Into the Darkness : Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest

Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War 

by Lothrop Stoddard

Stoddard

1940

 

Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest

The best night train in Germany rolled into the Friedrichstrasse Station. At least, it ought to be the best, because it’s the only all­ sleeping­ car train in the Fatherland, and it runs between Berlin and Vienna, the two metropolitan cities of the Third Reich.

It was three days before Christmas. I had been warned that the holiday traffic would be heavy, so I had engaged my berth nearly a fortnight in advance. I had also been positively assured when I bought my ticket that there would be a dining­ car on that de luxe train, so I had eaten nothing since lunch. As meals in Germany don’t stand by you very well these days, I was good and hungry.

The best night train in Germany was half an hour late, though it was made up in the Berlin yards and had stopped at only two stations before reaching mine. Meanwhile I had stood on the darkened platform and watched the crowds storming the outgoing trains. Never before had I realized so fully the shortage of Germany’s rolling­ stock. The railway authorities were quite incapable of handling the holiday traffic. When the day ­coach section to Vienna ahead of mine arrived, it was like an aggravated subway rush. The coaches, already well­ filled from previous stations, were jammed to overflowing. I pitied that close­ packed mass of humanity, condemned to stand up all night, and thanked my lucky stars that my train took only those whose passages were booked.

At length I climbed aboard my sleeper, found my compartment, deposited my hand luggage, and sought the porter to ask my way to the diner. He shook his head sadly.

There isn’t any on tonight, sir,” he answered.

What?” I stormed. “But they assured me!

I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have a diner aboard.

Well, then,” I said, clinging to a last hope, “haven’t you anything in your buffet?

Nothing to eat, sir; only beer and liquors.

Well, what can I do?” I asked in desperation.

There’s one more stop in Berlin, sir. You may be able to get something on the platform if you’re quick.

The train was just drawing into that station, so I dashed down the steps and made for the dimly lighted little buffet. Only packaged goods to be seen! I bought two small boxes of crackers and made a flying leap for the train which was about to get under way. Those crackers, washed down with two bottles of beer, constituted my dinner.

A traveler must needs be somewhat of a philosopher, so I proceeded to look on the bright side. My car was relatively new, my compartment comfortable and clean, while hunger is a good sauce even for crackers. Midway in my reflections I was disturbed by raucous voices in the corridor. I opened the door and found several angry men and women gesticulating with the conductor. I presently gathered that one of the sleeping cars had broken down when the train was made up and had not been replaced; so some thirty passengers with perfectly good tickets had no place to sleep. This reconciled me to my lost dinner like nothing else.

I turned in early; the bed was excellent and the car well sprung; I slept long and well. There is an old saying that he who sleeps dines, but I disproved it when I awoke from my slumbers next morning hungry as a wolf. The best night train in Germany was over two hours late, so I knew I would miss my connection for Budapest. That, however, was a minor detail beside the question of food. Rather hopelessly, I asked the porter.

Oh, yes, sir,” he answered brightly.

We switched one on early this morning. Last car in the rear.

Electrified, I lightly trod a long series of cars until I reached the diner. Of course, I knew in advance that I would get nothing more than rolls, butter, and imitation coffee. Still, after two months in Germany, that didn’t faze me. Blithely I took out my food ­cards; and, since I was a bit ahead of the game, I recklessly tore off a double allowance of butter. About this time the waiter came up. He looked at my pile of coupons and shook his head.

Sorry, sir,” he announced, “but we have no butter ­ and no rolls either; just sliced bread.

All right,” I sighed, “bring me some honey or a bit of jam.

Sorry, sir,” came the reply, “you’re a bit late, so the honey and jam are also out.

My famous breakfast thus whittled down to three slices of dry bread dipped in the Ersatz mixture which German wits have dubbed West­ Wall Coffee because it is “untakeable“! The best night train in Germany pulled into Vienna nearly three hours late. I had a seven ­hour lay­over before the next train for Budapest, Hungary, left at six o’clock that evening. The day was cold and foggy, and I was cold and hungry. I knew Vienna well of old, and had been there a short time before, so I took a long walk to get a bit of exercise and finally dropped into a little place I remembered to get an early lunch.

