The Silenced Bells Are Rung Again
The Second Installment of "In the Chains of the Hammer and Sickle"
by A. Krupa O.F.M.
(Translated by A. Igriczi Nagy)
Debrecen had a "brown star" in the person of the Franciscan Father Ottmar Faddy, before it acquired a "red star" in Matyas Rakosi. The population liked the brown star better than the red one. This is understandable, especially since Father Faddy—accompanied by me—stayed in the town whilst the majority of the inhabitants, together with their priests, sought refuge elsewhere. We did not even hide but awaited the "glorious liberating Russian army." We had expected death rather than a chance to live at their hands—however, we wanted to meet our death within the walls of the church.
The brigands have flooded the town. Father Ottmar was the only one who was not terrified. He was the first one who dared to set foot on the street when the bullets were still whistling and the bombs, dropped from the planes, still exploding. It was he who opened the doors of the shelters with the customary greeting of "Laudetur Jesus Christus!" With the Franciscan greeting of "Peace and blessing to you," with his sweeping gestures, and broad smile he gave them the ray of hope for life. Many people said later that in Father Ottmar they saw an angel proclaiming the resurrection—"Fear not! We are alive, and we are full of hope."
Father Ottmar was the first one to ring the bells—on the order of the authorities. In the whole city, only the bell of our church rang for the evening Angelus, "Ave Maria." For the Soviet military command gave the order to have the bells ringing in all the churches, let everything go on, as before; because there is no persecution of religion. Let the bells, silenced by the Godless fascists, resound again! However, few dared to do it because to do so, one would have to walk the streets in the evenings where the pedestrians were greeted by bullets and cries for help from desperate women. On going from the rectory to the church, we had to traverse a distance of 150 feet. In the meantime, the Soviet Army was streaming into town without pause. Everybody who dared to move came under suspicion—they could be spies or snipers. However, Father Ottmar did not become concerned. He went to ring the bells, silenced for quite a while, and to proclaim by their sound— "By the grace of God, we are still alive!" He grabbed the rope with both hands and our big bell BOOMed and sang out with a magic force as never before.
The soldiers marching in front of our church froze in their tracks. What is it? The bells are ringing just when they are passing in front of the church? Is it to honour them or to betray them? Oh, this can only be treachery, a sign to the enemy that they are arriving now. They started a violent barrage of shooting and surrounded the church. Father Ottmar stepped out into a forest of gun barrels, aimed at him. He was smiling, he was happy. The ruffians were surprised by the religious habit. This would be the spy who is signaling to the Germans? And he is even smiling? Nevertheless, they went on yelling, "Spion! Spion!" Their officer stood him next to the wall, to be shot immediately. Father Ottmar eyed the line of guns calmly and went on smiling. He did not quite know what this was all about, but accepted it as par for the course. If they don't kill him on the steps of the church, at least they would kill him by its wall. But suddenly an interpreter materialized and Father Ottmar told him that the Soviet commander was the one who ordered the bell ringing and that there should be business as usual in the church. So what did Father do wrong?
It isn't so! yelled the Soviet officer. This is a war zone, a military route. You are a fascist spy! We'll shoot you!
But they did not shoot him. Perhaps, because he awaited death too calmly—or perhaps their orders were to handle the church and clergy gently. The German propaganda about Russia had to be counterbalanced—and it had to be shown that the occupying power is not a sworn enemy of the Churches, religions, priests and ministers. The officer thought that similar regulations had also been issued for this city. Swearing loudly, he marched away with his unit.
However, a high ranking Hungarian officer got word of the scenario of Father Ottmar by the wall. He did not stop to verify the facts but could imagine the consequences of Father Ottmar's conduct. He was so firmly convinced that Father Ottmar was shot, that he reported it as a personally witnessed fact to the Superior General of the Franciscans in Budapest. Father was mourned, they said prayers and Masses for him and entered his name in the book of martyrs.
