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Gyenes, Judith: 'I couldn't believe it had happened'

When did you find out that Pál Maléter had been arrested?

I recall our last conversation, which was a telephone call at around 8 o'clock in the evening on 3 November 1956, after the Mindszenty speech.1 He told me he was going to Tököl. I implored him not to. It was a scary idea to me, to leave Budapest and go to Csepel Island at ten o'clock in the evening, to a Soviet barracks. I knew that the Soviet troops that had retreated from Budapest had entrenched themselves around the city. He'd told me that himself, so I was scared and implored him not to go. He became annoyed, and ended up speaking to me in a military kind of way: 'You've got to understand that things will go by the diplomatic rules. We'll bring the negotiations that started at noon to a conclusion. They accepted everything at noon, but the signatures are still missing and the technical conditions.' The last sentence I heard from him as a free man was, 'You've got to understand that wife and family don't matter here. I have to go there, even if it costs me my life, because the country expects my assistance.'

Some people have said he was being a bit naive believing in the Russians and thinking they'd actually accepted the terms. Maybe things seem different in the light of that last sentence. He had premonitions, but he was like that. He felt he had to go and continue the negotiations...

Both my elder sisters were in our flat at the time, and of course, we talked about this that evening. Early next morning, we woke up to gunfire, like a great many other people in Budapest, and of course we turned on the radio at once and listened to Imre Nagy's appeal, his last speech. Then I telephoned Parliament. A young man from Imre Nagy's secretariat answered and I asked him where my husband was and whether they'd returned from Tököl yet. His reply was, 'Please phone back in quarter of an hour.' During that quarter of an hour, it was announced on the radio that Imre Nagy was calling on Pál Maléter and the negotiating delegation he led to return to their offices. Since then, I've had the feeling that they'd been forgotten in the great panic, and if I hadn't phoned, that radio bulletin would never have been broadcast.

Maléter, Pál
Maléter, Pál
Nagy, Imre
Nagy, Imre

About the end of November or middle of December, I was told by Dr Andor Jánosi, director of the National Plant Species Experimental Institute where I worked, that he'd had a chance to meet Ferenc Erdei, who'd sent me a message that they'd been arrested together in Tököl and taken by car to Gyorskocsi utca. They'd agreed that the one who got home first would inform the other one's wife. That was the first news I had.

My father came up from Pécs, where my parents lived, and when I told him that, his first words were, 'And have you been to see him?' I said I hadn't yet. 'Well then, let's go!' My dad knew Erdei. Erdei told us the story of the arrest at Tököl, how they'd arrived and been taken to a room where they'd begin the negotiations. Malinin headed the Soviet negotiators. They'd been discussing things for a good half an hour when the door opened, and we already know the story, Serov appeared. I heard first from Erdei that either Malinin was a very good actor, or he really didn't know what was about to happen either. He entered into a quiet, whispered dispute with Serov, and when Serov had convinced him, he turned to the Hungarian delegation and flung out his arms to show he was breaking off the negotiations for reasons beyond his control, and then the whole Soviet delegation walked out of the room. That's the way Erdei told it. Not long afterwards, a few days or a week later, an unknown gentleman visited me called Dr Sándor Szűcs. He told me he worked in Tildy's secretariat and was a good friend of Tildy's. When the negotiating delegation were setting off for Tököl, he'd been asked, 'Sándor, you go with them. You can speak Russian, and you're the only one who's properly dressed.' He was in a dark suit and a white shirt. They stuck a thermos of coffee in his hand, saying those Russians preferred tea, and as the negotiations would last into the night, he'd better take some coffee. So it was quite by chance that he got onto the delegation, like Pilate into the Creed. He said he'd also been arrested at Tököl; he'd been put on a plane with a few others at Tököl aerodrome and taken to Ungvár,2 where he was interrogated several times in a prison. He thought Pál Maléter had been there as well, and that was why he'd sought me out, to give me the news. He also told me what had happened at Tököl, much the same way as Erdei'd told it... Meanwhile, there was further confirmation. Mrs Sándor Kopácsi phoned and told me about Tököl, Mátyásföld, Gorky fasor, Gyorskocsi utca, in other words the stages on the way to Gyorskocsi utca.

Serov, Ivan Aleksandrovich
Serov, Ivan Aleksandrovich

At Christmas time, I put a little parcel together: I packed cakes, a clean shirt, socks and a letter in a box and went off to Gyorskocsi utca. I walked all round the building. I saw Russian soldiers everywhere, armed Russian soldiers, and I had to take a pretty deep breath before I dared go over. As I can't speak Russian, I said Pál Maléter, with a lot of gesticulation and I knew the Russian for colonel. From their gestures, I understood what they were saying, which was go away. I held out the box, but they wouldn't take that either. It was very exasperating.

Did you not try to meet anyone from the old or the new leadership to find out what had happened?

Yes, of course. Someone suggested I talk to Sándor Nógrádi, and ask what was going to happen, what their intentions were. István Hollós, an old fellow partisan with my husband, came along with me. We went to see Zoltán Tildy, among others, though we didn't find out much about Pál Maléter from him. He didn't really want or dare to talk to us. I think he was the first one we approached. Then we had the idea of going to see Sándor Nógrádi, because he after all was one of the powers that be. Nógrádi asked if I knew how many years Jacob had waited for Rachel, and I replied that I did. He said that his wife had waited 15–16 years, I can't remember exactly how many, whilst he was living abroad. So actually, he didn't say anything at all, but he gave me hope that I just had to wait, that I should wait, and he sort of reassured me that there wouldn't be any trouble. It occurred to me that Gyula Rácz, another fellow partisan of Pali's, would know lots of people and maybe he could tell me something. I went to see him and he told me, 'Don't think that some terrible thing's going to happen. Nothing like that can happen!'

