Chapter Fourteen

The Incredible Story of Laszlo Rajk

A few weeks after the Cominform resolution denounced Tito, a young Hungarian of Yugoslav origin, Milos Moich, was found by a woman friend lying in a pool of blood in his Budapest apartment. It was the night of July 10, 1948. A few minutes after the young woman arrived, Moich died, but not before he had named Zivko Boarov, press attache at the Yugoslav Legation, as his assassin. The young woman had passed Boarov leaving the apartment as she approached it. Boarov returned to the Yugoslav Legation, the Hungarian police arrived a few minutes later, but could not enter Legation premises. A strong police guard was placed round the building and over the next few weeks diplomatic notes passed with great rapidity between Budapest and Belgrade. Eventually the Hungarian police got their hands on Boarov and they commenced unravelling one of the most fantastic and cold-blooded political conspiracies in the history of Central Europe.

The trail led to the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Laszlo Rajk, to the Commander in Chief of the Hungarian Army, General George Palffy, to the chief of cadres in the Hungarian Communist Party, Tibor Szonyi, to the former Charge d'Affaires at the, Yugoslav Legation, Lazar Brankoy, who had declared himself for the Cominform. Beyond these important officials, the trail led back to Tito and his Minister of the Interior, Rankovich, and further back still to the British and American Intelligence Services.

It seems that it took some time before Boarov talked, and after he did talk many months of patient checking on his incredible revelations, turning up long forgotten dossiers, interviewing hundreds of people, delving back into the history of Hungarians in the International Brigade in Spain, into the personal stories of political prisoners held by the Horthy police in the early 1930's, the testimony of Horthy police officers already held in Hungarian jails. Enquiries were hampered because the very positions of the men involved made it possible for them to close many avenues of investigation to the police, to create diversions and draw many red herrings across the trail.

Moich and Boarov at first sight were unimportant characters, but if Boarov had not muffed his assignment, firstly by not killing Moich outright, and secondly by allowing himself to be seen, detection of the Rajk conspiracy might have been postponed long enough for the carefully organised plan to be put into operation.

When the Cominform resolution was published Yugoslav Communists at home and abroad were stunned. They had great faith in their wartime leader, Marshal Tito, but they could not believe the Soviet Union and the other People's Democracies could be wrong. Those at home quickly found they could do nothing about it. Those who opened their mouths even to discuss the resolution, were whisked off to jail, or as in the case of General Arso Jovanovich, Tito's former chief of staff, and hundreds of others, they were liquidated. What was required of a Yugoslav Communist was an immediate rubber stamp approval to resolutions supporting Tito. Yugoslavs abroad, however, were not quite so tightly under Rankovich's control. After much heart-searching, many of them declared for the Cominform. Such a one was Milos Moich. Although he was a Hungarian by nationality, he was a Yugoslav by birth, and since the end of the war had been an agent in Hungary for Rankovich's secret police, or U.D.B.A. as it is now known. Moich was an important official in the Federation of South Slavs in Hungary. The President of the Association, Antal Rob, was also an U.D.B.A. agent who felt that things were getting too hot for him after the Cominform resolution. Although a member of the Hungarian Parliament, he fled to Yugoslavia with a Yugoslav passport and a Yugoslav Legation car. The South Slav Federation, one of Tito's chief weapons for "peaceful penetration," took an anti-Tito stand, and in view of Moich's changed attitude it was decided to nominate Moich for President. Moich told Andras Szalai, of the Propaganda Section of the Communist Party, that he wanted to disclose the whole story of U.D.B.A. activities and Tito's plans for Hungary, and hinted that the story would be sensational. Szalai, who as he related to the Court, had been the most despicable type of police agent for 15 years, put Moich off for the moment and warned the Yugoslav Ambassador, Mrazovich. What followed is best described in Boarov's own words as he told the Court during the Rajk trial, supplemented by Brankov who joined Boarov at the witnesses' stand to try and minimise his own role in the affair. Boarov, tall, sleek, very well dressed, grinningly greeted acquaintances among the Hungarian and foreign correspondents in the Court as he swaggered in. Brankov, short, with close-cropped black hair and a dead-white face, was tense and always on the look out for a point which he might possibly exploit to his advantage.

Boarov explained the background of Moich and that it became known he would denounce Tito and U.D.B.A. activities. "In connection with this," he continued, "Brankov said he had reported the Moich case to Belgrade and Rankovich had replied that Tito's instructions were he must be put across the border to Yugoslavia, and if this were impossible, he must be liquidated. Brankov ordered me to do it and said that as I was a Serb and closest to Moich, I had the best chance of success."

"At first I refused. Then Brankov and Blasich (first secretary at the Yugoslav Legation) took me to Minister Mrazovich and explained that I did not want to carry out the assignment. Mrazovich repeated the assignment and when he ordered me to carry it out, I dared not refuse. Mrazovich handed me his own revolver.

"Then I went to Moich's flat on the evening of July 10, and making sure that he was alone, I went to him and we had a long talk. I tried to convince him to give up his original intentions. I tried to get him to come to the Legation to talk with Brankov. I knew if he came there, we could put him across the frontier. At first I could not bring myself to use the revolver to kill him. But Moich refused everything. He refused to give up his original intention, refused to go with me to the Legation. Then I started to threaten him and told him he was playing with his life, at which point a quarrel developed and we started to scuffle. In the heat of the scuffle I lost my head and shot him with Mrazovich's revolver. I went to the Legation and reported the case to Brankov as Minister Mrazovich had already left for Yugoslavia."

A short debate then ensued in the Court between Boarov and Brankov with Brankov saying he had opposed the shooting, Boarov denying it.

The Judge (to Boarov): Say it to his face that he did not oppose it either.