An hour before train ­time I ambled over to the station. That was certainly a good hunch, as events were to prove! First of all, I had to deposit my Reichsmarks before leaving Germany; and that took some time because I had to wait in line. The real trouble, however, developed when I turned in my ticket at the gate. In the waiting­ room beyond, I glimpsed a tight­ packed crowd of people.

What’s the matter?” I asked the ticket­ taker.

Passport control,” he answered shortly.

But I thought that was done at the frontier,” I said in dismay.

It’s done this way here,” he barked. “Move on! Don’t block the gate.

With a bag in one hand and my typewriter in the other, I charged the rear of that crowd and wormed my way into the press. Craning my neck, I glimpsed two officials examining passports behind a long table. Just two of them to handle that mob! And how leisurely they were about it! Slowly they scanned each passport thrust into their faces by frenzied hands, making copious notes and asking questions from time to time. Dismayed at this deliberation, I glanced at the station clock and saw it was a quarter before six. Gradually I forged to the front, and one of the officials took my passport, scanned it, and gave it his O.K. With four minutes to spare, I hastened to the train and found a compartment. Leaning out of the window, I hailed the conductor.

How long will the train be delayed for all those folks back there in the control room?” I queried.

He looked at me severely. “We leave at six sharp,” was his crisp reply.

Sure enough, on the hour, he blew his whistle and the train started, with unfortunates running vainly down the platform in its wake. I hate to think of the number left behind, forced to spend a night in a strange town, perhaps with insufficient funds, and very likely with families anxiously wondering what had happened to them, since no private telegrams can be sent across the border.

This train was fast and kept to schedule. It is only about fifty miles from Vienna to the Hungarian frontier, and the interval was occupied by inspections from various officials examining your luggage, checking up on your money, and giving your passport the once­ over a second time.

Until we reached the border, of course, the windows were kept tightly curtained. Then the train stopped, started, stopped once more. Cautiously I peeked past a corner of the curtain. We were in a brilliantly lighted station bearing the big neon sign Hegyeshalom. On the platform stood policemen and railway officials in strange uniforms. Through the uncurtained windows of the station I could see a restaurant with counters laden with foodstuffs. I was in Hungary ­ a land of peace and plenty! Standing up in my compartment, I gave three loud Ellyens! Which is Magyar for Hooray! To enter Hungary from wartime Germany is literally to pass from darkness into light. The sense of this grew upon me with every kilometer the train made toward Budapest, the Hungarian capital.

First and foremost, a meal in the dining car which, accustomed as I had become to German fare, seemed a dinner fit for the gods: a big basket heaped with crisp, all ­wheat bread, butter ad lib., a meat entree with sour­ cream gravy, and so on down to a cup of good strong coffee. Such viands may not sound startling to American readers ­ but just you live a couple of months in wartime Germany, and you’ll understand.

Another wonder was the approach to Budapest ­ a great city twinkling and sparkling with lights. To one fresh from blacked­ out Germany, it seemed like fairyland. Then the taxi drive through brilliantly ­illuminated streets thronged with Christmas shoppers lingering before windows filled with tempting displays ­ it seemed just too good to be true. A sound night’s rest in an excellent hotel, followed by a breakfast memorable for such unheard­ of delicacies as orange ­juice, eggs, and coffee with whipped cream completed my sense of liberation.

At first sight, therefore, neutral Hungary seemed as peaceful and normal as America. But of course I realized that Hungary does not enjoy our blessed isolation, set as it is squarely in the midst of war ­torn Europe. How far had its everyday life been affected by the storm raging just beyond its borders, and what were its prospects for the near future? Those were the two questions I set out to investigate as I sallied forth from my hotel next morning and walked down a majestic promenade beside the broad river Danube to keep my first appointment.

