THE TRUE STORY OF BÉLA KIRÁLY, THE HERO OF THE 1956 REVOLUTION. PART II

Yesterday’s post on the career of Béla Király, the hero of the 1956 revolution, ended with his practically overnight metamorphosis from Ferenc Szálasi’s faithful follower to chief of staff of the First Infantry Division of the Hungarian Army. At the time of his appointment, he received the rank of major, but a few months later he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was nominated to the position by György Pálffy (1909-1949), lieutenant general and head of the military political department (KPO). Three years later Pálffy was to become one of the victims of the infamous Rajk trials. Király, who obviously didn’t want to call attention to his association with the military political department, asserted in his reminiscences that he came to know Pálffy only in 1948 when Pálffy became the inspector-general of the Hungarian Army. In an unpublished interview, however, he slipped and said that “Pálffy nominated and Jenő Tombor appointed me” to lead the first infantry division. Jenő Tombor was minister of defense for a very short period of time. He was appointed on February 4, 1946 and died a few months later, on July 25.

Portrait of Béla Király by Ferenc Simonyi in the early 1950s

The most reliable source on this period of Béla Király’s life is Ferenc Kubinyi’s Fekete lexikon, which was published in Thousand Oaks, California in 1994. Apparently Király was on friendly terms with Pálffy while he served as one of his counter-intelligence officers. Yet in September 1949, in the course of the Rajk trial, Király called Pálffy a traitor and demanded a life sentence for him at a public forum. This incident was reported in Magyar Nemzet at the time, and years later, in 2000, the journalist István Stefka asked him about the episode in an interview. He claimed not to remember, but, as he said, “under the circumstances one had to say something.” And, in any case, he added, his remarks made no difference as far as the fate of Pálffy was concerned.

One of the most uncomfortable moments in Béla Király’s life had to be in March 1990, shortly after he moved back to Hungary. Ferenc Kubinyi published an article in the March 21 issue of a weekly called Ring in which the author retold the story of Jenő Czebe, a lieutenant colonel working in the ministry of defense, who was arrested in February 1949. Kubinyi published Király’s incriminating testimony against Czebe, which Király called a forgery. But Kubinyi refused to back down, and his initial article was followed a few months later by another one in which further details of the affair were revelealed. In 1996 Kubinyi wrote a whole book on the subject (A katonapolitika regénye) from which we learn that, on behalf of the KPO, Király invited Jenő Czebe and his brother Valér to his apartment, where he initiated a conversation that led straight to their arrest. Naturally, the conversation was secretly recorded. Czebe, while attempting to escape, was shot dead; his brother Valér ended up in Recsk, the infamous secret concentration camp where thousands lost their lives because of the inhumane conditions. Király never managed to give a satisfactory explanation for the Czebe affair, which may have been the reason for Prime Minister József Antall’s suspicion of Király’s past. The case was definitely discussed between the two men in early 1990 because Király mentioned the encounter in his 2004 autobiographical book. He claimed that Antall tried to blackmail him with the Czebe story.

Fate eventually caught up with Király when he himself was arrested and sentenced to death in 1951. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. In jail he felt isolated: the right-wing political and military leaders who were imprisoned after 1945 despised him because he joined the communists, while the democratically-minded prisoners didn’t trust him. He described his prison term as being in a ghetto.

Király was freed on September 7, 1956, after which, according to his recollections of 1981, he was approached by three of his former fellow soldiers who called themselves pro-Imre Nagy reformers. They invited him to join their group, which was supposed to be Imre Nagy’s military contingent. This whole episode is the figment of Király’s imagination. First of all, there was no such military group among supporters of the future prime minister. Over the years Király desperately tried to come up with stories that would prove that Imre Nagy viewed him as someone he could rely on in times of need. At one point he concocted a conversation with Imre Nagy at the reburial of László Rajk and his fellow victims on October 13, 1956. According to this story, Imre Nagy recognized him and seemed to know that he had been in the hospital. Again, Király cannot keep his stories straight. He didn’t go to the hospital until October 17. Moreover, László Gyurkó’s book on 1956, published in 1986, quotes Imre Nagy during his trial as stating that “I didn’t know Béla Király, didn’t hear about him either directly or indirectly” prior to the revolutionary days.

