In the Chains of the Hammer and Sickle
by Father A. Krupa, O.F.M.
(Translated by A. Igriczi Nagy)
I Won't Strike a Bargain for My Skin!
I had been an inmate at the Budapest Central Prison when I received a proposition from the highest appellate forum, the National Council of the People's Court, or rather from the attorney general of this body: If I withdraw my appeal, he won't appeal to have my sentence increased—it will be left as decided by the People's Court in Debrecen, four years. I did not even reply. Either I deserved four years in prison or did not deserve anything. What a despicable business is this kind of thing which is meted out as justice within the democracy—buying, selling sentence length!
No, I will not bargain over my skin!
Two Altars, Two Calvaries
I had forgotten the details of the play-acting of my trial and was knee-deep in the life of prison when the final verdict of the appellate forum reached me. In essence, the National Court of Appeal finds the accusation of incitement to murder not proven and, therefore, the sentence is reduced to three years.
And so, from the date of the verdict onwards, I'm really a convict, bearing visible and invisible handcuffs, and not merely a person in custody! The convict garb is my rightful due. The handcuffs are rightfully mine, the sea of suffering is my rightful due, too! By rights, I'll be set free after three years if... if I live to see that day, if... They took off one year of my sentence; but the fact remains, this is a murderous kind of life in prison.
Is this why they're satisfied with three years? Are three years long enough to irretrievably detach the young from my sight? And, if I regain my freedom in three years' time, will the faithful and the young be there?
Included in the final verdict was the determination that the time spent in prison would count towards the completion of my sentence which, therefore, in effect I began serving on the Seventh of December.
So, when did it begin? On the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception. Feast of the Immaculate Conception... Mentally the magnificent altar fresco of the Franciscan Church in Eger appeared in front of my eyes. It stretched from the level of the altar almost to the ceiling, depicting Our Lady of Joy, clothed in the sun, with her feet crushing the dragon of evil. I spent a good part of my childhood and years of adolescence in front, at the foot of this fresco and I said my first Mass in front of it. I think back, remembering that day...
The church is packed. The bells, which I've so often helped to sound in my childhood, pealing forth joyfully. Vested in gold and silver, I make my way through the main portal of the church to the main altar, shining blindingly strong light, to the Golgotha of all times, to enact the bloodless sacrifice. I'm surrounded by cherubims in dalmatics, by those, who love me, whom I love, my mother, my brothers and sisters... What were the prayers bursting forth from the recesses of my heart? Oh dear God, how long has it been since I last thought about this? "My Lord, grant that I may suffer for my people—for the poor, the sinful, the suffering..."
Oh, you youthful priestly heart! You didn't know then, did you, that God will often respond to prayers which later we did not really wish Him to hear? Oh, you youthful priestly heart, aflame with love, you didn't have the wisdom to know that to ask to suffer is boldness, an over-estimation of our strength? My Lord, if you give us crosses, please also give us the strength to bear them! Perhaps God responded to those prayers of long ago, now, and here is your new altar for that first Mass, the second calvary—the prison which can become blood-stained from blood shed by you!
For, in His mercy, God gave you two altars, two Golgothas. So step up to your new altar, too, with Kyrie eleison!
And, offer up your convict's sacrifice, bloodless or bloodstained, daily, for the living and the dead...
My beloved readers, you know from these pages how I reached the second altar, but not how I made my way to the first... and yet the two paths intertwine. The second altar could not have been reached without the first, on which it was built, from which it rose to its height, from the soil of which its flowers grew...
(Translator's note: The first altar—that's another story, told beautifully by Father Krupa. If God so wishes, that, too, may be shared with you one day).
For those who doubt that verdicts and sentences as these could really happen, let me refer you to the writings of Cardinal Mindszenty in which he refers to his trial and verdict as a "Satanic Comedy". In a similar vein, Solzhenitzyn also describes horrifying examples. These stories have been told by Cardinal Mindszenty and Solzhenitzyn, and I will tell you two others.
The first story is of interest because it concerns a Franciscan Father, Pater Kis Szalez, and also helps us to understand the customary Communist scenarios better.
The second one is about one of the most cruel, and at one time, mightiest Hungarian Communist, Laszelo Rajk. Concerning his fate, subsequently, the government publicly stated that his trial was mere play-acting, the verdict unjust and he was posthumously rehabilitated.
