Attic Whispers from the Blue Mountains [April 2022 Edition]

April 2022 NEWSLETTER

Attic Whispers from The Blue Mountains

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

Edmund Burke

Easter is usually a time of hope and reflection, of joy and celebration, but not so this year. The devastating events in the Ukraine with those unimaginable atrocities and barbarity have sadly overshadowed everything. For that reason, I have decided to open this newsletter with something a little more serious.

I have recently come across a Facebook post by Joe Becigneul I would like to share with you because it provides a concise and accurate summary of Ukraine’s tragic history that seems to somehow repeat itself right now in horrific ways.

As someone with a keen interest in history, I firmly believe that awareness and understanding are the first steps towards change, and this little piece will certainly raise awareness of a tragic episode in history that may not be generally known, but must not be forgotten, because it will help us understand what is happening right now, and perhaps help us find a way to stop it.

‘At the entrance to the memorial park in Kyiv, there is a sculpture of an extremely thin girl with a very sad look holding a handful of wheat ears in her hands. Behind her back is the Candle of Remembrance, a monument with details reminiscent of authentic embroidery that can be found on traditional Ukrainian costumes. This is a monument that commemorates a historical event known as the Holodomor.

What is the Holodomor?

After the end of the First World War, Ukraine was an independent state, but in 1919 the Soviet Union “sucked” it into the community of Soviet states. The Ukrainians, who even then considered themselves a Central European people like the Poles and not an Eastern European like the Russians, tried to restore Ukraine’s independence.

In 1932, not wanting to lose control of Europe’s main granary, Stalin resorted to one of the most heinous forms of terror against one nation. In the process of nationalization, he took away the grain-producing land from the Ukrainian peasants, but also all its offerings, thus creating an artificial famine. The goal was to “teach Ukrainians to be smart” so that they would no longer oppose official Moscow. Thus the people who produced the most grain in Europe were left without a crumb of bread. The peak of the Holodomor was in the spring of 1933. In Ukraine at that time, 17 people died of hunger every minute, more than 1,000 every hour, and almost 24,500 every day! People were literally starving to death in the streets.

Stalin settled the Russian population in the emptied Ukrainian villages. During the next census, there was a large shortage of population. Therefore, the Soviet government annulled the census, destroyed the census documents, and the enumerators were shot or sent to the gulag, in order to completely hide the truth.

World War. Their poison gas was hunger. Their Hitler was Stalin. Their Holocaust was the Holodomor. For them, fascist Berlin was Soviet Moscow, and their concentration camp was the Soviet Union. Today, 28 countries around the world present the Holodomor as genocide against Ukrainians, which you could not learn about in school, because almost all evidence was destroyed and victims were covered up for decades, survivors were forcibly silenced by not having the right to vote until recently.

The Holodomor at that time broke the Ukrainian resistance, but it made the desire for Ukraine’s independence from Russia eternal.’

***
What is happening in the Ukraine right now, is very similar to what happened in Hungary during the Revolution in 1956. I was a young boy at the time, and my mother and I escaped the carnage and the atrocities of the Russian invasion by crossing the border into Austria in October in a horse-drawn cart.

Sadly, my father, a freedom fighter, stayed behind. What happened next is captured in a little short story – Coming Home for Christmas – I would like to share with you now. It is a little gem buried deep in my memory castle I retrieve from time to time to remind me of what really matters…

(You can find this, and other biographical short stories in my Letters from the Attic published in 2016)

Coming home for Christmas; 24 December 1956

Winter came early to Austria in 1956. The mountains were hiding in dense fog and a thick blanket of snow covered the countryside. The branches of the pine trees groaned under the heavy load and almost touched the frozen ground.
Russian tanks rolling through Budapest had crushed the Hungarian Revolution that had erupted in October a few months earlier. The streets were littered with the bodies of freedom fighters who had laid down their lives for a dream.

The little boy shovelling snow in his grandparents’ garden was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother had managed to escape the bloodbath by crossing the border into Austria before the iron curtain descended with brutal efficiency, sealing off the troubled country. The boy’s father, however – a freedom fighter – had remained behind, helping to hide, and care for the wounded.
‘You must leave now, before it’s too late!’ he had told his young wife. ‘Your parents are in Austria waiting for you. You have a home to go to in the West! There is nothing left for us here. I will join you later; promise. Go!’ That had happened in early November.

