State Protection Authority
|Formed||10 September 1948|
|Dissolved||7 November 1956|
|Headquarters||Andrássy út 60., Budapest|
Ministry of the Interior
The State Protection Authority (Hungarian: Államvédelmi Hatóság or ÁVH) was the secret police of Hungary from 1945 until 1956. It was conceived as an external appendage of the Soviet Union's secret police forces and gained an indigenous reputation for brutality during a series of purges beginning in 1948, intensifying in 1949 and ending in 1953. In 1953 Joseph Stalin died, and Imre Nagy (a moderate reformer) was appointed Prime Minister of Hungary. Under Nagy's first government from 1953 to 1955, the ÁVH was gradually reined in.
History of the ÁVH
This is a summary of the organisations acting as political police between 1945 and 1956.
- 1945: Budapest Police Main Command Political Department, (Budapesti Főkapitányság Politikai Rendészeti Osztálya, PRO)
- 1946: Hungarian Statelice State Protection Department, (Magyar Államrendőrség Államvédelmi Osztálya, ÁVO)
- 1950: State Protection Authority, (Államvédelmi Hatóság, ÁVH)
- 1956: the agency was abolished by the revolutionary government of Imre Nagy.
The subsequent government of János Kádár didn't want to resurrect the ÁVH under this name after 1956 (Kádár was tortured by the ÁVH in the 1950s), yet it flourished in the system of the Ministry of the Interior (Hungarian BM). This should be considered in the light of the use of the Soviet security apparatus directly in Hungary after the 1956 revolution, and in preparation for the trial of Nagy and "his accomplices". Between 1956 and 1963 Kádár, a natural opportunist, fought an inner party battle against hardline Stalinists, although he accepted the services of many cruel former AVH torturers. Kádár's victory was signalled in 1963 by a general amnesty for the 1956 revolutionaries, an indication of the absence of a political police. Hungary would go on to be the only Warsaw Pact country without a formal intelligence service, since all intelligence and espionage functions were vested in the AVH, and later the Ministry of Interior.
Between 1945 and 1952, Peter Gabor (Benjamin Eisenberger) was the absolute leader of the State Protection Authority (Államvédelmi Hatóság), responsible for much cruelty, brutality and many political purges.
Policy and methods
While the security apparatus was operating, it supported the Hungarian Working People's Party (MDP) directly, with little reference made to Government norms. This support was primarily through the secret gathering of intelligence, largely through a vast network of informants, like the system used by the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) in the German Democratic Republic.
The investigation network was supplemented with a mechanism of secret arrests, followed by extensive periods of torture (lasting between 3 and 18 months). When the apparatus had extracted confessions of varying quality from a prisoner, the State's system of public procurators and courts would be called in to make a ruling on the sentence. This was the norm of operation for the ÁVH, and was only diverged from in matters of utmost state security; for example, the illegal arrest and indefinite solitary detention of the Communist Party of Great Britain operative Edith Bone. Despite the forced nature of confessions, retractions at trial were not considered a danger to the process, due to the obvious threat of continued torture during a recess of the trial.
1953 Wallenberg show trial preparations in Hungary
ÁVH actions were not subject to judicial review. On April 7, 1953, early in the morning, Miksa Domonkos, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Budapest was kidnapped by ÁVH officials to extract "confessions". Preparations for a show trial started in Budapest in 1953 to prove that Raoul Wallenberg had not been dragged off in 1945 to the Soviet Union but was the victim of cosmopolitan Zionists. For the purposes of this show trial, two more Jewish leaders – László Benedek and Lajos Stöckler – as well as two would-be "eyewitnesses" – Pál Szalai and Károly Szabó – were arrested and interrogated by torture.
The last people to meet Wallenberg in Budapest were Ottó Fleischmann, Károly Szabó, and Pál Szalai, who were invited to a supper at the Swedish Embassy building in Gyopár street on January 12, 1945. The next day, January 13, Wallenberg contacted the Russians. By 1953, Ottó Fleischmann had left Hungary, working as a physician in Vienna.
On 8 April, 1953, Károly Szabó was captured on the street and arrested without any legal procedure. His family had no news of him throughout the following six months. A secret trial was conducted against him of which no official record is available to date. After six months of interrogation, the defendants were driven to despair and exhaustion.
The idea that the "murderers of Wallenberg" were Budapest Zionists was primarily supported by Hungarian Communist leader (by origins Jewish) Ernő Gerő, which is shown by a note sent by him to First Secretary Mátyás Rákosi (Jewish too). The show trial was then initiated in Moscow, following Stalin's anti-Zionist campaign. After the death of Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, the preparations for the trial were stopped and the arrested persons were released. Miksa Domonkos spent a week in hospital and died shortly afterwards at home, mainly due to the torture he had been subject to.