No, Father Ottmar did not die—rather, he was in his element. There was a crying need for busy hands. The bells were silent again, but he took over for them, proclaiming God morning, noon and evenings, exhorting the people to pray, work, persevere and hope. Before the arrival of Russians, we were placing people into shelters from the bombs; after their arrival, we were placing the women from the bestially wild "liberators"—in the church, in the church tower, behind the altar, in the loft of the rectory, under the beds. We took food to them—even out to the ranches. We brought the Sacraments to them. Not only were we the first to reopen our school and playground, but we also were the first to supply the robbed people of the outlying farms with shoes, clothing and food; and we obtained carts and horses for the ranchers. For a long time, we were repairing our house and also the houses of the parishioners—especially the damaged roofs. For weeks we lived in the forest and cut wood so that both we and our parishioners would have wood for our stoves. Our playground was functioning excellently, and we made more excursions than ever before; even the daughter of the Red deputy mayor came with us. They (the inhabitants of Debrecen) liked us; we were popular. It was not possible to organize demonstrations against us, urging the hangman's rope for people like ourselves. Not yet! We were at one not only with our faithful, not only with the factory workers, but even with the Protestants.
Naturally, the Party did not rejoice about this. It watched the events with clenched teeth but could not do much for the time being. It had to put up with it. Eventually, the plan to utilize our popularity for Communist aims was born. They wanted to use Father Ottmar as bait in the hope that all young people would follow wherever he led. Putting their devious plan into action did not seem impossible because Father Ottmar judged people from the standards of his own benevolent heart and believed in the goodwill of others. He also believed that it is not possible to have Russian style Communism in our country, although we may end up with a democracy of pinkish hue. Thus, he was pleased when the Party invited him to become co-chairman of its youth organization, the MADISZ, since his personality attracted the young people. Of course, Father Ottmar thought that he would be able to wash the Reds white; the Party on the other hand thought that Father would make some "faux pas"—and then they would be able to silence him forever. However, it did not take long for Father Ottmar to see through them during this cooperative venture and he was, therefore, planning to resign. In order to forestall this, the Party had dismissed him swiftly so that they could try and sentence him and could bandy his name about. The thunder was rumbling, the storm gathering and the deluge started sooner than anybody would have thought.
Father Ottmar was an excellent orator, and able speaker. Because he was well known and popular, the Party of Smallholders asked him to deliver a lecture during their political conference. He, as an outspoken individual, said the following:
"When during the peace treaty negotiations, they were chopping off our borderlands, the Party offered more territory to our adversaries than they asked…" Naturally, he meant the Communists. The Communists' stance on this question was well known. Premier F. Nagy had also stated that the Communists called the Hungarian efforts directed to preserve our borders as revanchist and schauvinist demands. Since the Soviets wanted the Carpathian region from the Czechs, Bessarabia and Bukovina from the Romanians, these countries would be only compensated if Hungarian territories were given to them. Thus, Hungary was proclaimed to be a principal War Criminal. It had to be proven to the world that our country, as a principal criminal, deserved its dismemberment.
Naturally, Father Ottmar's statement struck like lightning at the meeting's dignitaries. "He is reviling the government!" yelled the secretary and he, himself, ran to the Communist party to report this scandalous event, meriting the District Attorney's attention. The Communists were pleased that without them having to start the accusations, the opportunity arose to sweep the sky of Debrecen clear off its "brown star." The indictment was ready—vilification of the party and the government.
On the day scheduled for the trial, the whole town gathered near the court with the faithful of the parish and the railway-car factory workers in front. The Party wanted to hold a spectacular trial, as it was customarily done in Moscow. Let the people see how antidemocratic and treacherous their priest is, how ungrateful is the Catholic Church even though it is fed by the Party's bread! The biggest courtroom was assigned for this case and whole pages of their newspaper were devoted to listing the exaggerated accusations.