Boarov (turning to Brankov): You did not.

Brankov (shouting fiercely): I did oppose it.

Brankov was then ordered to take his seat, Boarov, as a witness, was led out and the case continued.

It was nearly a year after the shooting of Moich that the whole mosaic was pieced together by the Hungarian security police and the arrests of the chief figures were carried out, Rajk was arrested in his home on May 30, General Palffy on July 18, 1949. Each one arrested contributed a little more to the story. Before men of the importance of Rajk, Palffy and Szonyi were arrested, one may be sure the police had a completely watertight case against them, a case which no amount of denying could disprove. It seems more likely that like the gamblers they were, these men threw in their hands and told everything, once they knew that they had lost.

Summed up in one paragraph the plot was for a group of political adventurers and former Horthy officers to seize power in Hungary with the help of Yugoslav troops, install a regime with Rajk at its head, which would be but an appendance of a Greater Yugoslavia. The signal for that coup would be the arrest and assassination of Hungary's three leading Communists, Rakosi, Gero and Farkas.

There was nothing new in this type of a plot. Rajk and Palffy wanted to assume the role of a new Horthy, Mannerheim, Pilsudski, or Tsankoff, who robbed the peoples of Hungary, Finland, Poland and Bulgaria of the fruits of their revolutionary victories after World War I.

Rajk himself was an extraordinary character, cold as steel, a good actor, a political adventurer of the South American type, a man not fundamentally interested in politics or ideologies but very interested in power, a man without ideals and without loyalties to either causes or individuals. I saw him three weeks before he was arrested, addressing an election meeting at Miklosszentmarton, a village near the Austrian border. He smiled as the villagers filed past depositing presents on the platform for him to take back to Budapest, and as the crowd clapped and cheered at his speech and shouted, "Rakosi-Rajk, Rakosi-Rajk," but his smile was completely lacking in warmth and expressed cynical amusement rather than any genuine reaction to the mass friendliness. He must have been a worried man on that occasion. The net was already tightening around him. Searching questions had been put to him at meetings of the Politburo, he had difficulties in maintaining his front at high level ideological and political debates with rapier-minded political savants of the calibre of Rakosi, Gero, Revai and others. Once the spotlight of suspicion flickered even momentarily on Rajk, curious gaps in the background began to demand explanation.

Only a week before that election meeting, according to evidence given by both Rajk and Palffy in Court, the two had an anxious discussion behind the podium on which they stood on May Day with Rakosi and the others, to watch the march-past of half a million Budapest workers. Both felt they were under suspicion, but Tito and Rankovich were insisting on immediate action. The process of hauling in the nets had already started however, and Rajk knew already that he would be among the big fish landed. Under constant suspicion during his past weeks of freedom, he became nervous, made mistakes, confirmed in a dozen different ways that he was a guilty man. When the trail finally led to his flat and he was taken into custody, Rajk's life cracked open like a rotten pumpkin.

For a brief period, a few months at most, when Rajk was 21, he was an idealist. He returned from France as a student in 1930, impressed with friends he had made in Paris who were Marxists. He got in touch with a Marxist circle at the Budapest University, and without joining the Communist Party, he helped distribute illegal leaflets and was afterwards rounded up by the police with a group of Communist students. His brother-in-law, a police captain, Lajos Bokor, intervened, and Rajk was released after he had signed a declaration in the presence of Police Chief Hetenyi, agreeing to return to the University and act as a police spy among the students. That was in 1931, and from that day until May, 1949, when he was arrested, Rajk worked all over Europe as a police spy. The declaration he signed in 1931 turned up dramatically in Rankovich's hands 16 years later when Rankovich signed him up formally as a Yugoslav agent.

Rajk described this scene to the Court. At the time he was Minister of the Interior and was holidaying in the summer of 1947 at Abbazia, on the Adriatic coast: “A leading member of the Croatian U.D.B.A., a blonde woman of about 30 years of age, called on me at the villa," he said. "She spoke Hungarian. She said Rankovich would shortly come to Abbazia, that he wanted to talk with me and that no one but the three of us should know of this conversation and meeting. Rankovich, in fact, arrived in Abbazia a few days later. In our conversation this Croatian woman acted as interpreter. Rankovich told me that he knew I had been connected with the Hungarian police and that he had now come to Abbazia on direct orders from Tito, to warn me that in case I should not in future maintain a political attitude supporting Tito's policy in every respect in Hungary, they would expose me. I replied that it was entirely fruitless and unnecessary to threaten me in this way, since it was not true that I had been connected with Hungarian police, and if I co-operated with them politically, I did not do so because they wanted to organise me but because my political concepts were akin to theirs. Upon this Rankovich somewhat mockingly pulled from his pocket a photostat copy of the declaration I gave to Hetenyi when I was arrested in 1931. I asked Rankovich how he came to possess such a document. Perhaps the Yugoslav fascist police previously had contact with the Yugoslav police and exchanged data with them? Rankovich replied that it did not turn up from Yugoslav files but was given to them by the Americans.

"The files of the Horthy police were evacuated to Western Germany in the last phase of the war when the government and various official bodies escaped to the West, and in the American zone of Germany these files fell into the hands of the Americans... Rankovich said they needed this document because they did not want to buy a pig in the poke, the more so as I would get to know all about their entire policies and connections. Therefore he could tell me that they were in contact with the Americans, that in the near future my instructions would not come from the Americans directly, but from the Yugoslavs. 'Well,' said Rankovich, 'the Yugoslavs means Tito and myself.' He told me that in future I would get instructions direct from him... Here I must repeat that when Rankovich produced the photostat copy I said that organising me formally on the basis of the photostat was unnecessary as I agreed with them politically anyhow. Rankovich then said that I as a Minister of the Interior would understand that he, in his capacity of Minister of the Interior would regard it as necessary to have every possible guarantee in his hands that I would perform my tasks correctly. They knew my abilities, my position in the government and the party, and would assign great political tasks to me."

