|Istvan Fehervary - The Long Road to Revolution|
|A Historical Context||1|
|2. HUNGARY UNDER SOVIET COMMUNISM||10|
|Advent of Communism in Hungary 1945-1948||10|
|The Sovietization of Hungary||24|
|Resistance Instead of Compromise||40|
|3. CAPTURED BY THE SOVIETS||42|
|An Illusion of Sanctuary: Vienna 1949||45|
|The Soviet World||60|
|Handed Over to the Hungarians||76|
|4. PRISON WORLD IN HUNGARY||79|
|The Party's Secret Agencies||79|
|Inside the Prison Wor1d: Katpol||85|
|My trial: A Birthday to Remember||102|
|The AVH: Communist Party Leviathan||109|
|Culture in the Catacombs||145|
|Signs of Change in the AVH Prisons||154|
|6. THE SOVIETS IN HUNGARY,||184|
|HUNGARIANS IN THE SOVIET UNION||184|
|The KGB in Hungary||186|
|Journey to the Soviet Union||194|
|Soviet Labor Camps||201|
|7. REVOLUTION AND ESCAPE||210|
|Good-bye Hungary! A Last Escape||216|
|Appendix: Demands of University Students||226|
To those who gave their lives for the freedom of Hungary
In the aftermath of two world wars and the sacrifice of millions of lives, in the wake of the Holocaust and the horrors of the atomic bomb, it was possible to assume that humanity would unite in creating a free and peaceful world. Based on the new international treaties advocating human rights and the United Nations Charter, pledging to defend democracy and national sovereignty, it was possible to assume that future humanity would be governed by the laws of reason in spite of the existence of two opposing world views. But these hopeful assumptions gave way to a bitter reality: the weapons in Europe had hardly fallen silent in May of 1945 before the Red Army - stationed in Eastern Europe as a condition of the treaty at Yalta - began the bolshevization of those vanquished nations. In cooperation with the local Communist parties, the occupying Soviet forces completely violated the rules that were meant to establish new, independent states. Joseph Stalin, then at the height of his unbridled dictatorship, predicted it would take two to three years to weld the nations of Eastern Europe into a Communist bloc. When quiet threats and compromises did not bring about the desired ends, merciless terror no less barbaric than the atrocities of the Nazis was considered justified.
The Long Road to Revolution is the story of this bolshevization process in Hungary: an account of how the Hungarian state became a Communist vassal of the Soviet Union; an account of the notorious ten year reign of the Stalinist Rakosi regime in
Hungary-of the life in the prisons and death-camps, of the staged trials and executions, all hitherto kept secret or distorted; finally, it is an account of the democratic resistance that culminated in the people's uprising of 1956, ending ten years of terror.
The revolution which erupted in Budapest in October 1956 shook the world. Politicians and the members of various secret services listened to the news coming from Hungary with disbelief; the events of the uprising surprised even the Hungarians themselves. The most miraculous revelation of the revolt was that the country had remained united despite ten years of re-education campaigns and attempts to undermine national unity. Hungarians had taken a stand on the side of freedom over oppression and, if only for a few days, the country had regained its independence.
The rest is history. The Western powers were diverted with the Suez crisis, President Eisenhower proclaimed his anti-war policy, and the Communist states agreed to go along with Khrushchev's plan. The Red Army, with its military superiority, was thus given free reign to crush a nation's long dream of freedom. When all was over, the so-called experts came along, and from comfortable editorial offices and research institutes began to analyze the revolution, invent the whys and hows, pretend to understand the causes which incited a nation to revolt or the forces which made young people climb barricades, throw home-made bombs and risk their lives. Some of these analyses contained a grain of truth, others were pure fantasy. Few exhibited an awareness of the real reasons for the armed resistance of a demoralized country. Few knew about what had taken place behind the scenes. Few knew of the increasing bitterness that cemented the resolve of an entire nation to resist the Communist party For lack of other explanations, almost everyone accepted the mendacious statements of the Communist propaganda machinery.
The revolution of 1956 had its beginnings in 1946, in the first years of the Soviet occupation, and continued after 1948 when
the Communist dictatorship forcibly took power. By 1956 many factors had contributed to the fomenting of revolution: the various resistance movements and anti-Communist campaigns instigated from the West; the open warfare between the Communist counter-intelligence and the resistance; the thousands arrested, jailed and executed. All these culminated in the formation of one unified voice, one unified goal. The people had endured enough terror, oppression, exploitation and poverty. The people wanted freedom, democracy and national independence. Thousands paid with their lives before the nation forced the political and military leadership, weapons in hand, to capitulate. Long was the road between 1946 and 1956.
When I published my first book in 1978, entitled Bortonvilag Magyarorszagon (The Prison World in Hungary), and then a few years later, Szovjetvilag Magyarorszagon (Soviet World in Hungary), many of my friends and compatriots encouraged me to have them translated into English. They considered it important to inform the Western world about the Hungarian resistance between 1945 and the outbreak of the revolution in 1956, a resistance actively defying the Communist dictatorship and the occupying Soviet army. This book is the product of their urging, a combined volume of the two Hungarian editions. In this new book, which is the first publication about the ten years of the Rakosi regime, all the accounts are derived from my own personal experience or the testimonies of my former prison-mates who circulated in the hell of Hungary's prison world. This is what we lived through.
The validity of the documents used is illustrated by the fact that the Communist leaders in Hungary did not attempt to deny them; on the contrary, a televised book review in Hungary acknowledged that the documents credibly depict the reign of terror that existed during the Stalin-Rakosi years. It is a testimony to the changes that are taking place in Hungary today that my books will be published in Hungarian in my homeland-something unthinkable a few years ago.
I spent eight years in prison (1949-1956), most of the time under extremely difficult, inhumane circumstances. The Hungarian revolution of October 1956 brought me and thousands of other political prisoners our freedom. The suffering I endured left me with little desire for revenge towards my torturers, but I am often reminded that I was robbed of eight years of my youth, potentially the most beautiful. I cannot, however, suppress my bitterness towards those in the West who directly or indirectly caused the death of hundreds and the destruction of families in the name of self-serving anti-Communist propaganda. Through their encouraging influence, agitation and false promises, these entities used the Hungarian resistance for their own ends.
The Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest on 4 November 1956, crushing the revolution. A month later, I escaped to Vienna. In January 1957, at the continued urging of my friends, I began to record these events. I wrote my account as it lived in my memory, vividly at that time - adding or detracting nothing, as faithfully as I was able. May it encourage mankind to remember those who died for the freedom of their country. I strongly believe that their sacrifice was not in vain. The passage Albert Camus wrote in 1957 has been realized in the Eastern Europe of today: *01
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1 THE HUNGARIANS:
A Historical Context
Nearly 15 million Hungarians are estimated to be living in the world today: over 10 million live within Hungary's present borders, another 3 million live in the neighboring countries of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, and the rest are scattered throughout the world. Generally, people know very little about the origins and history of the Hungarians, and often what knowledge they have is spurious; this is not surprising as Hungarians themselves are uncertain of their ancestral origins. Some historians and ethnographers point to the broad steppes located between the Ural and Altai mountains as the cradle of the Hungarian nation. Others hypothesize a relationship with the Sumerians and refer to Mesopotamia as the Hungarians' proto-homeland. According to folk legend, long ago, two princes - Hunor and Magor - were hunting on the Far Eastern steppes when they spotted a beautiful white stag. After a long chase the stag led them to the territory of another tribe where, to their astonishment, they encountered a group of maidens dancing in the forest. They carried off the two most beautiful women and married them, and thus founded the Hun and Magyar tribes.
Whichever version we accept-academic theory or folk legend - it is certain that the Hungarian people had no original ethnic
relationship to either their Slavic or Germanic neighbors. Hungarian linguistic traits are completely distinct as well: Hungarian belongs neither to the Indo-European nor the Slavic family of languages, but to the Finno-Ugric. In addition to Finnish and Hungarian, this family includes Estonian and the languages of smaller groups living in Asia such as the Ostyaks and Voguls. The words which are shared with the Slavs and Germans have been adopted over a thousand-year long period of coexistence in the Danubian valley
The present day Hungarians recognize an old kinship with the Huns. Like the Huns they were a nomadic people, and in the course of their migration to escape the threat of Mongol tribes they proceeded toward the West and reached the steppes between the Don and Dnieper rivers. They did not remain in the region long and, according to the earliest available historic sources, reached the northeastern section of the Carpathian mountains around 879 A.D. There the group, composed of seven tribes, sealed their union with a blood oath and elected the chieftain Arpad as their first ruler. The newly unified nation, estimated to number about 200,000, crossed the mountains via the Pass of Verecke and occupied the lowlands surrounded by the Carpathians. This clearly delineated geographic area, the Carpathian Basin, was at the time inhabited by Slavs, Avars and other peoples left behind from Roman times. For the next I ,000 years, from around the lOth century until 1920, the region was dominated by the Hungarian people.
The conquering Hungarians gradually became acquainted with the indigenous customs, religions and way of life. In 1000 A.D. their leader, Vajk, a descendant of Arpad, embraced Christianity and was crowned King Istvan (Stephen) of Hungary by Pope Sylvester. The Arpadian dynasty ruled the country until 1370, waging wars against the Holy Roman Emperor in the West and the Emperor of Byzantium in the East. In 1222, only seven years after the barons of Britain forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, the barons of Hungary compelled their king, Endre, to promulgate a similar document. This document, referred to by historians as the Golden Bull (Aranybulla), was the first manifesto on the European
continent to deal with human rights and the authority of the sovereign.
In 1244 the armies of Genghis Khan attacked Hungary, and after the disastrous Battle of Muhi, they plundered much of the country. The work of nation building was begun anew and within two centuries Hungary and the Royal Palace at Buda became one of the centers of Renaissance literature and culture. Famous artisans and masters from all over Europe convened on the city during the reign of Matyas Hunyadi (Matthias Corvinus). Several hundred of the finest illuminated manuscripts of the period, the Corvinae, of which regrettably only a few have survived, were produced during Matyas' reign. Archeological explorations undertaken recently at the Royal Palace of Visegrad have revealed valuable art objects and sculptures, illustrating the extent of the Hungarian renaissance.
Nearly a century later, an invasion by the Ottoman Turks ended the period of peace for the Hungarian people. The army of Sultan Sulejman the Magnificent defeated the resistance led by the young Hungarian king, Lajos II, in Mohacs in 1526. Hungary was then divided into three parts, a partition which would last 150 years. The north and west were governed by the Habsburgs, the center and the south were occupied by the Thrks, and the eastern part of the country - Erdely or Transylvania - retained its independence.
During the long struggle against the "pagans on either side," as Hungarian writers later referred to the conquerors of this period, the population of the country was reduced to half of its former number, from 5 million to 2.5 to 3 million people. This period is looked upon as a heroic era in Hungarian history, a time when people risked everything in the fight for liberty; they demonstrated that they were willing to make the greatest sacrifices for the independence of their nation, providing an example for generations to come.
After the expulsion of the Turks in 1675, the entire country came under the Habsburg imperial authority; a rule which did not differ greatly from Ottoman oppression. Hungarians took up arms against the Habsburgs on two separate occasions: between 1703 and 1711 they attempted to regain their independence under the leadership of
the Transylvanian prince, Ferenc Rakoczi II; then in the tumultuous years of 1848-49, they answered Lajos Kossuth's call to revolution. Both struggles failed, but the Habsburgs began to realize that they could not use the same political methods they employed with their other subjects on the Hungarians. In 1867 a compromise was reached between the Hungarian nation and the Habsburg dynasty called the Ausgleich, culminating in the creation of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph I, became king of independent Hungary; Before the outbreak of the First World War, Hungary began the process of industrialization. During this time, the nation lived in relative harmony with its minority populations.
Despite the efforts of its political leadership to maintain neutrality, Hungary was unable to avoid involvement in the 1914-18 world war. The Hungarian people paid dearly for the participation of their country in the conflict, suffering enormous losses in both human life and material resources. As a result, Hungary and the other vanquished nations looked forward to the implementation of President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which proposed a European peace based on justice, plebiscites and the sovereignty of peoples. However, the victorious European powers set these principles aside. Ignoring the potential consequences of their actions, they made decisions based solely on their own interests.
Hungary was literally fragmented and reapportioned by the victorious Allied powers in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Two-thirds of its territory was awarded to the countries newly created out of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, placing over 4 million ethnic Hungarians under Czechoslovak, Romanian and Yugoslavian rule. Their fate was not ignored by their homeland, and for the next twenty-five years the overriding focus of Hungarian foreign policy was the peaceful revision of the treaty of 1920. The country's leadership, under regent Admiral Miklos Horthy, knew that in its truncated and impoverished state, surrounded by inimical nations, it could not use force to regain its lost territories.
For the map of the truncated Hungary, see the Map section at the end of the home page
After Trianon, in June of 1921, an alliance called the "Little Entente" was formed between Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. The treaty had given the three nations the right to intervene in Hungarian domestic and military affairs. The alleged purpose of the Little Entente, a treaty of mutual assistance, was to repel any potential Hungarian offensive. The alliance lasted until 1938, when under the threat of Hitler's Germany they reluctantly signed an agreement in Bled, Yugoslavia, dissolving the entente.
In addition to destroying the political unity of the Carpathian Basin, the Treaty of Trianon created a catastrophic economic situation for Hungary. The country lost much of its natural resources, all of its industrial regions and its markets for agricultural production. Exploration for new natural resources and economic opportunities placed great strain on the already broken nation. The world economy itself was not strong enough after the depression of 1929-32 to provide opportunities for a small country to resolve its problems. Hungary's condition was made more grave by the burden of over a million immigrating Hungarians who were either fleeing the detached territories or who were being expelled by new rulers.
During the interwar period Hungary did not have much opportunity to carry out its own foreign policy. Initiatives for contact with the West were largely rejected, and well-intentioned proposals ignored. The Little Entente's politicians made certain that Hungary remained under their control, not only through economic and military means, but by keeping Hungary politically isolated from the West. The resulting antagonistic political relationship with its neighbors helps to explain Hungary's unexpected change of allegiance when Mussolini and Hitler came to power. The nation and its leadership did not share the political attitudes that came to prevail in Italy and in Germany; in fact, Hungary's official position was that in the event of an international conflict affecting the Danubian valley, the country would maintain its neutrality.
When Hitler and the National Socialists came to power in Germany, a new chapter began in the history of Europe. The implementation of militant political concepts, the rearmament of
Germany and the unbridled violations of the peace treaties, set the stage for another war. Hitler and his circle made no secret of their claim to certain Hungarian territories. Pan-German agitators travelled back and forth through the country, fomenting hostility between Hungary's Volksdeutch, or German citizens, and ethnic Hungarians. In spite of German pressure, Hungary attempted to maintain its neutrality, supporting Hitler's policies only when they involved a peaceful reannexation of Hungarian inhabited regions lost after the First World War. *1/1
In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union. At first Hungary refrained from taking part in the offensive, but later - reacting to an aerial bombing *1/2 of a Hungarian city by still unidentified perpetrators - the country declared war on the Soviet Union. Hungarian citizens acknowledged this declaration without protest: they had bitter memories of the Communist regime which reigned briefly in Hungary after World War I. That government, inspired by events in Russia, had taken power with the support of Lenin and his Bolshevik leadership in 1919. Modeled on the Soviet state, it imitated the Bolsheviks' inhumane and oppressive measures. Within four months of coming to power, the Communist rule had been expelled, the Party was banned and its leaders fled the country. In 1941, while Hungarians were not willing to go to war on the side of the Germans -from whom they expected nothing - they were ready, after a twenty year anti-Communist period, to fight the renewed threat of communism.
After the loss at Stalingrad in 1943, Germany's defeat was inevitable. The Hungarian leadership made every effort to extract the country from the war and to make a separate peace with the Allies and the Soviet Union. On 19 March 1944, the Germans learned of the Hungarians' intentions and sent military units to
occupy the territory of their allies. Hungarian Jews, who had thus far escaped the fate of their kinsmen in neighboring countries, were delivered into the hands of German authorities and then deported to the various concentration camps. In October, when the Budapest government made another weak attempt to cease hostilities, the Germans intensified the occupation, interned the regent, Admiral Horthy, and installed a government composed of native National Socialists called the Arrow Cross party. Some of the heaviest fighting in the waning months of the war took place on Hungarian soil, resulting in destruction and squalor. The German soldiers took everything they could carry under the pretext of evacuating the country. Later, the Russian, Romanian and Bulgarian occupying forces plundered whatever was left. But material losses were far surpassed by human casualties: nearly a million Hungarian citizens were killed, wounded or disappeared without a trace. Of these, about 300,000 POWs and 295,000 civilians were transported to the Soviet Union; more than half perished under the inhumane conditions of the journey and camp life.
On 4 April 1945, Hungary's entire territory was occupied by the armed forces of the Soviet Union. They had been given the right to stay under the terms reached by the victorious powers at the Yalta conference, and further legitimized their presence in Hungary by the peace treaty signed in Paris in 1947. By late 1948, the Hungarian Communist party, aided by the Soviet occupation, had taken over political power and declared Hungary a People's Democracy.
In October 1956, eight years after the Communist takeover in 1948, workers allied with the nation's youth initiated an armed struggle for independence. Through great sacrifice, Hungary became the first nation to force the Soviets to retreat, and for a period of ten days, Hungarians enjoyed their hard-won freedom. But it was not to last. On 4 November 1956, the Red Army crushed the revolution and with it any Hungarian hopes for freedom. The new Communist leader, Janos Kadar, failing to uphold his previous promises, initiated a policy of retribution on anyone who had participated in the fight for independence, from the local politician
to the average youth armed with a homemade weapon. In the ensuing years, several hundred people were executed, including Imre Nagy, the Communist prime minister and symbol of the revolution, and General Pal Maleter, the Communist minister of defense who had sided with the revolutionaries. As they had been from 1947 to 1956, the prisons were filled again; thousands were arrested and sentenced to long prison-terms. Writers of world reknown - Zoltan Zelk, Tibor Dery, Laszlo Benjamin and others - spent years behind bars for their roles in the revolution. The former members of the secret police, the AVH, came out of hiding and commenced the arrests and brutal interrogations for which they had become infamous. It was not until 1962, after six long years of retribution, that the period of injustice came to a close, and in 1963 the first amnesty was announced.
Kadar reigned in Hungary for thirty-two years, transforming his reputation over the years from the butcher of 1956 to the man responsible for Hungary's "revolution of quiet steps." *1/3 However, his reforms were not enough, and in 1988 supporters of Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms ousted him from Party leadership. Since then, the country has undergone drastic changes earning its reputation through economic and political innovations as one of the most liberal countries in the Eastern bloc. In September 1989, the Hungarian parliament voted to change the official status of the country from "People's Republic" to simply "Republic," and allowed for multi-party elections. In a bid to survive, the Hungarian Communist party abolished itself and attempted to reorganize under the new name, Hungarian Socialist party. After forty-one years, the reign of Soviet Communism had finally come to an end.
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2 HUNGARY UNDER SOVIET COMMUNISM
Advent of Communism in Hungary 1945-1948
Hungarians had reason to believe that the declaration of peace on 8 May 1945 would begin a new epoch in the nation's history. Hungary had been a reluctant participant in the war, siding late and under duress with the Axis powers. Defeat by the Allies - the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union - offered hope of eventually being able to establish a free and independent Hungarian state based on enlightened democratic ideals. People held a blind faith in the rhetoric of the Western powers: the Four Freedoms extolled in the Atlantic Charter *2/1 of 1941 and the clauses in the United Nations' constitution providing for peace, the sovereignty of nations, and the enforcement of human rights. At the Yalta Conference before the end of the war, the Western allies had granted the Soviet Union the right to occupy the eastern European states, including Hungary. For Hungarians, there was no thought of opposing the new political order; they
trusted the intentions of the victorious powers and believed the Soviet occupation would be temporary.
The Soviet Version of Liberation
In accordance with the Yalta agreement of January 1945 between the Allies, the Soviet army-which had flooded Hungary in the last months of the war - was to maintain an occupation force in the country only until the signing of a peace treaty. But at the Potsdam conference of later that year, which settled questions unanswered at Yalta, the Soviet Union insisted on the right to maintain a standing military presence in Hungary on the grounds that it was still on hostile terms with occupied Austria. *2/2
Losing a war always brings with it grave consequences, but the ancient barbarian principle Vae victis! - Voe to the Vanquished! - has rarely been realized in modern centuries to the extent that it was in Hungary after the war. Going far beyond the reparation measures prescribed in the peace treaties, the Soviet occupation imposed tremendous suffering on hundreds of thousands of innocent people. For the citizens of Hungary, the war did not end on 8 May 1945. The Red Army's spirit of military vindication and retribution claimed many victims. Unsuspecting villagers were rounded up, told to pack food for three days, and then did not return for ten years; the food they brought was not for three days of working, but for the long journey to Siberian labor camps. The prisoner of war camps at Godollo, Szolnok and elsewhere frequently dispatched train-loads of human cargo to the Soviet Union. During that time, it was not unusual to see columns of ragged, starved POWs being marched around the countryside. More than 300,000 Hungarian POWs - many of them captured in the final days of the war or even after the cessation of the hostilities-were transported to the Soviet Union. Almost 100,000 of these were never seen on Hungarian soil again.
The war was over, but the army of the victors remained. The Potsdam agreement never specified the size of Soviet troops that were to be allowed to remain in Hungary. The soldiers were ubiquitous - in the cities, the villages and the countryside - rounding people up with the Russian command Davaii! or "Move!" The term became a slang expression among Hungarians, along with the equivalent used by members of the AVH of Nyomas! or "Get a move on!" The local units of the newly formed Hungarian police force looked the other way when the occupying soldiers committed peacetime transgressions. The self-imposed impotence of the local police prompted people to take matters into their own hands. News of robberies and acts of violence by Soviets spread among the population as if they had been broadcast by radio. By late 1945 there were occasional reports of villagers lynching drunk and violent Soviet soldiers or townspeople banding together to defend their property from plunder.
The vigilante activities of Hungarians who were harassed by the Soviet "liberation" forces often led to tragedy. Janos Tapody, a landholder from Palosszentkut, had a son who was shot in the chest by one of a group of marauding Russian soldiers when he refused to give them his boots. Tapody reported the incident to the Soviet headquarters in Kiskunfelegyhaza, where he was told that if he found the soldier who committed the act, he should bring him in. The elder Tapody then frequently invited loitering Russian soldiers to his house for a drink, and it was on one of these occasions that his son - lying in bed with lung-shot-pointed at a soldier, declaring "Father! There's the one that shot me!" At this, Tapody struck the Russian over the head, threw his limp body into a horse-cart, and hurried him to the Soviet headquarters. It was the middle of winter and by the time he got there the Russian was dead. Tapody was shoved into a cellar, but was released a few days later because in the meantime his son had died. Soviet authorities never charged Tapody in the death of their soldier, but after the Communist takeover, a Hungarian court sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The Potsdam treaty had also specified that the provisioning of
the Soviet occupation was the responsibility of the Hungarian government. In a defeated country, at a time when feeding the indigenous population was creating serious difficulties, supplying provisions for such a large military force was no simple task. Th exacerbate matters, the Soviet leadership insisted that their troops be well taken care of. From the wines of Badacsony to choice smoked ham, they got whatever they desired. The Hungarian authorities bent over backwards to comply with the Soviets' every wish. One way of accomplishing this was to enforce existing laws on compulsory deliveries of produce to the state. Soviet soldiers accompanied Hungarian policemen and civilian functionaries on their rounds of the hamlets and farms, collecting produce and herding away domestic animals from the already war-ravaged populations. The regular collection campaigns had the effect of nearly depopulating certain regions of the country. The farmers and villagers who remained attempted to save whatever they could, creating insurmountable problems for those rounding up provisions. They hid grain and herded their animals out to nearby forests or, as a last resort, butchered them and secreted away the meat.
In the cities, Soviet authorities had taken control. With a few exceptions these new lords were quickly seduced by the pleasures of bourgeois life, acting the role of little kings - victors who had brought socialism to the land. The new elite community echoed with the sounds of orgies and revelry. Although the country was barely able to feed its population, guests at these parties feasted on delicacies collected under the pretext of war reparations.
By the spring of 1946, the chaotic postwar conditions in the country were settling down, but the behavior of the occupying forces had instilled a deep resentment for the Soviet Union in the Hungarian people. The Red Army began evacuating certain units of nearly a half million Soviet troops from the country in 1946. The troops which remained as part of the standing occupation, numbering over 100,000, were housed in military barracks built at great expense to the national coffers.
The Communist Takeover
The Soviet occupation quickly put an end to the expectations for Hungarian national sovereignty prevalent at the end of the war. Though disheartened, people began placing wagers on when the forces would leave, still holding out hope that the nation would eventually be left to develop its own government. The word "democracy," so often used by the Western powers, had bewitched a nation into believing it, too, would necessarily evolve into a free society founded on truth. But the new democracy was being transformed into the darkest form of government: the Soviet forces were showing no signs of withdrawing as originally agreed, and the Communist party, bolstered by the support of the occupation, escalated its ambitions.
Until the much-awaited peace treaty was signed outside of Paris in 1947, the reconstruction of the country was directed by an Allied Control Commission composed of the victorious powers-Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet marshal, Kliment E. Voroshilov, was appointed to be director of the Commission, and so became the virtual dictator of the country. The Western allies of the Commission soon found that they had little influence when it came to decisions made by Voroshilov. From time to time, they filed formal complaints against Soviet breaches of the Yalta and Potsdam treaties, but the Soviets, referring to special clauses, rejected their protests. Moreover, they accused the Western allies of supporting "reactionary forces" within the country and thus interfering with internal affairs.
Voroshilov's first direct interference with Hungary's domestic affairs was his organization of the first elections, held on 4 November 1945. The moderate Smallholders' party won in a sweeping majority, but Voroshilov ordered the formation of a coalition government to strengthen the rebuilding program. The public was disconcerted when it learned that the Communist party, which received only 17 percent of the vote, was to take a prominent role in the new government. The party was allocated the Ministry of the Interior and thus gained supreme control over all
law-enforcement agencies, including the police, the state security detachments and the counterintelligence sections of the Army.
When the peace treaty was finally signed on 10 February 1947, dissolving the Allied Control Commission, the Soviet troops gave no further signs of evacuation. It became clear that the country had to prepare for an extended occupation, but for how long no one could tell. With the peace treaty out of the way - and with it any right of the Western allies to interfere - the Soviet army was free to proceed as it wished. The control of the country remained in Soviet hands.
At the time, Hungarians were not aware of the extent to which the decisive issues of political life and the changes taking place in the government were being managed by organs supervised by the Soviet command. Unbeknownst to them, plans for "Sovietizing" Hungary had been prepared as early as 1945 in Moscow. The realization of those plans was left up to Marshal Voroshilov and the Soviet occupation forces in conjunction with the Hungarian Communist party led by Matyas Rakosi. The old and somewhat senile Marshal had in truth become a puppet in the hands of Moscow's technocrats, led by the supreme commander of the Soviet armed forces in Hungary, Sviridov, who exhibited great skill in surreptitiously undermining the country's unity The primary objective of these insidious forces was to gradually and systematically eliminate all bourgeois parties which opposed, however marginally, either the tenets of communism or alliances with the Soviet Union, and to prop up a Hungarian government led by the Communist party.
Marshal Voroshilov's influence in the formation of the coalition government had given the Communists control of the interior ministry-a precondition for the success of their takeover-but the process of establishing an organized and powerful network of security agencies had begun as early as the final year of the war. Units of the KGB, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, had infiltrated the country during the occupation, and established its own headquarters in Budapest and in Baden, Austria. While the Red Army worked to establish a
political wing for the Hungarian military, called Katpol, *2/3 the KGB was instrumental in organizing the Hungarian domestic security agency, the AVH. *2/4 The AVH was the most powerful of the security organs reorganieed by the Communists. Its mission, at first covert, was to seek out and undermine or eliminate all subversive elements of the population - anyone or any organization that stood in the way of the Communist party's ascension to power. Katpol had essentially the same goals, but was directed at dissent within the ranks of the military.
In January 1947 the Communists made their bid for power. The Communist minister of the interior, Laszlo Rajk, *2/5 announced that the AVH had arrested leading members of the Hungarian political community, charging them with conspiracy against the new coalition-led Republic. Since several parliamentary deputies from the majority Smallholders party were among those arrested, Rakosi and his circle considered the time ripe to use the charges leveled against a few of the members to break up the entire independent party. Cabinet ministers and deputies fell victim to a wave of arrests. The Smallholders' first secretary, Bela Kovacs, escaped arrest due to his popularity: the entire National Assembly refused to suspend his parliamentary immunity. But on the orders of Voroshilov, the Soviet military police arrested him over the protests of the National Assembly in February. He was tried in Baden, Austria, in May 1947 by a Soviet military court and sentenced to twenty-five years of forced labor in the Soviet Union. *2/6
In its own defense, the Soviet high command issued the following statement on the day of his arrest:
On 27 February 1947 Soviet occupation authorities arrested Bela Kovacs, the first secretary of the Smallholders party, for establishing underground anti-Soviet armed terrorist groups and for actively participating in espionage activities directed against the Soviet army. Members of these groups have perpetrated terrorist acts including murder of members of Soviet military personnel on Hungarian soil. *2/7
The Red Army proceeded to eliminate all opposition by dragging away anyone who resisted the Communist takeover. During 1948-49, the Soviet prisons in Hungary and in Baden were packed, and every month sealed trains carried condemned Hungarians eastward. The new government severed every agreement that tied the country to Western nations culturally, economically or politically. Under Soviet pressure, Hungary even refused to participate in the programs of the Marshall plan.
Hungarian citizens, already feeling the oppression of a foreign system, were given another cause for alarm: the doors to escape the country, the borders, were being sealed. In the summer of 1948, the engineering corps of the Hungarian People's Army began construction on a special apparatus along the Austro-
Hungarian border. Under the supervision of Soviet officers, watchtowers were erected and land mines scattered in the fields of the border zone. Between the lines of barbed wire fences, guards with watch dogs patrolled up and down. People observed these proceedings suspiciously; there seemed to be no necessity for such elaborate barriers, especially on the border with Austria where no such precautions had existed before - even in Hitler's time. The 1920 Treaty of Trianon had altered the national boundaries so that afterwards Hungarian regions became part of Austria. Consequently, the populations in the border zone of Hungary had family land or relatives to visit in Austria. Until then, they had crossed the frontier quite freely. Even the border guards had ignored the casual smuggling of Austrian flintstone and cigarettes or Hungarian salami and paprika.
The coalition government was in power at the time, perhaps the only factor which dispelled suspicions. Nobody knew that the orders for the new border arrangements were coming - not from the Hungarian ministers of defense - but directly from Party headquarters in Budapest. General Palffy-Oesterreicher, a Communist, was responsible not only for the details of sealing the borders but also for organizing a trustworthy body of guards, the upper ranks of which would naturally be filled with Communist cadres and political officers. By the end of 1948, and after the takeover, the newly formed patrol began to check the identity documents of anyone who ventured near the border zone.
After the fortifications on the Austrian side were complete, Palffy and his men began reinforcing the territory adjoining Yugoslavia, reacting to Tito's condemnation of Soviet conduct and his secession from the Soviet camp of Communist countries. The Czechs and the Romanians hurried to strengthen their boundary lines with Hungary, knowing that Hungarians would not forget the countrymen they had lost through prior treaties. The Soviet Union began sealing its borders with Hungary as well; its actions were strangely portentous of the fact that tiny Hungary would soon cause the Communist empire unimaginable problems.
The new guard, consisting of about 40,000 handpicked soldiers, was responsible for patrolling the reinforced borders, erected at the cost of billions of forints. Green epaulets adorned the guards' well-tailored khaki uniforms and red stars shone on their caps. Accompanied by Alsatian attack dogs and armed with submachine guns, they surrounded the country; jackals in wait for their prey. The sacrifices came in droves, as hundreds and thousands of Hungarians tried to break out of their barricaded homeland. Some died attempting to penetrate the minefields, others fell from the machine gun fire of their countrymen. A fortunate few reached the other side - and freedom - but many of these at the price of permanent injury.
If someone had looked upon Hungary from above in 1949, they would have seen the country fenced in with barbed wire, high walls and watchtowers. A few years after the "liberation" of Hungary by Soviet occupation troops, the entire population was in jail. The precautions were necessary, according to the Party's eagerly supplied explanation, to prevent the infiltration of fascist or imperialist enemy agents and the escape of "enemies of the people." Nobody mentioned why it was also necessary to shoot at those escapees who were disillusioned with Rakosi's version of socialism, and were willing to leave all possessions behind in their bid for freedom.
In essence, a vast and spacious prison extended from one end of the country to the other. The inmates did not wear uniforms or handcuffs; they were not confined to cells; they had no guarded escort as they moved about within the confines of their large jail. But the iron curtain surrounding the country symbolized the incarceration established by the Communist party. There were rules to follow. Everyone received his or her status, place of work, duties and guarantees. The Party took care of everything. It defined everyone's role in the new society regulated everyone's life, told them what was good and what was not, provided the basics of living. It demanded only that citizens work, applaud the system and be happy. The AVH was given the task of controlling and surveying the populace, and of dealing
with anyone who refused to work or voiced doubts about the system or Party decisions. Behind the hackneyed phrases of a dictatorship of the proletariat and a socialist society, of equality and freedom, the reality was plainly a population imprisoned behind the ideology of its own government.
Within this "great prison" there were several smaller ones; the concentration and labor camps, and the political prisons. These were isolated and kept under strict surveillance. Their purpose was to eradicate the will and individuality of their captives; both mental and physical torments were employed to achieve their ends. The world press did not much publicize life in these political prisons and camps and covered little of the court-trials. Publicity of this sort would have disturbed the spirit of appeasement, jeopardized world peace and put an end to disarmament talks. Only former inmates who survived attempted to keep alive the sad memory of the millions who lived in Eastern Europe's prison world.
Resistance and the Communist Response
The steps involved in the transformation of the stumbling but far-sighted democratic order of 1946 into a Communist People's Democracy in early 1949 left a deep impression on the minds of the Hungarian people. Assembling the jigsaw pieces of the confusing forces of this period -the effects of the Soviet occupation and political interference, the Communist propaganda and social reconstruction, the coercion and police terror- helps to illuminate how a resistance movement emerged aut of an entire nation, a resistance forged with the participation of every class.
Had the Communists attempted to consider the people's spirited disposition, their aspirations and habits, had they shown more understanding and patience in carrying out their various political and economic policies, and above all, had they not shown such disregard for human rights, the fate of the country and its reaction to the changes might have been different. But Rakosi and his men did not understand the nation's character and subordinated the nation's interests to those of the Soviet
Union. Instead of developing their own methods for bringing socialist society to Rungary they brought Stalin's system of terror with them from their experiences in the East. They were convinced that whatever had worked in the Soviet Union would work in Hungary as well. For a time, the reign of terror they instituted was successful, but their plans were doomed to fail.
The leaders of the Party had no grand illusions about the public's initial reception to their methods of attaining power. They knew that their programs would meet with disapproval from the majority of the people and with outright resistance from a few In readiness for dissension, they established the AVH to undermine or eliminate any movements or individuals who put up resistance.
Interestingly enough, the Party leadership deemed it necessary to abide by the tenets of a legal code in conducting arrests, perhaps in compliance with the views of the moderates still supporting them. They were in need of a new law which would legitimize the sentencing of those found guilty of resistance. Istvan Ries, *2/8 the minister of justice, was entrusted with the formulations of statutes fulfilling this need, and in 1947 presented the parliament with the "VIIth Act".
The VIIth Act, which soon acquired great notoriety, stipulated exactly what behavior constituted a crime against the People's Republic and the punishments to be exacted of those found guilty. The parliament, incapable of action with its appeasement tactics, accepted and ratified the Act without much debate. Although the
members of the Smallholders', Social Democratic and Bourgeois-Democratic, parties knew that Rakosi's clique had instigated the Act, they failed to oppose it. In so doing they cleared the way for their own downfall, providing the Communists with the means to eliminate them from power. The VIIth Act of 1947 encompassed every imaginable activity which could be construed as a crime against the state. Based on this new law and on other statutes unearthed from the past, the AVH began a mass round-up. The accusations varied in specifics, but were identical in that each one was classified as an "activity against the Communist state." Such condemned activities included: the establishment of nebulous organizations, secret political parties or armed groups; defacement of public property or graffiti; distribution of leaflets or anti-Communist propaganda; spying, sabotage or passing on information to foreign powers; attempting to flee the country; possession of arms or ammunition; resistance to land collectivization, and even religious instruction of children.
The state found that it had numerous enemies, who it found equally guilty: the young for demanding humanitarianism and freedom, the church for raising its voice in favor of free practice and instruction of religion, the small farmer for his tenacity in holding onto the land inherited from his ancestors, the worker for protesting against the introduction of quota systems, the intellectual for not accepting Communist dogmas unquestioningly. Tens of thousands were sentenced for having been representatives, employees, officers or civil servants of the prewar regime, and the prisons filled swiftly.
The Hungarian citizens accused of anti-state or anti-Soviet activity were not alone in hearing the burden of the retribution. Family, friends and acquaintances were also targeted by the secret police agencies. Family members were hauled off in the middle of the night to undergo interrogations; husbands, wives and lovers were pressured to divorce or renounce their mates in prison; mere acquaintances were threatened with indictment on charges of complicity. The effect of the arbitrary harassment and arrests was an all-pervasive atmosphere of suspicion and
fear where no one felt secure, no one could be completely trusted.
A friend recalls the day in 1949 when two men, dressed in civilian clothes, knocked on the door of her dormitory room, where she was waiting with some friends for her boyfriend to arrive from Budapest. "I opened the door, and was startled to see two strange men standing in the hallway. "Your friend can't make it this weekend. We have come to take you out in his place," one said, but with a mocking tone. "Can we come in?' They pushed their way into the room without waiting for my reply, and I realized immediately that they must be AVH. (Later I found that they were actually Katpol agents.) After looking around my tiny room disdainfully, they ordered my girlfriends out and began asking me questions, clearly expressing their opinion that I was a cheap village call-girl. Angered, I defiantly asked to see their identification cards, which they produced. They paid me for my impudence by completely ransacking my belongings, rifling through my desk, reading letters and my journal, looking through my clothes, pulling out underwear and stockings, turning furniture upside down. Finally, they demanded that I come with them to headquarters. I was sure that it was all over, but after an interrogation session which lasted until the middle of the night, they let me go. Joska had been arrested, and I wouldn't see him again for years. A few months later, a colleague of mine at school told me that two men in a jeep had heen by earlier looking for me, and after that I lived in constant fear and paranoia. I was afraid to talk to strangers, meet anyone new, go out of the house alone. Twice I was taken in and interrogated. One of these times, my brother who was also in prison was brought in, feet and hands swollen to twice their normal size from beatings. Our interrogators attempted to force us to incriminate one another, but we spoke using code phrases from our childhood. I was never physically abused or incarcerated for more than a day, but I lived the next eight years as if I were in a self-imposed prison."
The men and women who refused to cooperate with the officials,
and who did not divorce their imprisoned spouses, were treated like social outcasts. To add to the daily anxiety for the fate of their loved ones, they were denied jobs or any other opportunities to improve their lives and lived in fear of being harassed or imprisoned themselves.
During the years between 1945 and 1956, more than 700,000 citizens were arrested, interned or jailed for political reasons, in addition to the approximately 200,000 routine criminal cases tried. About 150,000 Hungarians were in prison annually, although the figures were lowest in 194647 and 1955-56, and highest between 1950 and 1954. In 1952 more than 200,000 were behind bars. In order to contain this enormous population, the number of new jails, internment and labor camps had to rise to levels hitherto unimaginable in Hungarian history. The organizations supporting the trials also had to increase in size and number: the AVH alone -all attachments included- employed more than 80,000 personnel; adding the police force and the country's public safety and state security organizations increases the number to 200,000. Given the population of ten million, the figures amount to the following: over the period 1945-1956, there was an average of one policeman for every fifty citizens, and one Hungarian out of every ten spent some time during those years in prison.
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The Sovietization of Hungary: 1948-1956
During the eight years between the time of the Communist takeover in 1949, to the revolution in October of 1956, Hungarian life was forcibly changed according to an ideology taken to an extreme. After the war, most Hungarians welcomed the idea of a more democratic, socialist based society. But after the takeover, the Communist program of national socialization brought with it many unexpected and inexplicable upheavals: social reconstruction included "re-education"; the dictatorship of
the proletariat brought with it the deification of Stalin; and finally, perhaps the most damaging and enduring legacy, was the Marxist centralization of the economy which included Soviet exploitation of Hungarian resources. While a prison world existed within the country, life in the world outside the prison walls had its own tribulations.
The external requirements for the establishment of a People's Democracy in Hungary and for incorporating Hungary into the Soviet empire had been fulfilled by 1949. With Soviet assistance, the Communist party had taken over political authority, the borders were sealed, and the AVH, the secret police, maintained control over the populace. However, the internal changes necessary for a complete "Sovietization," re-educating and winning the loyalty of the nation and its people, would prove to be much more difficult.
Searching for Souls: Communist Propaganda and Public Response
Soon after the end of the war, the fledgling Communist party, encouraged by the Soviets, launched propaganda campaigns to try to win the hearts and minds of the Hungarian people. In retrospect, the Party's slogans should have provided adequate warning that the Communists had every intention of establishing absolute socialism. Before the takeover, during the years 1946-48, land was redistributed and Party general secretary Rakosi had proclaimed himself "father of the forint," the new currency. The Party gave large sums to charities, including Church restoration funds, and made the return of the prisoners of war its own cause. In playing the advocate of the ordinary man and the voice of the poor, the Party was attempting to build a bridge towards the Hungarian soul. It needed souls -above all servile and obedient souls who would carry out the Party's momentous decisions unquestioningly.
Although the well-equipped and Soviet-funded Party recruitment drives were backed by all the public media possible, they were unsuccessful in attracting followers. The populace was
willing to stand behind the creation of a new, more democratic, state, but their respect for law and authority had been shaken and they no longer had any illusions about humanism. During the Szalasi fascist era of 1944, they had witnessed the horrible degradation of people forced to wear yellow stars and then marched off to their deaths. Then, when the war was over, they saw the retributive atrocities committed by the Soviet occupation -Nazi henchmen lynched on lampposts and innocent Hungarian villagers of Germanic descent carted off to labor camps- all in the name of humanism. After such experiences, they looked on all new political doctrines and ideologies with suspicion. It was difficult to believe that any one system could offer salvation, and Communist party slogans carried little significance.
Once in power, the Communist party relied less on ideological campaigns and resorted to more coercive tactics to fortify its ranks. Ownership of a Party card conferred certain benefits, such as career advancement and material comforts, but non-members found themselves held back at work and thwarted from improving other areas of their lives. Nonetheless, the number of Hungarians who succumbed to the pressure tactics remained under 7 percent of the population.
Undaunted, the Communist propagandists targeted different sectors of society -the youth, the middle class and intellectuals, the workers and peasants- with different promises. Party agitators made the biggest efforts to reach the country's youth, promising them better opportunities and more prosperous futures. The young people supported the spirit of revolutionary reform, but were cynical about promises of a new society and did not wish to devote their energies to the established Party. The teenagers' thick-soled shoes, zoot suits, jeans and painted neckties represented an instinctive protest phenomenon that was difficult to ignore. Party leaders remembered that before the Soviet revolution, this kind of behavior represented a conscious declaration of opposition. They accused the students of imitating the decadence of the West, even though their fashion tastes were
more reminiscent of the Chicago underworld. AVH police would drag outlandishly dressed teens to headquarters, and take a pair of scissors to their clothes and hair.
The youth somehow retained a sense of their ideals over the next ten years, criticizing the regime for its tactics. They were aware of the atrocities of Dachau, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and knew that the Party's "vengeance against enemies of the state" was just as unjustified.
