I was born to a 1956, Hungarian Revolution Freedom Fighter father, and when I was two years old, I escaped with my parents from the clutches of Soviet Oppression to the shores of America, where I was to die as a Hungarian before I was reincarnated into an American Citizen.
As Jozsef and Erzsebet speculated on their plan of escape, they thought of their little girl. She was so very small and frail for her age of two-and-a-half, the result of an inadequate diet. And no wonder! With all the rationing in place, a family was fortunate to get a loaf of bread and cooking oil to last them for a week! Both parents shared the same unsaid fear: How was their little girl going to survive the journey? How long would it take them to reach the Austrian border? What if something caused delays and they missed their truck? They had so little food to bring with them! How many belongings could they possibly pack? How were they supposed to carry their small child in the cold inclement weather walking over miles of territory exposed to patrolling Russian troops? How was she going to stay warm? Would they be captured? Would they all die, and how? So many questions invaded their thoughts, but there was no time to ponder over the answers. Erzsebet’s mind swam in circles as she glanced around their simple apartment. Suddenly, the gray, drab walls glistened as if made of gold. Despite its plainness, it was beautiful, because it was their place. They had worked themselves into utter exhaustion to keep the apartment after Jozsef was sent to the mines. When they left here tonight, what would become of their home? Who would move in? Erzsebet’s eyes glazed with tears, but her thoughts quickly snapped back to the situation at hand, her mind whirring frantically. What would they pack for their journey? They had only two sets of arms, and one set of those arms had to carry the child. Adrenaline suddenly surged through Erzsebet’s body, quickening her senses, prompting her to dart about the apartment, madly sifting through drawers and cabinets. She gathered bread, a loop of dried sausage (kolbasz), and a small, glass bottle of milk, wrapping each in a thick cloth to protect the precious cargo. There was not much else to pack in the way of foodstuffs. She grabbed personal items: Judit’s coat, hat, gloves, boots, and scarf, and the same for her and Jozsef. Jozsef collected their identification papers to be shown on their arrival at Andau, secured their professional certificates to prove they were college- educated people, and gathered his personal music books and original, handwritten pieces of sheet music. Erzsebet checked the closet. On the floor, wrapped in a thick bundle, were at least one hundred love letters: the sweet moving stanzas of unashamed confessions of love that she and Jozsef had left for each other under their “Special Rock.” But tonight, under their surreal circumstances, the lovely spring night under the Acacia tree seemed to be a dream dreamt an eternity ago. The inviolability of their love existed in those letters and how she cherished them! In the kitchen, Jozsef was packing his already over-stuffed attaché case with important documents, as well as filling the knapsack with the food Erzsebet had put together. “The accordion player!” shouted Erzsebet. They had almost forgotten their “Royal” Herend treasure. After all they had gone through to obtain “him” the thought of leaving without the player was inconceivable. She gathered a bed sheet and rolled the small statuette in the pale linen. Erzsebet hurriedly dressed Judit in her winter clothes. After she and Jozsef donned their coats and boots, Jozsef placed the heavily-filled knapsack on Erzsebet’s back and placed the attaché case strap over his shoulder and across his chest. The love letters! Erzsebet remembered they were not packed! But where was she going to put them all? She had no pockets in her coat and neither did Jozsef. If there had been time, she would have ripped out the lining of their coats and sewed the love letters inside, but there was no time to spare. Jozsef and Erzsebet stood frozen in place, their eyes flashing anguished looks towards one another as to “what must be done.” After taking one last lingering look at the bundle holding dozens of enchanting love poems, intimate sentiments, and beautiful expressions of their undying devotion, they each took turns placing a handful of letters into the fiery belly of the coal stove. With stuttering breath, Erzsebet spoke her thoughts aloud, “If…we cannot take them with us… then…no one else will have them! The parchments of love burst into a brilliant red flame, igniting instantly in the fiery furnace, just as their hearts had burned immediately for each other the moment they had met. It only took seconds for their “love” to be obliterated into