The Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People by James A. Michener

  The Bridge at Andau is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

  2014 Dial Press Trade Paperback Edition

  Copyright © 1957 by James Michener

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  DIAL PRESS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

  Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Random House LLC, in 1957.

  eBook ISBN 978-0-8041-5148-1




  Title Page



  1 Young Josef Toth

  2 The Intellectuals

  3 At the Kilian Barracks

  4 Brief Vision

  5 The Russian Terror

  6 The AVO Man

  7 The Man from Csepel

  8 A Poem of Petofi’s

  9 The Bridge at Andau

  10 The Russian Defeat

  11 Could These Things Be True?


  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author


  At dawn, on November 4, 1956, Russian communism showed its true character to the world. With a ferocity and barbarism unmatched in recent history, it moved its brutal tanks against a defenseless population seeking escape from the terrors of communism, and destroyed it.

  A city whose only offense was that it sought a decent life was shot to pieces. Dedicated Hungarian communists who had deviated slightly from the true Russian line were shot down ruthlessly and hunted from house to house. Even workers, on whom communism is supposed to be built, were rounded up like animals and shipped in sealed boxcars to the USSR. A satellite country which had dared to question Russian domination was annihilated.

  After what the Russians did to Hungary, after their destruction of a magnificent city, and after their treatment of fellow communists, the world need no longer have even the slimmest doubt as to what Russia’s intentions are. Hungary has laid bare the great Russian lie.

  In Hungary, Russia demonstrated that her program is simple. Infiltrate a target nation (as she did in Bulgaria and Rumania, for example); get immediate control of the police force (as she did in Czechoslovakia); initiate a terror which removes all intellectual and labor leadership (as she did in Latvia and Estonia); deport to Siberia troublesome people (as she did in Lithuania and Poland); and then destroy the nation completely if the least sign of independence shows itself. This final step in the Russian plan is what took place in Hungary.

  From this point on it is difficult to imagine native-born communists in Italy or France … or America … trusting blindly that if they join the Russian orbit their fate will be any different. At the first invitation from some dissident communist group inside the nation, Russian tanks will ride in, destroy the capital city, terrorize the population, and deport to slave-labor camps in Central Asia most of the local communist leaders who organized the communist regime in the first place.

  In this book I propose to tell the story of a terror so complete as to be deadening to the senses. I shall have to relate the details of a planned bestiality that is revolting to the human mind, but I do so in order to remind myself and free men everywhere that there is no hope for any nation or group that allows itself to be swept into the orbit of international communism. There can be only one outcome: terror and the loss of every freedom.

  I propose also to tell the story of how thousands of Hungarians, satiated with terror, fled their homeland and sought refuge elsewhere. It is from their mass flight into Austria that this book takes its title, for it was at the insignificant bridge at Andau that many of them escaped to freedom.

  That Budapest was destroyed by Russian tanks is tragic; but a greater tragedy had already occurred: the destruction of human decency. In the pages that follow, the people of Hungary—many of them communists—will relate what Russian communism really means.

  A fifth printing of this book provides an opportunity to amend certain sections, for although few errors were found in the first edition, even those should be corrected.

  On this page I originally wrote that Hungarian names could be given in either order—Imre Nagy or Nagy Imre—and my notebooks were filled with examples proving that while talking with me, at least, Hungarians used the two forms indiscriminately. But I was wrong when I concluded that they followed the same practice at home. Several reviewers pointed out that in Hungary names are always given in what Americans would term reverse order: Nagy Imre. Why did my notes prove otherwise? Because the refugees, wanting to help me, tried at first to give their names in western order, reverting to the natural Hungarian style as they became involved in the depressing narratives they were sharing with me.

  More importantly, it is now possible to extend my remarks concerning America’s role in the Hungarian revolution and her subsequent acceptance of its refugees. Four separate developments warrant comment.

  First, I left the Hungarian border just as Vice-President Nixon departed for Washington with plans to speed up American acceptance of refugees. I was therefore not in a position to report upon the good his mission was to accomplish.

  Second, protests like that of the New York Times concerning conditions during the first days at Camp Kilmer achieved their purpose, and the camp was quickly transformed into the warm, decent operation it should have been in the first place.

  Third, while I was writing my report, new studies of Radio Free Europe’s role were completed and its function in the revolution was further clarified.

  Fourth, and most important of all, it was only after I had completed my manuscript that America seriously considered, debated and adopted the Eisenhower Doctrine, which in effect warns that insofar as one section of the world is concerned, no new Hungary will be tolerated. This statement of American determination fills some of the policy hiatus I spoke of and forms, I believe, one of the major outcomes of the Hungarian revolution.

