The actor who opened the doors of the jail holding political prisoners

“Várj reám, s én megjövök, hogyha vársz nagyon” (“Wait for me, and I’ll arrive if you really wait”) was the name of a popular song played on television call-in shows throughout the 1980s. The song, sung by the actor Iván Darvas and originally composed during World War II, was about soldiers, with the idea being that if their loved ones really waited for them to return home, they eventually would. “Wait, if the wind blows snow, wait, if the sun shines bright, wait, even if no letter arrives,” the song went. What makes this all the more interesting is that the man who sang this popular song found himself in prison following his activities during the 1956 Revolution, condemned to wait.

Iván Darvas was born in 1925 and was considered a handsome leading man. His older brother Attila, who was a structural engineer, was sentenced to ten years of prison on false charges of spying in 1955. In this same trial, Iván himself was given a suspended sentence of a year for failing to report his brother, such was the way things worked in communist Hungary. During the revolution, on October 30th, Iván, with a letter from the chief prosecutor, released approximately 140 political prisoners from the Budapest National Prison, among them his older brother. The event was a wonderful example of solidarity and brotherly love: not only did he rescue his brother, but he did not forget about the other innocent prisoners either, and gave their cherished freedom back to them. Iván also joined the Actors’ Revolutionary Committee at this time. His brother Attila, however, left Hungary for good.

Darvas did not receive any leniency during the reprisals. Arrest on May 30, 1957, he was convicted and sat in prison until April 4, 1959. While in prison, Darvas was only permitted to walk 15 minutes a day in addition to the 10 cigarettes he received each day. Since he had a talent for drawing and painting, Darvas painted a winter landscape with a stag for the prison guards. He also taught his fellow inmates new languages and worked in the prison library. While he was in prison, the inmates were shown a screening of the film Gerolsteini Kaland (Gerolstein Adventure) in which Darvas had starred prior to his sentence.

Iván worked as an unskilled laborer until 1963, when he was finally allowed to return to acting. During his years in prison, his marriage collapsed and his apartment was confiscated, meaning that he had to start everything anew from scratch. Some would cross the street if they saw him approaching, but the director Károly Makk responded differently and let him stay at his place for some time. Darvas returned fully to his previous career in 1965 when he signed a contract with the Comedy Theatre of Budapest and once again he could ply his craft on the stage before audiences.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth