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An Outlaw's Diary: The Commune - CHAPTER X

CHAPTER X.

May 23rd.

I had hurried in vain. The Directorate has come back, so I have to remain in my Red prison. The battle last night caused many casualties, and the towns near the front are bewailing their dead. Everything that is Hungarian sorrows. The wheel of Fate is turning in blood, slowly, terribly. It is turned by the Powers, but it is our blood.

Noon came, then afternoon, again the enchanting hour of sunset on the banks of the Ipoly. The sun stands on the hills above the bank and pulls at the golden net which he cast over the valley in the morning. Like a fisherman he pulls the light, glittering net over the fields and crops. The net glides on, fast, without a sound. Now and then its gold is arrested for an instant by a shrub, by the verdure of a poplar, by the aspen of the river banks. Then the net glides on, and the trees, the crops, the water, the meadows, grow dark. The net has reached the horizon. For an instant, like a golden line, it lingers on the blue crest of the hills, then suddenly it dips into the west on the other side and is gone.

I love this light : it has touched the steeples of our churches, the thresholds of our cottages, from one end to the other of our country. For a thousand years it has come to us with dawn, over Transylvania, over the Carpathians, the Great Plain, over the waters of the Tisza and the Danube, over the fields of Banat, over the Carso, over the blue, salt bay of Fiume, over all our ancient, humiliated counties, over Buda and Pest, over Pressburg and Trencsen. All that has been torn asunder is united again in its net. But the catch of the great fisher is scanty now : he carries naught but another Hungarian day, a day of anguish, of blood, and of tears.

Only occasional rifle shots sounded round the house now ; the town was going to rest. The electric light went out early to-night, so Mrs. Huszár and I sat facing each other by candle-light.

Shells screeched through the air above the roof. What is happening to our country ? For days we have had no newspapers. Tribunals of Terror sit at night. Racing motors spread death and Béla Kún speaks of plans for tens of years.

The clock on the wall has stopped ; goodness knows how long we have been sitting like this. Better to do something than sit and think, so I fetched my patience cards. Tiny cards, the coloured toys of an old world. Crowned kings, ermine cloaked, powdered little queens, haughty young knights, they all look as if in their vanity they were leaning over a mirror to see their reflection. When I left home my mother packed these cards in my bag, and they have become my only luxury. Whenever I look at them they tell me something gently, in whispers, of my home. Soothers of worries, prophets, fortune-tellers ! We laid the cards slowly out on the table, collected them, started anew. How thin my hands have grown...

Over the roof, high up, another shell whines. Then a splintering crash. Now the other side answers...

" The Reds... "

" That one came from the Czechs. "

Silence.

" There's another Red. "

We spoke mechanically, for by now we had got to know the voices of the guns. Meanwhile the little queens and kings on the table came and went by the light of the candle.

" The Czechs... "

Three weeks ! For three weeks it has been like this. Yesterday, to-day, to-morrow it is always the same. There are no longer nights and days : there is nothing but monotonous, continuous explosions.

What if it is to be always like this ? What if this is to continue for ever ! The very air seemed to shudder. From the opposite side of the table a pair of wide-open, fixed eyes stared at me.

" The Czechs... "

Machine-guns were rattling somewhere near the Ipoly, and the dogs barked. Another bullet struck the wall.

" The Reds... "

Again the windows shook with the detonation. At the end of the room the door opened by itself, making room for hopeless despair, which entered and sat down to keep us company.

........

May 24th-25th.

If after the bloody battles of the war the victorious generals had occupied our country their conquest would have put an end to the slaughter. But Hungary was occupied without fighting by twenty-four Jews. The state of war has become permanent, the slaughter continues, and worst of all misfortunes for months there have been continuous executions. Sentence of death is everywhere. Some take a long time to realise it, but it is there none the less.

