Then and now
All too soon forgotten
As I write this posting the grim news continues of the terrible endgame of the final rebel bastion in Aleppo, the violent, unthinking killing of so many desparate people, militia, civilians, young and old.
I know how easy it is at conferences to miss what is going in the big wide world. But if you are still in Kútvlögyi út, think when you leave the building today of the fifty-day seige of Budapest (29 December 1944 – 13 February 1945) and its own terrible ending when German and Hungarian troops and civilians made their horrifying last-ditch attempt to get away, across what I later knew as Moskva tér, on past where the Hotel Budapest now stands – and then for many of those who survived this massacre, continuing up Kútvlögyi út itself.
I shall make no presumptive attempt to convey what happened. At eight in the evening, the first of 28,000 troops broke out of their stronghold through the freezing fog and set out across Széna tér and Széll Kálmán tér: units and individuals of the German and Hungarian armed services, Waffen-SS troops of almost every nationality in Europe, German SS-men, Hungarian Arrow Cross Fascist militia – followed by thousands of civilians, men, women, children and old people, whole families and alone – some desperate, some despairing. Heavier weaponry was soon lost or abandoned. Waiting for them was the Soviet Army, often dug in with artillery and rockets as well as small arms.
Eventually only around seven hundred or so troops made it through to the German lines. Most of the 17,000 of those killed died in the first six hours, in the streets that I wandered so innocently forty-odd years later and thought that I knew so well. The rest were captured, or just lost. I do not know how many Soviet soldiers died.
Krisztián Unvgáry has called the breakout 'one of the most futile enterprises of the Second World War'.
It seems highly unlikely that András Pető had been in the Castle District and took part in the breakout but, if he was anywhere in Buda, he would have been very aware of the noise and violence of the battle as those in the breakout fought and fled along Vörös Hadsereg utja and up Kútvölgyi út and Virányos út. If he were still in or around Orsó u., the running battle would pass by only a suburban block or so down the hill from where he was sheltering.
Come the morning, as far as Buda was concerned, hostilities would be nearly done.