One could hear in Hungary two entirely contradictory statements on the Soviet Union until the end of World War II: (1) that the Communists imprisoned, tortured and killed the Christians (especially the clerics); and (2) that there was full freedom of religion and the church had lost only her secular power.
Having been in an induction center during the war, I questioned the returning soldiers who unanimously confirmed the first statement: namely. the extermination of Christianity and misuse of churches as warehouses or stables.
Under increasing German pressure, Stalin had to change his tactics with respect to the church to secure foreign aid, to gain the moral support of the church, and to win Western friends to the cause of Communism. The strategy remained the same; only the tactics changed, and the inward destruction of the church began.
During the occupation of Hungary, special orders were given to the looting and pillaging Soviet troops to hold the churches and clerics in exceptional respect. Clerics were invited to continue their work, and the authorities were to grant financial aid to the church just as before. Nevertheless the Soviet troops violated large numbers of the Hungarian women, including nuns, deaconesses and wives of ministers. I have direct knowledge of the following cases: A nun of Siklos was delivered of her baby in the Mohacs County Hospital. Three Lutheran deaconesses were violated in Budapest, one of them contracting syphilis. The wife of a Reformed minister also contracted a violent infection of syphilis. Bishop Baron Apor was shot to death in his heroic attempt to prevent the violation of forty high school girls.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
It is imperative that the political situation following the Soviet occupation of the country be depicted in order to comprehend what did happen to the church herself. With the Soviet troops, 160 Moscow-trained Hungarian Communists returned from the Soviet Union to re-establish the Communist Party. The Party was made up of a few old Communists, adventurers, criminals, Nazis (to escape the retaliation) and Jews (partly through gratitude, partly because of a false feeling of insecurity). Their indoctrination took three years. Meanwhile, other really democratic parties obtained permission to re-establish their organizations, having been outlawed during the German occupation. They were free in any insubstantial matter but Soviet interference immediately occurred as soon as any essential question emerged. Their mere existence was useful for the Soviet Union: (1) for the Soviet Union could refer to them as the evidence of fulfilling her obligation to the West; (2) while permitting the organization of a few parties, the whole political life of the country remained under Soviet control; (3) the non-Communist parties had to carry out Soviet orders, thus the Communist Party avoided unpopular activities. In other words the Leninist doctrine prevailed: first democracy, next proletarian dictatorship.
Parallel to the development of the Communist Party, the disorganization of other parties went forward. The Communists declared the leaders of the other parties to be rightist reactionaries, and their own parties had to expel them. People in any leading position were compelled to enter the Communist Party. Otherwise they not only lost their position, but could not work for years. All these were performed according to Lenin’s tactics, namely, the Communist Party must not fight openly against all its enemies. “Pick out the main enemy and overcome that in alliance with the rest of your enemies. Having overcome your first enemy go on one by one in the same way.” Thus every non-Communist party was dissolved in three years and the Communist Party remained alone on the political scene of Hungary.
Exactly the same principle was applied to the church. Dissatisfied persons and groups were encouraged and bribed to attack the leaders of their denominations. While the church did not get permission to edit all her former weeklies and magazines, such groups were much favored and got not only permission but financial aid at the same time. Their frightened leaders were repeatedly forced to declare their loyalty to the people’s democracy and the Communist Party killed two birds with one stone, namely, the statements won friends for the Communist Party and enemies for the church leaders as well. The bishops and seniors (elected for ten years) were both attacked and enticed by Communist newspapers and by functionaries of the Communist Party. “No more trouble, Sir, just take a definite stand for democracy and peace”…and one circular was issued after the other. One of them suggested the resignation of those elders who were engaged in politics antagonistic to the Communist Party. This resulted in the ousting of the educated elders, and the church was maimed by losing her most capable laity. An atmosphere of constant fear was created by the political police. One might read day after day about “conspiracies” as scores of educated people were arrested, tortured, beaten and imprisoned from five to twenty years. Many of them were hanged or died of maltreatment. Their corpses were cremated or destroyed by concentrated sulfuric acid.