At the time when the case of P. Kis Szalez took place, the Communist Party resolved to disband all non-Communist youth groups and in order to facilitate this process, the process of manufacturing false evidence against them had begun. The case of P. Kis Szalez from Gyongyos was the most notorious. Pater Kis Szalez was a professor of Theology, the Master of Seminarians and the leader of the local branch of KALOT, the Hungarian Catholic Youth Organization. Pater Szalez was a magnificient orator, an excellent organizer, and inspiring writer, and apostle of youth, burning with zeal. Under his leadership at Gyongyos and elsewhere, inspired by his example, Christian youth associations functioned so well that the local Party youth group did not have a chance to get off the ground. This fact had sealed Pater Szalez's doom. For to involve oneself in youth work outside the framework of Party structures was viewed as a sin against Communism, and so to extinction must go many young Hungarians and their priests! An attempt was also made to get the name of Primate Mindszenty involved in the Gyongyos case, in order to strike a sizeable blow at the whole Church. It was a big case, with the Party and press spending considerable effort on publicizing it far and wide.
According to the authorities, in 1946, two Russian soldiers were killed at Gyongyos and their bodies thrown into a disused well—and the murderers? Members of KALOT. Pater Szalez was preordained the instigator of the crime and it was loudly and publicly stated that he even used the confessional to urge people to violence. The news, radio broadcasts, cartoons, fliers and protest meetings called him a second Pater Kun (a priest of ill repute because of his political activities) and at mass meetings, demands were made for his death sentence. Although this drama was played in the full glow of the collectors of publicity, Pater Szalez was never tried. Only the accusations were discussed for a long time. No news of a trial or verdict was ever published. Father was simply carted off and then transferred from prison to prison endlessly.
According to those who were in the same prison, he was tortured terribly, cruelly, but bore all his sufferings heroically, with admirable strength. From the hands of the Hungarian Communists, he was slid over to the Soviet Military Court. Is it possible that even they could not break him? Perhaps; for suddenly, there was silence. Nobody wrote or said anything about the case. He disappeared without a trace and to these days, his fate is unknown. Perhaps, the most likely thing is that he was shipped to a Russian concentration camp, finishing his martyred life there. His biography was written by P. K. Kelemen, and Cardinal Mindszenty said of him: "Pater Szalez is the opening figure in the line of martyred Hungarian priests."
The other case is the trial of Laszlo Rajk, one of the most famous among the shop-window trials of those times. He was a dedicated Communist, whose heart, aflame for the cause, even took him into Spain to fight against Franco. At home, he was regarded as one of the most trustworthy, and he was given a post of major importance (translator's note—Minister of the Interior, responsible for the establishment of the AVO). And yet, he still ended up in the hands of the interrogators who did not exactly handle him with velvet gloves. And, hence, in front of the Court, with his fellow communists as judges; in front of the whole country, nay the world, they proved without any shadow of doubt that he was an agent of Imperialism, and he was buried in disgrace in an unknown grave. This is what the public was told. The true story is somewhat different; for, in 1956, they exhumed him, rehabilitated his wife, who was still alive, as the Communist government of the day had announced to the amazement of the world.
He was sentenced unjustly and died at the gallows innocently! I would have loved to know if the judges passing the sentence had anything to say in front of the fresh mound of the new grave. Probably nothing for they knew that this, too, was part of the satanic drama, the script for this closing scene had been written a long time ago.
The full story did not surface until 1956 when the freedom fighters discovered a tape in the villa of Matyas Rakosi from which the chain of events could be constructed.
Janos Kadar paid a visit to Laszlo Rajk in prison, before the trial. He told his comrade that in the interest of the Communist cause, and especially because of the needs of their Russian comrades, he will have to be convicted. However, this will be for the sake of appearances only! Afterwards, or so did Rakosi promise, Rajk would be smuggled into Russia in secret. So, if he does not want to die, then let him so conduct himself during the trial that this plan could be carried out. So Rajk, the dedicated Communist, a seasoned Party functionary, who knew all the satanic byways and alleys of their methods, believed them whilst in the grip of imminent death. He did not defend himself during the trial, rather he aided his accusers with confessions and self-incriminations. He was sentenced to death, as per agreement and executed in defiance of it. Standing in the front of the gallows, he knew that he—as many others—had been hoodwinked, but by that time, it was too late. With the rope around his neck, his last cry "I die innocent" was of no avail.
After his exhumation, he was buried with full honours—military and Party—and his body was placed into an ornate tomb. The traitor turned into a hero! The stooge of the Imperialists into an immaculate Communist, the most faithful of all the servants of the Party, again, by a judicial decree, permitting no further appeal.
It should be noted that approximately 3000 others were sentenced and executed in connection with Rajk's trial and executed, presumably first as wrongfully as Rajk was; but their bodies were not dug up again and there were no new graves for them at which the government of the Reds would announce: They were innocent! It is horrifying to contemplate that throughout all the history of tyrannical systems, no dictator ruled without being able to find judges to willingly condemn the most innocent, if the system so desired.
Is it possible to doubt after this that trials in Communist lands are nothing but carefully scripted theatrical productions; let the genre be a horror story or comedy.
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