I Must Tell You

I Must Tell You

by Tibor Zak


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781490747729
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 10/10/2014
Pages: 158
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.34(d)

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I Must Tell You

By Tibor Zak

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Tibor Zak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4907-4772-9


Hungary during World War II

During World War II, Hungary was a member of the Axis powers. In the 1930s, the Kingdom of Hungary relied on increased trade with Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany to pull itself out of the Great Depression. By 1938, Hungarian politics and foreign policy had become increasingly pro-Italian and pro-German. Hungary benefited territorially from its relationship with the Axis. Settlements were negotiated regarding territorial disputes with the Czechoslovak Republic, the Slovak Republic, and the Kingdom of Romania. In 1940, under pressure from Germany, Hungary joined the Axis. Although initially hoping to avoid direct involvement in the war, Hungary's participation soon became inevitable. In 1941, Hungarian forces participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the invasion of the Soviet Union.

While waging war against the Soviet Union, Hungary engaged in secret peace negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom. Hitler discovered this betrayal and, in March 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. When Soviet forces began threatening Hungary, an armistice was signed between Hungary and the USSR by Regent Miklos Horthy. Soon after, Horthy's son was kidnapped by German commandos and Horthy was forced to revoke the armistice. The regent was then deposed from power, while Hungarian fascist leader Ferenc Szalasi established a new government with German backing. In 1945, Hungarian and German forces in Hungary were defeated by invading Soviet armies.

Approximately three hundred thousand Hungarian soldiers and eighty thousand civilians died during World War II and many cities were damaged, most notably the capital of Budapest. Most Jews in Hungary were protected from deportation to German extermination camps for the first few years of the war. However, from the start of German occupation in 1944, Jews and Roma were deported to the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. By the end of the war, the death toll was between 450,000 and 606,000 Hungarian Jews and an estimated twenty-eight thousand Hungarian Roma. Hungary's borders were returned to their pre-1938 status after its surrender.



Imagine a wheelbarrow full of marbles and spilling all of them in your backyard, and then you have to sort them all by color using only a soup spoon. This is how I felt when I started this book, substituting my stories for the marbles and my memories for the soup spoon. Right now I am ninety years old.

I do not intend to bore you with an autobiography. It is true, however, that in many of the stories I am the main character. It is also true that many of the stories were told to me by relatives and close friends, but in either case the stories are shaped more by the circumstances. Because of my age, most of my contemporaries have passed away. But just to be on the safe side, I avoid names, recognizable locations, and dates to protect all.

The book covers twenty-two years of my life, fifteen to thirty-seven. I was thirty-five years old when we—my wife and two sons—left Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution, and went to the United States.

During my life, I attended hundreds of social events. Because of my accent people asked me where I came from, what I did, how it was living under communist dictatorship, etc. And the conclusion was many times: you should write a book; thus, the origin of the title, "I Must Tell You."

Starting out my name is not that simple. I was born with the last name of Jager, which is a German name since my ancestors came from Austria to Hungary. When I finished high school, I went to Germany for college and did not want possible pressure to join in the Nazi organization, so I changed my name to Zsak which was a Hungarian name. Consequently, all my college documents used Zsak. When arriving in the United States, all my immigration papers used the name Zsak.

The Zs in the name became a problem. People could not pronounce it, so they just avoided calling me by my name and just, "you." One day, months before we applied for citizenship, a kid knocked on the door, selling something. Looking over his note, he asked my last name. I said Zsak. He said it was a "goofy" name. As a result of this one kid, we changed our name to Zak.


The Summer of 1939

It was early evening. My father just returned home from work and was sitting down with a glass of wine. He said he had been thinking about my wish, to start my summer vacation by going to Germany for two weeks. He still thought that at age sixteen, I was too young, but he was closer to giving me the green light for two reasons. First, my mother died a year ago and she was always pushing me for self-reliance. Second, for the past two years I had really pushed him to let my learn gliding. He never agreed. I asked him what I could do to convince him that I was mature enough to travel alone. He said I should give him a written, day-to-day plan, and what I intend to do during the two weeks of vacation.

I was really surprised at the tone of the discussion since my godmother just days ago told me she could not convince my father to let me go.

I was sixteen years old, spoke fluent German, and had spent the last three Christmas in Kitzbuhel, Austria skiing. Admittedly these three trips were spent visiting my uncle and each trip lasted only nine days.

The beginning of the vacation was already full, first with Boy Scout camp, then with tennis tournaments. My planning focused on the end of August. The trip originated on the German railroad special offer to foreign students, ages fourteen to eighteen, to travel freely for two weeks for a very low price. The freedom to go any place with the pass, without restriction, was an insurance to cover a large area in a short time. The trip was further enhanced since there was a chain of guesthouses available to stay overnight, including breakfast for the price of a song. There was a guesthouse in practically every town for students sixteen years and over. For both boys and girls. Thinking back, the political climate was dangerous for an enjoyable vacation away from home. But who thinks about such things when you are sixteen years old.

