Page 4, 13th December 1974

13th December 1974
Page 4
Page 4, 13th December 1974 — How Cardinal Mindszenty became a 'different person'

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Locations: Rome, Budapest


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How Cardinal Mindszenty became a 'different person'

On the evening of thc feast of St Stephen, the first martyr (December 26, 1948) in whose honour was built my titular church in Rome, San Stefano Rotondo, I was arrested. An unusually large police squadron came to the house under the direction of Police Colonel Decsi. They drove into the yard and turned their whole "Column of cars around. ready for instani departure. They noisily tramped into the house and with thudding boots approached my apartment on the first floor.

I was kneeling on the priedieu, praying and meditating. The door flew open. Decsi entered. In a state of high agitation he confronted me and declared: "We have come to arrest you." Eight or ten police officers thronged after him into the room. I was surrounded by them. When I demanded that they show the warrant for arrest. they bawled brashly: "We don't need anything like that." One of them added that the democratic police were alert and could find traitors, spies, and currency smugglers even when they wore a cardinal's robes.

There would have been no point to resistance. I took my winter coat and then my breviary. We left the room. More policemen were waiting in the hall. None of my officials was anywhere in the vicinity. Eighty policemen had occupied the building and kept my officials and staff away from me. But my mother who had heard the noise, came out of the guest room. She screamed. 1 turned to her to bid her good-bye. The police tried to prevent me. I broke through the ranks of

them and went to my mother.

She threw her arms around me.

"Where are they taking you, my

son? I am going with you!" I calmed her, kissed her hand and cheeks. She sobbed heartrendingly.

The police wrenched me away, dragged me down to the gate, and forced me into a big car with curtained windows. On my right sat Colonel Dicsi, on my left a major. Beside the driver, and facing me, sat policemen with submachine guns. In this way I was taken from my archiepiscopal Ste and driven through the night to Budapest.

1 tried to say the rosary. But could not. I remembered the words of Scripture: Your time has come now, and darkness has its will. (Luke 22,53).

The column of police cars stopped in front of 60 Andrassy Street. I was ordered to get out of the car. Then I was led between two closely packed rows of policemen into the notorious building. Here Hungarians who had been taught their trade by Hitler's Gestapo had already created, during the period of the German occupation, a gruesome place, a true centre of terror.

Anyone who has not been interrogated or held captive in Andrassy Street cannot imagine the horrors that took place there. Even the policemen who were on duty in the building did not know about everything. Too many initiates might, in case of flight, reveal too much about the cruel reality.

I was led to a cold room on the ground floor, where a sizeable crowd had gathered to watch my clothes being changed. The police major and a lame secret policeman grabbed me and pulled off my gown, while the bystanders bleated with laughter, and finally stripped me of my underwear.

I was given a wide, particoloured, Oriental clown's outfit. Several of the onlookers danced around me, and the major bellowed: "You dog, how long we have been waiting for this moment. A good thing we don't have to wait any longer." This stocky, paunchy officer boasted to me during one "treatment" that in the last twenty or twenty-five years he had seen the inside of a church only twice, and then very briefly. He could ingratiate himself like a cat, but his nature was that of a hyena.

He had been nicknamed "Uncle Gyula." Those who had been given the "treatment" by him might have called him "Little Usakov." Incidentally, we were quite often unsure about the real names of the officers and torturers, for false names and false insignia of rank were frequently used as camouflage. When Maurice Thorez, secretary-general of the Cornmunist party in France, was once ordered by the French police to undress during an interrogation, he began to protest and likewise objected to their addressing him with the familiar pronoun VU. But in this encounter with his Hungarian comrades, I saw at once that protest would be pointless. I remained silent, thinking that my fate was only that of many martyrs and prisoners over the centuries.

remembered the Cardinal Primate of England, John Fisher, who suffered in the prison of Henry VIII, and Pius VII in the hands of Napoleon, or Polish Cardinal Ledochowsky in the power of Bismarck. In the twentieth century I was sharing a fate similar to that of Cardinals Stephan Wyszynski, Alois Stepinac, and Archbishop Reran. It was my special cross, to be an imprisoned cardinal in the land of the Virgin Mary. Thus there rose before my mind's eye the image of Pilate and his "Ecce home."

