Chapter Nine

The New Hungary

My knowledge of modern Hungary before I came to that country was based mainly on tourist literature and travellers' tales. A romantic countryside with wide-sleeved dashing horsemen on the puszta, a decadent Budapest, where dozens of princes, counts and beautiful countesses lived out the last days of a semi-feudal society to the music of gypsy bands. A country gone to seed, a lazy easy-going people who watched their society disintegrate without stirring a finger to arrest the progress. And true enough, that is the picture to-day of a certain facet of Hungarian life, but an unimportant facet. What wrong conceptions one has of countries judging them by the antics of their aristocracy or upper middle-class; and writers of the romantic Hungary in the past have held the mirror up to these classes and not to the working people. What a different impression one has of the Hungary of the Three-Year and the Five-Year Plans!

There is a quality of brilliance and imagination in the leadership in Hungary to-day which has gradually dissipated the cynicism of centuries of Hapsburg rule and decades of Fascism. The material reconstruction has been fabulous, but more astounding and more important is the reconstructed outlook of the Hungarian people. Budapest was probably the most cynical capital of Europe five years ago, and to-day it is a city of enthusiasts. For the first time in Hungarian history people know where they are going. For a small minority, the road is an unpleasant one, for the great majority the road is leading to a definite goal with a better future which is being realised in a day-to-day improvement of living standards.

Few people, except those who drew it up, believed in the Three-Year Plan, but when the bridges, roads, workers' flats and factories which were scornfully derided at first as paper dreams, actually took shape in two years and five months, there was little difficulty in getting people to believe in and subscribe to the Five-Year Plan which started in January, 1950.

In the spring of 1949, when I returned to Budapest from Sofia the good, new life was already making itself felt and seen. Two new bridges were creeping back across the Danube to join four permanent bridges already built in the capital since the liberation. Workers had pledged themselves to complete the lovely Chain Bridge, built by British engineers in 1849, by November 20, 1949, the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the original structure. The Germans had destroyed it, as they did every single bridge over the Danube between the Black Forest in Germany and the Black Sea. Blocks of workers' flats complete with nurseries, overlooking the Danube, were just receiving the finishing touches.

Country roads were a mass of bloom from the fruit trees which lined their edges. Cherry trees trailed their blossoms in the Danube. Village stores, full of new consumer goods which peasants had never seen in their lives before, or at most in Budapest shop windows, were packed with customers. Electrification of the villages gave the peasants an interest in electrical cookers, irons and other gadgets they had never dreamed of before. They were all available in the new village stores. Houses were springing up everywhere in the countryside on sites allocated from the large estates. In Budapest; the shops were crammed with unrationed food and textiles, crammed also with buyers until late at night. To enable the workers to do their shopping in comfort – it is the fashion now in Hungary for both husband and wife to work – the co-operative food stores stay open until 10 p.m. In each district there are special stores which maintain a twenty-four hours' service. Workers can telephone and order their luncheon packets or any other grocery supplies, the parcels will be ready for them when they come to collect. People's Buffets and People's Night Clubs were jammed with young workers and their wives. The luxury Grand Hotel on Margaret Island was full of people who would never have dared pass through the swing door even could they have afforded it, in the old days. It was now managed very efficiently by its former charwoman.

On May Day, the whole city and every town and village celebrated with an enthusiasm and gaiety I have never before experienced. Budapest was a mass of banners, singing, marching people, flowers, mobile buffets and groups picnicking in every park and garden. It was the greatest celebration Budapest had ever known. 1949 perhaps was the year, when the great mass of the people became really convinced they were on the right path. Promises were being kept; the People's Front was delivering the goods. It was difficult in May, 1949, in the sparkling, garlanded capital, dotted with new and restored buildings, with well-nourished, smartly-clad people and everywhere infectious gaiety and vitality, to know what the city was like only four years previously.

In the spring of 1945, Budapest was a city of rubble, burned tanks and rotting corpses. Traffic between Buda and Pest was at a standstill with every bridge over the Danube destroyed by the Nazis.

