Tag Archives: 1956 October Revolution

Hungarian refugees of 1956 and the current refugee crisis

I have been thinking about the topic of today’s post for a long time, but it was only in the last couple of days that the threads came together to form a unified whole. 444.hu published an article yesterday with the title “Viktor Orbán’s 100 lies,” which prompted me add one of my own about the Hungarian refugees of 1956. That particular Orbán lie has been bothering me for ages, but I had no time to search for the necessary statistical data to prove that, as usual, Viktor Orbán is either purposely lying or is simply ignorant. Today, however, I got my proof. Népszava published a detailed article about the Hungarian Statistical Office’s originally secret compilation of data on people who left the country after the October 1956 revolution. I should also note that the hysteria over the sighting of alleged migrants that erupted in a village provided an added impetus for me to make some observations about the “good Hungarian refugees” as opposed to the “evil migrants,” a contrast that is often drawn by Fidesz leaders as well as the general population. Finally, there are a couple of telling sentences in a new poll about “the Hungarian dream” that may have some relevance here.

So, let’s start with the lie that 444.hu didn’t include in its list. It was about two years ago that Viktor Orbán explained that keeping “migrants” within walled compounds guarded by police was the norm when the Hungarian refugees arrived in Austria. “What do you think? They were free to go anywhere? They were in camps for years until they were properly vetted.” This was essentially Orbán’s justification for creating closed camps for those refugees who arrived in Hungary, after a fence was erected to keep most of the refugees out. According to official Hungarian statistics, 193,748 people left the country between October 23 and the spring of 1957, most of them via Austria (174,057). What happened to these people? Did they stay in closed refugee camps, waiting for years? No. According to the statistics, by March 31, 1957 only 35,250 Hungarian refugees were still in Austria. The rest were moved within months to 35 different countries, which offered them food and shelter until they found jobs.

This was an enormous achievement in and of itself, but there were also many difficult cases that the authorities had to handle. For example, I just read parts of a book about the 20,000 unaccompanied minors who needed protection. Some of them were war orphans who had lived all of their lives in institutions and who had special needs. Many of these children eventually found their bearing in their adopted countries, but some drifted from country to country, or ended up in the French Legion or in Vietnam. Most of the unaccompanied minors, however, were just normal kids, many from white-collar families. Their host countries provided them, among other things, with free education. As we know, among the refugees coming from the Middle East there are many unaccompanied minors, whose arrival is viewed with suspicion. But if you think about it, in the Hungarian case 10% of the refugees were under the age of 18, so these youngsters’ presence in the current migration mix is not unusual.

A Hungarian refugee boy somewhere in Europe in 1957

The other common complaint about the mass of Middle Eastern refugees is the predominance of young men. They should have stayed and fought, the argument goes. What was situation in 1956? Two-thirds of the refugees were men. Not only that, but more than half of them were under the age of 25 and one third were relatively young (25-39 years old). Moreover, the largest category of men was of military age: 10.3% of all 20-year-olds and 9.3% of all 19-year-olds left the country. Although about half of the refugees were from Budapest, the number of men from the capital was especially high. More than 15% of 15- to 24-year-olds in Budapest left the country. Perhaps these statistics could give today’s Hungarians some food for thought, but naturally one cannot expect the officials to enlighten people about the nature of migratory movements.

In fact, any comparison of the Hungarian exodus in 1956 to the present situation is hotly denied. As if all Hungarian refugees were either skilled workers or highly educated intellectuals. No, it was a mixed crowd that included troubled children and common criminals who were let out of the jail. And, of course, many who settled into a comfortable middle-class existence or who achieved fame in their professional lives. I think that, by and large, the host countries  benefited from their initial investment.

Meanwhile, the Orbán government’s anti-refugee propaganda is still going strong, and the results are disheartening. A couple of days ago panic broke out in the village of Kömlő in Heves County, which has a majority Roma population and a Roma mayor who seems to have a lot of common sense. An elderly inhabitant, who happened to be a non-Roma, claimed to have seen a couple of migrants, who actually turned out to be locals. Panic set in. People saw migrants everywhere. They allegedly saw them entering houses and stealing food off the table or out of the refrigerator. Total fear gripped the place. The village has four or five anti-Soros posters but, as the mayor explained, the locals have no idea who he is. It is not the posters that are responsible for the fear that exists in the village but “what they see on television. There is no real danger here, but still that is what the TV tells them all day long.” I wonder what would have happened in 1956 and 1957 if the Austrian government had launched a campaign against the refugees, claiming that they were all communists.

