How innocent this phrase, and yet, look at the context. Having left Hungary on the eve of the Second World War, preferring to fight for the Americans than the Germans, the Hungarian poet Faludy made an even more fateful, and potentially fatal, decision to return to his home country after the war. A friend warned him he may be entering a door which could not be unlocked from the inside.
He was duly arrested and taken to the infamous 60 Andrassy Street in Budapest, the Lyublanka of Hungary which served as secret police headquarters for the Fascist party before being neatly taken over by its Communists (did they pick up the torture instruments where their fascist predecessors left off?).
Here, after weeks of interrogation and abuse, he is brought some home comforts. Note what is allowed and not allowed on the eve of his execution.
At dinner time three AVO guards came in. All three were handsome, young, bright and looked more intelligent than the rest. One brought a dixie full of stew and macaroni, the other a small table with paper and a pencil on it, the third a glass of wine and a few cigarettes. They surrounded me and looked into my face with curiosity and cheerfulness.
‘This is your supper,’ one of them explained. ‘You can write to your family if you wish. If you want to sleep you can have a pillow. But no sleeping pills. It is now eight twenty-three p.m. At five in the morning you will be taken to the concentration prison, there to be hanged. At five thirty.’
They stood there waiting for my reply.
‘Well, have you nothing to say?’ the youngest asked with an uncertain smile.
What reply did they want or expect?
As it happens, Faludy wasn’t hung and subsequently survived three years in a labour camp – he was one of 20 who walked out alive from a peak population of 1,700. He recounts, dispassionately, the whole experience in the wryly titled memoir, My Happy Days in Hell.
He lived to 96.
Source: György Faludy, My Happy Days in Hell, trans. by Kathleen Szasz (London: Penguin Classics, 2010 (1962)), p. 335
Photo credit: Ichigo121212 at pixabay