The Voice of God

Throughout the years of World War II, in our country Hungary, somehow my grandparents, who were raising me, and I managed to survive, although we had many close calls. But when that terrible war finally ended in 1945, there was no jubilation for the people of Hungary, because Soviet troops occupied the land now, holding our country hostage in the arms of communism. Suddenly, people who spoke out against new oppressions that began to take place were rounded up by the newly formed secret police force and never seen again!

My grandfather, a retired judge, was not afraid to speak out, and one day, in the fall of 1945, two men appeared at our house to take him away. They said he was being taken in for questioning only. Grandfather, pointing out that his hands were dirty from working in the garden, asked the men if he could wash up first. The men agreed. When he didn’t come out of the bathroom within a few minutes, the men ran and pushed the door open. The water in the sink was still running, but Grandfather had disappeared! He had managed to jump out the bathroom window and flee on foot. The two men raced out the door, and up and down our street, looking for Grandfather, while my grandmother held me close, as we tearfully prayed for Grandpa’s safety.

Grandfather managed to elude capture, and went into hiding, while life became more and more difficult for Grandmother and me. We lived on soup made from a few vegetables that grew in our garden, and we never knew when the secret police would show up at our house again, in hopes of finding Grandpa. Sometimes they came in the middle of the night, breaking down our door. Fear became our constant companion then; prayer was our sustenance.

For two years my grandfather managed to elude capture, and although he sent word to us that he was safe, most of the time we didn’t know his whereabouts. Grandmother and I missed him terribly. The thought that we might never be together again plagued me constantly. But on an autumn day in 1947, when I was almost ten years old, I knew exactly where to find him, and it seemed to me the time had come for us to be reunited.

The day before, new elections were held in our country, and I waited for the results with hope in my heart. So the morning after the elections when our radio announced that the communist party had been defeated, I was overjoyed! Celebrations erupted in the streets, too, with none of us realizing that the communist government, backed by the Soviet troops, wasn’t about to give up power, elections or no elections.

But after listening to the radio broadcast, my mind concluded the election results meant that Grandfather could come home and we could be a family again. I immediately wondered if Grandfather, who we recently learned was hiding out on a nearby farm, had heard the good news. I decided now was a good time to hike out to the farm and tell him. Then we could come home together and surprise Grandma! Of course, I didn’t tell anyone of my plan. Rather than go to school, I set out on the long walk to Grandfather’s hiding place. As I reached the outskirts of our village without drawing any attention to myself, wild anticipation filled my heart. In a short while I would see Grandfather for the first time in over two years, and we would walk home together and live as a family again. Joy filled my heart and I began to walk faster.

Suddenly, I was startled when I heard a man’s voice calling my name. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked all around me, but saw no one.

“Who are you? Where are you? I can’t see you,” I asked, straining to see if the speaker might be behind some nearby bushes.

“It isn’t important where I am,” the voice said. “I am here to warn you that you are about to put your grandfather in grave danger, for you are being followed. Turn around and go back to your grandmother immediately, and know that you will all be together, soon.”

Of course, very frightened now, I immediately turned and began running back towards the village, my heart pounding so hard I thought it would jump right out of my chest. I ran past a man on a bicycle and recognized him as one of the secret police that had been at our house. The stranger’s voice had been right: I was being followed!

When I reached our house, I found Grandma outside pacing back and forth in the street.

“Oh, thank the Lord that you are all right!” she cried, when she saw me, gathering me in her arms. “They came to tell me that you were not in school, and I thought someone had taken you away.”

“I decided to go and tell Grandfather that the communists lost the election,” I wailed. “I thought we could come home together and surprise you!”

“Oh, my!” Grandma said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Oh, my!”

“But someone stopped me,” I continued excitedly, tears streaming down my face. “A voice told me I was being followed and that I should run back home. It was the kindest, most loving voice I have ever heard, Grandma. I think it was the voice of God, speaking to me. No one, but no one else knew of my plan!”

My grandmother nodded silently, ushered me into the house, and while holding me close, reassured me that everything would be better soon.

Two weeks later, a man came to get us in the middle of the night. By the time the sun rose, we had traveled many miles to a place near the Austrian border where a large group of ethnic Germans were about to be deported into Austria. My heart leapt with joy when I saw Grandfather there. He looked into my eyes lovingly and hugged me tightly. We were to be smuggled out of our country as ethnic Germans. Aware of the danger still around us, we didn’t dare breathe a sigh of relief until we crossed the border. In Austria, we ended up in a refugee camp along with hundreds of other destitute refugees, but at least we were finally together again.

Grandfather remained fearful that the long arm of communism could still reach out and snatches him back. It wasn’t until 1951, when we were given the chance at new lives in a wonderful new country, the United States of America, that he was finally able to relax and live out his life in grateful peace.

Over the years, I often wondered about the voice I heard on that fall day in 1947. Could the voice have belonged to some kind neighbor who had guessed my destination, and decided to warn me anonymously? Or perhaps it really was the voice of God that prompted me to turn around. But whether the voice was human or heavenly, of this I am certain: It was God’s hand that guided us safely back together so we could be a family again.

Copyright 1999 by Renie Burghardt [email protected]

Originally published in “Chocolate for a Mother’s Heart” 1999 A Fireside Book Simon and Schuster

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