Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954

By George H. Hodos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
THE ROAD TO THE RAJK TRIAL

From its very inception, the trial of László Rajk in Hungary was destined to serve as a model for those East European purges that followed it. The trial in the Budapest courtroom required much more thorough preparations than did its predecessor in Albania or the simultaneously staged trial in Bulgaria, which was relegated to the status of a sideshow because of internal constraints.

For want of authentic source material, it is very difficult to establish an exact chronology of events, but the information that is available to us, however fragmentary in nature, does offer exceptional insight into the origins of and the secret preparations for the postwar Stalinist purges throughout the satellite states.

The suggestion of Stewart Steven, that the Rajk trial resulted from a cunning provocation on the part of the CIA, discussed in the chapter on the Field legends, is not only implausible but suspect as well. 1 Some former officials of the Hungarian State Security Agency (AVH) who participated in the events offer another version of its origin. 2 According to them, the Hungarian ambassador in Switzerland sent, in the summer of 1948, a confidential report to Budapest, detailing information given to him by a Hungarian emigrant. According to this informant, Tibor Szὂnyi, during the war, maintained an espionage contact with Allen Dulles, head of the American OSS office in Bern. The intermediary was Noel Field. The AVH gave this information to the Soviet MVD. The Soviets were skeptical at first, but Mátyás Rákosi, secretary-general of the Hungarian party, pressured Beria to investigate. The MVD arrested Field in Prague and handed him over to the Hungarians, who in turn arrested Szὂnyi. The "confessions" extorted from Szὂnyi led to the arrest of Rajk and the other victims of the show trial. 3

This version is equally misleading, but it does contain a fraction of the truth. János Kádár, who is now secretary-general of the party, has given another variant of this version.

However, before describing it, it is necessary to examine the power structure of the Hungarian communist party in 1948. Kádár, a member of the Central Committee and the Politburo, was a bit of window dressing; without any real power, he was placed on both bodies as a symbolic gesture so that the party could demonstrate that at least one member was a genuine worker. The inner circle consisted of Mátyás Rákosi, Ernὂ Geré, Mihály Farkas, Jozsef Révai and László

-33-

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Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chapter 1 - INTRODUCTION 1
  • Chapter 2 - PRELUDE IN ALBANIA 5
  • Chapter 3 - THE KOSTOV TRIAL IN BULGARIA 13
  • Chapter 4 - THE FIELD CONNECTION 25
  • Chapter 5 - THE ROAD TO THE RAJK TRIAL 33
  • Chapter 6 - PREPARATIONS FOR THE MODEL TRIAL 43
  • Chapter 7 - THE RAJK TRIAL 59
  • Chapter 8 - THE UNLEASHED TERROR IN PRAGUE 73
  • Chapter 9 - THE SLÁNSKÝ TRIAL 83
  • Chapter 10 - THE REINTERPRETED SHOW TRIALS IN ROMANIA 93
  • Chapter 11 - THE INTERRUPTED SHOW TRIALS IN EAST GERMANY 113
  • Chapter 12 - THE POLISH WAY OF SHOW TRIALS 135
  • Chapter 13 - CONSEQUENCES AND CONCLUSIONS 159
  • Notes 165
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 179
  • Index 183
  • About the Author 195
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