October 23, the outbreak of the revolution, found Király in the central military hospital, where he had had a minor operation. It looks as if he was in no hurry to leave the peace and quiet of the hospital and that he decided to wait out the turbulent first few days. On October 28 he emerged from the hospital, even though the political situation at that time was still extremely volatile. By the next day, however, the situation was looking more promising. The most compromised political leaders were sent to Moscow, and Imre Nagy moved into the parliament building instead of using the party headquarters. Negotiations began with the Soviet leaders about troop withdrawals. It was at that point that Király decided to join the revolution. Within a day he was chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Armed Forces, commander of the National Guard, and commander of the city of Budapest. What Király did after November 4 is another story.

To be continued

August 28, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Joseph Simon
Guest

By Király’s own recollections, it was Nagy Imre’s son in law, Ferenc Jánosi, who approached him on October 28, to join and participate in the revolution supporting Nagy’s programe. It seemed Jánosi respected and trusted Király and needed his help.

Member

As I read Eva’s account of Bela Kiraly’s life and times, I find striking similarities to other Eastern Europeans who skillfully transitioned from one totalitarian system to another during the 1940s and 50s. The con artists in the old system became the con artists in the new system. It took a combination of luck, savoir-faire, and no qualms about putting your former comrades before the firing squad.

Anne Applebaum writes about such people in her book, The Iron Curtain, but does not mention Kiraly.

Given this kind of history, is it any surprise that modern-day Eastern European politics is dominated by unprincipled opportunists?

wrfree
Guest

Given the kind of betrayal and shifting allegiances, many things in reverie make things fall into place years on from those fateful days. I always had the feeling Magyars among themselves were silently thinking who was who and what was what.

old1956
Guest

All these accusations probably wouldn’t count too much if the investigation could hear Kiraly’s side, too.

I still believe that he was smart, charismatic and one of the best Hungary gave us.

Martin
Guest

Yes, con artist, Kiraly was indeed a con artist. He was probably a compulsive, pathological liar like real con men often are, for example the infamous György Zemplényi (from the early 1990’s). I only met one in my life and he was incredible. (Although drug addicts can often be such compulsive liars.) Everybody believed his stories, which were colorful but plausible, nobody suspected anything. But later absolutely everything turned out to be lies.

By the way did Kiraly have a family? The NY obituary claims he had a wife once in Hungary but that they divorced while he still lived in Hungary. But I wonder if this was also a sham. With such people often even the most basic facts turn out to be lies.

Observer
Guest

This reminds me of the second Orban government, in which there were more former communists than in the earlier MSZP government’s. (Which didn’t prevent him from continuing his anti communist posturing).

Member

I am not sure this is correct, even if you count ex-KISZ members as “former communists.”

What is true is that Orban’s cabinet had more communist informers than Horn’s government. This is understandable: The MSZP’s top brass was culled from the top echelons of the MSZMP, whereas Fidesz tended to attract lower-level aparatchiks. Fideszers were the ones who provided information to their bosses, while MSZPers were the receivers of such information.

Observer
Guest

Alex K

MSzMP : S.Pintèr, J.Martonyi, G.Matolcsy, J.Fonagy, I.Stumpf, Zs.Jàrai, P.Schmitt.

Kisz: Orban, Kövêr, M.Varga.

Ans many more in the lower ranks.

There isn’t much difference between communists and fascists – Mussolini started as radical socialist, In Germany they had the DNSocialistischeAP.

Member

Right but Horn’s ex-MSZMP ministers included Kovács László. Békesi László, Bokros Lajos, Medgyessy Péter, Kökény Mihály, Kosané Kovács Magda, Suchman Tamás, Vastagh Pál, Kiss Péter, Csiha Judit, Keleti György, Baja Ferenc. Katona Béla and others. Not to mention Horn himself.

As far as I know, Pál Schmitt was never a formal member of the MSZMP. Nor was he a member of Orbán’s 1998-2002 cabinet.

Observer
Guest

Alex K

I wrote second Orban gov, that means the 2002-210 govs of Megyesi ès Gyurcsàny.

The point is the hypocrisy and cynicism of these cousins of the communists, i.e. of these fascists.

Member

AH, sorry, I misread your comment.

