Szökés (Escape from Recsk) (1997)




Director:     Lívia Gyarmathy.

Starring:     Daniel Olbrychski (Nagy főhadnagy,a recski tábor politikai parancsnoka), Ádám Rajhona (Nagy főhadnagy, voice), Zoltán Rátóti (Gyula Molnár, voice), Artur Zmijewski (Molnár Gyula,a Szövetséges Ellenőrző Bizottság tolmácsa,recski fogoly), Attila Epres (Őr, voice), Krzysztof Kolberger (Őri,fogolytárs), Dariusz Kurzelewski (Mózes, fogolytárs), András Stohl (Mózes, voice), Zsolt László (Haraszti,fogolytárs), Ádám Schnell, Barna Illyés, János Dégi, Judit Pogány (Micike, a főhadnagy gépírónője), Barbara Hegyi (Jacqueline), Gyula Bodrogi (The General).

political Hungarians of the wrong persuasion secretly arrested and sent to labor camp at Recsk


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

People are celebrating the third year of peace in Hungary.  Long live 1948! 

Some suspicious looking men come to the party and ask if Gyula Molnár, the Allied Control Commission's interpreter, lives here?  They find Gyula with little trouble.  They say they have a foreigner in their car who does not speak Hungarian.  Could Gyula translate for them?  Gyula says no.  He can't leave his own party.  So the guys use force to take him outside to the car.  Gyula is confused:  "What is this, a joke?  What do you gentlemen want from me?"  Finally, one of the men pulls a gun out and threatens to kill Gyula.  Gyula was never seen again. 

When asked, the communist secret police only say that they do not know what happened to Gyula. 

1950.  (Now the film switches from black and white to color.)  Three prisoners working out in the snow watch the events at the camp.  They are mad at the stone masons because they have extra rewards.  Sometimes they are given double rations of food.  Nevertheless, a guard watches over the stone masons. 

A guard comes over to the three regular prisoners and tells them to stop daydreaming and get back to work.  One of the men answers that they have no strength left because they have been on half-rations for the past five days.    The guard says that's because they let Dobo escape without trying to stop him.  Gyula switches over to flattery, but the guard's not buying it.  He tells Gyula to shut up.  As Gyula works on connecting the wires of the cable, the Guard turns on the electricity and Gyula gets a nasty shock. 

Gyula visits the barracks of the stone masons and speaks to the senior man.  He says he wants to be a part of the stone masons.  Why?  He says they have the best barracks, the best food and the best work. 

The Lt. Commander of the labor camp is Nagy.  He goes over to an old man of 86 known as Dobo.  Actually, he is the father of the Dobo who escaped.  The old man is in handcuffs.   The Lt. Commander asks old Dobo if he helped his son escape?  The  old man says:  "Please, sirs.  How could I help him?  I didn't even know he was alive."  The commandant says all these prisoners are on half rations and they will continue to starve until the old man's son is brought in.  Now he tells the cook to pour the pea soup on the ground.  The prisoners run and jump on the wet area to get some peas to eat. 

While working on repairing the electricity to a storage shed, Gyula gets inside the shed to get something to eat.  He sees some bags and takes them.  But someone is opening the door and Gyula has to find a place to hide.  The conversation between the guards is in relation to a package labeled insect killer. 

Gyula is in trouble.  He is accused of trying to bribe a brigade leader.  Gyula says all he was doing was offering his services as an electrician.  He adds that he gave the brigade leader his cigarettes because he doesn't smoke.  The Lt. Commander says that Gyula wanted to join the stone masons so he could escape from the camp.  Gyula says that's not right.  He developed a phobia about escaping because he tried it at the Kistarcsa camp and the guard shot him without any warning.  As punishment, the Lt. Commander says now Gyula is no longer an electrician.  From now on he will be on quarry duty. 

The Lt. Commander starts with the senior Dobo by giving him light punishments.  Now, however, he is getting impatient and tells Dobo about the penalties that can and will be inflicted on him:  corporal punishment, starvation, solitary confinement, placement in shackles. 

One of the stone masons who turned Gyula into the guards tells Gyula that he is always lying.  The fellow says he graduated at the top of his class at the police academy and became a first-rate detective.  Gyula lets the criticisms of him roll off his back.  He then says hello to the the kids of the Lt. Commander.  The one-time detective yells at Gyula:  "Are you crazy?  The last thing we need is them reporting on us for talking to the Commander's kids." 