The declaration Rajk signed was the beginning of his long and sinister career as a police spy. He returned to the University in 1931 and rewarded the police by denouncing a few months later the whole group which prepared the illegal pamphlets Rajk had once helped to distribute. Seventeen of them, including Rajk and another police agent, Stolte, were arrested. Rajk and Stolte, who had to be arrested so as not to attract suspicion, both were given three months' sentences. The following year he denounced another small group, was arrested with them but was acquitted. Rajk told the court that he gave regular reports on student activities until he was expelled from the University in connection with his third arrest. The police could not prevent this expulsion, of course, without revealing Rajk was their agent.

He wormed his way in the central propaganda organisation of the Young Communist League with the task of locating the party printing press, but this he failed to do, as he was transferred to another more important job in the National Union of Building Workers, where he was to act as a provocateur. Mass meetings were forbidden at the time, but Rajk persuaded the workers to hold a big street demonstration at the time of an important strike by building workers. As a result of the demonstration the police arrested 200 workers, including all the union leaders, and the strike collapsed.

The police thought that Rajk should disappear from the country for a while; the Communists would sooner or later become suspicious of him, and in any case there were important tasks abroad.

There was a regular flow of illegal Communist literature pouring in over the frontier from Czechoslovakia. Rajk was ordered to discover the origin and the route used to smuggle in the pamphlets. In 1936, escorted by his brother-in-law, Captain Bokor, and a detective of the political police, he was passed through the Hungarian frontier into Czechoslovakia. In Prague he was naturally able to pass himself off as a persecuted Communist who had escaped from the Horthy police. He was accepted as a genuine Communist-in-exile. It took himself some time to get himself organised in Prague and to feel his way into a position where he could carry out his task. Before he could locate the route by which the illegal literature was smuggled, he was ordered by the new Hungarian political police chief, Sombor-Schweinitzer, to go to Spain to find out the names of those fighting in the Hungarian Rakosi Battalion and where possible to disrupt and demoralise its members.

He was passed on to Paris in 1937 with false documents by the unsuspecting Czech Communist Party, but avoided the special committee of the French Communist Party which checked all volunteers in Spain. He felt that with their thorough searching methods they may have discovered something of his background. He managed to cross into Spain, unchecked, and soon won the confidence of the Hungarians. Had he not been arrested three times and imprisoned twice? Had he not fled as an exile to Prague? He was eventually made political commissar of the Rakosi Battalion, and had no difficulty in sending back the names of all members to the Horthy police. His second task he fulfilled by insisting on disciplinary action against one of the most popular officers in the battalion, Laszlo Haas, just before the vital battle of the Ebro River. The case backfired against Rajk, he himself was denounced as a Trotskyist and expelled from the Communist Party. But the morale of the battalion was seriously weakened by this top-flight political row in the crucial weeks of the Spanish Civil War. The Rakosi Battalion held a vital sector of the front. In February, 1939, Rajk deserted the Battalion and fled to France, where he was interned, and later joined by other members of the unit. Most of those who could later have testified against him and his expulsion from the party, were either killed in battle or died later in the German concentration camps to which Petain and Laval delivered them.

In the internment camp Rajk told the court he was in close touch with Trotskyists among Hungarians and Yugoslavs, and he mentioned particularly Vukmanovich, then known as Tempo, now Tito's Chief of Staff and Premier of Macedonia. In the spring of 1941, Rajk who in the meantime had reported regularly on his fellow internees to the French Deuxieme Bureau, was visited by a major of German intelligence who said he had been instructed to return Rajk to Hungary, at the request of the new chief of the Hungarian political police, Peter Hain. He suggested that Rajk should volunteer for work in Germany, and he could then arrange for him to be passed on to Hungary. Rajk agreed, and together with another Hungarian, Imre Gayer, who had also been in Spain, and was also a police agent, Rajk was returned in August, 1941, to Hungary. He immediately reported to police chief Hain, who told him that in order to divert Communist suspicion from him he would be interned for the time being, but in the meantime Rajk should help Gayer to join the Communist Party, so that Gayer could carry on the espionage work. Rajk contacted the illegal Communist Party and gave his version of his own heroic activities in Spain and also gave a glowing account of Gayer's record in Spain-where the latter was never in the firing line. He suggested that Gayer should be put in charge of checking Hungarians that returned from Spain. This was a clever move of Rajk's to discredit any that might testify against himself.

Rajk was shortly after interned, and a few months later a large group of Communist leaders was arrested, denounced by Gayer. Included in the group was the Secretary-General of the Communist Party, Zoltan Schonherz, who was tried and hanged, and one of the Party's ablest leaders, Ferenc Rozsa, who died under torture. Rajk was tried with the group, as his name was brought in as having introduced Gayer to the Communist Party. The police left no stones unturned to cover up the tracks of their agents. Rajk was given a mild six months' sentence and went back to the comparatively safe comforts of his internment. He was freed in October, 1944, and had the closest shave of his whole career as a police agent when he was arrested five months later by military counterintelligence, who had no idea he was an agent of the political police.

Things were very mixed up at that time, with the main battles for Hungary about to begin, the out-and-out Fascist regime of Szalasi and his Arrow Cross men in power. Rajk could look forward to a quick court-martial and speedy death by hanging.

