My wife Diana and I have just returned from Budapest Hungary where we visited an old Navy shipmate and his wife Aliz.
Adam and I served together on the USS Porterfield DD-682, a destroyer, in 1965-66. Adam was an officer and I was enlisted, so it couldn’t be said that we were friends or old Navy buddies. But we stood shoulder to shoulder at General Quarters – our Battle Stations – in a small space called IC-Plot from where our five 5” guns were controlled. Adam was a memorable character in those days, with an uplifting attitude and demeanor that helped ease any boredom or tension during long, often very hot, watches during combat operations off the coast of Vietnam. He had an accent and an unpronounceable last name beginning with ‘van’ or ‘von’ which was changed by all aboard to Mr. von D. For years I thought he was Dutch.
We went our separate ways following our Naval service, and I didn’t give him – or for that matter my Navy experience — much thought thereafter. Then at a Porterfield reunion a few years ago I was able to get my hands on the cruise book from that time in the Western Pacific. I was drawn to the ships roster and that strange name von Dioszeghy. I did an internet search for that name and discovered the Facebook page of Aliz von Dioszeghy and sent off a message asking if this lady knew of that crazy Dutchman from the Porterfield. She did, and was married to him. I soon found out that Adam had written a wonderful 440 page story of his life beginning as a 7 year old in the midst of the WW-II Red Army siege of Budapest. By the time I finished his book I felt I knew this man and his incredible life story.
Then in May 2017 the opportunity to visit Adam and Aliz presented itself at the end of a Baltic cruise.
What follows is a personalized historical account of a tour conducted by Adam through the significant places and events of his life in Budapest.
January 1945 — This first set of pictures show some of the places where Adam and his mother endured the WW-II battles all around and above them. The allied bombers were bombing the city from above, the Germans controlled a square just down the boulevard to the left of their apartment, and the Red Army controlled the square down to the right. Bombs, bullets and artillery shells flowed in abundance.
This is also the window where Adam’s young German soldier friend Hans positioned himself with two machine guns in a futile attempt to hold off the advancing Red Army.
Hans, 19 years old, befriended 7 year old Adam and gave him his last chocolate just before his unit pulled out and left him to delay the Red Army onslaught. A hand grenade thrown in the basement window ended the life of young Hans.
Adam and his wife Aliz live close by this window, and on their way to church Adam respectfully salutes that window – “Hans didn’t start that war” says Adam. And Aliz invariably tears up.
The bombing cut off the water supply to the apartment building, so the residents had to traverse the main boulevard to a nearby apartment building that still had water. This was a very dangerous operation requiring Adam’s mother to cross a very active combat zone.
The Red Army to the left.
The German Army to the right and the street in front of Adam’s home.
This is the apartment building from where Adam’s mother carried water in buckets. One day just as she entered the door to get water, a bomb hit above her and collapsed the front of the building causing rubble to bury her up to her neck. Miraculously she was not injured and neighbors removed the debris allowing her escape.
This is the doorway to the building where Adam’s mother was buried by the building debris. Adam remembers seeing her in the doorway on her return to the bomb shelter as a ghostly image covered in white plaster dust.
Walking the streets of Budapest in 2017, 73 years after the fact, makes it difficult to place all of this in the context of the time. The pictures below show a small part of the carnage of the siege of Budapest.
The bridges of Budapest are beautiful, but not so much during the war.
Post War Budapest to October 1956 – I don’t have any pictures of life for Adam and his mother under the Communist rule following the war, but life after the war under Communism is brutal for Adam and his mother, and especially tough because of his mother’s previous station in life as an aristocrat. Here is how he describes the treatment of his mother in those Communist years:
“ … she … was stripped of all human dignity common to even the lowest of beings. The authorities treated her worse than if she was a leper or a person afflicted with the foulest of communicable diseases, or possibly a criminal. There were only certain places – and not very desirable ones – where she was allowed to live. … Day in and day out, in every conceivable circumstance, it was made known to her that her very existence was bothersome to the “state,” and the sooner she could depart this vale of tears for better climes the better. … “
October 1956 – Now we move forward to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In the following picture sequence we follow Adam as he walks us through to those places of personal remembrances, and the tragedies experienced by those freedom fighters.
The revolution started as a student solidarity movement in support of student protests in Poland. It began as a peaceful and unarmed demonstration against a tyrannical Communist government. The group drew up a list of 16 requests – not demands as Adam points out – that were brought to the radio station along this very narrow street where 5000 students had marched.
The government response to the 16 requests was “not only no – but hell no.” Officials in the radio station were armed, and soon a shot rang out from above and a young student was killed in the street below.
This plaque on the sidewalk opposite the radio station commemorates this first casualty of the revolution, marking the name and date of this young man’s death.
And these plaques on the wall of the radio station commemorate the event – and that is Adam’s hand reaching up to that commemoration.
