1956, the year when “A nation said: Enough!” This year is the 60th anniversary of the 1956’ revolution and war of independence. My Revolution is our weekly series of narratives of the 1956’ revolution by the book titled Az én Forradalmam (My Revolution). Remembering to 1956; every week you can read a stupendous story of a Hungarian 56er:
The following fragments are from the memoirs of László Záborszky, about the memories from the Corivn köz in the revolution and the road taken by a doctor professor researcer of elemental neural structures related to Alzheimer’s disease.
The fiercest armed battles in the 1956 revolution and freedom fight were fought in Corvin köz. A multitude of memorial plaques, some of them bordering on the realm of legends, refer to heroic acts by the insurgents. But little is known about the people who lived there and were, sometimes involuntarily, involved in the events. In fact, some sacrificed their lives. Around 10pm on 23rd October, remote gunfire could be heard. My mother prayed with me for my sister, who had left for a demonstration as a student of the Budapest University of Medicine, to get home safe and sound. My father was being treated in an institute of cardiovascular diseases in Balatonfüred.
Corvin köz 4 (then named Kisfaludy köz) was in the middle of the buildings built around the movie theatre in a semi-circular shape. The residents were interesting. My parents had moved in back in 1933. In the early 1950s, my father was fired from his job at the Finance Ministry. Initially we lived on the salary my mother made as a teacher in the Ónodi street primary school in Pesterzsébet. Some of the apartments overlooked the cinema building, others faced Práter street. There were two internal courtyards around the dual corridors in the middle. The residents were on good terms with each other, whether they were Jewish, Christian, workers, or a colonel in the pre-war Horthy regime. The children played together in the courtyard or the nearby park.
The entrance of the Corvin Cinema before the revolution
Across the courtyard lived Uncle Kari, who was forcefully relocated in 1953 because of his position as a colonel in the pre-war Horthy system. I once visited them in their new home near the river Tisza. His wife, aunt Luci, gave me delicious food. To the left of us lived Ágnes U., a teacher who had studied in the secondary grammar school for girls on Andrássy út, where my great-grandfather Ferenc Révy had worked as the director at the end of the 19th century. I often visited aunt Ágnes – she always gave me something to play with. She was a Jew who had hidden in our apartment during the German occupation. Our right-side neighbour was a lady we called “Mrs. Little”. She lived there with her son Pityu and her second husband. Pityu was a cool lad, a few years older than myself, but we hung out together, along with all the boys in the neighborhood. Mrs. Little wore high-heels shoes, not stilettos heels but wedges. She worked as a women’s tailor; they were considered quite well-off and even had a piano. I went over to their place to practice music because Mr. M., our teacher, wanted to flunk me. We had no money for anything but a xylophone, and I couldn’t really learn solfeggio with that.
Across from our apartment, on the third floor lived Klári F., a red-haired, white-skinned, beautiful girl. Her father was a photojournalist with the National News Agency. They had one of the two privately owned cars in Corvin köz. On Sundays, we watched out the window with envy as the family F. went on an excursion in their Volkswagen. Klári’s brother Peter was a ballet dancer in the Opera, together with Viktor Róna.
Anikó and her family lived down on the mezzanine floor on the other side. Her grandfather had a small flour shop, and we often heard her grandmother shout: “Anikó, come home!” Only aunt Irma shouted louder. She was a caretaker living next to the laundry room in the attic. Everybody was afraid of her. Anikó’s grandparents had also been forcefully relocated.
On the fifth floor above us lived Bernát and Olga L., who had a cleaning shop in Népszínház street. Their grandson András V. was around 13 years old; he often joined our group. Judit Sz. lived on the third floor across us. She was another nice-looking girl who sometimes called me in to play with her. In the apartment on the first floor above the doorway lived Gyula Kramolin, director of the clinic on Péterffy street, and his wife. They were around 60 and had no children. Everybody was fretting about being relocated and having to leave their homes. I remember that men from the State Security Authority passed our door several times, reading the sign with my father’s name on it: G. Z., certified royal Hungarian auditor. My father was proud to have worked in the Finance Ministry. He kept a book, Ossendowski’s “Lenin”, on his big, beautiful desk so that he could claim to read it if and when the henchmen rang our doorbell. In fact, Ossendowski was an anti-Communist who wrote rather unflattering things about Lenin.
