NOTE: This is the 7th segment of a memoir of the Hungarian Revolution,
consisting of 15 such segments. My goal is to pay tribute to two of the
martyrs of 1956, Istvan Angyal and Janos Danner. If at the end of this
series, you would like me to send you the complete text (330,000 bits,)
please let me know. I apologize that some of the Hungarian vowels are
deformed by the AOL software (such as e'=i, etc.), but this is still
preferred, because this way the hard prints are correct. Be'la Lipta'k
As I am heading toward the garage at 36 T|zolts Street, the headquarters of
Istvan Angyal, I hear gunfire from that direction. So I approach the area
from the back, through Mester and Viola Streets. As I turn into Viola Street,
I can see a Russian tank at the intersection with \ll i Street. Viole Street
is strangely still and quiet, it seems completely deserted.
Now I see an aluminum waste-basket on the street corner with T|zolts
Street. It is moving by itself! It is slowly crossing Viola Street. I stare
at it hypnotised. Now the tank at the intersection starts firing at the
rubbish-bin, and at that very instant, somebody pulls me into a doorway. Are
you out of your mind? - yells a bolding, bespectacled man. Nobody walks on
Viola, particularly not with a tri-colored arm-band and a sub- machine-gun!
Sorry about that, but what made the garbage-can move? They are pulling it
on a string. That is the only way to send something across the street. - he
So, how do I get to the garage on T|zolts Street? They have knocked
out the walls between the basements. That is the only safe way, I'll take you
there. and without an other word, he starts moving. We descend into his
basement. It is dark and dirty. I try to be careful with my once beautiful
corduroy jacket, but it is hopeless. We are crawling through coal-cellars and
holes in basement walls. After a good half an hour, I can smell gasoline: we
must be in the basement of a garage.
As we climb the stairs, I see a number of parked cars, including the
truck with the Red Cross flag and two dozen young people, including a couple
of soldiers in uniform. Most of them are working on an ad hoc assembly line.
They are converting milk bottles into Molotov cocktails. As they fill the
flasks with gasoline, some of the fluid spills out. This is why I smelled gas
in the basement. Before putting the cork back, they isert a thick piece of
cloth into the jar. This wick soaks up the gasoline and is lit before the jar
In the garage, the radio is on. I hear the announcement: A new
national government has been formed, headed by Imre Nagy! There is cheering
on the assembly-line. Istvan Angyal is sitting in the corner, he is reading a
Must be very interesting! - I say to him. It's a poem, but what are
you doing here? He looks surprised, but happy to see me. Oh, just checking
to make sure, that you take your cough syrup? My secondary purpose is to buy
the patent of your self- propelled garbage-can. He laughs and offers me to
sit down. The bespectacled bold guy looks at us respectfully. He is impressed
by Angyal, because he is the commander, and me, because I know him. Istvan
Angyal is a 28 years old construction foreman, he is shorter than me, wears a
white smock, his hair is brown, his teeth are crooked.
So what makes me interesting? - he asks. It must be the coffee!
Anybody who braves tank-fire to bring coffee to his man must be at least
unique! We also have women! - he corrects me, grinning and asks: Speaking
of coffee, can I get you some? Sure, and also some bread, if you have any?
I am meeting our truck at the Pet fi Bridge at 4 PM and in the meanwhile, I
decided to come to this coffee house for lunch.
While sipping my coffee, I tell Pista (the familiar form of Istvan),
that the chief of police, Sandor Kopacsi thinks, that we look alike. Now,
that is an insult! I don't wire my sandals, like some people! - he says,
looking at my disintegrating shoes. He also told me, that you were deported
to Auschwitz. - I continue. Yes. His wife got me onto the subject. Her
family was also deported by the Germans. I was 16, she perhaps 20-22. In my
family, I was the only one who survived. So we had something in common. Why
do you say something? - I ask, as I detect a bit of sarcasm in his voice.
You are too young for that, besides it's 3 PM and you will miss your truck!
Not, if you walk with me. Then you can explain what you mean by that
something, as you are showing me the way. OK, I will take you to Mester
Street, the rest of the way is easy. - he says, folding up his poem.
