LENIN’S well-known axiom to the effect that in revolutions for every honest-minded man (unfortunately) are to be found hundreds of criminals, can scarcely be applied to Hungarian Bolshevism, for among the notorious exponents of the same even the lamp of Diogenes would hardly have enabled us to detect one honest-minded man. Criminalists of long standing who lived through the horrors of the Red Regime in Hungary, which lasted from March 21 to the end of July, 1919, could testify, even without the decisions of the court of laws, that the leading spirits of the ‘Soviet Republic’ (with the exception of a few fanatics) consisted of common criminals, to the greater part of whom might be applied with perfect aptness the definition of Anatole France, ‘encore bête et déjà un homme.‘
Every revolution has its idealistic champions, its enthusiasts who inflame the masses with a fiery passion and are themselves ready to endure all the suffering of Calvary in the service of the creed which they profess. Fanatic apostles of high aims may be sympathetic even in their fatal errors; and there is always something sublimely tragical in their fall. Who would doubt the unselfish enthusiasm of Camille Desmoulins, of Jourde, or of Louise Michel for their ideals, for which they were content to suffer and die?
* The Publishers of this volume are greatly indebted to Dr. Oscar Szollosy and to the Editor of The Anglo-Hungarian Review for permission to include this account of some of the chief actors in The Terror.
[p. 217] In our moral judgment we distinguish between political and other criminals; a similar sharp distinction is made by the general conceptions of criminal law, for political agitators are liable to confinement as first-class misdemeanants, while thieves are imprisoned in common jails and murderers are condemned to the gallows.
Revolution, as a movement of the masses aiming at the violent overthrow of the existing system of law, from the standpoint of criminal law is a single cumulative criminal act; committed against the community as a whole,–a movement called into being by the co-operation of individuals grouped into a mass in which individual actions are merely insignificant episodes. The masses, however, cannot be called to account under the criminal law; the judgment on them is pronounced by the nation and by history. The work of the judge is to investigate the individual guilt of the persons taking part; in this manner he finds himself dealing with numberless varieties of revolutionary acts–from agitation, riot, through destruction of movable property and numerous other offences, to murder, the series comprising practically all the acts known to the criminal code. But of all these offences the only ones which may be classified as political crimes are those unlawful attacks against the aims of the State and the realization of the same which are of a political character by virtue alike of their objects and their nature (e.g., incitement against the constitution or against the binding force of the law); in cases where only the tendency or motive is of such character, while the means employed are base, as is true of most revolutionary offences,–for without violence and dangerous threats there can be no revolution,–we are confronted, not with political, but with common crimes. The incendiaries of Paris who set fire to the Tuilleries were common criminals, though they acted from a political motive.
And those who, clothing themselves in the red cloak of revolution, with Phrygian caps on their heads, ‘work for their own enrichment,’ are not revolutionists at all–merely criminals.
Bolshevism, the wildest form of Marxian Communism, which annihilates capital under the pretext of making property public, destroys or distributes among its own votaries the private possessions of others, abolishes the right of choice of labour, subverts the thousand-years old system of production and, in order to effect all these things, ruins all the institutions of an historic State, concentrates the [p. 218] proletarians in the ‘council’ system with the object of exercising dictatorial power over the bourgeois classes, persecutes religion and national sentiment, places physical labour above intellectual work, transforms the common seaman into an admiral, employing the real admiral as a scavenger,–this suppression of the common liberties, more tyrannical in character than the despotism of any Caesar, could not have maintained itself for even the briefest space of time without resorting to the means of extreme terrorism. Therefore, having disarmed the bourgeois classes, and rendering them defenceless, it placed King Mob on the throne and used the same to keep the other members of the community in constant fear and trembling.
In our country the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was nothing more or less than an organized rule of the mob, under the demoniacal direction of Belial, the spirit of destruction of Jewish mythology.
But what were the elements composing this mob?
