FOLIO Sutton Coldfield has pledged to share Dr Agnes Kaposi’s testimony and work towards increasing community knowledge about the Holocaust through public events and library resources. As part of this commitment each month we share a short piece from Agnes, exploring one aspect or experience from her life.
This month’s window into Agnes’s life takes us back to the 1950s and gives an insight into life under Hungary’s communist regime and the role of the secret police.
The Hungarian Revolution broke out in October 1956. It gave people the opportunity to break open the steel files of Personnel Departments and get hold of their secret personal files. The Secret Police compiled such files on everybody. We preserved a few leaves of my husband’s file, and here they are, on the shelf. They make for almost amusing reading. It shows that he successfully walked a tightrope, managed to present himself as helpful, polite, technically and culturally astute, but politically moronic, unsuitable for recruitment into the Communist Party. We had my file too, but it is now lost. It showed that I failed to blend into the background, I came close again and again to being unmasked and punished as an enemy of the people. The most serious item in my file was the suspicion that I was involved in, may even be the organiser of, a dangerous conspiracy. Here is the case.
It was noted in my file that my fiancé Janos and I married at the end of my first university year, and that we lived in a room in his parents’ house. Theirs was a corner house, with a low garden fence, easily overlooked from two streets. The home of the old and young Kaposi couples was a flat upstairs on a high mezzanine, and there were three small semi-basement dwellings below. The names of neighbours and the families downstairs were recorded.
My personal file showed that the Secret Police regularly questioned several families in the vicinity, and also interrogated the three families downstairs. The reports stated that we led a quiet life: classical music was frequently heard, there were no quarrels, no large gatherings and no noisy parties. They noted a few occasional callers but only two sets of frequent visitors: my parents and my husband’s best friend Zoli, his wife and their baby daughter. On the other hand, the observers reported that very suspicious events took place twice a year: for about two weeks, three or four young men would arrive and spend many hours in the house, sometimes even on Sunday. Occasionally these young men would even stay overnight! The informers remarked how still the house was during these visits. Apparently meetings were taking place, the observers stated, but conversations were intermittent and the talk was so quiet that outside listeners could not discern what was being said. During these events even the classical music was silenced! – After such hushed two weeks all would go back to normal, but the suspicious events were repeated at roughly six-monthly intervals. A conspiracy was suspected, and agents of the Secret Police warned all neighbours to stay vigilant.
The state authorities were thorough and their observations were correct, but they were not clever: they never figured out what was going on. Have you worked it out? Here is they key to the dangerous conspiracy:
I was at university for four years of my married life. My university course was organised semester-wise, and examinations took place at the end of each semester, in February and June. I was preparing for exams together with a few of my colleagues. Sometimes we worked well into the night, so if trams had stopped running, my colleagues stayed overnight, sleeping on the floor, wrapped in blankets. My friends were students who lived in bleak unheated hostels, whereas our house was warm, my parents-in-law were hospitable, and a bowl of soup and a mug of coffee was always at hand.
Agnes was born in Hungary and started school just at the outbreak of World War II. Many of her family were murdered in the Holocaust, together with half of million other Hungarian Jews. A series of fortunate coincidences allowed Agnes to survive the ghetto, deportation and slave labour in Nazi concentration camps.
After the war Agnes’s native country fell under a tyrannical communist regime. The 1956 Hungarian revolution offered her the opportunity to escape, settle in Britain, and build a career, becoming a distinguished member of the engineering profession.
If you’d like to learn more about Agnes’s life and experience you can borrow her autobiography from the library or purchase your own copy. You can also watch the interview we made with Agnes in January on YouTube.