top of page
  • siposlaw

Chapter 9 - March 10, 1953 to June 1953

I.             Political Prisoner     

A.                 AVH Headquarter, Budapest                  

We arrived at the AVH headquarters sometime after midnight. It was in an old police command building that was built like a fortress, located on Mosonyi Street next to the Keleti Railway Station. This building had been transferred to the AVH, and they used it to jail people.

  

 

The huge building was surrounded by a three-meter tall and half-meter thick wall [an 18 foot tall 1 ½ foot thick wall]. This wall had a massive electrically-powered iron gate that opened to the courtyard. As we drove through the big gate, the famous quote by Dante about the Gate of Hell kept flashing through my mind, so much so that I almost expected to see written above the gate, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

 


 

  

It was a terribly frightening feeling because once inside the gates, we were in the lion’s den, and every imaginable and unimaginable horror could happen, without anyone ever being held accountable.

 

More than once the police would simply throw a prisoner out a 6th or 7th floor window and they claim the person had jumped out on their own to commit suicide.

 

From the car, they escorted me to the first floor (above the ground floor) and through a wide hallway. They turned my face to the wall and left me there. The AVH officer told me to touch the wall and to not dare to look left or right, or I’d be severely punished. He also told me that I was under constant surveillance. And with that, he left.

 

From the corner of my eye, I saw people standing all along the hallway, about every 5 meters. But I didn't see an AVH officer anywhere.

 

I was just wondering what kind of “surveillance” I could be under when I felt something cold on my hands that were tied behind me. A huge German wolfhound was smelling my hand. Then he went on to the next person standing against the wall. So this must have been the constant observation watching us. The dog walking up and down the hall like a military guard.

 

Nobody dared to move because the dog could get there in an instant. And anyway, what good would it do trying to escape? There was no hope of getting out of the building, let alone through the courtyard that was flooded with huge lanterns and surrounded by high walls that would have been impossible to scale.

 

Every 10-15 minutes, new people were brought into the hallway. After about two hours, a group of ÁVH officers came. One by one, they grabbed the arm of someone standing against the wall, and escorted them out of the hallway.

 

When someone came to me, I heard him quietly say to me, “Kerezsy Rózsa?” For an instant, I did not know why he was saying my mother’s name, but then he said it again.

 

It then flashed through my mind that they would not want to use a captive’s real name, but would instead call them by their mother’s maiden name. This way, they could ensure that the nearby captives would not know anyone’s real name, and is also helped them confirm that the person was properly identified.

 

I was taken out the courtyard and told to get into the back of a large truck. I climbed a short set of stair to get me in.  This was a convict transport truck, where the inside was separated into one-person cells that were so narrow that my shoulders rubbed against both sides.

 

The AVH officer placed me on a seat inside the cell, and slammed the door shut, which touched my knees. I think this truck had about 20-22 little individual cells.

 

Within minutes, we left and I began to count the seconds, thinking it might give me an idea about how far we were going.

 

At the Vehicle Transport Research Institute, we had worked with and researched these 3.5 ton trucks. I had also driven this kind of truck often, and had a good feeling for how fast we were going. We arrived somewhere after about 35-40 minutes. And based on the time and speed, I estimated we had travelled about 20-22 km.

 

III.             Arrival at Kistarcsa             

Some websites with more information about this facility: https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kistarcsai_K%C3%B6zponti_Intern%C3%A1l%C3%B3t%C3%A1bor

 

A.                 Initial processing                  

During the truck ride, everyone had become very cold. I was only March 9 and very cold at night, and the truck had no heat for the captives, only for the three AVH guards in the cab, who would not have been cold anyway because they had warm cloaks.  It was close to dawn, and it was around 3 or 4 am.

 

We arrived somewhere, and everyone was taken off the truck and walked into a large room, where they stood us into a single-file line. Everyone was told to strip naked.

 

 

An AVH guard examined everyone, our hair, ears, mouths, our bodies. We had to pull back the foreskin on our penis, and if someone wasn’t clean under that, the guard would give it a hard whack with his rubber truncheon. We had to turn around and bend at the waist, and then when the AVH guard got behind us, we had to pull our butt apart so he could see that we were not hiding anything in our rectum.

 

After this, they sent to the next room where we were washed in a hot shower. They sprayed everyone with DDT and gave everyone military underwear, boots without laces, and an old used military cape. These become our clothes until we got out.

 

We never got back anything we came in with, not the clothing or personal items like watches, money, wallets, documents, and so on. When they took me away from the house, I left my watch there, which I had just bought a few months ago and it had cost me a month’s wages. I thought if anything happened to me, it would be better for it stay with my family. Likewise, I had not taken any papers or identification with me. They knew who I was and I didn’t need to verify it to anyone. So I didn’t lose those.

