___The Life of the Leaders of the Workers' Councils___Vissza
Adrienne Molnár:

The Life of the Leaders of the Workers' Councils After the Suppression of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary

On the basis of life interviews made by ten leaders of workers' councils set up in the course of the 1956 Revolution I would like to show what was the life of these leaders of the revolutionary organisations in the greatest industrial county of Hungary (600 000 inhabitants) after the suppression of the Revolution: what sort of reprisal hit them for their revolutionary activity and how they re-adapted themselves to the Hungarian society after several years of imprisonment. The interviewees also recollect how and by whom the reprisal was carried out, how their life was hindered after the release. For this study I used above all the life interviews of the Oral History Archive of the 1956 Institute2, recollections of the participants, as well as other sources of personal history. The interviewees were all skilled workers or technical intellectuals in their thirties in the time of the Revolution. They were elected mass leaders in the days of the national uprising owing to their personal reliability, professional past, on the basis of trustworthiness. In the course of the reprisal they were dismissed, put into prison or interned, and after the release they had to live as stigmatised, inferior citizens for three decades.

Borsod county and its chief town, Miskolc, being the largest industrial county and town of Hungary, was in a specific position at the outbreak of the Revolution. The workers' attitude affected markedly the events of late October 1956, as well as what happened after November 4, and impelled the reprisals in a peculiar way. The workers' demands were formulated firstly in the country by the employees of DIMÁVAG (Metallurgical Plants). The initiators – skilled workers and engineers – were without exception members of the Communist Party. Their claims concerned above all the production, the working conditions, the wage system and they aimed at the improvement of social conditions. The workers' demonstration was started with the approval of the local, town and county party leadership. The other points of their list of demands, such as the independence of Hungary, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the territory of the country, which were originally put by the students of the Technological University of Miskolc, were assumed by the workers only later on. Rudolf Földvári, first secretary of the Communist Party in Borsod county, who in the beginning of the fifties had been selected as a worker cadre to the first line of the party leadership, but because of a personal conflict with Mátyás Rákosi, leader of the Communist Party, he had been appointed to the head of Borsod as a punishment in 1954, in 1956 had a significant role in the events. He supported careful reforms, and he sought to improve the social conditions of his county, especially those of the workers, and attempted to put into practise a more civilised form of party management. He had of course through his position personal contact with a few members of the central party leadership. At the outbreak of the Revolution, on October 23, he aimed first of all at the keeping of the order, at avoiding bloody events and he agreed to the workers' demands. While severals of the party leadership in the county supported the workers' council which took over the management of Borsod, some others escaped from Miskolc. Földvári, as a member also of the new, revolutionary leadership, tried to appease extreme demands and he endeavoured the strengthening of the workers' power. His discussions with the workers' leaders and the Soviet military headquarters promised a peaceful solution.

On November 4, 1956 however the Soviet troops crushed the Revolution, and János Kádár was appointed by Moscow to be the head of the new government. The participants of the Revolution faced the choice whether they would continue to commit themselves to what they had done in the previous days -- and what they have considered the most exciting period of their life, when they were elected leaders by the community, they rebelled against dictatorship and the foreign oppression, when they could make an independent, free and responsible decision on their own life -- or deny all of it. The possible answers were the following: to leave Hungary fearing the reprisal, to deny the Revolution and what they had done personally and to adhere to the new power, to retire in order to avoid the punishment, to fight consciously with arms or to join the political underground and to negotiate with the new government.

The leaders of the workers' council in Borsod chose the later hoping to avoid further bloodshed and to save the most possible achievements of the Revolution. On November 5they decided to go to see the Kádár government on Rudolf Földvári's proposal.