Gyula Decsi asked: "What is your name?"

I told him.

"Where and when were you born?"

I replied.

"What is your occupation, what were you before, when did you part ways with the Hungarian people, how did you become an enemy of our country?"

I replied: "I am a Catholic priest and served as chaplain in ireisdpaty, where I worked among the common people during the First World War. Afterwards I became a teacher of religion in Zalaegerszeg, later parish priest there. "All my work had been solely for the Sake of the Hungarian people. I have always tried to serve its welfare. Neither as bishop of Vesprem nor as Cardinal-Primate of Esztergom have I parted ways with the Hungarian people. To my knowledge I have committed no acts against the people."

Decsi: "If that were true you would not be here."

While I was talking, the minutes of the session were being prepared. But they did not contain what I had actually said. I therefore refused my signature. At that point Deem commented: "Remember this: The defendants here have to make a confession in the form that we want." He waved his hand, as if to say: "Teach him to confess his guilt!"

The major brought me back to the cell. It was about three o'clock in the morning. Two guards pushed the table away from the middle of the room. The major shouted at me to undress. I did not obey. He beckoned to his assistants. Together with them, he pulled off my clown's jacket and trousers. Then they went out and searched feverishly around the corridor. Suddenly a massively built lieutenant entered.

"I was a partisan," he said. His language was Hungarian, but not his savage, hate-filled face. I turned away; he drew back, but suddenly came charg ing at me and kicked me with all his might. Roth of us fell against the wall. Laughing diabolically,

he exclaimed: "This is the happiest moment in my life." The words were unnecessary; I could read his feelings in his distorted, sadistic features.

The major returned and the partisan was sent out again. The

major produced a rubber

truncheon, forced me to the floor, and began beating me, first only on the soles of my feet, but then raining blows on

my whole body. In the corridor and in the adjacent rooms raucous 'laughing of sadistic delight accompanied the blows.

The men and women who had been at the interrogation were apparently nearby, and probably Gabor Peter was among them. The major was soon breathing heavily, but he did not slacken his blows. In spite of his exertions the beating obviously gave him sheer


I clenched my teeth, but did not succeed in remaining wholly mute. And so I whimpered softly from pain. Then I lost consciousness, and came to only after water had been splashed on me. I was then lifted and laid on the couch. How long this ordeal lasted, I cannot say. My watch had been taken away, and if I had had one, I would scarcely have been able to read the numerals.

I thought about the fate and feelings of innumerable honest Hungarian girls, nuns, and mothers Who had been raped. Within them, too, a world must have collapsed. I recalled the noble figure of Baron Vilmos Apor, the bishop of Gyor. I would gladly have changed places with him. The psalms 'had prayed in the breviary for so many years came to my lips: "Now it was my turn to reel under fortune's blows . . Gleeful they met. and plotted to attack me unawares; tore at me without ceasing, baited and mocked me, gnashing their teeth in hatred. (Psalms 34, 1616).

This was going to be a show trial that the world would watch with fascination. Therefore there could not possibly be any halfway measures, any sparing orate victim. 1 would have to go this route to the end, and so too would they.

After a while hunger forced me to eat something, and so they finally succeeded in mixing drugs into the food I was given. I concluded that because the doctors, always the team of three, came to see me every day either at mealtimes or immediately after. There w,ere, however, some days on which 1 was examined again between meals.

Colonel Deesi looked me over carefully. Then in a dry colourless voice he read a prepared statement. It contained, in verbose elaboration, my so-called "confessions," the individual items of which were as follows: I. My protest to Premier Zoltan Tildy against the founding of the Republic.

2. My contacts with and meeting with Otto von Habsburg in the United States in the summer of 1947.

3. Drawing up a cabinet. list for the future kingdom of Hungary.

4. Initiating contacts with the American Embassy in Budapest in order to stir up a Third World War.

S. Preventing the Crown of St Stephen from being brought home to Hungary because I meant to use it to crown Otto Habsburg when the proper time came.

