19 September 2017

Death March Redux: The ’56 Revolutionaries of Transylvania



AN EXEGESIS OF POLITICAL PRISONS IN ROMANIA

 

The labour camps known as the “Gulag”, which continue to stand as an eternal memento of human suffering, were intended by the powers of the day as a venue for humiliating and, ultimately, physically annihilating political prisoners. In effect, no information about these camps at the time could have been leaked without ruthless retaliation. It was not until 1962 that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published his experiences in his famed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Later, The Gulag Archipelago led to the stripping of his Soviet citizenship and expulsion by the Supreme Council. Drawing on his precise memories, Solzhenitsyn recorded the horrors of the Gulags with the dispassionate accuracy of a camera.

No more than shreds of recollection remain to attest to the unimaginable suffering endured in the Gulags in Romania, where convicts were often bludgeoned to death for having used a stub of pencil or carved letters in a bar of soap. It was a world from which not a single prison diary entry survives from after 1947. The last such record we know of is a diary kept in 1947 at the prison of Szamosújvár (Gherla in Romanian), by Lajos Puskás, professor of Kolozsvár (Cluj), who had created “The Tens”, an alliance that played a vital role in rescuing Hungarian minorities in the wake of the Second World War. Another exception was Ferenc Zsigmond, the popular secretary of the Szentgyörgyi István School of Dramatic Arts in Marosvásárhely, who had returned from the Soviet Union as a prisoner of war, after several rounds of disinfection and body search. His diary, scribbled on cigar paper, was published by Kriterion. However, from the prisons in Romania proper, no records – not even fragments – cropped up until the early 1990s.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Hungary’s Revolution and War of Independence of 1956, in September 1996, in collaboration with Gyula Miholcsa and in the capacity of a member of the Hungarian editorial board of the Romanian Television, I shot a documentary film about the Gulags of Romania, where many Hungarians convicted for their participation in the events of ’56 had endured unspeakable hardship. I had had to go from door to door, through a maze of red tape, obtaining a multitude of permits and licenses, from the Ministry of Justice, the Central Penal Authority, the command of prisons in Marosvásárhely, Szamosújvár and Jilava, the mayor’s offices in Periprava and Luciu-Giurgeni, and so on. The shooting itself was scheduled for the months preceding the ratification of the Hungarian–Romanian Treaty. It was in the company of 44 ex-political convicts that I set out for what we called our “Death March Redux”. We were joined by three bishops, each a former political prisoner, namely Dr Kálmán Csiha, bishop of the Transylvanian Calvinist Diocese (1990–2000), Árpád Mózes, bishop and synod presbyter of the Lutheran Church, and vicar general Béla Kiss.

Others in attendance included Dénes G. Fülöp, Hungarian Heritage laureate pastor of the Fortified Church of Marosvásárhely; Dr István Dobai of Kolozsvár, attorney specialising in international law; László Varga, Calvinist minister, who has served, since 1990, as President of the Romanian Hungarian Christian Democratic Party; Aurel Baghiu, one of the leaders of the student demonstrations in Temesvár of 30–31 October 1956, who, among others, drafted the 12-point programme and the memoir (for which he received an eight-year prison sentence); Tibor Kacsó of Mezőfele, teacher of the Secondary School of Agriculture in Csíkszereda, convicted for 25 years in prison on charges of “founding a counter-revolutionary organisation”; Csaba Jancsó, sentenced to 10 years, while still a juvenile and student of the Mikó Székely Boarding School, for being a member of the Székely Youth Society in Sepsiszentgyörgy; and József Komáromy, professor of mathematics and physics of the Sámuel Brassai Unitarian College in Kolozsvár, who was sentenced in the Dobai Trial to 25 years in a high-security penitentiary. Our special prison tour took place with the participation of three convicts of what was called the Teacher-Student Trial known in Securitate files as the Attila Puskás Group” , namely professor of natural history Attila Puskás (sentenced to 25 years), professor of mathematics and physics Gyula Kovács (eight years), and Csíkszereda grammar school student László Zsók, who was put behind bars for six years at the age of 17. Sándor Veress, a book-keeper from Gyulakút brought along his younger brother; they had been convicted respectively for 20 years and seven years in a high-security penitentiary, for disseminating anti-establishment pamphlets throughout the country. A construction technician residing in Székelyudvarhely named László Páll, who had been sentenced to 15 years for his activism in an organisation called Black Hand, had been to the Danube Delta before on fishing trips, so he proved indispensable in helping us find our bearings. The literary historian Gyula Dávid and the painter-poet Lajos Páll, who had served seven and six years in prison, respectively, were absent for personal reasons, so they were invited for an in-depth interview later, after the trip. Our company was rounded off by Levente Benkő, a staff writer for the daily Háromszék and author of the book Volt egyszer egy ötvenhat (“Once upon a time in ’56”). Regrettably, many of these people have since passed away.