In each case of “conspiracy” the aristocracy, the old army, police and clergy were equally represented. The Communist Party endeavored to prove through this means the old Communist accusation, that religion was nothing else but “opium” (given to the workers by the capitalists for the sake of easier exploitation), and clerics were simply agents of capitalism. Consequently, clerics were always charged with political “crimes.” They were tortured and beaten, in certain instances treated with mescaline (a drug which causes artificial schizophrenia) until they confessed things that they had never done. Cardinal Mindszenty’s case is too well known. Roman Catholic Archbishop Grosz had to share the primate’s fate. Only God knows the actual figures of bow many Roman Catholic priests and monks were imprisoned or executed. I know of people living near the prison of the military department of the political police who witnessed the hanging of nuns. Bishop Turoczi, president of Christian Endeavor in the Lutheran Church, was sentenced to five years for supporting the Finns when the Soviet Union waged war against them in 1939–40. Bishop Ordas, vice president of the World Alliance of the Lutheran Churches, and Rev. Kekken also served prison terms for “smuggling currency,” but actually for opposing the secularization of the Lutheran elementary schools and high schools. Dr. Vatai, a private docent of theology, and Dr. Geza De Kadar, a young lawyer and leader of the Soli Deo Gloria student organization, were sentenced to three years. Dr. Count L. Teleki, the president of the YMCA, was released only during the revolution in 1956 and was arrested immediately thereafter. Rev. Pogyor, a minister to the YMCA, died after about ten years of imprisonment. Prof. Dr. Makkai, former bishop in Transylvania (now belonging to Romania with half a million Hungarian Reformed people), Dr. D. Fonyad of Monor, former minister to the Soli Deo Gloria Alliance, and Dr. L. Dobrossy of Szombathely, former missionary to Moslem Turks in Bulgaria, were also arrested.
Significantly enough, the secularization of the elementary schools and high schools took place overnight as one of the last acts of the non-Communist Parliament shortly before the Communist take-over. Naturally it was demanded by the Communist Party, and the leaders of the democratic parties had to yield. The teachers were welcomed by the State, if they conformed to the people’s democracy. Those who did not do so could not find jobs for about a year; latcr they might work as unskilled workers with bricklayers. By the way, that has been the prospect for everyone who openly refused to conform to the basic principles of the “People’s Democracy.” The only exception was made to doctors and engineers, who are desperately needed.
All religious education in school was consequently abolished, and children who attended Sunday school were persecuted, often being prevented from gaining secondary education. Parents who sent their children to Sunday school lost their positions in many instances.
All the above mentioned, well-designed campaigns of the Communist Party were precisely performed by the time they overthrew even the semblance of legality and announced that the “People’s Democracy” is, in fact, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
THE SEDUCTION OF THE CHURCH
Meanwhile there was an insidious attempt to win the clerics over to the cause of the “people’s democracy.” Functionaries of the Communist Party by enticement, bribery and threats made the clerics realize that they had to choose between the support of the so-called “great constructive work” of the Communist Party or resignation from their ministry. Rev. Gyula Nagy, another minister to the YMCA. resigned and became an electrician.
The government sought concordats or agreements with the various denominations. People were first hopeful that the period of anarchy and complete confusion had come to an end, but no sooner had the delegation of the Reformed (Presbyterian) Church engaged in negotiations than it turned out that the word agreement means absolute surrender in the Communist dictionary.