 

C.                 The cells.                 

After the shower and DDT dusting, everyone was escorted into the cells, one by one. I was placed on the first floor (about the ground floor) in the middle section of a long hallway. There were cells on both sides of the hallway.

 

While they escorted us to our cells, they gave us strict instructions to not look at any other prisoners who might be in the hallways or on the stairs. 

 

Prisoners were taken for interrogations in the middle of the night.  As they were transporting us to the interrogation, they would occasionally put our faces toward the wall. The prisoners being returned after an interrogation had the right of way, and some were covered in blood, or they had to be dragged back because they were unconscious. This was extra helpful for the interrogators for us to see what had happened to others because it was so frightening to see what condition we might be in as part of our interrogation.  The truth is, many victims of these interrogations were not returned to their cells, but were instead taken to the infirmary or to the morgue.

 

Everything was made of concrete and there was no heat. Each cell had four steel bunkbeds and one single bed, so there were nine of us in the cell.

 

It was late March 1943, just three and a half weeks before my 24th birthday.  My room had another 20-year old university student, and most of the rest of my cellmates were around 40 years old. There were also some who were around 60 years old.

 

As I stepped into the cell, on the right side immediately next to the door there was a single bed and then two bunkbeds.  I slept in the middle bunkbed on the right side with the other university student. On the left side there were also two bunkbeds.  Older men slept on bottom bunks, and they were thankful they did not need to climb to the top.

 

Only the two of us university students were in good physical shape. I was a competitive swimmer and the other guy played basketball. We had no extra weight on us, but we tolerated the starving rations well enough. We could speak to one another in whispers and in this way we learned a lot about each other.

 

In speaking with one another, and with a bit of effort, we figured out that we had been taken to the Kistarcsa prison, about 22 km from the ÁVH headquarters in Budapest.  My calculations in the truck had proved to be accurate.

 

E.                  Bathroom and cleaning                   

On the left side, in the corner space where the third bed would have gone, there was a large bucket with a lid in the corner. That was our toilet. This was filled about a third of the way with water. All day and night we went to the bucket to do our business, both small and big. Of course, there was no toilet paper (or any other paper) and so it was impossible to wipe our butts.

 

They did not permit us to leave the room to wash, so it was impossible to wash ourselves or to brush our teeth. For every two men they provided a 2-liter metal basin that was filled with water each day.

 

Every day, both morning and night, a different person was forced to take the waste bucket to the end of the hall, empty it into the toilet, rinse it out, fill it a third of the way with water, and bring it back to the cell.  This person also filled our water basins with water in the morning and the evening.

 

This way, each person was allotted two liters of water a day. We could wash ourselves with whatever handfuls of water was left that we did not drink during the day. We brushed our teeth with our pointer finger after dipping it in the water.

 

G.                Bathing                 

Every week, on Saturday afternoon, we had a “bathing.” It was nothing more than a hot water shower.  But the first time it happened we learned that this was no summer camp, but instead a political prison.

 

 

Three or four cells (25-30 prisoners) were taken at once to the shower, which was in a separate building across the courtyard. We had to strip naked in advance in our cells, and all we could wear was our old military cloak, even though there was still snow and ice outside.

 

Once in the building with the showers, we took our cloaks off in the so-called dressing room, and from there we were taken into the showers in another room. On average, about 5-6 prisoners were under one showerhead.

 

The smell was terrible.  By the end of the week, everyone smelled disgusting from a week’s worth of filth, especially around their butt and genitals.

 

We were each given an alkaline bar of soap for washing. They turned on the hot water, which was so scalding hot that it was impossible to stand under it. We could barely jump in and out of the water and then soap up our wet bodies. When everybody was covered in soap, the showers were turned off and the water stopped flowing.  The AVH guards yelled at us to get out of the shower and towel off because in exactly three minutes we would be returning to our rooms.

 

For towels, they had thrown three bedsheets across a rope. Because many of us still had soap all over our faces and eyes, we could not see to towel off.  We barely had time to grab for our cloaks and then rung out into the cold. After lining up, they marched us back into our building.

 

In typical AVH mode, these guards laughed at soapy heads and the whole bathing process.

 

And as we found out, they enjoyed the women’s “bathing” even better. They too were only allowed to wear a cloak to the showering building, and as they were trying to work up soap lather on their head and their pubic hair, they could not wash it off at all because the water for them was turned off after only one minute.

 

As we later heard from freed women prisoners, while this bathing was underway, the AVH gang mocked them with ugly, obscene words and unspeakable actions that made this “cleansing” a living hell for them. This bathing process was repeated every Saturday, and it was better than nothing, but it was not nearly enough.

