The window

The Chrysorogiatissa monastery in Cyprus keeps one of the holiest icons of Christianity, the one painted of the Virgin Mary by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. Other monasteries also boast that they keep this icon, three others in Cyprus alone, but also seven in Ethiopia, and many others in Russia, Rome, on Mount Athos, in India, and around the world. But you do not have to choose one and reject the authenticity of the others, and it does not need to be rationalized either, as the Kykkos monastery tries to explain, for the sake of peace, saying that St. Luke indeed painted three icons, and each of the three are kept in three different Cyprus monasteries. No. St. Luke painted only one single, most holy icon, the model of all subsequent images of the Holy Virgin, and this very one is kept in each monastery, always right there, where one makes a pilgrimage to it.

The icon of the Holy Virgin by St. Luke, kept in the Chrysorogiatissa monastery, may have been made in the 12th century, based on its stylistic features, but these cannot be seen on the iconostasis of the monastery, along which have been hung silver votive reliefs and wax dolls as supplication or thanksgiving for healing. The painted icon, in fact, is covered by a silver oklad or in Greek επένδυση, an icon cover, on which we see in relief the figure of the original icon, Mary with the child. But even the silver icon cover is mostly covered by a black fabric, embroidered with a colorful version of the original figure. It is very fitting that the sacred, which enters this world, is not exposed to the multitude of uninitiated, skeptical or even indifferent gazes, but it can be seen, as if through a multiple layer of glasses, essentially only to the believer.

But to benefit also the simple pilgrim from the holiness mediated by the icon, a tiny crack appears in the glasses. The embroidered picture leaves the lower part of the silver icon cover exposed. And on this visible strip, a small silver door opens, through which a little piece of the original icon is revealed. All the paint has long been worn off of this small rectangle, and even the wood of the icon panel has been indented in the aftermath of the touch of thousands of pilgrims’ fingers. But even so, the little window opens onto the icon, like New Year’s eve on the coming of an unknown new year, full of hope for those who peer into it.

The cup of St. John

Hans Memling: St. John the Evangelist writing the Book of Revelations in the island of Patmos, ca. 1479. Detail of the St. John Altarpiece of Bruges

On June 24, Midsummer Night, that is, the day of St. John the Baptist we saw some little-known depictions of the saint: the two-headed John and the angel-winged John, the latter sometimes with a cup in the hand, in which the child Jesus is floating. Today, on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, we want to introduce a similar representation of this John, where he blesses the cup in his hand, and the poison in it, intended for him, escapes in the shape of a serpent or dragon.

El Greco: St. John the Evangelist, 1595-1604

St. John the Evangelist is better known from some other iconographic types, which are more widespread, because they are all based on the New Testament books: when during the Last Supper he leans his head on Christ’s bosom, when he and the Virgin Mary stand on either side under the cross, and Christ entrusts His mother to him, or when he is writing the Book of Revelations or his gospel in the island of Patmos. The “John with a cup” iconographic formula, however, has no biblical source. This type comes from a second-century apocryphal work, the Acts of John, where Aristodemus, the chief priest of the Ephesian Artemis Temple forces the apostle to drink poison. The story found its way into the most popular medieval collection of saints’ legends, the 13th-century Legenda Aurea. The original Acts of John recounts it like this:

“Now when Aristodemus, who was chief priest of all those idols, saw this [the destruction of many pagan temples of Ephesus and the conversion of 12,000 people], filled with a wicked spirit, he stirred up sedition among the people, so that one people prepared themselves to fight against the other. And John turned to him and said: Tell me, Aristodemus, what can I do to take away the anger from thy soul? And Aristodemus said: If thou wilt have me believe in thy God, I will give thee poison to drink, and if thou drinkst it, and diest not, it will appear that thy God is true. The apostle answered: If thou givest me poison to drink, when I call on the name of my Lord, it will not be able to harm me. Aristodemus said again: I will that thou first seest others drink it and die straightway that so thy heart may recoil from that cup. […]

Aristodemus therefore went to the proconsul and asked him two men who were to undergo the sentence of death. And when he had set them in the midst of the market-place before all the people, in the sight of the apostle he made them drink the poison: and as soon as they had drunk it, they gave up the ghost. Then Aristodemus turned to John and said: Hearken to me and depart from thy teaching wherewith thou callest away the people from the worship of the gods; or take and drink this, that thou mayest show that thy God is almighty, if after thou hast drunk, thou canst remain whole. Then the blessed John, as they lay dead which had drunk the poison, like a fearless and brave man took the cup, and making the sign of the cross, spake thus:

