NOTE: This is the 6th of a 15-part memoir on the Hungarian Revolution. One
segment is published each day. At the conclusion of the series, to those who
ask me to (spouses, children, or grandchildren of the participants), I will
E-Mail the complete, 330,000 bit text.
The memoir was written to honor the memories of two martyrs:
Istvan Angyal, the leader of the freedom fighters at Tuzolto Street, an
Auswitz survivor, who's last words, before being hanged were: "Hungary always
fought for the freedom of all mankind. It was an honor to be the son of such
Janos Danner was the personal secretary of Colonel Marian, the leader of the
Petvfi Batallion at the Technical University of Budapest. He was assassinated
by the "pufajkas" (the Hungarian traitors, working for the occupying enemy),
on the 1st of November, 1956.
On Friday morning, there were more people in the MEFESZ office. I must have
entered with my usual grin, because Pista (Colonel Marian) winked at me, as
he was in the middle of a discussion, while the full-bosomed young professor,
Kati Sz ke, (who's real last name was Nemes, yet everybody called her Sz ke
, which is Hungarian for Blond) offered me a French roll and the always
serious Jancsi (Danner) actually smiled. The the big bear, Gyurka
(Vereczkey), mockingly bowed, implying, that I must be too refined for early
rising, implying that the commoners are already up. As a peace offering, I
gave him half of my roll, and proceeded to join the group around Pista. I
felt completely at ease, in this warm, friendly atmosphere, where the
frenzied, yet well focused activity never stopped.
Pista stood at the window. He must have been up all night, his eyes
were bloodshot. He is lighting one cigarette after another. He is talking to
three students, Sandor Varga, Imi Mics and Jancsi Danner. He is constantly
moving and the students move with him. Outside this inner core, are his
officers, a captain and a lieutenant. They follow the inner group on an outer
orbit. Beyond the officers is yet an other ring of people. They are the
messengers. They all move and circle the core, the smoke is rising from their
cigarettes, the identity of the participants change, but this slow waltz,
this hypnotic dance goes on from morning to night, day after day. There is
something harrowing yet also splendid, in this whirling and swirling
activity, in this process, which just might give birth to a new world, a
Having swallowed my half roll, I move to the core of this human
whirlpool. Pista immediately turns to me:
Vcsi, you go to Kopacsi's headquarters and bring us his spare guns.
Take one of the trucks from the university garage. Vereczkey will be your
driver. From now, you and him are a team. Tell Kopacsi that we need arms! I
soon expect a couple thousand stu dents here, I also invited the cadets of
the Pet fi Academy, so we need small arms. Tell him that I am forming a
national guard division here.
It's done, Pista, but take a nap. Your hands are shaking. Please! -
I plead, but the process is unstoppable, a new face, a new problem, and the
swirling continues around the red eyed little colonel.
Gyurka heard what Pista said, so he bows deeply and opens the door for
me. From then on, whenever there are people around, Gyurka stays behind me.
He also lets me speak first, but when we are alone, he treats me as if he was
my father. He is at least five years older than I. That is a lot, when you
are 20. I love and respect him.
Gyurka was to graduate from medical school, when the Communists kicked
him out. Politics you know - he says, but I do not know, and he does not
tell me more. He got this driver's job through the influence of Endre Smk,
the father-in-law of her sister. The story of the Smk family is a typical
Jewish-Hungarian story. One brother, Sandor Smk, is Hungary's best known
Catholic poet, a converted Jew and an anti-Communist. The other brother,
Endre Smk is a Communist and a Russian collaborator. He was Hungary's
ambassador to Moscow, and after the Revolution became Hungary's foreign
minister. Gyurka's brother-in-law is Igor Smk, Endre's son, who was born in
Moscow, speaks fluent Russian, yet, as I am to learn later, is a Hungarian
We get the truck from the garage on Budafoki Street. As we turn on the
corner of Bertalan and Bartsk, I see a crowd. Because it is our job to
maintain order in this district, I ask Gyurka to stop. Some 20 people are
listening to a man, who is sitting on his bicycle with one foot on the
ground. As we get closer, I begin to hear fragments of his repulsive oration:
We the real Hungarians...Jewish AVH renegades...they are our inner enemy...
As I get closer, I realize that he is trying to incite his listeners against
Jewish- Hungarians. It is the first and only anti-semitic incident I witness
during the Revolution. I know that I have to be firm and decisive, but I have
no idea how I should do that? The people see my tri-colored arm-band, so they
open a path. As I am walking toward the cyclist, I sense that the people
expect me to take care of this situation. I also know that we can not
tolerate such disgusting provocations.