As we climb down into the dark basement, he begins: You see, being a
Hungarian Jew is not the same as being of Slavic, Germanic or Latin origin.
They blend in, they assimilate much easier, we dress differently, we form
ghettos, we stand out.
On Magyarbanhegyes, where I was born, we were the only Jews. I knew
that I am a Sephardi Jew, but knew nothing about Israel, I never been to a
synagogue, I danced the Csardas and sung the Hungarian folk songs. My father
made shoelaces and called me the Little Magyar , because I preferred boots
to shoes and because I memorized all of Pet fi's poems. And then, on a May
morning in 1944, the SS came and deported the four of us: my mother, Tibor,
Teriz and me. They shoot Tibor, because he refused to get into the
freightcar, they hanged my mother, because she tried to escape, while Teriz
died in the gas chambers and I survived.
We are in the middle of a coal-cellar, Pista stops, grabs a shovel and
furiously throws it into the coal pile. They not only killed my family, they
also wanted to destroy my soul. According to the Germans, I was not a
Hungarian! The Germans meant that I do not belong here, that I am not, who I
am! Ever since I been trying to prove them wrong, to show that I am not any
less of a patriot, as the next guy. And I am not the only one who feels this
way! It was in Auschwitz where I met Jszsef Gali, one of our leaders today.
You see Vcsi (he calls me by my nickname for the first time), some
terrible things happened here, when you were a child. First the general
population allowed the Germans to deport their Jewish compatriots, then, when
the survivors returned, a few of them wanted to take revenge. So they decided
to work for the Russians.
It would not have been so bad if Russian Communism did not turn into a
terrorist nightmare, but it did. So the Jews in Rakosi's government, the Jews
heading the AVH, the police and the military, the Jewish factory directors
eviscerating the industrial workers and the Jews directing the compulsory
produce collections on the farms, became the represen tatives of the regime.
The suffering throughout Hungary became associated with Jewish Rule. Because
of a few traitors, the odium of Stalinism fell on the Jews.
We are now climbing out from a basement on Mester Street. Pista is
still very excited. Every time he says something, he seems dissatisfied with
himself for not having said it clearer or for not having covered the topic
more thoroughly. I can tell, that he could go on for hours, as he continues:
Mind you, I myself am a Communist, not a party member, but still a Commnist,
so I don't blame anybody who
tries to improve the lot of the poor, the underprivileged. What I hate is
tyranny and foreign domination, not Communism. Mind you, if instead of the
Jews, the stamp-collectors or the Unitarians decided to collaborate with the
Russians, the result would have been the same. The same barbaric madness
would have evolved, except that today the Unitarians and not the Jews would
be blamed for it.
So, when you said, that you had something in common with Kopacsi's
wife, you meant that you too survived Auschwitz, but that is all?
Pista's eyes flash like lightning: Well, I don't know what her
family did, how her husband became the chief of police, or why, but I am
saying that we, the overwhelming majority of Hungarian Jews, are not Russian
collaborators, but patriotic Hungarians! We feel most ashamed of the Rakosis
and the AVH murderers, and one day, I hope, one day... - his lips are
trembling, his eyes are moist and I feel guilty and ashamed, without knowing
precisely why. So I put my arms on his shoulders and we walk silently, side
by side for a while, before I tell him: You know, there is an other guy I
really respect, he is a German-Hungarian, a blond giant, his name is Jancsi
Danner. He fought a few blocks from you at the Corvin Theater. They knocked
out five tanks. He does not articulate things like you do, but he too is
trying to prove the obvious: that he is Hungarian.
By now, we have walked almost all the way to the Pet fi Bridge. I see
Gyurka's truck waiting, so I hug Pista good by and run. This time both trucks
are loaded with sub-ma chine-guns. It was 6 PM by the time we unloaded them,
made an other round by 9 PM and then returned for a last trip, with only one
truck, to complete the job. By the time everything is neatly unloadad in the
gymnasium, it is midnight. There is a lot of fresh food that arrived from the
villages during the day. So we sit down with Gyurka and stuff ourselves.