I was glad to be in Hungary, not merely to get a vacation but also for professional reasons. Hungary is the key nation in the whole Central European small ­state constellation, while Budapest is an ideal vantage­ point from which to survey the entire mid­ European situation, including both Germany and Italy. Since Hungary is neutral, you can meet all sorts of foreigners, including both sets of belligerents, and get their respective points of view.

During my ten days’ stay I met and talked with a considerable number of important personalities, Hungarian and foreign, including the Prime Minister, Count Teleky; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Csaky; ex­Premier Bethlen; Tibor Eckhard, an important Parliamentary leader; and other men prominent in Hungarian national life. Count Csaky was the only one among those mentioned whom I had not known in former days, and since the Magyars are warmhearted folk who have the knack of easily resuming interrupted friendships, it was pleasant as well as rewarding.

One of the most charming qualities of the Magyars is their informality. This applies to all classes, and is due mainly to the fact that the whole spirit of the country is profoundly aristocratic. The Magyars consider themselves to be a master­ race, innately superior to their Balkan neighbors. This may not be so agreeable for the neighbors, but it does promote good social relations and national solidarity among themselves, and is pleasant for foreign visitors. I never saw a Magyar with an inferiority complex. Nobleman or taxi driver, they respect themselves and one another, with neither condescension nor servility. That is one advantage of an aristocratic society, where each one knows just where he stands in the social scale. Hungary is thus almost exempt from those plagues of other lands ­ the vulgar ostentation of plutocrats and the ostentatious vulgarity of proletarians.

The apex of the Hungarian social pyramid is the aristocracy. It is a real aristocracy, and it effectively runs the country. This ruling class is not confined to the titled nobility; it includes likewise the very numerous gentry. Those two groups have a strong sense of mutual cohesion, best exemplified by the way they habitually address one another in the familiar second­ person singular ­ the Magyar equivalent of the German Du.

Though Hungary was outwardly normal, I found it inwardly nervous, as was natural when one considers its ticklish international situation. All the personalities with whom I conferred chatted freely but asked me not to quote them directly.

One thing they all agreed on ­ the Magyars are thoroughly at peace among themselves. Imminent dangers from abroad have united an instinctively patriotic people. Domestic politics stand adjourned, and the existing Government appears to have not only popular support but also popular confidence in its ability to guide the nation safely and to further its best interests. Although the Hungarian army was on a war­ footing while I was there, there had been no general mobilization. In the capital itself I saw relatively few soldiers. The bulk of the troops were massed to the north and east, along the most immediately­ threatened frontiers. This absence of soldiers from the capital was, in itself, strong evidence of the domestic calm which prevails. Everyone assured me that the local Nazi movement, formerly so strong as to be dangerous, had greatly lessened since the beginning of the war, and that its leaders were discredited.

Hungary is an agricultural country, producing in abundance all the staple foodstuffs with large surpluses for export. Imported foodstuffs, however, were becoming scarce. This was chiefly due to foreign exchange difficulties. The Hungarian currency was still steady, but wartime expenses were a heavy burden on the treasury, and a prudent Government was taking no chances. So imports of all kinds were being curtailed. This hit the average citizen in such matters as coffee and clothing. The Hungarians are great coffee­ drinkers, and any sudden deprivation of this cherished beverage would be keenly felt. The Government was therefore rationing coffee in indirect ways, chiefly by putting on a stiff war ­tax and limiting sales. When I was there, you could get a cup of coffee, but at twice the former price. The Government had likewise forbidden the importation or manufacture of pure wool cloth. This, however, hit only the richer people who could afford all­ wool clothing.

The re­-exportation of imported articles was forbidden, and this ban was strictly enforced. People told me gleefully about one recent instance. It seems that a group of visiting German business men loaded themselves down with all sorts of things forbidden in the Fatherland, from Brazilian coffee to American shaving creams and toothpastes. At the border, the Hungarian customs officials spotted the loot and promptly confiscated it! This little incident brings up one of the burning questions which agitate the Hungarian people ­ their relations with Germany. In normal times, the economic ties between Hungary and the Reich are not only close but mutually beneficial. Germany, especially since the annexation of adjacent Austria, offers the best natural market for Hungarian foodstuffs and other raw materials, while Germany is able to supply Hungary with manufactured articles on unusually favorable terms.

