Introduction


Chapter One
1956
The Escape from Hungary

Chapter Two
The Refugee Camps
of Austria

Chapter Three
Canada -
A New Beginning

Chapter 4
New Brunswick – The Farming Life Once Again

 

"Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing
circumstances contribute to them, few of them are willed or determined by will."

- Lawrence Durell


CHAPTER 1
1956 The Escape From Hungary


Violetta and Lajos pose in a rare photo in Nyirbeltek,
Hungary with their newborn son.

Gabriel Stefan Krekk was born in Nyirbator, Hungary on the 8th of  December, 1955 at 11:00pm to his parents, (father) Lajos and (mother) Violetta.  His given name at birth, Krekk Attila Gabor would evolve as surely as the changes in his own life. After a week in the hospital, Violetta and her newborn son would return to their hometown of Nyirbeltek, a small farming community along the Hungarian/Romanian border. Their lives were built on farming as they made their livelihood off of the land. There were no opportunities for prosperity under Communist rule, and the deliberate excessive taxing on the landowners made it impossible to sustain.  Tax administrators showed up with a group of gypsies to expropriate the last of the family’s livestock and food supplies.  There was nothing left and they were powerless to resist.  At only 11 months old, the child’s father would make a life changing decision and within one hour of that decision, they would leave everything behind to escape the Communist oppression and war that was building between the Hungarians and the Russians.  A  Hungarian cry for freedom.

 (1) (On November 4, 1956, Soviet forces launched a major attack on Hungary aimed at crushing, once and for all, the spontaneous national uprising that had begun 12 days earlier. At 5:20 a.m., Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced the invasion to the nation in a grim, 35-second broadcast, declaring: "Our troops are fighting. The Government is in its place." However, within hours Nagy himself would seek asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest while his former colleague and imminent replacement, János Kádár, who had been flown secretly from Moscow to the city of Szolnok, 60 miles southeast of the capital, prepared to take power with Moscow's backing. On November 22, after receiving assurances of safe passage from Kádár and the Soviets, Nagy finally agreed to leave the Yugoslav Embassy. But he was immediately arrested by Soviet security officers and flown to a secret location in Romania. By then, the fighting had mostly ended, the Hungarian resistance had essentially been destroyed, and Kádár was entering the next phase of his strategy to neutralize dissent for the long term.

The defeat of the Hungarian revolution was one of the darkest moments of the Cold War. At certain points since its outbreak on October 23 the revolt looked like it was on the verge of an amazing triumph. The entire nation appeared to have taken up arms against the regime. Rebels, often armed with nothing more than kitchen implements and gasoline, were disabling Soviet tanks and achieving other -- sometimes small but meaningful -- victories throughout the country. On October 31, the tide seemed to turn overwhelmingly in the revolution's favor when Pravda published a declaration promising greater equality in relations between the USSR and its East European satellites. One sentence was of particular interest. It read: “ The Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and other members of the Warsaw Treaty on the question of the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of Hungary." To outside observers, the Kremlin statement came as a total surprise. CIA Director Allen Dulles called it a "miracle." The crisis seemed on the verge of being resolved in a way no-one in Hungary or the West had dared to hope.

But tragically, and unbeknownst to anyone outside the Kremlin, the very day the declaration appeared in Pravda the Soviet leadership completely reversed itself and decided to put a final, violent end to the rebellion. From declassified documents, it is now clear that several factors influenced their decision, including: the belief that the rebellion directly threatened Communist rule in Hungary (unlike the challenge posed by Wladyslaw Gomulka and the Polish Communists just days before, which had targeted Kremlin rule but not the Communist system); that the West would see a lack of response by Moscow as a sign of weakness, especially after the British, French and Israeli strike against Suez that had begun on October 29; that the spread of anti-Communist feelings in Hungary threatened the rule of neighboring satellite leaders; and that members of the Soviet party would not understand a failure to respond with force in Hungary.

