The 1956 Hungarian Revolution
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On the way to New Zealand
Our American Airforce Plane took off from Munich International Airport and I started to daydream with tears in my eyes. I was on my way to New Zealand, leaving every thing even Europe far behind.
Again I felt very emotional. One minute I was happy and excited about the new country, new experiences in store for me in the future, then very depressed and home sick the next minute. In a few hours time I would be leaving not only family, friends, Budapest, Hungary, Austria, Germany behind, but the whole of Europe, and the northern hemisphere as well.
Soon, the view outside my window turned dark as we were flying over the Alps. The plane was buffeted by the heavy turbulence as we approached the witching hour and the end of 1956.
1956, December 31st, - midnight and we were flying across the Swiss Alps and we were over Zurich, as it was announced over the cabin speakers by our captain. We were having severe turbulence drinking the champagne supplied by the American cabin crew.
Flying in this plane over international borders was another new experience for me. I did many hours of flying in gliders over the years, it was one of my passions, but this was big time, this was something new again. The large U.S. Airforce plane was fitted out as an airliner and it was comfortable enough.
As many times before, particularly in the last few days, thoughts, memories, and pictures were rushing through my mind in rapid succession during these hours.
My family's persecution in the previous years and in the future for my activities, participation in the Revolution and now my well documented escape, were my often-recurring thoughts.
Finishing High School.
Starting my apprenticeship at Ofotért and studies at the University.
Meeting and falling in love with Anikó.
Being in front of the Parliament buildings, the Radio.
All my previous thoughts of were running around in my mind endlessly.
All my free time was spent reminiscing.
Feeling sad and frustrated of leaving my friends at the barricades.
Saying farewell to my loved ones - my family, girlfriend and many other good friends.
Now, leaving many good friends behind in Austria.
Getting further and further away from Hungary, the people and country I love so much.
Many, many thoughts and pictures were chasing each other around in my mind.
Our trip to New Zealand was very exciting, stopping at many interesting places.
Travelling over three continents and many time zones.
It was very exciting and stimulating for me, because I had never flown in a big aeroplane like that before.
I was heading to a place that our school textbooks described as a South Pacific Paradise, though in Vienna I had to ask someone what New Zealand's capital was, which was my fault really. I should have paid more attention or tried to better remember my geography studies.
Our first stop in the early hours of the New Year (1957) was Rome, the eternal city. The plane circled low over Rome a couple times before landing for our benefit and it looked very beautiful from the air. I could see many shimmering lights, roads lit up, lights from buildings, windows and cars. Once we landed, we spent most of our time in the restaurant and the bar at the Terminal buildings. We were served our choice of food and drinks free, courtesy the aircraft crew I suppose.
It seemed a dream, I was on my way to the other side of our planet, and we were pampered all the time, on board and at our stopovers.
Our next stop was Beirut in Lebanon, the exotic Middle East. Bible Lands, Arabian Nights, Crusades, Flying Carpets, and many other fabulous stories came to my mind.
It was a glorious day and we had a few hours to spare while the plane was refueled, checked, and cleaned.
The airport was very near the sea. I could see the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea to the west, right beside the airport as I stepped outside the pretty new looking, modern and luxurious, terminal building. It was built in the luxuriant Arabic style painted a white or off-white colour. It reminded me of a luxurious Sanatorium or Hotel at an expensive resort. I was young, grew up behind the Iron Curtain, and I was easily impressed.
We were told we had plenty of time but regretfully we could not leave the Airport, as there was heavy fighting going on in and around Beirut at the time. I could hear constant explosions in the distance. There was a war going on there.
The land was rising from the airport towards the east, where many tall buildings were visible in the distance - that was Beirut City.
I could see a busy road not far from the Airport going in the north-south direction, not far beyond that was the frontier, where the fighting was. Lot of trucks, military looking trucks, were running back and forth. I could also see many explosions towards Beirut City; there was a serious battle raging on.
(Things did not change very much over the forty years, just a few months ago, around December 1995 when I started to write this story, there was a war going still on there. Whether it was another war or the same war still going strong, I am not quite sure.)
Ironically, I had just left a very similar scene behind me in Budapest.
We had eight or nine hours to spare, but we could only watch the raging battle a few kilometres away.
Bahrain was our next stop in the Persian Gulf. We arrived in the middle of the night there. The place was very hot and it was affecting me a fair bit, making me feel uncomfortable and perspiring. We had to sit on the floor in a bamboo hut that was the airport lounge, anxiously waiting for the air-conditioned aircraft and our earliest possible departure. The hundred or so of us could not even all fit in. There was a small bar at the far wall, a few of us were leaning on the bar drinking brandy until our credit ran out.
