It seems that we are back at 1956 as a result of our discussion about the Orbán government’s removal of Imre Nagy from the national pantheon. I wanted to answer some of the comments, but TypePad decided that the owner of the blog is not allowed to post any comments. I do hope that they will come up with some solution to the problem that has been persistent ever since yesterday.
In my last note on the subject I described the constant bombardment we were under for days on end–the lack of food, heat, and electricity, but I forgot to tell about a memorable night alone in that huge building that used to house the Pannonia Hotel. At one point a rumor was circulating that the Soviets had had enough of the continuous fighting and that they will bomb the city. Total panic set in and we were ordered to move down to the cellar. So, the mattresses that had been dragged out from the rooms to the corridors were now moved underground. As soon as I saw the place I had uneasy feelings. Dirt floor, low ceilings with seemingly miles and miles of gas pipes. Eventually we settled down when I felt something hard under my seat. What on earth is this? It was a rucksack and in the rucksack was a hand grenade. That was the last straw as far as I was concerned. I announced that I don’t know what the others are doing, but I’m going upstairs and sleep in my own bed. If I have to die, it will be much better on the third floor than in the cellar.
Rákóczi út 5 — In 1956 Ilona Zrínyi Kollégium
As soon as I started going up on the majestic staircase my courage began to wane, but eventually I reached my room. It was an eerie feeling to be alone in this huge building, and I must say that I was a bit scared. However, I fell asleep soon enough and slept soundly. The same couldn’t be said of those, including my roommate, who sat all night in the cellar and staggered up to their rooms the next morning.
Throughout this first week we were in total darkness about the overall situation. There were occasional announcements on the radio calling on people to put down their arms but no one listened. At last, on Sunday (October 28) morning we heard that at the Law School, not too far from us, some kind of political gathering was taking place. A friend of mine, Teri K., and I set out to look around. The information turned out to be correct: the Revolutionary Committee of the Hungarian Intelligentsia (Magyar Értelmiség Forradalmi Bizottsága) was being launched. The committee was a kind of umbrella organization for some of the most important oppositional groups, like the Writers’ Association (Írószövetség), the Petőfi Circle (Petőfi Kör), and the Revolutionary Committee of University Students (Egyetemi Forradalmi Diákbizottság). The big lecture hall was full of people. We happened upon a planning session about what the opposition should do under the circumstances. I remember most vividly Géza Losonczy’s speech complaining about the lack of resoluteness on the part of Imre Nagy. Losonczy died in prison at the end of 1957. Apparently, he went on a hunger strike. He was scheduled to stand trial, but he died when his jailers carelessly pushed a feeding tube down his windpipe. He was one of those who were reburied on June 16, 1989, alongside Imre Nagy.
It was here that I learned that the day before the Revolutionary Committee of University Students had been formed in the building of the Faculty of Arts under the leadership of István Pozsár and János Varga. Pozsár was a teaching assistant at the time and János Varga, assistant dean. I knew Varga well because he was the boyfriend of a student in my dormitory. So, as soon as we heard about the existence of the revolutionary student committee, we set out to visit the group at the Faculty of Arts–that is, our own university. In no time we received membership cards stating that we were acting in the name of the Revolutionary Student Committee. Half an hour later we were sent with two other students to Győr to negotiate with the revolutionary council of the city. In the intervening years I forgot the names of the other two students, but since then I found out while reading a book about the revolution at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts that one of them was Béla Pomogáts, today a literary historian dealing mostly with Hungarian literature in the neighboring countries.
The two boys went to talk to Attila Szigethy, who was the leader of the revolutionaries in Győr. (Szigethy committed suicide in February 1957 before his case reached the courts.) Teri and I ended up at the Győr Radio Station where we gave an interview about the situation in Hungary. In the interview we gave a very optimistic description of the developments in Budapest. After all, in the early afternoon Imre Nagy had announced the end of one-party rule. What of course we didn’t know was that it was at about this time that some of participants in the street fights attacked the party headquarters on Köztársaság tér (today, after Mayor István Tarlós’s street-naming spree, II. János Pál tér) and lynched several people.
The next day we were ordered to go to Pécs. On the one hand, our committee wanted to get in touch with the students at Pécs and, on the other, we were supposed to talk with the workers of the coal mines scattered around the city. We were supposed to convince them to return to work and support the Imre Nagy government. One reason I was eager to go to Pécs was because I hadn’t been able to get in touch with my parents since the outbreak of the revolution. So, Teri and I showed up at my parents’ apartment to my parents’ great relief and joy. We had the luxury of a bath and a nice dinner. After almost a whole week of very limited opportunities to eat and clean ourselves these were welcome events.
To be continued.