Béla Király

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The native form of this personal name is Király Béla. This article uses the Western name order.
Béla Kálmán Király
Born Király Béla Kálmán
(1912-04-14)14 April 1912
Kaposvár, Hungary
Died 4 July 2009(2009-07-04) (aged 97)
Resting place Plot: Section 300, ÚJKÖZTEMETÕ, Budapest, Budapest Capital District, Hungary
Monuments Bela K. Kiraly Award - Brooklyn College undergraduate student for outstanding work in modern history
Spouse(s) Sarolta Gömbös (1947-1955 div.) (niece of late Gyula Gömbös)
Relatives nephew, Attila Tevely
Military career
since 1989
Service/branch Hungarian army
Rank major general
Commands held
  • 1956:
  • commander in chief of the Hungarian National Guard
  • commander of Budapest garrison

Dr. Béla Király (14 April 1912 – 4 July 2009) was a Hungarian army officer before, during, and after World War II. The Stalinists imprisoned him. After his release, he commanded the National Guard during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He was an academic historian in the United States. He returned to Hungary and was elected a member of Parliament of Hungary.


He was born in Kaposvár, Hungary, the son of a station master. As a youth he bred pigeons, a lifelong interest. His ambition to be a veterinary surgeon foundered because his family could not afford the fees. Color blindness barred his employment by the railroad. In 1930, military service became compulsory - two years for conscripts but only one year for volunteers. He joined the army, found it interesting, finished the Ludovika Military Academy in the top five per cent of his class, and was commissioned a second lieutenant 20 August 1935. He was the best student at General Staff Academy, finishing December 1942 as captain of the general staff.[2][7]

He saw combat in World War II on the eastern front and was twice wounded. In 1943 his command included 400 men in a Jewish labor battalion in the Don river valley; contrary to orders, he provided them winter uniforms (Christmas 1943), decent food, and medical attention. In 1993, fifty years later, Yad Vashem named him one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” to recognizing his humane treatment of these men.[2][5][8][9]

In March 1945 he commanded the defense of Kőszeg. He surrendered the city to the Red Army. The Russians arrested him, and sent him to Siberia as a prisoner of war; he escaped and returned home. He subsequently joined the Hungarian Communist Party and the new Soviet sponsored army.

Communist officials warned him against his 1947 marriage to the widowed niece of 1930s right-wing prime minister Gyula Gömbös, a one-time anti-semite. He expected to be sacked when General György Pálffy summoned him, but instead was appointed to command the Training Department. He was promoted to general in 1950, and rose to the rank of major general. In 1950, he commanded the infantry. He was expected to command the Hungarian component of a planned Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia, but Stalin cancelled it in the face of American resistance to the invasion of South Korea in June 1950.

In 1951, the Mátyás Rákosi regime arrested him on charges of subversion, sedition and espionage. He was sentenced (January 15, 1952) to death by hanging. He spent years on death row. His wife had been detained by the ÁVH (State Security Authority; the political police) from August 1951 to August 1953. She divorced him in 1955. Then he learned his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor. In September 1956 the government paroled him and other political prisoners, a measure intended to soften public unrest.[2][5][6][7]

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 began shortly after his release from prison. He was weak and ill recovering from surgery, but escaped the hospital to accept appointment as commander-in-chief of the military guard and military commander of Budapest.

“I was skin and bones coming out of five years of imprisonment,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying in 2006. “I was far from being healed, so I had to slip out of the hospital because the doctors would not let me go.”

— Béla Király, Agence France-Presse 2006, [2]

He recognized his forces had no hope of victory over the Soviet army, but resented then Soviet ambassador Yuri Andropov's chicanery in concealing the imminent invasion.

Here was this man Andropov who clearly understood what was going on, Mr. Kiraly said bitterly, yet he pretended until the last moment to me and to the Prime Minister and to others that everything was business as usual. Even pirates, before they attack another ship, hoist a black flag. He was absolutely calculating.

— Béla Király, 1982 interview with R.W. Apple, Jr., [4]

After the Soviet military intervention in Hungary, he fled to Austria and later the United States to avoid yet another death sentence, one unlikely to be commuted. He was, in fact, sentenced to death in absentia.[2][10]

United States[edit]

He earned graduate degrees at Columbia University. (While he was imprisoned, he had access to only one book, an English-Hungarian dictionary. He had memorized it.) From 1964 he taught Military History at Brooklyn College, and became chairman of the history department. He retired as Professor Emeritus in 1982.[2][6] During his tenure there he served as director of the Society In Change Program on East Central Europe, supervised Brooklyn College Press (the College's Publishing House), and was advisor to the Brooklyn College Military History Club.