Following sentence, political prisoners were imprisoned in ÁVH-run concentration camps. These camps were mixed and varied. Early camps tended to be cruder and more cruel. In particular, the status of ex-party members varied. In camps prior to 1953 they were more harshly treated than other prisoners. After 1953, ex-party members were a virtual aristocracy within prisons. Additionally, prior to 1953 certain camps had as their goal the eventual death of inmates due to overwork and maltreatment. In a number of cases, torture was an essential part of camp life and discipline.
Imre Nagy's first government from 1953 to 1955 vastly improved conditions in the camps and halted the efforts to exterminate political prisoners.
The ÁVH also assisted the Soviet sphere security apparatus by staging show trials. In two cases, the ÁVH was given the privilege of leading an attack on undesired elements throughout Hungary. In 1948 the Roman Catholic Cardinal József Mindszenty was tried and imprisoned. In 1949, the ÁVH arrested Hungarian Communist Party member László Rajk, who was then tried and executed for nationalism and Titoism in a show trial that signified to the international communist movement that Yugoslavia was now a threat. (Ironically, László Rajk was the man who had organised the ÁVH.)
The ÁVH in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, elements of the insurgents tracked down and killed both known and suspected ÁVH officers and informants. When the Revolution began, a crowd of some thousand people attacked the police headquarters in Budapest, shouting slogans such as "tear down the star!" and "free the prisoners!", referring to the enormous red star that stood on the building's roof, a symbol of communism and to the many prisoners kept inside. Fearing for the lives of both himself and his officers, the chief of the police let the crowd into the building, allowing them to take any political prisoners they wanted.
During and after the siege of the Hungarian Working People's Party headquarters (in Republic Square, Köztársaság tér), some members of the ÁVH were lynched, a fact later extensively used in party propaganda to back up the claim that the revolution was of a "fascistic, anti-Semitic and reactionary" nature.
Persecution by József Dudás' militia
Attacks on the ÁVH only became a significant activity as informal truces developed between the student-controlled combat organisations and the Soviet troops in Budapest. Freed from the necessity of immediate combat, the József Dudás militia planned a series of reprisals against ÁVH officers, informants, and on a few occasions against ordinary Communist-party members caught up in the revolution. József Dudás' militia is often considered a far-right group, but others claim he was a communist; either way, his militia's violence is not contested.
On October 29, in the second week of the revolution, the Dudás militia attacked the headquarters of the secret police in Budapest, massacring the ÁVH inside. This event was well documented by both western and eastern journalists and photographers, and constituted the primary evidence against Imre Nagy and other members of his cabinet in the White Books.
A Western eyewitness said:
- "The secret police lie twisted in the gutter [...] the Hungarians will not touch the corpse of an ÁVH man, not even to close the eyes or straighten the neck."
After Dudás' militia assaulted the building, the surrounding crowd lynched a number of ÁVH officers. Highly visible in photographs of this attack are the party's paybooks displayed on to the corpses, demonstrating that ÁVH soldiers received at least 10 times the wages of a manual worker.
Reaction of revolutionary forces to Dudás
When the students' and workers' councils discovered what the Dudás group was doing, they instituted armed patrols to arrest and detain ÁVH members for their own safety, and for future planned trials. As a result of Dudás' massacres, and the students' policy of arrest, many ÁVH voluntarily turned themselves in to students' or workers' councils to seek protective custody. This was a reflection of the shared student-worker policy of keeping the revolution pure and bloodless. Dudás was sought for arrest by the students' and workers' councils.
Unsurprisingly, when the Warsaw Pact intervened in the revolution to support the government, ÁVH officers carried out brutal reprisals against those who had killed their comrades. The ÁVH generally targeted all revolutionaries, and received significant assistance from the Soviet Union's security apparatus, who arrested the Nagy government, General Pál Maléter, and deported thousands of students and workers to the Soviet Union.
House of Terror
Shortly after the Arrow Cross Party left it, the building under the address 60 Andrássy Avenue became the ÁVH Headquarters. The building is now a museum called The House of Terror, commemorating the victims of both political systems.
- Interview with István Domonkos, son of Miksa Domonkos who died after the show trial preparations (Hungarian)
- József Szekeres: Saving the Ghettos of Budapest in January 1945, Pál Szalai "the Hungarian Schindler" ISBN 963-7323-14-7, Budapest 1997, Publisher: Budapest Archives, Page 74
- Kenedi János: Egy kiállítás hiányzó képei (Hungarian)
- Hungarian Quarterly (Hungarian)
- The history of ÁVH (in Hungarian), from the website of the Public Historical Files of the Hungarian Secret Services
- Homepage Raoul Wallenberg Asso.fr
- An informative review in East Central Europe (in English)