Chapter 48 Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
Photo: Podmaniczky utca 27 and its trolley bus stop in more modern times. In 1981, this was Rudas László utca. google street view
I should perhaps have mentioned that for my entire period of army service, except during my basic training period, that I was released each Friday afternoon to perform my Arabic translation job at the Interior Ministry passport office. This was on what today has been re-christened Podmaniczky utca, in District VI.
Indeed, after six years or so of doing this I was an accepted member of the gang, and when not busy would often have a coffee and chat with some of the gatemen-cum-security guards.
So it was that on the afternoon of Friday, 27 March, 1981, I was making my way along the Lenin körút near Nyugati station, on my way to the office. There was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary, although there seemed to be worse traffic snarl up than usual.
At the crossroads, just opposite the post office, I turned the corner and was about to thread my way through the crowd waiting at the trolley bus stop when I felt two hands come under my armpits and I was lifted up, my feet dangling some inches off the ground. Simultaneously, a huge BMW screeched to a halt by the curb, the rear door was thrown open and I was flung onto the back seat like a sack of potatoes.
By the time I realised what was happening, one of the guys was sitting on my head and neck, while the other one humped on my legs. The doors closed and the car took off like a rocket.
After some fast maneuvering, I was allowed to sit, though all I knew was that I was in a luxury car, with my hands on the two front seats, a guy on each side, each weighing about 150 kg, and about 2m tall, and they were holding my wrists.
Nobody spoke a word. I just had a look to the right, and a look to the left, and tried to guess what was happening. I tried to be humorous, because, when they are taking someone to hang, then there are two things to do, laugh or cry. Well, I chose laughing. I asked the gentlemen – I used the old, formal term “uraim”, which was not part of the communist vocabulary - if they would be so kind as to tell me who they were.
They ignored my question.
The one in the front passenger seat then took out a microphone from the glove compartment.
Well, in those days, not everybody could have radios in their cars, and the moment that I saw there was a microphone and a short-wave radio in their glove compartment, I knew it was the authorities – but up to then, it could have been anybody.
“We have caught our little bird. We are taking our friend home, and all is in order.” he said. His colleagues, it seemed, were already parking in front of my house in another car.
So then I knew that I was going home, and I knew that a Hungarian Ministry, I presumed either the Interior or Defence, were involved.
It had been a perfectly organised kidnapping operation, in broad daylight, taking 30 seconds. Something told me I wasn't the first victim of their particular skill set.
Once at home, I found lieutenant colonel István Csenki and perhaps a dozen counter intelligence agents awaiting us. I got a beautiful pair of handcuffs, for the first time in my life, my hands carefully locked behind my back.
At this point, they began their search. I was just sitting in a chair, watching as they turned the place upside down, but since they found nothing incriminating, they ended up merely making a mess of the room. They let it be known it would be much better if I told them where to look, because if not, they would have to take the flat apart.
For a while, I sat it out. They broke some doors, pulled up some tiles and began ripping into my clothes and furniture.
Frankly, it seemed pretty hopeless, and to save them from totally destroying the place, I showed them where to find the microfilm reader that I presumed they had been so anxiously looking for. Then they found some maps, which had nothing to do with the whole thing, in a draw.
At some point Ilike, my sub-tenant, was brought into the flat and allowed, just once, to put a cigarette between my lips. She was told to stay as a witness to the "official procedure" until we left.
In the end, we left the place with four or five big plastic bags of stuff, 99% of which had nothing to do with any espionage, but they found it interesting. I never got any of those belongings back.
The whole thing had taken maybe 8-10 hours, and it was very late when they drove me to the military court-cum-prison in Fő utca, where they brought me into a big, big empty room. Here there was a, well maybe it was a doctor, I don't know, a lady, and a policeman. I had to undress completely, and was examined from my dentals to my rectum and toes, photographed and my fingerprints taken.
Maybe they thought I had fleas, because I was disinfected with some disgusting white powder, and then given some new clothes, notably without belts or anything that could be used for a suicide attempt.
After this, I was led into a cell, three floors down in the basement. One of the two bunks was already occupied.
The "bed" comprised a concrete bunk and blanket. A single bulb, well beyond reach, shone continuously, and I was instructed to sleep only on my back, with arms crossed over my chest, on top of the cover and always kept visible.
This less-than-comfortable cell would be my 'home' for the next two months.