Map of Korvin köz taken from Pongrátz Gergely's book
A very interesting episode that characterized the entire Hungarian Revolution played out in the Commander’s office in the morning. There were many young people among us, whom we had chased home in vain during the battles; they were unwilling to leave their brothers-in-arms and wonderfully stood their ground through the heaviest battles, to the very end. They quickly learned to handle the weapons and used them very effectively. Often it was these 12-13 year-old children strengthened our resolve to continue the fight. Their courasge and self-sacrifice served as an example for many of us. the photo of two such ”Corvinists” was published by the world press after the Revolution. Their names were not important. They were ” Pesti srácok” (scamps), ”Corvinists”, which was a great distinction not only for them, but for us as well.
Zsuzsa was just giving me the last Home Guard I.D.s to sign, when Jancsi (Johnny) burst into the office. He was one of these young people who had come to join us around the 26th. Him too we had chased away in vain, in vain did we tell him to go home, he merely turned around and was where he had been before – in a window on the Körút. There were about a dozen of similar age, who competed with each other in the most difficult moments of the battles. They were heroes! But now Jancsi was scared.
”Uncle Bajusz” (meaning mustache – Pongrátz’ nickname), he yelled, ”my Mom is coming! Don’t let her take me home! I’m a Home Guard too, I have the ID too. I’ve been assigned to the First Section of the Second Company. You’ll let me stay, won’t you?” he begged.
Jancsi couldn’t continue, because we could hear yelling out in the hallway between the Guards standing there and Jancsi’s mother. So Jancsi jumped under the bed.
”Get away from me with that shotgun, son, because I’ll slap you so hard your one eye will knock out the other! Where’s the Commander? I want to talk with him!” yelled Jancsi’s mom impetuously and, pushing aside everyone, came into the office.
”You’re the Commander?”
”Yes,” I replied.
”Where’s my son?” she asked.
”My dear lady”, I replied, ”first of all I ask you to sit down. Look, there are so many children here, I couldn’t know which one is yours. Are you sure he’s here?”
”I saw him five minutes ago in front of the movie theater, but he saw me too and disappeared, the little scamp. I had locked him into the bedroom, but he escaped from home. He wanted to come here, that’s why I locked him in. He hasn’t come home to eat or sleep for some five days. He’s blond, 13 years old and is called Varga János. He has to be here!”
I was in trouble. I didn’t want to lie, but neither did I want to betray Jancsi to his mom who was obviously a decent working woman. In my confusion, I turned to Zsuzsa and asked that she check the list of names for a boy of that age and by that name. The situation suddenly changed, however, when a revolutionary about 15 years of age brought me up a cup of coffee from the bunkhouse, where those with less severe wounds were housed. He had on his head a bandage which showed blood seeping through. When the woman saw our wounded companion, she began to cry. ”Maybe I just imagined that the one I saw in front of the movie theater was my Jancsi. Maybe he is wounded too, or maybe he’s even dead. Maybe I’ll never see my Jancsika again. Now I really don’t know where to look for him,” she wailed. ”If he’s not here, I’ll go through the hospitals. Dear God, let me find him there instead of having to go look for him in the cemetery.”
The woman was sobbing, and was no longer that lioness protecting her cub who had come into the office. At that point Jancsi, also crying, climbed out from under the bed: ”Mom, I’m here ... and I’m not even wounded. There’s nothing the matter with me! But you’ll let me stay here, won’t you? Promise me you won’t take me home! I’m a Home Guard too, here’s my ID, let me show you!”
But Jancsi didn’t have time to take out his Home Guard ID, because his mother hugged him so tight and kissed him that he couldn’t tell her all he wanted to. The tears of sadness and sorrow turned in a moment into tears of happiness and joy, and flowed down both their faces.
”What do you mean you’ll stay here? I’ll give it to you once we get home. But what your father will give you you’ll remember for the rest of your life! And you deserve it too, for the agony we went through because of you. You come with me, I won’t let go of your hand. Your father will tie you up and we’ll watch you until this upheaval is over.”
This scolding was a mother’s loving anxiety for her child. Still crying, the mother gave him two kisses after every sentence. Once she quieted down a bit, I asked her to listen to me, because I had something important to tell her.
”My dear woman”, I said, ”believe me, your son is a hero too, as are those hundreds of other children who have taken up arms so we could finally win our country’s freedom. We can thank these young people for the fact that the Russians have already withdrawn from Budapest, and will soon leave all of Hungary. It was these children who were there when the country needed them, they were there, they stood and held their ground, and achieved those results which you can now see everywhere.
”Believe me – I and the others also have mothers who cry as you did and worried about your son. It’s true that we can’t even tell these mothers not to cry, because unfortunately they have reason to. Still, I must ask you, could you tell me what would happen to this unfortunate, long-suffering nation if every mother, whose anxiety is exactly as great as yours, would come and take their own Jancsika home? During the battles we often chased away your Jancsika and the other children of similar age, but they did not want to leave because they felt this was where they had to be. The nation can thank these children for the victory of our revolution because this patriotism which is in them was what you, Hungarian mothers, had instilled in us, in them. Take home your son if you want. But I ask you to be very proud of your 13-year old Home Guard son, who had fought to acquire that title.”
The woman stood up and responded in a very determined voice. She wasn’t crying any more:
”Sir, you are still a young man too. Do you know what responsibility rests on you? The lives of these children are in your hands. I ask you, for the love of God, watch over them. What you have done in the last few days is the seventh wonder of the world. The eighth will be if you can also keep the victory you have fought for, which neither I nor my husband believe. I only ask you to watch over these children, because they are our greatest treasure. Forgive me for my previous behavior”, she continued, ”which was the behavior not of a Hungarian woman, but of a mother.”
I told Jancsi to escort his mother home, and – if she would let him – to come back before dark. Zsuzsa filled out a permit to leave, and they went away...
Pongrátz Gergely (1932-2005) was the best-known of the six Pongrátz brothers who fought in the Hungarian Revolution. They were of Hungarian-Armenian stock who moved from Transylvania to Hungary ahead of the advancing Romanian and Russian troops in 1945. He eventually emigrated to the United States, but returned to Hungary in 1991, after the fall of Communism.