But today, conditions are not normal. German industry has been so disrupted by the war that it can no longer supply Hungary with the quantity and quality of manufactured goods desired along many lines. On the other hand, German needs for Hungarian produce grows by leaps and bounds. This wide gap between demand and supply has caused growing economic tension between the two nations, with important political implications. The Hungarians have no intention of allowing themselves to fall wholly into Germany’s economic sphere. They know that, should this happen, they would soon be sucked dry by wartime Germany’s pressing economic needs, with no commensurate benefit to themselves. That is what has happened to the German protectorate of Bohemia ­Moravia, and what may happen with Slovakia. The canny Magyars do not want to follow suit.

However, Hungary is in no position to take too stiff an attitude towards its giant neighbor. So long as Germany can obtain considerable quantities of food and industrial raw materials from Hungary under existing arrangements, it is to the interest of the Germans to have Hungary remain neutral and peaceful. The more normal Hungarian life is, the better its economic system will function and the more it will produce. But Germany demands a large share of the resultant surplus, even though the Reich cannot momentarily pay for it by a full exchange of goods. The Hungarians know that they must meet the Germans halfway or risk most unpleasant consequences. So they continue to sell largely to the Reich, despite the fact that it means a further increase of German debit balances. They feel that a disguised tribute is worth the price, so long as it is kept within bounds. As one Hungarian statesman remarked to me candidly:

We know it means piling up more blocked Marks; but ­ better get Marks than soldiers!

None of the Hungarians I talked to seemed to me pro­ German. But neither did any of them sound pro­ Ally. England was strongly criticized for the way she was even then holding up goods destined for Hungary on ships stopped by the British naval blockade. They all wanted to keep out of the war if it were humanly possible, and expressed no strong ideological preferences. Mainly, they thought the outcome of the war highly uncertain, with complete victory unlikely for either Germany or the Allies.

One eminent personage ­ remember I am under obligation to give no obvious clues as to identity ­ expressed this viewpoint as follows:

The chances are that the military stalemate in the West indicates that this war will end in a draw. But such a peace may be only a truce, followed by another war in the not­ distant future. It may be twenty or thirty years before our poor old continent can find a genuine settlement. There are so many problems to be solved ­ for instance, the problem of Russia, which has recently become even more complicated. Britain does not seem to realize that eighty million Germans in the heart of Europe must be given some hope of an adequate future. Until they get it, they will make continual trouble, even though the Allies win the war and Germany is carved up.

The greatest ultimate danger in this war, should it be unduly prolonged, is the degradation of the German standard of living to the full Russian level. In that case, we might see those two peoples really get together permanently ­ which would be a frightful danger for Western civilization. But few Englishmen visualize this, and even fewer Frenchmen. The French, in particular, seem to want to ‘finish up Germany’ ­ which is, of course, impossible.

The only prominent person I talked with who thought an Allied victory almost certain was equally pessimistic about the ultimate consequences. The reason for his pessimism was that he thought the Germans would hold out so long that victors and vanquished alike would be ruined and sink into common anarchy.

Another political leader gave me some interesting sidelights on Hitler and his foreign policy. This man had first become acquainted with the future Fuehrer at the very start of his political career. Hitler at that time appeared to my informant to be a fanatically intense, simple­minded man, limited in education and outlook. His chief criticism of Hitler was that, though the Fuehrer has since learned the technique of politics to a marvelous degree, he has not acquired a commensurate understanding of the larger aspects of what he does. According to my informant, Hitler made his great mistake when he got his agreement with Stalin, and then invaded Poland. If he had used the Russian agreement as an instrument of diplomatic pressure, the Poles would soon have had to do everything Hitler wanted, and there need have been no war.

