Hungarian troops in the “bloody zone”
Krisztián Ungváry: Hungarian occupying forces in the Soviet Union 1941-1944
Event – Narratives – Epilogue Osiris Kiadó, Budapest, 2015.
Between 1933 and 1945, 14,000,000 civilians, unarmed men, women, children and elderly people died in the “bloody zone”. In this zone, which expands from Middle Poland to Ukraine through Belorussia, the Baltic states and West Russia, the two dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler fought their cruel fight and as a consequence series of mass murders happened. The book of Krisztián Ungváry is an important contribution to the history of the “bloody zone”, as identified by Timothy Snyder. Ungváry’s ambition was to explore the history of a part of this imagined territory, that of under Hungarian occupation between 1941-1944.
Furthermore, Ungváry’s book is a result of a debate of historians, which started three years ago. At that time the book of Éva Varga and Tamás Krausz, The Hungarian occupying forces in the Soviet Union. Archival documentation, 1941-1947 induced a serious debate among researchers. Ungváry’s book is a kind of synthetizing response to this debate. He took up the challenge “to write a first monograph by using the latest Russian and German bibliography and archival materials available in Hungary and Germany regarding the military operations and court proceedings.” Essentially this means the description of the military operations of the occupying forces. The word “event” in the subtitle refers to this. “Narrative” refers to those methodological concerns, which influence how the sources are handled, namely to the multi-focal perspective of the book. “Epilogue” indicates that the book also follows the life of the protagonists after World War II.
The reports of the Hungarian border defence and border guard services about the relocation of the Hungarian minority from Czechoslovakia 1946-1947
The history of post-World War Hungary was determined by the fact that Hungary was on the losers’ side and the country fell into the Soviet zone. The emigrant Czechoslovak government in London, led by Eduard Beneš declared already during the war that the re-established new Czechoslovakia would be a national state after World War II. This meant the relocation of the non-Slavic population of the country. This idea was also supported by the Czechoslovak Communist emigration in Moscow, led by Klement Gottwald, and later by the Slovak National Committee, which represented the Slovak anti-fascist opposition.
However, Czechoslovakia could not receive the consent of the Great Powers to its plans, either during the war, or afterwards in the Potsdam conferences. Therefore, they put an emphasis on a population exchange, though they did not totally give up the idea of a unilateral relocation of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. The two waves of the deportation of the Hungarian minority to Czech lands were explained by the need for workers, which was a consequence of the expulsion of the German minority from the Czech lands.
Therefore, the deportations were justified by this general work obligation decree, but its real aim was the cleaning of Southern Slovakia from Hungarians. The events were seen closely by the Hungarian border defence and border guard services, who documented what they saw. In this source publication the author presents a couple of these reports.
Observation, induction and show trials
Six Yugoslav political emigrants and the state security, 1948-1955
The show trial and its consequences
As a consequence of the mini-cold war conflict between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in 1948, Yugoslav political emigrant groups were organized in the Soviet Union and as it was put at that time, in the “popular democracies”, e.g. in the satellite Eastern European countries. An emigrant organisation was also established in Hungary. In the first part of his essay, which was published in Betekintő 2015/4, the author examined the origins, social background and previous political activity of six Yugoslav emigrants. Now, the history of the emigrant community is followed. Disregard the fact that these six people took part in the campaign of slander, their unifying feature was that after kidnapping the political emigrant Dusan Vidović, the Hungarian State Security Authority arrested all of them and in each case a show trial was started against them in September 1952. They were sentenced to prison for 5 to 15 years.
But who were these six emigrants? And why were exactly they chosen and what accusation were used in their cases? What was the reason for timing their trial in autumn of 1952?
In his study the author seeks answer to these questions and introduces the activity of the emigrants by using archival materials.
An “independent” legal counsellor
The case of Imre Tarján with the residence of the Hungarian intelligence services in London
After the Revolution of 1956, 20,000 Hungarian emigrants arrived in Great Britain, of which 15,000 finally settled there. Because 10-15% of the emigrants were youngsters, in the work of the Hungarian embassy lots of legal cases occurred in regard of settling children and clarifying the status of their guardianship. Therefore, it is not surprising that the international law expert and Hungarian legal counsellor Imre Tarján who also lived in London was invited to dinner by the staff members of the Hungarian embassy, Tibor Bazsó and László Merklin. The meeting served the aim of familiarizing with Tarján and of building close ties with him. The consulate had already asked the help of Tarján in certain legal cases, but this had been sporadic previously. The Hungarian embassy was not in the position to ask for help in international law cases until 1958, since Hungary remained in an isolation for a long time after the Revolution of 1956, although it would have been essential to learn the English law in order to be able to solve the legal cases concerning property law and child support cases as it belonged to the tasks of the staff of the embassy.
