|Dr. Steven Julius Török
|I was a first year student at Kossuth Lajos Tudományegyetem in Debrecen, studying nuclear physics. Students from Szeged University came to our Univesity on the 21st and reported their 16 points for university autonomy and asked our support. Next day there was a university-wide meeting and a decision to demonstrate. On the 23rd we marched from the University to the city center, singing the Mardeillese! I sang it in French, since I studied in a Licee Francais in Gödöllõ when I was 10 years old, run by the Norbertine Fathers. The school was closed two years later and the buildings later became the Agricultural University where my mother worked in 1956 as a laboratory assistant and where I participated in gymmnastics and skiing university sports while still in high-school at Petõfi Gimnázium in the village of Aszod. I graduated in June of 1956 and was admitted to Debrecen, where I joined the new nuclear physics program, being one of 16 admitted from over 200 applicants.
After the demonstration on the 23rd, news came that in Budapest shots were fired that same evening, so we regrouped and defended our university with the armory of the ROTC corps that we were all members of. We had, however, no ammunition and hoped that whoever would attack us would not know this! At the same time the student council contacted the Hungarian Army barracks in the city and they decided to support us. News came that in Budapest the revolution succeeded -- we thought we were the only ones doing a revolution, as a postcard I wrote to my parents would have testified. However, they never received the postcard.
I volunteered to the student council with a friend from the same dormitory, Zoltán Bódy (may he rest in peace; he died about 10 years ago after becoming a professor at our alma mater in Debrecen that I visited again some 5 years ago...). A bus picked us up in the morning at the student dorm and at each village around Debrecen 2 students and a soldier (whom we picked up at the barracks, similarly volunteers but with official Hungarian Army approval) were dropped to organize a town meeting, inform the people of events in Budapest, disarm the police, and organize the national guard with their help. As young and enthusiastic eighteen year-olds we did this without a hitch and even without any sense of danger, ending up with the whole village singing the Hungarian National anthem, then they invited us to a wedding where the bus on its return picked us up around 10 . p,m. to take all 36 of us back to Debrecen.
My village was Görbeháza where I visited again last year after 49 years and hardly recognized the town -- the church and the Cultural Hall where I held the meeting were still there, but the deep mud was gone, all paved roads, many new buildings. The other 11 teams of soldiers and students were in other surrounding villages of the district, were similarly tired but succesful.
The next day (Thursday) I decided to hitch-hike to Budapest to find my parents in Gödöllõ. As I hitched a ride on food-trucks carrying pigs and wheat to feed the capital, at night convoys of Russian Army trucks passed us. Someone shouted at us: GDYE SUEZ? [Where is the Suez Canal?] This was supposed to be the withdrawal of the Soviet troops agreed with the new Hungarian Government... I arrived about 10 o'clock at night to Budapest to Üllõi út where the food was offloaded. I started to walk, then heard some shots in the distance. A patrol stopped me : who are you? A student from Debrecen -- I showed my student ID. They were revolutionaries patrolling the streets, trying to capture any secret police in hiding or trying to escape. This happened to me about three times in the dark streets before reaching my cousin's house near Kálvin Tér. My pants were completely wet when I climbed the stairs to the third floor and they let me in...
Next day was the 1st of November and I took the electric train to Gödöllõ, picking up all the free newspapers on the way to the Keleti train station. It was euphoria... we had finally won! My mother and father were happy to see me. In fact, my father had gone by motorcycle to my dorm to try to pick me up -- only to be told that I had left! He could at least bring back my clothes and books! I could not, however, forget the ominous Russian convoys coming towards Budapest that passed us: Will this last? I thought to myself, Imre Nagy just declared Hungary's neutrality -- will they respect it?
The Revolution really threw me into the world at 18 to fend for myself. I believe it is perhaps the single most important event in the 20th century that turned the tide on communism.
WALKING TO AUSTRIA
We decided with a high school friend to go into hiding at the state farm where my father worked, in Balatonfenyves, near the lake Balaton, after the Russian invasion on November 4th., Around the 10th of November, when we saw that no help was forthcoming, we feared for our safety. Then, on the 23rd, we started walking toward the border, after my father went there on a motorcycle the day before to see that if it was still possible to cross. From Keszthely it was a walk of some 120 km, however we could hitch some bus rides as far as Zalaegerszeg. There the driver told us to get out and walk around the hills towards Zalalövõ since Zalaegerszeg was already controlled by the Russians This we did and the evening w arrived to a house where my father had been the previous day and where they put us up for the night. It was a wedding feast that night; we drank and danced and the people who knew where we were going told us "Go and tell them: we are very disappointed!". I still remember the face of the little old lady who could have been my grandmother who told me this.
The next day we started walking early through the fields and reached the river Mura in the afternoon that we had to cross to get to the border. Incidentally, there was fresh snow and fog and we got lost -- my father thought we could only cross out towards Yugoslavia but we wound up by the river, highway, forest and railway line near the Austrian border. There was a patrol on the bridge, so we walked a bit downriver where a man with a boat took us across and hid us in a barn. The highway and rail line were already guarded so he suggested we wait till night when he would try to take us across. By the time midnight came instead of the 2 of us there were a dozen of us hiding in the barn, similarly picked up by the man with the boat during the day as they were coming across the fields. Some were Hungarian soldiers, some students, some families.
At midnight we filed in a single file towards the border. First a patrol vehicle passed the highway and we rushed across after it left. On the railway two Russian soldiers were patrolling on foot. However, we were 12 and they did not know whether we were armed (we were not) so they turned back and let us pass. Then in the forest in the snow we walked towards the border. The guide with us turned back, we gave him all the Hungarian currency we had with us as our gratitude. He warned us to turn west and not north, since then we might cross back to Hungary. We crossed the border at Deutshcbillings near Csáktornya on the night of the 24th of November. W reached an Austrian border post, I greeted them in German, and they took us to a schoolhouse where there were already about a hundred people they gathered during the night. They showed us a movie that I still remember: "Ferien in Tyrol..." They then took us to a makeshift quarter at the school where I started the cheese my father had packed for me... I was safe!
Dr. Steven Julius Török
Born in 1938, he took part in the events in Debrecen and Budapest. After escaping to the West via Austria, he lived in Japan, where this story was published in his 1963 high school magazine, Koni Course. He became a friend of the bestselling author Shiba Ryotaro in Osaka, who modeled the hero of his novel Ryomaga Yuku about Dr. Török. Shiba only told him this later, after the novel had sold 17 million copies in Japan. His friend passed away 10 years ago, but he is now writing a historical novel about the 13th century in Hungary dedicated to Shiba's memory. The novel features Prince Kálmán of the Árpád Dynasty and will be published this year, possibly in China, in English. Dr. Török also lived in the United States, attending Stanford University in California and earning a PhD from Columbia University in 1976. After his retirement from the United Nations in 1998 he repatriated to Hungary, where he now lives in his ancestral home.