Calling all community curators!

Would you like to be a community curator and help FOLIO Sutton Coldfield select Shakespearean treasures for display in Sutton?

We’re looking for a small group of people who would like to visit the Shakespeare Memorial Library in Birmingham and help choose material for display in Sutton Coldfield Library during Shakespeare in Sutton – FOLIO’s fun festival for all.

Our small group will get special access to the Shakespeare collection in the Library of Birmingham and will jointly choose from the amazing array of material – rare books, playbills, costume photos, stage designs, scrap books and much more.

This opportunity is open to all. Please note: those 16-18 will need a parent to give permission to take part, and those under 16 will need a parent to accompany them. We can cover travel costs, as we don’t want transport costs to be a barrier to participation. The date for this visit is Tuesday 8 March 5 – 6.30pm.

If you’re interested, in principle, in helping curate some Shakespearean treasures for FOLIO, please email Zoe on zoe@foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk

International Poster Collection from the Shakespeare Memorial Library. Photo by Alex Parré.

Click here if you would like to find out more about the Shakespeare Memorial Library. The opportunity to explore the library is made possible thanks to FOLIO’s participation in the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council, with funding also contributed by National Lottery Heritage Fund and History West Midlands.

Announcing Shakespeare in Sutton – FOLIO’s fun festival for all

FOLIO Sutton Coldfield is delighted to announce a special Shakespeare festival in Sutton Coldfield in April 2022.

Thanks to funding from the Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council’s Community Grant Programme, grants from the Making a Different Locally Foundation, a Magic Little Grant from Localgiving and Postcode Community Trust, and a gift from a private benefactor FOLIO’s Shakespeare Festival will feature over 20 different events and activities across the town throughout April.

From street theatre to spoken word, alongside talks and walks about Sutton in the time of Shakespeare, films and plays made by community groups inspired by the Bard, photography and writing competitions celebrating Sutton’s creativity, Elizabethan dance workshops, music performances and much more across six different venues, with the highlight being a day of very special activities in Sutton Coldfield Library on the Bard’s birthday, April 23, this festival has something for everyone.

Jenny Wilkinson, FOLIO trustee, said, “Sutton Coldfield is mentioned in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1, and we wanted to celebrate this by hosting a wonderful multi-arts festival, with a rich mixture of professional and community involvement, inspired by FOLIO’s participation in the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council, with funding also contributed by National Lottery Heritage Fund and History West Midlands.

Liz Parry, also a FOLIO trustee, said, “During our festival there will be all sorts of opportunities for people to have fun, learn and be inspired, whether they want to get involved with a community curated Shakespeare exhibition, drawing on material held in the Library of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Memorial Library, taking part in one of our creative workshops or simply enjoying being part of the audience at one of the several productions which feature as part of the festival.

Zoe Toft, Chair of FOLIO, said, “We couldn’t put on this great festival without the amazing support from Sutton Coldfield Town Council. Thanks to their generous community grant we’ll be bringing some amazing shows to Sutton as well as commissioning local artists and suppliers, collaborating with community groups and creating lots of opportunities for Sutton residents to come together to enjoy and celebrate the greatest writer in the English language.

Cllr Simon Ward, Leader of the Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council said, “Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council is delighted to be able to support this fantastic cultural event. Our town has a rich heritage and it’s great to be able to bring the work of the favourite son of the Midlands to Royal Town in such an innovative, inclusive and accessible way – we cannot wait for the festival!

As one of the many ways Sutton residents will be able to take part in the festival, FOLIO is running two competitions, which launch today.

Will’s Word Wizards is a competition for 7-13 year olds to create exciting new words for us to use during the festival; William Shakespeare introduced about 1,700 new words into English and inspired by Will, FOLIO is on the look-out for new words to have fun with! We are inviting children to use their wizarding powers to coin a new word, tell us what it means and what inspired it, write a sentence with it and then send it to us by 27 March to be in with a chance of winning a sack of ‘gold’ coins for themselves (actually £25’s worth of pound coins) and £125 worth of books for their school. Full details can be found here: https://foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk/wills-word-wizards/

This green plot shall be our stage is a photography competition inspired by the fact that Gum Slade in Sutton Park is said to have inspired A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We are inviting everyone to grab their phone, compact or DSLR camera and submit beautiful, unusual and interesting photos of Sutton Park to be in with a chance of having their photo displayed in Sutton Library during the festival, winning an art print of their entry, and a postcard pack featuring the 6 best entries to the competition.