So long as the State power is the expression of the common will of the people and has at its command disciplined physical force, the authority of the State and the moral constraint involved suffice to hold in check those criminal propensities and hidden instincts which are latent in the masses. Under such circumstances the expression ‘mob’ is restricted to vagabonds, professional criminals, the denizens of the common haunts of crime who are a public danger. But, the moment the rule of law is overthrown and the respect for authority vanishes, the lid of the box of Pandora flies open, and the criminal or unhealthy instincts hitherto kept in check rush unimpeded from their secret hiding-places, and the mob is recruited by men who have so far been peaceful and industrious day-labourers, factory hands, students, tradesmen or officials. And those degenerate individuals who are criminally inclined are only too eager to join any movement which enables them to give free vent to their inclinations. During the opening weeks of the Bolshevik regime Budapest became the gathering-place of international adventurers flocking thither from all quarters of the globe,–‘Spartacus’ Germans, Russian Jews, Austrian, Rumanian, Bulgarian, and Italian communists hastened thither in the hope of finding rich booty under the aegis of the Soviet Government. At a mass meeting held in the suburbs, speeches were delivered by demagogues in six different languages.
But more foreign still to this country than the rabble of strangers were the leading People’s Commissioners them- [p. 219] selves, though all were born on Hungarian soil. They hated, not merely the bourgeoisie, but the whole Hungarian people, with whom they never had anything in common. Their hatred was most violent against the agricultural peasant class, which forms the bulk of the nation, whereas the industrial labourers represent barely more than five per cent. of the whole population. While at Petrograd, in the service of Lenin, Béla Kún had had Hungarian prisoners of war, officers and privates alike, shot en masse with machine-guns, for refusing to join the Russian Red Army.
When the future People’s Commissioners, laden with Russian gold, emerged from obscurity, they pushed into the background the former leaders of the working classes. In their incendiary speeches and newspaper articles could be heard the hissing of the vipers of hatred. The terrible trials of the four and a half years’ war, its demoralising effect, the exorbitant demands advanced after the defeat by soldiers embittered by battle and grown accustomed to a distaste for a life of work, the unemployment caused by the shortage of raw materials, and the discontent of the industrial labourers that had long been lurking beneath the surface,–all these circumstances in a few months ripened the seeds sown by the wicked and unscrupulous agitation of the adventurers. Their adherents consisted, besides a few educated persons of disordered intellect* or greedy of profit, of a small fraction of socialist labourers (who terrorized the rest of their fellows) and the mob described above.
Were these men really capable of believing in the incredible,–of believing that the results of a social evolution of a thousand years could be changed in a single night by the help of bands of terrorists? Did they believe that they could violate human nature by means of their peremptory ‘orders’ (edicts), or that the world-revolution
* The People’s Commissioner for Public Education, George Lukács, was the son of a wealthy banker, and was persuaded to join the Communists by the crack-brained daughter of an extremely rich Budapest solicitor, who subsequently assisted Béla Kún and his associates to counterfeit bank-notes, till finally she was thrashed publicly (in the street) with a hunting crop by an embittered ‘bourgeois.’ A portrait of Lukács is reproduced at page 106 of this volume.
A certain Ministerial Councillor, Stephen Láday, once declared emphatically to the writer of this article that Communism might be very pretty in theory, but was, in his opinion, impossible in practice. Two months later Láday became a Bolshevik People’s Commissioner.
[p. 220] with which, as an inevitable certainty, they constantly sought to cajole their partisans would really hasten to their assistance? Did they honestly desire to ‘redeem’ the working classes,–which, in fact, they ruined,–with their devilish system? And is the bestiality of their instruments the only charge that can be laid at their doors? There were evidently some men among them who cherished such a belief and such a desire; but it would be extremely difficult to draw such a conclusion from the nature of their deeds. On the contrary, it is certain that almost all of them were actuated by the hope of personal aggrandizement, by a morbid and unbridled desire of omnipotence; they desired to seize for themselves everything that seemed of any value to them in the country and to destroy everything that stood in their way. An exceptionally favourable opportunity for the realization of their aims was afforded them by the desperate situation of the country and the lethargy of the exhausted bourgeois classes; and to this end they hastened to exploit the infatuation of the masses.
