A Prisoner of Christ Jesus by Fr. Pál Bolváry
Table of Contents
This text was last modified on March 29th, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 -- Catholic Hungarians' Sunday Youngstown, OH and St. Stephen's R.C. Magyar Church, Passaic, NJ USA
In the history of mankind the destiny of the imprisoned forms an immense lot. It is an eternal secret why a man may become a fox for his fellow man.
It is impossible to measure the endless lines of those who have borne captivity for Christ in the 2,000 years of Christianity. At most, we can look at the growth of new fertile buds and fruits, and from these we can cite an example and take strength from the souls of prisoners who are seeds in good soil, coming from afflictions and sufferings.
In the course of these twenty centuries, mankind, and with it Christianity, could always be reborn from the blood of martyrs and perseverance of confessors. Like the Master, the disciples and their followers would enter the reign of the eternal Father through suffering and death. This is a double challenge of the Christian teaching: partly to the world, partly to the followers accepting this with heroic spirit that "no disciple outranks his teacher, no slave his Master" (Mt. 10:24).
For a human being, this is an evident challenge only for those who can give themselves under Christ's yoke unconditionally, who are ready to accept the humiliation of the world - although human nature (particularly in our days) protests against being bodily and spiritually ostracized. But all those who walk this road will be happy, and they will truly find sense in their lives.
In the early 1980s, I lived in Austria and occasionally served as a hospital chaplain. In the hospital of a little town, I became acquainted with a middle-aged head physician. Because we were both Hungarians in a foreign land, if I had time, I visited him in his official residence near the hospital.
He remembered many things about his childhood and youth in Hungary. Once he took out a small prayer book, and from it he showed me a holy card. He said that he had received these from a priest who taught him and other youths religion during the worst time when it was illegal and severely punishable. Through his teaching and example, he led many nearer to Christ. This head physician told me the priest's name, Father Pál Bolváry; and then, with tears in his eyes, he put that holy card back among the pages of his prayer book.
That was the first time I had heard about Father Pál Bolváry, but little did I know that we would soon become "neighbors": he lives in Pittsburgh, and I am seventy miles from him in Youngstown. I did not know that I could get acquainted with the difficult years of this monk: silent and modest, but always determined and never retracting. Those years for him were full of thousands of dangers and savagery of the police and moles; but without balking, he administered to Christ's dispersed folk - especially to the hope of the future: the youth.
We cannot be silent about the Hungarian Pauline Fathers, the only Hungarian-founded male religious order that could be reborn about two years ago in Hungary, partially due to Father Pál.
Father Pál Bolváry was one who tried "underground" to ensure the continuity of the Pauline Order. He tried to find and educate people for the white-habited Paulines. These young fathers are now the crucial members necessary for a new beginning.
These firmly resolved activities, naturally, were not without consequences. This book will be about these enormous consequences. It will speak to you about the typical and frequent priestly fate in the twentieth century. You can read about the many persecutions, intimidations and miseries, and in one word, about the "calvary" which was endured by a monk who loved his faith and his Hungarian nation. He suffered from the "liberators" and those that followed them, and from the satanic ideology which was an outrage against humanity.
They announced "humanism" and said that man is "the most important value". In reality, their whole nature was the abuse of their sonorous slogans. Therefore we must appreciate those who took the Christian values seriously and were aware of their mission against the satanic ideology.
In our days, we can speak about a "free Hungary". But this book of Father Bolváry is very important from several viewpoints; first, because the late Cardinal Mindszenty had asked him to report about his ordeals. It will also add to the continually increasing "Prison Literature" of Hungary.
This short message is a testimony about the heroism endured for Christ. But it is also an accusation against those who betrayed Hungary and Hungarian Christianity.
For our youth of today, and for everyone, this is a model which (along with many other books of the same theme) is a caution to free Hungarians, that those things written in this book may never be repeated in the country that has suffered so much.
With this hope we present in the Hungarian and English languages to our readers the book of Father Pál Bolváry, "A Prisoner for Christ Jesus", the mosaic of his life.
Youngstown, USA, November 19, 1991
The Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Fr. Angelus Ligeti, OFM
Fr. Pál Bolváry
At 3:16 in the morning on September 19, 1986, I was awakened by the ringing of the telephone. Upon answering, I recognized the voice of a dear old friend calling from West Germany. Referring to a letter he had written to me at the beginning of the month, he asked that I write down the history of my arrests and the experience of my imprisonments.
At the end of 1972, the Superior of my Community asked the same of me. On June 27, 1974, Cardinal Mindszenty encouraged me to narrate the tortures and the deplorable accusations inflicted upon me. He said that this work is not meant to make a profit, but to be available for posterity. His intention was to have this written document placed in the Pazmaneum of Vienna.
Vox populi - vox Dei! God communicates His will to us through men. I could not remain in bed any longer. I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, meditating on the sufferings of my Master and in doing so, I put the stations of my personal Way of the Cross into writing.
To render these "stations" more comprehensible I inserted a few "pieces of mosaic" from my life. Each human life can be compared to a unique, individual mosaic tableau. Every incident indicates a different size and color of stone, glass, enamel or marble. Here and there a tiny bit of diamond can be seen. These pieces find their place in a "cohesive" more durable than cement: the human soul.
Mosaic is an art resulting from slow, detailed and conscientious labor. The life-mosaic is the art of a human life. Only the Great Planner can judge the worth of this art.
The Time of my Birth
The Hungarian priest and poet, László Mécs, began one of his poems with this line: "When I was born, no sound of a trumpet was heard..."
On April 13, 1924, Palm Sunday, the noonday Angelus bell rang in the adjacent Hospital Chapel at the precise moment when I was born. The rays of the sun pierced through the burgeoning trees.
It is interesting to note that there is no record of a man who could recall the event of great importance in which he played the leading role, namely, his birth. I learned about the circumstances of my birth from my mother and a distant relative who was the midwife.
When reading the life of St. Augustine, I noticed an incidental note stating that he was born on Palm Sunday. I read elsewhere that the great Hungarian poet Dezsô Kosztolányi saw the light of day on Palm Sunday. It has been remarked about him that every year on his birthday, his father greeted him by saying, "My maternal aunt, Mrs. Matthias Mukics, née Rebecca Kádár, good Aunt Rébi, took you into her arms and said, 'This boy was born on an important day, therefore, he will become a famous man.' "
I too was born on an important day. True, I did not have the prophecy of a "good Aunt Rébi," but neither did I become a famous man. In the fiftieth year of my life, I was not even in the vicinity where I had resided as a newly-ordained priest. So prophecies cannot be generalized.
However, a "prophecy" was issued during my birth. After my first bath, the midwife took me, a loudly screaming baby, to my mother's room where she was recuperating from the pains and fatigues of delivery. At that moment a funeral hearse and cars passed in front of our house. The midwife, who also practiced in the hospital, knew that a young priest, who died of blood poisoning following a tooth extraction, was taken on his last route to the cemetery.
Many days afterwards, she told this "prophecy" to my mother: "This little boy was born to replace that young priest ..." It appeared as though she may have guessed the truth.
My mother often spoke about the time when I could only speak with a lisp. My paternal grandfather, with whom we were living at the time, would always ask me in front of guests, "What are you going be, my little boy?" I always answered that I would be a priest. To this, he added, "You will be a priest who buries the horses."
It was beyond the bounds his imagination that a member of his liberal-religious family would even think of entering a seminary. St. Paul's grandfather probably thought likewise, yet he stated about himself, "The Lord has elected and called me with His grace from my birth."
A few years later I heard that there was an archbishop in Kalocsa. From that moment on I figured I would rather be the archbishop of Kalocsa than a "simple priest." Of course, I never became an archbishop, but my pastor, who was the homilist at my First Mass, did become the archbishop of Kalocsa.
Mosaics from my Childhood Memories
I remember my paternal grandmother only as an invalid. Only from photographs and discussions of acquaintances and relatives do I know that she was a tall and very beautiful woman. She was gifted with a keenness for practical matters and great business acumen. According to my baptismal certificate, my father was a flour merchant. Probably, at the time of my birth, my grandparents had a flour business where my father had been working. I have no recollection of hearing my parents speak of this business. My paternal grandfather was a blacksmith. They were well situated financially: they built themselves a big brick house with two business offices in the front.
My grandmother died in the summer of 1928. I recall very vividly that her wake and funeral was in one of the business rooms of our house. Her few relatives arrived from Budapest for the funeral.
In 1929, Hungary suffered one of the bitterest winters. My grandfather was busy working outside and did not realize how cold it was. As a result, three fingers on his right hand froze. When he entered the house, he placed his hand on top of the hot fireplace to give some relief to his hand; but unfortunately, though his thumb remained whole, he lost the ends of his other fingers. He died in the autumn of 1930. His funeral took place in the same room where my grandmother's had been. Preparations were in process for his funeral. In the early afternoon, the priestly vestments were taken from the Cathedral sacristy and placed in our children's room. At this time an Abbot-Canon was our pastor (he later became my Confirmation sponsor). In an unguarded moment, I went into the room and put his infula on my head. Of course, it was too large and reached down to my mouth. This was the first ecclesiastical piece of clothing I put on.
I stayed with my godparents in Kiskôrös while attending kindergarten. Sister Szilárda was the leader of my group. I recall very vividly how excellently she controlled us in spite of the fact that she had some 15-20 little "colts" to handle.