In the MEFESZ office Kati Sz ke and Tibor Vmgh are sitting in the
corner, they must be discussing the purpose of life or something. It is
obvious that they do not need my assistance. Colonel Marian is writing,
Sandor Varga is on the telephone, so I report to Jancsi Danner: We unloaded
six truck-loads of weapons into the gymnasium. I also met Istvan Angyal, the
leader at T|zolts utca. Good job! I heard of Angyal's group, when I was in
the Corvin Theater. They were the first ones with the Molotov coctails. What
is it like there? The Russian tanks are at the main intersections on \ll i
Street, some of them fire at anything that moves, others just sit there, but
in either case, they make little difference. The district is ours, the AVH
has disappeared, we are in full control. How was your day?
Met a bunch of generals at the Hungarian Military Headquarters and
later some politicians in the Parliament. They wanted us to disarm, but I'm
sure they will settle for integrating our forces with the police. We, in turn
demanded, that they disband the AVH and remove the Russians from the capital.
There will be more meetings tomorrow. I trust Imre Nagy, but he is naive and
isolated by the AVH at Communist Headquarters. After the meetings I did a
couple of patrol tours. The district is quiet, the stores are untouched, the
people are glad to see our patrols, and Gabi is glad to see me, when on my
rounds I reach her house.
You are lucky with Gabi. I don't seem to be able to get in touch with
Agnes. I guess, they left the city. - I add.
Well, maybe it's all for the better. You are not exactly a dashing
jeune premier at the moment, you know! - he says. I look at my dirty hands,
my feet with the wired sandals and my corduroy jacket. They are shocking. The
jacket is so dirty, that it can just about stand up on it's own. On its right
side is a large blotch of blood, on the back, where my gun rests, there is a
big oil stain, plus the whole jacket is crumpled from my sleeping in it and
is covered by all kinds of dirt, including coal dust, which is the last layer
of dirt. Well, I see your point -I admit and go the men's room, to try to
improve on my appearance. When I get back, Jancsi is snoring on the sofa in
the right hand office, so I quietly lie down on the rug and in a moment his
solo is converted into a duet.
It is a beautiful Sunday morning. The ringing of the telephone wakes
me up. Attila Szigethy, the president of the Revolutionary Council in the
city of Gy r is calling: I just want you to know - he says - that the
local Russian Commander has declared our cause to be a just one and ordered
his troops to cooperate with us. In the MEFESZ office, we are floating on
air. It has been only 5 days since our march to the Bem statue and now
victory is in the air. The AVH has disintegrated, a formal cease fire has
been declared, Imre Nagy is finally in the Parliament. It is too good to be
I am so happy, I want to share it with Agnes. Her mother picks up the
telephone: No, she stayed down at lake Balaton. No, I'm leaving too. No, we
have no phone there. Yes, the Russians are still surrounding the city. Yes, I
will tell her. - she gives her answers in her rapid-fire style. I guess, she
just hates talking on the phone.
Kati Sz ke was watching me with empathy: No Agnes? - she asks. I nod,
while she hands me a typewritten permit, which allows me to enter the
university at any time. Pista asked her to set up some controls, as our
numbers have grown, we already have about a hundred people milling around and
thousands are expected. Yours has the serial number 3, Pista is 1, I am 2.
So, don't feel down, Agnes will come around!
There are a dozen AVH officers in the KA-51 lecture hall. Some have
been picked up by our patrols, others came on their own, seeking protection.
We give them food, let them play chess and eventually we will hand them over
to the courts, when the justice system starts functioning.
Pista's eyes are still blood-shot, he must have worked throughout most
of the night. Now he is on his third coffee and is just as optimistic as the
rest of us. He declares: We have won! The Revolution is over, the AVH has
been beaten, power is in the hands of the Revolutionary Councils. In a few
days, we will become the government and if the Russians attack us, that will
no longer be called a revolution, it will be a war between two socialist
states. This is not just my view, I am quoting the commander of the Kilian
Barracks, the next Defense Minister of Hungary, General Pal Maliter.
Next, Pista shows us the plans, which he worked out last night. It is
the defense strategy for our First National Guard Battalion, which we named
after the poet Sandor Pet fi. Our task is to defend the triangle between
Moricz Square and the two bridges, Freedom and Pet fi.
