I Finally Found the Truth
Toward the end of August 1939, I stopped in Moscow on my way home to Budapest, Hungary. The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact had been signed several days before, on August 23, and the Kremlin walls were adorned with Nazi swastika flags. Why was I in Russia, and what awaited me at home?
FIRST, let me go back to the small Hungarian town of Veszprém, where I was born on January 15, 1918. I was the oldest of four children, and our parents saw to it that we attended church regularly. By the time I was five, I was helping at Mass in a Roman Catholic convent. At home, I would pretend to conduct Mass for my siblings, wearing a paper garment I had made for the service.
When I was eight, Dad abandoned the family, and Mother took care of us with the help of her mother. The year after that, Mother died of cancer. In the years that followed, we children were separated and put in various orphanages and foster homes. The last orphanage I lived in was near Budapest. It was run by the Frères Maristes (Brothers of Mary), a French Catholic teachers’ order. I had a real love for God, so when I turned 13, I accepted the offer of an education by their religious order.
Extensive Religious Training
The following year I was sent to Greece, where I attended a Frères Maristes school conducted in French, which prepared me to be a teacher. Four years later, in 1936, I graduated with a certificate that qualified me to teach elementary school. After graduation I became a brother in the religious order, taking the threefold vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Although we brothers wore religious garb and taught catechism, we never studied the Bible.
That summer I applied to teach school in China and was accepted. On October 31, 1936, I left by ocean liner from Marseilles, France. On December 3, 1936, I arrived in Shanghai. From there I continued by train to Beijing, the capital, in northern China.
In a mountainous region about 15 miles [25 km] from Beijing, the Frères Maristes religious order had a large school, dormitories, and farm buildings. The location was near the emperor’s summer residence and included lovely cultivated gardens and fruit trees. There I became involved in intensive study of both the Chinese and English languages. But we never studied the Bible.
In the early 1930’s, Japan seized Manchuria, a part of China. In July 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed near Beijing. The victorious Japanese set up a new government with Chinese of their choosing. This led to fighting by Chinese guerrillas against the new government.
Since our monastery outside of Beijing was recognized as French territory, it was spared direct fighting. Yet, we were hit by stray cannonballs and gunfire that wounded some of the more than 5,000 Chinese who had sought refuge at our monastery. In the meantime, Chinese guerrillas ruled the countryside.
In September 1937 about 300 armed Chinese guerrillas attacked our buildings, looking for arms, money, and food. I was one of ten Europeans taken hostage. After being held for six days, I was among the first of the hostages released. I had become ill from eating contaminated food, so I spent a month in the hospital.
Following my release from the hospital, I was transferred to another school operated by the religious order, in a more secure area in Beijing. In January 1938, I was sent to Shanghai to teach but in September returned to Beijing to teach there. However, after the school year, I did not renew my religious vows. For seven years I had pursued a religious life and education but had failed to find satisfaction in my search for truth. So I left the religious order to return home to Budapest.
By then the storm clouds of World War II were gathering. My French superiors encouraged me to take the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which went through parts of the Soviet Union. It was on this journey that I reached Moscow on August 27, 1939, and saw the Kremlin walls adorned with Nazi flags.
A World at War
I arrived home in Budapest on August 31, 1939. The next day Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II. Later, Germany broke its nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, and on June 22, 1941, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union. They penetrated all the way to Moscow’s suburbs but failed to capture the city.
The governor of Hungary signed a peace agreement with Germany, and German armies were granted the freedom to pass through Hungary. I married in 1942, and in 1943, I was drafted into the Hungarian Army. In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary because Hitler was not satisfied with Hungary’s support of his war effort. That year our son was born. To avoid the heavy bombardment of Budapest, my wife and son moved to the countryside to live with her parents.
The tide of the war changed, and the Soviet Army advanced on Budapest, arriving on December 24, 1944. I was captured by the Russians and became a prisoner of war. Thousands of us prisoners were forced to march about a hundred miles [160 km] to Baja, Hungary. There, we were crowded into cattle wagons and transferred to Timisoara and put in a large camp. At least 20,000 of the 45,000 prisoners died early in 1945 during a typhoid fever epidemic.
In August the 25,000 camp survivors were taken to the Black Sea. From there about 20,000 were deported to the Soviet Union. However, some 5,000 others, who were sick, including me, were returned to Hungary and released. Thus, eight terrible months of captivity ended. A few weeks later, I was reunited with my wife and son, and we returned to Budapest to live.
Following the war, suffering continued for many. Food was scarce, and inflation was devastating. What one Hungarian pengö would buy in 1938 took more than one nonillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pengös to purchase in 1946! In time, life improved for us when I obtained office work for the railroad.