After Bahrain we stopped at Dubai, another city with tropical-like weather. The airport building was another large, modern building built in Arabic style too, light, creamy coloured. We landed at night and the place was bathed in bright flood lighting. I was very impressed, as the place had a very Arabic ambience.
Karachi was next on our list of stopovers, early the next morning. Although we had plenty of time, we couldn't leave the airport again because some civil disturbances were taking place there just then. Again we had to spend the next few hours at the airport.
Karachi Airport was alright. The shops were open and we could pass the time buying some souvenirs and window-shopping. I can not remember who paid for the postcards I got from Karachi or any of the other places. Our crew must have gone around before us to arrange credit for us and picking up the tab later.
Nowadays we can go from New Zealand to Europe with only one stop over in Singapore or somewhere. In those days - especially being a military aircraft - we often had to stop and refuel. Being an American military aircraft, it had to select carefully where it was welcome to land.
In New Delhi, our next stop, we only stayed on board the aircraft. We only spent about an hour to refuel and re-supply the aircraft while we were looking out the window.
Calcutta followed New Delhi, and this stopover was very different. It was our first and only over night stopover. We were taken to our hotel by bus. The airport seemed to be a long distance from our hotel, destination. The road from the Airport to the city was long and narrow.
We were travelling in an old bus with open windows, there was no sign of glass in the windows and it was very hot and humid, so really there was no need for it anyway. I could smell a strong and changing odour as we travelled along the road through the out lying suburbs. The smell appeared to change by every block or street and was strong on my unaccustomed noses. There was a deep ditch on either side of the road most of the time, until we came to a more built up and modern part of the city. On the outskirts, the houses and huts were connected to the road with bridges of varied descriptions over the ditches.
During our long ride from the airport the majority of the scenery (well until we got near the city centre) looked very much like a collection of 'shanty towns'. Huts built of a variety of timber and corrugated iron. I was looking at scenery I had never seen or experienced before, third world poverty.
Every block of buildings and huts had a different smell of their own. I could hear a lot of noises surrounding as life went on all around. The narrow roads seemed very busy. Cars, hand carts, rickshaws, and many cow were all around us. Many buses and taxis were on the road too. There was a cacophony of noises all over.
We were taken to the Grand Hotel of Calcutta, in the heart of the city, on one of its main thoroughfares. It was a very nice old place, a relic from the old colonial days.
There was a very large square at the front of their Hotel.
After a long shower, Jóska, my roommate and my new friend since we left Hörching, and I went to have our pre arranged dinner in the hotel's main dining room.
After the good dinner, Jóska and I ventured out for a walk in the hot Calcutta night. I got a sudden cultural shock as we left the opulent dining room and walked out into the Hotel yard. I suppose after our arrival I was not paying too much attention to details, but now, refreshed, I had more time to absorb our surroundings and I felt an instant culture shock again, even more so than on the trip from the airport, as we ventured outside.
The whole place held me enthralled.
There were steps leading down to the yard from the mezzanine floor, where the dining room and reception was. There were some shrubs, palm trees, many lights and flowers were in the large enclosed courtyard, at ground level.
Indian men with turbans on their heads, very slim looking, were sitting on some of the steps, two or three together and cuddling what appeared to be large rats. They all seemed happy with their companion and were softly talking to each other. There were some people just laying on the grounds and sleeping.
Jóska and I, intrigued, apprehensively ventured outside the gate to see what secrets the night held for us. Little did we suspect what we would find. A different continent, a different country, and a different culture for us previously untravelled young people.
Stepping outside the large gate, I could see a brightly lit building in the distance in the large park opposite the hotel. It looked like a church or something, I thought. There were many other large buildings surrounding the park as well.
The road was wide and seemed very busy, with a large variety of shops along it, most of them closed now. I saw Indian men sleeping on the footpath or in the doorways of the shops as we walked along. I thought they were there for guarding the shops at the time, most probably they were. It was probably around nine o'clock or later and was very hot and humid. The hot and humid conditions were with us since Bahrain.
Although it was getting late, there was a real hustle and bustle in progress on the roads, many taxis, buses and rickshaws were passing, several of them asking us to get on board, but neither of us had any money to spend. None of the taxi drivers and or rickshaws people seemed to be much bothered by our refusal or explanations of our lack of money. They either did not understand our explanations or simply took it as an excuse to refuse their offer. As neither of us could speak Hindi or English, they presumably did not understand us either, but that it did not seem to be much of a problem later on during our night of experiences.