Tildy, Zoltán
Tildy, Zoltán
Nógrádi, Sándor
Nógrádi, Sándor

Then I went to see the supreme military prosecutor. I remember asking him–they didn't want another Rajk trial, did they? At that, he jumped up so suddenly that the chair he was sitting on fell over, and he shouted at me, 'Don't say that! How can you say such a thing?' I again felt some reassurance. It seemed that they thought any such thing would be out of the question. I was too far removed from the party and the men in the party to know any of them. Perhaps for the first and last time in my life, I regretted I'd had nothing to do with the party or the party leadership, because I didn't know who to see, who to turn to. It's different asking for advice or help an acquaintance. It was dreadful. But I was again reassured a bit when my father, a lawyer, said I'd have to choose a defence counsel. So we went to see Dr János Kardos, a very good friend, who was authorized to defend in double zero cases,3 and he undertook the defence. He told me to go to the police headquarters in Budapest and report that my husband had disappeared... Starting from there, I was really put through the mill. I went to Deák tér4 every week, where first they said he hadn't been reported dead or arrested and he wasn't in police custody either, so they'd look for him as a missing person. I knew they were lying, because I knew he was in Gyorskocsi utca. Then came an interlude at the beginning of January. I was at the Bányais' place, the family that lived underneath us, along with my sister Mária. We were talking to our hostess, and meanwhile, the BBC Hungarian service was playing in the background and our host was listening to it. Suddenly I heard on the radio that Pál Maléter had been executed. Well, I went into a state of shock. I'm not the hysterical type, so I didn't shriek or start sobbing, I began to cry, but not loudly, I think I just looked frightful. That must have been the case, because they called the ÁVH guy round who lived next door, I don't know his rank, major or lieutenant-colonel or something like that, and he went across to see Major Szalma, who lived two buildings further down and was commander of Gyorskocsi utca. He came back with this news: 'Szalma told me, don't believe this, it isn't true, it hasn't happened, if it had happened I'd know about it.' The Bányais called out the duty doctor, who gave me a sedative injection. I hadn't really had anything like that before, so I slept deeply. I was still sleeping the next day went my father arrived from Pécs again. That's when I should have signed the letter of commission for Dr János Kardos, but as I wasn't in a state to be able to sign, my father signed it instead. I found out later that when my husband looked at the signature, he said, 'That isn't my wife's writing, I won't accept it.' It was a fateful decision, terrible for me, as I feel I'd perhaps have found out more from János Kardos that I did from the counsel he was assigned, Tibor Révai.

From about March, it became possible to hand in a sanitary parcel at Gyorskocsi utca. In April, on the 14th, if I remember rightly, I decided I wouldn't leave the building until I was granted a visit. I told the officer on duty I wanted to talk to the commander. I wouldn't leave until I'd met Szalma. Another part of the story in that period was that in February, I was sacked from my job, which made it difficult, as I had to live on something. By April, I was a park-construction labourer, secretly, under my maiden name. That's when I became Judith Gyenes again. Otherwise I wouldn't have got a job there either.

Did you get in to see Szalma?

Well, I sat there persistently, and in the end they took me up and I met Szalma. He asked when I'd been granted a visit last, as if he didn't know. I said I hadn't had one yet and I asked when I could have one. To that, he replied, now. It was fantastic, but terrifying. I always thought that I'd have to prepare myself for it, think over what I had to say, what I could ask in flowery language. Then suddenly they just said I could go, and two armed guards appeared. It was the first time in my life I'd been in a prison, so it's a terrible memory. There was wire netting everywhere in the stairwell. We came to a door, with two more armed guards standing in front of it, and then we went into a room. Two of the armed guys stayed outside and the other two came in. That was the first time I met Captain György (I think it was György) Tamás. Tamás told me the visit would last twenty minutes and nothing relating to politics was to be said, and if anything of that sort were mentioned, he'd immediately put an end to the visit. Then they brought in Pali. He was in civilian clothes, because the house had been searched twice in the meantime and after the second search, they'd taken a complete set of civilian clothes with them. It was an office, with a couch, armchairs and a smoking table in it, and a desk and bookshelves in the other corner. It may have been the office of a high-ranking functionary. We sat opposite one another, the two armchairs turned towards each other and the detective sitting next to us, When Pali sat down, we held hands and we couldn't say a word at first. This lasted for a couple of moments or minutes, I don't know, then Tamás said, 'Even if you don't talk, it still counts towards the twenty minutes!' So then we came to ourselves. You know, it's very difficult at such times, when it's been specified what you can talk about. Terrible, it was equivalent to torture. He didn't look bad. I couldn't see anything to indicate he'd been harmed. I talked and he asked questions. He asked how my parents were, he asked about everybody. By then, this was April 1957, I was a park-construction labourer, and my hands looked awful. I hid them from him, as I didn't want tell him for the world. I knew it would have caused him really bad moments to know. So I didn't talk about that at all, but I did tell him his first wife Mária had taken the children to the West. For that, they almost stopped the visit. I then told Tamás indignantly, sorry, but a father should know where his children are. He also asked if I was in contact with his mother. I was, but I only sent letters via acquaintances. I didn't want to cause her trouble, because she lived in Eperjes.5 Twenty minutes are soon over, you know. There was the total stranger, the detective, the two armed guards behind my back, but it was great; it was good to see he was healthy and in one piece. The twenty minutes ended very quickly.

I thought this had started something–I'd already received a letter saying I'd been granted a visit in April–and it would go on in the same way. And it was natural to request permission for the following visit to be on 8 May, our wedding anniversary. I still don't know how, but this was granted. I really prepared myself for the second visit. I went to the hairdresser's and tried to dress up just right. On 1 May, I managed to buy two oranges (they were on sale then for political reasons) and put them away to take in for him. I filled a vacuum flask with coffee. I bought three roses (it was our third anniversary), and a red porcelain heart to hold flowers and hang on the wall. These were his presents. Armed with all these things, I went along. To my surprise, he was permitted to drink some coffee. I suppose there could have been poison in it. He was allowed to eat the oranges. I've kept the skin of those oranges to this day. I knew I couldn't leave the roses and the heart there, but I showed them to him. Someone came in at one point–this was a different room, not the one we were in last time, but we followed the same seating arrangement). This man beckoned to Tamás and they went over to the far corner to mutter about something. Pali said to me, 'Go and see Nógrádi, go and see Gyula Rácz, go and see...' I'd been to see all the people he mentioned and that calmed him down a bit. I nodded, saying I'd been there, and there, and there, and I'd talked to them. I said something about July and Pali looked at me and said, 'Maybe I'll be home by July.' I don't know what he was basing his hopes on. Well, that was my last visit. I was never granted another.

Were you able to exchange letters?

Not for a long time. The next time that was allowed was September. At the beginning of July, I had to move out of the flat within 24 hours. It all happened very quickly and mysteriously. All of a sudden, I received a paper saying I had to leave the flat within 24 hours or I'd be forcibly evicted. I told them I wasn't leaving and so I was removed by force. That took away from me my last bit of security, our home. Men in civvies came in a van and picked up my furniture. I objected again, so they told moral tales like, 'Remember the last time when that dude objected, how we chucked him down the stairs?' Just so I'd know how to behave. I still didn't know where they were taking me. I felt at the time, and I still do, that it was a kick in the teeth when they moved me to Marcibányi tér 5, into one room in a shared tenancy, the room his first wife had been in when she defected. There was a family with four children squatting there already, so there were six of us in the two rooms. I spent 13 years in that shared tenancy, without a bathroom, and I never raised my voice once. Not that my co-tenant was a pleasant companion, but I had bigger problems than letting his petty nagging get on my nerves. An ÁVH man from the Interior Ministry lived next door–interestingly, I can't even remember his name–and he trained his children to spit at me from upstairs when I went home and yell things like, 'Here's the murderer's wife!'

I'd asked Pali about his mental state in a previous letter because he'd been in prison for almost a year by then, and he wrote back in his last letter, 'As far as my nerves are concerned, I've been calmer, but I've also been worse tempered. You know, it's something I've no way of changing whilst remaining honourable, and I don't brood about. Why should I cause problems for myself?' I understood that to mean if he'd sacrificed his honour he'd speak differently, but he hadn't.