My God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose word the heavens were established, unto whom all things are subject, whom all creation serveth, whom all power obeyeth, feareth and trembleth, when we call on thee for succour: whose name the serpent hearing is still, the dragon fleeth, the viper is quiet, the toad is still and strengthless, the scorpion is quenched, the basilisk vanquished, and the phalangia [spider] doth no hurt – in a word, all venomous things, and the fiercest reptiles and noisome beasts, are pierced. Do thou, I say, quench the venom of this poison, put out the deadly workings thereof, and void it of the strength which it hath in it: and grant in thy sight unto all these whom thou hast crated, eyes that they may see, and ears that they may hear and a heart that they may understand thy greatness.

And when he had thus said, he armed his mouth and all his body with the sign of the cross and drank all that was in the cup. And after he had drunk, he said: I ask that they for whose sake I have drunk, be turned unto thee, O Lord, and by thine enlightening receive the salvation which is in thee. And when for the space of three hours the people saw that John was of a cheerful countenance, and that there was no sign at all of paleness of fear in him, they began to cry out with a loud voice: He is the one true God whom John worshippeth.

But Aristodemus even so believed not, though the people reproached him: but turned unto John and said: This one thing I lack – if thou in the name of thy God raise up these that have died by this poison, my mind will be cleansed of all doubt. […] John caled Aristodemus to him, and gave him his coat: […] Go and cast it upon the bodies of the dead, and thou shalt say thus: The apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ hath sent me that in his name ye may rise again, that all may know that life and death are servants of my Lord Jesus Christ. Which when Aristodemus had done, and had seen them rise, he worshipped John.”

Sarumi Mester: St. John the Evangelist drinks the poisoned cup. Salisbury, ca. 1250 k. Below: Bernardo Martorell on the same, ca. 143

This story is the source of the typical solitary representations of St. John the Evangelist, in which the standing saint is blessing the cup. And even if sometimes no snake comes out of it, you must know that in this moment the poison is disappearing from it.

Jan van Eyck: St. John the Evangelist from the Ghent Altarpiece, 1430-32 (click for the full picture)

On the other side, the cup also refers to a much more embarrassing event of John’s life, which he might have recalled with shame even at the age of hundred, in the island of Patmos. Namely, when with his mother and his brother James they went to Christ to ask him that in His glory they might sit on His right and left side. “You do not know what you are asking”, Jesus replied. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able”, they replied. “Yes, you will indeed drink my cup”, Jesus predicts. (Mt 20:20-23). This cup is the cup of suffering, of which Jesus, in His prayer on the Mount of Olives, asks that “if it is possible, let it pass from me” (Mt 26:39-42). And the story of the cup of St. John also suggest that, indeed, John also drank this cup.

Piero di Cosimo: St. John the Evangelist, 1500-1505 k.

This reference to martyrdom and to the passion of Christ increased even more the importance of the cup of St. John. This is why they could represent it in itself, as an emblem, like in Hans Memling’s renowned St. Veronica panel painting (ca. 1470-75). The just 30 cm high panel was probably a personal home altar. Its obverse side shows Veronica holding the image of Christ drawn not with human hand, and its reverse the cup of St. John. Both were widely spread apotropaic images in the Middle Ages, perhaps this is why they were represented on the two sides of a home altar, but also because, through the reference to the cup of sufference, both were in direct relationship with the passion of Christ. The panel had a winding path in the course of the past centuries, including the Hungarian castle of Rohonc for a while. But just at the beginning of the 1500s, it was in possession of the Venetian Bernardo Bembo – the father of the great humanist cardinal Pietro Bembo –, and Piero di Cosimo might have copied his cup from it at that time.

The story of the blessing told above the cup is the source of the medieval custom of St. John’s blessing, when people before departure on a long road or to battle, or even before being sentenced to death, drank wine that had been blessed in the name of St. John. The custom became a liturgical event, the consacration of wine, which still takes place in the Catholic churches on the day of St. John, on December 27, and if the variety of toxins nowadays present in the wine should still leave in the form of snakes, it would significantly enrich the reptile fauna of the world. The ceremony is called already in the first printed ritual book of the Hungarian Archdiocese of Esztergom of 1485/95 as Benedictio vini seu amoris Sancti Ioanni tertio die post Domini nativitatem, “blessing of the wine, or of St. John’s love, on the third day after the birth of the Lord.” The illustration of the ritual book skilfully combines the dragons coming out from the poisoned wine with the seven-headed dragon of the Apocalypse, which was described by St. John in the Book of Revelations on the island of Patmos.

