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Reviewed by:
  • Carrying a Secret in My Heart: Children of the Victims of the Reprisals after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956—An Oral History
  • Anna Balogh, Independent Scholar
Zsuzsanna Kórösi and Adrienne Molnár , Carrying a Secret in My Heart: Children of the Victims of the Reprisals after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956—An Oral History. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2003. 189 pp. $39.95 or £25.95.

Carrying a Secret in My Heart is a seminal work that uses interviews to document the experience of children in Hungary who were stigmatized during the era of János Kádár for their fathers' activities in 1956. This thought-provoking and moving book gives little historical context and therefore is intended for an audience knowledgeable about the events of 1956 and life under the Hungarian Communist regime.

In the aftermath of 1956, 20,000 people were imprisoned, 229 executed, and tens of thousands dismissed from their workplaces. Carrying a Secret in My Heart describes how the upheavals affected the children of the convicted. Zsuzsanna Kórösi and Adrienne Molnár had great difficulty in contacting subjects and getting them to talk about the most traumatic event in their lives. Having been forced into silence for decades, some of the now grown children refused to share their experiences out of fear of retribution or a reluctance to relive the emotions. For the majority, though, it was a great relief that they could finally talk with someone who was interested.

Although the compilation of interviews in the book is an oral history, it is also a sociological study giving an excellent overview. The subjects come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from both Budapest and the countryside, and from a range of ages reflecting the cross-section—from infant to teenager—of children in 1956 who experienced the ensuing retributions.

Kórösi and Molnár identify three main coping strategies. The "open strategy" (talking about the father, keeping his photograph in a prominent place) was mostly the practice of well-educated families who remained outside the official establishment. The "taboo strategy" (children were discouraged from asking questions) was characteristic of intellectuals and skilled workers who worked within the official establishment. The "secret strategy" (not talking at all about the father, or even lying to the children) was the approach used by unskilled laborers and by widows of the executed out of fear of further retribution.

These methods of dealing with the temporary or permanent loss of the fathers determined the children's outlook on life and greatly affected their fates. The children from open-strategy families, who were informed about the 1956 events and their fathers' participation in them, felt superior to those who believed the official propaganda. They were proud of their fathers and viewed their actions in 1956 as positive, humanitarian, and patriotic. They also interpreted the official discrimination against them as a personal challenge to excel as a form of revenge. The children who were not informed of the events had a negative memory of 1956 and viewed it as a personal tragedy and loss. Of these, some children internalized the official stance on the revolution (not having the information to refute it) and were ashamed of their fathers' actions. [End Page 178]

Archival documents released after 1989 reveal a campaign of political retaliation intended to browbeat society into silence and erase the memory of 1956.One cannot help but be moved by the personal hardships described in this book. Children were excluded from higher education or higher-earning employment because of their fathers' convictions and were often relegated to starvation and poverty or placed in an orphanage. Families were even denied the basic dignity of mourning, as the location of the executed father's grave was secret. Some of the mothers took to frequenting bars popular with gravediggers in the hopes of gaining information about burial sites. Others described being chased away from graves by secret police agents or seeing the secret police trample graves in front of them.

For all the children, June 1989 was a watershed. After decades of condemnation and silence, the ceremonial reburial of Imre Nagy (who was prime minister during...