What interests Hungarians most intensely in the field of foreign affairs is their relations with their Central European neighbors. In the peace treaties which followed the Great War, Hungary lost large slices of territory to Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, and Rumania; and of the inhabitants of those lost lands at least 3,000,000 were Magyars. To get back the lost blood­ brothers has been the absorbing passion of this supremely patriotic folk. They did so in large part, as far as their claims against Czechoslovakia were concerned, when that country was conquered by the Germans and Hungary was awarded a share. Hungary has, for the time being, soft ­pedaled claims against Jugoslavia, because both countries now want peace in Central Europe for various reasons.  Hungary’s chief goal is to recover the Magyars of mountainous Transylvania, which she lost to Rumania. That remains a burning issue in all Magyar hearts. One of the most powerful organizations in Hungary today is the Revisionist League, staffed entirely by Transylvanian exiles who work continually to bring about the reunion of at least 1,500,000 Magyars with their homeland. I conferred at length on this question with Dr. Andre Fall, the head of the League, and his colleagues.

There can be no doubt that Hungary would go to any lengths in order to recover Transylvania, if the opportunity ever presents itself, and its statesmen watch with lynx eyes each move on the diplomatic chessboard with this in mind. However, for the moment, they feel that this issue must be subordinated to the general situation, especially the danger from Russia which, they believe, menaces not only Hungary but the rest of the small nations of Central Europe, including Rumania itself.

It is the specter of Russia which haunts Hungarian minds. I could seldom talk politics in Budapest without having that grim topic bob up. Most Hungarians believe that Stalin has his eyes on Central Europe and plans to strike for its domination. Some think the attack will come soon. And it is generally agreed that such a Russian onslaught would set all Central Europe in flames.

Fear of Russia is nothing new for the Magyars. Before the Great War, Czarist Russia set itself up as the Big Brother to the Slav peoples of Central Europe and the Balkans, and the ultimate goal of that policy was a great “Pan­ Slav” federation with Russia as its natural head. But that would have spelled the destruction of Hungary. The Magyar race, brave, energetic, but not very numerous, stands midway down the Danube valley, thereby separating the Slavs of the north and east from those to the west and south. Should the Pan ­Slav ideal ever be realized, the Magyars would be practically obliterated.

When Russia went Bolshevik during the Great War, Pan ­Slavism gave place to the Communist policy of World Revolution. That, however, didn’t end the feud between Russians and Magyars. Indeed, war­ torn Hungary was presently overrun by Bolshevik agents who put over a local Communist revolution headed by the notorious Bela Kun. This Communist regime was soon overthrown by Admiral Horthy who formed a conservative government that has ruled Hungary ever since. That was a body­ blow to Soviet Russia which has never been forgotten. Moscow regards conservative Hungary and its aristocratic rulers as a bulwark of reaction, and would like nothing better than to encompass its overthrow.

So long as Russia was shut away from Central Europe by a strong Polish buffer state, Hungary had little to fear from Moscow. But the partition of Poland between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany at the beginning of the present war gave the Soviets a common frontier with Hungary. This was an ominous change for the Magyars. To be sure, the new frontier ran along the crest of the rugged Carpathian Mountains, and was thus easy to defend. But further eastward the Carpathians become Rumanian. There we touch the thorny question which not only embroils Rumania and Hungary, but prevents them from combining effectively against the Russian peril which menaces them both.

Hungarian leaders with whom I talked admitted that this inability of Hungary and Rumania to pursue a common policy against possible Russian aggression might ultimately be fatal to both of them. But such an understanding was impossible without a prior settlement of the Transylvanian question in a sense favorable to Hungarian aspirations. As one eminent personage frankly put it to me:

No Hungarian Government could openly aid Rumania unless Transylvania were first ceded. The people would tear any statesman to pieces who did that. A benevolent neutrality would be the utmost we could risk.

Russia has had a bone to pick with Rumania ever since the latter seized the province of Bessarabia while Russia was in the throes of revolution. Russia has never reconciled herself to Bessarabia’s loss and would undoubtedly like to get it back again. Some of my Magyar informants did not think that Russia would make war on Rumania merely to recover this province. An invasion of Bessarabia would therefore imply the first step toward the larger goal of Balkan domination.

