The attacks on Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka are coming fast and furious. It all started with an attack from the fanatically anti-Israel Loeblog, accusing the counter-terror expert of wearing a medal with Nazi affiliations. Of course, the medal has no such affiliations. Joel Pollak at Breitbart comprehensively addressed these charges at the time, but the far-left media has persisted in their attempt to get a prominent Trump administration scalp. Loeblog incorrectly alleged that the medal was Gorka’s grandfather’s; in fact, Gorka’s father was one of thousands of Hungarians who received it long after World War II for contributing to that nation’s struggle against the Soviets.
Nevertheless, the episode shed light on a truly inspiring story you probably haven’t heard. Gorka sat down with Breitbart News to tell the story, but he’s previously written about it so beautifully, I thought it should be read in full. The prologue to his book, Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War (2016), tells the amazing story of his father’s heroism. I immediately thought it could make for an amazing film– if only Hollywood was interested in anti-Communist screenplays. I’m certain you will agree.
With permission from the author, here is the excerpt:
After the war between the Allies and the evil forces of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi empire had devastated Budapest, the beautiful city of his birth, a teenager called Paul witnessed his “liberated” home being progressively taken over by the new totalitarian ideology of communism.
As he saw the stipulations of the Yalta conference – which was meant to shape the postwar world – flouted one by one, especially when it came to countries like his own being allowed to choose their own governments after the war, Paul decided to resist. As a fifteen-year-old boy he had fought with a submachine gun through the ruins of the Hungarian capital. But now, as a young man enrolled in university, his resistance to the new communist dictatorship would take an indirect and covert form.
Enrolled as an architectural student in the Technical University that still sits on the banks of the River Danube in the heart of Budapest, he decided that with hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops occupying Hungary and the political system rapidly becoming a one-party communist state, the best way to fight back would be by undermining Moscow’s plans for dominating his beloved homeland and the whole region.
In college Paul secretly organized a small circle of Christian students whom he could trust, students who not only shared his strong faith but were prepared to risk their lives in order to make their country free and independent once more. The group would use their mandatory college internships to get placements at strategically important state enterprises, at locations such as railheads and industrial planning bureaus, which were key to Moscow’s domination of the national economy of Hungary and the spread of the Kremlin’s power across what would soon become the “Soviet bloc.”
There the young men, pretending to help “the Party” solidify its grip on the nation and serve the spread of communism, would record convoy movements, the shipments of military supplies, and the measures taken to nationalize the key hubs of industry that the apparatchiks were making subservient to the Kremlin. They did so fully aware that if the Hungarian secret police or their masters in the KGB ever found out what they were doing, they would be arrested, interrogated, and most likely summarily executed.
As this small band of anticommunist patriots intensified their information-gathering activities, they established contact with Western intelligence, specifically MI6, the external spy service of Great Britain. Now the information about what the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was doing in Central Europe and how it was flagrantly in breach of the commitments it had made to its erstwhile allies at Yalta would reach a government that could actually use that information to subvert Moscow’s plan to enslave countries such as Paul’s beloved Hungary.
But he and his friends didn’t realize the deadly danger they were putting themselves in by reaching out across the Iron Curtain to a government that they saw as a pillar of the free world.
Working through a courier who could move across the border between captive Hungary and free Austria, Paul and his team would send coded reports to London via Vienna. But one day in the spring of 1950, the courier was kidnapped off the streets of the Austrian capital, smuggled into Hungary, and dumped in the headquarters of the Hungarian secret police. The courier was eventually murdered, but not before his captors had tortured and interrogated him and uncovered the identities of the student spies, Paul included. Capturing the courier and identifying the band of young anticommunists had been made easy by the treachery of a senior British spymaster.
Kim Philby, a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring, the most infamous band of Soviet double agents of the Cold War, had been at the end of the chain of intelligence reporting that went from Paul and his friends across Europe to the headquarters of His Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. Ensconced at the heart of the British spy establishment, Philby and his treacherous comrades were in the perfect place to encourage the identification of anticommunist patriots behind the Iron Curtain, recruit them in the cause of freedom and democracy, and eventually betray them to the occupying Soviet forces or the indigenous secret police machinery. Here it should be noted that the treachery of Philby’s spy ring was not limited to Hungary but reached across Central and Eastern Europe, and even to the Balkans, prepared as they were to sacrifice as many persons as necessary for the greater glory of Karl Marx and the utopia of communism.
Soon Paul and his friends were arrested. At the headquarters of the Hungarian secret police, Paul was tortured for weeks before being sentenced in a communist show trial, at the age of twenty, to life in prison.
Paul was my father.
