Friday 21 October 2016

The puncstorta jelly roll was frosty

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, a working class revolt against a 'communist' state. Workers and students declared a general strike and workers' councils sprung up across the country. In cities they armed themselves and fraternised with the troops, but were eventually crushed by Soviet tanks. Hungary '56 was an example, last seen 20 years before at the time of the Spanish Civil War, of the working class reaching for power, and taking place in one of the 'workers' states'. It showed an alternative to capitalism and Soviet communism and galvanised many, including myself, towards revolutionary politics. Here is my account of that year from 'Left Field'.

In October 1956 demonstrations broke out across Hungary, demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The government fell and Imre Nagy became Prime Minister in the middle of a revolution. Workers and students set up militias; troops tore off their insignia and joined them on the barricades. Police were killed at street corners, as well as some Russian soldiers. It seemed that the few remaining Soviet troops would withdraw. But on 4th November they returned in large numbers. The workers and students only had small arms and Molotov cocktails. Thousands were slaughtered. Lucky ones fled. My father and mother found homes for two of them, a young couple, Lorencz and Ester. They arrived just before Christmas. Lorencz stayed with us and Ester went to the Schields’s, my parents’ bridge partners. My father told Mr Schield that, as refugees from Hitler, they had a duty to return the favour. I was fascinated by Lorencz’s stories of how he and his fellow fighters had climbed onto the Soviet T-34 tanks and hurled petrol bombs inside. How they had lost many comrades and how grateful they were to have a new home, thanks to my parents. When Ester came to visit her boyfriend, they would cook goulash, which made a change from my mother’s steak and kidney pie. They were always cheerful, but it was only a front. I remember waking at night to hear Lorencz sobbing in his room. After leaving us, they went on to qualify as dentists, marry and settle down in Kent. Every Christmas they would send us a card. Ten years after they’d arrived in this country, they rang my parents and said they wanted to visit. They turned up in a Rolls- Royce. My father watched as they turned in to our drive. ‘Betty, you answer the door.’ He pointed at the car. ‘Look at that.’ ‘It’s a Rolls-Royce, Ian,’ my mother said. ‘They have done well.’ He slammed his study door shut. My mother welcomed them. ‘Ian’s been very busy this week. He’ll join us soon.’ She left Ester and Lorencz with my sisters and me. I could hear her whispering loudly outside his door, ‘Ian, come out now. We have guests. Ian, do you hear me?’ While I gobbled up the delicious puncstorta jelly roll they’d brought, the conversation was as frosty as the cake’s pink icing. My father was disappointed at their success. I suppose he expected them to be revolutionary dentists in Sevenoaks.”

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