The path to hell, we’ve been told, is paved with good intentions.

Faludy, a renowned poet and writer, is given an extracurricular task to add to his hard labour in the main Hungarian Soviet-era prison camp: namely, to fill in questionnaires sent by the UN to ensure that prisoners are being adequately treated. 

The questions, particularly in light of Faludy’s account of the realities of camp life, are somewhat naive, and the answers entirely unreliable given that he was invited by his oppressors to use his ‘imagination to the full’, and clearly, any answers that revealed the real condition of the prisoners could land him in even more trouble.   

At other times they made me fill in questionnaires.  They said I was to answer questions like: what books do the prisoners read?  –  do the prisoners like to listen to the wireless?  – what are the prisoners’ psychological problems?   using my imagination to the full.   These were questionnaires sent out by UNESCO. 

This Cold War example makes you wonder if there are equivalent actions now, similarly nobly-motivated, which aren’t helping anyone, least of all the people they’re meant to help. 

Source: György Faludy, My Happy Days in Hell, trans. by Kathleen Szasz (London: Penguin Classics, 2010 (1962)), p. 508

Photo credit: andibreit at pixabay


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