Who were you able to share all this with?

Well, there wasn't really anyone. If I went down to Pécs to my mother's, she was in a similar plight with no job. My father had also been arrested, you know, and later he was sentenced to six years. When she tried to get a job, they told her, 'My good woman, you're in the same situation here in Baranya County as your dear daughter is in the whole country.' I have awful memories of November, when I was applying quite forcefully to Tamás the investigator to let me visit my husband. 'You should be pleased he's still alive at all,' he told me, 'that he wasn't strung up last November.' That was the tone he used by then. It was ghastly.

So time went by. I was constantly going and asking, I had more time then. After all, I had no state job, the gardening had ceased; I had several cleaning jobs, so I wasn't so tied for time, I could always go to Gyorskocsi utca. February 1958 came along.6 I had a premonition at the time. I was constantly going to see Tibor Révai, the designated counsel. He was quite irritable by the end, but he always assured me that nothing had happened. He was always trying, but the trial hadn't opened. We now know that it had opened. I've thought about that so many times. If I felt that way then, why not in June? It's inexplicable. In fact, I calmed down, because I thought Kádár's government was consolidating as time went by. Power was in their hands and maybe the vendetta had blown over. Perhaps there really wouldn't be a trial. I didn't think at the time that they wanted them tried with Imre Nagy and the others... I had a feeling that the later the trial started, the better. I thought they couldn't be kept in prison forever without a trial, and so I applied for him to be put under house arrest; perhaps they'd allow us to be together in that case.

Meanwhile there was a development in my job situation. In March 1958, I found a handwritten slip of paper in my letterbox, saying, 'In the matter of a job, if you're still interested, go to see XY in Kerepesi Cemetery and she'll help you.' Something like that, and a quite unfamiliar signature. At first I was scared. Why the cemetery of all places? Maybe I'd never get out of there again. But the matter was urgent, so I went. It turned out they really were taking on people, and the woman I had to go and see knew about me. I became a cemetery labourer, an official job that would feature on my official employment record. The only bad thing was I had less freedom, but the cemetery director was a decent person who allowed me to phone Gyorskocsi utca from the office. On the telephone, I'd request permission to visit and to send parcels and letters, which was always refused. Some time later, the head gardener, who was a nice guy, asked me if I knew how I'd been taken on there. I told him about the slip in my letterbox with the unfamiliar signature. I also told him that although I wasn't a party member, I'd written a letter to the party asking if it was party policy not to allow me to earn a minimum living wage. I don't know who I'd addressed it to, maybe someone had told me a name. I'd hoped for a reply saying that wasn't party policy and if they didn't want to take me on somewhere, I could produce that document. But I didn't receive any reply. The head gardener said that as far as he knew, there was a free party day or meeting of party workers with Kádár where it was mentioned that I'd written a letter to party headquarters. Kádár asked if anyone knew of any workplaces where Mrs Maléter could get a job. In reply, someone said that workers were being taken on at the cemeteries at that time. It was probably a party worker who'd dropped in the little slip, and so I'd come to the cemetery. János Kádár was so magnanimous with me that I'd been allowed to become a cemetery labourer. It was terrible. The surroundings had a most oppressive effect on me, and apart from that, the workers there would bother me from time to time. Probably because I stuck out like a sore thumb. They started talking about things over my head: 'Do you know who that Pál Maléter was?' Another would say he didn't know. 'You know there was that revolution.' 'Revolution?' the other would ask. 'Well, yes, when you couldn't get any bread.' That was about all the revolution meant to those people–the time they couldn't get any bread. And they were terribly foul-mouthed when they talked, which was quite alien to me. They noticed I'd blush, and at the beginning they told me kindly, 'Ah, young lady, you'll be saying it too in a couple of months' time.' And I think that it provoked animosity when I didn't start saying them. They'd sit down next to me, continually using these obscene words and wait for the effect. I just carried on weeding, but my heart sank inside me. I then asked the head gardener to send me out to work on the graves, if possible. I told him why, as well. He was a decent bloke and he understood, and so I went to work on the graves. It was much better there. My partner was a very proper, sweet young woman and we worked well together. At that time, there were people living near the cemetery who'd been gravediggers for generations; she was a daughter of such a family. Well, that's where I worked.

How long for?

Until 17 June 1958. I was about to set off for work in the morning around seven o'clock, when the doorbell rang. I went out and my sister and brother-in-law were there. Well, I thought there must be something wrong and I asked, 'Is there something the matter with Dad?' 'No,' they said. 'Mum?' 'No.' 'Mária?'–my other sister. 'No.' Well, there wasn't really anyone else close. They nodded when I asked about Pali. They said it had been on the radio and so they'd got dressed quickly and come in a taxi. They told the taxi driver to go very fast. They told him why, but rather than hurrying, the driver pulled over, collapsed over the steering wheel and burst into tears. I sort of recall that not long after Zsu and her husband had said that, my legs started shaking and people began to arrive: relatives, a colleague from my old job, more and more people came along. Again I wasn't hysterical; this was my quiet way of taking a shock. I didn't really know what was happening round me, I just remember a moment as I reached into a cupboard for something, when an increasingly powerful thought came to me: 'This isn't true, it can't be!'

Defendants of the Imre Nagy trial at the pronouncing of the sentence
Defendants of the Imre Nagy trial at the pronouncing of the sentence

They didn't want me to be on my own. Meanwhile my sister Mária had arrived and she told me not to go to work, but to go to her place in Mária tér. The local doctor was very decent and put me on the sick list. I stayed at Mária's flat for a while. It was a long time before I could eat again. I'd lost a couple of kilos before, but more still over the next few days. I looked awful. And then–you know this was such an ambiguous affair; I felt it was not true, but those around me didn't feel that–my mother said maybe I needed a black dress, so I dyed one of my dresses. About two weeks went by before a letter arrived from Révai, the lawyer, dated 17 June, asking me to go and see him urgently. I went to see him at the No. 1 Lawyers' Partnership. I put the black dress on. It was a little bit of resistance. When he saw me, Révai immediately tried to bundle me into a little side room, but I wouldn't go in. I dug my heels in and said, 'Thank you, Doctor, for letting me know in good time.' So that the rest of the people could hear and despise the man who'd lied to me for months on end. I finally went into that little room and Révai told me that Pál Maléter had shown great strength of mind and self-restraint when the sentence was pronounced. When I told Révai he should have let me know somehow that the trial had started, he started to explain that I had to understand, he had children, a family, and he couldn't have done that. He didn't say they were kept inside for the period of the trial, that they couldn't go home, he didn't appeal to anything like that, just said he hadn't dared tell me because of his family. I needed a few days before I could read the article that had come out in the newspaper on June 17. I read it and just looked at the names in amazement. Of course I knew who Imre Nagy was and who Zoltán Tildy and Sándor Kopácsi were, but who was this József Szilágyi? Who was Miklós Gimes? ... I'd never heard their names in my life, nor those of the rest of them: Miklós Vásárhelyi or Sándor Haraszti. I'd no idea who they were. What sort of trial was this? How had they got involved?

