Károly Berend

Károly Berend

Károly Berend was born in 1912 in a family of five children, his father was a master tailor. He graduated from high school in 1931, and in 1932 graduated from the Reserve Officers' School. He applied to the Ludovika, but was not even invited to the entrance examination - he suspected it was because of his simple origin. He tried to find work in many places, his last job being as a consumer inspector in Sashalmon. He changed his name from Beranek in 1934. In 1939 he was transferred to the professional staff. He passed the Staff Officer's Examination with distinction in 1944.

his first combat service was between 1941-1942, when he was deployed as a platoon and company commander of the 31/I Battalion in the Eastern Assault Group. He was later very fortunate not to be implicated in a court case in this connection, as the 31/I Battalion executed civilians en masse for suspected partisanship during the period in question - but this does not mean that Berend had any part in it. It should be stressed that Berend did not conceal his combat deployments in his autobiography at all, not only did he write that he had been in combat in 1942. He did not mention that he was wounded on 28 February 1942 near Veseloye, north-west of Kiev, but also that he fought against partisans and received the Governor's Commendation (Signum Laudis) with swords for having collected the weapons he had thrown away and for having taken care of the return of the wounded after the attack, despite his wounding. He also received the German Winter Battle of the East Medal.

After his return from the occupation forces, he was given only minor posts (ammunition depot patrol commander, district commander of the Lvente). Since he was unable to pay the deposit (bail) required for marriage, which was imposed by the HMO to guarantee officers a 'job-like' lifestyle after marriage, he had to wait until 1944 to marry, when the deposit was pardoned at his request.

He was involved in the siege of Budapest even before it began, as from August 1944 he was assigned to the Fortification Command of the Bolyai Technical Academy, where he led fortification works in the Gödöllő area. On 24 December 1944, he was stranded in Budapest while visiting his mother, and on 4 January 1945, Colonel Ernő Csipkés, the city commander of Budapest, assigned him to command a combat group in Sashegy. According to his autobiography dated 10 July 1949, his battle group lost only 16 men during the siege, while the total number of the group was 800. "On 6 February 1945, I disarmed some of the Germans who had been assigned to my group, and pushed them off Mount Sasheberg, and then that same day I personally contacted the Russian forces and, with my group of 800 men, including 44 officers, I crossed over to the Russians in full battle condition, fully equipped and in full fighting condition. My transfer was recognised by the Russian command by the issue of a pass. I still have this certificate today. [...] It was not events that forced me to defect to the Russians. This plan was already in my mind when I took over command, and I tailored all my actions to this plan. On the day of my changeover, my position was absolutely solid. The only way to get my troops out of here would have been to make the greatest sacrifice of blood. I was supplied with large quantities of arms, ammunition and provisions." In another autobiography he added that, although he had been ordered to withdraw, he refused to do so.

These details in Berend's autobiography are very interesting, because other memoirs do not quite report the struggles of the Berend group in Sashegy in this way. It starts with the fact that the 316th Soviet Rifle Division, which was fighting in the area, reported a total of only 379 captured soldiers between 6 and 7 February 1945, of whom 104 were captured by 6 February (unfortunately, the reports do not separate German and Hungarian soldiers, but the little information that is available on this issue in relation to the siege shows that 95% of the prisoners were usually Hungarian soldiers until the breakout). Since the Soviet side's division-level POW reports are relatively reliable, True, no major combat events were recalled by members of the group. The only recollector who reported that they suffered heavy losses was Private Oszkár Joó (seven of his platoon of 38 men remained). All indications are that the bulk of the battle group was only in the second line and that the burden of the fighting for Sashegy - which was extremely fierce - was mainly borne by the German units defending here. According to other recollections of the battle group, however, they surrendered because they ran out of food and ammunition, while reserve lieutenant Dénes Horváth complained that his unit was not receiving the good supplies of the Berend group. In any case, Berend was awarded the Sword Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary for his 'combat leadership' - but this is mainly evidence that the command of the Hungarian I Corps, which was responsible for combat leadership, felt it necessary to justify its own actions with these medals. Towards the end of the siege, the distribution of medals was widespread anyway. It is noteworthy, however, that Berend also listed this medal in his autobiography as having been awarded to him in January 1945 for 'personal bravery and leadership of the Sashegy defence group'. That he should have included these adjectives in a cadre document in 1949 was an open temptation of fate. But he could also have written that he was awarded the medal for protocol reasons only - the fact that he did not do so shows that he did not put every sentence of his autobiography on the balance sheet.

Elsewhere, of course, there are considerations of address, for example when he tactfully did not say a word about why, if he had defected and therefore received a pass, he was taken prisoner of war. On the latter, he wrote only positive things. This may, of course, have been driven by the Stalinist expectations of the time, but it is also easy to imagine that he did experience the goodwill and appreciation of the local population. He may have been able to do this because in the prisoner-of-war camp at Usman he voluntarily formed a group of fifty men who went out to work in a kolkhoz and were put to work in private houses in twos. He returned home from captivity on 18 June 1947. He joined the Freedom Fighters' League but did not become a member of any party.

His already quoted autobiography shows his compulsion to conform, when he says that "I would like to go to a party school because I sincerely feel the justice of the present system and I would like to make myself more ideologically grounded."

In 1948, he was promoted to Major and was reinstated in the regular staff and sent to the Armour Breaker Instructor Course. By all accounts, he was able to fit into the new regime, made easier by the fact that his career did not conform at all to the cliché of the 'Horthy officer'. "I can't remember a time in my childhood when I was able to enjoy life in peace. The whole of their lives were marked by severe care and deprivation, my father's troubled face, my mother's tears." - she wrote in her autobiography. His 1950 biography at the György Dózsa Infantry Officer School (where he was a teacher of combat engineering) captures the Stalinist mood of the time, a mixture of gritted-toothed appreciation and morbid suspicion fixated on political demands. "A soldier of great ability. He studies the regulations with great diligence and pursues unresolved questions with great care and effort. He is devoted to his students, his teaching method is very good (...) He is not only concerned with the education of his students out of a sense of duty, but is constantly striving to achieve even greater results. He takes great care of his professional self-training. He is never satisfied with what he knows. [...] As a leading teacher, he is implacable and does not want to 'hurt anyone' (...) He is an absolute supporter of our popular democracy, because he admires and constantly praises our achievements. He is loyal to the Party. He loves the Soviet people [sic!] (...) On the question of religion, he does not bring up his family to the required degree, because the Christmas tree was 'brought by the Santa Claus', his son confessed." - in other words, the cadre even used his minor child to gather information!

Despite all his skills, Berend was unable to win the trust of the party state. On 15 October 1953, he was transferred to reserve duty, and in 1958 he was demoted on the grounds of his "class alien" origin, although he did nothing during the revolution. He survived the regime change but did not ask for his rank back.