|Tibor Cseres: Serbian Vendetta in Bacska|
"The partisans arrived in Peterreve at about 10 a.m., an hour after the remnants of the Hungarian troops evacuated the village under heavy enemy fire. This was a Sunday in October 1944, and the following day they began to gather the Hungarians, both men and women. Five or six men who served as policemen during the Hungarian rule. then they started gathering the civilians. My 30 year old brother-in-law, Janos Vermes, Ferenc Takacs, the Roman Catholic Parson, and Janos Koncsik, ashepherd. There might have been about five hundred of them. A number of them were taken to an unknown place and they were never heard of again. Some 60 or 70 men were shot dead on the bank of the Tisza at night. The corpse were buried in the deserted infantry trenches on the bank. Villagers looking for their kinsmen dug up the bodies, but they could not take them and bury them since the partisans discovered them, so the dead bodies were thrown into the river.
I was present when our Catholic priest was executed, since it had been announced that important decrees would be made public on the main square. attendance was compulsory. Our priest was an MP as well. The execution took place Sunday morning after high mass. Ferenc Takacs, our dean , was in a cassock, his hands tied at the back, and escorted by 15 armed partisans. He was led to the acacia tree opposite the church, and was shot dead by five partisans before the whole village. They did not even blindfold him. One of these partisans, named Vlastan, still lives in the village and goes about with the veterinarian, helping him with
vaccinations. I know the partisan who went to the priest after the execution and pumped two bullets in his head. His name is Vitamir and he works at the town hall. Janos Koncsik was also executed on the main square, publicly."
Janos Molnar, 1928:
"I was living at Peterreve when the Hungarian army evacuated. This was on October 8th or 10th.
The partisans arrested the policemen and the priest first. They arrested Istvan Teleki, former army notary. Janos Furtos and his wife. police officer Kalman Kristof. Dezso Kelemen, a teacher and former Levente instructor. Dezso Helenyi, a butcher and his wife who was in the seventh month of her pregnancy. a farmer called Buzogany. and Peter Becsei and his son. A Person called Tuske was shot in the street. About five hundred Hungarians were taken to the cellar of the gendarmerie barracks, and they all disappeared without a trace.
As a fifteen year old Levente, I was ordered to dig trenches and mounds at the Tisza River in July and August 1944. These were the mounds in which the partisans shot the Hungarians they brought there. Fishermen found a corpse on the bank and recognized it as Dezso Kelemen. I heard Andras Deli, who lived by the river, say that he had seen the partisans preparing to drown Kalman Kristof. He begged on his knees not to be executed in such a way. Out of mercy he was made to stand in the end of a boat and was shot into the Tisza." (Istvan Nagy, 1929, Kevevara)
A Serbian gendarme had been shot in a gun battle by the advancing Hungarian troops in 1941.
The 35 persons apprehended by Hungarian counter-intelligence as communists or suspicious elements had included 21 Hungarians, 9 Serbs, 3 Jews and 2 Slovaks.
The partisans collected about a hundred Hungarian residents of Peterreve at the same time as Father Ferenc Takacs was arrested. These people were tormented and tortured in the school building without food or drink for three or four days. Finally they were led to the river and shot dead, some into the water and some into the riverside trenches, that had been dug the previous year by Leventes. The rooms of the school were tidied up. The bloody straw was collected, burnt. With some vicious pedantry, new straw was strewn for the newly arrested innocent Hungarian men, who were tortured till they bled just like their predecessors in suffering and death.
The hatred of the local Serbs set the vengeful partisans against Dr Ferenc Takacs, a Catholic priest with strong Hungarian
sentiments. He was stripped of his cassock, and exposed to the tortures of sadistic female partisans. These acts were aimed especially at the sex organ of the clergyman who had vowed celibacy. At first they tried pliers, but since they were determined to prolong the torture, they went on to burn Takacs's penis from the glands upwards with a piece of iron heated on the forge of the blacksmith nearby.
The Catholics of the village were ordered to go to the church square on November 19, St. Elizabeth's Day. The parson, could hardly drag himself along due to the mutilations and torture he had suffered. He had to be propped up. He was led to the side of the church and shot dead before his parishioner's eyes.
