Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mária Wittner: One photo, 13 years in jail.

I wondered about Mária Wittner's arrest. My previous blog post, a review of Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days" (also posted on Amazon US), remarked on the fate of Mária Wittner, a nineteen-year-old factory worker (and single mother) who joined the rebels at the Corvin cinema in the second day of the 1956 uprising. Afraid of knocking out her tooth from her rifle's recoil, she gave away her weapon. When the Corvin Passage, a stronghold for Budapest's revolutionaries, was attacked on Nov. 4 with mortars, she was wounded in three places-- including a back wound a centimeter from her spine. Hospitalized, when she returned to where she'd been hit five days earlier, the insurgents were gone. The revolution had been defeated. Failing to escape the country, she was captured by the Russians, interrogated, and released.

Despite next reaching Austria, she-- like many others Sebestyen tells of-- believed the promises of amnesty from the Kádár regime. They were told that if they had born arms only in the "first part" of the revolt, before the Soviets invaded again after their false assurances of withdrawal, that they'd be safe from retaliation. She returned. She was arrested shortly after.

Held with her friend Kati Stickler (who had come back from her Swiss refuge after her fiancé had relayed Kádár's pledge of immunity from prosecution) over a year without trial, she'd been sentenced on the evidence of the Oct. 30th photograph I display here. She'd never fired a shot, but this snapshot earned her a death sentence. She appealed in vain. Facing hanging, she and Kati shared a cell. Kati was called to the gallows a few days later.

Three months, Mária waited her turn. But, as she was a mother, the "lenient" tribunal commuted her stay to life imprisonment. Thirteen years later, she was among "almost the last to be released in the reprisals following the revolution." (288)

I found a Wikipedia entry about her in Magyar. It appears she's active in politics today. She's two months older than my birth mother. If they met, what would they talk about (perhaps through an interpreter!)?

Images: "Mrs. Béla Havrila and Mária Wittner at the end of October in front of Vajdahunyad street No. 41." Copyright © 2004 Public Foundation of the Documentary and Research Institute of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
The second one needs no caption.

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