Other Hungarians were not as principled. The middle class or the professionals, including many employees and supporters of the old regime, compromised out of cowardice or opportunism and applied for Communist party membership. Others went further: they became involved in the Communist organizations. The AVH, the military police, and the ministry of the interior-all tools for organized oppression-were not operated by Muscovite cadres alone. These people were surprised when the Party later rejected them as spent and untrustworthy. Nevertheless, while some cooperated out of opportunism, others tried to work within the system to salvage what they could of the fledgling democratic order. They were acutely aware that the Communist takeover was inevitable, but hoped that the puppet regime would be short-lived.
The working class, destined to be the leadership in the new world idealized by Marx, Engels and Lenin, was told daily, month after month, that the country was governed in the name of the proletariat and that they were now the ruling power; yet they never became active participants in the governing of the country It is no accident that none of the Communist leaders have come from working class backgrounds: Lenin, Stalin, Rakosi, Kadar, Brezhnev, not even Gorbachev. The lives of the workers and the peasants showed no radical change. None of the promised improvements in their material circumstances, working conditions or future prospects were realized. When at last everything was run according to socialist labor laws, reality set in, and there was no longer any use in cursing on payday In the heavy atmosphere of bars and public liquor houses, alcohol loosened tongues. By
the time all bitterness was vented, the state-run establishments had pocketed a large share of the workers' wages.
But these psychological release valves could not neutralize all tensions. The workers became cavalier about squandering state property, which -they were told- was theirs. This passive hostility was best seen in the factories or on the collective farms, where machinery was overturned or discarded and pieces of equipment strewn about the yards. Materials worth billions of forints were lost this way in the production sectors of the Hungarian economy.
In the end, a classless society of sorts was brought about, not through the efforts of Party ideologists, but by common oppression, common problems and bleakness of outlook. "Work," which had been so idealized in rhetoric and the literature of the official writers of the time, never became the focus of human life. People would have liked to escape to libraries or to sports complexes, but compulsory overtime-extra work "voluntarily" undertaken-consumed the energies that would have otherwise been turned towards more enriching pastimes.
It soon became apparent to the leaders in Moscow that although the Communist party was in power in Hungary, the country was still anti-Soviet. They knew that it would take a thorough and extensive re-education process for the nation to accept not only Communist ideology, but the idea of belonging to the Soviet Union. The sole purpose of an office in Moscow under the direct control of the Soviet Communist party's secretariat was to keep track of the process of Sovietization in the countries of Eastern Europe. This office, independent of all other agencies dealing with Hungary, decided certain issues and made proposals to the Soviet central committee about the country. Yuri Andropov *2/9 got his start as a high ranking official here before his appointment as ambassador to Hungary from 1954 to 1957.
The first targets of destructive propaganda were the schools and the education system. It was compulsory for educators to
enroll in various Marxist courses in an attempt to get them to accept the new ideology of a "people's democracy." From the elementary grades to the universities, the entire curriculum was rewritten. Old texts regarded as nationalist were burned and new ones were written in a Marxist spirit. Credit for all achievements in every area of intellectual and artistic life went to the Communist party. To be successful, writers and artists had to make the required compromise and choose Marxism over whatever they had once believed in.
The greatest damage was done through the falsification of history. Texts were rewritten in accordance with Marxist principles, and everything noble or glorious about Hungarian history was expunged or reinterpreted according to Communist doctrine. The great personalities of Hungary's thousand-year history, such as the first king and founder Istvan, St. Laszlo or Matthias Corvinus, were supplanted by Bela Kun and Tibor Szamuelly, the leading figures of the 1919 Communist dictatorship. *2/10 Although the new approach discussed the events and forces in the nation's history incompletely, considerable time and attention was paid to the teaching of Soviet history. It was more important that students know the details of the lives of Lenin or Stalin than to teach the names and roles of Hungarian historical figures. The Communist party's education ministry hoped that through this process of re-education, using new tenets and teaching with a new ideological base, a generation would emerge which would question Hungarian historical accomplishments and shed the nationalist
loyalties of their parents. Their efforts, however, were in vain.
The teaching of Western languages was discontinued completely or limited. Students were required to take eight years of Russian language courses in their stead. Thousands of scholarships were awarded each year. Under their terms, students were sent to the Soviet Union and were supposed to consider it a great honor "to study and emulate the methods of the leading Soviet scientists and scholars." The adoration of things Soviet implied that everything Western-cultural, scientific or of any other value-was to he denigrated, distorted or simply denied.
Admission to the universities was also affected by the new order: social origins were a primary criteria for admittance over academic achievement, but even more important was attendance in various ideological courses and participation in the Communist youth organization. By the 1950s, it was not enough to belong to the working class to gain entrance to the post-secondary schools. The future was presented to the Hungarian youth as follows: Either join the Party and we will insure your career, or forgo membership and we will assure you of a difficult life.
Politics affected life in the work-place as well. A primary requirement for promotion or subsequent movement to higher positions was graduation from the Marxist-Leninist Institute. Knowledge and expertise were not what counted, but one's relationship to the Party and attendance at Marxist courses. The measure of a man was no longer his skill but his Party membership book. This rule prevailed in every economic and technical sector of the country, a problem brought on by the Party's inordinate obsession with its own welfare to the detriment of everything else.
The process of Sovietization did not bypass the army. Its reorganization and the training of the new officers' corps and enlisted personnel proceeded according to the Soviet model. The old uniform was replaced by the Soviet gimnastiorka and padded winter gear. Officers, especially the higher ranking ones, came exclusively from the ranks of the Communist party Party functionaries were assigned to each unit as political officers. No
independent Hungarian military leadership existed after the war; every decision concerning the military was made somewhere in Soviet headquarters. The Hungarian People's army had become an integral part of the Red Army
The Deification of Stalin
When the Communists came to power in Hungary, they brought with them Stalin's cult of personality. Never in history, from the Roman emperors to Hitler, was a mortal so adulated by his contemporaries as Stalin was in the years after 1945. The presence of the Great Teacher overshadowed every imaginable aspect of life. In streets and squares, in schools and offices, in factories and on the collective farms, in theaters and libraries, the handlebar-mustached picture of Stalin was everywhere, staring down at the people. *2/11 The Party made sure that anything of success in Hungary was connected to Stalin's name. He was the greatest teacher, the most brilliant military leader, and it was to his credit that the arts, music and architecture were proceeding in the proper direction to best serve the people. Stalin was the source of all progress. Winning the "Stalin Prize" came to be seen as commensurate with winning a Nobel Prize. It is almost impossible to comprehend how talented Hungarian writers and poets devoted time and paper, how creative artists used their skills, to memorialize this mass-murderer.
The unbounded nature of the Stalinist cult of personality in Hungary was characterized by a birthday gesture. In December 1949, Rakosi and his regime sent a trainload of gifts to Stalin for his seventieth birthday. Museum-quality paintings, sculptures and the finest examples of folk art collected from museums and confiscated from private holdings were sent to the Soviet Union "in the name of the Hungarian people."
When Stalin died in 1953, one week of mourning was declared in Hungary. The fanaticism of the cult of personality lingered on after his death. It was not until after Khrushchev's formal
denunciation of the dictator at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 that it finally came to an end.
Communism and the Church
The Communists realized after seizing power that one of the main obstacles to fulfilling their policies was the religious establishment, the Catholic and Protestant churches. Hungary had been Christian since the reign of the country's first king, Saint Istvan, in 1,000 A.D. The Church had played an essential part in the history of the country and was a deeply rooted institution in the traditions and identity of the people. In an attempt to undermine its power, brutal campaigns against the Church began in late 1948.
After the Communist takeover, the Protestant churches of Hungary, especially the Reformed church, were the first to compromise with the Office of Religious Affairs created by Rakosi. Apart from one or two outstanding examples, a parson of the Reformed Church was rarely imprisoned for having spoken out against the state's official policy of atheism.
In contrast, the Roman Catholic church stood up in opposition and was consequently persecuted. The Communist party made every effort to implant its own conceptions of the Roman Catholic church into the public mentality: namely, that the Church was a bastion of reactionary elements, a haven for anti-Soviet spy rings, a supporter of feudal-capitalism and the adversary of socialism - but to little avail. The power of the Church's political influence, as exemplified in the person of Hungary's primate, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, completely neutralized the Party's efforts. With communism's emphasis on production and material solutions for contentment in life, the need for spiritual life became more demanding; the effect of the "war on classes" intensified the search for love; and in a life totally devoid of earthly freedom, the freedom of the soul offered compensation. Great numbers of people of all denominations resolved their differences and tightened their ranks around Cardinal Mindszenty To the consternation of the AVH, the
Cardinal's followers formed no organized group which could be monitored, but were bound together by a unity of spirit.
Although many disagreed with the Cardinal in major respects, such as the active role he took in the politics of the secular world, they joined his supporters. In the misanthropic atmosphere of the new society they saw in him a symbol of humanitarianism, a symbol embracing mankind. In the constant state of fear in which they lived, they saw in him fearlessness. Even supporters of the regime were impressed by him, not as a religious leader, but as a strong writer and public voice, and as an uncompromising human being. Those most faithful to their beliefs, particularly the peasants and women of the proletariat, were inspired by Mindszenty - the priest who, more than any other, offered spiritual shelter and upheld the old Christian traditions.
The greatest failing of the Hungarian Roman Catholic church was that it could not disseminate its ideology in such a way as to counter Party propaganda and deter the onset of communism. Cardinal Mindszenty became the lone beacon of opposition in face of the Communist encroachment of power, imploring people to maintain a critical awareness of the situation. By December of 1948, the regime thought the time was ripe for a sweeping attack on the Church and began with the arrest of Mindszenty *2/12 The arrest achieved two goals simultaneously: the personality who had symbolized freedom and humanity for the masses was removed and Church unity was destroyed. Had the clergy then decided to fight bolshevism openly, as it did in Poland, the Church would have established a moral and political legitimacy for clerical influence on political life. Instead members of the Pax (Peace-priest) movement, such as Richard Horvath, and the bishops took a conciliatory stance, thus squandering away much of their right to any influential role in the future.
After Mindszenty's arrest and sentencing, the Party continued its offensive against the Church. Through a decree, all Catholic monasteries, holy orders and cloisters were dissolved; all priests, nuns and others involved with the Church were compelled to give up the cloth and to wear normal civilian clothes, and were forced to work in factories or in the fields. But this was not enough: in the "Grosz affair" the Church was placed on the agenda once again. Cardinal Jozsef Grosz was the second ranking member of the Catholic church in Hungary after Cardinal Mindszenty. He was arrested on 15 May 1951. The case against him was based on false accusations, and put the Communists in a dilemma. The Communist cadre at the lower and middle levels of the pre-trial propaganda campaigns had misjudged the outcome of their accusations, and realized only too late that the logical result of their protests would be the death penalty - but the Party had no wish to give the Church the advantage of martyrdom. The Church was even more reticent in fighting the regime than it had been when it lost Mindszenty, and Grosz was sentenced to a lifelong term in prison. Five years later, on 12 May 1956, he was set free, rehabilitated completely and exonerated of all accusations of espionage and conspiracy.
During the years 1945 to 1956 the Soviet Union demonstrated, paradoxically, that it was possible for a socialist nation to exploit another in the name of Marxism. In Eastern Europe "capitalism" may have found a parallel expression in "mutual economic cooperation"; what difference does it make which slogans are proclaimed while economic goods are removed from a country to profit another and an otherwise flourishing economy is ruined? The Soviet Union, in cooperation with the Hungarian Communist party, brought economic disaster to the nation.
Already weakened by the war, the Hungarian economy was further burdened by the war reparations Hungary owed the Soviet Union and other countries. *2/13 The major changes, however, hegan in early 1949 with the takeover of the socialist
government. The Communist party, faithful to the economic dogma of Marxism and imitating the centralized economic structure of the Soviet Union, nationalized all production units and energy sources in the country By assuming control of all factories, farms and private enterprise-which were still operating exceptionally well at the time-and by centralizing both planning and management, they laid the foundation for a system of state "capitalism." The astronomical forecasts in the new five-year plan, the development of industry without respect to conditions, and the collectivization of agriculture, were signs enough to provide a warning of impending economic catastrophe in the very first stages of the process.
The impoverishment of the country was not the fault of the economic experts but of the Party leaders who obediently followed the instructions emanating from Moscow aligning the Hungarian with the Soviet economy, and ordering the reorganization of the Hungarian economy on the Soviet model. The grandiose plans for the development of heavy industry which were supposed to be realized during the 1950-54 period were already failing by 1952. In an agricultural country with little natural iron-ore and other metal resources, billions were spent on development of heavy industry, but almost nothing was allocated for the modernization of the collectivized agricultural sector. In spite of the coercive tactics which provided cheap labor, the standards of living declined from year to year; the only growth in per capita earnings appeared in the falsified statistics of Party publications. The average standard of living was higher in 1938, and even in 1949, than it was in 1953.
The exploitation policies of the Soviet Union were characterized by its economic agreements with its satellite states in Eastern Europe. According to the terms of the imposed agreements, Moscow was to determine the value of all export/import goods.
The determination was made as follows: all goods the Eastern European states exported to the Soviet Union were valued according to the worth of similar goods manufactured in the Soviet Union (that is, much cheaper than the world market value); on the other hand, anything imported by these countries from the Soviet Union, including raw materials, was billed at the prevailing world market price. Because of the double standard in prices, the euphemistic trade-ruble was introduced - the value of which was always determined in Moscow - so that the value of the Soviet ruble would not fluctuate.
On 5 January 1949, on Stalin's instructions, the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA or COMECON) was formed bonding the countries of the Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union into an economic pact. Naturally, the headquarters of the new economic alliance was in Moscow and its permanent first secretary was a Soviet. This organization, based on the principle of mutual advantage, decreed what each of the member states was to produce and how much per year, set the volume of trade agreements and established the ruble as the standard for commercial trade. The objective of the "mutually advantageous" principle was to create a mutual economic dependency of the satellite states on one another and on the U.S.S.R.
In order to further isolate Eastern Europe from the rest of the world, each of the signatories of the CMEA were obliged to place any agreement among each other above all other international treaties. If Hungary's vulnerability up to that time was only that it was subservient to the Soviet Union, within the framework of CMEA it was now subject to the demands of the other satellites as well. One after another, the five year plans of the CMEA as well as those of the individual member states failed. The GDR (East Germany) weathered this period with the least difficulty, partially because it was the most industrialized of the states and had a well-trained work force, but mainly because of the billions of German marks in aid it received from West Germany.
In Hungary, not only the economic experts but the Communist
party leaders were well aware that they were witnessing outright exploitation. The Rakosi circle and Communist party made no effort to argue against, let alone protest, the theories and plans which, when implemented, were fundamentally detrimental to Hungary's economic life. They knew that every trade agreement placed additional burdens on the shoulders of the Hungarian workers who, dazed by the insane tempo of overtime and tightened quotas, could not understand why their efforts brought about a decline instead of the promised rise in standards of living. The nature of some of these plans was obviously crippling from the start: the looting under Soviet supervision of Hungarian energy sources; the Soviet purchase of Hungarian raw materials at below world-market prices, only to sell them back at higher prices; the Soviet sale of poor quality raw materials to Hungary; and finally, the exclusive Soviet exploitation and removal of Hungarian uranium ore.
In the analysis of the outbreak of the 1956 revolution, many historians place great emphasis on the mining and secret removal of uranium ore from Hungary. Hungarian geologists discovered a large deposit of the ore outside the village of Kovagoszollos-Pata near the town of Pecs as early as 1944. It was characteristic of Hungary's relationship with its ally, Germany, that the discovery was officially kept confidential, and thus mining was never begun during the war. In 1949, the year the Soviet Union developed the atomic bomb, Hungarian military units fenced off a section of the meadows outside the village and declared it a military zone. By 1950 Soviet units also appeared on the scene, and several test shafts were sunk under the supervision of Soviet engineers. The tests must have seemed promising to analysts at the Moscow scientific laboratories, because soon buildings were erected and roads, railroad stations and loading facilities were created. Everything took place under the strictest secrecy and camouflage. At first, only Soviet citizens were doing the mining. They were probably convicts brought in for the purpose; later the work was continued by Hungarian laborers.
After Stalin's death in 1953, his successors were concerned that news about the secret mining would leak out. To cover themselves, they signed an agreement with the Rakosi leadership which gave the Soviet Union a lengthy and exclusive right to mine and process Hungary's uranium ore. As part of the agreement, a Soviet-Hungarian joint firm was created, but instead of equal ownership, the Soviet Union owned 70 percent to Hungary's 30 percent. The Soviet's promised 10 percent of the U-235 *2/14 derived from the ore would be transported back to Hungary; In fact, this 10 percent was the payment for the thousands of cars of ore. As for the quantity and the value of the ore taken out of the country, there is no reliable information and it is unlikely that such figures will ever be revealed. Nor is there information on how much U-235 the Soviet Union shipped back to Hungary or whether it ever paid anything for removing the country's most valuable mineral resource. As soon as the removal of uranium ore from the country became public knowledge, it turned into one of the most heated issues of the day
For Hungary - poor in raw materials and especially in energy resources - the cheap energy provided by uranium would have meant the solution to the dilemma of industrial energy sources, especially since faulty and often inexperienced management led to complicated problems in oil drilling and coal mining. In order to maintain the supply of coal, thousands of political prisoners were used in the various locations, These convicts were forced to work in the mines of Tatabanya, Varpalota, Csolnok, Komlo, etc., without rest. The situation in the oil fields was no better. After imprisoning such outstanding experts as Professor Pap and the engineers Kun and Bittner (in the MAORT *2/15 trial), the management of fields in the Zala county and elsewhere in the
country were taken over by Soviet specialists. As a result of flooding, the condition of the oilfields became so critical that some of the energy-processing plants had to be put on reduced schedules as there was not enough oil. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union's removal of oil or coal did not have the same effect on the Hungarian public as the rage triggered by the robbery of Hungarian uranium.
The ailing economy also staggered under the enormous financial burden of maintaining a police state. The cost of supporting the AVH, the prison governing bodies, the ministry of justice and allied organs amounted to several billion forints annually-paid by the populace. More than 200,000 employees, perhaps half a million if their families are included, lived parasitically on the state in relative comfort. The prisons were filled to capacity, coming to a number of over 700,000 political prisoners in the ten year period. The support for these establishments consumed a greater part of the state budget than funds spent on the social welfare.
The waves of arrests damaged the country's economy in more ways than the cost of supporting a large prison population. In industry; there was no way to replace the highly skilled laborers and technicians, and in agriculture, an identical situation ensued when active and skilled farmers were arrested. The meager profits gained from the products of hundreds of thousands of prison laborers in no way compensated for the drain of trained and professional people from the work force. Between 1949 and 1952, the free and available prison labor was terribly mismanaged. Hasty and disorganized measures were issued one after the other, often contradicting themselves. Workshops were moved from prison to prison and new ones formed without adequate preparation or training; well-run and efficient workshops, finally operating without a deficit, were disbanded for no apparent reason. Prisoners were moved around without explanation, transported to mines or other prisons, and new workers brought in. The supervisors were almost inevitably ignorant of the work at hand and as a result were ineffective in directing the distribution of labor.
It was of little wonder that the enforced five year plan proved to be a fiasco in its first years. The Soviet exploitation of resources, the centralization of the economy, the introduction of unrealistic industries, and the trauma created by overhauling all traditional economic systems would have been enough to derail any economy. But the fact that the qualified work force had disappeared and the AVH was not paying for itself with its inept management was a weight no state economy in existence could have shouldered.
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Resistance Instead of Compromise
To resist or to compromise? During those years under the Communist dictatorship, the question of which was right occupied the thoughts of millions of citizens like myself. Some saw the key to their own and their country's survival in appeasement; millions of others chose to resist - actively or passively. Resistance, despite the tremendous sacrifices it demanded, bore fruit in the end: after years of struggle, the people of Hungary rose up against their oppressors, and even though the revolution was only briefly successful, the Communist empire would never be the same.
The aim of those of us who participated in the Hungarian resistance was to oppose communism by any means. We saw that the Communist system did not promise the advent of a socialist and humane form of life for Hungarians, but rather the imposition of an alien ideology in the service of an alien power. In this way, the Hungarian resistance cannot be compared to the resistance movements formed during the war in France or Holland, nor did it resemble the Soviet partisan movement. It was not directed merely against an occupying force, but fought a political dictatorship that was established with the support of this foreign power.
The resistance had no illusions about the possibility of abolishing the Peoples' Democracy entirely; nor did it have any intention of reversing the cycle of history, of reestablishing the old feudal-capitalist order (as many indictments allege). The
underground groups in Hungary were fighting for freedom, for a more humane way of life and for sovereignty
Although many Western nations encouraged our resistance with enthusiasm, we had no hopes or expectations that they would make real sacrifices in our interest. Nevertheless, we expected some moral support on the basis of our common past, our humanistic heritage, and most significantly, our shared commitment to human rights. We never reckoned with the possibility that the "free world" would abandon us so completely
41 Back to the Contents
3 CAPTURED BY THE SOVIETS
Secret Services of the World Meet in Vienna
The year 1949 arrived in Vienna accompanied by unusually cold weather. The only signs of life on that January first in the former imperial capital-once famous for its night life and festive atmosphere-were a few people hurrying to work. Otherwise, the streets were empty. Strange circumstances and a changed way of life had done away with the customary New Year's celebrations.
At the end of the Second World War the small country of Austria, which had become part of Hitler's Third Reich during the Anschluss, was occupied by the victorious powers and divided into four parts. On a smaller scale, a similar fate had befallen Vienna. Like Berlin, it had been surrounded by the Soviet occupying forces at the end of the war and was controlled by the Allied Control Commission, a council made up of the four great powers. Although a free Austrian government had been formed in 1945, held a referendum and was carrying on parliamentary legislation, the four power commission still controlled the country. The Austrian leadership soon realized that they had little say in the major questions concerning their country, and grew accustomed to walking a tightrope between the four powers
who were split into two ideological camps of East (Soviets) and West (Great Britain, the USA and France).
The Austrians came to the conclusion frequently arrived at by developing countries in similar situations: the only way to profit from such an occupation is to take sides and play one against the other. For the Austrians, it was not difficult to choose. The Soviets gave them frequent cause for complaint. They had vivid memories of the Soviet occupation at the end of the war, of the dismantled factory machinery and agricultural equipment that was carried off in lieu of war payments. They remembered the thousands of people who had been taken away under suspicion of harboring fascist or anti-Soviet sympathies. With the passage of time, the differences in standards of living between the occupied zones in Vienna was reason enough to keep the Austrian Communist party, despite much aid from the Soviets, from garnering even a third of the vote in the Soviet zone. As a result, Austria sided openly with the Western powers.
The world was living on the brink of a possible Third World War in those times. Although Stalin had capitulated during the Berlin Blockade of 1948, he continued the political and economic offensives of the cold war on all other fronts. With Soviet support, the Communist parties in the East European nations began to take control of the new governments even though they were supported by only a small minority of the populations. Economic exploitation and political terror escalated in these countries. Soviet agents, like bees flying from their hive to the first flowers of spring, swarmed over all parts of the world. A series of attempted coups, worker strikes, armed conflicts and other upheavals throughout the globe were signs of their work-and indications that Moscow had not given up its plan to spread world communism.
Vienna became a buffer between two rival forces and two incompatible ideologies. The city served as a central meeting place for the world's spy networks, security organizations and
secret services. The American CIA, then the CIC, had settled into an enormous building on Roosevelt Platz; the British established their headquarters in the third district; while the reorganized French bureau, the Deuxieme, took up residence in a shabby house on one of the obscure little streets off Mariahilferstrasse, the main shopping strip. Belgium, Holland, Spain, Switzerland and even the South American states sent their representatives to the city It was then that rumors began circulating that a German organization named Gehlen had come into existence and was recruiting its members from among former German army members. The Soviets converted a part of a former officer's camp in Baden-bei-Wien into housing for the KGB and the military secret service, supplementing its headquarters in Vienna. Barbed wire, high fences and watchtowers transformed this casino and spa town into a veritable fortress. The surrounding population had good reason to name it the "City of the Dead," for whoever was taken there was gone forever.
The intelligence/counterintelligence game between the two camps created a strange dynamic in Vienna. The Western powers, while trying to learn about the Soviets' espionage operations, were using the city as a base for all of their intelligence and subversive activities in Eastern Europe. The Soviets tried to plant their own agents into the Western organizations, and succeeded in infiltrating the CIC's office in the city They were also intent on uncovering the Western plots against Eastern Europe; they had cities in Europe, America and other important parts of the world under observation by native or Soviet agents. The stakes were high on both sides. >From simple persuasion and bribery to force, no method was barred. Disappearances, kidnappings and murders were frequent proof of the thorough work of these organizations.
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An Illusion of Sanctuary: Vienna 1949
In that cold Austrian January of 1949 I knew precious little about what was going on behind the scenes, despite the fact that I had been compelled to flee Hungary because of my involvement in the resistance. I had now been in Vienna for three months, and had a job carrying crates of fruit in the cellars of a greengrocer. The work was neither entertaining nor intellectually stimulating but I was reconciled to it. In those days it meant a great deal: enough food and a roof over my head.
The Resistance and My First Escape
My adventure had begun three months before in Hungary, on a beautiful autumn day in October of 1948. I was coming home from the Technical University of Budapest where I had just enrolled for my fifth semester. Another long year, I had thought, and had envisioned myself laboring over my engineering books for days and weeks on end.
I had just reached our house when the concierge - usually the laziest man on earth - grabbed hold of my arm and hastily pulled me into his cabin. "For God's sake you must disappear from here!" he whispered into my ear. "The AVO have been here goodness knows how many times today looking for you." By late 1948 it was common knowledge that the AVO was arresting not only people who knew they had done something which might be considered suspect, but also those who thought themselves innocent. I must admit I did not consider myself completely innocent and knew that they were searching for me for a reason.
Earlier that year the Soviet army blockaded West Berlin on Stalin's orders. In Hungary, all Soviet military units were on full alert; a panicked war psyche set in throughout the country, the likes of which we had not experienced since the end of the Second World War. Late in the summer, a classmate named Laszlo Somhegyi returned illegally from the West. We talked, and he took me into his confidence. According to Western
government sources, he said, the time had come to confront Stalin, and we Hungarians should be prepared to join an underground movement or be ready for a general uprising. Before the eruption of such an armed conflict against the Soviet occupying forces, it was our task to organize resistance groups which could both undermine Party propaganda and devote attention to reconnaissance concerning the size and capacity of the Soviet military forces.
"In other words, spying?" I asked.
"Of course," he answered, as if this were the most simple and natural of occupations.
"And what would this entail?" I inquired. He listed a few things, mentioning the importance of noting down the registration numbers of Soviet military vehicles.
"Noting down what?!" I was not willing to believe my ears.
"The registration numbers of Soviet vehicles," he repeated, "because they can tell us which troops and how many soldiers are stationed in Hungary"
We are in a fine mess, I thought to myself. "Thanks pal! If the West wants to rely on the dozen numbers you and I jot down to find out about the numbers of Soviet troops here, they'd better not start their war in the first place." I had no idea then how many young people would be killed for carrying out precisely this mission. I did know that one of my closest friends, Gyurka Botfalvay, had been captured by the Soviets and sentenced to death. He had been a member of the new Hungarian army, but had been doubling as a member of the resistance. After thinking for a moment, I decided I should do my part and work with Somhegyi.
"Listen," I said to Somhegyi, "I'll join, but on one condition:
I don't want to have anything to do with this idiotic recording of military vehicles. It's an invitation to suicide, in my opinion - if the AVO catches you with those numbers in your pocket, there is no God who can keep you from hanging." Somhegyi was a
bright guy, and soon saw my point.
"I knew all along what an idiotic idea it was," he said, "but I have been trained for it."
I promised him I would get involved in organizing resistance groups using the "cell" system. Members would never know each other, but would only have contact with the person who recruited them and the person they recruited in turn. If the AVO captured one person, he or she would not be able to indict the others. The system worked well. Of the three groups I ran, mostly of students from the Technical University in Budapest, only one group was taken by the AVO.
After our encounter, I didn't see Somhegyi for two months. When he turned up again it was with another person, apparently a friend of his who had also recently returned from the West. They had been travelling around Hungary organizing the resistance. When we were left alone, I asked Somhegyi how many people knew of our meetings and of my part in the affair. He mentioned a few names but reassured me that they were all decent and reliable people.
As the whispering concierge was urging me to disappear, those reliable friends came to mind and I wondered which one of them should not have been trusted. Or perhaps Somhegyi had been arrested! Whatever the case, there was not much time for thought and I left at once. I made it to a small border town, but had no idea how I was going to get across. Scared and dejected, I was drinking tea in a cafe when a roguish but good-looking young man approached from a nearby table and asked: "Are you trying to get to Austria?"
Stunned, all I could do was stammer, "No, I uh, I'm...." With an understanding look, the man clapped me on the shoulder and brought me over to join his companions. Later that night, the smugglers - for that was what they were -
took me with them, carrying what I later realized was a bag of Hungarian paprika over my shoulder. We made our way in the dark, past the border
sentries, to the other side of the Iron Curtain, and got to Vienna in the late morning without any mishap. We agreed to meet the next evening. I went to a park at the appointed time and discovered that my new found acquaintances had decided to go back to Hungary that night to pick up some things they'd left behind. We took the train to a town near the Hungarian line. I went with them as far as the border and refused to go further, despite their jeers. As consolation, I agreed to wait for them to come back. For the next four harrowing hours, I shivered in the dark, fifteen feet from the Hungarian border, afraid to even light a cigarette. Midnight passed, two o'clock. Cold and afraid I was going to miss the return train, I debated with myself about walking back to the station. Finally, I heard the voices of several Hungarians coming towards me. Relieved, I almost shouted out to let them know where I was. That moment, a flare exploded above me and several Hungarian soldiers appeared out of the brush; they were looking for someone. I froze in panic, then shrunk back into the darkness. When I was sure the soldiers had moved on, I jumped onto the dirt road and raced back to the station as if my life depended on it, heart pounding. Something had happened to those acquaintances, and I was painfully aware of how close I had been to capture.
Back in Vienna, I survived on a bag of old apples for a couple of days. I managed to land the job at the grocer's by looking through the telephone book and calling all the Hungarian names listed. I had just begun to feel at home in the Austrian capital when Somhegyi turned up one fine day to see me. It was near Christmas and the weather was bitterly cold, below zero most of the time. He looked weary and miserably tired-incomparably different from the jovial, optimistic, smart-looking Somhegyi of the old days. He had been living in Styria and was only in Vienna for "briefings and directions" from the CIC or some other headquarters.
"A new attempt," he began, "but I swear to you, this will be
the last!" He talked about a girl he had met and fallen in love with at the end of the summer. She was the daughter of a rich Styrian innkeeper and they had made plans to marry and settle down when he returned. I tried to talk him out of the idea of going back to Hungary, begged him to stay, tried to explain that what he was attempting was virtual suicide. I knew that if he was caught there would be no hope left, and hangings were a frequent occurrence in Hungary.
"What suicide?" he answered back, pulling a small glass vial out from
under his coat. "Cyanide. Kills in seconds, so you have no time to feel
the pain. I won't be caught alive, that's certain. I will not be hanged!"
And then, as if he was uncomfortable with the talk of death and suicide,
he forced himself to laugh, continuing: "Why should I be caught now? It's
much more difficult to cross in the summer-the border isn't patrolled as
heavily this time of year. Those AVO guys don't like the winter cold either.
Once I've crossed the border, I'm over the worst of it.,'
My continued attempts to reason with him were to no avail. "I have promised to undertake this journey, but it will be the last one," he swore again. I resisted my impulse to remark that it might be the last one of his life. He spent the night at my place and left at dawn the next day We said good-bye to each other feeling uneasy "Only one thing disturbs me," he said as we embraced, "and I've never felt this before.. .. I was talking to a new little chap at the CIC this last time. His name is something like Friedman and I've never seen him there before. I must say he didn't seem very convincing to me. I wouldn't be surprised if I met him over on the other side With this he left, never to return. *3/1
into the grocer's office. I put down the crate of fruit I was carrying and went upstairs to see the boss. He was standing outside his office and gesturing towards the room: "Some friend of yours is in there and wants a word with you, but...," he added, "if you value your safety, do not leave this place. Later you can go on to any Western country." I had no idea what he meant and entered his office.
A young man of about twenty-seven rose from one of the chairs, carelessly playing with his hat, then greeted me with an enthusiastic handshake accompanied by wide gestures: "Are you Muki?" he asked, addressing me by my nickname. "My name is Attila Dozsa.. . I've heard a lot about you.
I looked at him suspiciously "Attila Dozsa?" I began uncertainly "No, I don't remember your name. Who told you about me?"
"Somhegyi and Hugo," he answered, "they're both here."
"Really?" I asked, "Somhegyi is here?"
"Well, no, he isn't actually He left Vienna quite a while ago and
"What's happened to him?" I interrupted.
"Don't know yet, though we should have heard days ago," he replied, head down. We were both silent for a minute. I asked him a few more questions, and then he told me about himself, beginning with how he had fought in the Second World War against the Soviets as a young lieutenant. His armored car was hit in a tank battle and he was seriously wounded, losing an eye. (That day in the grocer's office, he pulled his eyelid back to expose the glass replacement.) In the years since, he had become one of the organizers of the Hungarian resistance in Vienna. He had himself crossed the border illegally several times until the AVO found out about his activities. Since then he had been forbidden to go back to Hungary.
Attila was the perfect idealist, well-intentioned, but the complete opposite of everything one would expect from a secret
agent. Dreaming of a new world, a free Hungary, be was convinced that no sacrifice towards this end would be in vain. He was no revolutionary; blood and suffering did not seem necessary to him for the rebirth of a nation. He believed that the old order in Hungary was gone forever, and that in a new, free and democratic country everyone could find happiness.
Our discussion was interrupted by my boss, and Attila left with loud farewells. He returned in a few days, and after that dropped in for a couple of minutes almost every day At last he came out with his plan: he was lonely and lived by himself and felt that, if for no other reason but for safety, it would be expedient for both of us if I moved in with him. Two of us sharing one flat would be more economically sensible and so on. His place was at 81-83 Lerchenfelderstrasse, in a modern area where other than himself only U.S. Army officers and members of the CIC lived. Somewhere about the middle of January, I said good-bye to the lodgings at the greengrocer's and, having packed my meager belongings, moved in with Attila. The flat seemed like heaven: it was equipped with a kitchen, heat, and a bathroom with hot running water. It was like a dream compared to my previous lodgings, where I had washed in a basin of cold water in an unheated room and shared a lavatory at the end of a long corridor.
The crossroad at Lerchenfelderstrasse was like a railroad station at rush hour. Adventurers, shady characters, secret agents and spies followed each other in an endless circuit. Several former classmates of mine were among them. They were now undertaking so-called "courier" duties which consisted of slipping over the Hungarian border to brief others already recruited or pass on news to them and to bring back information of interest to the West. Most of these couriers were young Hungarian men, acting out of patriotic conviction, who regarded these activities as their duty. They constituted the real backbone
of the resistance. Each one was only too aware of the risks they were taking and what awaited them if they were caught by the Hungarian internal security.
A few of these couriers, however, although willing to take on any task
assigned them, were working for the AVO. One, a young man called Marinkai,
berated everything and everyone. He told us horror-stories about how the
Communists had raped his mother and sister and begged Attila to send him
on the most difficult missions so that he could avenge them. "Give me a
tommy-gun and I'll bump off Rakosi!" he would claim one day and the next
present a grand scheme to plant a bomb in the Houses of Parliament. My
instincts told me that this man was not sincere; something about him was
peculiar and jarred me but I couldn't pinpoint what it was. I warned Attila
that it would be better to find out where Marinkai lived in Vienna, with
whom he associated and where his money came from before we trusted him.
"Come off it, hes a decent guy," he assured me, "his father was an army
officer and he himself went to the cadet academy." As far as Attila was
concerned, that was the end of the matter. He continued his meetings with
On 9 February 1949 the weather let up a little. With some groundless optimism, people began talking about the formation of a treaty concerning the establishment of a new Austrian state in the near future. *3/2 That morning Attila left saying that he was to meet Marinkai at the Ostbahnhof, the East Railroad Station. "I'll be back by lunch time," he said. I didn't even have time to ask:
Why meet at the Ostbahnhof? That's in the Soviet zone.... Noon came and went, the afternoon wore on, darkness fell outside - still no sign of Attila. I began to feel restless.
It was about six in the evening and I was with some acquaintances when the bell rang. An Austrian taxi driver stood in the door. "Are you Hungarian?" he asked, and when I
answered yes, he came in and told me that while he was waiting at the Ostbahnhof, he had witnessed a dozen Russian officers, some in uniform, some in civilian clothes, dragging away two men who had been talking in a remote, bomb-damaged corner of the station. One of the two ran away - or was allowed to go because he vanished in seconds-while the other was bundled into a car that appeared out of nowhere.
"All this happened in front of my face," the driver continued. "The man caught had just enough time to shout for help: "Hilfe! Ich bin ein Ungar, hilfe!...' (Help, I'm Hungarian!) I followed them in my taxi with no trouble as they were in three or four cars, and drove just ahead of me. Maybe they'd expected more resistance and now were anxious to disappear from the scene. I trailed them right to the corner of Heumuhlgasse where I saw them leap out of their cars and vanish into a building. The cars drove on. I waited a while, took a good look at the number of the building and drove to the U.S. Military Command where I told an officer everything I'd seen. He made several phone calls and eventually gave me your address saying I ought to tell you the whole story"
The driver then told us about his own experiences with the Russians.
He had spent four years fighting in the Second World War on the Soviet
front, and then two years in a prisoner of war camp. The Soviets freed
him in 1948 only because he was an Austrian. "After what I have survived,
they can talk to me about the Soviet Garden of Eden.... I know all about
it! All the sugar in the world wouldn't be enough to sweeten its fruit!"
When he was finished, a deathly silence fell over the room. The few men
with me stirred nervously and began leaving. "Everything is finished,"
one whispered, "we better get away from here as fast as we can."
"But what will happen to Attila?" I asked. "He must still be in Vienna, we have to do something, perhaps we can still help."
"You're not thinking of rescuing him, are you?"
"Why not try?" I said. "We know Attila is still in the city somewhere, our friend has even given us the address. I'm sure
we could ask the Americans for help through the Four Power patrol." *3/3
There was no time to hesitate. I forgot about my own danger and could only think of Somhegyi, Attila and the others who had dared to take risks. I knew that an acquaintance of ours, Hugo, was in contact with important persons at the U.S. security agency, the CIC. I telephoned him and asked him to organize help. He promised to do his best and to call back. About half an hour later the phone rang and we all leapt to our feet simultaneously As if in a trance, we were all thinking: The Americans will be here at any minute and will show us that they are everywhere help is needed... But Hugo's voice sounded cool. He said that because it was Friday, his boss and all his contacts were peddling their American cigarettes on the black market and could not deal with the case until the following day. The receiver fell from my hand, I gasped for air. So.. .this is where we stand. A human life, the whole great fight against communism, suddenly becomes a matter of little importance next to shady business interests. Bitterness and mental anxiety are not the best counsels. As soon as I saw the expression of fear in the eyes around me, I knew that I would make an attempt, even if I had to go it alone.
The House on Heumuhlgasse
The taxi driver, who had listened to the telephone conversations, looked at me expectantly "Let's go!" I said, reaching into Attilas desk-drawer where I knew he kept a pistol. I loaded it and then removed all the papers and documents from my pockets-even took off my watch so that I would carry nothing by which I could be identified.
My friends watched me silently. "You must be completely mad," one of them began at last, "you'll be shot like a dog."
"If the Americans don't want to help, what the hell do you think you can do?" asked another. I waved him aside, knowing
that his attitude was only a rationalization. I did not say good-bye or shake hands, but walked out of the room as if they weren't there.
"Shit!" I muttered, "the moment somebody is in trouble all they can think of is saving their own skins."
Once in the taxi, the driver and I decided on a plan. At the corner of Heumuhlgasse, I was to get out of the taxi and he would point out the house to me. He would then drive around the block, approach the street from the far end and wait for me there.
My heart was in my throat, and I gripped the revolver tighter in my coat pocket as I started walking towards the building. It was built in the style typical of Vienna of the early nineteenth century, two or three stories high, with wide entrances dating back to times when horse-drawn carriages were the mode of transport in the city. Slowly I opened the door and found myself in the wide, corridor-like carriage entrance. A single bulb shed a yellowish light over the end of the corridor. A spiral staircase on the left curved upwards to the next floor. I could see a courtyard beneath the illuminated windows of the encircling apartments; the building was inhabited. I felt a slight relief, suddenly less alone. Which apartment would the Russians be in? I paused for a moment and then started ascending the stairs.
I knew that various spy organizations maintained some secret headquarters in Vienna, even in zones other than their own; this apartment on the Heumuhlgasse, in the English sector, was such a place for the Soviets. They could meet their agents here in secrecy or avoid the risk of having their informants being seen walking into their main building, which was known to everyone in the city A neglected little house or an apartment in a large complex was most suitable for their purposes. Uncontrollable and often undetected, people came and went and no one asked questions.
The spiral staircase connected the two floors in a single turn. I reached a small corridor lined on one side with a long window overlooking the courtyard. The geraniums that someone had planted in the windowbox were neglected and frostbitten. At the
top of the staircase two doors on the right side faced one on the left. Tiptoeing up to the first door, I put my ear against it and tried to listen. Dead silence. Then I heard noises coming from the end of the corridor. I went over to the other door and heard voices inside. It was impossible to make out what language was being spoken but I could hear several persons talking. I tried the handle of the door that led to an extension of the veranda-like corridor and found that it wasn't locked. I stepped into a hallway; faint light penetrated through a window. Waiting until my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I tried to orient myself. The small hall had windows over the courtyard. Once upon a time a Viennese family had spent happy evenings sitting here with the pleasant view of the flowerbeds below. I took the revolver out of my pocket and very carefully started walking towards the next room. The windows to the street let in enough light for me to see.
Some inexplicable force compelled me forward, a subconscious command that said, Now there is no return, carry on, whatever must happen will happen. For a second a feeling of being terribly alone overwhelmed me. Maybe even the taxi driver is gone, I thought. I stood, numb, staring at the thin strip of light filtering through a gap in the door. Then I heard the first Russian word. It paralyzed me, I could hardly breathe, my hand cramped as it clutched the revolver. I approached the door and heard several voices arguing inside. Maybe I will hear a Hungarian word, maybe Attilas voice, I hoped half-heartedly Did. half a minute pass or half an hour? All I know is that I stood completely still, with tension in every nerve ending, waiting expectantly for someone to speak in Hungarian.
Suddenly a revelation ran through my brain. Attila can't be here any longer! Even if he was brought here in the first place, he has been taken to Baden by now. Why should they hold him here? I must be mad. I have to get out of here.... Slowly I started backing towards the veranda. Once I reach it, I thought, I'll jump out the door, run downstairs, through the big gates to where the taxi is waiting.. .then I'll be in the clear. At that moment my
elbow brushed against something that fell to the floor with a thunderous crash. The room seemed to shake. I stiffened, my heart filled with dread. Inside the room the talking ceased. I turned on my heels and started to run towards the entrance as fast as I could in the dark. In the same second a door flew open and several Russians, falling over each other, chased after me. A few others tore open another door and headed for the far corridor. I met them head on. I had fallen over a chair in the dark and dropped the revolver. Someone grabbed me from behind, another jumped out and hit me in the face. I fell. I could just see something glint in the hand of the Russian nearest to me on the way down. With all my strength I kicked out. He fell backwards down the stairs. Then they took hold of me and pushed me to the floor, one holding my mouth, another twisting my arms behind my back. They carried me like this to the room overlooking the street.
I was captured. Some Russians tied me to a chair and gagged me, while the rest stood around observing me silently. One of them left the room for a few minutes; when he returned, he said something and they all began talking at once. A soldier wearing the epaulets of a captain stepped up to me, took out the gag, and glaring at me spoke in perfect Hungarian: "What is your name and what do you want here?"
