In pursuit of trials ending with long imprisonment

07.07.2019.- Demokrata

  • Share
  • 2019. July 10.
Földváryné Kiss Réka (Forrás: Demokrata)

The Committee of National Remembrance (NEB) launched a new research programme, which is intended to explore the unknown aspects of the retaliation of the Kádár regime. The research is focused on convicts with long imprisonment, their personal history and on those, who conducted the investigation or passed the sentences of 101520 years or life-long imprisonment. Some of the prisoners never got out, they died behind bars. Demokrata interviewed Réka Földváryné Kiss, chairperson of NEB.

- How do you see people’s attitude to the memory of 1956 after more than sixty years? Is it fading away or is the significance of the revolution becoming more relevant in the collective mind of Hungarian society?

  • The 1956 revolution is an important symbol, regardless of the fact that its significance and symbolic meaning changes from time to time.

- What kind of changes do you mean?

  • In the period of the Cold War, when Europe was divided into two, the memory of 1956 was a point of reference on both sides of the Iron Curtain. It was a collective experience and sensation of a generation that students, workers and intellectuals rebelled against a super power and its totalitarian dictatorship. It was followed by the events in Czechoslovakia in ‘68 and in Poland in ‘80-81. All those together became a common cultural code of Central European peoples’ desire for freedom. The sensation, the code was soon overridden by the political transformation. We got freedom, different questions became the focus of interest and this is especially true for newer generations.

- How was 1956 treated by the education policy in the last thirty years in Hungary?

  • As a university teacher who supervises entrance exams and end-of-course exams, I have ambivalent experiences. On the one hand, I can see how the historical landmarks of our recent past are fading away, and this is not only true for 1956. On the other hand, schools and students approach the topic of the revolution in a surprisingly brave manner. Young people do not look at the revolution through details of political history absorbed with ideologies, but through human lives, personal stories, and this is how their attention can be captured.

- Do we know everything about 1956? Sometimes, when one looks at the great number of publications on the subject, one gets the feeling...

  • A historian would never say such a thing about any event in history. But even the fundamental research, the examination of the retaliation after 1956 shows that there is a lot to do. Today we are able to verify with numbers what we knew before - and I am not only talking about the number of executions, but it is clear that the retaliation of the Kádár era was the biggest political vendetta in Hungarian history.

- Was this just acknowledged on an academic level?

  • We were aware of the nature, manner and volume of the retaliation, but systematic research is necessary to explore all the details. There had been significant results before. In the 90s there was a series of locally published works on the revolution outside the capital, but they might not have become known to the public, especially to the discipline of mainstream history. The Archives of Békéscsaba for example, did a lot to explore the events of the retaliation after 1956 in the region, a number of works have been published but they were not taken in by historians in Budapest, so it could not shape the public discourse either.

- To what extent does NEB rely on these local results?

  • To a great extent! As a result of an extensive research in the whole country, between 2016 and 2018 we compiled a database of 1956, which contains all the documentation of prosecution procedures that ended with execution, from the beginning of the investigation to the execution of the sentence. Beside a description of the biographies of the victims, with all the names and career paths of inspectors, prosecutors, professional and layman judges who put them in prison or passed a sentence of execution. We processed 126 trials; the collection is available on the website

- What does the new, recently started research focus on?

  • We decided to take a step further. We are trying to process trials with of long imprisonment, i.e. all procedures, where the victims were sentences to ten years' imprisonment or more. NEB collected more than 500 legal procedures in various archives, but we are far from the end of the research. These 500 cases are about 1,200 people with at least ten years of imprisonment and it involves reading 300,000 pages of court documentation.

- We know that in the retaliation process a lot of freedom fighters were convicted according to criminal law, making them common murderers, so they were not included in the official list of the victims of Kádár's retaliation...

  • This is the most difficult part of historical research. There were 300,000 criminal procedures in the country between 1957 and 1963. It is a huge number. Cases that concern 1956 have to be carefully selected. We do know that national guards shooting at Soviet soldiers in fire fights, and freedom fighters were sent to court as common murderers. Or somebody who sawed off a red star would be charged with vandalism, someone who took food to the revolutionists had to account for black market trading. These cases served the function of compromising the revolution, demonstrating to the world that it was not a whole nation that rebelled but only criminals were looting. We will never have an exhaustive list of these cases, but if we have a closer look at the stories of people in the recently collected 500 trials, we have a clearer picture.

