George Faludy’s memoir of his life in his thirties and early forties is called My Happy Days in Hell. I first read it in September 1986 as a young man of 36. I finished re-reading it only hours ago. Faludy spent a good portion of early years of World War 2 escaping France and living in French colonial North Africa, before leaving for the United States, where he became a paratrooper. He was, by his own and by the estimationof his fellow countrymen, Hungary’s foremost poet. He returned to Hungary after WW2 with much foreboding, as it was under Soviet occupation. The second half of the book deals with his arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment in a Hungarian forced labour camp, where starvation and beatings were the norm. The day Stalin died in 1953 the reverberations swept the gulags: food was immediately increased, and across the Soviet Empire millions of political prisoners were released over the weeks and months that followed.
The description of the fear and terror that enveloped East European societies in the wake of communist takeover has many echoes today, as Western societies enter into a period of forced speech and political hysterias. Today we have communism without the bother of Marxist economics. Obviously the Deep State has no yet resorted to prison camps for conservatives and liberals (properly so-called) yet but it soon might, if the Democrats and the Deep State behind them decide that imprisonment is an effective tool. I suspect that in today’s society, conformity and obedience can be engineered by Google and Twitter mobs more efficiently than by arrests and obviously unconstitutional procedures, but I don’t bet on it.
There are many treasures in Faludy’s memoir. The most important was his resistance to the constant message that we are nothing but human machines, that we have no souls, that ultimately power will prevail.
The scene: Stalin has died and the prisoners are being released in dribs and drabs over the ensuing months. Faludy is among the last prisoners to be released.
“These men, or rather eighteeen of them, were now waiting to be shaved. These men were the public figures, parlkiamentary deputies and leading intellectuals of the camp; the very men who opposed teh regime more uncompromisingly than the average in their deeds as well as in their thoughts. The seletion was extraordinarily claver for the AVO (secret police), which usually showed little sense for fine distinctions. The experience of forty mnths and hundrds of reports from their informers had made them realize at last that their greatest enemies were not the men who spat on Rackosi’s picture but those who spoke about history and philosophy in their free time”.
George Faludy was released from prison in 1953 and left Hungary in 1956. He lived in Toronto from 1967 until the fall of Communism in Hungary. He died in Budapest in 2006 at the age of 96.