“Free Cardinal Mindszenty!”
One of my earliest memories of the Bronx Italian-American parish in which I grew up was of a letter being read at Sunday Mass. It was from Cardinal Spellman asking parishioners to write relatives in Italy pleading with them to vote for the Christian Democrats in the crucial election of 1948. If memory serves, at about the same time, posters went up on New York City buses saying: “Free Cardinal Mindszenty!”, and a new Archdiocesan high school was named “Archbishop Stepinac.”
Some years later, as a freshman at Fordham, I took part in a demonstration outside the Russian consulate on Park Avenue, protesting the Russian invasion of Hungary. Not long after, Fordham received a number of young Hungarian refugees as students, one of whom, Imre, was a classmate.
These memories flooded back when I read, in the current New Yorker, Louis Menand’s long and appreciative review of Anne Applebaum’s “remarkable book:” Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe.
Menand, drawing on Applebaum, writes:
But the main target of totalitarian remaking was not the individual dissident or nonconformist. It was civil society itself. Any organization that operated outside the purview of the Party was eliminated or nationalized. In East Germany, all hiking clubs and chess clubs were banned. Almost every restaurant in Budapest became a “people’s cafeteria” or a state-owned workers’ pub. In Poland, the Y.M.C.A. was denounced as a “tool of bourgeois-fascism.” All youth organizations were subsumed into a single Communist-run agency. Universities were purged. Psychoanalysis, “the product of decaying capitalism and anti-state ideology,” was banned.
Most important for countries like Poland, the Party tried to neutralize the influence of the Catholic Church. Church schools were nationalized; monasteries and seminaries were shut down; Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, and charities were closed. Church leaders were blackmailed, persecuted, and harassed. Priests were recruited as informants on other priests: by 1953, a thousand Polish priests were in jail.