EXCERPT: 'Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America,' by Kati Marton

Periodically moistening her finger, Katalin, as I am now encouraged to call her, flips through the hundreds of pages of our family file. She is familiar with their contents. As the pages fly by, names from my childhood unspool. Even more names are inside quotation marks, code names for informers. Reading my thoughts, Katalin says, "Everybody in your circle, whether your parents trusted or did not trust them, was informing on them. That was just the way it was." She shrugs. Flipping through a series of reports under code name "Gaspar," I am struck by the frequency of my name and my sister, Julia's. I do not want to risk losing these pages amid the thousands, so I place a hand on hers. "Please." She pauses for a moment. "These are all yours. You can take them and do what you like with them." As if to say, "We are a different country now!" But I can't wait. Who is this energetic informer "Gaspar" and why her constant reference to two little girls? "Well," Katalin answers, pursing her lips, "I am not allowed to inform you of such things, the actual names of agents. But I will tell you this: the code usually has some connection to the real name." Gaspar. Of course. Gabrielle. Our French nanny! A zealous agent, to judge by her contribution to the file. Along with anger I feel some vindication. I never liked her, and it was mutual. I can still hear the clop, clop, of her high heels every morning as she reached for the venetian blinds directly over my head, raising them with maximum clatter, while calling out in her shrill high-pitched voice, "Levez-vous, mes enfants!" No wonder she was always in a hurry. She had more important business.

Out of another file falls artwork by my sister and me: a house with a smoking chimney, and birds the size of people strolling in the foreground, and another with a long row of snails climbing a hill, with the inscription, "Mamikanak," "To Mommy." Another stick figure drawing is inscribed with handwriting I recognize as my grandmother's. "Kati did this and she isn't even in school yet!" And, more chillingly, shots of my parents, clearly caught unawares on a street, by a telephoto lens. I am struck that, even though oblivious to the camera's intrusive eye, my father is ramrod straight, his face composed, his expression inscrutable. A man who, having barely survived the Nazis, was caught again on the losing side, wearing protective armor against the outside world. But no armor could protect him from a State that collected his children's artwork.

But now my guide is speeding forward. A new file with the letter "B" in bold on the cover. I know by now that "B" stands for Beszervezes, "agent recruitment" for the secret police. "Izorche" is the code name on this one. "That, I can tell you, was your father's code name." My mouth is too dry to speak. How dare she imply such a thing! So this was the reason for the compassion that was absent at our first meeting and her warning to come alone. The date on the last report in my father's recruitment file is 1967. This is impossible -- by 1967 we were living in America. We were safe. Or so I have always assumed.

But I don't want to argue with her that this is ludicrous -- two people who resisted the all-powerful AVO in its own territory? How could they imagine my parents would be Beszervezes material, once they were safely in the United States?

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...