Despite the horrendous torture that left this young athlete- Paul was on Hungary’s national crew team set to row at the Olympics- injured for life, he was lucky. The government had decided before the trial that given his role in organizing the circle of secret patriots he must be hanged. That was how justice worked under communism, whether in Hungary, the USSR, or Mao’s China. Sentences were determined before the trial even began. But unbeknownst to Paul, he had a guardian angel who would save him from the hangman’s noose.
Today in Hungary, a beautiful country almost fully recovered from the decades of communism, my family name is associated with one person in particular, Geza Gorka, my father ‘s uncle, a ceramicist and one of Hungary’s most famous twentieth-century artists. He was also a canny survivor with remarkable political sense. In the turbulent world of Central Europe in the 1930s, ’40s, and ‘sos, his work was sought after by collectors of every political stripe and regime, no matter which ideology they followed.
In the years after World War I, which had deprived Hungary of two-thirds of its territory and one third of its population, Geza’s work found favor with the government of regent Admiral Horthy and the vestiges of the Austro-Hungarian nobility and gentry who ran the country. After the Second World War, despite having been favored by the “enemies of the People,” his artwork was prized by Budapest’s new communist overlords. So much so that many a visiting head of state or other dignitary received a Gorka vase as an official gift from the Politburo or the general secretary himself.
When the nationally celebrated artist heard that his favorite nephew had been arrested, and most probably for acts of treason against the communist state, he swung into action. Behind the scenes, very quietly, Geza Gorka reached out to the highest levels of the regime. He knew the Party’s attit ude: the people had to see that betrayal of the Marxist system would be crushed. But perhaps Paul could be spared the death penalty.
The reach of the artist was indeed long enough. Geza was told that though his nephew must be made an example of, in light of his youth and his uncle’s service to the regime, he would be given a prison sentence of “only” ten years. Little did my father or his uncle know that even now, in negotiating a secret deal, the regime was lying.
Forty years later, after the communist regimes of the region had fallen, we would be allowed to see the original secret files pertaining to my father’s arrest, interrogation, and sentencing. Now declassified, there is one document that perfectly demonstrates the nature of totalitarianism and how a communist regime worked in reality. Written before my father had even appeared in court, it was stamped by the secret police: SUBJECT NOT TO BE RELEASED EVEN AFTER SERVING HIS SENTENCE. Not only was daily life in a communist state built publicly upon lies, even behind the curtains of totalitarian power, the socialist state was suffused with deception.
So my father was tried and the prepared sentence delivered by the judge: ten years in prison for the crime of treason against the Socialist People’s Republic of Hungary. But even after a decade he was to be kept in political prison. Until he died.
My father began serving his sentence under particularly punitive conditions. Perhaps to counter the “favor” that Uncle Geza had managed to extract from his political connections, Paul was to spend the first two years of his incarceration in solitary confinement. In most penal systems, solitary confinement is seen as a temporary measure, meted out for a week or two in response to some infraction of the prison rules. Under communism, solitary was a way to send a message to the enemies of the state that though they were already in prison, the authorities could always make matters worse. It was another way to show that the state had total capricious control and could punish whenever it wanted and for any reason. (Although I am his flesh and blood, to this day I cannot comprehend, for even a moment, what two years alone in a prison cell without contact with the outside world was like for my father. And I still absolutely cannot comprehend how this treatment by itself, let alone the torture he was subjected to, failed to have a permanent effect on my father’s mind.)
After solitary, my father was released into the general population of political prisoners, among whom he would meet the cream of anticommunist Hungarian society, other patriots imprisoned for their love of freedom and resistance to dictatorship. Priests, professors, leaders of Christian organizations as innocuous as the YMCA, and politicians who had dared to challenge the lies of the Communist Party in what they had believed would be democratic elections at the end of the war.
My father called these years the best “university” anyone could ever attend. One day he would be learning about economics or engineering from men who had worked at the highest levels of the pre communist government. The next he would be educated in mathematics or philosophy by professors who had been punished simply for being members of the middle class. Then the following day, as they circled the prison yard for their mandatory daily walk, he would imbibe the wisdom of the many old-school Catholic and Protestant clergymen who had been imprisoned simply for believing in God and being men of the cloth. But it was still an education within a prison. And not just a standard prison, but a prison for “enemies of the state.”
Then came the next change. Given his youth and his strength as a former athlete, my father, along with other able-bodied inmates, was offered a choice: stay among the general population of political prisoners with all that entailed or volunteer for hard manual labor in a prison coal mine.
Already the cost of communism was beginning to show in the national economy. With the law of supply and demand repealed as an expression of capitalist dogma, the nation was not producing as the Party’s five-year plan demanded. The workforce was physically incapable of meeting the production targets needed for communism to flourish everywhere in the East, not just in Hungary. Socialism would never defeat the “rabid dogs” of the democratic West unless more healthy bodies could be applied to the task.