I also recall that I was given a role to play in a Hungarian freedom celebration which was held on March 15th. My godmother prepared my soldier-uniform and shako; I also had a little sword. During the time of my imprisonment this play came back to me in memory. I recalled the song we sang, "That was a beautiful day, when the Hungarians, drawing the sword, took an oath for holy freedom in Pest. Precious is freedom, its price is red blood. You will see that we will not be prisoners; we took an oath on it."
I completed my elementary education, which consisted of 4 years at the Downtown Catholic Boys' School in Kalocsa. After that I attended the Jesuit High School for 8 years also in Kalocsa. During the last year, I became a student at the Priestly Preparation Seminary. So I graduated in a blue cassock on June 7, 1942.
On the 4th of August, I joined the Pauline Religious Order and entered the monastic life in Pécs. At the conclusion of my Novitiate, I attended the Diocesan Theological School in Pécs for four years and on August 10, 1947, I was ordained a priest in Kiskunfélegyhéza by Dr. József Pétery, the diocesan bishop of Vác.
As an ordained priest I continued my theological studies. Because I had a reduced number of classes, I had time to teach Catechism in the nearby elementary school on University Street. In the beginning, I taught four classes for children with special needs and three regular first-grade classes. After this, I took over the teaching of Catechism in the School on Freedom Road. On January 10th, 1950, I was appointed Catechism Instructor at the Elementary School on University Street. In the 16 classes I had 32 hours of teaching weekly. I taught about 700 children.
In the second year of Theology, I became involved with the Altar Boys' Group and organized Sacred Heart Troops with the boys who attended the school on University Street. These boys were kept busy selling the Catholic newspapers. On Saturday afternoons, from spring till late autumn, I took groups of thirty to forty boys for excursions. In the summer, I took the altar boys camping. In June, 1948, I was asked to take over the management of the Boy Scout troop of the former Cistercian High School. On the 25th of June, we drove up to our first camp at Zobák. An article appeared about this "illegal scouting" in the American-Hungarian "Scout Leaders' Paper", entitled, "As Can be Done - Retrospection".
As Can Be Done
During the summer of 1948, the Catholic schools in Hungary were secularized under government control. The Louis the Great High School of Pécs, led by the Cistercian Fathers, was one of the victims. A few members of the Cistercian scouts came and asked me to take over the management of the troop.
We did not consider it timely to belong to the state-controlled Boy Scout Union since it was already in its dying stages. Therefore, as the Youth Group of the Inner City Parish of Pécs, we asked the village council of Hosszúhetény for permission to camp. Having obtained this, we drove up to our first camp in the Eastern Mecsek Mountains which was in the valley of Hidas, next to Zobák. There were 30 boys, ranging in age from 15 to 18 years, and a few older guides who took part in this camp.
The main purpose of this camp was to give the boys a Christian ideological view of the world situation. A few Cistercian seminarians gave these lectures.
Here all the titles and ranks of the scout troop were dropped. So the commander became "Camp Master" and the daily orderly officer was named "Camp Vice-Master". For the boys, we openly sketched the possibilities and the dangers of the "illegal scouting" and work with young people. They had the choice to become an "apostle" in such circumstances. Those who volunteered later became troop leaders.
We decided that we would carry on the Scout ideals without ever using the expression "scout". This was replaced by the title "Christ-like Hungarian Youth". We were all aware of the fact that we were endangering our freedom and our lives. It was precisely for this reason that we seriously launched on this project to make it become a reality.
Both the leaders and the members of the group received a well-rounded religious education. The main goal was to approach a stable spiritual state, to live in the state of grace and to practice the presence of God in our lives.
In the following years, the formation of only smaller groups, the so-called patrol groups, was advisable. In most of the patrols, we made Indian romanticism come alive.
The individual patrol groups took the name of an Indian tribe. Why? The Hungarian book market had a number of "Indian storybooks" right before the Second World War. Most of the boys read these and their vivid imaginations gained plenty of material from these works. Every patrol took an Indian tribe's name (Sioux, Dakota, Delaware, etc) and each tribe had seven or eight members, a main chief and a military chief. The members were of similar age. The leaders were two or three years older and had participated in a special training camp.
The curriculum and textbook entitled "Rock Camp" was prepared by the adult leaders in manuscript form. In this booklet there was material explaining the ten Scout Laws. We also prepared two leaflets for the leaders which contained numerous games that could be played inside and outside.
We did not dare to copy the former scout songs. The adult leaders assisted us in composing our own songs and lyrics. Each tribe had its own marching song as well as other youth-songs. For example, the special marching song of the Dakota Tribe was:
In sunny heaven, like the nimble falcon,
Switching-buzzing flies the arrow;
As jolly bird-song it soars up high,
Higher, calling to rivalry.
The fly of the arrow, glad Dakotas,
Hear, brother, what it will teach us:
Who in his life's ways, as the arrow,
Walks straight - his goal he will reach.
Or another tribe sang this marching song:
Foot that soundlessly stalks,
Eye that always sees everything,
Ear that hears air that vibrates,
Heart that another's heart-ache feels;
Greetings, brother, greetings to you!
One is the road and one is the goal.
Struggle trustingly, ours is this life!
We are of the same blood; you and I.
In accord with the romance of the Indians, the Heavenly Father was the "Great Spirit," while the Indian name of Jesus Christ was "Burning Heart." The boys had to walk and always live in His brotherly presence. For this reason at camp roll-call, we always reported one more person. He was "Burning Heart Brother." This was the greeting of all the tribes: "HE LIVES! - WITH US!", which was the shortened form of greeting: "God lives; Jesus Christ is with us!"
The leaders of groups had an hour of Catechism weekly. Following this they discussed the concrete tribal agenda. Some of the leaders also received specialized training in instructing the Catechism to the younger group members.
The tribe members met twice weekly, each time in a different boy's home. At one of these gatherings, they had Catechism instructions; and in the other, tribal activities guided by the main chief and the military chief. Twice monthly, if the weather permitted, they held the tribal activities with an excursion which lasted either an entire day or half a day.
Following the leaders' religion class, the chiefs planned the program of the forthcoming week and at home worked out all the details by themselves. At each tribal meeting one of the Ten Laws was discussed. The Ten Laws were mostly identical to the Scout Laws. Then they would learn a new Hungarian folk song and became acquainted with a new game.
During the tribal meetings, the boys prepared for the so-called "trials". These took place either during the five-day winter camp or the ten-day summer camp. To prepare and conduct the camps, the leaders used the "Small Book of Camping".
Every tribal member had an Indian outfit. The decorative feathers of the diadem were of different colors. For a successful religion test they received a yellow feather; for learning a church hymn by heart, a white feather; for learning and singing a Hungarian folk song the members of the tribe were allowed to wear a blue feather in their head decorations.
The uniting strength of the tribe was the "Communion Chain." Every day a different boy went to Holy Communion from the tribe and on Sundays all received Holy Communion. This was the path taken to achieve the "basic spiritual state": living in a state of grace.
For the sake of romance, each boy had a tribal name. They selected these for themselves on the occasion of their first camping, or they received it from their chief in connection with a ceremonial initiation. This name either expressed the nature of the person or gave a hint as to what kind of a person he would have to be hereafter. For example, some of the names were Rocky Eagle, White Hawk, Nimble Finger and Cautious Owl.
Members of the tribes could use their Indian outfits only at the campfire. On excursions, they used their red neckerchiefs; in the camps, during the days, this was their "uniform". Every tribe was a member of some legal tourist club so, having their official permits, they could pitch camp; when the camp was visited by official people everyone had the necessary papers.
In our tribes the red triangle neckerchief reminded us of the Blessed Trinity. Its red color spoke to us of the Holy Spirit, of Christianity and of the Hungarian martyrs.
On the top of the camp flagstaff, there was a small cross. Below it fluttered the tribe's own flag and a red neckerchief. We erected a big camp cross only in the dense forest, far away from public roads. At the foot of this big cross we placed a camp altar. Holy Masses were offered either in the early morning or after darkness set in, so we would not "scandalize" those comrades who strayed there by mistake.
Members of the tribe also passed "skill trials" to earn various feathers for their Indian diadem: reading tracks, knowledge of trees and stones, and cooking.
Every day a "vigilante" was appointed at the camps. His office was to be on guard during the time Holy Mass was being offered. He was positioned at the entrance road leading to the camp. If, during the day, some strange person happened to stray into camp, then whoever first noticed him was to calmly begin whistling the "Boci, boci tarka" song. This would alert us to the fact that some strange person was in our camp. In spite of it all, everybody continued with his own work, while one of the chiefs strove to engage the intruder in conversation.
The girls' groups worked completely separately from the boys'. The "flower" or "bug" romance replaced the Indian romanticism. Seven or eight girls of similar ages were members of a "flower" or a "bug" family. They selected their own names such as Rose, Poppy or Cornflower. In other families we met with Ladybug, Bee or Glowbug patrols. The boys had charge of serving at Holy Mass, and the girls decorated the altars in the church.
Among the girls there was also a "Communion Chain" in the families. The leaders and the group members held weekly religion classes. They used a special "Girl Leader Guide" and had a book of many games. They also selected their own songs from the "Song Bag". The older girls learned to prepare a new dish at every meeting.
The girls had summer camps only, separately from the boys, and they were usually in a cabin or school building. For the sake of romance, they put up a tent, but only for use during the day.
