So this is what happened in 1949, and we continued to worry. I moved into
Erzsi's room at ÁVI, it was easy to commute to work from there, as it was just
across the street. There was a lot of polarography work in addition to the
normal routine, and I managed to publish my first article on the topic already
Unfortunately there were complications. Two "well-wishers" appeared in
connection with the Rajk trials: Lajos Varga and Béla Serény, both
doctors and colleagues at OKI. They spoke up at a Party meeting, calling
attention to the fact that I had also returned from Switzerland, maybe I was
also a traitor. They know nothing else about me, they added, but it was their
duty to the Party to say something. Lajos Varga had been Medical Officer in the
town of Gödöllő during the War, under László Endre, the County Magistrate
who, as a prominent member of the Arrow Cross Party (the Hungarian Nazi party)
had an important role in the deportation of Jews, and was as a result convicted
and executed as a war criminal after 1945. On the other hand, Béla Serény, who
worked in the bacteriology section at OKI, was Jewish and looked like a
reasonable person at first. In the end I was convoked to the Budapest District
IX Party Committee, where Comrade Várterész, also a physician, questioned
me at length, particularly about my contacts, but he looked sympathetic, and in
the end I suffered nothing worse than worry. By chance I encountered Béla Serény much later
while hiking in the Buda hills in 1966 - when I tried to approach him, he
turned and hurried away. He must have recalled our "pleasant" past.
Meanwhile Erzsi continued to work at ÁVI, where one of her colleagues was a
man called Péter Szilágyi. He was the ideology instructor, and he spent a
lot of time interrogating the village girls attending the nursing school
about their habits, in particular whether they attended church. When this
turned out to be the case, he would have individual sessions with them,
emphasizing what a reactionary thing it was to go to church. The girls
complained, wept, Erzsi tried to intervene but to no avail. We shall meet this
"gentleman" later on again.
In line with her real interests, however, Erzsi returned to her
studies, and started to attend night university classes in Hungarian literature
and, later on, in librarianship. ÁVI had meanwhile moved from its premises at
OKI, but we retained our rooms there, for we had nowhere else to live. Once Erzsi
had finished a certain number of courses she was given a new job: to teach a
course aimed at circus clowns and artists. These were young people who had grown
up in travelling circus troupes and had not had proper schooling, even though
they were intelligent and very funny. Erzsi truly enjoyed these two years, and
both of us were highly entertained by her experiences.
We had our two children during this time: Gábor, born in 1950, and
Erzsébet Mária (nicknamed Mari, later Liz), born in 1955.
Erzsi got another position, in the
Hungarian National Library this time, which was housed in the National
Museum at the time. She worked as a reference librarian - a job she really
loved. Many well-known writers, such as György Moldova, Ferenc Karinthy and
István Örkény, were among her regular customers.
After the birth of our second child we finally managed to obtain a proper
apartment of our own. This became possible probably because otherwise we
would not have been prepared to move out of our rooms in what had been part of
the nursing school, and where OKI wanted to install a laboratory. Therefore we were
allocated an apartment in the new housing development in the 14th District of Budapest, off
Kerepesi út, a major highway leading east from Budapest. The apartment, all of
57 sq.m. (about 500 sq.ft.), consisted of three small rooms, an entrance hall,
bathroom and kitchen. There was no central heating or hot water supply, even
though the building was brand new.
Then came the 1956 Hungarian revolution. On 23 October (the key day of the
Revolution), Erzsi took part in a demonstration together with many of her
colleagues, after which she went home. As for myself, in the evening I
participated in the last-ever meeting of the Petőfi Circle, held at the
University, just behind the National Museum. This is where the "doctors'
debate" happened, including a speech by my friend Laci Magos.
Nearby, on Museum Street, was the Hungarian Radio building, in front of which a
large crowd gathered. Eventually the crowd was dispersed by the Army shooting at
it. This was the true beginning of the 1956 uprising in Budapest. Somebody
actually came over to the meeting at the university asking us to join the
uprising in front of the Radio building. No-one did, however, in part because we
had no weapons.
I left the meeting around midnight. The streetcars (trams) did not run any more, some
had already been turned over on the street, so that I had to walk up Rákóczi
Road all the way to the Eastern Railway Station - many shop windows had already
been broken. Fortunately the suburban HÉV trains were still running from the
station, so that I was able to take one home, where I arrived around 2 am. Erzsi
was already asleep, and knew nothing about what had happened.
Next day streetcars did not run at all, and the telephones did not work
either. Shops nearby still had some food, but for bread I had to walk to a city
bakery well over a mile away, where I was able to buy four 2-kg loaves after
lengthy queuing, of which three I handed over to neighbours once I arrived home.
For three days we did not leave the apartment, after which order was more or
less re-established and we were able to return to work. Then on 2 November came
the Soviet counter-attack, they bombarded the city from near our apartment block
in fact, so that yet again we were forced to stay indoors for a few days.
Before the revolution, at the beginning of 1956, the Communist Party had
started to lose its authority because of the activities of the Petőfi Circle
and similar groups. Party cells at the workplace tried to reverse this trend by
involving people who were not politically compromised. Against my wishes I was
elected Party Secretary at the Institute. When the small office assigned to the
Party Secretary was handed over to me, I asked the safe to be opened - and it
was empty. I asked where I could find the list of members, as well as the
"personal comments" and other documents that accompanied it. I was told that
everything had been handed over to the District Party Headquarters. Therefore I
was not able to do what I wanted: to hand over all confidential documents to the
people they concerned. After this the ÉTI Party Cell was completely
inactive until 23 October.
After the unsuccessful Revolution the Hungarian Workers' Party (MDP, this was
the official name of the Communist Party) made the mistake of dissolving itself
and re-form as the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSzMP). Members of the
old party were requested to join the new party, but the majority did not do so,
and neither did I. This is how I turned from being a Party Secretary into a
non-member. Naturally, Erzsi did not join either. Before 1956 it had not been
possible to leave the Party, but after the Revolution it became possible
to refuse to join it. This had its consequences of course, but one's work or job
could not be taken away because of such a refusal. It took me four years to get
a passport enabling me to travel abroad again.