- How were young people treated? Can Péter Mansfeld's case be seen as typical?

  • Recently there has been a lecture on trials of young people at a conference in the country. I would not call it a Mansfeld-model, but children were indeed taken from their families and were placed in juvenile detention homes for long years. We can get some idea about these cases from the research conducted in cooperation with the Hungarian National Archives, together with all the county archives of the country. A lot of colleagues are involved in this project.

- Ten years, twenty years, life-long... Has it come to light, how many people died due to the brutality of the regime or the miserable conditions or because they were denied medical care?

  • In 1961, in the last big trial of ‘56, three of the eight suspects were sentenced to death, one of whom was the commander of the rebels on Baross Square, László Nickelsburg. Two of his associates, who were imprisoned for life, were not set free with the 1963 amnesty, they died in prison years later. We know of more such cases, even though in the public opinion the ‘63 amnesty was the closure of the retaliation.

- Will the names of the participants be indicated when publishing the results of the research?

  • Certainly. In cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Curia, we continue to disclose the data and career paths of those who took part in the retaliation. Let’s look at György Mátsik’s case. He famously pleaded for a death sentence for Péter Mansfeld at first instance. Mátsik was placed from Miskolc to Budapest in August 1957, and before that he had been the head of county police headquarters in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County. A colleague of ours in Miskolc made a paper on how the authorities used force during the ‘56 retaliation. It turned out that Mátsik’s men did not hold back. On the contrary. On one occasion, two drunken investigators showed up at a family in the middle of the night. They demanded that the wife would give herself to them, and to encourage her, they offered fifty forints. They were unsuccessful, so they took two huge punches at the husband. The data and documents show that these incidents were not isolated, random cases. Police commander Mátsik created this environment, who later in Budapest represented ‘justice’ as a prosecutor in the trials of retaliation, and rested from his labours as CEO of Méh Tröszt before retirement.

- Is this a typical Kadarist career?

  • Not necessarily. There were some who remained in the field of law. They received a financial reward for their role in the retaliation and they were promoted. Some judges were placed to the top of the judicial system. The judge who sentenced Gábor Földes, Árpád Tihany and Lajos Gulyás to death retired as the head of Sopron County Court in 1987. Others were welcome in university education. In the beginning they were proud to indicate their credits in the retaliation, but later they omitted them.

- Were there any other outstanding careers?

  • Yes, one of the members of the people’s court in the Földes-trial became a high-ranking military attaché of the Warsaw Pact. Others became ambassadors, embassy employees, attachés. But most importantly, there was a mass of people, the circle of middle cadres, and they formed the foundation of the Kádár-regime. They were connected by the common sin, the shared secret, in the same way as other contributors of the dictatorship.

- The public opinion is rather irritated by the fact that these people received an increased pension and this practice does not seem to stop...

  • It is enough to look at the Biszku-trial, it says a lot about the issues of accountability after the political transformation. It is a fact that the public discourse as well as political intentions went sideways in 1990. The main issue in the Biszku-case was whether an independent, democratic regime can get to a point where it is declared that decision makers of a party-state dictatorship do have legal accountability. The court thought that anything that was said among the top leadership had no legal relevance. At the same time we know that the party as a supreme power had control over the country. Hence the term ‘party state’. Its leaders are indeed accountable.

- The volleys remain to be unexplored by historians...

  • Some are well-documented, but those incidents when civilians were fired at have no written record, there is no written official order. It is natural that the regime made no record of its own transgressions; the question is how this can be handled in legal terms. I might add that history often goes deeper in exploring the past than law and justice can. It is not uniquely Hungarian, it is a controversial issue in Germany, in Poland, in case of Czechoslovakia and especially in Romania. All this is not the fault of the nations concerned, as it might have been a consequence of a deal by great powers.

Click to full content


Reka Kiss 1956