In organizing material for my next novel, I found that many Hungarians were among the immigrants working in Ohio’s Appalachia in the early 1900’s. A friend, Steve Bauer, offered to share the story of how his Hungarian family took root in Ohio. Although they settled in the greater Cleveland area, Steve’s story of more recent immigrants illustrates their tenaciousness and love of America.
Steve’s paternal grandfather came to the U.S. in 1910. He had to take the family back to Hungary when the farm over there failed. But Steve’s uncle Joe and aunt Rose, who had been born here, returned when they were in their late teens. That was fortunate for Steve and his family in 1956 when they had to escape communism. Steve is a good storyteller, so I’m letting him tell the story, starting with his parents. At right is a photo of Steve's maternal grandmother and her sister.
Hungary World War II
Hungary was one of the countries that became Communist after World War II. In the way of background, my parents married in 1940. They met in a Christian club, and were excellent ball room dancers. My mom was born in Pest. For those not familiar with Hungary, Buda and Pest are two cities divided by the Danube River.
Mom excelled in gymnastics and basketball, and was also a talented seamstress. Dad grew up in Bakony-Csernye, a farming town about 40 miles west of Budapest. He apprenticed with a tool and die maker from the age of 13.
During WWII the Germans and Russians both invaded Budapest. My parents worked in Pest. Every day they would walk across a certain bridge to go home to Buda. One day my mom said, "Let’s take the other bridge today." While they were crossing, the bridge they usually took was bombed and fell into the water. They considered it divine intervention.
Dad, a member of the Hungarian Army Bicycle Corps, was taken captive by the Russians and sent to a prison camp near Siberia.
Family Life in Hungary 1956
I remember that when I was six years old we lived at 80 Walnut Tree Street, Rakos Szent Mihaly, in a suburb of Budapest. I looked on line recently and the dirt roads and driveways are now paved. We lived in the back of our house in two rooms—a combination living room, bedroom and a kitchen. My uncle and his family lived in the front of the house.
We had no refrigeration or plumbing which meant we had an out-house, and we walked to the corner for water to drink or to sponge bathe. We had no drinking water because our well was full of lime. I remember going out on winter mornings to “wash” in the snow. Mom was a homemaker and a good seamstress. She usually had to stand in line daily for bread, milk, and other necessities. I remember going to the corner store for yellow suckers shaped like roosters and burnt peanuts with sugar. I recall the wonderful smell of tobacco, and watching the men roll their cigarettes.
Two pigs were slaughtered every year for meat. The meat was smoked, cured, and placed into a “cold” room off the kitchen. We raised fruits and vegetables to can, and bought lard by the bucket to spread on bread. We had a pot belly stove for heat and cooking. Mom and dad bought a 32oz beer every Sunday to split. I remember when dad pulled the last pear off the pear tree and we ate it together.
Dad rode his bicycle to work or took a train when the weather was bad. I liked to go to my dad’s village at harvest time. I loved the smell of grapes, and my dad lived next to the local baker so it always smelled wonderful. My uncle was the town barber, and my grandpa was a wagon wheel repairman. Dad became a tool and die maker since wagons were a thing of the past.
Next time: Steve’s story continues- The Bauer family’s political problems and escape to America