Tuesday, 4 February 2014


4 February 1945

It is a bit chilly early this morning in Middle England. I lay in bed a while to hear the a lady on the wireless talking about the draught in California, then I was soon listening about the awful snow in Slovenija. Time to get up early, turn up the central heating and have something warm before the Shipping Forecast. It is 4 February 2014.

Turn the computer on and routine news services tell me about the local weather. It is going to be a little chilly around here (around 7 Centigrade) there will be wind and blustery showers. I doubt that I shall venture far today. I think of Budapest on 4 February 1945. The 100-day Siege, intense, vicious urban fighting across an inhabited, unevacuable city, still has seven more days to run.

I had thought that anniversary-prone Hungary would have had lots of local events from the winter of 1944-1945 to remember publicly over the last month or so, not just in its capital. I have been wrong. There has not been a peep. Perhaps the events were so horrendous as to bring collective public amnesia, though I know that private memories still live on. 

Anyway, in 2014 a General Election has been announced, bringing plenty to hold public attention – and, if you do want to talk about the War, there is the present-day general question of national war guilt, brought to focus by that wretched statue.

András Pető

In February 1945 the weather was unduly bad in that part of Europe.

It was not too good for us in England either but course in out our own way. Sixty-nine years ago today I was four years old and, I guess, tucked up safe and warm in my bed. I do not know the whereabouts or circumstances of András Pető, a 52-year-old, homeless, stateless, Jewish refugee from Austria. Maybe he was still at the Red Cross Children's Home in Orsó utca, near Pasaréti tér in suburban Buda, in which case would have been already been liberated by the Soviet Army – not an altogether unproblematical process but it just might just make it a bit easier to find a scrap of something to eat. He would still, however, be in close earshot of continuing heavy fighting.

I doubt that he could have got over the river to Pest, or that he would had made his way to where the German and Hungarian Armies were still holding out on the Castle, Gellert and Eagle Hills and, for a few hours yet, around the Southern Railway Station – but he did do some strange things, so who knows? Wherever he was, however, there would be no chance of warmth or sleep this morning sixty-nine years ago, and precious little chance of food.

For András Pető the War was over, like for most people in Budapest apart from those soon to be caught up in the terrible attempted breakout. Its aftermath was just beginning.


Sutton, A. (2013) András Pető: a close brush with destiny – I. Rescued by Miklos Kun, Conductive World, 24 September
Ungváry, K. (2002) Battle for Budapest, London, BCA

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Blogger Andrew Sutton said...

Over on Facebook, Judit Szathmáry commented immediately on the above posting –

What an interesting read to wake up to on this quiet February morning in the South of England while sipping my espresso. Thank you Andrew. I was six years old when Pető died in 1967. I wonder what I was doing when he took his last breath in his beloved institute.

If he knew on that cold February morning how much he was going to be loved and appreciated for choosing to help people after the war and and for future generations to come, that day would have been easier for him.

To which I replied –

I only ever know two things about what AP was thinking in a given situation: (1) that I have no idea and (2) that he would have wanted it that way.

Maybe I know how a 52-year-old me would have been thinking that morning in 1945 –

'I made it.'
'I'm hungry.'
(Addressed to the sounds of battle) 'Don't get any closer.'
'What now?'

Pure speculation and projection of course to go beyond that.

If he were still around Orsó u. for just a little longer, the battle would soon of course pass very close indeed... and then it really would be over.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 17:40:00 GMT  

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