It's time to recall my most unforgettable moment on radio in 49 years. I wish it weren't.
It was Cold War time, the mid-1970s, and my show on local New York radio station WOR lasted literally all night long (actually we went from 11:15 p.m. until 2:07 and 30 seconds a.m., whereupon the station played the whole thing all over again, bringing it to 5 a.m., when their real broadcast day began),
Since we had such a huge hunk of time we'd bring in experts to fit with the main topic of the evening and we didn't pay all that much attention to who showed up, who failed to show up or who showed up even though he wasn't expected. All-night radio had a warm welcome and a hot microphone for everybody. .
On that magic night the main guests were two far-left American historians who'd published a grotesque revisionist version of the Cold War. Their main thesis was that American President Harry Truman was the warmonger and all Soviet dictator Josef Stalin wanted to do was merely "to preserve the gains of the international working class." Do you see why I miss all-night radio? Earlier that day I gave my producer instructions to round up the usual suspects who knew a lot about communism.
The left-wing revisionist historians did not disappoint. As they droned on I remember being sorry I was 23 stories high so I couldn't readily kiss the ground of America for allowing such diseased views to be broadcast, over 50-thousand watts, into 38 states.
At one point, as happens on all-night radio, I drifted off into what was then the country of Yugoslavia, which I had actually visited in 1951. Yugoslavia was, oddly, the one communist country on our side. "When I was in Yugoslavia," I began, "it was like Israel. There were border incidents with the neighboring Stalinist communist countries every single night; actual gunfire across the Yugoslav borders with Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. Yugoslavia feared a massive invasion from the Stalinist communist countries could come at any moment."
"Mr. Farber," intoned one of the revisionist historians, "That's exactly the kind of Cold War myth our book seeks to dispel. Josef Stalin never had any intention of invading Yugoslavia militarily."
At that point there was an abrupt interruption. Somebody on that panel said, "Oh, yes he did, and I was supposed to lead it!"
Here's a local radio show featuring a guest who says Stalin never had any intention of invading Yugoslavia and another guest pipes up and says, "Oh, yes he did, and I was supposed to lead it!"
My first instinct was to call security and have whoever that wild man was ejected. Half a second later, though, when I realized who he was, I thought, "This is a moment monumental enough to exceed my most far-reaching dreams." The "wild man" who was supposed to lead the Soviet Union's invasion of Yugoslavia, was Hungarian General Bela Kiraly, military leader of the 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fight against the Soviets. I'd met him and befriended him and had him on the air a lot (and even double-dated with him with my wife and mother-in-law!) in the years since he had escaped the Soviet firing squad and made it safely to America, where he taught history at Brooklyn College.
Up to that instant, I'd only thought of Gen. Bela Kiraly as the military leader of the Hungarian Freedom Fight of 1956. It had never once occurred to me that, of course, any Hungarian general in 1956 must also have been something in the Hungarian military in 1951. And, yes, in 1951 he was a general in a communist country under Soviet control and it was utterly logical that he would have been the northern part of any Stalinist plan to invade Yugoslavia.
I'm afraid I played it to the hilt. I turned my broadcast back on the thunderstruck revisionists and said, "General Kiraly, was your plan to strike westward through the Ljubljana Gap and take Rijeka, the sister-city of Trieste on the Adriatic?" "Nothing that sophisticated," replied Gen. Kiraly. "Our orders were to smash down from the Hungarian town of Szeged and take the Yugoslav town of Subotica and roll our tanks southward across the flatlands of the Vojvodina. We were, however, ordered to stop at the city limits of Belgrade to give our Soviet comrades the honor of taking the enemy's capital."
You don't get much of that on local radio!
Why was there never such a Soviet invasion? Stalin probably never heard of Vietnam, but he didn't want one in Yugoslavia. He knew the Yugoslav reputation for fighting stronger foes.
Gen. Kiraly was a gentleman. He was kind, cultured, and utterly unfit to be a Nazi ally, which history made him in World War II. He was equally unsuited to be anything but a freedom fighter for his people. During World War II he side-stepped Nazi orders to brutalize the Jews by putting them in Hungarian uniforms and pretending they were his troops.
Gen. Kiraly called me in the summer of 1989. Commnism was dying of extreme malignancy in Hungary. The death sentence on his head from the Revolution in 1956 was lifted so he could return to Hungary to attend the gigantic ceremony reburying the Freedom Leaders of the 1956 Revolution who'd been executed and dumped into a mass unmarked grave when the Soviet forces had overwhelmed Hungary's new freedom after only 10 days..
"I can invite only one journalist to ride with me to Heroes' Square," Gen. Kiraly told me, "and I want that journalist to be you."
Eat your heart out, Pulitzer. Absolutely nothing you or anybody else could ever award me could equal that honor. The young often assign the quality of "awesome" to a rock concert. My definition was walking into Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary just behind Gen. Bela Kiraly and hearing over a quarter of a million Hungarian freedom-lovers explode once they realized who he was.
Gen. Bela Kiraly died in Budapest last week, free, triumphant, and happy at the age of 97.
Michael Jackson made an awful lot of millions of people happy. Walter Cronkite kept an awful lot of millions of people informed.
And Bela Kiraly, as the delivery-leader of the blow that eventually sent European communism down and out made an awful lot of millions of people free.
And he made two lying historians shut their mouths forever.
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