Debrecen had a prolonged, arid heat wave that summer. In spite of the enervating heat, the courtroom was full and the neighbouring streets—where a large contingent of policemen was assigned—(because of the lack of space in the courtroom)—were filled with people. Father Ottmar's Defence Counsel was a well-known, reputable Jewish lawyer from Budapest, who was chosen by Father Ottmar's supporters. During the trial, the men and women were kneeling on the ground and prayed the Rosary aloud. This, of course, displeased the Party but not as much as the group of workers ordered by them to demonstrate and to chant "The hangman's rope for the priest, the hangman's rope for the traitor"—did not utter one word.
Next, they tried to use mounted policemen to chase the people out of the district with the excuse that their loudness interfered with the orderly conduct of the trial. However, the people left through one street and returned by another. What could they, the authorities, do? They did not quite dare to order the policemen to use their swords to distribute random blows from their secure position from the horses. This was a crowd-dispersal method used during the regime of Horthy, and often used by Communists in the past as a tool for their anti-Horthy propaganda. But something had to be done. So they called out the fire brigade. But the water hoses did not function. The people laughed—they saw the finger of God in this—and the sympathies of the fire brigade. Suddenly, the enraged mayor pushed through the crowd. Conceivably, he must have been a volunteer fireman in the past since he started the machinery easily—himself handling the biggest hose to spray water on the bystanders. Nobody took this as a tragedy, rather, in the scorching heat a little cooling did not come amiss. When the "spraymaster" left, the people pulled back but continued to sing and pray.
When the morning shift ended at the wagon factory and the workers heard that the water hoses were turned on their wives, they also joined the crowd. This was even more alarming for the Party. What will happen if the workers not only protect their wives but also stand up for the accused? The authorities, therefore, limited themselves to the arrest of a few strident young women but they did not want to put more oil on troubled waters.
It was in this heated atmosphere that the verdict was announced in the afternoon.
"The Court finds the defendant innocent because in his criticism of the government, he did not do so in excess of what is permitted to him in his position and priestly authority and dignity."
So they did not dare to condemn him! They were not strong enough to put a priest, as popular as Father Ottmar, behind bars. He was found not guilty on and for the records—but not in the minds of the Party—ever.
The people exalted. "God has wrought a victory" resounded first in the courtroom, then continued to reverberate like thunder on the streets. Men and women were crying and hugging each other and the wales of the houses echoed the song, born of the moment:
"God has won! The prayers brought a victory! Long live, long live Father Ottmar!"
"Long live Father Ottmar" was sung with an especially notable vigor on the lips of a middle-aged man. The policemen and detectives told him to quiet down but he went on singing regardless. It was rumoured that his pocket held a hand grenade, which in case of a conviction for Father Ottmar, he was planning to throw at the court officials in the courtroom.
The Court was at the other end of the town from the priory, quite far away. Still, the people planned to carry Father Ottmar to his home on their shoulders. The Party did not care to see this happen so they offered to transport him in a squad car. However, the people did not permit anybody to steal their hero from them. They surrounded the automobile and accompanied its slow passage, shouting all the while without pause:
"God has won! The prayers brought a victory! Long live, long live Father Ottmar!"
I ran ahead to bring the good news and to prepare the church. When I caught sight of the approaching crowd, the bells were rung again. I rung the bells for a Te Deum the like of which had never been seen in this little church. People came in large numbers from all directions as if to witness a miracle, and this was a miracle!
The losers never forgot, neither did they every forgive Father Ottmar; and as for me, subsequently, they tried me for the crime of "organizing a demonstration and inciting the people to rebellion by bellringing."
THE POLICE CAPTAIN'S MARX
After we were "liberated", I was working a lot on our playground. There seemed to be no end to the number of physically taxing, messy chores. Suddenly a policeman materialized in front of me. The new police captain asked me to call on him for he would like to get to know us. I did not really like this, besides I was not the Superior. So I replied somewhat sharply:
"If he has any problems concerning us, let him subpoena us. Otherwise, the distance is the same from him to us and vice versa. We have quite enough to do here as it is."