Every year a school dance was arranged for both boys and girls. On the second day of Christmas, a professional dancing teacher taught the children formal dances. A group of 13-year-old girls and the tribes of 15-year-old boys were selected. They gathered for dancing two or three times weekly during the Christmas vacation in different homes. During the school terms the course was held on Saturday or Sunday evenings. On Carnival Sunday, they had a "Dance Examination" and for this event all the parents were invited. "House parties" were held annually by those who had attended the dancing school.
Annual three-day retreats were held separately for the boys and girls.
We also had romantic "ancient Hungarian" themed groups. For the Indian tribes, the Indian books were the obligatory readings, and similarly the members of the "Hunor" and "Magor" tribes had to study the legendary world of ancient Hungarians. Here they selected ancient names such as Tas, Huba, and Álmos for themselves. Since these groups were only in the beginning stages, they also used the "Rock Camp" booklet because the leaders had still been educated on the Indian romanticism.
For our "Rascal" group (Csibész in Hungarian), Father Koszter's "Csibész Club" book gave the initiative. The purpose of this group was to train the "children of streets" to take on the "Christ-like Hungarian Youth" through this story. Currently, our boy leader who arranged the "Habua" tribe is a teacher of gymnastics. The members selected the most impossible names for themselves.
There was more than one Catholic boy among them who had not as yet seen the inside of a church, and who did not even know how to make the sign of the cross.
In the beginning, only with a romantic frame story did they go to Holy Mass. They got into the church by following a very conspicuously dressed man. Since he waited until the end of Mass, they were standing near him. After Mass, the "spy chase" continued. At the end of the city they attacked the stranger and took away his recorded tape which they listened to at home.
This group of ours could function only for a year and a half or two years. But there was an excellent successful summer camp of the "Rascals". An old professor of mathematics visited them once in the camp. They liked him so much that they elected him their "honorary chief". But for this title he had to go through some trials.
The boys collected 25 small frogs into a covered mess-tin and placed it before the professor. When he lifted the cover of the mess-tin, the frogs were jumping in as many directions. It would be difficult to notate the musical hee-haw laughs of the Rascals that accompanied the efforts of the old man trying to collect the frogs, for these small ones did not belong to the "sluggish earthly frogs".
The "frog trial" was followed by the "nettle trial" for the poor professor: in a bathing suit, bare footed, he had to walk through a forest of nettles, as tall as the height of a man. Only after he had gone through the "water, fire and earth trials" was he accepted as their "Rascal Honorary Chief".
This "secret and illegal scouting" was ended on February 6, 1961. At 11:30 p.m. a group of about ten investigators, members of the AVO Secret Police, broke in upon me and made a thorough search of the whole house. After collecting my books and things, they took me to the police station and arrested me.
During my five months of investigation-imprisonment, nearly 100 boys and girls were questioned about my activities. For these activities of mine the Pécs County Peoples' Judge "rewarded" me with six years imprisonment under the title of trying to overturn the People's Democracy.
Splinter in the Eyes of the Pécs Secret Police
In the autumn of 1943, I began to work with the youth in Pécs. At first, I had the Altar Boys' Group; later in the boys' classes of the school on University Street, I formed Sacred Heart Troops. On Saturday afternoons, sometimes with a group of thirty to forty boys, I went on excursions into the various parts of the Mecsek Mountains.
I continued my work with the young ones after 1945. Even before my ordination into the priesthood, the police of Pécs took notice of my activities. There were some people, probably instructed by the police, who warned me to give up "playing with fire."
Then, as an ordained priest, from 1948, I took up connections with older boys too and tried to lead them nearer to Christ. I asked some of them to work among the younger boys, and they could manage excursions independently later on. In this way, my Saturday afternoons were free and I was able to go out into the nearby villages at the invitation of the local pastors. I offered Holy Mass in the parochial and mission churches and then I showed the people different religious films.
The police were aware of the kind of work I was doing, as well as the work of those students of the University Street School who took up the apostolate of the press, selling many, many copies of the two Catholic weekly papers.
Nearly all my students appeared to attend Sunday Masses. They learned the Catechism very diligently. Luckily, the parents also supported me in every endeavor. I provided a prayer book for each child. While I was teaching in the Freedom Street School, I had visited all the parents of my 150 students. When I was appointed to the school of University Street, I had just begun the visits of the families.
In the summer of 1949, I received advice from my "good-willed" friends that I should leave the city at least for the duration of the vacation time. I went to our Budapest monastery and helped out in the Cliff Chapel.
During May and the beginning of June, 1950, the secret police had already inquired about me from the people living in the neighborhood of our monastery. On the sixth of June, a strange man visited our gardener and asked him about the members of our community. He asked for the name of the Superior and mentioned me by name. Our gardener immediately informed us about the strange visitor's questioning. For this reason, on the advice of my Superior, I went to Budapest on the afternoon of June 6th with the express train, using for the first time the half-priced railroad certificate that I had received as an independent religious teacher.
It was midnight by the time I reached our Cliff Chapel monastery. By then, everyone was sleeping; as an unexpected guest I woke up the house. Father Jenô received me kindly. On the following day, the Feast of Corpus Christi, I celebrated two Holy Masses and heard many confessions. I notified my relatives of my whereabouts. They visited me and invited me for lunch on Friday.
In the evening I returned to the monastery, when the fathers received me with the bad news that on June seventh, the night of Corpus Christi, the members of our community in Pécs were carried away by the AVO secret police.
The fathers had reliable information that before midnight, our monastery in Pécs was surrounded by the police, and they jumped over the fence. They rang the bell wildly and were looking for the Superior. They took the bundle of house keys from him. He had to awaken everybody and within a few minutes he had to get them down into the dining room.
When all who lived in the monastery were down, a police order was given, stating that their remaining in the monastery was troublesome for the common order, so they were forbidden to stay there. They were given ten minutes so everyone could get himself a change of underwear. Then they had to assemble in the dining room again. After that, each, by name, was given a written command of expulsion.
They were also looking for me and for those members who had been on St. Jacob Mountain that day. With only a change of underwear under their arms, the members of the monastery were ordered into a tarpaulin-covered truck where police, with guns, awaited them.
Father Kálmán, who had been lying helpless and powerless in the room next to our small reception room, was the only one who remained in the monastery. On the following day, they opened the door and found him insane from fear by then. He was taken to the private ward of the Nerve Clinic, where he died a few weeks later.
The members of the monastery were taken from Pécs to the palace of the bishop of Vác, where they were given one of the library rooms. It took days before they could get straw to spread on the floor to sleep on. Members of various convents were crowded together "ghetto-style". The Sisters of Notre Dame, from Pécs, were in one room; in another were the Piarists from Kecskemét; and in the third, the Jesuits from Hódmezôvásárhely.
For days no care was taken to feed them until the good and faithful from the neighboring villages provided food for them. The palace of the bishop was their "abode of compulsion"; they could not even go out into the yard or garden. During the day and especially at night, there was a watch patrol and head count. In the bushes in front of the mansion, police in civilian clothes were hiding and also watching the gates.
One night the police broke into the quarters of the bishop. They roused the bishop, Dr. József Pétery, and had him stand facing the wall in the hallway, in his night shirt, while the secret police, the AVO, searched his rooms. They insulted him with the most rude and vulgar curses and swearing.
Although the entrance of the palace was always guarded, it was still possible to get in. In this way, Father Jenô visited our members from Pécs, who gave him an account of the capture in detail. They mentioned that the AVO was also looking for me in Pécs, with the promise that they would issue a country-wide warrant to arrest me. When Father Jenô returned from Vác, he advised me to leave for Soltvadkert with the evening train.
I dressed in civilian clothes and began to pack. Then I went to Soltvadkert to a house that the Order had inherited from József Kremer. During the day, I stayed in the house, but for the night, I went to sleep at the neighbor's house.
A half-hour's bicycle ride from Soltvadkert, there was the so-called Stinking Lake. On the bank of this lake, destined to dry out, there was a small summer home belonging to my aunt. When my mother, who lived in Pécs, was informed that I was in Soltvadkert, she traveled there immediately. She thought it would be more secure if we moved into this summer home together.
Father Tádé harnessed the horses and transported us to the Stinking Lake. We then had two rooms and a small kitchen which were completely furnished. In the morning, I went by bicycle to offer Holy Mass in Soltvadkert and to purchase something for cooking. Father Tádé procured a registration certificate for me, without which it was not advisable to step into the street.
To lessen my mother's anxiety for me, I always hurried back to the summer home where I spent the day in prayer and reading. There was a farm nearby, and in the afternoons I often met the fourteen-year-old son of the farmer who always curiously inquired about my identity.
Nearly every night I would be awakened by fright when the horses of the neighbor came with their feet chained to graze under my window. Half-dazed, I always associated the sound with prison chains. Two months later, this feverish dream became a reality.
At the beginning of August, my two younger brothers came out to Stinking Lake. During these days, my mother tried to cook and bake for the pleasure of each of us.
One evening, Father Tádé called on us with the message from Father Jenô that I should go to Budapest, for he wanted to talk with me about some important matters. My mother was very much against my traveling. After receiving a third or fourth message, I started out for Budapest. I spent St. Stephen's Day there, but I did not dare to sleep in the monastery. I spent the nights with one or another relative or acquaintance.
Father Jenô informed me of his plan: he wanted to send Fathers Attila, Tihamér and me to Rome. If our journey was successful, he would rescue the rest of the younger members of our community from the country, where "there was no place for us" and where we could only live in hiding. He told me only this much, otherwise he gave me no particular information. He told me to pack the things I wanted to take with me and that I should come back to Budapest as soon as possible.