Finally, a fascinating poll was taken about the future Hungarians would like to see for themselves. This is not the time to discuss this poll in any detail, but the upshot of the survey is that “Hungarians would like to live about 800 km farther west, somewhere close to the Austrian-Swiss border, and live in the predictability and the social equality of the Kádár regime but with western standards of living.” This conclusion didn’t surprise me, but what grabbed my attention was a comment from one of the respondents: “We should reach Western Europe economically but not culturally.” Apparently, Hungarians dream about some “specific Hungarian road within the Union.” As Tamás Boros, one of the researchers who worked on the study, noted, they dream about “a rich and egalitarian but ethnically homogeneous country.” Hungarians have been chasing a “Hungarian road” in vain for almost one hundred years. The combination they are dreaming about is unattainable and most likely also undesirable.

November 4, 2017

Viktor Orbán on homo brusselicus and the power of the dark side

I found it strange that the three German-language articles I read on Viktor Orbán’s speech, delivered on the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, called it “scandalous” when, for those of us who are familiar with the Hungarian prime minister’s diatribes, it was nothing out of the ordinary. The German edition of Huffington Post considered the speech too much even from a destructive populist like Viktor Orbán. All three reports concentrated on Orbán’s description of the Visegrád 4 countries as a “migrant-free zone.” All noted that, although George Soros’s name was not mentioned, there were dark references to a “speculative financial empire” that is responsible for Europe’s “invasion” by migrants. You may have noticed that none of these reports had anything to say about the occasion for Orbán’s speech, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It was not an oversight on the part of the reporters because this speech was a campaign speech, pure and simple, and had almost nothing to do with 1956.

Those people who watched the great man’s oration on state television saw that, despite the pouring rain, a large crowd had assembled. A relative of mine sadly reported on this. I immediately set her straight. First of all, the crowd, according to the best estimates, was small, but the state TV camera crew made sure that on the screen it would look much larger than it was in reality. The official estimate was 10,000 people, but independent sources were talking about 3,000-4,000. And even if we believe the government’s figures, most of these people were transported by 30-40 or perhaps even more buses from the countryside and were most likely paid for their trouble. Many of the buses belong to sports clubs, including naturally the Puskás Academy of Felcsút. Therefore, I perfectly understand why a DK politician wants to investigate whether any money from the so-called TAO-program, which is a tax program corporations can take advantage of if they support certain kinds of sports, actually went to indirectly support a Fidesz campaign rally.

I assume that the organizers from the start were worried about attendance. That’s why the event was staged at the House of Terror on Andrássy út, which offers a relatively small area for an admiring crowd. I also assume that because of the bad weather, without these most likely paid Fidesz supporters the whole event would have been washed out.

But it would be unfair to say that in that crowd there were no true believers who were there just to be close to the great man. You and I might find such devotion odd, but, as the reporter of 24.hu who was present pointed out, most of the people weren’t really interested in the other participants, including Mária Schmidt, the “1956 expert,” but wanted to hear what Orbán had to say about current politics, “the oppression by Brussels,” and “the threat of globalization.” And 24.hu picked up a story from the website of Pázmánd, a village of 2,000, where an 86-year-old man so desperately wanted to see his favorite prime minister that he turned to town hall for help when he discovered that his TV set had given up the ghost. The mayor was most obliging. She lent him a tablet.

Was there anything new in the speech? Not much. Many of the old clichés about the freedom-loving Hungarian people were repeated, and the few words Orbán spent on 1956 were full of assumptions about the motivations of those who rose up against the Stalinist Hungarian regime. He put himself in the place of the freedom fighters as well as foreign observers. The former rose up because they realized that if they don’t strike now the thousand-year-old Hungary will be lost forever. As for the latter, they may have admired the Hungarian revolution, but they didn’t really understand it. In my opinion, Orbán is wrong on both counts.