Midnight was past before Decsi had finished his reading. He requested me to sign this statement. I said I would not.

Decsi roared at me that he had already told me the police did not want to hear such rot, btit a confession that answered their questions, This was follow ed by the well-rehearsed ritual: refusal of my signature, return to the cell, a beating, and at dawn another brief interview in the interrogation room. Once again Decsi cursed and demanded. This second night, too, he had no success to record.

Utterly exhausted, I lay down on the battered couch and turned toward the wall. Then I noticed a small glass of wine on the stand. So even in this place of horror there was still a humane person who considered what a blessing Holy Mass is for a priest in such a situation. I took a small piece of the bread I was brought for breakfast and concealed it.

When the guards left me alone for moment, I poured half of the wine into my water glass, spoke the words of consecration over the bread and wine, and communicated. In this.way I was able to celebrate Mass twice. Thereafter no more wine was put out for me.

On the third morning the "partisan" reappeared. lie searched the entire room and carried off the wine and water

glass. Obviously they were

counting on being able to bargain with me on this matter. But during the thirty-nine days I spent in that rdom I took care to make no requests, for I was certain that in "gratitude" my signature would be expected.

The routine remained unchanged. I had not slept for forty-eight hours. If I ever did close my eyes, one of the guards would immediately come over to shake me awake. In the afternoon Colonel Decsi appeared and "complained" that I was so hostile to him. After all, he said, my case was almost entirely in his hands.

Seventy-two hours without sleep had passed when I was taken to the fourth nocturnal interrogation. The scene and the participants were the same. Once more I was charged with conspiracy and espionage. The idea was to pound the charges into the prisoner's mind, so that he gradually became convinced he actually had fomented a plot, that he really had had nothing in mind but the planning of an uprising, that he had lived and acted solely for the purpose of overthrowing the Republic.

Unknown names were mentioned, dates and places cited that the prisoner scarcely knew, until he began to feel like a marionette with the police pulling now one string and now another. The curtain in his marionette theatre was lowered and then raised again. The stage could also rotate; the defendant could be placed in any desired position. Ultimately the prisoner became so confused that he himself helped to spin the yarn, to elaborate the scenes, to confess the wildest crimes, which he would never have dreamed of committing.

My powers of resistance gradually faded. Apathy and indifference grew. More and more the boundaries between true and false, reality and unreality, seemed blurred to me. I insecure in my judgment. Day and night my alleged "sins" had been hammered into me, and now myself began to think that somehow I might very well be lty.

Again and again the same theme was repeated in innumerable variations; they always steered the dialogue in the same direction. I was left

with only one certainty, thal there was no longer any way out of this situation. My Shaken nervous system weakened the resistance of my mind. clouded my memory, undermined my self-confidence, unhinged my will — in short undid all the capacitks that arc most human in man.

The following nights they did not bother interrogating me; only the torturer dealt with me. I was taken into a large. empty room where there were just the two of us. Total silence surrounded us. Someone might have been listening behind the door, but not a soul was visible. After I had been stripped of my clothes, the major took up his position in front of me and asked: "Who worked on the ideological and pol;tical points of your programme?"

This new question took me by surprise. It occurred to me he was trying to find out something about Provost Pal Bozsik. In order not to harm the provost, I said nothing. What he had "done" was permissible in every democratic country, and was even considered a duty to Church, country, and nation. The tormentor raged, roared, and in response to my silence took the implements of torture into his hands.

This time he held the truncheon in one hand, a long sharp knife in the other. And then he drove me like a horse in training, forcing me to trot and gallop. The truncheon lashed down on my back repeatedly — for some time without a pause. Then we stood still and he brutally threatened: "I'll kill you; by morning I'll tear you to pieces and throw the remains of your corpse to the dngs or into the canal. We are the masters here now."

Then he forced me to begin running again. Although I was gasping for breath and the splinters of the wooden floor stabbed painfully into my bare feet, I ran as fast as I could to escape his blows.