Apocalypsis Sancti Iohannis, Germany, ca. 1470

French master: St. John on the island of Patmos. The beginning of St. John’s Gospel, 1490-1500. Koninklijke Bibliothek, The Hague

And still survives from the story the custom of “the cup of St. John”, or “St. John’s blessing”, which is the name of the last cup jointly drank by the company before breaking up: Igyuk meg a János-poharat! “let’s drink the cup of St. John!” That is, may every kind of poison depart from this cup and from between us. Which we particularly wish to everyone for the next few evenings, rich in cups, and throughout the whole new year.

Hans Memling: St. John the Evangelist, ca. 1479. Detail of the St. John Altarpiece of Bruges

La copa de san Juan

Hans Memling: San. Juan Evangelista escribiendo el «Libro de las Revelaciones» en la isla de Patmos, ca. 1479. Detalle del Altar de san Juan en Brujas

El 24 de junio, la noche de verano por antonomasia, día de san Juan Bautista vimos algunas representaciones poco conocidas del santo: el Juan bicéfalo y el Juan ángel alado, este último a veces con una copa o cáliz en la mano donde flota el Niño Jesús. Hoy, festividad de san Juan Evangelista, tenemos una representación similar de este otro Juan bendiciendo una copa en la que el veneno que le iba destinado sale en forma de serpiente o dragón.

El Greco: San Juan Evangelista, 1595-1604

San Juan Evangelista es mejor conocido por otros tipos iconográficos más populares porque se basan en los libros del Nuevo Testamento: cuando en la Última Cena inclina la cabeza sobre el pecho de Cristo, cuando él y la Virgen velan debajo de la cruz y Cristo le confía a su madre, o cuando escribe el Apocalipsis o su Evangelio en la isla de Patmos. La fórmula iconográfica «Juan con la copa», sin embargo, carece de fuente bíblica. Este tipo proviene de una obra apócrifa del siglo II, los Hechos de Juan, donde Aristodemo, el primer sacerdote del templo de Artemisa en Éfeso, obliga al Apóstol a beber veneno. La historia tuvo éxito en la colección medieval más popular de leyendas de santos, la Leyenda áurea, del siglo XIII. Los Hechos de Juan originales la cuentan así:

«Luego que Aristodemo, que era jefe de los sacerdotes de todos aquellos ídolos, vio esto [la destrucción de muchos templos paganos de Éfeso y la conversión de 12.000 personas], lleno de un espíritu maligno agitó la sedición entre las gentes de modo que unos se dispusieron a luchar contra los otros. Y Juan se volvió hacia él y le dijo: Dime, Aristodemo, ¿qué puedo hacer para quitar el enojo de tu alma? Y Aristodemo dijo: Si quieres que crea en tu Dios, te daré a beber veneno, y si lo bebes y no mueres, me parecerá que tu Dios es el verdadero. El apóstol respondió: Cuando me des a beber veneno, si pronuncio el nombre de mi Señor, no podrá dañarme. Aristodemo dijo de nuevo: Quiero que veas cómo otros beben y mueren enseguida para que hasta tu corazón retroceda ante esta copa. [...]

Aristodemo fue entonces al procónsul y le pidió dos condenados que iban a cumplir sentencia de muerte. Y tan pronto como estuvieron en medio de la plaza del mercado, delante de todo el pueblo y a la vista del apóstol les hizo beber el veneno: y así como lo bebieron, entregaron su alma. Aristodemo luego se volvió hacia Juan y le dijo: Escúchame y deja de instigar a la gente para que se aparte de la adoración a los dioses; o toma y bebe esto para demostrar que tu Dios es todopoderoso si después de beberlo puedes permanecer sano. A continuación, el bendito Juan, mientras yacían muertos los que habían bebido el veneno, tomó la copa como un hombre valiente que a nada teme, y haciendo la señal de la cruz, habló así:

Mi Dios y Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo, por cuya palabra se hicieron los cielos, a quien todo lo creado está sujeto, a quien sirven las criaturas, ante quien todo poder se inclina, teme y tiembla cuando reclamamos auxilio: cuyo nombre deja inmóvil a la serpiente, hace huir al  dragón, aquieta a la víbora y al sapo quita las fuerzas, aplaca al escorpión, deja vencido al basilisco, y la phalangia [araña] no daña —en una palabra, todas las cosas venenosas y las bestias feroces y los reptiles asquerosos son destruidos. Tú, digo, saca el veneno de esta ponzoña, arranca la muerte con que trabaja y prívala de la fuerza que alberga en su interior: y otorga a estas gentes reunidas ojos para que vean y oídos para que oigan y un corazón que pueda comprender tu grandeza.

Y habiendo dicho esto, persignó su boca y todo su cuerpo con la señal de la cruz y bebió cuanto había en la copa. Y después de haber bebido, dijo: Pido que aquellos por cuya causa he bebido se vuelvan a ti, Señor, y con tu iluminación reciban la salvación que está en ti. Y después de que por espacio de tres horas la gente observara que Juan permanecía con el rostro alegre, y que no había en él ni la más mínima señal de palidez ni miedo, comenzaron a gritar en alta voz: Él es el único Dios verdadero, a quien Juan adora.

Pero aún así Aristodemo no lo creía, aunque la gente se lo reclamaba: se volvió a Juan y le dijo: Una cosa me falta -– si tú en el nombre de tu Dios levantas a estos que han muerto por el veneno, mi mente se limpiará de toda duda. [...] Juan se acercó a Aristodemo y le dio su capa: [...] Ve y colócala sobre los cuerpos de los muertos, y dirás así: El Apóstol de nuestro Señor Jesucristo me ha enviado para que en su nombre podáis lavantaros de nuevo, de modo que todos sepan que la vida y la muerte son siervas de mi Señor Jesucristo. Cuando Aristodemo hubo hecho esto y vio que se levantaban, adoró a Juan».

Maestro Sarumi: San Juan Evangelista bebe la copa de veneno. Salisbury, ca. 1250 k.
Abajo: Bernardo Martorell idem, ca. 1430

Esta historia es la fuente de las típicas representaciones solitarias de san Juan Evangelista, en las que el santo, de pie, bendice una copa. Y aunque a veces no veamos serpiente alguna huyendo, hay que entender que es el momento en que disipa el veneno.

Jan van Eyck: San Juan Evangelista del Altar de Gante, 1430-32 (click para el cuadro completo)

Por otro lado, la copa también apunta a una serie de acontecimientos bastante más embarazosos de la vida de Juan, que recordaría con vergüenza incluso a la edad de cien años, en la isla de Patmos. Principalmente, cuando con su madre y su hermano Jaime fueron a pedirle a Cristo que, en la Gloria pudieran sentarse a su lado derecho e izquierdo respectivamente. «No sabéis lo que estáis pidiendo», respondió Jesús. «¿Seríais capaces de beber del cáliz que yo he de beber?» «Lo somos», respondieron. «Sí, ciertamente beberéis mi cáliz», predijo Jesús. (Mt 20: 20-23). Es el cáliz del sufrimiento del que Jesús, en su oración en el Monte de los Olivos, pide que se le aparte (Mt 26: 39-42). Así, la imagen de la copa de san Juan también sugiere que, en definitiva, el apóstol probó aquel cáliz.

Piero di Cosimo: San Juan Evangelista, 1500-1505

Esta referencia al martirio y la pasión de Cristo aumentó de hecho la importancia visual de la copa de san Juan. Y llegó a convertirse en una especie de representación simbólica suya, como en la famosa pintura del Panel de Santa Verónica de Hans Memling (ca. 1470-1475). El panel, de tan sólo 30 cm de altura, fue probablemente un altar personal doméstico. Su anverso muestra a Verónica sosteniendo la imagen de Cristo pintada sin intervención humana, y en el reverso muestra la copa de san Juan. Ambas imágenes fueron ampliamente difundidas en la Edad Media como objetos apotropaicos. Tal vez es por eso que se representaron juntas a ambos lados de un altar doméstico; y también porque a través de la referencia a la copa de sufrimiento, ambas estaban en relación directa con la pasión de Cristo. Este panel tuvo una vida azarosa a lo largo de los siglos, incluyendo una estancia en el castillo húngaro de Rohonc. Pero justo a comienzos del 1500 estaba en posesión del veneciano Bernardo Bembo —padre del gran humanista, el cardenal Pietro Bembo—, y Piero di Cosimo pudo haber copiado allí su copa en ese momento.

La historia de la bendición pronunciada sobre la copa es el origen de la costumbre medieval de la Bendición de san Juan, cuando la gente antes de partir para un largo camino o hacia una batalla, o incluso antes de ser condenados a muerte, bebía el vino que había sido bendecido en el nombre de san Juan. La costumbre se convirtió en evento litúrgico, la consagración del vino, que aún se lleva a cabo en las iglesias católicas el día de san Juan, 27 de diciembre; y si la variedad de toxinas presentes en la actualidad en el vino adoptara forma de serpientes, se enriquecería significativamente la fauna reptiliana del planeta. La ceremonia se conoce, ya en el primer libro ritual  impreso por la archidiócesis húngara de Esztergom, 1485/95, como Benedictio vini seu amoris Sancti Ioanni tertio die post Domini nativitatem, (bendición del vino, o del amor de san Juan, en el tercer día después del nacimiento del Señor). La ilustración de este libro combina hábilmente los dragones que salen del vino ponzoñoso con el dragón de siete cabezas del Apocalipsis, descrito por San Juan en el Libro de las revelaciones en la isla de Patmos.

Apocalypsis Sancti Iohannis, Alemania, ca. 1470

Maestro francés: San Juan en la isla de Patmos. Principio del Evangelio de san Juan, 1490-1500. Koninklijke Bibliothek, La Haya

Y aún pervive de esta historia la costumbre de la «Copa de san Juan», o «Bendición de san Juan». Es, como se viene haciendo desde la Edad Media, sobre todo en Alemania (la Johannesminne), el último brindis antes de separarse. En húngaro: Igyuk meg a János-poharat! (¡Bebamos la copa de san Juan!). Es decir, que cualquier veneno se aleje de esta copa y de nosotros. Cosa que deseamos particularmente a todos en las próximas veladas, abundantes en tragos, y también durante todo el año nuevo.

Hans Memling: San Juan Evangelista, ca. 1479. Detalle del Altar de san Juan de Brujas

The long voyage

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 8kán

Kedves anyukám élek
Eszt a levelet Buda Pesten
Irom Hogy hova
Megyunk nem tudjuk
hogy hova visznek
Aszt csak ök tudjak


Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 8th Agust

Dear Mommy I am living
This letter I write
On Buda Pest. We do not
Know where we go
where they take us
Only they know it

I kiss you
A hundret times

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 9kén

Kedves anyukán hálistenek életben vagyok
Semi bajom nem történt csak az fáj
Nagyon hogy Magyar országon keresztül
Visznek benünket Romániába valami munkára
De majdcsak megsegit a Jó Isten hogy egyszer
Viszont látjuk egymást, hogyha megérjük
Üdvözlöm nénémet Böncikét Mamájékat
És az Öszes rokonokat és barátokat
Akik élnek, Csokolak Milioszor ate Apukád

Sógoromrol semitsem tudok 1 holnapja

Karasz Pálné Részére, Békés Megye
Orosháza köségi posta 133/31

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31

Aki megtalálja
A cimzetnek
Dated on 9th Agust

Dear Mommy thanks God I’m alive
I’m healthy, it only hurts that
They take us through Hungary
To Romania to some work
But the Good God will help me that once
We will see us again, if we live to see it
I greet my sister, Böncike, my Mum
And all the relatives and friends
Who are alive. A million kisses from Daddy

I know nothing of my brother-in-law since a month

For Mrs. Karasz, Békés county
Orosháza, village post office, 133/31

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

If you find it
Please send it
To the Addressee

Kedves férje aug. 10én Szolnokon utazott keresztül a fogoly vonattal Románia felé, de reméljük rövidesen visszasegíti őket a jó Isten és újra viszontláthatják egymást! Szeretettel köszönti Csikos Imréné


T. Karasz Pálné
Községi posta 133/31
Békés megye

[Feladó:] Csikos Imréné, Karczag, Petőfi u. 14.
Your dear husband traveled through Szolnok with the prisoners’ train to Romania on Aug 10, but he will be hopefully brought back soon by the good God, and you can see each other again! Warm greetings from Mrs. Imre Csikos