I should also note that a lot of analysts were outraged when they discovered that the totally discredited László Dózsa was listed as one of the heroes of the revolution, together with Imre Nagy, Gergely Pongrátz, József Mindszenty, Péter Mansfeld, Mária Wittner, and János Szabó. It is a strange list, but at least the other “heroes” actually had a role to play in 1956. László Dózsa is a fake. Those of you who don’t remember the story of this inveterate liar should read my post on him. Those who know Hungarian should take a look at 444.hu’s “summary in one sentence” of the lies this man has concocted over the years. Mária Schmidt, despite clear indications that the man is not who he claims to be, refused to admit that her “research team” had made a mistake. He is not the boy who appeared in Life magazine, who was clearly identified as Pál Pruck. Viktor Orbán doesn’t care. He doesn’t give a hoot about what historians of 1956 say. He will stand by Mária Schmidt and the false history she has propagated. It is especially disgusting in view of the fact that a suit brought against Mária Schmidt’s foundation by the Pruck family is still being litigated.

The only novelty of the speech was that Viktor Orbán refrained from mentioning George Soros’s name, but it wasn’t necessary since he had plenty to say about “financial empires” which are “without borders” but which have “media all over the world” and at least “ten thousand paid agents.” They don’t have “fixed structures,” but they have “a widespread network.” Hungary is at a turning point, just as it was in 1990 when the question was “whether we will be transformed into “homo Sovieticus.” Now there is a danger of becoming “homo Brusselicus.”

A lot was made of Viktor Orbán trying to sound hip by making a reference to Star Wars, or to be more precise to Episode VI (1983) of the series, “Return of the Jedi.” Here Darth Vader says to Luke, “You underestimate the power of the Dark Side.” As Star War buffs pointed out, Orbán’s reference is not quite accurate when he warns his people “never to underestimate the power of the dark side.” But younger journalists found it interesting that Orbán turned to Star Wars as inspiration. Perhaps he is trying to speak to the younger generation, which at the moment is not exactly enthusiastic about Viktor Orbán’s messages. I very much doubt that the “dark side” reference will send them to Fidesz in droves.

Orbán’s admirers will find this speech as brilliant as all the others while his critics don’t even bother to comment on his usual clichés and spend time only on trying to ascertain what he could possibly mean by “homo Brusselicus” and what he wants to achieve by quoting Star Wars.

October 24, 2017

Miklós Vásárhelyi is taking stock: The memoirs of Imre Nagy’s press secretary

On this sad anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 revolution, I decided to escape from the Orbán regime’s ghastly “celebration” into the realm of history by sharing memories with another witness, Miklós Vásárhelyi (1917-2001), press secretary of Imre Nagy in the last few days of the failed revolution and war of independence. I have been reading his memoirs, Kész a leltár (Taking stock), edited by Gyula Kozák and released a couple of weeks ago, on the 100th anniversary of Vásárhelyi’s birth in Fiume/Rijeka. Kozák, together with András B. Hegedűs, an active participant in the revolution, began studying the history of the 1956 events in 1981, first under cover, but from 1985 on legally, with the help of the Soros Foundation. As part of their project, they interviewed hundreds of people. The material they collected eventually became known as the Oral History Archivum under the auspices of the 1956 Institute.

The book is a transcription of a series of very lengthy interviews with Vásárhelyi that Kozák conducted in the 1990s. They take us through Vásárhelyi’s involvement in the communist movement before 1956, his imprisonment after the revolution, and his participation in the democratic movement of the 1980s. He became one of the founding members of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and served as a member of parliament between 1990 and 1994. Between 1994 and 2001 he was the president of the Soros Foundation in Hungary.

Kész a leltár is hard to put down. Vásárhelyi’s early years in an upper-middle-class family in Fiume and Debrecen and his introduction to the communist movement by a classmate of decidedly gentry origin is as captivating as his vivid description of the unimaginable, almost Kafkaesque atmosphere of the period between 1950 and 1956 in communist Hungary. Vásárhelyi was never in the top leadership of the party or in the government, but he had access to the highest echelon of the Hungarian party leadership. Thus, he was fairly familiar with the power struggle that was going on, although he admits that from one day to the next one never knew who would be the next victim. Those who a couple of years before were sending their former comrades to the gallows were waiting for their turn.