"I began to think aloud whether we should visit the Kádár government, and put personally to Kádár the burning questions. Kádár labelled as counter-revolution the October events, but it was not what the students and the workers had in mind. No doubt there were some cases of lynch and terror, but their number proportionally was insignificant considering the whole revolutionary process. These affairs were illegal, blameworthy, to be condemned in a legal way, but they were not at all typical. In our county the masses fought for their primary interests on October 23. This was the reason I wanted to make it clear with Kádár.3"

The majority of the county and town leadership of the Communist Party, in contrast to Földvári, supported the new government without conditions and they forced also the workers' council in this way. They tried to convince the delegation, which was to go to Budapest, to acknowledge the Kádár government. Since they failed, they arrested the members of the delegation and brought them to the Soviet Union.4 The imprisonment and the examinations which lasted two or three weeks made them clear that the Hungarian fight for independence was defeated, it was totally hopeless to oppose the superior force of the Soviet Union.



The workers' opposition


The workers in Borsod began to strike protesting against the take-over by Kádár and the deportation of their leaders. The Soviet military commanders together with the local party leaders tried to persuade them with menaces and promises to start working, without success. Although thirty five years passed, the aim and the result of the strike is very similar in the memory of those who remained at home and of those who were arrested:


We knew that they had been arrested and brought to the Soviet Union. The workers told us that they would not start to work until they returned home. There were debates on different levels, excessive demands on the meetings, in order to make them free. – told us Gyula Turbók.5

Returned home we found that the workers had not started to work because we were arrested. Our colleagues, who had been to war prison, went several times to the barracks on our behalf. The Russian officer bawled at them, but they answered shouting in Russian, the Russian was staggered. They declared they would not work until we were not at home. – recalled Károly Bogár.6

The powerholders temporarily had no choice but to yield, and the deported were released between November 17 and December 1.



The illusion of cooperation


The new party leadership in Borsod invited those who had been returned from the Soviet imprisonment to participate in restoring order and in restarting the production, because without their help the party was unable to dissuade the workers from striking, and the workers who represented a significant force in those early days followed only their own elected leaders. These leaders however understood that a long lasting strike sooner or later would exhaust the resistance, and it would increase the losses of production, and so also the chances of conserving the results concerning life and working conditions obtained in course of the Revolution would be narrowed. They accepted to comply with the consolidation of the regime in order to represent the interests of the workers. They soon realised however that the new Communist leadership intended to use their services exclusively to crush to workers' resistance and to restore order. They found that the possibility of cooperation was but an illusion. Their future depended on their attitude to the new county leadership. Those who denied their revolutionary past, and declared loyalty to the new government, could remain in their earlier post and in an active or passive way passed to the side of the revengers. Those who did not do that, either retired or were removed. In 1990 Rudolf Földvári remembered this period as follows:


That everything was lost, I recognised only at the end of December, 1956, at the beginning of January, 1957. On November 4 and in the following weeks I still saw some political chance to preserve something from the results, but at the beginning of 1957 it became clear that the new leadership refused everything on principle which is in connection with 1956. It was then that I withdrew, and I said that in such an atmosphere, in such political conditions I was not willing to do anything in the name of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (the re-founded Communist Party), because I did not see any possibility to introduce radical changes compared to the pre-revolutionary period.7

Földvári, because he did not accept the unconditioned cooperation with the Kádár government, was excluded from the party and dismissed from his offices, as president of the county council and MP. He moved to the capital and he found a job in his original profession as mechanic. In May 1957 he was arrested.

The new local rulers – contemporary to the strengthening of their positions – ousted the other leaders, too, from the leadership. In December, after the recruit of the new loyal armed forces of the party, besides political means also open threatening was engaged against them. One of the main organisers of the party armed forces was a party leader who in October 1956 backed the revolutionary demands, but after the Soviet invasion was one of the firsts who changed sides. There were also among the workers' leaders some who complied to the consolidation of the new county leadership for a relatively long time. One of them, Béla Major, a technician of the Metallurgical Plants visited the factories together with the deputy minister to agitate for work hoping that the reprisals could be evaded. He recalled the reaction of the workers:


Every day was scheduled, we went to different places every second day. We went to the meeting, we said what we wanted. We were told idiot, sneak, somewhere they tried to dissuade us with fine words, in other places they swore.8

He was narrowly recompensed for the cooperation. He was dismissed before long, he was pestered continually by the police, he could find a new job only in 1961.

