Gosh. It’s 11:05 pm, Isabel is still awake and Tomcsi just started crying. And I really want to post tonight!
Do you know anyone who was a grave-digger? Could that same person have been a survivor of 6 years in a prison camp? Tonight we met a grave-digger and he is one of the most colorful people I have ever met. Unfortunately, I will not be able to give said grave-digger justice because, believe it or not, I a) am pooped and b) have to finish a knit-gift before tomorrow. Nevertheless, knowing the life expectancy of my memories, I thought I would jot down a few notes so that I can look back one day and remember that people like this gentleman exist.
Professor Lengyel (Hungarian) survived 6 years in a communist prison camp. Just as he was about to finish his degree at age 23 in museology and archaeology he was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement in a pretty small cell. I could not possibly tell all the stories he shared, and I’m sure he had many more he didn’t have time to tell us, but he started out by saying, “yeah, they tortured me… they shitted on my head and pissed in my mouth… it was Christmas time.” His cell was cleaned out “of dirt” once a week by Hungary’s then best poet, Tollas Tibor, also a prisoner there.
It all began with three charges against him (I will add later, but all FALSE and ridiculous) before being arrested. Then, while in prison, he was charged with a fourth crime: co-conspiring with Cardinal Mindszenty and Tito (yes, of Yugoslavia) to overthrow Stalin. Don’t forget, he was a STUDENT. The communists really wanted to kill Mindszenty so they thought they would torture Lengyel for a confession. He shared with us his own water-boarding story: chained together at both wrists and ankles, they pushed him onto his side and into water repeatedly. As he tells us this story he is practically laughing and says, “see, I have a smiling face, naturally. And they ask me why am I laughing and I responded, ‘because I can see your future.'” The guy had guts! At some point, he was also drugged and then transported to a KGB cell and further tortured by the Russians themselves.
So, the revolution of 1956* happens and he gets out of prison and escapes Hungary. There is a story for everything but I have to hurry here. He is reborn in Los Angeles… Who wanted to sponsor him and pay his way out to America? Bing Crosby. And what did he say? No thank you. I appreciate very much your support and offer but I cannot let you pay my way. Why not? “When I was a boy my father told me, ‘never take money for anything you did not work to earn.'” Now tell me, how many people do you know today who would react the same way? Fast forward.
He became a grave-digger. As he had no money and wanted to finish his schooling he worked nights digging and twice a week during the day as a janitor at San Jose State University. Then he earned his Masters in Art History (I hope I am remembering correctly.) Then he wanted to get his PhD in archaeology at Harvard but he was denied. 10 guesses to why… I’ll make it easy. They asked him if he was a communist, point blank. He said no and so did they. He ended up getting his PhD at the Sorbonne in France. That wasn’t easy either. Again, he was asked if he was a communist, point blank, after he explained that he was a prisoner for 6 years, mainly because he was friends with a Cardinal, and then escaped. After he said no, he was told “then what are you doing here? We cannot help you.” A woman in the hallway overheard him and said she knows one professor who respects Cardinal Mindszenty and will find a way to help him. He got in and tried to find the woman to thank her but never saw her again.
He also taught at SJSU as a professor and did rotations at Berkeley and Stanford. Eventually, he got kicked out. Want to guess why? He was told to sign a statement that said the US should allow Russian missiles in Cuba. Lengyel said absolutely not. One of his colleagues said why not? No one will know [so many people signed it] and you can keep your job. And his response was, “yes, but I will,” and he lost his job. Just a note, the entire student body and staff all signed the statement. How many people do you know today who would stand up for their principles? Seriously.
This same man wanted to marry a Chinese woman. However, the Chinese would not allow her to because mixed couples were not allowed and he needed permission. So, what did he do? In one of his meetings with Reagan (he was on a White House committee involving Education) he asked him as a favor to help him. So, Reagan asked China’s Prime Minister (who was visiting at the time) to grant him permission and the next day the Governor of the woman’s province (not sure what the correct term is for that) was given a phone call and told to grant him permission to marry her! They are still married today.
He’s been to St. Katherine in Mount Sinai, excavated in Carthage… and the list really goes on (Craig will have to help me here!) Last night when my Dad asked if we would join them for dinner because he will have a guest with lots of colorful stories, I really had no idea how vibrant they would be.
I cannot help but feel inspired. This man experienced real misery and rejection, yet he smiled through it all, laughs about it now and when asked how he did it, replies with conviction, “God gave me this gift.” That’s it. If he can talk the way he did to KGB and communist agents, stand up for his principles and lose valuable things the way he did and still have the rich and meaningful life that he has so far then, certainly, I should not bite my tongue for the very simple fear of causing tension or discomfort. Wow!
We talked for 4 hours and I wish I could write it here as he told us his stories… Now it is 12:23 am and I need to knit. I wonder if my exhausted half will win this fight tonight. Good night.