Across from us on the second floor lived Dodo. His father was a driver at the State Security Authority. Still, he belonged to our company, just like Jóska T., whose mother was a worker. Above us in the left-side corner on the fifth floor lived aunt Ari. She ran a watch shop on Üllői út and had two daughters. The younger one, Zsuzsa F., was about 15 or 16 in 1956. Klári F., Zsuzsa F. and myself often played that we were husband, wife and child. Aunt Ari had a man courting her: a tall, well-built, bald gentleman who often had dinner there. Aunt Ari called him Bones.
In the apartment on the right side of the mezzanine floor lived Mrs. Oszkár P. and Géza A. They were not relocated even though they must have been very rich, with beautiful antique furniture. My mother and I sometimes went down to visit them, and they gave me candy.
The days after 23rd October 1956 were hectic. After an adventurous journey, my father got home from the heart hospital in Balatonfüred. The momentary silence was broken by students from Pesterzsébet who had come to fight. They rang our doorbell because they recognised my mother’s name. They asked for glass jars which they filled with petrol and threw down from the roof at the approaching Russian tanks. My mother called a few students by name because several of them had attended the school on Ónodi street. We watched excitedly from our windows as the fighters withdrew behind the inner corner of the circle formed by the houses, while an anti-tank cannon in front of the movie theatre was used to destroy Russian tanks that crossed the Boráros bridge on their way to József körút. Later, it was uplifting to see the insurgents climb onto the flat roof of the cinema building and stand on the billboard to put up the Hungarian flag with a hole in it. Doctor Kramolin and his family probably left for the West in the first days of the revolution, and Pál Maléter (defence minister of the revolutionary government) moved with his troops into the Kramolins’ apartment above the gate. Corvin köz and our building was, from a military perspective, much easier to defend than the Kilián barracks, which had thick walls but stood in an open space.
The fighting that resumed on 4th November came ominously close to Corvin köz. Initially we were in the dual corridor, but when the windows were broken in, we went down to the cellar. About 80 people crowded in a big, long room that was normally used to store wood. Occasional machine gun flare was visible through a small ventilation shaft in the top corner. We children started to play cards at one end of the room. This was interrupted by fists banging on the wall of the neighboring room. It was one of the boys who had come over because their cellar exit had caved in. He was carrying a suitcase. Later, one of the insurgents came in and said that the Russian commanders knew that the leaders of the revolution operated from our building, so the house would be under artillery fire from Gellért hill. The cellar was not safe either because the insurgents stored 9,000 kilograms of ammunition in the designated bomb shelter. We had to flee after the neighbouring building caught fire. Some said that the main water faucet at the door should be opened because there was a fire in our building as well. Károly F., Klári’s father, ran out and was shot to death by a Russian soldier. He was 37 and left his wife and two children behind. Bones met the same fate, along with one of the local residents whom I did not know.
The other side of the building faced Práter street. There was no gate there, but only a book warehouse on the ground floor. I remember wading across hundreds of volumes of Stendahl’s “The Red and the Black”. Led by my sister, we jumped out of the mezzanine window onto Práter street. When there was a pause in the gunfire, we ran across the street and banged on the door of the opposite building. My mother had with her some chestnut puree wrapped in cellophane. She had made it in the evening of the 23rd to celebrate my sister’s return home. It served as precious food when we lived on a pile of wood in one of the houses on Kisfaludy street for days. We went from building to building for about two weeks, and then ended up in my godfather’s apartment on Közraktár street, where we lived until the spring when our home was renovated. All the apartments next to ours had collapsed down to the ground floor; only one wall had remained underneath my father’s room. The next period was eventful. Our school on Práter street had been hit as well, so we went to the Jázmin street school for several months. Due to the lack of space, the lessons were shortened to 25 minutes. Some of us were sent to a home supported by the Red Cross in Városkút, led by the mother of a classmate of mine, Laci K. Our apartment in Corvin köz was hardly accessible for a while; Russian soldiers moved into the Corvin cinema, and when my mother and I sometimes came to see how the renovation was progressing, she pointed towards our apartment and told the Russian guard: “ya zhiwyu tut” (“I live here”).
