|Jancsi Davidhazy, my brother,
sent me the following note in October 2000.
The following is my translation of an article which appeared in the March 2000 issue of 'Yacht Magazin' in Hungary. Dad gave me three copies of this magazine, one for each of us. I will send one to Panni to give to you when she next sees you. Perhaps you can the make copies and send them to Andy and Jennifer. While Dad embellished and altered some data, I found this interesting as I learned a few things I never knew about before. Trust you enjoy it likewise.
VITEZ (Courageous) ANDRAS DAVIDHAZY
Reminiscences on the lives and careers of the 'great old-timers' of certain professions or vocations can always be of interest to the young. We trust that you, our readers, will also be interested in the testimonies of several of our seamen, the defining individuals of an age, describing the principal events and experiences of their careers. We begin this series with vitez Andras Davidhazy, long distance marine captain, the president of the Hungarian Seamen's Association.
Captain Davidhazy, notwithstanding the commanding respect due to his age, lives a truly active life in a quiet, extensively decorated with maritime memorabilia, apartment in southern Buda. From its windows in winter one can look upon the Danube, from where he often left for the sea on one of his favorite ships.
-Dear 'Bandi Bacsi'!(mister Andy), when and where did you first meet with the sea?
-By 4 years of age I was already most interested in navigation, in the sea. I found marvellous pictures of sailing ships in my brother's stamp collection, and these-much to his chagrin-I appropriated for myself. I was 7 when, upon deciding that I was going to be a sailor, I went to the railway station so that I could go to Fiume (Hungary's principal maritime port at that time). I was soon noticed by the gendarme responsible for controlling the passengers, and thus my travel plans were aborted. I was already 14 when I finally was able to meet the sea.
I travelled to Rome as a boy scout for the 'holy year ' events, in 1925. We made the trip between Fiume and Ancona in an old Hungarian steamer. I, with the permission of my teacher, was allowed to go up to the captain's bridge, and, furthermore, was able to steer the ship for quite some time! And wonder of wonders, after a few minutes, I was even able to maintain the course as given by the compass.
-Apart from the love for adventure, what directed you to the sea?
-It was not a love for adventure what took me to the sea! A sense of mission or of destiny guided me. The brother of my grandmother, Kalman Kiss, a Danube river sailor, innoculated me with the love for navigation and my perception for this vocation. Besides, having a sense of mission or duty already had precedents in my family. My father was a Chief Magistrate in Tata, and my eldest brother was already a multi-decorated officer during the First World War. He became, after only three months of service as a second lieutenant, the youngest first lieutenant(then in the Hungarian army).
-With your vocation you stood out from the norm. How did you finally become a seaman?
-It was not easy. There was great opposition from my family. I graduated from secondary school in 1929, and enlisted voluntarily then to meet my one year military duty. I served with the artillery in the Bercsenyi barracks. I was discharged in 1930 as an artillery sargeant. After this, upon parental advice, I enrolled at the Mining University of Sopron. At the end of the second year, upon reading an advertisement from a Polish Maritime Academy, I applied at Gdynia for instruction on the training ship DAR POMOROZA. I served and studied on this ship in 1932, from June until November, when I returned to the Mining Engineering studies. In the summer of the following year I sailed from Fiume on the ARTEMISA (previously Maria Cosulich) as a ship's apprentice ('grumete'in spanish). Here I learned Italian from the crew. By autumn I again returned to the University. In the summer of 1934 -having abandoned the University- I applied at various maritime firms for a position as a seaman, but without success. By a stroke of luck, I obtained the assistance of Admiral Miklos Horthy, Hungary's regent/governor, and thru his intercession the Budapest Representative of the Neptune Maritime Company finally hired me. Thus, in the spring of 1935, I found myself on the steamer TISZA. Tivadar Ruttkai was my Captain, Lajos Landesz the First and Gabor Kleindl the Second Officer.
-During the 12 years you served under the Hungarian flag you became, from a raw seaman, a captain! Who were your mentors/role models at that time?