Next day, shortly after a hurried lunch, the new police captain appeared, smartly in uniform, full of the glory of his new position. I, on the other hand, was in my work habit, and it wore the signs of a day's hard labour—torn, patched, with traces of paint on it.
"I'm looking for Reverend Krupa."
"I'm he. Greetings, Mr. Police Captain!" He looked at me, with doubting eyes. This then, work worn, work soiled person would be the one who sent him such a snappy reply? He could not believe it.
"I'm looking for the Krupa who sent the message to me from the playground yesterday."
"Yes, it's me, but I'm not the rector. He went into town."
"I'm new in town. I've heard many good things about the Franciscan Fathers. I would have liked for you to pay your respects to me with a visit so that we could get to know each other."
"In the old days, the custom was for new officials arriving into town to pay their respect at their rectory. We would have liked to keep to these rules. This is why we did not go—not even when called."
"I apologize," his face clouded over and it was evident that he took offence "that I did not go about it that way, but I'm very busy."
He mentioned a number of current topics. Then, he came up with this:
"I see that you all are working a lot for the people. If you would read Marx, you would collaborate with the Party and would work together for the benefit of the people."
"I've read Marx and even studied it as part of my official duties in my youth. Of course, this was a long time ago. However, I would gladly read it again, even at my advanced age, if it would be available; especially since I've heard that they trimmed his writings quite a bit. I wonder what was left out? Some say, of course the reactionaries, that his writings are always trimmed to fit the times. Could you be so kind and loan me your volume?"
His face reddened. He was visibly ready to burst out, and struggling to control himself.
"Unfortunately, I don't have one; but I'll try to get it and will send it."
Naturally, he never sent it. We heard he related our meeting and conversation at one of the Party meetings. He repeated with conviction that if all Communists were labouring so diligently and would be as courageous and self-assured as the Franciscan Fathers, our Communist state would soon be a reality.
Nevertheless, this praise did not prevent the powers that be from entering beside my name: "He was contemptuously insolent with the police captain."
TO SOME, SLAPS ON THE FACE; TO SOME, STRIKES WITH A SWORD
At the time of the Russian avalanche, a tank unit was quartered near us. They kept the people in a state of eternal terror and us, too, even though we knew they had their orders—"Do not touch the churches, don't harm the priests!"—as a propaganda maneuver, naturally. On the big feast day of their October revolution's anniversary, they were drunk the whole day. Nevertheless, one of them came across to us and started to pillage our already pillaged rectory. Straightaway, I said to him faultlessly in the new, recently learnt Asiatic tongue—"Russki soldat nie zabranic" that is—"A Russian soldier does not steal." He became terribly angry. He yelled that he did not steal; and, this and that, he'll show that the fascists can't order him about. He left but returned soon with three others, all armed with swords. It was amazing, how intrepid they were against the unarmed Franciscan brothers. They were waving their weapons about, as the conductors wave their batons. They herded all of us into one room. Then they went from room to room, slashing the furniture, carpets, pictures, whatever they could find—a destruction of revenge. Before they left the apartments, as a form of goodbye, they boxed my ears, beat Father Ottmar with the sword, another Brother with a builder's spade and they hit our elderly cooking woman on the chest.
We just laughed at such an accurate assessment of everybody's importance, almost like receiving Saint Emericus's kisses. (Translator's note, Saint Emericus, the son of King Saint Stephen of Hungary, during a visit to a monastery kissed all the monks, varying the number of kisses. On being asked why not the same number for all, he replied that the holier ones got more). However, Father Ottmar was angry, especially since it was only yesterday that the priests assembled at the Russian-commanding post were told that they would not come to any harm from the military personnel—and today they're boxing our ears? He put his "mercifully unstolen" cap on his head and headed towards the commanding post. This was around noon.
