In and out of jail while reporting for Reuters

Aurél Varannai was a rarity among those working for foreign media companies, since he had first-hand experience with the torture-filled Rákosi-era prison system. What had been his crime? Simply working for the British news agency Reuters.

One of the main problems was that Varannai did not write in a flattering style about communist Hungary. But this was hardly his fault, since the oppressive dictatorship didn’t exactly leave him with much positive to write about. Varannai was first arrested in 1948 and then had a revolving door experience with prison, which was enough to make it impossible for him to work. When he was released again from prison in September 1956, Reuters did not provide him with any more work since they did not want their colleague to endure more suffering. The reporter John MacCormac, who was in Budapest at the time, tried to get Varannai to help him out and file reports for his employer the New York Times. Varannai, however, was certain that he would hear from Reuters and turned the offer down.

MacCormac got in touch with him again as soon as the revolution broke out, and since Reuters had yet to contact him, Varannai sent numerous reports to the New York Times. Varannai was there at the protest at Március 15. Square, which he dictated to MacCormac’s wife over the phone and MacCormac then immediately passed on to the New York Times’ Vienna office.

Varannai remained in the thick of events, leading a group on October 30th to the National Guard to receive the protection letters that were being issued to journalists. His greatest day was October 31st, however, for it was he who arranged the meeting between the international media and Cardinal József Mindszenty, who had just been freed from house arrest.

Varannai was also present on November 3rd for the Nagy Government’s first and only international press conference, which had its share of difficulties in no small part due to a lack of adequate interpreters. At the event Lajos Léderer of the British Observer got into an argument with Iván Boldizsár, who was interpreting into German and English and who had provided false witness against Varannai at his trial.

Following the Soviet overthrow of the revolution, Varannai did not entertain American overtures to escape and remained in Hungary. He then retired from journalism and endured the period of reprisals in his house at Balatonszemes. Varannai would go on to become an editor for the publishing house of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and researched English-Hungarian literary connections. Ironically, although he had been imprisoned in the past for his reporting, the authorities did not persecute him for his activities during the revolution.

Bence Csatári