“It would be better if you came alone this time,” Dr. Katalin Kutrucz, the head of the Hungarian Secret Police Archives, suggested on the phone. The last time we met I had been accompanied by a friend, a lawyer who knew his way around the Archives. Then, Dr. Kutrucz had been all business: crisp, impersonal, bureaucratic. An oldstyle apparatchik, I had assumed, simply allowing me to see — as was my right under the laws of post-Communist Hungary — the secret police files on my parents. Now her voice sounded different — more human, more compassionate. Her new tone made me anxious.
Just a short while earlier, one of Hungary’s most respected writers had been given his father’s files — and discovered a history of breathtaking intrigue and betrayal even of his family. The foremost historian of the AVO, the Hungarian secret police, had warned me that I was “opening a Pandora’s box,” when I first applied for access to the files. But I wanted to know the truth about my parents, about what had really happened in Budapest, in those distant Cold War days, when my sister and I were children. My parents had glossed over large portions of our history — even though my father was a celebrated journalist of his era, who won awards and recognition for his coverage of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. “You are an American,” Papa would say, “you cannot ever understand what it was like under the Fascists and the Communists.”