Between his release in October and his arrest with four other Communists in December, 1944, he had naturally contacted the Communist Party again on instructions from Peter Hain, with no shadows of suspicion attached to his name. If there were any doubt about Gayer having denounced the group which was arrested in 1942, Rajk, at least was above suspicion, languishing in an internment camp at the time. Before he could help the police very much he was picked up by the military. When the case was tried, Rajk's elder brother, Endre Rajk, Under Secretary of state in the Szalasi Fascist Government, appeared in Court to give evidence. He demanded that the case be heard in camera. Dr. Ferenc Janosi, a tall, fair-haired, sharp-faced former military prosecutor, appeared as a witness during the Rajk trial of 1949 to tell what happened in the trial of March, 1945. He had acted as Prosecutor, against Rajk and the other accused Communists.

"First of all," said Janosi, "Rajk denied his guilt and denied in particular that he had ever been really active in a left-wing or resistance movement. He demanded that his brother, Endre Rajk, who was Under Secretary of State invested with ministerial powers, be examined. He asked this in connection with the fact that for a long time since 1931 and during the Szalasi regime too, he had rendered useful and valuable services to the political police, asserting also that he was a loyal follower of this regime. He also asked that the successive heads of the political police from 1931 onwards, that is first of all Hetenyi, then Hetenyi's successor, Sombor-Schweinitzer, and the head of Szalasi's political police, Peter Hain, be examined as witnesses."

Judge: What instructions did you as prosecutor receive from the president of the military court?

Janosi: Just before my prosecutor's speech I was told that I should deal with Rajk's case briefly and especially that I should not mention in my speech Rajk's connections with the political police.

Judge: What verdicts were then arrived at?

Janosi: In this case they acquitted Rajk of sedition and meted out very heavy sentences to the rest of the accused, in some cases death, for others heavy prison sentences and imprisonment for life.

Rajk's case was transferred to a civil court, but in the meantime the German resistance in Hungary collapsed, the Szalasi government fled, and Rajk, together with Stolte, whom we last met as a police agent with Rajk in Budapest University, were taken to Germany.

Rajk decided to return to Hungary as soon as the Germans were finally defeated, but begged Stolte to contact the former chief of political police, Sombor-Schweinitzer, who was working for American Intelligence in Bavaria, and tell him that Rajk was returning to Budapest – available for new assignments. Stolte did this, was introduced to the local chief of American counter intelligence, who asked him searching questions about Rajk, and whether he was capable of performing a double role in the Hungarian Communist Party over a long period.

In Budapest Rajk was hailed as one of the best members of the Communist Party with a magnificent record of service at home and abroad, arrested dozens of times but always miraculously escaping death. He became secretary of the Budapest Party organisation. Before long he was approached by an American, Lieutenant Colonel Kovach, from the U.S. Military Mission, who told him he knew all about his past and ordered him to place himself at the disposal of American Intelligence. "If did not carry this out," Rajk told the Court, "he said he would denounce me to the Communist Party leadership. Of course, I agreed to work for him."

For a time Rajk made normal intelligence reports, his estimation of the strength of the political parties, Communist and People's Front policies, and other routine matters. Later he was given the task of organising a faction within the Communist Party to split the majority of members away from the Rakosi leadership. By the end of 1946, Rajk was Minister of the Interior in a key position to carry out another of his assignments, which was to place American and British agents, recruited in Switzerland by Mr. Noel Field and Mr. Allan Dulles, of the American Secret Service (O.S.S.) in leading positions inside the party. The party was just being painfully knit together after years of illegality with members pouring back from exile in all parts of the world, and nobody in a position to vouch for anyone else in hundreds of cases.

Thus Rajk was able to place Szonyi in the vital post of chief of cadres department, responsible for allotting key jobs to other Communists; others he placed in important positions of the Ministry ofthe Interior, Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Office, in the radio and press departments. At first, independently of .his American contacts, Rajk was also in touch with the Yugoslavs from as early as 1945, through Lazar Brankov, then chief of the Yugoslav Mission to Hungary. Rajk was not quite certain what the Yugoslavs were after at that time, but from many guarded talks with Brankov he got the impression in 1946, that the Yugoslavs wanted to pursue a line independent of the Soviet Union and the other People's Democracies. In response to veiled questions from Brankov in the spring of 1946, Rajk told the Court, "Brankov was able to convince himself from my replies to his questions that I not only sympathised with Tito but that I approved of his nationalist and essentially anti-Soviet policy. This caused Brankov to be open enough to tell me straight out that he was the head of Yugoslav Intelligence in Hungary and to ask me as Minister of the Interior to hand over to him various data, to give reports on the Hungarian political situation, on various matters of state secrets and so on."

Later followed the incident mentioned above of the formal recruitment of Rajk by Rankovich at Abbazia and the agreement that all intelligence material for the Americans should be funnelled through the Yugoslavs. From the time of the Abbazia meeting Rajk received regular instructions direct from Rankovich about packing the army and police with "suitable people"; suspending the political activity of all party branches in the police to get the entire organisation completely in his hands; to cooperate with Szonyi, long a Yugoslav agent, in packing every office in the administration with right-wing people who would support an eventual coup. On his own account Rajk stopped investigations started by the police against several conspirators, including Minister of Defence Bartha, and the son of Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy. Rajk called off the police, gave Bartha a chance to resign and flee the country, and permitted the Prime Minister to warn his son, who was in Washington and refused to return. He released numerous pro-Fascists and Horthy police agents – including Imre Gayer – from jail on his own initiative. (Documents relating to these cases were presented in court bearing Rajk's signature.)

At the end of 1947, Tito and Rankovich visited Hungary to sign a friendship pact and this was made the occasion for a concrete exposition of the plot. Rajk arranged a hunting trip and contrived a private meeting with Rankovich aboard the train on the way to the hunting ground. Brankov acted as interpreter.

"Rankovich stressed," said Rajk, "that in what he told me he was giving me the Tito plan and that he was following Tito's instructions in telling me about this."

Judge: What is that plan?

