The Legacy of World War II and Belated Justice in the Hungarian Films of the Early Kádár Era
Tamás Bezsenyi and András Lénárt
National University of Public Service and National Széchényi Library – 1956 Institute
In this article, we analyze the role of Hungarian films made in the 1960s in representing the traumatic legacy of World War II. With the solidification of the official narrative of the Holocaust in the mid-1960s, the Hungarian film industry also started to reflect on the tragedy of the Jews at the same time (which was not a terribly conspicuous part of the official narrative). The article focuses on six films as illustrations of the extent to which it was possible to reflect on the traumatic past in the early Kádár era, with particular emphasis on the legacy of the Holocaust. The films selected revolve around the question of individual responsibility, but they also depict psychological conflicts and portray the character’s attempts to prompt collective remembering. We argue that despite the communists’ claims of moral superiority, peace and reconciliation remains unattainable for the characters in the films because of the inability of the new social milieu to facilitate the process of coming to terms with past traumas.
Keywords: representations of the Holocaust, film and historical trauma, Hungarian films in the 1960s, Antal Páger, Holocaust and memory on film
In this article, we examine the role of Hungarian films made in the 1960s in representing the highly sensitive legacy of World War II. How did films try to provide answers to the question of survival, and how did they handle social amnesia? We argue that the films analyzed here concentrated mainly on individual morality in order to erode society’s general denial of responsibility. The movies intended to achieve justice in a real or figurative way, through legal or moral means. Confrontation with the past was portrayed mostly through individual self-reflection, especially in the context of police investigations and trials. The films are remarkably lenient with low-ranking perpetrators and bystanders. The viewer can, no doubt, feel empathy for the defenseless victims, but one can also identify with the powerless bystander or even with some of the perpetrators who escape condemnation due to the regime’s “pact of silence.” The films suggest that the socialist system condemns the sinners but also gives them a chance to reintegrate into a new and better society. At the same time, the films remained unable to resolve the problems of isolated victims and—in some cases—lonely perpetrators. Wrestling with the legacy of the war is represented as a personal exercise without the hope of reconciliation or redemption. We analyze five films as illustrations of the extent to which it was possible to address the traumatic past in the early Kádár era, with particular emphasis on the legacy of the persecution of the Jewish people.1 The subject of Jewishness was tabooed in socialist society. One’s origins could be Jewish, but socialization forced Jews to internalize aspects of their identities which were part of their Jewish heritage or at least to adhere to socialist norms. At the same time, the perpetrators and their representatives, whose way of thinking was left unchanged, remained marginalized, lonely individuals in socialist society.
Context: The Persecution of Jews in Public Discourses after the War
1945 was the most important caesura in the recent history of Hungary. The lost war and the devastation of the country demonstrated the improvidence and incompetence of the former regime, and the new authorities were faced with overwhelming challenges. The new political forces that emerged in Hungary in 1945 strove to disassociate themselves entirely from the Horthy period and its military defeat. This policy was expounded primarily and most forcefully by the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP). The party had been banned in the Horthy period, and its few hundred illegal members had been persecuted. But on two matters they were guided by political pragmatism rather than consistent principle. First, on Stalin’s instructions, Miklós Horthy was never brought to court, as a verdict against him could have turned him into a national martyr. Second, there could be no blanket condemnation of the Arrow Cross party (which had had over 100,000 voters), which had also been persecuted in the Horthy period.2 Since its membership was tiny in early 1945, the MKP hoped to win over former supporters of the extreme right-wing movement. Therefore, the policy was to issue dramatic condemnations of well-known Arrow Cross leaders and their views while at the same time turning a blind eye to “petty” rank-and-file members of the party who had committed no serious war crimes.
The task of prosecuting Hungarians who had committed war crimes or crimes against humanity (in Communist terminology “crimes against the people”) was a requirement outlined in Point 14 of the armistice agreement.3 The institution of People’s Tribunals was created by Act VI/1945. Local people’s courts were set up in 24 cities, while the senior court, which also dealt with matters on a national level, was set up in Budapest. The People’s Tribunals were initially intended to call to account the pre-1945 political elite and the officials who implemented their decisions, including members of the military who had played a decisive role in the war or who had committed “abuses” under wartime conditions.4 However, from the outset, the Communist Party used these institutions as political weapons.5 (The people’s courts had all completed their activities by April 1, 1950. In fact, most of the trials were concluded by 1947.) Altogether, more than 40,000 cases were heard, and over 22,000 defendants were found guilty. Of these, 414 were condemned to death, and in 180 cases the sentence was carried out. Of the 22,000 people who received custodial sentences, 20,000 were imprisoned, and 2,000 were sentenced to forced labor.6 With the dissolution of the People’s Tribunals, the Communist regime considered the confrontation with the traumatic legacy of the past over. When in the 1960s the countries of the Soviet bloc launched various campaigns against former war criminals, the Hungarian authorities remained reluctant to follow suit, and they referred to the work of the courts as a comprehensive and successful attempt at addressing the crimes of the recent past.7
According to the hypothesis of a study on the operation of the People’s Tribunals, almost half of the trials were related to atrocities against the Jews. The majority of the cases were murders committed by the former armed wing of the Arrow Cross party, mostly in Budapest.8 However, the question of the persecution of the Jews was “tabooed” from the beginning, and “ordinary” Arrow Cross members received very lenient sentences. This produced a strange psychological situation, according to István Bibó, in which persecuted Jews were utterly dissatisfied with the proceedings, whereas the rest of society saw them as a witch hunt.9 Ultimately, the new communist government, from 1948 on, did not want to erase the past completely (“Of the past let us make a clean slate”). Rather, they wanted to utilize it for their own purposes. The legacy of so-called “Horthy-fascism” was onerous, but useful at the same time. It provided the regime with all kinds of “enemies,” a tool which was indispensable for the emerging dictatorship.
