Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pink and gray, red and black --- part one

Back about 1957, when I was thirteen, fashionable colors were pink and black. I hated the combination then, and I do now, for different reasons. Pink is socialism, that makes its whole world a gray, dull, dreary, dirty dungeon. Red is communism, achieved only by spilling lots of blood, and I think it's significant that long-dried blood is black.

Also in 1957, a little book titled The Bridge at Andau by James A. Michener was published in the U.S.A. It was the story of the Hungarian uprising against Soviet Communism in Budapest in October and November of 1956. I bought a copy with my paper route money; it was one of the first books I ever bought. About the time of its third or fourth printing, the Soviets put Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in orbit; and the talk in the street here was that if they could put up a satellite, they could put up a bomb.

I would like to think that the presence of Sputnik over our heads, and the story of the savage repression of the Hungarians by the Communists, woke up a lot of otherwise indifferent people to what Soviet Communism was really all about. "Workers' paradise? -- don't make me laugh!" "Dictatorship of the proletariat? -- bullshit!" "Paradise on earth? -- Hell on earth is more like it."

James Michener was in a little town called Andau, just on the Austrian side of the Austria-Hungary border. He must have interviewed scores of refugees; the personalities in his book are all composites, made up of cross-checking one refugee's story against another, double-checking, and checking again. "But it was not I," he said, "who chose to use composites. It was my Hungarian narrators, who said simply, 'If the secret police identify me in any way, they will kill my mother and father.' A writer thinks twice before betraying an identity in such circumstances . . . ."

The refugees: [All the words are Michener's; emphases and comments are mine.]

". . . I have never witnessed anything like the Hungarian emigration. First, there was the unprecedented youth of the emigres . . . while I was at Andau, it was the finest young people of the nation who were leaving; their average age was only twenty-three. Second was their spirit. They were not dejected or beaten or maimed or halt. In considerable joy they were turning their back contemptuously upon the Russians and their communist fraud. Third, they were young people with a purpose. They wanted to tell the world of the betrayal of their nation. . . . Fourth, it was difficult to find among these people any reactionaries, any sad, defeated human beings looking toward the past."

". . . Consider, for example, eleven groups that had left their homeland, and imagine the loss they represented to a nation.

"One, at the university in Sopron five hundred students, thirty-two professors and their entire families simply gave up all hope of a decent life under communism and came across the border. . . .

"Two, the finest ballerina of the Budapest Opera walked out, with several of her assistants.

"Three, enough football players left Hungary to make several teams of world-champion caliber.

"Four, the three finest Gypsy orchestras of Hungary came out in a body. . . .

"Five, some of the top mechanics in the factories at Csepel left and were eagerly grabbed up by firms in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.

"Six, a staggering number of trained engineers and scientists in almost all phases of industry and research fled, some carrying slide rules and tables applicable to their specialization, others with nothing. I myself have met accidentally at least fifty engineers under the age of thirty. A careful census would probably reveal more than five thousand. . . .

"Seven, a majority of both the Budapest symphony orchestras came out . . . . Several of the best conductors came with them.

"Eight, many of Hungary's best artists crossed the border.

"Nine, and many of her notable writers.

"Ten, several members of the Hungarian Olympic team decided to stay in Australia, others defected along the way home and still others refused to take the final plunge back into communism. This was a major propaganda defeat.

"Eleven, and most impressive of all, were the young couples with babies. No group came across the bridge at Andau without its quota of young married couples. . . .

"For an American to understand what this great exodus meant, this comparison might be meaningful. When the final count is in, it will probably be found that about two per cent of the total population of the nation has fled. If this happened in America, about 3,400,000 would leave this country, or the population of Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, and Fort Worth combined. If that happened, it would be obvious that something was wrong with the United States.

"But even this comparison misses the essential truth, for it was not the total population of a city like Boston -- the young and the old -- that left Hungary. It was mainly the young, often the elite of the nation.

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