I glanced around the room. There were seventeen of them, half in civilian clothes, the other half in Soviet officer's uniform. Later in my life I had plenty of time to think this moment over, but I have never been able to figure out my reaction. Suddenly all my nervousness and fear disappeared. I simply sat there calmly, glancing from one face to another. Someone asked me my name, but I remained silent.
The captain's voice sounded threatening this time: "What is your name?"
"Istvan Fehervary," I answered, "I am looking for Attila Dozsa. They said he was brought here."
"Who said?" thundered the captain.
"A taxi driver saw you abducting him from the Ostbahnhof."
A Russian butted into the dialogue, wanting to know what we were talking about. The captain translated.
"How do you know Dozsa and what do you know about him?"
"Oh, we lived in the same flat, I cooked for him and kept the place in order." I surprised myself for a moment. Where did that idea come from? Cook, cleaner?
The captain interpolated: "You also took part in the organization, you spied," he started again. "What other reason would you have to come here?"
"Me?" I retorted, "I did not spy I would not even know whom to spy for. I cooked and cleaned, this was my only crime - if that can be called a crime!"
"Why did you come here?" he persisted.
"Attila is my good friend. We shared a flat, I wanted to have a word with him." The Russians looked at me as if I were a mental case. I could see that they were not clear whether I was an idiot or not. They had never heard such a naive, simple-minded explanation. Only a few minutes ago we were wrestling outside, now I had become a cook, an innocent simpleton wishing to visit his friend. I do not know how long we would have continued like this if a dramatic twist had not put an end to this tone of the discussion. A uniformed officer had gone out and now returned holding up my pistol. No one had noticed it when it fell out of my hand, and now this Tatar-looking officer was showing it to the others. My calm suddenly left me. I knew that there was no room left for explanation.
The captain shook his head and said quietly: "You will answer for this!" There was nothing I could say In the ensuing commotion no one took much notice of me. The captain then questioned me further while the others started packing up. They were emptying drawers and burning papers on the stove, signs that they were preparing to vacate their hiding place. Half an hour or so had passed when two more officers arrived. They said something and the captain turned towards me, emphasizing every word he said: "You are hereby arrested for spying against
the Soviet people and for armed attack," he gestured towards the revolver on the table, "against members of the Soviet army. A Soviet military court will try you on both charges." I looked at him dumb struck, thoughts racing through my head. Spying or armed attack alone were grave enough crimes for hanging.
"Do you understand?" he asked, leaning over me threateningly "We are going to take you away now. Any escape attempt would only aggravate your case."
I felt a sudden shiver run down my spine. Escape? It hadn't even occurred to me until he said it. But how? There was only one way My brain worked feverishly It was now or never! As they are taking me downstairs and we reach the entrance gates, I'll jump out, run away, perhaps the taxi is still waiting, I must try....
Two Russians stepped up to my chair, untied my hands, grabbed me by both arms and lifted me up. Everyone was moving about, some going on ahead, others following us. In the distraction of the movement, I managed to unbutton the top two buttons of my overcoat unnoticed. I couldn't reach the third and last with the Russians pinning my arms back. No matter, I thought, I never button my coat all the way down anyhow. When we reach the gates I'll jump out of my coat in one bound and out onto the street in another.
We started the descent, but the spiral staircase was narrow slowing our progress. With one Russian in front and one behind, their grip on my arms loosened. Two Russians waited at the foot of the stairs and when we reached the bottom, fell in behind us. I could see the entrance with the gates open on one side and a car waiting in front. Ten steps, nine, six, three, now! Gathering all my strength, I lunged forward and felt my arms slipping out of my coat. The two Russians were left holding the empty sleeves as my coat parted to release me. But something held me back. The hands holding the coat sleeves reached to grab me. I had been wrong: the last button was still fastened.
One button could have changed my life. As it was, that small error cost me eight years. After that, everything happened very
quickly In the ensuing tussle I tried to break for the gates, flailing my arms and legs, while the Russians hit me. One of them jumped to the gate and slammed it shut. His action put an end to my grand plan. Within seconds I was tied up again, blood pouring from my mouth, my hair falling into my eyes.
But the KGB comrades were agitated too. People appeared from their apartments and stood watching the uniformed men of the occupying power beat and tie up some young kid. The next day these witnesses were the sources for the Austrian newspapers about my kidnapping-not exactly the most favorable press for the Soviets. When the Russians noticed their audience, they panicked and tried to disappear from the scene. The captain who spoke Hungarian grabbed the collar of my damned coat and shouted at me, hissing: "You fool, you ass! You will be finished for this!" Gasping, he shook my bound body as if it were a marionette. I could not answer, could hardly breathe through the handkerchief they had tied around my face. Encouraged by the captain's behavior, a KGB agent attacked me, shouting abuses. In all fairness to the captain, after the first few blows, he shouted at the KGB man and, pushing him away, forced him to stop.
They bundled me up, opened the gates and threw me into the car. I couldn't
see whether the taxi was still waiting at the corner.
Back to the Contents
The Soviet World
In A Viennese Palace
Squeezed in between the two KGB men, I was unable to follow the route of the car. Although I was fairly familiar with Vienna by then, I had no idea where I was being taken. The car finally stopped and my captors shoved me out to two waiting agents. I realized that I was standing in the porte-cochere of a Viennese aristocrat's palace. Armed sentries were guarding the entrance, while several others stood around us, striking frozen poses with the guns across their chests.
The Davaji *3/4 guitar guys, I thought
wryly, remembering the nickname we had sarcastically given the Soviet soldiers.
There was no need for me to walk. I was being dragged into the building at a rapid pace flanked by several Russians. Doors opened and closed, and eventually I was pushed into a room and shoved down onto a chair. Two guards began to frisk me, turning out all my pockets, taking off my belt, my shoelaces, peering into my mouth. I must have looked thoroughly comical by the end because one of them made a remark and the others broke into laughter. An officer in an immaculate uniform with wide red stripes down the sides of his trousers entered; they all jumped to their feet and saluted. He said something and gestured for me to follow him.
The officer escorted me through a door guarded by two armed soldiers and led me into a large, brightly lit room. A wide marble staircase ascended to the floor above, and was flanked on both sides by Herculean figures carved in marble which supported an enormous chandelier. The ceiling was decorated with paintings in the baroque style. Had I not known I was in Vienna, where numerous palaces still stood as monuments to a bygone empire, I would have thought the place some Hollywood set. The leaders of the proletariat dictatorship know just the sort of building to commandeer for their headquarters, I thought to myself.
Instead of going up the stairs, we stopped in front of a wide door about ten feet high which was to one side of the staircase. The immaculately uniformed officer escorting me knocked softly Hearing a reply, he opened the door, motioned me inside and shut it behind us. The room we were in must have been the library of a count or baron at one time. Under its slightly domed baroque ceiling, the room had the dimensions of a small gymnasium. One of the walls was lined with wide, gold trimmed bookshelves; at the end of the library two enormous French windows were draped by heavy golden curtains. The parquet floor was like a mirror which scattered a single source of light into myriad sparkles. The room had been cleared of furniture save for a slightly weather-beaten desk adorned with a cheap
lamp. A plain wooden chair was positioned in front of it, and a man in uniform sat behind it, writing. The bluish lamplight lit only his completely shaved head. I was unable to see his face. My escort led me to the chair and, clicking his heels, reported to his comrade. The man answered without looking up and the impeccably dressed officer turned around, walked to the door, and waited.
"Warum haben Sie gegen uns gearbeitet?" (Why did you work against us?) the man at the desk asked suddenly, without the trace of an accent in perfect German. The light fell on his long, finely boned face; he looked far more like an English aristocrat than a KGB chief. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" he asked, "But I can also speak English or French, whatever you want."
"Ich spreche Deutsch," I replied.
"Unfortunately, I can't speak Hungarian, although it is high time I learned," he continued, "we have more business with Hungarians than with all other nationalities put together." He stood up, revealing a slender, athletic figure, six feet tall. He looked about forty An array of decorations was displayed on the left half of his tunic. He stepped close to me and turned the lamp to shine on us.
"Why is it that you Hungarians are so against us?" he asked. "After all, we liberated you from the Nazis. You did not rebel against them, so why against us?"
For a moment I couldn't say anything; the entire situation as well as his question had taken me by surprise. I didn't know whether it would be better to answer him truthfully or to remain silent. But I felt he was mistaken in his remark.
"We did rebel against the Nazis," I said. "They occupied our country twice using military force. Hitler never trusted the Hungarians..
"But you fought against us," he interrupted. Then, as if he guessed my thoughts, he encouraged me to continue: "Have no fear, talk! Tell me your opinions about us, the soldiers of the Red Army Why do you hate us so? I know that we plundered your country, that our soldiers sometimes behaved reproachably,
raping women and looting. But," and here he raised his voice, "didn't the Germans do the exact same thing to us?" He paused, "In any case, the truth is you were the aggressors, not us. Isn't that right? We were in a state of war - a bloody, ruthless and unforgiving war. My brothers and I lived in the Ukraine. The Germans took them away, my father died of starvation along with God knows how many others. Can you imagine the feelings of revenge that filled our soldiers when they reached your territory and Germany's?"
"No!" I answered, "Revenge is not the solution, especially when you come as the liberator!" This quieted him for a moment.
"Was any harm done to you or your family?"
"No, not physically"
"You were a university student? Twenty-three years of age...?" he read from a piece of paper he picked up from the desk. "You could have completed your studies, found a job, married - it would have been a good life. But all that is impossible now" He thought for a moment and continued: "The death-sentence has been abolished in the Soviet Union so you do not have to fear hanging, but you can bid your freedom good-bye forever."
A slight, bitter smile appeared on his face. "It's a pity, so young and ending up in prison. Why did you try to escape? If, as you told my comrades, it is true that you were only the cook in the set-up and took no part in the spying, why try to escape? We could have handed you over to the Hungarian comrades who would have let you go free, or perhaps given you a brief sentence. The whole matter is not quite clear to me yet." He paused, then emphasized every word, "We have our methods to learn what we want to know from everybody, and you," he pointed a finger at me, "you will tell us the truth."
After staring at me for a second, he turned and took out a cigarette from a box on the desk. "I will explain the situation here to you so you understand something. The Soviets would like to withdraw from Austria and Hungary and leave these countries
in peace. However," and his voice grew hard again, "the Americans are just waiting for us to do it. They would be here in twenty-four hours. The Americans want war!"
"That could be," I answered. "I don't know But I know that we Hungarians and most of the people in Eastern Europe have had enough of war. We want to live in peace and freedom. We don't want the Americans on Hungarian soil any more than we want the Soviets."
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I've heard that so many times. Don't be so naive. We live in a world where any show of weakness or indulgence is a sign for the other side to attack. They won't back down, nor will we! Only our strength prevents them from starting a war against us." He returned to his desk and sat down. "Time is on our side. In the end, the Chinese and our comrades in other nations under imperialist rule will carry communism to victory-in Africa, Asia, Latin America-every place wars of independence have started with our help. Europe and America," here he waved with his hand in a gesture of disdain, "will be left for last. By then capitalism will be ripe for transformation and they will do whatever we want. Nothing can prevent the inevitability of world communism!"
"I disagree," I ventured, surprised by my own temerity "Isn't it possible to imagine that after communist victories the people, whether European or Asian, will demand more freedom? What about the hundreds of millions who believe in God and will refuse to accept an atheist doctrine? What will happen to the millions now under colonial rule who can hardly wait for their independence; will they be satisfied with the freedom communism brings?" Suddenly I thought of Yugoslavia and continued:
"I don't understand why someone like Tito, whom we regarded as one of the truest of communists, would break with the other communist states? Isn't it possible that sometime in the future people, maybe in China, will say that they want no part of your brand of communism and will want to construct their own? Everyone will want something different. It is not so simple to wipe away age-old feelings of nationalism from peoples hearts.
Churches cannot be discarded like used rubbish." I felt compelled
to go on: "I'm not even sure that everyone in the Soviet Union is happy
and proud to be a member of communist society"
As I finished, the officer had a pensive look on his face. We held each other's gaze for awhile until finally he spoke softly:
"Anything is possible."
The room was quiet. The enormous space surrounded us with silence as the ocean surrounds two shipwrecked people. He gestured to the officer waiting silently at the door. "What a pity about you," I heard him say as the door closed behind me. Some time later I learned that this man was Colonel Andreyev, in charge of all KGB operations for Eastern Europe and Austria. *3/5
In a guardroom I was searched again. This time I had to take off all of my clothes and raise each leg for a complete frisking. Two Mongolian-looking soldiers were going through my things
so thoroughly that not even a flea could have hidden in them. When they finished their search I was told to dress, and one of the guards who spoke some German took my personal belongings. They then escorted me to an oblong shaped building which must have housed officers of the Austrian army at one time. The entire complex had been converted, in accordance with Soviet tastes, into a prison. A corridor ran along the center with cells on each side. There was a small opening on every cell door with a flap covering it on the outside which the guards could raise to peep through. Two guards paced the length of the corridor, alternating up and down. I was hurled into a small cell that resembled an austere bedroom. Only a window - too high to look out of -indicated that it was not meant for ordinary human habitation. A wooden bunk covered by a tattered old German army mattress, a chair with a missing back, and a bucket - these were the room's furnishings. In a tiny recess above the door a bare light bulb burned day and night.
The cell door closed behind me. I was alone at last. I had no wrist watch and I guessed it must have been around midnight. I stood still, unwilling to believe what had befallen me. I was caught, cut off from the outside world, from freedom, from loved-ones forever; sentenced to life in a deathlike existence. Lord, what will become of me? I thought. Lord, don't leave me!
Interrogation with the Red Captain
I laid down but I could not sleep. I tossed and turned on the mattress fully clothed. From time to time a guard looked in, then noisily rattled the flap shut. The faint light of dawn was beginning to show through my window when fatigue and exhaustion finally overcame me. I could not have been asleep long before I was awakened by the sound of someone kicking the cell door and shouting something in Russian. I leapt to my feet The flap shot open to reveal a horrible, demonic face grinning in at me; the face grunted something in Russian. I stood there dumbly with no clue as to what he wanted; apart from a few trivial expletives I understood no Russian at all. He began yelling
again and then I heard a female voice reply - in Hungarian. I held
my breath until I heard her again, this time quite near my cell. "You swine,
if you want to talk to me, you've got to learn Hungarian. I'll have plenty
of time to learn your tongue-twisting language in Siberia."
I did not know how much the Russian understood of this little lesson; in any case, he laughed out loud and moved on. I waited while the sound of his footsteps receded, then jumped to the door, kicked it a little, and said: "I am Hungarian too, I was brought here yesterday. Who are you? Are there other Hungarians here?"
"Other Hungarians?!" the female voice whispered. "Apart from a couple Germans, Austrians and Czechs, there are only Hungarians. Who are you?"
I told her my name and she gave a short gasp from outside my door. "God, you've been caught too? Is Attila Dozsa here?"
"Yes, he was caught first. I was trying to rescue him but couldn't."
I'm in the Hadvary case, *3/6 " said the woman, whose name was Maria Kovacs. "The others are also here. We were sentenced to twenty years but," and here her voice changed, becoming somehow jolly instead of serious, "we will not complete even one year of it. Don't worry, you don't have to be afraid of these goons. They are like kids."
The guard on duty must have heard us and began shouting. "Frankenstein is yelling again" said Maria. "I'll come back later. I have to clean the corridors now." After she left I was taken to a different building and never saw her again.
Soon after this encounter with Maria, a Tatar guard placed a small tin dish in my cell and poured barely enough water into it for me to rinse my mouth. He threw me a towel full of holes and indicated with gestures that I was to start washing myself. Later I
had the dubious privilege of experiencing how much attention and expense the Soviet state devoted to the hygiene of prisoners. Breakfast followed. A mess-tin holding a mixture of semolina in water and a piece of sticky black bread, maybe nine ounces, was handed in to me. The piece of bread constituted the day's allotment, amounting to less than 200 calories.
I certainly won't overeat here, I thought to myself. I began picking at the bread reluctantly and after a few spoonfuls pushed away the gruel. It was unfit for human consumption. After barely a week, however, I was licking out every drop in the mess-tin. At lunch, we were given more gruel, this time of a soup-like consistency; some days it had a piece of greasy mutton swimming in it. Supper was always black tea with lots of sugar in it, Russian-style, and the customary gruel. This routine went on for the entire fortnight I was at the Baden jail with the same menu and washing system described earlier-just enough water for the whole day to wash ones hands, no toothpaste or toothbrush. A bucket served as the toilet. We were allowed out of the cell to empty it at the end of the corridor only after the stench became unbearable.
Whether I woke by myself or was awakened, I never missed my morning exercises. A little jumping in place, knee-bends and arm circles, breathing in and out. I was trying to preserve my physical strength, and followed this pattern throughout the next eight years as circumstances allowed. Only once, when I was too weak to lift myself after a period of interrogations, did I give it up.
They left me like this for a few days, and as the time crept by, I felt increasingly uneasy I tried to force myself to keep my mind occupied somehow. A thousand and one times I went over an imagined scene of my interrogation - what I would say, playing both parts of accused and interrogator. Finally the cell door opened and a guard came for me. I knew my wait was over. The guard took me to the second floor, stopped in front of a door and knocked. Later I learned that knocking was not a gesture of civility but was to prevent prisoners from encountering each
other by chance or even from seeing one another. Two officers were sitting in the room behind a kitchen-like table. One, with the bars of a captain, looked like a circus clown with his face painted red. Red freckles covered his face from ear to ear, and thick red hair on his arms showed where his tunic sleeves ended.
The red captain of the Red Army, I thought, staring at him as if I'd never seen a human being before. The other officer served as the interpreter, a beefy, good-looking first lieutenant who sat next to the little red one as if he were a body-guard. He indicated that I should sit down in the chair in front of them and began to inform me why I was there: I was to make my confession right away, voluntarily, without being subjected to any use of force. He put a form, printed in cyrillic, in front of me and asked me to sign it. I had no idea what its contents were, and asked him to translate it for me. I hadn't even finished my request when the little red one - guessing that I had refused to sign - jumped up, face enraged, and began shouting in Russian.
The natural response when not understanding something is to shrug your shoulders; this is what I did, provoking an even louder tirade from the captain. Finally the first lieutenant explained that the captain was furious at my impudent refusal to sign the paper - behavior which amounted to contempt of authority as far as he was concerned. I tried to explain that I didn't know what was on the paper and only wanted it translated before I signed, that even a prisoner had that right. The word "right" must have struck a terrible chord with the captain. He jumped to his feet again and hit the edge of the table with his fist so hard that a piece broke off over a foot long. For a second he seemed surprised, either by his own strength or by the fact that he had damaged property of the Soviet state, but then he snatched it up and hit me with all his might. It happened in a flash, not giving me even enough time to duck instinctively The blow must have landed on the back of my head as I felt no pain; I only heard the rotten piece of wood crack in two, leaving the captain holding one end like an angler discovering the fish has torn the line from his rod.
There was a second of silence in the room before the captain, murmuring something to the lieutenant, returned to his place at the table. The lieutenant started translating: I was to make a voluntary confession, under no threat of punishment or duress; if I accepted the conditions of my confession I would be sentenced to N years according to the Nth paragraph of the Nth Act. There was not much room for argument. I signed, although I wondered why it was necessary to sign such a document at the beginning of the interrogation. In any case, I didn't have much choice if the comrade-captain was going to break off another part of the table to test its strength on my head.
The questioning lasted until early afternoon. According to the captain, not a word of what I had said was true, and I would be punished for my lies. I was taken back to the cell long enough to eat my now cold portion of gruel. The guard returned for me after a few minutes and took me back upstairs. The red captain and translator were standing as I entered. My audience was brief. A text was read reporting that I had attempted to escape and had shown no signs of repentance or a sincere intention to confess during my first interrogation. For this I was sentenced to three days of incarceration. Then they motioned the guard to escort me back to my cell.
About half an hour went by. I was just beginning to guess what incarceration might mean, when an officer and two guards appeared and ordered me to follow them. They led me to the basement of another neglected building. It was cold, the guards were wearing their fur-lined overcoats, and I started shivering. In a guard room the officer told me to take off my shoes, socks and coat. I stood there barefoot, shaking from the cold-and undoubtedly from fear as well. What will they do with me? I wondered, suddenly remembering that the unhappy victims of Nazi concentration camps had to undress before going to their deaths in the gas chambers. I was led to the end of the corridor where we stopped in front of a door. A guard switched
on the light inside and the officer ordered me to enter.
I could not believe my eyes. The place I was to enter was a small recess in the wall-its length and breadth not more than a foot and a half each. I could just fit my shoulders and could only turn around with great difficulty. It was about six feet high so I could reach the ceiling with my hand easily, Bare light bulbs at eye level burned on two opposite walls, the glaring light reflecting off the white-washed walls. The floor was raw timber slats with gaps, through which the stench of excrement rose and filled the air. I had to back in so that I faced the door at all times, and then the officer slammed the door shut.
My first reaction was to close my eyes to block out the blinding light, but it burned through my eyelids. Then I tried putting my hands inside my shirt to warm my body somehow I let my trousers down a little so I could stand on the back edge and cover my bare feet. And then I waited. After I'd shifted my weight from one leg to the other for so long that I was tiring, I pressed my knees to the door and my back to the wall to ease the weight from my feet. When the guard, peeping through the hole, noticed I was 'sitting' like this, he kicked the door several times. I could not have remained long in that position anyway because my knees would start tiring, so I would have to try and stand on my feet again. So it went, on and on....
The smell of excrement and urine coming through the floor boards was almost unbearable. I tried pressing my nostrils through the gap in the door so that I could steal some air from the corridor. My body was becoming so numb from the cold that I could hardly move. To increase my circulation, I moved my shoulders, wriggled my fingers and toes, and rubbed my hands together incessantly The building was completely unheated and the temperature outside was well below freezing. Had minutes or hours passed by? It must have been late at night when I heard footsteps, saw the door open and the officer standing outside. "Oh God!" I sighed, "At last!" imagining that I had completed my punishment. But no! The officer had only come to inspect; one of the guards handed in some hot tea in a tin mug and the
officer closed the door again leaving me alone.
I had no concept of day or night. I received the official portion of bread once a day, and this black tea was brought to me twice. Time dragged by with leaden feet. Minutes passed, but I felt I'd dreamt for hours. I had no idea how long I'd been in my upright coffin and dared not think about how much longer I would have to stand like this. My body went into spasms but I didn't know if it was from the cold or exhaustion. I grew used to the stench, it failed to affect me after a time and seemed insignificant compared to everything else. I realized that I was standing over the drain into which other prisoners emptied their waste buckets. When I looked down at my feet, I noticed that my ankles had swollen to twice their normal size and were turning blue-black. The accumulated blood in them throbbed and made them feel as if they were going to burst. I could have screamed. My brain was throbbing, I was incapable of thinking. I was afraid I was going mad....
Then a small miracle happened, something to revive my strength, to stimulate my brain again: a cell mate appeared! I don't remember how it started. Wis it the first or the second day? The bread was handed in to me and I started picking at it. Suddenly I felt something touch my bare foot. I looked down and saw a tiny mouse. Like lightning it picked up the crumbs and disappeared into a hole by the door. I watched and waited. It did not return. After a while I dropped another crumb and in half a second the mouse was back, poking its head out through the hole. We were almost staring at each other. Then it scampered out, snatched up the crumb and ran away. We repeated this little game several times, and always the same thing. The next time I dropped a bigger piece between my two big toes and held it there. My mouse friend put its head out again and eyed the bread, first from the right, then from the left, turning its head as if frustrated with the tricky situation. It looked up as if to ask for advice, then timidly started towards the big crumb. It had to climb up my bare foot to get a grip on the crumb with its teeth. Slowly, it reached for the bread, took a big bite-as big as it
could-and ran back. In a little while it appeared again with a companion. They both sat on my feet eating. We grew used to each other and I was able to forget about time, playing with the mice. They didn't run away, even if I moved my feet or made a sound. Sometimes one, sometimes two, finally three mice frequented the place. If there was any noise from the outside, they scampered to the hole on each other's tails. When the noise stopped, they reappeared, these friends who helped me survive the ordeal.
Three days passed. I stood in the recess non-stop for seventy-two hours, half-blinded and at the end of my nerves, at the end of my physical and spiritual strength. During the three days I was given nothing more than tea and the stale bread I continued to share with the mice. When the officer finally opened my door, I fell out, unable to walk or to see. I felt myself being picked up, then everything stopped around me.
When I came to I was lying on straw in a cell. Darkness surrounded me when I opened my eyes. Lord! I've been blinded! ran through my head. I recalled that my sight was going towards the last day, blinded by those horrible glaring lights. I felt around the walls with my hands, searching for the door. Going around blindly on my hands and knees, I felt the texture of the wall change to wood. I started beating on it, screaming in a panic, "I've been blinded! Doctor! I'm blind!"
The door suddenly opened, I had to cover my eyes. The light from
outside hit me like a hammer on my brain. "I can see" whispered, "I can
see!" and started laughing hysterically I rose to my knees slowly and tried
to open my eyes. Squinting, I could just make out two uniformed shapes
through the tiny gap between my eyelashes. One of them, possibly a corporal,
turned his head away in pity. He said something to the other, who suddenly
ran off, returning with a large hunk of bread and a mess-tin full of hot
"Essen, essen, viel essen!" shouted the corporal in bad German, pressing the bread into my hand. "Du mussen essen! he repeated, urging me to eat as I raised the bread to my mouth
and tried to bite into it. He had a blanket brought in, covered me with it and stood in the door until I'd finished eating everything. "Du mussen essen und viel schlafen!" he said several times. While he was on duty, he reappeared frequently to check on me or to bring me something. In my long captivity, he was one of the most humane guards I encountered.
The place I had been put into was a so-called recovery cell. The MGB *3/7 chiefs had extensive experience in the matter of returning prisoners to normal physical condition after a lengthy incarceration period. I spent the first day in total darkness, then gradually the amount of light filtering in was increased. The walls were covered with some soot-like substance which turned my hands black every time I brushed against them. On the second day an officer came in, looked down at me lying on the straw asked the guard something, then shook his head and left. Later the corporal told me that he had been the prison doctor.
My interrogation resumed after a few days and was soon complete. The little captain continued to shout, threaten and pound on the table just as before, although eventually he seemed more content with what I said. His change of demeanor must have been prompted by an order from his superiors. At the end of it, they made me sign the "minutes" of the meeting which were in cyrillic. The captain and the interpreter assured me that they faithfully recorded my confessions.
Sentenced by the Soviets
In the middle of March 1949, I was sentenced by a Soviet military court. The hearing was over in minutes. Through an interpreter speaking in rough German I understood that Attila had been sentenced to thirty years of forced labor and I to twenty. A few days later, early in the morning, a Tatar looking guard led me to an upstairs office where a high-ranking Soviet officer accompanied by a Hungarian officer from the political branch of the military, the Katpol, waited for me behind a desk. I didn't
have much time to think, as they brought Attila in within minutes. This was the first time wed seen each other since our arrest. Even our cases were handled separately during the trial. As we glanced at each other, we could see the sufferings of the past four weeks registered on each other's faces. Our tousled hair hung in clumps in our faces, and there was hardly a place left on our bodies not covered with bruises. Our clothes hung in shreds on our shrunken frames; we had each lost about twenty pounds during the course of the interrogations.
The Hungarian officer began to read aloud from a paper he held. In accordance with the Soviet Supreme Court's decision, our appeals had been granted and our sentences suspended. Our crimes were to be judged by Hungarian courts. We both breathed in sharply, aware that being turned over to the Hungarian authorities at that time was tantamount to receiving a death sentence. As Andreyev had informed me, the Soviet Union had abolished the death penalty for propaganda reasons as of 1 January 1949. Six months later they quietly reinstated it, and have handed it down ever since for cases of espionage and anti-Soviet activity, as well as for murder, robbery and criminal acts; but our sentencing fell into this six month period. In Budapest, gallows were built weekly in preparation for the execution of "traitors." I had little doubt that if we were turned over to the Hungarian authorities we would not be looking forward to a long life.
After the "trial" I was put into a windowless van specially converted to transport prisoners. That morning the familiar "Davaji! ' of the guard let me know this was to be my last journey. They escorted me down to a courtyard where a van was waiting with the engine running, loaded with prisoners. It looked like a bakery truck except that it had no emblem painted on it, no colorful advertisement, not even a window or air vent. Only the back door had a small, wire-covered window in it. This was what prisoners called the "bread van," the short-distance transportation for prisoners used by the justice system.
We travelled for a full day in small, separate compartments just
large enough to stand in. A one-meter wide corridor led down the middle of the truck, flanked by the tiny cells for prisoners. A broad shouldered man would have had trouble just turning around inside one, much less sitting down. The only opening was a small hole in the door. After the doors were locked on us, they were not opened until the truck reached its destination. At the end of the corridor, the escorting guards sat on two small landings on benches.
It was already dark by the time we arrived at the KGB's Budapest
headquarters on Vilma Kiralyne Utca (Queen Vilma Street). When they let
me out, my hands, which had been tied behind my back with thin twine before
I was pushed into the transport locker, were black from the lack of circulation.
We spent a few more days in a Soviet prison before we were finally taken
to the Hungarian authorities.
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Handed Over to the Hungarians
Soviets transported us - wrists again tied with packing string - from the KGB headquarters to our new quarters under the Hungarians at the military's political agency, the Katpol. Although the curtains of the car were drawn tightly, I managed to catch a few glimpses of the Budapest winter. It was hard to believe that it had been only five months since I'd escaped from this city to Vienna. When the car stopped, the guards grabbed my arms and hurried me up the steps of an unfamiliar building. They knocked on a door and when no reply came from inside we entered. I was quickly turned to face the wall before I had a chance to look around; a guard banged my head into it to emphasize how I was to stand.
I don't know how long I had been standing with my forehead pressed against the wall when the door opened and I heard several people walking into the room. "Turn around!" somebody ordered. I turned to face six uniformed officers. One had a small build, a balding head and a malignant grin on his pockmarked face. Wide red stripes ran down the sides of his trousers
and large red stars adorned the epaulets of the overcoat thrown over his shoulders. Although I knew very little about the ranks in the Peoples Army, I knew I was facing a top-dog. The sardonic smile still on his face, he scrutinized me for a while before saying, drawing out each syllable, "Now then Muki, have you been collared?" The packing string was cutting into my wrists, but my surprise made me forget the pain. How had this little gnome, looking like a mobile Christmas tree, found out the nickname hitherto used only by my closest friends?
When I didn't answer him one of the other officers grabbed my coat, shouting, "Answer the question of the comrade Lieutenant General!" Later I realized that this man with the slurred speech and the looks of an alcoholic was none other than the Katpol chief, Lieutenant General Revesz himself. But my answer was of no interest to the "comrade" Lieutenant General, who gestured that I turn back to face the wall: "Your last fart is near, Muki!" Guffaws accompanied the remark. Someone kicked my ankle and another banged my head against the wall again while the Lieutenant General was being escorted out by his entourage. This was my first and last meeting with Revesz, future Colonel General, Hungarian Ambassador to Moscow and - after the defeat of the revolution in 1956 - Minister of war in the first Kadar Government.
My encounter with Revesz was an appropriate introduction to what I was to experience at the hands of Hungarians in the Katpol cellars, and later under the AVH. The interrogations, beatings, starvation and torture I had undergone with the Soviets began all over again, this time far more cruelly. The Hungarian secret police had indeed succeeded in surpassing their Soviet mentors.
The Grand School
Thus I embarked on what was to become an eight year education in the methods used by a totalitarian regime to deal with dissent among its citizenry. During the period 1948-1956, my fellow political prisoners and I learned the cost of resistance,
learned the truth about the socialist dictatorship - how they had seized power, created an inner police world of security agencies and prisons, and suppressed the truth - in what became known among the prison community as "The Grand School."
When Rakosi and the Communist party seized power in 1948, they may have been somewhat successful in their attempts to dupe millions into believing in the daydream of socialism. The Party slogans for a just society and a better life had a certain effect on the psyche of a nation. But not in prison, where the humane face of socialism had disappeared the moment someone was arrested in the name of the people. The Party propaganda machine loudly proclaimed its economic plans, its rosy prospects for the future of the working people and Hungary's brotherhood with the Soviet Union, but the machine was silent on the thousands of people thrown secretly into prisons.
The inhabitants of the prisons experienced the hollowness of the slogans with their own lives and realized the country was facing the greatest tyranny and confidence trickster in Hungary's history. All those who served their sentences and were released into the outside world took with them the teachings of prison life. The news began to spread over the country, as more and more people were hit with the realization of what in truth was happening behind the rhetoric, that the Communists were serving alien interests as servile traitors. It was little wonder that the prisons became the most successful institutions for generating anti-Communist sentiment and producing leaders for the resistance.
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4 THE PRISON WORLD IN HUNGARY
The Party's Secret Agencies
By the time of my arrest in 1949 in Austria, the Communist party in Hungary had already seized power with the aid of the Soviet Union. In handing me over to the Hungarian authorities, the Soviets were simply putting me into the charge of agencies which they themselves had created much earlier, and which still remained under their influence. The organization of the two counterespionage or secret police departments, Katpol and the AVH, had been planned and initiated as early as the Soviet occupation in 1945. Katpol was organized by the Soviet army to serve as a disciplinary and counterespionage agency for the Hungarian military, while the AVH was established by the KGB to pave the way for the Hungarian Party's rise to and subsequent retention of power.
The history of the establishment and organization of these two agencies - which would figure so prominently in the lives of the Hungarian people over the next ten years - deserves examination.
members of the Red Army's counterintelligence agency arrived in Hungary on orders from the Soviet high command. Their assignment was to begin organizing a counterespionage department for the Hungarian Peoples Army based on the Soviet model. The leader of the special "advisory committee" was a Soviet colonel, Takasov. He immediately established contact with the Communist Gyorgy Palffy-Oesterreicher, who at the time held a high post in the Ministry of Defense under the terms of the newly formed coalition government. Under the direction of Thkasov and the aid of the occupying forces, Palify began to organize the establishment of a military political department, Katonai Politikai OsztaIy, later abbreviated to Katpol. The organization was moved into the Hadik Barracks, *4/1 but the four-story building soon proved inadequate and two adjoining buildings were requisitioned. The primary purpose for the expansion was to increase basement space for new cells which were to accommodate 250-300 prisoners.
In contrast to the AVH, which monitored and disciplined the civilian
populace, Katpol was the security agency for the Communist party within
the military. It countered activities directed against the Party from inside
military ranks by controlling the Army and its leadership and arresting,
interrogating and sentencing military personnel accused of dissension.
Katpol also took responsibility for espionage and counterespionage operations
under the strict direction and surveillance of the Red Army's counterintelligence
Katpol was divided into two main sections, defensive and offensive. The defensive section was responsible for counterespionage and headed by Major Andras Berkessy, a former factory worker. The offensive espionage section took orders from the Soviets and was under the supervision of LieutenantColonel Szorenyi. *4/2 One of Katpol's first assignments was to investigate all former military officers to decide who among them was suitable for continued service in the "new" army As a result of the department's vigilance, most of the untrustworthy elements had been removed from the army less than a year after
the end of the war. *4/3
By the end of 1946, the Soviet advisors no longer simply advised,
but took over the decision making at Katpol. Agents surfaced in Austria,
West Germany, and in neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden, attempting
to worm their way into various emigre organizations. It was through such
moles as their agent Marinkai that they were able to kidnap Attila Dozsa
and myself in February 1949. Some months after this an agent by the name
of Sandor Demi Gero planned the murder of Attila Kovacs, a leader of the
Hungarian resistance, which was carried out by two Katpol agents outside
Innsbruck, Austria. As a result of Soviet influence after 1947, Katpol's
policies towards arrests and interrogations grew more severe, and by the
summer of 1948, rumors about the brutalities and the tortures in the cellars
of the organization were widespread. Guards were recruited from the Party
and took up posts as low ranking officers after a short training. Most
of the interrogators were also Communists, or at least former soldiers
who had joined the Party and were deemed loyal.
In the summer of 1947, Palffy had been made a general and wielded more power than any other Hungarian in the country: he was the head of Katpol, the deputy Minister of Defense and, as was mentioned earlier, director of the border guards. Party boss Matyas Rakosi and his entourage were naturally displeased with the steady growth of Palffy's power and his influence over both the army and the border defense guard. When it was decided in Moscow that Laszlo Rajk - the former Minister of the Interior
was to be singled out as the chief organizer of a conspiracy to overthrow
the government, it did not take long to figure out who would be targeted
for having a leading role in the military "coup." In 1948, at the same
time that Rajk was arrested, the AVH arrested Palffy, accused him of spying
and treason, and sentenced him to death. He was executed with four others
on 24 October l949. *4/4
Because Palffy had often been occupied with the responsibilities of his other positions, the leadership of Katpol had invariably ended up in his deputy's hands. As a result, the deputy, General A. Foldi, was also implicated in the so-called coup. He was relieved of his duties in 1948, and arrested. Foldi himself spent years in the KGB prisons of Budapest and Baden-bei-Wien; he was finally convicted as a "spy and conspirator" in a case against eight generals and executed in the Conti Street prison in l951. *4/5
The demise of Katpol had begun. After Palffy's ouster, the Soviets replaced him with Lieutenant General Geza Revesz, the gnome-like man who had welcomed me so graciously to the Katpol prisons. A hero of the Spanish civil war who had lived in Moscow in the interwar period, he joined the Red Army and fought with the Soviets during the war, fulfilling Party and military duties afterwards. Under his leadership, the tone and general atmosphere of the Katpol prisons changed. Life had not been easy under Palify, but under Revesz conditions in the cellars of the Hadik barracks rivaled the dungeons of the AVH's infamous Andrassy Street headquarters.
Despite the fact that the Katpol more than fulfilled its quota of espionage trials and packed its cellars with prisoners, its days were numbered. There was no show of friendship between Revesz and Gabor Peter, the AVH's chief; they watched each other's rise to power with suspicion. A bitter rivalry developed between the two departments and the outcome was not difficult to foresee: in 1950, the counterintelligence department of Katpol was completely amalgamated by the AVH. Some of Katpol's employees, who had proven their merits by their cruelty and brutality, were taken up by the AVH. Others were arrested and put into internment camps. Revesz, still in Moscow's favor, became Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
The AVH: Guardian Angel of the Party
Between 1945 and 1956, no political or military organization instilled so much hatred and fear in the Hungarian people as the AVH, the Hungarian state security agency In its organization and structure, it was a true replica of the Soviet KGB or the German SS, but in its methods it often surpassed its mentors: the AVH was responsible for the arrests, torture and execution of thousands.
The new state security department was established with the assistance of the KGB in the waning months of the war; ironically, the remaining troops of the Hungarian army were then engaged in bitter combat against Russian forces in Transdanubia. Then called the AVO, AllamVedelmi Osztaly, the agency, which consisted of maybe a hundred men, set up its offices in the former headquarters of the fascist Arrow Cross party at 60 Andrassy Street in Budapest. In consultation with Soviet advisors, the AVO - run strictly by Communists - began making alterations to the building. The outside was left untouched, but the cellars were reconstructed to accommodate several hundred crowded prisoners.
As early as 1946, horror stories were circulating in Budapest and later could be heard throughout the country The stories centered on the disturbances reported at 60 Andrassy Street: men
beaten to death, bodies removed in bed sheets in the middle of the night, prisoners concealing a dead cell mate to receive his ration of food. People listened to such rumors with skepticism - most having never even heard of a state security organization. In a country where the roles and the jurisdiction of the various police forces were so unclear, it was easy for the establishment of a new security department to go unnoticed. To add to the confusion, AVO agents at the time did not wear uniforms and had no clear place in the government hierarchy. Officially, the division fell under the Ministry of the Interior, but the interior minister, Laszlo Rajk, knew he had no say in its everyday decisions.
The role of this new agency was to secure and maintain the hegemony of the Communist party. Any means was justified by the end: from promises, lies and threats to beatings, torture and ultimately execution. The AVO was above the law, as it was law in itself. Intoxicated with power, the organization grew to gigantic proportions which far exceeded its intended role. By 1947 the agents, once dressed in civilian clothes and conducting their business undercover, were strutting around in gilt buttoned tunics. Their appearance, combined with their siren-topped cars and extensive network of spies, created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the country.
Barely two years after the AVO moved into 60 Andrassy Street, it outgrew the building in spite of the alterations. It soon overran the entire block, as well as some buildings on both sides of Andrassy Street. New cellars, five or six levels deep, were dug under the existing ones in the basements. The various buildings were linked with corridors on all floors, creating a huge underground prison. Hundreds of offices and interrogation rooms were added. No expense seemed to be spared in this operation, carried out on the grandest scale-an expense which must have paled in comparison to the cost of keeping up the prisoners, interrogators, administrative staff and guards, which numbered at least 10,000 by the early 1950s. The expansion did not end there, but continued with the takeover of the larger
prisons, concentration camps and internment camps, including those
of the Katpol in 1950. With the transformation of the AVO, still under
the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, into the AVH, or Allam
Vedelmi Hatosag - a completely independent agency - George Orwell's hallucinatory
predictions for the future were actualized
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Inside the Prison World: Katpol
I spent almost four months in the Katpol buildings, then called the Hadik Barracks, waiting for my trial, while the military court reviewed my documents and the reports of my interrogations.
Many years have passed since the dissolution of Katpol, but no one who was dragged through its interrogation blocks and cellars could ever forget it. Hundreds fell prey to the sadistic tortures inflicted by madmen and succumbed to conditions designed to break the spirit: daily beatings; standing for entire days face to a wall; overcrowded airless cells with walls wet from the dampness; meager food rations, often spat or urinated into by the guards; incessant shouting and screaming; lack of sleep. The authorities often achieved their desired effect: many prisoners, just to escape their hell, chose to sign the pre-written confessions.
The Katpol and the AVH used the same system of interrogation, as I learned firsthand. The methods fell into two groups. One was the standard method of intimidation through beatings, torture, starvation and threats to arrest family members or friends. The other method, less usual, was the opposite; through a show of kindness and friendliness, promises of being allowed to send word to relatives, special treatment in the cell and meals brought in from restaurants, the interrogators tried to weaken the resistance of the prisoner and compel him or her to talk. In the latter case, the guards were told to use no force with the particular prisoner, to give him a blanket and soap and the first portions of food. After a short time experiencing prison life, we learned that if we were shown kindness during our interrogation,
if our interrogators were interested in our family or in the conditions of the cells, it meant trouble -they wanted something. Sometimes the two methods were used alternately, a common psychological trick used to procure a confession. By the end, we felt a certain relief when an interrogation began with two or three slaps in the face and the familiar introduction of "Listen here, shit-heap!"
A prison mate sentenced in the same trial as my own spent months with me in a Katpol cell and related his experience with the interrogators: "I was tortured and beaten for two months and made to sign various minutes and reports. Whenever I signed a new paper, it was compared with previous ones and naturally didn't correspond with them. The interrogators themselves changed details, left out words and added others - it was difficult for me to tell what was different, what had been amended. Once I was told to sign a paper with about 120 names on it testifying that I knew the people listed and was aware of their counterrevolutionary activities. I was familiar with some of the names because they were from my home town, but the majority of people listed I had never even spoken to. They were mostly older than me, civil servants, officers, members of the well-to-do bourgeoisie. When I refused to sign, the interrogators started beating me and pushing me towards the door. One of them shoved so hard that I fell against the door, pushing it open into the next room. A pack of guards fell on me and continued the beating until I couldn't move. They dragged me down to the cellar and completely cut off my food rations for two days as punishment. Then I was taken upstairs and the interrogation resumed, but the interrogator had changed his tone. He told me that if I confessed against the 120, my life would take a turn for the better. He produced some walnut pastry from his desk and asked, "Would you like to eat?" I was young and almost blind from hunger. I fell on the cake slices and wolfed them down. The whole charade began again. Faced with the list of names, I was told that if I signed I had nothing to fear. After a moment I repeated that I wouldn't sign because I didn't know any of the people listed. At this another interrogator
entered shouting: "Look, the bastard has eaten all my cake!" and
they reverted to the usual method of obtaining confessions."
