Jenő Ivánfi

* 1929

  • Jenő Ivánfi (JI): "I used to smoke a lot those days. So, I went out to smoke in the corridor, the others followed me, too--a lot of people stood on foot in the corridor. A man with a hat and in a green coat, which was typical of those years, because, in fact, factories distributed it among workers, stood near to me. I: "In a coat, yes." JI: "He leant over and asked, 'Do you need a guide?'. I thought it over. I examined the man, and finally I said: 'Look, I have to discuss it with my friends because I’m not alone, but we may accept your help'. Then, I joined my friends, one step, two steps apart, I said them: 'Listen boys, there is a man here who has offered to guide us across the border. What do you think about it?' Each of them agreed to it, they said: 'We certainly need him because we don’t know the region'. 'Listen,' I said. 'I’m going back to him, and if I find him sympathetic, and if I find plausible what he promises, I accept his offer and I come back to you. If I don’t, I won’t accept it.' I wanted to control two things. The first is whether he was looking into my eyes when he spoke to me, and the second is what his handshake was like: whether his palm was dry and whether he shook my hand sturdily. Not in such a way.… I: "Yes." JI: "It is terrible. Well, I returned to him and said: 'Sir, we would like to know first of all how you think to manage it'. I: "That is to say, what was his plans.' JI: "Yes, about his plans. He answered: 'Listen, tomorrow morning you should come to Bucsu by train or by bus from Szombathely'. It was a village there, a very small village, nevertheless it used to have a railway station. 'You should get off the bus, go along the main street as far as you arrive to the last house of the village, where on your right you will see a cross of stone, it signs the beginning of the village…” I: "Or the end of it." JI: Yes. 'You will see a big rural building with granary and with a large gate in front of the cross. Knock at the gate! Two dogs will run out barking heavily, but also the keeper will arrive after them. He will ask: "Who is there?” You should only say that uncle János sent you there. He will open the gate, let you in. He will close the gate again and will tell you where you can wait for me. At noon, when the bells toll, I’m arriving and we leave for the border.” ' I trusted him; I accepted his plans. I informed my friends, and we all agreed that we accept him as our guide, that man.”

  • Jenő Ivánfi (JI): "We knocked at the gate, the dogs ran out. Also, the housekeeper arrived. We said what we had been told to say: 'Uncle János sent us'. He opened the gate, let us in, he closed the big gate and said: 'Follow me to the granary!' He led us to the granary. All of us had a briefcase, nothing else. A towel, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, other stuff like that, a big portion of speck with red pepper packed carefully, and we went to the granary, the four of us. There was a big cart in the granary, without shaft… a sort of wain." Interviewer (I): "Was there anybody else?" JI: "No, nobody. Only the family." I: "Yes." JI: "But, they didn’t come out. Only the man came out. We could see only him. He said: 'I must ask you to lie down in this wain.' Stalks of turnsole and of corn covered its bottom. He made us to lie down on it one beside the other, and finally he covered us with the stalks, too. Well, we put a handkerchief on our face in order that we could take a breath and we could look at our watches. So, we lay down and we spoke to each other quietly, whispering in the wain. We heard the bells. 'Finally', we said, 'we will be released soon. Uncle János is coming, it is noon. Don’t move!' One, two, three, four hours passed, it was getting dark. Uncle János was nowhere. Instead…." I: "But you could at least chat in the meantime." JI: "Yes, sure, but we were very close to each other: two of us on the bottom of the wain, and two of us against the two sides of the wain. The keeper came, he pulled the stalks off and said: 'Get off the cart! The night raid comes when it is growing dark, and they, the soldiers, push their bayonettes into the stacks. So, I have to see you across the tussocky to the tziganes'."