This physical torture contained an element of intolerance and hatred of the "other faith" and revenge for the different rules of the Catholic religion, which does not allow its priests to marry. They condemned to death the person who, in their view, might have regarded himself superior because of his celibacy, not only as a Hungarian but as a priest as well. It is no longer possible to find out how large a share of hatred the fellow Orthodox priest may have had in the tormented death of his fellow clergyman. It can be safely said that he was well informed about the lengthy torture but it awakened not the slightest Christian solidarity in his soul.
The data secretly collected by priests for decades in Backo Petrovo Selo recorded, in 1941, four Serbian casualties caused by the Hungarian army and six other people of Peterreve arrested by the Hungarian counter-intelligence. As opposed to this, approximately six hundred Hungarian villagers are recorded as victims of the Serbian retaliation in Peterreve.
"In the fall of 1941, Serbian partisans surprised, ambushed, disarmed and undressed the Hungarian police patrol from Csurog in a corn field. The two bound men were impaled on a nearby farm."
On December 14, 1943, the court of the Hungarian Royal General Staff accused Lieutenant-General Feketehalmy-Czeydner and his accomplices of executing 869 Serbian residents of Csurog. The Yugoslavian report which was published in Novi Sad in 1946, and can be regarded as an official Serbian account mentions "only" 756 exterminated persons. It seems the Serbian officials did not consider victims of Jewish origin worth mentioning.
Rumor has it that the Csurog Serbs were the loudest members of the deputation that asked for Tito's consent for the liquidation of the Hungarians of their village. This was a reprisal for the Serbian losses in 1942. They were granted the ultimate permission to carry out this intention.
The invasion of Russian troops and Serbian partisans was celebrated on October 23rd. On that same date, the planned genocide of the Hungarians also began. Grown men were shot dead without discrimination, most often in their homes. They killed people by a blow on the back of the head with a pestle picked up in the kitchen; they saved their bullets. These men were then loaded on carts by Hungarians who were to be executed later and buried in the carrion pit.
There was one kind of distinction made between Hungarians. Those who they thought had something to answer for were annihilated in special ways. As a cruel example, a married couple, who had not let their daughter marry a Serbian youth in 1943, can provide a model. The parents were bound together, fastened to the harness of a team of horses and dragged at a gallop up and down the village until their legs almost worn away to the knee at death.
Those who were not killed on the spot were locked in the storeroom of the Village Hall, in the school across the road, and in the nearby granary. Every night for three or four weeks, people were called one by one from a list, never to come back again. Their bodies were mostly taken to the Tisza or to one of the mass graves at the carrion pit of the village. The mass graves have not been investigated, since there remained no Hungarian population in the village who would be ready to remember and mourn.
About two thousand Hungarians were executed in the village, while the rest, mostly women and children, were taken to a camp
in Jarek or to the more distant Gajdobra (in Hungarian Szepliget), an ethnic German village turned into a concentration camp.
Those young people who obeyed the summons, could consider themselves fortunate when they enlisted in the Petofi Brigade. But later, it occurred to the organizer that the 65 would-be recruits were not worthy of fighting against the German. They also ended up in Gajdobra suffering torments and privation.
Let us take a glance at the black pages of Hungarian history with the help of a letter written by a 53 year old Hungarian physician:
"I was born in 1937 in Csurog and lived there until 1944. I cannot remember the exact dates now, nor have I anyone to ask since my father died ten years ago. Although these tragedies still affect the whole family, we were unable to mention or talk about it until now.
My father's parents were executed in 1944, in their own home in Csurog. Their names were Istvan Balogh and Julianna Peter. The story of their execution could be told by my cousins.
My father's brother, Pal Balogh, was killed brutally. I remember my parents saying that it was announced in the village that the executions would be the following day in front of the Village Hall. The relatives who wanted to watch it could go. The sons of my uncle live in Telecska and have a lot to say about this. My aunt died last year. My mother's brother, Istvan Szerda was also executed brutally. On a cold wintry day in 1944, four or five armed men burst into our house and shouted at my mother (father was not at home, he was a soldier) that we should within three minutes go out to the street. There were four of us children, my brother a babe in arms and I, the oldest was six years old. We were put on cattle-trucks the same night. I can remember a long line of people standing in the street, all of them Hungarians. Then we were transported to the camp in Jarek.