The workers' councils at the factories could function as far as the late spring of 1957, earlier the directors were not strong enough to make decisions in important questions without asking their opinion. The technician Miklós Papp remembered these circumstances as it follows:


The workers were so strong for a long time that if anyone entered the factory, he had to face possible conflicts. Inside the factory gate, like in a fortress, people felt secure, and they considered the factory a place where they united could hold firm.9

The position of the workers' was however weakened shortly by means of menaces and especially after the first detentions. This was the period of the "ignominious atrophy" as a former workers' leader put it in 1991. While a number of the leaders fled abroad to avoid the reprisal, our interviewees remained. They were convinced that they had not committed anything which were to be punished heavily. They felt responsible for those who trusted them, the solidarity with the fellow workers made them endure. Given up their leading post, they returned to their original working place and they hoped that they would be able to work as earlier. They organised collections for those families who remained without the head of the family and many of them tried to find connections with influential acquaintances or friends in order to liberate the arrested and reduce the probable penalties.



The reprisals


In Miskolc the open reprisal started on February 20, 1957 with a brutal raid and a mass arrest. Then it was the turn of the great factories. Until the beginning of 1959 274 of the 2000 members of revolutionary organisations were condemned, 91 were interned, 85 left Hungary, 43 was put under police supervision, 68 were enlisted and hundreds of them were sacked. In the course of the proceedings against the workers' councils of the two largest heavy industries in Miskolc the prosecution claimed that hostile elements had deceived the workers. To prove this several ex-Horthy officers10 and others of class-alien origins11 were involved in the cases independently of what they had done during the Revolution.

The turner Károly Bogár, who had been among those who drew up the workers' claims in October 1956, and was elected president of the great workers' council, released from the Soviet detention, participated in restarting the production. He could avoid the arrest, if he had supported the dismissals and if he had not defend his arrested fellows. He was a skilled worker of good qualifications, born in Miskolc, a former member of the Communist Party, who was highly respected among the workers and so the directors of the factory wanted to make use of him in order to strengthen their own positions. Bogár however was aware of this and when his fellow leaders were arrested, made an offer to the party secretary, he was willing to join the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. He suggested that the majority of the workers' council would follow his example if the arrested would be released, and nobody in the factory would suffer any reprisal. Despite the party secretary accepted his offer, other arrests occurred. Bogár gradually became isolated and he felt that he was not trusted any more since he failed in liberating his fellows. His sense of justice and self-esteem protested against being a traitor. On October 1, 1957 he wrote a letter to the local party committee in which he explained his withdrawal from the party as it follows:


I don't agree with the detention of Gyula Turbók, Pál Csetényi and Elek Székely, leaders of the former workers' council. To the best of my knowledge they did not do any guilty activity. They performed their tasks together with me, even on my command. Several members of the party committee know this and they still did not do anything to urge their release. I am rightly blamed that I hid behind the party membership card in order to avoid the arrest. I cannot reconcile this with my views. Until the affair is cleared up, I am unable to work normally, and I am convinced that as far as I concerned this is the only solution. Please, considering the above-mentioned accept my withdrawal.12

Bogár got a last chance from the Communist Party if he wanted to remain at large. He was proposed to confess against his councilmates. Gyula Turbók, the principal defendant recalled the evidence given by Bogár:


The prosecution thought to use Bogár as the principal witness against me. They tried to prove the outrage the indictment claimed about me with his assistance, but he refused. He opposed hard and strong-minded, and after his evidence he was immediately arrested. If he had said what he was expected to confess, he might have avoid the arrest and he would not be convicted.13

Károly Bogár rejected the cynical rules, unacceptable for his values. When he sought to defend his fellows and his truth, he became suspected in the course of the case where the judge and the prosecutor knew what they had done in reality in the Revolution. His arrest did not fell behind.