 

I.                    Daily activities.                    

The guards walked the hallways in felt slippers. Each door had an opening at eye level that the guards could use to spy on us in a way that we could not see them or hear them.

 

We were awakened at 5 am, and we had to get out of the bed and get dressed. They started to distribute breakfast at 6 am, which consisted of 20 dkg (7 ounces) of bread and 3 dl (10 ounces) of black coffee. We were so hungry that we immediately ate the 20 dkg of bread with the coffee, and then we got no more bread for the rest of the day. We went to the bathroom between 5-6 am. And then after breakfast, we had nothing to do for the rest of the day.

 

For the rest of the day, we were not allowed to sit on bed or to lay down on it. We could walk around the room, but we could not lean on any bed or against the wall. We could not sit on the floor. Younger people like me did not suffer too much from standing on their feet all day, but the older ones suffered hellishly because most of them were fat and they could not support their own weight for so long. They would take turns sitting on the bathroom bucket so that they could rest for a few minutes.

 

Lunch started at noon. The food we got was tasty and edible, but very little. I don’t think they gave us more than 1000-1200 calories per day, or about half what is needed for a normal-sized person.

 

Of the nine of us, five were fat, especially the 62-year old mechanic who was at least 150 kg (330 pounds) and suffered from all kinds of stomach, liver and kidney complaints.

 

K.                 Room leader                   

At the beginning, one of the ÁVH guards asked who had been a soldier and what our ranks had been. Interestingly, of the nine people in my room, I had been the highest ranking with my crappy sergeant rank. But with this, the ÁVH guard singled me out to be responsible for the room, which mean that I was responsible for anything that happened in the room. I was not happy to get this recognition because the old, sick roommates created an enormous danger for me.

 

One day, one of the old men got so sick that in the late morning, just before lunch, he could not take it any longer and he laid down on the bed.

 

It was my responsibility to immediately report him to the guards. But I did not have the heart to get this old man in trouble. And so I did nothing. I just hoped that the guard would be occupied with distributing the lunch and that he would not notice. Unfortunately, he did notice.

 

He opened the door and ordered me to stand before him.  He demanded that I explain why the old man was laying on the bed. I tried to defend the old man, saying that he was sick. But it did not work. In the end, the ÁVH blamed me.

 

The officer stood me against the wall that was opposite the door. He told me to stand with my back to the door, facing to the wall, with hands behind my back, and bending one leg at the knee so that only half my leg was off the floor. I had to stand like this until 2 pm, until they switched guards.

 

The new guard opened the door and asked why I was standing at the wall like that. I explained the situation to him, that I had not even eaten lunch, and that I had been standing like that for 2 1/2 hours. He told me I could stop, but that next time I had better report to the guards if somebody got sick or laid down on the bed. For the next week I had such extraordinary muscle pain in the leg that I had kept elevated, that I could hardly walk.

 

In each bed there was a 12mm thick and 20 centimeter (half inch by four inch) wide plank that ran the length of the bed to prevent the straw mattress from sliding off. On the bunk beds, this 20-centimeter wide plank was exactly at nose height. When the cell door was opened, we all had to turn our backs to the door and stand motionless with our noses touching this plank. This way, we did not see who came in the door. A couple of times each day, they opened the door and 3-4 ÁVH guards came in. They would smash everybody's face into the plank, or they would beat us with their truncheon, and then they would leave. This was the official visitation at least twice per day. They only took us out of the room for interrogations in the middle of the night.

 

After supper, which was at 5:00 PM, we had to lay down at 6:00 PM. Before laying down, one designated prisoner had to take out and empty the waste bucket and bring it back with clean water, and then he would need to fill the drinking basins. While laying on the bed, we had to keep both our hands outside of the blankets so that they could be seen through the spy opening on the door.

 

The cells had a thick steel-lined door with a 3-cm wide latch both at the top and bottom, along with a large key. Whenever a door was opened anywhere in the building, it exploded with such a loud noise that it rang throughout the entire three-story building. The opening of the door was a psychological weapon because it stopped the heart of every prisoner. Nobody knew if the guards were coming for him, or what else might happen after that door opened. The crashing of the doors opening at night created even greater fear because our nerves were extra sensitive from the lack of sleep. During the day, we were not allowed to sleep for even a minute. And when they took us away for interrogation, we did not know what they would do to us, after all, we knew that many people died during these late night torture sessions.

 

On our hallway there were a few cells for women. More than once and mostly at night, they would rape the women.  Everyone once in a while, a woman would scream out or shout, which always resulted and a terrible beating that lasted until she quieted down. After that, all we could hear was sobbing for a long time. Often the guards sodomized the women, sometimes with their truncheons. I remember these unfortunate souls asking – begging – the guards to not do what they were doing.