Observer
Guest

And

Forgot communist gov members Rozsa Hoffman, Imre Kerèny (kormànybiztos = undersecretary).

Schmitt wasn’t party member, but was dep. minister in com times, gen.manager of one of the largest Bud hotels receiving foreigners, i.e. staffed with many and working closely with the secret police.

Observer
Guest

Alex

I wrote second orban gov, i.e. I meant the Megyessy & Gyurcsány govs.

I forgot communists Rozsa Hoffman and Imre Kerényi (kormánybiztos=undersecretary), Péter Harach. http://nepszava.hu/cikk/496741-kisert-a-partallami-mult-a-fideszben
P.Schmitt was not party member, but served as GM of one of the biggest Bud hotels receiving western guests, i.e. staffed with some and closely collaborating with the secret police. More formally, he was undersecretary in the last comm gov.

The point is the B.Kiraly kind of hypocrisy, cynicism and the total lack of morals also characteristic of the Orban gang made of opportunists and trun-coats that would serve any regime.

Member

Sorry for misunderstanding you. You don’t have to convince me about the hypocrisy 😉

wrfree
Guest
Re: after Nov 4th My takeaway from reading his ‘Reconquest of Hungary’ was describing his experience in terms of a leader trying to show how he tried to influence something that in essence was completely out of his control. And he did that by attempting to link his ‘revolutionary commander’ position where he would be the ‘go-between’ between Nagy and the Russians. Noting that he could not give orders to troops through ‘proper channels’ as Stalinist officers took over the Ministry of Defense Kiraly suggested Nagy issue an order of resistance but he would not do it. He asked for permission to do it himself. Nagy still said no arguing to Nagy that the Russians would interpret it as a state of war. Once Nagy ‘left’ the scene Kiraly noted he was asked to preside at a meeting at Central Military HQ and ‘extend it as broadly as possible to all strata of the revolution’. They were to decide three items which included ‘guerrilla war, or starting armistice negotiations or just lay down arms’. Kiraly notes …’About half of the freedom fighters who were serving at the Headquarters on Szabadsaghegy elected to participate in the meeting. The rest felt that,… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Gyorgy Faludy in his book, now translated, My Happy Days in Hell, he described in great detail the forced labor camp run by the AVO at Recsk. He depicted numerous former Arrow Cross members who were guards. Here is one such description: “The so called master-miner, a noncommissioned AVO officer in civilian clothes, had appeared at the bottom of the footpath. He was called Andras Toth and came from Egerzolat, a few kilometers from Recsk. According to fellow prisoners who came from the same village he had been, six years earlier, head of the local Arrow Cross party he, with his henchmen, dug up the Jewish cemetery to look for jewellery – which he didn’t find.” The prisoners, most of whom were purged Communists and social democrats called him the “gravedigger.” The fascists served their purposes for the Stalinist regime, they had skills needed to destroy human beings. Some of these former Arrow Cross and Hungarian SS troopers in fact made it here to the USA as I have discussed before on this blog. Some became members of the Catholic Church here in Chicago, they presented themselves always as fierce anti-communists. They were the first to say Horthy was a… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘….they presented themselves as fierce anti-communists’

The above and the eye-opening details of a Magyar hero. Point to ponder:

‘You are only what you are when no one is looking.

Guest

And again this reminds me of “A Tanú” – but Királyi not as Pelikán …

tappanch
Guest

Orban’s media hegemony.

The new number #2 of the formerly opposition-like television channel ATV, Peter Hajdu is a great fan of Orban.

He is sure Orban will gain 2/3 majority in the 2018 election.

An interview with a very cynical person:

http://24.hu/belfold/2017/08/29/hajdu-peter-nem-hivogatom-habony-arpadot/

Jean P.
Guest

“…Recsk, the infamous secret concentration camp where thousands lost their lives…”

This sentence set me off googling about Recsk. I was looking in vain for a precise number of deaths. The camp held around 1400 prisoners between 1950 and 1953 and when it closed 1400 prisoners were either released or given prison sentences. If thousands died out of a constant population of 1400 there must have been en extremely large turn over of prisoners and Recsk must have been an extermination camp. Was it?

Observer
Guest

I knew several former inmates, although they spoke in general about how terrible it was, they all had survived without injuries and did not mention deaths.

wpDiscuz