  • Jenő Ivánfi (JI): "While we were walking, we heard dogs barking, tommy-guns crying, ’downs!’. It was raining, it was a sleet, but we couldn’t do other but lie down if it was needed on the wet soil. We pushed to the soil, and we waited until it turned silent again. Then, we stood up and we went in an Indian line, one after the other, keeping one meter distance. Uncle János headed the march. Interviewer (I): "The guns you heard was from a distance?" JI: "Yes, they were far away; you could hear them from a distance. Then, all of a sudden we heard the buzzing of a car. Again ’down!’ and so on.… Imagine that a serpentine road led to the hill and a Soviet armoured car…." I: "Crawled along…." JI: "Yes.… It crawled along, and its headlights lit the trees above our heads as it was proceeding. We waited that it would pass. They didn’t notice us because they probably was looking up and ahead. On the one hand, the wood could hide us, on the other hand they couldn’t even look side way because they had to guide the car." I: "They had to focus on the road, didn’t they?" JI: "Then we stood up and we went on. And Uncle János had warned us at the very beginning that the most dangerous section was the no man’s land. If we reached the end of the wood where the no man’s land began, we should stop and wait to see whether there was any moving and we should study the lights. Because, there were the watch-towers from where soldiers could shoot with their guns in a way that the trajectories crossed each other and closed the way of escape. But, you couldn’t see these towers neither from the wood or from the plowed up land, because the trees hid well them. They were noticeable only in the direction of the shootings. Furthermore, in the middle of the no man’s land, there was a wire installed at the height of knees we had to avoid. If we had pulled it, two lighting rockets would have been activated which would shed light on the region, and we would be immediately targeted with guns from the watch-towers behind us, in case there were soldiers there.”

  • "Well, the tussocky, it was full of water. It was the end of November, it was raining, there was sleet. We walked in the water and in the mud in well-ironed pants, nice shoes. We didn’t seem like human beings by the end--our feet were wet--but we didn’t give up. Uncle János knocked, the tziganes opened the door of their lodge. Uncle János said: 'I brought some refugees'. 'Come in!' The tziganes were very happy. 'Guests have arrived, boys! Where are the violins?' They began to play. 'Wine in the table!' They opened a bottle of red wine--they were so delighted. We had to tell everything about what had happened in Budapest. 'What is your favourite song? Which Hungarian song would you like to listen to?' I answered immediately that I wanted ’Come my dog, Bodri’, I wanted him to play it to me. And, we began to enjoy ourselves literally forcibly. We didn’t know what would happen to us, whether we could go on across the tussocky, for how long time we would be the guests of the tziganes in this small island. But, we drank together, we sang together and they played the violins to us. And, suddenly somebody kicked the door. It was Uncle János again and he called us: 'Gentlemen, come, we are to leave. It is already dark'. Then we left.”

  • Jenő Ivánfi (JL): "The train stopped at Veszprémben. Me and my family was living in that town those years, and I had the keys of our flat with me. A colleague of mine with whom I worked together in NEVIKI (Institute for Heavy Chemistry) had joined me in the compartment in Budapest." Interviewer (I): "Lucky you were!" JI: "And, I pulled out my keys and handed him saying: 'Look! These are my keys. I live in Hóvirág utca 12. Give them to Laci Harmati. They live with their parents; they don’t have their own flat; they don’t have where to live. Please, inform my wife that I’ve given you the keys and help her to move to her parents definitively, because she don’t know that I’m leaving the country.' This colleague of mine got off, he gave the keys to my friends, they got the flat and they were delighted. They helped my wife to move to Debrecen where she returned to her parents in tears." I: "Also Laci Harmati was a colleague of yours?" JI: "Yes, he was, but he was also a friend of mine--we didn’t have only a formal working relationship. We visited each other at New Year’s Eve, at Xmas, at Easter. We visited each other for chatting. We went together to Lake Balaton, to Almádi, where our institute had a comfortable weekend hotel on the coast with yachts. Also, these programs linked us together.”