One of the rickshaw men would not accept our protests and sign language for not having any money, even after we turned our trousers pockets inside out. He kept insisting we get on his rickshaw and go for a ride. He did not seem much worried about his remuneration - he was determined to give us a sightseeing tour of night time Calcutta.
Our rickshaw man appeared a bit smarter than the others and explained to us by sign language that he understood us and our predicament and would take us sightseeing using our jackets for payment. In the Calcutta heat we did not really need our jackets, we both had shirts and singlets underneath anyway, so we agreed. After some discussion between Jóska and I, though, we told the rickshaw man that we would give him another jackets, not the ones we were wearing at the time. He did not seem to mind.
Jóska and I jumped on his 'vehicle' and soon he ran us around what appeared to be a main street and into the back streets. I could smell the strong aroma of Indian cooking, curry of many varieties, once we left the main roads and entered the back streets. For the next couple of hours the man took us around the main streets and back streets of Calcutta city. In the dimly lit, narrow back streets, we passed many little shops, brightly lit inside, with no doors or windows on their front, all the goods stored out of sight and the whole families lying, sleeping on the counters in the back of their shops. There was an 'aroma' one kind or another in front of every shop as we passed by.
"What a sight, what an experience." I thought to myself, not realising what was to come yet.
After about half an hour running around and I mean running - the man was running, pulling us comfortably seated passengers in his rickshaw - the man pulled up front of a building and told us to follow him up a flight of steps. Arriving upstairs I was very surprised. Following my initial shock, I realised we were led into a brothel. Ten or more girls were sitting by the opposite wall, some young, some older in a large room at the top of a flight of stairs we climbed. A man came to greet us after we entered, shaking our hands and quickly he and our rickshaw man were engaged in a discussion.
There were about twelve or more women of varied ages and looks, most of them young and very pretty sitting against the far wall.
The 'bossman' was poking his right index finger into his left fist, trying to talk us into some love making. I was stunned for a few seconds, but soon realised what was going on.
Although the recipient of boundless kindness and generosity since stepping over the Hungarian border into Austria and freedom, I did not think that boundless kindness extended to free social services in the back streets of Calcutta. As I looked around awe-struck, I felt my chin drop, (I had never been in a brothel before, and I never expected that as our destination of the night - call me naive) and our rickshaw man was busy talking to the only man in the room. He must have been the 'boss'.
After some more lively discussions between themselves they both turned around to us and with a sweeping movement the 'boss' pointed at the girls. It was selection time for us, but who was going to pay? I did not think that the brothels of Calcutta were offering 'free social services' yet to the poor Hungarian refugees. So Jóska and I turned our pockets out and used many Hungarian and German words, trying to explain that we were in Calcutta only for the night, we were poor, penniless refugees and no one was going to bother to pay for our extra-curricular entertainment.
I was wondering to myself whether I was loosing my grip on reality and entering the realm of the 'Arabian Nights', the Middle East was geographically only a mere few International borders away.
The 'bossman' pointed to our jackets, - which we were wearing out of habit - and a few iota superfluous in the Calcutta heat anyway. In Hungary's mild climate in those days, all city kids wore jackets practically all year around. Mainly to look good, 'cool' and well dressed to the girls, whom we tried to impress constantly and it was the right thing to do in those days.
He pointed with a sweeping motion to our jackets, pants and shoes, as if he will accept them as payment. We did not want to end up half naked, or naked walking in the back streets of Calcutta. I had a quick word with Jóska and than we decided to try to explain to our rickshaw man that if he will take us back to the hotel we will get some other jackets, (Ones that we were given in Austria) and we will return with him to "finish our business", so to speak.
We both turned to our rickshaw man and with sign language we told the men we wanted to go back to our hotel to get some clothes to trade. The opportunity seemed too good to miss as a lifetime experience.
To our surprise and amazement, the rickshaw man seemed to grasp our intentions and our Hungarian-German rhetoric, generously interspersed with sign language, straight away and we were helter-skelter on our way back to our hotel.
Jóska and I hurried to our room, rummaging through our suitcases for a jacket we could spare for the "night's entertainment".
Our rickshaw man had some discussion with the hotel staff, obviously making sure that we were telling the truth. Seeing us coming he waved us on his 'transporter' (It might as well been a 'Flying Carpet" for all we cared) and we were presently back at the 'house of many pleasures'. The 'bossman' waved his arms again in his usual sweeping motion, from the first to the last girls sitting against the wall, to make our choice of a girl to retire with.