Life in the death colonies in the Danube Delta was hell itself, marked by intolerable scorching heat in the summer and bitter cold winters in the unheated barracks. Many died of typhoid from drinking infected water from the river. The stations of this veritable Calvary were as follows: 1) Luciu-Giurgeni, where the levee was built literally with the sweat and blood of Hungarian prisoners. It was here that the poet Géza Páskándi, who would, repatriated to Hungary, receive the Kossuth Prize, implored Gyula Dávid and other inmates to let him shoulder the superhuman task of wheelbarrowing three cubic metres of earth up the dyke each day, just because this gave him time to craft poems in his head while returning to the site downhill. 2) The Greater Island of Brăila, with its horrendous colonies of Stoieneşti, Salcia, Frecăţei, Ostrov and Strâmba. 3) Theicing on the cake”, so to speak, consisted of Sfiştovca, Grind, Periprava, all built by convicts along the Chilia reach of the river, a border with the Soviet Union, where no escape was imaginable. The labour camp of Periprava was built in the early 1950s for the works of erecting a 16-kilometre long levee and draining the marshlands around the community. Between 1959 and 1964, tens of thousands of political prisoners were deported to this location, including “counter-revolutionaries” of 1956 in Transylvania. No fewer than 124 convicts, most of them political prisoners, perished in Periprava from sheer inhumane conditions, regular beatings, and the utter lack of food, potable water, and medical services – and these were only those reliably identified by the IICCMER, the Institute for Investigating Crimes under Communism and Safeguarding the Memory of Romanian Exiles. The Institute started excavating unmarked gravesites in late July and August 2016, and has relied on both survivor testimony and notices sent out to family members of missing prisoners to help the work of identification with DNA samples. The excavations were carried out by the IICCMER in collaboration with the archaeologists of the Transylvanian Museum of History, under the supervision of a representative from the military prosecutor’s office.

It was not until 2013 that Romanian authorities began to press charges against former prison camp commanders dubbedCommunist assassins” by the media. In 2016, the commander of the notorious Râmnicu Sărat institution, Alexandru Vişinescu received an unappealable prison sentence of 20 years. Beyond establishing criminal culpability on the part of commanders and guards, the IICCMER has also aimed at holding to account various senior officials of the Interior Ministry in its efforts to identify the remains of political prisoners who perished from abuse, torture, and the sheer deprivation of food and water. The survivors argue that putting on trial a few prison thugs still alive 26 years after the democratic transition – typically senile, incapacitated nonagenarians is simply window-dressing. The more important thing yet to be done, they say, would be to try the top party and state officials who had devised the entire concept of brutal retaliation against the “counter-revolutionaries”.

Twenty years ago, we filmed the buildings of the Periprava and Luciu-Giurgeni extermination camps in their stark reality. In 2016, an awe-struck Mr Octavian Bjoza, president of the Association of Romanian Former Political Prisoners, informed me that all the brick buildings had since been demolished, leaving nothing but a wasteland in the former camp sites. The grounds have allegedly been acquired by a French investor with plans to build a five-star hotel. Obviously, a concerted effort has been mounted to erase from the planet the last vestiges of what once stood as a memento of the Romanian Gulags.