To get the railroad ticket, membership for the guesthouses organization, planning, and investigating the route, etc., took all my time for two months. After presenting all my information to my father, we agreed that the last two weeks of August would be the best time to go.

Finally, I left Budapest on Monday, twenty-first of August. All of my belongings were placed in two bags. One was a small backpack, holding all my clothes and the other was a side pack. Both were brand new as were my walking shoes, although I had worn them for two weeks before the trip to break them in. I had two Boy Scout shirts with me, which were practical because they had pockets that I could use to keep my passport and money in.

The route began in Vienna, and then travelled through Southern Germany and Austria (which at that time was already part of Germany) and returned via Vienna to Budapest. The whole trip was a zigzag route of the Alps since I was more interested in the scenery than the large cities.

After three or four days I was bored following the route because I spent my time visiting old churches and museums, and looking at store windows without any reason to buy anything. I arrived in Garmisch on the sixth day of the trip on the twenty-sixth of August.

Garmisch was a picturesque Alpine city, home of the 1938 winter Olympics. The guesthouse was close to the railroad station. It was a two-story building, bright blue, with a large covered porch and lots of bicycles. It was early in the afternoon and there were few people outside. By the entrance, inside was a small office with a middle-aged lady attending the office. I asked her if she had a place for me and that I intended to stay for three to four days. She commented on my German name and told me that there was another Hungarian staying there. She said his name was Fritz, and that he was out but usually returned in the afternoon. I asked how old he was and she said he was eighteen and had been there for about a week.

I took my bags and looked up my assigned bed. It was upstairs by the wall in a large room. There were more than one hundred beds, closely lined up. On the same floor there was a large shower room with fifteen or twenty showers and many sinks. The hallway between the showers in the bedroom had a rope stretched from one side to the other for drying clothing. I did my laundry, organized my backpack, and went downstairs. The layout was the same as the upstairs except it has a large dining room with benches. The downstairs were for girls.

I left the guesthouse to get familiar with the city. I intended to buy a Tyrolian felt hat that most of the boys were wearing. The main purpose of the hat was to display colorful small emblems from all the tourist locations the person visited. I located one and purchased a gray hat, and also an emblem of Garmisch. A priority was to locate the bakery and a butcher shop since they were the places that would provide me with all my meals during my trip. After eating a healthy dinner of two big sweet rolls with milk, I started looking for ski shops. All the ski equipment was years ahead of what I had in Hungary.

Back in the guest house, it took me no time to find Fritz. He was older than me, about the same height but much more athletic looking. He was with a group of boys and girls. Seeing me approaching (apparently the lady who registered me told him my name and appearance), he ran toward and began introducing me. After finishing his discussion with the group, he sat down with me on a bench and we started a long discussion to get to know each other.

He was an only child and his mother was a companion of a rich Hungarian aristocrat. He was born in Budapest and lived there his whole life. After finishing primary school, he became an apprentice at a famous jewelry store in Budapest. After finishing his apprenticeship, he studied to become a master jeweler. This was about a year ago and during that time he discovered a unique way to make a living. Learning about and being familiar with diamonds, he purchased a one carat flawless diamond from his jeweler boss. He took the diamond to Switzerland and sold it for Swiss francs. He then exchanged the Swiss francs for an undervalued Hungarian currency of the time called Pengo. He spent the profits traveling and sightseeing in Europe. In the past year he had already made four trips.

He was upset when he discovered how thrifty my travel plans were. I asked him what I could see in Austria on the way home and told him that I have to be home on the third of September for the start of school. This meant I had eight days left of my vacation. He said he would think about it, but in the short-term he was planning to climb to the top of the Zugspitze the next day. He said he was planning to go alone but it would be more fun if I would go with him. I had no idea what was involved and thought nothing of it, so I agreed to go with him.

The next morning we woke up early, packed warm clothing, and had breakfast. We told the office where we're going and the guy in the office said we were nuts and better use the cable car if we want to be back by night. We walked over to the bakery and butcher shop to pick up food and water and then started on our way to Zugspitze.

Zugspitze is Garmisch's tallest mountain at 9,564 feet. The map listed Garmisch at 2,295 feet high, so that meant we had to climb 7,269 feet to reach the top. Actually, the highest we could go was a restaurant which was below the summit.

The weather was perfect, sunny, and not a cloud in the sky. We reached the base of the mountain after a two-hour walk. The air was crystal clear and we could see the summit, so it looked like the whole climb would be picture perfect. We could see the end of the tree line followed by a rocky area to the top. It looked like an easy three- or four-hour climb. We started out at about 10:00 a.m. and it was early afternoon when we left the tree line.

