The Commander’s Cross

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Hungary, as a reluctant ally of Nazi Germany, contributed two hussar cavalry regiments to fight on the Russian front in 1943. They arrived in Russia on magnificent horses in their parade uniforms and were presented by their colonel to the German quartermaster in Orel, a colonel of the general staff and my father. He was in charge of placing these foreign troops on the front line stretching all the way to the sixth German army fighting in Stalingrad. The Hungarian colonel told my father privately that these cadets were the sons of elite Hungarian families and should not be sacrificed frivolously.

My father immediately recognized that these troops were ill-prepared for a battle in the Russian winter. He had them outfitted with heavy parkas and boots, then dispatched them to the hinterland to patrol and defend the highways, important supply routes, against possible partisans. At the end of their duty in early 1944, the young hussars were able to return to Hungary without casualties.

For this wartime service to the Kingdom of Hungary, the Commander’s Cross was bestowed upon my father in Budapest on May 8, 1944, and a glorious ceremony in his honour was held on the 29th of that same month.

Prior to the ceremony the Hungarian colonel, who served as regiment commander in Russia, invited my father to dine with him at an elegant restaurant in Budapest. My father, in his German uniform of general staff colonel with the two flaming red stripes on his trousers, arrived early. Entering the crowded restaurant, he asked for the reserved table. The talkative crowd fell into an icy silence, glaring with hostility at the German intruder. In a few moments, the Hungarian colonel stepped into the restaurant and spotted my father still standing uncertainly near the entrance. The colonel quickly turned to face him with outstretched arms and called out loudly: “Here he is, Colonel von Kap-herr, the savior of our troops!” He rushed over to my father and embraced him enthusiastically to the sudden applause of the patrons. And over the course of the meal, the story of what my father had done was whispered throughout the restaurant.

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