One of these groups was the persecutors of Jewish people, the perpetrators of the Hungarian Holocaust. The regime’s relationship with the Holocaust and the Jews was, in fact, quite complex and ambiguous. Many memoirs and diaries were published, and Jewish institutions were established, including schools, orphanages, scout organizations, and so on. The Zionist movement also grew stronger than ever.10 The repression of civil life in the Eastern Bloc countries and the cold relationship between the newborn state of Israel and the USSR eventually led to the end of the short post-war “Jewish Renaissance.” The Party leadership no longer wished to focus too much on the traumatic aspects of the past, and so they offered a “new deal” to the Jews: they guaranteed the repression of anti-Semitism in public discourse and offered a chance to rebuild careers for individuals of Jewish origins, but in exchange discussions about the meanings of Jewishness and Jewish identity were marginalized.11 Some people did not comply with these simple rules during the period of state socialism, but they nonetheless used self-censorship in interviews, memoirs, and diaries. Due to the social and political circumstances, for a long time Jewish identity remained a sensitive topic that was difficult to discuss. Opportunities for public discussions about Jewishness were mostly provided by cases involving crimes that had been committed against political dissidents or people of Jewish origin (the Eichmann trial, the trial of Mihály Francia Kiss, trials against former members of the Arrow Cross Party, and the trials against gendarmes who had participated in atrocities in wartime Bačka).12
According to many scholars, the most striking feature of tabooing Jewishness was that the word “Jewish” was replaced by other terms, such as communist.13 Instead of acknowledging the suffering of the Jews, the stereotypical victim was portrayed in the context of an anti-fascist struggle and a struggle for universal human rights.14 In common usage, “the Jews” referred to the “Persecuted,” the “Sacrificial,” the “Martyr People.” Jewish identity as such was not spoken about in public. Rather, it was replaced by the concept of “Jewish ancestry.” There is consensus among scholars that the memory of the Holocaust was for the first time manifested in cultural products in the 1960s, in particular in film and literature.15 However, it was not until the 1980s that professionals—psychiatrists and psychologists—first confronted the traumas of the survivors’ generation.16 (The psychiatrists of the 1960–70s, for example the Júlia György school in Budapest, mainly focused on criminal or deviant behavior.) Despite the marginal nature of the memory of the Holocaust, references to issues related to the Hungarian Jewry as a community started to appear in the press in the late 1950s.17 A news report on the possibility of compensation for those persecuted for political or “other” reasons was published in the Party newspaper in January 1956.18 In the following year, the Party’s Central Committee proposed the establishment of a National Advocacy Organization for Victims of Nazism. The Hungarian press also reported on the Eichmann trial (1961/62) and the large-scale “Auschwitz trial,” which was held over the course of more than a year and a half, from December 1963 to August 1965.
The two trials significantly shaped the representation of the Holocaust in Hungarian films (for instance Utószezon, or “Late Season”), not to mention the entire American film industry. During the Eichmann trial, United Artists started promoting Stanley Kramer’s film, Judgement at Nuremberg. The film was based on actual events (the so-called Judges’ Trial of 1947, or, by its official name, the United States of America vs. Josef Altstötter, et al.), and, like Hungarian films of the 1960s, it revolved around the question of collective versus individual responsibility: who were the main culprits in the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis: the entire German nation or certain representatives of the state? As in some of the films analyzed in this article, perpetrators in the Judgement at Nuremberg who are capable of self-reflection awaken a degree of sympathy in the audience. One of the judges, Dr. Ernst Janning, who served as Minister of Justice before the war, is portrayed as a self-critical person who sincerely realizes his sins. The theme of absolution-through-confession seems to have resonated well with the audience: the actor who played the judge was Maximillien Schell, and his performance earned him an Oscar award for the best lead actor.19
We draw a distinction in this article between remembrance and commemoration. Remembrance can be seen as a passive act, whereas commemoration implies a more proactive attitude towards the collection of memories.20 According to Pierre Nora, the official results of processing the past—history textbooks—became gradually more available to people with various social backgrounds in the second half of the twentieth century.21 Moreover, the emergence of nationwide commemorations during public holidays enlarged the group of people who could be considered (and were encouraged to consider themselves) the “beneficial owners” of the past. Therefore, acts of remembrance, which had been practiced locally and by narrow social groups, gradually became part of official activities of collecting memories. The “beneficial owners” of the past were seen by the state as being equal in status, so their memories became equally significant in memory politics. In the Hungarian context, Jewish remembrance slowly became part of formalized commemoration practices which depicted antifascist behavior, intellectual dissent, and even symbols of Jewishness, such as the tallith in the film Oldás és kötés (Cantata, 1963). The gradual inclusion of Jewish characters and Jewish themes in cinematic depictions of the past is demonstrated by the appearance of Jewish characters in the feature film Két pisztolylövés (Two Gunshots, 1977–79) and the popular television series, Kémeri (1984/85).22
Alongside the films and newspaper articles that addressed the legacy of war crimes, historical books that reflected on the traumatic past were published as well. The most well-known examples include Darutollasok – Szegedtől a királyi várig (“Soldiers with crane’s feathers – From Szeged to the royal palace”) and A berchtesgadeni sasfészektől a berlini bunkerig: fejezetek a második világháború történetéből (From the Eagle’s Nest of Berchtesgaden to the Berlin bunker: Chapters from the history of World War II), one authored and one coauthored by Elek Karsai.23 These books articulated the official interpretation of the causes of World War II, and they both portrayed Jews either as active anti-fascist oppositionists or as naïve victims whose deaths represented the shameful chapters of the recent past. In 1966, a book was published about SS Standartenführer Kurt Becher’s life and activities in Hungary, which included reflections on post-war judicial procedures.24 Beginning in 1965, several historical books were translated from German about the Eichmann case, the Auschwitz trial, and other famous cases.25 Moreover, further steps were made toward expanding historical research on the topic.26 One of the most successful books that addressed the topic from a historical perspective was published at the beginning of the 1970s. The memoir of a former Soviet spy, Sándor Radó, entitled Dóra jelenti (Dóra reports) became a huge success in Hungary, and it was turned into a film in 1977. Although the characters in the book and the film come from different social backgrounds, Jewish origin was portrayed emphatically as an identity of on its own. However, it was mostly associated with Soviet spies or Communist-Nazi double agents.