Of 35,500 apartment houses, 29,987 had been destroyed or badly damaged. Thousands of civilians were killed in the bombings and house-to-house fighting. Thousands more were murdered by Germans and the Hungarian Fascist Arrow Cross troops. One of the first and most tragic tasks was to lay out the corpses for relatives to identify. There were no less than 40,000 bodies in the streets and among the ruins. One can see heart-rending photographs in Budapest of scores of murdered children laid out in the open streets, and parents and relatives filing by to recognise them for burial. Few crops had been sown or harvested, and Budapest was starving. Bands of starving children roamed in the streets, wailing for bread and their parents. Of the city's fine bus service, 16 buses were left, the Germans had driven off in the rest. Gas, water supply, and electricity services were disrupted. During the ceaseless bombardment and to escape the Arrow Cross murder gangs, people had not moved out of their cellars for weeks on end. Life had come to a standstill – all telegraph and telephone poles had been cut down by the Germans, railway lines had been cut through at regular intervals by special sabotage machines. Every road leading into Budapest had been mined, every bridge over thirty feet long destroyed.

1,200 locomotives and over 40,000 railway wagons were driven off to Germany. Even if communications with the capital had been available there was no food in the country. Apart from the neglected crops, the livestock had been reduced from 8.6 millions to 3.2 millions. Budapest in early 1945 was a hopeless city of rubble, stench and starvation.

While Budapest was still under siege the provisional government at Debrecen was already making plans for the gigantic effort to repair the damage, to make Hungary take a leap forward in history and restore the capital to one of the most beautiful in Europe. And in the spring of 1949, with the Three-Year Plan well on the way to completion, the people could justifiably celebrate four years of astounding progress.

The rebuilt city, the restored homes and bright new workers' flats, the four new bridges over the Danube, the rubble heaps converted into gardens – this was all something done by the Budapestians themselves, at first working with their bare hands. It was something in which all but the embittered malcontents took part, young and old, regardless of sex.

Mayor Zoltan Vas threw all his brilliant energies into getting the city running again. In the first days he helped distribute truckloads of potatoes to the starving citizens. Vas was sentenced to death by Horthy at the age of 16 but as he was a minor the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He served sixteen years before the Soviet Union secured his release in 1941, at the same time as Rakosi. The Russians gave him 250 army trucks in those early days to organise food supplies for the city. Vas is now the driving force behind the Five Year Plan, as chief of the Planning Office.

Nationalised industries delivered trams and buses to restore the city's transport service, industrial workers put in extra shifts, at first on the most meagre rations, to get the city's life pulsing again. Hand in hand with reconstruction went the social and economic reforms, without which the tempo of work and morale of the workers could not have been sustained. The nationalisation of the key industries, equal pay for women, establishments of creches and nursery schools, and generous maternity leave and pay for pregnant and nursing mothers, paid holidays and requisitioning of the former luxury hotels for workers' holiday resorts; preferential treatment for workers in the days when food and clothing was rigorously rationed, heavy punishment for speculators and really brilliant leadership by Communists of the calibre of Matyas Rakosi, Zoltan Vas, who, first threw his talents and energy into starting life rolling in Budapest, and Erno Gero, who tackled the task of restoring communications. These were the things which fired the enthusiasm of the workers and turned tens of thousands from embittered or apathetic critics into elite workers.

There was plenty of reason for the workers to sing and dance in the streets on May 1, 1949, undisturbed by the glowering dismissed Horthy officials and dispossessed land-owners, who sat along the boulevard cafes to reminiscence with their cronies about the "good old times" and speculate on how long they must still wait for the Americans to come and restore their estates and their jobs. It is a source of constant amazement for foreign visitors to Budapest that hundreds of cafes are full all day long with the dispossessed middle class and aristocracy. Each cafe has its dozen or so regular habitues who drift in at the same hour each day, many of them still dressed in their country gentry clothes, drink coffee and barack, the famous apricot brandy, grumble against the regime, spread rumours about the day war will break out and discuss the latest black market rate of the dollar. They are the only ones, except for the Bishops, however, who sigh for a return of the old days and they are not the ones to drape cartridge belts round their fat waists, fill their pockets with hand grenades and take to the hills to fight for their beliefs-beliefs in the sanctity of the right to exploit. The government has taken a tolerant view of those that only talk in cafes, but is sharp to pounce if there is any hint of action.