Finding the Truth
In 1955 one of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in our Budapest apartment building began talking to my wife, Anna, about the Bible. My interest was aroused when Anna told me that the Bible does not teach that hell is a place of torment. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Acts 2:31) As a Catholic, I had never studied the Bible, not even while receiving special training in church schools. I simply accepted the unscriptural Catholic teachings, such as hellfire. Now I came to love Bible truths, especially those regarding God’s Kingdom and how it will fulfill God’s purpose to make the earth a paradise. (Matthew 6:9, 10; Luke 23:42, 43; Revelation 21:3, 4) I felt a wonderful happiness that I had never experienced before.
At that time, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hungary were hunted down and imprisoned because they courageously taught the truths about God’s Kingdom. I read all the Witness literature I could find in Hungarian and was able to obtain their English and French publications that had not been translated into Hungarian. How thankful I was that I had learned these other languages!
In October 1956, Hungarians revolted against Russian-imposed Communist rule. The fighting in Budapest was intense. Many in prison were freed, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. During this time my wife and I were baptized to symbolize our dedication to Jehovah God. A week later, Russian troops suppressed the revolution. The Witnesses who had been freed were returned to prison.
A Precious Privilege
Since most of the Witnesses responsible for the preaching work were in prison, I was approached by a fellow Christian and asked whether I could do some translating of our Bible literature. At first I was given private letters from Switzerland that contained Watchtower articles typed in French. I translated these into Hungarian, and then copies of the translated articles were made available to the congregations.
When the Hungarian branch servant, János Konrád, was released in 1959 after being in prison for 12 years because of Christian neutrality, I was appointed as a translator. Then I received English material to translate. It was usually provided by a female courier whose name was unknown to me. Thus, if I was ever caught and tortured, I could not divulge her name.
After I translated The Watchtower, Brother Konrád would check it for accuracy. Then sisters would type the translated articles on very thin paper, using carbon paper to make up to 12 copies. Thus, at times, everyone attending the Watchtower Study had their own typed copy of the lesson. Afterward, they passed their copies on to another study group. Often, however, we were able to produce only one copy of The Watchtower for each study group. Then all present had to be especially attentive and take notes to benefit fully from the Bible discussion.
From the time I began translating in 1956 until 1978, The Watchtower was distributed in the Hungarian language in typewritten form only. From 1978 to 1990, mimeographed copies of The Watchtower were provided. And what a blessing it has been since January 1990 to have both the Watchtower and Awake! magazines printed in the Hungarian language in beautiful full-color!
Under Communist rule everyone had to have a secular job. So for 22 years, until my retirement from secular work in 1978, I did translating during hours when I was not working secularly. That was usually early in the morning and late into the night. After my retirement, I served full-time as a translator. At the time, each translator worked at home, and because of the ban, it was difficult for us to communicate with each other. In 1964 the police simultaneously raided the translators’ homes and confiscated our materials. For years afterward, we were subjected to police visitations often.
In 1969 my application for a passport was accepted, so János Konrád and I were able to travel from Hungary to Paris to attend the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. What a blessing it was to meet fellow Witnesses from other lands and to spend some days at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bern, Switzerland! In the 1970’s many Witnesses from Hungary were able to go to Austria and Switzerland for conventions.
After years of government restrictions, in 1986 we had our first State-approved convention, at Kamaraerdő Youth Park, Budapest. The more than 4,000 present had tears of joy in their eyes as they greeted their brothers and sisters and read the welcome to our meeting that was emblazoned above the entrance to the park.
Finally, on June 27, 1989, the government granted legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The news was announced on Hungarian television and radio to the joy of our brothers and sisters. That year we held, without any restrictions, our first district conventions since the ban had been placed on our work nearly 40 years earlier. More than 10,000 attended the gathering in Budapest, and thousands more were present at four other conventions in the country. How delighted I was to see my youngest brother, László, and his wife baptized in Budapest!
Then, in July of 1991, we experienced a blessing beyond our fondest dreams—a convention at Budapest’s huge Népstadion, attended by more than 40,000 delegates. There I had the privilege of interpreting talks by members of the headquarters staff in Brooklyn.
Today Anna and I, as well as over 50 of our dear brothers and sisters, work at the beautiful branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Budapest suburb. Here, I serve in our Translation Department, alongside a fine team of younger ones, and Anna shares in domestic work around the facilities.
Despite our efforts to impart Bible truth to our son, when he grew up, he did not accept it. However, he is now favorable toward the truth, and we hope that in time he will serve Jehovah.
My wife and I are truly grateful that we have found the truth about our loving God, Jehovah, and have been able to serve him for more than 40 years now.—As told by Endre Szanyi.
[Picture on page 21]
With my wife