  • Jenő Ivánfi (JI): “We began to walk in that direction, and it was easy to hear: 'Halt! Wer da?' A border soldier shouted at us. We stepped out of the trees, we approached him with arms up to let him know that we hadn’t got anything in hands, any weapons or others. Even so he asked us: 'Haben Sie munition?' We said we had nothing, neither weapons nor ammunition, we were Hungarian refugees, Ungarische Flüchtlinge, and we’ve escaped to Austria. Then he replied: 'You are welcome here! Just come! You can see a village down in the valley, it is Rohonc, you go there and there you will be told what to do'." Interviewer (I): "It means that the soldier didn’t even see you in anywhere?" JI: "No, he didn’t. He showed us only the way where to go. We followed his instructions, and then I sat down on to the first milestone. It was a high place. We could look at the region down in the valley where the lights were on…street lights in the villages…." I: "Yes, I imagine the shimmer." JI: "They were shimmering. Then I smoked a cigarette--the first after a long day--and I thought over what I had done, what I should do next. I thought about my wife, my children, when I would meet them again, how I would manage myself. A prayer helps always. And, the four of us went on walking calmly but we didn’t have to step in a single line anymore, we could also talk to each other.”

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    Sajógalgóc, Hungary, 05.06.2013

    duration: 02:40:40
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
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I didn’t want to break away from my family, I didn’t have the slightest intention of it

ivanfi.jpg (historic)
Jenő Ivánfi
photo: családi fotó

Jenő Ivánfi was born as Jenő Ivancsics in 1929 in Eger. His father was railway engineer, and so as a civil servant he had to choose a Hungarian family name when he was appointed chief counsellor at Hungarian National Railways. Jenő Ivánfi graduated at György Fráter Secondary School of the Minorites in Miskolc. In 1947, he began his university studies at the Science Faculty of Szeged University. Despite his excellent grades, he was expelled the university for having backed Cardinal József Mindszenty in public, becoming one of the first political victims. In 1949, thanks to his professors’ support he could continue his studies at Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest. He received his degree in 1952 and became a chemist. However, Jenő he could get a job working where others didn’t want to go. So, he went to work to Borsod Chemical Trust, and was trained in energetics and coal chemics at the different firms of the Trust. Jenő supervised the construction of the Coke Plant in Kazincbarcika. He married Éva Joszt in 1953. In 1954, he managed to move to the new Research Institute for Heavy Chemistry where he worked as research engineer. His family, his wife and his new-borned daughter, Andrea, followed him to Veszprém. His second daughter, Mónika, was born in 1956. During the Hungarian Revolution, Jenő saved the wounded from the line the fire in Budapest and he distributed leaflets. After the Soviet invasion of November the 4th, he crossed the Austrian border with some of his friends at Bucsu. Beginning in December of 1956, Jenő was employed at EBV Hauptlaboratorium in Alsdorf (Germany, before Bundesrepublic of Deutschland) as an analytical engineer until 1961. After his family had been denied to get a passport and leave the Hungarian People’s Republic several times (even though they had had a settlement permission in Germany since 1959), he decided to rejoin his family in Hungary. Returned home, he lived in Debrecen. He earned his living as ordure cleaner, an unskilled worker. The political police watched him and contacted him several times. In 1961, Jenő finally got a job at the Stain Factory in Tiszaszederkény of the Tisza Chemical Plants where he, again, became research engineer. He regularly published papers in professional periodicals and he was sent to international conferences due to his language knowledge. Jenő was soon appointed the head of the research department. However the political police continued to control him, and they tried to recruit him to be an intelligent agent by promising that he could leave the country together with his family. His third child, András, was born in 1964. In 1972, he asked to be placed in Borsod Chemical Trust in Kazincbarcika. Here, he was product manager since 1982, and he organized the production of PVC windows on national scale. He retired from this position in 1989. He joined the Christian Democratic People’s Party and led the local organization of it. In 1990 he became vice-major of the city of Kazincbarcika. In 1994, he was honoured the Gold Cross of the Hungarian Republic. Jenő Ivánfi lives in Sajógalgóc with his wife in a beautifully restored old house built in the 18th century. Founder of the Sajógalgóc Circle for Local Monuments’ Protection, his hobby is the history of the so-called cul-de-sac villages.