The growing frequency of representations of the traumatic legacy of the war in Hungary was closely linked to the emergence of the thaw in Khrushchev’s Soviet Union. In the more relaxed cultural atmosphere, Soviet feature films started to reflect on the memory of the Holocaust in subtle, indirect ways. However, Jewishness was not explored in detail, and it was most often portrayed in connection with the theme of anti-fascism and the stereotype of the stalwart, committed communist. Two of the most significant films dealing with the topic during the thaw (1956–68) were Soldaty (Soldiers, 1956) and Khronika pikiruiushchego bombardirovshchika (Chronicle of the Dive Bomber, 1968). In Soldaty, the main character, Farber plays an insecure (Jewish) intellectual who comes across as a weak, feminine figure, in comparison with his tall and strong Soviet comrades. Nevertheless, the fate of Farber could be interpreted as a metaphor for Soviet society and Jewish suffering during the war. In Khronika pikiruiushchego bombardirovshchika the lead character, Venia Gurevich is a violinist who becomes a bomber pilot during the war. The traumatic past is evoked through his relationship with his beloved grandfather, who represents the painful legacy of the Holocaust.27
Despite the growing number of historical assessments and cinematic portrayals, the most important field in which aspects of Jewishness and trauma were represented was literature. Literary works provided often subtle yet very powerful depictions of wartime suffering and the theme of Jewishness. Of the many literary depictions of the topic, two German dramas deserve particular mention.28 The plays were translated into Hungarian in the mid-1960s, and later they were performed on stage. Rolf Hochhut’s play (Der Stellvertreter) has provoked intense debates in West Germany. Through the figure of the helpless Pope Pius XII, it pilloried the weakness and the moral compromises of the Vatican and other bystanders, who let the Italian (converted) Jews be deported. One of the main characters, Doctor (Mengele) was an otherworldly, demonic figure,29 which in Mary Fulbrook’s view confirmed the dominant view regarding the responsibility of the Germans in the Holocaust; i.e. that “a small group of criminals’ and villains ruling in Germany could be blamed for everything.”30 According to Fulbrook, this symbolism was far from the “banality of evil” thesis advocated by Hannah Arendt, and it absolved the average German citizen of responsibility. Such statements, however, need to be qualified. In Hochhut’s detailed analysis, not only vicious, insane figures, but also ordinary people observed the horrors with total indifference. Similar characters also featured in Hungarian films later. “Ordinary citizens” and indifferent bystanders depicted in these films and literary works continued with their work and their lives after the war without remorse.
The second play, Peter Weiss’s drama The Investigation (Die Ermittlung) dealt with the Auschwitz trial. The dispassionate narrative style and the diverse cast offered an accurate representation of the “perpetrator” in West German society. The play also provoked a debate about the legacy of the Holocaust in Hungary. The first Hungarian reports on the drama appeared in connection with a campaign to promote German left-wing writers in November 1965.31 Two years later, during the trial of former Arrow Cross Party members, Péter Molnár Gál, the critic who wrote for the party newspaper (Népszabadság), raised the question in connection with the premiere of the drama in the National Theatre: “Is it necessary, over and over again, who knows how many times, to give an artistic form to the horrors?” Referring to the Arrow Cross trial against Vilmos Kröszl and 18 of his accomplices that took place in Zugló between 19 January and 19 April 1969, he gave the following answer:32
An era has ended, but not yet come to completion. It is not resolved, it remained open, like a modern play, and after the ‘swastika curtain’ fell it continued to live disturbingly in the peace that followed. Today, when the National Theatre presents Peter Weiss’s oratorio The Investigation, a similar trial takes place here in Budapest with broken victims and arrogant killers. This strange coincidence is a memento: this glowing evocation is not actually history, it is not the gymnastics of a literatura that has run out of adequate topics, but rather is living actuality.33
It is interesting that Molnár Gál stresses the topical and incomplete nature of past traumas, arguing that the “Terror” (i.e the Holocaust) should rather be forgotten. Although his motivations remain unclear, he might have been alluding to the series of contemporary Hungarian films—all based on literary works—that were released at roughly the same time, films which all revolved around a similar them: the legacy of the traumatic past and the incompleteness of reconciliation.
Trauma, Violence, and the Memories of Perpetrators
In 1964, Tibor Cseres published Hideg napok (“Cold Days”), a novel about the 1942 Novi Sad massacre. Two years later, András Kovács made a film adaptation by the same title. Both met with favorable international reactions and drew attention to the violent raid in Southern Hungary (Bačka).34 The writer’s approach was not one-sided. His focus was not on the perpetrators, but on the complex process of coming to terms with the past, which eventually made the characters realize that they had become complicit in mass murder as cogs in a machine. By focusing on individual responsibility, the book and the film tried to examine how the carefully planned anti-partisan “cleanup operation” escalated into a bloody reprisal against the civilian population. The crimes were clear: innocent people died or suffered physical and psychological injuries which cast a shadow over their entire lives. The question of the liability of the perpetrators was much more problematic. The context in which perpetrators contemplate their experiences in the film is a prison cell in 1945. The characters are all former soldiers who participated in the Novi Sad massacre. They are trying to explain to one another and themselves the details of the events and their own behavior and/or alleged powerlessness. The trial and the impending severe punishments are omnipresent in the prison, but the detainees still make an attempt to soothe their consciences, emphasizing the role of chance in the events. “They are no better than us,” one of them says, “they only have better luck.” In the solitude of the cell they try to give a relatively honest account of their motivations and their responsibility in the escalation of violence. Cseres’ choice of topic was criticized and praised at the same time, which demonstrates the controversial nature of the theme of war crimes in Hungary at the time. Instead of evoking the trauma of the victims, he narrated the events from the perspective of the perpetrators. His approach was, thus, groundbreaking at the time. The novel offered a useful prism through which Hungarian society could confront the Bačka massacre and the criminality of war.
The public discourses on wartime violence, which were partly fueled by literary works (including Cold Days), also led to the organization of actual trials against former policemen and soldiers of the Horthy regime. Critical and journalistic responses to Cold Days framed the debate on the issue of mass murders in the context of a socialist public space.35 Moreover, cooperation with the Yugoslav authorities in addressing the atrocities facilitated a prolonged, relatively open debate about the murders committed by both sides.36 Genuine attempts were made to come to terms with the past through legal means: trials against representatives of the pre-war regime were carried out between 1967 and 1973, and they resulted in lengthy sentences for almost 20 people. Two additional investigations were initiated against two Arrow Cross armored units. While the trials in 1967 met with significant media attention, five years later the events seemed to have lost a great deal of their importance. The past was considered over, so the punishments that were meted out for the crimes were less severe.37 The context for confronting the past was no longer the courtroom, but scholarship. Wartime mass murders were no longer off-limits for Hungarian historical research, and this shift led to a gradual growth in the number of analytical publications on the dark chapters of the war.38
There are some conspicuous similarities between Cold Days and Zoltán Várkonyi’s film Szemtől szembe (“Face to Face,” 1970). The basic situation is very similar. In both films, former comrades meet and share their memories with each other, although in the first case this happens under pressure, in a prison cell before a trial, while in the second, the soldiers reunite at a formal ceremony dedicated to two martyrs 25 years after the tragic events have taken place. In both cases, the choices and responsibilities of the individual come under scrutiny. In the first film, the stakes are much higher, whereas in the second, the recovery of individual self-esteem and respect for others take center stage. There is no threat or menace, the past is over. The former soldiers are merely looking for purification and empathy from their comrades. This is why the director of the local school decides to go to the event, of which he was informed in the news. However, his arrival provokes antagonism rather than empathy. First, he is blamed by everyone for the senseless death of 63 brothers-in-arms and the same number of Soviet soldiers in the war. Although the former captain, Sajbán, was ready to surrender to the advancing Soviet troops towards the end of the war, he failed to order a ceasefire. Moreover, the soldiers in the rifle unit could have liberated a concentration camp in a nearby village if they had been willing to take some risks. However, it gradually becomes apparent that not only the captain, but all of the other people had their own interests and responsibilities, which prevented them from mounting resistance against the retreating German troops. Everybody is guilty. The film does a good job showing the different careers of the “ordinary soldiers” after the war.39 The captain became a school principal, one of the officers became a physician, another one a journalist, and the corporal who sympathized with the communists arrives at the ceremony as deputy minister. But some of the soldiers remained farmers or waiters, and the only soldier who had actually shot a German officer barely survived the Soviet attack and stayed in his village as a poor cemetery keeper. He was the only who did something and tried to protect the members of the Jewish labor unit. In the end, he escaped deportation, though not because of the attempt he made to help the Jews. Although he is the one character who would deserve absolution in the film, he remains an outcast: he lives in absolute solitude in the same village, far away from friends, and he is given no social or political recognition.