In addition to the Katpol interrogations, almost all prisoners were interrogated by the Soviets at the KGB headquarters on Vilma Kiralyne Ut. The Soviets generally treated the Hungarians more humanely than their Hungarian counterparts, but this was not the case with their own prisoners *4/6
Conditions in Pre-Trial Prisons
During the four months I spent in the cellars of the Katpol prisons waiting to be transferred to the pre-trial prison, I had the privilege of being exposed to the personalities of several Katpol guards. One guard we called "Lanky;" Ostensibly a medical orderly, his treatment for anyone beaten so badly that he was swollen and bleeding was called the "water cure." He simply held the prisoner under the cold running water of the basin outside. The cure was often worse than the initial torture. Another guard was in the habit of going into a cell and beating up the nearest "detainee" - we had not yet been sentenced - either with his hands or the butt of his pistol. He would pick out one person, and repeat the attacks every few hours, sometimes carrying on like this for days. "Petofi" was the nickname of a third guard. *4/7 He could have been the poet's twin with his prominent cheek bones and neat little moustache. He had the habit of hissing at us and ordering prisoners to stand against the damp wall for days on end. One or two days were bearable, but after three, four or five days of standing facing the wall, the victim's ankles would swell and turn almost black with the collecting blood.
The guards' sadism is illustrated by something I witnessed every morning through the keyhole of my cell door which faced the entrance to the stairs The black coffee for the prisoners was brought down in a huge cauldron, but before giving it to us, the guards would get their mugs and help themselves to two or three cups. When they were finished with their "coffee-break," they would stand around the cauldron and, to the sound of ribald laughter, goad each other on to urinate into the pot, "refilling it." A few minutes later it was the prisoners' turn to have some of the polluted swill.
My "prison job" was to clean and sweep up the corridors and stairways with other young prisoners at night. Two or three guards with automatic rifles supervised us. One night they asked us to sign a report. It said that a detainee named Jeno Peterfy had died from injuries suffered falling down the stairs. We already knew that Peterfy had been taken up for an interrogation and had never returned. He had been beaten to death and prisoners were to be used to hush up the case and give false testimony to his "accident." We refused to sign, and the guards did not press us further; they knew they could find someone else to sign who would create no trouble.
Another incident involved a prisoner named Gyula Mark - whose fate was not unusual. He had taught at the Budapest Ludovica Military Academy in the forties, and his students had held him in high esteem. A quiet, straightforward man, he had accepted that a new Hungarian army would be organized after the war but had no desire to serve in it. First, he was stripped of his rank as a major and then, at the end of 1948, he was arrested for keeping in touch with other Academy members who had become embroiled in active resistance. The Katpol refused to believe that he was not the head of the organization, although he maintained his innocence even after repeated beatings. Finally, he was forced to stand facing the wall, forbidden to sit or lie down in his cell. The punishment continued for six days. Whenever he collapsed, the guards would shake him and stand him up again. Eventually he developed "wall sickness," a kind
of half-blindness from staring at the wall for so long. Gyulas legs swelled to several times their normal size. His knees looked padded, preventing him from bending them no matter how he tried. After the first day, his shoes had to be taken off; on the third his trouser leg split exposing a leg more black than blue; on the sixth day, we heard a rumor that Gyula Mark didn't have much longer to live. Two prisoners took him up to see the prison commander, Major Berkessy Berkessy's first words were: "Stop pretending Mark! I've had enough of your comedy. You could easily go on standing for a few more days." Gyula was later sentenced to five years in prison, even though the Katpol court could never provide any real proof of his having participated in the resistance.
The Yugoslav prisoners among us were not treated differently. After Tito's break with Moscow in 1947, Stalin ordered that the Hungarian border with Yugoslavia was to be a military zone. Some Yugoslavs who did not agree with Tito's decision fled to Hungary. But instead of being welcomed with open arms, these loyalists were arrested as Tito's spies and brought to the Katpol. One day in a neighboring cell, a Yugoslav officer suddenly felt a surge of patriotic fervor and started yelling: "zhivio Tito! zhivio Tito!" (Long live Tito!) He continued his tirade for hours and the corridors echoed with the noise. The guards warned him to stop, but he refused. Eventually two guards held him down while another put a poker in the furnace; they branded him on the mouth with the red-hot iron. We had to listen to his simpering cries for help. A guard said: "The rotten Titoist will finally shut up!"
For a short period I had a Yugoslav cell mate, a young soldier who had been captured as he transported food between two watchtowers along the border. The unfortunate man had accidentally strayed into Hungarian territory and had been captured by the Hungarians as a spy. He was a big peasant boy, with almost no education. The food rations were much too scanty for him and he was in a constant state of hunger. One day he got a piece of bone in his soup ration - no meat, just a big leg
bone - and slipped the coveted possession inside his shirt. That night I woke to the sound of a strange noise: the good Yugoslav was gnawing away at the bone with his teeth like a dog.
Life in the Katpol holding cells was not divided into day and night according to the rising and setting of the sun. Most of our time was spent in the cellars, the rest of it under interrogation upstairs. It was hard to tell which was worse. In the cellar we lived like moles in the dank gloom. The cells had no windows or even ventilation grills. An electric light glared day and night. We never knew what time it was. Night? Afternoon? Morning? The guards sometimes kicked on the cell doors at "retreat" or "reveille"- an obscure indication of time. It took us a while to realize that retreat was at ten at night and reveille at four in the morning. During the six hours in between it was impossible to sleep. Prisoners were kept coming and going all night long, to and from interrogations. The corridors were filled with noises of doors banging, guards cursing, prisoners crying in despair. From time to time guards would enter the cell and order everyone to stand against the wall - punishment for an untidy cell, for someone talking in his sleep or some other fabricated infraction. Even the shaving ceremony was left for nighttime. Using a knife, a sergeant-major would shave at least a dozen prisoners in ten minutes. Who was to care if the knife slipped a little once in awhile? A week hardly passed before a new prisoner was so exhausted he could hardly keep his eyes open. This was precisely the desired effect - to tire us out and wear down our reserve by keeping us awake all night. If a guard noticed someone falling asleep during the day, he would be dragged out and beaten.
The complete furnishing of the cell consisted of a bare iron bunk with hard wood slats, built into the concrete floor. There was no mattress, no bedclothes and the only heat was provided by a single stove at the end of the corridor. Hunched up from the cold, time passed slowly during the winter time, and summer brought little improvement. Those of us arrested in the winter were considered lucky; as we were brought in wearing more substantial clothes. Those brought in during the summer wearing
short sleeved shirts suffered an icy purgatory once December arrived.
The walls in some of the cells were so damp the water literally ran down them. We were provided with a bucket and rag to mop up the walls to keep the water from running out into the corridor, and we took turns mopping, even through the night. If we fell asleep accidentally and a guard noticed water seeping out of the cell, we were made to sit in it and soak it up with the seat of our pants. Afterwards we would shiver for hours in our wet clothing, waiting for it to dry on our bodies in the cold.
We were allowed out twice a day to use the bathroom and to attempt to wash ourselves, once in the morning and once after dinner. We were not allowed any soap, toothpaste or even a towel. Four towels hung by the sink, to be used by everyone. The first prisoners to wash had something to dry themselves with, but prisoner number 200 had to use a filthy wet rag. The guards watched while we used the lavatory. We hardly had time to sit down when one of them would come running up, yelling at us to pull up our trousers, to finish quickly. Some of us, myself included, developed complexes and were unable to use the toilet at all while being watched. Back in the cell, we had the choice of putting up with the pain until the next time we were allowed out or taking a chance of getting caught by a guard relieving ourselves in a corner of the cell. Women had to undergo the same humiliating treatment; guards sometimes stood around a prisoner and jeered at her, laughing raucously, while she attempted to relieve herself.
Incessant hunger was another method used to break prisoners' willpower. The food in the military prisons was not so bad in quality; but the portions were minuscule, less than 500 calories a day. Most people experienced a rapid weight loss during the first week or two. In the morning we were handed in a small hunk of dry bread and a cup of black sugared water - the infamous coffee. Some kind of soup was served for lunch, and for the evening meal we got vegetables or, very rarely, some pasta. After a few weeks, our clothes hung on us loosely. Ten weeks in
captivity, first under the Soviets and then under interrogation at Katpol's Hadik Barracks, had taken almost forty pounds off my frame. I was reduced to three-quarters of my normal weight, and I could no longer even attempt to exercise. At that time I was so weak that I had to use my hands and knees to stand up from a crouching position.
Never before could I have imagined such an unending cavalry of physical fatigue and hunger. You are tormented by the hunger for twenty-four hours of every day, and nothing can release you from it. The brain becomes deranged: thoughts chase each other concerning only one topic, food. You chew your fingers, bite your lips, nervously tear at your body; your stomach convulses, you want to cry, scream; you can see yourself wasting away day-by-day in spiritual as well as physical strength. And then you become indifferent to everything. Nothing matters any more. Your only thought is to get out of this hell-hole, away from here, whatever the price. Jailers are well aware of what a prisoner goes through, and they know how his or her early resistance weakens with time.
After my interrogation at the Hadik barracks, I was transported to Katpol's Margit Kor?t prison - nicknamed "Martyr's Road"- to wait while my interrogation papers were processed in preparation for my trial. Some of us were fed in solitary cells to bring us back to a reasonable weight before our trial was held. At that time, weighing about a hundred pounds, I was put into an empty cell, and an order had been given that I was to gain weight. I was as hungry as a wolf and ate whatever they gave me. After two weeks, I gained several pounds and so was moved into a common cell. There were sixteen political prisoners in the cell, including Father Jeno Kerkay, the founder of the Hungarian Catholic Youth Organization and the secret courier of the Hungarian bishopric to the Pope. Of the sixteen, thirteen had been sentenced to death. My prospects were not encouraging.
The Military Prison: Margit Kor?t
The prison on Margit Kor?t (Margaret Circle), built in the
nineteenth century and surrounded with fortress-like walls two feet thick, was taken over by the Ministry of Defense after 1945. During the first two years, the "Margit" was used to lock up soldiers for committing minor breaches of military discipline. The role of the prison changed radically in 1948 when its operation was handed over to Katpol. Prior to the transfer, the prisoners had been treated humanely by the military staff - judges, attorneys, wardens and guards - but near the end of 1948, after the first group accused of defection and spying were brought in, a harsher ethic was introduced. The old staff, including the prison warden, Major Gabor Varga, were dismissed after a few months; other wardens and judges were accused of sabotage and sacked. The new judges and prosecutors were selected by the Communists, and the conscript privates who had served as guards were replaced by soldiers from the Budapest guard battalion. The prisoners called these guards the "wolf cubs" after their leader Mihaly Farkas (farkas meaning wolf), who was the Minister of Defense at the time. For the next two years, 1949-50, during Revesz's heyday as the Katpol commander, the "Margit" became a center for vengeance against enemies of the state, specifically targetting those with a military past. Here the Katpol was responsible for unspeakable physical and mental abuse, setting up false trials in the military court, and carrying out an unprecedented number of executions.
Military Courts: Trials and Executions
Most prisoners in Katpol's Margit Kor?t prison were tried by a military court stationed on the premises. After 1948, these tribunals consisted of a chairman and lay judges who were primarily officers or warrant officers. Every trial took place secretly. No official reports or newspaper articles were ever published. Only the defendants, the judges, wardens and the officially assigned lawyers, assessors and investigators from Katpol attended. No outside person, whether a relative of the accused, a representative of the press or the public, was allowed to see the trials. Family members who came to apply for
information about a prisoner's whereabouts or about the outcome of their trial were turned away harshly. Anyone accused of crimes against the state could say with all certainty that his name, his very existence, had vanished forever from the ledgers of the country's statistics.
The Communist justice system had no use for sworn-in juries; judgments were handed down by the judge and four lay assessors. These assessors had no legal qualifications whatsoever. They were nominated by the Party for their predilection to acquiesce to the judge's decisions, which they were not to influence. They were simply there to sign the minutes and the sentence. Old statutes were used as a basis for sentencing, but the letter of the law was employed only ceremoniously - any paragraph could be distorted to produce the desired punishment.
The judges, public prosecutors and in most cases the defense attorneys were part of the production; they were chosen on the basis of their standing within the ranks of the Communist party and accepted Party edicts without question. Colonels Radeczky-Roth and Ando, the two most notorious presiding judges, never had to worry about their subordinates in the prosecution asking difficult questions in court - questions which might complicate the sentencing.
The defense lawyers had no idea what was going on around them; documentation was not available to them prior to or even after the trial, and most had never even spoken with the prisoner they were to defend. They were called up to review the evidence and the description of the case just minutes before a trial began. As friends related to me, a prisoner's contact with his or her lawyer was limited to the few minutes which transpired during the trial, nothing more. Some defense attorneys acted as accomplices to the prosecution, expressing their shame and sorrow at having to defend an enemy of the People. Others sat through the proceedings numbly, without uttering a word, and collected their fee when it was over. If any of them had had the courage to make a genuine plea for the defense, the AVH would have arrested them on trumped up charges. On a rare occasion, I
heard that a flicker of sorrow had passed over a defense attorney's face as the presiding judge sentenced a young defendant to death. It was clear that there was no hope for appeal. The decisions were final.
It was paradoxical that the Communist justice system took such care to ensure that these staged trials were conducted within the framework of existing judicial codes - and were thereby meticulously "legal"; the sentencing process was so obviously tendentious that the whole routine could have been eliminated with no change in the verdict.
The first execution at Margit took place on 9 February 1949. Jozsef
Felkay, a lieutenant-colonel of the signal corps, had been sentenced to
death on espionage charges by Colonel Radeczky-Roth, and was executed by
hanging in the Margit prison's courtyard. Thereafter scarcely a week passed
in which the executioner, Bogar, and his henchmen were not called into
the prison. By 1950 the prison had dispensed with single executions and
began carrying out three to five simultaneously. No one knows the exact
number of Hungarians executed during those two horrendous years at Margit.
In some cases there remain no traces of documentation or evidence recording
the names or justifications for death sentences.
Never during the course of Hungarian history have so many young soldiers died in peacetime. Mihaly Farkas had resorted to Draconian rules to maintain the highest order of discipline in the Peoples' Army; attempts to escape, desertion, and even acts of insubordination were enough to warrant the death penalty. *4/8
Conditions in Margit's Inferno: 1949-51
Food rations at Margit were tolerable, not as a special favor to political prisoners but simply because it was too complicated to differentiate between the political and the regular military
The Cell of the Condemned
Condemned prisoners were forced to spend the last twelve hours of their lives in an empty cell with two guards, waiting for daybreak Executions were carried out at seven o'clock in the morning.
detainees at mealtimes. From 1950 on, as in all the other prisons, visitors were banned. Only in extremely rare cases was a prisoner allowed to see members of his family, and this only just before his execution. Most prisoners had absolutely no contact with their families after the moment of their arrest.
Defense minister Farkas believed the guarding of political prisoners was only to be entrusted to hand-picked soldiers, and his wolf cubs lived up to their nickname. They were unspeakably cruel and treated the political prisoners like animals. Sometimes during the day they would simply appear in our cell, make us stand in line and begin hitting us for no reason. They would ask us each in turn what our occupation had been, and regardless of the answer, would yell: "You stinking Fascist!" Another of their pastimes was to make the two oldest prisoners among us slap each other in the face. When the two men refused to hit each other, they were beaten up. Once a prisoner reached out and touched the other's face instead of striking him; he got an immediate demonstration of what the guards meant by a slap.
The guards often took advantage of circumstances to amuse themselves by tormenting us. August of 1949 was unusually hot and the cells at Margit were packed with two or three times the number of prisoners they were designed to hold. My cell held twenty-five inmates instead of the normal ten. The ordinary cots had been changed into two-tier bunks which provided splendid incentive for new games. The game which became popular among the guards that August was called "castle building." On particularly hot days we were ordered to empty the straw pallets out onto the middle of the cell floor and stack the iron bunks in a corner. Then we had to "attack" the bunk fortress, complete with the sounds of war cries. Sometimes the guards demanded that we shout, "Kill the Fascist beast!" After they had been duly entertained by this forced performance, we were given ten minutes to stuff the straw back into the sacks, have the bunks back in their places and the floor clean. Anyone who has ever stuffed straw into a bag under normal conditions knows what hard and dusty work it is. We had to do it in an airless,
overcrowded cell. The straw had mostly turned into chaff, so that we could hardly see each other for the cloud of dust. Some prisoners hung on the window grilles trying to get a lung-full of air while the rest of us had our faces caked with mud as the dust mingled with our sweat. The guards, highly amused, watched us clean up from the half open door-only to order another round of "castle building" as soon as we finished. Who can say what damage these nightmarish games did to our lungs, but several prisoners involved contracted tuberculosis and ended up in the prison hospital.
Watching the guards make a game out of handling a dead body made us acutely aware of how little our lives were worth to them. First Lieutenant Szatmary was among the first political prisoners to be executed in the Margit prison. His body was brought down into the cellar where I was working. My prison mates and I witnessed the guards laughing as they tossed it into a corner. One soldier kicked it shouting, "Why don't you move, idiot?" for the amusement of his companions.
Two Tragedies at Margit: Varga the Hussar
and the Regeczy-Nagy Family
The fate of two men, Mihaly Varga and Imre Regeczy-Nagy - whose stories began on different sides of the bars - was typical of what many courageous and innocent people faced at Margit during the years 1949 and 1951.
Varga had been a sergeant major of the Hussars, the famous Hungarian cavalry, during the war. In 1945, answering a call for the new Hungarian army, he reported for duty. Nothing in his past was found to be incriminating and he enlisted at the same rank he held during the war. In the beginning of 1948 he was transferred to the Margit Boulevard prison to be a section warden. His deep voice and large Hussar moustache was soon familiar to all of us. He never spoke a cross word to anyone, kept to regulations and treated the prisoners firmly but humanely At the beginning of 1949 the department was handed over to Lieutenant Ignac Zala, a young Communist officer. The two did not get along. Zalas
persistent efforts to get Varga to harden his attitude towards the prisoners failed unconditionally. We sensed that Varga would not be allowed to go on without changing his behavior. We even asked him to be rough with us and shout occasionally - but he smiled and remained steadfast.
His end came sooner than we expected. He was arrested in the beginning of June 1949 on the charge that he had organized a prison break-out, and put into solitary confinement. The charge was immaterial; we all knew what was behind it. Varga denied the accusations in vain. He finally embarked on a hunger strike which no volume of threats, orders or pleas could coerce him to break. At the time I was in a large cell with several others at the end of the first floor corridor. Our door faced Vargas cell, and we could just see into it through the key hole. On the fifth day of Vargas fast, Zala and his entourage came to see him. By then, he was so weak he could hardly move from his bed. Zala, among other brutal threats, announced that if Varga did not give up the hunger strike he would be hanged. We all knew that Zala could easily make good on his promise; a swiftly convened court would have sentenced Varga immediately. But Varga was undaunted:
"I'm not guilty," he repeated, "let me go." Zala felt his impotence in the situation and was outraged. "I guarantee that you will perish differently!" he shouted and stalked out of the cell, cursing. All of us witnessed the scene - some listening at the door, one with an eye to the keyhole. But Zala was prevented from keeping his word. On the sixth day, Sergeant Major Mihaly Varga of the Hussars died. When the guards discovered him, Zala came running, stared at the dead body for a second, and then shaking with rage and frustration, grabbed the lifeless hand and yanked the body off the cot, yelling: "You dirty wretch! How dare you go off!"
Later, Zala ordered the other guards to take the body to the cellar. None of us ever found out what they invented as Vargas cause of death-perhaps the overused formula: "The prisoner slipped during exercises and hit his head on a stair - died from injuries.''
Another heart-wrenching story of the prison world was of Imre Regeczy-Nagy and his family Regeczy, who was the head engineer of one of the biggest factories in Hungary, was charged as an accomplice in an espionage case. The only evidence used against him was nonsensical: he had been seen handing an old factory prospectus from 1938 to someone Katpol knew had returned to Hungary from the West. Regeczy was arrested and in 1949 sentenced to death by the military court for espionage.
In 1949 prisoners who had been condemned to death were still allowed to say farewell to their loved ones in their cell. On the eve of the execution, Regeczy's wife and children - a daughter and a son - came to see him for the last time. The son, Imre, was working as the driver to the British ambassador at the time, and when the diplomat heard that his driver's father had been sentenced to death, he allowed the young man to use his car to take the family to the prison. Much to the amazement of the guards, they drove up to the gates with the Union Jack flying on the hood and went in. Regeczy's last words to his family were to assure them of his innocence, and to ask his son to take care of the family in his stead. Meanwhile out on the street the passersby gathered, attracted by the strange sight of the British Embassy's enormous limousine parked outside of the prison. The guards attempted to disperse the crowd and reported the situation to Lieutenant-Colonel Ivan Javor, the chief prosecutor and commander of the prison. Javor ordered a full alert and began telephoning higher officials. Regeczy and his family were still saying their farewells in the condemned cell surrounded by guards when Ignac Zala drew the son aside and asked him to discuss some minor administrative matter in private. Suspecting nothing, Imre sent his mother and sister ahead to get them out of the hellish place; he then followed Zala. Standing in a cell doorway, Zala asked the young man to step inside. When he didn't do so immediately, Zala and a guard pushed him with such force that he fell in the room. The door slammed shut and the key turned in the lock. Zala shouted through the keyhole that, on Javor's orders, Regeczy junior was thereby arrested as an
accomplice to his father. In his anger and despair, the young Regeczy began to scream and beat on the door. The door opened and six guards rushed in, fell on him and shackled his arms and legs together with irons.
Out in the street Mrs. Regeczy and her daughter got into the car and waited. Minutes, then hours passed, and the son did not appear. Neither of them could imagine what had happened. Suddenly another Embassy car pulled up and the driver told Mrs. Regeczy that Commander Javor had telephoned the Embassy and had ordered the ambassador to remove his car from outside of the prison before he had it forcibly removed for obstructing the entrance. When the ambassador had questioned Javor about Regeczy, the reply was that Imre had not reported his father to the authorities and therefore was arrested on charges of complicity. Father and son spent the night before the execution on 24 August 1949 in the same prison.
After his father's execution, Regeczy junior protested against the charge of failing to report his father. The court president, Colonel Radeczky-Roth, argued that if he had not felt it was his duty to report his father, he should at least have turned in the other accomplices in the case. The younger Regeczy was sentenced to ten years imprisonment by the military court. He was released during the Revolution in 1956, but after it was suppressed by the Soviets, Kadar's police arrested him again. He was executed at the end of 1957, some say for conspiracy with Western powers.
One day in the early summer of 1949, I was transferred with eighteen friends from the Margit Kor?t military prison to the Pestvideki (Pest District) non-military prison to await our trials. No one knows why we were taken from the Katpol prison and handed over to a regular state prison with a court under the Ministry of Justice. The sheer volume of new political detainees must have necessitated an overwhelming number of trials, forcing Katpol to split cases and farm out political prisoners.
Whatever the reason for my transfer, I had been given a new lease on life; I knew that if I had been tried by the military court, I could not have escaped execution.
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My Trial: A Birthday to Remember
My trial was finally held on 1 December 1949, almost a year after my arrest. I felt as if I was the victim of a divine practical joke: the momentous day was also my birthday. On this, the twenty-fourth anniversary of my birth, was I to be informed of my impending death? I didn't contemplate the significance of the omen for long; a much greater challenge awaited me, and I had to ready myself. My trial had been assigned to a civilian court, and although later I learned that the proceedings of my case were not out of the ordinary during the Rakosi era, at the time I was unprepared for the absurdity of the tragi-comedy that was to determine my fate.
If I had ever believed in the fortitude of human justice, the last vestige of my illusions vanished when I was arrested, tried and sentenced in the name of the people. It is interesting that "the people" is an oft used expression in our century: the people's army, the people's court, the people's state and so on. But the phrase can also be used to state that the people's enemy is arrested in the name of the people; the people's court sentences the sons of the people; and the people's army fires on the people in the name of the people on orders given by leaders of the people. Who exactly are the people? Those who shoot or those who are shot at?
Communist ideology solved this problem by declaring that anyone who did not believe in the rule of communism, who did not accept the rule of the Party, must be a reactionary lackey of capitalism: an enemy of the people. Under this definition, anyone who expressed an opinion differing from the Party's committed a crime against the dictatorship of the proletariat. Understanding that this principle was the golden rule of the Stalin-Rakosi era goes a long way towards explaining ten years
I was taken into the courtroom in chains on the morning of the first. My co-conspirators were escorted in with me. Our indictment: "Conspiracy and treason against the People's Republic, based on Paragraph VII of the 1947 Statute." Maximum sentence: death. President of Judges: Dr. Bela Jonas. People's Prosecutor: Dr. Gyula Alapi. Accompanying the judge:
four lay-assessors. In the dock: eighteen "enemies of the people."
Among the eighteen accused in my case there was one woman, Maria
Varga, the wife of another defendant who was later executed. I knew only
one other person of the eighteen, but hadn't seen him for nearly three
years prior to our trial. *4/9 Although I'd never even
seen the others before, shortly before the proceedings began we realized
that we were considered a spy network, accused of organizing and conspiring
with one another. The AVH managed to provide a linch-pin upon which we
were all indicted. A guard sat between each of us, making it impossible
to speak to one another - as if we would have had anything to say. The
only thing we had in common was the impending trial and the incessant question:
who will get through this alive? Sitting silently in nervous agitation,
we stared at the podium where the people's jury, judge and prosecutor had
taken their place.
The presiding judge, Dr. Bela Jonas, was a balding, forty-year old intellectual, who remained a faithful Party servant until his death. *4/10 He dealt exclusively with cases of conspiracy, espionage and treason, and by the time our trial began, he had sentenced more than fifty people to death. They were executed in his presence. He was notorious in the prison world, and it took little imagination to forecast that this man with the gray eyes and thick lips would be more than happy to sentence all of us to death. Dr. Jonas had received his law degree in Hungary under
the Horthy era between the two World Wars. In different circumstances he might have served that regime faithfully; however, he was prevented from doing so by the war and the stigma, at the time, of his Jewish heritage. He was not allowed to become a regular soldier, but was drafted into the Labor Service - forced labor units where conditions and standards of discipline were similar in severity to the French Foreign Legion. Many members of these units defected to the Soviet army in the last years of the war; Jonas was one such escapee. After the Soviet victory, he joined the Communist party and devoted himself to the new order. Full of bitterness for what had befallen him, he showed no mercy towards people who had served the former regime or for anyone who opposed the Communist state. His feelings of revenge would have been more comprehensible had they been directed at those who had caused him years of suffering; instead, he devoted himself to the Party and its principles, taking on the enemies of the regime as his own.
The other major player in the proceedings was Dr. Alapi, the public prosecutor. Alapi had also received his legal qualifications during the Horthy era. His infamy attained global proportions when he represented the prosecution against Cardinal Mindszenty in his 1949 trial. At the time of my trial, Alapi was about thirty-five. Slight of build, he had a prominent aquiline nose jutting from his hard, Balzac-like face. According to the stories that circulated among the prisoners, he had come from an old Roman Catholic family. No one knew what made him join the illegal Communist party during the war. At the beginning of the trial he took his place to the left of Jonas at the podium. While the personal data was being taken, he sat hunched over, head down and devoid of expression. Occasionally, he would raise his head with a sudden motion, push it out from between his shoulders like a vulture greeting its prey, and scrutinize one of the accused. When he spoke, his voice was so thin it hissed.
These two were called the Jonas-Alapi duo in the prison world. Any mention of them inspired dread, not only in prisoners but in court employees and lawyers as well. The duo knew they
commanded life and death. During trials, their cooperation was uncanny: working in complete unison, every word, every gesture, supported the other's line of argument. They knew each other's mental processes and asked questions knowing the other's response in advance. There was no sidetracking or digression from the issue at hand. Everything surged ahead along the predetermined path.
The AVH was represented by two officers who followed the proceedings closely, records of the forced confessions in hand. If a defendant dared to mention that his statements had been extorted from him, the trial was interrupted by the officers and the accused taken back to the AVH prison. Several weeks later, the accused would return to court and confirm everything in the "confession" with alacrity.
Out of four lay assessors at my trial, I remember nothing about the first two except that they never said a word. Of the remaining two, one was a seedy, corpulent and ungroomed woman. Once or twice she interrupted the proceedings with ill-timed questions, but was abruptly cut off with an impatient gesture by Jonas, who was visibly annoyed at the distraction from his private oratorio. The fourth assessor was in his early fifties, thin and bespectacled. He sat stiffly upright and stared down at the accused with a puffed up pride in his new authority. He contrasted markedly with Jonas, who was much smaller in stature. Taking interminable notes with an air of self importance, he nodded his approval at anything the judge or the prosecutor said. Another prisoner recognized him as a former Social-Democratic activist from a provincial factory. After the fusion of the Social Democrats and Communists into the Communist-led Worker's party, this assessor sided with the new forces, consequently turning on many of his comrades. The archetypal opportunist, he would have gladly served any regime which allowed him a bit part in the footlights of power. He was allocated his role for our trial and given a script of questions which he repeated with monotony: .... in what manner were you a part of this anti-Soviet imperialist conspiracy - as an agent of the Americans?"
The entire process soon revealed that the lay assessors had nothing to do with the outcome of the trial. Only two people determined its course: Jonas, who had complete command, and Alapi, who as prosecutor followed Jonas' lead faithfully. The only influence on the judge-prosecution team was the necessity of a carefully maintained cooperation with the AVH. The AVH sent a letter with each confession followed by a suggestion for a sentence. I know of no case in which the judge, by disregarding this suggestion, brought a more lenient sentence on the defendant.
When they finally came to me in the proceedings, questions fell thick and fast from both sides. Confused, I hardly knew which to answer. The duo took advantage of my temporary attack of nerves. Before I had a second to respond, Alapi shouted "You see, you cannot reply - a clear admission of guilt!"
Jonas, staring at me with cold eyes, hissed: "Why did you cooperate with the enemy?"
Alapi answered for me, "His social background, his capitalist stance, his fascist education automatically made an enemy of him."
I froze. My mind raced: capitalist stance? Fascist education? What are these people talking about? Jonas' voice snapped me back to the immediate crisis.
"We know that you are an enemy of the People's Republic, and that you spied against the Soviet Union. Divulge the data that you passed on about the Soviet army, the liberators of our homeland!"
I was dumb struck. If I was accused of spying there was no miracle that could save me from the rope. "I did not spy," I said with determination.
Alapi immediately cut in, "He's lying, he's already admitted to spying in the Soviet military court. .. We are well aware of the accused's activities."
"I did not spy, I had no contact with representatives of any foreign power...," I began, but it was impossible to finish a
"You heard what the comrade prosecutor said," Jonas shouted, "you have spied and you will pay for it!" He nodded smugly at the two AVH representatives in the back row I was still stunned by the charge of spying when he asked, unexpectedly, "In what way did you participate with the Nazis in the persecution of Jews?" *4/11
Alapi answered for me again: "Every fascist participated, don't try to deny it!"
I could feel the world slowly closing in on me, my brain registering every new accusation. Defense is hopeless, I thought; justice has ended here and any notions of innocent before proven guilty, of evidence, of a fair trial have died with it.
Unwilling to give up, I raised my head and replied slowly: "I have never persecuted or murdered. You can accuse me of anything you wish, but not the persecution of innocents."
My reply caught Jonas and Alapi off guard. All the other defendants
had been quiet. They glanced at each other, and then Jonas continued as
if nothing had happened: "Because of his background it is probable to assume
that the accused would have taken an active role in the persecution of
innocents if he'd had the opportunity."
By the end of my trial Alapi had surpassed himself in zealousness, requesting that the gravest possible punishment be meted out to me - a prototype of imperialist agents. After the defense lawyers' two-sentence statement, *4/12 each of us was allowed a say in our own defense. I again denied having been a fascist or having ever persecuted innocent people. At this, Jonas
and Alapi leapt from their seats and barred me from speaking further. I was sent back to my bench and ordered to be silent.
Further details of my trial are not worth delving into. It will suffice to report that I was uncovered as an active collaborator with the CIA/CIC, the British, the French and with God knows what other secret service organizations, in an "organized conspiracy with other enemies of the people" for an armed coup against the state. According to Paragraph 1 of the VIIth Act of 1947, all of these crimes were punishable by death. Maria Varga, sitting next to me at the trial, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for not having denounced her husband, Modesto. He was accused of participating in the conspiracy and was hung on 1 April 1950. All of us were guilty in the eyes of the court. Each was sentenced to at least several years imprisonment.
Maria, in handcuffs, walked over to me as we were escorted out of the court room. "We will pray for you!" she whispered. As things stood, I seemed to be in great need of prayers.
New sentences were announced in late December 1949 and in April 1950. Five of the members in our case were sentenced to death and executed. I was "let off" with fifteen years of forced labor, the equivalent of life imprisonment. *4/13
On 10 December 1949, a few days after my sentencing, I was transferred with several others to a prison under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. My education into the world of the AVH was about to begin.
Up until 1950, political prisoners had been held at various locations: in Katpol's military prison at Margit Korut, by the AVH at their buildings on Andrassy Street, and in regular prisons run by Ministry of Justice. All this changed radically in early
1950, when the AVH made its bid to take over all political prisons
and organizations with control over political activities.
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The AVH: Communist Party Leviathan
The AVO, which had been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, was transformed in 1949 into an independent security authority, the AVH. The reorganized security authority was answerable only to the general secretary of the Communist party, Matyas Rakosi. This extraordinary status gave it more power than Rakosi and his colleagues had envisioned; it had emerged as a self-governing body within the larger state. The AVH took charge of more than simply the general surveillance and control of the populace. Handpicked officers were placed in posts of all administrative, economic and social organizations: positions were built for them into ministries; they became personnel officers in various companies; they adopted the cloth as members of the clergy. Whether in uniform or in civilian dress, they could be found wherever even marginally influential individuals or organizations existed. Also in 1949, the AVH took management of the borders away from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The new border guard patrols were reorganized as AVH men in green instead of blue uniforms. *4/14
The AVH's most radical move, however, was its acquisition of the labor camps and larger prisons containing political prisoners. The process began in the beginning of 1950: the Gyujtofoghaz, Vac and the Pestvideki/Fo Utca prisons were appropriated from the Ministry of Justice; Katpol was eliminated; the Margit Korut military prison was torn down and its political prisoners transferred to the state prisons recently under AVH direction. What had begun as a security agency designed to serve the Communist party, had, by 1951, become an enormously powerful entity unto itself - out of Party control and reigning with terror.
The AVH soldiers and guards were made up of a variety of people from differing strata of the Hungarian population. Many were simple village lads, enticed by the smart-looking American style uniforms and peaked caps. For these unfortunate young men, it seemed that a position with the AVH was a dream come true: bright city lights, good pay, prestige and power. When they enlisted, a superman image was drummed into them, puffing them up with the responsibility of making everyone else fear the new regime. The victims of delusions, they were made to believe that as soldiers of the Party, the future of the country was in their hands. People fled from the sound of their sirens as they patrolled the streets. They sensed opposition surrounding them, but soon became blindly obedient to anything they were told to do. These village boys were far more severe than the smaller part of the AVH who came from the working classes.
The soldiers of working class background had been the hoodlums of the outlying districts, and their behavior varied between the tolerable and the bestial. They were either sadistic to an extreme, or could have cared less about working in the prison. Street-wise, they were far harder to convince of the salvation in Communist doctrine, despite their special status as members of the working class.
As far as anyone could tell, very few members of the AVH came from an intellectual background - except the leadership in the officer's corp, where the requisite working class background was abruptly no longer important. If such a guard existed, he or she had to have done a brilliant job of acting out the part of an anti-intellectual to survive.
The officers also formed two groups: those of lower ranks from the working and peasant classes who were given little responsibility but entrusted with the dirtiest work; and the real acolytes of the leadership, those nearest to the sources of power. Although they called each other comrade, the two echelons of officers belonged to completely different worlds. Apart from infrequent celebratory events or the little-used possibility of
communal dining, almost nothing was shared between upper and lower ranks. The officers of both levels soon became accustomed to the rules of a life-style typical of the elite in Soviet society - where the social conduct and milieu of every member of such an organization was determined by their rank.
The AVH garnered its members either through recruitment of volunteers, or by conscription. The volunteers had to prove that they came from the peasant and working classes to become an AVH soldier, and that they had been active in the Communist underground movement or the Communist party When they were accepted, they had to undergo special training which proved to be less military than ideological. For six to eight months they had to learn Marxist-Leninist theory and memorize the miraculous accomplishments of Stalin's reign in the Soviet Union, as well as the evil nature of the capitalist system. After being thus indoctrinated, most of the volunteers were unquestioning in their loyalty to Party edicts.
The second group of AVH soldiers was chosen from those drafted into the regular army. After watching the new conscripts closely and testing them with a series of long exams, the AVH transferred those soldiers it felt were suitable into its own ranks. Most of these draftees resisted and attempted various escapes -through personal requests, protests, etc. It was not unusual that some of these young soldiers, to get out of duty in the AVH, deliberately engaged in some anti-Communist activity such as speaking out against the Soviet Union or the leadership of the Party, or organizing some anti-Communist group. They believed it was worth spending several years in a political prison to avoid serving in an organization so hated by the country and its people. Of those that did serve, most left immediately after their compulsory military duty was completed. Not even the generous salary, privileges and power could entice them to stay
A strange dynamic developed between the volunteers and the conscripted soldiers from the beginning. There was no trust between them, and outside of official duties, they tried to avoid one another. The AVH leadership attempted to minimize the
differences between them through endless ideological sessions and harsh discipline, but without much success. During the uprising in 1956, the drafted AVH soldiers were among the first to take up arms with the revolutionaries.
The AVH Chieftain: Gabor Peter
General Gabor Peter was the AVH's version of the KGB's infamous Lavrenti Beria. His career epitomized the rise to power and ensuing fall of many Communist leaders. At the age of fourteen, after finishing secondary school, Peter (then Beno Auspitz) was apprenticed to a tailor. He soon came into contact with the underground Communist party. By the end of the thirties he was busy printing leaflets on his small printing machine.
The public first became aware of Gabor Peter at the end of 1945 when as a police brigadier general he became head of the AVO. He hardly ever appeared in public so few people recognized the slightly built man with a small moustache. Although unschooled, Peter proved to be a good organizer. His sadistic nature became more apparent over the years; he was able to watch torture sessions without flinching and he signed death warrants - which involved anyone the Party saw fit to eliminate for its own purposes - with ease. Innocence and the value of human life meant nothing to this man if they obstructed the achievement of Party goals.
A small cadre called the "inner circle" surrounded Peter both at 60 Andrassy and in his private life. Its members were high-ranking AVH officials. Two of its bestknown members were Colonel Laszlo Farkas and Colonel Erno Szucs. Szucs was later arrested on Peter's orders and beaten to death in the cellars of 60 Andrassy. His brother soon followed in his wake, recalled from London where he worked as the reporter for Nepszabadsag, the official Party newspaper.
Gabor Peter's life was reminiscent of the protagonist in Milovan Djilas' novel The New Class, a Party leader whose greed for luxury and comfort knew no bounds. Peter had not one but three villas for himself and his small clique on Rozsadomb
(Rosehill), the most elegant part of Budapest. Despite the extreme precautions taken to maintain secrecy, it did not take long for rumors to spread all over the city about the all-night bashes held at the Rozsadomb villas, in which Peter as well as all other leading Party functionaries took part. In 1951, Peter was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and lauded in one of Rakosi's lengthy accolades. His fall a year later was as sudden and as spectacular as his rise, and eventually brought down the entire organization.
AVH in the Prisons: 1950-1953
I had hoped that as a sentenced prisoner I would be entitled to rights I had been denied as a mere "detainee" in interrogation, but I was mistaken. When the AVH took over most of the big prisons in the spring of 1950, the former guards were transferred to other positions and replaced by AVH personnel. Conventional wisdom says that it takes a thief to catch a thief, or in this case, it takes an ex-convict to make the best prison guard; but the AVH ignored convention and employed their own soldiers. It was assumed that a series of brainwashing sessions would make these men docile and blindly obedient servants to the regime. At first, this hypothesis proved correct.
Between 1950 and 1953, no order was too brutal for the AVH guards to carry out. Prisoners could forget about citing legal rights or being treated fairly; such words did not exist in the vocabulary of the new guards. Although threats and punishments had become an integral part of life in prison from 1945 to 1949, physical punishment-beating or striking a prisoner - had been forbidden. After 1950, physical abuse of political prisoners was not only permitted, but became a stepping stone towards promotion in the ranks. The huge billboard at the guards' barracks admonished: "Ruthlessness towards enemies of the people strengthens class consciousness!" The so-called disciplinary punishment, which was presided over by a commanding officer, was officially sanctioned by rules and regulations. Although a single slap from Comrade Bodo might deafen a
prisoner permanently, and Lieutenant Florian could dance on the throat of a cell mate with his boots and break all his vocal chords, institutional torture was carried out to a doctor's specifications and often with his assistance.
The AVH guards had their own methods for treating political prisoners and attempting to break their spirit. As if the all too frequent beatings were not enough, forms of medieval torture were instituted. The most notorious of these was called "The Irons." 'Iwo hours in irons was the standard punishment for the slightest breach of discipline-talking at work or neglecting to greet a guard. Four hours was meted out to anyone who appeared to deliberately "sabotage" the work order by not fulfilling their quota, or who had the audacity to talk back to a guard. For an attempted escape or for openly resisting a guard under any circumstances, the prescribed punishment was a full six hours. In most cases, two hours in irons was enough to keep a prisoner from standing for days, but after four to six hours, prisoners were likely never to walk again or to be maimed permanently.
I was sentenced to be put into irons twice for two hours and once for three. My crimes were that I hadn't taken my cap off fast enough in front of a guard and because a prison mate had asked me a question. After three hours in irons I couldn't stand up, and was forced to crawl back to my cell on my stomach. My elbows doubled in size from the chains and my thumbs had no sensation for months.
What exactly does it mean to be shackled with irons? To describe the experience brings back memories of such clarity that I can almost feel the pain: You are made to sit on the floor, legs straight, one crossed over the other. Your tormentors curse at you while they chain your ankles together. Two of them kneel on your back to force each hand down to the opposing ankle while a third tightens the chain until it bites into your flesh. Your head is forced between your knees, your arms into your thighs. With all the muscles and tendons in your back stressed to their limit, you begin to breathe in gasps. You can feel your hands swelling as the blood is trapped in them, pulsating. Should you
have the strength or the courage to raise your head, you see your fingers turning black. You have to bite into your arms to avoid crying out in pain, and try to ignore the whimpering and moaning of the prisoner next to you. For a time you remember nothing, then you feel cold water poured over you. You are returned to an upright position and it all begins again. If you are unlucky, two guards will pick you up under the arms and drop you from waist height, making you wish your hands had been torn off by the chains. You faint again. The guard changes. This one loosens the chains. You might even have thanked him if you hadn't known that the blood rushing back to your extremities would be excruciating. You continue praying, cursing, screaming, trying
to keep track of time: how much longer? When your eternity is finally up, you lie convulsing on the floor, unable to stand, listening to the mocking laughter of the guards standing over you and the other prisoners who are writhing like worms in their pain. You are grateful that you were only given a few hours in irons. Some have withstood eight hours without a murmur; others were paralyzed for life after six hours, living reminders of Rakosi's prisons.
The irons left more than physical scars. Some prisoners were dumbstruck for a time and we feared that others had become unhinged permanently. The thought of further punishment filled those who had undergone the torment with an indescribable terror, and as a result, they began to act strangely. Some, on hearing that they had again been reported by a guard, broke down and wept. Others prayed for hours on end for God to give them the strength to stand the torment. The older prisoners among us found it hardest; already physically feeble, they could not take being forced into the unnatural position.
