László Rajk ( 1909-1949)

The son of a shoemaker, Rajk was born in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc, now in Romania) and completed his secondary-school studies there and in Budapest and Nyíregyháza. He entered Budapest University in 1927 to study Hungarian and French, but left for France in 1928. On his return in 1930, he joined in the illegal communist movement, becoming a member of the communist youth organization Kimsz and the Hungarian Communist Party in 1931. He was arrested for his political activity several times. Unable to continue his studies, he began to work in 1933 as a building worker. He was one of the organizers and leaders of the building-workers' strike of 193, for which he was deported from Hungary. In 1936, he was sent by the party to Prague, and from there to Spain in 1937, where he took part in the Civil War. He was political commissar of the Hungarian brigade of the International Brigade and was seriously wounded in the fighting. (He was accused in Spain of being a Trotskyist and only cleared himself with Comintern in 1941.) When the Spanish Republic fell, Rajk fled to Spain, where he was interned. Freed in September 1944 (with false papers provided by the Hungarian Communist Party), he became a secretary of the Central Committee, a leader of the Hungarian Front, and one of the main organizers and directors of the resistance movement. He was arrested by Arrow-Cross men in December 1944, but managed to disguise who he was, so that his elder brother, Endre, an Arrow-Cross state secretary, could save him from execution. He was taken to Sopronkőhida and then to Germany, from where he returned to Hungary on May 13, 1945. He then joined in national politics, becoming a member of the leading bodies of the Hungarian Communist Party and a member of the Provisional National Assembly. From May to November 1945, he was secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party Budapest Committee, and from then until March 1946, deputy general secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. He served as interior minister from March 1946 to August 1948, during which time the efforts to break up the institutions of a civil society began. He banned or dissolved numerous religious, national and democratic institutions and organizations on the pretext of acting against fascist and reactionary groups. Rajk also took part in organizing the first show trials, unveiled the so-called 'blue-chit' election fraud, and acted mercilessly against any forces shown or imagined to be anti-Stalinist. This made him one of the most consistent perpetrators of the Rákosi-ite 'salami tactics'. Meanwhile, power rivalry developed with Gábor Péter and Mihály Farkas. This led to him being moved from the Interior Ministry to the post of foreign minister in August 1948. On May 30, 1949, he was arrested on fabricated charges. His trial involved almost a hundred sentences, including the subsidiary trials, and received huge publicity, with radio broadcasts of the public sessions. The so-called Rajk Trial marked the beginning of the Soviet-bloc campaign against Tito' s Yugoslavia. The accused were tortured and subjected to psychological terror. (Among those who persuaded Rajk to take the role of a traitor, in the interest of proletarian power, was his friend János Kádár.) On September 24, he was sentenced to death by the People's Court for crimes and treachery against the people (for spying). He was executed on October 15, 1949 and rehabilitated in 1955. His reburial in the Kerepesi Cemetery on October 6, 1956 turned into a demonstration against the Rákosi system.

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This page was created: Wednesday, 3-Dec-2003
Last updated: Wednesday, 3-Dec-2003
Copyright © 2003 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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