One of the four synods of the Reformed Church had to merge into another, thus the Communist Party got rid of Bishop Dr. A. Enyedy. Bishop Dr. L. Ravasz, the president of the General Assembly, the religious genius, former professor of homiletics, the reformer of Hungarian preaching, the vice president of the World Alliance of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, had to choose between resignation and arrest. He was replaced by Rev. Bereczky (a former evangelist, and spokesman of the resistance movement to Admiral Horthy during World War II). who proved to be the Hungarian Niemoller, that is, he was as weak against the Communists as he had been firm against the Nazis. Bishop Dr. Imre Revesz, the famous church historian, was replaced by Dr. J. Peter, former assistant minister to the Bethesda Hospital and later secretary to the presidents of Hungary in the late forties. First he had to be elected as a minister and a few days later was elected as the bishop of the “Calvinist Rome,” that is, Debrecen. Both lay presidents of the aforementioned synods were sentenced to long imprisonment. Therefore, Mr. R. Kiss, Undersecretary of State for Home Affairs, a member of the Social Democratic Party, and Dr. F. Erdei, Minister of Home Affairs, a writer and well-known infidel, so-called “fellow-traveller” of the Communist Party, were “elected” as presidents of the synods. Election means in the Communist dictionary that they have their own nominee, and he must be elected by all means. Either the Communist Party frightens all the other nominees by threatening them with jail if they will not withdraw, or the State Department for Church Affairs does not confirm the election. I know of only one single case when the Kirk Session (made up of workers) did not accept the nominee of the State. As the Communist Party did not want to put these workers in jail, they eventually got a fine Christian minister.
All the seniors (heads of the counties) were screened, and many of them were forced to resign sooner or later, being threatened with the deprivation of their pensions. Subsequently, all the ministers were screened as to whether they accepted the “people’s democracy.” Elderly ministers had to retire and live on the equivalent of $15 a month; young ministers had to leave the ministry. The same happened to anyone who refused to take the oath on the Communist constitution of Hungary. Ministers were unexpectedly and repeatedly screened and had to resign if they did not conform to the official line of the new bishops. This was the case of Rev. De Boruss, who became a lamp-shade maker rather than bow. Dr. S. Kalman, a dedicated senior, was forced into one of the worst congregations in the country, where he and his old wife literally starved. Senior L. Bako of Szeged had to go into a remote village. Rev. K. Dobos, son-in-law of the late Bishop Agoston (head of the Hungarian Reformed. Church in Yugoslavia), a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus, was also sent into a remote village. Rev. De Farkas of Kaposvar had to retire when he was only 45 years old.
Till then, the worst part of the ministers—a small minority—realized that their great chance had arrived. They outbade each other in declaring conformity and loyalty to the impetus of the huge and constructive work of the “people’s democracy,” that is, to the Communist Party. The Communist Party willingly accepted their services as informers and executors of its policy. People call them peace-ministers, peace-priests, peace·bishops, for their favorite topic is not the Gospel but “peaceful co-existence,” which simply means to yield to any Soviet demand. The greater a traitor one is, the larger the congregation that has to elect him. Just another example: The senior of Budapest, Rev. Fekete, knew that an elder formerly was a rightist. When the session did not want to accept the senior’s nominee, he threatened that elder with the political police. The elder committed suicide and the nominee was elected.
A minister, a close fr iend of mine, said once, “Speaking with my superiors, I always feel that in fact I speak with a representative of the political police.” Rev. Trombitas, a senior near Budapest, received an assistant minister who complained of being unable to accept the policy of the bishops. The senior confided that he was not able either. In a few weeks, Senior Trombitas had to retire and the assistant pastor, Rev. Mezei, became his successor. Senior Toth of Szekszard declined to resign when Bishop Bereczky demanded his resignation. Next morning, he yielded to the political police…Senior A. Komjathy, a favorite of Bishop Bereczky, got the following instruction after his election: “Let the ministers speak for half a year until you learn their political conviction. Then you may start purging.”
There was a major attempt to out-vote Bishop Bereczky. The political police, however, arrested Rev. B. Pap of Kareag, the head of the plot (who had his post-graduate training in Princeton) and he has not been released since then. Senior Szabo of Budapest had to go into a small village near the Soviet border.
The intimidated members of the General Assembly, many of them active traitors, then voted for the closing down of two of our four seminaries. Both the seminary in Sarospatak and the one in Papa were approximately 400 years old. The synod of Papa offered to guarantee all the expenses of the seminary for the pretext was financial. The seminary of Sarospatak was a center of revival, and that was unbearable to the Communist Party. The same session of the General Assembly also voted for the disbanding of our deaconesses and deacons.