We spent, if I remember correctly, nine months in the camp at Jarek. My mother said more than half of the people died; people dropped like flies. The dead were carried to a carrion pit on a cart. The only food we were given was hominy unsalted. Since there was no soap and water, lice were feeding on us. We survived due to the help of our aunt, who would secretly leave the camp at night to steal some carrots or potatoes from the fields.
When we were able to leave the camp, we looked so bad that those in Auschwitz were fat compared to us. We were skeletons standing there in rags, when we were told we could go anywhere except home. There were already people from the mountains of Montenegro or Bosnia living in our house."
The partisan movement could not be stopped by the early Hungarian military actions. The counter-espionage organisation was still looking for the remaining or, newly infiltrated partisans and their supporters. On one occasion, after a long investigation, the gendarmerie collected about twenty people, including the Orthodox priest, whose son had escaped, after arousing some suspicion. The Serb suspects were sentenced to death by the summary court.
The Roman Catholic Priest, Balint Dupp, appeared before the court and the firing squad saying that they should not punish the father for his son's behavior, wich would be a fatal personal and political mistake. "If you execute him, let me be executed too, for there has been friendship between us so far, and the survival of Hungarian Catholics is at stake..."
The priest's act caused several hours of confusion within the military justice. There were supporting telephone calls. The Catholic congregation flocked around their priest, and they had the support of the Orthodox population, but it was all in vain. While Dupp was away at the county court in Zsablya for further negotiations and ironed out an agreement with Gyula Hazai, the High Sheriff all twenty convicts were executed in Csurog. It is said that a possible prelude to the Orthodox priest's execution, and a cause of the later vendetta, was the fact that on the Hungarian troops' arrival in 1941, the daughter of the same priest went to the commanding officer, and while greeting him in Hungarian fired at him with a pistol hidden in her bunch of flowers. The brave and fanatical girl was immediately shot dead by the surrounding soldiers.
In mid-October, 1944, when the partisans and the vengeful villagers started butchering Hungarians, the Orthodox Serbs defended the Catholic priest from arrest and death, remembering his behavior two years before. In the second week of the slaughter, the son of the executed Orthodox priest turned up in Csurog as a Major of the partisans. At once he demanded the Catholic priest's arrest.
He convened the Village Committee for the Liberation of the People, and demanded that the priest should be executed as "an eye for an eye". The more decent Serbs defended Dupp almost day and night for two days, saying that he had been the one to fight for their priest two years before. The Major then grew tired of bargaining and the apparently invincible resistance of the locals, with some military help from Novi Sad, captured the priest and had him taken to the regional center. There, due to his connections, he arranged that the priest was declared a war criminal and carried
back to Csurog with a death sentence. There the major's partisans executed Balint Dupp in front of his church, without even blindfolding him.
It was not his congregation who maintained the memory of Balint Dupp's lamentable death, but some better natured old Orthodox men who were ashamed of the deeds of the Serbian villagers. The partisan commander could not gather any Catholics to watch the sight, since those who were left alive were walking now with scarcely any clothes on to the concentration camp in Jarek to lie starving on the bloody straw swarming with lice, prey to the deadly typhus. There remained only a couple of thousand homeless wretches out of the 3300 Hungarian inhabitants of Csurog. They can no longer be united.
It cannot be regarded as a mistake that the Serbian list of casualties issued in 1946, knew about 72 fewer Serbian martyrs than what the Hungarian Generals and Colonels responsible for the bloodshed were accused of by the Hungarian Chief of the General Staff. (The reason for the Hungarian retaliation was the partisan activity originating from the Banat, which had eleven Hungarian victims: two policemen, seven border guards and two gendarmes.)
The Hungarian court laid charge to 653 Serbian victims, while the Serbian indictment referred to only 581 victims. The extent and ferocity of the retaliation was not diminished by this numerical difference.