Despite their responsibility in the unfolding of the tragic events in their locality, none of the soldiers was taken to court, and only one of them was actually reported to the police: “A dirty fellow dumped on me badly, but I had a good honest Jewish man who pulled me out.” This character is dull and simple-minded, but also brutally honest: he says only what he thinks.40 “In my village not a single Jew remained, even if I wanted to, I could not be angry with anyone.” Justice is not served by legal means, and the soldiers are not condemned morally by their victims either. Although two former labor service conscripts are invited to the 25th anniversary reunion (which would have been highly unlikely in real life), they feel uncomfortable, and they are upset by the attitude of the former soldiers.
The motive of the memory of the unknown soldiers who died for the “enemy”—i.e. for the wartime regime in Hungary—appears very similarly in Face to Face and in Zoltán Fábri’s Plusz-mínusz egy nap (“One Day, More or Less,” 1972). Here, the deputy minister asks if the memorial to the forgotten heroes, the Martyrs’ Tomb, is in good condition. The tormented, traumatized caretaker responds: “Yes, but are you not curious about the others? Here are all 63. I looked after them just out of friendship. Not a lot is spent on them.”
The minute by minute reconstruction of the last day of the events in the film eventually allows the soldiers to recognize one another’s feelings and motivations during a tense situation. They are unable to find a decisive point in time when things went wrong, because the pivotal moment was different for each member of the unit. The captain’s wife asks cynically after the meeting if it made any sense at all, but the question remains unanswered. The husband drives on quietly, and we can see a new town under construction, which can be interpreted as a symbol of the construction of a new country. The act of remembering in the film does not result in coming to terms with the traumas of the past, and it appears to be meaningless. Remembering is portrayed as a burden for the participants in the traumatic events, a legacy that the future is unable to reconcile with the present. Although there is a multiplicity of interpretations of the past, participants are unable to relate to or process its legacy. They either condemn or praise past events. There are no shades of nuance. The conclusion of the films also suggests that attempts at remembering and reconstructing the past do not necessarily result in the processing of traumas, even if the survivors push the need to remember.
Trauma and Responsibility in Zoltán Fábri’s Films
The films by Zoltán Fábri analyzed in this section involve a similar need and compulsion: the need to remember sin and the search for a remedy. This is why the motive of a court trial can be found in all of them. Like Várkonyi and Kovács, Fábri also addressed the issue of individual and collective responsibility in his films. In his film adaptation of György Rónay’s 1963 novel Esti gyors (Evening Express) in 1967, to which he gave the aforementioned title Utószezon, the protagonist commits suicide because of a crisis of conscience.41 In this film, “old-timers” play the main roles. A group of elderly people—a former high court judge, a pharmacist, a general, a teacher and a trader—live their stagnant and harmless lives—as if in a bubble—in a small, quiet town. They are connected to the present only through the daily news. Otherwise they exchange ironic comments about the little time they have left in the world: it is merely “Late Season.” One joke, however, goes horribly wrong: the protagonist gets confused about a phone call (allegedly from the “police”) and about press reports of the Eichmann trial, and he decides to request a court judgement in his own case. Twenty years earlier, he confided in a former classmate, who, as the local police officer in 1944, had accused the owner of the pharmacy and his wife of being Jews. The couple was deported and the main character, Kerekes, never saw them again. His remorse appears deserved. Kerekes demands to be either acquitted or condemned, and he does not seem to care which. He is committed to learning the truth and easing his guilty conscience. However, his desperate attempt to come to terms with the traumatic past fails. The judicial institutions and his friends have no idea whatsoever how to handle the situation. Only one person in the group—the Auschwitz survivor—is willing to condemn him at an exhausting staged “trial,” but even he withdraws his judgement the following day, after having sobered up. Unable to find reconciliation and absolution, Kerekes makes an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself. In the last scenes of the movie he is shown sitting in desperate solitude in the midst of a joyful crowd in the old gentlemen’s club.
The film is unique in the sense that it represents the trauma of the Holocaust in a direct manner: while being chased by old men, Kerekes takes shelter in a cinema where he sees the news about the Eichmann trial and a shocking documentary about the death camps.42 In one of Kerekes’ nightmares, he appears naked in a gas chamber—which resembles phone booths with transparent walls—and dies with the rest of the people in the chamber after the taps are opened. Partly because of the gas chamber scence, Late Season was not received well, unlike Fábri’s previous films. Some critics considered it a total failure and criticized the movie both from a literary and an aesthetic point of view. The complexities of the film will not be analyzed here due to spatial limitations. Only one aspect will be discussed: the controversial casting.
According to Péter György, the movie would have been a decent—albeit not a very successful—attempt at portraying the traumatic past, had the former “Arrow Cross” sympathizer Antal Páger and the “Jewish” Lajos Básti not played the most important characters. The casting, in his opinion, discredited the attempt to confront the past through the film. By choosing these particular actors, he claims, Fábri made the question of social conscience unimportant and venial.