All the Christian organizations were dissolved. For example, the Christian Endeavor was branded as an agency I)f American spies. The Soli Deo Gloria student alliance was charged with rightist policy. The YMCA and YWCA were declared as “unnecessary” by the peace-bishops. The Society for Foreign Missions and the Good Shepherd Jewish Mission were also dissolved. Approximately 50 orphanages and old people’s homes of the Reformed Church were secularized. All the Christian publishing houses were secularized, too. There is no religious literature edited, except one or two books of the peace·bishops glorifying the regime. There is only one religious weekly, the Reformatus Egyhaz (Reformed Church). Ministers or priests must not visit hospitals or prisons. Prisoners were deprived of their Bibles right away. There are no Bibles or hymnbooks available, for there is no paper for books like that. A dying person in a hospital may call a cleric if he can write an application.
Every minister is con6ned to his own congregation and must not preach anywhere else. It is almost impossible to have a guest-speaker, for he must have the permission of the senior of the country. The latter is responsible for the guest-speaker. As a result of this restriction, there are practically no revival meetings any longer. There is some possibility for Sunday school, but the children run the risk of later deprivation of secondary education. Also, it is held in cold church buildings in the winter. To touch the teenager is the greatest offense. Men and women serve prison terms for pursuing religious education in private homes. Christian students are either barred from college education or expelled, as it occurred in the College of Horticulture in Budapest to 11 students in the early fifties.
How does the church live and how does she survive under those circumstances? If a minister is faithful to the Lord Jesus and to his congregation, he still has one or two services on Sunday and usually a Bible class on a weekday.
He may hold as many services as the congregation had before the concordat with the State. New-born ministers may preach the risen Lord on those occasions. Nevertheless, they have to buy those possibilities by reading four to six circulars of the peace-bishops a year. Sometimes they omit reading them or do it quickly and monotonously, indicating their disagreement that way. They must also take part in a few peace-rallies a year, so as Dot to be declared an “enemy of the peace and agent of the American imperialism.” They have to encourage their congregations to vote at the time of elections, though everybody knows that not to vote for the official list involves immediate notice and unemployment (without aid) for years. Ministers are utterly poor, shabby, often ragged and undernourished. In many cases, they have to plow to earn their living. Clothes and fuel are almost insurmountable problems to them. Ministers’ children are rejected from college education as a rule. Peace-ministers, however, often get financial aid from the State according to their “merits.” Bishop Dr. Peter received 7000 Florins, five to six times more than the monthly salary of a minister.
And the congregation? We roust consider that the people are extremely tired of working very hard six days a week and for very little wage. One salary is not enough for a family, thus women are forced to work also. The housework itself is much harder there, for there are no electric appliances whatsoever. There is very little canned food and women have to mend and patch and alter the clothes. On top of all this, to do the cleaning and the laundry makes church attendance extremely hard. This is exactly what the devil wants; that is, to alienate people from the church and from God and to show his power and make people regard it as something invincible. Next comes the despair and the 200,000 abortions a year. (The abortion was not permitted in any other satellite country, showing that the Soviet Union deliberately exterminates the Hungarian people.) If the minister is a believer, people may get comfort at church and even occasional conversions may Lake place. The peace-ministers, however, imitate the editorials of the Communist newspapers. To support their treason they found out a “theology” according to which God loves the world. The Communists are the world, consequently, God loves the Communists. If God loves them, then the Christian bas to love them as well. To love them means to bow to them and to promote their cause.
THE LOT OF THE WITNESS
As far as the Christian testimony is concerned, it is utterly suppressed. To speak of Jesus in an office, in a factory or anywhere else involves immediate notice or at least demotion. Christians may visit each other and may read the Bible and pray with each other, but only in their homes. Singing could be heard outside and could cause innumerable troubles.
It is much harder for a layman to be a Christian than it is for a minister. After all, a minister is expected to be a Christian but “it is a scandal that an officer of the People’s army is a believer,” as a Lt. Colonel once said. A minister has much more time to read the Bible and to pray than anyone else. On the other hand, the Christian has to do the work of the Communists and their friends in order to be tolerated by them and to retain his job. The more faithful he is to Jesus the more he is abused and humiliated in every walk of his life. He is blamed by his minister frequently and remains alone, completely alone. This is something that the Communists want -to segregate the Christians and the ministers. The minister can hardly understand all the problems of his congregation, for he is not involved in their daily lives.