There are two categories for this competition – (a) Photos taken by children and young people aged 15 or under and (b) photos taken by people aged 16 or over. Full details can be found here: https://foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk/this-green-plot-shall-be-our-stage/

Flash Fiction – the results!

We’re delighted to announce the winner, runner up, and a highly commended entry to our Flash Fiction Competition 2021.

Winner – Ian Coldicott
Runner Up – Sally Jenkins
Highly Commended – Chris Lee

The competition was judged by 4 independent judges – Claire Bennett, Charles Mundye, Kelly Ashes and Mohammed Rizwan, one of the runners up in last year’s Flash Fiction competition. The 25 entries were whittled down to a shortlist of 9, from which the Winner and Runner Up were chosen, which the judges taking the decision to also highlight the entry by Chris Lee.

Claire said, “Reading Folio’s Flash Fiction 2021 entries during COP26 made “Bovine Protest” stand out as a zeitgeist treat. Its harnessing of tech savvy youth with outraged protesting “oldies” to release the herd was such fun.

Being asked to judge these tiny stories was a huge delight. The Flash Fiction writers of Sutton Coldfield are a talented, surprising, clever and entertaining bunch whose variety of style and topic was epic. The bar is certainly set high for 2022!

Charles said, “It was on honour to judge Folio’s Flash Fiction competition, and there was so much packed into all the entries I read, covering Sutton Coldfield from the early 16th century to the current pandemic. The stories were topical, political, lyrical, mysterious, and ranged from horror to comedy. There’s such a lot of great writing out there.

Of the winners, ‘Old Jack Barnes’ reminded me of some of the great ghost stories but in miniature form. Is this really an encounter with the supernatural, or is the narrator predisposed to imagine ghosts wherever they look, rooting around in the park for traces of a past long gone? Is the discovery of the old golf ball merely coincidence? These questions are powerfully unresolved in a story that draws on local history with a true eye for detail.

And ‘City Status’ packs a great deal into its 250 words – topical references to the Commonwealth Games, the Royal family, park maintenance, town planning, how social media works. It’s a quixotic tale of hobbyist obsession and politics, falling from innocence into experience.

Zoe Toft, Chair of FOLIO Sutton Coldfield said, “FOLIO was delighted to once again be able to run our micro short story competition, encouraging creative writing across and inspired by our town. We’re really grateful for the support from Sutton Coldfield Neighbourhood Network Scheme for making this possible, as part of our Telling Sutton’s Stories project. My thanks to everyone who took part, as writer or judge.

The stories can now also be read on the Telling Sutton Stories’s website. The stories are also on display in Sutton Coldfield Library. A special thankyou to the Royal Sutton Coldfield Chronicle for publishing the stories in their Christmas 2021 edition.

Remembering the 19th of March 1944

Agnes Kaposi 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.

As part of FOLIO Sutton Coldfield’s pledge to share Dr Agnes Kaposi’s testimony, each month we share a short piece from Agnes, exploring one aspect or experience from her life. This month Agnes shares a little about the consequences of the German occupation of Hungary, which took place on the 19th of March 1944.

In World War 2, Hungary was one of the Axis states, fighting on Hitler’s side. Even before the war, the Jews of Hungary had been suffering oppression and discrimination, and when Hungary entered the war, Jewish men were taken into the army without weapons, without uniform. They were severely maltreated by their own fellow countrymen, and all but one of the young men of my family were murdered.

By the spring of 1944, most of Europe’s Jews had been deported and millions murdered in Hitler’s death camps. It was evident to everyone except Hitler and his followers that the Germans were losing the war. Hungary’s Jews appeared to have had a lucky escape. They were missing their menfolk, they had been deprived of their livelihood and had lost their civil rights, many were killed or committed suicide, but most still lived in their homes. They were not systematically murdered.

The 19th of March 1944 is a memorable date for all Hungarians: the date the German army occupied allied Hungary. The population of the country welcomed the Germans with open arms, but for the Jews, the occupation spelt mortal danger. Within weeks, ghettos were set up. My grandmother’s tiny flat fell into the area of the ghetto in my native city Debrecen. Her two small rooms became the home of the whole extended family: five young(ish) adults, three old ladies, three little children and me, aged 11.

The ghetto was sealed: no post, no medical supplies, no inflow of food or other goods, no outflow of rubbish. The only exception was that the Hungarian police extracted prominent members of the community, torturing them to reveal the whereabouts of any hidden valuables. I have vivid memories of people staggering home after such arrests, bruised and covered in blood, and some failing to return. Two members of my ghetto family, a mother and her little son of five, had been murdered in this way.