Rajk: Well, the plan was that since the right-wing forces in all the people's democratic countries had been defeated one by one, Yugoslavia had to undertake the role of organiser and leader of the overthrow of the people's democratic regimes. Yugoslavia, however, said Rankovich, could not do this openly, coming out with the announcement of such a policy... because of the feeling in Yugoslavia and the rest of the people's democracies for friendship with the Soviet Union. Therefore Tito had to carry out this policy under camouflage, by deception.... First of all Yugoslavia had a great attraction for the rest of the people's democracies because of the war, or rather because of the heroic partisan battles of the people of Yugoslavia. So Tito thought that this attraction, this popularity, outwardly emphasising and stressing friendship with the Soviet Union and the people's democracies must be taken advantage of and... various federations should be concluded between Yugoslavia and the other countries... steps must be taken to remove the people's democracies from Soviet influence and bring them under Tito's influence.

Rankovich, according to Rajk, elaborated a little more' on this new great federation which should be built under Tito's guidance, and then went on to give specific instructions on preparations for a seizure of power in Hungary by force of arms. Tito was too experienced, said Rankovich, to have the same plan for each country.

Rajk: The task relating to Hungary was to overthrow the people's democratic regime, of course, to arrest the members of the government and within this...

Judge: Who were the most outstanding enemies?

Rajk: ...And within this the most dangerous ones, as Rankovich said, must be liquidated, if there was no other way.

Judge: Who were they by name?

Rajk: By name he thought first of all Rakosi, Gero and Farkas.

Judge: Did he only think of them or did he definitely name them?

Rajk: He definitely mentioned them and he told me that I would be responsible for carrying out this whole programme in Hungary, and in connection with this, he told me right away Tito's evaluation of the situation and the forces on which one could rely.

Judge: Did he promise actual Yugoslav aid?

Rajk: Yes, he emphasised that with a correct grouping of forces I could count on such support, but he considered it decisively important that in political activity, in the organisation of the forces, I should rely on my own internal support.          

Rajk said he discussed his conversation with Rankovich with the U.S. Minister to Hungary, Mr. Chapin, in the spring of 1948, and asked whether it was correct that Rankovich had said the Americans approved the Tito plan.

"Chapin hesitated a little whether to make a statement before me or not – later he did and said that he knew of this plan and that the United states would not put any objection in the way of carrying out Yugoslavia's policy."

In 1948 Rajk began to run into his first difficulties. Up to then he had no checks. He had found in General George Palffy, Inspector-General of the Army, a kindred soul, an old Horthyist officer who had joined the Communist Party and sworn to destroy it. As Rajk packed the police and security forces with his own men, so did Palffy pack the key army posts. As Rajk suppressed political activity within the police, so did Palffy suspend political activity in the army. With no party criticism or party watch-dogs, army and police were directly responsible only to Palffy and Rajk. But in 1948 things took a bad turn.

In the spring of 1948 the Social Democrat and Communist Parties were fused into one, there was a wide purge in all state, administrative posts, and many of the nominees of Rajk and Palffy were removed. A desperate blow, however, was the Cominform resolution which exposed Tito. Rajk obtained a copy of the resolution before it was published and gave it to Brankov for transmission to Belgrade.

In August, Brankov called on Rajk and told him Rankovich wanted to see him urgently. It was impossible for Rajk to go to Belgrade so he replied that if Rankovich wanted to see him he had better find some way of coming to Hungary, that any such meeting must remain a close secret. A meeting was arranged in the hunting lodge of a landowner by the name of Antal Klein. The Yugoslav Minister Mrazovich acted as interpreter, his mistress made the arrangements. The story is best told by the old landowner and the Minister's girl friend, as they related it to the court.

Antal Klein, an elderly, balding, white-haired man with a very pink face, looked very irritated as he was brought into Court. The Judge asked him when he had first met Minister Mrazovich.

“Ata Polish party in Budapest at the Park Club at the end of January, 1948, which I attended with Georgina, the daughter of our chief town clerk, Gero Trisznyas. As soon as we entered the place Mrazovich came up to us. He knew Georgina from a hunt arranged at my place. After greeting me briefly he began to court Georgina most warmly. He courted her all the night. We left for home the day after the party." He described the ardent wooing of Georgina by the Minister and frequent visits by Mrazovich to Georgina's home at Paks, about 70 miles south of Budapest, near Klein's estates.

"At the end of September, 1948, we visited Paks, Georgina mentioned that Minister Mrazovich would like to hunt at my place with one or two companions. I said there was no objection on my part: It would be a pleasure. Later Mrazovich asked if I would do him the favour of coming with my carriage to the 116 kilometre stone, where the lane from my estate meets the road. I should wait for him there and take him further, as no car could pass along the sandy road. He said he wanted to hunt incognito, so I should myself drive the carriage. I promised to do that. A few days later, at the beginning of October, I went to the main road and waited there. When I arrived, Georgina was already there, and she said Mrazovich had also invited her. About half an hour later Minister Mrazovich arrived. He and a man wearing a green, felt coat and black spectacles, whom I did not know, got out of the car. After a short greeting, both of them seated themselves in my carriage. I drove along the lane as far as the edge of Biritopuszta (the hunting ground). I stopped a good distance from the buildings, where they got off together with Georgina, took with them the food she had brought, as well as two guns. The three of them went into the hunting reserve and asked me to wait for them. They said they would come back in two or two and a half hours' time, when I should take them back to the main road. Then they left. What happened I don't know. They returned two and a half hours later, and I took them back by carriage to the main road. The two men went off by car and I took Georgina back to Paks in my carriage."

Judge: What impressions did the "hunt" make on you? Was it not clear that this was only a so-called "hunt" which served Mrazovich to meet certain persons in secret?