My mother had a very bad premonition about the plan. She was seriously worried about me. Later, I often recalled those last two or three days we spent together. The packing and the farewell... How many times I remembered Petôfi's poem:
How she hugged me with her shaking arms,
How she detained me with pleading words,
O, if I could then look into the world,
Probably she would not have detained me in vain.
Again, Father Tádé came for us with the carriage and took us to the station, from where we traveled to Kiskôrös. Here, at my grandmother's house, there was a room for my mother.
On August 24, I took a late evening train from Kiskôrös to Budapest. I arrived at the monastery early in the morning. During the day, I generally stayed there, but by night, I hid at the home of Mr. Károly Schandl, a former under-secretary of state, who lived nearby. Only now did Father Jenô inform me in detail about the travel plans.
A former house-servant of Schandl's, Sándor Rózsa, a resident of Sopron, would help the family and us over the border. For a "most advantageous price," twelve thousand forints per person, he would take us to Vienna. We would have to send our packages a few days earlier to a given address in Sopron. The Schandls had already sent their valuable pictures and Persian rugs.
Attempting to Cross a Forbidden Border
On August 28th, the feast of St. Augustine, we met Father Tihamér, Schandl's daughter named "little Teca", her 18-year-old son Géza, as well as his classmate, who was the son of a former police captain. We discussed secret signals with them, which they would give the man-smuggler, Mr. Rózsa, when they would be in Vienna. The three of them would sign the family picture of Mr. Rózsa, and Father Tihamér would sign a holy picture as we discussed: he would begin his signature with a small "t". On this evening this group began their travels.
August 30th was the designated date for the older Schandl couple whom Father Attila and I would join. But we waited in vain that day for Sándor Rózsa. He did not appear on August 31st either.
On September 1st, the doorbell of our Cliff Chapel monastery was rung. Mrs. Schandl came with the man-smuggler. In the presence of Father Attila and me, he showed us the "secret" evidence.
When Mrs. Schandl saw the signatures of her daughter and grandson on the family picture of Sándor Rózsa, she began to weep in her joy and fell onto his neck.
Mr. Rózsa also showed us a holy picture, but held it before our eyes only a few seconds. After four days of nervous strain, we failed to examine the secret small letter "t" in the signature of Father Tihamér. After these incidents we led the man-smuggler up into Father Jenô's office and he gave him the "expenses for the delivery."
At about five in the afternoon we met him again at the Eastern Railway Station. Mr. Rózsa had been waiting for us. He showed us the places reserved for us in the car, and there he gave each of us a false Sopron resident certificate, so that during the identification investigation on the train, they would permit us to enter the border zone.
He tried to put us at ease with his sour, bright face. He spoke about the supper he had enjoyed with little Teca in Vienna. It was then that he told us why he had not come back for us at the agreed time; the shifts of the border guards he knew had changed. Only tonight would they be on duty.
We got through smoothly with the investigation. It was around nine at night when our train arrived at the station in Sopron. First, Mrs. Schandl, dressed as a village woman, went to the exit with her husband. The border guard took a look at their resident certificate. Not too much later, Father Attila and I also managed the "infiltration". Sándor Rózsa was waiting for us not far from the station. After most of the travelers were dispersed, we too started out towards St. Michael's Cemetery.
On the way, a few men on bicycles passed us by. Surprisingly strong reflector lights shone on their bicycles. After leaving the cemetery, Mr. Rózsa made us go in single file, saying that now we were near the border so we should not talk. Soon he began to run. The two older ones could hardly follow him. They asked him to slow down, but by that time he was already about twenty yards ahead of us.
All of a sudden, strong, brightly shining lights burned around us and from the bushes, and dark figures dressed in civilian clothes jumped on us. In a few minutes, we already had the handcuffs on our wrists.
Mrs. Schandl had the family jewels - rings, earrings and bracelets with diamonds - hidden in a jar in a small market basket. She knew well that there would be an additional punishment for taking these out of the country, so she gave the jar to the man who was guarding her. She was not put into chains. In the meantime, rudely swearing, they asked us for the whereabouts of the smuggler. Not long after, one of them yelled, "Look, there he runs!" and without aiming, he fired into the dark night.
Ten minutes did not pass after our capture when a tarpaulin-covered military jeep stopped near us. We were thrown onto the vehicle and the jeep was on its way at a wild speed. On untraveled, uneven roads it sped with us for a good half hour. We sat among soldiers with machine guns; they on the seats, and we on the floor of the jeep.
In the meantime, a great storm arose: thunder, lightning and cloudbursts. In a torrential rain we reached the barracks of the border guards. We were made to get out in the middle of the yard and they pushed us roughly, in pouring rain, into the corridor in front of the offices. Here, they took the chains from our wrists. We had to stand facing the wall, three yards away from each other, with our arms raised into the air. Four soldiers with machine guns guarded us and "entertained" us with the most obscene language.
Only after long hours did they begin our interrogation. First, Mrs. Schandl was taken, then her husband. I went after Father Attila.
In the Barracks of the Border Guards
It must have been two in the morning when they called me into the office. There, behind the desk sat a thirty-year-old first lieutenant in civilian clothes. Along with the man who tapped at the typewriter in a very unpracticed manner, he had been among those who had arrested us at St. Michael Cemetery. Amidst foul language, I had to undress. They searched my clothes, and in the shoulder pad of my coat they found my priestly certificate ("Celebret") typed on a piece of linen. Weeks before, Father Jenô had signed this, which certified that I was an ordained priest. They were also searching for hosts and wine. As I later found out, Father Tihamér took these with himself.
Only after a thorough search of my clothes could I get dressed again and then the first interrogation began. After giving my personal information, I had to relate in detail how I joined the Pauline Order. The typing AVO man must have been very sleepy, for each time the "Pálos" (Pauline) Order happened to be in the text, he always typed "páros" (paired). The first lieutenant was swearing at him roughly when he read through the first page. He had to retype the whole report.
After all this, it is easy to imagine that he continued the interrogation, treating me in the same unrestrained manner. He swore for minutes when I told him that I graduated from St. Stephen High School in Kalocsa. He did not like the name of our St. Emeric's Church either. But he reached the height of his fury when the typist told him that he was living on St. László Street there in Sopron. He was fuming and swearing that even today, in Hungary, there are cities named after saints (Szentendre, Szentmártonkáta, etc.)
He inquired whether I used to visit the sick. Upon my affirmative answer, this was how he dictated my "confession": "I often visited the sick living in our neighborhood and I roused them against the existing order of the country." According to his dictation, during the less than three years of my priesthood, "I continued many-sided and such ferocious fights against the People's Democracy," that my record made up nearly ten type-written pages.
When I did not want to sign "these political distortions", he acquainted me, yelling, with their effective methods, which had caused the "traitor under-secretary and royal advisor (Dr. Károly Schandl) and Father Attila also to sign every page of their records."
The first light of dawn was visible when another tarpaulin-covered truck transported us, accompanied by border guards with machine guns, to the barracks of the border guards in Csorna.
Since there was no room in the cells anymore, they placed us in the one-time stable. We had already been standing for two hours at a distance of two yards from one another, when one of the more sensitive guards took pity on the nearly seventy-year-old couple and procured four rickety chairs for us. It was so much easier now that we could sit down. Our guard with the machine gun sat opposite us and watched that we should "not conspire or attempt to escape."
We got lunch at about four in the afternoon. They brought us goulash soup and noodles in military mess-tins. After nearly twenty-four hours of starvation we all enjoyed the warm military food.
Our guards were changed every four hours. Some conducted themselves in a very military manner. But there were also the kind ones who inquired about us and conversed with us.
Opposite the stable there were four public toilets, without water, just closets. These could be used only after meals when there were two guards nearby. At such a time one of the guards watched those who stayed in the stable while the other one accompanied the person whose turn it was. We had to go out with heads bent and hands behind us. We were not permitted to close the door of the closet, because the guard had his machine gun pointed on the person the whole time.
On September third, after lunch we had a guard who permitted us to stand up from our sitting position. From all the sitting our legs had become numb, because we had to spend the night sitting also.
As we were standing, we could look out into the yard through the window of the stable (which was actually only a hole). We saw in consternation, that right then Father Tihamér was being accompanied to the closet with the above-mentioned ceremony.
Poor Mrs. Schandl almost collapsed. She had hoped that Father Tihamér, her daughter little Teca, and grandson Géza had arrived safely to Vienna. Then they too had gotten only as far as the guard barracks in Csorna. We had to admit that the former house-servant, Sándor Rózsa, was nothing but an agent provocateur, a paid inciter.
In the Prison of Gyôr
On the evening of September fourth, they put chains on our wrists again and put us onto a tarpaulin-covered truck that took us to the prison of Gyôr. It must have been nine at night when we arrived. I was given a first-floor corner cell. I had to stand a good ten minutes in front of the cell, with my face towards the wall, until a guard came with a rude blanket, mess-tin and spoon. He opened the door of the cell. The stench from the cell hit me. I became the cell's thirteenth "guest". The total furniture of the cell consisted of two iron beds and two pails for urination. Since there were only two beds, there were ten men lying on the floor. I was the eleventh, lying immediately by the door. My feet reached one of the pails. At night, when they came to urinate, they often sprinkled my feet.