The ghetto period did not last long. In mid-May, deportations started. Long trains of cattle trucks were taking away thousands every day to unknown destinations. It turned out that the vast majority, almost half a million Jews, were taken from the provinces of Hungary to their death in Auschwitz.

Our family of eleven was forced to board one of those trains on the 27th of June 1944, but that is a story for another day.

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.

Past snippets from Agnes include Regulation Stars, Conspiracy, Right to a Future, Marriage, Communist Style and Will this story never end?.

Will this story never end?

Last month an amazing woman called Agnes Kaposi turned 89. As a young woman, Agnes was a ground-breaking engineer, who later became an emeritus professor in electrical engineering at London South Bank University. She was only the third woman to become a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Agnes is also a Holocaust survivor.

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 bears witness to what happened in 1943 to some of the important adults in her life, in a small village called Doroshich.

I had no brothers or sisters, the only child of my extended family, the only Jewish child on the block. I should have had a lonely childhood, but the hardship of adults came to my rescue. Most men of my family were nearing 30, married but without children: a lawyer, a doctors, a banker, an artist, a civil engineer, all unemployed, prevented by anti-Jewish laws from practising their professions. They loved me, they had plenty of time, they played with me, and introduced me to the wonders of their professions. Then, suddenly they all disappeared, and I am mourning them every day of my life. I only learned recently the fate of two of them, and might never know what happened to the others.

World War II broke out in 1939, and in 1941 my native Hungary joined the hostilities on Hitler’s side. Young men were called up into the army, and special Jewish Battalions were formed. Jews went to face the Soviet army, the Russian winter and the cruelty of their own fellow countrymen. Here is what a survivor writes:
“Perhaps the most pitiful victims of World War II were the Jewish labour battalions. Other soldiers sent into action at least had the consolation that their life was the responsibility of their commander who could not recklessly risk that life. In contrast, what the commanders of the ‘Jewish labour battalions’ had responsibility for was the destruction of the Jewish personnel in their charge.”

How about us, civilians?

In March 1944, the German army occupied its ally Hungary. In weeks, Jews were concentrated into ghettos and deported to Auschwitz where in 56 days, 450,000 were killed.

Just before we were sealed into the ghetto, a wounded Hungarian soldier, back from the front, came by to tell us that my civil engineer uncle Deutsch István was killed in Doroshich. We had only his word for it: no official notification ever came.

There-quarter of a century later, a few weeks ago, a reader came across Istvan’s name in my book Yellow Star – Red Star, and sent me the picture of the plaque below. I looked through the rest of the plaque, and that is how I came across the name of my banker uncle Falus Frankel Miklós. 

Memorial plaque of a group of victims

I now have the full list of those Doroshich victims who are known by name, together with the date of their death and the cause of death. According to that list, István died ‘by burning’ on the 29th April 1943, the date of the fire, and Miklós on the 5th May 1943, also by burning; presumably he died of his injuries.
  
Doroshich is a village, hard to find on the map. It is some 100 miles west of Kiev, where Hungarian Jewish military labour servicemen, suffering from typhus, were burnt to death. They were crowded into huge wooden sheds which were set on fire by Hungarian soldiers, their fellow countrymen. The few who managed to escape were machine-gunned down. Records vary, but the consensus is that there were 800 victims. There is now a memorial garden at Doroshich, with the names of known victims. The name of the majority is unknown.

Will this story never end?

The memorial garden in Doroshich

Dr. Agnes Kaposi

FOLIO first worked with Dr Agnes Kaposi, in January this year when we collaborated with Echo Eternal in their 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, 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.

Past snippets include Regulation Stars, Conspiracy, Right to a Future and Marriage, Communist Style.

Regulation stars

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 1944 and is titled “Yellow Star Factory”.

My native Hungary fought World War 2 on Hitler’s side, and yet, the German army occupied allied Hungary in March 1944. One of the reasons was to eliminate the Jews of the country.

Hitler put Adolf Eichmann in charge of the task. Eichmann wasted no time. Within weeks, Jews were confined to ghettos nationwide. Even before, from 5th April 1944, Jews aged six and above had to wear a distinguishing sign: a six-cornered yellow star with strictly specified colour, hue and size (10cm diameter). At the age of 11, I came under the regulation.

At first, Jews appeared on the streets wearing limp scraps of yellow rags. The police chased them home, demanding regulation stars.