The retaliation against the Hungarians started as soon as the Russian troops and the partisans arrived. They began gathering the Hungarians, most of whom were immediately executed on the spot in the most savage and ferocious of ways. Many of the more well-to-do Hungarians, whom the Serbs disliked, were drowned in the filth of the latrine. Others were beaten, whipped to death, and many of the real or imagined adversaries of the Serbians had their finger nails torn off first. Some victims were dragged to a smithy and burnt with a hot iron. The passion for burning and singeing naked sex organs increased the partisans thirst for inflicting more pain and passing the intervening time by literally destroying the captives piece by piece.
Some of the partisans lost their patience, gave up the pleasures of torture by burning, and flogged the backs of naked Hungarian men until their skin came off in strips. Those who died during torture were buried in the carrion pit.
A father had eight sons executed. The father was killed first, and his sons had to accompany him to the execution in parade step. His youngest son, thirteen years old, refused to march. Though beaten savagely by the murderers, the teenage boy held out and did not do the parade step in spite of the beating. All his brothers were executed one by one. When he was led to his own execution, he spit at his guards, who cruelly knocked out his teeth in turn before killing him.
Istvan Mate, a Store owner (born 1911), who escaped in a miraculous way, recalls those weeks:
"I was living in Zsablya in October, 1944. The partisans invaded the village at 4 p.m.. Peter Fekete, a farm worker with seven children, was caught and hanged on a mulberry tree in front of the Village Hall, and left there for three days to the horror of the public. The partisans wrongfully blamed him for collaborating with the gendarmerie.
I was arrested the same day as Peter Fekete. I was locked up in the village jail. Every day twenty to thirty people were pushed into the room. They were always questioned and tortured at night. Peter Fekete's brother was tortured savagely; he died in jail. He said his brother's testicles had been pulled back with a piece of wire and smashed with a hammer. We took the dead bodies to the cemetery on carts. I had to dig graves, which were 8 meters long, 4 meters wide and more than 2 meters deep. Fourteen cartloads of corpse, that is 150 people, were buried in each of these pits. On the way out, I had to lay on the corpse lest I should get shot. There were thirteen or fourteen year old students among the corpse. The victims were made to undress first and were then executed with machine guns. I recognized Andras Magyar gendarme, Vida Borcsok inn-keeper, Andras Csirpak, a disabled soldier, High Sheriff Bela Bukovary, Peter Kutri, Jozsef Borcsok and Janos Borcsok among the corpse; they had all been judges or members of the jury. I know about five mass graves in Zsablya."
The following is an account of Mrs. Terez Gregus:
"My younger brother, Bandi, was taken away on Sunday and was executed in the yard of the Village Hall. The Feketes were executed at the same time, father and sons, in the order of their ages; Janos, Sandor, Feri and all the younger ones too. All the male members of the Bun and Gosztonyi family, and old Teca
Hagymas. She had been outspoken all her life, and kept talking back to them insolently:
"Shoot in my ass", she turned her backside towards them; she was shot in the head.
Terus Kelemen and an other woman was also executed then.
Mihaly, my husband, managed to hide on the farm. One night he came for me: "Let us flee to Novi Sad". We hid there till spring; this was not without danger. My parents were taken to the Jarek camp in January."
Those few who were left alive were driven to Backi Jarek on January 23, 1945. Their homes and all other properties were confiscated; they could only take their clothes with them. Those who had a horse or a cart were allowed to go to Jarek by cart, but once there, their horses and carts were taken from them. There was much starving and torment in the transit camp too. Many died of hunger, others of epidemics. An old German internee was given the job of picking up the dead every morning with a wheelbarrow. He collected and buried about twenty or thirty dead bodies each day.
The guards were very cruel. In the middle of winter, the internees were forced to walk from Jarek to Gojdobra in the severest cold. One of the women was from Martonos originally, and was moved to Zsablya well after the raid in 1943. Her husband was immediately executed, while she was interned along with her ten month old daughter. They were poorly dressed, she had to walk from Jarek to Gajdobra in the coldest weather. At one point, the baby's scarf fell off her head. The cruel and bloodthirsty partisan who was escorting them did not let the mother pick up the child's scarf, saying, "She does not need it, at least she'll croak sooner".