When putting a prisoner in irons was inappropriate, the AVH guard was inventive in creating new ways to torment us. One of these imaginative tasks was "well-boring," or having to turn endlessly, ad nauseam, around our index finger which was placed on the floor. Another was called "paper chase"; the prisoner was forced to lie on the stone floor and blow a page back and forth down the length of the corridor until the guard tired of the game or the prisoner passed out from hyperventilation.
All punishments generally followed the evening meal. About half an hour after it began, the screams of the unfortunate prisoners filled the building. This wasn't enough for the guards, who insisted on dropping people in irons to increase their torment; reviving prisoners who fainted from pain or nausea with buckets of cold water; forcing priests to pray to God to free them from their bondage, and others to sing or repeat lines of self-abusive expletives.
Each new day brought with it new sessions in irons, kicks, dark cells, no news of loved ones or of the outside world. We
counted the days, the number of dead, those had gone mad and those whose prison life led to betrayal, and attempted to find ways to keep ourselves alive and desirous of freedom.
The Central Jail in Budapest: Gyujtofoghaz
After my sentencing, I was taken to the largest prison in Hungary, called Gyujtofoghaz or collection jail on Kozma street in the loth District of Budapest. Each star-shaped wing of the building was built to accomrnodate 3,000 prisoners, and the small jail adjoining it, called Kisfoghaz, was designed to hold another
400. But the actual number of prisoners held in these prisons was much more than the limits of space indicated; four to six prisoners often occupied a cell meant for two.
The Gyujtofoghaz was a central jail: before and immediately after
the war recently sentenced prisoners were taken and held there until they
were transferred to other prisons in the country according to their sentence.
Prisoners with longer sentences were generally kept in the neighboring
Kisfoghaz. From the autumn of 1948 anyone sentenced for political activities
against the People's Republic was also brought to the small jail. After
1945, the history of Kisfoghaz took a tragic turn: most prisoners sentenced
to death were confined there, waiting for their executions. The death penalty
was carried out at the end of the T-shaped block of the same building.
On 5 May 1951 the AVH took over control of the Gyujtofoghaz, as it did all the prisons which had formerly been under the jurisdiction of the justice ministry. AVH captain Antal Bankuti, a member of Gabor Peter's inner circle, became the new prison warden. The former steel worker from Ozd had worked his way up. Along the way he had lost some of his provincialism, but his real education came from the Moscow based KGB training institute, the Dzherdzhinsky Academy. *4/15 There he learned that anyone opposing communism was an enemy of the working class and was not to be spared. This became his guiding principle
during the two-and-a-half years he was in command at the prison. *4/16
After the AVH takeover everything changed in the prison. The normal behavior of the prison guards was transformed into a brutality typical of the AVH cellars. Bankuti and his political officers, Captain Kovacs and First Lt. Tuske, provided perfect role models for their subordinates. The work-ethic in the various factories intensified and the work day was lengthened. Production in the workshop which manufactured curved wooden chairs was increased by fifty percent. Within weeks the population of the prison increased to 2,000, particularly in the left wing, where the cells meant for two held four to five prisoners.
All vestiges of personal identity were stripped away. Names were "abolished" and prisoners became numbers, each wearing his or her identification on the breast of the uniform. Heads were shaven along with all body hair, and all personal belongings removed from the cells - even sewing needles, pencils, books and underwear. In many places toothbrushes and toothpaste were also taken away as unnecessary items. All contact between prisoners was forbidden in any part of the prison. Prisoners were only allowed to stand in front of guards with heads hung, caps in hand. It was strictly forbidden to look a guard in the face. If a prisoner saw a guard coming from a distance, he was to stop, turn to face the wall, and wait until the guard had passed by
On Sundays we were taken for a walk in the prison court yard, single file, heads down, hands clasped behind our backs. One word to another prisoner resulted in two hours in irons. Food rations in the prison were meager and indescribably horrible. The new measures soon achieved the desired results. The prisoners became weak and skeletal, resembling the victims of the concentration camps.
"The Prison Yard"
As soon as the AVH assumed control of the Gyujtofoghaz, all contact with the outside world ceased; the prison was literally hermetically sealed. Privileges hitherto guaranteed by law were abolished: any correspondence or visits were forbidden, and the
twice-yearly parcels which had been allowed were confiscated. For more than three years parents and children, husbands and wives, knew nothing of each other's fate. From the outside, the building became a silent fortress. The only signs of life came from the movements of the guards in the watchtowers surrounding the prison.
Headquarters must have been satisfied with Bankuti's performance as he was promoted to major. He hardly had time to sew on his new stars, however, when an incident occurred that marred his perfect record. The event was staged by a prisoner, Szilard Karacsony, *4/17 who took advantage of an opportune moment, climbed under an AVH lorry, and managed to escape from prison hanging on to the undercarriage of the truck like Odysseus clinging to the underbelly of the ram. On that fine summer day he said good-bye to prison life forever.
The Gyujtofoghaz was in those times the most secure prison in Hungary, surrounded by high walls, barbed wire fences and watchtowers. Everyone knew that the guards not only carried pistols and tommy-guns but had complete authority to use them. The mere thought of escape was difficult to conceive. When it happened, Bankuti's rage knew no bounds. First he interrogated those prisoners who worked with Karacsony, who he believed must have known about Karacsony's plans to escape. Then he ordered that the entire prison population suffer retribution.
The following is an account of the escape by a prisoner who worked with Karacsony:
"One day at the beginning of June 1952 a five ton AVH lorry stopped outside the locksmith's workshop to have its spare tire fixed. One of the boiler workers, Szilard Karacsony, was supposed to help me with the job but didn't show up. When I finished, I went back to the workshop while the lorry, carrying
the commander of the guards, sub-Lt. Mihalicske, rolled out of the prison. About twelve noon, just before lunch, somebody from the boiler house - obviously agitated - came over looking for Karacsony. It didn't take long to figure out what had happened. He must have escaped on the lorry, perhaps under the driver's seat. We carried on as if nothing had happened. After all, we weren't responsible for guarding each other. By three o'clock the guards realized Karacsony was missing. They closed down various parts of the prison and escorted the workers from the locksmith shop and boiler room into the center of the left star block. About two dozen guards came with us.
"Shirt sleeves rolled up, legs apart, Bankuti stood in wait for us flanked by several AVH officers and followed by another thirty guards. They singled out Pista Darvas and Karcsi Kohlman (whose brother had been executed) to be beaten, insinuating that they had not only known about the escape, but had helped in the preparations. The two vainly tried to maintain their innocence. The guards were relentless; they knew Darvas had suffered serious damage to his jaw bone from a wound at the end of the war so they deliberately aimed at his face where it would hurt most. There is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been were it not for the interference of AVH Major Benedek, the medic we called 'Dracula.' He had been watching the proceedings stone-faced when he warned Bankuti abruptly that he should stop the punishment. He must have thought of the consequences for the guards and the implications for himself if a prisoner were to die. By this time Darvas and Kohlman were lying motionless on the ground, bleeding. We thought the warning had come too late.
"The guards then turned on those of us from the locksmith shop. They began with me as I had worked with Karacsony on the lorry, no one paying the least attention to my denials of complicity. They used their hands, rubber truncheons and leather belts. One of the AVH officers from headquarters joined the fray and began kicking at my eyes with the toes of his pointed shoes. At last the company sergeant major, a woman medic we called
'Snow-fright,' came to my rescue when she saw I had stopped moving.
"But the ordeal was far from over. That night we were all transported to 60 Andrassy where the 'interrogation' continued. When the AVH guards and interrogators saw the condition I was in, my swollen face and damaged eyes, the seasoned torturers remarked: 'What the hell, you have been thoroughly prepared already,' and hardly touched me. The interrogation took ten days. When they finally realized the futility of their efforts, we were taken back to the prison. Evidently, Bankuti's rage over the escape did not diminish after his harsh treatment of us. He gave orders for the guards to beat all the other prisoners as punishment for the escape of one."
At that time of Karacsony's escape, I was working in the button factory, and like most others, knew nothing of his successful flight. Well before the end of the working day, we saw that the guards in the watchtowers had been doubled and others had appeared in the workshops with guns. Everyone was visibly nervous. Something had happened, but what? No one thought of an escape attempt; instead we assumed, judging by the preparations, that some Party boss was coming for a visit.
Suddenly they stopped the machinery and hurriedly escorted us back
to the prison. Excitement spread throughout the building. One of the prison
work-gang leaders whispered in my ear: "Big trouble, somebody escaped!"
As the cell door slammed shut, we glanced at each other with uniform expressions:
whatever happens, nothing matters except that the escape be successful.
It wasn't until the next day that we learned the escapee was Karacsony.
Hardly half an hour had passed and dreadful noises accompanied by shouts
and screams came through the barred windows. "Don't hit me, I know nothing!"
The cry was repeated over and over, then silence, then the whole ordeal
began again, but with a new voice.
Our entire cell waited in breathless, motionless silence. We had no way of knowing how many hours passed like this.
Suddenly, the ominous sounds of cell doors opening and guards yelling issued from the floor above us. "Out! You swine, get out!" We heard the thuds of truncheons against bodies, the desperate cries of prison-mates, the sounds of running feet - round and round the boardwalk. The entire block was shaking, reverberating with the running feet and the raucous noise. The sounds came nearer and seemed to be closing in on us. We had no idea what was happening. In the confusion, my only thoughts were: this is the end, they're going to kill us. *4/18
The cell door was torn open by a guard with a half-ripped tunic, a man we used to mock amongst ourselves for his north country accent. Jumping into the cell, he began swinging wildly with his billy-club and hitting us at random. His mouth foaming, he ordered us out - and there stood two guards in wait for us at either side of the door. They hit us hard. We kept running-down the wooden stairs to the ground floor - as fast as we could go, right into Bankuti and his guards.
We had been herded like panicked cattle to the slaughter. The uniformed guards lined both sides of the 400 foot long corridor - ready for us to run down their ranks. They were able to strike us from all sides. Some used their belts, others wooden sticks or truncheons. Bankuti screamed at them to lunge at us as hard as they could. My youthful legs had never carried me so fast but I couldn't escape the blows - on my head, my back, my legs. In front of me poor Mr. Tarczay, seventy years old, was running as fast as his aging body, weakened by the miserable food rations, could go. By the time he fell, his head and back were covered in blood. Sergeant Berkes, as if he had
"Running the Gauntlet"
been waiting for the opportunity, kicked the old man with his boot with such force that he slid forward onto the smooth concrete floor; we reached out to break his fall-but in vain as fierce hands held us back, forcing us to our knees. The blows
made us jump up again and continue our flight, sprinting through the screaming guards, up the stairs, back to the cell where the north country guard waited to lock us in. In the cell we lay numb, covered in drying blood, bruised and aching. The building echoed for a long time with the pain-filled cries of prisoners.
The retribution for the escape did not cease with this mass beating. During the night we were all herded out of our cells for a search. Our straw pallets were slit open and their contents dumped on the floor, then we were herded back in to clean up the mess with the lights off, in complete darkness. The alarm woke us at six the next morning as if nothing had happened. But later we noticed Bankuti had been demoted back to captain.
A couple of weeks later, Bankuti ordered another mass punishment - this time for our refusal to eat sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut Sabotage of 1952
There are few cases which better exemplify the tyrannical prison conditions than the Sauerkraut Sabotage which broke out in the Gyujtofoghaz on 16 July 1952. This incident became so widely known in the prison world - in the various concentration camps, prisons and even in the highest courts - that it gained the reputation of having been an outright rebellion. The regime rarely demonstrated its hatred and malicious resolve towards its political prisoners so forcefully as on that day.
It was a hot day in the button factory. We were ready to faint in the dust-filled sultry air. Sweat poured from our brows. There were no stops for rest; we were driven by the industrial quota to produce, produce. Brigade-leaders were on our backs, while AVH guards stood at the doors, attentive to every move we made. One small, misunderstood tilt of the head was enough to warrant spending the night in short irons, sitting on a grate. It was difficult to tell who were more cruel, the prison guards or the brigade leaders. The latter, ex-AVH officers dressed in white caps and pressed pants, were in prison for embezzlement, robbery, murder, or because they were part of a defeated AVH sector implicated in the unceasing struggle for political power.
The former were usually uneducated, of peasant background, and resentful of those whom they thought were elitist members of the privileged classes.
We had begun work in the factory at seven-thirty that morning as usual, cutting and drilling bone to make buttons. Those of us assigned to varnishing felt the dust and invisible scraps from the machine fill our lungs. We spat blood in the heat, proof of the damage already done to our bodies. We counted the minutes till the half-hour lunch break: If only it were noon! The bells finally rang. We raced towards the doors, pushing and shoving, mess tins in our hands.
Out in the prison yard, the brigade-leaders lined us up as usual for the lunch rationing. We were made to stand with heads down, mute, hands behind our backs: three hundred political prisoners, the Communist regime's most dangerous enemies. Our official lunch break was a half-hour-not much considering the precious moments wasted as we waited for the food to be brought and for the prison cooks to ration it out. To make matters worse, head-brigadier Mindor was in the habit of ending the lunch break early to make sure that everyone was back at their work stations by the bell. After all this, only a few minutes remained in which to consume the scalding food.
That day, the vats of food finally arrived. From the stench and the way the containers were carried, we knew that the menu was no different from the usual fare: boiled sauerkraut. Month after month, three times a week, we were fed sauerkraut for lunch and bulgarkraut - different only in that it was cooked in rancid tomato broth-for dinner. The guards dispensed it leaning away from the vats, heads turned to avoid the fumes.
We tried to eat something. We knew we had to. But after forcing down a few spoonfuls, we poured what was left into the toilets - something the guards had never called attention to before. We would rather have eaten the left-over grease in the bone-cooker, smuggled in by the kitchen-butchers Joska Samson and Feri Rabi. The bone grease also released a terrible odor, but at least had some caloric value. The brigade-leaders watched our
reactions of disgust with mock amusement. They didn't eat with us but got their institutionalized food from a separate kitchen: fine pay for slave-drivers. As usual, Vandor sent everyone back to the factory a few minutes before twelve-thirty. With our heads bent over the machines, the motors started up again and production resumed.
One of the guards, called "Peeper" because he spoke with such a high voice, was walking the length of the factory when he looked into a bathroom and saw the sauerkraut dumped here and there. In the tense atmosphere of the prison after the Karacsony escape, everything out of the ordinary was suspicious. "Sabotage!" he yelled, "the prisoners have sabotaged the food distribution!" He alerted the other guards, Vandor and his entourage. Yes, they decided, this was surely sabotage, and immediately reported the incident to the warden, Bankuti. A few minutes had scarcely passed when Bankuti arrived at the factory escorted by political officers and head guards. They inspected the entire place, looked into the bathrooms and then, after a quickly conducted discussion, disappeared with the guards and brigade-leaders. We didn't know what had happened, didn't even suspect that all the agitated activity was related to the dumped cabbage.
All at once, the watch in the tower was doubled and had taken up machine guns; new guards appeared in the factory with tommy-guns. What is this? What's happening? We didn't have to wait long for an answer: the bells all rang at once. "Everyone out! Down! In lines!" roared the brigage-leaders. We got into a three-line formation on the street in the way we were accustomed. Something was amiss. Mihalicska and Berkes - the two most sadistic of the head guards-appeared on the upper walkway with billy clubs in hand. Two weeks before, the guantlet had begun just this way.
Suddenly Bankuti appeared with several unfamiliar higher ranking AVH and political officers, head guards and pompous white-capped brigade-leaders. He stopped in front of the line of sheet-white faces and announced that he was convinced that the
prisoners had committed an act of sabotage: they had destroyed the food of the people. Disobeying the order of consumption was tantamount to open rebellion. An example would have to be set. He practically shouted his last words: "Don't any of you think for a second that WE, the AVH," he slapped his side for emphasis, .... are duty-bound to account for your lives! On the contrary... our biggest problem lies in getting hold of the pail of lime to pour on your decomposing corpses!" None of us lived in a world of delusion; even so, a chill ran up our spines when we heard what the future held in store for us put so bluntly.
"Those prisoners who dumped out food or didn't pick it up, step forward," Bankuti ordered. At the same time, he whispered for Vandor to point out the ones he knew had been involved in the 'sabotage.' He had scarcely finished when Istvan Juhasz (a Social-Democratic police captain at Miskolc and one of the first captured by the AVH on the grounds that he was unwilling to work with the Communists) stepped forward. He was followed by General Janos Voros, once a minister of defense, and several others. I was among them. Bankuti looked at us in surprise, not prepared for anyone to step forward voluntarily. Making his way down the line, he asked each one of us who we were and why we had been sentenced. Suddenly, he jumped at Juhasz, slapped him and accused him of betraying the working class; he continued by kicking Voros and calling him a stinking fascist, and then turning on me, accused me of being an imperialist agent while using both hands to strike me.
It went on like this, each one of us in some way physically abused to the extent Bankuti's strength and cunning allowed. Then came an already familiar and dreaded ordeal - the gauntlet. We were made to race through two lines of guards down the left corridor, while they beat us with billy clubs, belts, cudgels-in any way they could. "As hard as you can!" Bankuti roared to his hangmen, spurring them on. We raced down it as fast as we could, blows raining down from both sides, unaware that the worst still awaited us inside the building. Standing in the middle of the hall was the block commander, Corporal Bala, and
several selected comrades. He swung his glittering "educator of the people" (billy club, in prison slang) and ordered us to sit with our foreheads pressed against the wall, legs crossed and hands behind our backs. A guard yelled and they were upon us, beating and kicking. Next to me, General Janos Voros gray-haired head thudded as it hit the wall. Blood flowed from his forehead and his prison shirt turned crimson from the blood on his back. He had lost consciousness and was helplessly tossed backwards and forwards by the blows. They turned on my back next, and a kick to my head was enough to make the world stop around me. I felt the blood running down my face as I was jerked this way and that by the cudgel, and heard guard-master Berkes - the monster ostracized from the town of Cegled - shouting, "Look, the stinking fascists destroyed the property of the people - let them scrape the blood from the walls with their nails!" Falling forwards, we began to scrape at the wall-blindly and mechanically - with crooked fingers. We couldn't feel anymore, couldn't think, just clawed our own blood from the plaster.
Bankuti went outside, and as I was told later, continued his duties on behalf of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He called out, one by one, the names of the assembled saboteurs; these were primarily priests, ex-soldiers and students. Each one received his personal due: the kicks, the blows, the gauntlet run. When Imre Lekai, a young Catholic priest, stepped forward in answer to his name, Bankuti screamed: "Here I'm God! Here I'm Lucifer!"
Hans Russheim, an Austrian, once served in the SS and had gotten involved in the AVH's smuggling ring. He was now among us as a result. When Vandor came to his name, Hans fell to his knees in front of Bankuti, clasped his hands together and begged in bad Hungarian: "Please don't hurt me, don't hurt me warden.... Oh God!" he screamed as Bankuti kicked him in the head and threw him forward to lie stomach down at his feet. "Stinking SS, filthy German, now you must acknowledge the dictatorship of the proletariat!"
Almost seventy prisoners went through this "punishment in
the name of the people." When the roll-call was over, Bankuti stood idiotically before the deathly pale crowd, his matted grey hair hanging in his face and his shirt loose, and looked around nervously. "Pestilence," he panted, eyes burning, "Vermin." Throwing down his club, he turned on his heel and headed, almost breaking into a run, for the gate.
Guards and prisoners remained silent a moment, unable to comprehend
the drama's untimely end. Captain Kovacs, a political officer, was the
first to come to his senses. He ordered that the prisoners were to be accompanied
to their cells. I had already been taken back, and when my cell mates were
brought up, the guards hastily shut the doors on us. No one spoke. The
prison was like a crypt.
My cell mates who weren't in the factory and had escaped the beating took my shirt off with care and tried to wash the blood from my back and head. Suddenly the cell door opened and a fellow prisoner, a doctor, stood before us. Behind him was Pinter, the block-warden, who stared in shock when he saw my blue-violet back: his expression indicated that he wanted to say something, but he turned around with a shudder and resolutely left the cell opening. "My God," the doctor shook when he examined my back, "this is inhuman. Here is a little cream - it's all the medicine I can give you." When the cell door clanged shut behind us we glanced at each other. From Pinter's reaction we understood that the guards had also received a lesson this day - they too had lived through something that no political officer could ever explain away *4/19 or wipe from their minds. Several days went by, and we noticed that one of our regular guards was missing. When we asked what had become of him, another guard told us that he had refused to participate in the gauntlet, and had been taken away.
The Murder of Feri Kurucz
In 1952, those of us in the AVH prisons attempted to encourage each
other's hope for survival, but our efforts amounted to little more than
fine gestures. Everyone knew we had very little chance of getting out alive.
It had been two years since we had been sealed off from the outside world.
We grilled new prisoners hungrily for any kind of news, stories, even food
prices - anything which might hint at the status of the forces responsible
for keeping us locked up. But nothing the newcomers had to say offered
us much hope for change. The AVH's plans to reduce us to an animalistic
state rolled forward relentlessly. They deprived us of any token thing
which might have given us the least reminder of our human existence. However,
it seemed that whenever we felt unable to go on, something always happened
that strengthened our resolve and bolstered our resistance.
One such event was the death of one of our prison mates, a murder which so enraged us that we could not believe that the perpetrators could continue their behavior with impunity The young man's name was Feri Kurucz. Not quite eighteen, he had been sentenced to death for shooting an AVH man who had come across Feri and some friends as they were attempting to escape from Hungary. He came from the countryside around Koszeg where his father had farmed a small amount of land - and was naturally labeled a kulak. *4/20 When the land was confiscated by the state, Feri had gone to work in the nearest kolkhoz. *4/21
Feri had been brought to the Gyujtofoghaz in the beginning of 1952. He was a quiet man, with the strong and robust body of someone who worked the land. We knew little about his past; his thoughts were with his family and he rarely shared them with us. Soon after his arrival, he began work in the boiler room and occasionally helped load and unload shipments in the furniture workshop. After Karacsony's escape that summer, we lived in a state of permanent fear. Everyone knew that the slightest breach of discipline, even if it was provoked by the guards, would be
met with severe retribution. At night the prison echoed with the cries of prisoners in irons, often there on the basis of trumped up charges or accusations invented by the guards.
One day in the middle of July an AVH truck came to the furniture workshop to take away some tables and chairs. Four people, including Feri Kurucz, were ordered out to help load the truck. In the searing heat of the midsummer day, the guards watched the workers in boredom - Feri on top of the pile of furniture hauling up the pieces his mates handed him and putting them in place. Everyone stopped for a breath after the last piece was put on. Suddenly, the lorry started up; the AVH driver, glancing back, had seen that no furniture was left in the yard, surmised that everything had been loaded, and pulled out in the direction of gate number 1. He didn't see that Feri, in his prison uniform, was still standing on top of the furniture. One of the guards, waking from his stupor, started shouting, "Escape! Escape!" The watchtower guards stopped the lorry within seconds and Feri, visibly distressed, jumped off. He didn't have time to utter a sound before Sergeant Berkes and several other guards leapt on top of him and began kicking and beating him. Feri had no idea what had caused all the commotion and why they were hitting him. Why had the truck driven off when he was still on top? The three prisoners who had been working with Feri only saw that he was tied up and dragged off towards the main building.
After a few hours a selection of prisoners from the engineering office, the laundry, the kitchen and anywhere else prisoners worked, was ordered out. I was among them. Escorted by guards with machine guns, we were lead up to the center of the star-shaped building. We knew then that one of Bankuti's fearful reprisals awaited us. We were ordered to stand in a square. Minutes later, Feri was led in - shoved and kicked to the middle of the square. His clothes were torn and hanging off of him, his broad shoulders showing through the tatters. His face and head were covered in blackened blood, his lips swollen and distended, and he walked with obvious difficulty A few steps away from us
he lifted his head as if to search for someone, for some kind of help.
Barkuti had his entire entourage with him, an escort including the blonde medic, political officers and at least six armed henchmen-sergeants Berkes, Kardos, Balla, Pados, Szilagyi and deputy commander Mihalicska. "This man before you," began Bankuti, "attempted to escape. Only the vigilance of the comrades prevented him from succeeding. We have brought you here to provide you with an example of what awaits anyone who attempts to escape. Tell your cell mates what you have seen and remember the fate of all those who contravene the rules." He stepped back a little and directed the truncheon-carrying guards:
"Comrades, carry out your orders!"
The six men surrounded Feri and set on him like wolves. After the first blow he managed to turn his head and yell out, but then he tried to pull his head in between his shoulders in defense. He fell to his knees and keeled over face-forward, head hitting the stones of the courtyard. His attackers were relentless, jockeying for position, kicking him with their boots as if their clubs were not doing enough. Bankuti yelled for water. Pados and another man ran off quickly and returned with two buckets of water. In two or three gushes they poured it over the motionless form of Feri, who started to go into convulsions. They stood him up and started in on him again. By then, teetering on his feet, he was probably unable to feel anything. He withstood the attack for a few seconds, then fell forward and lay motionless. The diligent "comrades" continued their task, but the sight of the blood-covered, convulsing body must have stirred something in the brain of the AVH medic, because she stepped up to Bankuti and said: "Comrade Major, have the beating stopped! The man is dead!" Turning swiftly to the guard closest to her, she shouted:
Bankuti stared at his subordinates dumbfounded. He started to say something but changed his mind and simply barked:
"Enough! Take the others back to work!" Hardly glancing at the body, he turned and left it lying there on the cobblestones.
Kurucz was taken to the prison hospital. He died without ever regaining consciousness, and his body was hastily removed under the cover of night. His grave in the prisoner's cemetery was never found. His parents waited for him in vain.
Women in the Prisons
There was little differentiation in the treatment of female political prisoners from the males. From the arrests and interrogations, to conditions in the cells, women had to undergo the same kind of brutality. Most of the women serving sentences were innocent by Western standards of justice, and had been arrested because of their associations with political prisoners through marriage or family ties. Many, however, had taken an active role in the resistance and had been caught. Over the ten year period, 1946 to 1956, approximately 5,000 women were sentenced for political crimes in Hungary. Some had been sentenced by Soviet military courts and taken to labor camps in the Soviet Union, the rest were kept in prisons in Hungary. In 1950, the AVH had an old cloister at Kalocsa converted into a prison specifically for women convicted of "crimes against the state." The cloister held 800 prisoners. women were also kept in the same political prisons as the men, though strictly segregated by floor or wing. In 1952-53, over fifty women were kept in the Gyujtofoghaz, among them Anna Kethly, *4/22 the leader of the Hungarian Social Democratic party.
Interrogations for women were designed differently, but were no less repulsive. Women were kept in over-crowded cells and were not allowed to wash regularly, even during menstrual cycles. The questioning sessions were often carried out by female interrogators, who tended to be less hesitant than the men in inflicting abuse on women. More than a few cases were reported where the AVH inserted a glass pipe into a woman's vagina and then punched them in the stomach - shattering the glass and rendering them childless forever. If they arrested a
woman with a newborn child, the child was taken away and placed in a state-owned child-care institution and raised according to Communist tenets.
Mrs. Anna Samson was eight months pregnant when she was arrested. Her crime was that she had failed to report her husband, who-according to the AVH-was an Israeli spy. Jozsef Samson had been the legal adviser of the Israeli Embassy when the AVH approached him to become an informer, wanting him to report everything the Israelis did. When he refused, he was arrested. During one of her interrogations, Anna went into labor. She gave birth to a boy, but only a few days later, they took the infant away. Anna did not see him again for three years.
Erzsebet P. wrote down her memories of her arrest and interrogation: "I was never called by my name during my interrogation. The AVH simply referred to me as 'whore.' When I received the first humiliating slap in the face, I thought I wouldn't live through the night. No one had ever struck me before. A man and a woman were my interrogators. The woman grabbed me by the hair several times, and forced me to the floor. I soon learned to expect the blows, the kicks and the slaps, but I could not get used to them. The basement cells, four or five levels below ground, were the worst: the guards would not let me sleep. A strong light burned twenty-four hours a day, and when I began to nod off, a guard immediately came to wake me. I don't know how many sleepless weeks I lived in the same clothes, the same underwear. My hair was filthy and hung in my face. When my menstruation came, I begged for medicine and clean clothes, but got only mocking laughter. Finally, a doctor came to my cell. He grimaced and would not enter it because of the stench. Several weeks later I got a change of clothes. When the guards finally came to take me to my trial, I couldn't weep: I wanted only to die."
Female prisoners were also forced to work in the prison factories, primarily those which required detailed manual labor. The Gyujtofoghaz operated a button factory. The male prisoners like myself made the buttons, and then sent boxes of them over to
the women's division. The women sewed the buttons on to cards, and the button-cards were then sent back to us for shipping. We discovered that we could write tiny messages to each other on the boxes or on the cards under the buttons, letting each other know how we were, exchanging stories on prison conditions, and joking about proposed marriages once we were free.
Although at least eight women were executed over the ten year period, most of those accused were sentenced to prison terms. During 29-30 October 1956, freedom fighters released all the women in the Kalocsa prisons. Several weeks later, however, on Kadar's orders many were recaptured and spent two or three additional years in the prison world.
The Prison at Vac
Sometimes our only hope of achieving a more bearable life was the possibility of being transferred to another prison for security reasons or to work in a new factory. This hope was based on the misconception that no political system could possibly consist only of vengeful people. It was some time before we finally awakened to the truth: the sworn duty of those people who joined the AVH was to save the Party from the enemy - and we were the enemy. In 1954, after spending three years in Budapest's Gyujtofoghaz, I was transferred with several others to the prison at Vac. Vac was the biggest prison outside of Budapest, a converted sixteenth century monastery built on a bend in the Danube.
Oh, the joy of arriving at Vac! The joy of meeting old friends believed dead, of passing on news to them of their families and loved ones. In our jubilation we dismissed the threatening words Major Lehota, the AVH commander of the prison, issued in his welcoming address: .... You have gambled away your right to live in a free society forever. It shall never be given back to you. Your lives will end here! You will never be in need of anything ever again, and you will never walk out of those gates. If you
should cause trouble, we will teach you obedience."
Standing in the prison courtyard, heads hung obediently, we smiled to ourselves: we thought it was impossible that anything could surpass the suffering we had experienced in the previous prison. We did not yet know that death waited on the threshold of every cell in the dungeons of this underground prison. We had no notion of the boats which crossed the Danube to Szentendre Island under the cover of night, of the guards returning with mud on their spades-reeking of brandy. We could not forsee what was in store for us in those cells whose windows opened below the level of the exercise yard, of the damp fetid walls dripping with water, where we were to spend the bone-freezing months of winter. Who would have believed then, out in the sunshine of the courtyard, that years later workers laying drainpipes on the building site would catch their shovels on the remains of long hair - witness to the fact that women were also kept imprisoned in these underground cells.
At first, the new conditions seemed an improvement. Life seemed infinitely more comfortable. For a while, our being was completely absorbed by the bread distributed in equal portions in the mornings; we were enchanted by the full mess tins; the sacks of straw we slept on seemed like the softest linen. It was not long, however, before the increasing frequency of slaps to the face, of kicks received for no apparent reason, convinced us that the first words of the prison warden had not been empty talk.
The guards made use of every pretext to provoke us. After each daily exercise, at least one of us was called up to "the governor's" office to be punished for having spoken to another prisoner. There was no way to behave - to stand still, step in or out of line, or answer satisfactorily - and get off without any bruises. The worker was beaten for betraying the working class, the intellectual for being bourgeois, the Party member for joining up too late, and others for not joining at all. Small details took on great implications: wearing glasses was dangerous because it was assumed that the wearer was an ex-minister or an intellectual; arch-supports were vestiges of a bourgeois lifestyle; and if a
prisoner asked for more paper to use after lining up to use the bucket, he was beaten for squandering the property of the People's Democracy and for plotting its downfall.
The AVH prison wardens, interrogators and guards were constantly eavesdropping by the cell doors, trying to garner laurels for exposing some new conspiracy. We learned to censor every word we uttered, but our struggle against human stupidity was to no avail. The mention of "pistons" was enough to warrant a questioning on the hidden "pistols." The prisoner who told us Genghis Khan's life story very nearly paid with his life for not being able to reveal that well-known English spy's real name.
But the ultimate crime was laughter. Even suffering produces its
own humor. We were young, not yet broken and often looked at the absurd
side of our life. On such occasions, the key creaked in the lock and the
familiar threat would issue forth: "Who's laughing? I'll soon put an end
to your jovial mood!" The smiles froze on our faces remembering our last
encounter with "well-boring" or the "paper-chase."
Tibor Tollas, a poet incarcerated at Vac, later wrote the following poem about his emotions when prison authorities put metal walls up on all the cell windows-blocking out what little light had filtered into the cells and leaving the prisoners in darkness *4/23
They Block Every Window
Only this much light was left of our life:
The stars in the sky and a fistful of sunshine.
We watched for it day after day from the depths
Of the dim walls, every evening and every afternoon.
But they stole that, too, our handful of sun:
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
I feel my eyes grow wide as I see the blue water
Of Naples. Above its shimmering shore
Vesuvius still waits, smoking. Nearby
Are suntanned, happy people. Do you see them?
But we live in darkness like the blind.
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
Ten of us lie smothering in a narrow hole.
Our ten mouths starve for air,
Gaping mute as the gills of fish
Driven to shore. We lack heart to breathe in,
Along with the stink, what would sustain.
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
The Alps send with their cool
West wind sprays the odor of pine
And your soul is rinsed by the purity of space overhead.
You can track the smell of snow to the smiling hills.
But yesterday my cell mate coughed up blood in pain.
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
The sounds of whistles from pleasure boats
shattering the silence, girls' laughter glancing off the walls,
No longer echo musically in our ears.
We do not hear the thousand reeds of summer's organ.
Our cells are deaf. Every sound is gone.
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
The warm voice of a dark, Barcelona woman
Humming at twilight, filters through the
Distant gardens as she strums
Her guitar where dancers still calico the road.
But to our ears only the leaden days flow in.
They've blocked every window tight with tin.
We would probe for the velvet sky
But our fingertips drop with blood.
We are nailed up as in a coffin,
Only touched by burlap clothes or bugs.
We would stroke the glowing shoots of sun!
But they've blocked every window tight with tin.
At London balls in their silken dresses
Girls are gliding over the beautiful floors.
The bright down of their gentle hair
Glows in the graceful arcs of antique furniture.
The West is dancing. Maybe they have sold us then.
And they've blocked every window tight with tin.
Our tongues are awash for the fresh spice of spring
And we swallow drafts of swill, groaning.
Each stale, stinking sip would make your
Belly turn and spill.
Yet we suck every mouthful in.
They block every window tight with tin.
We gorge our starving guts on full
Dreams. The delicate taste of pastries
In Paris shops. Above their neon lights
I seem to see the silent terror creep.
And you will never again have dawn.
They will block every window tight with tin.
Let the radios howl hoarse about freedom
And the rights of men. It is here
That my self walled in-with millions more-Feels the knout of Moscow's whip.
From Vac to Peking hear the prisoners moan.
If you are not careful throughout the world of men
They will block all the windows tight with tin.
Adapied by John Logan, from a Genrnan translation and from Watson Kirkconnell's English transliteration
The Prison at Vie, windows still blocked up as of June 1989.
(Photo not shown)
The Pestvideki Prison
The Pestvideki (Pest District) prison was the most modern and hygienic in the country. It had been built between the two World Wars on the Fo utca (Main Street) in Budapest, at number 60-62. Until October 1944, it had accommodated only prisoners sentenced in criminal cases and its courts did not deal with political trials. During the Nazi occupation, the Gestapo moved into part of the building. Endre Bajcsy Zsilinsky, the leader of the anti-Nazi resistance, was held here before his execution in 1945. After the fall of Budapest in February 1945, the district police took over the Pestvideki prison. Aside from the regular criminals, the prison held those accused of war crimes and, later, those accused of crimes against the Peoples Democracy. By the summer of 1949, the building was becoming seriously overcrowded by the influx of newly convicted prisoners. Criminals occupied the first three floors, and prisoners sentenced for treason and conspiracy
were taken to the fourth floor. On the fifth floor, political prisoners, criminals and female prisoners were all housed together.
My encounter with the Pestvideki prison had come several weeks before my trial. My mother lived across the street from the prison and knew when I was taken there. Right before my trial, I was moved to the Gyujtofoghaz, but my mother never found out about my transfer. When the Pestvideki prison was taken over by the AVH on 1 January 1951, she assumed I was still in the enormous complex. The AVH, in assuming direction of the prison, had brought their trademark methods with them. For the next three years, she was subjected to the cries of prisoners under interrogation, never knowing if the voices she heard included those of her own son.
Under the new AVH administration, all non-political prisoners at the Pestvideki were transported to labor camps or to another prison. With the demise of Katpol, the military public prosecutor's office was moved into a part of the Pestvideki complex and the rest of the building was transformed into a new headquarters for the AVH. The Margit Korut Military prison was to be torn down, so its political prisoners were brought over beginning 4 January 1951. At the end of two months, the cells of the Pestvideki prison were packed with people. Each cell, designed for eight to ten people, now held twenty-five to thirty. Soldiers of Rakosi's guard battalion and AVH guards took over the positions and duties of the ordinary prison guards. Treatment at Pestvideki under the AVH did not differ from what prisoners experienced at the Margit prison, at Gyujtofoghaz or at Vac. The guards were unbridled in their aggression towards prisoners, acting with their customary impunity
Just as in the transfer to Vac, prisoners transferred to the Pestvideki prison shared the same optimistic expectations. Years later, a friend from the Gyujtofoghaz told me what he felt when he was moved to the Pestvideki prison after the AVH takeover, and what he found there.
"We looked at the sunlight streaming through the bars of the prison window just as a mother looks down on her newborn child. Real air swept into the cell. The bloodstained blanket and the hay sack inherited from our predecessor seemed filled with the promise of sleep. We could help ourselves to the water from the lavatory pan as we wished. The swill they tossed though the door was enough to fill us, even if we had to stir it with our fingers in the absence of utensils. The chimney in the yard, the noise from a multitude of cells and the rattle of the trams outside gave the place a factory-like atmosphere. Little did we realize that we were indeed in a factory, a factory whose conveyor belts led only to the gallows or the mad house. Only the most fortunate few were led to another prison.
"In the traitors' section on the fourth floor, guarded with particular care, the racks of hell awaited us. Taking a few mistakenly freer breaths, we were led up through endless staircases, past countless cells, a bundle of prison clothes in hand. After the interrogations and painful encounters of the AVH's Andrassy Street building, the guards here did not offer a respite, never missing a chance to insult or bruise a passing prisoner. Our heads were shaved and then we were made to squat naked under a single blanket for almost twenty-four hours-regularly prodded by rifle butts to prevent us from sleeping. Then the door of the communal cell opened.
"Gray faced men in gray uniforms crouched on gray blankets which covered bunks that reached the ceiling. Tired eyes in their hollow sockets betrayed only pity for the newcomer rather than any gleam of interest. Gleam? .. there was no such thing in this crypt where the single, tiny window was overwhelmed by the darkness of the opposite wall; the dim light from the grillcovered electric bulb hardly penetrated the steam rising from the bodies underneath it. The scene was reminiscent of state prisons or dungeons from centuries before: there was no room to sit or lie down, and the intense hunger made animals of prisoners.
"In the stifling summer heat, sixty people were crowded into a cell meant for twenty If we felt the need to use the lavatory-
there was hardly any need for it more than once a week-we had to pick our way between the living skeletons lying or sitting on the floor. We were not allowed to rest on the beds during the day-a regulation left over from military days. The meager bread and food rations, which kept us at the lowest possible level of vegetating existence, were deliberately distributed in uneven amounts to fan jealousy and strife among us. The food was so inadequate that young men, who half a year earlier had been robust and strong, lay on the floor too weak to move. Many of us could mold our water-bloated legs like soft wax, a condition even worse than having our skin hang loosely off our skeletal frames. Medical treatment was meted out by the colonel, Dr. Mayer. His professional principle was that those of us sentenced to die needed no medication, and the rest of us deserved to die anyhow
"The monotony of cell life was broken only by the twenty minute Sunday walk, made more torturous by the hunks of bread meticulously placed on the rubbish heap just out of our reach. After the exercise, we fainted or lay prostrate on the ground in exhaustion. Sometimes, for the guards' entertainment, we were forced to run the gauntlet naked or to perform a 'hay-shaking.' The latter consisted of taking apart every item in the cell, including the sacks of straw we slept on. The broken straw had to be sorted by size and gathered into several heaps in the over-crowded cell. No sooner had we set everything in order than the whole charade was repeated. Our uniforms on backwards, our scanty possessions on our backs, we were meant to mime some kind of pleasure excursion by walking round and round the straw heaps.
"What could convey a truer image of this misery? Cold statistics or academic analysis? Only those who have ever attempted to memorize the caloric value of their daily food intake can understand the trembling anxiety with which we handled every crumb of bread, every drop of soup. Only those who have had to gasp for air can commiserate with the tension of having to measure the volume of air allotted to each person in the crowded cell, to ration every breath. The Communists had no desire to
give posterity any martyrs. Hunger and torture were not meant to kill us, only to coerce us into silent acquiescence when we faced the courts in charge of life and death. There were to be no fiery last words of revolutionary fervor."
Between 1951 and 1953 under the AVH's influence, both the military
and county courts churned out the death sentences at the Pestvideki compound
as if they were on a conveyor belt. Condemned prisoners were also brought
here from other prisons to be executed. In the wave of madness which flooded
the prison world, the slightest suspicion was justification enough to send
a man to his death.
Back to the Contents
Culture in the Catacombs
Looking back on my years in prison, I have often asked myself how we survived those times, when our keepers did everything in their power to destroy us physically and break our will with mental abuse. Why, with the inhuman treatment and the hopeless situation, were not more of us pushed over the brink of sanity? Executions were held weekly during the worst years of 1952-53, and often as much as twice or three times a week. The deaths of our friends gave us an even sharper awareness of our own mortality.
We had time to think, and in thinking, we began to doubt everything-many
times even the reality of our own physical existence. At times, we couldn't
remember what we were fighting for, we doubted whether the reasons for
our resistance and for our imprisonment were valid after all. It seemed
that everything and everyone was against us: time, which passed so slowly;
the weather, which was unbearably cold in the winter or stiflingly hot
in the summer; the food, which did not allow us to die but was barely enough
to keep us alive; the world outside the walls, which we believed had forgotten
us. These thoughts gave way to many bitter hours.
The several thousand inmates of the Hungarian Gulag used
whatever means they could to keep up their moral and to sustain a
desire for life in their difficult circumstances. Anything in the least
bit out of the ordinary gave us cause for fantastic speculation. From time
to time, the atmosphere in the prisons would undergo changes. Occasionally
a new prisoner would bring us word from the outside world, or we would
find a scrap of newspaper. In our desperate situation, we built rainbows
of hope out of inconsequential information. We fantasized that the NAT0
*4/24 forces and surely the Americans would eventually
decide to mobilize against the forces of Communism and come to liberate
us. From spring to fall, from summer to winter, we waited for our freedom.
Our hope was our greatest salvation, hope that one day our suffering would
There was another secret force which made us stronger and more optimistic, which kept us going day after day and reminded us of the purpose for our struggles-even when everything around us appeared to be conspiring for our defeat. This weapon was our enormous hunger for cultural and intellectual stimulation. Much of our perseverance can be attributed to our belief that keeping our minds active was a critical factor in avoiding the mental stagnation which leads to despair. It may sound paradoxical that any type of artistic or literary life could exist where human life itself is in constant danger. Nonetheless, from 1946 to 1956, a number of unique artistic and literary works were produced inside the prisons and labor camps, *4/25 proving that while it is possible for a dictatorship to eliminate freedom in life, it will never be able to eliminate freedom in the human spirit.