Szilágyi, József
Szilágyi, József
Gimes, Miklós
Gimes, Miklós
Haraszti, Sándor
Haraszti, Sándor

One day I was alone in my sister's flat when the doorbell rang and a young fair-haired woman dressed in black from head to toe was standing at the door. It was Aliz Halda, the common-law wife of Miklós Gimes. She said she'd gone to Gyorskocsi utca to ask whether it was possible that a final letter or a last visit hadn't been permitted. To this they'd replied that Miklós Gimes hadn't wanted to write to anyone or meet anyone, but Mrs Maléter had been inside to take leave of her husband. So she'd come to see me. I just stared at her and that thought, that ever strengthening feeling that this isn't true, gained a foothold again, because I thought they couldn't tell such lies to someone who'd presumably be meeting me two minutes later. Oh yes, I forgot to say that around the beginning of June, when I phoned Gyorskocsi utca for letter, visit and parcel permits, they'd told me they wouldn't allow a visit or a letter, but I could hand in a parcel. When? I asked. They said, well, try in about two weeks' time. And then the news was reported in the paper. Wasn't that contemptible?

Did you keep in touch with Aliz after that?

Yes, and we became friends. I really hadn't known before who Miklós Gimes was, but Aliz talked a lot about him.

Time went by and I got into a terrible state of nerves, which affected me physically as well. I felt incapable of going back to work at the cemetery. Not because of the physical work, but psychologically. And then a very dear friend of ours, Dr László Bakos, a senior specialist at the National Institute of Rheumatology and Physiotherapy, took me into his department. I'd broken my leg in an earlier accident and I had all sorts of wires in it, and if I did manual work, I could feel them pricking, and it became even more unpleasant when I lost so much weight. That was a good pretext for putting me in hospital. My back hurt as well, probably because of my nervousness and bad physical condition. So I had an operation to remove the wires and I was given a course of injections. It was peaceful in there and I could vanish for a while. When I came out, my final medical report said that manual work wasn't recommended. I applied to the cemetery management in writing, offering to do any sort of office work, but saying I couldn't do manual work for the time being. The reply was that they couldn't give me any work of that sort. Then I went through the mill again. I was in Pécs at my mother's for a while, and when I came back, I heard there was a family looking for a cleaner. So I spent five years from the autumn of 1958 as a domestic. The family I worked for consisted of Dr. Kálmán Barakovics, a specialist in internal medicine, his wife and their son. It was good actually, although the pay was very low. I still think of them with great admiration. And they were bold enough to write the job into my employment record and register me as insured, which was a big thing at the time.

Gyenes, Judith
Gyenes, Judith

Meanwhile, the first amnesty came in 1960. I heard news of those who'd been released through Aliz Halda. On a previous occasion, she'd come with the news that Miklós Gimes's mother knew the Gyorskocsi utca prison doctor, whose name was Bence, and he'd told her he was at the execution and the order was such-and-such, and he'd listed them. But the list included the names of József Szilágyi7 and Géza Losonczy.8 When those involved in the trial who were still alive came out of prison, it turned out that not a single word Bence had said was true. This again strengthened in me the feeling that nothing was true. I also received other kinds of news. My sister Mária was a manual worker at the Elida Works at the time, as she'd also been sacked from her job. Someone told her (after making her swear not to give his name to anyone) that there hadn't been any burials in Plot 3019 on that day and I shouldn't believe there had been. I found out in 1989 that they'd been buried in the prison and they weren't brought out to the cemetery until 1961. I asked at Gyorskocsi utca for the remaining possessions (I'd heard others had received things), but they refused to talk to me.

Weren't you ever given anything?

I never got anything, and that also strengthened the feeling in me that somehow it wasn't true.

In 1959, the Ministry of Heavy Industry, under which the mining and construction corps came, took proceedings against me because they'd paid me Pali's October wages and bonus in November 1956. I told a few friends about this and a lawyer who was there undertook to defend me, without me asking him to. It doesn't seem such a lot of money today, I think it was 4000 forints, but it was a huge amount to me then, as I was earning 550 forints a month at the time. It's lucky that the rent on the one room in the joint tenancy wasn't much, but anyway... Well, we lost the case, the lawyer was kicked out of his association, and I had to beg to be allowed to pay the money back in monthly instalments of a hundred forints. I remember I felt really big, because I wrote a threatening letter, saying if they wouldn't agree to me paying in instalments, they could implement the ruling and come and occupy! Meanwhile, of course, the property confiscation was underway and they wouldn't have found much more than a place to sleep, a table and a cupboard at my place. They agreed in the end, and I was allowed to pay it back in instalments.

What did they confiscate?

Not much, because János Kardos had warned me to take everything away from home that I could without attracting attention... The first house search in January 1957 was pretty frightening. They came for me at the office in a big black car. They produced a paper and said they were taking me in. I said, 'I don't want to go with you, because I don't know what grounds you're arresting me on. I go to the Budapest Police Headquarters regularly once a week and there I was told that my husband isn't in police custody, so he isn't in the custody of the Hungarian authorities, he's being sought as a missing person. What grounds do you want to arrest me on?' There was no way to argue. They got angry and told me firmly to pack up at once and go with them. They put me in the big black car and I didn't know where they were taking me. The whole institute was hanging out the windows; they thought they'd never see me again... In fact, they took me home. We went into the flat and they started letting the blinds down. There were four of them, and I was alone. Well, I got very scared. They said there'd be a house search. I'd never been through a house search before, but in my terror, it occurred to me that a witness was needed. Again, I asked on what grounds they were searching the house if my husband weren't in Hungarian custody. And then one of them slapped me on the mouth. Finally they called the caretaker's husband as a witness: he was a policeman. So then there were five of them and they searched the flat. I knew they wouldn't find anything. Not only because I'd taken away everything I could, but because there was nothing I thought compromising... They found two bibles and then my costume jewellery (really only trinkets) and said, 'All this gold!' They took away the photograph albums and the negatives; they took the patent of nobility, the photocopy of it, that is, which was all we had at home. I found this later among the case documents, enclosed as an exhibit, although his lineage was included in all his biographies. Pali's love letters to me were in the drawer of my little bedside table. When they reached into there and took out a bundle of them, I wailed, 'But please, these are purely personal letters!' So just for that, they took out another bundle. I've never seen a single one of them again. They also took away my mother-in-law's letters and her drawings. They were such nice drawings, with nothing political in them. Pali had kept the letters Oszkár Jászi wrote to his father and they took those too. I didn't know that was a point against him as well. It's a shame I hadn't stowed them away somewhere.

Did you meet anyone before 1988 who was able to provide new information to reinforce or unsettled your belief that he was still alive?