nothingness as Erzsebet watched on, her slight shoulders shuddering from the cries of regret ripping through her body. How much Erzsebet wanted the luxury of being allowed to have a good, hard cry; and how much she wanted the comfort of collapsing into Jozsef’s strong arms, to hear her husband murmur words of love and support, but there was no time! Jozsef pressingly grasped Erzsebet by her shoulders, “My Edes, listen to me, there will be more letters, I will write you a love letter every day of your life, but right now, please do not cry. I love you, but we must leave now!” Ferenc was waiting in the hallway outside the apartment to escort the family to a safe area where they were to begin their journey. Jozsef gathered Judit in his right arm. With his left arm around Erzsebet’s waist they walked out the door of their apartment. Jozsef looked straight ahead, his mind filled with the many things needing to be done in a few hours. But, upon exiting the apartment door, Erzsebet looked back over her shoulder, wanting one final look at their home. Stinging tears blurred everything into a shapeless, colorless mass. I should never have looked back. It strangles my heart. Unbeknownst to Erzsebet, Jozsef had conspired with Ferenc to set-up a “Booby-trap” at the door of their apartment. After the family set out on their journey, Ferenc returned to the apartment, setting devices in place that would make sure the Evil Ones would breathe their last when they opened the apartment door. On the cold, foggy evening of November 16, 1956, the Jozsef and Erzsebet Bognar Family closed the door on their life in Hungary, their birthplace, the land of their ancestors, the place where Jozsef’s music and rhapsodies had taken hold - the Citadel of their Love. The life they had hoped to build was never to be, at least not on Magyar soil. With heavy hearts the reluctant fugitives began their trek into the great unknown. Several families embarking on the same pilgrimage crossed their path, and like Jozsef and Erzsebet, carried all they owned on their backs, in their arms, and in their hearts. To avoid detection by Russian troops, many parents had given their little ones sleeping draughts to suppress their whimpering and cries. It was a slow, chilly, damp, five-mile walk to the check-point where Ferenc had instructed them to wait for a Russian army truck (stolen by the Freedom Fighters) to transport the refugees the nearly one hundred miles to Andau – a distance impossible to walk in one night. The truck was their lifeline. The family and other refugees rode in the back area of the truck for seemingly countless hours, before coming to a stop near a wooded area approximately fifty miles from the Austrian border. Everyone disembarked. The driver gave the group a general heading to follow through a dense set of woods where they would meet up with another truck on a different section of road. Erzsebet, and Jozsef carrying little Judit, including the two other families, disappeared into the sheltering embrace of a tight cluster of trees. The cool, foggy night was becoming more frigid, their circumstances made even more dismal by the muddy ground left from a prior rain. The weather was the best and the worse scenario: the fog made it difficult for them to spot Russian squads making rounds in the area; however, the fog also served as a protective veil to avoid being seen, and that was a miracle considering there was nearly a full moon! After several hours of walking in the black gunk, their feet became numb due to the cold and damp. Judit started to cry, and no wonder - she was just a little girl who was cold and hungry. How could she possibly understand why she was in a dark forest at nighttime and not in her bed? Jozsef held her close and whispered a Hungarian nursery rhyme to quiet her, “Little squirrel, little squirrel, he climbed up a tree. He fell down … he fell down … and he broke his knee. Oh, oh, oh, oh, nice doctor man, please make the little squirrel well again.” The family trudged onward, albeit slowly, for the forest floor was sticky and sludge-like, making each step an effort. The black-brown ooze seeped over the cuffs of their ankle-high boots, permeating their socks with the near-frozen mush. Judit tired of being carried, fidgeted in her father’s arms, but Jozsef refused to set her down into the cold slush. He pitied her discomfort. The other passengers who had disembarked from the truck with them must have fallen behind or become lost, for Jozsef and Erzsebet suddenly became acutely aware of no longer being able to see or hear them. They walked on through the thick trees in the direction pointed out by the driver. It was eerily quiet, not a sound of life stirred about them, except for the sucking sounds made by their feet as they stepped in and out of the