Stalin’s death in March 1953 didn’t bring an end to the party strife. It is true that the dreaded head of the Államvédelmi Hatóság (ÁVH/State Security Authority) was arrested, but Mátyás Rákosi, still the strongman of the party, and his men tried to stop the de-Stalinization efforts of Imre Nagy, prime minister between July 4, 1953 and March 9, 1955. Vásárhelyi relates a typical Rákosi story. Ferenc Donáth, who had been a trusted member of the illegal communist party since 1934, was arrested in February 1951 and on trumped up charges was convicted. He spent almost three of his 15 years in solitary, but after Stalin’s death he was freed and rehabilitated. As Vásárhelyi, a friend of Donáth tells us, Donáth was the only person who had been convicted at a show trial to meet Rákosi personally after his release from jail. Rákosi, who was naturally behind Donáth’s incarceration, turned to him and said, “Comrade Donáth, I don’t understand you. You, as an old comrade from the illegal days who even had a taste of jail, why didn’t you find a way to get in touch with me from jail and tell me what was happening there with you? Why didn’t you tell me how these confessions and trials came into being?” (p. 136) The man’s cynicism was absolutely staggering.

I was especially interested in Vásárhelyi’s perspectives on the last crucial months leading up to October 23. In many ways, even people around Imre Nagy, like Vásárhelyi, Géza Losonczy, and Sándor Haraszti, were ignorant of the mood of the common people. As Vásárhelyi admits, they were surprised at the elemental storm that broke out in the country a few months later even though they were aware of the popularity of Imre Nagy, which was indeed genuine. Recent attempts by the Orbán regime to obliterate Imre Nagy from the national pantheon are doomed. Whether the anti-Bolsheviks of today like it or not, Imre Nagy was the hope of millions after the horrors of the Rákosi regime. His popularity, as I found out from Vásárhelyi’s book, was bolstered by the men who gathered around him and supported his program. They suggested to Nagy that he take walks on the streets of Budapest. I myself witnessed one of his appearances. We were leaving the faculty of arts building (today the Piarist Gymnasium) and there he was, standing with his wife, smiling broadly while people gathered around him, shaking his hand.

I was also fascinated by Vásárhelyi’s surprise at the size of the crowd at the reburial of László Rajk, minister of interior between 1946 and 1948 and foreign minister in 1948-1949, who was sentenced to death in October 1949. The reburial took place on October 6, 1956, the anniversary of the execution of the 13 rebel generals in 1849 at his wife’s insistence. The size of that crowd was indeed very large, which should have been seen as a sign of the depth of popular discontent. Yet, when a few weeks later the question of whether to allow or forbid the student demonstration was debated, some party leaders were certain that only a few students would show up and that the workers of Csepel would march downtown and take care of them. Imre Nagy was himself truly afraid that the demonstration might end up in bloodshed.

Both Miklós Vásárhelyi and I marched along the same route, except I must have been quite a bit ahead of him. He joined the crowd only at the Astoria Hotel while I and my university friends were marching at the head of the column. Still, with some delay, we saw the same things and, I’m happy to say, our recollections are practically the same. He also recalls the soldiers hanging out of the windows of their barracks on Bem tér and, at the urging of the crowd, tearing off their Soviet-style jackets. And from Bem tér we moved along the same route all the way to the parliament building.

What I didn’t see but Vásárhelyi did was the students of the Lenin Institute marching with a huge picture of Lenin, which “fit into this demonstration; it didn’t look out of place.” Indeed, those few of us from the university who managed to stay together in that immense crowd in front of the parliament building began marching together back to the university, singing a so-called movement song about Lenin. It is difficult to understand all this today, even for those of us who went through it.

But it is one thing not to understand it. To falsify, pervert, or trample on it is something else entirely. Unfortunately, this is what Viktor Orbán is doing.