-Adolf Holop, with whom I sailed on the m/s Tisza before becoming a captain, and Gustav Teleki, from whom I took over the command of the m/s KASSA. They were outstanding seamen as well as wonderfull persons. Additionally, Ruttkay, as a negative example. All of them had graduated from the Fiume Maritime Academy. They were much/greatly tested commanders.
-During the 12 years, you served on sailing ships, steamships and motorships. What were the most pleasant and most nerve-shaking experiences during these years?
-Both of them were connected with the war. The most pleasant experience was, while in Deggendorf and as captain of the KASSA, I married two madly in love young persons in the Fall of 1945 on the ship's deck. My children's nanny, and my second Officer, had fallen in love, and to prevent their yearning for each other fruitlessly-as there was no other possibility- I performed the ceremony myself. This was formally entered, of course, in the ship's log.
The saddest experience reached me during the salvage of a sunken Russian submarine. As captain of the m/s TISZA in July 1943, I received instructions to stop at Olinka on the Black Sea. We had to transport to Constanza the dead seamen retrieved from a sunken Russian submarine refloated by the Germans. I experienced here for the first time the terrible traces caused by the agony of death by suffocation, on the three officers who had sealed themselves hermetically in the captain's tower. With their excrutiating deaths they had saved the ship's secret papers - for the Germans. They were buried with full military honors - in a rare act of chivalry.
-With your favorite ship, the m/s KASSA, you fell under American control on German soil in the spring of 1945. How did your fate develop from this point onwards?
-Luckily and well! Luckily as it was the American Colonel Newell whom we, three river and sea Captains, in full dress uniform, went to see at the city headquarters in Linz. While we prepared for the meeting we of course had no idea of whom we would run into. During the meeting it turned out that he (Colonel Newell) was an old friend of Captain Potzner, the commander of the TISZA, whom he had met at Newport News where he (Colonel Newell) had earlier been harbourmaster. And what caused our fortune to turn for the better? The very strong brandy we made from the dried potatoes we carried as part of our cargo helped a lot in obtaining Colonel Newell's good will. The Americans really liked it.
Additionally, they were able to use our ships' radios to maintain contact with their headquarters in Frankfurt. Our good personal relationship with the American commander also helped us later in a number of cases. I had problems only later, and then only with our homeland's new leaders, who warned several of us-who had merely saved the ships(from being taken as war booty by the Soviets)-'you better not dare to return home, as we'll kill you!'. Well, from then on I made my plans to go elsewhere. In the Fall of 1947, when the ships were returned home, I moved with my family to Rendsburg, next to the Kiel channel. It was here that we were able to find work and a home.
-How did you obtain your small sailboat and why did you, in the company of your wife and children, have to go around half of Europe with it?
-Fearing the outbreak of another war, and as Europe would likely be its center, I felt we should get away from it as far as possible. On the other hand, to leave Europe towards America could only be done from Genova. We had to get there! In the conditions then existing in Germany, one could not leave it either by road or by rail. There remained the ship.
My luck brought me in contact, at the end of 1947, with the KASSA's german one-time artillery chief, whose father managed a shipyard. In an auction in Hamburg I managed to buy a lifeboat from the troop-transport ship BURGERMEISTER BALIN. As the shipyard was available, the boat was taken there and converted into a small, two masted, sailboat, duly equipped with an appropriate motor and living quarters for the four of us. We were also able to obtain the required papers and in this way the Hungarian flag, with its crown-emblem(as opposed to the hammer and sickle emblem which the Communist powers replaced it with around then) was raised on its mast.
The ship was christened GABRIELLA, after my wife, and Budapest became its home port. It was not really incorporated into the official Register, but in view of the then existing conditions, it was impossible for any of the controlling entities to check the correctness of the data. It was May of 1948 by then.
We left just before Whit Sunday. At first we carried some cargo between german ports, later we managed to obtain some cargo for Denmark. There, however, we did not find any return cargo. Upon inquirying from the Harbourmaster, he suggested we go to England, where we would be sure to find some cargoes.