Pre-eminent among them, alike for ability and for skill in the application of Bolshevik ideology, was the People’s Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, the keen-witted, astute and extraordinarily active Béla Kún,* who remained to the end the soul and leading spirit of the Red régime. Already during his activity as a provincial journalist, this lizard-faced, well-fed agitator had shown the greatest contempt for the morals in general acceptance among the middle classes and had consequently been only too ready to sell his pen as a means to hush up delinquencies committed by the bourgeoisie. He had been compelled, in consequence of petty embezzlements committed at the expense of the proletariat, to resign his post in the office of the Kolozsvar Workmen’s Insurance Institute. Earlier in life he had been a votary of night orgies; and during the ‘lean’ days of the Soviet regime he did not abstain from sumptuous banqueting, while everywhere the masses intoned the refrain of the Internationale, ‘Rise, starving proletarians, rise!’ As People’s Commissioner, he took up his quarters in a fashionable hotel on the Danube Embankment, under the protection of a body-guard armed with hand grenades. His inflammatory speeches, in which he employed all the hackneyed casuistry of the demagogue, at first exercised a suggestive influence even on the more sober-minded section of the working classes. He preached
* For a portrait of Béla Kún, see vol. i., p. 160 of this work, where a further account of him is given.
the necessity of an inexorable application of the dictatorship; and he himself–ignoring his own revolutionary tribunals–gave orders for the perpetration of secret murders committed in the dark. It was in this way that he got terrorists to kill two Ukranian officers who had come here to repatriate Russian prisoners of war and whom he suspected of implication in a plot against his person. In a similarly secret manner he provided for the murder, among others, of Francis Mildner, captain in the Artillery, for having (as he, Béla Kún, declared) encouraged the pupils of the Ludovica Military Academy to ‘stick to their guns’ during the Counter-revolution in the month of June. Moreover, he gave Joseph Cserny, the formidable ‘commander’ of the ‘terror-troops,’ a general authorization for the perpetration, by means of his underlings, of similar murders.
The only one of his associates who surpassed him in bloodthirsty cruelty was Tiberius Számuelly,* a horrible figure who was the object of universal abhorrence, even among the working classes,–a man who experienced a perverse enjoyment in the destruction of human life. This degenerate successor of Marat and Hebert was a sharp-featured, narrow-chested Jewish youth of low stature; according to medical men who knew him, his blood was tainted, and he was consumptive. Prior to the war, he acted as reporter–without talent indeed, but never without a monocle–to a clerical news agency; during the war he was an officer in the reserve; and, at the age of twenty-eight, his hatred of mankind and his experiences in Russia qualified him for appointment as a People’s Commissioner. He was a type of humanity of the lowest kind, degenerate alike physically and mentally. In the Governing Council he came into conflict even with Béla Kún, because the latter declined to comply with his delightful suggestion that the mob should be allowed at least three days’ free pillage immediately after the proclamation of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was he who, at the meeting of the Budapest Workers’ Council, raised the cry of ‘Death to the Bourgeoisie!’ and the following day the seething crowd swarming along the boulevards echoed his cry—’Death to the Bourgeoisie!’ In April he was authorized to exercise in person, in the rear of the Red Army and in places where there was any counterrevolutionary movement, the rights of the revolutionary
* See pp. 96-98.
[p. 222] courts-martial. And, indeed, he accomplished his task thoroughly; those whom the members of the local Workers’ Councils branded as ‘white’ he had hanged, without even the formality of a trial, on the nearest pear or apple tree. As a rule, his manner of sentencing to death the victims brought before him, was by a motion of the hand or by secret ‘cue’; though sometimes he pronounced formal sentence in the words–‘Step under the tree!’ These words were enough for his hangmen. He condemned to death persons ‘taken up’ at random against whom there was not even the shadow of a suspicion,–mostly for the simple reason that they belonged to the detested peasant class. At Duna-pataj he ordered his underlings to bury a wounded peasant, whom he saw being treated by a surgeon, alive in a grave together with the dead. At Sopron-Kövesd he had an old railway booking-clerk of the name of Schmidt hanged, and compelled his son to watch the dying father’s convulsions for twenty-five minutes, and then hanged the son on the same tree by the side of the father. A short time previous to the overthrow of the Commune, he endeavoured to establish a military dictatorship; and his particular adherents had drafted a list of the State officials, police officers and aristocrats who had been selected as doomed to be slaughtered within three short hours.