While the leaders of the factory workers' councils were sentenced to 1-4 year imprisonment, the heads of the county workers' council were sentenced much heavily. The principal defendant received life imprisonment and the other three workers' leaders were sentenced to 10-15 years without the possibility of appeal. They were forbidden to take part in public affairs for 10 years and were punished also by the confiscation of their whole property. The main charges against them were the direction of a plot against the people's republic and the active participation in it. The accusation was mainly built on the evidence of the county party leaders and of the directors and party secretaries of the plants who in the autumn of 1956 had supported the revolutionary claims, or who in the time of the Revolution had felt threatened and had left Miskolc and who had returned only later representing the Kádár government. The witnesses of the prosecution probably tried to offset their own activity in the Revolution by shifting the responsibility to the defendants. Their evidence might have been motivated by revenge and fear, as well. Some of our interviewees are convinced that they could have avoid the punishment if they had joined the party and they had made self-criticism and had served the new power. They however did not become traitors and therefore they were imprisoned.

The reprisal inflicted the family, too, in a direct or indirect way. The wives, who were with small children at home, remained without any income. The expenses for the lawyer and the confiscation of the husbands' property were further burdens. The new local leaders in some cases endeavoured the wives to deny the husbands and to divorce. The wives of our interviewees opposed to this offer, but there were fiancées who broke. Who stood by the imprisoned spouse, could not find a job at all, or if she could, it was a badly paid, hard work. In the years of the imprisonment every family were badly off. The children could not attend the day nursery or the maternity school, and later in school they had to face humiliations and discrimination. Their way in the further education as well as their job career were hindered.14 The moral strength of the wives was hardened by knowing that while the husbands were in prison they could keep up with the family at home. This was what helped them to hold the faith in themselves and in the children.



After the release


In 1963 the Kádár government, having consolidated his power, announced a general amnesty, partly under the influence of foreign countries. Most of the released received the warning that if they committed anything in the future, they would return to prison. János Rimán recalled the "provisions" as follows:


The political officer gave us a lecture saying that we should understand once and for all that if we were unable to adapt ourselves to the social order, we would return to pass the remaining part of our punishment in prison. We promised of course that we would try to as it was possible because we had family, and we were happy to return home.15

After the release they had to report at the police where they were told the same. They would have liked to return to their earlier job, because it was the place they had started to work, and where they were well-known technicians. They could not return however to their original working place, not only because it was a possible way of discrimination, but also because their simple presence might have recalled in the mind of the workers and of the directors the former revolutionary claims and the lies of the new rulers. László Fekete, metallurgical engineer, university professor, remembered his return to the university:


The Rector received me very kindly, but he told me that they request me to leave the university though they were convinced that my activity had been very useful for the college, and they appreciated it, but it was the turn of the consolidation of the university, when students had to forget the whole Revolution, and my presence might have disturb this process. Whenever the students saw me, they would have remembered that I was beaten, so it was better they would not seen me at all. Until this generation lost touch with the university, it was better I would go to a parking place.16

So Fekete moved to the capital.

According to the technician Miklós Papp the powerholders hindered their adaptation for years.


I knew well that with such a past there was no other possibility than finding an inferior job. It would not have been a great problem if we could do it easily, but unfortunately the rulers reached us everywhere and they impeded it by all means, they tried to make our being impossible.17

The released could find a job, usually a poorly paid, low ranked one, only after long-lasting jobhunting. In case they excelled for performance and knowledge among the others, they could receive a new appointment suitable to their qualification only after proving several times their ability, but also in these cases their salary remained low, and it was impossible for them to reach directing posts or that of the highly qualified skilled workers. In the beginning also engineers had to restart in manual jobs. They were trained theoretically in vain, because lacking the professional experience they could perform modestly at the work bench and they got low wages. Gyula Turbók, the former engineer of DIMÁVAG recalled how he began to work in 1959:


I started to visit the factories. I was sent away everywhere, or better I was told to return a month later, or they would call me. Then I went to an employment office, and I was sent to a workshop to work as a turner. It was a depot, it was designated to criminals like me. I received a bench where I had to stand on foot all day, and my bad legs did not do it. I know projecting turns, it was very different working on it, it was difficult to fulfil the norm. Finally after two weeks I left by mutual consent.18

Thereafter Turbók received a job as a technologist in a small factory in Miskolc with the help of an influential fellow. Here his colleagues respected him and also his superiors accepted him, but his salary was extremely low. Some years later he left Miskolc, and he could find a job as engineer in a chemical factory. Sometimes he was attacked for his past, but he was successful in his profession.

