European Memories

of the Gulag


Extreme Unction

It was the sixth or eighth day, I was sweeping. I knew that at the end of one of the corridors there were six cells for those condemned to death. At that point, there were 32 condemned waiting there for their execution. Once again, the Holy Spirit and God gave me a wink; they inspired me to sing in Hungarian these words, “There’s a Catholic priest sweeping up here. If anyone wants to make his Holy Confession, let him repent of his sins and I’ll give him absolution from here”. You’ve surely heard that this is the sort of thing that Catholics do. Well… in those days, absolution was still given in Latin, “ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis”: I absolve thee of thy sins. To go with it, I took a Hungarian folk song. These days, no one knows it any more, but back then it was well known, even the Roma played it: “I’ve no clay-tiled home, no cloth coat, no sheepskin” – “ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis” and so I sang the absolution. That’s when I realised that it wasn’t the military court that had sentenced me under Paragraph, no! It was God who had sent me there… because I am a shepherd of souls, but I couldn’t say that. I should have said “I am a specialised worker, trade: souls…”, anyway. My duty would be to comfort my fellow prisoners. Because, after all, that was easier for me: I had a spiritual training and no wife or children. But these young men had had to leave their young wives and little children behind. And the Soviet Union had succeeded, expertly, in giving us the feeling that our lives hung only by a thread. We never knew when they would shoot us in the back of the neck. You know… it’s no so simple, and I had a task and… I’m not puffing myself up! But, really, it was God’s intention. The proof is that that I didn’t get out in 1953 but only in 1955… I was the last.