Klein: When they returned after two and a half hours without anything in the bag I became suspicious of the whole thing. I wasn't even introduced to the man in the green coat with the black spectacles. The fact that they came from Budapest to go hunting and the whole hunt didn't last longer than two and a half hours, also roused my suspicions as well as the fact that they returned without a 'bag from an area rich in wild animals. I then took Georgina back and saw that she also was in a bad mood. I asked her what had happened and who are these people, who was he, how did he get here? She said that she didn't know what had taken place but it certainly was not a hunt.

Judge: What part did Laszlo Rajk play in this so-called hunt?

Klein: I don't know Laszlo Rajk. I don't know the man; never seen him. Now that I've been put face to face with him by the authorities, I recognise in him that man who was present then with Mrazovich in the green felt coat and spectacles.

Judge: Now do you recognise him?

The irate old man turned round, gazed angrily at the whole court, then looked at each of the accused in turn. There was a broad smile on Rajk's face.

"That's him," Klein cried, pointing a shaking finger at Rajk. He stomped out of the Court room, still seemingly indignant at not having been introduced on the hunting field and having been tricked into lending his carriage and hunting reserve to a group of conspirators.

Georgina, dark, slight and sad-looking, was called to the witness stand. Pretty in a gentle, faded way, she had been a school teacher when Mrazovich courted her and projected her for a moment into the drama of a Central European conspiracy. She confirmed what Klein had described up to the moment they left the old man's carriage.

"When we reached the keeper's hut, I noticed a man in hunting clothes was waiting there, carrying a gun. He was of middle height and about 40 years old. Mrazovich asked me to stay in the keeper's hut and prepare a lunch. It struck me that the other man had not been introduced to me, neither had the one who got out of the car. Then they talked, walking up and down in front of the keeper's hut, also further away from the hut. I heard that one man was speaking in Slav language. Now and again they came close enough for me to hear. I am certain that it was not Russian but perhaps Serbian. The man in the green felt coat spoke Hungarian and Mrazovich translated between the two. I could understand a few words of the conversation when they came near me, for instance that Mrazovich was speaking about Yugoslavia and said that action must be taken... Then they spoke about someone called Palffy who would be made Minister of Defence. I also heard the names of Ministers Rakosi and Farkas mentioned a number of times. When they had finished their talk they came into the keeper's hut and ate a snack.

"When Mrazovich saw I was in a bad mood he turned and started to talk to me. Then we started on our way back to the carriage. The unknown man, however, went to two companions who were waiting and they went in the opposite direction towards Csampapuszta. After the car had left I told Mrazovich I felt I had been invited superfluously because it seemed that he did not want to meet me but had other intentions, Mrazovich made excuses and afterwards he drew me aside and said that I should not tell anyone about this meeting..."

Judge: Please come here. Do you recognise the person on this photograph as the one who waited at the keeper's hut? Look at it.

Georgina: Yes, I recognise it.

Judge: You are certain.

Georgina: Yes.

Judge: I have established that this picture from which the witness recognised the person in question is a photograph of Rankovich which is now included in the documentation.

Rajk filled in the gaps as to the conversation he had with Rankovich on this occasion. General Palffy, who at that time commanded the frontier guards, opened the frontier to Rankovich's car so that it passed through without inspection. Rankovich told Rajk that the Cominform resolution had changed nothing except that Rajk must act with greater speed and energy than before. Plans must be speeded up, the coup must be brought off as soon as possible. Tito was now prepared to give more direct help than before. Special Hungarian-speaking units were being concentrated on the frontier who would cross into Hungary wearing Hungarian army uniforms. "Rankovich especially drew my attention to the fact that Tito was absolutely determined that at the same time as the coup d'etat, the Hungarian government would have to be arrested and three of its members, Rakosi, Gero and Farkas would immediately have to be killed during the first action. Rankovich said that, of course, a brutal appearance must be avoided. Perhaps it would be explained that one of them was an accident, the second caused by illness, the third committed suicide or was killed while trying to escape. According to Rankovich it was these three people whom Tito considered so dangerous that he absolutely insisted on their physical liquidation and wanted this duty fulfilled by a unit consisting mainly of Yugoslav cadres because they have excellent .experience from the partisan struggles of how to get rid .of people, and the adherents of the resolution of the Information Bureau who have been arrested or had tried to escape could also talk about these experiences."

Tito was demanding instant action, special units must be formed to take over the key ministries and buildings, the Yugoslavs with American help had arranged that former Horthy officers, adherents of the Fascist Szalasi government who had fled to the West, would be mobilised and passed through Austria to Hungary the moment the coup started. Tito insisted that as soon as the coup started, Palffy must be made Minister of Defence and Antal Rob, former president of the South Slav Federation who fled to Yugoslavia after the Cominform resolution must be the new Minister of Interior. Rajk, who by this time had been switched from Minister of Interior to Minister of Foreign Affairs, would of course, be Prime Minister in the new government. Foreign policy must be subordinate to Tito's policy and Hungarian industry would have to be geared to the Yugoslav Five Year Plan even if this was contrary to Hungarian economic interests for the time being. The main thing, as Rankovich kept stressing throughout the interview, was action as soon as possible.

Back in Budapest Rajk had a discussion with Palffy: "I told Palffy that all the forces in the army should be listed and units should be formed which would he suitable for carrying out such an armed putsch, taking into consideration that they would be supplemented by the Yugoslav units to be deployed by Tito and Rankovich and with the Western units sent across from Austria.

Judge: Did you not tell Palffy that Rankovich had instructed him to work out a plan?

Rajk: I did not because Palffy had already got his orders from the Yugoslavs through his own channels before I spoke to him. He started to tell me about the plan and wanted to give me sketches. I didn't take these so he told me by word of mouth about the formation of various units for the occupation of institutions, telephone exchanges, ministries, etc...