Amid the consternation and sadness however, there was also a little joy. Father Tihamér was among the inmates. As the guard locked the door upon us, his first words to me were, "Paul, you too had started on the trip?" After that, he asked the man lying beside me to change with him, so lying side by side, we whispered throughout the night.
Here I learned from him, that they too (little Teca, Géza and his friend, and Father Tihamér) reached Sopron in a similar way and failed like our group. After terrible, agonizing tortures the police forced them to give them the "secret signs" that they had to send to Budapest, so that we too could begin our journey. He scolded me as to why we had not taken a better look at his signature on the holy picture. It is sad that we had neither the time nor nerve to see the small "t" of his name.
We were lucky to be together for almost a week. In the meantime, both of us were interrogated by the state-attorney. The days went by fast, but the nights passed very slowly and it was still very warm. There was an enormous number of bedbugs in the cell. There were nights when with Father Tihamér we killed two hundred on the wall. Of course, we were able to count them only during the daylight of the following day. Sometimes, from the stench, the air of the cell was so suffocating, that we had to ask the guard to leave the door open for a few minutes. Of course, there were some who secretly smoked cigarettes.
Twice daily, we were taken out for a walk in the prison yard. At such times we could see our "companions in crime" and if we were skillful enough, we would also get next to them and exchange a few words.
When the cells were rearranged, I was put into a larger second-floor cell. Father Attila also came here. At the end of September, we were called for a lawyer's interrogation. The "lawyer" was no one else but Father László, in civilian clothes of course. Thus disguised, he could inform us of everything that interested us. The trial of Father Tihamér took place before ours. He was sentenced to two years. Father Attila and I were sentenced to three years. Soon we were divided for work. We became the workers of the basket weaving division, with a daily income of 50-60 fillérs (pennies).
On February 11, 1951, Father Attila and I were taken to Vác. Father Tihamér had already gone there. We were awakened early in the morning and put into our own clothes. Our personal belongings were put into individual sacks that we had to carry under our arms. Our wrists and legs were in chains. Two guards with guns accompanied us to the train station. We occupied a special compartment.
When we were already on the train, a three-year-old boy came towards us with his mother. He looked at the sacks under our arms and said, "Isn't it, Mother, that these men stole what they have in the sacks?"
Father Jenô must have found out which train had taken us from Gyôr. In civilian clothes, he traveled with us in the same car. He sat in a way that amidst our dozing guards, with eyes and signs we could communicate at times. Luckily, our young corporal guard was a kinder man. When the old guard went out to the toilet, Father Jenô could come and give a chocolate bar to each of us.
Our train arrived at the Eastern Railway Station. One of the waiting rooms was emptied so that we could wait there for a prison van which would take us over to the Western Railway Station, because the trains to Vác left from there.
The Private Cell Section of Vác
Our train arrived to Vác early in the afternoon. From the station we were accompanied, walking to the "famous convict prison of Vác". After the official handing over and search, we were put into an empty, large cell. For a few days we remained the inmates of this cell, and then Mr. Mocsári, a sergeant-major, led us to the private cell division that was under his reign.
This was a four-story L-shaped building. The cells were on the side of the yard. From the street, only a giant wall was visible. On the ends of the bricked yard, there were watch towers; in the middle, throughout the yard, there were flower beds. Around these was the prisoners' "walk", if we can call that military march a walk.
We were put in the fourth cell to the left of the office. At the first meal we already learned that Dr. András Zakar, Cardinal Mindszenty's secretary, was one of our "house-workers". Father Tihamér was already here and from the window of his cell he saw when Mr. Mocsári brought us over to the private cell division.
At the first walk, he cleverly worked himself along and among us. This was repeated at every walk. At such times, he informed us about the inside affairs of the section. He introduced, of course, little by little, the people and the priests who were involved in the Mindszenty suit.
According to prisoner information, at this time His Eminence was also here, in a completely isolated cell. They made him walk by himself and only at night. Among the many priests locked up here, I knew only Dr. András Zakar and Dr. Egon Turchányi. That is why I have already forgotten the names I heard from Father Tihamér.
The gendarmes were on the second floor of this private cell section, and on the other two floors, other war criminals were isolated. The cells on the first floor were reserved for the priests. In the cells, there were ongoing "rearrangements" and nightly searches. Father Attila and I were left together in our cell.
In April 1951, on the night of Holy Thursday, Father Attila woke me up, telling me that he heard Father Tihamér's number - because then we were only numbers - called by one of the guards. Soon they knocked on our cell too, that immediately we should dress and get our belongings together. When we came out of our cell, there were many people already standing, turned towards the wall. Among them was Father Tihamér.
Father Attila and I were led across the large yard of the prison, where they tied our eyes and made us sit in the back seat of a car. There was an investigator between us, in whose lap our handcuffs were connected.
After a half hour of wild speeding, the left back wheel of the car was damaged as we crossed a railroad track. The driver and the detective sitting beside him got out of the car, and amidst bad swearing they changed the tire. We three were half leaning on the back seat while they worked.
From here they took us to the Main Street Prison. They stripped us completely naked and searched our clothes thoroughly. First they marched off Father Attila from the entrance office, then me. I was put into a fourth-floor cell having only two board beds. A young man was crouching on one.
We were awakened in the early morning. In a dirty aluminum basin, they brought water for washing, along with a wet towel; two or four inmates had already wiped themselves with this.
My cell-mate was in prison for some involvement with sabotage. He warned me that during the interrogations, I should not tell where I am, in which prison. If we wanted to go to the lavatory, we had to knock each time and the guard accompanied us there.
The light was on in the cell day and night. No sunshine could ever be seen, for the window space was filled with glass blocks. After breakfast, we had to walk up and down in the cell for an hour. After that, we could sit on the board bed, but always opposite the door. As a cover, I received a ragged, rude blanket. At night we were allowed to lie only facing the center of the cell; our hands had to be outside the cover.
For ten days I did not know why they had brought me here. I was not called for interrogation. On the eleventh day, the number in the cell doubled. They shoved in two young men. One of them was a peasant boy from Pálosszentkút where we had a monastery. From him I learned that the Archbishop of Kalocsa, József Grôsz, was also arrested. The case of the Pauline Order was attached to his case. He informed me that many Pauline priests and brothers were in prison, in investigation captivity. We were rather crowded in the cell, especially at night. On a narrow board bed, it was difficult for two men to find a place, according to the rule.
On the twelfth day, at two in the morning, they took me down for interrogation. A detective in civilian clothes interrogated me for three hours. He wanted to get information about the members of the Pauline Order. Later, there was a day when he interrogated me three times. The boy from Pálosszentkút was only with me for two days in this cell.
One night, one of my cell-mates knocked for the guard in vain; he wanted to go to the lavatory. Finally, he urinated into his shoes. On the following day I was transferred to another cell. In this cell, there was already an "English lavatory"; it was a great blessing. During the day and after the meals we did not have to drink from a common tin cup from which prisoners of half the floor had already drunk. Now we could drink fresh water from the lavatory sink.
In the middle of May, they took me down to the admission office, gave me back my personal things, tied up my eyes and led me to a tarpaulin-covered truck. There were benches on either side of the truck where the prisoners sat beside each other. They took us to the yard of the Kôbánya Concentration Prison. They also led us into the building with covered eyes. Only inside did they remove the cover from my eyes. I was taken up into a second-floor cell. I had three cell-mates, whom they took away from the cell after a few weeks.
For months I was the only one in my cell. There was a time when there were only five prisoners, including myself, in the whole building. I could detect this in the morning from the number of basins and pails prepared in front of the cell doors.
One day I was transferred to the first floor. The window of my cell opened onto the yard in which they used to perform hangings; this, of course, I only found out later.
After a few weeks, I was again in a second-floor cell. The cell's occupants before me must have been condemned on the "Rajk case". I came to this conclusion from the writings carved into the white wall. In the middle of August, they accompanied me from this building into a larger building of the prison. There one of the first-floor cells opened before me, in which, to my luck, were Father Tihamér and a young boy from Yugoslavia.
The "Concentration Prison"
A corporal, by the name of Pintér, was the section manager. One of the entire concentration prison's commanding personalities was the "famous second lieutenant Mihalicska", who conducted the evening "closing ceremony" several times a week.
We had terrible experiences at night. In front of the cell doors, Mihalicska and his henchmen chained the "sabotage workers and rule violators". At this time, there were two Jesuits among the sufferers: the former principal of my high school, Father Alajos Tüll and Father Vid, the one-time superior of the Budapest monastery.
Both were working in the button factory. As older men, they used to sew the buttons onto cardboard. They performed their work in an area on the second floor. A young man who walked on crutches also worked with them. Every day the Jesuit Fathers brought up his lunch, so that he would not have to walk the stairs.
This young man, "a remarkable socialist Stahanovist" sewed the buttons on the cardboard even during lunchtime. Father Tüll once asked him not to work during his lunch break, but to rest. Otherwise, his performance would be taken as the industrial norm, which they, the older ones who worked only eight hours, could not in any way come near to.
The following night both the Jesuit fathers were bound in chains, because of "sabotage". They suffered without moans, but not their unfortunate companions. They moaned, cried, swore and begged the guards to loosen the chains on their wrists and legs.
There were those who fainted. They revived them with a pail of cold water and took the shackles off their wrists. When they were completely well, they put the chains back on their wrists until the two or four hours were over. Unnoticed, we watched through the small slit of the door and could see those in chains.