Former students at Brooklyn College praised his teaching.[11]

Return to Hungary[edit]

After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, he was an invited guest at Imre Nagy's funeral and reinterment, June 1989. He moved back to Hungary that year, and was elected to the Hungarian National Assembly. He served 1990–1994, at first as an independent deputy.[2][5]

Since then, he assumed the role of government adviser. In 2004, he was made an associate member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Kiraly died in his sleep in Budapest on 4 July 2009, aged 97.[5]

Selected works[edit]

  • Király, Béla K. (1969). Hungary in the late eighteenth century; the decline of enlightened despotism. New York: Columbia University Press. LCCN 69019459. 
  • Király, Béla K. (1975). Ferenc Deák. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0805730303. LCCN 74020558. 
  • Király, Béla K., ed. (1975). Tolerance and movements of religious dissent in Eastern Europe. Boulder [Colo.] : East European Quarterly. New York. ISBN 0914710060. LCCN 75006229.  distributed by Columbia University Press
  • Király, Béla K.; Barany, George, eds. (1977). East Central European perceptions of early America. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press. LCCN 77369620. 
  • Kann, Robert A.; Király, Béla K.; Fichtner, Paula S., eds. (1977). The Habsburg Empire in World War I : essays on the intellectual, military, political, and economic aspects of the Habsburg war effort. Boulder Colo., New York: East European Quarterly. ISBN 0914710168. LCCN 76047779.  distributed by Columbia University Press
  • Király, Béla K.; Jónás, Paul, eds. (1978). The Hungarian revolution of 1956 in retrospect. introd. by G. H. N. Seton-Watson. Boulder Colo., New York: East European quarterly. ISBN 0914710338. LCCN 77082394.  distributed by Columbia University Press
  • Király, Béla K. (2001). Basic History of Modern Hungary, 1867-1999. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Pub. ISBN 0-89464-950-7. LCCN 2001018642. 
  • Király, Béla Kálmán; Rothenberg, Gunther E., eds. (1979). Special topics and generalizations on the 18th and 19th centuries. New York: Brooklyn College Press. ISBN 0930888049. LCCN 79051780.  Distributed by Columbia University Press
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E.; Király, Béla K.; Sugar, Peter F., eds. (1982). East Central European society and war in the prerevolutionary eighteenth century. New York: Boulder Social Science Monographs. ISBN 0930888197. LCCN 81050886.  Distributed by Columbia University Press


  1. ^ Nagy, Terka (2009-07-04). "1956 National Guard commander Bela Kiraly dies". naplo-online.hu. Archived from the original on 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Fox, Margalit (8 July 2009). "Bela Kiraly Dies at 97; Led Revolt in Hungary". NY Times. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  3. ^ "Bela Kiraly". Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. 2009. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000054393. Retrieved 2014-02-01.  Biography in Context. (subscription required)
  4. ^ a b Apple Jr., R.W. (28 December 1982). "SOME INSIGHTS INTO ANDROPOV GLEANED FROM BUDAPEST ROLE". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Land, Thomas (26 July 2009). "Righteous Gentile Bela Kiraly dies at 92". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  6. ^ a b c Partos, Gabriel (11 July 2009). "Bela Kiraly: Soldier who led Hungarian resistance against the Soviet Union during the 1956 uprising". The Independent (London: Independent Educational Publishing). Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  7. ^ a b c Congdon, Lee (8 August 2009). "Obituary: Béla K. Király, 1912-2009". NewsgroupHabsburg H-Net Habsburg Check |newsgroup= value (help). Retrieved 2014-02-07. 
  8. ^ "Király Béla (1912 - 2009 ) Personal Information The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  9. ^ "Király FAMILY - The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  10. ^ Bay, Austin (29 July 2009). "Remembering a Hungarian Freedom Fighter". Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  11. ^ Sussman, Marvin L. (Spring 2004). "Lasting Impressions: Brooklyn College Faculty Who Made a Difference". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 

Further reading[edit]

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