Then the slope became steep and we had to stop every five or ten minutes to catch our breath. Climbing some more, we discovered that we were going to have to deal with a vertical rock wall. We had to go a good distance to the right to find a narrow spot in the rock that was not so steep. When we reached the narrow spot, there was still a two- or three-story climb ahead of us. At the top of the climb there was a steel rail, and people were looking over the railing watching us. As we started to climb, people were pointing and yelling to us, directing us toward a narrow crevasse in the rock. They threw down a belt and a rope and then pulled up our backpacks. I was pulled up first and then Fritz. It was cold up there.

An older couple helped us put some of our warm clothes on because our hands were numb from the rope and the cold. They got us into the restaurant and told the owner what was going on. They had dinner with us and paid for it. Then the owner sat down with us telling us that there was not a single room available in the adjacent hotel. He offered to let us sleep in his small warehouse which was heated, had a washroom with a shower, and had lots of lounge chairs. Blankets finished the accommodations and we were very happy with the place. There was loud music coming from the restaurant but we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

The next morning after breakfast they told us how to find a walking path back to Garmisch. We started out walking on a marked path through a glacier, then down a steep path to a valley with a swift creek. The whole valley was lush green and you couldn't find a more gorgeous place to live the rest of your life. Fritz thought up a plan on the way down as to what we could do for the next five or six days. He said we should leave Garmisch and go over to Switzerland and down to San Moritz. My budget became an obstacle because I had no money for the train to Switzerland; also they did not have the inexpensive guesthouses like Austria. As I was to learn, Fritz always had a solution. He said the Swiss were friendly sorts and would gladly pick up hitchhikers. We could ask people if we could stay in their house which was common in small towns. If that didn't work, we could ask to stay at the local church.

Arriving back at Garmisch, we looked on the map to see that San Moritz was about one hundred twenty miles away. Along the road there were many small towns, so it looked like our chances of finding lodging were good. I wrote a letter to my father giving him the details of the new trip. We washed our clothes, packed our bags, and were ready to go.

Early in the morning, we left the guest house. The Swiss border was halfway to our destination. It took us two days to get to the border, and our last ride was a beer truck. When the driver dropped us, he showed us a tall chimney on the Swiss side. We took a narrow path through a small forest, a large cornfield, and then onto a road which put us into a small town.

The problem was that it was a Swiss town. We had somehow bypassed the official border crossing. We had to go back to the border crossing and explain the whole story to the guards. They asked routine questions and then stamped our passports. The next day, we were lucky because a truck took us all the way to St. Moritz. We arrived there after lunch. It was thirty-first of August.

The first priority was finding a place to stay. We ran into a monk working next to a small chapel. He offered us his garage, which had a shower, but told us we had to be back before 9:00 p.m. We walked over to the city and decided to visit a nearby glacier next day.

The next day, we were having breakfast in a bakery when we we're told that Germany invaded Poland. We stayed in the bakery and listened to the radio, all thoughts of the glacier long forgotten. All kinds of new regulations were being listed in a continuous news stream, including restricting private cars from traveling on the road.

We were a long way from the German border, and I had to get to Germany in order to take the train home. It was the first of September and the German border was 130 miles away. It was raining, and the forecast was rain all the way to the border for the coming week. School started in a week, and my train ticket expired on the fifth of September.

We decided to start heading home right away. By nightfall we reached a guest house, still in Switzerland. We got a room and had dinner, then went back to the room to discuss how we could get to Garmisch as early as possible. There were rumors that the Swiss would close the borders, but we hoped that they would be more interested in keeping people out than preventing us from leaving.

The first part of our trip was through a beautiful valley called the Engandin, which wasn't so beautiful because we walked in rain with high winds for two days since there was no traffic. By the third day, traffic was back to normal and, in driving rain, a car stopped and picked us up.

The driver took us to his home. His wife and kids were friendly. They gave us their guest room along with a much needed huge dinner. The man of the house was a doctor, and he offered to drive us to the border the next day because it was his day off. We were back in Garmisch on the fourth of September.

The next day, Fritz and I exchanged addresses, and Fritz said he would be back in Budapest in two to three weeks. I went to the train station and arrived in Budapest on the sixth of September. My father received the letter I sent from St. Moritz on the day I got home. He had sent money to the Hungarian Embassy in Geneva, trying to catch up with me. Fritz arrived in early October. We met a number of times into the next year, but then lost touch.


Excerpted from I Must Tell You by Tibor Zak. Copyright © 2014 Tibor Zak. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Hungary during World War II, 1,
Introduction, 3,
The Summer of 1939, 5,
College in Germany, 15,
My First Job, 19,
Military Service, 24,
Escape, 39,
Hiding, 42,
Russian Occupation, 46,
Smuggling, 61,
Nationalization, 76,
Commercial Police, 79,
My Brother, 81,
From Boss Back to Employment, 83,
The Old Factory, 85,
Land without Reform, 90,
The Police, 95,
The Ruling Class, 102,
The "Underground", 105,
The Communist Life, 108,
The Border, 110,
Our First Attempt, 111,
Revolution, 113,
Freedom, 117,
Our First Home, 138,

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