None of those who saw him last came to see me. The only one I knew was Tildy. I'd been to see him earlier and I could see he was a very frightened man. In 1958, after I came out of hospital, Pali's former commander, who'd been dismissed in the meantime, came to see me. I found out from him what had happened to the officers: who'd joined the special police, who'd been dismissed, who'd stayed in. Quite a lot of them had been dismissed. They made me an offer: they still had enough contacts, people they knew in the army and people among the border guards, and they could help me to leave the country if I wanted. If no other way, with forged papers. I said I didn't believe that it had happened, and whether he was in Hungary or the Soviet Union, I didn't want to cause him unpleasantness by going to the West.

Then came the struggle over jobs. Every autumn, I wrote a long screed about jobs. Aliz Halda suggested I write to József Sándor, who was with the Secretariat at the party headquarters. I'd never even heard of him before. What year would it have been exactly? Perhaps 1961 or 1962. That led to me being called into the 'White House'. That's another bad memory. Two guys with guns at the entrance moved in behind me and we went into the party headquarters as far as the lift. They showed me in, then they pressed the button and the lift went up to I don't know what floor. I got out, and there were two more armed guards waiting, who accompanied me to a door. I talked to a captain, as if the whole thing weren't true: What were my requirements? Where did I want to work? How much did I want to earn? Of course by then I'd been living off labouring and casual jobs for years, and then they asked me where I wanted to work and how much I want to earn? I replied that I should like to work in my profession. He said he'd look into it and notify me. I was in fact notified (I still have all those papers). I had to go in to Roosevelt tér and report to Comrade Biszkup, who'd give me instructions on where to go. I did go in. He was fat and wore a brown suit (I hate brown suits) and some party badge. He acted like he didn't know about me (although they were sure to have told him), and asked me why I was there. When I answered that I was there because I couldn't get a job, he said that the newspapers were crammed full of job advertisements, for instance there were jobs going for construction labourers. I said he was quite right, but if I went there with my name, it wasn't that they didn't want to take me on, they didn't dare to. At that he said, 'Well, you see, whoever's cheeky enough to bear that name deserves to starve to death!' I was taken aback and made some response, to which he replied, 'If you say things like that to me, I'll chuck you out so fast, you'll slide out on your own snot!' That tone was unforgettable. The captain there in the White House had been polite and helpful. I thought to myself, this one acted like a marquis. Next time, I'll go and see the duke.

Months and years went by and at some point, Aliz suggested I write to István Szirmai. So I wrote to him. That must have been in 1963–4. I was called into the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and I finally got an officially registered job. I was to be what country people call an earth taster. Earth tasters have to take samples for agricultural engineers and chemists trying to map the soil of a state farm or an agricultural cooperative. We'd to go down to a depth of 1.5–2 metres and take samples of the strata. It was hard work. I did it for years with the Pest-Nógrád County State Farm Centre in Pest and Nógrád counties. The people were very kind to me. Someone once said that his picture would be in the National Gallery one day.

I'd been widowed at 25 and I was getting on for 34 or 35. I thought to myself, was I going to be digging holes for the rest of my life or what? Of course, Comrade Biszku had said that anyone who bore this name deserved to starve to death. And then came a family council, deciding that something had to be done. The Maléter and Ghyczy families were related, and anyway, my parents had been on friendly terms with the former foreign secretary Jenő Ghyczy and his family, so the council of elders held a session. The wife of Livius Ghyczy had died, leaving him with a two-year-old daughter, while I'd been told to starve to death, so something had to be done. Livius Ghyczy had a big problem knowing what to do with his daughter if he had to travel to the countryside or go abroad. I'd been a housekeeper before and I'd also had to look after a little girl, so it was a good idea. And as I thought it wasn't true what the newspapers had written, Pali would understand when he came home: this was just a front, a nominal marriage. The wedding took place in 1968.

Did you have any official papers to show you were widowed?

No. For instance, I once wanted to borrow some money because the Marcibányi tér flat looked terrible, well, that room, and I wanted to have it painted and renovate the little furniture I had. Two colleagues of mine agreed to be guarantors. I went into the National Savings Bank in Széna tér and said I'd like a loan. I had to fill in a form, with my details on one side and my husband's on the other, if I had one. I asked what to do, as I didn't have any document to show I was a widow. They replied very kindly that they'd put the application to the management and I should go back in two days. They gave me the loan without the other side being filled in. I then went to the 12th District Council, where I'd been living when all this happened, because I thought if it were true, that's where I'd have to ask for a death certificate. They turned me away. Then I went into Gyorskocsi utca, and from there, they sent me to the Penal Authority Management. It was the first time I'd been, and the last, thank God. I told the duty officer I wanted to talk to the commander. He phoned up to him. The commandant didn't come down, but his message via the duty officer was that he wasn't authorized to issue a paper like that. I then asked for an interview, whereupon they told me to go to the 10th District Council and ask for a death certificate there. So I went. There my dream, in fact groundless, that this hadn't happened was reinforced again. There was a lady sitting by the register, and I told her I'd like a death certificate. Name? Pál Maléter, I said. Date of death? I told her. She took out the register and leafed through it back and forth in dismay. I saw she was blushing and quite beside herself, poor thing. I stood up to go and said Imre Nagy should be in there as well. 'Don't come here!' she shouted. 'Don't come here!' And then the penny seemed to drop and she took out another register, and this is what happened, 'So the name's Pál Maléter.' 'Yes.' 'When was he born?' I told her. Then she wrote it in. This is still incomprehensible to me. I asked if I could have a death certificate. She said, yes, they'd send it by post. Though they did write in my identity card that I was a widow. I never got the death certificate by post... This was already in my ID when we decided to get married. I just stayed on nicely in Marcibányi tér 5 and Livius lived at Wesselényi utca 2. I went over there every day, and if Livius had to go away, I stayed there with the child. And then the Hungarian Army was suddenly overcome by shell shock and they told me to leave the flat, because it was an army residence... I didn't want to leave, so I was put through my second eviction. I was forcibly moved by the army to Wesselényi utca 2. That marriage gave me ten years of peace, and I really kept house and brought up the child. I'm mother to her, because she was two years old when her mother died, so in that way I have grandchildren too. So I was given some compensation by fate. But poor Livius Ghyczy was very ill by 1980 and died in 1981. So there I was alone, at 48 years of age, still a long way from retirement. I didn't know what I was going to live off. I received widow's benefit for a year, of course, but at the end of 1982, I started looking for a job. Then it turned out that no one needed Mrs Livius Ghyczy. Look, every year since 1962 I'd handed in a passport application, and every year it had been rejected with the note, 'Travel abroad would damage the interests of the Hungarian People's Republic.' It was also rejected under the name Mrs Livius Ghyczy. On one occasion, when I was invited by the managing director of the Brazilian Air Travel Company, it was rejected because I had no guaranteed accommodation if I went to Brazil.