I was about to find something to eat for breakfast, in the gym, when
Pista turns to me: Vcsi, would you take this plan to the freedom fighters on
Szina Square and ask for their comments? So, instead of breakfast, Gyurka
drives me to the headquarters of the already legendary Janos Szabs. I know
that he is from Transylvania, about 60, a truck driver and is the husband of
the director of our nursery at the university.
I also heard that he is a most clever guerilla leader. A couple of
days ago he took a dozen dinner plates, sprayed them black, and placed them
in front of an advancing Russian tank column. In order to avoid these mines
, the column turned into the only street, which had no plates. That street
climbed up Castle Hill. After the first bend, the tanks noticed that the
pavement is covered with oil, but by then it was too late to turn back. The
caterpillar-tracks of the tanks started to slip, the tanks got stuck and the
Molotov cocktails started to fly from the windows and rooftops. That was the
end of that tank column.
The headquarter is in the workers' hostel of the construction company,
that is building the subway. The place is swarming with armed youngsters, all
of them working class boys and girls. In the center of this commotion stands
a tall, graying man, with a gigantic, dark mustache and a red beret pulled
down to his eyes. I feel a little embarrassed, because while I am talking, my
stomach decides to rumble. I try to be very official, very military. I report
on the plans of our Pet fi Battalion, I talk about Colonel Marian and his
defense triangle, while Szabs is looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes. So
I redouble my effort to sound even more military, I tell him, which are his
bridges and which are ours and how we are to alert each other, if we see
advancing Russian troops.
He still has not said anything, but now he puts his arm on my
shoulder, and walks me into the kitchen. The smell of bacon and eggs is
making me dizzy, but I bravely continue my tirade about defense triangles and
bridges. Finally he interrupts: Three or four? - he asks. I repeat in
desperation: No, no! You defend only two bridges, yours are the Chain and
the Margaret bridges. I don't mean bridges, I mean eggs! - he says, still
grinning and then he turns to the lady at the stove: Give this hungry
warrior four eggs and a lot of bacon!
He watches me, while I am eating. His eyes are warm, they remind me of
Aptyi's. He swallows when I do, he nods when I wipe the grease from my plate
with the crumb of the bread. Only when I am done, does he look at Pista's
plans. He marks in the locations of his lookouts, writes down two telephone
numbers on which he can be reached and a list of the firearms he has, then
turns to me: At last count, I had 310 sons here, but if things get rough,
I'm sure they will bring their brothers and sisters. So we can stage a decent
welcoming party for the Russians! He is constantly kidding, and always
refers to his fighters, including the girls, as my sons .
Uncle Szabs is the first, authentic popular leader I have ever met. His
aura is such, that when he enters a room, all activity stops and people look
up. He is playful and close- tongued, merry and serene, he radiates
confidence and displays composure. In short, I am so impressed by him, that
if Pista did not need me at the university, I would gladly become one of his
sons. (After the second Russian attack on November 4, 1956, he was captured
and on the 19th of January, 1957, he was hanged.)
On our way back to the university, we are watching the streets of
Budapest. There is no fighting, people are pouring out of the churches, they
are dressed in their Sunday best. In the stores, the goods behind the broken
windows, are untouched. On the corners, trucks and horse drawn wagons are
distributing the produce, which was brought in from the villages. We see an
unguarded collection box for the victims of the fighting. It is over flowing
with paper money. The streets are patrolled by youngsters wearing tri-colored
arm- bands, the city is at peace. The Russian tanks are still at the main
intersections, but they are passive, they are probably getting ready to
leave. In short, it is a lovely Sunday noon, when we get back to the
Colonel Marian is happy with the information we bring. He says, he
will call up Janos Szabs, but before doing that, he gives me a new
assignment: We have to go to the Vvlgy Street Military Laboratory and obtain
a laud-speaker car and a short-wave radio transmitter from them. Pista's
bloody eyes look worried, as he warns me, that the Laboratory has not yet
been visited by freedom fighters and it is full of very reliable officers,
who work on military secrets. By reliable , he means loyal Communists,
possibly members of the AVH. Therefore, he feels, that we should be prepared
for armed resistance. In other words, be very careful. If they fire, do not
shoot back, just leave! - he says.