To provide an idea of the intolerable conditions in the prison camps of the Danube Delta, one could do worse than quote the reminiscences of Gyula Tankó, ethnographer and schoolmaster of Gyimesközéplak. Mr Tankó had been serving as a regular conscript in the army when the prison command was entrusted to Ion Ficior, who is now seeking to exonerate himself on grounds of only having “obeyed orders”. His detachment happened to be posted to Periprava to supervise the convicts. A simple exchange of words with a political prisoner carried the most severe punishment. Tankó was assigned to night-watch on board the Gironde and Liberté shipstwo vessels given to Romania by defeated Hungary as retribution in the wake of the First World War which served as accommodation for hundreds of political prisoners. At dawn, when the master trapdoors were opened, he would be struck by a stench of human urine and excrement so abominable that the sheer memory of it kept him from taking any rest or food for months, even after he had been demobbed.

The elimination of these prison camps amounts to smoke-screening the abominable crimes of the Communist dictatorship. The report you are reading is the last extant record of the Romanian Gulag!

 

DEATH MARCH REDUX

 

It took us six years, from 1990 to 1996, to gear up for our specialouting”a tour of the former prisons and extermination camps along the lower reaches of the Danube, collectively named here as the “Romanian Gulags”. Our party included individuals who showed sympathy for the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1956, the members of certain organisations, plots and reform initiatives, all of whom were former political prisoners convicted on the assembly line of the Romanian Communist “justice” system. Those convicted from 1956 to 1965 on charges of “treason”, “anti-government conspiracy”, “incendiarism and sedition”, “armed uprising”, or “plotting to overthrow social law and order”, were consigned to extermination in one way or another, often in the form of death sentences or forced labour for 15, 20 or 25 years, handed down by court-martial. The case files of Transylvanian Hungarian fifty-sixers were often marked, at the very outset of the investigation”, asto be released in envelope only”meaning that none of these individuals were to leave prison alive.

Hungary’s Revolution and War of Independence of 1956, which put the country on the map of global politics in the 20th century, has been documented by a multitude of books and publications in many languages around the world that could fill several libraries. From the New York archives of the UN to the memoranda of the British Foreign Office, we are familiar with almost all of this vast corpus of literature, except for the impact of the Revolution on the 3.5 million-strong Hungarian minorities outside the current national borders. This remains a painfully underrated and uncharted field of inquiry. Indeed, some even call into question whether executions really took place among the Transylvanian Hungarians and Romanians in the context of 1956, when no fewer than 54 individuals in Romania siding with the cause of 1956 are known and documented to have been killed. Just to cite a few examples: certified archive documents, sentences, and execution records show, beyond any doubt, that 12 people in the four Hungarian-related “treason trials” were executed, including Dr Fîntânaru Alexandru, an attorney from the town of Arad and a leader of the Arad County branch of the National Peasant Party, whose native tongue happened to be Romanian. 27 June 1957 saw the execution (for sympathising with the spirit of 1956) of Teodor Mărgineanu, a first lieutenant in the artillery who served in Borgóprund but hailed from Kásva in Görgényvölgy, Maros County. A miller from Ozsdola named Domokos Szígyártó was executed at the prison of Szamosújvár on 20 April 1959.