We went to Ipswich, but had no luck there either. Groningen, Holland followed. Here we became suspicious and had to soon leave for Antwerp. Here we obtained our first assistance from the Head of the Hungarian Catholic Mission in Brussels. Our next port was Bordeaux, where our provisions ran out. We had to exchange almost everything we had for provisions, as the road left was still a long one. We were lucky on the Bay of Biscay and on the Mediterranean. We encountered no storms and nobody tried to check on us. We arrived in Genova at the begining of September, where I sold the boat.
With the assistance of Father Szelenyi-a vatican representative- we managed to get on board the American troop-carrier ship named GENERAL OMAR BUNDY. On september 13 we left Genova together with another 600 to 700 central European refugees. On board the fact came out that I was an active seaman with a captain's license, and so the Captain arranged for me to participate in the 8-12 watch as an officer. From then on we lived in a normal crew's cabin. On October 17 we landed in Buenos Aires, on the anniversary of Peron's coming into power. An extraordinarily large - typical of the South Americans - fiesta, free passing out of oranges and sandwiches. On the next day, the hard reality!
-How did your fortune develop on the American continent?
-At first, I worked at a shipyard in Buenos Aires, later I managed to find a position in a shipyard next to the Iguazu waterfalls. We built boats and yachts. We had to live in relatively very simple/primitive conditions. Not too much later I found myself in Necochea as a Designer at a shipyard. Here we managed to first move into our own home. My wife always wanted to move to the USA, mostly for the education of our children. In spite of several visits to the Consul of the USA, I was never able to obtain an immigration permit because of our Hungarian origin.
In 1957, lady luck smiled on us again. I noticed in a magazine a Help Wanted ad by the Boston Yacht Designer/Builder firm of John Alden. I sent them samples of my drawings, among which was included also a piping system design. This gained their interest, and they offered me a contract, with which finally-after many years- we succeeded in going up to the States. They took me on with a starting salary of 350 dollars per month. Here I worked in quite pleasant conditions for four years. Soon I doubled my income. Our children's education also became quite adequate, they both were able to enter University. In 1961, thru an application, we managed to move to Seattle to work at the ship design office of George Nickum, whose work was principally for the American Navy. From this point on we lived well. By the time I retired I was earning quite a few times more than my starting American salary.
-What brought you home after near 40 years, well before the political changes?
-Homesikness! The fact that I am Hungarian! My children had started self-sufficient lives in the States, and when my wife passed away, there was nothing that tied me there. I packed up and came. Of course, I had been home before then. First in 1974, then in '78, and then yearly for brief periods. I finally decided (to return) in 1982, and in the spring of the year following I managed to return home for good.
-How do you feel today, as the eldest sea captain, at the deterioration of our shipping to absolute minimum levels?
-I am embittered! Our best seamen cannot obtain employment on Hungarian flag vessels. They are forced to employ their knowledge abroad. (We are talking about) Such Captains who command 50, 000 ton container ships, such Chief Machinists who can be Chief Machinery Plant Engineers at large German Shipping firms. We do not have a maritime school, nor do we even offer any courses in seamanship. We want to rebuild our old port at Fiume at an enormous cost, but for what?! We do not have any more ships! Who will transport further, at great cost, the cargoes taken there by rail? This task could be performed by our destroyed Danube-Sea shipping. Just now a Portolan named Hungarian company is advertising that it can carry cargoes by river-sea from Hungary to anywhere. It makes sense to them? I wonder who takes their cargoes and under which flag?
When I returned, we still had 21 Hungarian flagged vessels, today the only one is the VOROSMARTY, but even this has been up for sale for several months. The sold ships were squandered away for 16 million dollars. Their true value was at least 48 million. I ask, where is the difference? But in any case, where is the 16 million?
-How would you summarize the vocation of a Seaman?
-One has to learn to respect the Sea! The sea is without mercy! It only endures on its back those who possess the appropriate knowledge, and behave towards it with the required respect and caution.
-I wish that the resurection of Hungarian Shipping will not be so far in the future that you will not have a chance to see it! Thank you very much for the discussion.