  Several critics regretted that some of the characters through whom I told the story of the great Hungarian uprising were composites. They correctly pointed out that this dampened the force of the narrative. I agree. But it was not I 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, even though by using masked composites he does somewhat diminish the impact of his story.

  Finally, one critic spoke harshly of my faith that the seeds of the Hungarian revolution will mature in other soil. He pointed out that so far this has not happened. He is correct. And it may not happen within a year, or three years, or even before both my critic and I are dead.

  But I will stand by my statement. Somewhere within the Soviet hegemony the seeds of this Hungarian revolution will mature and grow into a profound struggle for human freedom. In the long sweep of man’s history, three months are simply not enough time in which to detect significant movements.

  Therefore I not only repeat what I said originally; I wish
to intensify it. I am absolutely convinced that the yearning for freedom which motivated Hungarians will operate elsewhere within the Soviet orbit with results that we cannot now foresee. It would be inconceivable for me to conclude otherwise.


  Young Josef Toth

  On Tuesday evening, October 23, 1956—a day which the world will be slow to forget—a boy of eighteen interrupted his work on the early-evening shift and entered the foreman’s office in the locomotive factory on Kobanyai Street in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

  “You must attend more meetings of the communist study group,” his foreman warned him abruptly.

  Because the boy was young, he was tempted to argue back, but something in the foreman’s cold stare warned him and he accepted the reprimand. Outside the office he thought, “I work ten hours a day and don’t get enough food. Why should I have to attend communist meetings after work?”

  He was a handsome youth, blond, straight, gray-eyed, and with a skin that was spotted for the time being but which seemed to be clearing up as he approached manhood. He wore cheap corduroy pants, a very cheap windbreaker with a zipper that rarely worked, and heavy, warm shoes. In his locker he had a stiff overcoat that was not warm, and a cap. Apart from one very thin Sunday suit, at his father’s, those were all the clothes he owned, although he had worked for nearly four years. Bad food, trolley fare, and a little money to help his father accounted for all his wages, which were pitifully low.

  Josef Toth had no mother. She had died two years before, mysteriously, and her death had been not only a family tragedy, but an economic hardship as well. It had happened this way. His mother was a big, jovial, talkative woman who could never resist a joke, and one of the reasons why her son Josef had such a ready smile was his long acquaintance with this warm-hearted woman.

  But one day she had said, sitting in a casual group which had been having supper in her home, “Everywhere you look you see the Russian flag. I long for the old Hungarian flag.”

  Someone in the group that night, some trusted friend, had sought temporary advantage in Budapest’s bitter struggle for food by reporting Mrs. Toth to the AVH (Allam Vedelmi Hatosag, State Protecting Organization), who were generally known as the AVO (Allam Vedelmi Osztag, State Protecting Special Group), which had originally been a highly selected group within the AVH. Next day, a small truck called at the Toth home and two AVO agents hauled Mrs. Toth away.

  Nobody saw her for six months, and when she returned home the terror of her situation became apparent. She smiled and assured her family that nothing had happened to her while she was in the hands of the AVO. Resolutely she met all queries with one reply, “Nothing happened,” but when she fell sick from the exhaustion, starvation and torture she had suffered in prison, and when it became apparent that she was certainly going to die, she let drop a few hints—not enough to imperil the safety of her family, should there happen to be another unsuspected spy in its midst, but enough to give her son Josef some idea of what had happened.

  Once she said to him, “I had to stand on one foot for hours every day.” That was all she told him, but the look of terror on her face was unforgettable. Soon she was dead. Young Josef tried standing on one foot for fifteen minutes, and he was not plump the way his mother had been before she entered prison. Even so, the pain quickly became unbearable and he could not imagine how his mother could have stood that way for hours.

  Now, as he left the foreman’s office, he kept his thoughts to himself, for no one knew who the AVO men in the factory were. They were there, of that he was sure, for a man down the line from him had said, some time ago, “This damned wrench. It must be a Russian wrench.”

  For this the man had been spirited away, badly beaten and sent back to work. Josef also knew of a man in his mother’s village, outside of Budapest, who had fallen behind in his taxes. Unfortunately he mentioned, to friends, that he had a brother in America and the AVO heard of this and gave the villager six weeks to get the money from America, and when he failed, he was dragged off and nobody ever saw him again. The strange thing was that there was no speculation as to what had happened to the taxpayer, because even a logical guess, if reported to the AVO, might cause a man to be horribly beaten, so it was better just to keep one’s mouth shut.