For extended periods, particularly between 1950 and 1953, none of us ever saw a book, never had access to paper or writing instruments. We were forbidden not only to read and write; they
even attempted to keep us from speaking to one another. The AVH's ultimate goal was to rob us of our inner powers-to force us to stop thinking, praying, hoping, to destroy our bonds with one another. They wanted to make us into human fragments, without thought, without feeling. But as pressure grew our resistance grew with it. The AVH could not enforce their plans to silence us; we continued to whisper to one another in our cells regardless of their efforts. An invisible battle raged between tyranny and the human spirit.
During the years when we were completely isolated, when books and paper were forbidden, we were eager to learn anything new or to teach anything we could remember. Many of us who had never learned any foreign languages in school took
"lessons" from other prisoners. I learned German and French from one of my cell mates, who had been a language professor in a college before his arrest. Others attempted to study whatever they could: physics, chemistry formulas, the history of philosophy, mathematics, archeology, modern architecture, including how to build their own house. There were several musicians who taught music theory, and a number of us learned operettas and symphonies by heart from a cellist who had been in the orchestra of the Hungarian Opera. I composed music myself to the lines of an English poem, beginning with, "There lived a miller. ..." Almost daily, we discussed geography and history in the cell; we even invented a quiz game, and through it covered historical and political events from around the world. It was impossible to write anything down, so we had to memorize everything we learned. Whenever a new prisoner was confined to our cell, we would approach him with the words: "What do you know?" "What can you recite by heart?"
We had excellent teachers. Hundreds of university professors, doctors, engineers, artists and writers were among us. Most of them had been sentenced because they didn't want to teach or work or create according to the dictates of the Communist order. Several priests were in prison; they taught Latin or Christian philosophy Hundreds of agricultural experts and farmers, who
had refused to join the kolkhozy, had also been imprisoned. From them we learned almost everything necessary for working a farm or a vineyard. I learned how to make sausages and wine. The AVH indirectly helped us in our search for knowledge by switching us from cell to cell. In their futile attempts to prevent prisoners from developing bonds, we were always given new cell mates-and new "teachers."
The most popular form of self-education was literature. Many prisoners, especially those who had grown up during the war, had not had much opportunity to learn verses by the venerated Hungarian poets or to develop writing skills of their own. A new world opened up for them when they discovered among their fellow inmates some of the country's most respected writers and poets. A few such names were Gyorgy Faludy, Gyozo Hatar, Georg Paloczy Horvath, Tibor Tollas, Antal Koosa, and the composer Ferenc Otto. With the encouragement and supervision of these experienced authors, the young inmates began to write poems and essays. Several members of this new generation became famous for their literary works after the Revolution. Attila Gerecz, Kamil Karpathy, Balint Toth and A. Gyongyosi were among those imprisoned writers who had their work published. Some poems-those which avoided politics and prison experiences-appeared in Hungary, but most were translated into foreign languages and published in the West.
Some of these writers, like Gerecz, died during the Revolution. Many others were arrested and thrown in prison again. They were joined by other famous writers and poets sentenced for their participation in the uprising of 1956. One of the biggest atrocities of the Kadar regime was that writers such as Zoltan Zelk, Gyula Ray, Tibor Dery, Laszlo Benjamin and Miklos Hubay spent years in prison after the Revolution was crushed by Soviet tanks.
Fuveskert (The Herb Garden)
The first, handwritten book of poems and translations appeared in Vac in 1952. Prisoners who worked in the button factory, carpentry shop and measuring tape factory smuggled
scraps of paper, cloth and small pieces of lead up to their cells.
To avoid being discovered in the search, the prisoners concealed the lead
in their mouths or in other parts of their bodies. They knew the punishment
for smuggling was harsh: two to three hours in short irons. Once in the
cell, prisoners began to write their poems on stolen paper or on toilet
tissue. Others translated poems they had memorized from foreign languages
- mostly English, German, French and Italian - into Hungarian. Others would
then transform the translated text into verse.
The poet Tibor Tollas *4/26 was the spiritual leader of this literary life at Vac, as well as in the prison mines. He collected the poems written by inmates and entered them into a hand-made book. Twelve volumes of poems were assembled into an anthology called Fuveskert (Herb Garden), although only the first three survived. Poems from the Fuveskert were later translated into several languages, including the following selections in English. *4/27
Blood pours from the lips of my neighbor.
Tubercular. He has a few days left
In order to drown bit by bit and then
Some who are mourning their own destiny in him
Will ask: How many years was he in jail? Seven?
He will not even have a cross on his grave.
Why did he come on earth? Who will answer that?
No one has ever beat the destiny of the stones
Used to make the pyramids.
He has no family. And instead of stones
The pyramid will absorb his body
Free now of its juvenile desires.
Translated from Spanish by Robert Bly
Tibor Tollas Tweniy Cherries
One of us got twenty cherries-
we had seen them only in dreams.
One of us got twenty cherries - small
red berries of summer, fresh from the sky
And they brought the bird-nest warmth of home,
and they burned, as on twenty invisible
letters, twenty red seals.
One of us got twenty cherries
and his heart was light. He started
to pass them around, as though his pulse
had tasted the freedom and love
shut off ten years. And he passed them so
that not one of his treasures was lost:
as they wound along, prisoner to prisoner,
we drank them with thirsty eyes-
and on and on, as though some password
had been announced in fruit.
For the cell was flowering with cherries.
Our hearts were fuller
than when Christ, standing at the lakes edge, passed
loaves and fishes to the hungry, hand to hand.
we walked among us on a road of cherries,
and while we gathered all those blossoms
piece by piece, as in a basket,
the light kept pouring.
It lit in us the upshooting moment
when everything shifts its center:
when God's richness
breaks in the face of man,
and the minutes of tomorrow begin assembling,
and thoughts stir far off, as if dreams
were waiting for men.
So that we were torches, hands flaming;
birds flew and they burned like tongues.
Under a sun melted in its own light
withered flowers opened their calyxes,
our dried mouths were rolling about
the joys of the fruitbearer,
blood was stirring life again
as vessels streamed in us, and through us...
our chained flesh moved in unison-
we seemed to be the cells of Christ's body
where light shakes, out of reach-
out of reach of guns, of bayonets, even our own voices...
and yet not even rope will cut off my song:
for we have loved, and a life of fruits
waits for us at the edge of dawn.
'Translated from Italian by Forrest Read
The following poems come from experiences at the prison called Marianosztra. *4/28
Anton Koosa *4/29
Funeral at Nosztra
He was too tall, we needed the hatchet.
The bones broke and the flesh tore.
There are not enough coffins at Nosztra,
but the dead have to be buried.
That's our lot-with only one coffin,
and death so easy with favors
We are brothers who share a coffin.
Someone else will take her tomorrow
Yesterday it was the prince who had his turn,
today the thin fascist gendarme.
Tomorrow will celebrate my friend the priest,
And one of these days, I'll have my turn.
Adapted by John Knoepfle
I saw it Yesterday While Walking
Marched us around
With heavy tread,
Heads bent down.
Eyes, by command
Fixed on the ground,
Gazed at the ants,
A tiny pair, dismayed
-Whose Titan boots
Shake their earth?
If the sky falls
In lightning's glare
Which way the road?
The orphans whirl, and flee
In senseless terror.
Once, violent, bronze-sandaled,
Stripped of their ancient rights,
Angry gods strode forth
-All Rome spun with terror.
Adapted by Daniel Hoffman
(Facing Page) Handwritten entries in the Fuveskert prison copybook. On one side, Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" as remembered by a prisoner; on the other, the translation into Hungarian.
The AVH Terror Outside the Prisons
During the period 1950 to 1954, the AVH refused to give out any information to the family or close friends of prisoners. For years, families had no idea if their loved ones were still alive or already among the dead. The AVH also stepped up harassment of anyone associated with the convicted man or woman, attempting to destroy the married life of prisoners and sever their family ties - thereby cutting them off more thoroughly from the world outside the prison walls.
Beginning in 1950, the Communist party decided on another purge. Those citizens considered even slightly untrustworthy in the eyes of the Party were forced to pack their belongings in boxes, leave their homes with only a suitcase or what they could carry on their backs, and move to one of the poorest rural areas in the country. Anyone who had a relative in prison, who had spoken against Communist rule, or who had been a former officer or employee of the pre-1945 state, was sent away. As a result, hundreds of thousands had to leave Budapest and other cities in a mass exodus. These people were relocated with no guarantee of food, work, or even a roof over their heads. Before they were sent away, they received one more order: under no circumstances were they to move back into the same city, much less the same home, which they had left behind. The AVH confiscated their apartments and houses, and distributed them among agency officers and high ranking Party officials.
What unspeakable suffering Hungarian citizens were forced to undergo in the name of their country! The AVH's abuse of power eventually contributed to its own downfall, but the bitterness which developed against the tyranny of the regime was not placated; it found an outlet in the explosion of the revolution six years later.
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Signs of Change in the AVH Prisons
In the terrible years after the AVH took over Hungary's prisons, each political prisoner held fast to the belief that no
system of such corruption and brutality could last forever. Our prediction
was slowly realized. As early as 1951, AVH excesses had become public knowledge,
signalling the inexorable fall of the agency. Although Party headquarters
were only too aware of what was going on in the prisons, they had no idea
how to get rid of the monster they themselves had created.
In the autumn of 1952 Stalin indirectly came to the aid of the Party In the Soviet Union, primarily in Leningrad, the uncovering of a "Zionist conspiracy" led to the arrest and show-trials of several leading Jewish doctors accused of having murdered prominent Communist leaders. Rakosi decided to uncover a similar Zionist plot. Although most members of the Hungarian central committee were of Jewish background, *4/30 himself included, Rakosi did not hesitate to sacrifice the AVH chieftain, Gabor Peter, as the prime suspect in the conspiracy. In November 1952, Peter, his wife (Rakosi's secretary Jolan Simon), and several members of the inner circle were arrested. Peter was sentenced by a military court to life in prison. Hungarians, though, did not learn of his sentence until after Stalin's death the following summer. *4/31
Peter's fall and the arrest of his inner circle disrupted the accepted modus vivendi of the AVH. The new leadership had no idea what standards for attitudes and discipline were expected:
should they follow the standard set by their predecessors who were now in prison themselves? Or should they take the opposite tact? The psychological effects of the turnover were greatest among the lower echelons, namely the prison staff. Now these guards had to worry not only whether they were being too lenient in carrying out retribution, but were faced with possible imprisonment for transgressions on the other extreme. When
former prison commanders or high-ranking AVH officers appeared in jail as inmates, the guards automatically wondered what their own punishments would be for having blindly obeyed the orders of these very men. The prisoners were quick to exploit the situation, never missing an occasion to remind their guards to act with caution, lest they meet with the fate of a growing number of their superiors.
Stalin's death in 1953 precipitated chaos in the ranks of Hungary's Communist party, a chaos exacerbated by the state of economic and agricultural disaster in the country. The Stalinist dictator Rakosi had been in power for over five years, but no amount of coercive tactics and police terror had been able to make the Marxist economic system yield results. Very simply, the country had no food. It was in this atmosphere that the Party agricultural secretary, Imre Nagy, was named premier in place of Rakosi, who remained general secretary of the Party Nagy, in his first speech before the Hungarian parliament in July 1953, had the temerity to denounce the atrocities committed by the police agencies in the name of the Party. This event marked the first open admission by the state of the oppression in the political prisons.
Although the new AVH chiefs took greater care in exercising their power after Nagy's speech, they did not abandon their extremism right away, and continued implementing violent methods for some time. In 1953, there was no decrease in the number of prisoners executed, but fewer details were allowed to leak out. Changes brought on by the speech, however, were inevitable. From the time of Nagy's speech in 1953 to the revolution in 1956, the military court's sentences became more fair and guards tempered their abuse of prisoners - although not because of a change in policy ordered by the higher authorities. The officer corp and leadership of the AVH remained steadfast. Instead, the transformation came about as a natural reaction to Nagy's speech. His words had sowed the seed of doubt in the minds of the guards. They themselves began to realize that something was wrong, that they had accepted the accusations
against the prisoners on faith, unexamined.
The transformation of the guards' behavior was a slow and unexpected process. They realized that the prisoners in their charge were not the fascists or the capitalist parasites they were made out to be during so many Party seminars; they were not aristocrats, landowners or exploiters of peasants, but ordinary people from all parts of the country and all strata of society, just like themselves. It was a shock to discover that the "imperialist agents" and "traitors" in their custody were mostly young people from universities or factories. The guards also became conscious of the fact that they were servants of a regime representing the interests and ideology not of the Hungarian people but of a foreign power. Their officers were in fact unpatriotic and were using them, the ordinary people of the country, to carry out their heinous punishments. The guards had also participated in enough executions and heard enough of the charges against those sentenced to death to know what awaited them if the political situation were to change. This realization was augmented by the information they slowly acquired about the judicial proceedings of the peoples courts. By communicating with prisoners, they learned that these tribunals not only imposed sentences based on fabricated criminal acts, but that vengeance against the social station of the accused was the most important element in the cases of those found guilty of "activities against the people."
The outcome of such communication was a strange bonding between prisoner and guard. Even the most notorious jailers of the 1951-1953 period from Vac, Marianosztra and the Gyujtofoghaz were subject to this transformation, siding eventually with the prisoners over their own officers. Their conversion was not manifested in overt opposition or insubordination: they were too shrewd and circumspect for that. However, any order could be carried out in several different ways, and there is no doubt that between 1954 and 1956 orders were interpreted loosely The more the guards learned about the circumstances surrounding a prisoner's sentence, the more they felt misled by the promises
and lies of their superiors.
One of our fellow prisoners was a former gendarme sergeant who had been given a life-sentence for having slapped the future president of the Republic, Ronai, in the face during an interrogation. He finished telling his story to the guards by addressing one of them in particular: "I have been given life for one slap. Well then Sergeant, how many years do you think you'll get for the kicks and beatings you've doled out?" The sergeant turned pale and stammered: "Will I hang for it, you think?" From that day on, he softened his demeanor towards us.
Another prisoner was constantly being taunted by a guard who accused him of exploiting the laborers who worked on his farm, to which he retorted: "Your mother should never have given birth to a future AVH man." The corporal turned red in the face, furious, and threatened to start an immediate interrogation, but the prisoner did not let up: "My father was the same as yours, tilled the land all his life. I was born the same as you but I did not turn traitor to my heritage and my mother is not ashamed of me. How do you dare show your face in your village? Your gang can confiscate all we own and even execute us, but there is one thing you cannot do: cart off the land of our fathers in wheelbarrows!" A few days later the prisoner was called up to the corporal's room. When the coast was clear, the guard opened his desk drawer, took out a small package and held it out to the prisoner saying, "Eat it quickly, it's from home, I brought it yesterday." Then he stood outside the door to make sure nobody would see the prisoner wolfing down the fresh white bread and homemade sausage. We were never afraid of that particular corporal again.
In early 1954, some of the regulations concerning isolation were relaxed. We were again allowed to receive parcels from our families but were still forbidden to correspond, so we devised a system of communication. Our mothers, wives, sisters and friends would write us letters in tiny script on cigarette papers. They would then rub each paper with soap to keep it from rustling, and sew them into the lining of towels. The guards
never discovered these missives, which were sometimes the equivalent of ten regular size pages crammed onto a few cigarette papers. In 1955, we were finally allowed to write our loved ones openly.
The changes which took place were not all positive. Peter's downfall in the anti-Zionist conspiracy had a disturbing consequence. Before 1953, derogatory references to the Jewish origins of a prisoner would have incurred the strictest of reprisals from both guards and fellow prisoners. After Peter's arrest the situation changed suddenly It began with a few passing comments by the guards, progressing to the point where they became louder and coarser in their jeers. By the summer of 1955 anti-Semitic remarks that would have raised eyebrows in 1944 were common, and often applauded by observing guards. Events took a serious turn when some members of the guard began to hound the Jewish prisoners, imagining that their behavior would make a favorable impression on their colleagues.
Among the prisoners, however, there was little sign of anti-Semitism towards the handful of Jewish political prisoners. Inmates maintained their resolve to treat each other without prejudice. If ever, on a rare occasion, a prisoner sounded anti-Semitic, he soon found himself in a different workshop or jail. The prisoners who exercised influence over others, or had greater possibilities through their contacts at work, took care that any religious, ideological and ethnic differences would not mar the fraternity uniting the community of prisoners. The unprecedented tolerance that reigned among the inmates was born out during this trial; many risked their necks in rebuking a guard for an anti-Semitic jibe.
An incident that took place at the beginning of 1956 in the Vac prison best illustrates the situation. Marci Dohany had been a rabbi in Miskolc, a large industrial city, but had landed in prison for having expressed his opinions openly He was a kind and modest person, with an inherent aversion towards anything mechanical. In the button factory he was finally placed at the
sorter, where clergy of four different religions were employed selecting whatever was salvageable from the rejects the prisoners manufactured. In the prisons work continued on Saturday - but not for Marci. At twelve noon he suddenly abandoned the buttons and, facing east, began praying loudly in Hebrew
The effect was dramatic. His fellow prisoners froze, wondering whether he had lost his mind. Some of the guards reacted by grabbing him roughly and dragging him from the room to the sounds of loud anti-Semitic jeers from the others. Marci's immediate punishment was only prevented by the other prisoners who ran after the guards, warning them that they would face serious reprisals if Marci came to any harm. He was released, and every Saturday after that, at precisely noon, the rabbi commenced his prayers undisturbed.
My Last Punishment
The biggest national holiday, King Istvan's day, on 20 August 1953, was a day I will never forget. In the middle of the night my cell door swung open and two guards grabbed me from my bed on the floor. They carried me to the office of the prison political officer, Captain Kovacs, who was waiting for me behind his desk. Captain Bodo and a lieutenant whom we called "Gypsy face," stood on opposite sides of the room. The political officers were the real "bad guys" of the prison world - sent by the Party to control the guards and try to find additional evidence to incriminate the already sentenced prisoners. Civilian professionals with experience in button production worked with us. Despite the fact that these professionals, the prison warden and the guards had all been forced to join the AVH, these political officers still made secret reports on their behavior.
After Imre Nagy's landmark speech in July 1953, the worst years of terror subsided. Prisoners contributed to the changes in the prisons by making the most of their leverage as skilled professionals or as the work force in the factories. At the time, I had been appointed the inmate position of manager in the button factory. My duties included organizing the work force and
meeting the monthly production quotas. As the production manager, I also had to serve as the spokesman for the prisoners during those times when prisoners were not permitted to speak to the AVH men.
When Kovacs began to ask me questions about the AVH employees and about the topics of conversation among the prisoners, I rejoiced inwardly. After four years in the prisons, I knew exactly what these AVH officers wanted from me - and they were not going to get it. A suspicious rivalry had developed within the AVH's ranks between the enlisted officers and the civilian professionals. The AVH officers were not allowed to interfere with the operation of the factory -which was left to the experienced civilians - and so they perceived the "professionals" as a threat to their power. They had tried to find evidence before that these employees had some unofficial contacts with the prisoners: taking a letter out of the prison for an inmate, talking to us about the political situation outside, encouraging us, etc. One such misstep was enough to land the conscripted civilian workers in prison themselves.
To each of Kovacs' questions, I replied that I knew nothing, that prisoners never spoke about anything unrelated to the button manufacturing process. I began to think furiously about how I could turn the situation to my advantage. "What do you know about them?" he pressed me further. "Come on Fehervary, don't play the fool with me!"
"We never discuss anything," I replied stubbornly.
Bodo started to lose his temper. "If you don't tell us what you know you will pay for it!" When he saw that I was glaring back at him, impervious to his threats, he ordered me to take off my shoes and lie stomach-down on the floor. Then he and the lieutenant began to beat the exposed soles of my feet. I endured the pain, fortified by the knowledge of how I was going to get back at them. They questioned me further; but I wouldn't give in, spurring them to beat me more furiously The session went on until the early morning.
By the time they finished with me, my feet were swollen
double and extremely sensitive. Kovacs, furious because he had not been able to get any information out of me, bade me put my boots back on, go back to my cell and not to discuss what had happened to anyone. I loosened the boot - laces, put my feet in gingerly, and hobbled out of the room, exaggerating my movements. A couple of hours later, when I walked into the factory, a low murmur spread among the prisoners: "Fehervary was interrogated." "They beat up Muki." Soon the entire prison knew that I had been taken, using a system of banging out codes on cell doors, walls and vents with mess-tins.
Instead of going back to my manager's desk, I went over to a work station and began sorting buttons. "What are you doing?" several fellow prisoners asked.
"I'm working," I replied, bending over the buttons.
"Why aren't you at your desk? What did they do to you in there?" they continued.
"Nothing at all," I replied. "l am forbidden to discuss it. But I am not going back to my desk. Just be patient and watch what happens." The other prisoners began to see what I was doing.
One of the professionals took the bait. He came over to me and asked discreetly, "Did they beat you up because of us?" I didn't say a word, but nodded my head. He understood, and immediately went to a phone and called Comrade Zemancsek, a powerful Party member and the Director of the Factory. Barely ten minutes had passed before Zemancsek appeared in the prison. He came over to me and took a look at my feet. (I had deliberately taken my boots off, telling anyone who asked that they had become 'too small.') After ordering me to go back to my desk to resume my work, he declared: "The rest is my job." We saw that he made a phone call, and a half hour later an AVH committee, a colonel, other officers and some civilians arrived and went into the guard's office for a discussion.
My plan seemed to have worked. Suddenly, Kovacs, Bodo and the lieutenant emerged from the office. Bodo stopped for a moment in front of my desk, and like a snake hissed:
"Fehervary, you will pay for this!"
I feigned a stupid expression, asking innocently: "What did I do this time?"
The next day Captain Bodo was nowhere to be seen. He had been demoted and transferred to another prison. Kovacs and the lieutenant had also received some form of reprimand. A few days later; another AVH captain appeared in the prison - the new political officer. As he walked through the factory, he stopped at my desk and asked politely, "Are you Fehervary?" When I acknowledged that I was, he introduced himself and said: "I hope you can wear your boots again."
That incident established my standing in the factory, and although other prisoners were still physically punished for several years, I was never beaten again. I had learned to make use of the stupidity fostered by excess power, and turned it against itself.
By 1955 and 1956, the guards' behavior had changed radically. Apart from a negligible number of hardened cases who still adhered to the old AVH spirit, most of them adapted to the different times. By the summer of 1956, the political climate had changed so much that we seldom heard rough words or experienced harsh treatment. Many guards who had built reputations for sadism in previous years were dismissed; others were demoted. Many who remained asked in all sincerity for the forgiveness of the very prisoners they had once tortured. When the Revolution of 1956 opened the prison gates, the majority of the guards stood by silently among the released prisoners. Some offered us money or clothes, some their homes. Years of a common fate had brought us together, prisoner and guard arriving at the same conclusion: "Never again!"
The End of the Blue Army
When the Revolution broke out in 1956, Erno Gero, Rakosi's successor as Party secretary, issued a last call to arms for those soldiers still faithful to the Party. Many AVH employees sided with the revolutionaries, but those that remained, though well-equipped with the latest weapons, were no match for the ad
hoc bands of freedom fighters. The last acts of the AVH in the final days of October 1956, however, secured the organization a place of infamy in the annals of history. In the massacres of Mosonmagyarovar, Budapest and Miskolc, AVH soldiers opened fire on crowds of protesters, and hundreds of innocent women and children were murdered in a way inexplicable to human understanding.
Despite the efforts of the AVH hold-outs, the Hungarian popular revolt
against its own government was successful, and the Soviet troops began
to withdraw from the country During the brief reign of the revolutionary
government, from the end of October to 4 November 1956, many of the AVH
members went into hiding - without attempting a counterrevolution. Others
decided to atone for their sins publicly.
When the revolution was crushed on 4 November 1956, the hard-line members of the AVH reappeared and continued their work. They dropped the name AVH, becoming instead the "Political Department of the Ministry of the Interior." They abandoned the fancy uniform, but did not forsake their old techniques. Between 1956-63, they employed the same tactics of terror, extortion and forced confessions on participants in the revolution. During these six years, the new agency executed over 300 Hungarians, including Imre Nagy, the Communist prime minister in the revolutionary government, and General Pal Maleter, the military commander of the uprising. *4/32 These atrocities were conunitted with the full knowledge and complicity of Janos Kadar, the man who betrayed the revolutionary government and became the new general secretary of the Hungarian Communist party. Kadar was to retain power for the next thirty-two years. *4/33
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Between 1945 to 1956, in a country with a population of 10 million, thousands of people died for political reasons under interrogation, from the inhuman conditions of the prisons, or by execution. A few escaped execution sentences through pardon, but most of those condemned -idealists, politicians, experts in economics or technology, writers, poets, priests and clergymen, and a majority of workers, peasants and young intellectuals - finished their lives on "the beam." Another two to three thousand political prisoners died or disappeared in the Soviet Gulag.
Nobody knows the exact number of Hungarians who died in this age of terror. Except for the few show trials such as those of Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop Grosz and the Communist Laszlo Rajk, all political trials were secret. Any official documents or confidential records were destroyed by the AVH and military or civil court personnel during the Revolution; they did away with any evidence which documented their atrocities. It is no wonder that after over thirty years since the Rakosi era very little new evidence has been uncovered about the trials. No record has been found to date which documents where all those executed were buried. The names of those put to death which
appear in this hook were collected by contacting hundreds of surviving political prisoners, many of whom were in the same trials as those executed or had some knowledge about executions.
In the early morning hours we could hear the preparations for the executions from our cells. Nobody knew who would be the next victim of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Protestants and Catholics, atheists and priests, workers and ex-AVH men, repeated the Hail Mary over and over with dry eyes in their cells. Under the shed - how many times we shook with fright as we passed by this shelter during our exercise! - the executioners waited with the judges, the public prosecutor, the prison governors and the executioner's assistants.
In the darkness before dawn, we heard the clipped words of the guard commander calling out the name of the condemned inmate in the death cell. We heard the rustling of the prisoner's clothes being taken off, the iron gates clanging shut. The guards slid away, heads hung, as they carried off their victim. In the dark mass of their uniforms the prisoner's white shirt and briefs shone forth for a second. His bare soles did not touch the cold floor. We heard the thundering steps of the execution squad; in our hallucinations, we envisioned the squad advancing in a square formation, dragging the condemned man, across the courtyard to the shed.
We knew that in the executioner's shed, a slip-knot was tied on the victim's wrist before he was pushed to the table in front of the judge, who stood to read the words of the sentence in a hoarse voice. The stench of oil and stale refuse would fill the air. Above the shed roof, perhaps the stars were shining. Down there in the dim light, the executioners preferred that the victim could not look into their eyes. Two assistants would push him up on the dais, and then tighten the rope around his ankles. A gloved hand would fumble between his thighs to make him blush with modesty for the last time. His hands would be tied to his left foot; in this pose, propped up against the gallows, he would have no
strength left to raise his head. Although he would have liked to scream out, for the last time, the name of someone-his mother, wife, a friend or Jesus - the sack pulled over his head enveloped him in eternal darkness.
In the moment the lorry engine revved up, we knew listening from our cells, that the executioner was casting the 60 cm. noose onto the victim's neck, and was hooking the rope onto the crook at the top of the gallows with a well-aimed toss. We imagined we heard the dais slipping out from under the helplessly dangling feet and the pulleys squeak under the weight as the executioner's assistant put his shoulder to the rope around the ankles.
We heard low thuds moments later, as hodies were thrown into the bottom of the lorry: we counted, one, two....
Some taken away to the gallows returned. One man spent eighty-nine days in the death cell, believing each one was his last night. For eighty-nine days, he withstood the enquiring glances of the guards watching him from the permanently open door. He said good-bye to the sky on eighty-nine mornings, and waited for his twenty year old life to end on eighty-nine evenings. He was led out supported under both arms on the eighty-ninth night, but the path still did not end at the gallows. What would the ninetieth dawn hold for him?
Whoever returned from such an experience transcended us. The light in their eyes was proof that they belonged to the company of those who have glimpsed the other world. All who saw such a man as this twenty year old sitting in his death cell, his long blond hair falling onto his forehead, could have no doubt that life was only the beginning.
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The following is an incomplete documentation of the Hungarians executed or, where noted, who died under the oppression of the Stalin-Rakosi years. Following the name, is their age at the time oftheir execution; their occupation; the date of their execution *5/1 and the alleged charges for which they were condemned to death.
ACS, Janos (40), County Clerk. 31 Sept. 1949, for spying.
ACS, Jozsef, 10 May 1951, for hiding weapons.
ADAM, Jozsef (34), Farmer. 26 March 1952, for conspiracy.
AGG, Sandor (32), Farmer. 19 Sept.1952, for conspiracy
AMBRUS, Ferenc (20), Soldier. Sept. 1952, by military court for spying.
ANTAL, Jozsef (20), Law student. Oct.1946, by Soviet military court.
BAJOMI, Bela (65), Skipper, Retired Director of the Schiff Company. 24 April 1951. His son was in prison for the same case.
BAJUSZ, Janos (35), 31 Sept. 1949, for acting as courier from the West.
BAKONYI, Mihaly (49), Tailor. 14 Feb.1952, for conspiracy.
BALAZS, Aurel (-35), Worker in State import/export firm. 11 Feb. 1949, for spying in other countries.
BALINT, Antal (28), Former Officer of Royal Hungarian Army and leader of a resistance organization. Killed by a border guard, 16 Nov. 1950, while he was trying to escape the country.
BALINT, Gyula (22), Medical student. 14 Sept.1951, brother of Antal Balint.
BANKUTY, Rudolf (32), Former Police Lieutenant. 15 Jan. 1955, for spying.
BARANYAI, Bela (-30), Technical engineer. Dec. 1952, for conspiracy and contact with a Western Agent.
BARTAL, Bela (42), Officer. 4 Feb.1952, for membership in a resistance group.
BEERY, v. Istvan (34), Mayor, member of the People's Army. 12 July 1950, for connections with a Western power.
BEKES, Katalin (30), Died before her execution of wounds sustained under interrogation. March 1953, for conspiracy and spying.
BEKES, Jozsef, Engineer. March 1953, because wife Katalin was the central figure of a conspiracy. Although he knew almost nothing, the AVH did not believe him and he was beaten to death.
BELAVARI, Bela (19), Soldier. 14 Jan.1954, for attempting to escape to the West.
BEREGHY, Dr. Lorand (40), Officer in the Army. March 1951, for spying for CIA.
BERENYI, Illes (30), Arrested by KGB in Hungary for conspiracy and died in Soviet labor camp, 1948.
BICSAK, Elemer (20), Adopted son of Lajos. Beaten to death, 1953.
BICSAK, Lajos (44), Miller. 8 July 1953, for acting as a courier.
BILKEY-PAP, Zoltan (-32), Medical student. 1952, for leading a resistance group.
BIRO, Laszlo (20), Soldier. 1950, for trying to escape to the West.
BLACHO, Janos (25), Air Force Officer. 31 March 1951, for membership in a resistance organization.
BOLLA, Kalman (-30), 6 May 1951, for acting as courier from the West.
BOROSI, Laszlo (17), High school student. Sentenced by Soviet military court, missing and probably executed, Nov.1946.
BUKI, Peter (62), Farmer. 19 Sept. 1952, for conspiracy.
CHORNOKI, Viktor (-32), Ambassador to Cairo. 1948, for spying. He was the son-in-law of Mr. Tildy, President of the former Republic.
CORNLEGER, Karoly (-50), Bookkeeper. Feb.1951, Contact with the French secret service bureau.
CSABAI, Istvan, May 1953, for conspiracy in a CIA case.
CSAKY, Ferenc (-45), Farmer. May 1951, for conspiracy.
CSANADI, Pal, 1951, for conspiracy.
CSERGEO, Kalman (36), Oct.1952, a courier caught returning from West.
CSORSZ, Erno (20), Soldier. July 1951, escaped to the West, and later was caught returning as a courier.
CSUCS, Gyorgy (29), Officer. April 1951, for membership in resistance group.
CZAJLIK, Lajos (36), Colonel. Sept.1953, for conspiracy and spying.
CZUPOR, Jozsef, July 1953, for conspiracy.
DAROCZY, Imre (22), University student. August 1952, for conspiracy and spying.
DEORY, Pal (-22), Student. August 1949, as a courier.
DESAKNAI, Lorand (-35), Postal employee. Oct. 1955, for spying.
DIETZL, Laszlo (20), Student. Oct. 1946, by Soviet military court.
DOCZY, Laszlo (33), Officer. July 1950, for spying and conspiracy.
DODONKA, Tibor (-30), Officer of the Peoples Army. Jan. 1952, for working with Istvan Dodonka.
DODONKA, Istvan (35), Former Party secretary. Jan.1952, as a courier.
DON, Stefan, Officer in Yugoslavian Army. Jan. 1953, for spying in Hungary.
DONATH, Dr. Gyorgy (-45), Member of Parliament. Sept. 1947, for conspiracy.
DOZSA V. Attila (28), Former Officer. April 1950, leader of a resistance group and kidnapped in Vienna.
DUDOSITS, Jozsef (-40), Officer. 1950, for spying.
DULAI, Andras, July 1951, arrested under Martial law for possessions of weapons in his house.
IBITLER, Antal (19), Soldier. May 1950, for spying.
ERDELYI, Dr. Jozsef (32), Medical Doctor. Jan. 1953, for conspiracy.
FARKAS, Ferenc (-30), AVH Lieutenant. July 1953, for conspiracy.
FARKAS, Ferenc-Dorogi (32), Former Officer. Nov.1953, for organizing resistance.
FARKAS, Sandor (36), Mechanic. May 1952, for conspiracy with six other members of his group.
FAZEKAS, Jozsef(20), Soldier. May 1953, escaped to the West and was caught returning as a courier. He was almost dead from beating at the time of his hanging.
FEHER, Andras (17), High school student. Sent to a Soviet concentration camp for conspiracy. Died in 1950.
FELKAY, Jozsef (-40), Lt. Colonel. Feb.1949, for spying.
FERENCZY, Pal (-32), Tax Employee. May 1953, for working with a Western "agent."
FIALA, Jozsef (42), Farmer, former Officer. April 1954, as leader of a resistance group.
FORBATH, Laszlo (34), Office clerk. June 1954, as resistance leader.
FORNETT, Dr. Laszlo, Medical Doctor. Sept. 1949, for conspiracy.
GABOR, Istvan (-22), 1950, as a courier.
GARAMVOLGYI, Tivadar (45), Former Officer. Oct.1953.
GAZDAG, Laszlo (-35), Agronomist. Jan.1955, for spying and conspiracy.
GEIGER, Imre (-45), General Director of the U.S. owned Standard electric factory. May 1950, for U.S. connections.
GERGELY, Mrs. Hermine, Agronomist. April 1951, for spying for the British.
GRAMMLING, Laszlo (-40), Former Officer. July 1950, for conspiracy.
GYIMESSY, Istvan, Former Officer. 1952, for conspiracy.
GYIMESY, Szilard (21), Student. Oct. 1951, for antiCommunist organization.
GYONGYOSI, Attila (24), Student. March 1952, sentenced by Soviet Military court for conspiracy, died in Soviet labor camp.
GYURIS, Istvan, Former Officer. 1950, as a courier.
HADVARY, Pal (40), Colonel. Sept. 1948, as leader and organizer of one of the biggest underground resistance movements.
HALAPI, Jozsef (60), Marine captain. Nov.1950, for participation in the resistance.
HALASZ, Jozsef (40), Former Sergeant. April 1954, for espionage.
HANYI, Ferenc (27), Technician. August 1951, for organizing the resistance. His brother, Zoltan, was executed after the Revolution.
HARCOS, Laszlo (25), Student. Jan. 1954, as leader of the conspiracy of Baja, Hungary.
HARGITAY, Otto, Officer. 1952, for conspiracy.
HERNADY, Gyula (23), Student. April 1951, for conspiracy and espionage.
HORAK, Janos (-55), University professor. May 1954, for conspiracy.
HORVATH, Dr. Ferenc (36), Police captain. Sept. 1951, for participation in the resistance.
HORVATH, Ferenc (-60), Former police sergeant. Christmas 1951, for conspiracy. Horvath refused to eat after a beating, and died in prison of starvation.
HORVATH, Kaiman (-35), Shoemaker. April 1954, for espionage.
HUMMER, Ferenc (-40), Office clerk. June 1950, for participation in the resistance.
HUSZAR, Jozsef, Sentenced by Soviet military court for conspiracy. Died in a Soviet labor camp, 1949.
IVANYI, Balint (46), Worker. May 1952, for conspiracy.
JACZKO, Ivan, Dec. 1947, for conspiracy.
JAKAB, Ferenc (-35), Post office employee. Oct. 1955, for espionage.
JEZERSZKY, Otto (22), Student. Nov.1952, for conspiracy.
KALOTAY, Geza (-45), Railroad official. August 1953, for espionage.
KARACSONYI, Laszlo (62), Colonel and Military Attache. 1952, for espionage.
KARCZAGI, Ferenc (29), Jan. 1951, for participation in the resistance.
KARPINSZKY, Szaniszlo (22), Soldier. Oct.1954, for conspiracy and espionage.
KEREKES, Dr. Ervin (40), Employee in the U.S. Embassy. 1952, for espionage.
KERESZTES, Vince (64), Retired Colonel. August 1953, for espionage.
KIRALY, Sandor (38), Former Sergeant. 1953, for conspiracy.
KIRALYFALVI, Miklos (32), Village administrator. June 1948, for organizing a mutiny.
KISS, Benedek, Farmer. May 1950.
KISS, Endre (17), Student. Sentenced by Soviet military court, and disappeared in the Soviet Gulag, Oct.1946.
KISS, Szalez (-35), Catholic Priest. Oct. 1946, sentenced by Soviet military court for organizing an anti-Soviet movement.
KIZMAN, Otto (17), Student. Oct.1946, sentenced by Soviet authorities.
KOLLAR, Janos (-65), Farmer. July 1950, for killing the Soviet soldier who had raped his wife.
KOLLATH, Gyula (23), University student. 1950, for conspiracy.
KONCZ, Laszlo (-38), 1953.
KOPPANDY, Jozsef (-60), Former Colonel. Oct. 1953, for conspiracy.
KOSZEGI, Laszlo (30), Office worker. July 1952, for conspiracy.
KOSZTOLANYI, Jozsef (31), Former officer. June 1953, as leader of a resistance group.
KOVACH, Andras (-55), Government employee. March 1949, as leader of a conspiracy.
KOVACH, Laszlo (19), Student. Sentenced by Soviet military court, died in labor camp in the Soviet Union, 1947.
KOVACS, Attila (27), Former Lieutenant. Leader of resistance movement, he was killed by two AVH agents in Innsbruck, Austria, March 1949.
KOVACS, Boldizsar (55), Farmer. Feb. 1951, for killing the Soviet soldier who raped his wife.
KOVACS, Istvan (-30), Sergeant of the Peoples Army. March 1951, for conspiracy.
KOVACS, Jozsef (30), University student. Feb. 1953, for conspiracy.
KOVACS, Tibor (33), Officer. June 1954, as a courier and for conspiracy.
KOVARI, Janos (36), Worker and former Officer. Feb.1952, for conspiracy.
KOVATS, Mrs. Piroska Gergely (29), Employee of British Embassy. Nov.1950, for espionage.
KOVESY, Sandor (-40), Border guard Major. 1952, for conspiracy.
LANDAUER, Edward (-60), General Secretary of the Hungarian Auto Club. May 1950, for espionage.
LENGYEL, Gyorgy, Officer. 1951, for espionage. A protestor in Kunmadaras.
LETYAK, Istvan (-35), Hotel Employee. Jan. 1953, for espionage.
LICSKAY, Jozsef, Farmer. July 1952, for killing two Soviet soldiers who raped his wife.
LORINCZY, Sandor (40), Former Colonel. August 1950, for conspiracy.
LOVASZ, Elemer (40), Hungarian Railroad Director. Sept. 1948, for conspiracy.
LUKACS, Pelbart, Franciscan father, sentenced by Soviet military court for conspiracy, died in Soviet Labor Camp, 1949.
LUX, Erno (73), Retired Hungarian Railroad Director, Feb. 1950 for conspiracy.
MAGASHAZY, Adam (21), Student. June 1952, two years after his father, Odon, was executed-for organizing a resistance group.
MAGASHAZY, Odon (66), General Director of biggest Hungarian steel and machinery factory. Feb.1950, for espionage; father of Adam.
MAGYAR, Mihaly (20), Soldier. Jan.1954, for conspiracy.
MAJOROS, Istvan ( 35), Technician. April 1952, for using radio for secret conversations.
MARTINOVICH, Gyorgy (26), Former Lieutenant. Oct.1949, a courier and resistance organizer.
MARTON, Gyorgy, Textile Engineer. May 1953, in a CIA case.
MARTOS, Tivadar (21), Kidnapped from Vienna, May 1952, for espionage.
MARZSO, Lorant (47), Former Officer, employee of French embassy in Budapest. Feb.1954, for espionage.
MATOK, Leo (22), Student. Oct. 1951, for organizing the resistance.
MELOCCO, Dr. Janos (-55), Feb.1951, connection with the French secret service bureau.
MESTER, Laszlo (24), Sentenced by Soviet military court, and disappeared in the Soviet Gulag, Nov.1946.
MIHALY, Ivan (-60), Former Colonel. March 1954, for connections with the French secret service bureau.
MIKES, Jozsef (32), Feb. 1952, for sabotage activities.
MOJZES, Janos (35), Former Gendarme Sergeant. August 1949, for activities as a courier and resistance organizer.
MOLNAR, Denes (-35), High school teacher. April 1951, for conspiracy.
MOLNAR, Sandor (-50), Farmer. July 1950, for sabotage.
NAGY, Janos (-35), Farmer, May 1946, for conspiracy, and as a protestor in Kunmadaras.
NEMETH, Laszlo (30), Technician. Feb.1950, apparently for espionage.
NYIKOS, Zoltan (23), Office clerk. Dec.1950, for espionage.
NYILASSY, Sandor (35), Former Sergeant. Nov. 1952, for conspiracy.
ONDRIK, Jozsef, Bank Employee. Oct. 1946, sentenced for conspiracy by Soviet military court.
PAPP, Ervin, (-35), Theology professor. Sept. 1950, for conspiracy.
PASTHY, Istvan (30), Former Officer. June 1950, executed with five others.
PENZES, Istvan (22), Student. After killing several Soviet officers, he doused himself with gasoline and incinerated himself in 1947.
PETRUS, Gyula, Jockey. May 1952. He cooperated with the AVH and gave a false confession against Ferenc Vezer, a priest, to avoid a sentencing, but was hanged anyway.
PETTENHOFFER, Jeno (55), Head Engineer in Gyor-Factory. April 1950, for Espionage.
POCS, Ferenc (16), Student. Oct. 1946, Sentenced by Soviet military court.
PONGRACZ, Lajos (-50), Lawyer and translator for U.S. Embassy. 1952, for conspiracy.
POSTNER, Jozsef (30), Engineer. Feb. 1950, for connections with West.
PUNKOSDY, Laszlo (38), Former Officer. 1949, as a resistance organizer.
RADO, Zoltan (-45), Director in the heavy industry ministry. May 1950.
RAJKAI, Gabor (22), University Student. 1951, for espionage.
RAKOSI, Gyula (45), Railroad employee. July 1950, for conspiracy.
REGECZY NAGY, Imre (-60), Chief Engineer. August 1949, for espionage.
REGOS, Otto (28), Radio technician. May 1953, in a CIA case.
RIGO, Dezso, Mechanic. June 1952, for espionage and as courier.
ROEDIGER, Miklos (62), General director of Hungarian ship company (MAHART) Feb.1950, for espionage.
ROMVARI, Istvan (-45), City employee in Budapest. Oct. 1951, for conspiracy.
SAARY, Akos (18), Student. August 1950, for conspiracy and organization of resistance groups.
SALLAI, Erno (19), University student. July 1952, for conspiracy and resistance activities.
SANDOR, Istvan (-35), Salesian Monk. June 1952, for conspiracy.
