Brussels Journal has a heart-breaking article full of recollections about the Terror Camp at Recsk (Hungarian /cs/ is pronounced /tch/, so /Recsk/ is pronounced /Wretchk/) after Hungary became Stalinist in 1948.
Now, to a few sobering remarks for those who find what follows insane and as such hard to believe. Terror might strike irrationally – as it, indeed, has since liquidation by categories became government policy. Unlike its official justification, terror is, in itself, rational. The less predictable the more effectively it controls an intimidated society paralyzed by it. The writer recalls adults discussing why we were where we were. The attempts to discover the policy so as to guess our fate have failed for they did not realize that terror is, in itself, a policy. Even when the enemy seemed to be clearly defined it was in fact not so. A leading Nazi said “I determine who is a Jew.” Had the war ended with National Socialist victory, the implications – everybody was a potential “Jew” – would have been devastating for many who thought themselves to be safe.
Some of the lunacy encountered will cause smiles. A case in point is the fate of the recently deceased George Faludy, arguably Hungary’s greatest modern poet. (His CV: as a secular leftist Jew he achieves prominence when around twenty. Emigrates to escape the Nazis, becomes a U.S. soldier and returns after the war to Hungary to “build democracy”. He winds up in Recsk and flees after Moscow crushes the Revolution of 1956. Faludy returned to Hungary after the collapse of Soviet rule.) This is how he relates his road to Recsk: after the pick up by State Security (AVH) he was taken to Andrássy Street 60. [The feared-famous building once the HQ of the Nazi Arrow Cross Party. Expanded by the buildings around it, “60” fittingly became the Communist AVH’s (State Security) base. Today “No. 60” houses the House of Terror museum that is strongly resented by the Left.]
After “treatment” the famous kid was taken to Gabriel Péter, the AVH‘s boss. Faludy, still not understanding the process, asked whether he had read his file. It got a glance.
“Is there a rational allegation in it?”
“So I get out.”
“No, they brought you in and this is where you will croak.”
“We do not need idiots.”
“Why am I an idiot?”
Péter grabs his blood soaked shirt to shake Faludy: “You ask this, you, the dummy who came back from America into this sh.t.” (source)
In the face of state terror, Kafkaesque humor becomes the most rational, hopeful response available.
The torture that was inflicted at Recsk is very different from the “torture” of which the U.S. is accused at Abu Ghreib and Guantanomo.
Hannah Arendt talks of the “banality of evil.” Recsk validates and generalizes her judgment. The mistreatment was often quite business-like. “I beat his soul,” and “I handle his buttock“. Naturally, besides such craftsmen the genuine sadists were well represented. Mike Mózes tells that once guards forced him and two others to carry faeces in their hands to “burial” in a hand-dug hole. When they tried to clean their hands by rubbing them on a tree they were ordered to clean their paws on their faces. “You are not only s..t as people but you also become s..t because your only way out of here is …and he pointed to the sky.”
Daniel Kiss got it worse. Upon the death by starvation of his neighbor he said “it seems we will not survive this.” Denounced, he got two weeks of jail-in-jail with two hours hog-tied per day. Then a Pfc turned him against a stove and loaded it. It smelled. The guard went out to smoke. Finally an AVH doctor amputated his burned hand, threw the charred organ into a bucket while commenting “You will not play the piano any more.” (source)
One thing that becomes clear from reading the material closely is that Stalinism was not an alternative to the Nazism it warred against, it was the successor. A telling item of information: In elections, the Communist Party’s share in the early years was 17%, identical to the Nazi Arrow Cross party’s share in 1939, after Hungary allied with Nazi Gemany.
Earlier the claim was made that the phenomenon described here metastases into the future. Connecting times and places, Stalinist terror represents an often denied continuum of, and parallel to, National Socialism’s crimes. Indeed, some who are quoted in the book like to compare their lot to what they experienced under the Nazis. Their consensus is also that getting arrested by the AVH had to do with their anti-Nazi activity. Resistors out of principle are dangerous for all tyrannies. (The writer’s stepfather was clearly told this when he naively inquired during the early days of the system why he was not allowed to fly.)
Interestingly Dr. Sztáray, was asked in “60:” ”Do you know why you are here? I will tell you. List the names of your associates from resistance in 1943-45. You have conspired with them.”
“This we determine!”
Not accidentally, Dr. Ivan Rácz sometimes told his torturers “the Germans were better at this”. He also notes: “They were apparently uninterested regarding the facts.” (source)
George Steiner also went from Nazi concentration camp inmate to a brief time of freedom to internment at Recsk. At Recsk he was classified by the Stalinist guards, many of whom were rank-and-file Nazis during the war, as a fascist. The irony is self apparent.
The philosophy of repression is well represented by the statement given by George Steiner who went in 1944 to Buchenwald and then to Bergen-Belsen. He got home in ’48 and became a policeman. Arrest and “60” followed. Who did he see in Germany? “What assignment have the English given you?”
“With the rubber truncheon they convinced me to admit ‘espionage.’ Torture made me say: ‘Tell what I am to say and I will.’”
”Give a name!”
He could not. A Lieutenant Colonel said “Van Lear.” He agreed to sign that.
Then came: Of what did he live in Germany? He denied the charge of pickpocketing. “You will pay for this you dirty fascist because you are an enemy of the people.” Finally a Lieutenant asked him whether he knows why he is there. He did not.
“Because Comrade Lenin has said that it is better if a hundred innocents suffer than to let a guilty one go free.” (source)
And finally, a note pointing out the way that the economic insanity of forced labor camps actually contributed to the economic collapse of communism.
Recsk might not have been a real death camp. However, in case that the output demanded from the establishment was really important to the AVH’s economic undertaking, then starving the inmates appears as counter productive. It would be a great topic for a dissertation to assess the economic profit of the system of forced-labor camps. Counting the lost potential contribution one could expect to incur from the collective skills and intelligence of the inmates, the results would probably be surprising. However, with this we get backtracked to the issue of “rationality” and must consider that such systems do not use measuring rods scaled by sanity’s rules. (source)
Read it all. No, really. Read it all.