Dreadful news reaches us from Budapest : the city is starving ; and in answer to this, Béla Kún declared at a meeting of the Workers' Council : " There are enough supplies to prevent the Proletariat of Budapest from going hungry. " He forbore to speak of the inhabitants of the city, only of the privileged Proletarians, which for him means the Jewish intellectuals and, possibly, those who profess to be Red Proletarians. They will not go hungry. If Hungarians do... Béla Kún shrugs his shoulders.

The cruel ingenuity of the People's Commissaries is inexhaustible. Whatever they do not dare to do themselves is done by the Workers' and Soldiers' Council, and as a silent means for wholesale executions food tickets have been introduced. The inhabitants are divided into classes, one class receives bread, the other is denied it. Those who receive red tickets the workmen performing manual labour, Red soldiers and all the Red élite will still be able to eat their fill. The recipients of blue tickets officials, teachers, widows, pensioners may continue hungry. Those who receive no food tickets will have to die of starvation. Thus it is possible to carry out executions merely by the use of coloured scraps of paper.

" The classification of the head of the household will apply to all those members of the family who live with him." This order reveals the intended extermination of a class : the children of the Hungarian educated classes are to be exterminated with their parents. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which carries its class war into everything, even into its administration of justice, its ' First Reader ' and the nursery schools, uses daily bread as a weapon of war. Never has cruelty been displayed with such cynicism.

Not only does the Dictatorship of the Proletariat make a distinction between adults, but it extends its favouritism to the children. It distributes food with discrimination, the children of the ruling class enjoying a preference. Let the miserable little ones who had the misfortune to be born in the grey, modest homes of officials or other intellectuals instead of having seen the light of the world as offspring of labourers or Red soldiers, let those poor little children starve and perish. Since Herod nothing so wantonly cruel has been known in human history.

........

May 26th-29th.

For two months the blood-reeking news has been coming. At first we shook our heads incredulously. Rubbish ! Visions of a distracted mind. Terror inspires mad tales. Then the news died down, and now, all of a sudden, it has returned with proofs and names.

It was at the beginning of April that I heard that a sailor in Budapest was recruiting a band of terrorists among freed convicts and Russian Jews. Next we heard that these people had occupied the palaces of Counts Batthyany and Hunyady. On the first of May they hung out a huge sign over the palaces : THE LENIN BOYS, and ever since then they have been known by that name. The Lenin Boys, armed to the teeth, clad in leather coats, appear at night in the streets of Budapest or in those provincial towns where the miserable population dares to show signs of dissatisfaction. The other day they carried off the organisers of the Counter-revolution, Colonel Dormándy and Victor Horváth, who are said to have been tortured atrociously. They were tied up in the cellars of the Batthyany palace, burning cigars were stuffed into their mouths, water was forced in enormous quantities down their throats, and nails were driven under their finger-nails. Whether they still live no one knows ; there are others too. Last week we heard that a counter-revolution had been attempted at Makó and that the former President of the House of Commons, Louis Naváy, had been killed. We could not believe it : all his life he had been an advanced Liberal who had fought for universal suffrage, and he was a gentle scholar and philanthropist ; moreover after the Revolution began he retired from all public affairs.

But the news persisted : the terrorists had gone down to Makó to take hostages and amongst others they had arrested Louis Naváy, his nephew Iván and the mayor of the town, and had taken them by rail to Budapest. When the train stopped at the station the terrorists shouted into the compartment where the prisoners were : " Let the Counts and Barons step forward ! " Nobody moved, then a man who as an orphan had been brought up by the kindness of the Návays shouted : " This one's a Right Honourable and that one's an Honourable, take these." The Lenin Boys dragged them from the train and forced them to dig their graves at the bottom of the embankment. There was no time for a tribunal, so they fired at them without any preliminaries, stabbed them repeatedly with their bayonets, and crammed them into the half-dug graves. One of them was not quite dead when they were buried, and his poor protruding hand waved feebly for a time. The picture of it haunted me for many nights. It was impossible ! Incredible ! But the news was repeated and proved to be true. Other news followed.