What good fortune, having a mathematician for a father! Even before I reached school age, my father had taught me how to construct hexagons, using a compass. I put my skill to good use. I cut six-pointed stars of the prescribed 10 cm size out of thin cardboard. Next, my grandmother and I cut slightly larger six-pointed stars of some yellow felt from her stock of textiles, and she and I tucked and sewed the felt around the cardboard. We made stars for each member of the family and sewed them to our outdoor clothing. Everyone admired our smart designs, and soon we were producing yellow stars by the dozen, the fruits of our labour freely available to all.

These stars earned me a handsome sum decades later, when my beloved grandmother, the real star of the star factory, was long dead. In London, in 2006, my mother was nearing the end of her life, suffering from dementia. One day a lady came from Britain’s ‘Jewish Care’ organisation, asking how they might help. The lady was surprised to hear that my mother and I had been in the camps during the war, and asked whether we had worked in the ghetto. I said of course not. How did we spend our time, she wanted to know? When I mentioned making yellow stars, she perked up, asked a lot of questions, filled in a questionnaire, and told me to sign it: she knew of a German fund which ‘compensated’ Jews who worked in the ghetto. A few months later I received a cheque for some £800. Other survivors (although not members of my family) had received ‘restitution’ money. Can a lost childhood be restituted? Can people be compensated for fear, pain, grief, degradation?

Dr. Agnes Kaposi

FOLIO first worked with Dr Agnes Kaposi, in January this year when we collaborated with Echo Eternal in their 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, 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.

Past snippets include Conspiracy, Right to a Future and Marriage, Communist Style.

An interview with Kitty Aldridge

Sutton Coldfield has appeared in the pages of books a surprising number of times, from Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1, to memoirs by Sarah Millican and AA Gill, via references in poetry by Pam Ayres, a play by George Bernard Shaw and a book that Phillip Pullman described as being “one of the indispensable books; for my money, it is the best of all.” But twenty years ago a novel was published that eclipses them all in terms of really having Sutton Coldfield at its lyrical heart, and that book is Pop by Kitty Aldridge.

This funny, eloquent and moving novel about a teenager who, in 1975, goes to live with her grandfather, a regular at the Fox and Dogs on Little Sutton Road, following the death of her mother is full of poignant and witty observations. Whether it is drinking in the Pint Pot or Plough and Harrow, walking in Sutton Park, or exploring the shopping delights of a new Gracechurch centre, Pop oozes Sutton Coldfield in wonderful, authentic detail, only adding to the delight any local resident may have when reading this brilliant, down-to-earth yet poetic novel which was one of the Sunday Telegraph’s Best Books of 2001.

To celebrate 20 years since its publication, and to inspire more fabulous writing set in Sutton Coldfield as part of FOLIO’s current Flash Fiction competition, FOLIO’s Chair Zoe Toft recently interviewed Kitty Aldridge about her life and how she came to set her debut novel in Sutton Coldfield.

Kitty Aldridge was born in Bahrain but writing about Sutton Coldfield came about due to a family connection. Her grandfather, Arthur Aldridge, on whom the eponymous Pop is based “loved Sutton Coldfield with a passion” having been born and bred in Four Oaks. Kitty, as a child, had been “impressed by his swagger, his abundant general knowledge, and by the glamour and irreverence of his copious smoking and drinking, not to mention his exotic-sounding accent. He seemed to me in those days to be an otherworldly figure: swashbuckling, rakish, stuffed with songs and stories from his time with the RAF’s 110 Squadron,” and so when Kitty decided in the mid-nineties to move from acting (her credits include appearances in ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Cadfael’) into writing, she took inspiration from Arthur and his life.

“Arthur was regularly appalled by something or other which, in his opinion, ought to be put right: this or that was a disgrace. It was easy to imagine him clanking about in rusted armour with a lance and indeed, years later, I thought of moustache’d Arthur and his mongrel dog, Blowbroth (not re-named in the novel), as West Midlands versions of Don Quixote and Rocinante.”

Arthur’s son, Kitty’s father Peter Aldridge, accompanied her on several research trips spending long mornings in Sutton pubs, walking around The Parade and Sutton Park with its Roman road and pools. “I felt at home in the West Midlands during this time and I came to love Sutton Park in particular. Pop would famously grow wistful when talking about Sutton Park, he was very proud to be a Sutton man.”

Arthur Aldridge during WWII during his time with 110 Squadron

“When writing I always research the local geography and history of a place: it’s helpful and always enriches and informs the writing. I am preoccupied by rural landscapes that have been altered, developed, transformed, and what that does to the identity of the people who live there.

