Chapter 5 – Tact and Tactless
One day in 1964 or early 65, my father was unexpectedly called to the dean's office, to be greeted by the news that Prof Weichinger, his 'beloved' boss, had passed away. Naturally, this meant the position of head of architecture at Budapest Technical University was vacant.
“Comrade Rimner, you are the senior man in the department, and we would like you to take over,” said the dean, adding, with an extra degree of solemnity, “Only, there is a certain formality in order to achieve this, you understand: you do need to join the Party.”
The offer was obviously both an honour and opportunity: for many academics, the chance to lead the department at their country's most prestigious university was about as good as it gets.
I don't know whether it was an especially bad day, or just that my father was not the most tactful man on this planet: whatever, instead of asking for time to consider his options, or at worst quietly declining the opportunity, he was, shall we say, a little too impetuous - and certainly too frank.
“I've never been a member of any political party. I didn't join the Nazis in WW2, so don't expect me to join the Communist Party now, merely to further my career,” he retorted.
It hardly needs saying that this was the last time my father was asked to fill a leading position in Hungary. To directly compare communism to the Nazis in those days was tantamount to professional suicide in terms of career progression.
But that wasn't all: the man eventually chosen for the job was one of my father's former students – and one who, in his opinion, was “none too brilliant” at that.
So it was that the passing of Dr Weichinger, far from easing my father's daily professional travails, things went from bad to worse.
At least, that's how it seemed.