Gyula works up on the rock wall, knocking off loose rocks and stones from the wall.  All of a sudden the young Dobo shows up.  The men in the quarry yell at him to go back, go away!  But Dobo just keeps on going. 

During formation the guards bring out both Dobo men from a hole in the ground filled with water.  The senior commandant says that senior Dobo will be staying here at the camp along with his son.  A gauntlet is formed from the prisoners and younger Dobo has to go through it.  Gyula goes up to be on the gauntlet, but he doesn't really do much at all to Dobo.  Nevertheless, because the Lt. Commander sees him, the commander says he can go back to being an electrician.  But Gyula better be careful because the Lt. Commander says he will be watching him.

Gyula and the one-time detective both have to push a heavy spool up a hill while laying cable.  This was punishment for them because the detective hit Gyula in the face for being in his way.  Now a guard calls out for Gyula to go to see the Lt. Commander.  His lamp isn't working.  So Gyula leaves and the detective has to push the cable up hill all by himself. 

The Lt. Commander tells Gyula that he got his files and is impressed.  His mother was an anti-fascist martyr.  And his father is related to a very famous old French family.  And here is Gyula rotting in a forced labor camp.  His mistake was to reject the offer to work for the secret police.  The policemen who came to him just wanted to recruit him as an agent.  The Lt. Commander wants Gyula to become a mole for him to tell him what's going on.  Gyula asks for some time to think about the offer.  The Lt. Commander says he will give him two months. 

The detective waits for Gyula to come out of the Lt. Commander's place.  When he sees Gyula coming back, the detective asks him if the Lt. Commander offered him a position as an agent.  Gyula keeps saying no the the detective, but the man knows the system too well.  He says Gyula is doing this in order to escape and invites himself into the escape plan.  He warns Gyula that if he tries to double-cross him, he will tell the prisoners that Gyula is a snitch. 

The guys with Gyula are planning an escape.  They are making uniforms that look like a regular guard and stone masons.  And one fellow has made a gun model that looks like an automatic weapon .  At this point the guards come in to check the barracks.  A prisoner named Kerekes working for the penal system checks over Gyula's area.  One of the prisoners asks Kerekes if he knows what the inmates at Buchenwald did to their Kapo? They literally stomped the Kapo into the mud and Kerekes is the Kapo here. 

The group with Gyula puts on their stone mason uniforms.  One fellow dresses as a guard watching the stone masons.  He carries the fake weapon.  They get through the barbed wire fences and come to the building site.  Now they start running.  They reach a creek and Gyula says that the ex-detective will take them the rest of the way because he knows the way to the Slovakian border.  Some of the men rebel saying that the ex-detective will lead them into a police trap.  Gyula has to fight with one of the rebels.  The two fighters are pulled off each other.  Two guys start out on their own.  Gyula walks over to their trail and deliberately starts stomping around the area so that the dogs will be able to follow the two breakoffs. 

The group of five reach a dirt road.  They see a pretty girl pass by them on a bicycle.  Then they come to a paved road.  They hear a truck coming so the fellow dressed as a guard decides he will stand in the middle of the road and stop it.  The others hide in the grass by the side of the road.  The fake guard stands there until he sees what's coming his way.  It's a truck convoy filled with soldiers.  He dives into the tall grass with his comrades. 

The truck convoy stops very close to the men.  The soldiers line up along the road and start moving forward looking for the escapees. 

At night the news is that the soldiers caught two of the escapees by the creek. 

The next day the men start walking.  They take a break in the middle of a hay stack in a huge field.  The guards and the women farm workers start playing around throwing pitch forks into the hay stacks.  The fake guard's foot is hit by one of the pitchforks. 

The "stutterer" is placed out in front of the vanguard.  He keeps whistling a bird call and gets caught by the soldiers.  The other escapees start to plan to rescue the caught prisoner.  Now a helicopter comes down.  A man with a loud speaker tells the men by name to come out of their hiding places!  They know where they are!  But then the helicopter leaves.

The ex-detective Őri has already split from the group.  Now the brother of the captured man decides to rescue the ex-vanguard.  Gyula and the fake guard start running by themselves.  All of a sudden armored personnel vehicles come out of the woods along with many soldiers walking with them.  One of the guys says:  "A whole army!  Why are we so important to them?"  The answer is that the authorities don't want anyone knowing about the hidden forced labor camps. 

The ex-detective hears the helicopter over head and jumps face down onto the ground.  A pair of boots appear in front of him and he starts claiming that it was all the fault of the other escapees who planned the whole escape.  Gyula picks the man up off the ground.  The fake guard says that the ex-detective would betray his own mother. 