By the end of 1948 plans were worked out down to the finest details. The Yugoslavs obligingly sent in two experienced assassins who began shadowing Rakosi, Farkas and Gero, observing their habits, the time they left home, when guards were changed; if they took walks unattended, if they slept in rooms which could be reached by machine-gun fire from outside. Three weeks after the Paks meeting, Brankov called on Rajk and ordered more haste; two weeks later Mrazovich called and said Rankovich was very angry about the slow way things were going. Yugoslav troops were already concentrated on the border in an advanced state of readiness. Rajk, however, was nervous and told Mrazovich that it was impossible to effect a putsch at that moment. But still the Yugoslavs pressed for action.

"Summing up at that time," said Rajk in the Court, "the more I came to the conclusion that it seemed almost impossible in view of developments that anyone in his right sense should think of carrying out a putsch, the more reckless and determined Premier Tito and his companions became in demanding the armed putsch."

Meanwhile he had one great shock for a brief moment when Brankov announced that he had deserted the Tito camp and declared himself for the Cominform. If that were true, all the plans would soon be known. He was soon reassured, however, by a visit from Brankov who said that he had to desert on instructions from Tito in order that he could maintain his relations with Rajk and supervise preparations for the putsch. As an overt employee of the Legation, he would, of course, be completely isolated from all Hungarian officials after the Cominform resolution. In fact, Brankov continued to be the head of U.D.B.A. in Hungary until the day he was arrested.

General Palffy gave details of his part in the technical preparations for the coup, the signal for which would be the arrest of Rakosi, Gero and Farkas.

Palffy, a stocky figure with a bloated face and nervous twitching lips, a man one would say whose nerves were not good enough for a conspirator, told the Court, "The relevant part of the plan ran as follows: Colonel Korondy, who as Rajk had told me, had known of our illegal activities for a long time, was entrusted with the formation of three small groups each consisting of about a dozen men, who in the late hours of the evening would have to put into effect simultaneously the arrest of Rakosi, Farkas and Gero, and who would also have to kill them if they resisted. The plan, was – Rajk said this – that since it was the most important part of the plan, the putsch had to be carried out on a day when the three politicians were sure to be in Budapest, that is on a day of the meeting of the Politburo or of the Council of Ministers. He set the time for 11 p.m. or later, when they would surely sooner or later get home. After having spied out the residence, the groups would have attacked and disarmed the entourage and arrested those concerned. I even talked of this question in a concrete form with Korondy. This was in April, 1949, a few days before May 1. Korondy already knew of the assignment from Rajk, but I talked it over with him in greatest detail. When I told him of the above task he said that he had subordinates who had been gendarmes (Korondy had been an officer in the Horthy gendarmerie) at present serving in the police and army. He could set up three groups from among these... I told Korondy that he could count on Yugoslav aid and would get a special force to perform this task.

"I told Rajk the outline of my plan orally, the substance being that the putsch must be started by ten battalions of the army and units of the police. In Budapest certain key points, first of all the Central Headquarters of the Party, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs, the State Defence Authority, the Radio and the offices of "Szabad Nep" (Party newspaper), public works, ministries, railway stations and in addition some working districts where we could count on resistance, would have to be occupied by these forces. Simultaneously with this, immediately before the occupation, the arrest of the three politicians mentioned previously had to be carried out by small groups. I would be commander of the whole armed force, while Colonel Korondy would command the police unit. This was my general plan. Rajk approved this. I received instructions to draw up a detailed plan later."

Judge: From whom?

Palffy: From Rajk. The reason for the delay was that we could not propose a day for the time of the putsch, as Rankovich said that a definite date could only be set with his approval, so we first had to talk it over with him, because a score of events on account of which we had to keep on delaying things, intervened. In the autumn of 1948 supervision of Party members began and this compelled us to wait, for we did not know who would be affected, perhaps the very people in the police and army on whom we based our plans. At the beginning of 1949, working class cadres gradually came to the foreground both in the police and the army. This again partly upset our plans. This was the reason why the matter took so long and we delayed with the date. Therefore it was only in May, 1949, that Rajk instructed us that we must not delay any longer, we must set the date for the end of May or for the beginning of June, and that I should work out the detailed plan. I worked this out for myself, noting down in my own hand on two pages the most important things. On a separate sheet on an outline map of Greater Budapest, I marked the key points which had to be occupied and filled in the size of the occupying force. I indicated the three political groups and the time when they would have to step into action and also the kind of forces taking part in the putsch. I enumerated the points which would have to be occupied in Budapest, exactly calculating the time when the command would have to be issued from Budapest to the troops in the provinces. The whole thing was timed in such a way that it should start in the evening and by the next day even the last units should arrive from the country and occupy the important positions in Budapest that were marked out for them. It also contained whom I would appoint to command the individual units."

Everything was worked out down to the finest details. Even trial mobilisations were carried out. But in May, 1949, it was Rajk and his colleagues who were arrested and not Rakosi, Farkas and Gero. They had waited too long and time had caught up with them. Rajk was already under a slight cloud when he was removed from the Ministry of the Interior in August, 1948, but the security police had to be sure and doubly sure before they could move against a man of his importance. Small wonder the agitated discussion between Rajk and Palffy behind the May Day tribune, a discussion that certainly was not overlooked by the security police. A few days later Szonyi and Szalai were arrested. Rajk stumped the country making election speeches hoping to make himself the most popular figure in the country, preparing himself for his new role as prime minister, but there must have been already a sickening feeling in the bottom of his stomach. Both Rajk and Palffy felt, by May Day that they were under suspicion and that the suspicion was increasing, an added reason to speed up the plans and strike quickly. Palffy told the court that Rajk promised him he could get Rankovich's permission to strike at the end of May or beginning of June, but Rajk denied this, which caused a momentary verbal duel between the two of them in Court.

