant shelling we run almost the whole way to reach the bridge. The feeling of danger is increased by the sound of shells hitting in our immediate vicinity and the fact that we don’t know what condition the bridge is in, as it was supposedly badly shelled by the Germans in the morning. 

Following the retreating columns, we make the journey in record time and, turning off the highway, reach the road to the bridge, which is in a terrible state and … in ankle-deep mud, we reach the bridge, which we manage to cross, amidst frenzied horses.

Párkány-Garamkövesd-Kicsind-Bajta (all in SK), Source: Google maps

The first village on the other side of the river is Kicsind, but this was evacuated of civilians by the Russians long ago and is still crowded with Russian soldiers. Here in Kicsind we meet a Russian captain who tells us to move on immediately to get as far away from the Garam river as possible. We have to do this because there is no house here where we can find shelter. We decide that we must reach Bajta during the night, where we may be able to take shelter.

The road, especially the first part, is in a terrible state, but there is no choice, it is cold, we have to go, otherwise we will freeze. It could have been one o’clock at night before we reached Bajta, but the village is packed with Russians and there is not a vacant place. We try again and again, finally they take us into a kitchen where eight people are already sleeping. We are cramped, but it is warm and at least we can take our boots off our feet. … I managed to get settled on a bench and slept like a log until 6 am. Our host here is János Vilmajor, Bajta.

Sunday, 18 February

In the morning, when we looked at each other, we saw … the traces of yesterday’s and last night’s rambling. We are covered in mud and dirt and we are trying to clean up a bit, but it will take days before the mud is completely dry and ready to be brushed off. We leave early because we want to get at least to Zebegény today. The group shows the effects of yesterday’s journey, and we drag ourselves along wearily.

The road is very slippery in the morning hours, and we are almost stumbling along the steep downhill road to Leléd.  Passing through Leléd, which also presents a haunted picture, still under the influence of the morning frost, we emerge along the Ipoly river and follow its flow for a long way, stopping several times and waiting for the others … we get to the bridge leading to Ipolydamásd. The only bridge guard standing here, after checking pieces of identification, lets the whole party through, and we sigh with relief, as three of us have no IDs.

Signpost of the village Leléd today, Source: wikiwand. com/hu

However, it is also very reassuring to know that there are two rivers behind us and that the cannonading can be heard from further away. At Ipolydamásd we have a long rest and a meal, potatoes boiled in water with salt make up very well for the bread and it must be about noon when we continue on our way. At a slow pace we reach Szob, where we are taken to the headquarters, where we are again checked.

The papers that were good for the bridge guard are good here too, and with three IDs the whole party can go on, only me and my medical bag were in danger, the lieutenant wanted to take one of my thermometers, but I managed to talk him out of it.

Bajta-Leléd-Ipolydamásd-Szob-Zebegény (SK-HU), Source: Google maps

We arrived in Zebegény early in the afternoon. We tried to find accommodation as quickly as possible, and after a long search I got a separate room at Ádám Harangozó’s place, while the company settled down at Ferenc Krebs’. I decided to stay in Zebegény for the time being, thinking …, as a doctor I could survive anywhere, because there were sick people everywhere who would somehow support me. The rest of the party went on to Nagymaros and Pest after a day’s rest.

Zebegény in the 1930s, Source:

My stay in Zebegény lasted from 18 to 27 February, and during this time I changed apartments three times, because the Russians returning for rest did not even respect the doctor.

The days in Zebegény were uneventful and the only problem was with the Komlós boy who had been picked up in Zebegény, who had gotten lice and despite having nothing to do all day, could not get rid of it and at the end I noticed that I had some lice too. This is the third time in my wanderings that I have had lice, but fortunately they are only immigrants and immediate action was taken to stop it from multiplying. First in Székesfehérvár, secondly in Párkány and now for the third time in Zebegény I managed to have got these “partisans” on my body and fortunately got rid of them immediately. Very unpleasant animals and spreaders of rash typhus! I finally placed the Komlós boy with somebody in Zebegény and I am moving to Ferenc Krebs’ place, where besides me there are two other former forced labourers who arrived with me from Párkány.

In three days, however, we have to leave Zebegény, because the Russians seem to want to evacuate the civilian population to make room for the troops returning from the front. In Zebegény, I had an unexpected encounter with Jucci Bíró, who had come from Pest and had escaped the Arrow Cross terror here. We were very crazy about each other, but the next day I … went on my way.

Tuesday, 27 February

After lunch, the three of us set off to get further away from the front, towards Vác, possibly Budapest.  After less than an hour’s walk we managed to get on a Russian troop transport car, which took us to Budapest. It was about 5 o’clock when we reached Pest and I, separated from my companions, decided to visit my wife’s aunt, who lived at 33 Nürnberg street.