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A young ensign named Nicholas Dobsa, eighteen years old, suddenly disappeared in Budapest. He was asked by the Terror Boys for his identity papers, and he laughed. He said nothing, just laughed. Poor boy, he disappeared behind the door of the Batthyany palace never to reappear. Others disappeared too, and more pools of blood were found in secluded places. Many other violent deaths were reported, though rumour could not give the names.

Meanwhile Számuelly's special train is on the move all the time, and wherever it stops there are executions. It started at Szoboszló, a long distance from here, and the news came to us by an eye-witness, Antony Szatmáry, a railway man. It happened on the 23rd of April, when the Red front was at Debreczen. During the morning a hussar suddenly stepped out of the ranks and shouted : " Let us run, the Rumanians are coming ! " So the International Battalion started off at once. The remnants of the army fled on the last train to Szoboszló, and my informant, Szatmáry, was pressed in to act as stoker. An armoured train, advancing cautiously, met them, and a black-haired, red-nosed young man leant out of the window : " What news, comrade ? " " We are the last to leave, " the stoker answered.

The young man was Számuelly, and when he stopped at Szoboszló he was mad with rage. He ordered the station master to be flogged, as well as some workmen, and when his train reached the signal-box and saw that a white flag had been hoisted on the church spire he ordered the train back and ran into the town with his terrorists, accompanied by a fair-haired, blue-eyed woman on horseback. He arrested three men at random, Körner a mill- owner, Joseph Tokay a police officer, and Ladislaus Fekete the mayor, and had them hanged on trees in front of a chemist's shop. " Be quick ! " he said, and cleaned his nails while the execution was being carried out. Then he boarded his train again and went on. In Kaba he had the curate, the notary and the magistrate hurriedly tortured, and moved on again, because the Rumanians were coming. Thence he went to Szolnok, where he took hostages and had them hanged. One hundred and fifty were executed. They were all Hungarians and Christians...

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Steps approached the house and Mrs. Huszár exclaimed in alarm : " The parson ! "

The Reformed minister, Sebastian Kováks, looked frightfully thin in his black coat. His face was ashen and fresh furrows played round his mouth. He spoke pantingly, as if he had been running hard, and turned to me.

" God protected you that you did not come with me. When I reached the Ipoly both Reds and Czechs came rushing towards me. I had no choice, so ran into the river and threw myself into the water, which was simply swept around me by bullets. The Reds fired volleys after me. "

That was the history of the journey I should have had to share.

" You would undoubtedly have been shot or arrested, " the minister went on. " The Czechs wanted to intern me, and the Reds were hunting for me. For three days I hid among the crops before I dared to come home. I hear that a Czech shell struck the church ; we had arms hidden under the roof. "

Bullets were again whistling in the street. The minister shuddered and looked anxiously round, then he smiled, embarrassed : " Since then my nerves won't stand it. I had rather too much of it. " He sat down almost in a state of collapse, and although he was a young man he looked very old.

........

May 30th-31st.

The banks of the river were unusually silent this evening. Just as it was getting dark the soldiers rolled a hogshead into the museum garden—the museum serves as a barracks. We heard one of them saying under our window that there was going to be a distribution of rum. What does that mean?

The patrol passed. Then the strains of a Gypsy band filtered through the night. Silence followed. It must have been about two in the morning when a voice mingled with my dreams. I woke, but could not at once grasp its meaning.

"Attack... "

" Who ? "

" The Reds !... "

That was not what we had hoped for ! For an instant my heart stopped beating. Doors were carefully opened and closed. The little girl came into the room and sleepily dragged her pillow behind her, like a white ant carrying a load too heavy for it. She lay down on the couch and fell asleep.