October 23, 2017

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

The true story of Béla Király, the hero of the 1956 revolution. Part I

The other day a friend from Hungary sent me a brief e-mail with a link: “What do you think? For me this is too bizarre, especially because of Berkesi.” The link was to a Pesti Srácok article written by a certain Gábor Mező, who is apparently an associate of the Hamvas Institute, whose website is singularly short on any information about the institute’s activities. Mező claims that while doing research on an unrelated topic, he happened upon copies of documents that prove that Béla Király, the hero of the 1956 revolution, was an agent of the so-called Military Political Department (Katonai politikai osztály/KPO) of the Ministry of Defense. It was there that he found a statement by András Berkesi attesting to the fact that Király was his recruit and that Király dutifully reported to him on his fellow officers. András Berkesi did work for the KPO between 1945 and 1950, when he was arrested and sentenced. Yet he remained a loyal communist and fought, defending the regime, during the 1956 revolution. He became famous in the sixties as a celebrated author of crime novels.

According to these documents, former high-ranking officers, by that time in emigration, approached Király, who dutifully reported all the information he received from abroad and subsequently cooperated with KPO. As a result of his activities a fellow officer, Jenő Czebe, was uncovered. While trying to escape, he was shot. According to the document, Czebe’s fate was sealed by Király’s work as an agent.

Although I knew Béla Király quite well when we both belonged to a small association of Hungarian historians in the United States, by the mid-80s we lost touch. Of course, I knew that Béla returned to Hungary in 1990, where he ran for parliament as a candidate from the district of his hometown, Kaposvár. Occasionally I read short news items about his activities, which indicated a rather complicated series of political moves. At first he was an independent, but soon enough he moved over to the ruling, right-of-center MDF. It didn’t take long for him to become a member of the liberal SZDSZ. Király’s political career ended with him serving as a military adviser to Viktor Orbán (1998-2002).

Béla Király at the time of the 1956 revolution

Our fellow historian, Peter Pastor of Montclair University, was much closer to Béla than I was, and I decided to forward the e-mail with the link to him. Perhaps, I thought, he can shed light on that story. And indeed, Peter immediately answered and with only slight modifications authenticated the story. At the same time he promised me several articles that he had published on Béla Király, who died in 2009 and was buried with full military honors. Peter expressed his sorrow that the true story of Béla Király so far has been told by people on the right. It would be time, he said, for the left to face the fact that Béla Király was a fake who served every regime he ever encountered, including those of Ferenc Szálasi and Mátyás Rákosi.

I could hardly put down the material Peter sent me. Perhaps the most comprehensive summary of Király’s career, including a short description of his involvement in the events of the 1956 revolution, was Peter’s article “Béla Király in the light of his autobiographies,” which appeared in Memoirs and History (2012). I was mesmerized–and dismayed–by what I read. How could I have been so misled by this man? Both Peter and I had considered him a friend. But what is more important, how could he mislead a whole country?

The material I received covers Király’s career from 1912, when he was born, to 1956. During this period Hungary had a turbulent history. It seems that Király was the epitome of the survivor. His career was studded with betrayal and deceit. And yet, it is difficult to be a successful liar, especially if you live your life in the limelight and feel compelled to write and rewrite your life story. What Peter Pastor did was to compare his many published autobiographical writings and interviews and test them against what we know to be verifiable historical facts.

One must admire Király’s miraculously smooth move, within a few months, from being a faithful follower of the Hungarist/Nazi Ferenc Szálasi to being a secret communist party member in the military political department of the ministry of defense. When I call him a Szálasi loyalist I don’t use the term lightly. In January 1945 he received the high decoration of the military cross of the order of merit (Magyar Érdemrend Tiszti Keresztje). By that time Szálasi and his fellow Nazis, including Király, had moved to Kőszeg on the Austro-Hungarian border. Two months later, in March 1945, he was inducted into the Vitézi Rend, which became infamous recently because of Sebastian Gorka’s membership in the order. Keep in mind that by March 1945 Budapest was occupied by Soviet troops and that the war in Europe was rapidly coming to an end.