When I looked for a job, they never said anywhere why they wouldn't take me on, but I got responses like, 'Oh dear, this is out of date.' They were very sorry, but they'd decided they didn't need to fill the position. At the fourth place, the Technical Library, which I approached through a friend of Livius', they said there was no longer any need for the position I'd applied for. I asked, 'Tell me honestly. Is it because my first husband was Pál Maléter?' The man looked at me and said, 'Our personnel officer is a very decent man, but he doesn't dare do this for that reason.' That fell through as well, and I thought to myself, my God, this has happened before. There was a very nice Amfora shop in Király utca and a notice advertising for a shop assistant. I applied, telling the manager why I couldn't get a job elsewhere. She said it didn't matter to them. I was taken on, but I couldn't cope with it for long, because it was a mania with this very likeable manager that the shop assistant weren't allowed to sit down, whether there was anyone in the shop or not. And I couldn't cope with that because of the time I'd broken my leg, and above all because of backache. I'd also been affected by poor Livius' death, so that I was in pretty bad physical and psychological shape again. Finally I became a cashier in a chemist's shop in Margit körút. That wasn't bad, but it was difficult to make a living as the pay was very low and I wasn't a very good or practised cashier, so that it cost me quite a lot of money to make up the till.

When did you go out to plot 301 for the first time?

In 1957. I first heard about Plot 301 from Dr János Kardos. He told me that Ilona Tóth had been buried there and the police had stamped the grave mounds flat. I went there out of sympathy for Ilona Tóth. On All Souls' Day, I always went to Farkasrét Cemetery. There's a crucifix in the middle of a large, circular flowerbed and you light candles there for people if you don't know where they're buried. I lit one for Pali. After Livius' death, from All Souls' 1981 onwards, I went out to Plot 301 regularly, although to be honest, I didn't believe Pali was there at all. It looked terrible then. It was a mass of weeds. I had bad feelings, I was afraid to be alone there, but I went anyway. At the beginning of 1982, Aliz Halda got in touch with me and we started meeting frequently again to talk, and went out to Plot 301 together. Then Aliz told me that on 16 June 1958, Marika Bali and others had spied out where burials were carried out in 301 and they'd told her exactly where the four graves were. We managed to find them as well, because they were very piled up, particularly one of them, which they assumed was Imre Nagy's grave. Aliz and I said if that's true, one of the graves next to it may be Miklós Gimes and the other Defence Minister Pál Maléter. There were also signs on the mounds, iron rods stuck in, house leeks, and a bush on the one we thought was Imre Nagy's. After that, we weeded the mounds on the anniversaries, and planted amaranths on them, because they can cope with drought. Of course there was no water there. There was nothing there except the mass of weeds and not a soul went there.

When did you make contact with the 56-ers?

I got to know Miklós Vásárhelyi and his wife and György Litván and his wife at Aliz's in 1982. There the matter of my job difficulties came up. Litván got very indignant about the fact that I was still being restricted in finding a job in 1982. He appeared once at the chemist's and told me he'd talked to József Antall, who was curator general of the Museum and Library of Medical History, and he'd promised to help. I was taken on at the National Institute of Rheumatology and Physiotherapy in June 1983 and worked there until March 1985. During that time, I completed an intermediate medical librarian course. I received a certificate with distinction, but it didn't impress anyone; not a single medical library wanted to employ me. József Antall, on the other hand, regarded it as a matter of honour to take me on, so I got into the Library of Medical History on 15 March 1985.

Krassó, György
Krassó, György
Litván, György
Litván, György

Meanwhile, an event was organized in 1983 by the Flying University and György Krassó in a flat in Váci utca, for the 25th anniversary of 16 June 1958; they called it the first public memorial to the executions. It just meant that the door was open and anyone who wanted and knew about it could go in. I was invited and I went. I said to my daughter beforehand, 'Luli, if anyone asks you if I'm in contact with opposition circles, tell them you don't know anything and you hate me because I'm a wicked step-mother.' I was afraid for her. After all, with a once deported father and a general as a grandfather in her background... I'm quite sure that was part of the reason why she wasn't accepted for university, and then if I were to cause her problems too... That's what I was afraid of.

Was she aware of everything? Did you tell her?

I told her a great deal. A lot of people didn't tell their children about what had happened in '56 and how they'd taken part in it, and they didn't talk about prison, either.10 After a time, children become rational creatures and they can be told–look, Son, this is what happened, but don't talk to others, to strangers about it. Conditions in Hungarian flats meant that it wasn't always possible to talk without the children being there or to be constantly sure whether they were there or not. The subject came up many times at home, about when our father was in prison, when this or that happened to Uncle Pali, prison, execution. We knew that the children were sitting in front of the television and watching 'The Saint', for instance. There, bad people were sent to jail, so we had to tell them what happened. I can't imagine why many people didn't talk about it. After a certain age, children really can understand. Well, all right, it's everyone's sovereign right after all.

To get back to 16 June 1983.

At the memorial meeting, Krassó suddenly said, 'Here's Pál Maléter's widow; we'd like to ask her to say a few words.' I spoke into a microphone for the first time in my life. I have it on tape, as it was broadcast on Radio Free Europe and I recorded it. I was very faltering and agitated; I hadn't expected it and it was the first time I'd spoken in public. Krassó also had Aliz speak. There were a huge number of people there. I remember they were sitting everywhere on the floor and on the furniture; there were loads of young people. I said to Aliz (I don't know why it occurred to me): 'As I look round here, it's strange to wonder which one is the informer...' On that June 16, we went to the cemetery with György Litván, Juli Szilágyi and Mrs. Ella Szilágyi,11 Aliz Halda and Marika Losonczy.12 We decided to put lilies on the graves for the anniversary, as a symbol of innocence, to show they were innocent when they were killed.

Then things developed in the '80s, so that small communities came together, mainly young educationalists, and they invited the '56 people to tell their stories, to say what had happened then, because they hardly knew anything about the revolution. I got to know Sándor Rácz and Jenő Fónay, for example, at those meetings. When they found out I knew Aliz Halda, they asked me to invite her too. These became regular occasions. Then I started to be invited to other places as well. In 1986, there was a discussion at the flat of István Eörsi, entitled About fifty-six in eighty-six. Aliz Halda told me about it. I received the text of the lectures and I went along. Krassó organised '56 or October commemorations quite frequently. I was in Nádor utca twice. I still don't know whose flat we met in. Once, we were right in the middle of the commemoration when the lights went out. Everyone was convinced it was deliberate and people watching the flat had turned the current off. So the candles were brought out and we said the commemoration was much nicer like that. The only light was from the candles, and there was a Hungarian flag with the centre cut out. Once I was at a commemoration in Lajos utca, too, where the Inconnu had premises. I'm sure the whole company was under observation, but I didn't notice any retaliation, apart from what I've already mentioned.

You were among the founders of the Committee for Historical Justice in 1988.

It was 1988 by the time Aliz told me about the Committee. She asked if I'd be willing to participate in a committee consisting only of those who'd suffered imprisonment for '56. Of course I was willing. All the more because my daughter had married an Australian in 1985 and left. I was alone and I didn't have to take responsibility for anyone else.