So we knew that Father Tüll and Father Vid got sixteen hours in chains. Therefore, for eight days, they had the tightly-closed chains on their wrists and ankles for two hours. Mihalicska even knelt on the chain and pulled it tighter. For some of them, their feet and hands began to swell after fifteen minutes. If there was a well-meaning guard in service, he took pity on those moaning and loosened their chains a little.
In my cell, the boy from Yugoslavia spoke very little Hungarian, so Father Tihamér and I could peacefully discuss everything. Some days, Corporal Pintér ordered about twenty of us out of the cells so that we could clean the cells of the other division. Ten days later, a new cell on the second floor became my "home", with a gendarme general and two younger army officers. Almost daily, we went to work in the prison yard, ordering the lumber for the kitchen furniture factory.
In 1941, our high school had had "levente" pre-military training for the students. Here we had to learn the name of the chief commander, Stephen Kudriczy. I never dreamed that in this life I would see him face-to-face. For months, I could see him many times daily, but only in the Concentration Prison. He worked with the lumber of the kitchen furniture factory. One day, during his work in the factory he made a remark that "last evening his cell did not receive the usual leftover vegetables."
After work, the inmates of the entire section (about 400 men) had to assemble in rows of six in the ground-floor hallway. Corporal Pintér, after having counted those standing there, called for Stephen Kudriczy. Yelling, he asked him, "What was your occupation in civilian life?" The bald head of Kudriczy turned red, but he answered like a soldier, "I was a soldier, Lieutenant General!" To this, the small corporal, there before the 400 prisoners, gave him two powerful slaps. The blood nearly froze in everybody, but Kudriczy did not even stagger.
The weather had turned to winter already when I was placed into a cell on the second floor of another section, and was appointed a worker in the button factory. There were already some Jesuit fathers working here: Father Alajos Tüll and Father Elemér Csávossy, who were my principals at one time in Kalocsa. Father Jenô Kovács was my French professor and superior in the minor seminary. Father József Vid was from the Budapest monastery. Some diocesan priests also slaved with us in this hard work.
I was "condemned" to button shining. There was a work bench on which there was a half-yard sized palm-width wheel that made 3,600 rotations per minute; it was sewed together from pieces of rags. I had to sit behind this wheel, and I and had one tool, similar to a flashlight, in my right hand. Its head revolved on a socket of ball-bearings. Into this head we had to turn a hardwood condensation on top of which there was a deepening or groove. Of course, this deepening was the size of the button that had to be shined. "Furter" was the name of this whole tool.
At the beginning of our work, the rag-wheel had to be waxed, the button had to be put into groove of the head and be pressed to the fast-turning wheel, but not too strongly, so that the button should not burn. There were ten thousand 26-millimeter sized men's coat buttons that had to be shined in 8 hours. This was the industrial norm.
The rag wheel wore out very fast. There was a terrible dust in the room where twenty such wheels were running. At the end of our work, our faces and clothes were filled with textile powder. In this room, Father Csávossy was one of the cleaners. It was a rule that we had to wear prisoner caps on our heads and if we met a guard, we had to take off the cap and greet him. The good Father, with a pail in each hand and with a broom under one arm, met Corporal Berkes face-on. He could not lift up his cap, but he greeted him only by bending his head. For this, he was immediately asked, "What is your number?" Father Csávossy was taken for interrogation after work, and the following evening Mihalicska put him into chains for two hours for "disrespectful behavior".
One Saturday afternoon I was taken for a bath in a group. A Pauline, Brother Louis, came from the bath in another group. Seeing me from the stairs, he greeted me loudly. One of the guards heard this and asked him whom he greeted. Ten minutes later, he and I both were already in the office of the section.
The section leader was just washing his hands by the faucet and asked me disdainfully whom I had greeted. I told him that I had been greeted. For this, he slapped me with his wet hand. In this office I saw this encouragement written on the wall: "Don't only watch them but hate them too!"
A few months later we were informed that somebody had escaped from the section beside us. There was a group working in the yard until dusk. They were unpacking the lumber from a truck for the kitchen furniture factory. A prisoner, hanging on the bottom of the truck got out to the free world. The gate guard was Lieutenant Mihalicska.
Around midnight, they woke everybody and took a headcount. All the inmates from the section of the escaped prisoner were punished. They ordered about 400 people down to the office on the first floor, and they were individually pushed into the office. There were ten or twelve guards in shirtsleeves standing in a circle and they slapped each victim from hand to hand until the last kicked him out of the office. It was nearly morning when the "slapping" came to an end.
In November of 1952, after collecting all our belongings, we had to gather in the hall. From one of the cells, where I was standing, Father János Asztalos, the "famous" priest of Pócspetri, knocked and asked what we were preparing for. "There will be a great transport," I whispered through the hole of the door. "Guys, do not leave me here," he pleaded.
Later, in the summer of 1972, I met him personally in Rome and he gave me my first English-Hungarian dictionary. But let us stay only with 1952.
From this concentration prison we were taken again to Vác in tarpaulin-covered trucks. The "priestly ghetto" again had become the private cell section. Now I was put into the fifth cell from the section office. Here we were all priests, two diocesan and two from religious orders. Father Lajos Csaba was from the Diocese of Szatmár and Father Gergely Dinnyés was from Kalocsa. I was a religious priest, along with the Capuchin Father Jenô Csaba. Father Attila and the other Paulines who were not taken for work in the mines were in the rest of the cells on the first floor, among more than a hundred priests.
After lunch on December 24, 1952, the guard called into the cell that I should collect my belongings. After a few minutes the other cell-mates got the same command. Half an hour later, they opened the door of the cell and we were ordered out into the hall. There were some others there facing the wall. Later we were taken into different empty cells. I did not know what I would come to after this. The time passed very, very slowly.
They passed out the "Christmas supper": sauerkraut and a piece of jam-filled roll. I ate the roll but did not touch the sauerkraut. Then there was a gentler guard in service. It seems he looked in and saw that I did not eat. He opened the door and asked why I did not eat my supper. "Sir, sergeant, would you have an appetite either if you did not know what was going to happen to you in the next hour?" I asked him. Then, smiling, he said only this, "You will be free," and he put his forefinger on his lips.
I could not believe this. I was walking up and down nervously. An hour later, the section leader, Mocsári, came into the cell and called me to go with him.
We went over into another building to the clothes storage. They looked for a long time, but they could not find my clothes. The prisoner caretaker pulled pieces of clothing from different sacks and put them into my hands along with a pair of shoes. Equipped with these, I went back to my cell where I had to dress. A sleeping shirt, underpants and black summer clothes, two elastic-sided boots and a hat was my total wardrobe. Outside, the snow began to fall quietly. A lieutenant in civilian clothes came in. He put the hat on my head and told me that I was handsome.
It was already dark outside when we had to stand out in the hall again. Mocsári accompanied four priests - the two Fathers Csaba, Gergely Dinnyés and me - to the office of the prison's manager. Here we had to accept the money on our name from the treasurer, then, individually, we went before the manager, Major Lehota.
A huge office... luxurious furnishings. The manager of the prison stood in uniform behind his writing desk; three AVO men in civilian clothes sat on the side. One of the civilians asked me if I knew why I was here. To my negative reply, he answered, "You are free! For the Hungarian Bishop's Conference turned to the government requesting that it should grant amnesty during the holy holidays... You received this." After I thanked him, the manager made me sign a declaration that I would not speak of incidents that happened in the prison nor about the people in the prison. If I would do so, I would be punished with another five years in prison.
After all this, I had the freedom paper in my hands. My three companions had to go through the same "ceremony". At the end, accompanied by a civil detective, we stepped out through the great gate of the prison of Vác. The detective came with us to the railroad station and helped us get our tickets. Then he helped us up to the train heading for Budapest.
The first bell for the Midnight Mass was ringing in the church of the University when I reached the Central Priestly Seminary. They received me with love and I attended Midnight Mass in the Chapel. For the night I was given one of the vacant sick rooms. I was the guest of the Seminary for the two days of Christmas.
I requested my freedom paper for Bakóca, because the last information I had was that my sister was a kindergarten teacher there and my mother was with her. I arrived at the parish house in the darkness of evening. The pastor was a good friend of mine, but he told me that my sister and mother had moved two years ago to Szekszárd. I spent two days with him and after that I went to Sásd to report to the police.
Then I spent a few days in Pécs. The director of the Bishop's office informed me that the diocese could not employ me as a priest. It would be better if I would find a civil job for myself. I arrived in the hospital of Szekszárd on New Year's Eve. My younger brother was a doctor there in the laboratory, my sister was the kindergarten teacher of the hospital and my mother was lying in the lung hospital. For all four of us the last day of 1952 was unforgettable.
The "Unskilled Worker" of Komló
In Szekszárd there was no work available for me, so on January 20th I went back to Pécs. Through the help of an acquaintance, I succeeded getting into the Maintenance Company of Komló, where I was employed in the warehouse as an "unskilled worker".
Every morning at 4:20, I went to Komló by bus. At four in the afternoon I was in Pécs again. The students of the school of University Street and their parents did not forget me. They asked me to give an hour of catechism weekly in their homes, for which they would invite all the children of the neighborhood.
Soon my time table was scheduled with one family from 5:00 to 6:00, with another from 7:00 to 8:00, teaching the catechism at each place to seven to ten children. Until the end of 1956, generally 150 children received weekly instruction in our faith from me.