A dwarf in comparison with this monster was the redhanded, black-souled Joseph Pogány,* one of Count Stephen Tisza’s murderers and the demon of demoralization of our former army. From being a socialist journalist, he became President of the Soldiers’ Council, later People’s Commissioner for Public Education, and finally Commander of an Army Corps. He was the son of a Jewish ‘corpse-washer’ of the name of Schwarz; and, though endowed with but mediocre ability, was incredibly ambitious. In his maniacal endeavour for self-assertion, the comic elements were overshadowed only by the depravity of the means he employed. Grotesquely adipose in figure, he loved to ape the poses and gestures of Napoleon, and revelled greedily in the delights of power. He travelled without exception in a Pullman car or in an automobile; and at one of the health resorts on the shores of Lake Balaton,–when the misery of the country was at its height,–he arranged horse-races in which his Red Hussars took part,–for his own distraction and in his own honour. At
* See vol. i., p. 70.
[p. 223] the first news of the approach of the Rumanian army, he warned the entire population of Budapest that they must consider themselves as the hostages of the Soviet Republic. (It was at the same juncture that ‘Comrade’ Surek, inspired with noble zeal, proposed at the Central Soviet meeting that all hostages should be butchered at once and mountains raised of bourgeois corpses!)
Hardly had the men of the Soviet seized the reins of government, when the homo delinquens commenced his revels; every base and filthy impulse was let loose, greed and bloodthirstiness held a bacchanalian feast. When the old order was restored it was found necessary, as a result of the denunciations received, to institute proceedings in no less than 15,000 criminal cases; and the number of persons kept in detention by the Public Prosecutor in the metropolis alone exceeded three thousand: on the occasion of their arrest, almost all of the latter were found to be in the possession of stolen money or other stolen valuables.
Typical criminals were placed in possession of all our public institutions,–with the exception of the jails and convict prisons, from which, indeed, individuals apparently harmless to the proletariat State were released en masse (those discharged from the convict prison at Sopron, for instance, included a gipsy condemned for robbery and murder) to make room for respectable men, hostages and political prisoners. The former convicts were wanted to recruit the ranks of the ‘political terror-troops’ and the Red Guard, as well as to furnish functionaries to do the more important work of the administration of justice.*
Hitherto it had been the sole ambition of journeymen in general to be able to set up for themselves as independent masters of their respective trades: now, they were informed by the Voros Ujsag (Red Journal) that masters were without exception dishonest extortioners, since they employed workmen for wages: so they came to despise, not only their masters, but their handicrafts, too, and ended by joining the Red Guards or some other band of pillagers.
During four months and a half all Budapest wore the appearance of one vast condemned cell. The night visits of savage Red Guards and drunken terrorists, domiciliary
* A story which is far from improbable, though it certainly sounds like a popular anecdote, runs to the effect that, at a trial of one of the proletarian tribunals, in answer to the ‘Public Prosecutor’s’ question: ‘Where did you take the stolen articles?’ one of the persons accused of theft said, ‘To the woman in Budafok to whom you and I took that bicycle last year!’
[p. 224] visits (the most convenient pretexts for the ‘official organs’ to plunder flats), the ‘commandeering’ of food and dwellings, compulsory recruiting, the taking of hostages, the arrest and torture of innocent persons, and the glaring posters with their gruesome threats,–kept the inhabitants, stripped of everything and nearly all suffering the pangs of hunger, in a state of nervous tension, while suicides of embittered fathers were every-day occurrences. Those who had hitherto been held in check by the authorities, had now become the authorities themselves; and, to the citizen accustomed to a disciplined mode of life, nothing can be more disheartening than the knowledge that the ‘authorities’ are the greatest enemies to the security of life and property.