The glum-looking dispossessed seemed to belong to another race and era, than to that of the strapping, smiling young men, the gay beautiful girls from the youth organisations, the veteran workers from the industrial suburb of Csepel, girls from the Goldberger textile mills, mechanics from the Hofherr tractor works, who paraded half a million strong, past Prime Minister Dobi, Communist leader Rakosi, and other party and government leaders on May Day at Heroes' Square. There was no future for the landowners in a People's Democracy because they wanted to take no part in the new life. A handful did make an effort to readjust themselves. I know of one Baron and his wife who made a sincere and successful effort to start a new life. He took a course in and graduated as an electric welder after deciding that the old days were gone forever. His wife, less enterprising, took a job as mannequin in a nationalised mode-salon. A mannequin in the new Hungary, however, is not one who shows off the latest creations to film stars in an atmosphere of champagne and roses; she is liable to travel around in a mobile mode-salon and show off simple new styles to factory girls during their lunch hour. A rare example for the aristocracy is the former Princess Margit Odescalchi, wife of Count Apponyi, both belonging to old and fabulously rich families in Hungary. Princess Margit became a convinced anti-fascist during the Horthy regime. Imprisoned for a short time by the Germans, she was hidden by an old nurse from the Arrow Cross thugs who wanted to kill her. In recognition of her services, the government left her 300 acres of her estates when the land reform was carried out, but she personally distributed this land as well and became an ordinary factory worker. She joined the Communist Party and was later elected to Parliament. Margit Odescalchi was a notable and noble exception of her class. In general the Hungarian semi-feudal aristocracy was the most corrupt and decadent in Europe and could only be compared with that of Russia of the Romanoffs, in the twilight of the Czarist Empire.

The May Day parade was a curtain-raiser to the elections which were to be held in Hungary on May 15. To the western countries there did not seem to be any point in holding elections, as there were no opposition parties or candidates. But in Hungary itself the elections were taken very seriously. Certainly there was no exciting struggle for power by one party or another group of parties. But election time was an opportunity for the government to touch down to earth, to test the feeling of the people; to explain government policy to the peasants particularly, and to receive criticism. For three weeks before polling day, government leaders from Dobi and Rakosi down toured the country, addressing meetings day and night. The success or otherwise of correct administration would be shown by the number of votes as analysed district by district and village by village. Opposition to the government could only be expressed by not voting or by making the voting slip invalid. Why not have permanent public opinion survey committees instead of the "farce" of elections where there are no opposition candidates? It's a question or a variation of a question often asked in the West.

Capitalism has been abolished as a class factor in Hungary. At the time of the 1949 elections in theory all industries employing over 100 persons was nationalised, in practice most employing over 40 or 50 had been taken over. All large estates had been distributed. Capitalism existed still in a thousand of small undertakings, but it was no longer a political factor. Hungary had accomplished a revolution and there was no intention of allowing the dispossessed landlords, factory owners and bankers to have a political party. But this was not democracy? The people had taken over power and were determined to ensure that it would not be snatched away from them as had happened with such wearisome repetition throughout their own and European history.

There were differences of interests in Hungary of 1949 but not conflicts of interest. Peasants had different problems to workers, middle peasants different problems to poor peasants, intellectuals other problems again. But whatever their problems, their basic interests were all the same – to live in peace with their neighbours, to have a rising standards of living, to have security in ill-health and old age, to be able to educate their children, to prevent a rebirth of Fascism. Each group had parties or organisations to which they could nominate candidates to represent them in parliament. There were the Communist Party, the Smallholders' Party, the National Peasant Party, the Independent Democratic Party of the liberal-minded priest Father Balogh. Any group in factory or village could nominate its candidate in the respective parties. The party leadership decided in what order the candidates should be listed. The total number of votes cast decided the number of candidates to be elected. Each 16,000 votes elected a candidate, which was an incentive for everyone to vote and give their candidate the maximum chance of election.

A member of parliament has serious duties. He must keep in constant touch with his electors, transmit their requests to the administration, explain policies to the people. His mandate can be withdrawn any time a majority in his district demands it, in which case the next one on the list at election time is automatically elected. Unless they have ministerial posts, members of parliament go right back to their jobs in factories or farms after session of Parliament is finished. There is no question of their not being in touch with their electors all the time, no excuse for their not knowing their demands and criticism.