Developments within the Hungarian leadership also undoubtedly played a part in Moscow's decision. Imre Nagy, who had suddenly been thrust into the leadership role after it became clear that the old Stalinist leaders had been completely discredited, had stumbled at first. He failed to connect with the crowds that had massed in front of the Parliament building beginning on October 23 and seemed himself to be on the verge of being swept aside by popular currents that were entirely beyond the authorities' control. But over the course of the next week, Nagy apparently underwent a remarkable transformation, from a more or less dutiful pro-Moscow Communist to a politician willing to sanction unprecedented political, economic and social reform, including the establishment of a multi-party state in Hungary, and insistent on the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from the country. By November 1, Nagy took the dramatic step of declaring Hungary's rejection of the Warsaw Pact and appealing to the United Nations for help in establishing the country's neutrality.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. officials observed the tidal wave of events with shock and no small degree of ambivalence as to how to respond. The main line of President Eisenhower's policy was to promote the independence of the so-called captive nations, but only over the longer-term. There is little doubt that he was deeply upset by the crushing of the revolt, and he was not deaf to public pressure or the emotional lobbying of activists within his own administration. But he had also determined, and internal studies backed him up, that there was little the United States could do short of risking global war to help the rebels. And he was not prepared to go that far, nor even, for that matter, to jeopardize the atmosphere of improving relations with Moscow that had characterized the previous period.

Yet Washington's role in the Hungarian revolution soon became mired in controversy. One of the most successful weapons in the East-West battle for the hearts and minds of Eastern Europe was the CIA-administered Radio Free Europe. But in the wake of the uprising, RFE's broadcasts into Hungary sometimes took on a much more aggressive tone, encouraging the rebels to believe that Western support was imminent, and even giving tactical advice on how to fight the Soviets. The hopes that were raised, then dashed, by these broadcasts cast an even darker shadow over the Hungarian tragedy that leaves many Hungarians embittered to this day.

Once the Soviets made up their minds to eliminate the revolution, it took only a few days to complete the main military phase of the operation. By November 7 -- coincidentally, the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution -- Soviet forces were firmly enough in control of the country that Kádár could take the oath of office in the Parliament building (even though the Nagy government had never formally resigned). Pockets of resistance remained, but Kádár was able to begin the long process of "normalization" that featured suppressing dissent of any meaningful kind and otherwise co-opting Hungarian society into going along with the new regime.)

In desperation with the imminent fear for their own lives and knowing that they would lose all they owned to the Communists, the Krekk family packed up a few precious belongings and their life savings and through their connections to the Hungarian Underground, they made their journey from the eastern part of the country to Budapest by train along with Violetta’s younger brother Imre (Jim) and Lajos’ cousin. Here they eluded the Soviet police force through the help of a Conductor, who was a family friend.
 
Now on a train heading for Gyor, the train was stopped just before it reached the city, and the Krekk’s disembarked to awaiting Hungarian rebels. They moved the family and handed them over to the trust of the Guide. Taken to an old horse pulled wagon, the men were carefully concealed beneath the wagon in a hidden compartment below the cargo of beets. Violetta and child would ride with the Guide on the wagon. This would be a three day journey towards the border along the winding country roads of Northern Hungary. Into the second day, the wagon was stopped by a Soviet military vehicle. The soldiers approached the vehicle with rifles and demanded identification. The Guide claimed Violetta as his wife and his son Attila. As they were being interrogated, several soldiers moved about the wagon, and in taunting and laughing collaboration, they attached their bayonettes and watched the reaction of the Guide and Violetta. After countless thrusts of their weapons into the load of beets, the Guide finally spoke up and asked as to why the soldiers needed to destroy the only food they had for winter. Inside the compartment, a blade penetrated a gap in the wood and passed Lajos’ face, and another would cut through Imre’s coat as he laid on his side. Convinced that this was a legitimate farmer, they were allowed to continue on. When a good distance had been created between them and the soldiers, she yelled down to the men and with a sigh of relief the three men confirmed that they were still alive.
 
Nearing the border, the Guide pulled several pills from his coat pocket. The 11 month old Gabriel was given sleeping pills by the Guide to ensure that the child would not compromise the safety of the family and the others. Discovery by the Russians could have been certain death without question or remorse. Only a few kilometers from Hegyeshallom, the last border town in Hungary to Austria, the wagon stopped in a wooded area and the men were released from the safety of the compartment.
 
Now traveling by foot and under the cover of darkness, with the nerve piercing explosions of Soviet night flares lighting up the sky, they raced from trees to haystacks to laying in the furrows of the snow covered fields to eliminate the possibility of detection by the patrolling Soviet military. After only a few kilometers and hours of exhaustive running, they found themselves facing an electric barbed wire barrier.  The Guide explained to them how to carefully get  through a small opening and then he carefully aided each one to the other side. Gabriel’s bundled body would be the last to be passed through the opening to his Mother’s waiting arms.  The Guide also came through the barrier and he walked with them only a few hundred yards into a clearing before  he stopped and turned to the family and told them that they were free now and that they were in Austria.  He pointed to a light in the night sky off in the distance and instructed them to go to that place. 
 
