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Imre Reviczky, the Righteous Among the Nations shoveled coal

Attila Bánó
2022.02.17. 13:59 2022.02.17. 15:23
Imre Reviczky, the Righteous Among the Nations shoveled coal

65 years ago, on February 16, 1957, Imre Reviczky colonel, former battalion commander and posthumous general and Righteous Among Nations, passed away in Budapest. Streets in Budapest, as well as Israel – in the cities of Cfaat, Beet, Shemes and Haifa – bear his name today.

Picturing Imre Reviczky’s life during the communist dictatorship, we are taken aback; it is difficult to understand why the communist regime treated him so cruelly. It exposes the unprincipled and unjust behavior that characterized the Bolshevik system committed to non-existent values of internationalism.

The most interesting and dangerous part of Reviczky’s historic mission began in the spring of 1943 when he was sent to Baia Mare (Nagybánya) and appointed commander of the 10th Transylvanian labor inmate company, which included 50 inmates of the labor camp.

Regarding the background, Hungarian historian István Deák wrote the following in the História journal in 2010 (title of the article: “Honesty and honor in World War II”): “When the frontline collapsed during the winter of 1942 – and many soldiers and labor inmates died in the frosty plains of the Don country – the governor nominated a more humane defense minister due to the moderate politician’s interventions who instructed his officers not to treat the inmates of the labor camp worse than the ordinary soldiers. The nomination of Lieutenant Colonel Imre Reviczky to commander of the 10th Transylvanian labor-service

company that consisted of 30-50 thousand inmates, arose from the government's efforts to prevent the horrors of the previous year.”

As commander of the labor inmates, Reviczky saved around 20 thousand Jewish lives (of Hungarian, Romanian descent etc.) from deportation. He was deeply influenced by Regent Horthy’s radio speech on October 15, 1944 attempting to exit the war.

Because of the speech, the Lieutenant Colonel took action. Géza Schreier who was an inmate of the labor camp and lived through the event, wrote the following: “The Lieutenant Colonel said he was bound by oath to the governor. According to the words of Horthy, the inmates inhumanely compelled to be under his command shall all be free from this moment.”

Risking his life, the good-willed commander of the Transylvanian labor draft battalion dodged an order to send a train car filled with Jewish people to the capital by sending one filled with timber instead. He was arrested on February 27, 1945 by the Arrow Cross Party and sent to prison in Sopronkőhida on March 4, but escaped already on March 29. He went on foot to the capital controlled by the Soviet army. On the 19th of April, he went to the Ministry of Defense to apply for service. He received a warm welcome, and was nominated as a leader of the supplementary military command in Mátészalka.

After a few years, he became the military commander of Nyíregyháza and he was promoted to colonel in the summer of 1947. The seemingly promising status only lasted until the end of November 1949, however. Suddenly, Reviczky, who was 53 years old at the time, was forced to retire. He received his retirement pension for just a short period when the pension payments were abruptly terminated on March 1, 1952. The colonel tried to appeal, but his claims were denied.

The period between September 1953 and October 1956 was a particularly excruciating time for Reviczky who suffered from heart-disease as he had to work in the cellar of the Fuel Trading Company (Tüker). His son, Adam Reviczky wrote, “he carried every basket and bag up the steep stairs, often voluntarily because he believed that everybody was more dejected than he.”

Imre Reviczky never hesitated to risk his life for others, but nobody was willing to take a stand for him. Just one person was interested; they contacted Mária Ember, author of the book, Hairpin Bend (Hajtűkanyar) published in 1974 on the

1944 tragedies of the Hungarian rural Jews. This individual hoped that the author, Mária Ember would give a voice to Reviczky’s story.

Adam Reviczky wrote the following: “Mária Ember, the chronicler of this dangerous era, was once contacted and told that a former colonel was working in the Tüker cellar in Vörösmarty street, measuring and delivering coal; a colonel who saved many lives in 1943 and 1944. A fascinating topic for a journalist. But she didn’t believe it. She couldn’t imagine that a man who resisted the order of the fascist regime during the catastrophes of World War II, was working in a cellar – and she didn’t even go to check it out. She is very regretful of her mistake.”

Six days before the Hungarian revolution on October 17, 1956, a miracle happened: Imre Reviczky started receiving his retirement pension again. The dictatorship quickly collapsed on the 23rd of October, but Reviczky did not live much longer than those revolutionary times as he had already been seriously ill. He passed away on February 16, 1957 at the age of 60.

In Israel, a garden of 50 trees was planted in the summer of 1957 and named after Imre Reviczky by the association of the former labor camp inmates. Commemorations, messages and letters expressing the gratitude of the survivors flowed in. Imre Reviczky was posthumously awarded a Righteous Among the Nations honor by Yad Vasem, the memorial institution to the victims of the Holocaust, in 1965. On December 15, 1991, he was promoted posthumously to major-general by the military tradition preservation group of Nyíregyháza.

Photo: Imre Reviczky (Source: MTI/Reproduction)

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