The Saturday before polling day, I wanted to make some pictures of election posters and found just the picture I needed. A long white brick wall covered with brightly coloured posters showing smoking factory chimneys, new bridges over the Danube, tractors almost hidden with golden grain, interspersed with lists of candidates, and an old couple peering at one of the lists. After I had taken the picture, the old couple, recognising me as a foreigner, invited me to have a cup of coffee with them in their flat.

They were friendly and so genuinely hospitable that it was impossible to refuse. To my surprise they took me to a brand new block of flats nearby, of which only one floor was completed. I was escorted into a tiny, but charming two-roomed flat, and my hosts insisted that I inspect every corner of it, the little blue-tiled bathroom, the kitchen with electric stove and frigidaire. While, "mother" prepared coffee, I asked the old man about the elections. I had struck gold. He was himself a candidate, Jozsef Dindoffer, 75 years of age, machine locksmith, from the Lang Machine Factory.

"I was nominated by my trade union," he explained, "and my name was sent up to the People's Front Committee and they accepted me as a candidate." After further questioning it appeared he was nominated not because of long membership in the union, but because he was a top-worker, which was also the reason why he had been given the nice new flat.

In labour competition he and his team of three completed their "norm" of work in 240 hours, the next best time by a team of four was 400 work hours. I was amazed that at 75 years, first that he was working at all and secondly that he could be a top-worker.

"I thought I'd laid down my tools for ever until 1945 came," he said, "and then I knew we had something we workers have been fighting for all our lives. We thought we had it in 1919, but we were crushed, I myself went into jail for awhile. But in 1945, I said, 'Mama, get out my overalls, I'm going back to work!' " And "Mama," bustling in with coffee, gave him a fond look, behind her spectacles, and said, "Aye, that he did. He went right back to the benches and said 'we're going to build socialism this time.' "

"We had it hard those first months," continued Dindoffer, "the old ones were mostly worn out, the young ones didn't have much interest. Life itself was hard. No food, no heating, no proper roofs over our heads and no clothes. Look at us now," and he waved his hand round the flat, walked over and opened the wardrobe to show his own winter and summer suits, his good winter overcoat and the warm clothes "Mama" had for the cold weather. "I never had two 'best' suits in my life before. Now I have one for winter, one for summer. He opened his wallet and showed two 100 forint notes (worth six pounds). I've got money in the bank and I always have a little reserve of cash in my purse. Did we ever have spare change in the house in the old days, Mama?" And Mama shook her head and murmured, "More often we were in debt."

In Dindoffer's normal week; he earned eight pounds, but as the old chap worked regularly twelve hours a week overtime, his average earnings were thirteen pounds ten a week. For his flat, including heating in winter, he paid eighteen shillings weekly.

"I never thought I'd live to see such things come in my time," he said, adding hastily, "not that I didn't know the Fascists would be beaten in the end. But it's been a hard road. In our factory the whole atmosphere's changed now that the workers really feel they are on top. They see it, they've got their men right there in top, in the offices where the directors and bosses used to sit. They work like I do, not just so I can have two 'best' suits in my wardrobe but because they're building something which takes shape under their eyes. And the more they work the quicker it comes. They see the results; the canteens where they eat better than at home for next to nothing; if they're sick they get sixty-five per cent. of their wages for up to a year; three or four weeks' paid holidays; school for their kiddies and nursery schools so's their mums can work too. Did we ever have anything like that before? Of course not. In the bad days, under the Monarchy, under Horthy, Hitler and the Arrow Cross rabble, I used to tell the lads that that's what socialism meant but not many used to believe me. Now they look up to me as somebody that knew something.

"Now I'm not so strong any more in my muscles but I know a lot about the trade and I can teach the youngsters lots of short cuts, they call them 'innovations' nowadays. I often thought of some of these things before, ways to cut labour, speed up the job. But why should I tell the boss that and lose somebody his job to pour more profits into the boss's pockets. But I thought about them a lot when I read about the Stakhanovist movement in Russia. Now I can put some of my ideas into operation and help everybody. If anybody goes out of a job because of an 'innovation,' you can be sure he's moved up to more important work."