I guess I have to arrest him - I whisper to Gyurka, but I have no
idea how one does that? And once arrested, what should I do with him? Should
we take him back to the university? Where do we put him there? I have no
answers to any of these questions, but I do know, that the honor of the
Revolution is at stake, and it is my duty to act. Now the cyclist has noticed
me, so he shuts up. The people are all looking at me, I have only a second or
two to decide what to do. At that instant I see the bearlike figure of
Gyurka, who seems even bigger is his quilted driver's parka, passing me on my
right. He does not speak, just lifts his arm and muzzles the guy with a
backhanded smack in the face. He falls over his bike. Gyurka does not even
look at him, instead casts his eyes on his listeners and says: Now, you know
how it's done. Next time do it yourself!
You don't waste too many words, do you? - I compliment him, as we
are walking back to the truck. I despise these hate mongers. Look at what
they did to the Smk family. They scared one brother into becoming a Catholic,
the other into becoming traitor, while their kids are disgusted by both and
do not truly know who they are. These racist fanatics did that not only to
the Smks, but to all Jewish-Hungarians! - he says.
It turns my stomach! - I reply - although I never thought much
about it. I never seen an animal like your punching bag here! The only Jew in
our family was the mother of my godmother. I was eight when the Germans took
her away in 1944. My father got his pistol and went to the camp to try to
free her. He failed and nobody really explained to me, why nobody else even
tried or why there was so little resistance?
I also remember, that in Sopron, in 1944, every afternoon, my
grandfather would take a long walk in his much decorated uniform. Nagyaptyi
refused to take the oath of loyalty to the nazi government, which was
installed by the occupying Germans and for that reason he was retired. During
his long walks, he would stop every Hungarian who is wearing a yellow star
and would ask for the time from them. This was his was to tell them, that
they are not outcasts, but fellow Hungarians, it was his way of trying to
protect his countryman from the heinous humiliation of being marked as
outcasts. This went on for months, in the city of Sopron. And then one day,
there were no such people to ask the time from. At that time, we did not know
where they went! Gyurka smiles, I can tell, he likes my grandfather and I
know, I like Gyurka.
On our way to the police headquarters on Deak Square, I try to fix my
disintegrating sandal. The sole has separated and in my attempt to reattach
it, I am using a piece of wire. By the time I am done, we have arrived.
Gyurka stays with the truck and I enter the building. It is almost empty.
Sandor Kopacsi, the police chief of the capital, is alone in his
office. In many ways, he reminds me of colonel Marian, he is also dark,
short, and young. On the other hand, he seems to be a stronger leader, a
tougher person. His handshake is firm and while talking, he looks me directly
in the eye. I feel completely at ease. My eyes wonder around the big office
and settle on a portrait of Louis Kossuth. This is unusual. In the offices of
Communist leaders, you expect to see Stalin and Rakosi, but not Hungarian
patriots. I wonder when that Kossuth portrait got on the wall? He seems to
read my mind:
In my village, every family had a portrait of Kossuth and an other of
the Blessed Virgin. They were like husband and wife, the two sides of the
same coin. A home wasn't a home without them. Well, I am a son of my village,
I would not feel home without Kossuth. It would only be an office, but it
would not be my office without it.
He tells me about the previous day, when the survivors of the bloodbath
at the Parliament, with their bloody flags, marched on his headquarters.
Their leader was a kid like you, a worker named Istvan Angyal. At the age of
16, the Germans deported him to Auschwitz. Now, at 27, he was leading a
demonstration. He asked for the release of all political prisoners and for
close cooperation with the regular police. He had a bad cold, he was coughing
all the time. Ibolya, my wife, gave him a hot tea and some medication. I gave
him a pistol. You all should have at least a pistol! Do you have one? - he
I shake my head. Since my rifle disappeared, when leaving Duduke's
apartment on Wednesday, I did not have a gun. Now he hands me one. It is a
silvery, tiny little gun, not much larger than a large lighter. A lady's
pistol. I got it in Prague. - he says. I slip it into my pocket and forget
it. (How could I know, that in ten days, when I am captured by the Russians,
it will still be in my pocket?)
I tell him about colonel Marian's plan to arm a couple thousand
students, so that we might hold the district between the two bridges and
Msricz Square. He gets on the phone and while he is talking, a dark haired,
attractive lady walks in: I am Ibolya Kopacsi - she says and offers me some
crackling cake. I introduce myself only as Vcsi (the Hungarian equivalent of
Junior, which I use to hide my full identity.) The offer of the cake was
perfectly timed, as the half bun I got this morning from Kati Sz ke was less
than a breakfast, and now its past noon. I take two. She smiles with a warm,
motherly smile: Take one more. - she says.
I look out the window and see that police officers are loading handguns
onto our truck. Now Kopacsi gets off the phone: My people will give you our
spare guns, but we don't have too many. On the other hand, tomorrow, you can
get a few thousand guns for your students from the Zrinyi Military Academy.