sticky mud. Then… out of nowhere, high-pitched, blood curdling, gut-wrenching screams of men, women and children resounded through the placidity of the imperturbable forest, signaling the angels of retribution to swoop down and carry their torn, broken souls into the chambers of Heaven, to forever leave behind the caustic, razor-sharp echoes of gunfire that had extinguished the final spark of life from their bodies. Why was it a crime to want to live in Freedom? Why was it an offense to yearn for the clean winds of free air to flow through your lungs? The Red Tyranny had consumed their homeland of Hungary, the occupiers laying down the law of the land, having determined that any thoughts of freedom, any thoughts of not wanting to live under the Iron Fist of the Soviet Regime, any thought of free enterprise was a travesty unto itself, an abomination so great, so filled with debauchery that one should no longer be allowed to draw another breath. The distant, hellishred glow of reverberating machine gunfire jarred Jozsef and Erzsebet into a burning, all-consuming, profound panic, for now, the nightmarish demise of their companions would certainly become their reality as the mordant, scathing voices of the patrolling Russian soldiers approached their inept hiding place. There was no way to go back now, no safe way home, and even if they could go back home, there was no home left to go to. Witnessing the terrifying murder of their countrymen churned Erzsebet’s bowels, and try as she might not to vomit, her plagued mind was in no condition to control her ravaged body, and she relieved her retching gut behind a nearby tree. This is no time to lose control! Jozsef repeated over and over to himself. But Jozsef’s addled, crestfallen body refused to listen to reason, and then, as he stood immobilized by dread, riveted in place beside his ailing wife, Jozsef’s bruised psyche separated from his deadened bones. Jozsef found himself swirling above a sanctuary of graceful tall timbers, gratefully reeling, blissfully floating away to a more peaceful place upon the elusive arms of cool, invisible winds. It was all so beautiful, fantastically beautiful, to lose all track of one’s loathsome surroundings; it was so peaceful and beautiful to be able to escape to an enchanting place far from the realities of an ugly world. Indeed, Jozsef’s alter ego was pridefully working a marvelous illusion of beguiling deceit about him, blanketing his essence under a velvety cloak of fraudulent armor. And, Jozsef exulted in its facade, reveled in its comfort, and basked in its protection until … Until the shrieking wails of little Judit broke the magical mirror of his haven into a thousand pieces - her cries had sealed their death sentence! Shaken from his self-aggrandizement, Jozsef heaved off his cumbrous mantle of betrayal, berating himself, hating himself, and despising himself - how could he have been so incomprehensibly irresponsible to let his guard down at this, the most critical, the most perilous moment of their lives? If the enemy found them now, it was because of him… and because of his flippancy, an agonizing end awaited those he loved more than anything in the world, more than life itself. The weight of his sin catapulted the piercing weight of a million-ton dagger through his chest, causing his knees to fold beneath him as he bent into the soil of the slimy earth. No, no, no! We will not end this way! As a last dogged attempt to save his family, Jozsef vaulted into the deranged actions of a madman, grabbing Erzsebet’s arm, viciously tugging and pulling her and little Judit behind a thick stance of timber, a trembling finger placed upon his lips signaling them to be silent. As she held her bawling baby daughter close to her petrified heart, sickening shudders of an inky-black, faceless, soulless doom clouded Erzsebet’s terrified mind as it unwillingly flashed grotesque images of three, ravaged, bullet-riddled bodies sprawled about the forest floor, the last warm, oozing remains of their valorous blood gathering thickly about their lifeless forms, as the viscera of the earth beneath them inhaled the crimson-colored juice of their trickling souls, the burgundy liquid seeking to nourish the buried seeds of the forest, perhaps to reincarnate into the veins of forest-green seedlings and saplings that would one day live again in the warmth of the sun - for no one would ever find them here, in this thick, muddy muck to give them a decent burial. No one. Hardly able to take in even a shallow breath, Erzsebet dropped her knees into the slush of the cold, brown ooze, clasping Jozsef and her crying baby daughter close, whispering an anguished prayer of desperation towards the moon-filled sky, “Please God, be merciful – take our souls swiftly and do not let my baby suffer!”