After the coffee was over I took the old couple in my car to the gates of the Lang Factory in Vaci Ut. Jozsef took his wife's arm and lead her over the corner where among the election posters and slogans he proudly pointed to the photo of Dindoffer Jozsef, nominated by the trade unions as a candidate for Greater Budapest. As we drove back the old chap said: "We've got eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They've got the best future ahead of them anybody ever had. That's why I'm working for, mine and other peoples grandchildren and I'll keep going till I drop."

As Dindoffer was a veteran trade unionist and social-democrat, I felt he was the proper person to ask a question which is sometimes asked by western trade unionists and more often by westerners who have no sympathies at all with trade unions.

"What about the right to strike? Can you strike if you want to?"

The old man looked at me in amazement, pushed his peak cap to the back of his head and scratched his spare grey hairs.

"But what would we strike about? We own the factory. We own the government. Our trade union chief sits right up there with Rakosi. Every problem that our workers have is discussed in meetings in the factory, if necessary it's taken to the directors of the factory, some of them our own workers. If they couldn't settle it, it would go right up to Trade Union headquarters and it would be settled I suppose by our chief with Rakosi personally. But such things don't happen. If there's a real complaint, party people or our shop stewards take the matter up almost before the workers know there's a grievance and it's settled."

"Well, suppose you think you don't earn enough, that you should earn a basic ten instead of eight pounds weekly or that you should only work 40 instead of 45 hours a week, and you started an agitation among the workers, what would happen?

"We would have a meeting and there'd be enough sensible people there to tell me to shut up. They'd say how can we build socialism if everybody wanted to work less. A shop steward would explain how things were five years ago, how things will be in another five years. And I would be too ashamed of myself to say any more."

"But maybe the other workers would agree with you, they would tell the shop steward to shut up. And workers in other factories perhaps would sympathise with you and all start demanding more money, or less hours of work. What would happen then?" I persisted.

"It's nonsense what you're saying, but if the majority of the workers were dissatisfied, then they would be right and the trade union leaders would argue it out with the other people in the government and changes would be made.”

"They say in the West that you can't strike because it's forbidden and strike-leaders would be arrested."

The old man looked so angry, his kindly face became so redthat I felt ashamed to have provoked him with this question, but I wanted the answer and felt sure he would give the right one. And he did.

"That's a great slander on the workers of our country," he said, "and of workers in all countries. No terror ever stops workers. We know all about illegal strikes from the Horthy days. Strike-leaders have gone to prison and been tortured and have come back to lead new strikes. Workers have gone into the streets with their fists and stones against swords and machine-guns. If the workers didn't support this government it couldn't last twenty-four hours without bloodshed. Tell your friends in the West that it isn't police or rifles that stop us from striking. It's because this is our government and these factories are ours. And I hope soon it'll be that way in the West. But don't let anyone say that Hungarian workers don't strike because they're afraid. Let them read a little Hungarian working-class history first!"

I would like to round off the story saying that Jozsef Dindoffer was elected to parliament next day, but he was not. His name was apparently too far down the list. More than six months later, however, his name was in the papers for having broken all records in the special “Stalin shift" to celebrate the Soviet leader's birthday. He is now a "Hero of labour" and still working.

A week before polling day a monster rally was arranged in the heart of the most reactionary region of Hungary, at Celldomolk, not far from the Austro-Hungarian border. Celldomolk was the last seat of the Szalasi Fascist government as it was fleeing to Germany. It was a stronghold of the ultra right wing parties of Zoltan Pfeiffer and Barankovics, strongly Catholic, strongly conservative. Rakosi decided that if the population couldn't come to the monster rallies in Budapest, he would bring one to them. Fifty special trains, one every three minutes, dumped 150,000 people from five different counties into Celldomolk in the space of two and a half hours. Former landless peasants and farm servants, small landowners under the land reform laws, enthusiastic supporters of the regime reinforced the dour, middle class farmers of the Celldomolk area. Rakosi was to speak, and with him Premier Dobi. For an hour the new peasants climbed on to the tribunes and filed past with presents for Rakosi and the other speakers. Presents ranged from lambs and pigs to little kegs of barack (fiery apricot brandy) and bunches of flowers. Each one spoke a few words into the microphone as he or she filed past. Rakosi, jovial, smiling, full of energy as always, had a word for each. One peasant woman held up the lamb in her arms and said: "Anyone not voting for the People's Front has less brains than this lamb."