It was during his time in Kőszeg that Király began plotting his political survival; it was there that he decided to desert and go over to the Soviets. Of course, in his several descriptions, he greatly embellished his role in the events that took place there. Almost everything he wrote about the taking of Kőszeg by the Soviets was an outright lie. He was not the leader of the brigade defending the city, and he didn’t save Kőszeg from bombardment. Moreover, what he neglected to tell was that he stole the military vehicle of his superior officer and drove over to the Soviets, taking with him the documents of the military command.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the post-war years cannot help but wonder how it was possible for Király to become a full-fledged member of the communist party. My very first thought was: “But there were the ‘denazification commissions.’ How did he manage to pass?” Well, there is an explanation. At this time the so-called people’s courts were investigating cases of war crimes, and one of the many hundreds of people under investigation was Károly Beregfy, minister of defense in the Szálasi government. The prosecution needed more evidence against Beregfy when “unexpected help came.” As Pál Kornis, former party secretary of the military political department of the ministry of defense at the time, reports in a book titled I appear as a witness, published in 1988, “a civilian showed up from Kaposvár who was a direct subordinate of Beregfy and was ready to give information on Beregfy’s activities as minister of defense. Béla Király was an impressive, good-looking and a very well-prepared officer. It was with his assistance that we managed to close the case of Károly Beregfy.” Beregfy was condemned to death in March 1946. As Kornis puts it, Király “managed this way to get a transfer ticket to the new army.”

Király in his memoirs written in 1981 and 1986, i.e. before the appearance of Kornis’s book, maintained that it was Beregfy’s defense that called him as a witness. However, after 1988 he had to have an explanation for Kornis’s allegations. In the 2004 version of his life he admitted that he had been interrogated by Kornis on October 23, 1945 but adds that the information he provided was not substantial enough to call him to the witness stand. A little more than a month later, on December 2, 1945, Király sailed through the investigation by the ministry’s denazification commission.

To be continued

August 27, 2017

An inveterate liar: Mária Schmidt’s celebrated freedom fighter

Today’s story is a sad commentary on the gullibility of some of the leading supporters of Fidesz. It’s the tale of a man who among his colleagues is known to be a habitual liar but who, over the past 30 years, has managed to fool an awful lot of people.

Pathological liars are not rare. I myself have encountered at least two. But most of us sooner or later realize that the stories they tell don’t add up. And we certainly don’t defend the truth of these stories in the face of evidence to the contrary. Here, however, once hard facts proved that our man had been lying through his teeth, Mária Schmidt, the chief organizer of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution and allegedly a historian, came to his rescue. She attacked the media for trying to ruin her precious event and besmirching the halos of the “pesti srácok,” youngsters who fought on the streets of Budapest.

The man I am talking about is László Dózsa, an actor whose career has not been distinguished. He currently directs plays staged in the Újpest Színház, which doesn’t strike me as much of a theater. Yet shortly after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz won the election in 2010, he was awarded the title “érdemes művész” (actor of merit). Admittedly, as far as awards in the theater world go, this one is fairly lowly. Even so, in one of his interviews a reporter asked him whether anyone had ever suggested that he received the award not so much for being an actor but rather for being a “freedom fighter.”

It would seem that his alleged activities in 1956 are central to his self-identity. In his Wikipedia entry, which most likely he wrote himself, he is described as “1956 freedom fighter, actor, director, actor of merit” in this order.

This year Dózsa made it as the freedom fighter of all freedom fighters. A painting based on a Life Magazine photo, depicting a young man with a rifle and captioned László Dózsa (1942-), was plastered all over Budapest. He must have felt on top of the world. But soon enough his world collapsed. It turned out that the boy in the picture was Pál Pruck (1941-2000). Once Pruck’s family learned that Dózsa had assumed his identity, they decided to act.

dozsa

It was high time to put an end to Dózsa’s outrageous stories about 1956. Dózsa was always known to tell tall tales. When after 1989 he began regaling people with his exploits during the revolution, his friends didn’t unmask him even though they figured the stories were lies. They thought the lies were harmless.

After a while the media became interested in the adventures of this extraordinary man. One of the first of these interviews, “The man who has three lives,” appeared in the October 2005 issue of Hetek, the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith’s weekly. This story was repeated over and over in several more publications, with new embellishments. It is difficult to create a coherent story from Dózsa’s recollections which were, I assume, purposefully vague, but there are a couple of fixed points: he joined a group that gathered around the Divatcsarnok at the corner of Rákóczi út and Szövetség utca and he joined the group after November 4.

