Remembrance Day - The Poppies in the Window November 08 2017
1956 was the year that my father, my mother and oldest sister escaped from Hungary. It was the year that my father's remaining family, but one sibling, were lost during the Hungarian Revolution. And it is also the year, my father's entire squad was executed by the invading Soviets. Should he have stayed, he would have been one of the first killed. He would have been killed, like thousands of others, if it wasn't for an Austrian soldier, patrolling the other side of the fence, along the Austrian border that night. Warning of the on-coming onslaught of the Soviet war caravans that were on route to my families home town.
Yes, my father was a deserter. But he was also one of the many heroes.
My father lived the horrors of WW2 as a young child in the trenches with soldiers. By day, when the Allies bombed and in the fields at night, scavanging for food for the family, when the Nazi's bombed, he lived enough war. And yet, here he was, in the infantry now, through conscription. 1956. Night patrol. Austrian/Hungarian border.
But this night, was the night before the Soviets arrived. And my father saved hundreds of innocents as he ran alongside others, escaping this war. This revolution.
He used to tell me,”the army didn’t even have a chance … we knew we were all going to die, it was an order. But everyone else had a chance. That’s when I made my decision to save those that I could. That was the night I decided to not accept my fate set down by those in corrupt seats, high above”.
It was the night and days that followed that he and over two hundred thousand other Hungarians got out, before the bloodshed.
He ran from his post, after receiving the news of twenty-five thousand strong were marching towards him. He consciously ran thirty miles warning people along the way. He warned farmers in the fields working for the almost overthrown, albeit corrupt, government. He warned women and children cowering in the bushes, fields and shanties along the roadsides. And he warned strangers, knowing full well, they might just shoot him in the back, as he kept running, because after all, they may be secret police.
But most importantly, he warned my mother’s entire family. They all survived, by hiding, or running, or accepting the Soviet occupation. His own kin, did not.
They all ran out of time, and with tanks at his heals, grabbed my mother and older sister and made a run for it with the other thousands of Hungarians for the border.
Italy was the safe haven. That is what everyone knew. That is where they went, to catch a boat to Canada, Australia or South Africa, to safety, and the unknown. For if they had stayed, or took their chances, this story wouldn’t have been written. History would have definitely been different.
You also wouldn’t be able to read the reason I am writing this. Or why the poppy means so much to me and my family. Why I am so adamant about closing for the day. Why this one day of the year is most solemn and most reverered and true in my heart.
Dad always planted poppies in his garden. Wild, Hungarian poppies. It really doesn’t matter what the color, as long as they were pinks, oranges or reds. He tended them with more care than any of the other plants in his garden. Making sure the patches along the fence were weed free, even in the back lane. For him, they were a sign of respect of everyone he had lost. Everyone he had known. All the sacrifices. And all that was given up for his freedom. It was also a symbol of everything he gave up and did to save whom he could.
Especially, his family. Whom would have certainly been executed because of his ties to the Hungarian Infantry, much like his family.
The Poppies were Dad’s way of paying respect.
In 1984, my father was pardoned for desertion and acknowledged for his contributions to saving his countrymen in the long but not forgotten past. He wore a poppy on that day.
Every day after that, he carried petals from his poppies, folded in a handkerchief in his pocket.
He always told me, Never forget.