Towards the evening, a truck suddenly came to stop in front of our rectory. I was in front of the gate, "talking" (both of us using gestures and words from each other's language) with an elderly, quiet—mannered Russian. From the truck, soldiers, armed to the teeth, sprang forth—the Russian military police. Their officer held a whip with which he was beating on his boots. They were yelling like wild boar and at once fell upon my elderly Russian. They grabbed him from all sides and threw him, like a sack of grain, into the truck. I'm defending him, "He is a good Russki," but to no avail. How dare he set foot on the street? They brought an interpreter with them. We are to show them, ordered their officer, who were the ones who manhandled us. In the dark of the night? To us they all looked the same with their Mongolian features, difficult to tell apart. Who on earth could identify them out of a 100 or so men? And who would dare? We knew from experience that they were bloodcurdlingly vindictive. They've butchered whole families for a slight.
The MP's roused the soldiers of the tank unit from their nocturnal rest. They drove them all out onto the street as they were, in their underwear. They treated them like cattle, kicking them, nudging them with whips. We were firmly convinced that a massacre was imminent, that we'd be knee-deep in Russian blood tonight—and we minded the whole thing by now. They lined up these drunken, stuporous men and we had to walk by the lineup in order to find the culprits. I recognized only one of our noontime visitors—with characteristic facial scars. However, I said nothing because he was making threatening eye signals—"Do not denounce me." Father Ottmar, however, pointed at him with dead certainty because this one was the most insolent. Up in the truck, beside the other! He was already flying through the air.
The officers of the unit were protesting. They were defending their men. They regarded it as sheer lunacy that their men should be humiliated for the sake of the enemy, but the protests were of no avail. The MP officer with the whip ruled over all as a Tzar or as a Stalin. It seemed that he was ready to open fire on them. At the last minute before their departure, Father Ottmar said to the MP Chief, you're leaving but we remain. What will happen to us? "Do not fear, batjushka" and he patted Father reassuringly on the shoulder "even the hairs on your heads are safe!" Naturally, we did not quite believe him. Every night before retiring we affixed the cords of our habits onto the window casement, so that we could lower ourselves on them, as Saint Paul did, if we had to escape. We did not have to. One night the tank unit had left so suddenly that we did not even notice their departure.
The day after the removal of our tormentor, at a time when Father Ottmar was already in town, and myself again in front of the gate, a hearse stopped suddenly in front of me. A Russian officer alighted from it. He opened the door of the hearse at the back and motioned for me to get in. Hm. Not very reassuring. To get in a hearse whilst I'm still alive? Why? What do they want? To shoot me or hang me because of yesterday's events? This is how we will come to no harm? I mimicked hanging and shooting to the officer. He did not comprehend the sign language. For a while, he looked at me with awarement that I didn't want to occupy this exalted spot and then he laughed. He slammed the door shut, seated me beside him and took me to the town hall. He was asking me through an interpreter—Where is the soldier, (the quiet, old Russian) whom they took yesterday because he is one of his men. Naturally, regardless how insistent their demands were for information, I could not tell them a thing. (Later, we learnt that the two soldiers were taken to a hospital). At the end they let me go, much to my delight, and allowed me to walk home.
It was a long time afterwards, by the time when I already forgot this episode that the Police indicted me for two counts of "vilifying the Russian army…"
Part I: A Hungarian Priest's Personal Account - Oct. '87
Part II: The Silenced Bells Are Rung Again - Nov. '87
Part III: Do You Have Papers? - Dec. '87
Part IV: The First Judas - Jan. '88
Part V: The Handcuffs Are Ready - Feb. '88
Part VI: The Trial: Old Gavor's Testimony - March '88
Part VII: He Deserves (To Be Put In) Prison! - April '88
Part VIII: Concluding Chapter - May '88