A few days ago I received a letter from a fellow Hungarian-American who regularly publishes in Hungarian newspapers. He is an excellent researcher who was struck by the ease with which László Csatáry and, before him, Sándor Képíró, another war criminal, managed to settle in Hungary. Both men, it turned out, were assured that no criminal proceedings would be brought against them. Képíró returned from Argentina where there is no record of his entry into the country, so one must assume that he was able to return to Hungary in 1996 with a Hungarian passport. Csatáry was stripped of his Canadian citizenship, and thus again one must conclude that he returned to Budapest as a Hungarian citizen with a Hungarian passport. Thus, my friend suspects, the Hungarian government in the ’90s when these two war criminals returned to Hungary was renewing these people’s citizenship without much checking. Or, it is even possible that the Hungarian secret service actually knew all about these people and for one reason or other decided to give them a safe haven.
János Széky, a journalist for Élet és Irodalom, addressed the same concern my friend had in a fascinating article that appeared in Parameter, a Slovak Hungarian-language Internet paper. His conclusion is that the composition of the secret service of the Kádár regime didn’t change that much with the regime change. And its methods also remained the same. Thus, says Széky, it is worth returning to an old story from the 1970s and 1980s that might help us understand the communist secret service’s relations with leading members of the extreme right from the 1930s and 1940s.
The example he comes up with is the case of Zoltán Bosnyák. As it turned out, by the late Kádár regime practically no one knew who Bosnyák was although in his day he was a well known man, mostly as a result of his anti-Semitic writings that appeared from 1930 on in far-right newspapers. Eventually he became the editor-in-chief of several of these papers. In 1942 he came up with the idea of an institute devoted to the “Jewish question.” Anyone who’s interested in this institute should read an article by Patricia von Papen-Bodek devoted exclusively to institute’s history.
In 1946 Bosnyák, who was hiding with relatives of his wife in Romania, was condemned to death in absentia in Budapest. He spent his days in the attic and descended only at night. He wasn’t careful enough, however. Through intermediaries he began corresponding with fellow Arrow Cross sympathizer Lili Muráti, the actress, who immediately after the war was working for the Hungarian broadcast of the Spanish Radio. It looks as if the Hungarian-language Spanish Radio was quite a haven for former supporters of the Szálasi regime. József Nyirő was also employed by the same radio station.
In any case the Romanian authorities arrested him and eventually he was given over to the Hungarians. Before he was executed in October 1952, an execution that was not made public, he offered his services to Rákosi’s secret service. He even suggested the establishment of another institute, this time an anti-fascist one. The paradigm of a principled man! He was actually used by the security services to some extent. They asked him to write both his memoirs and pamphlets against fascism and in praise of socialism. He didn’t finish any of these projects except for a 30-page piece called “my confessions and mistakes” which is unfortunately lost. We have only a three-page summary written by his interrogator. Among the proposed topics was one that apparently greatly interested the security apparatus: “The real causes of antisemitism in Hungary.” Loránt Holtzer in Beszélő in 2003 speculated that this interest on the part of the security officials had something to do with Rákosi’s plan for an anti-Jewish purge imitating Stalin’s plans at the time.
And now let’s move to 1971 when Gizella Kutrucz, a devoted old-time communist journalist and high-level employee of the party apparatus, rented a small plot of land in Csillebérc in District XII of Budapest. The complicated story can be read in great detail in Filmvilág (1989). Why in a film magazine? Because Kutrucz’s ordeal and her dogged search for the true story of Zoltán Bosnyák was eventually related in Judit Ember’s 1985 documentary entitled “Allow Kutrucz to Speak.” Why the fascination with Bosnyák? Because it turned out that the plot of land Kutrucz rented and on which she built a house officially still belonged to Zoltán Bosnyák and his wife. The contract she signed stipulated that if the owners are found within 30 days she will have to demolish the house. She who knew that Bosnyák was a war criminal who had disappeared wasn’t worried: it was unlikely that they would find him, she figured. But ten years later she received an official letter stating that Mrs. Bosnyák, who was living in Brasov, Romania, was willing to sell the land.
It is really impossible to summarize Kutrucz’s ordeal following her receipt of this letter. She got contradictory pieces of information, outright lies, and eventually serious threats if she didn’t abandon her research into the Bosnyák case. Finally, the devoted daughter of the party was stripped of her decorations and was expelled from the party. Judit Ember’s film was banned and was not shown until 2002.
János Széky’s conclusion is that Gizella Kutrucz got too close to the well kept secret that the ÁVH of the Rákosi period used the far right for its own purposes. Also, it became clear as a result of Kutrucz’s probing that there was a continuity between ÁVH and the Ministry of Interior’s secret service of the Kádár period which was also using the members of the far right, then still in emigration.
Széky also claims that the relationship between the Czechoslovak and later Slovak and the Hungarian security forces was close, and he is certain that they exchanged information on László Csatáry at the time of his application for the renewal of his citizenship. That supposition is somewhat supported by the information Csatáry gave to Magyar Hírlap that he had asked both the Slovak and the Hungarian authorities about his status. It is also likely that the Hungarian authorities were aware of Csatáry’s address already in 1997. After all, in Hungary everybody must report his permanent address to the authorities. It is also impossible to assume that the Hungarians didn’t know the details of Csatáry’s activities in Kassa/Košice. After all, the minutes of his superior’s trial in which Csatáry is mentioned are available in the archives in Hungary. The minutes of Csatáry’s trial in absentia are also available in the Slovak State Regional Archives situated in Košice. Moreover, as far as Zoltán Balassa, a historian from Košice, knows, the Slovak material was received by the Hungarian prosecutor’s office earlier.
Thus Széky’s conclusion is that the Hungarian authorities knew everything about Csatáry already in 1997 but they decided to do nothing. Now when the man is 97 years old it is far too late, and in Széky’s opinion any move against him only arouses the hatred of “the overgrown legalized post-Arrow Cross underworld.” Széky’s claim is that “the communist state security forces are still present today in Hungary” and until their past activities are completely revealed the dirty tricks will continue.