February 1988 Print

In the Chains of the Hammer & Sickle

Part V
The Handcuffs Are Ready

by Father A. Krupa, O.F.M.
(Translated by A. Igriczi

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Finally, the subpoena for the trial had arrived one day. They emphasized that failure to appear will result in being brought in by police escort. Also, should I fail to select a defense attorney within the prescribed time limit, the court will appoint one for me.

I did not nominate anybody as my defense attorney. What for? To play that farce? We knew the procedures of the "People's" court well enough to regard the effort required to select one as superfluous. Everybody knew how things were done: The Party makes a decision, the people's court implements it. The courts of democracy are nothing more than the executive power of the Party. So what good would obtaining a defense counsel do? The only achievement would be wasting money and to assist at a circus-like performance. We were aware of the existence of attorneys with "0" and "00" prefixes, these were the trust worthiest communists, members of the AVO. It is ridiculous, nay mind boggling, to have the innocent lambs cared for by wolves. By this time, the authorities were cleaning up the Bar, sweeping through it. Only those could remain members and, therefore, could practice law, who were regarded as trustworthy by the Party. Those who remained, feared for their very lives. How would they then defend anybody whole-heartedly who is accused of criminal deeds by the democracy? Which attorney wishes to end up, together with his client, in prison? Thus, the typical lawyer of these times doesn't protect the one whom he defends; in the majority of cases abandons him, throws wool over his eyes, and becomes the ally of the judges and the AVO, even their informer. Together with them he sits in judgment of the accused rather than defend him. The best that can be expected from him, even though he does not defend his client, is to at least stop short of accusing him. Most of the time he opts for pleading guilty to the indictment and perhaps, if he has the courage, asks for a more lenient sentence. Mercy is absent where justice is nonexistent, so why bother to have a defense counsel?

(In the book titled The City of the Shadows M. Andras Pogany, a young lawyer from Budapest, says that he attempted to help where, with his meager resources, it was in his power to do so, and he asserts that other lawyers also did the same. If there were such cases, and in matters more weighty than "insignificant chicken feed" situations, they deserve our respect and heartfelt appreciation, for such lawyers in these times were truly Hungarians and heroes).

Within a short time, I received notification that the court appointed a lawyer for me. Since I did not go to see him, he visited our rectory one evening. I told him openly, I did not expect any support from him and I had no need for his services for he is just as impotent as I, the accused. Zero plus zero will never add up to one! He did not protest either. He left silently with sagging shoulders.

As my last words to my flock, I'd reiterated to the faithful during my sermon on the last Sunday before the trial, (I was not certain if plain-clothes policemen were present), that I do not ask that they should deny things or lie, for my sake. I take responsibility for what I said. In difficult times it would be easier to proclaim the word of God, to serve the Church if we could dispense with the obligation to stick by what we've said, to accept responsibility for our actions, but this would be only a counterfeit of our priestly mission. So I asked them to tell only the truth even if sticking to the truth would be difficult; but what's even more important, not to accept what is untrue as part of their beliefs. I asked them to pray for me so that I would bear my trial in a manner pleasing to God. I exhorted the flock not to disperse even if the shepherd disappears, to remain faithful to God, to their religion, to their small church and to their native country—even at the price of sacrifices! I asked them to remember that God and Our Lady, "Donna Magna ac Patrona Hungariae" are closest to us during difficult times. I saw that the approaching years will be hard, so hard that Hungarians never saw anything like it beforehand. I promised never to forget them as long as I lived and hoped that one day we will all meet in front of God's heavenly throne . . .

The last time when I saw them, their eyes were full of tears. They, too, saw the tears in mine, for the truth is that it isn't easy for the faithful to be separated from their priest, or for the priest from his flock, especially forever.

At home, I settled all my affairs as a person would who is never coming back. This turned out to be the reality, for after my release, we had neither a rectory nor a house for the religious and the police did not encourage meetings with the parishioners, most of whom I never saw again.