The deal was simple. In return for becoming a manual laborer serving the state, Paul and any other political prisoners who joined him would enjoy perks not available to the other prisoners. Chief among these was better food and more of it. (This can hardly be called a “perk,” of course, since it would be pointless to press prisoners into manual labor and not feed them adequately for their task. Hungry slave labor is weak slave labor, and weak slave labor will make reaching the ideologically mandatory industrial targets impossible!)
In exchange for these “concessions,” however, each prisoner would be required to dig ten tons of coal a day without machinery or explosives. Realizing he was physically a shadow of his former self and that coal mining was the closest thing to exercise he was going to get, my father accepted the deal.
But more important, he knew that working in a mine would bring him into daily contact with people from the outside. None of the prisoners knew anything about mining coal, so the shafts and seams were also manned by civilian miners, who had access to contraband and could communicate with relatives and loved ones. Most important of all, working in a mine, with access to tools, was a chance to escape.
Paul actually enjoyed his two years underground as a manual laborer. Originally the Gorkas had been vojvodas, members of the Polish aristocracy who had ended up in Hungary after the revolutionary turmoil of 1848. Before World War II, his own family had been comfortably positioned at the upper levels of the middle class, his father, Augustus, a bank manager and successful athlete himself, having represented the country as a long-distance runner. Now in the prison mines of Hungary, Paul developed a new appreciation for the working class of his beloved nation. Not the idealized “workers” of communist propaganda, but the sort of men who are the hardworking backbone of any nation, providing the staples and the foundation upon which the country is built. Handful by handful, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful, the former student of architecture and fine arts tore from the earth with his pickaxe the coal that would fuel the furnaces and boilers of national industry.
After two years, however, the communist state had another problem, subtler but just as serious. In its ideological purge of Hungarian society, targeting not only the former aristocracy and political elite but above all the anticommunists of the middle class, the Communist Party had destroyed the intellectual capacity of the country.
People like my father and his older compatriots were the architects, engineers, and other professionals who constih1ted the level between the manual laborer and the government, the educated men who guided industry and helped the country flourish. With so many of the professional class in prison or executed for having resisted communism, the nation was simply failing to function. The Party’s attempted solution illustrates the perfectly absurd contradictions inherent in Karl Marx’s utopian vision.
Marx had taught that the modern capitalist state was doomed, built as it was on the exploitation of the workers by industrialists and the middle class. The coming revolution would destroy the capitalists and middle classes, leaving only the working class and the Party. But now, just six years after Hungary had been taken over in the name of the workers, the country was falling behind. Quotas were not being met, and the vision of the eventual “workers’ paradise” was slipping further and further away. What was to be done? There was only one group of people with the requisite skills to realize the vision of Marx and Lenin: the surviving members of the bourgeoisie who were in prison.
In desperation, the Party organized industrial offices inside its political prisons and manned them with the people who with their training and expertise had been supporting and running the companies of the free market before the communists had taken over and arrested them. Practically Pythonesque, this solution saw the imprisoned enemies of the state, who had helped build the system that socialism was predicated on destroying, press-ganged into saving the economy from the incompetence and ideological dead end that was communism.
Because of his initial training as an architect, my father had to trade in his pick for a draftsman’s pen. He was moved to the Central Prison, outside Budapest, where an engineers’ office had been set up in the political prisoners’ wing. Here he would work as a prisoner-draftsman, supplying one of the technical skills that the one-party state’s command economy was in desperately short supply of.
In his new office, Paul befriended an older man who had been imprisoned for being a member of the postwar government and a leader of the YMCA This pillar of pre-communist Hungary, an elegant and handsome man named George, had a wife and young daughters who were now fending for themselves. One day George asked a favor. If ever Paul made it out of prison, would he please help his daughters escape to the West, away from the depredations and soul-destroying nihilism of communist life? Though my father was convinced that he would end his days behind bars, he assured George that should he ever make it out alive, he would gladly locate his daughters and escape to freedom in the West.
Then in the fall of 1956, the world turned upside down. Just for ten days, but it turned upside down. In response to anticommunist strikes and protests in Soviet-occupied East Germany and communist Poland, a group of Hungarian students from Paul’s old university decided to hold a silent vigil in solidarity with those resisting the Marxist oppression elsewhere. On October 23, they gathered at the statue of a Polish national hero that stood proudly on the bank of the Danube in downtown Budapest.
The number of students at the vigil grew and grew, and they collectively decided to cross the Danube and approach the headquarters of Hungarian state radio. As the crowd of silent marchers traversed the capital, the city’s residents opened their windows and stepped out onto their balconies waving the red, green, and white national flag in support. Not the flag of the communist state, with the hammer and wheatsheaf in the center, but the plain tricolor of a free Hungary, the communist emblem hurriedly torn out of the middle.