The seven lives of an agent
The author has already published the history of an action group in Betekintő 2015/2. Now she follows the activity of the group, which was trained to act out special tasks, such as the forced home delivery of some of the most important figures of the Hungarian emigrant community, András Zákó and Aurél Ábrányi. However, the group was dissolved irrevocably in January 1958 by the Hungarian intelligence services.
As we have already seen, the dissolution did not mean that the state security services let their former agents Pál Pilcsik (“Aczél”), János Kaiser (“Szirom”) and Artur Rózsás (“Rónai”) free and broke contacts with them entirely, as it was proved in the cases of the dissolution of the special external group in December 1950 and the dissolution of the action group in 1955.
The leader of the intelligence, major József Mészáros, as the leader of the action group and that of BM II/3-5 (emigration) sub-department had other ideas also in this case partly because neither he, nor other leaders of the state security services gave up the idea of working with some of the members of the action group in a different field. Partly, however, József Mészáros defended his own position by not letting free those agents who learnt a lot about Mészáros’ own businesses, and who could revenge him as it could be seen in some other cases.
Although Mészáros was fully aware that all of his three agents deconspired themselves, he still stood to them and for years he kept contact with them.
An intelligence agent disappearing from his post
The history of László Szabó who applied for political asylum in the USA
Police major László Szabó, an officer of the intelligence services, entered his service at the embassy of Hungary in London on 8th September, 1965. Officially he was a commercial attaché in the rank of a second class secretary, but in reality it was only a covered position for him, which hid his real identity. However, in the sixth week of his mission, he disappeared in the evening of 16th October.
Szabó was not a diplomat, in fact he was put from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only on 1st June, 1965. He did not have an adequate education either. Therefore, it was unambiguous for his colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that their colleague being sent to mission could be but a state security agent. Though Szabó took a degree from the extension of the College of Foreign Language of the Ministry of the Interior and he boasted with his foreign language skills, but according to his colleagues, he had problems with English. He did not take operative tasks in these couple of weeks at the embassy, instead his position gave him a lot of work. To sum it up, he looked like a diligent, ambitious and well-focused man and they excluded any suspicion concerning his reliability.
Experts have already elaborated on the history of emigrant state security officers from Eastern Europe. Those cases are the most well-known, when an officer of leading position emigrated and gave information about the work of the Communist secret services, which this way got publicity. Possibly, it was László Szabó who caused the greatest harm to the Hungarian and other Communist state security services. Because of his information the Western residences of the Hungarian intelligence service had to be re-organized. Even his case leaves many aspects in mystery for the experts because he left no traces about himself after March, 1966.
Stained Socialism, or anti-decoration defence in the 1970s
A qualified and competent department of the political police had the task to coordinate and guarantee the operative defence of the leaders of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, the chairman and deputy-chairman of the Cabinet and the high-ranking foreign state and party leaders visiting the country.
The political police, however, did not only safeguard the physical safety of the foreign leaders, but also checked the symbolic circumstances in order to avoid diplomatic inconveniences for the sake of both parties. At the end of the 1970s according to the interpretation of the security services two cases occurred, which could have had serious consequences.
In December, 1978 an Ethiopian delegation arrived in Budapest, but unfortunately the welcoming words that was written in their Amhara language had a spelling mistake, which changed the meaning of the slogan. The Ethiopian safety guards, who arrived earlier, noticed the failure and corrected the mistake. Six months later a Soviet delegation arrived to Hungary, led by the general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. To welcome him, the whole capital was decorated with Soviet and Hungarian flags and also some welcoming labels were put in Russian in some places. However, the slogan that was put to the Roosevelt square (now István Széchenyi square) included mistakes and with a malevolent switch it could have been interpreted with a different meaning.
The author in his study examines these cases and publishes the concerning state security documentation.
A need for a shift in perspective: it is not enough to focus on Stasi any more
Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk: Stasi konkret. Überwachung und Repression in der DDR (Beck’sche Reihe; 6026), München: C.H.Beck, 2013, 428 Seiten
In the recent two decades, hot debates have emerged regarding the history of the Communist dictatorship carried out by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which debate intensely appeared in the media. The scientific debates touched upon the dilemmas around the role of the political police of GDR (Stasi), too. As a consequence, intense research interest turned towards the history of the intelligence work, the agents and unofficial collaborators of Stasi and their role was publicly discussed.
Following from the over-mediatized research results, the history of GDR seemed to equal the restricted history of the state of spies. This, however, strengthened the myth of the almightiness of Stasi. In his latest monograph “Stasi konkret. Überwachung und Repression in der DDR”, Ilko-Sascha Kowalszuk tries to break with this concept and claims that it was a restricted and over-simplified approach. According to him, researchers should focus their attention in the future to explore the history of the party-state, because secret police was but one organization of the Communist party and just served as the “shield and sword” of the party. Kowalczuk proposes to implement a social historical approach for the historians and urges a shift in perspective and a change of paradigm in historical research. This broader approach has already started to fight its way in examining the history of the Communist regimes recently, numerous new publications have been published, of which Kowalczuk’s monograph is one important piece.