László Rajk

László Rajk (May 8, 1909 Székelyudvarhely – October 15, 1949 Budapest) was a Hungarian Communist; politician, former Minister of Interior and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was an important organizer of the Hungarian communist's power (for example, organized the ÁVH); but he eventually fell victim to Rákosi's show trials, probably, apart from the Communist parties' endemic power struggles, because he was a homegrown Communist, as opposed to the Stalin-backed Rákosi.

Background

László Rajk was born in 1909 in Odorheiu Secuiesc (Székelyudvarhely) in what is now Harghita County, Transylvania and died in 1949 in Budapest. His ties to communism began at an early age when he became a member of the Hungarian Communist Party. 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 [Hugh Thomas, "The Spanish Civil War", 4th Rev. Ed. 2001, p 927] . 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 Endre Rajk fascist under-secretary (who was his elder brother) saved his life, and László Rajk was released on May 13.

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 December 7, 1945 to February 2, 1946. On March 20, 1946 he was appointed to be the minister of the Interior. In this post he organized the Hungarian Communist Party's private army and secret police (an organization analogous to the SS, 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, national, democrat and maverick establishments and groups (the number of these was about 1500), and he put-up the first show trials.

He was reassigned from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from August 5, 1948 to May 30, 1949. Rákosi, who saw Rajk as a threat to his power, decided to accuse him on false charges and had him arrested in 1949. Rajk, who was popular among the communists before, soon became the "chained dog" of Tito, Horthy and "the imperialist".

Trial

László Rajk was accused of being a "Titoist Spy", an ambassador 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. At his trial held between September 16 and September 24, 1949 that sat in the big 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 Dr Tibor Szönyi and András Szalai, was sentenced to death.

Reburial and atonement

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 where a lack of capital inflow doomed the building projects that were underway. Also, a vast number of the intelligentsia became employed to the manual labor duties usually reserved for skilled professionals. The result left the country with inadequate infrastructure and unsatisfactory manufactured goods. The government was providing 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 and on 28 March 1956, after a number of vast demonstrations; Rajk was rehabilitated. 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 would end up ruining Rákosi's rightful authority. The people then began to speak out against Rákosi saying that he had lost their trust. Lászlo Rajk was then reburied on October 6, 1956 along with two other men who lost their lives during the purges. (This was a precursor to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which began on 23 October.) The only lingering effect of the Rajk trial was who was to be held responsible for the activities for the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many victims still have yet to have been identified following the purges including those who lost their government positions simply because they posed a threat to Rákosi's reign of power.

List of defendants in the Rajk Trial

*László Rajk (1909), Minister of Foreign Affairs (executed)
*György Pálffy (1909), Lieutenant General (sentence deferred to military court)
*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)
*Pál Justus (1905), member of the National Assembly (life imprisonment)

Movie

László Rajk is allegorically depicted as Andor Knorr in "Sunshine", with William Hurt starring.

See also

*Milada Horáková
*Rudolf Slánský
*Traicho Kostov
*Slánský trial

Bibliography

*Koltai, Ferenc: "László Rajk and his Accomplices before the People’s Court", Budapest 1949
* Crampton, R.J. "Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century - And After", 2nd Ed. Routledge Press, 1994.
* Litvan, Gyorgy "The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Reform, Revolt, and Repression 1953-1963", Longman Publishing Group, 1996.
* Rajk, Laszlo," Columbia Encyclopedia", 6th Ed. Columbia University Press, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/65/ra/Rajk-LAS.html (December 1, 2005)
* Stokes, Gale (ed.) "From Stalinism to Pluralism: a Documentary History of Eastern Europe since 1945", New York and Oxford University Press, 1991.

References


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