A nation was awakening. A people was rising as one to face and fight the totalitarians. Thus began the ten days of the Hungarian Revolution. The students were joined by the workers from the factories on Csepel Island in the Danube, laborers who had had enough of seeing the machinery and goods they produced shipped off to Russia, as the Party stewards repeatedly increased the mandatory production norms to inhuman levels while they themselves enjoyed all the privileges and luxuries that being a party flunky afforded them.
When the student protestors, their ranks swelled by the revolutionary “working class,” reached the radio headquarters, they demanded access to the studios to broadcast their list of impromptu demands, which included the withdrawal of all Soviet occupational forces from Hungarian territory and a free and fair election with a secret ballot.
It was here that the full force of history was unleashed. Secret police inside the building suddenly opened fire on the unarmed protestors, and the freedom-loving Hungarian people realized that the time had come. Soon anticommunist elements in the armed forces supplied arms to the revolutionaries and even fought on their side. The streets of Budapest became a barricade-littered battlefield, the forces of freedom pitched against the legions of the totalitarian oppressor. Hungarian students had been forced in recent years to attend Party-mandated infantry-skills classes so that they would be ready for any war with the “degenerate” West, and the well-trained young revolutionaries now won street battle after street battle.
It was at this point that the freedom fighters captured a tank from the Russians who were reinforcing the Hungarian Communist Party. The new revolutionary commander of the captured tank decided that rather than use his new weapon to attack the regime, he would liberate those who had suffered the most under the Stalinist dictatorship. The revolutionaries drove the Soviet tank to the national prison, where my father was incarcerated, and stormed it. Crashing through the gates, the freedom fighters flooded in to arrest the warders or kill those servants of the communist state who would not surrender. And so it was that my father was liberated by his fellow patriots during the precious few days when Hungary broke from Moscow and the tyranny of socialist oppression.
Soon a revolutionary cabinet was formed and negotiations were initiated with the weakened communist regime on the “neutral” territory of the Yugoslav embassy. The plan was for Hungary to break from Moscow’s control and force the removal of the thousands of Soviet troops and tanks that had been stationed in Hungary since the end of the war.
But then the revolution was betrayed.
Those negotiating on behalf of a free Hungary were kidnapped from the embassy grounds with the complicity of Marshal Tito, the Yugoslav dictator, and Moscow deployed hundreds of tanks and thousands of troops from the territory of Ukraine and Rumania into Hungary as reinforcements for the regime, crushing the fledging democratic government and taking back by force that which they could not have any other way.
My father was already with his widowed mother when the Soviets reinvaded. As he followed the freedom fighters’ tragic reversal, he was informed by a relative with a connection in the Ministry of the Interior that his name was on a shoot-to-kill list with other escaped “reactionary elements.” If found, he would not simply be arrested and sent back to solitary confinement; he would be shot there and then.
With no choice but to leave the country of his birth, he remembered the promise he had made to his prison mate about his daughters. Presenting himself at the family’s door, he announced that he was going to escape to the West and that the daughters could come with him. Two of them did: the eldest, a tall seventeen-year-old named Susan, and her younger sister Elizabeth. With only the clothes on their backs and enough money to make it to the Austrian border, the three left Budapest just as the forces of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Hungary were reestablishing their grip on the nation.
Elizabeth, who suffered from polio, had to turn back as the days grew colder and the journey more arduous. (Eventually she too would escape, accompanied to the West by my father’s best friend from his years in prison.) After avoiding the police and roving military patrols, Susan and my father made it to the border. But not knowing how to make it across the minefield laid by the Hungarian security forces along the border, they had to give the very last of their money – and my father’s gold watch, which had belonged to his father – to a local farmer, who revealed the path to safety through the mines.
Finally, after being betrayed, tortured, and imprisoned for almost a quarter of his life, my father made it to freedom and an Austrian refugee camp. Not knowing that he and his band of friends had been betrayed by a British counteragent, he told the authorities at the refugee camp that he wished to be settled in England.
As you may have guessed, Paul married Susan, who became my mother. I was born and raised in England, but I grew up a proud Hungarian. More important than that, I was brought up to understand one thing without question: freedom is fragile. Freedom is not the natural state of affairs, and there will always be those who believe they have the right to take your freedom from you to serve their “greater” ideological cause.
As a Hungarian-American Jew who has known Sebastian and his wife Katie for a number of years, I know firsthand that any accusations of anti-Semitism are outrageous. Unfortunately, they reflect a pattern of character assassination originating on the left that is highly destructive and, in fact, both evil and shameful. When staunch supporters of the Jewish people are called bigots by those who oppose Jewish self-determination and fanatically condemn Israel and its friends in America, we’ve truly entered a sick world. Let’s hope cooler and saner heads prevail.
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