And there was the political-aesthetic lesson, the outstanding artistry of Páger and Básti, which could have been admired by the members of the audience, although they were aware who had played which role in real life. If a Jew can play a former chief police inspector, who after serving his sentence could live quite a calm and excellent life [...], then everything is fine, you do not have to take anything too seriously, then maybe this Eichmann case is not such a serious matter either.43
However, György’s conclusion is somewhat premature. His verdict was made hastily, before he had considered other interpretations; it was perhaps influenced by his general opinion of the memory politics of the era. One might raise the following question concerning his interpretation: to what extent was the reception of the film actually influenced by the personal background of the leading actor? If the audience did indeed interpret the film in the context of Páger’s personal life (a possibility which is discussed in the next section of this article), this would suggest that the director had given the actor a chance to the penance. Does this interpretation hold if one takes into consideration the fact that the role of the former police captain was played by Lajos Básti, a man of Jewish origins? György analyzes Late Season in the context of other cinematic works of the time, while reflecting on the regime’s “devastating identity politics,” which furthered (largely by ignoring) complicity. He claims that although the regime allowed the creation of films addressing the traumatic aspects of the past, the casting could also be perceived as a cynical attempt to belittle the significance of such events. If this was the case, do we need to take into account other actors’ lives when analyzing the films of the Kádár era? If yes, which actors should be considered, and who should be left out? Despite the flaws in György’s argument, it is plausible that the choice of actors shaped perceptions and interpretations of the traumatic past. A more balanced interpretation of the film, however, would refrain from overemphasizing this connection. Zoltán Fábry’s creative autonomy stands beyond all doubt and, as far as Páger is concerned, as a renowned artist, he could have refused the part if he had wanted to do.44 If the moral dilemmas and impotence of the protagonist did, indeed, touch him deeply because of his own personal life history, then one might pose the question: could his involvement in the film be regarded as a sort of “confession”? He was morally culpable and complicit in the crimes (although on a much smaller scale than many others), and this may well have made him feel unceasing remorse. Whatever the motivations Páger had when accepting the part, the sources indicate that the choice of actors was most likely the result of conscious planning, in which the actors’ professionalism played the decisive role. Moreover, Fábri had worked with Páger before in Vízivárosi nyár (“Hard Summer,” 1964) and Húsz óra (“Twenty hours,” 1965).
The Páger Affair
Irrespective of Fábri’s motivations behind casting Páger for the role, the actor’s return to Hungary and his subsequent career epitomizes the politics of memory in the early Kádár era. The most controversial episodes in Páger’s life, like the legacy of the traumatic past, were not discussed openly at the time. As in the case of the fictional characters in the films already discussed, his past was not reconciled with his present, it was merely swept under the carpet. When after many years of background negotiations, Páger eventually returned to Hungary in the autumn of 1956, he was not required to make any public show of atonement. His former villa was even given back to him, and he was able to continue his acting career. Páger’s return to film exemplified the ambivalence of the way Hungarian society confronted with the past at the time. The Politburo did not want to deal with the actor’s past, and it did not want others to deal with it either. It allowed Páger to perform on stage and on the screen, and it perceived him as a “cultural product.” Nobody was supposed to remember or reflect upon Páger’s rise to prominence and his spectacular career before 1945.45 However, the regime’s efforts to bury the darkest chapters of his past were not always successful. In the early autumn of 1956, artists and civilians protested both publicly and in anonymous letters against his return. The outbreak of the revolution six weeks later and the consolidation of the Kádár regime in 1957 made the indignation provoked by Páger’s return completely insignificant. Nonetheless, his past continued to cast shadows on his life and career, despite his growing popularity and artistic successes.
As archival records demonstrate, the chapters of Páger’s former life were never actually forgotten, but they were not discussed publicly either.46 Although he never became a member of the Arrow Cross party, he had had good relationship with representatives of the “extreme-right actors’ group” (László Szilassy, Zita Szeleczky, and others). He had been a member of the Arrow Cross cultural propaganda institution, the “House of Culture,” and he had often played prominent roles in Arrow Cross events, together with Szeleczki. He had been on friendly terms with the former director of the Hungarian National Theatre, Ferenc Kiss, who later was sentenced for war crimes. Due to his relationship with Kiss, Páger most likely had conflicts with prohibited leftist (Communist) or Jewish actors and directors, such as Tamás Major (Director of the National Theater between 1945 and 1962), Lajos Básti (leading actor of the National Theater after the war), and Zoltán Várkonyi (director of dozens of movies and rector of the Budapest Film Academy between 1972 and 1979). By luring Páger back to Hungary, both the Ministry of Interior and the Party leadership hoped to weaken the “fascist emigration” and strengthen Hungary’s reputation by exploiting the propaganda value provided by the return of a first rate actor.47 Doubts about Páger’s conversion seem to have been well founded. In a surprisingly frank letter to his childhood friend, which was actually addressed to the Secret Service, he openly expressed his anti-Semitic views. He claimed that while he was never a communist, he had always helped the poor, the “barefoot,” and that he was forced to leave the country in spite of the fact that he had been adored by his audience.
What would have happened to me if I had stayed at home and had fallen into the hands of the baited Jews? Maybe they were my only enemies. And so they remained. They’ve put on me the ‘hump,’ it is because of them that I do not take a single step to the stage and to making movies, because they are the powerful ones; whatever they want to happen will happen.48
The former editor of the weekly Hétfői Hírlap recalled in his memoirs that after Páger’s repatriation daily papers at first did not dare comment on the event, and they only published the official news agency communiqué.49 The press, however, soon picked up the theme: “A great sensation was created. It turned out that in that political atmosphere a one-line piece of news could be at least as sensational as a bold political article.”50 The newspaper Népszava, for example, openly criticized press reports that followed the official line too closely. The author acknowledged the importance of granting forgiveness to Páger: “It is correct and democratic that our government unobtrusively permitted the repatriation of a famous actor who before our liberation committed serious crimes against our nation with his anti-democratic behavior.”51 Yet, while he agreed that the new state was stable enough to allow for such gestures, he also highlighted that such a move could send out ambivalent signals: “the people who have been punished in Hungary could also expect to be boosted.” In a concluding remark the article suggested toning down the festive atmosphere provoked by Páger’s return in the media. While blatant criticism of the party’s policies could seem surprising, it should be noted that such discussions took place only a few months before the revolution of 1956. Due to the activities of the Petőfi Circle52 and the resignation of the Stalinist party leader Mátyás Rákosi, the party’s grip over the press loosened. The unusually critical reactions, which were directed partly against Páger and partly against the Party leaders, had a common theme: the actor was welcome in Hungary as long as he worked hard, was modest, and his acting benefitted the domestic audience. The lessons of the “Páger-fever” were summarized by one detective two weeks after Páger’s arrival:
On the one hand, the Páger-case is evidence of the fact that the protagonists of the events of 1944 or its masterminds are still unfavorably received by wide circles of society, and not only by the Jews. On the other hand, it demonstrates that in wide circles of society a strong aversion has developed to people who have emigrated to the West, […] to those who lived well while we suffered at home, starved, and rebuilt the country. If they want to come back, let them come, but they should remain silent, and they should not dream of playing a leading role in this country.53
Since Páger was willing to play by the rules, his anti-Semitism was not mentioned and he was not stigmatized for his wartime political views. This strategy bore fruit, and at the end of September, he wrote to his family with a tone of relief: “This week I had a lot of Jewish visitors. Among others, yesterday, Lajos Basthi [sic!] came to see me. He generously offered me his services. From all this I see that the government has done something to stop the attacks.”54
The short biography of Páger by Molnár Gál, entitled A Páger-ügy (“The Páger Affair, 1988) and published two years after the actor’s death, addresses his political engagement in the 1940s and his apparently successful but controversial reintegration into the socialist system.55 However, Molnár Gál argues that despite Páger’s successful artistic career, he was not entirely accepted by Hungarian society. Like the fictional characters in the films of the early Kádár era, Páger never truly confronted his past in public, so he was never granted total absolution. According to Molnár Gál, a good opportunity for the admission of his mistakes came in 1967 at the Venice Biennale, when Late Season was enrolled for the film festival. However, the opportunity was missed. The film provoked public indignation in Venice, mostly because Israel criticized the director for offering the protagonist’s role to Páger. Fábri tried to defend his actor by saying that “he had cleared himself to the satisfaction of the authorities,” but to no avail. Variety magazine, for example, labelled the film the “Hungarian Jud Süss.”56 It claimed that the inclusion of the film in the festival was a scandal, and it criticized the Kádár regime, characterizing it as cynical for having allowed Páger to play a leading role. Despite its controversial reception, the film was awarded the Golden Lion for Páger’s performance. Molnár Gál argues convincingly that the award should be considered an act of “cultural diplomacy reparation” on behalf of the organizers.57 At the same time, the film’s problematic reception—scandal versus award—symbolizes Páger’s unfinished integration into postwar society and encapsulates the failures of the attempts to come to terms with the legacy of the Holocaust in contemporary Europe.
