HUNGARIAN UPRISING OF 1956
Excerpt from “The Black Book of Communism”
(Harward / 1997)
Map: Andras Bereznai
pp. 438 - 442
Soviet tanks intervened for the first time in East Germany on 17 June 1953 to crush spontaneous uprisings by workers in East Berlin and other cities, sparked by government measures that created difficult conditions in the workplace. According to the most recent studies, at least 51 people died in the riots and ensuing repression: 2 were crushed by tanks, 7 were sentenced to death by Soviet courts and 3 by German courts, 23 died of wounds received during the clashes, and 6 members of the security forces lost their lives. By 30 June, 6,171 people had been arrested, and another 7,000 were arrested subsequently.
After the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Soviet leaders ordered two more spectacular military interventions, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In both cases the use of force was intended to crush a popular antitotalitarian revolt.
In Hungary the Soviet army was already in place, and its units went into action twice: at 2:00 a.m. on 24 October in Budapest, before retreating on 30 October; and on the night of 3-4 November. The worst of this fighting ended on 6 November, with a few pockets of resistance in the suburbs holding out until 14 November, as did the insurgents in the Mecsek Mountains. Confrontations with the army continued in December, linked to demonstrations in the streets. In Salgotarjan on 8 December, 131 people were killed in crossfire between Soviet and Hungarian units.
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Thus for a few weeks violent death was part of everyday life for the Hungarians. Nearly 3,000 people died in the fighting, two-thirds of them in Budapest; and nearly 15,000 people were wounded. Thanks to the opening of the archives, historians have also been able to establish the number of victims on the side of the oppressors: between 23 October and 12 December, the secret police (the AVH), the Soviet and Hungarian armies, and the Hungarian Ministry of Interna] Affairs recorded the loss of 350 lives; 37 people from the AVH, the police, and the army were executed without trial, some shot, some lynched. Thus, according to a number of historians, "the honor of the revolution was sullied."
The repression that followed the crushing of the Hungarian revolution, in which the Soviet military police played an important role until early 1957, affected more than 100,000 people. Tens of thousands were interned in camps that were officially created on 1 2 December; 35,000 people were prosecuted and around 25,000 jailed. Several thousand Hungarians were deported to the US.S.R., 229 rebels were condemned to death and executed, and 200,000 people emigrated.
Repression followed the tried and tested pattern. Extraordinary courts were set up in the form of People's Tribunals and Special Chambers of Military Courts. The trial of Imre Nagy took place in the People's Tribunal in Budapest. Nagy was a Communist of long standing who had emigrated to Moscow during the war. Removed from power in 1948, he became prime minister in 1953, and had been ousted again in 1955 before taking the lead role in the revolutionary government. The trial of Nagy and those accused with him ended in June 1958. Two of the defendants were absent. Geza Losonczy, a Communist journalist and former resistance fighter who had been imprisoned from 1951 to 1954, and had been a minister in the Nagy government, died in custody on 21 December 1957, almost certainly with the help of his questioners. Jozsef Szilagyi, another Communist of long standing, who had fought in the resistance and been imprisoned during the war, and had risen to become head of Nagy's cabinet in 1956, was condemned to death on 22 April 1958 and executed two days later.
According to documents now available, Szilagyi resisted with tremendous courage, repeatedly telling his accusers that in comparison with the Communist prisons, the prisons of Miklos Horthy's interwar regime had been like mere hospitals.
The Imre Nagy trial opened on 9 June 1958; the verdict was reached on 15 June. The death sentence passed on three of the accused was carried out the following day. Besides Imre Nagy, the others who received death sentences were General Pal Maleter, who had been a resistance fighter during the war, a
Communist since 1945, and minister of defense in the revolutionary government in 1956; and Miklos Gimes, a Communist journalist who had founded an underground newspaper after the failure of the revolution. Five others received sentences ranging from five years to life.
The Imre Nagy trial, one of the last great political trials in the Eastern bloc, confirmed that it was impossible for the Communist regime, propped up by Soviet military intervention, not to resort to this supreme form of repression. But the days of the big show-trials were over: Nagy's trial took place in camera, in a specially converted chamber of the police headquarters at the central prison in Budapest. In 1958 Nagy and his companions, who refused to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet intervention and the seizure of power by Janos Kadar, and who stood as symbols of the popular revolt, could not possibly remain alive.
New research underscores the cruelty of these repressions and refers to this period as one of terror; but it also reveals the ambivalent nature of the period and its differences from the years 1947-1953. In 1959, when the first trials of the rebels took place, a partial amnesty had already been declared. In 1960 the exceptional measures that had been decreed began to be phased out, and the internment camps were closed. In 1962 there was a purge of officers in the secret police who had fabricated evidence in the Rakosi period; Rajk and 190 other victims were also definitively rehabilitated. In 1963 a general amnesty was declared, but it did not apply to the rebels who had been condemned as "murderers." Violent repression came to an end. Nevertheless the rehabilitation of Imre Nagy and his followers did not occur until 1989, and even in 1988, police in Budapest beat up demonstrators who were commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of his death.
Two external factors influenced this evolution. The first was obviously the criticism of Stalin's reign inside the Soviet Union and the sidelining of various Stalinist leaders. The second was the thaw in international relations that accompanied the idea of peaceful coexistence between East and West. The effects of these changes were not felt in Hungary alone.
After the execution of the eleven accused in the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia in December 1952, the bodies were cremated and the ashes simply scattered on the frozen roads and fields around Prague. Six years later, incineration no longer seemed the answer for Communist authorities. Alajos Dornbach, the civil-rights lawyer who demanded a reopening of the Nagy case in 1988, provided the following information about the successive disposals of the bodies.
Once Imre Nagy and his companions were executed, they were first buried under a thick layer of concrete inside the prison on Kozma Street, where the trial had taken place. But burying bodies in a place unknown to the families became a source of anxiety. In the summer of 1961 they were exhumed and buried in extreme secrecy, at night, in the main communal cemetery in Budapest, near the place where Geza Losonczy and Jozsef Szilagvi, two others who had died as a result of the trial, had been laid to rest. The coffins were passed over the wall, and the cemetery employees knew nothing about the burial of these three corpses, who were given false names. For thirty years the families searched in vain for the burial place. On the basis of fragmentary information they began to erect gravestones in Lot 301 in the communal cemetery; but the police threatened them when they came to visit and knocked down the stones on several occasions, trampling them with horses.
In March 1989 the bodies were finally exhumed again. An autopsy performed on Geza Losonczy revealed several broken ribs, some of which had preceded death by three to six months, and some of which were much more recent. The government then ordered a few young officers to conduct an inquiry into the location of the graves. Sandor Rajnai, who had been in charge of the Nagy trial and was the Hungarian ambassador to Moscow in 1988-89, was among those who refused to help this commission.
Twelve years after the events in Hungary, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to spread mass terror there. The military intervention of 1968 was quite different from that of 1956, although the aim was identical: to crush a popular revolt against "Soviet socialism."
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