- Beth Lantinga
Rev. Gulacsy - Arrested
The first Gulacsy installment ended rather precipitously, but his story does continue for a few more installments, including a conversation with his wife, Emma. I mention Emma because she provided a counterpoint to his telling of the story. Those of us present during his interview noticed that Gulacsy avoided talking about the terrible things that had happened to him. He said it was because he wanted his hearers to know that he survived unharmed through the grace of God. Having experienced a tiny but violent fraction of his suffering, I wonder whether he, like others, avoided reliving the horror by ignoring those dark memories. In this post Gulacsy described his arrest in a rather matter-of-fact voice, but also noted the clever tactics of prisoners as well as a moment of exquisite beauty.
“At the time I was arrested, I was living in the parsonage – which the communist authorities had not yet taken away from the church. On Saturday evening, I returned with my wife, Emma, after the worship service, and the authorities were waiting for me when I got home. The first thing they did was to confiscate all my books and clothes; they took them all away. That same night they took me to Ungvar/Uzgorad prison. The first humiliation was that before they took me to a cell, they made me undress; my clothing supposedly needed to be disinfected. I had to go into a room, totally naked, and face six clothed strangers. That is how my prison time began.”
“Every day we were taken for interrogation. In one room there were beds for each person. The prison in Ungvar was not the worst, but we were not allowed to sleep during the day; we could not speak loudly; and we were always watched. The toilet was in this room. Many people don’t know that the toilet was our “phone” system. The prisoners knew how to talk to other cells. The engineers who designed the system didn’t realize that the plumbing connected all the rooms, and if the prisoners took out the water, they could talk to each other. We were all connected through the plumbing. Each room had a name like Budapest or New York, all big cities. Every evening the prisoners took the water out of the toilet and if, for example, you were in London, you could call another prison city. We would tell each other what happened during interrogation so we could help each other prepare. This is how we knew about each other and could talk to each other.”
“Once a week we could receive packages from home, and one time someone received bacon. One prisoner said that we should make a fire to cook the bacon because it wouldn’t be good without cooking. How could we do it? Someone took part of the broom and put the bacon on it. How could we make a fire? We used a substance from the wall and were able to create fire, and we cooked the bacon. It could be smelled, but the guards couldn’t see it because we sat on the beds as if we were playing a game. In every situation we tried to make the best of it.”
“One time in the prison, maybe in February and March, we heard some special music from outside. When we ran to the windows to look, we saw nearly 300 birds singing in the yard, probably resting during migration. It was charming because one bird was facing the other birds, singing one line as if it was a cantor, and then the other birds repeated the line. This lasted for one and a half hours. We hung at the windows until the last note died away. I don’t know exactly what kind of bird it was, but it was beautiful!”
“The authorities accused me of holding a confirmation group. It was a problem because in the Soviet Union it was forbidden to do any Christian education with people under the age of 18. It was true because when I came to Munkacs in 1943, my task was to work with young people and hold confirmation classes. So in 1947 and 1948 I was holding classes and at the end of each session we had a group photo taken. So the evidence against me was a picture. They knew everything because they had been gathering information during the two previous years. There were two accusations. One was that I dared to work with young people when it was forbidden, and the other was I traveled to different places to work with young people. In the Soviet Union one could work only in the place where he was registered, but I worked wherever there was a need, traveling all over.
Because I often traveled to the bishop in Debrecen, Hungary, I was also accused of spying for the West. Once I brought hymnals and they caught me just over the border and took away 2000 hymnals. I was in charge of providing books and materials for sale through churches. In one tract was a big hand and a small one with words saying that only God can set you free; Jesus can set you free. The soviet leaders interpreted it as propaganda against the Soviet Union and not really something about God at all. In a way, I suppose, it was true.
To try to trap others, they asked me who had told me to do this. The interrogation lasted for two months. Sometimes I had to sit on a chair for seventeen hours without moving. Sometimes they didn’t speak at all in order to break me. They threatened with many terrible things that they would do. When the threats didn’t work, another interrogator entered to offer a different option. They said that the state needed active, strong-willed people like me, so would I please go to Moscow to study communism and become a leader, working with them. They tried to break us down to get us to work with them. I think it’s the grace of God that I could remain faithful because they tried everything. Finally, six of us stood in front of the judge. He said that the prison camp would change us; that we would become communists; and that ten years would be enough to change us. It was a short sentence.
After the interview we visited the (Pappi) Csonkapappi youth camp where Gulacsy served at lunch and then gave us a tour that included the attic. There we saw the remains of the apparatus communist officials used to monitor all the incoming and outgoing telephone calls in the village.