László Rajk

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László Rajk
Rajk László Sr. 1947.jpg
Minister of the Interior of Hungary
In office
20 March 1946 – 5 August 1948
Prime MinisterFerenc Nagy
Lajos Dinnyés
Preceded byImre Nagy
Succeeded byJános Kádár
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary
In office
5 August 1948 – 11 June 1949
Prime MinisterLajos Dinnyés
István Dobi
Preceded byErik Molnár
Succeeded byGyula Kállai
Member of the High National Council
In office
7 December 1945 – 1 February 1946
Serving with Zoltán Tildy, Ferenc Nagy, and Béla Varga (to 8 January 1946)
Preceded byBéla Miklós
Béla Zsedényi
Mátyás Rákosi
Succeeded byZoltán Tildy (as President of the Republic)
Personal details
Born(1909-03-08)8 March 1909
Székelyudvarhely, Udvarhely County, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania)
Died15 October 1949(1949-10-15) (aged 40)
Budapest, People's Republic of Hungary
Political partyKMP, MKP, MDP
Spouse(s)Júlia Földi

László Rajk (8 March 1909 – 15 October 1949) was a Hungarian Communist politician, who served as Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was an important organizer of the Hungarian Communists' power (for example, organizing the State Protection Authority (ÁVH)), but he eventually fell victim to Mátyás Rákosi's show trials.


Born in Székelyudvarhely, the ninth of eleven children in 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 his elder brother, Endre, a fascist under-secretary, saved his life. László Rajk was released on 13 May 1945.

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 7 December 1945 to 2 February 1946. On 20 March 1946 he was appointed minister of the Interior. In this post he organized the Hungarian Communist Party's private army and secret police (an organization analogous to the 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, nationalist, and maverick establishments and groups (the number of these was about 1,500), and set up the first show trials.

He was reassigned from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 5 August 1948 to 30 May 1949. Rákosi, who saw Rajk as a threat to his power, decided to accuse him on false charges and had him arrested on 30 May 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".


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 16 and 24 September 1949,[2] in the large 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 Stalin's anti-Titoist purges. Rajk, along with Drs Tibor Szönyi and András Szalai, was sentenced to death. Rajk was executed on 15 October 1949.[2]


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. 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. On 28 March 1956, following numerous demonstrations, Rajk was rehabilitated in spite of his responsibility for the excesses of the secret police ÁVH which he had founded in 1946, including initial large purges and executions under his direction. 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. Lászlo Rajk was then reburied, before 100,000 mourners, on 6 October 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.)

List of defendants in the Rajk trial[edit]

  • László Rajk (born in 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)

15 people were executed and 78 others were sentenced to prison in relation to the Rajk case.[citation needed][4]


László Rajk: the events of his political and family life, beginning circa 1945, his trial, execution, reburial, atonement, and ending with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Russia's armed invasion of Hungary, are all portrayed in Robert Ardrey's 1958 play, Shadow of Heroes.

See also[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 Béla Szasz's Without Any Compulsion (1963)


  • 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


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Imre Nagy
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
János Kádár
Preceded by
Erik Molnár
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Gyula Kállai