The Bridge at Andau by James A. Mitchner
In 1956 I was 10 years old when the Hungarians revolted against the Russian communist occupation of their country. I actually have vague recollections of discussions that went on concerning this horrific event. The world was stunned as this tiny country launched a courageous attempt to depose the Russians and the AVO thugs who had a stranglehold of fear and poverty on their society.
In the beginning the Russians came in and kicked out the Hungarian aristocracy and wealthy land owners with slick promises of a better life for the working man. The propaganda was organized and intense. They promised: more consumer goods, increased wages, many social benefits, shorter work hours and education for everyone. Ten years later life was worse in every aspect. The consumer goods, food, machinery and minerals produced with a heavy burden on the people were being shipped to Russia leaving the Hungarians working harder for less. Instead of freedom, society was choked with poverty and tyranny.
In order to gain control of the people the communists had infiltrated every aspect of their lives with the AVO police. Some were Russians but many were locals, promised special advantages if they would agree to inform on their fellow workers and neighbors. Violent torture camps were set up to punish any opposition. Some were deported to work camps in Siberia never to be heard of again. Fear increased as no one knew who they could trust or if someone would fabricate evil against you for their own gain or revenge.
This is the backdrop of the Hungarian revolt of 1956. James Mitchner was there, after the event, interviewing the refugees as they streamed out of Hungary , seeking asylum in Austria. Mitchner’s story is told from the eyes of real characters who participated in the revolt. The stories are a stunning indictment of the evils of communism. (Published in 1957)
I was spellbound with the details of courage and love of country. "Give me liberty or give me death" could have been the battle cry of men women and children as they did the impossible in incident after incident. The revolt failed but according to Mitchner, it exposed communism for what it is to other countries who were toying with the possibilities for their own governments. Lest we forget how people can get sucked into such lies I believe it should be required reading for everyone.
Thousands were killed in the crushing defeat, after which, 200,000 mostly young and educated Hungarians fled the country over a rickety bridge, in the swamps near Andau, across the border to Austria, who welcomed and helped the refugees.
Next week I will be traveling to Hungary with my friend Cheryl Miller who recommended I read this book. I am grateful I did and will have a different feeling for these people knowing the struggles they have endured in my lifetime. (This is only 280 fast pages)