József Kiss, who arrested could not pass the final exam before getting the diploma in mechanical engineering, in 1961 was not allowed to return to his original job. He looked for an other job for a long time, and in the end he became an assistant mechanic. Three years later he had a serious accident. He had the possibility to be pensioned off, but he wanted to work. In 1964 he got a job as engineer in a hospital in Miskolc, when nobody else applied for the job.



The appreciation in the working place of those who had a criminal record depended on the direct superiors or on the managers of the factory. If the directors felt solidarity, or if they wanted that their department had good results, they helped the professional adaptation, but in most of the cases without the possibility of advancement. The possible courage of the superiors was not enough to avoid or to get the permission from the leadership of the party which was necessary for the promotion. One of the rare examples was Sándor Darin, who released moved to his parents to an other large town. The director of a great factory in Debrecen, a former party functionary who had been active in the working class movement, assumed the responsibility for giving job to an excellent specialist as construction engineer, though he knew Darin's past. Thank to his inventions Darin became recognised in the factory, his professional life was not hindered, but he could not get a promotion. After the death of the director however also the protective atmosphere finished.

Those who were released before the general amnesty were exposed to frequent pestering in the harsh years of the reprisals. Put under police supervision they had to present themselves at the police every week, later only once in a month, and from time to time they were checked at home. One of them, for example, was regularly awaken in the middle of the night by the police under the pretext of control. In one of these occasions he had a heart attack and died.

The skilled workers who had families and was born in deep-rooted families in Miskolc could not do but remain in the town. They were bound to it by their professional past as well as by tight personal and family contacts, they did not want to live elsewhere. They were so badly situated that they could not afford to move to an other place together with the family and they did not want to start commuting because they had already lived far from the family for a long time. The intellectuals or the newcomers in Miskolc, not having close ties with the town, could more easily leave Borsod county because they had more professional possibilities and more contacts. Though the several restrictions concerning all the released affected them, moved to an other place they got rid of the possibility of personal revenge.

The powerholders feared the former political convicts, they considered them a possible source of danger, even if they let some of them to make a professional career. The released were strictly controlled and they were regularly made conscious of their limits by the authorities. In every working place there was a new network of informers who reported eagerly. The majority of the 1956 convicts were kept under surveillance until the end of the eighties. Those who were shadowed knew it, they noticed it, or a colleague, a neighbour told them that the police made inquiries regularly or occasionally about them. The authorities tried to enlist most of them as early as in the prison, or immediately after the release, and so they feared provocation and they avoided the gatherings. János Rimán recalled this atmosphere and his attitude:


The team often invited me to go and have a glass of beer together, but I never went with them. I was always convinced that I could not go to parties because I was shadowed. I did not do anything for which I could be picked on. There was silence in the workshop around me, nobody dared to ask because there were moles around.19

They were so narrowly spinned around by a net of fears and distrusts that most of them avoided to meet each other in the interests of themselves and of the fellow convicts until the change of the regime in 1989.


We were certainly in a very difficult situation, we could not thing about joining each other at all, because as they tried to enlist me, obviously they tried to enlist also the others. We did not trust each other.20

There were several occasions in life when they had to face stigmatisation and humiliation. They were deprived of a part of their civic rights for many years. They could not vote, they could not apply for a passport, and they could get a normal flat only with great difficulties, in other cases they could not get it at all.

Besides stigmatisation and discrimination in the working place there was an other heavy burden on the former 1956 convicts. They would have liked to compensate for the sad years in some way their family which stood by them. Their passivity and apolitical attitude were motivated by the fact that they did not want to be the cause of similar circumstances their spouse and children had lived under when he was arrested. Besides, the responsibility they felt for the family, their duty of earning for the family, made them better the family's circumstances by undertaking second jobs as well. The tight physical and psychical burdens caused serious diseases for severals.



