I hope everyone reads this despite the length. I was completely unaware of the hardships that Hungarians went through after WWII due to Russia's Communist rule. We hear about the Nazi's concentration camps, but we don't hear about the Russian concentration camps that occurred even more recently.
Here's some background, thanks to Rick Steves: 2000 years ago the Romans established a settlement in present Budapest and called it Aquincum, meaning "abundant waters".They built several baths, and currently there are 123 natural springs and 27 thermal baths in Budapest.In 896 the Magyars from Russia arrived and took over present day Hungary.In the 16th century the Ottoman Turks invaded and took over for 145 years.The Hapsburgs then repopulated the ruined city with Germans.In 1867 Hungary merged into the Austro-Hungarian Empire and 6 years later 3 cities united to form the capital city of Budapest.The country boomed and reached a peak at it's millennium anniversary in 1896.During this time much of the city was reconstructed to celebrate it's millennium and "96" became the magic number, found in many areas of construction, such as the 96 meter tall tower of St. Stephen's tower.After WWI & WWII's border changes, the city that once was the center of a huge empire is now too large for a relatively small country.
Here's some of the history we picked up from the House of Terror in Budapest:
After WWI, treaties reduced Hungary to 2/3 of its territory.From the mid-30's onward, Hungary found itself in the buffer zone b/w Nazi Germany and the Soviets.Hungary desperately attempted to stay neutral during the war and avoided German occupation until March 19, 1944.From this point, Hungary lost its sovereignty and occupying forces remained for over 40 years until June 19, 1991 when the last Soviets left.Up until Nazi occupation, Hungary prospered under an elected, legitimate parliament and government.On May 15, 1944 deportations began, and within 2 months over 400,000 Jews were transported to death camps.On August 27, 1944 Soviet troops entered Hungary and the country became a clash of two Super Powers.The short Nazi occupation was followed by an even worse Soviet rule.The German and Hungarian armies defended Budapest like a fortress, and after prolonged and intense fighting (Christmas 1944-February 13, 1945) the Soviets took over.Germans blew up all the bridges, public buildings were demolished, and 30,000 residential ones were destroyed.
The abduction of Hungary's populace took place in 2 waves. Soviet forces put the civilian population to forced labor. About 5,000 were taken from Budapest alone in the first wave. The 2nd wave came about as a resolution on December 16, 1944 by the Soviet Union's State Defense Committee, pronouncing the "mobilization" of able-bodied German nationals. Local Soviet authorities had to take a certain number of prisoners, thus in areas w/o German residents, they picked people w/ German-sounding names and eventually anyone. They sought out everyone whom they regarded as potentially dangerous for a communist takeover-the reason for political leaders, parliament members, priests, teachers, etc ended up in Soviet prisons and forced labor camps. Some 130-180,000 civilians were deported from the area of today's Hungary. The Soviet concentration camp system was organized in 1919, and these "enemies" were refered to as "Gulags." Many millions perished over the decades in these camps of 10-12 hours of strenuous work days, starvation & freezing weather (sound familiar to that of the Nazi's?...and these were our allies). A total of 300,000 Hungarians forced laborers died. Soviet military courts sentenced thousands to death or long term prison terms without investigation. The last Hungarian POW returned home from Russia in the year 2000!
So how were the Soviets able to do this to the Hungarians. Unlike the Nazi's they were not popularly elected into power, instead they bullied their way and used terror as a threat to the people. The Communist Party was operating illegally in Hungary since 1919, but it consisted only of a mere few hundred members. During WWII there were probably only a handful of activists. In the wake of the Red Army, the Communist Party of Hungary began to reorganize and increase membership. In the 1939 parliamentary elections the Arrow Cross became the 2nd strongest party with more than 300,000 members, however the Hungarian national socialists were supported by more than 1 million, receiving every third vote in the working class districts of Budapest. The first Soviet advisors appeared in Hungary in 1944, with the advancing Red Army. Their task was to establish a new Hungarian administration, which would willingly cooperate with the Soviet occupying authorities. The last Soviet advisors left Hungary in 1989. By the spring of 1945, the Red Army had driven out the Nazis from Hungary and 10% of the population had died, the country in ruins. The Smallholders Party sought to protect the nation's independence and establish democracy once again. They were opposed by the "Left Bloc" led by the Hungarian Communist Party. In the 1945 parliamentary elections, 57% of the voters supported the Smallholders Party and only 17% voted for the Communists. However the Soviet-led Allied Control Commission did not allow the formation of a government w/o communist participation. They ordered the political police be placed under communist authority, and through political assassinations they terrorized the public, and once again the people began to live in fear. In 1947 the Communist Party began to introduce an open and total dictatorship in Hungary. Torture and intimidation became every day life. The communists organized a coup against the Prime Minister and forced him to resign. The communist Minister ran a fake election filled w/ fraud and received 22% of the votes. This was the notorious "blue ballot" election in which hundreds of thousands were deprived voting rights and 200,000 fake blue ballots were cast, an additional 700,000 votes were declared void so the Left Bloc could form a government. Hungarian Parliamentary was suspended for the next 40 years.