Peasants came on horse-back, in turn-outs pulled by the spirited horses for which the country prides itself, in special buses, in every available type of transport. The town of 6,000 had never seen anything remotely resembling the spectacle. The menfolk in their black suits and shiny black boots, the women, stolid, a little suspicious, kerchiefs over their heads, the youth gay and lively as it is everywhere in Hungary. Rakosi .and Dobi seemed to take these rather dour peasants by surprise, by speaking to them in a homely language they understood and about things which concerned their daily lives and their children's future lives. Suspicions seemed to melt into the background and Rakosi received a tumultuous ovation when he had finished.

After the meeting was over, the taverns were full of excited peasants discussing Rakosi, whom most of them had seen for the first time. All they knew of him, was what they had heard from their priests – that Rakosi was a synonym for anti-Christ. They lounged about in the meadows at the town's outskirts, opened their luncheon packages of hard-boiled eggs, chicken and cheese and talked of one of the greatest events in their lives. "But he talks good sense," one glum old peasant told his neighbour, "he talked about seeds and fertiliser and machinery as if he knew all about it. About crops and prices. I was told he'd talk only about kolchozes and the church." "Kolchozes" was a famous bogey-word at the time in some of the more backward villages where the priests spread the word that the "kolchoz" was a sinful, Soviet invention, which meant that your land was taken away and the eldest son sent to Siberia. Many of the peasants had no idea even that the word meant communal farm. They only knew from the priests that the "kolchoz" was an evil thing and must be avoided. A panic was started in one village once when a breathless peasant arrived and said he had seen two truckloads of "kolchozes" at the next village, headed "this way." (The "kolchozes" were two truckloads of brigaders come to help with the harvesting.)

Election day itself was turned into a great national feast. The streets of Budapest from early morning were filled with singing, marching groups of youths and girls; entertainers kept up non-stop performances outside the polling-booths, in many districts all the tenants from an apartment house, strolled with linked arms to the polling stations together, singing as they went. I toured the. countryside for hundreds of kilometres and everywhere there was the same festive atmosphere; gaily decorated polling stations, groups of singing and dancing young people decked out in national costumes, village bands out, the whole thing a gala parade. Of course, there was no election fever in the sense of excited discussions about prospective changes of parties of candidates, but there was a real and infectious enthusiasm on the part of tens of thousands of voters that I saw, using their chance to give the government an appreciative pat on the back for the success of the almost completed Three-Year Plan, and an encouraging pat for the success of the new Plan about to begin.

The malcontents, the dispossessed and disfranchised stuffed their fingers in their ears when they heard the music and the singing, averted their eyes from the swinging lines of workers going to vote, from the dancing troupes. "Terror, terror" they muttered, and on the following day the western Legations were echoing their words. People were forced to the polls, frightened into voting. Could one reproduce this picture, of gaiety from one end of the country to the other by terror, by force? One could as well say that the blossoms which covered the apple and peach trees which lined the roads and perfumed the villages with their fragrance, were products of terror.

People with the Dindoffer spirit were those that poured on to the village roads and the city streets on election day, the ones who danced till late through the night in Budapest's main squares with modern jazz bands and gypsy orchestras set up cheek by jowl on the pavements; people that rejoiced that the old tensions and factions were things of the past; that what counted was a Hungary leaping ahead, spanning centuries in a few years to a new future, a future undreamed of a few years ago, except by a few Dindoffers, many of them then in jail, many of them in exile, many of them with their ideas locked in their breasts because to reveal them was to be destroyed.

There are others of course, and one of the tragedies is that people in the West still get their impressions of the People's Democracies from the "others." In the old days it was proper perhaps for the Legations to accept as correct the views of the upper middle class and aristocracy as to what was happening or what would happen. After all they were the people, in those days, that made things happen. A good proportion of their tips were bound to be correct. But for the Legations still to accept, as they unerringly do, the views of these people as any guide to-day is stupid and in the long run criminal. The aristocracy and the middle-class still exists plentifully as individuals, but as a force they are wiped out. They are isolated; have no knowledge of what is going on in the country, cannot influence the course of events enough to shake a leaf on a tree in the humblest peasant's garden. But they are in evidence and in Budapest it is impossible not to be aware of them.