As I am getting into our car, I see the tall figure of Jancsi Danner,
climbing out of an armored car: Who's car is that, Jancsi? - I ask. It
belongs to the Prime Minister, Imre Nagy. He sent me back in it from a
meeting, because, I guess, he is worried about my safety or something.
Jancsi is smiling, he can not conceive that anybody would want to harm him.
Vvlgy Street is up in the Buda Hills, the district, where before the
War, the wealthy had their graceful and luxurious chateaus. These villas have
all been nationalized and given to the new privileged class, the Communist
bosses. The Military Laboratory is in a three-story, ornate palace. It is
ringed by tall brick walls. Their top is sprinkled with broken glass. There
is a bell-pull next to the iron door. The street is empty, except for two
little girls, playing with horse chestnuts, in front of the next villa.
Gyurka stops the car a few yards from the gate and pulls out his pistol. I
too take out my polished lady's pistol, which I got from police chief
Kopacsi. When we reach the gate, I pull the bell-wire.
We hear the pleasant sound of a real bell, which is ringing at some
distance from the gate. We stand on the two sides of the gate, partially
protected by the brick wall. My hand is shaking, my throat is dry. It seems
that a long time has passed, when finally we hear some steps, then the key
turns and the door slowly opens.
With my pistol drawn, I step into the doorway and declare: In the name
of the Revolution, I seize this Laboratory! The graying officer looks
startled, holds out his hand for a handshake and when I finally manage to put
away my revolver, we shake hands. Colonel Kovacs - he says. Vcsi - I
reply. He also shakes hands with Gyurka and then leads us into a large
conference room. The conference table is the size of two ping-pong tables, a
dozen officers are sitting around it. Colonel Kovacs directs us to the head
of the table and when we are seated, makes a somewhat formal welcoming
He explains, that the laboratory has formed it's own revolutionary
council, they have kicked out their Russian superiors and the AVH general who
headed the laboratory and have been waiting for days, to make formal contact
with us. He welcomes us, as the representatives of all freedom fighters. He
assures us, that they too want a free and democratic Hungary and that both
their skills and their equipment is at our disposal. While he talks, Gyurka's
right hand is resting on his pistol. Mine has disappeared in the side pocket
of my corduroy jacket.
I tell them, that we would like to borrow a shortwave radio
transmitter, in order to make direct contact with the Russian tank crews, on
the streets of Budapest. I also ask for a loud-speaker van. They agree to
provide both. Because I do not know how to drive, they also give us a driver,
to bring the van back to our garage. One of the officers hands me a slip of
paper, listing the short wave frequencies used by the Russians. An other
explains, how I can use the loud-speaker car, either by talking into the
microphone or by switching to tapes or radio broadcasts. They also give me an
organization chart, which lists their areas of competence, names and
We are ready to leave, when Colonel Kovacs asks if we would need
anything else, like clothing or boots? I don't understand what he is driving
at. I tell him, that our Pet fi Batallion is a temporary National Guard unit,
which does not need uniforms. On our way out, he points at my wired sandals
and says: You can not win a revolution, if you got pneumonia! So I finally
get his point. Two or three officers run out and in a minute they return with
a variety of shoes, boots and a pile of clothing.
The conference room is converted into a dressing room. I feel
embarrassed these officers who are twice my age, are looking at my dirty feet
and at the pathetic remains of my socks. They stand around and assist, while
I am trying on some of these soft leather beauties. I leave the laboratory in
black riding boots and in a rubberized trench coat over my jacket. My boots
are so polished, that the feet of a landing fly would slip and she would land
on her behind.
The change in my appearance must have been substantial, because the
student guard in front of the MEFESZ office stops me and asks for my identily
papers. This has never happened before. So I decide to get rid of the
officer's trench-coat, but I still keep the black riding boots.
Pista is very happy with the cars and the equipment we got. He asks
some electrical engineering students to arrange for regular radio broadcasts
and asks Gyurka to get Igor Smk involved in the Russian language broadcasts.
Igor grew up in Moscow, when his father was Hungary's ambassador, so his
Russian is perfect. Since Igor is Gyurka's brother-in- law, this is a natural
assignment for him. While Gyurka is hunting for Igor, I join Jancsi Danner
for a patrol tour of our district.