Judith BOGNAR Bean was born in Budapest, Hungary. Her father, JOZSEF F. BOGNAR, was a Freedom Fighter during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Judith, a strong advocate against the horrors of Socialism and Communism, is often asked to speak as a guest on radio shows and podcasts about the subject of Patriotism, and the Atrocities and Heartbreak of Communism and Socialism. Per Judith, "Now, more than ever, "BITTERSWEET FREEDOM - What Would You Be Willing to Sacrifice to Live in Freedom? Would it Be Worth The Price?" is mandatory reading due to the radical leftists who wish to transform America into a SOCIALIST/COMMUNIST state. Those twisted ideologies only defile, degrade and disintegrate a country and her people. We must teach our children about the failed doctrines of Socialism and Communism, and about how millions of people have died and suffered under those regimes. We must learn from the political-ideological mistakes of the past to keep us from bringing back those terrifying ideologies in the future!"
The seven-decade saga of her family's trials and tribulations - from her parents childhood during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, as well as the horrors and atrocities endured by the Hungarian people during Hitler's reign of terror, to the day when the Peril of staying in their beloved Hungary was greater than the Peril of escaping from the Soviet Tyranny engulfing their land. But even in America, there were enemies lurking in the mist: Ethnic persecution, community dissent, and financial ruin.
BITTERSWEET FREEDOM tells a story echoing the headlines of today about immigration, survival against the worst of odds, of a great love born out of the ruins of a nation, and how with faith, hope and love, anything is possible.
Judith lays bare her heart, and invites the reader into the "Once Upon a time World," of her family's fist-clenching story, as she details their unworldly struggles, conflicts, faults, joys, and failures, ungrudgingly taking the reader into the most private, intimate labyrinths of her family's world.
BITTERSWEET FREEDOM's sweeping allegory peels back seven-decades of the lives of the author's family: from the shores of Europe to the shores of America, telling the mesmerizing tale of young, star-crossed lovers caught up in the turbulence of World War II and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
BITTERSWEET FREEDOM is a magnificent story that is both a memoir and biography embedded with accurate historical accounts, entwined about the many atrocities suffered by her parents (as children) during World War II in Hungary, as well as the unimaginable horrors inflicted upon the Hungarian people during the 1956 Revolution.
It tells of the author's father, Jozsef, a 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighter,a man caught up in surreal events beyond his control as he assumes the position of one of the major leaders of that revolt, rallying and urging his raggedly armed fellow countrymen onward as they fight in the bloody streets of Budapest against Soviet Oppression, taking Evil Lives to save Valiant lives.
Thousands of poorly armed Freedom Fighters give their brave lives for Freedom's Sake as they push doggedly on against their superiorly armed oppressors to extinguish the Tyranny of Soviet rule from their beloved country of Hungary.
Written as a "story," not using traditional memoir format, has composed a shocking true account of her family's harrowing escape (the author was age two), from Soviet forces as they take flight at a moment's notice to free themselves from the perils of tortuous persecution during the bleak, mournful days of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, seeking a small, narrow bridge shrouded in the mists of a swampy marshland, whose rickety planks will lead the family into a vast void called "Freedom" - The Bridge at Andau, Austria.
The author's family was only one in the thousands of Hungarian Immigrant families who would rather have died in their quest for liberty than to live bound in the Iron Chains of Soviet Domination.
Her account is a true story of Immigrants seeking acceptance and refuge in America - A story echoing the headlines of today about immigration, survival, strong family ties, love and sentiment.
However, even in America - the family faces countless formidable enemies - Ethnic persecution, destitution, and communal conflict.
In later years the components of the family change and they find themselves battling a strange new force that has entwined its tentacles about the walls of the family's heart but is their love powerful enough to carry them through the turbulent tides ebbing away at the foundation of their lives. Is their love strong enough, to sustain them through the new Bittersweet journey ahead? Only the torrents of time would tell if they would succeed or fail as a family in America.
In the shadow of today's turbulent world events of Immigration, cultural inequity, national rebellion, family discourse, and the omnipresent, magnificent power of Love Everlasting, this True Telling of BITTERSWEET FREEDOM takes the reader on a captivating, inspirational, page-turning ride of unexpected twists and turns culminating in a breath-holding conclusion.
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