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Paul Coates -- confidential file

November 14, 2007 |  6:03 pm

Nov. 13, 1957

Paul_coates For Joseph Szabo, bravery has been an expensive trait.

Its cost has included starvation and dungeons and tortures, like these (I'll give them to you in Szabo's words):

"Every day they were to take me and put me on a desk. Three people sit on my back and legs.

"Other people have a rubber club.

"They hit at the bottoms of my feet.

"They tell me to count after each hit...

"...One, two three.... Once I count to 251 for them.

"My foot was blue and yellow and green and all broke inside. They tell me get up and to walk. Fast. And I was to sing Hungarian gypsy song."

Szabo lay in his bed at Queen of Angels Hospital as we talked. Hanging over the bed's side was the stump that used to be his left leg. Amputation was made just below the knee.

He looked at it quizzically and smiled.

1957_1113_szabo "Always I am looking for my leg," he said. "I can't find it. But still, I can feel it."

It was grim humor, but maybe it's the kind of humor you have to have to make the adjustment. I guess he thought he had offended me with his bluntness, because immediately he added:

"Honestly, I am still a lucky man. A lot of people in the prisons had worse. They died.

"Only because I was young, they didn't hang me."

He illustrated the statement by encircling his neck with his hands.

He is now 28, he told me. Since he had been a teenager, he said, he had resisted the Communist fist in Hungary.

"At 19, I was sent to prison for almost six years."

His crime was having weapons--although the Communist police didn't actually find them, or know for sure that he had them.

That was what the tortures which eventually cost him a leg were for: To find out where the weapons were.

Joseph told me of other tortures, no less pleasant. They cost him six teeth and some broken fingers.

I asked him when he left Hungary.

He said on Nov. 21 of last year. He came to the United States last January.

"I left my country when I knew we had lost. The Russian was the stronger.

"We try to fight. Free Europe radio tell us when we start just fight for 72 hours and they will come to help.

"But they didn't come."

I asked if our radio--the Voice of America--told him that.

1957_1113_morey_amsterdam "The American radio told just what is true," he answered. "It did not promise.

"America has a good soul," he continued. "The United States people give help. But they don't know."

"Don't know what?" I wanted to know.

"Here," he answered, "everything is comfortable. People don't know what is the word Communism. They don't know what they do.

"One person here ask me, 'Where do you come from?'

"I say, 'From Hungary.'

"He say, 'Oh, where is Hungary?' "

We chatted a little more. Joseph told me that the Hungarian families here have helped him very much. for 2 1/2 months, before he started regular stays in the hospital in a vain effort to save his leg, he worked for one of the families in a jewelry store.

Since he has been unable to work, he's been aided by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, hospitals and private doctors.

"There are many fine people," he told me.

"In Hungary," he added, "we thought dollars were in the streets here in America.

"Now I see dollars are not in the streets. You must work hard."

Again Joseph smiled. "When I get my new leg," he said, "I will."