Very little is preserved, even in collective Transylvanian Hungarian memory, about the fact that no fewer than 57 defendants were court-martialled on charges oftreason” andattempt to overthrow the government” in a suit named after Aladár Szoboszlai, a Roman Catholic parish priest of Magyarpécska. Eleven of these defendants received the death sentence in the first degree, and the verdict was carried out on ten of them at the Securitate-run prison in Temesvár on the night of 1 September 1958. The victims included Aladár Szoboszlai himself, along with Árpád Ábrahám, both parish priests; Károly Orbán, a landowner from Mezőmadaras later deported to Marosvásárhely; Dr István-Béla Kónya, an attorney from Kézdivásárhely; the previously mentioned Dr Fîntânaru Alexandru of Arad, who had translated into Romanian the programme Szoboszlai put together on behalf of the Christian Workers’ Party, an organisation created in the name of political pluralism; Dezső Tamás, a civil servant from Csíksomlyó and his half-brother Imre Tamás, a schoolteacher in Temesvár and Csíksomlyó; István Orbán, a civil servant of Csíktapolca; and István Lukács, a merchant from Magyarpécska. All these men were executed in a “Romanian-Swabian coproduction” by a Romanian squad, albeit the prison commander Lieutenant Bondor was Hungarian himself, while Martin Schnellbach, the formidably built sadist colonel assigned to the job by the Securitate, was Swabian (ethnic German). Drăgăniţă Iris Maria, a native Hungarian and wife of Lieutenant Colonel Drăgăniţă Constantin, commander of the Caracal Armoured Regiment, was sentenced to life in forced labour, and incarcerated in Arad, Csíkszereda, and the prison hospital in Văcăreşti. In captivity, she developed a severe neurotic condition, including schizophrenia, and was tormented by a single thought: how she could ever again see her little son, who was one year and eight months old when she had been arrested. As it is wont to happen, a string of legends has sprung up since 1958 regarding the venue where the ten executions took place. According to Baron István Bánffy, who was sentenced to 15 years in the outcome of the trial, after the verdict was read on 30 May 1958, at the theatre in Temesvár [in reality, at the First of May Workers’ Club – Z. T.], the convicts were gunned down in the Temesság woods on 1 September 1957. Another speculation has it that the sentences were carried out underground, in Cell No. 0 of Jilava, Romania’s most infamous prison. However, all three of these apocryphal versions are refuted by certified archive documents and execution minutes. They conclusively show that the ten defendants – sentenced in the most massive political trial of the second half of the 1950s – were executed on 1 September 1958, at the Temesvár prison of the Securitate. To put this in proper context: the trial that included the notorious war criminal Marshal Ion Antonescu only resulted in four executions, with the rest of the defendants either acquitted or sentenced to death in absentia. One needs no more eloquent proof for the anti-Hungarian bias underlying the treason trials. Even today, the whereabouts of the remains of the executed are unknown, their relatives unable to give them a proper burial.

During our visit, it broke my heart to see Péter Orbán of Csíktapolca, sentenced to 25 years of forced labour at the age of 45, search the catacombs of Jilava for the place where his father had possibly been executed. For forty years now, people like him have not given up the fight with the Central Directorate of Penal Institutions, this many-tentacled monster octopus of state bureaucracy hell-bent on hushing up the vicious executions, without ever getting an answer to the simple question of where their fathers had been interred.

Those of the 31 sentenced members of the “Érmihályfalva Group” who were executed on 2 December 1958 at the prison of Szamosújvár, included the Calvinist pastor Kálmán Sass, “the Messiah of Ér”, a father of five and a man of great learning who had conducted graduate studies in theology in Switzerland and was also known for having saved the life, in 1944, of Pál Maléter, later Minister of Defence of the Hungarian Revolutionary Government of 1956; as well as professor Dr István Hollós. Domokos Szígyártó, a miller from Ozsdola, was executed at the same prison on 20 April 1959. Another two victims lost their lives in 1963 under horrific circumstances, after being tortured in the interrogation rooms of the Securitate. They were the two defendants identified in the UN memorandum compiled by Dr István Dobai, an international lawyer from Kolozsvár, namely Gábor Kertész, a law pupil, and József Nagy Szekeresi, headborough of the village of Ákos. Dr Dobai and the Calvinist pastor László Varga were sentenced to life in a forced labour camp. It is recorded that a certain painter from the village of Crajova, by the name of Barbu, and a Romanian convict called Cenat went on the record several times, affirming their willingness to testify any time should a trial be reopened that the two victims mentioned above had undergone the most severe varieties of torture imaginable before being murdered, as well as confirming their resolve not to let the shame of this treatment of political prisoners continue to tarnish the honour of the Romanian nation.