The timing of the screening adds another layer of complexity to the interpretation of the film. Late Season was screened in February 1967, just a few weeks after the beginning of a trial against a group of war criminals in Hungary. While there is no evidence for a direct link between the two events, the timing was probably not coincidental. The topic of the persecution of the Jews was addressed in public discourse and cultural products with growing frequency in the second half of the 1960s. As the films analyzed earlier demonstrate, personal responsibility, accountability, and legal cases were prominent themes in cultural representations of the traumatic past at the time, and sometimes these representations referred to or were even inspired by actual trials against former Nazi collaborators.
Absolution through Confession: Pillar of Salt
Although criticisms of Fábri’s casting decisions were not totally unfounded, Late Season was not the first film in which the “Arrow Cross” Páger appeared in a similarly controversial role. Sóbálvány (“Pillar of Salt,” 1958), a rather didactic and duly forgotten film directed by Zoltán Várkonyi, also featured the actor, who plays a character who makes questionable moral choices in wartime Hungary. The protagonist of the film is a doctor, who, during the siege of Budapest in 1945 continues to operate on wounded people in a poorly equipped hospital. He admits a persecuted stranger to the ward, but fails to intervene when the Nazis arrest the suspicious man, who is killed during a failed escape attempt. After the war, the doctor is reported for having failed to rescue the man who was supposedly a communist. The film focuses on remorse and follows the development of the protagonist’s character. The plot culminates in the doctor’s confession before the court, resulting in complete moral purification, and thus, an overture to a new life. In one of the most fascinating scenes in the film, the doctor is required to reenact the escape and impersonate the Nazi soldier who was present at the time. When confronted with the consequences of his moral choices, the doctor realizes that had he shown even a small degree of empathy, he could have saved the man pursued by the Nazis, but his own indifference sealed the man’s fate.
Despite the doctor’s acknowledgement of his own culpability in the tragic events, he initially remains reluctant to take the blame. As a young Communist functionary put it, “You see, you are just like that! Taking some, but not all of the responsibility.” However, he assumes full responsibility in the end, but not all of the characters in the film are capable of doing so. Halfway through the film, the well-meaning but conceited, alcoholic hospital director offers a fatalistic explanation of his own indifferent attitude: “Hungary has been a country of anonymous denunciations for centuries. […] They want to snuff you out, they have already taken care of me. They place their own men everywhere. Now, it’s your turn.” He continues: “Do you want your truth from ‘them’ [the Communists]? […] To get through! The question is who manages to survive?” The doctor, who comes from a middle-class background, also realizes that the aim of the new political system is to get rid of him. The desperate physician eventually understands that if he fails to muster the courage to face his own demons and tackle the legacy of the traumatic past, he will fall. However, the new regime did not intend to eliminate the adherents of the old order. Its goal was to make them admit their past mistakes and, in doing so, consolidate the social base of the new state. Or to put it in simpler terms: to convert fascists into anti-fascists. The idea that the confession of past mistakes could lead to absolution and integration into the new society is expressed in a less significant scene, in which the new communist hospital director tells the doctor who is ready to convert that “the memories differ, but our future is the same.”
The Impossibility of Reconciliation: One Day, More or Less
Plusz-mínusz egy nap (“One Day, More or Less,” 1973), which was based on a short story by Ádám Bodor by the same title, differs from the rest of the films analyzed in this article, as it portrays a more thorough and desperate—yet, tragically unsuccessful—attempt by a perpetrator to come to terms with his own shameful past. The main character has actually served a long prison sentence for his crimes, but he still decides to return to the scene of his violent deeds, where as a sergeant he killed some of the local villagers and had their houses burnt down during the war. No matter how many years (25!) he has spent in prison and in forced labor camps, he is committed to reconciling with the locals. Upon his release, the former soldier, Baradla, feels empty and disinterested, and he even escapes to the penal compound once. The guards on duty eventually become his companions, and they read out the unopened letters which had been written to him many years before. However, it is only when his former comrade in the penalty battalion, Simon Obrád, is mentioned that he starts paying attention and decides to visit his friend—who during the days of the uprising of 1956 sent him a letter. It is clear from the outset that the obsessive, nervous wreck will be unable to start a normal, civilian life. He has lost his interest in the mundane aspects of life: he even remains disinterested when the lively Obrád offers him his own girlfriend.
