the price we pay for war

On a Saturday afternoon in late September of 1944, two Nazi officers visited a sawmill in Budapest, Hungary, where Eva Pinter worked. They announced to the director that the 20-year-old Fraulein Pinter would not be coming to work with them on Monday.

On a Saturday afternoon in late September of 1944, two Nazi officers visited a sawmill in Budapest, Hungary, where Eva Pinter worked. They announced to the director that the 20-year-old Fraulein Pinter would not be coming to work with them on Monday. She was told to immediately hand over her duties to the next best person and come with them.

The soldiers escorted her to her parents’ home where they presented their orders to her father, a retired Hungarian Army general. The order declared that she and her 17-year-old brother, both fluent in German as well as Hungarian, were being required to join a German military field hospital unit evacuating the city. Both the Pinter children would be picked up the next morning at 4 a.m. They could bring one suitcase with them.

Her parents knew, just as her boss at the sawmill did, there was no one to appeal to, given the few hours they had before leaving. They had no option but to obey. Eva and her brother Gyruka would leave the next morning.

As Eva Pinter de Gosztonyi, my mother-in-law, would later write in her memoir, “Mother got together as much as she could for both of us as practically as she could think as we could not know where we are going and how long we shall be away. She gave me what cash there was at home and a few pieces of jewelry, our passports.”

With the distant sound of Soviet Army artillery signalling their approach to Budapest, the Pinter parents could console themselves with the thought that this might at least get their children out of the immediate danger in the inevitable coming siege of the Hungarian capital. Allied bombing raids had already brought the harsh reality war to the residents of the city.

Three months earlier, on July 2, 1944, British and American planes, as part of Operation Gardening, dropped mines in the Danube River where it flowed through Budapest. They also dropped bombs and leaflets on the German-occupied city.

The leaflets raining down on the city told of the Allies’ anger at the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, which had begun in April of 1944 under the direction of the notorious Adolf Eichmann. Eva Pinter de Gosztonyi would later tell me she had seen cattle cars on rail sidings crammed with these victims of the Holocaust.

As many as four trains a day of 45 cars each would carry more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to the extermination camps by the end of July. Only a few like Elie Wiesel would survive. Fewer than 30 per cent of the more than 860,000 Hungarian Jews lived through the war.

The military hospital Eva and Gyruka Pinter had been dragooned to work at eventually was set up outside Reichenau, Austria near Vienna. Eva wrote, “Wounded soldiers arrived in great numbers, we were busy. The front approached rapidly. Air raids and over flights were a daily event. We heard the bombing of Vienna and the surrounding area’s towns.” She did manage to find the time to visit the nearby family of a school friend.

On her way to their home in late winter 1945, she recounted that “a lonely small plane appeared and started to shoot a machine gun at me. I was the only moving target on that road. The bullets whizzed by, I threw myself in the ditch and luckily escaped.” However her school friend and her family were not so lucky. “This was the last time I saw the Benischke family. They all were killed during the Soviet attack on the country side.”

At the war’s end, Dr. Jager, the head of the military hospital, took her aside. He told her that she and her brother “were actually taken not for the benefit of the hospital or war effort, but as hostages, to keep my father from “betraying the cause” to the Allies. “Our family was under observation since the German occupation.” General Ferenc Pinter had become suspect, possibly because some months earlier he had publicly protested the stripping of the medals and decorations from Jewish veterans of the First World War. Because of this, she never would see her father again.

Eva Pinter eventually would meet and marry Paul de Gostonyi, another displaced Hungarian. Together they made their way to Canada. After a long rich life my anyoska died the Saturday before last. She will be lovingly remembered. What about those civilians whose lives were cut short that war?

According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, 10 civilians have died for every soldier who lost their life in the wars fought in the last 60 years. Arguably the ratio of civilian to military combatant deaths in places like Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq has climbed even higher. On this Remembrance Day weekend let us also recall the civilian victims of war. The blood of these innocent women, children and men is the price we pay for war.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.