The two guys have to start taking turns carrying the wounded fake guard Mózes.  That's hard work, indeed.

The guys reach a town and Gyula carefully looks it over.  He comes back to the two other escapees and tells them that the police have all their relatives under surveillance.  They put the wounded Mózes in an empty grave and tell him to stay there until they come back for him.  The guy is scared and a bit freaked-out.  He gets out of the grave and starts walking.  Then he falls down the side of a hill and lands by a dirt road.  The kids in the town are playing soccer and now the ball bounces down the road passed the fake guard.  The kids race down the road and find the wounded man.  They leave and go tell the soldiers about the escapee. 

Gyula and Őri go down to Mózes and try to push and pull him up onto the high ground.  A man with a weapon shoots Mózes in the right thigh.  Mózes now gives up and falls down the hill.  So now it's only Gyula and Őri left.  They come to the home of a relative and the fellow lets them in.  He informs the escapees that the secret policemen were here looking for the two of them.  He asks the men where they escaped from?  From Resck, the forced labor camp.  Their host says he never heard of the place.  Őri tells him:  "It's sealed off tightly from the rest of the world."

The next day the men ride on a hand trolley for quite a ways.  They finally reach the Danube River, which travels right through Budapest, Hungary. 

The guys get a ride on a trolley car.  They discuss what each of them will be doing.  Őri still doesn't fully trust Gyula.

Gyula hooks up with an old female friend.  She is married now and has a child. 

Őri returns home.  He hides in the wooded area near his home.  His old dog Pluto remembers him.  In the dark he climbs up part of a wall and gets into the house.  He says hello to his wife who tries to yell out to the guard.  Őri stops her.  He tells her he is not going to hurt her and that he suspected she might be living with the fellow.  She says they told her he was dead.  Őri finds a pistol and the man who stole his wife comes in with a guard.  The man says Őri is a coward and wouldn't dare shoot.  Őri gives the man his pistol.  Now there is only one man left.  Gyula.

Gyula asks the conductor if this train goes to Kanizsa?  Yes.  He gets on the train.  Now getting on the train is Őri.  So Gyula jumps off the train.  At night Gyula jumps onto a freight train.  He gets off the train at the border.  He checks for mines at the barbed wire border.  Two guards on horseback hear some noise and stop to listen.  Gyula cuts the barbed wire remaining in front of him and gets to the west.

Next we see him at the offices of Radio Free Europe.  He is dressed in a nice suit and is accompanied by two people.  They put him on the radio.  He reads off a list of the names of the prisoners that he memorized. 

"The disclosure of the names of these prisoners in the West revealed the existence of the camp to the world and started the process that eventually led to dismantling the gulag camps in Central East Europe. Escape From Recsk captures the atmosphere of paranoia, humiliation and degradation that prevailed throughout the Stalinist gulag system. Even the guards do not trust each other in this nightmare world where betrayal is the only currency for purchasing small favors, and even life."   Written by Zoltan Furedi for IMDB for this film


The fascists and the communists both had their concentration camps, although Hitler's killing was more deliberate and faster.  Thank goodness the two systems of thought have been completely discredited, among scholars at least.  (Fascism is still alive in the USA with crazy Republicans continue to flirt with fascism and who in practice would carry out fascist goals.)  Of course all kinds of conflicts go on and on: over social class, ethnicity, race, religion, nationalism, sexual orientation and sex.  There are quite a few films dealing with the Stalinist gulag system.  As a group, they really present a bleak picture of the communists in action.  And this one dealing with Hungary, is one more indictment of the gulag system. In the case of Gyula Molnár, the man was picked up for saying no he didn't want to become a secret agent for the Hungarian and Soviet secret police.  Wow!  Now that's pretty bad.  And, of course, there is much worse in the history of the German and Soviet concentration camps.  There must be about 4 or 5 times as many films on the Holocaust as on the gulag system.  That's because Hitler particularly brutalized and murdered one group:  Western and Eastern Jews.  There are a lot of Jewish writers in the West and they made sure the story of the holocaust got out to the entire world. 

The story of Recsk is on a par with the stories of the Holocaust.  Yes, we have seen this type of human behavior before in film.  Nevertheless, it's an important film and stresses the gulag system as applied not just to the Soviet Union but to the eastern European, communist-dominated countries as well.   The movie in and of itself is pretty good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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