Tuesday, 11 February 2014

ANDRÁS PETŐ: A MOST TERRIBLE NIGHT

11 February 1945

It has been a very hard winter and tonight will be very cold. There is thick snow on the ground, and fog. It is 11 February 1945.

I do not know where András Pető is. I have read reported by Miklos Kun, that he had been holed up at the Red Cross Children's Home in Orsó u. but I do not know whether he is still there or has found somewhere else. He had a narrow escape there from the Arrow Cross but by now most of the Hungarian Fascist militiamen who are not trapped with the German and Hungarian armies around the Castle Hill, if they have any sense are probably making themselves scarce, getting rid of their uniforms and identity papers and trying to blend into the civilian population. The last three of the seven bridges over the Danube were blown up on 18 January so he is likely still in Buda and, as movement is neither safe nor easy, probably still near Orsó u., if not actually there. As ever with András Pető, who knows for sure?

Tonight will be the night of the desperate breakout from the Castle Hill, across Széll Kálmán tér  (later for some years known as Moskva tér) then north-west to the Buda Hills and towards the German Army Corps trying and failing to relieve the city.

Fast forward

In the late eighties and early nineties I spent a lot of time in Budapest, mainly in Buda, as did quite a few Brits and other foreigners with business at the then World-Famous in Kútvölgyi út. I believe that a few still do. I went all over the city but I particularly remember (forgive some of the place names) Moskva tér, Szilágyi Erzsébet fasor, Nyúl u., Városmajor and the rack railway, the János Kórház, the Hotel Budapest, Júlia u., Bimbó út., Herman Ottó u., Vöröshadsereg utja, Pasaréti út, Budakeszi út and the old Szép Ilona, Virányos út, and of course Kútvölgyi út. I walked, looked, shopped, ate, stayed and visited a lot around there.

At the time I no inkling about what had happened there over the five weeks or so that following Christmas 1944 when the encircling Soviet troops closed their ring round Budapest at the quaint little tram depot just beyond the Szép Ilona. There was no public acknowledgement of those events, and I heard no private mention. They had been blotted out from public memory. I found out only years later.

Standing and walking round there then, I would have been no more able to imagine what happened on that night in February 1945 than it is for me sitting here now.

Breaking out

I shall make no presumptive attempt to convey what happened. At eight in the evening, the first of 28,000 troops broke out of their stronghold through the freezing fog and set out across Széna tér and Széll Kálmán tér: units and individuals of the German and Hungarian armed services, Waffen-SS troops of almost every nationality in Europe, German SS-men, Hungarian Arrow Cross Fascist militia – followed by thousands of civilians, men, women, children and old people, whole families and alone – some desperate, some despairing. Heavier weaponry was soon lost or abandoned. Waiting for them was the Soviet Army, often dug in with artillery and rockets as well as small arms. 

Eventually only around seven hundred or so troops made it through to the German lines. Most of the 17,000 of those killed died in the first six hours, in the streets that I wandered so innocently forty-odd years later and thought that I knew so well. The rest were captured, or just lost. I do not know how many Soviet soldiers died.

Krisztián Unvgáry has called the breakout 'one of the most futile enterprises of the Second World War'.

It seems highly unlikely that András Pető had been in the Castle District and took part in the breakout but, if he was anywhere in Buda, he would have been very aware of the noise and violence of the battle as those in the breakout fought and fled along Vöröshadsereg utja and up Kútvölgyi út and Virányos út. If he were still in or around Orsó u., the running battle would pass by only a suburban block or so down the hill from where he was sheltering.

Come the morning, as far as Buda was concerned, hostilities would be nearly done.

Tamás Cseh: Széna tér


Previous posting in this thread

Sutton, A. (2013) András Pető: a close brush with destiny – I, Conductive World, 24 September

Sutton, A. (2014) András Pető – one day in history, 4 February 1945, Conductive World, 4 February

Reference

Ungváry, K. (2002) Battle for Budapest, London, BCA

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