I walked around Sutton Coldfield until I felt the place in my bones. My father had many personal memories of his father, Arthur, and of the area. When you start to write a novel it is important that you feel as if you own it, the place, the characters: it must belong to you (even if it doesn’t). I keep researching until I run out of questions and then I often return to the research later. Eventually, if you spend enough time in a place watching and listening, you begin to hear the voices speaking – you smell the fields, the beer, the hot tarmac. And off you go.”

Although researching her debut novel proved immensely enjoyable for Kitty, reading and writing have not always been as pleasurable; at school Kitty struggled with learning to read and write eventually deciding to leave at 16. “I chose, instead of A’ Levels, to live and work in London, doing various ordinary jobs – a far better education for an actor or a novelist than A’ Levels. No A’ Level will teach you about real characters, serendipity, human struggle, colloquial language: all the things you need as an actor or novelist.”

After various jobs in London restaurants, bars and shops Kitty was accepted into drama school. Following graduation she paired up with fellow acting student Esther Freud, and together they wrote and performed a two-woman show, the success of which opened doors leading to fifteen years working as an actor in film, theatre and T.V. After a stint working on screenplays, and around the time she became a new mum, Kitty made the leap into writing fiction.

“People quite often ask about the parallels between acting and writing – and there are parallels, of course, in terms of narrative story telling and development of character, but they feel to me like very different disciplines. When you are acting you are not thinking about the arc of the story at all – you’re not supposed to – you are focused entirely on responding to the characters around you; remaining truthful in the moment.

Being truthful is important to a novelist too but you are also preoccupied with the narrative as a whole, and a cast of characters, as well as considering what took place twenty pages back and how that might affect what follows twenty pages on. It is necessary to have an overview as a novelist that as an actor you must avoid (when acting it’s not helpful to know all about other characters’ hidden motivations or what the outcome of the scene will be, for example). The self-doubt is the same, however! The ability to imagine other worlds. And the stillness.”

Arthur, Kitty and Peter Aldridge in c.1965Thinking about what advice Kitty might offer anyone trying to write an entry for FOLIO’s Flash Fiction competition, reading other writers and finding inspiration from them is perhaps a good starting point. Kitty, drawn as she often is to write “about ordinary working people leading apparently unremarkable lives”, has been particularly influenced by the writing of British novelists like Alan Sillitoe and the Black Country poet, Liz Berry. “I hadn’t understood that you could take liberties with English, write in dialects, use idiomatic expressions. At school we were punished for that.”

Deadlines (24th of October for FOLIO’s Flash Fiction competition!) and finding a writing peer group can also help, as well as being prepared to take a risk and try something different. Kitty completed a Masters in Creative Writing aged fifty eight; “it offered something new: in particular the fellowship of a writing group and supportive tutors. I found the numerous deadlines helpful. I was encouraged to experiment and I was required to avoid writing another novel, having published four, so I wrote a collection of short stories, which I am currently completing.”

But one project that, sadly, may never be completed, is the planned film of Pop.

“The actor, Richard Harris, read Pop the novel, and was keen to play Arthur. His son, film director Damian Harris, hoped to direct his father in a film version, which was to be shot locally in Sutton. Producers bought the film rights, and Damian approached me to co-write the screenplay with him, which I did in early 2002. The budget was in place and they were looking to cast the role of teenage Maggie when, very sadly during pre-production in October 2002, Richard died suddenly. Damian did subsequently consider other actors for the role, but as the budget was dependent on Richard Harris and therefore the production stalled and never revived.”

It’s tantalising to think what might have been!

Pop’s depiction of Kitty’s grandfather is rich, sensitive and such fun to read. He is buried in Mere Green, where, long before his own death he was walking past the churchyard one day and “spotted an elderly man leaning on the wall, surveying the unusually tall grass that had grown to the height of the gravestones. Arthur liked to share the old man’s comment: ‘’Some of these poor buggers could use a haircut.’’ Irreverent, surreal, it was a remark Arthur could easily have made himself. He was a Sutton man all the way to the tip of his cigarette.”

………

Kitty’s latest book The Wisdom of Bones, described as “a real tour de force from a supremely talented writer” can be borrowed through the Birmingham library system and delivered to any library in Sutton Coldfield, or ordered through Waterstones Sutton Coldfield.

Entry to FOLIO’s Flash Fiction competition is free. The deadline is 24th of October, and full details can be found here: https://foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk/flash-fiction-competition-2021/

Conspiracy

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.

Janos’s parents’ house – where Agnes and Janos lived after marrying and where the Secret Police concluded some sort of conspiracy was afoot.

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.

Dr. Agnes Kaposi

FOLIO first worked with Dr Agnes Kaposi, in January this year when we collaborated with Echo Eternal in their 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, 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.

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