Few Hungarians thought that Rumania could long defend itself against Russia single ­handed. They had a poor opinion of the Rumanian army and considered the internal situation most unstable. As one personage put it:

Just now, everything in Rumania depends on one man ­ King Carol. Should he disappear, anything might happen.

Furthermore, there seemed good reason for believing that, the instant Russia struck from the east, Bulgaria would strike from the south to recover her lost province of Dobrudja, likewise taken by Rumania as a war prize. Should Rumania collapse suddenly, like Poland, Russian armies might rapidly occupy Transylvania, a natural fortress from which they would dominate the Danube valley.

That is the supreme peril which threatens Hungary. And the Magyars assured me that, to avert that danger, they are ready to fight even against the longest odds. If Russia should stop short with Bessarabia, Hungary might not move. But the instant Russian troops went further, the Hungarian army would strike to occupy Transylvania. At the start, at least, this would spell war against Rumania rather than against Russia. But the Magyars would regard this as a preventive occupation to forestall a Russian invasion. If Hungary should sit still, it would soon be at Russia’s mercy, because its present eastern frontier is an arbitrary line drawn across open country which could not be defended against a powerful opponent.

Should Hungary occupy Transylvania under those circumstances,  imagine the diplomatic tangle which would ensue! Britain and France have given Rumania a guarantee treaty similar to the one they gave Poland. They side stepped Stalin’s occupation of eastern Poland because they didn’t then want to fight Russia. But could they ignore a direct Russian attack upon Rumania? And if they did declare war on Russia, what would they do when Hungary committed an act of war against Rumania ­ in order the better to fight Russia ­ against whom Britain and France had at least technically begun hostilities? At first sight it might look as though Hungary would be courting almost certain destruction to fling itself single ­handed at the Russian colossus. The Magyars, however, feel they would not stand alone. They believe Mussolini could not tolerate Russian domination of the Balkans and Central Europe. Therefore Hungary counts upon Italian aid. Indeed, I was informed from what seemed to be a reliable source that, even then, a large number of Italian planes and pilots were discreetly tucked away “somewhere in Hungary,” ready for eventualities.

If Mussolini did what the Magyars expect him to do, we glimpse another amazing diplomatic tangle. Here we would have Hungary, Italy, Britain, and France, all fighting Russia. What would be the relations of this singular quartette amongst themselves? Remember that Hungary would be also fighting Rumania in defiance of an Anglo­ French guarantee, while Italy would be at least nominally on good terms with Germany, her Axis partner but the Anglo ­French arch­enemy.

Such were the diplomatic and military crossword puzzles with which my Magyar informants were busying themselves, those crisp winter days of my sojourn in Budapest. They were keen analysts, yet, somehow or other, I personally didn’t believe that Stalin was going to put on the big show they were expecting ­ at least, not for some time. The main reason for my skepticism was that I had come straight from Germany. And two months of intensive study and observation there had made me certain of one thing ­ Germany didn’t want to see the war spread to Central Europe and the Balkans. Why not? Because that’s where Germany eats.

Most of the food and a large part of the raw materials which Germany can import overland come from precisely those regions. So long as the nations there are at peace, their economic life is fairly normal, and they thus have large surpluses for the German market. But the instant war breaks out there, exports to Germany stop. And it wouldn’t help the Germans much if their armies overran the whole region, because it would be so devastated in the process that even German efficiency would need a year or two to get things running again as well as they run today.

That being the situation, can we imagine Germany standing by and letting Russia start something which, to the Reich, would be an unmitigated disaster? We know that Berlin and Moscow have a pretty definite understanding. It is almost inconceivable that the German Government cannot exert enough pressure upon Stalin to prevent him from carrying out a policy which, for Germany, might prove fatal.