According to reliable estimates, at least 2000 of the Hungarian population of Zsablya died, most of them were executed in their village, but many died of starvation or contagious diseases in camps.
To the Punter Districts belong, besides the already mentioned Csurog and Zsablya, Sajkasgyorgye (Gyurgyevo). Sajkaslak (Lok), Dunagardony (Gardinovce), Sajkasszentivan (Sajkos), Tiszakalmanfalva (Budisava), Tunderes (Vilovo), Mozsor
(Mosorin), and the "capital" or "capital village", Titel. These villages have been privileged since the Turks reached the Danube. The Punter Organization was born around the time when the Turks came to our frontiers. After they had been driven away. the Punter Soldiers relocated their quarters for the defence of the frontier Pozsony and Komarom to the Punter District of Titel, functioning up to the end of the 18th century. After the expulsion of the Turks, there was a Serbian majority among the punters. Some of their privileges, which were the pride of the swift boatmen, remained intact.
Puntership is much older than infantry; it preserved far more features of ancient Hungarian warfare. The Danube did not allow the use of large warships. Instead, the small boat (sajka-punt) ) was used for defence, transport and even offensive operations during the Turkish wars. The institution, whatever the crew working within it, kept its Hungarian character.
Navigation had demanded special knowledge. It wanted only professional soldiers and professional boatmen. Chiefs had been elected from among the crew. The private soldier, if he distinguished himself, became a corporal and a nobleman. The best corporals then became chieftains.
The treasury paid the Punters by the year. They had a number of privileges. With the advent of modern warfare the importance of the Punter Force disappeared, but the spirit of these fearless fighters of the rivers lived on. This inherited self-confidence has remained prevalent in the neighborhood of Titel up to our time. The Hungarian military authorities, as well as Tito, should have taken this to account in the vendetta, when they roused and unleashed the punters' anger.
The subsequent investigation by Hungarian military authorities failed to recognize the consequences of the raid affecting Sajkasgyongye. Whether there were partisans here in 1942, it would be hard to say today. What is certain knowing the nature of the organising methods of the partisans, they could have had supporters. Did they deserve sanctions for that? Maybe. The 1946 report from Novi Sad records two hundred and forty-four Serbian and Rusyn victims. Almost half of the four thousand and five hundred people living there were Rusyns.
The majority of the 300 Hungarians, when sensing the desire for revenge , left Gyurgyevo on the heels of the retreating Hungarian forces.
For lack of Hungarians to take revenge on, the Serbians vented their anger on the Rusyn population. This was due to the fact that, having had no contact with the partisans during the raid, they had hardly suffered any losses.
They had been fair to the Hungarian authorities from the beginning, a fairness which the later returned. The partisans, besides massacring the few Hungarians who did not leave, they behaved as cruelly to the Rusyns as if the later were Hungarians. They executed the headmaster, Marvojlovics, because he spoke Hungarian and supported the idea that besides knowing the conversational language, children in his classes should learn Hungarian. They cruelly tortured the Greek Catholic priest Michael Boszormenyi. He was shoed like a horse and driven to Novi Sad barefoot in that pathetic condition, only to be executed after further cruel tortures.
In 1944 several hundred Rusyns fell victim to the partisans in this way as a consequence of the 1942 raid which they had nothing to do with. The reprisal did nor spare those who showed the slightest sympathy with the Hungarians or those who expected the Serbian Royal Government, with its seat in far-off London, to return.
Also doomed to die was an aged woman, Kata Babe, who operated a small boarding house. In 1943, she received an order from a Serbian youth to poison, on "superior orders", the two young instructors staying in her house. He even left some poison with her. These two teachers had gained considerable popularity by their humane methods in the Serbian classes, even with Serbian parents.
Kata Babe accepted the poison but did not put it in their food, because she was fond of them. She was afraid of the consequences and did not want to be a murderer. This lad, now an ardent partisan, personally shot and killed the disobedient Serbian woman.
|Tibor Cseres: Serbian Vendetta in Bacska|