Impact of WW I and Trianon: Vajk Edit’s Personal Memories

Front row,l to r: Edit, Apa (Vajk József), Dusi. 2nd row, l to r:Vincze István (Edit`s husband), Vivy, Papp Remig (Vivy's husband), Theiss Ede (Dusi's husband). Raul was in Texas at the time, on a work-study grant.

Impact of WW I and Trianon:

Vajk Edit’s Personal Memories 

Vincze Istvánné, Vajk Edit

February 1919.  Yesterday the Romanians took over the ironworks. As yet they don’t require taking the oath (of loyalty to the Romanian government. Ed.) ... In Déva, the French officers permitted the flying of the Hungarian flag days ago…

February 26, 1919.  Notice arrived today that Apa should not set foot on the grounds of the ironworks. We don’t understand whose work this latest injustice is – the workers’, Gulácsi and Torko’s, or the president’s…

Apa was finally placed under house arrest, but only insofar as he could not leave our home. Every day, a foot-soldier with a bayonet escorted him to the police captain for interrogation. We always trembled: would they let him come home again?  We begged him to watch his every word...  Finally, they were the ones who tired of it and told him he could choose, whether he wanted to go to Bucharest or Budapest.  He chose the latter, of course.  They even promised to provide the two box cars which Apa requested, and they also did provide them.   

Several of us were to go by the same train, and they even gave us a farewell party in the club at the ironworks. I think there was even a dinner, and an orchestra played.  Finally, they played the Himnusz, and everyone sang it, while the military commander rushed onto the stage and began to yell.  But the orchestra did not stop playing and the people continued to sing.  Finally, we could make out what he was yelling: “Everybody is under arrest!”    

Kadlik and the others told him they had gotten permission from the police captain, whereupon he retorted: “I’m the one who commands here, not the police captain!”  The Hungarians continued to explain, and in the end started to give him drink.  According to scandalmongers, by dawn he was singing the Himnusz as well.  Anyhow, after the scare, we could go home.

Since Apa had been expelled from the ironworks, he received no pay.  We were fortunate that we did not have to move out of the government quarters (the ironworks was a Hungarian government enterprise, and living quarters were provided for the chief engineer and his family. Ed.). So, we tried different sources of income. We boiled soap and sold it. We also sold some things we didn’t need. But the garden was the main source of income.  By mistake we had planted the winter cabbage earlier than was customary and so we were the first to send cabbage to market, which could be sold at a good price.  We did not take its marketing on ourselves, but commissioned a woman to do it.  Later, fruit began to grow. There were a lot of currant bushes in the garden, and we sold a lot of that. Of course we had to pick them, which was a long and arduous task when people would order 4-5 liters (quarts)...       

In the old, happy days of childhood each child got a small garden that could be used as one wished. Of course, everyone had to dig his own section, rake it over, divide it into little beds, and it was each one’s duty to hoe, weed and water it.  Later, in 1919 and 1920, we made good use of our experience, because by then there was not much help to be had, and we three girls cultivated the huge garden. Although by 1920 Raul (her brother) helped a great deal.

In the days of Romanian rule, keeping poultry was part of our sustenance.  So was the fattening of hogs. For them, we had to make slop and take it down to them in buckets three times a day…

Thus we were well occupied with all kinds of physical work. It didn’t even occur to us to complain about that; rather we were sort of proud that we were the ones to provide for the family.  Of course Apa did a lot of things too, but twice he had an accident when cutting branches.  A piece hit his eyeball and bloodied it, and the doctor ordered him to spend six weeks lying in bed on his back. What was even harder: he had to give up smoking…

During this time, unknown hands chalked a cross on our gate, which supposedly marked the houses that were to be attacked and the people exterminated, as had happened in 1848.  One of my great-grandmothers barely escaped that time…

We also kept rabbits and, overcoming our prejudices, also ate them, in addition to selling them. 

The pigs we had slaughtered before we left, even though it was summer, and smoked the meat and whatever could be smoked.  We stored them in aluminum bins, among ashes. (I don’t have to tell you what a sensation this caused among the relatives of Budapest with whom we shared the goodies.)

We sold many beautiful pieces of furniture at a loss, but even so, one of the box cars was filled with what was left, and some items even went into the other box car. Although the other was furnished as living quarters, Apa even had a toilet installed. It could be used when the train was under way, but of course it was flushed with a bucket of water. We separated the men’s and the girls’ sleeping quarters with wardrobes. We had a small portable kitchen range where we could cook, and a table and seating accommodations.  We even proudly set up a flower stand which, however, being made of wood and beautifully polished, fell probably on the second day and broke into pieces.

The day of our “repatriation” was not certain yet. Thus Amál (a cousin), who wanted to come with us, arrived weeks earlier.  For traveling was not an easy thing in those days and it seemed better that she came with us.

There were many things to take care of, and there were some ups and downs.  It was not easy to say good-bye to our native city where we had had such a wonderful childhood.  We had to say good-bye to many people. The day finally arrived, and many came to the train for a last handshake or embrace. Vivy and I arrived last at the train station, because we had run out to the cemetery to say a good-bye prayer at Mama’s grave quietly, by ourselves…

It seems Apa had had wooden steps made, but we didn’t use them all the time, because climbing into a cattle car did not constitute an obstacle for us then.  It seemed that Apa had a foreboding of how long this box car would be our “home”.

At the last minute, Wesnicki Feri appeared with a big basketful of cherries, which tasted very good in the great heat.  It was June.  After our departure, we sat in the open door of the cattle car, dangling our feet and eating cherries…

When we finally arrived at the first station where the Romanians were not in command, we all got off the long train and, gathering, sang the Himnusz. Freely the song rose high, for we could finally give vent to our feelings without prohibition or restraint. I dare say that “no eye remained dry.” Ever since then, I cannot hear its strains without emotion, be it in church, or elsewhere.  I always remember that first freely sung Himnusz.

Unfortunate Hungary, viciously manhandled, did not embrace us to her motherly bosom with great love. It is understandable; still it was distressing to hear one woman say at one of the stations: “A fene egye meg! Megint menekültek jönnek!” (Blast it!  Refugees coming again!)

Translated by EPF