Throughout the trial Rajk, who on the opening day spoke for more than six hours, acted with complete composure. Tall, slim, rather good-looking, with high cheekbones, he spoke and answered questions with a glacial calm and he stood up and received the death sentence without a flicker of emotion. He scorned to appeal against the sentence and never once during the trial did he express regret for his actions. Only once did he show any signs of emotion. For a moment the mask slipped and he showed something of his Fascist character. The judge was questioning him about his name, after he had completely his evidence.

Judge: How did your grandfather spell his name?

Rajk: My grandfather, being of Saxon descent, wrote his name Reich.

Judge: So your grandfather was called Reich. How did it become Rajk? Legally?

Rajk: Yes, legally. I could not give the exact date when it was legalised. In my certificate of baptism it is still spelled with an "a," that is Reich became Rajk... But," he added, angrily with flushed cheeks, "I can't see how this can be of the slightest interest to the court. In this respect I wish to add that I am of Aryan descent and genuinely too, because on one side I am a Saxon. The Hungarian Aryan law..."

The Judge cut him short and said he was not interested in knowing whether he was an Aryan or not, he was only interested to know, how the name had been changed and if so if the matter had been legalised, Rajk was, of course, indignant because Reich can be a Jewish name and he thought the Judge was suggesting that he was Jewish.

Many ghosts from the past of Laszlo Rajk paraded through the Courtroom during the course of the trial. There was his brother-in-law, former Captain of the Horthy police, Dr. Lajos Bokor, short and fat with a heavy black moustache and bristling close-cropped hair, a typical old police officer. It was Bokor who intervened with the police in 1931 and got Rajk released after he promised to become a police spy. There was Inspector Detective Borszeki, purple-faced with great rolls of fat at the back of his neck, dressed in the black coat and the striped trousers of a respectable official of the Horthy regime. It was he who drafted the statement which Rajk signed in 1931. Three of the four persons present when Rajk signed the declaration were in court. Only police chief Hetenyi was absent. Bokor said, "As far as I can remember it went something like this: I, the undersigned Laszlo Rajk, bind myself immediately and confidentially to denounce to the political police every case I become acquainted with in connection with the preparation of Bolshevism, that is, of the Communist revolution in Hungary."

Stolte from Rajk's student days and later interned with him in Germany, Cseresznyes with Rajk in Spain and France. Szebenyi, head of a department in the Ministry of the Interior, they all gave evidence which even without Rajk's own clear statement, were enough to damn him apart from the completely corroborative evidence given by the other seven accused. The finest defence counsel in the world would have been hard put to' find a useful line of defence after the eight accused and eighteen witnesses had given their evidence.

Rajk, Szalai and Szonyi were all condemned to death by the civil court, Palffy and Korondy by a military court. All five were executed.

That with many omissions is the story of the Rajk conspiracy. The chief accused touched on fascinating bits from conversations with Rankovich and Tito for their larger plans to integrate the whole of Central Europe and the Balkans, eventually the whole of Eastern Europe into a new Empire of which Belgrade would be the capital and Tito the new Caesar. Poland was ripe to fall, plans were further advanced in Czechoslovakia even than in Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania were already well organised. In Greece for the moment Tito was playing quietly because he could not afford an open clash with Anglo-American interests. There has not been space in one chapter to deal with the elaborate Yugoslav-American intelligence set-up in Switzerland or the precise expose of Tito's plans by one of his most trusted and capable agents, Lazar Brankov.

When Brankov began to describe the ambitions of the new Balkan Caesar, I began to think of Tito's grandiose New Belgrade project, the enormous new administrative capital of the old Belgrade. It was opposed by many party people at the time it was planned on the grounds that workers' flats and factories were needed before a great prestige project for a new capital. It seems clear now that this grandiose scheme was projected for the new empire capital, to be completed by the time Southslavia included at least Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania, their economies feeding Tito's series of Five Year Plans. And if this scheme was not the most perfect one from the Anglo-American point of view – they would much sooner have their own direct influence restored in these countries – at least it was making the best of a bad job. A rival bloc to the Soviet Union would have been created and where there are rival blocs there is always good fishing for experienced imperialist powers.

In the Western press, even in so-called liberal sections, an attempt was made to present Rajk, Palffy and Co. as a small group of nationalist-minded Communists, people who wanted Communism but independent of the Soviet Union. This is nonsense. There was not one convinced Socialist among the whole band. They were mostly cheap police spies who in the first place became spies to save their skins, and who got deeper and deeper into the nets of their own weaving. The two military officers were old style Fascist officers who loathed everything connected with socialism or even bourgeois democracy. They were put and maintained in their places by the police spies and were promised key positions once the coup had been successful. They wanted the restoration of an authoritarian regime which would restore the army to its proper place in life – and estates to their "rightful" owners.

They were a miserable collection of plotters without a human ideal between the lot of them. Brankov was perhaps the only one for whom one could find a spark of sympathy, as in the beginning he was serving Tito and his country as he had done as a partisan. Later he was forced into a traitorous role by threats of reprisals, from Tito himself, against his family. Before the court and before the Hungarian public, as all proceedings were broadcast from the Court, Rajk and his gangs were disclosed as miserable, bloodthirsty adventurers who would not hesitate to plunge the country into a ferocious civil war, to destroy everything of the new life which had been so painfully built up, to hand the country over lock, stock and barrel to a foreign power, to restore those same forces the people have fought against for so long. There were no regrets except from a few of the dispossessed and Horthy hangers-on, when the chief culprits were condemned to death and speedily executed.

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