According to his story, once the fighting was over the Russians made them, about 30 young boys, stand against the wall of the Rákóczi movie theater and killed everyone except him. He escaped with his throat half destroyed by a bullet. He was then taken to a prison hospital where he was interrogated and was so badly beaten that he was eventually pronounced clinically dead. He was taken, together with other dead bodies, to the cemetery on Kerepesi út and thrown into a common grave. They even poured lime on the bodies. The gravediggers, however, discovered that he was alive and returned in the darkness of night. They took him to the Jewish Hospital on Szabolcs utca where two professors operated on him. These two good men hid him until it was safe to return “from the dead.” Because of “international pressure” he was not prosecuted.

On its face the story is bizarre and unbelievable. And, after reading an interview with László Eörsi, the historian who has written scores of books on these small fighting groups, one can be pretty certain that not a word of Dózsa’s story is true. Eörsi describes himself as an “event historian” (eseménytörténész). I have several of his books, which are basically minute-by-minute descriptions of the activities of these groups. Eörsi interviewed Dózsa at one point but came to the conclusion that his stories were bogus because they could not be corroborated. No one had ever heard of the murder by the Russians of 30 people in the center of the city. Dózsa claimed that the Russians bombed the Divatcsarnok when in fact they didn’t resort to air attacks. He talked about firing squads against civilians at the Nyugati Station, but that occurred only on December 6.

So, let’s turn to Pál Pruck. Once the Pruck family found out that Dózsa had assumed the identity of the deceased Pruck, they complained. Dózsa, after the story broke, magnanimously agreed to take his name off “in reverence” to the deceased’s relatives. But he still maintained that he was the one who appeared in the Life Magazine photo despite convincing evidence to the contrary. Tamás Pruck, Pál Pruck’s son, remembers his father telling him that he had been sent by the guys of Corvin-köz (Corvin alley) for bread when a foreign photographer stopped him and took a picture of him. “But he never spoke about being such an important freedom fighter.” He was just a “srác interested in guns.” Apparently, he never received any decoration but he never asked for one either.

The Life Magazine photo

The Life Magazine photo

Yesterday I was sure that Mária Schmidt would remain quiet. The evidence against Dózsa was far too strong. I was wrong. Today Schmidt called the poor deceased Pruck a criminal and insisted that Dózsa was an outstanding national hero. At the same time she launched an attack against the opposition media, which insists on debasing the memory of the ’56 revolution and its heroes.

The photos Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Photos of Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Her defense of Dózsa stretched the limits of logic. 444.hu summarized it well. (1) Dózsa is credible because he received a lot of decorations for the heroism he demonstrated in ’56. (2) In 2007 Dózsa himself wrote that this was a photo of him, something that nobody questioned. (3) Normally photographers don’t identify their subjects in a wartime situation or they give them phony names. That’s why the photographer gave an existing person’s name to a photo depicting Dózsa. (4) This is not the first time that the wrong name is attached to this photo. (5) Dózsa years ago in a video taken at the House of Terror identified himself as the boy on the picture. (6) Nothing is known about Pál Pruck’s activities during the revolution. (7) He himself said in a television interview that he doesn’t know how the photographer got his name. (8) Pál Pruck was a criminal who was in jail several times. He was also used by the Kádár regime’s propagandists to discredit the revolution. (9) The relatives of Pruck didn’t come forth although the photo was widely known. (10) It is suspicious that Pál Pruck didn’t suffer any reprisals after the revolution.

This is the best that Orbán’s court historian could come up with. Pitiful and embarrassing. But, I said to myself, isn’t it also embarrassing that Dózsa received the Officer’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit in 2006 during the Gyurcsány government? At least this is what I read in his Wikipedia entry. Well, I checked the list of recipients and there is no sign of László Dózsa. He even lied about that in his Wikipedia entry.

On the other hand, he has been richly rewarded for his faithful service to right-wing causes since 2010. I already mentioned his becoming an “actor of merit” in 2011. But the big prize came this year, on the sixtieth anniversary of the revolution. He became an “honorary citizen” of Budapest. Apparently, Mayor István Tarlós and the Fidesz majority’s choice was Dózsa while Csaba Horváth (MSZP) argued for László Nemes Jeles, director of the Oscar-winning Son of Saul. Tarlós put an end to the discussion by saying that “László Dózsa is our son of Saul.” What a gift. Tarlós, Schmidt, and the rest can now contemplate how to rescue Dózsa for posterity.

