On November 1, 1956, a guard opened my cell. Three men in civilian clothes entered with the greeting that sounded like a dream: “Praised be Jesus Christ! The Most Reverend Abbot of Zirc is free!”
It was about 6 PM as I exited from the Central Prison. I was the last prisoner to leave - the last one, because my name could not be found on any list of inmates.
I spent a total of six years in prison as a “secret prisoner,” kept in anonymity in uninterrupted loneliness, without any work or occupation. Of these six years, eight months were spent in custody of the secret police with on-going interrogations, twice with physical torture. By these methods, they “proved” me guilty of crimes I never committed: high treason, espionage, counterrevolutionary conspiracy, possession of foreign currency. The last one of these was true.
They would have pardoned my crimes if I had accepted the role of testifying as a chief witness, with a signed statement, to the immoral lives of the Hungarian bishops and religious superiors, including my own. Since I refused to accept my role as a witness in such a “satanic comedy,” they limited their “proofs” to my personal life.
After the mockery of a so-called trial, played out in detail in the presence of a five-member team under the presidency of judge Olti, I was sentenced to 14 years in prison. I have never seen the text of the sentence and, in spite of my repeated requests, I have never received it.
Until the trial I was kept in three locations, all three in Budapest: # 60 of Andrassy Street [today a museum called The House of Terror,], Main Street in Buda and Marko Street in Pest. My imprisonment continued in three more places: on Konti Street, Budapest, in the state Prison of Vác and in the “Gathering Prison” of Budapest.
Let me make my reader feel the weight of 6 years in exact numbers: 6 years and three days are equal to:
72 months and 3 days
or 315 weeks
or 2195 days
or 53,040 hours
or 3,682,400 minutes.
Each second of this time I was in an environment in which I felt overpowered in my whole being, by two rather different yet all-consuming ways:
The first method was that of the secret police, which in a thoroughly diabolical way tried to destroy me physically and morally. The apparatus of the juridical organization only added to it by choreographing a “satanic comedy,” as it had been determined by their bosses in Moscow.
The second method was my life in prison, where my personhood was simply abolished and I was handled as a mere physical object. An object is deaf, mute and blind. A prisoner is not supposed to see or hear or speak. The experience of prison weighed on me as if I was entombed alive. I felt almost physically that shackles kept in bondage all my physical senses. I was never allowed to be in contact with my natural family or my brothers in the Order. I received no letter or parcel for six entire years.
It was three days before my liberation [by the Revolution] that I was allowed to speak to my nephew. For three years I was not allowed to go for a walk. For almost two years I lived in an unheated prison cell in which my fingers and my toes and also my left ear suffered frostbite.
I encountered physical filth and dirt so incredibly bad that most human beings would not be able to imagine it. I lived in a prison cell in which, during one night, I killed hundreds of bed bugs as they invaded my body. Three times I was treated for life threatening infections of my legs and once for another skin disease, all caused by filth.
My only source of consolation and strength was the Eucharistic sacrifice which I offered in a prisoner’s uniform at those times when I was allowed to do so. No bell rang; only my heart was singing about the Lord’s mysterious presence on the table of the prison cell.
He became my companion—my mysterious and only cellmate—amidst the desert of my life in prison. He heard each one of my sighs and groanings, He wiped away every tear from my eyes, by which I expressed my desire for my dear Cistercian brethren and other loved ones: “Will I ever see them again? Will I ever again embrace those to whom I spiritually belong, those who are mine and whose father I am, as well as my many relatives?”
Yet unexpectedly, one day the door was opened and I was able to walk again on this Hungarian soil upon which the Freedom Fighters’ blood was shed, and I was again able to go home to my monastic family, all scattered but most of them still alive!
Ever since I started living with them again, the prayer we say every morning is so much more meaningful: “Make us worthy to be free…”