This will be a sad Christmas, thought the young woman, watching her son play in the snow outside. At least he’s safe. She hadn’t heard from her husband, nor did she know if he was still alive. The horror stories that had leaked out through the Red Cross spoke of summary executions, chaos, hunger and despair; the wages of defeat of a humbled nation that had dared to demand freedom, and lost.
The little boy pushed the wooden shovel along the path at the bottom of the garden when something caught his eye: a dark shape at the gate.

‘Yes, this is actually me just before Christmas 1956 in the garden of my grandfather’s hunting lodge in Austria.’

Squinting through the snow falling all around him like sparkling tufts of cottonwool, he could see a man wearing a slouch hat and a long coat watching him; motionless and silent. The boy dropped the shovel and walked slowly towards the gate. With each step came recognition, hesitantly at first, but growing stronger and more certain.

‘Daddy?’ whispered the boy, his eyes wide with disbelief and wonder. The man put down his little brown suitcase and took off his hat.
‘Daddy!’ shrieked the boy as he flew into his father’s outstretched arms. It was an embrace neither of them would forget.

Of course the little boy in the story was me. It had taken my father three weeks to walk from the smoking ruins of Budapest to my grandparents’ home in Austria. Hiding in abandoned stables and chicken coops along the way, and living off the kindness of farmers prepared to risk all to help a fugitive, he finally crossed the border into Austria at night during a snow storm. I remember his swollen feet looked terrible and he was frightfully thin and very weak. But none of that mattered; he had come home for Christmas.

A couple of years later, in high school, we were asked to write a short story about an event that changed our lives. This was my story. The teacher entered it in a little competition run by the local paper. The story won a prize. It was my first step towards becoming a writer.

***
We must never remain silent and ignore the suffering of others. Only that way can we defeat bigotry and overcome the iron grip of tyranny and evil. That was true then, and is just as true today. Freedom cannot be taken for granted. It is a treasure beyond price.
Those of you familiar with my books would have noticed that these ideas run through the storylines like a little silver thread showing us the light, and making sure that we never lose our way.

Choosing a Reader of the Month is never easy. Because I enjoy a close relationship with my readers – especially through my newsletters – I get a lot of emails every month, all of which I try to answer the best I can.
Yet, every month, one reader always seems to stand out. This month, it was Terry whose eloquent summary of certain aspects of my writing has confirmed that I appear to be on the right track! A most welcome reassurance for a writer. This is what Terry had to say:

Gabriel –
I have read all the books and novellas in the Jack Rogan series, as well as The Younger Self Letters. What resonated most with me is how the novellas tie into all the novels. They add details missing from the novels and give the extra “spice” to make the novels more “savoury”. Of course, each novel can stand alone, however, as a complete package, if the main story line is the tree trunk, each novel represents a major limb with the novellas providing the details to fill out the tree with branches, twigs, and leaves. I am amazed at your memory and ability to seamlessly weave details from so many stories into such a relatively small work as a novella, while adding even more details to fill in the blanks. With each instalment – novel or novella – I don’t feel that there are any loose ends that leave me with questions or wondering how an issue or situation was resolved. Everything seems complete. Then I am surprised when Jack is presented with a new challenge and fortuitously can engage all his friends and associates in the search for a solution and all of the new story ties into all of the previous stories. Hooray!
If memory serves, The Forgotten Painting was the first of your works I was privileged to read. I feel like I’ve come full circle now that I know the rest of David Herzl’s story. I love the continuity of all your works and am always excited when I learn you are working on a new project. Yours are the types of books readers search for – the ones we stay up all night reading because we just have to find out what is on the next page, and the next. Always thoroughly entertaining!

All the best,
Terry

Thank you for your kind words, Terry. Readers like you make this journey meaningful and worthwhile. The Jack Rogan Mysteries Series and interrelated novellas (more than 3500 paperback pages in all) have been carefully crafted to provide a unique reading experience and entertain the thinking reader and culturally curious. And you, Terry, are definitely one of those…

Just another little reminder about the FREE Starter Library which can be downloaded right now by visiting my website and following the prompts.

STAY SAFE, STAY CHEERFUL, and please STAY IN TOUCH.
We are all in this together, and together we will get through this!

Sincerely,

Author Gabriel Farago

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