  Even doing a job well wasn’t always a safeguard from the AVO, because a man at the locomotive works who had been to college before the communists took over Hungary had had the bad luck to translate a technical article from an English magazine about locomotive engines and he had translated the title exactly as it was written, “New Technological Developments Behind the Iron Curtain.” The AVO took him away and held him for three weeks, doing nobody knew what to him, for he never talked. The AVO pointed out that the man had made a most severe ideological mistake, because everyone knew there was no such thing as an iron curtain, and to foolishly pick up a capitalist slander like that meant that a man was probably corrupted inside his brain, and the way to cure that was turn him over to the AVO for three weeks. But nobody except the translator knew exactly what the cure consisted of, because if anyone even so much as mentioned it, he would probably disappear altogether.

  Fear of the AVO kept young Josef Toth attentive to his talk, his actions and his beliefs. Since he had never known a world where the AVO did not operate, he fell easily into line. He knew that most of the locomotives built at his plant went direct to Russia or were traded to countries like Egypt, but he never mentioned this to anyone, not even to the man who painted the addresses on the locomotives, because he might turn out to be an AVO man.

  So after his work on the evening shift, Joseph Toth went to where his coat hung, slipped into it—for Budapest was just beginning to feel the touch of winter—and started out the door of the factory, heading for the trolley car which would take him across the city to where his father lived. “Tomorrow I’ll go to the communist study group,” he resolved, keeping his bitter resentment to himself, because he felt that perhaps the foreman was the AVO man in his gang.

  But as he stepped into the brisk night air he was swept up by a group of young people who shouted simply, “If you are a Hungarian, join us.”

  He had no idea what these young men—they were all under twenty-five—were doing, but something in the electricity of the moment caught him and he joined them. Soon he was shouting to other workers coming out of the factory, “If you are a Hungarian, join us!” And other boys, as ignorant as he, joined the crowd.

  Then the fateful word, the exhilarating word, the word of hope and passion they had long awaited, was spoken. A student cried, “We are going to drive the AVO out of Hungary.” This Josef Toth could understand.

  In one wild surge they stormed into a police station, where the bewildered officers tried to maintain order. “Give us your guns!” some young men shouted, and to his amazement young Toth shouted in the face of a red-faced officer, “Give me your gun.”

  “What for?” the policeman stuttered.

  Toth looked at him with no answer, and stared about him; then a student cried, “We are going to finish the AVO.”

  The policeman’s jaw dropped and Josef grabbed his pistol, but an older boy took it for himself. Soon the entire police arsenal was confiscated, and when the young men returned to the street some of the more daring were armed.

  This was fortunate for them, because at this moment a tank manned by Hungarian troops, with two AVO men giving directions, wheeled into the narrow street and rumbled toward the very spot where Josef Toth was standing. It was an old-fashioned tank, a T-34, with noisy treads, a high turret that could revolve, and holes for a forward machine gun. Against men armed with pistols, it was a formidable thing.

  As it approached the young men, everyone had a moment of terrifying indecision. The soldiers in the tank were unwilling to fire into a horde of young people. The young men were afraid to fire their puny weapons at a tank. Then perhaps the AVO man gave an order. Anyway, the tank’s machine gun ripped out a volley, and several young
workers fell in the street.

  With a stern cry of revenge, the boys and young men hurled themselves at the tank. Those with pistols fired at the turret. Those without weapons threw rocks or clubs or bottles at the mechanical treads. Two daring boys of less than sixteen ran under the guns of the tank and tried to wedge bricks into the treads, and at last they, or others like them, succeeded, and the tank ground to a halt with its machine gun spraying bullets over the heads of the young men.

  A boy standing near Josef grabbed a sub-machine gun from a wounded companion and, with unfamiliar power throbbing in his hands, began blasting at the turret of the tank. From every side the bullets splashed against the turtle-backed tank and ricocheted back into the crowd, killing some and wounding others, who would later claim they had been shot by AVO men.

  Finally, as the halted tank fired ineffectively at its tormentors in the way a wounded beetle fights off attacking ants, one brave worker with a pistol leaped onto the flat-topped turret, pried open one of the escape hatches which had been undogged in hope of escape, and through this hole pumped a volley of bullets. Soon he was joined by an equally intrepid fighter with a machine gun, and after this there was no movement inside the tank.

  Josef Toth, not really knowing what tremendous adventure he had embarked upon, had helped stop a tank. It lay a broken, wounded hulk in the middle of the street, and while the excited, encouraged crowd surged on to a greater adventure, some workmen who loved machines stayed behind to see if they could mend the tank for later use. They began by hauling out the dead bodies, which were thrown into the street. Young Toth had already been swept along toward the radio station when a woman from the neighborhood where the tank battle was fought studied one dead body and cried, “He was an AVO man!” The men working on the tank looked down in silent disgust, even then afraid to speak against the dead AVO man for fear some new spy might be listening.

  There was to be no such restraint at the radio station.

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