In the middle of November 1956, the Bishop of Pécs appointed me professor of religion for the Teacher's Training College and its Practicing School, but I taught only until the end of January 1957. Then I became an assistant pastor at the former Jesuit Sacred Heart Church.
Here I had 60 to 70 altar boys. The pastor taught the girls and I instructed the boys in religion. Naturally, I kept in touch with my former group leaders also. They came to me for faith instruction. With the girls' groups of my pastor, we arranged dancing schools, and we had Carnival evenings and the New Year's Eve students' balls.
On February 6, 1961, at 11:30 at night, a group of detectives swarmed into my room and took a few hours "searching the house". At about five in the morning, they took me with them to the police and I was arrested. My interrogation imprisonment lasted for five months. In relation to my "case", they examined close to 100 boys and girls with whom I was associated.
I had one interrogation where five or six detectives examined me at once. Everyone asked me about a different thing. Sometimes my interrogations lasted the entire night.
One of them, for example, charged that I was a secretly, illegally consecrated bishop, and they tormented me to confess and tell how many priests I had ordained.
In the first part of my examination, they wanted to handle my activities as a branch of a country-wide priestly conspiracy. In the second part, they handled me only as a leader of an "affair to overthrow the People's Democracy." That was the way the tribunal court of justice of the county condemned me to six years of imprisonment and the whole confiscation of my property.
Behind the Iron Gates of Prison Once Again
The first station of my six years' prison sentence was the county prison of Pécs. Already during the interrogation imprisonment, they mentioned a number of times that now they no longer followed the wild methods of Rákosi, but instead the socialist humanism rules were in effect in the arresting institutions. The guards were, in fact, less brutal than before. At this time of my imprisonment, I was with the assistant pastor of the Inner City Parish of Pécs, Father Ferenc Csonka. Three boy leaders from his group were also condemned.
In the middle of October 1961, two guards took us to Márianosztra by a prison van. At this time, this prison was for priests: more than one hundred priests were held here.
Here we learned that on February 6th, 1961, not only were we arrested, but on the same night, all over the country, 61 priests were detained, among them the fathers of the Regnum Institution of Budapest: Dr. Alajos Werner, Dr. Gábor László, László Emôdi; from the Franciscans, Father Ottmár Faddy and Father Medárd; from the Benedictines, Dr. Xavér Szunyogh and Father Szilveszter were with us in Márianosztra. The Cistercians were represented by Dr. Pius Halász and Dr. Bernardin Pallos; the Piarists by Father György Bulányi and Father Ödön Lénárd. From the diocesan priests, now I can recall only a few names: Dr. Géza Havas, Fathers György Kölley and János Tabódi, as well as Father Ferenc Csonka. From the Paulines, other than me, László Arató was among those arrested. But they had examined many young members who joined the Paulines after 1951, during the long duration of our "case".
In January 1963, I was taken to Sátoraljaújhely. There were only four priests here: Father Ödön Lénárd, György Kölley, János Tabódi and I. At first, they wanted us to teach the gypsies who were illiterate, but the officer of education did not agree with this. So we were sent to the sewing room.
The industrial norm here too, was sky-high. In eight hours we had to sew 400 pillow cases, measuring meter square. Later, when we had material half flax and half hemp, and pillows had to be made, we asked the guard if Father Ödön Lénárd and I could work together not at the industrial norm, but to do more precise work. He agreed, since our hands really produced fine work.
On the morning of March 24th 1963 we rose very late. One of the house workers whispered through the hole in the door that many would be freed. Excitedly, we waited for breakfast. After that, everybody was ordered out into the hall and the manager of the prison announced the "great amnesty".
Everyone had to collect his personal belongings and we were ordered down into a large room where the freedom papers were distributed. Poor Father János Tábody was not pardoned ...
In Pécs Again
From Sátoraljaújhely I went over to Sárospatak to visit a "secret, illegal member of the Pauline Order" - who later became bishop of Eger. I also spent a few days in Budapest, then I went to Pécs. I became the sacristan at St. Augustine Church, where Father Ákos Bolyos, my former superior, was the choir master.
My sister's home was near the church, so I lived near her. At the church, I had transformed one of the storage rooms into a room for myself.
I realized it was better to leave my activities with the young people. Better so, for I was told that the police attorney had declared "he would get me back into prison." Therefore, I restricted my work to hearing confessions, especially those of the young ones. I used my time to translate German and French pamphlets for priests and the youth. These were about confession, frequent Holy Communion and Catholic marriage. It was good for the instruction for engaged people. There was a book of five-minute sermons for children which I translated into Hungarian. I typed four of five copies and if I saw a need for it, after confession I would give it to the individual.
Opposite the St. Augustine's Church there was an old, dilapidated, unused building. A room opening onto the street was a former shoemaker's shop. From its window one could see the entrance of the sacristy. Once a "secret somebody" moved into this shop. Later I noticed that after I locked the entrance of the sacristy, a man came out and from a distance of fifty yards, followed me. When I mentioned this to Father Ákos, he judged it only as paranoia.
On the evening of December 16th, Father Ákos and I visited somebody. The "mysterious person", in a driver's uniform, followed us. We spent a good hour with visitation; going homeward, the uniformed driver again "watched over our safety", following us from fifty yards.
In the meanwhile, we got a new pastor whose housekeeper disliked Father Ákos and me. In the autumn of 1966, a new assistant pastor came to the parish. Politically, he did not have a "good name", and for this we were very distrustful of him. I noticed that in the evenings he went into the room that I had transformed into my living room. Because of this, I put a safety lock on the door. Once he spoke about this. "Why do you have a safety lock on the door? If there were a fire we could not save the festive Mass vestments from the room."
In the middle of July 1967, I was saying the 9:00 Mass. When I turned back for the blessing, I saw three strange men by the pew in front of the sacristy. After I put out the lights, these men came into the sacristy and showed me the warrant to search the house. They called over the assistant pastor for a witness.
They searched my living room. Taking all books, notes, typing papers and the typewriter, they also took me with them to the police. My interrogation began before noon and continued the entire afternoon. I was not arrested, but I had to go to the central police station twice every day, at 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. These examinations continued till the 10th of September. Then I was permitted to engage a lawyer for my defense. For this I asked my friend who, in 1963, had heard the declaration of the police attorney that "he would get me back into prison."
In the middle of September, on a very nice autumn day, Father Ákos called me for an excursion to the Mount of St. Jacob, for a little relaxation. We started out after the 9:00 Mass and I spent practically the whole day lying on my back in the shade of the trees. At sunset we started for home, but all of a sudden, it became dark and we lost each other in the dense forest. I had no flashlight and in the darkness I could not find my way out. It was in vain to call after Father Ákos. All at once, somebody shoved me into a ravine, where I lost consciousness.
After I revived, I felt a terrible pain in my left arm. I dragged myself toward the distant lights. It took a number of hours until I found the bus station to Uránváros. Those waiting there considered me a drunkard. The last station of the bus was not far from the home of one of my former schoolmates.
I was so weak that I could get to his home only by resting at times on the edge of the sidewalk. His wife also knew me well, for in her younger years I was her catechism teacher at the school of University Street. She almost collapsed when she saw my pale face.
My schoolmate was a surgeon and came with me immediately to the so-called "400-bed clinic." It so happened that this week, at night, the hospital's emergency room was closed; it took hours until their bone surgeon was found. He put my shoulder into place and put a cast on my broken arm. The news spread in the hospital that I fell in my drunkenness and broke my arm. However, neither before that, nor after that have I ever been drunk in my life. Shortly after the cast was put on, I wanted to go home, but I was not permitted. I was put in a hospital room from which I tottered home early in the morning.
If I remember well, the trial of my case, the "press lawsuit", was scheduled for the middle of October. Dr. István Kamarás was the judge, who, during the time of his law studies, had come to me regularly for confession. After he read the charges, he asked me why I translated the enclosed books. This was my reply: "Sir, if you liked your profession but could not practice it, and could only sweep the streets in front of the law courts, would you not read literature pertaining to your profession? I read foreign language pamphlets and books pertaining to my vocation. To understand their contents better, I wrote them down for myself and later I also typed them. If there was someone interested in them among those who came to confession to me, I gave them these to read."
The lawyer in my defense mentioned also that in his university studies, fifty or a hundred copies were made of the notes and the explanations of the professors, and no one ever punished them for this.
The judge withdrew to decide the sentence, and then returning, he spoke to me thus: "I have understood your reasoning, but you must understand me also. Somebody who was once or even twice punished, is watched more than other men. What is no sin by them, might be sin for you." He acquitted me of the charge but the attorney appealed for a heavier sentence.
The Bishop of Pécs, Dr. József Cserháti, was always interested in my case, so after the trial, my lawyer and I went up to his office. I told him that during my interrogations, I noticed that I was a great splinter in the eyes of the Pécs police. If the decision of the judge would come into effect, I would leave Pécs within 24 hours. Then I asked him to use his "good connections" in my interest. Three days later, I received my discharge in writing.
The following day I was already in Budapest and was looking for work in a hospital in the Doctors' Training Institute. I was accepted as an assistant in the surgery room of the Ear Nose and Throat Department. After a few weeks, after my daily work, I had to go for all night service to the Obstetrics Department. At such time, between two operations, I used to say Holy Mass in the operating room. Otherwise, I said my Holy Masses in my small apartment in Pesterzsébet before my working hours.
