Born in a small village, just outside of Budapest, Mrs Magda Bodonyi, grandmother of Sam Slater (2nd Form), recalls the immense struggle and difficult times she and her family faced in Hungary, whilst caught up in between two armies. (Photos above, l-r: Magda, her mother and sister in 1943; Magda in 2020)
I was not quite 10 years old when the Second World War ended in May 1945. It was supposed to be a time of great joy and excitement, but recalling all the previous years of utter inhuman suffering, I remember great sadness as well.
During the War itself, around 1942, my father was ‘called up’ to fight on the Russian front, where thousands never returned. At home we had our two grandmothers living with us, as it was the custom that they move in with the family after their husbands’ died. At the end of 1944, we were overjoyed when my father was demobbed and returned home, where he continued being a shoemaker. Alas, it didn’t last long, as part of the village was occupied by the German army and the other part by the Russians.
January- May 1945
We all feared the hated Russians, as their conduct was horrifically outrageous and atrocious. They left death behind them wherever they went. On one occasion, they targeted my father as well, because he didn’t have a wrist watch, which they demanded off him. They liked to have ten or more of these worn right up their arms. My father offered them their wedding rings instead, which were not accepted. The soldiers got really angry and fired all around him, causing us to think they had killed him. But thanks to the Almighty God, he was still alive, but we all were shaken!
Shortly after this, we had to spend several days and nights in a huge cellar of the local school. We slept on straw and our winter coats were our only cover. Food and sanitary conditions were non-existent; we all developed horrific skin eruptions, there being no medication.
One early morning the Russian soldiers expelled us from the cellar and we were forced to go to the next village, whilst the two warring sides fought each other for the total occupation of the village. People departed from their homes, forming a line stretching over a few kilometres, as they tried to get refuge in the next village. They were randomly shot at by the soldiers, leaving a few dead. As my mother’s health condition was extremely serious, she was not able to walk, so my sister, Anna, and I pulled her on a sledge. By the time we arrived at this new place, there was no room left for us, but they let us stay in the stable with horses and cows for company. We tried to sleep on the wet, warm straw but we were scared of the animals; my sister cried all the time. Next morning, we found a kind family who took us in. There was no food, so Anna and I went to the nearby field and found some frozen carrots. Meanwhile, my father was taken from us to be a shoe mender for the soldiers. He shared his bread ration with us during our three month stay, which helped to keep us alive.
VE Day – May 1945
Huge joy and gladness swept through the world when it was announced that the War was over! We could finally go back to our own houses in our own village. Upon our return everything had been completely destroyed! Nothing left was usable. The place had been bombed and everywhere was soaking wet. Our cat appeared from nowhere and greeted us, which brought a tiny smile to our faces.
Slowly, but very slowly, life started to return amidst all the destruction. A few of our relations had not survived, including my grandmother, which was a cause of great sadness, and still is today. We didn’t know how she met her death.
Life was very difficult for us under Soviet occupation. Eventually there was a Revolution, started by us as students on 23rd October 1956, demanding to free Hungary from the Russian troops. Sadly, it was not successful and the Russians shot all the members of the Hungarian Government, despite promising talks with them.
At this point, my husband and I decided to leave Hungary and start a new life in the free world; we chose England. Here, we learned the language, found fulfilling jobs and had two daughters. The youngest one, Clare, is the mother of one of my 6 beloved grandchildren, Sam Slater. I have great pleasure in knowing that they could all grow up experiencing freedom and have lots of opportunities in life, without experiencing the fear that I had.
Sam paid a visit to Hungary a few years ago, where he saw my birthplace and could meet my brother, nieces, nephews and cousins. Hungary now has the freedom for what we fought when the ‘Iron Curtain’ came down in late 1980. No more Russian soldiers around!