They will be waiting for you in the morning. Bring a receipt from colonel
Marian. Be careful, because Russian tanks are still stationed at the
bridge-heads! - he says. As I leave, I have the same warm feeling towards
them, as for our own group at the university. I just know that they are
outstanding people. I don't know how or why I know it, but I am absolutely
positive about that. I feel so lucky to be working with such decent and brave
people. I am proud to be part of it, I am proud to be Hungarian.
On the way out, I call Agnes. The phone rings, and rings, nobody picks
it up. When I get back to the truck, I learn, that we got some 50 guns and
Gyurka is ready to go. We stop at his apartment, just to say hello. His
sister is so beautiful that I can't help staring at her. She is the wife of
Igor Smk, the son of our ambassador to Moscow. She smiles at me and that
embarrasses me. On our way back to the university, we stop at the Piterfy
Street hospital, just to see how their supplies are holding up. It turns out,
that they are low on blood. I ask them to call us at the university, if the
blood situation gets critical.
As we are ready to leave, I see a young man, carrying a large kettle
of coffee to a truck, which is parked next to ours. A Red Cross flag covers
his truck, I also see some food and bandages, which are already loaded. You
plan to stay up late? - I ask, just to say something. He looks at me,
coughs, blows his nose and says: This is for the fighters at the T|zolts
Street garage. I have the strange feeling that I know this guy. Did you get
a pistol from Kopacsi yesterday, after the massacre at the Parliament? - I
ask. Now he is surprised: How do you know about that? I show him my little
pistol and say: When he gave me one today, he also mentioned you and your
cold. It was your cough that made me wonder.
He holds out his hand: Istvan Angyal - he says. His handshake is
firm, his eyes are penetrating. My name is Vcsi, I'm taking some guns from
Kopacsi to the Technical University. Was there much fighting in Buda? - he
asks. No, nothing like in your district! But we are getting ready, just in
case! Well, we are at T|zolts Street 36. Who knows, maybe I will see you
again? - he says, while lifting the coffee kettle onto his truck. I wave,
get into our truck and tell Gyurka: Kopacsi said, that this guy was in
Auswitz and now he is leading the T|zolts Street freedom fighters. He is yet
another reason why the cyclist deserved your punch!
We pass some scary Russian tanks at the Pest side of Freedom bridge,
but they are passive and stay quiet. It is dark, by the time we get back to
the university and unload the guns in the gymnasium. I give myself a
sub-machine-gun, which from that point on becomes a permanent part of my
wardrobe, together with my, no longer beautiful, corduroy jacket and my
strange, wired sandals. By now there are about as many students here, as the
number of guns we have obtained, so in a few minutes, everybody is armed.
After that, Jancsi Danner set down to organize our regular, armed
patrols. He scheduled 12 patrols a day, one every 2 hours.
There are heaps of food in the gym. At this late hour, a lorry is still
in the process of unloading a dozen, millstone size, home baked country
breads. The smell of the fresh bread, the sight of the circular, gigantic
loafs, makes the gym feel like home. There are also boxes of fruit, cheese,
cookies, cans of milk, even a wine-basket. We sit down, Gyurka and I, on the
gymnastics mats and have a gourmand dinner of fresh bread, cheese and
water-melon. Pinned to the cheese, I find a slip of paper with childish
handwriting. It reads: We love you!
The bicyclist this morning and now the water-melon reminds me of uncle
Petik, my father's melon farmer. He cultivated ten acres of our rented land
until forced collectiv ization has put an end to our farming. He lived in a
hut, dug in the middle of the field, where he stayed with his family from
spring to fall. He worked from sunrise to sunset, every day except Saturday.
On that day, he dressed up into his black suit and spent his time reading the
Bible. He also sang. The tunes were different from any other I heard. On
Saturdays, the otherwise reserved uncle Petik, became talkative.
He explained to me, that he is a Sabbatharian and a Sekler-Hungarian.
Decades later I learned, that some Sekler-Sabbatharians believe that their
ancestors were the Kabar tribe, one of the ten Hungarian tribes, which
settled the Danubian basin in 996 AD. The Kabars were of turkic stock and of
Jewish religion. When I get this far in the story, Gyurka interrupts: I bet
the cyclist did not get here in 996 AD! Yeah! I would not be surprised, if
he called his mother: 'mutter' - I add in agreement.
When I finally get back to the MEFESZ office, I get a hug from Kati Sz
ke, who does not believe in wearing bras. This, I don't mind at all, but it
makes me blush all the same. While I give my report to Pista, the room gets
quiet, people listen. Then, Pista writes out a receipt for 1,200 rifles, 600
sub-machine-guns, 150 pistols, 50 light and 20 heavy ma chine-guns, but uses
pencil to write in the numbers, so that I can ink it over with the actual
numbers, that we will get.
