THE UNLEASHED TERROR IN PRAGUE
The trial of László Rajk in Hungary actually began in Czechoslovakia with the arrest of Noel Field at the beginning of May 1949. The trial of Rudolf Slánský in Czechoslovakia got its start in Hungary with the torture of Gejza and Charlotte Pavlik at the end of May. One month later, the Pavliks were returned to Prague, from which they had originally been kidnapped, accompanied by their extorted confessions, which were conducted by the same Soviet advisers who organized the Rajk trial. 1
There were, however, several important differences. The purge in Budapest, which began in May 1949, essentially came to an end in November 1950 when the last "plotters" were hanged or jailed. The Hungarian show trials that followed were not part of the imaginary Great Conspiracy but random, blind consequences of the larger terror set in motion by the Rajk trial, a pattern that followed the inherent laws of the Stalinist purges.
The Slánský affair, on the other hand, raged for five and a half years, the final trials taking place in November 1954, more than a year after the death of Stalin himself. In Hungary, the trials resulted in five lives taken publicly, another fifty in the secret followups, and hundreds of prison sentences. In Czechoslovakia's principal trial, eleven people were executed. More than one hundred perished subsequently and tens of thousands were jailed or deported. More than 136,000 Czechs, communists and noncommunists, were victims in one way or another of the terror; these out of a total national population of 14 million.
The explanation for these differences in scope lies in the different historical experiences of the two nations. Prewar Hungary was a semifascist agrarian country with an insignificant underground communist party, only a very few small, scattered groups living in exile in Western countries. In contrast, highly industrialized and democratic Czechoslovakia had, after Germany and France, the third largest communist party in Europe. Its volunteers had been prominent in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, and most of its leaders and cadres had fled from Hitler to France and later to England, where they joined the Czech government in exile. Postwar Czechoslovakia included, therefore, the largest contingent of any East European state of Stalin's suspect categories, as Westerners, Spaniards, Trotzkyists, and other unreliable elements.