In Pécs, I asked for a passport to the foreign countries, but I never received it. Finally, in 1968, I obtained a passport. Between the 16th and 25th of April, I visited the Soviet Union with the "Peace-Priest Pilgrimage" which was arranged by the IBUSZ Travel Agency of the city of Tata. Besides these priests, some regular priests also had room on this excursion; some of them had been my prison mates.
In May and September of 1969, I went on an excursion to Czechoslovakia and Poland for ten days each. I was entitled 21 days of vacation annually. At the Doctors' Training Institute I had to accept very much work; sometimes I worked 72 hours straight. Father Ákos was worried about my health and offered me another place to work. I got into the Traveling Care Enterprise storehouse as a porter. Here I had to be at work from 5:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. I received free tickets for travel, which I used wisely. After the two years spent in the hospital, from November 1967 to November 1969, this place of work was like a sanatorium for me. My salary was also higher.
After spending a year with the Traveling Care Enterprise, my boss recommended me for an increase in salary. Referring to my former prison life, I did not have a "certificate of good conduct"; therefore my raise was denied. In fact, they advised my discharge. I tried to appeal in vain, and so at the end of December 1970, I was no longer employed.
I traveled to Székesfehérvár to ask Bishop Kisberk to accept me into his diocese. He received me like a good old friend and promised that he would arrange with the "peace pastor" of Dunapentele that I should go there as assistant. In the meantime, he recommended that I should go be the sacristan in Máriaremete, so that I could live in the territory of his diocese. He wrote to the Provost-Pastor, and with his letter, I went to present myself at Máriaremete.
The Provost-Pastor received me kindly and immediately accepted me. As we said goodbye, he asked me where I was saying Holy Mass now. "At home in my room," I replied. And he said, "Continue saying Holy Mass there." On January 1, 1971, I began my new occupation as sacristan in Máriaremete.
From June 11th to August 3rd, I spent my summer vacation in East Germany. In the first week I found a home in a seminary where the superior was a good friend of mine. At that time, a retreat for priests had just ended. He asked me if I would like to help the pastors by relieving them so they could go on a vacation. I volunteered for this happily. So, until the 3rd of August, from week to week, I substituted for different pastors.
In the interim, I became acquainted with Bishop Braun, who invited me to take care of the spiritual needs of the Hungarian guest workers in his diocese. Since I would soon receive my librarian diploma, he would nominate me as the librarian of the seminary and in addition to this, I could take care of the Hungarian workers. On October 21, 1971, I received my librarian diploma.
After ten unsuccessful requests, in the early part of 1972, I asked for a passport to Yugoslavia. The waiting time of six weeks passed, after which I received a rejection. A woman police lieutenant colonel signed the paper which said that "during my stay out of the country, she could not guarantee my security and support".
Up until now, I had never appealed the rejections. But this I appealed, because of her "solicitous care". Another six weeks passed. No answer. I was already thinking that in accordance with the "Know Your Country" movement, I would spend my vacation with walks all over the country. At the end of the seventh week, I found a registered envelope in my mailbox: my passport to Yugoslavia.
A long time ago I was determined that if I would ever get to Yugoslavia, I would get to Italy, even if by swimming in the sea. On June 12, 1972, at 7:00 a.m., I started out with the Express. I passed through both frontier examinations and at noon, I already had lunch with the Bishop of Szabadka. My train started at 3:00 p.m. to Mohol, where I was the guest of the pastor during my stay in Yugoslavia.
In the meantime, I had to go to Újvidék to substitute for a pastor. From here, I went to Belgrad to meet the secretary of the Papal Nunciate. The young Jesuit father spoke Hungarian very well. He listened to my story of trials with great interest and promised that on Sunday, after his Holy Mass for the ambassadors, he would mention my affair to them.
On Monday he called me, and said that I should write the story of my life in German, and he would like to see me Wednesday morning in the Nunciate. On Wednesday I was informed by the Father that first the Austrian ambassador offered his help, but his superiors declined because the affair of Cardinal Mindszenty was yet very fresh. Due to this, I went to the West German Consulate with my German autobiography. The waiting room was filled with men. When, at the information desk, I mentioned the name of the Nunciate, the clerk led me up a spiral staircase directly to the Consul.
I gave the Consul my autobiography. He read it through and then recommended that I go back to Budapest. Since at that time there was no West German Consulate in Budapest, I had to give my petition of emigration to the French Consul to forward to West Germany.
"I know that this is the large gate," I told him, "but I came to you, so you could open the small gate for me." "There is no small gate here," he replied. He said this with such emphasis that at once I asked for my autobiography. I was afraid that he would denounce me.
I returned to the Nunciate. The Father requested an audience for me with the Nuncio. I offered Latin as a language of conversation, but he was ready to speak with me only in Italian or English. I asked the Father to interpret for me and so the audience was carried on in English.
First, he wanted to know why I came to the Nunciate with my affair. My reply was: 'Because I am a priest of a religious order and I cannot practice my vocation in my country. For 22 years I could not say Holy Mass publicly and legally."
The audience took nearly twenty minutes. At the end, Archbishop Cagna stood up and spoke: "I am sorry, I cannot help you. But I give my secretary permission to help you. If you will go to the Italian Consulate, look for Anna della Croce."
It was June 21st, the feast of St. Aloysius. The secretary and I ran through the streets to get to the Italian Consulate before closing time. The porter, as though waiting for us, pointed to the open door of the elevator. On the second floor, opposite the elevator, we found the office of Anna della Croce. The door was open. She was a young lady about 25 years of age.
She received us kindly and offered us seats. The Father related the story of my sufferings, in Italian. She listened to it with attention. Then she said: "Father, we have to save this man." "That is why we came to you," answered the Father. She asked for my photographs and promised that she would do everything possible in my interest and would notify the Nunciate.
On July 10th, I was again in Belgrad. I went to the office of Anna della Croce with the secretary of the Nuncio. Here I received a passport for a single entry into Italy.
In the Eternal City
On July 12, 1972, at 7:00 a.m. I left "socialist soil" with the Roman Express. At the border of Yugoslavia, I passed easily through the examination of my passport.
It was already a good hour into the trip, when the Italian examination of my passport was due. A young soldier stamped it. But he must have found it strange that my passport was not a book, but only a sheet of paper. In a quarter of an hour, four soldiers came into the compartment and first in Italian, then in German asked for the color of my original passport which was lost. Since I did not want to "understand" their question, they left. From that time on, nobody ever inquired about my arrival in Italy.
On July 13th, at 8:00 a.m., my train arrived at the Termini Station. From here, I phoned our monastery and Brother István came to the station for me. He was Polish. I could only converse in Latin with him and the other members of the monastery.
On the day of my arrival, I said Holy Mass in Latin in our chapel, but already in Italian on the following day. During my years of theology, I studied Italian for about half a year, and now I learned the language again. On July 14th, with the superior of the monastery, I had to go to the Secretary of State of the Vatican to express my thanks for the diplomatic help I received to arrive in Italy.
Everything was new and strange here in Rome. In Hungary I could not wear my religious habit for 22 years, and now I was wearing it even on the streets. In the meantime, I became acquainted with Monsignor Mester and Monsignor Nyisztor.
Day by day, I walked the streets of Rome and enjoyed the ancient churches. Sometimes, I would spend two or three hours in St. Peter's Basilica. I also visited Father János Asztalos, the "famous" priest of Pócspetri. Smiling now, we recalled the times and conversations in the concentration prison.
The Hungarian priests in West Germany soon heard the news of my being in Rome. I received a letter from Father György Ádám, who offered me the Hungarian Pasorate in Köln. The other invitation came from Father László Ikvay, in which he asked me to be Cardinal Mindszenty's secretary. To this, Father Lajos answered: "Only if you will be 'cum jure successionis'", that is, with the right of succession of his Cardinaliate. To these invitations, my superior's answer was: "You will have to come to America."
I had to go to America ... in vain did I argue that I knew German well, but nothing in English. Should I begin to study English at my age of nearly fifty? To this, my superior said that he himself was about that age when he began to learn English. In the end, I had to sign up for a course of eighty hours of English.
In early August, on a hot summer day, I went to Castelgandolfo for a Papal audience. I sat in a place where I would be able to shake hands with Pope Paul VI, who was brought on the "sedia gestatoria" into the hall of the audience.
In October, I attended another Papal audience in the Vatican. In this same month, Monsignor Mester phoned that a diplomat of the Vatican, Monsignor Chelli, asked me to write what I knew of the condition of Religious Orders in Hungary. When I completed this, he said he would translate it into Italian. Along with this, I mentioned my own incidents, that the Hungarian Bishops could not accept me in their dioceses as a priest.
The following week, Monsignor Chelli wanted to meet me personally. During my short stay in Rome, this was my second time at the Secretariate of the State of the Vatican, now in attendance with Monsignor Mester.
Monsignor Chelli's first question was: "If I would arrange for you to be able to function as a priest in some Hungarian diocese, would you go back to Hungary?"
He was shocked at my negative reply. To this, I put the question: "Do you joke, Monsignor, that after nearly five years of imprisonment, I should be in prison for seven more years? ... I received four years of amnesty, and now I left Hungary illegally. They would punish me more for this, with at least three years of prison." And he asked my pardon.
The affair of my emigration to America was managed in the consulate of Naples and because of this, I had to make two trips there. At last, on December 9, 1972, it was possible to fly over the ocean and, at about three in the afternoon, I could step onto free land at New York's Kennedy Airport.
Aki értem és az evangéliumért elveszíti életét, megmenti azt.
Mk 8,34 ? 9,1
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