POW letter

To Mrs. Karasz
Post office 133/31
Békés county

[Sender:] Mrs. Imre Csikos, Karcag, Petőfi 14

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 10kén

Kedves anyukám ezt a levelet
Mezőturol irom a lezárt vagonbol
Sajnos hogy nemtudok haza
Jöni Semi bajom nincsen
Csak nagyon fáj hogy még csak
Nemis láthatlak újra
hoszu távollét után de hogy
Mikor látjuk viszont egymást
Az utunk Romániába vezet munkára
Édes anyukám Csokolak Milioszor

Csokolom Mamájékat
Csokolom Nénémet
Kis Böncikét

Ha a Jo Isten hazasegit életben

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 10th Agust

Dear Mommy I write this letter
From Mezőtúr, the sealed cattle car
I am so sorry I cannot come
Home I have no problem, only
It hurts that I even canot see
You again after such
a long absence, but
When will we see us again
Our trip leads to Romania for work
Dear Mommy, a milion kisses
From Daddy

Kisses to Mum
Kisses to my Sister
To Little Böncike

If the good God helps me home
Then wewillbehappy

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Village post 133/31

Kedves ismeretlen magyar testvér
A mezőturi állomáson pénteken este 7 orakor be érkezett egy magyar fogoj vonat, én is kint voltam és fel vettem ezt az üzenetet, és sietek minél hamarab eljutatni önek, hogy meg tudja hogy férje él, románia felé vitték öket. Beszélni nem lehetet velök, sem nem lehet látni honan dobták ki a levelet. Mikor el megy a vonat akor lehet oda menni a céduláér. Maradok tisztelettel Erzsike

Kérem legyen szives értesíteni megkapták e üzenetemet
cimem. Mezőtúr. Székeskert 19.a Rima Erzsike

Kárász Pálné
Békés megye
Köségi posta 133/131

Fel. Rima Erzsébet. Mezőtúr. Székeskert 19

Dear unknown Hungarian sister
On Friday at 7 p.m. a Hungarian POW train arrived at the station of Mezőtúr. I was also there and I picked up this message, and I hurry to send it to you so you would know that your husband is alive, they are taken towards Romania. It was impossible to speak with them, one could not even see from where the letter was thrown out. Only when the train leaves, you can go there to pick up the letters. Respectfully, Erzsike

Please be so kind to inform me whether you got my message
my address: Mezőtúr, Székeskert str. 19/a, Erzsike Rima

For Respected Mrs. Kárász
Békés county
Post office 133/131

Sender: Erzsébet Rima, Mezőtúr, Székeskert 19

POW letter

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 11kén

Kedves anyukám ez a levél
Márt vagy a hatodik amit
Irok eszt márt a határtól
Irom Édes anyukám nagyon
Vigyáz magadra Mert csak
Te érted érdemes enyit szenved
Ni Elképzelheted hogy menyit
Szenved az Ember Eben a nagy
Hőségben mikor rázárják az
Ajtot és alig kapunk vizet
A Vörös keresztes növérek
Hoztak egykis csomagokat
De az Oroszok nemengeték
Be adni igy hát az idén
Semi féle gyümölcsöt nemetünk
Edés anyukám hálistenek énekem
Semi bajom nincsen egésegesvagyok
Ha a Jo Isten haza segit majd
Majd mindent elmesélek
Csak megtudod várni aszt az idöt
Csokolak Milioszor Apud
Csokolom Növéremet Böncikétis
Legközelebi Viszont látásig Pali

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 11 Agust 1945

Dear Mommy this letter
Is about the sixth which I
Write, this one from the border
I write. Dear Mommy, please
Take care. Because it is only
Worth for you so much to suf
Fer You can imagine how much
One suffers in this great heat
When they close the doors and we
Hardly get any water. The Red
Cross sisters brought
Us some little packages But
The Russians did not let
Them give it to us, so this year
We did not eat any kind of fruit
Dear Mommy thanks God I
Have no problem, healthyiam
If the Good God helps me home
I will tell everything
May you wait that time!
A million kisses from Daddy
Kisses to my Sister, also Böncike,
Till nearest Goodbye. Pali

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Village post 133/31

Kedves ismeretlen Karaszné, ha a levelet megkapja legyen szives válaszolni.
Maradok tisztelettel

Tudom hogy meg örül a levélnek


Karasz Pálné
Békés megye
Községi posta 133/31

[Feladó:] ifj. Simonka Péter
N[agy]váradi ú. 98.
Békés megye
Dear unknown Mrs. Karasz, if you get this mail, be so kind to answer me