A street in Budapest after the siege, 1945 Source: Fortepan

It was quite dark by the time I reached them and they were thoroughly surprised at my coming. The next day I went into town, where I met many people I knew, and went up to 12 Síp utca (headquarters of Jewish national organisations – note by the editor), where I found people from Győr, such as Dóri Salczer, Imre Steinfeld, Laci Raab and Fleischmann, the butcher, people who handled the affairs of the Jews of the countryside. Later, I met Gyuri Klausz, who lives with his father-in-law, Dr Oszkár Szekeres and Manó Ádler, all of whom are staying in Pest now.

The ruins of Erzsébet bridge in Budapest, 1945 Source:

Many people from Győr were or are still in Pest, but some of them have left because the food situation in Pest is very critical. The next day at noon I went to Aunt Mari, Kató’s mother, who received me very kindly and I stayed with her during my whole stay in Pest. I wanted to find out from Kató the address of Aunt Hermin, but neither from her nor from other acquaintances did I manage to get any news of my relatives.

I keep going around the city to receive information from someone, but no one knows anything about them. Walking around in Pest is not without its dangers, because at any moment you can be caught in a robot (work for the Russian army – note of the editor). I always take my medical bag with me and that’s how I manage to get away with it. It’s very unpleasant weather, there’s a sharp cold wind but I don’t want to take my fur coat with me anymore, I leave it at Aunt Marcella’s with my excess winter stuff. In the meantime, I keep thinking about where to go, because I don’t want to stay in Pest, although Aunt Mari is very nice, but they don’t have anything to eat themselves.

Kati managed to travel down to the Great Plain to get something to eat while I was there. … She left on the 2nd of March and I was to wait for her return, but she did not return home even on the following Wednesday and I could not wait any longer. All the more so because the spare food I had brought with me was already gone.

Postcard from Vác, 1938, Source:

On Wednesday, the evening of the 7th, I boarded the train for Vác, which left Nyugati Station at 6 p.m., and by 4 a.m. next morning, after record slowness and frequent stops, we arrived in Vác. I left my boots, snow hat, two pairs of flannel booties and a bedsheet in Budapest, as well as my sleeved sweater and winter gloves. I sent the latter items from Penc to Aunt Marcella.

During the journey, and in Vác, I met a teacher from Kosd, who told me that they had no doctor and I decided not to run into the front for once, but to get a little further away from it. So, I did not go back in the direction of Nagymaros and Zebegény, but positioned myself east of Vác.

Thursday, 8 March

We set off at about 5 o’clock in the morning, and as the teacher was moving very slowly, I went ahead to Kosd, where it turned out they already had a doctor. So, I decided to go on my way. The villages are close together, and I soon reached Rád, where the magistrate was very sorry for me, as he was very much in need of a doctor, but they were so full of Russians that he could not place me anywhere.

Three km from Rád is Penc, where there was originally a district doctor, who had however fled from the Russians thus was confident to be accommodated there. The situation in Penc is similar to that in Rád, there are many Russians and the doctor is needed, therefore they will make arrangements for me. So, I settled down in Pence and here I began to put my memories on paper.

Penc today, bird’s eye view, Source: google maps

I arrived in Penc on Thursday and until Monday I was staying in the kitchen of a widow called Mrs Szemere, while in the room there was a young man with staying with tuberculosis. I was not at all reconciled to the situation and by Monday I had managed to vacate a room in the village hall … which I managed to furnish, so I started to see patients in the village hall on Monday. I sleep on the daybed in the surgery and run an independent household. 

The practice started off with a bang, and for the first week I was busy most of the day, but now it has subsided a bit, and I have the possibility to start and continue my diary. Penc is a very pretty little village, and has suffered comparatively little from the war, but unfortunately the Russians have had their time, so that the purchase and obtaining of food is now a matter of some difficulty.

Yesterday, 24 March, a friend of a patient of mine went up to Pest, and I sent a parcel to Aunt Marcella, a bag of good quality flour and 8 eggs. I hope she will receive it, together with my sleeved sweater and winter gloves, so that I may have as few unnecessary things with me as possible when I start for home. Unfortunately, the cannons are still very loud and the windows are still vibrating, meaning the frontline is still close. Today is the 25th of March, your name day, my dear wife…

(Photos are for illustration only.)

The end of Part Five.

And don’t miss the last part, Part Six, in which you’ll find out how Dr Bakonyi is planning to return to his home town, Győr. And that will be the end of the diairy. As an Epilogue, the editor will insert a news-cut from the local paper “Penci Hírek” and a brief information about Dr Bakonyi’s daughter, Hugi Bakonyi, a former top sportswoman, who guarded the diary of his father for eternity.