- See also Tibor Szamuely (historian), the subject's nephew.
Born in Nyíregyháza, a city in the Northeast of Hungary, Szamuely was the oldest son of five children of a Jewish family. After completing his university studies, he became a journalist. He started his political activities as a member of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party.
Szamuely was drafted and fought as a soldier during World War I; in 1915, he was captured by the Russians. After the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, he was released. By then Szamuely had become a Communist. In Moscow he organized a Communist group together with Béla Kun among the Hungarian prisoners of war. Many of them, including Szamuely and Kun, joined the Soviet Red Army and fought in the Russian Civil War on the side of the Bolsheviks. From January 1918 he resided in Moscow, were he collaborated with Béla Kun in organizing the Hungarian prisoners of war in support of the Russian Revolution. He was also a member of the Central Committee responsible for the treatment of war prisoners. On March 24, he was appointed political deputy of the Communist group of Hungarian war prisoners. Between April 14 and 18—during the sessions—he participated in the meeting of the deputies. From April 3, 1918, he published the Communist newspaper titled Socialist Revolution, together with Béla Kun. Despite his activities, many of the Hungarian war prisoners refused to join the Russian Red Guard, whereupon Szamuely had several Hungarian officers executed in the Soviet Union. Szamuely later went to Germany and in December 1918 he took part in the formation of the German Communist Party with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. He returned to Budapest on January 3, 1919. and became a member of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party, and also joined the editing redaction of the Red Paper. On February 20 he fled into exile, but continued his activities in the exiled Central Committee, and participated in the military squad organized to defend the Party's interests.
Szamuely was militant in his views and violent and extreme in his choice of methods: in February 1919, as the communists in Budapest became emboldened to challenge the government, he wrote in the pages of the Vörös Újság (Red News): "Everywhere counter-revolutionaries run about and swagger; beat them down! Beat their heads where you find them! If counter-revolutionaries were to gain the upper hand for even a single hour, there will be no mercy for any proletarian. Before they stifle the revolution, suffocate them in their own blood!"
Six weeks later, the Communist members of a coalition government staged a coup and established the Hungarian Soviet Republic, under the leadership of Béla Kun. Tibor Szamuely became a prominent leader of the new government. He occupied a number of posts, but finally was made People's Commissar for Military Affairs. He is remembered as chief of the "Red Terror". Szamuely's own personal guards were nicknamed the "Lenin Boys" or "Lenin Youth", and were widely feared for their cruelty and random killings. They were freely used to suppress with violence any resistance to the Communist regime's new policies. The Lenin Boys frequently collaborated with another Communist death squad, the Red Guard, led by József Cserny. Szamuely and Cserny travelled the country on their infamous armored train, and acted everywhere where they believed someone was threatening the Commune.
The ideological foundation for the Red Terror was given as following by Szamuely in a speech delivered in Győr on April 20, 1919: "Power has fallen into our hands. Those who wish the old regime to return, must be hung without mercy. We must bite the throat of such individuals. The victory of the Hungarian Proletariat has not cost us major sacrifices so far. But now the situation demands that blood must flow. We must not be afraid of blood. Blood is steel: it strengthens our hearts, it strengthens the fist of the Proletariat. Blood will make us powerful. Blood will lead us to the true world of the Commune. We will exterminate the entire bourgeoisie if we have to!"
Tallies of the number of victims of the terror vary; different sources generally count the dead at close to 600. A book published by Dr. Albert Váry in 1922, titled "The Victims of Red Terror in Hungary" documents 590 victims executed by the death squads. Eyewitness reports exist of several of the atrocities. The 16-year-old Ede Mellinger was executed by Szamuely in Szolnok on May 3, 1919, because after the boy's father had been murdered, Mellinger turned to Szamuely and said to him: "You are not a judge, you are a beast!"
In late May 1919, Szamuely made a trip to Moscow by airplane to campaign for world revolution together with Lenin. As Szamuely progressed with his martial law tribunals, Béla Kun became increasingly uneasy of him, fearing that power would slip from his hands. The Social Democrats, who were also members of the Revolutionary Governing Council, pushed for keeping Szamuely and Cserny in check. As a result of this, the present People's Commissar of Military Affairs, Vilmos Böhm, decided to disarm political terrorist groups at the end of April 1919. Szamuely did not obey, but continued his terror in Szolnok in May, then in Abony. He planned to assassinate Böhm, but by August 1919, the Commune had fallen, and Szamuely was forced to flee.
The Hungarian Soviet Republic only lasted for six months. On August 1, 1919, Kun fled as Romanian troops approached Budapest. Szamuely managed to evade the anti-Communist reprisals known as the "White Terror". He fled in his car towards Austria on August 2, 1919. But after making an illegal border crossing, he was seized by the Austrian authorities. Both Hungarian and Austrian authorities reported that Szamuely had shot himself while the Communist partisan who smuggled him across the border was searched. The wife of Béla Kun writes in her memoires that Szamuely told her of his plan to commit suicide, should he be captured, and showed her a gun hidden in his clothes. Not everyone would accept the official version, however, and many communists believed that he had been shot by the border guards.
The Soviet barge carrier MV Tibor Szamueli was named for him.
- Vörös Újság, 11 February 1919
- Magyar katolikus lexikon: Lenin-fiúk
- Cseh Géza: Vörös és fehér terror Szolnokon, Rubicon Történelmi Magazin, 2011/2. szám
- Tiszai Lajos: Szolnokország, 2001, OCLC 909532100
- Konok Péter: Az erôszak kérdései 1919–1920-ban, 76–77.
- Komoróczy Géza: Zsidók a Tanácsköztársaságban, Szombat.org
- 1919. augusztus 2. szombat/Samuely Tibor elvtárs menekülése és öngyilkossága, Valtozast.hu
- 1919. augusztus 1. péntek/Részletek Kun Béláné visszaemlékezéseiből, Valtozast.hu
- Tibor Szamuely Alarm! - ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (Berlin. 1959).
- When Israel is King, by J. and J. Tharaud (McBride: New York, 1924).
- András Simor: Így élt Szamuely Tibor, Móra Könyvkiadó. (Budapest, 1978)