SAS, Mrs. Lenke Jakabffy (49), Sept.1951, for conspiracy and espionage.
SASSY SZABO, Dr. Laszlo (40), Lawyer. June 1950, for espionage.
SCHREIBER, Rudolf (-40), Fisherman. July 1952, for espionage and conspiracy.
SERESS, Istvan (-60), Farmer. July, 1952, for conspiracy.
SIMON, Albert (29), Farmer. Sept. 1952, brother of Mihaly Simon and condemned in the same trial.
SIMON, Mihaly (32), Farmer. Sept.1952, for conspiracy.
SIPOS, Ferenc (-30), Worker and farmer. July 1953, for conspiracy.
SIPOS, Janos (25), Farmer. July 1953, same trial as brother Ferenc Sipos.
SOMBOR, Janos (50), Sergeant. End of 1951, for conspiracy.
SOMHEGYI, Laszlo (23), Air Force pilot and student. Courier and resistance organizer, killed at the border by border guards 1949.
SOMOGYI, Jozsef (-30), Police Sergeant. June 1951, for conspiracy.
SVELECZ, Istvan (38), Postal employee. Jan. 1953, for espionage.
SZABO, Erno (32), Farmer, village official. July 1953, for conspiracy.
SZABO, Gyula (17), Student. Sentenced by Soviet military court and disappeared in 1946.
SZABO, Miklos, Mechanic. May 1953, for espionage.
SZATHMARY, Erno (31), Officer. August 1949, for espionage.
SZECSI, Vince, Farmer. Jan.1954, for espionage for Yugoslavia.
SZORAD, Mihaly (21), Border guard. Jan.1954, had escaped to the West, but returned as a courier and was captured.
SZTANKOCZY, Dr. Laszlo (45), Lawyer. July 1950, for conspiracy and espionage.
SZUCS, Istvan, Police officer. End of 1951.
SZUTS, Jozsef (44), Lieutenant Colonel, fencing Master. April 1950, for conspiracy.
SZVITEK, Istvan (18), Student. April 1951, for conspiracy.
TAKACS, Gergely (-35), Farmer. May 1946, for conspiracy, and as protestor in Kunmadaras.
TASS, Ferenc (17), High school student. Oct.1945, condemned by Soviet military court.
TORGYIK, Lajos (20), Soldier. End of 1952, for trying to escape the country with two others.
TORMA, Pal (-30), Sergeant. Sept. 1951.
TOSZEGI FREUD, Tamas (-55), Translator for the French Embassy in Budapest. 19 Feb.1954.
TOTH, Illes (-40), Restauranteur. May 1952, for conspiracy.
TOTH, Janos II (-35), Farmer. May 1952, for killing a Soviet Soldier in self-defense.
TOTH, Jozsef (-35), May 1952, brother of Illes Toth, and convicted in the same trial.
TOTH, Kalman, (-40), Farmer. April 1954, for conspiracy.
TOTH, Lajos (31), Major, Air Force ace in WW 11.1951, for espionage.
TOTH, Dr. Miklos (34), Diplomat. 1951, for conspiracy.
TOTH, Zsigmond (-35), Farmer. May 1946, for conspiracy and as protester in Kunmadaras.
UJSZASZY, Rokus (35), Farmer. Summer 1951, for conspiracy.
UJVARY, Miklos (-56), Former Sergeant. Oct. 1953, for conspiracy.
UNDEN, Miklos (22), University student. Oct.1946, sentenced by Soviets for conspiracy.
VAIKO, Laszlo (-45), Colonel. August 1950, for conspiracy.
VARGA, Laszlo, Baker. Nov. 1952, for conspiracy.
VARGA, Laszlo (-60), President of Hungarian Railroad (MAV). Feb.1950, for espionage.
VARGA, Modeszto (28), Officer. April 1950, for role in the resistance.
VARGA, Mihaly (40), Sergeant. 1949, died before his trial of a hunger strike.
VARGA, Zoltan (30), Technician. August 1949, for conspiracy and espionage.
VASZARY, Gabor (22), Student. Nov. 1952, for conspiracy and espionage.
VENKOVICS, Karoly (-30), Former parliamentarian. 1951.
VENKOVICS, Laszlo (-28), Karoly's brother. 1951, with Karoly.
VERES, Gyorgy (45), Farmer. Dec.1952, for attacking a Party functionary.
VEZER, Ferenc (-35), Monk of the Palos Catholic order. May 1952, for organizing the resistance.
VISZNEKY, Jozsef (21), Postal employee. Dec. 1950, for conspiracy and espionage.
VISZNEKY, Laszlo (23), Jozsef's brother. Dec. 1950. Their sister, Ica, was sentenced to eight years.
VITAL, Istvan (18), Student. 1952, for espionage.
VIZY, Jozsef (40), Farmer. July 1952, conspiracy, after his daughter was raped by Soviet soldiers.
VIZY, Karoly (-35), Dec. 1947, for sabotage.
WRANGEL, Peter, Farmer. July 1953, on espionage and conspiracy charges.
WURDICS, Lajos (-28), Medical student. May 1953, espionage.
ZANA, Albert (-30), Former AVH soldier. June 1953, for conspiracy.
ZAVETZKY, Ivan (36), Engineer. May 1952, for conspiracy.
ZSOLNAY, Mihaly (-26), Architect. Feb.1951, for espionage.
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We remember those who have died, the patriots who, still hailing the freedom of their country at the foot of the gallows, sacrificed their lives for a free and independent, democratic Hungary.
We remember these heroes, the young and the very old. We remember the women, the students and workers, and the sons of the Revolution -t hose priests and soldiers who believed in the coming of a brighter future and sacrificed their lives for their convictions.
In mildewed cells, on rotting straw mattresses, for long months stretching into years, torn in the silence from their fellow prisoners, the condemned waited for death. The bodies of young men still shone with strength, their eyes - still starry - told the story of their undying dream for the future. Hope burned secretly in their hearts: "My God, is this possible?.. I'm not yet twenty... and they may take me tomorrow"
Only those who once sat in the shadow of the death cell, hearing all and witnessing the hell of a late night or early morning execution, those who can still hear the last farewells of the condemned: "God be with you, friends!" - only those know what it means to look death in the eye.
Death silenced the chatter of mealtime, the ruminations on past pleasures, jests, confessions. People returning from their trials, wrists bloodied by handcuffs, smiled bitterly: "I'm going to hang." Their eyes joined in camaraderie with the others waiting to die. They lay open-eyed at night, and received each day, from dawn to dusk, as a gift, wanting desperately to know what their last moment would be like.
Fear of death in human character is an inborn instinct, upholding and willing life. This will for survival was much stronger in the prisoners than their inner desire - unattainable - to overcome their longing for life. Very few chose, without hesitation, to abandon their chance for pardon. Most hoped for some heaven-sent miracle. Atheists and priests, the young and
the old, without exception, lived for one prayer or hope: to be pardoned, somehow to live. But life shows little mercy. Knowing this, fear and faith, pessimism and hope for redemption, lived together in their hearts.
In spite of the fear, there was virtually not a condemned man or woman among the political prisoners who broke down or compromised themselves to the guards. They would not confess to what they had been accused of, even under the shadow of the rope; the brutal interrogators never got the satisfaction of this anticipated moment. When the time came for final good-byes, people who had been face-to-face with others going to their deaths for months, maybe years, now walked down their final path with pride. Not one among them would have ended his life in cowardice or supplication. They took leave of their fellow prisoners saying, "God be with you," as they were led from the death cell. "For the homeland with honor," the young officers said in departure. "Long live Hungary!" "I die for my homeland!" "Long live a free, independent Hungary!" and countless similar last words were cried out from under the gallows. What was it that gave these Hungarians the inhuman strength, when the gallows appeared before them, to call out praising God, their home and family, knowing that only a few minutes were left of their lives?
Students, asked whether they had any last words, recited them in verse to the judges. Among these were Leo Matok, a worker's son who denied himself food for sixteen days to obtain a last kiss from his mother; Laci - courageous to the end - who was carried to mock executions several times by the guards for their own amusement; Gabor Rajkai, only twenty-two, who recited Villon's "Ballad of the Hanged Man" loudly and wonderfully from his death cell the day before his execution; and Modeszto Varga, facing his wife at his trial, who simply said: "Don't forget me, my love, we'll meet up there anyway.
Fathers and sons wanted to exchange places and die for one another. Elder brothers had to live with the knowledge that they would witness their younger brother's hanging. Mothers spent
days and nights outside the prison walls, hoping that their child's pale face might appear in the window of the death cell.
The responsibility of those of us who survived was to do the best for these Hungarians who died for their country. They put their trust in us to tell their story: not out of revenge, not to have the false witnesses and bloodthirsty judges turned over to the executioner, but to warn the world never again to allow the injustices which make innocents suffer. It was and is imperative to show those in doubt, the compromisers, that there are people in this world with convictions, people who are willing to make the utmost sacrifice for their beliefs. We never forgot, even in the most hopeless of times, that we had and would have their story to tell the world. This knowledge gave us the will to survive, to escape and reveal the truth.
We will not forsake those who have died - we knew then and still believe that one day we will meet again.
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6 THE SOVIETS IN HUNGARY,
HUNGARIANS IN THE
At the end of World War II, in April and May of 1945, the people in the countries of Eastern Europe greeted the victorious Soviet forces as their liberators from the Nazi occupation. They believed that the Soviet Union would assist them in establishing free and democratic societies, and in rebuilding their war-torn nations. Exactly the opposite happened. Over the next ten years, the people of these countries lived under the yoke of terror and oppression, and in Hungary and Poland, the people actually rose up in arms against their Soviet liberators. Between 1945 and 1956, several thousand Hungarian citizens were captured, sentenced and sent to Soviet labor camps for anti-Soviet activities. Only one third made it home in 1955-56 to recount their own stories and tell of those who were lost along the way.
Baden-bei-Wien: Soviet Headquarters for Eastern Europe
One of the first activities of the Soviet forces after the war was to establish its own network of security agencies throughout
Eastern Europe. The Soviet KGB and military security orchestrated the development of national security organs for the newly occupied states - including the AVH in Hungary. The Soviets chose the Austrian resort town of Baden-bei-Wien - once a beautiful spa with an atmosphere reminiscent of romanticized times - as its central headquarters for these security agencies. Baden-bei-Wien was also the Southeast-European center for the Soviet armies and the seat of its military tribunal. The official Soviet occupation forces headquarters were in Vienna, but all of the secret organs, including the KGB *6/1 and various military counterintelligence units, were concentrated in Baden with the Red Army.
To make the former resort town an operational base for the KGB, old Austrian military buildings had been transformed and entire blocks of buildings were surrounded by high fences and watchtowers. Inside the rebuilt structures, the cells of the detainees lined both sides of the long corridors. With a few exceptions, detainees were held in solitary cells with no beds or furniture. The interrogation chambers, also small, were on the first floor. The rooms reserved for the court proceedings were located in another building. According to the estimates of prisoners, about 25,000 Hungarians, Yugoslavs, Austrians, Romanians, Poles and other European nationals were held, interrogated and convicted in this transformed resort between 1946 and 1955.
After conviction, prisoners were taken in vans from the monstrous block of buildings at Baden to the nearby Neukirchen prison, where treatment was even worse than it had been at Baden. From there, about every three months a train departed towards Lvov with about 1,200 to 1,800 prisoners squeezed into each train. Lvov, formerly the Polish city of Lemberg, was the first prisoner distribution point within the Soviet Union. When the peace treaty with Austria was finally signed in 1955, the
KGB's headquarters for southeastern Europe was transferred to this city
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The KGB in Hungary
The KGB began its activities in Hungary in the earliest days of the
Soviet occupation, developing the AVH and Katpol as security agencies for
the suppression of anti-Soviet or anti-Communist agitation. The AVH chief,
Gabor Peter, received his preliminary training from his Soviet comrades
in the KGB, and other AVH officers were only appointed to higher ranks
after completing courses at the KGB academy in Moscow
Through these agencies, the KGB exercised the supervision of the country, first under the leadership of Marshal Voroshilov, and then under his successor, Major General Fyodor Byelkin. Byelkin, a short, pudgy officer, referred to simply as "the Governor" by Hungarian members of the AVH, participated in every major political decision of the country. Laszlo Rajk, the minister of interior, and his entourage were arrested under Byelkin's command in 1948 when no internal Hungarian agency would take responsibility for the deed. The Major General orchestrated the proceedings of the trial, determined who was guilty and of what crimes, what confessions would be made in the courtroom, and, finally, who should be executed. Although he made his primary headquarters in the Baden-bei-Wien enclave, he felt equally at home in the Budapest detachment on Vilma Kiralyne Utca (Queen Vilma Street). Byelkin developed a congenial relationship with the general secretary of the Hungarian Communist party, Matyas Rakosi. *6/2
The other great show trials of the period between 1947 and 1950 were also organized and directed by the KGB. In later years, the Soviets concentrated more on cases connected with the West or with anti-Soviet activities, and left cases concerning internal liquidation processes to Gabor Peter and his crew The
last time the Soviets intervened directly in Hungarian internal affairs was most likely in 1952, when they arrested Peter and his closest staff on the orders of KGB strongman Lavrenti Beria, with the complete cooperation of Rakosi's clique. The KGB had to carry out the arrest because by that time Peter had grown so powerful that no Hungarian security agency was able to do it.
In addition to the KGB, other Soviet "advisors," about whom most of the high-ranking Party functionaries knew, participated in the decisions of the various cabinet ministries, synchronized economic plans with Soviet interests and goals, and oversaw the execution of these plans. They also performed a significant role in the re-education of the country; in training the army and in the collectivization of the work force.
When the KGB agents infiltrated Hungary, they took over several buildings in Budapest, choosing as their headquarters number 32 on the former Vilma Kiralyne Utca (today Gorky Avenue). They also occupied the prison on Conti Street for trials and the holding of detainees, and a hotel on Szondi Street for interrogations. The Soviet guard units were specially selected for their discipline. Their provisions, equipment and clothing were of higher quality than in other units; they enforced orders handed down to them without question and thoroughly. Conditions in the KGB prisons varied according to the time. Treatment was at its worst while Stalin was still alive, but after his death in 1953 it became somewhat more moderate. Provisions improved and there were fewer occurrences of sadistic torture and extreme disciplinary measures, with more effort made to adhere to regulations.
The Soviet occupation forces arrested Hungarian citizens in Hungary without concern for formalities or the legality of their actions just after the end of the war. After mid-1946, when the AVH and the Katpol had been established, the KGB used them to take over execution of arrests. Most detainees were accused of espionage, organizing resistance or conspiracy. Anyone suspected of having performed espionage activities for the Western powers or even of having contacts with them was considered
guilty by the Soviet justice system. These unfortunate men and women were sent off to Siberia.
Arrests were usually carried out during the night on the orders of Soviet authorities, and those captured were taken to a holding prison by curtained car. At the end of the journey, Hungarians were dragged out of the car only to confront a Soviet soldier. From that point on, the victim was at the mercy of alien soldiers of an alien power: all constitutional and human rights ceased. If he had a momentary hope that some mistake had been made, he got a rude awakening when he was hurled into a basement cell and bodily searched by more Soviet guards. Later, the personal belongings of the detainee and all papers relevant to the investigation were handed over to the AVH. The formality of this official transfer over with, the Hungarian citizen was from that moment on a Soviet prisoner in his own country.
The interrogation of Hungarian prisoners turned over to the Soviet counterintelligence organs was a comparatively swift affair. The records of confessions were produced with ease, as there was no need to investigate the charges or to consult witnesses. Once arrested, the detainee was considered guilty. The task of the KGB was simply to compile the suitable charges - after all, Soviet courts would never question the credibility of Soviet security organs. Contrary to accepted legal practice, the prisoner had to prove that he had not committed the crimes the interrogator wanted to accuse him of; as far as the Soviet state was concerned, the Hungarian in their custody was "guilty until proven innocent."
The interrogations were always conducted by two people: a KGB officer and an interpreter. The Soviet officers were almost without exception ethnic Russians, and one almost never saw an officer of Asian or other origin. The interpreter played a major role in the proceedings. The accused could not speak Russian and the interrogator could speak only a rudimentary Hungarian; the result was that the interpreter had the final say and could enter whatever he or she wished. The charges were written in Russian, so the detainee never understood the contents anyhow Female
interpreters often added to the exhausted prisoner's confusion with sarcastic comments and jibes. When the charges had been compiled, if the accused refused to sign, he was taken back to the basement cells and kept there until the cold and the symptoms of starvation made him realize the futility of his resistance.
During the trials, the Soviet military courts passed judgment over Hungarian citizens as if they had been empowered to do so by some paragraph of Hungarian law or international code of justice. The fact that the accused was a Hungarian citizen and the alleged crime was committed on Hungarian territory did not seem to offend the prosecution's sense of justice. If Soviet state organs declared a person to be an "undesirable element" (as they did with the leader of the Smaliholders, Bela Kovacs), if they decided that his or her activities endangered the interests of the Soviet Union or the cause of international communism, that citizen was arrested, tried, and, if the Soviet authorities saw fit, executed. There was no difference between Budapest and Vladivostok as far as the KGB was concerned: they both fell under the Soviet sphere of influence.
The Soviet military courts handled all Hungarian trials without exception. Two to four uniformed soldiers sat next to the judge and constituted an "impartial" jury There was no lawyer for the defense, but there was no necessity for one: arrest by the KGB was an automatic indictment of guilt. The entire circus was so one-sided, the mere thought of referring to Hungarian law or asking for a Hungarian defense lawyer seemed ridiculous. The trials were over in minutes. By the time the dazed defendant realized he had been listening to records of evidence and relevant legal paragraphs, it was all over.
The final step was forcing the accused to sign an incomprehensible document. Occasionally, the Hungarian knew some Russian and discovered entire sections of the recorded confessions that were completely fabricated, topics that had never even been discussed during interrogation. Some withdrew their confessions during the trials, but it never did them any good: the prosecutor cited this or that paragraph of the law declaring them
mentally incompetent, illiterate, or for some reason unable to sign their names. Another tactic was to accuse them of having exhibited contemptible behavior during interrogation-cause enough in itself to convict them.
Afterwards, there was nothing left for the former Hungarian citizen but to begin speculating how many years he would spend at which and what kind of forced labor camp. It is unlikely that exact figures will ever be known of how many Hungarians were convicted by Soviet courts, how many thousands perished under the inhumane conditions of the labor camps, and how many survived to return home. The numbers of these postwar prisoners, however-judging from the estimates of survivors, the size of transports and the proportion of Hungarians working in the camps-could have been between 10,000 and 15,000.
Gyorgy Kolley, a Roman Catholic priest and boy scout leader, gave an account of his arrest and interrogation, which led to eight years imprisonment by the Soviets:
"The Hungarian Scout Movement was disbanded on 10 June 1946 and its
leadership was arrested shortly thereafter on various grounds connected
with the anti-Soviet sentiments of the scouts. As an officer of the National
Cub Scout Federation, I was arrested on the morning of 11 June 1946 by
the AVH and charged as an accomplice in the 'conspiracy' of the Scout Movement.
I was first taken to 60 Andrassy Street, where I was introduced to the
AVH's methods of interrogation. For days on end I was forced to stand in
front of a plaster wall, lit from behind me with powerful lights. I had
to keep my arms outstretched horizontally, standing on tiptoes. If I shut
my eyes, fearing the light would blind me, the interrogators kicked me.
When I collapsed, they revived me with a bucket of cold water.
"During almost every interrogation session, the soles of my feet were beaten to twice their normal size. In addition to the torture, we were hardly given anything to eat and I could feel my strength waning day by day. On one occasion, I encountered two
of my scouts, Miklos Unden and Laci Dietzl. *6/3 They maintained their innocence when faced with charges of conspiracy and murder, and hoped to be released soon. Instead, we were all taken to various prisons; I went to the Marko Street prison, where I was in the same cell as Bishop Zadravetz, *6/4 while others were transferred to the Soviet prison on Conti Street. One day I was taken in a curtained car to the villa at 32 Vilma Kiralyne Utca, which I later realized was the KGB headquarters in Hungary.
"Prisoners were lying on brick benches in the damp basement without blankets or even straw pallets, many of them wearing only underclothes. One of them was Laszlo Almassy, the popular Africa travel writer, and others I later realized were Catholic priests with whom I was to be sentenced. I was interrogated by the Soviets many times, and the brutality of the sessions was supposed to force me to sign records admitting that I had led an anti-Soviet conspiracy. Each time I refused, I was taken to the cellar to be beaten. In the end, the interrogating Soviet officer warned me that if I continued to refuse, they would put a cross instead of my signature on the confession and pass me off for an illiterate. This was what eventually happened. When the 'investigations' were completed, we were taken in a prison van to the Conti Street military courts. I again met Unden, Dietzl and the others; their entire bodies were covered with black and blue bruises. We were kept there until 9 September under extremely harsh conditions. Food, brought twice a day, consisted of something that reminded us of poison-ivy soup. We ate from a rusty tin can with a wooden spoon. Sanitation in the rest of the prison was just as bad."
Zoltan Kopacsy was arrested in August 1948 in connection with the Hadvary case. *6/5 He remembers his arrest and interrogation this way:
"Soviet officers participated in our interrogation at Katpol, which had not been the case before, and as far as I know; after. In the beginning of December, I was taken from my cell with many others, hands tightly tied with ordinary string, and taken by closed car to the KGB headquarters on Vilma Kiralyne Utca, once an elegant villa. Now altered, the basement had been divided into tiny cells. Five or six of us were held in a space no larger than three by four yards, lying on damp musty straw and given scarcely adequate food. The guards' behavior ranged from the tolerable to the appalling. Later we discovered the reason for the inconsistency: apparently, it depended on the influence of the political officers and the threats they issued.
"We only spent a few days at the headquarters before we were transferred to Baden-bei-Wien in trucks camouflaged as bakers' vans. The basement cells there had no straw on the floor; we lay on our few items of clothing, and whoever had a coat used it as a blanket. During the day we had to sit with our backs to the wall. We were forbidden to stand or walk. After 'lights out' we had to lie still. Eating was a horrible experience: a basin of scalding hot food was handed in to the six of us in the cell with six spoons. Slow eaters or anyone not able to take the hot soup soon starved. Later we were given smaller basins with food for two or three prisoners-a minor improvement. The guards treated us roughly, always shouting and doing whatever possible to make our lives miserable.
"We were usually interrogated at night, beginning around ten o'clock and ending at dawn. This routine had its purpose: prisoners were not allowed to sleep during the daytime, and the guards made sure we had no opportunity to rest by keeping us busy with cleaning, control measures and other non-stop
disturbances. By the time the prisoner was completely exhausted, he was taken up for interrogation. At that point, his level of resistance was at its lowest ebb and his ability to judge the situation was poor. The officers were moody, alternating the manner of questioning between rough and friendly, attempting to persuade us to say what they wanted to hear. The only means of communication was through an interpreter, adding to the prisoner's confusion. Our interpreter was Ruthenian. He hardly spoke Hungarian and was malevolent towards us during the interrogations, and then also interpreted for our trial. Anything could have gone on in that courtroom without our being able to know what the interpreter had quoted us as saying."
Another prisoner, a friend who was also in the Hadvary case with me, remembers his trial:
"It was customary that during our trial we spoke no Russian and our designated 'interpreter' hardly knew any Hungarian. We neither knew nor cared about what he was translating; we knew none of it mattered, that it was only play-acting - it was only unfortunate that we had the leading roles. Our trial took place in the Baden-bei-Wien Soviet military court. We were led up from our cells to the courtroom at about nine in the morning of 24 February 1949. At the trial, we saw each other for the first time after half a year's imprisonment. The sight was disheartening:
we were starved, broken, unshaven and dirty, and what was worse, our faces reflected no feeling of hope. Armed guards were stationed between us, taking care that we not exchange a word.
"The tribunal consisted of two officers, a presiding lieutenant-colonel and an interpreter. There was someone to take the minutes, but no defense lawyer in sight. The trial began with the chairman of the court reading out the records of evidence. All we could glean from the reading was our names and the various points proving us guilty. Everyone accused had been forced to memorize these points and repeat them fluently on command, so we recognized them as they were read. We were sentenced on
points two, six, nine and eleven of Paragraph 58 of the Soviet Criminal
Code for anti-Soviet and anti-state activities. This law had been created
specifically for such acts committed by non-Soviet citizens. The first
three points covered organization of dissent, spying and diversion, and
number eleven dealt with criminal conspiracy Each point carried twenty-five
years in a strictly regimented labor camp.
"Each defendant's accusation and sentence was read individually and translated. The only thing we understood was the prospect of the next twenty-five years in some labor camp. Not once was it mentioned in court that we were not Soviet citizens, that our "crimes" had not been committed on Soviet territory, and that our forced removal from Hungary violated every standing international agreement. Our sentences were never given to us in writing, nor did we ever see any final verdict of our case. The entire act took only two hours, and by the time we came to our senses, it was over. That same afternoon of 24 February 1949, we were taken to the Neukirchen prison. *6/6
"Neukirchen was extremely over-crowded, with small cells packed with thirty to forty people; at night, to stretch out, we had to lie on top of each other like herrings. Food and treatment by the guards was as bad as usual. We never got any exercise in Neukirchen, and hadn't at Baden either -something all prisoners know is critical to maintain strength and mental health. We met other Hungarians in the prison, all sentenced to twenty-five years. After a month of constant hunger, cold and general hardship, we were taken away. What followed was so much worse, I wish I could wipe it from my memory forever!"
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Journey to the Soviet Union
After being sentenced, the prisoner's status changed from that of a mere detainee to that of a slave, a slave of the Soviet Union,
without any rights, but expected to labor towards the building of socialism. Men were stripped of their names and given numbers for their identity; numbers for whom no one was ever again accountable. If a prisoner died of starvation, from freezing, through beatings or by one of a variety of maladies, the cause of death was never entered on the records; a mark was simply placed after his number indicating that he no longer existed. Millions of people perished in this way under Stalin's reign.
The new slave was indoctrinated to the barbaric conditions of his new life during the transport to the camps. Although the journey lasted several months, no provisions were made for even the most primitive sanitation. The conditions were made even less tolerable by the bestial behavior of the guards. When a train finally arrived at a labor camp, survivors fell to their knees and gave thanks for their deliverance from the sickening stench and physical discomfort of the cattle cars.
The Transfer at Zahony-Csap
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed Ruthenia, a territory which had belonged to the former Hungarian empire and, after 1920, to Czechoslovakia. The new Hungarian-Soviet border checkpoint was Zahony-Csap, where the European rail system ended and the Soviet began. All cargo and passengers had to be moved from cars on the narrower gauge rail to cars on the wider Soviet system. Hungarian prisoners of war and, later on, Hungarian citizens sentenced by Soviet courts also had to be transferred in this way.
Several friends described the experience of being at the Zahony-Csap station during such a transfer. Accounts like this were commonplace in Hungary:
"Railroad workers, soldiers and weary prisoners worked ceaselessly, transferring the contents of trains arriving from all westward directions into trains headed east. Soviet and Hungarian railroad men and civilian officials shouted orders, attempting to direct the transport station's endless stream of traffic and to alleviate the difficulties created by the meeting of standard and
narrow gauge rails. Meanwhile, military trains arrived and departed. >From the tops of open boxcars, Soviet soldiers stared with resigned expressions at the chaos below them.
"Suddenly, Soviet and Hungarian officers appeared, agents of the
KGB and the AVH. They barked orders; a track was cleared for an arriving
Soviet cargo train. Soldiers surrounded the sealed cars; everyone else,
civilian laborers and railroad workers alike, were cleared away A few minutes
later, another train - also sealed - arrived from Nyiregyhaza in Hungary;
only a few Soviet soldiers could be seen on it, armed with machine guns.
Like a ghost train, it glided silently out of the station and stopped next
to the Soviet train. The chaos ceased momentarily. In the building, nervous
people exchanged silent looks. They could hear boxcar doors slide open
and slam shut, and then the sounds of people stepping on the gravel under
the ties. Who were they? No one knew Some thought that these groups of
people herded from one train to another in a secretive manner were Soviet
soldiers being transported home for some breach of discipline. Others suspected
something far more ominous.
"The transfer took only a few minutes. The operation seemed to have been carried out according to a carefully premeditated plan. The trains departed: one to the East completely sealed-even its wire covered air-vents nailed shut; the other heading back into Hungary, its car doors left open, revealing barbed-wire partitions inside. 'Stolypinski, *6/7 a Soviet railroad man murmured, giving his Hungarian colleagues a resigned wave. The drama was over. The AVH and KGB men disappeared, and the feverish activity of the station resumed as if nothing had happened."
Who would have thought in those times of growing peace, hailed in unison by both East and West, that the mystery trains concealed thousands of men and women who were being taken away in silence, hands tied, to life in slave labor camps a world
away? Who would have thought, when the dreaded memories of gas chambers still surfaced to remind people of what had been - and what must never happen again - that tens of thousands were waiting with glazed eyes for the inevitable relief of death? Who would have dared to suppose that deep in the cellars of prisons, in the poisonous air of coal and lead mines, or in the maddening storms of the icy tundra, hundreds of thousands were perishing? Their deaths were not accompanied by the sympathy of other human beings or honored with the tolling of bells. The KGB, the AVH and other state security organs did their work thoroughly. Untold numbers were eliminated without a voice raised to indict a new generation of murderers. Under the spell of its own naivete, the West remained silent. But the East was also silent, the East which observed the sealed trains departing for the distant regions of Siberia.
Former labor camp prisoners recall their experiences on the Soviet transport system:
Dezso Pongratz: "My day of departure came around the end of October. First they took us to Lemberg (Lvov), separated into several groups. After a few days, they again herded us into cattle-cars headed north, 1,500 of us at a time. Every car was packed with eighty to ninety people. The tiny windows had been boarded up, and the doors fastened shut from the outside. A small opening had been cut into the floor of each car to serve as a lavatory. Once a day, if they did not forget, we were given a bucket of water and served a watery gruel. The journey must have taken weeks; by the time we arrived, 490 of the 1,500 were dead."
Another prisoner recollects:
"The order to transport us to the Soviet Union came after seven months of imprisonment. We were all weak and in poor health. Our hands were tied behind our backs with half-inch thick tape, and our worldly possessions had been rolled in a small bundle and wedged under our bound arms. In this position,
climbing onto the trucks proved impossible. The soldiers 'helped' us up by simply throwing us on top of each other. Somehow we managed to sit upright, heads hung on our chests. If anyone looked up, a guard would hit his head with a wooden mallet.
"When we arrived at the station, the 'Stolypinski' or the train for transporting prisoners was already waiting for us. This infamous transportation system of the Stalin era may be worth describing. The inside of every car was divided into three sections with barbed wire. The middle strip with the heating stove, about three yards wide, was for the guards. To the right and left of this strip there were spaces for the prisoners' two-tiered bunks. In the corner of each section a hole had been cut into the floor and covered with barbed wire, through which the prisoners could relieve themselves. The guards cut a small square of barbed wire out of the bottom of each division-which we were supposed to crawl through with our hands tied behind our backs holding the bundle. Once we were underway the doors to the cars were locked shut. If the Soviets wanted to load or unload a prisoner, there was a hole cut into the center of the car floor to the track beneath the train. In the dead of winter, with our hands incapacitated, expecting us to get up into the box-car through the hole was an inhuman demand. After the journey started, the ties were loosened for most of us, but the guards began making distinctions between prisoners. Those of us considered to be particularly 'dangerous' (for example, any of us with contacts in the West who would be able to spread unpleasant rumors of the Soviet Gulag if we were to escape), were never allowed to have our ties loosened.
"For the duration of our enforced pilgrimage, we were forced to lie prone on the bunks or on the ground, absolutely still. The act of rolling over required permission from the guards, and talking or leaving our spot without permission was strictly forbidden. If someone died during a leg of the trip, his body lay among the rest of the prisoners until the train stopped at a station and a guard discovered the corpse. We were only given food and
Boarding the Stolypin Car
water when the train stopped, and then we were passed metal plates or tin cans containing cabbage soup or a thin gruel through the wire divisions. Washing ourselves during the journey was unthinkable. It is no wonder that so many of us perished during the four to six week journey. Sometimes only two-thirds or a half of a transport was still alive when the train arrived at the designated camp.
"We traveled under these conditions through Hungary, as Hungarian citizens, accused and sentenced by the Soviet Union. When we arrived at the Zahony-Csap border station, we were harshly transferred from the European gauge rail cars to a Soviet train. One by one, we exited the cars and were forced to kneel in rows of five along a 100 yard stretch, surrounded by twenty-odd soldiers carrying machine guns. When we reached Lemberg, the point of departure from Poland to the Soviet Union, the train stood on the tracks for two days before the guards even opened its doors. Since we were considered dangerous, the journey to Vorkuta was comparatively quick: ten days. We were interrupted by constant searches - as if it were possible for us to acquire anything along the way. The discomfort of the crowded, filthy car and the effects of the meager rations - a suffering we imagined could not get any greater - was increased by the gradual onset of the Russian winter."
Soviet Labor Camps
Even in the years of the Cold War, the West took great care not to
unduly publicize the subject of the underworld of the labor camps - although
after Stalin's death the new Soviet leadership no longer denied that millions
had died or had suffered unjustly in the perceived interests of the Socialist
There is no need to write in detail about the camps; the horrors have been exposed by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his books about the Gulag, especially in The Gulag Archipelago. *6/9 However, it is worth adding that everything Solzhenitzyn wrote about the camps is true and not exaggerated, as many Western critics have
assumed. Solzhenitsyn and other victims of the camps have testified
through their writing that during the years between 1945 and 1956 about
8 million prisoners were held annually, spread out among 2,000 concentration
camps and several hundred prisons and mental institutions. According to
some sources, *6/10 the Gulag population came to 42
million during Stalin's years. No one can estimate how many might have
perished in the course of the interrogations and the inhumane conditions
prevailing in the camps during this time: the number may have been 3 million
or as many as 5 million.
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Hungarians in the Soviet Concentration Camps
For the Hungarian prisoners, the bitter years passed very slowly in the Soviet camps. There was no glimmer of hope for the isolated prisoners, so far from their homeland. Hamlet's tormented question "to be or not to be" seemed self-indulgent, losing all meaning to those forgotten souls struggling for existence in the camps. Many perished, unable to tolerate the inhumane conditions physically or mentally
Medical care in the camps was rudimentary, from the equipment and furnishings in the hospital barracks to the availability of medication and instruments. Even the most common medication was difficult to obtain. The sick were treated with ascorbic acid, nicotinamide and given better provisions than the laborers and rest. Many prisoners were in the hospital because of malnourishment, scurvy or simple exhaustion. Apart from typhoid fever, dysentery, tuberculosis or serious infections from injuries suffered in the mines, dystrophy was the most common illness in the camps. In many patients, the serious nature of the undernourishment prevented their bodies from accepting food.
The survivors to this day cannot tell what kept them alive, but they were willing to give an account of their experiences.
K. Gyorgy, a Catholic priest and boy scout leader, spent six years in the Soviet Union:
"We were taken to a camp in Medvezsugorszk on the shores of Lake Ladoga, not far to the north of Leningrad and near the Finnish border. During the war, it had been a Finnish military camp which the Soviets wanted to convert into a prison facility. When we arrived, the camp was in ruins; our first task was to rebuild it. But to prevent us from escaping, they took away our shoes and clothing and gave us straw slippers and ragged prison uniforms in exchange. We were forced to work ten to twelve hour days reconstructing the camp on almost nonexistent rations. The conditions took their toll; after only a few weeks, of 1,500 only 850 of us were left alive.
"It appeared that I could not escape my fate either: I suffered from scurvy, and the wounds on my legs were beginning to fester. Fortunately a Lithuanian prison doctor interceded for me and managed to have me transferred to a camp where prisoners suffering from incurable illnesses were kept. Although there were some physicians among the convicts, their efforts were in vain because we were not supplied with any medication. In a few weeks, half of the 120 prisoners in my hospital barracks were dead. Every day they dragged two, three or four corpses out of the building.
"When my condition improved, I was taken to Camp Number 19, where I stayed for a few months. I met Tibor Rozsa there, another Hungarian, whom I had known when he was a young student at a Catholic high school. He was still a student there when he was arrested and tried. By the time I saw him, he was nothing but skin and bones. He died in February of 1949."
Zoltan Kopacsy, another friend from my "conspiracy" case, spent eight years at the Soviet labor camp in Vorkuta.
"On 12 April 1949 we finally arrived at Vorkuta. It was extremely cold and none of us had adequate clothing. Vorkuta was a peresilka (transit camp) where the prisoners were assigned
Camp at Vorkuta
to the various work camps. Committees arrived from camps accompanied by their physician to examine the new crop of laborers. We were paraded before the committees, and the physician superficially examined us by pulling the skin on our upper arms and buttocks; if he could not stretch it more than ten to fifteen inches, the prisoner was pronounced fit to work in the mines.
"The Vorkuta camp district consisted of about forty coal mines, various building sites, lime kilns and other industrial facilities. There were also camps for women, but these were kept strictly segregated from the men's camps. We estimated that all told the camps held approximately 200,000 political detainees - a high number, but not exaggerated.
"Life was harsh. The official schedule was three shifts a day in the mines, eight hours to each shift, but we generally spent twelve hours in the mines and the other half of the day in the camp. This amounted to only two shifts in a twenty-four hour day. Our extended shifts were the result of the hours consumed by the guards' compulsion to count and recount the prisoners
every time we were transferred during the day, from the camp guard to the escort, from the escort to the mine guards, and then both again on the way back to camp. The escort guards were armed with machine guns and accompanied by German shepherds. We were marched, arms linked, in columns of five. If we fell out of the column to the right or the left, it was considered an escape attempt and the guards were authorized to shoot without warning - which they did on several occasions. Saturday was a working day as well, leaving us only Sunday to rest in the barracks.
"The work in the mines was exhausting, the quotas set for each prisoner
almost impossible to fulfill. Everything that facilitated the transportation
of the coal was modernized and ran smoothly, but anything that would have
made extraction and production of the ore easier, or improved safety conditions
in the pit, was primitive and neglected. Our food provisions were terrible.
Twice a day we were given gruel, which was occasionally fortified with
a small piece of meat or fish. The guards stole so much flour that the
bread was stretched with water, resulting in a dough so pasty that it had
to be baked in forms. It was of such a poor quality that it appeared as
if it had been stirred instead of kneaded, leaving patches of dry flour
in the baked bread. The finished product was black and spongy, and if you
pushed your finger in it, the hollow remained depressed. We rarely ate
rice, but more often we were fed a gruel made out of barley, rye or corn.
When we received a shipment of barley, we would eat nothing else for three
months; if the trucks contained corn or cabbage, we ate corn gruel or sauerkraut
soup for several weeks. Once a month a sugar ration was distributed, and
once weekly we were rewarded with a piece of pastry made of bread dough.
"The population of our camp fluctuated between 2,800 and 4,000. The majority of prisoners were Soviet citizens, primarily 'nationalist' Ukrainians. During the war they fought against the Germans, and then fought the Soviets for Ukrainian independence. They were called 'Banderchik, *6/11 after their leader. There
were also many convicts from the Baltic states who were friendly towards us and courageous: Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. The foreign population had representatives from nearly everywhere: Hungarians, Germans, many Poles, Romanians, Austrians, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, French, Dutch, Belgians, Finns, Swedes, Japanese and even English and Americans. The camp held no prisoners of war or criminals, only persons sentenced of anti-Soviet activities based on political terms."
The Strike at Vorkuta
After Stalin's death, strikes broke out in several of the Gulag's camps. Whether large or small, they were quickly extinguished with the most drastic of measures. Strikes were organized primarily to protest the treatment and unbearable conditions of the camps. The strike at Vorkuta was the first to emphasize human rights issues, demanding the revision of sentences and the rehabilitation and release of many prisoners. It began on the morning of 17 July 1953 in camp number seven. The convicts elected a five-member committee, led by a Polish staff colonel. Ferenc Aprily, *6/12 an ex-heutenant, represented the Hungarian inmates on the committee and recalled the progression of events:
"News of the strike spread rapidly, and the mines in the northern district soon joined us. Half of the laborers refused to work, and the rest went to the job sites but only mimed working. The local supervisors were completely taken aback at first, then used threats and promises in an attempt to regain control. It became quickly apparent that the strike committees refused to
negotiate with anyone but representatives of the KGB's central committee. Late in July a twenty-member delegation arrived led by the deputy minister of internal affairs, General Maslenikov. The talks reached a stalemate: the KGB committee would only re - examine the cases if work resumed; the strike committee refused to return to work until its demands were met.
"On the morning of July 31, we noticed soldiers surrounding the camp, setting up machine guns and trench mortars around the perimeter fence. Several trucks and ambulances had pulled in behind them. Loudspeakers were set up around the camp, and around nine o'clock we were told to go to the main gates. The strike committee decided that it would be futile to resist and told us to march out in ordered columns. There was no sense in making the camp a target for fuselage, and none of us doubted that the soldiers would execute their orders mercilessly.
"We were already being escorted to the mines when we heard the sounds of gunfire. We knew that only pit number 29 was still on strike, and wondered if something had happened to the convicts there. Later we learned that their strike committee had refused to heed the calls of the authorities, and the soldiers had opened fire. From eyewitness accounts, we knew at least eighty were dead, and between 250-300 wounded.
"The brutal end to the strike had been ordered and had been presided over by Brigadier General Rudenko, the infamous prosecutor who had represented the Soviet Union during the Nuremberg trials. It was an irony of fate that the same man who agitated for hundreds of death sentences for Nazi atrocities had no compunctions about shooting innocent men. One wonders if his American and British colleagues ever heard about his later activities.''
After the strike, Aprily was taken to a newly organized punishment camp with some 400-500 prisoners. Miska Baliko, a close friend who had been in the same trial, and also from Pit No.7, was taken with him. Lajos Mora and another Hungarian from Number 29 were taken as well.
Aprily continued his story: "I had been stricken with
pneumonia. By the time they took me to the camp hospital, I was in very bad shape and could hardly move. Unbeknownst to me, Miska had stationed himself under my hospital window to keep track of everything that happened to me. One night my nose started bleeding heavily. Unable to ask for help and too weak to turn over, I started swallowing the blood. Finally, my stomach could take no more; with a powerful reflex, I threw up everything. The walls, the bed, the windows were all covered with blood. Outside, Miska instantly assumed that it had come from my lungs and ran to bang on the camp doctor's door. The enormous Ukrainian, also a convict, only had time to say, 'What do you want?' before Miska opened his padded jacket, revealing a heavy, long-handled ax, and said, 'Do you see this, doctor? It will split your head in two if my friend dies.'
"Miska said good-bye politely and left. The doctor knew the threat was serious. He went down to the hospital, sat down next to my bed, and managed to save me.
It was hard enough to spend years under the most miserable conditions in forced labor camps in the most God-forsaken part of the world, but the physical punishments inflicted on the prisoners made life unendurable. The strictest discipline was enforced in the mines and the camps, and the slightest laxness was punished. The simplest form of punishment was to reduce or put a temporary halt to a prisoner's food rations. A stricter version meant being locked in a punishment cell, called a Karcer in Russian. The cell was an unheated cement box less than two feet by two feet wide, and three feet high, making it impossible to sit or even crouch in it.
Zoltan Kopacsy was once sentenced to three days in this punishment box: "It was the beginning of May and 200 to ~350 Fahrenheit outside. They took my jacket away before they put me in the Karcer, so I had to make do with my padded trousers and shirt. I was given barely ten ounces of bread and water a day. Since I was unable to move to keep warm, all I could do was wait. It was a terrible punishment. By the third day, I was half
blind, frozen, and had almost lost my mind. It took weeks until I regained some strength, and was able to think clearly."
After Stalin's death in 1953, life in the camps began to change slowly.