Everything irritates and annoys the gloomy, aloof, introverted former war criminal. There is only one thing he is interested in: meeting the villagers. He returns with his comrade to the village looking for survivors, but the little village cemetery only has graves dedicated to ‘our martyrs’: people who were killed in October 1944. He tries to find the graves of his fallen comrades who fought for Horthy: “And ours?” he asks, “I cannot find them.” “[Their graves are] unmarked; as is fitting for the heroic dead.” They eventually recognize the innkeeper, who wants to remember neither them nor the events. He feels extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed, and he is clearly afraid of the two visitors. When the increasingly drunk strangers propose a “re-trial,” everyone, including the innkeeper, rejects the idea and denies remembering anything. Despite the foul-mouthed pleas of Baradla—“Here is an encounter, we need to talk about something. We have common memories, we must understand one another”—the villagers walk out of the “meeting.” Only one man, the son of one of the victims, appears in the pub, but he attacks the visitors with a hammer and then attacks the policeman who suddenly shows up. (The young man is finally restrained by the others.) Although as the relative of a victim he could take the moral high ground, he has to face serious legal consequences because of attempted homicide of public officials: “Miska, why? – Because I’m in a good mood, little git! As if you had not stayed for an hour in front of the window!” and then he spits in the policeman’s eyes. After the travelers are warned by the police to leave the pub, they go to the house where they were quartered during the war and meet the descendants of their former hosts. The owners and their tipsy company—the postman, the priest, and the head of the farmers’ cooperative—do not want to believe what happened 25 years earlier. The priest offers to help, but in vain. When he suggests that “I’ll look for this fire in the church archives,” Obrád rejects the offer: “It is not worth mentioning, Reverend, only what remains in memory in true, am I right? [...] As if it never happened.”
Despite his desperate efforts to find reconciliation, Baradla finds no relief, and his attempts to engage with the traumatic chapters of his past fail completely. He is willing to forgive the villagers for having killed six of his soldiers, but nobody wants to talk to him, nobody wants to remember, as if they were indifferent to the violent events of the past. Written, archival records of the fire do not help him either, and he eventually disappears from the scene. The viewer is under the impression that he is going to kill himself, but he vents his frustration on Obrád instead, eventually killing him. The fates of the two friends and their fellow soldiers are completely intertwined in the film: they hold on to each other through thick and thin, despite the presence of both good and evil, loyalty and betrayal in their relationship. The impossibility of attaining reconciliation, however, gradually destroys the bond between the main characters. Normalcy is impossible to achieve without coming to terms with the traumatic past. When Baradla kills his friend and burns his body, the outskirts of the village burst into flames again, as they did 25 years earlier. As we learn at the end of the film, the traumatic past was not actually forgotten by the victims, irrespective of their claims throughout the film. A leisurely morning chat between police officers reveals that the villagers remembered the events very well, and they considered the former sergeant a sadist.
The films analyzed in this article all deal with psychological conflicts, attempts to search for moral truth, and the desperate endeavor to provoke collective remembering. It is by no means accidental that films representing moral reconciliation were produced in a period that was famous for sensational war crime trials. Out of twenty films dealing with topics such as the persecution of Jews and communists before 1945, forced collectivization, the expropriation of private property, the victims of Communist party purges after 1945, and so on, ten were produced in the 1960s, four in the following decade, and the remaining six in the 1980s, when it become possible to talk about subjects which earlier had been taboo.58 A common theme in all of these movies was the impossibility of reconciling the present with the crimes of the past. The victims of the past are mostly portrayed as a burden for the future. Victims are represented as pitiful human beings, whose gloomy souls spoil their social surroundings. Their moral conflicts provoke confusion and incomprehension, and their moral superiority triggers irritation and repugnance.
These films tested the aesthetic as well as the discursive boundaries of the early Kádár period. The sensitive topics they addressed were generally avoided in public discourse at the time. They portrayed the difficult and controversial aspects of “historical justice,” and they offered artistic examinations of social conscience with regards to the traumatic events of World War II. Therefore, they testify to the gradual revival of individual and collective remembering in Hungarian society at the time, and to the public articulation of new forms of memory. By offering complex and multi-layered representations of the legacies of the traumatic past, they revealed various aspects of the truth to which the audience could relate and with which people could identify. Unlike schematic, official representations, most of the films analyzed in this article transgressed binary representations of the historical legacy that portrayed the process of coming to terms with the past as a struggle between the forces of the “bad” past and the “good” future. Although crimes were usually (but not exclusively) attributed to the bygone era, the films also offered subtle criticisms of the new regime and its tendency to remain emotionally reticence and trivialize or conceal sensitive issues. The legitimacy of the system’s myths of origins was questioned in the “late justice” films, as the protagonists’ individual fates and personal tragedies were shown in the context of the traumatic turning points of recent Hungarian history (World War II and the Holocaust). Despite the new regime’s claims to moral superiority, peace and reconciliation remains unattainable for the characters in the films, as their social environments remain incapable of facilitating healing. The drama that takes place on an individual level seems absurd and grotesque in a society that is characterized by general indifference towards and disinterest in the traumatic legacy of the past.
Historical Archives of the State Security Services (ÁBTL)
K-587. T dosszié “Pacsirta”
M-17376/1 sz. “Cyránó”
M-18658 sz. “Jenei”
M-30841 sz. “Pesti Péter”
Open Society Archives (OSA)
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1 The movies in chronological order: Pillar of Salt (Sóbálvány), Dir. ZoltánVárkonyi, 1958; Cold Days (Hideg napok), Dir. András Kovács, 1966; Late Season (Utószezon) Dir. Zoltán Fábri, 1966; Face to Face (Szemtől szembe) Dir. Zoltán Várkonyi, 1970; One Day More or Less (Plusz-mínusz egy nap), Dir. Zoltán Fábri, 1972.
We wanted to see but The Dead Return (A holtak visszajárnak, Dir. KárolyWiedermann, 1968), did not find available copy at the Hungarian Film Institute. The creators of the crime story were inspired by the Hungarian Nazi law suits which dragged on into the 1960s.
2 Lénárt and Paksa, “Kisnyilasok a Belügyminisztérium aktáiban,” 321–25.
3 Signed by Hungary and the Soviet Union in Moscow on 20 January 1945, and again in Act V/1945.
4 Curiously, the people’s courts did not cite existing laws on political responsibility or earlier precedents. The idea of the international accountability of defeated countries declared responsible for the war arose after World War I, but was never applied. Yet in Hungary there had been legislation (Act I/1849, Act XXIII/1919) according to which revolutionary or war criminals could be called to account.
5 On the people’s courts see Lukács, A Magyar népbírósági jog; Bernáth, Justitia tudathasadása; Szakács and Zinner, A háború; Pritz, A Bárdossy-per; Karsai, “The People’s Courts,” 137–51.