November 3, 2016

A more fitting celebration of the 60th anniversary of ’56 in Washington

About a week ago I included a sentence about the reception Réka Szemerkényi, Hungarian Ambassador in Washington, was giving for the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the October Revolution. I reported that to the best of my knowledge a number of important American officials serving in the White House, Congress, and State Department had declined the invitation over concerns about the alarming political developments in Hungary. In addition to their general concerns, they may well have also noticed the systematic falsification of Hungarian history, which includes the events of the ’56 uprising as well. Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s court historian who had already perverted the history of the Hungarian Holocaust, rewrote the history of the revolution for the anniversary. The result is a monstrosity that bears no resemblance to reality.

This assault on the revolution prompted a group of people in Washington to organize a gathering to celebrate the real events of sixty years ago. They chose not to celebrate with those who claim that executed Imre Nagy “died nicely but wasn’t a hero.” Yes, this is a direct quotation from the chief organizer of the anniversary, Mária Schmidt. Thomas Melia (who as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, had extensive dealings with Hungary), former Hungarian Ambassador to Washington András Simonyi, and Professor Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University organized the event that took place last night. About forty people attended, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser; Charles Kupchan, currently special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council; Damian Murphy, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs and her husband, Robert Kagan, well-known author, columnist and foreign policy commentator; Hoyt Yee, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; André Goodfriend, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest between August 2015 and January 2016;  Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, who writes many of the paper’s editorials on foreign affairs; and Pál Maléter, Jr. son of the minister of defense in the last Nagy government who was reburied along with Imre Nagy on June 16, 1989. Anthony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, couldn’t make it but sent his greetings.

Professor Gati briefly retold the story of the revolution, which is admittedly complex because the intellectual unrest that preceded it began as a factional struggle in the communist party between the Stalinists and the reformers but quickly led to a coalition government in which four parties were represented. This coalition government, which naturally included the communist party, decided to leave the Warsaw Pact. Gati emphasized that the revolution was “profoundly democratic—demanding freedom of the press and checks and balances (called ‘socialist legality’ )—and profoundly pro-Europe. These demands were at the top of the list presented by the students.”

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

Of course, we know that the Orbán regime’s narrative is very different: the revolution was transformed into an anti-communist crusade led by right-wing representatives of the pre-1945 period. Those intellectuals who were disillusioned communists were removed from the historical narrative prepared for the anniversary celebrations, as were social democrats and liberals. As if they never existed. They simply don’t fit into Orbán’s worldview.

Professor Gati then moved on to the situation in Hungary today and brought up the speeches of Péter Boross and László Kövér. “This Monday, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament blamed the United States not Moscow for crushing the revolution while another high official spoke of the heinous deeds of U.S. imperialism,” adding “I’m not making this up.” And, Gati continued: “Even in Washington, where Hungarian officials work hard to mislead us by praising transatlantic relations, on Sunday they somehow forgot to read Vice President Joe Biden’s message to their invited guests; I guess their feelings were hurt that they didn’t hear from President Obama.”

Gati told his personal story as a refugee after the revolution. “I came here penniless and was treated fantastically by everyone: the International Rescue Committee, Indiana University, and various employees of Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, even the State Department.” He recalled that the quota for Hungarians (4,400) was quickly filled but that within days Congress was authorized to allow another 40,000 Hungarian refugees to come. He contrasted this behavior with the situation today. In Hungary they build a razor wire fence to keep refugees out and even in the United States some people contemplate building walls. “My hope is that the old spirit of generosity will guide us again someday soon. There is another Hungary there that deserves our attention and support,” he concluded. I think that every Hungarian refugee should join Charles Gati in remembering the generosity of Austrians, Germans, Brits, Swedes, Swiss, Canadians, Australians, and Americans in those days and feel profoundly sad at the behavior of the Hungarian government, which incited ordinary Hungarians against the refugees.

I should add that Anita Kőműves, a young journalist who used to work for Népszabadság, happened to be in Washington and was invited to speak. The applause that followed her words honored those journalists who paid for their bravery with their livelihood because Viktor Orbán doesn’t believe in a free press, one of the very first demands of the Hungarian students in 1956.

October 28, 2016