Lajos handed the Guide their life savings in Hungarian Forint and tearful goodbyes were exchanged.  Tears for a homeland left behind, tears for parents, brothers and sisters who would never be seen again and  tears for those they knew would stay behind to die to free Hungary.  It was time to complete their walk to freedom and the Guide left them and returned back across the border. The distant machine gun fire behind them would always leave unanswered questions.

In the next few hours, they would finish their journey to the light.

Commemoration:

In the early summer of 1955, Violetta, born a Kulak and already with child, would travel to Budapest to address Parliament over the outrageous taxing practices of the regional Communist tax administrators.

It is now estimated that from the end of 1956 to 1959 at least 35,000 people were investigated by the Communist police for political crimes, 22,000 received sentences, 13,000 were sent to the newly developed internment camps and some 350 people were executed.

Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November, 1956.  Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict and 200,000 Hungarians fled the country as refugees.

2. * In December, 1991, the preamble of the treaties with the dismembered Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachov, and Russia, represented by Boris Yeltsin apologized officially for the 1956 Soviet actions in Hungary. This apology was repeated by Yeltsin in 1992 during a speech to the Hungarian parliament.

Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter its Man of the Year for 1956.. The magazine cover displayed an artist's depiction of a Hungarian freedom fighter, and used pseudonyms for the three participants whose stories are the subject of the article. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány referred to this famous Time Man of the Year cover as "the faces of free Hungary" in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising.  Prime Minister Gyurcsány, in a joint appearance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, commented specifically on the TIME cover itself, that "It is an idealised image but the faces of the figures are really the face of the revolutionaries.

On February 13th, 2006, the U.S. State Department commemorated the Fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and it is a remarkable coincidence that Gabriel Krekk would launch his “For Freedom Project” this same year, and then make the Project's first donation to Hillsboro-Deering High School in New Hampshire the following year. US Secretary of State Rice commented on the contributions made by 1956 Hungarian refugees to the United States and to other host countries.


U.S. President George W. Bush also visited Hungary on 22 June 2006, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary.

 (3) 10/18/2006 - President Bush issues a proclamation honoring the 1956 Hungarian Revolution... "The story of Hungarian democracy represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny. In the fall of 1956, the Hungarian people demanded change, and tens of thousands of students, workers, and other citizens bravely marched through the streets to call for freedom. Though Soviet tanks brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising, the thirst for freedom lived on, and in 1989 Hungary became the first communist nation in Europe to make the transition to democracy."

 After the fall of the communist regime, Imre Nagy, who was executed in 1958 through secret trials,  was reburied with full honors. The Republic of Hungary was declared in 1989 on the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution, and October 23rd is now a Hungarian National Holiday.

At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, the Soviet handling of the Hungarian uprising led to a boycott by Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland. At the Olympic Village, the Hungarian delegation tore down the Communist Hungarian flag and raised the flag of Free Hungary in its place. A confrontation between Soviet and Hungarian teams occurred in the semi-final match of the water polo tournament. The match was extremely violent, and was halted in the final minute to quell fighting amongst spectators. This match, now known as the “blood in the water match”, became the subject of several films.  The Hungarian team won the game 4-0 and later was awarded the Olympic gold medal. Several members of the Hungarian Olympic delegation defected after the games.

The US accepted  80,000 Hungarian refugees.  In November, 1956 Canada also declared its readiness to accept Hungarian refugees, and as a result, many chose to go to Canada as an alternative to the United States. 22,000 Hungarians went to the United Kingdom. 13,000 Hungarians finally ended up in France. The generous offers of many countries were not fully taken up as Hungarians desired to make their home in the US than anywhere else.

Gabriel Krekk would make his first return visit to his homeland on July 15th, 1994, landing in Vienna, Austria and then driving into Hungary through the border crossing at Hegyeshallom with his parents as his passengers.


    1. www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/   Extracted from this website on the history of the Hungarian Revolution “ The National Security Archive”.

    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Revolution_of_1956  Extracted from this website on the history of the Hungarian Revolution. “ Wikipedia”

    3. http://www.hungary1956.com  Extracted from this website.

 

Chapter Two – The Refugee Camps of Austria

 

 

 

 

 

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