Jóska and I picked a young girl each and retired to the adjoining rooms. The rooms were small and clean, with a bed, a bedside cabinet, a couple of chairs and a tallboy with mirror, and some pictures hanging on the walls. Nothing extravagant, but clean, tidy and functional. I was getting a bit brave now and indicated to the girl that I would like to have another go. To my amazement, the girl was very co-operative. I was happy, Jóska was happy, everybody seemed happy. We both gave the rickshaw man our jackets that we fetched from the hotel. The 'rickshaw man' talked with the 'bossman' and everybody seemed satisfied and happy.
The 'rickshaw man' 'ran' us back to our Hotel, smiling at everyone as he passed. With a big grin of satisfaction on our face, we returned to our hotel for a good night's sleep.
That was my very first and my last occasion in a brothel.
After some discussion with some of our fellow refugees the next morning, at the breakfast table, practically everybody had similar story to tell.
"Life seemed to get more and more exciting for me", I chuckled to myself for days to come.
The next morning we were on our way to Saigon, the Capital of South Vietnam and it was embroiled in a war with the French Colonial Powers at the time. In later years another war in Vietnam would get more serious with America and New Zealand involved.
The war was raging right outside the doors and we were not allowed to go outside of the building. Again, the airport terminal was at our disposal. There did not seem to be anyone around except the shopkeepers and us. Come to think of it, it was much the same everywhere at the other airports too, except Munich. We spent a few hours locked in Saigon International Airport as the war was going on outside.
While waiting, I bought some postcards and souvenirs.
Our next stopover was at Jakarta on a late and very hot night. We had to settle with sitting on the ground for long hours, somewhere in the airfield a long way from the terminal, with our back against some sheds that appeared to be a hangar or something. We were allowed to visit the terminal to shop and refresh though. They had some disturbances in Jakarta and outside the Airport at the time too. In addition, our American hosts and the local authorities tried to keep quiet the presence of an American military aircraft on their airfield.
I was happy sitting by the shed chatting and making plans with Ilona, talking softly about our future and making small talk as lovers usually do. Our backs were against the hangar wall and I had my arms around Ilona. We met at the Hörsching camp first and would seek each other out numerous times during our journey. Now we seemed to settle down, accepting and liking each others' company. We both felt some empathy towards each other and enjoyed one another's company. Ilona liked my attention, my tender, delicate and soft touch. I enjoyed the fact that I was not told to stop when my hands wandered around her young, feminine body. I often got bold and my hands wondered to some very exciting places. We sat there quietly, hugging and kissing and kissing and hugging, not worrying about time or weather or the world around us. It seemed an enjoyable way to spend time waiting. We did not talk much or very often, there did not seem to be much need for it. We had made some plans, but how much can one plan when the future is so uncertain. Jóska was also busy talking and walking around with another girl from our flight.
It was late the next night when we arrived at Darwin. We spent most of the night in the lounge upstairs with a few drinks supplied free. After the first couple of drinks they wanted to charge. With no money, we had to stop our drinking, even the thirst quenching refreshments. Some of the lucky ones with some money and knowledge of English were sitting and drinking happily at the bar until our departure. Darwin was another very hot, humid place. Ever since we left Rome, the hot weather annoyed me to some extent. I was not used to near-tropical or tropical climates and heat. In the lounge where we spent most of our time, it was quite pleasant with the ceiling fans going. Another one of those things I have only seen in the movies and Calcutta before.
(I visited Darwin again in 1986, while I was touring around in Australia. To my amazement nothing much had changed. The lounge was still there, upstairs, without any noticeable changes. The bar was there too. This time I could afford a few drinks, even at airport prices.)
I easily recognised the place; it was nearly as I left it in early January 1957.
In Brisbane, our next stop, we had a very pleasant surprise.
Before we touched down, what seemed to be a long time, we were flying over a built up area. I was glued to the window, watching the long rows of houses passing by underneath. It seemed like never ending rows of tiny little houses with gardens and colourful roofs, mainly red and green from my window.
The local Hungarian community waited for us with a beautiful assembly of locals, good food and speeches. They organised a banquet for our group. One of the halls at the airport was nicely decorated and had tables brimming with food. All of us from our aircraft had some Brisbane Hungarians to sit and reminiscence with. We were soon informed about the local conditions and the latest news from Hungary and other interesting chit-chat.
I enjoyed the party and conversation with some very nice Hungarians. Some of them had been living in Brisbane or nearby since 1945. They left before or soon after the invasion of Hungary. They were all well established in the prosperous, democratic Queensland, Australia. My group and I were going to try to do the same in New Zealand. Everybody had a 'jolly good time'. We were nearing our journey's end. After we took off from Brisbane, we were heading for Auckland, New Zealand, a couple of large, and a few smaller, islands in the South Pacific.
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