Valdemar

It’s early November 1956. I’m ten, and with my mum, Galina, in the kitchen of our small flat in Hull. We’re listening to the news at six o’clock on the BBC’s Home Service. Dad isn’t here; he’s still in Budapest. We’re refugees.

On the radio a man says, Two hundred thousand Russian troops are crushing the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest.

I asked, we’re Hungarian, aren’t we? 

Mum says nothing; she is standing in front of the radio, listening intently. I am sitting at the table, transfixed. The Porklot, my favourite, is going cold on my plate and I’m thinking that’s real gunfire, not like in the cinema.

The man on the radio says, I’m here beneath the walls of Budapest. At dawn today, Soviet forces, with a thousand tanks, attacked Budapest with the aim of toppling the legal, democratic, anti-Soviet government led by Mr Imre Nagy who has said, I quote, Our troops are fighting. The government is in place. I am making this fact known to our people and the whole world. Mr Nagy is pleading for help from the west.

Can I go and help Mr Nagy? 

No, Valdemar, you can’t and, sadly, no one else will either. 

Why aren’t we with dad helping, mum?

Your father thought we might be harmed.

Why?

Eat now, little one, mum says, ruffling my hair. 

It’s 1964 and I’m writing an essay for my A-level history course. I write that Imre Nagy was executed by hanging after a secret trial on June 16th 1958. I never could ask Dad why; he never came to Hull. I used to ask mum why, but all she would say was, he sends us money. I never saw him again after we left.

It’s 2006 and I’m sixty. I hadn’t been able to explain why, but that radio broadcast in 1956 had always haunted me. I’m looking on line and I discover the truth of Nagy’s execution; it wasn’t ‘the drop’. A photograph shows Nagy hung by his neck, his feet not quite able to support his weight, being strangled on an angled board observed by Soviet and Hungarian stooges. I’m so angry; injustice is dreadful – being murdered like that is barbaric!

On screen, I enlarge the photograph to get a better look at the murderers. I can’t believe my eyes. If only mum was alive – but could she, would she, tell me the truth anyway? I rummage round the old photo albums on the shelves in my study and pull out the one of Mum, Dad and me in 1955. I find the photo I’m looking for – the one of my dad holding my hand. There’s no mistaking his face, his eyes. I want to scream. There’s no one who can tell me the truth. God help me. One of the men murdering Nagy is my dad. 

He was called Valdemar, just like me. I don’t want to share my name with a murderer.

4 thoughts on “Valdemar

  1. Hi Phil, A great story that speaks for us all who recognise and reflect on the potentially suffocating cloak of ancestry and ancestral history. And… What’s in a Name? …and all the rattlebag that goes with it. And… “inheritance”? And… “History”…

    We are bedevilled by history. It’s like constantly eating stale bread and missing the fragrant fresh loaves constantly emerging from the oven and falling in our lap. Stale bread is certainly “true”…. but Fresh bread is “the Truth.”

    Lovely lovely thought provoking and heart opening story. An earthquake of the heart.

    Many thanks dear bro Nick

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Great story. Seeing photographs of the Hungarian refugees arriving in the UK in the window of our local newspaper office on my way to school is one of the first memories I have of politics. My mother explained, as best she could, although it was some years before I could compute everything. Nonetheless it gave me an abiding interest in geo-politics and, of course, we rarely know the true stories behind anything.

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