Károly - Placid atya Olofsson

* 1916  †︎ 2017

  • "God might have needed a man like me who isn’t very intelligent, who isn’t a university professor, but a practical man in order to retain the soul in the fellow prisoners in blank despair. This conviction unfolded in me. I’m sure that it was much easier to me passing ten years in the Gulags because I had my precise task. I had my avocation. I was given a mission. I used to say I was a skilled soul worker. I had the task to retain the soul in the convicted. For those who were for example young and left home wife and young children it was extremely hard. I didn’t have either wife or children, it was much easier to me. Moreover I knew why I was there. I didn’t teach Benedictine students in a Benedictine secondary school in those years, but I was responsible for raising in someway those who were in difficulties. I interpreted the four rules of surviving in a very worldly way since there I didn’t speak to sisters of a nunnery but to people of different kind, believers, unbelievers, protestants, catholics. Our alliance must have been very worldly and deeply human. Let me list these rules very briefly. The first rule was that we had to avoid overdrawing of sufferings, if we were weak, we mustn’t have complained. The second rule was that we had to notice small delights of life because these delights make art of life. The third one was that political prisoners were always innocent. The rogue guards with machine guns wanted to destroy our lifes, we had to prove in this situation that we were better. And the fourth rule was that for those who had aims to hold on, it was easier. We believers had our allmighty Lord to which we could hold on. And we understood that also God wanted us to survive it."

  • "The beginning wasn’t easy when we said good-bye to the guards and we went to the ticket office in the railway station to have our tickets stamped. We were astonished to find that you could live in this way, too. There weren’t any soldiers with machine guns or watch dogs around. We felt ourselves naked. We had the traces of ten years in us. We, the six of us who returned together to Pest, agreed to speak in Russian to avoid continuous questions. We wore pufaykas (Russian quilted jackets) and we didn’t know whether in Hungary it was known or not. It was getting dark in the meantime, our cheap train had left at three o’clock in the morning. So it was getting dark by the time we arrived to Debrecen. Then we said to each other it was better to speak in Hungarian, otherwise we might have a big box in our face addressed to somebody else. By a quarter past ten we arrived in six to Budapest Western Railway Station. I remembered clearly that tram No. 49 had left from that place in the direction of Kelenföld ten years before. The six of us took the courage to get on the rear platform of the last tram car. We were in trouble, we should have to buy tickets but all of us had a twenty forint banknote. I was so polite to offer the ticket to each of us. The trouble began when two of us got off at Rákóczi Street, a third one got off at Üllői Road, the rest of us got off at Gellért Square and I remained alone in the tram. I had my heart in my boots. I feared that if I would ring the bells at my mothers’ home, if I would awake her from her first dream, by that time it was half past ten, a quarter to eleven, she would collapse. She didn’t know at all that I would return home. It was very difficult to me. And there was a young man in the platform, I went to him when we were in Béla Bartók Street next to the Gárdonyi statue. I asked him excuse for disturbing him and I said I would kindly ask him something. I told him I had been convicted in the Soviet Union for ten years and I didn’t dare to return directly home. I thought if he would ring at my mother’s and would tell her that he met his son and he would announce my coming, my returning wouldn’t be so abrupt. And the miracle of our Lord is that this young man held out his hand and said: ’I myself was in the Soviet Union for seven years.’ He returned in 1953, he was in the Gulag like me. He accomplished his task very well, he helped my mother through the first moments of meeting me."

  • "The living conditions were similar in every camp. We lived in barracks. The ground was a bit strange for us because if we dag thirty centimeters downward or we scraped the earth off we found water. The ground was very wet but the water was like black coffee. We had to drink always boiled water. There was always some boiled water with us. As a matter of fact camps had a uniform life. We received our soup of cabbage in the morning with 400 grams of bread, this was our daily average. If we fulfilled the norm of one hundred percents we got some bonus, 200 grams, 100 grams or 150 grams of bread depending on our results. Everything was weighed by percents. It was general in the Soviet Union. And fulfilling the plan was very important. Clothes were a problem because we had only old rags at the very beginning, we got scraped military clothes. We needed however quilted jacket in the cold. There were quilted jackets which could stand firmly because the wadding had gotten wet and dried. At the end of the deportation I wore boots of felt which were very good. We put of course foot cloth in them. In the big cold for example when there were minus 25-30 degrees some of us stepped in a bucket of water and the water became ice outside the boots and inside there was very warm. There were straw mattrasses, and sometimes there was straw, sometimes there wasn’t. Then we got blankets, one for each of us. Otherwise we lived in simple conditions. In the course of ten years there was a great progress. Let me say just one. In 1946 there were 36 camps but only two with electric lightning and both of them had their own generator. The others used pine twigs, lutinki, for lighting which was quite troublesome. It was troublesome for the guards, too, since there wasn’t any lamp in the watch towers. When I returned home in 1955 each of the camps had lighting. And at the end camps used searchlights. But if there was any uncertainty they prefered to use rockets. We never ate meat. Our portion was 40 grams of fish, we received small fishes, pickled fishes, and we had to eat it root and branch. If we were given bigger fishes, they were pearly white, they were stewed in bags of tulle. It wasn’t an easy task preparing food for 1200-1300 people. The rules were well defined. The bread arrived in the evening, it was cut in portions in the night in order that we could get our pieces of 400 grams in the morning. They did it honestly. It was important that the nutrition was equal for everybody. In case the portion weighed less on the scales, small pieces were picked on it by sticks. They were very proud of the importance of socialist justice. The soup was distributed by a spoon, it was called cherpak, which had a capacity of exactly 500 or 750 grams. The breakfast was 750 grams of cabbage soup, for lunch and dinner we got 500 grams of it. Camps were directed by commanders, they mastered life and death. There was a boss responsible for discipline, there was a storekeeper and there was a manager. As a matter of fact more than one thousands guards with families maintained a camp of 1200-1300 prisoners. All these people lived there, commanders, bosses, too."