There were quite a lot of criticism and attacks on the Committee and its founder members. Not us widows, but the others, who thought of it and ran it. They were accused of being communists. I said then and I say now that this didn't matter to me at all. I've had nothing to do with the communist party at any time in my life. Neither have my whole family or even Pál Maléter's family, and so I wouldn't know how to make a comparison, but I told myself that these people did something in '56 and went to prison for it, and now they want to do something again. I respect them for that and it's obvious that I'm going to participate and help as far as I can. I remember the first Committee appeal being broadcast on 3 June 1988 on Radio Free Europe, in the afternoon after the five o'clock news. I was familiar with the appeal, but it was exciting to hear it on the radio like that. My name and telephone number were given. There were two of us, myself and Aliz, who gave our names and addresses, so that people could get in touch with the Committee through us. The broadcast wasn't even over before the telephone rang, and from then until 13 June, when I set off to Paris for the dedication of the symbolic tomb, I had constant phone calls, letters and people calling in person. I worked less then than I do now, because when I reached retiring age, I went part time at the Medical History Library and I was home by the afternoon. People kept coming and telling their stories. Their terrible stories. I had some nutcases turn up as well. I was completely alone, and there would be someone sitting opposite me and I wouldn't have a clue who he was. Some people wanted to show me their identity cards, and so I said, 'You don't think I'm going to ask for ID? I'm not going to check anyone's identity, I believe you're who you say you are.' I had telephone calls late at night and telephone calls early in the morning. I was a nervous wreck by the time I set off for Paris, because I'd heard and taken notes of so many horrors. The same happened with Aliz too. People got in touch with the Committee through us.

How did your trip to Paris come about?

I heard from somewhere, it must have been Radio Free Europe, that they were preparing to erect a symbolic tomb and there'd be a commemoration addressed to the country and the world, and about who would be there. I thought to myself, how interesting, my husband was executed too, he was a member of the Imre Nagy government and he was killed for that, and it hadn't occur to anyone that perhaps I should be there too. Aliz Halda had gone to America, invited by Béla Király, and she wanted to come back via Paris to talk to Méray and the others. I finally got a passport in 1986 and asked Aliz to tell Tibor Méray the fact, and say that as the widow of an airline director, I could get a free plane ticket and travel there, but could he just help me to find some cheap accommodation. I wanted to be there, after all. This was a huge issue. I'd written three previous letters, to Gyorskocsi utca, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, asking them to tell me where Pál Maléter was buried. I got the same answer from all three: they were unable to give me an answer. Now finally, they'd remember him, even if the tomb was symbolic; they'd speak his name and I wanted to be there. Aliz came back with the reply that naturally they'd invite me, although it hadn't been all that natural up to then. They did so and took care of my accommodation, which was great.

Méray, Tibor
Méray, Tibor
Júlia Szilágyi, Péter Kende, Alíz Halda, Judith Gyenes and Anna Losonczy at the emblematic funeral of Hungarian President Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris
Júlia Szilágyi, Péter Kende, Alíz Halda, Judith Gyenes and Anna Losonczy at the emblematic funeral of Hungarian President Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris

There were a great many people at the dedication. All my memories of it are magnificent and uplifting. We were abroad for almost a fortnight, if I remember rightly. We went to loads of places; Julika Szilágyi and I wore our legs down to the knees. Every day, we went over to the symbolic tomb in the Pčre Lachaise cemetery. It was fantastic. Juli Szilágyi, Miklós Vásárhelyi and I were interviewed at a press conference with Ferenc Fejtő as the interpreter. They asked me about my memories and about Pál Maléter and the words just spilled out of me. We got to know lots of people and we were invited by a lot. It was fabulous after so much suppression, taboo and secrecy that we could finally speak publicly of things that we'd only been able to mention to selected people at home. However, I have one bad memory, of a dinner in the Polish Centre to which we were invited, of course. It was inconceivable at that time for an event connected to this in any way to be held in the Hungarian Centre, but the Poles offered. Toasts were proposed over dinner and a '56 refugee living in Switzerland made an observation: Hungary, he said, would only be liberated and enjoy democracy when the emigrés returned home, because those who'd stayed had all served the Kádár regime. They were all collaborators, so that nothing could be done with them. I was sitting next to András B. Hegedűs and I told him I'd defect then. That's a very bad memory.

That was in 1988. We came home from Paris, the Committee carried on operating and people continued to come.

Emblematic tomb of Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris
Emblematic tomb of Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris
Emblematic funeral of Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris
Emblematic funeral of Imre Nagy in cemetery Pere Lachaise in Paris

What did you want to achieve; what was the goal of the Committee for Historical Justice?

What we set out to achieve was stated in the first declaration: the authorities should bury the martyrs of '56 and all the unjust show trials since 1945 be investigated–all the illegalities, in fact, the trials, deportations, labour camps, internments and so on. Investigation of these and moral restitution for them. That was why so many people streamed in, everyone who'd been affected by any unlawful act. The biggest group were the '56-ers.

How did you manage to find out where they'd been buried?