In the summer of 1963, Károly Bíró, a native of Csíkszenttamás – who had been sentenced to six years for his membership in Fekete Kéz (“Black Hand”), an organisation headquartered in Szászrégen but extending through the Gyergyó Basin – pulled off an escape from fieldwork while an inmate of the Luciu-Giurgen death camp, together with István Hadnagy of Székelyszentlélek, another convict in the same trial who received an eight-and-a-half-year prison term. They did not count on the vast, impassable marshlands of the Danube Delta. Soon enough, they were caught, and Bíró was shot on the spot, at the age of 22. Before him, torture during interrogations at the Temesvár prison had caused the death of Elek Szörcsey, a farmer from Háromszék County sentenced to 15 years from the court-martial in the Szoboszlai trial at the age of 70 (!), and of Béla Pietsch, a painter and attorney from Arad, whose name was erroneously indicated as “Dr Aladár Pics” by hands unknown on the tombstone erected in lot 301 for the Transylvanian martyrs of the 1956 Revolution. A Minorite monk István Karácsony, sentenced to 22 years of forced labour in the same trial, met his fate on 9 November 1962, while harvesting maize by hand.

The inferno of the Danube Delta also became the grave, in 1958, of chaplain György Ambrus, convicted as one of the Jurisdiction Group”, an association of Catholic priests who opposedBishop” Károly Adorján, the head of the collaborationist church leadership created after the arrest, on 21 June 1949, of Bishop Áron Márton. A particularly dramatic fate awaited Sándor Böjte of Csíkszentdomokos, the father of the well-known Franciscan priest Csaba Böjte. He had worked as a tool smith and an amateur poet actively contributing verse under the auspices of the Gábor Gaál Literary Circle. On 20 March 1958, he was reported by an informant for “writing poems incompatible with the régime”. He was arrested on 3 June 1959, and convicted in the company of Dénes G. Fülöp, curate and later pastor of the Fortified Church of Marosvásárhely. Apart from authoring dissenting” poems, the charges included their verbal abuse of “real socialism” during a hiking trip in Transylvania. The military tribunal of Kolozsvár sentenced Böjte to seven years in prison. In November 1959, he was taken from the Securitate prison in Kolozsvár to Szamosújvár, where he worked in the furniture factory operated by the penitentiary. Upon contracting pancreatitis he received no treatment whatsoever. Released on 4 November 1962, he had pain and swelling so severe he could push his thumb deep into his abdomen. He died shortly thereafter, on 2 January 1964. By any reckoning, this tragedy must have contributed a great deal to the decision of his son, now commonly known as “Brother Csaba”, to assume the cassock.

A surprisingly large number of Transylvanian Hungarians convicted for siding with the spirit of 1956 subsequently perished in suspect “accidents”, traffic-related and otherwise. A case in point was Csaba Csatlós, sentenced to eight years in a trial of Calvinist theologians, who met his fate on 19 July 1972, shortly before his wedding was to take place.

The most inhumane suffering was allotted to the members of the Érmihályfalva Group incarcerated in Nagyvárad. Even though none of the 31 convicts spoke much if any Romanian, they were forced by beating and starvation to answer questions in that tongue. Vilmos Balaskó, Calvinist pastor of Érolaszi, as well as Kálmán Sass and Dr István Hollós received a verdict of capital punishment in the first instance. The former’s brother, the renowned sculptor Nándor Balaskó, who had drafted impressive plans for a statue of János Hunyadi to commemorate the victorious Hungarian battle of Nándorfehérvár that was never to be implemented, successfully intervened with high-ranking party bosses and state government officials – if you can term success the outcome of having changed his brother’s death sentence to life in a forced labour camp. It is a flagrant testimony to the cruelty and inhumanity of Communist thugs that, despite knowledge of the amended verdict, Balaskó was somehow “left behind” on death row in Nagyvárad. A young man at the time, he turned completely gray overnight. The three had no choice but to wait for the day, and to administer communion taking their meagre portion of cold maize porridge and water. Kálmán Sass, after he refused for a week to sign the interrogation minutes, swallowed sewing needles, and pretended to have gone insane, had his wrists tied to his ankles, his body fastened to an iron pole, and the soles of his feet caned so hard that he passed out from the pain. As he was unable to stand back on his feet for weeks, his inmates prepared special slippers for him, which he wore as he was walked to the site of his execution at Szamosújvár prison on 2 December 1958.