On January 17, 1945 the Communists set up the Soviet-style Political Security Department in Pest. Their responsibility was to track down war criminals and bring them to trial. Later it paved the way for the Hungarian Communist Party takeover. In 1946 the PRO became the AVO headquartered at 60 Andrassy Blvd. They soon outgrew the building and its cellar. They came to occupy the entire block, underneath they constructed an interconnected subterranean labyrinth where prisoners were dragged off to be interrogated and tortured. The AVO monitored mail and phone conversations and its moles and agents formed an invisible network in the whole country, infiltrating even private homes. Millions were declared political enemies. From 1950 onwards purges were carried out within the Politcal Police as well. Deputy head of the AVH had his younger brother tortured in the cellar prison of 60 Andrassy Blvd, and eventually the brothers were both beaten to death.
The Iron Curtain descended and no one could get away from the socialist countries. The communists abolished private ownership and took over trade unions. They introduced a centralized, planned economy, soon ending in bankruptcy across the country. After WWII the Hungarian peasantry looked forward to a brighter future. Hundreds of thousands came into possession of land. However, wartime restrictions did not cease and the communists tripled farmers' compulsory quota. The official collectors used to arrive with AVH men, scaring whole villages at a time. They were harassed with special taxes, physical and psychological bullying. In the 1950's 300,000 peasants left their land. 10% of the country's arable land remained fallow. Shortages became permanent and people queued for hours for items only available w/ food coupons. The AVH deprived the right to schooling, further education, homes, travel, and the Hungarian society vegetated. A once prospering Hungarian empire at its peak 50 years ago, was now losing it's identity. Party soldiers were put into leading economic positions who were incompetent in economic matters. On the job and after hours one had to continually affirm belief in the regime. Communal readings of the Party's official organ was mandatory and on weekends people had to participate in "voluntary" solidarity shifts becoming "Communist Saturday." Instead of the Hungarian national anthem, the Soviet anthem had to be sung at official functions. Those who did not show sufficient enthusiasm were promptly denounced. People learned to whisper, terror cast its shadow over Hungarian life.
A country wide resistance movement extended over ever level of society. Between 1945 and '56 50,000 people were brought before the courts and accused of sedition. Nearly 400 were executed. Stalin died on March 5, 1953. A power struggle ensued. A mass rising took place in Berlin against the communist regime and within 2 days Soviet troops crushed the uprising. In the Spring of 1955 the victorious powers of WWII signed the Austrian State Treaty, granting Austria independence and all occupying forces were withdrawn into Hungary. On October 23, 1956 a demonstration broke out in Budapest and several other cities, organized by students. The secret police opened lethal fire on the unarmed demonstrators turning a protest into a revolution. Freedom fighter became more organized and battled soldiers. On October 28 the Soviets gave ground and the Prime Minister swept into power by the Revolution ordering an immediate truce. The following day Soviet troops began withdrawing from Budapest. He also pledged free elections. On October 30, the USSR government announced it wanted to amend relations and only 24 hours later gave out orders to crush the freedom fight. More troops came into Hungary. The Hungarian government asked the UN for assistance but they were unable to stop the Soviets On November 4, Soviet tanks bore down revolutionaries, wounding 20,000, killing 2,500. In June of 1958, the Prime Minister and 3 other major figures were sentenced to death in camera and executed.