One indication of positive change was the introduction of a wage system
for the laborers. Kopacsy described the strange situation: "The camp directors
kept track of our hours in the mines, and we received some compensation
as if we were free laborers. The administrators immediately deposited 55
percent of whatever we had theoretically earned into a state account. From
the 45 percent left over, they deducted the costs of board and housing,
the expenses incurred by the guards, and even the cost of maintaining the
guard dogs. The balance of about 10 percent was placed into our individual
accounts, but, characteristic of the system, we were forced to buy state
'peace' bonds with the money.
"From time to time, we heard rumors that prisoners were being transported home and released. *6/13 For a long while, the rumors brought us nothing but disappointment, but at last our turn came: on 11 February 1955 we were assembled, told to gather our possessions, and taken to the Vorkuta transit camp. Later we were taken to Vologda, and after a few days there, were sent on to Moscow We spent over a week in Moscow, then some time in a town to the west, called Javas; by that time, we began to believe we were actually being sent home. During the course of the trip, our sentries were already beginning to handle us differently, and the conditions and treatment almost verged on the humane. No more than ten soldiers commanded by one lieutenant were responsible for escorting the entire train. The barbed wire compartments were gone, and the doors to the cars were never locked. Our next stop was Lemberg. We recalled the last time we
passed through here in 1948 or 1949, tied up, over-crowded, starving and half-frozen. What a difference between that time and our trip home now! Then people had died like flies in the winter. Now care was taken that we all returned alive.
"We finally arrived in Hungary on 12 November 1955. When our train, carrying 600 Hungarians, rolled into the infamous Zahony-Csap border station between the Soviet Union and Hungary, it was met by an officious committee headed by a stocky AVH general. Less than enthusiastic about our arrival, they escorted us to the next city and placed us under strict AVH guard in the former cavalry barracks. We awaited developments with mixed emotions, unnerved by the harsh behavior of the AVH guards after having grown accustomed to the more benign treatment of our Soviet escort. If one of us grumbled, he was abruptly cut off and reminded that he was no longer under the Soviets.
"Those among our group who had been rehabilitated by the Soviets - for unknown reasons -were released. The rest of us, numbering about 300, were taken to the Jaszbereny prison, which was a converted Carmelite convent. Eight to ten prisoners were crowded into each cell, and the guards handled us cruelly. For over a month, nothing happened.
"Early in December 1955 we were finally allowed to get in touch with our families. We were permitted a ten-line letter to notify them that after eight years in the Soviet Union we were home again and in good shape. By late March 1956, AVH officers began our interrogations. In May about 150 of our comrades were released, while the rest of us were taken to the central jail in Budapest, the Gyujtofoghaz. Finally, between September 10 and 23 all of the former Soviet prisoners were set free. I walked to the streetcar stop near the prison gates, and tried to buy a paper at the newsstand. The woman vendor did not accept my money. 'You'll have greater need of it than I will!' she said.
"After more than eight years, I set off for home."
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7 REVOLUTION AND ESCAPE
The End of the Road: October 23, 1956
Countless articles and books have been written about the Hungarian Revolution and the tragic suppression of the new democratic republic by Soviet tanks. Here, I will only summarize the events of that extraordinary year, how the situation changed from week to week, and how those of us in the prisons were affected by the uprising.
At the beginning of 1956, the political situation in Hungary was in the process of rapid change. Pressure from all strata of the population - for more freedom and a better life - was escalating, and within the ranks of the Communist party the struggle for power and leadership was renewed. Rakosi, the general secretary of the Party, fought to stay in power. He was successful in having his rival, the reform minded Imre Nagy, removed from all his Party positions.
Then in February, to the astonishment of the entire Communist bloc, Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow-accusing him of murdering millions and of having sent tens of millions of innocent people to concentration camps. Khrushchev's speech was fuel for the reformist fires in Hungary. Rakosi, who had been a true and obedient Stalinist,
attempted a change of face and accused Gabor Peter, Mihaly Farkas and the AVH of responsibility for the years of terror in Hungary. No one was willing to believe him. Meanwhile, Hungarian writers, poets, journalists and artists-many of them long-time members of the Party - began to criticize the regime openly in their works. They attacked the Rakosi government for bringing the Hungarian economy into financial ruin and for imprisoning hundreds of thousands of innocent people. With the support of the writers and the students from different universities, they formed the "Petofi circle." In this intellectual forum for open discussion, speaker after speaker criticized the Communist party and requested Rakosi's resignation. Finally, Rakosi succumbed to the pressure. In July 1956, the central committee forced him to give up his position and leave the country.
With Rakosi's departure, it seemed that the darkest period of postwar Hungary had come to an end. But it was not to be, for his successor was none other than the Muscovite Erno Gero, Rakosi's right-hand man and a hard-line Communist. The change in leadership did not appease the people on the streets. They knew that it did not signify any real change in the Party's agenda. On 22 October 1956, the students at Budapest's Technical University issued a manifesto of Sixteen Points (see appendix), in which they demanded increased freedoms and substantial changes in the government. They also organized a protest march to the Parliament for the following day.
On 23 October, a Tuesday, the peaceful march of several hundred thousand people ended in a blood bath. When the crowd reached the National Radio Building, where the students had gathered to read their newly drafted manifesto, the AVH began to fire into the crowd. Over one hundred people were killed, and many more were injured.
The massacre on 23 October marked the beginning of a veritable civil war. Hungarian citizens were enraged. Within a very short time they somehow obtained weapons and ammunition - and the battles between the "revolutionaries" and the AVH raged. The fighting spread to other parts of Budapest, and then to
the countryside. Gero, calling the freedom fighters a "mob" in a speech, brought in the Hungarian People's Army. When Hungarian General Pal Maleter and others realized the nature of the uprising, they refused to act and, instead, joined the revolutionaries.
Gero then appealed to the Soviet forces stationed in Hungary to help put down the "riot." The next day, on 24 October, the first Soviet tanks appeared on the streets of Budapest, changing the objective of the revolutionaries dramatically. It was no longer a fight against Communist rule, but a battle against an invading foreign power, a battle for national independence. The Soviet military strategists had hoped that a show of force in the streets of Budapest would quell the uprising as it had in Berlin in 1953, but the Hungarians were not to be deterred. Miraculously, the unorganized, poorly armed freedom fighters, using home-made grenades called Molotov cocktails, destroyed or badly damaged the Soviet tanks. By October 27-28, the young revolutionaries had forced the Soviets to retreat.
The Revolution was victorious. A Soviet delegation arrived, promising that the Soviet armed forces would withdraw from Hungary and authorizing the reinstatement of Imre Nagy as prime minister. Nagy took over the reins of a new; revolutionary government - still Communist, but reform minded, more democratic and nationalist. He bowed to public demand for reforms and nationalistic actions such as officially withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact.
For those of us in the prisons, the summer of 1956 seemed to bring signs of positive change. We heard more and more about the turmoil going on outside of the prison walls, despite the fact that newspapers and other sources of information from the outside world were still forbidden. From time to time, some guard who had secretly changed allegiance smuggled in a newspaper or whispered to us what Radio Free Europe was broadcasting. We knew instinctively that our time was coming, that something would happen which would grant us our freedom. Despite our optimism, not one of us could have imagined that
within a few months a revolution would break out.
Because of the political turmoil outside the prisons, the atmosphere inside was tense. One day, a different kind of committee arrived. It was comprised of members of the Justice Ministry, the High Court and, to our surprise, officers from the AVH headquarters. They began to revise many of our sentences in the name of the "new socialist justice." The president of the committee opened the proceedings with an astonishing confession: "We know;" he began, "that many of you spent years in prison needlessly, innocently. We know that your interrogations were unlawful and forced. (At this, the two AVH officers shook their heads as if they had nothing to do with these unlawful and forced interrogations.) We have come here to bring justice: whoever we find innocent of the charges brought against them will leave the prison; the rest will stay here." The new justice committee examined individual cases. Over a very short period following their visit, thousands of prisoners were in fact set free.
I was not so lucky. I was told that because I had been captured by the Soviets and was considered a "spy," I would have to finish serving my sentence. I calculated that after almost eight years in prison, I would have to remain another ten years to complete my sentence - not a happy future. Nonetheless, the situation appeared so positive at the time that I felt that it was too early to despair, that something would work out.
On 28 October 1956, the freedom fighters took over the political prisons. By 1 November 1956, we had all been set free.
We could not know it then, but our freedom was to be short-lived. On 4 November, 1956, six days after the Hungarian people had won their independence, the Red Army invaded the country. That same morning, General Maleter and a Hungarian delegation had gone to the Soviet headquarters in Tokol, Hungary, to discuss the impending Soviet troop "withdrawal." In the most flagrant betrayal of trust of the uprising, the KGB chief, General Serov, waiting until after the entire delegation had arrived, arrested each member. Meanwhile, hundreds of
fighter planes, thousands of Soviet tanks, and troops equipped with the most modern armaments crushed the units of the Hungarian revolutionaries - in violation of all promises made the previous week by the Soviet government. The United Nations and the Security Council condemned the Soviet invasion of Hungary in several emergency sessions, but took no more action than imposing moral sanctions against the Soviet Union. No one came to the aid of the tiny country as it was taken over by its giant neighbor.
Although the United States had offered vocal encouragement to the revolutionaries, it was distracted by the Suez crisis. The Soviets knew beforehand that the Americans would not use force to reprimand them for their actions; in an address given seven days earlier, on 27 October 1956, the American secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, declared that the United States did not intend to make any military alliances with the nations behind the Iron Curtain. Two days later, Charles Bohlen, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow; informed Soviet leaders that Dulles had made his declaration with the knowledge of President Eisenhower. The United States had no wish to jeopardize its already shaky relations with the Soviet Union.
In the tumultuous days of the short-lived revolutionary government, some hard-line members of Imre Nagy's cabinet decided to abandon the nationalist government and side with the Soviets for their own gain. One of these quislings, Janos Kadar, while still a member of the Nagy cabinet, vowed that Hungary's newly acquired independence would never be taken away. But on the same day, Kadar and several other Hungarian Communists left the capital by Soviet military helicopter and met secretly with Soviet delegations on the Hungarian-Soviet border. There they negotiated the formation of a new; Soviet backed Hungarian government.
In the wake of the Soviet tanks on 4 November, a radio announcement declared Janos Kadar to be Hungary's new secretary general. The Hungarian people were stunned. When Kadar came on the broadcast, he gave a speech in which he
promised complete freedom, peace, and amnesty for anyone who had participated in the Revolution, provided that the freedom fighters surrendered their arms and returned to work. Two weeks later, he no longer talked about freedom in his broadcasts. Instead, he attempted to prove that Western imperialist agents and their allies had initiated a "counterrevolution." Former members of the AVH canvassed the country, conducting sweeping arrests-in direct contradiction to Kadar's pledges that the freedom fighters would not be punished. Martial law was proclaimed in December, giving the AVH and the Red Army absolute license to carry out whatever measures were necessary to secure the submission of the population. Freedom fighters were condemned to death under Kadar's new court martials as alleged "counterrevolutionaries," and executed by the score. Furthermore, in order to prevent a new uprising, heavily armed Soviet and Hungarian troops kept a watchful eye on the workers and the students.
When the Soviet tanks first reached the Parliament building in Budapest, Prime Minister Nagy and several members of his cabinet sought political asylum in the Yugoslav Embassy. Mistakenly trusting the promises of safe conduct offered by the Kadar government, Nagy and his entourage left the refuge of the Embassy. The Soviet puppet government of Kadar did not keep its word. Nagy, still the lawful prime minister of the country, was arrested by Kadar's newly organized security forces and deported to Romania. He was brought back months later, and when he refused to declare that he had been mistaken in his demands during the Revolution, he was jailed. In June 1958, Nagy was executed with two of his ministers, Miklos Gimes and Jozsef Szilagyi, and with General Maleter.
In December 1956, the local Workers' Councils which had been formed during the early days of the Revolution called a general strike. The entire country was brought to a halt. Transportation systems were paralyzed, and only military vehicles were able to provide limited services. Although the strike was a success, it was prevented from going further.
Organizers were arrested and taken away, and workers were forced to return to the factories. The last spark of revolutionary fever had been extinguished.
Once again, a reign of intimidation was established in Hungary. Thousands
of dissenters suffered in prison, and the atmosphere in the country returned
to one of tension and suspicion. Kadar's ministry of foreign affairs paid
no attention to the protestations of the free world, among them the resolutions
passed by the United Nations condemning the intervention of the Soviet
Union in Hungary's internal affairs. One of the most damaging legacies
of the Soviet invasion was the mass exodus of the population: more than
200,000 Hungarian citizens, most of them young and professionally trained,
fled the country through the Austrian and Yugoslav borders, leaving their
possessions behind. They knew what type of government Kadar would create,
bolstered by the support of Soviet arms, and they wanted no part in it.
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Good-bye Hungary! A Last Escape
Before the Soviet invasion, I had gone to stay with my father in my hometown in southern Hungary, the small city of Mohacs. For several weeks before and after the crackdown, I helped would-be escapees over the nearby Yugoslav border, an area I knew well from my childhood. A month had elapsed when my mother, who lived in Budapest, called to tell me that several AVH men had come to her house looking for me. Although I was a hundred and fifty miles away, I knew they would find me sooner or later. The next couple of nights I spent in the homes of various friends, but just as I had anticipated, the AVH caught up with me. It was early December when I got word from a friend in the town clerk's office advising me to flee at once: the AVH had arrived with a warrant for my arrest.
Wasting no time, I took the first train to Budapest where my mother was waiting for me at the station. She knew I would have to get out of the country to avoid arrest, so we said our good-byes
right there. Before I kissed her one last time, she gave me a twenty dollar bill, an unheard of treasure in those days in Communist Hungary. Then she left with tears in her eyes. We did not see each other again for ten years.
As I watched her disappear into the crowd, it occurred to me that I could not let myself be captured again. After a few weeks of life as a free man, I knew that neither she nor I would survive a second imprisonment, not even one more day in a cell.
The west-bound train was packed with Hungarians, all dressed warmly and carrying enormous suitcases-tell-tale signs of their true intentions. I smiled wryly to myself, knowing that they would be able to take very little of their personal belongings safely over the Austro-Hungarian border; the last leg of their journey would involve trudging through the December mud and snow for six to fifteen miles. I carried only a small bag with some warm clothes and was dressed in a regular suit, not wanting to appear anxious to get out of my own country.
Leaving Budapest - and the proximity to the prisons - behind was a tremendous relief. Looking out the compartment windows at the rolling Hungarian countryside, I decided I had to abandon the train before it reached the border station. Although this would involve walking about fifteen to twenty miles through farm land and woods, I would be avoiding the populated areas near the border-regions which were especially dangerous because they were regularly patrolled by members of the armed frontier guards and Soviet soldiers, eager to arrest would-be escapees.
The train went through Gyor, a major industrial town. We saw that the railway station was full of hundreds of soldiers. It was not a good sign. Our next stop was to be a town called Mosonmagyarovar, and I made up my mind to jump off the train just before we reached it. But my plans were thwarted when our train came to a sudden halt. A woman cried out, "My God, there are soldiers everywhere, soldiers...." I looked out of the window and saw that the train was surrounded by Soviet, Czech and Hungarian soldiers, their weapons pointed at us. They
ordered everyone off the train and then reboarded us into their military trucks. Under these circumstances, the chances of escape were next to nil. I had no doubts that the Soviet guards, probably from somewhere in Siberia, would not hesitate to open-fire at anyone attempting to run away.
The approximately 800 would-be escapees who had been taken off the train, myself included, were forcefully transported to a former fortress called Magyarovar. The crowd presented a sorry picture: women and children crying, the old cursing and the young afraid for their future. In the evening, a highranking Soviet officer came for an inspection of the group and announced that the next day our identity papers would be thoroughly examined. Everyone was to remain quiet in the meantime, and not to leave the premises as the curfew would be strictly enforced. Any violations were punishable under the terms of martial law These announcements were received with intense resentment from the crowd, although no one dared to voice their dissatisfaction openly. "To hell with you!" the elderly woman next to me whispered at the officer, and the others nodded their silent agreement.
The Soviets brought in huge containers of food, but most of us were too shaken to eat anything. I took advantage of the break to ask one guard what was going to happen to those people who had no identity papers. (Needless to say, as a former political prisoner, I had no legal documents.) The guard took a long look at me, correctly guessing my predicament, and replied, "Well, I guess you will have to go back to your prison then."
The location and size of the fortress made my situation even worse. The huge quadrant-shaped edifice had been built in the 16th century to guard against the invading Turks. It had massive walls six to ten feet wide, tiny windows, and was surrounded by a moat. Sometime in the last century the fortress had undergone a major reconstruction, and this ancient, three-storied building had become the home of an agricultural academy.
Just on the other side of the fortress yard were the rest rooms, which we could only use with the supervision of a guard.
Obtaining permission, I was making my way towards them, when I was approached by a young man in his early twenties. He looked at me, and then, making sure that no one was watching, whispered something into my ear. He too had correctly guessed that I was a released prisoner and needed to escape from this place. The young man told me he was an undergraduate at the Agricultural University in Debrecen, and wanted to join his parents who had already fled Hungary. When he introduced himself as Feri, and shook my hand, my instincts told me that I could trust him.
Next to the rest room entrance was the main stairway of the fortress. Although it was guarded by our captors, my newly acquired accomplice managed to divert their attention for a moment-long enough for me to sneak upstairs unobserved. On the second floor, I found a long corridor with doors to several rooms, all of which were locked. Finally, I came to an unlocked door at the end of the corridor, and entered another rest room. It was very long and narrow; with a small window at the end. Standing on the toilet, I managed to open it, letting in the cold winter air. Looking down, I saw that twenty to twenty-five feet below me, Soviet military vehicles were parked in the enclosed quadrangle - the same trucks which had been used to bring us here. I looked at them with dread, but at the same time, realized this was my only way of escape - to shove myself out of this tiny window and fall head first, landing right next to them.
I was tempted to jump out immediately, but hesitated when I remembered my new friend, also anxious to escape. Returning the same way I had come in, I again avoided discovery by our guards, who were besieged with questions from the worried and sleepless would-be emigrants.
When I rejoined Feri, I let him know about my find and warned him of the dangers involved both in falling from such a height, and then in trying to escape our Soviet captors. He did not hesitate for a moment. He was prepared to do anything to get out of the country. We changed into the warmest clothes we had, and left our
small bags and belongings behind. Once again, I managed to go upstairs unobserved, this time with Feri behind me. When he looked out of the tiny rest room window; he was horrified by how far it was to the ground below. I assured him I would go first. Mumbling a short prayer, I climbed up on the window sill, stuck my head and shoulders out, and looked down. God! What am I doing? I thought to myself. What are my chances? I could break my neck, die, and in that case my problems would be over. Or, I could be seriously injured - maybe permanently crippled - and find myself back in prison. Or, try it, jump. And if I'm a little lucky....
With that, I closed my eyes and pushed off with both arms. To tell the truth, I have no idea how I managed, but somehow I reversed my body in the air and landed in a few inches of snow; feet-first. The fall knocked me out, but I regained consciousness quickly and crawled under one of the Soviet trucks. Waiting a few minutes to make sure the way was clear, I signaled to Feri that it was his turn. It was a clear, cold night. The full moon was out, so I could see him, his upper body in the window frame, hesitating, then pushing himself into the air, crying out a little, and landing. He also turned in the air, but was not so lucky in landing. I broke his fall and we rolled over in the snow; unable to tell whether we had broken any bones.
We were lucky. No guards were in the yard, no one had seen us jumping from the window, and we were in one piece. Crawling under the military trucks, we made our way towards the newly constructed six foot fence around the premises. When we were within a few feet of it, we waited a few minutes, then made our dash. Throwing ourselves over the fence, we found ourselves on the other side on a dimly lit street. Neither of us had ever been in the town before, so we had no idea what direction to take. We crossed the street, climbed several more fences, and started running. Finally we landed somewhere in a garden.
It was early December and cold. In our agitated state, neither of us had noticed the Hungarian winter, already below freezing. A curfew had been imposed by the Kadar regime, so the streets
were completely deserted. We continued our flight, creeping through back yards and private gardens and climbing more fences, attempting to put as much distance as possible between us and the camp before the curfew ended at dawn. But our flight was cut short when the dogs in the neighborhood, sensing that strangers were climbing through their territories, put up a tremendous clamor, howling and barking. What could we do? There was only one solution: to stay perfectly still. Huddled together, we waited impatiently for dawn, hoping our luck had not run out.
We had not been there long when we had another encounter with good fortune - this time in the form of kind-hearted human beings. The night had been very still, and it was easy to hear the sounds of approaching footsteps on the snow-covered streets. At first we thought Soviet soldiers were out on patrol. Feri peered over the bushes and saw two women walking in our direction, an older woman arm-in-arm with a younger one. I had very little time to plan our next move, but felt that Almighty God had sent them our way to help us out of our predicament. When they reached our hiding place, I stepped out and introduced my friend and myself as former political prisoners on the run, begging them not to be afraid of us, telling them that we wanted only to be directed out of the town and towards the border.
I had startled them. The younger of the two shrank back in fear, pulling the older closer to her, but the older woman was not shaken. She turned out to be a hospital official and had permission to walk home after work despite the curfew. The younger woman was her niece, who was escorting her aunt home. They let us follow them, under trees and bushes, turning back from time to time to warn us to be more quiet. They stopped at the end of a street in front of a huge apartment complex and asked us to wait while they went inside. A few minutes later we heard a woman's voice shouting, and then the front door of the building opened. The woman began screaming at us, cursing and saying:
"Enough is enough! What more do these strangers want from us?" She slammed the door, sobbing hysterically. We were
about to run away when the old lady reappeared, apologizing for her sister's behavior and offering an explanation for the outburst: the woman had lost a son on 26 October, when the AVH fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Mosonmagyarovar, murdering nearly a hundred people and wounding several hundred others. As a result, she dreaded any further involvement in the Revolution.
The old lady volunteered to lead us out of the town, and we followed her to the house of a former Communist party member who had severed his ties with the Party during the Revolution. He seemed to be a decent man, and we gratefully accepted his offer to guide us to the frontier.
The next morning we set out by bicycle, dressed as field workers and carrying shovels. Soviet-Hungarian security patrols stopped us once, but our disguise got us through. Our next stop was a farm, where we were introduced to two young farmers who would take us through the barbed wire during the night. Almost in tears, we bade good-bye to the man who had been our guide and sent our thanks to the old woman for her kindness.
The last leg of our flight to freedom was more difficult than we had expected. Our farm guides were waiting for a bus load of Jewish refugees from Budapest. The two men were to receive a substantial sum for smuggling the group out of the country. Close to midnight, the bus arrived packed with some twenty families, including small children and elderly relatives. We discovered that international Jewish organizations had bribed officials in Budapest to issue identity papers for these families, enabling them to leave the capital. En route, they had bribed more officials and had finally reached the frontier safely.
It was after midnight when we started out, on foot. We quickly realized that some members of the group would not be able to make this last leg of the journey, a trek of six or seven miles. The small children and parents who were carrying children were physically exhausted after a short time. I felt very sorry for one couple who were taking turns carrying their two-and-a-half year old on their backs. We had only gone a few miles, and they were
falling further and further behind the rest of the refugees. If they continued this way, it was certain that they would not make the border under the cover of darkness. A few members of the group demanded that those unable to keep up should be left behind. The unfortunate couple began crying out, offering gold and money and all their possessions, begging the others not to leave them to their fate in the winter night. I could not stand it; I grabbed the little boy and carried him on my back for over five exhausting miles through woods and cornfields.
Around four o'clock in the morning, we finally caught a glimpse of two watchtowers on the frontier. We were within 200 yards of the border when the boy, who had been peacefully slumbering on my back, suddenly woke up and started screaming at the top of his lungs. The other refugees panicked and started for the border, dropping their possessions as they ran. I tried desperately to silence the little fellow by putting my hand over his mouth. His mother nearly fainted, afraid I was going to suffocate him. I was about to drop the bawling child when his father produced a bottle of brandy, attempting to bribe me into taking the boy with us. In the commotion, I took drastic action. Grabbing the bottle out of the father's hands, I quickly poured some of its fiery contents into the boy's mouth. It worked! Within seconds, he had fallen asleep again. Holding him to my chest, I started to race the last stretch towards the barbed wire marking the border, his exhausted parents stumbling behind me. Although it was only 200 yards, in the heavy snow it felt like miles.
The sentries in the watchtower had been alerted by the noises and shot up a signal flare, but they did not see us in time. We kept on running as fast as we could go. My legs began to feel like lead weights. Finally, as the light came up, I made out a gray uniform, someone waving to us in the distance. "Bitte, bitte, in diesem Richtung! " an Austrian customs officer was yelling. I collapsed in the snow, still holding the sleeping child.
We were safe.
That day, the entire group was taken to a nearby village school building. I tried to relax, but exhaustion had taken its toll, and I
began to cry from happiness. A lovely local schoolteacher tried to comfort me, assuring me that I was free at last in her country.
The next day, Feri and I took a bus to Vienna, using the twenty dollars my mother had given me to buy the tickets. I felt as if I had been transported to a magical world. The city sparkled with Christmas decorations and a coat of new snow. The main street, lined with lamp posts, overwhelmed me with its elegance and beauty It was December 13, the Feast of St. Lucia, and the city was lit up by thousands of candles in celebration.
Seven years and 307 days after the KGB had kidnapped me from this
city and taken me behind the Iron Curtain, I was here again, and free.
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As I write this book, over three decades have passed since I escaped to Austria, but my thoughts often go back to the "old times," as we former prisoners refer to those years we spent behind bars. We cannot escape from our past. The experiences of those times were too dramatic, and left too deep an impression. I often dream of the faces of former cell mates in prison uniform, of the guards who treated us like animals. I see the five holes in the Kisfoghaz walls for the "beams" and remember the details of each prison. The interrogation rooms in Baden, the underground cells of Vac, Margit, Gyujto - and God knows how many other Katpol and AVH dungeons - were the stage for eight long years of my youth.
When the reminiscing is over, the same questions, which we have repeated thousands of times over the years, are raised once again: Was it worth it? Did our trials and suffering bring us something in the end? Did our acts of rebellion have some effect, or was everything in vain?
Answers come back with force: Yes! it was all worth it. And yes, we would endure it again under the same circumstances. We feel today as we felt then, that to fight against tyranny is the
moral duty of all people on earth: with words, with the pen, and if necessary, with force.
Other answers have come more slowly. We know now, with the unfolding of history, that our sacrifices had their purpose. We are convinced that our early resistance provided the seeds for the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The undeniable fact that a people had risen up to fight a system of government established in their name, the "People's Democracy," and the ensuing suppression of the popular movement by the Soviet Union, divided the Communist world. Millions of Party supporters the world over rejected Moscow's intervention in the name of socialism. The Soviet Union's status as the center of world communism began to lose ground. This period marked the onset of doubts about Communist ideology, and the practical application of Marxism-Leninism has since been exposed as unviable. The nations of Eastern Europe, as they enter the 1990s, are moving rapidly to change their political systems, to establish the free and democratic societies they were hoping to create over forty years ago.
Time has healed the aching wounds. For those of us who were alive and part of the struggle during those times, thirty years have brought a distance from our suffering. Thirty years have also brought on a different kind of forgetfulness. In the modern quest for material fulfillment, who will remind us to value the freedom we were once willing to die for? Who will remind us of the men and women who set themselves against oppression with courage and selflessness? Where are the poets and writers to sing their praises?
Let us remember! Remember those who died of the hangman's noose, calling for Hungarian freedom in the prison yard. Remember those who lie in unmarked graves under the Vorkuta tundra or the Siberian steppes. Let us remember those who were willing to die for their principles, and honor those who continue to struggle for a better world today. Let us believe: their sacrifices will never be in vain.
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The Sixteen Demands of Hungarian Students resolved on 22 October 1956, at a meeting at the University of Technology in Budapest:
1) Immediate withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary in accordance with the peace treaty
2) New secret elections of leaders of Hungarian Workers' Party. Those elected will convene a congress of the Party to elect a new Central Committee.
3) Reorganization of government under Imre Nagy; dismissal of all guilty leaders of Stalin-Rakosi era.
4) Public trial in case of Mihaly Farkas and his associates. The return of Matyas Rakosi -responsible for crimes of the recent past and for ruining the country - and trial before a court of the people.
5) General, multi-party, secret elections for purpose of electing a new National Assembly. Safeguarding the right of workers to strike.
6) A re-examination of Hungarian-Soviet and Hungarian-Yugoslav political, economic and intellectual relations; new regulations to make these relations based on full political and economic equality and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
7) Reorganization of entire Hungarian economic structure; the planned economic system shall be re-examined by experts, keeping in mind the resources of the country and vital interests of Hungarian citizens.
8) Publication of foreign trade agreements and actual data on the never-completed reparations payments Also, open and truthful information on existing uranium resources, their exploitation, and the concessions given to the USSR. That Hungary be able to sell uranium ore freely, at world market prices and for hard currency.
9) Revision of industrial norms, and immediate settlement of wage demands of workers and intellectuals. A fixing of the subsistence wage level for workers.
10) The rational use of agricultural products, and reorganization of the delivery system. The support of farmers working individually on equal basis with those on collectives.
11) Re-examination of all former political and economic trials by an independent court of justice and the liberation and rehabilitation of all those unjustly condemned. The immediate repatriation of all prisoners of war and civilians taken to the Soviet Union, including prisoners sentenced outside the country.
12) Full freedom of opinion, of speech, of the press, and of a free radio, as well as a new daily newspaper with wide circulation of the MEFESZ (Association of Hungarian University Students). Publication and destruction of existing cadre material.
13) Demolition of the symbol of Stalin ist tyranny and political oppression, the statue of Stalin, and in its place, the erection of a befitting memorial in honor of the heroes and martyrs of the 1848-49 fight for freedom.
14) Restoration of the traditional Hungarian coat-of-arms in place of the present coat-of-arms, entirely foreign to the Hungarian people. New uniforms for the Hungarian army befitting national traditions. Declaration of 15 March a national holiday and holiday for workers, and of 6 October a national day of remembrance and school holiday.
15) The youth of the Technical Universities of Budapest declare their unanimous and enthusiastic solidarity with the workers and youth of Poland and of Warsaw; in connection with the Polish movement for independence.
16) Establishment of a local chapter of MEFESZ by students of the Technical University of Architecture, and a resolution to call together a parliament of youth in Budapest the 27th of this month, with the entire youth of the country participating by means of delegations.
*01 Albert Camus, The Blood of the Hungarians. written in 1957 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Back
*1/1 In accordance with the Arbitrations of Vienna, territories in Czechoslovakia and Romania containing absolute Hungarian majorities were regained in 1938-40. Back
*1/2 Although the bombing was officially credited to the Soviets, it is now generally accepted that either the Germans or the Romanians were responsible. Both Germany and Romania had motives for provoking Hungarian involvement in the war againsi ihe Soviet Union. Back
*1/3 The "Revolution of Quiet Steps" refers to the series of unobtrusive economic reforms instituted in Hungary which steered away from strict Marxist centralization, beginning with the New Economic Mechanism of 1968. These are credited for Hungary's level of economic prosperity relative to the other East Bloc countries in the 198Os. Back
*2/1 The Atlantic Charter program of peace aims was declared by American president Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill on 14 August 1941, and included the 'Four Freedoms" first described by Roosevelt on 6 January 1941. These were 1) freedom of speech and expression, 2) freedom of worship. 3) freedom from want, 4) freedom from fear. Back
*2/2 The Soviets claimed the troops in Hungary were necessary to protect the supply lines to its troops in Austria. Back
*2/3 Katonai Politikai Osztaly, (the Military Political Agency), abbreviated to Katpol. Back
*2/4 The AVH was originally called AVO, Allam VedeImi Oszlaly (State Security Agency), but three years after its establishment, in 1949, it became an independent authority and was renamed AVH, Allam VedeImi Hatosag. Back
*2/5 Rajk was himself executed two years later, on 15 October 1949. Back
*2/6 Bela Kovacs spent more than eight years in various Soviet prisons and forced labor camps. Because of a serious illness, he was allowed to return home in 1955, and in 1956 he was rehabilitated. During the uprising of 1956 he became Imre Nagy's minister of state, but after the Soviet military intervention, he was once again arrested and died soon thereafter. Back
*2/7 Szabadnep. May 1947. Back
*2/8 Istvan Ries was one of the most infamous politicians of the postwar era. He never forgot his experiences in the Budapest ghetto or the years in forced labor camps, and his vengeance was unleashed on those who were sentenced for war crimes or for acts "against the people." On one of his many prison visits, he reviewed the prisoners of the Kisfoghaz who had been condemned to death. Occasionally he would ask one with amusement, What? You haven't been hung yet?"
In spite of (he fact that he served the Rikosi clique faithfully, the minister, well-known for his appetite, was starved in the AVH cellars of 60 Andrassy St. on Gabor Peter's orders. Then, along with his brother, he was beaten to death. Back
*2/9 Andropev also supervised the KGB, another agency in Moscow keeping an eye on Eastern Europe, from 1967 to 1982. A KGB branch with the innocuous name of 'Advisory Bureau," better known as Bureau 11, was responsible for maintaining contacts with the secret services of the Communist satellite stales. Part of Bureau Il's mission was to manage, control and synchronize the intelligence activilies of these agencies in the Western nations.
Andropov later became general secretary of the Communist party of the U.S.S.R., from 1983-1984. Back
*2/10 The Hungarian Communist regime, called the Hungarian Soviet Republic, emerged in 1919 and was ousted after only four months in power. Back
*2/11 Hungarian party leader Matyas Rakosi followed the example of his role model and demanded the same devotion to himself. Back
*2/12 Cardinal Mindszenty was tried and sentenced to life in prison but was set free by revolutionaries during the uprising of 1956. Arter the revolution, he found asylum in the American embassy in Budapest, where he lived until 1971. He died in Vienna in 1975. Back
*2/13 In 1945, after its defeat, Hungary agreed to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union in the amount of 200 million dollars (at the 1939 rate), and later 70 million to Yugoslavia and 30 million to Czechoslovakia. Back
*2/14 U-235, uranium isotope used in making the atomic bomb and in nuclear energy reactors. Back
*2/15 MAORT, the Hungarian-American Oil Company. The AVH arrested Professor Pap and his close colleagues in September 1948, and atter their trial and sentencing, confiscated the company's oilfields. Back
*3/1 Years later I learned that he was met on the border by the AVO at the exact point he had told Friedman he would cross. When he saw there was no way out, no hope for escape, he swallowed the cyanide. By the time the guards reached him he was dead. Back
*3/2 They were to wait for it another six years. It was not until May 1955, two years after Stalin's death, that a treaty was signed. Back
*3/3 The patrol was set up to keep order during the occupation. Four soldiers, one from each occupying power, shared a jeep decorated with all kinds of insignia. and cavorted around Vienna. Back
*3/4 Davaji. the Russian word for Move" used frequently by the occupying soldiers. Back
*3/5 Andreyev was the assistant to Major-General Fyodor Bielkin, the supreme KGB commander of all occupied territories from East Germany to Bulgaria. Back
*3/6 Colonei Pal Hadvary of the Hungarian army was head of the anti-Communist resistance. He was captured and hanged in September of 1948. Maria Kovacs and the others in the Hadvary case were transported to Vorkuta in the Soviet Union where they remained until 1955. Back
*3/7 MGB, later KGB or Soviet secret service. Back
*4/1 The barracks were later renamed after a leading figure in the Spanish civil war, Mate Zalka. Back
*4/2 Szorenyi escaped the war-time forced labor by joining the Red Army in 1943, only to return in 1945 as a Soviet captain. He had worked at the Soviet occupation headquarters in Baden-bei-Wien before taking the position at Katpol. when the AVH took over control of Katpol in 1950, he disappeared. Some thought he fled the country and lived under an assumed name in the United States. Others claimed he knew too much and ended up in Siberia. Back
*4/3 Andras Kiss: From the Magyar Kozosseg to Underground Leadership, p. 131. Zrinyi Publishing House, Budapest, 1969. Back
*4/4 A former officer of the general staff, Palffy-Oesterreicher had joined the illegal Communist party in 1944, in 1945, he reported to the Debrecen Provisional Government on Party orders pretending membership in the Smaliholders party until his cover was blown. Although he served the regime faithtully, a true Communist until the end, he was hanged as a traitor. He was rehabilitated in 1956 with other victims of the Rakosi era. Back
*4/5 Foldi had been an officer in the prewar Army who joined the Communist party in 1945, and rose steadily through the ranks to become first a lieutenant-colonel and then general. Back
*4/6 The Soviets, in my own experience, tended to think that their Hungarian colleagues were being over zealous. At the Baden-bei-Wien KGB headquarters, the Soviet officers attempted to frighten me with the threat that if I didn't confess, I would be handed over to my Hungarian "comrades" who would extract any information they desired from me, true or untrue. Back
*4/7 Sandor Petofi was a poet and a hero of the Hungarian revolt for independence in 1848. Back
*4/8 The Margit Kor?t prison was closed down on I January 1951, after the AVR takeover of Katpol and the prisons. The remaining prisoners were moved to the Pestvideki prison, which had hecome the newly named AVH headquarters. The military court which also came under AVH command, moved with it. Back
*4/9 Attila Dozsa and I were separated into different trials; he was sentenced to death, and his execution carried out on 1 April 1950, Good Friday, with four others. Back
*4/10 Jonas, during the uprising in 1956, killed himself. Back
*4/11 The accusations regarding the persecution of the Jews were brought up at every trial involving conspiracy or espionage against the People's Republic: the same strata of society was considered responsible for both. At the end of 1952, when Stalin began his anti-Zionist campaigns and had hundreds of Jews arrested in Leningrad for plotting against Soviet leaders, the AVH suddenly stopped leveling charges against political detainees of participating in the persecution of Jews. Back
*4/12 My lawyer had pocketed large sums of money from my mother; he professed to know my exact sentence and claimed a close personal friendship with the president, but he never even attended my trial. I was quickly assigned another. Back
*4/13 The fifteen years bad to be spent in actual labor, i.e., time waiting for interrogations, trials or in solitary confinement during which the prisoner was not actually working, did not count towards the sentence. The sentence was not necessarily completed after fifteen years were up, but could be renewed. Back
*4/14 The official color of the AVH was blue, and the agents were called. colloquially, the "Blues." The border guards after 1949 became known as the "Green AVH." Back
*4/15 Felix Edmundovits Dzherdzhinsky, founder and first head of the precursor to the KGB. the GPU. Back
*4/16 Bankuti, like the AVH commander of Vac prison, Lt. Colonel Lehota. was caught in the tangled web of Communist intrigues. He was able to contemplate from behind bars whether it had been worthwhile exchanging his steel workers' tunic for the uniform of an AVH captain. Back
*4/17 Karacsony means Christmas in Hungarian. an appropriate name for a fortunate man. Back
*4/18 The accepted mentaliry at the time was that if a localized conflict broke out between Communist and anti-Communist forces, the Americans and the Soviets would go to war. We had been so isolated from knowledge of current events that we expected a Third World War to break out catalyzed by the conflict in Korea. Our hope, as strange as it may sound now, was that if the Americans entered a war against Communism, they would eventually come to Hungary's aid as well. Our guards warned us not to think about liberation by the Americans, because they would kill us before we could be freed. Back
*4/19 Political officers briefed the guards daily, reminding them constantly of their bate and resentment towards the prisoners and warning them that any sympathy they had for the "enemies of the people" would mean their own imprisonment. Several guards were thrown in with the prisoners each year to serve as examples for the others and to provide incentives for the guards to maintain their brutal treatment of the prisoners. Back
*4/20 A Russian expression for a peasant who owned and worked his own land. Back
*4/21 A state-owned and operated collective farm. Back
*4/22 Anna KethIy became a minister in the Imre Nagy cabinet during the revolution. Back
*4/23 In the prisons. Be Badogoztak Minden Ablakot (They Block Every Window), was circulated by word of mouth. After the revolution. the poem became a symbol for those times when freedom appeared to be retreating throughout the world. Back
*4/24 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, military alliance established (1949) between Western Europe, England and the USA Back
*4/25 One of these was the Recsk stone mine, the most infamous of the AVH labor/concentration camps. Prisoners were forced to work 60 hour weeks, summer or winter, in an open stone pit. It was the first mine shut down after Imre Nagy's speech in 1953. Back
*4/26 Tollas lives in Munich with his family, and still write poetry actively His most recent book of poems is called Varazskor (Enchanted Circle) Nemretor, 1988 Back
*4/27 An English edition of many of these poems were published in a volume entitled, From the Hungarian Revolution. Edited by David Ray, Cornell University Press, 1966. Back
*4/28 The Marianosztra (Our Mary) prison was a former monastery, built in the 13th century It was rebuilt as a prison for women after World War II, and in 1951, became the disciplinary action prison for all cases in the country. Back
*4/29 Anton Koosa had been sentenced for conspiracy with his wife, and spent his term in prison at Marianosztra. Back
*4/30 The Communist party historically attracted members of oppressed or disenfranchised sectors of societies - women, minorities, etc.- with its misleading slogans proclaiming equality and the dissolution of classes. After the war, many Hungarian Jews joined the Party. As a result, the highest Party and AVH leadership was dominated by men of Jewish background. Back
*4/31 Peter came to no harm during the revolution of 1956, and in 1959, Janos Kadar's amnesty set him free. Back
*4/32 The bodies of both Imre Nagy and Pal Maleter were exhumed and given a proper burial in Budapest on 16 June 1989 in an unprecedented public ceremony attended by over 200,000 people. Back
*4/33 Kadar was ousted from power in 1988 and died in 1989. The new Communist leadership announced several important reforms to create a broader democracy in Hungary. One of these was to abandon state censorship. which cleared the way for the publication of all the names of those executed. Back
*5/1 (The symbol - precedes the age where only an approximation was available.) Back
*6/1 The Soviet secret police was then known as the MGB, or Ministry of State Security. It became the KGB in 1953. Back
*6/2 Byelkin was himself executed in December 1953, during the liquidation of his former boss, Lavrenti Beria. Back
*6/3 Two young scouts sentenced to death by Soviet Military courts in 1947 and executed. Back
*6/4 Zadravetz was a Catholic bishop, head of the Religious Corps of the military. Back
*6/5 Colonel P. Hadvary was the leader of the biggest resistance movement in Hungary. He was executed - with six others - on September 1948. Back
*6/6 Neukirchen prison, about 40 miles south of Vienna, Austria, was built hefore World War I by the Austrians. Back
*6/7 Stolypin was the former Czarist Minister of Internal Affairs, who used such trains to transport prisoners to Siberia in the early 1900s. Back
*6/8 Khrushchev's speech at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956 denounced the dictatorship of Stalin amd exposed many injustices ofthe time, including the purges and the conditions of the Gulag's labor camps.
N.S. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers. Little Brown Publishers, Boston ?1970. Back
*6/9 Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., New York, - 1973. Back
*6/10 Abraham Shifrin, The First Guidebook to Prison and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union. Bantam Books, New York ?1982.
Werner Scharndorf, Die Geschichte der KPdSU. G. Olzog, MUnchen - 1961 Back
*6/11 Stepan Bander (1909-1959), Ukranian nationalist who was assassinated by a KGB agent in Munich, West Germany. Back
*6/12 During the war, Aprily, then a young officer, was captured and spent three years as a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union. He was released and allowed to go home in early 1948, only to be arrested again that autumn; he had looked up his old army friends, and as a result was implicated in the Hadvary case. The Soviet authorities took him to Baden-bei-Wien and sentenced him to twenty-five years hard labor. So, after a few short months in Hungary as a free man, he found himself in the Soviet Union for a second time, assigned to pit number 7 in theVorkuta coal mines. After the revolution, Aprily escaped and emigrated to the USA. He died in 1985. Back
*6/13 The rumors were based on news that Konrad Adenauer, the West German chancellor, had made a deal with the Soviet government, paying several hundred million German marks to "buy" German prisoners out of the camps. Later, we learned that our release was indeed a result of this agreement. Back
|Istvan Fehervary - The Long Road to Revolution|