Plattsburgh It was like something out of a horrible movie that you know can’t be real, except that it was real.
That’s how 95-year-old Helen Schmidt described the endless column of people fleeing Hungary ahead of advancing Soviet forces in 1945. Stretching from one horizon to the other, trucks, cars, mule drawn carts and people on foot, with just the belongings they could carry, plodded their way over mountainous roads into Austria and eventually into Germany.
One seemingly monolithic being, each person in that column brought with them their own story. Now, nearly 70 years later, Schmidt is telling her story of escape and survival in a memoir she just published entitled “Oh Memory Lane.”
“Our father made us promise that when they (the Soviets) came, we would leave,” said Schmidt in a still thick Hungarian accent, remembering the months leading up to her exodus from Hungary.
Together with her sisters Mary and Gabriella, her 3-year-old daughter and two other children, Schmidt headed her father’s plea and left. One of her brothers and a sister stayed behind.
Schmidt said that day after day on the march, she would carry her daughter as long as she physically could, but, eventually, the child would have to walk.
“It was absolutely God’s blessing that none of them complained. They didn’t even have food or drink. It’s unbelievable that none of them caught a cold or got sick.”
They found their way eventually into Germany where Schmidt, who spoke several languages, worked for a time for the American Red Cross as an interpreter. She was eventually separated from her sisters in order to take work in another German city, while she waited for the opportunity to come to America.
“We all came separately because the Hungarian quota was so small,” she said.
Schmidt met a Hungarian man named Rudolph in Germany, and the two got engaged. When their time came to emigrate, they eventually found themselves in Albany. Her older sister was already in Albany working, and Helen and Rudolph settled there and began a new life.