László Rajk

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László Rajk
Laszlo Rajk.jpg
Minister of the Interior of Hungary
In office
20 March 1946 – 5 August 1948
Preceded by Imre Nagy
Succeeded by János Kádár
Personal details
Born (1909-03-08)8 March 1909
Székelyudvarhely, Udvarhely County, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania)
Died 15 October 1949(1949-10-15) (aged 40)
Budapest, People's Republic of Hungary
Political party KMP, MKP, MDP
Profession politician

László Rajk (March 8, 1909 Székelyudvarhely – October 15, 1949 Budapest) was a Hungarian Communist; politician, former Minister of Interior and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was an important organizer of the Hungarian communist's power (for example, organized the State Protection Authority (ÁVH)); but he eventually fell victim to Rákosi's show trials, probably, apart from the Communist parties' endemic power struggles, because he was a homegrown Communist, as opposed to the Stalin-backed Rákosi.

Background[edit]

Born the ninth of eleven children to a family of Transylvanian Saxons, his ties to communism began at an early age when he became a member of the Communist Party of Hungary (KMP). Later he was expelled from his university for his political ideas and would become a building worker, until 1936 when he joined the Popular Front in the Spanish Civil War. He became commissar of the Rakosi Battalion of XIII International Brigade.[1] After the collapse of Republican Spain, he was interned in France until 1941, when he was finally able to return to Hungary, where he became Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, an underground communist movement.

In December 1944 he was arrested by a detachment of the Arrow Cross Party. He was to be executed, and was transported to the prison of Sopronkőhida, then into Germany; but the intercession of Endre Rajk, a fascist under-secretary (who was his elder brother) saved his life, and László Rajk was released on May 13.

He went home to Hungary and took part in party politics, he became a member of all the leader corporations of the party (MKP) and the Extemporal Parliament. Rajk was a member of the High National Council from December 7, 1945 to February 2, 1946. On March 20, 1946 he was appointed to be the minister of the Interior. In this post he organized the Hungarian Communist Party's private army and secret police (an organization analogous to the SS, KGB, Securitate, Stasi and so on), the ÁVH (originally AVO), and he became directly responsible for this. Under the cover of "struggle against fascism and reaction" and "defence of the power of proletariat", he prohibited and liquidated several religious, national, democrat and maverick establishments and groups (the number of these was about 1500), and he put-up the first show trials.

He was reassigned from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from August 5, 1948 to May 30, 1949. Rákosi, who saw Rajk as a threat to his power, decided to accuse him on false charges and had him arrested on May 30, 1949 on trumped up charges.[2] Rajk, who was popular among the communists before, soon became the "chained dog" of Tito, Horthy and "the imperialist".

Trial[edit]

László Rajk was accused of being a "Titoist Spy", an agent for western imperialism and one who planned on restoring capitalism and jeopardizing Hungary's "independence". During his time in prison, Rajk was tortured and was promised acquittal if he took responsibility for the charges brought against him. Stalin's NKVD emissary coordinated with Hungarian General Secretary Mátyás Rákosi and his ÁVH to orchestrate Rajk's show trial.[3] At his trial held between September 16 and September 24, 1949[2] that sat in the big assembly hall of the headquarters of the Metal and Engineering Workers' Trade Union in Budapest he confessed to all the charges brought against him. After his confession the prosecution decided, against the promise made, to call for the heaviest sentences to be brought down upon him and the other seven men who stood trial with him. Rajk was to be made an example for the beginning of Joseph Stalin's anti-Titoist purges. Rajk, along with Dr Tibor Szönyi and András Szalai, was sentenced to death.

Targeted members of the intelligentia who were qualified lawyers, were appointed to defend the accused. One key defendant was Dr. Tivadar Komáromi, who had been a Foreign Office official during the German Occupation. He was later arrested on a trumped up charge, and sentenced to 5 years' hard labor. In 1956 he, his wife and 2 young children, managed to cross the Hungarian/Austrian border in October 1956, and with the help of Quakers, found refuge in England.

Rajk was executed on October 15, 1949.[2]

Reburial and atonement[edit]

The Rajk trial marked the beginning of the anti-Titoist drive movement of Stalin. His trial also marked the beginning of the removal of all political parties in Hungary. The purges, however, left the economy in a truly disastrous state whereby a lack of capital inflow doomed the building projects that were underway. Also, a vast number of the intelligentsia were then employed on the sort of manual labouring duties usually reserved for skilled professionals. The result left the country with an inadequate infrastructure and unsatisfactorily manufactured goods. The government was also using too many men to search for spies within the country and not enough to perform the productive work to sustain the economy.

Dissatisfaction with Rákosi's rule began to surface and, on 28 March 1956, after a number of vast demonstrations, Rajk was rehabilitated. The rehabilitation speech, even though it was not publicized, had vast consequences for Rákosi, who had used the Rajk guilt as an explanation for the other purges that followed. Now that he had to admit that he was, indeed, wrong, it would end up ruining Rákosi's rightful authority.

The people then began to speak out against Rákosi, saying that he had lost their trust. Lászlo Rajk was then reburied, before 100,000 mourners, on October 6, 1956, along with two other men who lost their lives during the purges.[2] (This was a precursor to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which began on 23 October.)

The only lingering question from the Rajk trial was who was to be held responsible for the activities for the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many victims have yet to have been identified following the purges, including those who lost their government positions merely because they were thought to pose a threat to Rákosi's reign of power.

List of defendants in the Rajk trial[edit]

  • László Rajk (1909), Minister of Foreign Affairs (executed)
  • György Pálffy (1909), Lieutenant General (sentence deferred to military court, executed )
  • Lazar Brankov (1912), Counsellor, Yugoslav Legation (life imprisonment)
  • Dr Tibor Szönyi (1903), Member of the National Assembly (executed)
  • András Szalai, (1917), government official (executed)
  • Milan Ognjenovich (1916), government official (9 years)
  • Béla Korondy (1914), Police Colonel (sentence deferred to military court, executed)
  • Pál Justus (1905), member of the National Assembly (life imprisonment)

In the series of trials known as the Rajk case, altogether 15 people were executed and 78 other people were sentenced to prison.[4]

Movie[edit]

László Rajk is allegorically depicted as Andor Knorr in Sunshine, played by William Hurt.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, 4th Rev. Ed. 2001, p 927
  2. ^ a b c d Frucht 2003, p. 651
  3. ^ Crampton 1997, p. 263
  4. ^ See the historian Tibor Zinner's notes on p. 416 of the 1989 Hungarian edition of Bela Szasz's "Without Any Compulsion" (1963)

References[edit]

  • Crampton, R. J. (1997), Eastern Europe in the twentieth century and after, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-16422-2 
  • Frucht, Richard C. (2003), Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism, Taylor & Francis Group, ISBN 0-203-80109-1 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Koltai, Ferenc: László Rajk and his Accomplices before the People's Court, Budapest 1949
  • Litvan, Győrgy The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Reform, Revolt, and Repression 1953-1963, Longman Publishing Group, 1996.
  • Rajk, Laszlo, Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. Columbia University Press, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/65/ra/Rajk-LAS.html (December 1, 2005)
  • Stokes, Gale (ed.) From Stalinism to Pluralism: a Documentary History of Eastern Europe since 1945, New York and Oxford University Press, 1991.
Political offices
Preceded by
Imre Nagy
Minister of the Interior
1946–1948
Succeeded by
János Kádár
Preceded by
Erik Molnár
Minister of Foreign Affairs
1948–1949
Succeeded by
Gyula Kállai