World history in local view

One would not think that Csömör, this small dead-end village surrounded by forests in the outskirts of Budapest was sixty-six years ago the strategic hub of Hungary. The village lays on the first range of the Gödöllő hills, at an altitude with Saint Gerard’s hill in the center of Budapest, and with an excellent overlook of the eastern half of the city, Pest. This is why Marshall Malinovsky in the last months of 1944 started from these hills the tank offensive against the Attila line defending Budapest, and after the occupation of the city on 13 February 1945 – about which we have written earlier – he chose this village to set up the headquarters of the Second Ukrainian Army. The impacts of these decisions on the village have been often remembered by old locals, and now one of the few still living witnesses, Ferenc Fábián tells about it in detail in the first part of the interview series made with him by Ágnes Tenczer for the web portal of the village’s NGO News of Csömör, edited by us.

The 83 years old Ferenc Fábián has lived in the village since his birth. He was a vicepresident of the the agricultural cooperative of Csömör from its establishment until going to pension in 1990. The handball team of Csömör rose to the first class of national championship under his patronage, which brought a nationwide reputation to the village. In 2009 he was awarded with the honor of Freeman of Csömör. Uncle Feri still vividly and precisely remembers his whole life, and through it the history of Csömör in the second part of the 20th century. Below he tells about the historical moment when, in terms of the decision of a great power, the two and half thousand inhabitants of Csömör had to leave their homes within two and half days…

Uncle Feri, where did you live under WWII?

In Erzsébet street 79. In the daytime in the cellar, and in the night in a bunker my father made in the courtyard. The first bombing in Pest was on 2 June 1944. It had two victims from Csömör as well, István Ördög and János Kovács. From then on there was a continuous bombing: in the daytime American planes at the hight of 9-10 thousand meters and in the night Russian planes throwing so strong light with their “Stalin’s lamps” above the settlements to be bombed that you could see every detail down there. Already on 2 June we got our share from the bombing, from the Laki corner to the Straub cottage. You see what people are like: a bunch of villagers said that it is not a big problem, these are rich folks, they have what to rebuild it from. And lo, the following night the poorest part of the village was bombed, the Rooster’s Colony, Mogyoródi and Zrínyi streets. Quite badly. And there was an interesting and edifying case as well. Uncle Józsi Wéber, the carpenter lived about halfway of Mogyoródi street. “The front is coming, many coffins will be necessary”, he told, and made a storeroomful of it. And on that night the storeroom was hit by a bomb!…

The B-17G plane of the 15th Air Force bombing the railway of Szob to the north of Csömör in October 1944 (from here)

Csömör, Laki cottage before the war

Csömör, Simon cottage before the war

And then the evacuation came. How did the villagers get to know about this? Since there was no TV, no radio…

Yes, but there was the town crier! Even two: Uncle Józsi Merk and János Morva. On 13 February 1945 they went all over the village by drumming and announcing that within 48 hours every soul must leave the village, by Tuesday night it must be evacuated, as Marshall Malinovsky wants to set up there the Soviet headquarters. You see how Hungarians are: why should we leave what is ours? We are not going to leave! On Sunday nobody left, and Monday a few began to leave for the neighboring villages. Most of them went to Cinkota and Nagytarcsa, since these three villages have common traditions, common language, dress, costumes, agriculture, confession. Well, by Monday afternoon people started to leave, as they had to realize that it is not a joke, and from Tuesday morning everyone set out to these villages.

Csömör and the neighboring Slovakian villages along the Budapest-Gödöllő road
(today’s Nagytarcsa was called Csik-Tarcsa at that time) on the First
Military Survey’s map of 1781. Below: Slovakian women of Csömör
on the ecumenical prayer’s day traditionally organized
on 20 August (2010) (from our earlier post)

How did they manage to organize all that?

The world’s greatest source of love is misery. When people get in trouble, then they are willing to help each other. As we went on carts, bikes, barrows, carrying whatever we could, the people in Kistarcsa and in the other villages too stood in front of their houses, inviting us: come to us! to us! we also have two rooms!