When, under the pretext of ‘nationalization,’ the Soviet authorities proceeded vigorously to confiscate property, thirty-four banks were occupied by armed forces and placed under Communist management. The entire stock of money and securities was seized, as well as the jewellery, gold coins and foreign currency deposited in the safes. From the Austro-Hungarian Bank (Budapest branch) two hundred million crowns were taken and conveyed to Vienna for propaganda purposes; while foreign currency of the value of at least forty to fifty million crowns was distributed among the immediate adherents (male and female alike) of the new masters of the country. Of the foreign securities seized several millions’ worth were sold; while the Sacred Crown, the most jealously guarded of all the nation’s treasures, was offered for sale. (The crown adorning the dome of the royal palace was covered with a red cap.)
The salaries of the persons employed by the new bureaucracy, and the wages of the workmen were raised so enormously that there could be no doubt as to the probability of a speedy bankruptcy of the State. A prison warder was paid wages amounting to about 30,000 crowns a year. The Exchequer was soon empty; and there was a shortage of the means of payment. At this juncture Julius Lengyel, People’s Commissioner for Finance, declared to a meeting of the ‘trustees’ (Vertrauensmänner) of the officials of the bank of issue that ‘there are excellent foreign and native forgers able to make perfect counterfeits of the Austro-Hungarian banknotes.’ The services of these ‘excellent forgers’ were actually requisitioned; and they made an enormous number of forged Austro-Hungarian banknotes, of 200, 25 and 2 crowns respectively. Thus the workers’ delight at the rise of wages became converted [p. 225] into bitter disappointment, for they were paid in forged notes which possessed a very trifling purchasing value. The country folk refused to have anything to do with money forged under the aegis of ‘authorities’ whose term of power was so problematical, and in consequence ceased to supply the capital with food.
Meanwhile Terror was working at high pressure, not sparing even the better-disposed among the working classes. Its appointed instruments–the Detective Department of the Ministry of the Interior, with the blood-thirsty Otto Korvin-Klein at its head, the Revolutionary Tribunals, and the Political ‘Terror Troops’–never for a single moment lapsed from the level of their respective callings.
Otto Korvin (Klein), a hunch-backed, clean-shaven gnome of twenty-five years, was a well-paid official of a joint-stock company when he was called upon to join the ranks of the red, blood-stained knights of hate. It was he who issued orders for the seizure as hostages of the notabilities of our public life, politicians, judges, bishops, writers, manufacturers, generals; he who was known as ornamentum civitatis,–the former Prime Minister, Alexander Wekerle, a man of seventy years,–the former Ministers of War (Home Defence), Hazay and Szurmay, the Speaker (President of the House of Deputies), Charles Szasz, the most distinguished of Hungarian publicists, Eugéne Rakosi, Bishop Mikes, etc.,–all these men now became the inmates of a common jail. But in many cases, the instruments of Korvin’s vindictiveness–the terrorists and detectives–did not even trouble to convey the hostages to prison; dragging the victims out of bed and away from their homes in the dead of night, they simply murdered them and robbed their corpses. Alexander Hollan, Secretary of State, and his aged father were shot on the Chain Bridge, their bodies, bound together, being thrown into the Danube. Louis Navay, a former speaker of the Lower House, together with his younger brother and a local magistrate, while being conveyed from Mako to Budapest, were dragged from the train at Félegyhaza, placed on the brink of a grave dug in the neighbourhood of the railway-station, and then shot and stabbed with bayonets until they were dead; on the same occasion, the Soviet mercenaries, as they proceeded on their journey, shot three more hostages in the train and seven at the railway-station of Hodmezovasarhely.
