The family had slowed their speed as they carefully navigated the fields and woods keeping the light ahead of them in sight at all times. There was a sense of ease among them now and there was laughter too as they fought off the bitter cold. Each of the men would take turns carrying the sleeping child throughout the journey. Exhaustion and the frigid temperatures was taking its toll on each one of them. After five kilometers past the border, they could now see the shape of a town that had been their beacon in the night. The sun was now beginning to show its light behind them and it became easier to navigate their path. Finally they could see a road ahead leading to the town and they clambered up the ditch and onto the snow covered road. Their pace now almost a run, with the excitement of the unknown ahead of them, they would soon reach the town.
The picture at left is an excellent shot of how little the Hungarian refugees would carry with them from their life belongings. This unidentified group had cleared the border and were now free in Austria and with each one them, their individual stories would be as unique as this one. Over 200,000 stories will be told countless times for generations to come. This picture was extracted from the website www.demokratiezentrum.org.
The family passed their first house into the town and the front window opened, and an elderly gentleman greeted them in Hungarian. A deafening silence fell among the group, convinced now that they were betrayed and that they were still in Hungary. The old man told them to wait there and he came out of the house pulling on his coat. He would address their concerns with a jolly laugh and explained that there had been many Hungarians living in Austria since World War II. He welcomed them to the town of Nickelsdorf and he volunteered to walk with them to show them where they would receive help in the town. Even now, as early in the morning as it was, there were many people scurrying about and each one of them would pause and greet the Newcomers in German. Lajos would recount that one large group of Austrians were waving small Austrian flags and cheering them on. The family was soon picked up by a Red Cross carrier truck and they were taken to a large school building already populated by hundreds of Hungarian refugees. There was warmth in the building with several large red hot potbelly stoves blazing away. Many Hungarians were still sleeping on the floors that were covered with only straw providing makeshift beds for the many.
The Red Cross nursing staff provided immediate care for the family and began to treat them for hypothermia and dehydration and they removed the unconscious baby from Violetta. After several hours of recuperation, a nurse, along with a Hungarian interpreter came to Violetta and informed her that her son had passed away. In convulsive anguish, she lost consciousness and was revived by the medical personnel. Barely with any strength to walk, she was taken to a room to identify her son’s body where she broke down, and through sobbing tears she declared to the interpreter that this was not her son. She described to the interpreter, two rare birthmarks on her son’s body, one at the base of his spine and the other on the back of the right shoulder. The Interpreter shared this message with the staff that was present and one of the nurses left the room. This same nurse returned in a short time and requested Violetta to follow her. They entered a huge room filled with dozens of children, some sleeping, others playing and one little blonde hair boy whose eyes lit up in recognition of his mother.
Violetta and Lajos would share in the grief of the loss of the other parent’s son and as history would unfold, they would meet again in another camp. This young couple buried their son in the free land of Austria and they remained on to become citizens of this country and to stay close to their lost son.
As the tanks entered Budapest on 4 November, the outside world reacted with great speed, despite the competing Suez Crisis. They were not prepared to intervene inside Hungary, but they were – it transpired – prepared to do a great deal for the Hungarians who got out. One of the principal movers and shakers was the Austrian Interior Minister, Oskar Helmer. On 4 November, Helmer sent an urgent cable to the headquarters of UNHCR and of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) asking for help, both in the form of financial assistance and in assurances that most of the refugees would be quickly moved on out of Austria. In Vienna, a committee was immediately set up comprised of Helmer and his staff, UNHCR, ICEM, and the League of Red Cross Societies (LRCS), as well as a number of local and international NGOs. The LRCS would be the prime mover on the assistance front, and would also assist ICEM with registration, documentation and transport of refugees out of Austria. UNHCR would deal with the over-arching legal and protection issues, as well as integration of those who remained in Austria.
In November of 1956 Western governments and civil organizations offered a considerable amount of food, clothing and medical aid to support the Hungarians in Austria. The call of the United Nations general meeting was followed by a worldwide campaign to support Hungarian refugees and help them settle down in the West. The United States headed this action and as early as November 2nd, it offered $20 million in aid to Hungary. It also took generous care of Hungarians settling down on its own territory and offered support to other nations taking in refugees. A major part of the maintenance costs of Austrian refugee camps was also covered by the United States.