The street lights are dark, no buses or street-cars are running. The
people feel safer, if they see our regular patrols. I feel funny walking next
to Jancsi, because at 6'-2 , I still feel like a midget. We start out, just
the two of us, on the embankment of the Danube, walking toward Pet fi Bridge.
The city is quiet, there is practically no traffic, we meet no one, as we
walk toward the bridge. Jancsi is the quiet type. He would probably cover
this 3-mile triangular loop without saying a word. Therefore I have to get
So what do you think of my new boots?
Nice, really nice. - he says, but I can tell, that he is totally
uninterested in my boots.
Did I tell you about Pista Angyal? - I try again.
Only, that you met him. What kind of a guy is he?
Well, he is a six foot midget with crooked teeth. He is brave and
smart, he is about your age, but already divorced. So watch out with Gabi! -
I reply, but Jancsi does not laugh, he does not appreciate my kind of humor.
I did not mean his teeth or height. - he says. was interested, if
you got a sense of what he stands for, what kind of man he is on the inside?
- he asks.
Well, yes I did. He is a Hungarian patriot, if I ever saw one! He is a
selfless idealist, he thinks that he is a Communist, but to him that word
means justice and protection of the weak. He also hates dictatorship. He told
me that in his toilet, he hanged Stalin's portrait upside down. His family
was killed in Auswitz, they were sephardim Jews. I told him that you seem to
be his German equivalent.
What do you mean? - Jancsi says, startled.
Oh, nothing much: My Father told me, that first or second generation
Hungarians are the most patriotic. - I reply.
I'm not first or second generation, the Danner store of Szeged, is
about a hundred years old! - says Jancsi, with his voice raised.
OK, OK, so I am wrong. I just had that feeling that you both are
trying to prove something. Sorry about that. So why did you leave Szeged?
Well, my parents were divorced. - he starts, but I interrupt: So
Stop this comparison-foolishness! I stayed with my Father in Szeged.
Got in trouble with the police in 1948, when the Communists outlawed
religious education in the schools. Did Angyal do that too?
No. Actually, I don't think he is religious at all.
Good, because I am. I know that there is a Creator, I know that our
lifes have a purpose. I do not know what that purpose is? It might be to
protect the survival of life on this planet, it might be to see, if free will
makes the human soul impove or degenerate? All I know is that the atheists
are wrong, that there is more to life, than 70 years of selfishness, comfort,
security and animal-functions. I also know, that what is occuring in Hungary
today is much more than an attempt by a small nation to gain her freedom. The
human spirit itself is being reborn in Hungary. Our fight is a confrontation
between ideals and tanks. - I have never seen Jancsi this electrified, this
carried away. He is saying things, that he probably never articulated, not
even for himself. So I keep quiet and he continues:
Before the dawn can come, we have to triumph over the night. I feel
it in my bones, that our sun, the sun of World Freedom, the sun of human
dignity is rising. I feel that this world will experience a new renaissance,
a spiritual renewal, and mankind will find its higher purpose. It will take
heroes, it will take sacrifice, but it will occur. Our role is a noble one,
we can not escape it. Today, we are showing a cynical and faithless world,
what the human spirit can do. As, with our bare hands, we face the tanks,
some might laugh at us. But they are wrong. Tanks can not kill ideals, they
can not roll over the human spirit, and even if we fail, our ideals will
outlast their tanks. So don't worry. Let us just continue our patrol, let us
just follow our hearts. What has to come, will come anyway, we can not miss
our destiny, we can not escape our fate. We must walk the walk, until our
It is close to midnight when we get back to the university. I hug
Jancsi, before going down to the emergency room, to sleep on my narrow and
uncomfortable bed-on-wheels. Jancsi looks a bit embarrassed for having opened
up, for having allowed me to look into his heart, to take a peak beyond his
veil of discipline and self control. I am grateful, because he has
articulated some of my feelings also. This night, it takes a long time for me
to go to sleep. This is how the fisherman must have felt, at the Sea of
Galilee, when they began to understand their roles and responsibilities. It
was both scary and uplifting.