Hungary Church Honored For Sheltering East German Refugees

their congregation’s involvement in sheltering thousands of East Germans fleeing Communism,  a move historians say eventually brought down the Berlin Wall.

"We acted on an inner voice," said Parishioner Imre Kozma, president of the Hungarian Maltese Order and chief organizer of the refugee camp, about the memorial, which was unveiled a day earlier by Hungarian Head of State Ferenc Madl.

When unveiling the sculpture, entitled "Granting Shelter", President Madl said the church and the Maltese Order had made history with their decision of August 1989 to support the refugees,  at a time when Hungary's Communist government was still choosing between expelling them or recognizing the East Germans as "asylum seekers".

"In 1989 the winds of liberty were already strong in Hungary," he reportedly told hundreds of people who attended the ceremony at the church of Zugliget, which doubled as a refugee camp 15 years ago.

FAMILIES IN FEAR

A BosNewsLife reporter recalled how in 1989 families, including small children, were living in fear while sheltering behind a fence in the tent village on the church community grounds.

Several of them tried to leave on August 19 of that year, when hundreds of East Germans took advantage of a picnic of anti-communist politicians on the Austrian and Hungarian border to cross into Austria in what was a symbolic first crack in the Iron Curtain.

As Austrians and Hungarians met each other, some playing music in traditional dresses with others carrying sausages, East German parents and their children rushed through a border gate that was briefly opened, with Hungarian border guards showing little interest in checking documents.

PAINFUL FAIRWELL

A father said farewell to his teenage children who jumped out of his Trabant car, in an apparent search of hope and a better life a few hundred meters away, in Western Europe.  “I don’t know if I will see them again.  And the most horrible thing is that I promised my wife (in East Germany) we would return together…", he cried.      

However less than a month later, on September 10,  Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn announced that the Iron Curtain would come down on Hungary's border with Austria at midnight for all Eastern German refugees. By the end of November between 60,000 and 70,000 East Germans traveled from Hungary to the West. 

However "the opening of the borders” and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, “began somewhere from here," in the Zugliget church of Budapest, President Madl said after he unveiled the statue.

CRACKED FOUNDATION

It shows two people standing on a cracked foundation, but whose embrace bridges the divide between them. 

Many other refugees never made it to Western Germany. Researchers said last week that dozens more people than previously reported were killed at the Berlin Wall and Cold War border between former East Germany and West Germany during Communism.

A total of 1,065 people were killed mainly while trying to escape from Communist East Germany to the West, said the 'Working Group for 13 August' which takes its name from the August 13, 1961 date on which the Berlin Wall was built.

"REAL HISTORY"

In a related development, the former head of East Germany's border troops, Klaus-Dieter Baumgarten, on Thursday, August 12, published a book claiming to give the "real history" of the Berlin Wall, the German Press Agency (DPA) reported.

"We served our state with decency, clean hands and dignity," the 73-year-old Baumgarten was quoted as telling a press conference. Baumgarten was convicted of killings at the Wall and sentenced to a six-and-a-half year prison term after German unification. He was later pardoned.

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