My father died of cancer in 1961. I attended the German class of the Eötvös secondary school at that time. Once I travelled to East Germany. I lived with a pen-friend named Manfred close to Dresden for a few weeks. His grandfather had an old P70 car, and they took me to see the Sanssouci in Potsdam. On the way there, the grandpa proudly said that the motorway had been built by Hitler. Later, in the sixth year of my university studies, I went to Halle for surgery practice, and my new friends visited me at Corvin köz 4.
After graduation, I worked in the field of anatomy, which was very close to my specialisation. Actually I wanted to be a neurologist, but Professor Pál Juhász, director of the neurology clinic, said “Comrade Záborszky, you’ll get a job if you join the Party”. I was only the 62nd on the rank of doctors of the People’s Republic. I worked with Professor Palkovits in the Szentágothai Institute’s student circle; party membership was not required for a job in that institute, so I spent unforgettable years with this brilliant professor.
But my relationship with authorities and building caretakers was not good. After graduation, in 1970, two days before my planned travel to East Germany, a “gentleman” wearing plain clothes visited me and took away my passport. Later, after several appeals, I got a resolution stating that “his travel abroad would violate public interest”. When Professor Wolff visited me in 1976 after a few months-long study trip to the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, our caretaker crashed his Trabant into his Passat parked on Corvin köz. Poor Wolf had trouble with the authorities because they didn’t want to let him leave the country in the damaged car. It may have been the same caretaker who reported to the police after my university studies that I had West German visitors, when in fact I only had East German friends back then.
It was only for a few years after graduation that I had no passport. I decided to write to the secretariat of Prime Minister Kádár and return the golden ring of the People’s Republic that I had got from Ferenc Erdei, member of the Presidential Council, on the day of graduating as a doctor. In response to that, they summoned me in the Interior Ministry building on Rudas László street and said that they would “wipe my slate clean”. And in fact they did let me travel to Yugoslavia already in 1971. I went there with Szilvia M. and her parents. In 1973, I was allowed to work at the famous University of Würzburg for a year. Then again, the Interior Ministry’s officer delegated to the Budapest University visited me before leaving, and asked me to gather intelligence about a large American military base in Würzburg. Naturally, I declined. One reason why I was allowed to travel to West Germany could have been that Szilvia’s father, a doctor at the National Bank of Hungary, maintained a good relationship with the deputy governor there, who could have put in a few good words about me to the competent authorities.
In the 1970s, when I worked in the Szentágothai Institute, I had little time to meet with the residents of the building. Klári F. married Gyuri, a famous water polo player; once, when I was on night duty, I was called out to their place, but they had moved away to Sallai Imre street. Zsuzsa F. and Peter F. married in America.
Once, towards the end of the 1970s, Professor Szentágothai called me into his room and said: “Look, Laci, you are not a favourite of the University’s political leaders, but I still proposed to send you to a short study trip to the Soviet Union, and a longer one to America”. That is how I spent two weeks in an institute of the Yerevan Academy of Sciences. And when I was invited to the faculty of neurology in Charlottesville, Virginia, I travelled there with a letter of recommendation from Professor Szentágothai. I have been working in the United States ever since, researching elemental neural structures related to Alzheimer’s disease. When visiting my mother in the 1980s, I often met Jóska T.’s mother in the corridor. My mother died in 1993.
via: Az Én Forradalmam (My Revolution)
photos: index.hu; wikipedia.hu; friendsofhungary.hu; gimagine.com; fortepan.hu; newark.rutgers.edu; old.mta.hu