The protests moved to the Parliament building, a magnificent building, and one in which Adam’s grandfather, a Baron, had in years past sat as a member of the Hungarian Parliament.
Adam recounts that at some point in what was now a revolution, a truck drove up to where the students had gathered and started handing out weapons. Adam recalls when about twenty students gathered in a room, each having a Russian machine gun. They are sitting in a circle facing one another as someone is instructing them on how to use these weapons. Suddenly a shot rings out, and a young student just to the right of Adam falls dead, a casualty of an accidental shot from one of those machine guns.
Back to the Parliament, the scene is one where there is a huge crowd gathered in the square between the front of the Parliament building and the building shown above.
There were armed government soldiers stationed on the roof of that building and they started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. There were also tanks stationed in front of the parliament, and at one point a tank commander is fed up with the killing from the rooftop, and he shoots a couple of tank rounds to the shooters above.
Years later, after the collapse of the Communist regime, the deaths of those brave freedom fighters is commemorated by the placement of these bronze balls on the walls of the building from which those murders took place – one for each death.
Somewhere along the way Adam is wounded and he is headed back to the Technical University, pictured above, where he was a student.
A friend and fellow student intercepts Adam on the bridge pictured above and warns him to turn back. A wounded and bandaged student is certain to be arrested and most likely to be executed. So Adam turns back and thus begins the next chapter in the life of Adam von Dioszeghy and his mother – a flight to freedom in Austria and ultimately to the United States.
It is important to note that as this revolution unfolded, nearly every segment of Hungarian society joined with the students in the attempt to throw off the tyranny. This included even the Hungarian military, which had to be removed from the city and replaced by Soviet troops from the interior of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the Soviets brutally crushed the revolution resulting in many arrests, deaths and tens of thousands of refugees, some 40,000 who came to the United States.
Again, walking the streets of Budapest in 2017, 60 years after the fact, makes it difficult to place all of this in the context of the time. The pictures below show a small part of the carnage of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The images are brutal.
Sitting at the breakfast table in our hotel overlooking the streets of Budapest in 2017, it is hard to picture anything different than the people below going to and fro – peaceful and minding their own business going shopping, going to work or school. That is what Budapest and the world should look like.
The life of a refugee in America.
Coming to the United States as a refugee; to a foreign land and a foreign culture, not knowing the language was the next huge hurdle facing this young man.
But Adam’s life in America shows the grit and fortitude of this young man who had lost everything in his Hungarian homeland. His family heritage in Hungary was one of aristocracy, land and wealth. Yet here he was, having to begin a new life from scratch.
In 1957, Adam and his mother arrived to an exceptional nation. A nation that afforded him two key elements that make that nation exceptional – liberty and opportunity. Adam took great advantage of that fabric of liberty and opportunity and earned a degree at Stanford University, one of the great universities of America. Then when his new nation called him to military service in time of need at the beginning of the Vietnam War, he gratefully stepped up and became a US Naval officer serving three tours to the war zone of Vietnam.
Following his Navy service, Adam returned to Stanford earning a law degree and practicing law in the San Francisco area for many years before retiring and returning to his homeland of Hungary.
A fitting conclusion to this story is this picture of Adam standing beside the statue of President Ronal Reagan in Budapest’s Freedom Square. Communism had failed and fallen, and the people of Hungary rightly commemorate their liberty with this tribute to this great American leader.
Leaders like American President Ronald Reagan, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II took note of the evils of Communism, and were finally in a position to defeat it and bring liberty to those many like Adam von Dioszeghy who yearned so strongly for and fought for it.
Adam is engaged in another battle for survival, this time against a cancer that has invaded his body. These kinds of personal battles eventually visit all of us, but I must say, this friend of mine shows a love of life – a joy of living – not often seen. A joy in spite of the tragedies he has lived through. But no … I believe his joy comes not in spite of, but rather because of his experiences. I am honored to be his friend and shipmate.
Poland likewise recognizes Reagan with similar tributes.
“ … Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. … “
References and further reading:
BRIDGING TWO WORLDS: Memories and Reflections – at https://www.amazon.com/BRIDGING-TWO-WORLDS-Memories-Reflections/dp/1622878663/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
My review of Adam’s book at — https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/bridging-two-worlds-a-book-review/
The Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People — at https://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Andau-Compelling-Embattled-People/dp/0812986741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1496567578&sr=1-1&keywords=the+bridge+at+andau
Immigration & Assimilation – A Hungarian Model – at https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/immigration-assimilation-a-hungarian-model-2/
Statue in Budapest’s Liberty Square credits Reagan for freedom — at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jun/29/statue-in-budapests-liberty-square-credits-reagan-/
Ronald Reagan statue unveiled in Warsaw — at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/8904456/Ronald-Reagan-statue-unveiled-in-Warsaw.html
Reagan, John Paul II honored with statue in Gdansk Poland – at: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Reagan-John-Paul-II-honored-with-statue-3707733.php