Before going blind from all the beatings and other afflictions, Vilmos Balaskó recorded his prison memoirs in four thick notebooks. (These rare recollections were edited, fitted with an introduction, and published by the author of this report courtesy of the Királyhágómelléke Calvinist Diocese, with the title Élet a föld alatt – “A Life Underground.”) Zoltán Wohl, a Securitate colonel from Nagyvárad, personally requested to attend the execution of Sass and Dr Hollós on 2 December 1958. As he said, he wanted to “see them suffer and writhe in the grip of death”. Every convicted member of the Érmihályfalva Group perished early on, in one way or another. Jenő Müller, parson of Érszeg and one of the defendants in the Soboszlai Trial, decided to ease the serving of his 15-year prison term by regularly feeding some of his daily ration of half a pound of bread to the birds flocking to his cell window. The guard first warned him to stop doing it, and when he caught Müller feeding the birds again, he sneaked up to him from behind and shattered his spine with a hammer. Müller was taken to the prison hospital in Văcăresti, where he remained until his release on 28 July 1964. Despite his continued ill health, he resumed his parsonage in Érszeg and continued to practice his vocation, then suffered some more, bed-ridden at the Temesvár-Mehala parish facility until his death on 20 July 1993.

The Catholic parish priests of the Szoboszlai trial passed away in quick succession. They were Béla Kovács, Balázs Kovács, Géza Ráduly (who was sentenced to life in forced labour for refusing to disclose confessional secrets), and István Ráduly, who had saved the Seventh-day Sabbatarians of Bözödújfalu, deported to the ghetto in Marosvásárhely and eventually bound for Auschwitz, by issuing them baptismal certificates. (Four of them voluntarily chose to march to their death.)

It was the memory of all this sacrifice and suffering that obliged us in September 1996 to revisit the stations of this latter-day Calvary. A particularly harrowing stop was the building of the Marosvásárhely Courthouse. On the evidence of prosecution motions, trial minutes, and various other documents found in the archives maintained by the municipal military prosecutor’s office, a total of 908 individuals stood trial in court-martial between 1956 and 1965 in what was then the Hungarian Autonomous Province (later renamed Maros–Hungarian Autonomous Province). These defendants comprised 620 Hungarians (who made up 75.1 per cent of those ultimately convicted), 184 Romanians, 18 Germans, 2 Jews and 2 Romas, the rest representing other minorities. It was in this venue that the verdicts were handed down to the members of the Transylvanian Hungarian Youth Alliance, or EMISZ (77); of the Palotás Group (24); of the Székely Youth Society (9); of the Csíkszereda “Professor-Student Trial” also known by the name of biology professor Attila Puskás (5+5); of the Kis-Küküllő Group (six individuals who worked at the power plant at Gyulakút and were the ones who toppled Stalin’s statue during the Hungarian Revolution); as well as six members of the group led by Domokos Szígyártó. The Unitarian pastor of Kocsord, Hungary, Levente Nyitrai recalls that, at the crack of day on 20 April 1959, Szígyártó was taken from his cell in the prison next to the Courthouse to Szamosújvár where he was executed. Nyitrai says Szígyártó had spent his last night awake, whistling the well- known tune about a beloved, caring mother… Others convicted in Marosvásárhely included the five defendants of the “treason” trial linked to Pál Fodor, a civil engineer from Csíkszereda (among them, Kálmán Csiha, who would later serve as bishop of the Transylvanian Calvinist Congregation from 1990 to 2000; ten years in prison); five farmers from Kápolnásfalu led by Ágoston Dobos; eight and five members of the first and second Szováta Group, respectively; six of the Fosztó Group (forestry hands, workers and a Calvinist pastor); seven from Csíkkozmás, for scheming against the forced collectivisation of agriculture; four members of the Kossuth Circle in Szepsiszentgyörgy (founded on the analogy of the Petőfi Circle in Budapest); five associated with the Marosvásárhely faction of the Bethania movement; and five members of the Sámuel Nagy Group. On the day of János Kádár’s infamous visit, on 25 February 1958, to Romania Nagy, an accountant by trade, was seen emptying shot after shot of brandy at the Flóra confectionary and café in the main square of Marosvásárhely, demanding that someone get [me] a gun so I can shoot this bozo!” He meant Kádár, of course. His loose tongue cost Nagy (and the agricultural engineer András Velitsek) dearly. They were sentenced in the second instance to life in labour on charges of “attempting to assassinate a foreign head of state”.