 

We heard every word of what was happening in the nearby cells. We counted the terrible minutes with heavy hearts until a guard finished his amusement.

 

We did not hear about homosexual violence, but after I had received my judgment and was sent to the Markó Street prison in Pest, during the customary rectal examination I looked over and saw the rectum of a young child, and I saw about 10 cm of his colon extending out the rectum. This may have been caused by dry sodomy against him.

 

M.              Interrogations                 

The interrogation lasted three months before they obtained a confession of criminal activity from everyone. Those three months felt like an eternity because each day had its own nerve-wracking experiences.

 

During the first week, I was taken out into the hallway and they drew some of my blood. They did not draw blood from anyone else, and I did not know why they wanted blood from me in particular. It might have been because I have a rare blood type that someone else might have needed. The problem was that the woman who tried to draw my blood was very clumsy and she couldn’t find my vein. She kept stabbing me over and over, trying to find it. She stabbed both of my arms 5-6 times until she finally found a vein and my blood started to flow. About midway through, the guard who was watching this bungling procedure got sick and he fainted.

 

I did not get sick, but I was getting very worried about how this would all end. Both of my arms that had been mutilated so badly by these piercings that blood was seeping freely underneath my skin, and it looked like a dark, growing bloodbath from my elbows to my wrists. I became extremely panicked because I had never seen any kind of bleeding like this under the skin. It took a good two weeks before the blood started to get absorbed, and then another week before it disappeared. The most terrifying part was knowing that they could do anything they wanted to us and with our lives.

 

On one occasion when I was on latrine duty, I met another person in the bathroom who was on latrine duty for his room. This was a huge mistake on the part of the guard because we were never permitted to see any other prisoners.

 

But it seems it would have been extra important to make sure nobody saw this particular prisoner, unless they actually wanted me to see him so that I’d spread the news of what I had seen. This other prisoner was about 30-35 years old, and one of his eyes had been beaten out of his face, so that only his eye socket was visible, which was just a huge bloody hole in his face. I did not know known when or how his eye had been beaten out, but I became completely sick just from seeing this horrifying misfortune.

 

They had slapped us, kicked us, beat us with rubber truncheons, tore out our fingernails with pliers. Some people had their bones broken with a vise. They used cigarettes or cigars to burn our arms, faces, and foreheads. But none of us had ever seen such a serious injury as the one I saw on this man.

 

During one of my interrogations, they knocked out one of my teeth because I would not sign a confession that had been written by an ÁVH guard. Had I signed it, I would have received a 10-year prison sentence instead of the 30 months I later got.  But when I saw that poor man who had his eye beaten out of him, I was thankful that I had only lost a tooth, at least thus far.

 

O.                Trial and judgment, about June 1953.           

Everyone lost weight from the severely limited food. For some of my fellow prisoners, the weight-loss might have been healthy, but the perpetual hunger was not pleasant.

 

In the second half of the third month (probably June 1943), the food changed.  They started to let prisoners ask for seconds. We couldn’t believe what was happening. In the space of only two weeks, everyone improved so much that signs of starvation were no longer so obvious to see on us. Soon enough, we discovered why the feeding had changed.

 

The interrogations had been completed. They had extracted sufficient confessions from all prisons to take them through the judicial process. Of course, the whole thing was a total joke because it was the ÁVH court was held on the grounds of the Kistarcsa Internment Camp and they were the one sitting in judgment over us. The government assigned each of us a defense attorney who began his “defense” of us by asking the court to impose the most severe possible punishment against all defendants who were enemies of the people, and explaining that we deserved no mercy whatsoever. After this speech in our “defense,” everyone had their penalty read out to them, which had already been decided before the trial even started.

 

The other young prisoner and I got the easiest punishments. We were sentenced to 30 months of forced labor. The others got 10-20 years and all their property was confiscated. There was no opportunity to object or appeal because all of the announced judgments were final. The entire court proceeding for the entire group lasted barely an hour.

 

Afterward, we returned to our room. That very day they came and took us away.  I never again saw any of those roommates with whom I had spent three months.

 

They returned us to enormous Marko street prison complex in Pest using the same kind of prisoner transport truck that had taken us there three months earlier.

 

Although I had a heavy heart thinking about the coming 30-months of a forced labor camp, I felt reassured that they had not charged me with any kind of espionage, and that I had escaped the three months of interrogation with the dreaded AVH with relatively little physical suffering. Unfortunately, many in my situation left permanently crippled or dead.

 

Today the world can read books written by the Russian Nobel Prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the immense cruelty and immeasurable suffering inflicted on political prisoners condemned to forced labor camps. But at the time, I had no idea what awaited me at the forced labor camp, other than I had heard it would not be pleasant.

 

 

 

 

4 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page