Travelling Light

Farewell, Hungary – We Salute You

It is difficult to explain how it feels to walk the earth in Hungary, a place with such a history of pain and suffering. If you pass through as a tourist, you can admire the beautiful countryside, the graceful architecture, the parks and baths. You can frequent bars and festivals, where people drink and laugh as they do anywhere else in the world.

But when you get in amongst the people of Hungary and hear their stories, you can start to understand the human history of this place. From the beginning of written history, this area has been a place where people lived by the plough and died by the sword.

The Romans founght the resident Celts and nomadic Huns to establish their forts along the Danube, and after the collapse fo the Roman Empire, the Celts were replaced by Avars, who were, in turn, slaughtered by the Hungarians when they conquered the homeland.

The history of the conquering Hungarians since the 10th century has been fraught as well. Their national anthem is more a lament than a clarion call of national pride. This is a free translation of the verses into modern English:


O God, bless the nation of Hungary

With your grace and bounty

Extend over it your guarding arm

During strife with its enemies

Long torn by ill fate

Bring upon it a time of relief

This nation has suffered for all sins

Of the past and of the future!


You brought our ancestors up

Over the Carpathians’ holy peaks

By You was won a beautiful homeland

For Bendeguz’s sons

And wherever flow the rivers of

The Tisza and the Danube

Árpád our hero’s descendants

Will root and bloom.


For us on the plains of the Kuns

You ripened the wheat

In the grape fields of Tokaj

You dripped sweet nectar

Our flag you often planted

On the wild Turk’s earthworks

And under Mátyás’ grave army whimpered

Vienna’s “proud fort.”


Ah, but for our sins

Anger gathered in Your bosom

And You struck with Your lightning

From Your thundering clouds

Now the plundering Mongols’ arrows

You swarmed over us

Then the Turks’ slave yoke

We took upon our shoulders.


How often came from the mouths

Of Osman’s barbarian nation

Over the corpses of our defeated army

A victory song!

How often did your own son agress

My homeland, upon your breast,

And you became because of your own sons

Your own sons’ funeral urn!


The fugitive hid, and towards him

The sword reached into his cave

Looking everywhere he could not find

His home in his homeland

Climbs the mountain, descends the valley

Sadness and despair his companions

Sea of blood beneath his feet

Ocean of flame above.


Castle stood, now a heap of stones

Happiness and joy fluttered,

Groans of death, weeping

Now sound in their place.

And Ah! Freedom does not bloom

From the blood of the dead,

Torturous slavery’s tears fall

From the burning eyes of the orphans!


Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians

Who are tossed by waves of danger

Extend over it your guarding arm

On the sea of its misery

Long torn by ill fate

Bring upon it a time of relief

They who have suffered for all sins

Of the past and of the future!

Translated by: LASZLO KOROSSY (2003)


And this anthem was written before the 20th century wrote its own blood-soaked chapter of Hungarian history!

The oldest Hungarians alive today were born during or just after World War I, a time at which the nation of Hungary was torn apart and distributed amongst the neighbours who had been on the winning side in World War I. Millions of Hungarians suddenly found themselves living in Yugoslavia, Romania, Czecheslovakia, and the USSR.

The older generation grew up during the depression, and saw the rise of Fascism in the German-dominated governments of the time, a period which they call The White Terror. They saw Jews taken from their homes, death and destruction during World War II, and then the Russian occupation, which they call the Red Terror. For forty years, everyone lived in fear that their neighbour may turn on them and make a report to the secret police that they had the wrong attitude. When this happened, people would just be taken away, and never come back.

Throughout the 20th century, there were shortages of food and essentials due to wars, depressions, and Communism. Those few who escaped the country were often unable ever to return and visit their loved ones, and even letters needed to be worded very circumspectly, in case they were opened and read by government censors. During the 1950s and 1960s, any families had only one child, because there was not enough food available for more than one.

Even the younger generations, who gaily frolic at Lake Balaton in the summer, are not unaffected by the pain and fear of the 20th century. Epigenetics means that the traumatised mothers produced children who were inherently more fearful, and frightening social pressures, with a real risk of death, reinforced the fear.

Although the twenty-somethings don’t remember much about the Communist era, and were not alive at the time of World War II, the fear and loss still resonate through their family members, in the empty rows of seats in the synagogues, in the cautious saving of even the smallest bit of leftover food, and in the memorials and monuments which commemorate the awful losses and destruction.

What is amazing is that in the face of all this terror and constraint, the Hungarian people continued to live, to love, to raise children, to cherish life, and to maintain a loving and generous spirit. The Hungarian heart is warm and full of joy.

We cannot put into words the admiration we feel for people who can suffer through so much, and not become hard, closed, suspicious or bitter. We can only hope that the Good Lord heeds the plea in the national anthem, and allows the battered Hungarian psyche a permanent rest from processing grief and loss, other than the natural passing of loved ones at the end of a long and fulling life.

If anyone deserves such a blessing, truly, it is the people of Hungary.