It was at itsoutpost” in Marosvásárhely that the Court-martial of Kolozsvár passed its verdicts, which were widely seen as excessive even by the already harsh standards of political trials. These sessions were normally presided over by Pavel (Pál) Macskási, a humble tailor hastily promoted to the office of judge-major after completing a crash course. Many remember Macskási requesting the death sentence for more than 80 defendants. It is the pinnacle of cynicism that his obituary posted in the Kolozsvár- based Igazság read:Retired judge-major Pavel Macskási was a model of kindness and philanthropy as well as a good neighbour and faithful friend.” Baron István Bánffy, who clipped and preserved the obituary, scribbled in ink on the margin: “Wish you croaked sooner.” [On a side note: The Franciscan monk and head of the Gyergyószárhegy Monastery Béla-Ervin Ferencz, sentenced to life in forced labour in the Szoboszlai Trial, later visited Macskási’s grave in Házsongárd Cemetery, where he forgave the henchman after enumerating a litany of his iniquities.]

Our group of prison visitors was greeted by Marosvásárhely mayor Imre Fodor, whose father, the railroad engineer Pál Fodor, was sentenced to 25 years in forced labour and full confiscation of property for identifying with the spirit of the 1956 Revolution and, in particular, for his role in preparing the plan of a Romanian/ Hungarian population swap. The statutory offense cited was “conspiring against the existing social order”. Pál Fodor lost not only his parental house in Csíksomlyó but the dowry brought in by his German wife as well. Kálmán Csiha, another defendant who attended the prison visit, had been sentenced to ten years in this building. We found it difficult to gain admission, despite being in possession of all the necessary permits and authorisations from the Ministry of Justice and the Central Penal Directorate. Video recording, filming was strictly prohibited, on grounds of protecting the rights of current inmates. Yet their predecessors were quick to obey their ingrained reflexes and stole a few peeks through the peepholes. They were astounded to find that the cells were far more crowded than they had been in the 1950s and 60s; the three-story bunks had been replaced by four-story ones everywhere. Yet there was no sign of the horrendous suffering and anguish on anything like the scale endured by prisoners back then. The former Secu thugs, now working for the Romanian Intelligence Agency, guided our group through the site with nonchalance, as if they had no knowledge or had had nothing to do with the routine torture and humiliation of tens of thousands of people.

After a brief sermon by Kálmán Csiha, we boarded our charter bus and headed for the prison in Szamosújvár. We briefly stopped in Mezőfele, at the mansion of the former landowner Tibor Kacsó, who never for a moment lost his perennial smile, serenity and gleeful laugh during the time he spent in the inferno of the Danube Delta serving a 25-year prison sentence. Finally, the retired minister László Varga, who had been sentenced to life in forced labour, delighted us in the shade of the old walnut tree by reciting from memory a poem written by Géza Páskándi in prison – as if to brace us for the trials awaiting us in the notorious penitentiary.

 

***

 

Géza Páskándi1

 

Szamosújvár, Sándor Rózsa There’s the noose! My end sub rosa. Hey, the old thing always follows: Getting ready for the gallows.

She’d warned, a gypsy fortune-teller, that Mom would never have it better than see me dangle from the rope

or bleed to death to please the Pope.

For a while I’d have a roof, without being asked for proof of having paid the rent –

of freedom all bereft!

 

Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel


 

1 Prison Poem as allegedly recited by the poet behind bars and remembered by an inmate. Translated by Péter Balikó Lengyel.




You have to log in or registrate for writing comments.



HUNGARIAN REVIEW is published by BL Nonprofit Kft.
It is an affiliate of the bi-monthly journal Magyar Szemle, published since 1991
Publisher: Gyula Kodolányi
Editor-in-Chief: Gyula Kodolányi
Editorial Manager: Ildikó Geiger
Editorial office: Budapest, 1067, Eötvös u. 24., HUNGARY
E-mail: hungarianreview[at]hungarianreview[dot]com
Online edition: www.hungarianreview.com

Genereal terms and conditions