Did everyone leave?

In two and half day everyone left. If anyone stayed, he would have had to flee at the Soviet joining up. This was a serious thing.

Ferenc Fábián’s (second from right) Lutheran confirmation’s group photo, Csömör 1941

How many days did you spent outside the village?

Until the end of April. So this time also included Easter, in the middle of April, that we celebrated in the church of Nagytarcsa. I still remember the song chosen by Pastor János Győri explicitly for us, refugees, to express their sympathy and condolences, because no one knew whether our homes would be spared. Or even our lives, because at that time the Soviets already started to collect and take away civilians for forced labor, many fell in captivity. This was Song 665 in the Hymn Book of Szarvas:

“If we accept so many blessings from God,
why should we reproach the Almighty
when He sometimes also sends us troubles?
When He tries our faith on the scales?
Let the prayer be sung to His name forever!
Let us not be in despair, even if we loose our wealth
for we have brought nothing in this world
when we were born from our mothers…”

Soviet soldiers accompanying Hungarian captives in Budapest (from here)

What was waiting for you when you came back?

Oyoyoy… One cannot call it but a new “Tatar invasion…” * Terrible things happened. The ordeals of women and girls, they took them to “peel potatoes” for the night, you can imagine what it means… Moreover, the Soviet coachmen and horsemen everywhere looked for oats and maize for the horses, and then they threw out everything from the chest drawers, they destroyed the beautifully embroidered clothes to pour the maize in the drawers so the horses would eat of them. The saddest case happened at the beginning of Kistarcsai street, the Halász sisters lived in number eight, they wanted to take them away, and the two old grandfathers living in the neighborhood did not allow it, they resisted, and they were shot dead there.

Soviet tank attack on the fields of Csömör and Rákospalota against Budapest, 19 December 1944 (from here)

So the Soviets were in Csömör already before the evacuation?

Yes. The first Soviet came down to us through the Fábiáns’ garden on 29 December at one p.m. We stood at the cellar with my father, the cellar was full of people, with our neighbors, all came to us, hoping for safety. My father [being Slovakian] fairly understood Russian. The Soviet soldier asked us where the Germans are. We told him there were none. Then he asked where the cellar was, because they already knew that people gather there. We led him there, they checked those present, and there were no Germans indeed. Then at the end of April Malinovsky moved to Pest, so the villagers of Csömör could came home from the evacuation. Until then, we came every day to work on the fields from the neighboring villages, on foot, on cart, or who what had.

Battles on the Ferenc tér in Budapest, February 1945 (from here)

Here we published a selection of the photos of Budapest after the siege

How many Soviets were there in the village?

Five to ten in every house. They took away whatever they found, wheat, maize, everything. But the worst thing was the abuse of women. The first of May we could already celebrate at home. The ceremony began at 11 a.m., by then people arrived from the church to the Heroes’ Square where Gyuri Krizsán and János Morva in peasant’s dress stood guard at the war memorial, and with scythes on their shoulder made more solemn the program. On the request of Feri Fodor, the secretary of the Communist Youth Organization I told a poem after the speech of Uncle Sándor Bucsányi. Feri left it to me what to say. And I said the following:

On the first of May
written by myself

On the first of May, the feast of workers
let us forget every suffering.
Let us look forward with faith and hope,
trusting in a true workers’ future.
Let us help each other to heal
the wounds hit by the war,
let us create a happier new life to everyone!
If we will do so,
we will all see the fruits.
May God give us faith, hope and peace,
bread and wine on the table of every worker.

Uncle Feri, you were sixteen year old at that time. Did you understand what the war was about?

No, I did not. I was only a participant, an observer. At that time I did not yet know what was at stake on that 4 April 1945. *

Csömör and its neighborhood (highlighted part) on the 1940-41 map of Budapest. With the
exception of Csömör, all the villages are part of Budapest since 1950. From Csömör
the Soviet headquarters settled over to Mátyásföld until 1990, as we have
described it earlier;
its place is marked with a red dot.