The poet revolutionary

Stories of the proverbial poet at the fore of the revolution are common, and in many cases these poets, at least according to legend, are even the ones who start them. Attila Gérecz belongs among those who not only encouraged the people in their struggle against the enemy, but he also participated in the battles after having spent much time in a communist prison.

The life path of this poet from an intellectual background encapsulates communism’s reign of terror in a single person. Despite being an excellent student, his father’s well-to-do middle class background meant that he was not admitted to any university, and consequently he trained to be a machinist. Additionally, in 1949, Gérecz became a member of the national pentathlon team, and was such a good marksman that he frequently defeated his teammate who would go on to be an Olympic and World Champion.

Despite excelling in sports, in his case this was oddly not enough to escape trumped-up charges against him, as opposed to other excellent athletes who were so important to the authorities that they were even occasionally released from prison to compete. Gérecz was falsely charged with conspiring against the one-party state, which at the time was considered a heinous crime, and the paranoid communist state frequently used this charge to liquidate its political enemies. For this reason, on December 8, 1950, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The situation was so serious that four of his fellow accused were sentenced to death, three of them later executed. Gérecz continued to write poetry during his time in prison, as well as to translate works of German, English and French poets. After 1953 the situation in the prison relaxed somewhat, and he was able to form a literary circle, with the participants able to read the poems they had written onto toilet paper to each other. A collection of these poems was later published in the West.

On July 18, 1954, Gérecz escaped prison by throwing himself into the flooded Danube, but three days later an informer betrayed him. He was captured and placed in isolation. The revolutionaries freed him from prison on October 30, 1956, and he joined the fight against the Soviets on November 4th. During the first few days he even managed to knock out two tanks. His third attempt ended in tragedy, however, when a round fired from a T-34 tank struck and killed him.

Gérecz’s memory was loyally preserved by the revolutionaries, and from 1957 Hungarian immigrants living in the West published his poems in the journal Nemzetőr. The poet’s works were published for the first time in Hungary in 1991. His poems handwritten in prison have been published several times since, and his memory is also preserved through the Attila Gérecz youth pentathlon competition.