Wild firing was going on, so we opened the window. Suddenly the rifle shots seemed to come much nearer. The dawn was full of explosions and the deadly arpeggios of the machine-guns ran into one another, their staccato notes running in endless sequence up and down the banks of the Ipoly. Someone was playing the dance of death in the grey light. Shells passed so rapidly over the roof that it was impossible to tell which side fired them, and stray bullets thudded against the walls of the houses. Not a soul was visible. The house shook and every sound echoed through it as it does when one is under the arch of a bridge.

This went on for several hours : the vague grey objects regained their outlines, and things assumed their natural colours. The golden sun shone on green trees and on the brown tiles of the roofs. The artillery went on firing, but the rattle of the machine-guns seemed to get further and further away. The fight was now beyond the Ipoly, somewhere among the vineyards. It was not the other bank that had come to break down our prison, it was our prison that had spread to the other side.

A young boy doubled up on a bicycle passed under our window. " The Reds have crossed the river ! " he shouted. " The Czechs are running along the whole line." People began to appear from the houses and a peasant girl stepped aimlessly into the middle of the street. The vineyards became silent ; the Red guns alone went on firing and there was no answer from the other side. But it was not the silence of the living ; it was the silence of death. Under the tension the dam which kept the Red waves in bound has broken, and the wave has spread and flowed over little hamlets, villages, and castles, hitherto untouched. God help the people on the other bank, for they are all Hungarians and their share is suffering and death. The victory remains with Trotsky's agents. The long road of homelessness has become longer in front of me, stretching into the unknown, even beyond the frontiers.

Presently the guns on our bank stopped firing too and on the main road little figures, bent under heavy loads, could be seen approaching. When they got nearer I saw that they were soldiers the victorious Reds returning from the villages on the other bank among the vineyards, laden heavily with loot. They had captured the entire camp of the fleeing Czechs and brought bundles of rice, matches, tobacco, sacks of dried prunes, barrels of rum, wine and honey. A Jewish front delegate had even obtained a carriage, which he had loaded high with plunder, and the soldiers roared with laughter as he drove down the street. Let Béla Kún run after the Czechs himself if he wants to ! They were very merry and some of them very unsteady on their feet.

About noon, however, their merriment was unexpectedly interrupted. Firing broke out suddenly and machine-guns rattled in the vineyards. A soldier without his cap and his face white with fright rushed towards the Museum garden. " The Czechs have come back ! " he shouted, and his voice rang down the street. " They're in the vineyards again and have captured our people ! "

The Czechs had, in fact, returned to the vineyards and caught sixty Reds pilfering there. The buglers sounded the alarm in vain : the Red army was busy cooking rice and drinking rum. Some Proletarian women, who had had no share in the booty, stood there, arms akimbo, and scolded the soldiers : " Of course when there's a distribution of meat or of milk you're always in the front row. Then you shout that you are Reds and steal the milk from the kiddies' mouths. But when it is a question of driving away the Czechs you run home with what you have stolen. You let them take the hill. "

Most of the soldiers were drunk, in fact they had got tipsy before the attack began, for while they were falling in Gypsies played to them and rum was distributed.

" Mental degradation by means of alcohol was one of the weapons of the bourgeois, " shouts the Red press. " Alcohol is the Proletariat's greatest foe, " is posted by the Communists on all the walls. Yet the Dictatorship of the Proletariat makes the class-conscious Red army drunk whenever it wants to drive it to face unnecessary death.

........

May 31st.

What hast thou done, Michael Károlyi ?

When morning came the Czechs had stealthily, quietly evaporated from the hills, fleeing before a miserable handful of Reds. They are the same Czechs who five months ago descended from the mountains of Zólyom and took undisputed possession of Pressburg and Kassa, impregnable Komárom, a third of our country. How they would have run if they had had to face the hussars of Limanova and the territorials of Gorlice ! But Károlyi 's minister of war did not want to see any soldiers, the same Linder who recently, at a review, exclaimed to comrades Böhm, Pogány and Landler in front of their armed servants : " You see we had to break up the old army to create this. "

Two towns and all the heights above them have been taken by the Reds, who have captured machine-guns and two heavy guns. The Czechs were surprised in their sleep and fled half-naked, all the prisoners being taken in their night clothes. Peasants' carts laden with Czech uniforms and boots rattled over the bridges all night. I could not sleep : I thought of the people on the other bank of the Ipoly, whom I do not know and yet for whom I fear. When they wake they will find the train of the plunderers which brings the awful Red epidemic of tyranny and terrorist tribunals. And when it comes back it will carry away hostages...