With that, I am done for the day. Pista is not. His eyes are even
bloodier than they were in the morning. This is Friday night and he probably
did not get a decent sleep since our meeting Monday in the Aula. The swirling
is continuing around him. The discussion is about sending a delegation to the
Minister of the Army and an other one to the Parliament. They are debating
the conditions under which we should disarm.
The blond, blue eyed giant, Jancsi Danner feels, that our minimum
condition should be the disbanding of the AVH and the withdrawal of all
Russian troops from Hungarian soil. I agree with Jancsi. The short, stubby,
and bright, Ivan Szabs argues that our government has no control over the
Russians, therefore the Hungarian authorities should not be asked to promise,
what they can not deliver. The debate is passionate, the debaters are going
through their usual swirling dance-routine. Pista can barely stand up, his
shaking fingers are yellow from nicotine, but his brain is still in fifth
gear, he hits the nail on the head: The Russians claim, that they were
invited into the Hungarian capital by our government. If they needed a
Hungarian invitation to enter, then the Hungarian Government can also ask
them to leave!
It is around 2 AM, when Ili Tsth, the medic who last night invited me
to sleep in the medical emergency room, declares: Vcsike! Time for bed. -
and although she is younger than me, I still obey her command. This lovely
girl has that particular look in her eyes, but besides being an unexperienced
chicken, there is also Agnes (with whom I have maintained my inexperience for
more than a year), so I just get on the miserable single bed on wheels and
sleep like a baby.
On Saturday morning, we first inspect the Russian tanks stationed on
the Pest side of each bridge on the Danube. They are at every bridge head,
except that of the Chain Bridge. We'll use the Chain Bridge on our return,
when we are loaded with weapons! - suggests Gyurka and I agree. On our way
to the Zrinyi Barracks, we hear machine-gun firing from \ll i Street. This
could be Mr. Coffee Man himself! - I say, referring to Istvan Angyal, whom
we met yesterday at the hospital. Would you like to visit him? - asks
Gyurka and I admit, that I would, but not now.
At the Zrinyi Barracks, they take us to the head of their
Revolutionary Council: a captain. In a few days, every factory, every office,
every village has elected their Revolu tionary Councils. Nobody planned or
suggested this, it occurred as naturally as leafs grow on trees. These
councils were the leafs of democracy. Aptyi was elected to the council in
The captain studies the list, which Colonel Marian gave me. We have
no machine- guns, neither light nor heavy, but we do have hand-grenades and
flame-throwers. You want some of those? -he asks. Sure. I say without much
thinkig. He also makes a quick calculation of weights and suggests that, we
better bring a second truck for the next round, because to deliver everything
Colonel Marian asked for, will take 5 or 6 loads.
Our first load is 40 crates of stick and egg grenades, plus some
flame-throwers. This is a heavy load, the truck is kind of sitting down on
its back wheels.
Gyurka aims for the Szichenyi Chain Bridge. We are already on
Roosevelt Square when we notice, that the Russians have dug in at the
bridge-head. Gyurka lies down into my lap and floors the gas. I sink down
too, so that all the Russians can see, is a driverless truck racing toward
the bridge. Now I hear a big bang, followed by three enormous crashlike
detonations in quick succession. The truck is still speeding ahead, Gyurka
and I are still on the floor. I see no blood, I feel no pain.
We must be at the middle of the bridge, when Gyurka sits up: Hey,
they did not smash the windshield! - he says. As we look around, there seem
to be no damage at all. So, what were those explosions? - I ask. I think I
know - grins Gyurka. When I saw the Russians, I got scared and took my eyes
off the road. So instead of driving on the road, we drove over their
trenches, which made our crates jump. Taking off and falling back caused the
big boom and than the crashing sounds.
As Gyurka is parking at the university and I see the lanky Jancsi Danner
staring at the demolished crates on our truck. He comes over and hugs me. It
is unusual for him to show emotion, so he must think that we have been
through a lot. I hug him back, and say: It was nothing, just rough driving.
His bride, Gabi, is standing next to him. She is a tall girl, but barely
reaches the shoulders of Jancsi's 6'-6 frame.
While we were away, Pista obtained a dozen Hungarian tanks. They came
with their crews from Pilisvvrvsvar and will be staying at our university. He
also got some anti- aircraft guns, which are parked behind the library.
Jancsi does not know, where they came from.
We take the grenades to the gymnasium, the flame-throwers to the
basement of the library. By the time we have unloaded, Imre Majoross arrives
with the second truck. As we start on our second trip, I ask them to drop me
off at the Pest side of Pet fi Bridge and pick me up there, when they come
back with the next load of arms, at around 4 PM.