I spent my last days, or rather most of the nights, gathering material to disprove the accusations and which also would justify my statements. I collected many proofs, primarily the Communist newspapers. In the end, I would not go to sleep although recent events took their toll, leaving me exhausted. It is strange what goes on in body and soul in such times. This was not the fear of death of the Gethsemane, for back then to suffer and die for God and the Church were thought of as desirable aims. I was aware of a dark, oppressive feeling as if one has been detached from life and falling and falling down into an abyss. Falling into what? To where? Only if one could know where. At that point we are more conscious of our weaknesses than of our strengths, and one is enveloped in loneliness as if we would have to fight the battles of life and death all by ourselves. Nobody is around to strengthen, encourage or to help us. One lives through the hours of loneliness of the abandonment of Gethsemane. It is difficult to describe this state to those who have not lived through it. Perhaps, it isn't even possible, for the evangelist does not describe the sufferings of Jesus with words either, but with drops of blood falling from His face onto the ground.


Seventh December, 1948

As if even the sun would not deign to rise on this day, the sky was radiating waves of ice, greyly and unclearly—and that on the vigil of the feast of the Immaculate Conception—the feast day of the Lady stepping on the serpent, on the serpent which readied its sting to stick it, hissing, into my heel. Maybe, since it was only the vigil, the coming hour for the Woman clothed in the sun was not upon us yet . . . And strangely, this was the eve of the end of the Marian year or rather, the morning of the eve.

The road was frozen, covered with dull, lead-like ice. In front of our house, a cow pulling a cart had slipped. Regardless how hard she struggled, she could not rise. They were putting burning sheets of papers underneath her belly — horrible! They want to infuse strength into her through torture? The paper crackled as it burned beneath and she was struggling on, and my soul with her. Is this a portent, a symbol of my life in the days ahead? In not too many minutes, they will start to light a fire beneath me, too. Who will they be? People from my parish? Enemies?

The witnesses were already standing in front of the courtroom designated for the trial. I was not aware, even then, which of them were really the witnesses selected by the prosecutor. All became silent as I appeared. They were looking at me from the right, from the left, across a suitably big distance. Interestingly enough, most of them did not even dare to offer a greeting. They looked at me as if they felt themselves to be criminals, not I, they themselves. The two policemen, present in the church when the Mindszenty encyclical was read, were leaning against the balustrade. I stepped nearer to them to ask:

"Are you also going to help to put the rope around my neck?"

"Oh, no," and both of them blushed. Perhaps it was the Sargeant who said—"Oh, not at all! We won't turn into hangmen!"

Soon after this, they called me into the courtroom and seated me on the bench for the accused.

Bench of this accused! How is it that nobody wrote tales of horror about you yet? Why, when on you were seated some of the greatest of the world. You gave them a place to sit, a hard, rough support so that they should not fall to the ground during the most horrible hours of their lives? How many innocents were sitting on you? Tell us, who were greater men, the innocents or the guilty? How are you able to serve both kinds with the same unconcern, coolness, even hardness? What kind of wood are you made of? Who were your mother, father, teachers that you became the world's most feared creation? Or for you, it does not matter any more—becoming devoid of feelings over thousands of years—who is guilty, who is not? Would it be true that the greatest criminals of the world have never sat on you whilst the most blameless were marching towards death after sitting on you? How can you be so unfeeling as if you would not know that men have not abused any of their God given tasks as much as rendering justice? Oh, bench of the accused, you're seasoned weathery by crime and innocence; you are heartless, devoid of feelings, same as the due process of the law. And yet—and yet—hail, bench of the accused, because for a short while your hands are the ones which keep me high above the ground. Morituri te Salutant!

Open country near Debrecen, where Father often passed by.

Open country near Debrecen, where Father often passed by.


Hangmen and Mercenaries    

At the time of the trial there were still numerous political parties in Hungary. They were abolished a few years later. The Small Holder Party retained the majority of the votes at the last election.

In front of me rose darkly the Court of the People which the wagging tongues called the stupidity of the people. (In Hungarian, the two words birosag and butasag, rhymetranslator's note).