Social solidarity


In the years of stigmatisation and disregards only their moral strength, the persistence of the family and the solidarity of the acquaintances helped them not to lose all hope. The solidarity in the working place lasted for a few month after November 4, 1956, but because of the intimidation it by and by vanished. Károly Bogár, who was the organiser of the aid campaign, spoke about the slow fading away of solidarity:


In April 1957 I began to collect money for the families of the arrested on wage day. In the first occasion the workers poured the money in the box, and not coins. On the next wage day they gave with fears, at the third time they hardly gave anything. There were some who did not dare to give openly but still wanted to contribute in secret. When we failed to collect money, we helped the families to run the household, for example we carried the coal to the cellar.21

Besides the friends and colleagues also some influential acquaintances and some superiors backed the arrested occasionally for solidarity. The rector of the university and some professors, for example, gave so positive evidence in the trial of two employees of the university which might have contributed to moderate the sentences. Gyula Turbók was already confined under demand when his son was born. His wife could send him a photo on the child through a worker of the prison, which helped him to gather strength.

After the release several of the 1956 convicts experienced manifestations of solidarity which made them think that people did not forget what had happened and that they were respected.

In the following thirty years however the open sympathy gradually diminished, the 56-ers began to feel that the Hungarians made a tacit compromise with the powerholders in change of the slow increase of the living standards, they thought that people forgot the Revolution, the first, cruel years of the reprisals and that they did not notice that the 1956 convicts were ignored in society.

The imprisonment and the discrimination after the release broke promising professional and public careers. The rulers prevented the convicts also after the release from adapting themselves to the society. The majority of them received but a limited number of concessions also in the mild years of the dictatorship. Those who had great moral strength, and a firm background of friends, colleagues and family who stood by the convicts and helped them to bear up well against blows, continued to remember the memory of the Revolution and they did not deny their activity in it even among the circumstances when discrimination and the suppression of the past were general. The reburial of Prime Minister Imre Nagy together with the other 1956 martyrs in 1989 signed the end of the Kádár era and the open absolution for all of them. The new Parliament elected in a democratic way in 1990 codified the memory of the 1956 Revolution. The 1956 convicts received some financial compensation through the Reparation Act, also their pension was raised, and they received several decorations. Still these efforts cannot cancel what they lost in their most active years. And this social amnesia which developed in the Kádár era caused indelible losses which are still felt by the whole Hungarian society.

[1] This paper was made in the scope of the research project Life Paradigms in Hungary 1945-1989 undertaken by the Oral History Archive of the 1956 Institute (Budapest).

[2] These interviews are the following: Károly Bogár (1990), Sándor Darin (1995), Rudolf Földvári (1990), Károly Gellért (1991), József Kiss (1990-91), Béla Major (1990), Miklós Papp (1991), János Rimán (1991), Elek Székely (1992), Gyula Turbók (1991) made by the Author and an interview with László Fekete made by Rudolf Ungváry in 1991.

[3] Interview with Rudolf Földvári.

[4] In November 1956 860 Hungarians were brought forcibly to the Soviet Union, 13 from Borsod County.

[5] Interview with Gyula Turbók.

[6] Interview with Károly Bogár.

[7] Interview with Rudolf Földvári.

[8] Interview with Béla Major.

[9] Interview with Miklós Papp.

[10] Officers who served in the Hungarian armed forces under the rightist rule (1919-1944) of the Governor Miklós Horthy.

[11] Coming from a social layer not favoured by the regime.

[12] Interview with Károly Bogár.

[13] Interview with Gyula Turbók.

[14] See further information on the reprisals against family members Zsuzsanna Korösi and Adrienne Molnár. "Titokkal a lelkemben éltem." Az ötvenhatos elitéltek gyermekeinek sorsa. ("I lived with a secret in my heart." The life of the children of the 1956-ers.) Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 2000.

[15] Interview with János Rimán.

[16] Interview with László Fekete.

[17] Interview with Miklós Papp.

[18] Interview with Gyula Turbók.

[19] Interview with János Rimán.

[20] Interview with Miklós Papp.

[21] Interview with Károly Bogár.

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Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Utolsó módosítás:  2006. szeptember 18. hétfő

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