  • "A young butcher arrived to our camp in 1953 from the Arctic Ocean. He had been born in a small village near Kalocsa. He was a real scoundrel. He might have got himself in hot water because he was kept in dark lock-up at the Arctic Ocean. The dark lock-up is a small room of pine beams, it is plastered over from the outside, you can see only the beams from the inside, and it hadn’t got any windows. When it was closed, there was pitch-dark in it. This is awful because you can’t know whether it is afternoon or morning or night, you lose your sense of time. Three days in dark cell is hard, in the second day you are given a plate of soup, in the third day only a loaf of bread. This young prisoner touched the wall of the lock-up by hands in the darkness and he suddenly felt something between the pine beams. A decent convicted if finds something, steals it. It’s obvious. He could drew it off the beams and he hid it in his trousers. I still don’t understand how he could bring it out of the dark cell and take with him by train to our camp across three thousands kilometers. How he could manage to do it when he was searched different times. We were searched incessantly, we had to open our quilted jacket to show we hadn’t hide a jet or an A-bomb in our armpit. Our Lord must have organized it in this way. I don’t dare to state it was a miracle, but it was difficult to understand it. When this butcher arrived to our camp, he handed it to me. And what was it? It was the New Testament published in 1930 by Saint Stephen Company and selled for one pengő. The cover and the rear page were missing. It was the New Testament from the first line of Matthew to the last line of the Book of Revelation. I hadn’t seen a Hungarian letter for nine years until that moment. We cut it, we distributed it and we read it with thirsty soul. There wasn’t any difference between beleivers and unbeleivers, catholics or protestants, we read it because it was in Hungarian. We cut it in different parts and we changed them every three days. But we couldn’t read it because every part was too long, about sixteen pages. We had to dig them or hide in a straw mattress, it wasn’t easy at all to avoid confiscation.We failed to change every three days, then we said to change them every week. We were in twentyeight-thirty Hungarians in the camp. We said that everybody could have a part of it for a week and he should look for quotations for the first rule of surviving, in the next week for the second rule, then for the third, for the fourth and we discuss these examples in daytime. It was very important to have our brains in good conditions in the misery. There wasn’t anything there. We were in a penitentiary camp where we had to cut down forests, we walked in the woods and we sawed off trees, it was essential that we use our brains and the Holy Bible was of great significance for us."

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    Budapest, 23.08.2002

    duration: 04:13:24
    media recorded in project Oral History Archive - Budapest
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God wanted us to survive it

Father Placid in 2010
Father Placid in 2010
photo: http://www.martinus.hu/hirek/1819/olofsson-karoly-placid-osb-atya-latogatasa-a-gyori-szeminariumban

Károly Olofsson, by his monastic name Placid Olofsson, was born on December 23, 1916 in Rákosszentmihály. He has Swedish ascendants on his father’s line and German ones on his mother’s. His father Gusztáv Olofsson was secondary school teacher, his mother Jusztina Reihardt came from a Swabian family. The Olofsson family moved to Budapest in 1926. Károly Olofsson attended Saint Benedict Benedictian Secondary School. The spirit of this school and the boy scout movement made great impression on him. In 1933 he took part at the 4th world meeting of the scouting movement in Gödöllő.After the graduation he entered the Benedictine Order. He studied theology in Pannonhalma, then he got teachers’ diploma in Hungarian literature and history. He was ordained clergyman in 1939 and he was given the monastic name Placid. He was chaplain in Győrszentiván for a year, then he was conscripted to army chaplain in the rank of lieutenant first in Komárom, later in Érsekújvár. He came up against his commanders different times when he defended the common soldiers against their officers. Thus in 1942 he was dismissed from the army. He taught in secondary schools in Pápa and in Sopron. He transferred to the Benedictine secondary school in Budapest in August 1945 and he was appointed by his monastic superiors church counsellor of the Company of Social Brothers and Sisters founded by Margit Slachta. He participated in the first democratic elections in 1945 on the list of the Independent Smallholders’ Party. Later he was moved to Pannonhalma where he was arrested on June 5, 1946. The Soviet military court sentenced him to ten year imprisonment in the Gulag penitentiary camps for trumped-up charges. He could return to Hungary in November 1955. He wasn’t admitted back to Pannonhalma, he couldn’t work either as clergyman or as teacher. He was employed as unskilled worker in a case factory in Pesterzsébet, then he worked as hospital orderly, laundry assistant, finally as laundry head. He retired in 1977. He exercised priesthood in sercet for a long time. From the middle of the 1970s he was substitute priest at Saint Imre Cistercian parish of Buda. After the changing of the political regime he received a few honours, among others he was decorated by the Shield of Faith in 2003 and the Hungarian Order of Merit in 2010.