Marriage, Communist Style

Dr. Agnes Kaposi

Back in January this year we were very pleased to host Agnes Kaposi for several events as part of Echo Eternal’s Horizon’s festival.

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, the 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.

At the start of this year FOLIO Sutton Coldfield pledged to share Agnes’s testimony and work towards increasing community knowledge about the Holocaust through public events and library resources. We were recently able to purchase a selection of books relating to Holocaust eduction and donate them to Sutton Coldfield Library as part of our commitment to our pledge, and now we are starting a monthly series, sharing aspects of Agnes’s life, not only her experience as a Jew, but also what it was like to live under the communist regime in Hungary. Agnes writes with great warmth and wit, and her message of tolerance and respect needs to be heard.

This month’s window into Agnes’s life takes us back 69 years to July 1952 and is, in her own words, the tale of marriage, communist style.

Janos and Agnes

Janos and I met a few months after the war, when I was 12 and he 16. We married seven years later, after my first year at university. This was Hungary in the darkest days of the Stalinist regime.We planned a late July wedding. We also thought that a marriage ceremony would involve exchange of rings. The Registry Office advised that gold was a controlled substance. We were lucky: the only shop selling gold in the country was but 10 miles away, and the only items on sale were 6-carat wedding rings.

On the first Saturday of July, Janos and I went along to the gold shop, arm in arm, clutching our hard-earned money. We asked for a couple of rings. The smiley man behind the counter congratulated us on our marriage, and asked for our marriage certificate. We said we were not married yet, we wanted the rings for the marriage ceremony. The man stopped smiling. He said gold was a controlled substance, people could only buy rings on production of their marriage certificate. The purchase would be recorded to prevent anyone buying two sets of rings, intending to commit bigamy to profiteer with the gold. The walls had ears, so we left without a word.

The Registry office only worked on weekdays. We were allocated an 11 am slot on Thursday, 31st July, our parents, friends and family – whoever could get away from work – to attend. There was to be a simple meal afterwards in a small restaurant. – And then, like so many times before and after, the roof fell in.

My undergraduate course in engineering included compulsory Military Studies. In the summer break after my first year, on the 24th July, the state authorities sprung one of their frequent surprises. All students received a hand-delivered ‘Notification of New Course Regulations’: call-up papers, specifying the military barracks and the date when to report, at 5am sharp, to complement our studies with practical military training. The date was the 31st July. The date set for our wedding.

The wedding was off. Everyone cancelled their leave. My mother cried. My grandmother packed a rucksack with essentials, including knickers, bras, and smoked sausage. My aunt Terka baked a delicious walnut pie that would keep for weeks.

On the supposed day of my wedding it was already hot at 5 am when I reported for military service in the nearby village of Rákospalota, wearing a red-checked sleeveless shirt, shorts and hiking boots. The duty sergeant checked me in, and I joined a mixed crowd of students and conscripts. We stood for hours on the exercise yard, with our sacks on our backs. Karcsi, a gallant bulky recruit, offered to swap his little rucksack for my great big one.

Then the Commanding Officer appeared before us and called my name, and said ‘You are excused.’ I thought I was hallucinating in the heat. No explanation. I asked what he meant. He said ‘You are not required for military service. Go home.’

I started to walk in the blazing sun through this unfamiliar village, in the general direction of our home in Újpest. Suddenly I realised that I was still carrying Karcsi’s rucksack. I wondered if he would enjoy Terka’s pie, wearing my bras and pink knickers. By the time I got back to the barracks, the novices had been formed into neat columns, preparing to march out. The Commanding Officer could not believe his eyes; he thought I came to plead for re-admittance. He almost smiled at my explanation, got a little soldier to root out poor Karcsi to exchange the sacks, and there I was once again, back on the dusty street, walking towards Újpest, carrying a full load.

What to do?

Everyone was at work in distant parts of town. I should phone someone. Zigzagging along the road from phone box to vandalised phone box, I finally found one that worked. Miraculously I got through to Janos, and told him that I was somewhere in Rákospalota, having been dismissed from the army. He was calm as always and asked if I still wanted to get married. I said what did he think. He said I should make my way to the Registry Office, and he would do the same – we might still make it by 11 am.

We arrived with minutes to spare. The Registrar said he had had notification that the marriage was off, but he was willing to ignore that; however, we needed two witnesses. My father’s friend Erdős Feri (back from the war with frostbitten and amputated toes) and our Auschwitz survivor friend Marika worked in shops nearby. I fetched one, Janos the other. They asked no questions, downed tools, and came along.

Marika had the presence of mind to buy a bunch of flowers from a booth on the corner. The flowers were wilted in the heat, as we all were. A mucky street child followed us. Those present, in addition to the Registrar, were the groom and the witnesses in work clothes, the bride in a sweaty sleeveless shirt, shorts, and hiking boots, carrying a rucksack and a bouquet of flowers, and a barefooted child. We were late, so the ceremony had to be a bit more hurried than usual. The scruffy piece of paper here is our marriage certificate. Our names and occupations, and our witnesses’ names, are clearly legible. The street child’s name is not recorded.

Agnes and Janos’ marriage certificate

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.

Light by Light

This poem is one of the results of two workshops held by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield in January 2021, in conjunction with Echo Eternal. In these workshops we learned about and listened to Agnes Kaposi and her experience of the Holocaust. Writer Mandy Ross then turned the contributions by workshop participants into a poem which is read here by those who took part in the workshops.