It was approaching two o'clock in the morning before the torturer realised that although this procedure gave me great pain and might lead to my physical collapse, it was not going to produce the desired result of a confession and my betrayal of fellow defendants. At the time he arrested me he had observed my mother's grief at parting. Now he recalled the scene, for he bellowed: "If you don't confess I'll have your mother brought here tomorrow morning. You'll stand naked before her. She'll probably have a stroke. Rightly so, she deserves it, since she brought you into the world. And you will be responsible for her death."

Again the truncheon fell, again I ran around the room, and again I remained silent. In my pain and fear I momentarily believed that this threat would be carried out. To conceive of my mother in this place was unbearable. But gradually I realised that it was tItogether impossible for them to bring her here by morning.; Mindszentv was 125 miles away.

With that insight. I calmed down somewhat, but I was totally exhausted from the brutalities. No one who had seen me a month earlier would have recognised me after these scenes of repeated physical agony. But in the course of the following day I collapsed into so shattered a psychological state that 1 decided to give in to some of their demands. Thus the following night, in response to their questioning, I nientioned three names of "fellow conspirators" of whom I knew that two were dead and the third had left the country.

Hesitantly, I let them drag these names out of me, hoping that at least a week would pass before they had discovered that the persons in question could no longer be interrogated. But I was mistaken. The major at first rejoiced; but my "deception" was quickly discovered, and the following night I was subjected to the same round of tortures. Later, especially in prison, when I happened to step on a nail or a splinter, the painful memory of those horrible nights would instantly come flooding back.

As it turned out, my efforts to protect ProvOst Pal Bozsik were

in vain. Later, in the hospital, when I read the book about the trial of the Archbishop of Kolocs, I learned that Bozsik had been dragged into the GrOsz trial and given a severe sentence. Later still, after my liberation, I learned that he had died in prison under circumstances that were never disclosed. I always esteemed him highly as a man loyal to his convictions.

But the torturers eventually achieved their aim of forcing me to collaborate a crude falsehood. In spite of my broken condition 1 at first drew back; but I was no longer able to fight. The thought of the rubber truncheon made me shake in advance, and at last I signed — 'though employing one last little 'trick, as the captive ilun_garians in Turkey had once done.

It was this: after my signature I placed the initials C.F., meaning coactus feci "I have done this under coercion," The colonel asked suspiciously: "What does Miser Mindszenty, C.F. mean?" I replied that it was the abbreviation for cardinals foraneus, the term used for a provincial and not a curial cardinal.

He accepted that. Delighted at having obtained a signature from me, he ordered me taken back to the cell. I well understood his gladness. No doubt his superiors had already reprimanded him for his failures; probably Rakosi and perhaps Stalin had expressed their dissatisfaction. But my little trick had nasty consequences for me. The following night the colonel, accompanied by five men, came rushing into my cell.

The pounded me with their fists and with bundles of documents. "You swine," the colonel screamed at me. "You've made fools of us. You're not allowed to add anything after or under or before your name. You're not a cardinal, not an archbishop anymore; you're nothing but a convict!"

That was the last incident of this period of my detention that has remained clearly in my memory. What happened later, after the end of the second week of detention, January 1024, 1949, remains in my memory only in fragmentary form. A good deal of it came back to me only when I read the "Yellow Book" and the "Black Book." It is possible that during this second period I was beaten less but increasingly treated with drugs.

The doctors turned up with ominous regularity to check my health. And I could feel my resistance ebbing. I was no longer able to argue cogently; I no longer rejected coarse lies and distortions. Now and then resignedly said things like: "there's no need to say anything more about it; maybe it happened the way others maintain. "

I usually gave such replies when they read to me from the "interrogation records" of "accomplices" and "witnesses." I would ask to have certain documents revised before I signed them, but was unaware that the records of sessions were always prepared in various versions and that the documents 1 signed often contained different dates and facts from the texts that were read aloud to me.

I also had no opportunity to read through the texts again before signing them, and I was usually so exhausted and revolted that I no longer paid attention to whether the written document corresponded exactly to my statements. Without knowing what had happened tc me, I had become a different person.

0 1974 Ullstein/Propylaen Verlag;, English translation. Maorndian Publish3ng Co., Inc.

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