A friend of mine pleaded with Bishop Bereczky. He saved the bishop from starvation once and could afford telling him the truth. The bishop kept silent for a while but said something very significant in the end: “Don’t you see that the night is falling?”
In regards to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (Oct. 23–Nov. 4), everybody who knows Communism agrees that Communism had never before suffered such a shock. It was a miracle that students and workers defeated the Soviet tank divisions stationed in Hungary, as well as the well-trained and equipped 40,000-man force of the political police. It was a miracle to be free. really free for a few days after 14 years of slavery. Glory and honor to the heroes, to the teenage boys and girls of Budapest! The real importance of the Hungarian Revolution lies, however, somewhere else. In fact, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was unmasked. It came to light that Communism is “state capitalism.” It turned out that no capitalist can exploit the workers as much as the Communist Party can, since the workers have no right to strike for the workers. The whole world learned that thousands of men and women were sentenced to long imprisonment or were executed on trumped-up charges. It became known that the standard of living in Hungary was reduced to that of the Soviet Union. In other words: Hungary was systematically and deliberately impoverished by the Soviet Union. It was set down as a fact, that with the exception of physics and chemistry, no science can flourish under Communist regime. Russian medical books quote whole chapters of English, French and German books without mentioning the source. Literature and fine arts cannot develop for no book may be edited, no picture may be exhibited which does not express Communist ideology. In plain English, life itself became vegetation. This is the historical evaluation of the Hungarian Revolution.
Finally, just a glimpse at the church during the Revolution. The students of the Seminary in Budapest took part in peaceful demonstrations. When the political police began to shoot, three students of the Seminary died the death of heroes as stretcher-bearers and four others were seriously wounded. As soon as the pillar of the Communist Party, the political police, collapsed all the peace-bishops and peace-ministers resigned in three days. Executive committees were set up everywhere and they prepared elections from the bottom up. The best of our ministers led those committees. Bishop Uavasz and Rev. Murakozy wept when they scrutinized the bookkeeping of the church and realized how terribly the money was misused. Lutheran Bishops Dr. Ordas and Right Rev. Turoczi got back their bishopric. Cardinal Mindszenty was brought back to Budapest by the army in a triumphal march. The peace-ministers charged each other and apologized to the General Assembly. Many of them hid for fear. The returning Soviet tank divisions annulled all the achievements of the Revolution, including the attainments of the church.
Sixty-three Reformed ministers were arrested by the reorganized political police. Those from the country were invariably beaten up, as was Rev. Csakai whose arm was broken in this beating. A few weeks later almost all of them were released. To the best of my knowledge, three ministers were imprisoned for a longer time, among them Rev. Takacs whose death-sentence was converted to life imprisonment. Two peace-ministers, however, became official Communist propagandists: S. Fekete, the former Reformed senior in Budapest and former Lutheran bishop, and L. Dezsery, who took up a job at the radio. A former lawyer, Dr. I. Kadar, who had been Bishop Bereczky’s evil genius, was appointed to the seminary in Budapest as the professor of Marxism-Leninism. Mr. R. Kiss, the lay president of the General Assembly, also apologized during the Revolution. He made a remark in his letter to the General Assembly: Mr. Rakosi, the Secretary General of the Communist Party, had once asked him what he thought of peace-bishop Peter. “A fortune hunter” was the answer. “Yes, he is a gifted fortune hunter,” replied Mr. Rakosi. Dr. Peter, after the revolution, became deputy foreign minister and later foreign minister of the Communist government.
Perhaps Bishop Berecsky was right: the. night is falling upon Hungary. Thirteen million Hungarians (ten million in Hungary, two million in Romania, one million in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, among them two million Reformed in Hungary and half a million in Rumania) are exposed to the bitter revenge of the Soviet Union as the victims of the Soviet neo-colonization.