6 The data is found in Szakács and Zinner, A háború.
7 Minutes of the 30 March 1966 meeting of the Coordination Committee 3.
8 Barna and Pető, A politikai igazságszolgáltatás, 116–27.
9 Bibó, “Zsidókérdés Magyarországon,” 481–89.
10 See Frojimovics, Szétszakadt történelem, and Laczó, “Szemtanúk, memoárírók, monográfusok,” 355–72.
11 In 1952–55 as part of the anti-Zionist political campaign in the Eastern Bloc, several Jewish leaders were sentenced to prison. Some of them did not survive the severe conditions and tortures to which they were afflicted while in the custody.
12 Mihály Francia Kiss was sentenced to death in 1948, but due to his escape, he was not executed until 1957. About his trial see Rév, “Ellenforradalom,” 42–54.
13 Erős, “A zsidó identitás,” 53–58); Erős, Kovács, and Lévai, “Hogyan jöttem rá, hogy zsidó vagyok?” 129–44; Kovács and Vajda, Mutatkozás: zsidó identitástörténetek.
14 A typical example of one such character is István Szijjártó—played by György Pálos—in the immensely popular film Tizedes meg a többiek [The Corporal and the Others, 1965]. Szijjártó represents a Jewish Communist sympathizer who escapes from the labor service.
15 Surányi, Minarik, Sonnenschein és a többiek; Zombory, Lénárt, and Szász, “Elfeledett szembenézés,” 245–56.
16 The history of the Hungarian Jewry, Jewish Hungarian identity, and Jewish Hungarian memory became the subject of social science and historical research only in the 1980s.
17 Israel’s and West Germany’s foreign policy and domestic criticism were recurrent topics in the Hungarian press. One of the subjects of interest was the restitution of the German–Hungarian relations.
18 The news was printed in the party’s daily newspaper, though hardly in a prominent place. The code name merits notice. “Official Summons: All Hungarian citizens who earlier had permanent residence status in Germany and who, for political, racial, ore religious reasons, suffered persecution can make claims for compensation. The General Banking and Trust Company provides detailed information. Budapest. V. Dorottya utca 7. (Telephone: 186-505).” Népszabadság, January 7, 1956, 4.
19 Kárpáti, “Ilyenek voltunk.”
20 Cf. Andrews, “Poppies, Tommies and Remembrance,” 104–12.
21 Nora, “L’histoire au péril de la politique.” 54.
22 Két pisztolylövés portrays a war criminal who pretends to be a Jewish survivor, and in Kémeri the protagonist is an attorney in the interwar period with a Jewish background.
23 Karsai and Pintér, Darutollasok; Karsai, A berchtesgadeni sasfészektől.
24 Lévai, A fekete SS “fehér báránya.”
25 The Kossuth Publishing House edited a book in a very similar format entitled The Trial against Arrow Cross Party Unit in Zugló in 1967. The writers, József Sólyom and László Szabó (a police officer and a journalist), emphasized the brutality of the accused without reflecting on the social context.
26 Lackó, Nyilasok, nemzetiszocialisták; Karsai and Benoschofsky, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen.
27 Gershenson, “The Holocaust on Soviet Screens,” 110–16.
28 For instance Keszi, Elysium, which was adapted to film by Erika Szántó in 1986; Várkonyi, Kenyér és kereszt, 232–43; and a documentary novel inspired by the trial against former Arrow Cross members: Várkonyi, A tanú.
29 Dr. Josef Mengele was the most frequently mentioned figure among the criminals of war by Hungarian Holocaust survivors. See Vági, “Az orvos tragédiája,” 9–10.
30 Fulbrook, German National Identity, 71–72.
31 The drama was staged at the same time in East and West Berlin (19 October 1965), followed by a number of European premiers.
32 Lénárt, “Tömeggyilkosok civilben,” 208–67.
33 Péter Molnár Gál, “A vizsgálat: Peter Weiss drámája a Nemzeti Színházban,” Népszabadság, February 5, 1967.
34 Cseres, Hideg napok. The novel and movie focused on the Novi Sad raid, which is why many people think that the massacre was limited to that town.
35 György István, “A kormányzóúr megmásítja,” Népszabadság, November 23, 1969, 4.
36 Pál E. Fehér, “Könyvekről. Cseres Tibor: Bizonytalan század,” Népszabadság, October 3, 1968, 7.
37 Lénárt, “A megtalált ellenség,” 355–95.
38 Buzási, Az újvidéki “razzia”; Sajti, Délvidék 1941–1944; idem, Impériumváltások, revízió és kisebbség; Pihurik, “Magyarok és szerbek a Délvidéken,” 83–102.
39 Rainer M., “Önéletrajzi reprezentáció,” 192–205.
40 The same actor, Ádám Szirtes, plays a very similar role in the movies Cold Days and Face to Face, see below.
41 The film version of the first Hungarian musical (Egy szerelem három éjszakája, or “Three Nights of a Love,” 1961), which was based on the tragic fate of the great Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti (a Catholic who was defined by Hungary’s Jewish laws as Jewish, put in a forced labor unit during the war, and killed in the last months of the fighting by the Hungarian militiamen, who regarded the internees in the units as political prisoners rather than fellow countrymen), was presented to audiences the same year.
42 It is a pseudo news report, excerpts of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) were inserted into the pictures taken in the courtroom during Eichmann’s trial. These shots were not screened in Hungary before Fábri’s film. Zombory, Lénárt, and Szász, “Elfeledett szembenézés,” 250.
43 Péter, Apám helyett, 264
44 Zombory, Lénárt, and Szász, “Elfeledett szembenézés,” 254.
45 Historical Archives of the State Security Services (ÁBTL) K-587. T “Pacsirta” [Lark] dossier 192.
46 ABTL M-17376/1. The dossier of agent codename “Cyrano.” ÁBTL M-18658. “Jenei” dossier. ABTL M-30841. “Pesti Péter” dossier,
47 ABTL K-587/T d. 24.
48 Páger’s letter to his friend, December 28, 1955–January 3, 1956. ABTL K-587-t “Pacsirta” ill. ”Pécsi” d. 1-8/105 pages.
49 Czímer, “Páger Antal hazatérése,” 18.
50 Ibid., 18.
51 Népszava, September 4, 1956.
52 The Petőfi Circle was a debate forum for young communists in 1956.
53 ABTL K-587/T dossier, 166.
54 ABTL K-587/T dossier, 199.
55 Molnár Gál, A Páger-ügy.
56 Curtis, “Israel Incensed,” 172.
57 The film won the Cineforum 67 prize “for the humane and lively language in which grotesque elements do not neutralize the high principles and for the confession about individual responsibility and the statement against violence and intolerance.” “Több kitüntetést kapott az Utószezon Velencében,” Magyar Nemzet, September 9, 1967.
58 Bezsenyi and Lénárt, “‘Itt maguknál öröm lehet’,” 126–29.