This school building would be a holding center for tens of thousands of Hungarians over the next several months, where each one was registered, examined and then shipped out to refugee camps across Austria.
The following day, the Krekks along with Violetta’s younger brother, Imre (Jim) and Lajos’ best friend, Ferenc (Frank), who had accompanied them in the escape, would be loaded on to a bus and taken to the mountaintop monastery/convent at Hochwechsel located an hour south of Vienna. Here the family would remain under the nurturing care of the nuns of the convent who provided the families with the most perfect care. In Lajos’ own words, “ This was the most beautiful place he had ever seen, giant mountains and everything was so beautiful.” In his own life experience, he had never travelled beyond a 50km radius from his farm on the flat lands of Nyirbeltek until these past few days. Every step was a new adventure.
Hochwechsel was a popular ski resort town for wealthy Europeans, and everyone at the monastery and the town below the mountain, treated the new visitors with respect, empathy and compassion. The convent was selected by the Austrians for Hungarian refugees with babies, so that they could have private accommodations and to ensure that the proper care was provided for them.
The Austrian government was giving each family 30 shillings a week which allowed them to make purchases in the local towns and villages for items beyond food, clothing and shelter.
1) It was as if a dam had broken. A trickle of people had started crossing the border into Austria in the last week of October. The following weekend (4-6 November), 10,000 crossed. By 16 November, the total had risen to 36,000 and by the end of November, it had soared to 113,000. A further 50,000 in December took the total to 164,000 in just over nine weeks. By the spring, when to all intents and purposes the movement ceased, 180,000 had entered Austria and another 20,000 had sought asylum in Yugoslavia.
A month passed at Hochwechsel and then the buses came again. The estimated hundred Hungarians were now loaded up on the buses and taken across country to the city of Salzburg. The Austrians had refurbished a World War II military camp just outside of Salzburg. Each day, Lajos and Violetta would visit with the immigration clerks to see if they had been accepted to the United States. They had offered the family other countries that were willing to take them, but the families heart was to go to America. Four months passed there at Salzburg, and the refugee population was reducing every day as Western countries opened their borders and accepted the refugees by the tens of thousands. The Krekks remained steadfast in their dream to go to the United States, but then the news came that the Americans were slowing the numbers of immigrants and being more selective looking for the highly skilled and university educated individuals.
Food and clothing provided by the Red Cross was plentiful. Each week the clothing trucks would pull in and every person could take what they needed. They lacked for nothing except privacy and a meaningful existence.
And now, four months later, the buses came again and relocated the remaining refugees to the northern city of Ried which had a huge army base. The army barracks were crowded and not suitable for families with young children. It was here that Lajos would find his first job working the fields picking sugar beets. It was almost pure irony that now he would be picking the very vegetable that he found safe refuge below during the escape. He knew the manual labor of farming well and soon found favor with his Austrian employers. In the camp, it was very congested living, with only blankets hung by cords separating created rooms by Violetta. She would now prepare a new room for the readiness of her second child as she was now expecting a new baby.
|The Krekks bid farewell to Violetta's brother Imre (left) outside of Ried, Austria just prior to the move to Steyr.
It would be here in the barracks that the Krekks would receive the return letter and affidavit of sponsorship guaranty from America. And then the buses came again, and they were relocated for the last time. They were now moved further east to the beautiful city of Steyr. This would be their final home in Austria and it was a time of sadness as the Krekks bid farewell to Violetta’s brother Imre and Ferenc.
|The Krekks take a restful moment at the Steyr refugee camp as they enjoy a moment with their newborn daughter, Maria.
Steyr was amazingly beautiful and the Krekks adapted well in the new city. The refugee camp was again in modified barracks, that more resembled a long motel. A single hallway with one and two bedroom units on either side and each unit had its own kitchen facilities. Three common washrooms with several toilets and showers in each were located in three locations in the barracks. Each unit was also provided with a mailbox, a luxury item for contact with the outside world.