The clock struck. Half-past one... A long train whistle ; buffers knocking together ; coupling-chains clanging in the dark. Fetters and skeleton keys...

May the Lord have mercy on us all !

June 1st.

A drum is being beaten in the village and the sound echoes from street to street. The Revolutionary Cabinet has decreed general conscription, and a small minority of alien race disposes of the nation's blood by simple decree. I shuddered. Henceforth they are going to force everybody to take up arms for them against himself.

An aeroplane flew over us. " An Italian machine, " said someone in front of the house. The airman was reconnoitring the Ipoly valley eyes from another world looking down on us, indifferently, without sympathy. To him we appear only as black spots, swarming ants. Does he know that the ants are suffering, that the ant-hill has been kicked to pieces and that strange vermin have invaded it ? He flew on—a dragonfly passing across the prisoner's window.

The catafalque of the fallen Red soldiers has been erected in front of the county hall ; red flowers, a red cross. (Why the cross ?) Red shrouds showed under the lids of the red coffins. Only the little son of Stefanovic was not among them—the only child of a counter-revolutionary railway man. He was the best pupil of his school, a fervent little patriot, but was called up and had to go. He was wounded under the vineyards and implored the soldiers in vain to take him back to Balassagyarmat. They had no time—they were carrying rice. So the boy dragged himself to a field of oats and when the Czechs came back they found him and clubbed him to death with the butts of their rifles—" the little red vermin. " His parents brought the corpse back, and the Directorate sent them a red coffin. " That is enough," said his father, " he shall never be buried with such tomfoolery. "

Among the dead Reds there are many little Stefanovics. Passers-by stop reverently at their graves, for they hated the Directorship of the Proletariat and loved their country.

Two soldiers came into the yard, two sad-faced boys, and asked for red flowers and red ribbons for their comrades. Out there, unmarked graves ; in here, propaganda funerals.

In front of the county hall Comrade Singer pronounced the valedictory discourse :

" We take leave of you with the promise that we will fight with merciless hatred against the bourgeoisie, and, should we perish, the very blades of grass will continue the fight, animated by our hatred. "

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In the cemetery the minister spoke :

" My brethren in the Lord, standing at these open graves, let your last word be that of love... "

In these two speeches Christ and those who had crucified him met.

........

June 2nd.

Sometimes the candle flares up before it goes out. So with the news to-day. In this morning's paper we read : " Szeged is in the hands of the counter-revolutionaries.

The opposition Government has removed from Arad to Szeged and is in communication with the Hungarian counter-revolutionaries of Vienna. Western Hungary is organising and in Szeged Hungarian White Guards are being formed under French protection... "

It is actually in the Red papers ! Have the Entente Powers stopped the Rumanians on the banks of the Tisza to give us a chance of saving ourselves by our own efforts ? That would at least be human justice. A nation, deadly humiliated, could thus regain its self-respect. If only this were the case ! Then we could bless our two months' sufferings. Not Rumanians but Hungarians would retake Budapest from the Red tyrant.

I noticed this morning that the soles of my boots were worn through. What a shock ! What shall I do if they give way ? We had frozen, black potatoes for supper and when we rose from the table Mrs. Huszár told a story about some bread and butter. The little girl began to cry : she was hungry after her supper and wanted some bread and butter.

Torn boots, black potatoes, what do they matter ? There are Hungarian soldiers in Szeged !



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