They fill the cafes in fashionable Vaci Utca, recline in chintz-covered arm chairs in tiny bars and cafes in the Var, the aristocratic quarter of Buda, and have coffee with whipped cream or a glass of barack brought them by some countess turned waitress or barmaid. They exchange rumours, pass on the latest news they have gleaned from the "Voice of America," and believe themselves to be the best-informed people of Budapest.

And often enough the rumours they have invented will be broadcast as news next day over the American radio.

They bitterly complain about their poverty, do no work and in general live by selling off bits of jewellery or dealing in black-market currency. They provide a disgusting example of what happens to a privileged class when it is robbed of its privileges. Bankrupt, spiritually and morally, ninety per cent. of them have not the character to try to adapt themselves to the new life. Their hope for the future is in the third world war, which they fondly imagine will restore them their estates and privileges.

On the evening of the same day that I had met Mr. and Mrs. Dindoffer, I was invited to dinner with a Hungarian family, to whom I shall give the name of Schwartz. Baron Schwartz had been a landowner before the first World War, but his estates lay in that part of Hungary which was given to Rumania. The baron as a token of changed times, dropped his title and was given a position in the Department of Agriculture. He served loyally under Horthy, under the Nazis, under Szalasi Fascists.

When it seemed the Germans would be defeated, Schwartz shipped his son off to Bavaria and as the Russian troops entered Hungary, took his wife arid daughter and fled to Prague hoping to get furthrr west and be "liberated" by the Americans.

But Prague was liberated by the Czechs themselves, the Russians got there before the Americans. Schwartz and family returned unwillingly to Budapest, having scattered most of their family possessions along the road in their hurried flight away from the Russians.

Instead oftheir previous large flat, they had to make do with two small rooms. Mr. Schwartz was invited to appear before a Public Service Commission like all other public servants to decide whether he could continue in his job at the Ministry of Agriculture or whether he could be dismissed. He refused to present himself, as he "knew" the Americans would be in Hungary within a matter of months. If he had presented himself and had been dismissed, he may have been given his normal retirement pension, or at worst, if he were dismissed without pension, he would be regarded as "dead" and his wife would draw a widow's pension – in Schwartz's case of about 13 pounds a month.

The energetic and intelligent daughter got herself a job with the new government despite papa's protests that she was compromising herself, and the family. Several jobs were offered Schwartz. He refused them all. Ever since his return from Prague he sits for most of the day in his pyjamas – and waits for the Americans. He does literally nothing, does not read a book nor a newspaper.

"If I take a job, under this government, I would be compromised," he explained to me, "I would never get my old job again or my pay."

"But who will ever give you your old job back?" I asked.

"When the Americans come, they will need all of us experienced officials of the old days. And, of course, the new government they set up will pay us back all the salary that has accumulated since 1945."

Schwartz, who is 15 years younger than Jozsef Dindoffer, sits in his armchair and waits for his daughter to bring home her month's wages. He pockets the lot and daily doles out enough for her bus fares and one packet of cigarettes. The first salary after they became re-established went for a deposit on a radio set, so Schwartz could listen to the Voice of America and the B.B.C. in Hungarian. I said he did nothing. It is not quite correct, for both he and his wife are learning English, in order to be ready for the day of "liberation." He lives five minutes by bus from the centre of Pest, but has no conception of what miracles of reconstruction have been accomplished within a stone's throw of his own flat. There are thousands of Schwartz's type in the country, and their opinions on the temper of the people, their stupid little stories are valued like gold in the western legations. Solemn reports are drawn up about oppressions, new stirrings among the peasantry, dissatisfaction among the workers, suppressed strike in some textile factory, outrage against a church, on the basis of the armchair musings of Mr. Schwartz and his kind. They destroy the future of their own children if they can. Schwartz's son has several times expressed the wish to return to Hungary instead of working as a house servant in Western Germany. Perhaps he would be interned for a few months when he came back, certainly he would be thoroughly screened, but then he could start a new life, enrol in a training course and make himself a useful member of society. But Schwartz insists that he remain abroad and only return with the American Army!

Official Hungary takes a merciful, tolerant view however of the Schwartzes, whose views and hatred of the government are well known, but whose capacity for real harm against the state are almost nil. Their main harm is against themselves and their own.

Click here to go to Chapter X

Click here to return to the index of archival material.