This poem formed part of the light installation projected onto the clock tower at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall on Holocaust Memorial Day, 2021.

As a result of our workshops participants also created candles with their reflections on them, and put them up in their windows to “be the light”.

Our thanks go to Echo Eternal, Mandy Ross, Birmingham City Council, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall and Play and Learn Nursery all of whom supported this activities in various different ways.

LGBT+ History Month

February marks LGBT+ history month. This is a month-long celebration of LGBT+ history, art, culture, and LGBT+ rights. For those who may not identify into the LGBT+ community this is a great opportunity to learn.

We’ve been posting author and book suggestions over on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but today we want to talk a little about names and words.

LGBT+ is an umbrella term to describe a vast array of identities related to both gender and sexuality. It is a term that includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, however – not exclusively. LGBT+ also includes people who identify as queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual and many more.

Being part of the LGBT+ community is about far more than who you love, chose to date, or which gender you do or do not identify with. Being LGBT+ is just that, it is a community of people with a shared history with its own culture, history, and heritage. That is why the name or community someone identifies with is so important – because it often makes them who they are.

The great part about the LGBT+ acronym is that it also includes Allies – those who identify as straight (heterosexual) and support the LGBT+ community. As an ally, here are three important things that you can do straight off the bat to best support the LGBT+ community:

  • Add your pronouns to your bio on social media or e-mail signatures. (A pronoun is a marker such as she/her, they/them). This can make people feel more comfortable and not isolated if they are sharing their pronouns too.
  • Prioritise reading books by LGBT+ authors and with LGBT+ characters at their centre. This is just one way you can educate yourself on the LGBT+ community and it’s history. Birmingham Libraries have curated some lists which may provide useful as a starting point e.g. Proud to Read, LGBT Heritage Resources.
  • Speak Up. If you witness homophobia or transphobia, always make sure to speak up and report this. If you witness homophobia or transphobia at a FOLIO event or in FOLIO online space, please let us know.


  • At FOLIO we want everyone to feel welcome at our events and would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to help us plan events or activities for those of us who identify as LGBT+ or as an LGBT+ ally.

    If you are looking for a mindfulness activity, or want some LGBT+ history month content for home-schooling, download our pride flag colouring in. The image above might be a helpful reference. If you are unsure of what each love-heart means, you can read LGBT+ definitions on Stonewalls glossary here: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/faqs-and-glossary/glossary-terms.

    Be the Light in the Darkness

    To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, Echo Eternal and Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Hall are delighted to announce a collaborative response, as part of Horizons Festival, to this year’s theme: ‘Be the Light in the Darkness”.

    On Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January 2021, between 6pm and 8pm, a key historic landmark in Sutton Coldfield, the clock tower at the Town Hall will be lit up with testimony and images of Holocaust survivor Agnes Kaposi. The clock tower will physically be a light in the darkness, with the installation providing opportunities to learn about and reflect upon the Holocaust.

    FOLIO Sutton Coldfield recently established a new and on-going relationship with Agnes enabling Sutton residents to learn more about her experiences and to provide opportunities for everyone in the community to act and stand up to hatred and intolerance, as well as learning about the Holocaust and other genocides which have happened since, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. Following workshops and an interview with Agnes earlier this month, FOLIO, Echo Eternal and the Town Hall Trust, with the support of Birmingham City Council and Play and Learn Nursery (who have provided electricity and a space to safely project the installation onto the clock tower), have come together to create a very public commemorative act, designed in conjunction with Agnes Kaposi.

    **Due to current Coronavirus restrictions, please join us in commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day today by witnessing this installation from the safety of your own home**; the projection will be live streamed here on our Facebook page and a film recording made available afterwards.


    Photo: Mike Wade

    Join us for a Q&A session with Holocaust survivor Agnes Kaposi

    FOLIO recently announced a new and on-going relationship with with Echo Eternal and in particular with Holocaust survivor, Agnes Kaposi.

    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, the deportation and slave labour in Nazi concentration camps.

    Over the coming months we are extremely fortunate to be teaming up with Agnes and Echo Eternal to tell Agnes’ story, and – through a series of forthcoming events – to promote respect and understanding between different communities in Sutton and the wider community.

    One of the first of these events is this online Q&A with Agnes to which you are warmly invited. This will take place on the 9th of January at 5.30pm, as part of FOLIO’s campaign day during Echo Eternal’s Horizons Festival. You can register to join this event here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_rBjOGhkpQj6HAxX9XfPT7A

    A new relationship – Agnes Kaposi

    FOLIO Sutton Coldfield is honoured and humbled to announce the start of a new and ongoing relationship with Echo Eternal and in particular with Holocaust survivor, Agnes Kaposi.

    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, the 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. Her book YELLOW STAR – RED STAR describes her life experience, illustrated by photographs, maps and documents, together with commentary by Dr László Csôsz, a renowned Holocaust historian. FOLIO has purchased a copy of this book to donate to Sutton Coldfield Library, from where it will be available for loan in the new year.

    Over the coming months we are extremely fortunate to be teaming up with Agnes and Echo Eternal to tell Agnes’ story, and – through a series of forthcoming events – to promote respect and understanding between different communities in Sutton and the wider community. Do look out for further details of these; we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at them.