Dr. Gyula Deak sat in the middle, the only proper judge, doctor juris, president of the Court. Divided into factions, to his right and to his left, sat the "people's judges" ("judex populi" is the most approximate derivalent of this termtranslator's note)—Gozsef Krausz, Laszlo Riszman, Gozsef Szima and Mihaly Mikkai. They disport themselves as prongs of a five-pointed star, as the uncontested lords and usurpers of the peace of heaven and Earth. The "people's judges" were selected on the basis of political party membership, one from each political party. Most of them are uneducated, very simple people, probably most of them can read and write. Their greatest value is of being great members of their respective political parties, of being reliable! They're only playing at being judges, they're simply rubberstamping decisions made elsewhere; but they're here, because being here means glory; they can puff themselves up and, for a hefty attendance fee, can sit about all day long! The most self-assured among them is the Communist Party delegate. He is committed to represent the interests of the Party and would be willing to do so, even without remuneration. His presence is understandable, but how can the representative of the Small Holders' Party keep up his head without shame? Perhaps it's him, in the farmer's attire, in boots. Wouldn't he know that the people of the country did not put his party in power in order for the Communists to rule the roost, liquidating those who are not Communists? Why are you here, you most unfortunate of traitors? Don't you feel it in your bones, very soon you and the Small Holders' Party members will be sitting on this bench, the bench for the accused? Members of the People's Court, one day you'll be the most despised when you stand in front of the judgment seat of history!

One of the accused—who said, "This is not a People's Court; this is a gathering of mercenaries, horse traders, hangmen!"—was gentler in his characterization of you than you deserved.

The president of the Court seemed like a hungry wolf, gnashing his teeth, which raids the sheep herds daily, piling victim upon victim, ground to death with the lethal wolf teeth. It looked as if the contempt, the hatred, shone most fiercely from his eyes.

The assurance of the prosecutor rendered him almost taut. He and his colleagues were hated and feared within the breath and width of the Hungarian People's Democracy. They enjoyed their status—"I the prosecutor"—this Tertullus of modern times, this advocate of Satan was arranging his files with wide gestures, showing how well prepared he was.

My defense counsel? He was already in his seat, looking as if he wore a label on his flattened chest, "Please excuse me dear People's Court, but I'm not the accused!"

And the people? Scared, uncertain of themselves—like sheep who see their shepherd writhing between the teeth of a wolf. They're breathing with effort, afraid even to whisper to each other, even more in awe when the indictment was read:

Incitement to murder policemen. Dissemination of false news. Agitation against the government.

Next, the judge asked me, Do I plead guilty? Am I presenting arguments for the defense? Do I feel remorse?

I stood up and began: "Why would I have incited anybody to murder? This is so palpably untrue that nobody can prove it. This accusation should collapse by itself; therefore, I will not even spend time refuting it.

"As regards to spreading false information, I would like to prove with documents, and through other means, that I never said anything which was not published in the papers or broadcast on the radio; and if these were lies, then I said so."

At this point, I picked up a sheaf of articles cut out from local newspapers and magazines. "Here is the first case. An old lady related in our local paper how cruelly was she treated by our rector, Pater Kis Szalez, when she turned to him for aid during the time of poverty after the 'liberation'. The truth is that Father Kis Szalez left Debrecen for Gyongyos long before this was supposed to take place. So how could he be cruel to an old woman living here? So who lied then, the paper or I?

"Here is another instance . . ." But at that point presiding Judge Deak interrupted, exclaiming—"Please, go no further! We're not concerned with veracity. We're not interested whether you said the truth or you were lying. So it is not necessary to offer proof on this point. The Court is interested only whether what you said caused agitation among the people, and the investigation proved that it did!"

So there we had it! How soon did the devil merge from its unsavoury hole. In the indictment it was emphasized that I'd spread false news, designed to incite public disturbance to such an extent that some were ready to start killing off members of the police. And now? By now they're not interested whether I said the truth or lies. This was a shocking proof of our suspicions, any defense or rebuttal is meaningless! They are not searching here for the truth, only for grounds for condemnation—or rather they simply want to announce the verdict, not ready to read out loud, yet, but already decided upon. Why waste any more time? One is powerless against the decision of the Party. Why should I perform in their circus any longer? I sat down.

In that case, I've nothing to say!

Another scene from near Debrecen.

Another scene from near Debrecen.