Those, at any rate, were the arguments I put up to Hungarian friends and acquaintances in the closing days of December, 1939. And, as I write these lines the following spring, they seem to be still valid. That, however, does not mean that Hungary can be sure of maintaining her neutrality, set as she is on the mid­ European crossroads, with all its latent dangers. Small wonder that my Budapest friends tended to be nervous. The longer I tarried in that charming capital, the more I got the feeling that its peaceful and extremely congenial existence might be shattered almost any day.

Yet, for the moment, everyday life ran smoothly, and people made the most of it in the pleasure ­loving Magyar way. On New Year’s Eve, when all Budapest turns out for a grand jollification, I foregathered with newspaper colleagues at their favorite eating­ place to celebrate.

It was an unpretentious place on the outside, but it had an inner room, the walls decorated with Magyar rural scenes done by local artists; enlivened by a gypsy orchestra. And how those Tziganes could play! The Old Year’s final hours passed all too swiftly with good food, fine wine, witty talk, and much jollity. When the midnight hour struck, a chimney sweep appeared with his traditional broom made of small twigs, and each of us broke off a piece for good luck. After him came another man bearing in his arms a sucking pig. To assure good fortune in the coming year, everybody tried to touch the little animal, and if possible to pull its curly tail.

My friends and I then left for a promenade along avenues crowded with revelers, equipped with tin horns and rattles, wearing paper caps over their ordinary headgear, bedecked with badges, and waving streamers mostly in the national colors ­ red, white, and green.

There was plenty of inebriation, but it was all good ­natured. Everyone was having a royal good time, and the weather helped ­ crisp, but not too cold, and with a light powdering of snow which gave just the right seasonal touch.

We ended up in an Espresso Bar. These characteristically Budapest institutions are small coffee shops where the delectable drink is made by driving live steam through pulverized coffee, which is then served in small cups. The process extracts every bit of aroma and makes a beverage strong enough to take your head off. However, it goes well after a big evening. One of our party, a young man from the Revisionist League, apparently needed it; for when we entered the place he announced in stentorian tones that he was a Transylvanian. Whereupon all hands, including the waitresses, applauded loudly and laughingly shouted: Ellyen! New Year’s Eve marked the close as well as the climax to my Budapest interlude. Shortly after noon of New Year’s Day found me in a train­ compartment, Vienna ­bound. I own to a regretful pang as I recrossed the frontier; left behind me gay, friendly, neutral Hungary; and entered war’s shadow once more.

Incidentally, I re­entered Germany equipped with sundry eatables ­ sausages, smoked and spiced; a precious kilo of butter; and a bottle of the best baratsk, apricot brandy, which is a Hungarian specialty. Those luxuries were to help out a bit in Berlin. But, for my immediate needs, I took along several large ham sandwiches.  I wasn’t going to go foodless a second time on “the best night train in Germany,” with which I was to connect that same evening at Vienna. However, the laugh was on me. This time, the famous express had a dining­ car!

 
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Chapter 2: Berlin Blackout
Chapter 3: Getting on with the Job
Chapter 4: Junketing Through Germany
Chapter 5: This Detested War
Chapter 6: Vienna and Bratislava
Chapter 7: Iron Rations
Chapter 8: A Berlin Lady Goes to Market
Chapter 9: The Battle of the Land
Chapter 10: The Labor Front
Chapter 11: The Army of the Spade
Chapter 12: Hitler Youth
Chapter 13: Women of the Third Reich
Chapter 14: Behind the Winter­Help
Chapter 15: Socialized Health
Chapter 16: In a Eugenics Court
Chapter 17: I See Hitler
Chapter 18: Mid­Winter Berlin
Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest
Chapter 20: The Party
Chapter 21: The Totalitarian State
Chapter 22: Closed Doors
Chapter 23: Out of the Shadow
 

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PDF of this post (click to download or view): Into the Darkness – Chap 19
 
 
 
Version History
 
Version 3: Nov 27, 2014 – Added PDF of post.
 
 
 
Version 2: Wed, Feb 5, 2014. Added Chapter links.
Version 1: Published Feb 1, 2014.
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