Lajos, now named Ludwig by the Austrians, would take his first job in the wheat fields surrounding the city, cutting wheat with a scythe, using his skills from his thirty years of farming.
|The Krekks enjoying a night of togetherness with the many Hungarian refugees in Steyr. Seated front left is Gabriel with his best friend Honiga.
There was easeful movement from the camp to the neighbouring areas of Steyr. The young Gabriel, now two years old developed friendships with many Austrian children and he became very fluent in his use of the German language. One of his friends was a young Austrian girl named Honig (Honey), several years older than him, but they became inseparable much to the curiosity and sometimes the dismay of both sets of parents. She became his teacher and best friend.
On December 22nd, 1957, Violetta gave birth to her second child, a daughter, Maria Magdolna, born an Austrian to Hungarian refugees. Violetta would make the best of the cramped living quarters and continued to tend to the needs of her family. She had a saintly gift to make the best out of the worst.
Lajos would find a job at the Steyr Brick company making bricks on night shift. The work was hard but the 600 shillings a week he brought home eased the pressure of obtaining necessities outside of what the Red Cross was still supplying. He always carried a little black book with him, a Hungarian/English dictionary and on his breaks, he would practice speaking English in preparation for their new life.
Almost a year passed in Steyr and with each visit with the Immigration people, it was becoming more and more apparent that the dream of going to America seemed less of a possibility as the U.S. had all but reached their limit of 80,000 Hungarian refugees.
As each day passed in the winter of 1958, the frustration in seeking to build a future in America became apparent. An old Hungarian friend of the family spoke to them in all sincerity that they should consider Canada as their choice. His description of this country with its immense size, wealth and opportunities would open their minds to new possibilities. Several weeks of conversation passed between Lajos and Violetta and they reached a decision that they would request to go to Canada. Another contributing factor to this decision was based upon Violetta’s older brother, Antol (Tony), who had left Hungary well ahead of the Revolution and had emigrated to Canada, had written about his incredible new life.
Their request for Canadian visas was quickly processed and in October of 1958, the family’s visas arrived, with only one week notice of departure. Imre would stay behind in Ried and he would never change his mind about his desire of going to America.
The Krekk’s young impressionable son, who constantly overheard his parents talking that they would soon be going to America, would never in his lifetime lose that dream.
Lajos visited with the owner of the Steyr Brick Company to give notice of their departure and submit his resignation. It would be a moment that would stand out in Lajos’ mind. The old owner, Roisinger, sat down in his big chair in his office and looked across at Lajos with tears in his eyes. “Ludwig, I will give you a house for your family and I will pay you double what I pay you today. Make Austria your home Ludwig, and I promise I will give you all of this.” Lajos was caught in this moment of intense respect for this gentleman, and he walked over to him and shook his hand and told him he was sorry, he must go. It would be an embrace that he would always remember.
Three days later, Violetta who was now almost five months pregnant, packed up two suitcases of the families belongings and prepared her two young children for the journey ahead. Her young son made one last dash across the field to say good-bye to his best friend. He would never see her again, but her name would always be honored throughout his life.
It was a sad moment to say goodbye to so many friends in that Hungarian refugee camp, but the excitement of what laid ahead for the family was shared by everyone along with the dozens of other Hungarians that were now also leaving for Canada.
It took several hours for the train ride from Steyr to Vienna, but there was a whole new level of anxiety for the family. The Krekks arrived at the airport and they followed the directions of the Austrian security. With the cold biting winds of early winter, Lajos carried two suitcases, Violetta carried her baby and holding tightly on to the hand of her son, they walked across the tarmat to a huge four propeller military plane. They climbed the stairs and the family boarded the plane. This would be their home for the next twenty hours.
- Imre’s determination paid off for his dream of going to the United States. In the Summer of 1959, he received his visa to go to America. Imre owns a huge farm on the outskirts of Bordentown, New Jersey.
- Ferenc, Lajos’ best friend, received his visa to Canada, and he immigrated to Windsor, Ontario. Ferenc would open a store in Windsor, but the two best friends would never meet again.
Canada admitted nearly 40,000 Hungarian refugees from 1956 thru 1959.
Chapter 3. Canada – A New Beginning