II. They Were Seeking False Witnesses Against Him. (Matt. 26, Verse 59)

Next came the witnesses. Needless to say, the witnesses for the prosecution; for none of those whom our side wanted to call were approved to testify. The police sergeant of the village, Andras Juhasz, was the first witness by virtue of his position. Someone in charge of the village police in his capacity as sergeant would not have been insignificant in the eyes of the Court. I have to confess, his appearance was not suggestive of any perfidity or wickedness or even that of a faithful servant of the Party. His demeanor was reassuring. Still, I almost stopped breathing from the shock of surprise when the minutes of the investigation were read aloud. My throat constricted from the horror of his confession. And this was the man who said on the outside that he will not become the hangman? I would not have believed that he was such a consummate actor. I began to have second thoughts about his fairly regular attendance at Sunday Mass. He could have come to church in the capacity of an informer, an overseer. They can easily send me to the gallows for the contents of this investigative record! The buzzing of the flies seemed to swell to the volume of a bomber plane's motor and the voice of the presiding judge thundered into the stillness:

Comrade Sargeant, was this as it is stated in the minutes?

And now came the shock, for the sargeant in a voice audible to all, replied with determination:

"No, it was not so!"

Some jumped up in their excitement. Others glanced at each other knowingly. What now? The presiding judge sprung from his seat.

"But then how is it that you signed it? Why did you sign it?"

And whilst I felt the urge to laugh out loud, the eyes of the prosecutor were glistening, his face darkened, like clouds do before a storm.

The counsel for the defense was restlessly shifting as if he were sitting on a pile of needles. The honourable members of the People's Court of Justice were gazing around stupefied and were shouting, "Why did you sign it? Why?"

Our sergeant was supporting his head in his hands. He seemed to be reflecting profoundly and did not seem to hear the ocean of questions directed at him.

"No! I can't remember hearing remarks such as these," said he putting an end to the suspense of waiting. "In some cases, I definitely remember statements to the contrary."

"For example," asked the Presiding Judge somewhat sarcastically.

"Let's not plot murder against the police, but direct our hearts and minds to prayer!"

"But in that case, tell us, our good man," babbled the mercenaries, the vendors of people's life, the little stocky dark vendors, "why did you sign it at that time, and proclaim the statements attributed to you, untrue now?"

"It was like this," began the witness belabouring each word, "that when I returned from church, I found a detective on the precinct premises. He asked me where have I been? And what was said in church? I told him briefly. At this he sat down and began to write. I only realized that he was writing my words down when he put the paper in front of me, asking me to sign my statement made in the course of his investigations. I believed that he wrote down what I said. He was a colleague. I did not want to humiliate him by my distrust, by supposing that he wrote something else than what I said, that he altered the facts. And so, I signed the statement without reading it. But, may it please the Court, I did not say those things. I could not have done for it was not so!"

As if they were hit across the windpipe, the honourable members of the People's Court of Justice sunk into silence. Every judge was looking at the prosecutor's counsel, who sprung up as a black leopard after its prey.

"You're a policeman? The sergeant in charge? And you would not know that the statutory sentence for signing a false statement is five years in prison, at least five years, and instant dismissal beside other measures! Thousands of other measures!" He was running his words together fast, running on, leafing through the pages of his Criminal Code with the speed of the wind, as if he wanted to fish out the "1000 other things" from it. The handsome, tall policeman seemed to shrink. He sank into himself, his face clouded over. His struggle to weigh up the situation was visible to all. "Five years prison? Loss of job? And a thousand other things?" That's too much for one man to bear. And for what? He, and possibly his family as well, should perish for the just cause of another person? That's not possible. Nobody can demand this from him. He stated the truth once, can't do it again . . .

"All this was a long time ago," he groaned in the end. "Half a year ago? Perhaps, my recollections are not clear. My memory could have been more accurate then. Possibly it happened as the record states."

He not only signed his statement but even swore under oath of its accuracy!

This is how his testimony became the foundation stone on which the whole indictment and the proofs rested. The testimony about which, shortly before, the witness stated that it was not true. The most serious part was the incitement for murder of the police.

Our police corporal was more clever about it. He, too, owned up signing his statement without reading it, acknowledged its contents except the incitement for the murder of the police. The court had its fill from the previous circus-like scene. They did not press him why did he sign something which he now denies? They let him run, and he ran!

Afterwards came more witnesses, one after the other. I don't remember in which order, even how many of them. Although it seemed that there were more than the number listed in the court records. However, I had no reason to be ashamed of them. If their testimony contained any distortions, lies or factual untruths, all of them had the courage not only to correct the record but even to confess that they were coerced into signing it! One signed because he was threatened with being fired from his job, the other because they made him stand in the sun for a whole day, the third because they did not let him go home to his family, and after them it was the turn of old Gabor Gsuta.