I know you will be happy to get this letter

POW letter

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

[Sender:] Péter Simonka Jr.
Nagyváradi út 98
Békés county

The Hungarian soldiers commanded by the Germans to the defense of the Reich west of Hungary, and there captured by the Red Army, were transported to the Soviet Gulag on two routes in the summer of 1945. The first led through Debrecen to the collecting camp of Máramarossziget/Sighetu Marmației, and from there by train to Kiev. The other through Arad to the collecting camp of Focșani, and from there through Constanța to Odessa by boat. The “sender” of the above letters, Pál Karasz from Orosháza was brought along the latter route.

The four letters which survived from the ones thrown out from the cattle car and entrusted to the solidarity of the fellow compatriots were written from 8 to 11 August 1945 in Budapest, Szolnok, Mezőtúr and Kétegyháza (marked in red on the contemporary railway map below). This road is now two hours by train. Then it was nearly four days. And then four times more followed to Focșani, where the prisoners could first get out of the crowded cattle car. I mean, the ones who survived the long voyage.

The solidarity post worked surprisingly well in the occupied and devastated country. From the six letters written until Kétegyháza, four ones reached the addressee. The route of the one written in Budapest is uncertain, but the one of Szolnok was forwarded by an inhabitant of Karcag (marked in blue), and the two other were posted by locals, accompanied with their sympathetic letters, to Mrs. Karasz in Orosháza (marked in green). To the prisoner, as he writes, it was especially painful that the train passed near his home, and he could not even look out of the wagon.

The train followed the same way as the hero of Pál Závada’s best-selling novel Yadviga’s Pillow (1997), Márton Osztatní, who was captured in Brno. He also “wrote tiny letters”, he was also from Békés county, he was also carried near his home to Focșani through Budapest, Szolnok and Mezőtúr. He also arrived there on 10 August. But he never reached Kétegyháza.

“[1945] July 17. We sleep squatting through the night. The toalet is a conic stovepipe across the floor. It’s dark and stuffy hot. I’m learning Russian, I have a Russian dictionary and grammar. I don’t follow the days. We have been traveling for five or six days, I don’t know. I press my mouth on the door fissure to get some fresh air. The food is constantly corn, sometimes cracked, bran, salted fish, suchar, that is, rock hard dried bread. Dysentery is spreading, First me, then Lieutenant Sárközi became commanders of the toalet. We let the people come three times a day, but it did not work. Many people had to come at night. Finally, there was no half hour without someone suffering. Two of the four windows of the wagon are nailed. A stench that puts to shame a ferret farm. I start my last notebook page, but only if we stand. I mostly think about my poor son, little Jancsika. Outside, the hottest summer heat. Some are fainting. Several weeks without a bath; beards, and distant, deranged glances, skinny, half-nude bodies. My God, at least we should not look at each other! I think my friend Bandi got crazy. Crying, loud praying. Some are talking in their sleep and are at home. The border! The thousand-year-old Hungarian border! We start writing tiny letters, and we throw them out when we see civilians. Some frightening news. We are not going home, but to Focșani, Romania! Then good bye, civilian life! First Romania, then Russia – slow death. They do not accept us at the frontier. Are we so vile villains? Had I not gone out because it was ordered? In our wagon, some 30-35 persons suffer from dysentery, including me. One is almost dying. We have already traveled some 20 days. Szolnok, Szajol, Mezőtúr. Oh, familiar countryside! I feel that I have no force any more. We are constantly lying. There is no more place.

And finally this was the last note of my Mother, Mrs. András Osztatní, née Mária Jadviga Palkovits: Yesterday, on August 10, 1945 I received the news, of which no more terrible can be received by a mother. My beloved son Marci died. And on the train, when he was the nearest to me! My God, how could you allow it? And how could I allow him to go to the war? I should have had to forbid it, I should have had to hide him or bring him out of the hell on my two arms. I was not where I should have been, I did not do what I should have done. We immediately run with Misu to see him. And I saw him. But I cannot describe it. I should have perished instead of him!”

Mrs. Pál Karasz preserved until her death the letters of her husband thrown out of the cattle car, along with the cover letters of the goodwill senders. From her estate they got to the collector János Fellner, who recently presented them in the Facebook group “Collectors of camp post cards”. Here we publish them with his permission.