Magazine article The Spectator

Quick Thinking

Magazine article The Spectator

Quick Thinking

Article excerpt

During the second world war my mother and my aunt were young girls living in Budapest. The city came under heavy allied bombardment and a once great and lovely capital was levelled, with no respect for its architectural jewels, as was the case with German towns such as Dresden.

When the allied soldiers, in this case the Russians, occupied Budapest, the most appalling atrocities were committed against civilians. My mother, an innocent child, and her sister, had machine-guns stuck into their backs. The Russians planned to summarily execute the whole family.

This was prevented only by the quick thinking of my great-grandmother who spoke Russian and claimed (falsely) to be a Slav. The Russians inquired after her maiden name. She hastily wracked her brains and finally came up with the name of a Slav she had once known.

One of the soldiers said in amazement, `But that is the name of my relatives. Which part of Russia do you come from, babushka?' Her guess was a lucky one: the Ukraine. The Russian concluded she was one of them, and consequently decided to spare the family. However, they then went to the next-door house and shot all the people there.

Even my great-grandmother could not save her relatives from terrifying indignities. My mother and aunt were made to bury enemy dead. The Russians defecated in all the rooms until streams of urine floated about the house. One evening, a drunken soldier entered the small kitchen where the whole family was forced to sleep and announced his intention to rape my great-aunt. He was put off only when another fast-thinking member of the family announced she had syphilis.

None of these things, which happened to most Hungarian families almost every day, was known to the public in this country -- or in any other country for that matter. The second world war was a sanitised war in the sense that allied civilians were shown only what was effectively propaganda. …

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