My instinctive reply to Zsolt’s outburst was simple. “That’s a unique way to start a conversation Zsolt.” “Yeah, well it’s true. Nazi scumbags”.
I always like to seize an initiative when I sense an opportunity. “I tak
e it you’re Jewish and your family history suffered many years ago?” Zsolt replied, “Hell no! I’m church, Lutheran born and bred. Jewish?” I felt embarrassed. I was about to apologise before Zsolt continued. “Ah. Oh. Sorry. Nazi bastards. Sorry. Maybe I should explain”. “Please do…”, I replied. Zsolt went into detail.
“After the first war our identity was degraded, our soul was destroyed.
“But my country has been through changes many times over many centuries. This was not the first time, this was not unique. Because we knew that, we knew we would survive. Somehow. But this time it was different. Before the start of the First World War we had discovered technologies that made killing easier. Bombs. Bullets. Planes. Gasses. And that technology was evolving every day. And now we were now stuck, stuck as a country robbed of its assets, robbed of its identity. We were easy pickings and natural targets for the despots who emerged after that war, Hitler and Stalin. They both saw my country as their own battleground for their own world domination. So when the Nazis marched in they took over our people. ‘Join us or die’. If you didn’t then the Nazi puppets, the Arrow Cross, would come and ask you why. And ‘you’ could be anyone. Peasants. Land owners. The ones without either, the Kulak, or the ones with most, the barony and the noblemen. My family were noblemen with an established wine making industry. An industry going back to the seventeen hundreds”.
Zsolt lifted his glass and drank. So did I. He continued.
“No, we did what the Nazis asked and we kept any remaining dignity we had by supplying our wine to the Nazi war machine. Because our choice was simple. Obey or wake up in a forced labour camp. Better known as Auschwitz. We obeyed, we survived.
“But things changed after the Nazis short lived stay in my country, after they were driven out by Stalin and his war machine. But any freedom in 1945 was short lived. Once Stalin had taken control of our parliament through any corrupt means available, please realise by this time the Arrow Cross thugs had simply switched sides to continue their thuggery, our remaining world began to disintegrate. The Soviets needed land for food. Our land. Our land for food, not wine. We had no choice. We obeyed because we did not want the Gulag. Few returned from the Gulag. Anyone that did was a broken worthless soul that fellow Hungarians would try to help but only if they had the stretched means and resources to do that”.
Even in full flow Zsolt always found time for some of his wine. Half a glass later he went on.
“1947 the communist minister Laszlo Rajk ran a campaign of terror that abused every rule of democracy and swept himself to power. His action suspended Hungarian democracy for the next forty years.”
Zsolt’s tone was now one of pain and remorse. I also realised that Zsolt had not even been born into the then hateful world that had engulfed Hungary.
“Any opposition leaders were driven abroad or put in jail. Then the abolition of private property began. Our vineyards were turned over. We were told what to grow. We were told what to hand over and what we could keep, that being one third of the products from the land available. That changed over time, eventually ending in little to feed ourselves with whilst trying to grow things like rice and cotton, these having never been indigenous to Hungary. That failed and we went even hungrier. And so time saw us lose everything. Except, of course, our reparations. A tiny council house when the Soviets left in 1990.
“But there was one thing the Soviets and the Nazis overlooked, everyone overlooked it in fact, and that was our intelligence and our ability to survive.
“You see we had managed to retain one thing no one else could ever have done, the recipe and knowledge to create our vintage Hungarian wine. Bock. A family heirloom that had survived. Eventually time healed and we started to grow and produce our wine again. We regained some of the wealth stolen from us by the demons of those dark, dark days. I leave you with those thoughts now sir”.