The authorities actually began to talk to us in the winter of 1988. Under the aegis of the Committee, the four widows–Marika Haraszti, the widow of Géza Losonczy, Ella Szilágyi being pretty weak by then her daughter Juli went instead of her; Aliz Halda, and I, and also Erzsébet Nagy,13 so five of us–were told they should go and see Gyula Borics, state secretary for Justice. This must have been in December 1988. I don't know exactly what had been going on in the background, but I know the start of the negotiations resulted from the efforts of Vásárhelyi, Göncz and András B. Hegedűs. We went to see Alajos Dornbach several times. He was the lawyer to the Committee and working at that time in the 5th Lawyers' Partnership in Alkotmány utca. He got in touch with the Ministry of Justice. We then got a reply to our letters, saying we should go to the ministry at such and such a time. We all went to the first appointment separately. I told them how many times I'd tried to raise the matter and how many rejection letters I'd received. I was astonished at Borics's politeness, he was amazingly willing to speak. Whatever I said, I received an answer in the affirmative. We'd been talking in the Committee beforehand about the need to excavate and find out where they were at all, because that was still uncertain at the end of 1988. Then came the response that they agreed to the exhumations; they'd look for them, although it would be a huge task, as even they didn't know where they lay. So there was a lot of mystery surrounding it all. Then everyone could have their own kin buried individually. The four of us (I say four, as Zsóka Nagy didn't appear at the discussions) talked about this several times. I also thought things through: Pali's father, whom he adored, was laid to rest in the large, beautiful, chapel-like Maléter crypt in Kassa Cemetery,14 so the natural thing would be to bury him there, but that would mean taking take him abroad. It crossed my mind that there was the other Maléter crypt in Pécs, where my grandmother was also laid to rest and Pali's grandfather, so that would also be a possibility. Then the third alternative would be the Farkasrét Cemetery, where his cousin, my father, was laid. I asked my sisters if they'd have any objection if we put Pali in father and mother's grave. Of course, there wasn't any opposition. Everyone thought it through, and after much discussion, we concluded that we oughtn't to move them from where they were, in Plot 301: they had to stay there beside their companions and fellow sufferers. It was a huge decision to make. It was also very painful to me when the accusation was made that the four communists had been buried in honorary graves. There's also a reason why the four of them are in a separate place there in Plot 300. The authorities were trying to bend over backwards. After the exhumation, Plot 300 was levelled off and places for five graves were prepared, with a ceremonial platform in the middle. Neither the Gimes family nor I wanted them to go back into a single hole, just one grave again, nor did we want them to be buried in the same place as the serial rapist-killer who was dug up next to them. The five graves were prepared in Plot 300 so that the five of them–Imre Nagy, Miklós Gimes, Géza Losonczy, József Szilágyi and Pál Maléter–could be next to each other. I had a big argument with János Vészi, when he said that Imre Nagy should stay where he was in 301. I asked him what he was thinking of. After all, there'd be no room for them all there next to each other. Then Vészi said that all five of them could be under one stone, in one grave. But I didn't want them all in a common grave again. Then I went out to the cemetery with Juli Szilágyi, Marika Haraszti, Aliz and the cemetery director to ponder on a solution. There were graves all round where Imre Nagy had been buried, so they couldn't go there, and I raised the point that if they were placed 25 metres over, they'd still be there. The others agreed to this. I wouldn't have believed that the Nagy family would insist so strongly that Imre Nagy should stay in 301. It seemed so nice to me that they could be together. When it became clear that Imre Nagy would be staying there in 301, and there were the five places prepared in 300, I suggested that a symbolic, empty coffin should be buried in the fifth grave. Then shortly before the funeral I heard pofosz saying, 'We'll seize the empty coffin by force and put it in next to Imre Nagy!' Then the picture appeared to me of how they'd pulled the coffin about so much at Khomeini's funeral that he'd fallen out. I said, 'Good Lord, we finally get so far just to have a scene like this! No, God forbid!' And then came the other idea, of putting into the fifth grave all the torches lit for every person who'd been executed, as their names were mentioned. Whenever I go out to the cemetery, I go principally to Imre Nagy's grave, because there's the empty coffin next to it, and that's where Pali's dust is too. His bones are in 300, but the bodies of poor Miklós Gimes and Pali decayed away in that grave pit. So I always take flowers there, in memory of all those who were executed, but also for that reason. It's strange. I never met Miklós Gimes in my life, and I'd never even heard of him before 1958, but it's so heart-warming that the only person who looked me up was a dependant of Miklós Gimes, and in the end it turned out they were lying next to each other.

The exhumation took place in the spring of 1989.

Yes. The exhumation began on 29 March 1989. It's a terrible memory. It turned out that Miklós Gimes and Pál Maléter had been thrown into one hole. If I watch the film made of the exhumation, there's something else that's incomprehensible. At the beginning, there's a conversation among the scientists, anthropologists and medical experts from the Justice Ministry, who've been told that Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes are in one pit, according to the form. I hadn't been told this. Imre Nagy was uncovered on the first day, but based on the remains, the Nagy family didn't accept that it was Imre Nagy. Then a grave was dug up on the other side and the skeleton of a very young man was found. Then it was time to excavate the Gimes–Maléter grave. It took two days. They just kept on digging, and suddenly the news came that there were the remains of two people in there, but it wasn't possible to know who the first was and who the second was. When the upper body was exhumed, I had to live through it all, not knowing whether it was Pali or not. In the end, the relatives all agreed it was probably Miklós Gimes. Then they started with the lower one, and by then I had no doubts it was Pál Maléter. Partly by his height–he was six foot five after all and this could be seen from the skeleton. Apart from that, there was his war wound, when a bullet had entered beside his carotid artery and lodged in his shoulder blade. The bullet had been removed when he was a Russian prisoner. Then there were dental features that I mentioned and those were unequivocal. It was a terrible thing to live through. I was helped through the exhumation by the fact that it was carried out in the way it was, like an archaeological dig. The way the scientists carried out the work in white lab-coats somewhat blunted the appalling business. This helped me to get through those two days. Someone might imagine that when the coffin lid was opened, there'd be some clothes or at least scraps there, but there weren't; everything had perished. There were plenty of horrors, remains of pitch paper and wires. His hands had been wired together and his legs crossed over clearly because they wouldn't fit into the box, his head tilted to one side, and shoes on his feet. Those wires and the two shoes, it was awful.

The film was very upsetting, and I thought a lot about how someone might feel meeting up with their kin in such a way, after so many years.

Common sense said that this was putting an end to not knowing where he was. I wouldn't have to live my whole life not knowing where he was; now things would come to light. But in the depths of my soul, I had the feeling it would be terrible to find out, because that was the last straw to clutch at; if they hadn't found him here, then he would have to be somewhere, so maybe... It's a bit like when someone brings the news of death to the young widow of a soldier. A comrade in arms comes home and tells her he knows her husband is dead. The young wife mourns him, but there's no trace of it of any kind. Maybe she receives an official paper, maybe not. A heroes' memorial is set up, his name's written on it. The woman even gets married. But in the back of her mind, the thought's always there: maybe it isn't true, maybe he'll come home, because there's nothing to hold onto; she hasn't seen him, she didn't bury him, there's no grave. And now, there was the proof. There was no longer any doubt.

You buried him on 16 June 1989.

I buried him. For me, it was above all a funeral, not a celebration, not a political event. Of course, there was euphoria, the moment of political change, a new world starting tomorrow, although unfortunately, things haven't turned out as I thought at the time.

Poster on the reburial of Imre Nagy and his comrades
Poster on the reburial of Imre Nagy and his comrades
Judith Gyenes at the catafalque of Pál Maléter at Hősök square
Judith Gyenes at the catafalque of Pál Maléter at Hősök square

1 The radio speech of Cardinal József Mindszenty, head of the Hungarian Catholic Church.

2 Uzhkhorod, Ukraine.

3 Top secret.

4 National police headquarters.

5 Presov, Slovakia.

6 The secret trial of Imre Nagy and associates began on 5 February 1958. It was interrupted on the 14 February at the request of the Soviets, due to a summit meeting with the Western Powers, but then resumed in July.

7 Szilágyi's case was handled separately, as he refused to cooperate at the beginning of the trial. He was actually executed on 24 April 1958.

8 He died in prison on 20 December 1957, under circumstances that have not been clarified.

9 Plots 300 and 301 in the far north-east of the New Public Cemetery were reserved in the communist period for the unmarked burial places of political prisoners and closed to the public.

10 For more detail on this, see: Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár: Carrying a secret in my heart... Children of the victims of the reprisals after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. An Oral History. Budapest and New York: CEU Press, 2002.

11 The daughter and widow of the executed József Szilágyi.

12 The widow of the executed Géza Losonczy.

13 The daughter of Imre Nagy.

14 Kosice, Slovakia.

Interviewer: Adrienne Molnár. Date: 1998.
Editor: Adrienne Molnár.

Copyright © 2004 Public Foundation of the Documentary and Research Institute of the 1956 Hungarian Revolutioncredits