Victims and culprits - browsing in the Library of NEB


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  • 2019. July 30.

Although it is somewhat difficult to find on the website of NEB, the menu item 'Library' makes data and documents available for the public, which are especially useful for researchers, participants of secondary and higher education, as information which did not use to be accessible for the public can be easily accessed in a well-organised manner. This article offers an introduction to 'Library' on the website without intending to be an exhaustive description.

The first sub menu option there is data on the period from the fall of the 1956 revolution till the 1963 amnesty. Some people on the list became cogs in the wheel of retaliation due to their positions, whereas others were direct contributors to the reprisal process. There is logically organized information on who were members of the party leadership in the above mentioned period, who were leaders of internal affairs, the military, or state security, who functioned as judges, who were members and leaders of the Workers’ Militia. There is a most interesting database on volleys, which is promised to be continuously extended, in which historians try to research those who were personally responsible for the volleys of 1956. If we reach a person in any of the sub menus, by clicking on it, we access an academic paper based on biographical details or we can download documents with the most important data.

The members of the forces of the 1956-57 establishment and the documents of the Ministry of the Interior were collected and arranged in the same manner. There are illustrations about the structure of the Political Police as well as of organizational units i.e. departments. The section 'Zárt folyosó a Gyorskocsi utcában' [Closed Corridor in Gyorskocsi Street] contains the career paths of state security leaders and their subordinates who were given roles in the preparation of the trial of Imre Nagy and his associates. The blue booklet which was the basis for the research is downloadable from the site, and certainly there is information on every person in the usual format on the website. The database with 150 names includes information on the political advancement of those people who worked in a separate unit, where the most reliable and apt members were relocated from other departments of the political police.

In the database of the trials as part of the retaliation after 1956, we can follow 126 court trials, and the stories of 865 people from the beginning of the procedure, through the investigative, prosecution and court process until the sentence and execution. When processing the records of the trials, the researchers examined 110,000 pages of archive documents, which resulted in a compilation of a significant amount of data, however, searching in the database and finding what one is looking for is without difficulties. When clicking on sub menus in the sections of trials, when access a lot of information on the whole procedure  we can learn how many times the suspects were interrogated and by whom, about all the charges, how the sentences were modified at second instance, how the appeals were handled. Based on the database there were about 231 executed people  however, there is a separate paper devoted to the issue of the exact figures in on At the section 'A megtorlásról' [About retaliation] the most important sources related to the trials are accessible. We can find a document introducing summary judgement (Decree-Law Nr. 28) or documents on the set-up of people’s courts (Law Nr. 34 1957).

By clicking on Párt-Állam-Párt – A pártállam állampárti funkcionáriusainak adatbázisa 1948-1989 [Party-State-Party - The database of state functionaries of the party state] one can access a database which is a result of cooperation between the Hungarian National Archives and the Committee of National Remembrance. The database contains the county, regional and town leaders of the communist establishment, and by clicking on names, there is further information available in well-designed format, imitating a party membership card. At the time this article is being written, there are 2583 names on the list, but the editing work is ongoing, and the contact details of the editors are available. When browsing the section of church persecution, light is shed on the secrets of the Church Office: the organisational structure, information of the number of staff, and information on members gathered in a similar manner.

On the website one can find excellent thematic collections, links of projects carried out with the active contribution of members and researchers of NEB. One of the most interesting collections is accessible by clicking on Sorsfordítás '45-'62, which can be used for educational purposes. It demonstrates the process of collectivization in Hungary from WWII to the so-called second wave in the Kádár-era after the fall of the 1956 revolution. One can find a propaganda film, which promotes the idea of joining the collective for the peasantry, documents on incidents of lawlessness as well as a board game promoting collectivization as well.

There is a ten-minute-long documentary, 'Apáink földje' [Land of Our Fathers] on the website. It offers a comprehensive overview about the changes in Hungarian agriculture after the sovietization. The brief, objective narration is illustrated by high-quality photos and clips of contemporary newsreel, but there are interviews of oral history with witnesses of the time who talk about what happened to those who were stigmatized as kulaks. There are tableaus in the collection on the topic, containing further details, data and pictorial sources, so those who are interested can expand their knowledge with further information. The collection is a perfectly apt resource for a primary or secondary school lesson on the topic of the economy and social politics of the Rákosi and Kádár era, as the compiled information is carefully selected and presented in a well-organised and spectacular manner.

At the interactive maps menu item there is a 3D animation about the prisoner of war and transit camp in Cegléd, which may be interesting for the wider public and the short narration, i.e. brief history of the camp. The camp was established for prisoners of war in WWII in the autumn of 1944, and its brick walls and barbed wires held around 200,000 prisoners throughout its operation. Being the biggest and longest-operating transit camp in the Carpathian Basin, a lot of people were transported from here to some forced labour camp of the Soviet Union and would come back only years later, or never. A short video demonstrates the establishment, operation, structure of the camp, the tribulations of those transported here, and a downloadable application one can go for a virtual tour around the camp and we can get further information on the function of the buildings, the everyday life of the imprisoned.

To sum up, is primarily for those, who would like to learn more about events from 1944 to the political transformation. It is a big advantage of the website of the Committee of National Remembrance that it is easily manageable, user-friendly and often spectacular and inventive. The compiled, thematic sources and databases provide excellent opportunity for researchers, but certain sections can be successfully used in university and secondary school education. It was pleasant to see exhibitions where the non-professional audience with interest in history were introduced to the history of the party state, the personal histories of victims and as a best practice for the future, one was informed about the results of the national competition for secondary school students. Due to the enormous amount of data and the nature of sources, one might come across inaccuracies or oversights, however, the constant update and accessibility of the online platform makes it possible for careful corrections and modifications of any inaccurate information.

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