Maybe these unfortunate men had a happier fate than was that of some of the political prisoners whom Korvin [p. 226] subjected to his diabolical inquisition in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament. What was enacted there, in defiance of all human feeling, surpasses the utmost limits of bestiality. Some had the soles of their feet beaten with rubber sticks or their bare backs belaboured with belts or straps; others had their ribs or arms broken, or tacks driven in under their nails; some were compelled to drink three litres of water at a draught, or had rulers stuck down their throats, to force them to make disclosures. By the side of a certain lieutenant-colonel Korvin placed a guard with a hand grenade, ordering the latter to kill the unfortunate officer, if he dared to open his mouth; another prisoner he threatened to shoot unless he spoke immediately. A lieutenant was found wearing on his breast an image of the Blessed Virgin: ‘hang the thing up as an ornament for his gallows,’ shrieked the inquisitor in a paroxysm of fury. A prisoner named Balogh, who refused to confess, was dragged by the terrorists–his hands tied behind his back–up to the scaffold erected in the cellar and left hanging there with the blood running from his mouth and nose. For intimidation, the inquisitors showed the accused persons a heap of noses, tongues, and ears that had been cut off corpses. One of Korvin’s hangmen, a Russian Jew, with a limp, and curly hair, named Gerson Itzkovitch, laughingly vaunted that he was in the habit of gouging out a bourgeois’ eye with a single turn of his Cossack knife, ‘like the stone from a peach.’ Those who were tortured to death in the course of the inquisition were generally thrown from the stairs of the Houses of Parliament into the Danube; the actor Andrew Szocs was thrown down from the third floor into the courtyard, where his body was left to decompose for several days.
In order to prevent the wailings and death-cries of the victims being heard by outsiders, a grinning chauffeur was told off to keep the motor of his automobile incessantly whirring in front of the ventilation holes of the cellars.
These frenzied blood-orgies betray all the symptoms characteristic of that perversion which manifests itself in a perverse and fiendish delight in the shedding of blood, in shrieks of pain, and in maddening tortures.
Korvin’s female typist, Manci Hollos, endeavoured to comfort an imprisoned lawyer in these terms: ‘You will make a handsome corpse; it will be a pleasure to gouge out your eyes and kick your broken ribs.’
Hysterical women, too, were given a plentiful scope of activity by Bolshevism, which induced women to wear [p. 227] short hair, in order to be more like men, whereas the men wore long, flowing hair, after the Russian fashion. Elizabeth Sipos, the notorious agitator with whom Korvin contracted a marriage during the Dictatorship, devoted her energy to spying out the counter-revolutionary plans of army officers. Margaret Romanyi agitated in favour of Bolshevism among the telephone operators; while Gizella Adler, in her capacity as political commissary, armed with a revolver, herself delivered to the custody of the Red Guards such persons as seemed to her to be suspicious. Mrs. John Peczkai,* a woman doctor, took pleasure in assisting at executions; her hobby was to be allowed to determine whether death had ensued, and she showed a particular eagerness in making inquiries as to when and where the next execution was to take place. Ethel Sari (a notorious pickpocket, who later on became Secretary to the People’s Commissioner, Vago) took part, with her husband, the gorilla-headed terrorist, Andrew Annocskay, in the butchery at Maká, in the meantime methodically pursuing her usual occupation of professional pickpocket.
Those whom Korvin’s accomplices or the Red Guards brought direct to the revolutionary tribunals, might have congratulated themselves on at least escaping the cellars of torture of the Houses of Parliament; but mutilation, starvation and intimidation were the order of the day in the prisons. In the prison attached to the Budapest Central Court of Justice alone 1,461 persons were held in custody, persons arrested as politicians, and not charged with any criminal act. The tribunals, composed of untrained individuals (industrial labourers and persons ‘with a past’), were not bound by any regular rules of procedure and passed sentence with a rapidity of courts-martial under military law. The Budapest Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced to ‘confinement in an asylum’ an accused person who evinced symptoms of dull-wittedness; and against this sentence there was no appeal.
The Governing Council appointed the lawyer Dr. Eugéne László political commissary for all the revolutionary tribunals. This man was the offspring of a marriage between cousins, and his mother died insane; his fellow-lawyers and journalists (for previously he had been law reporter to a daily with a wide circulation) spoke of him among themselves as ‘mad László’; yet he was one of the most fanatical of Communists and in his degeneracy
* A photograph of her is reproduced at p. 140 of this volume.
[p. 228] was quite the equal of the more calculating Korvin and the more ignorant Számuelly. These qualities were amply sufficient to fit him to act as super-reviser of all judgments passed by the revolutionary tribunals; and his legal training enabled him to do his work by simply ordering the members of the tribunals to pass the sentences dictated by him. In the case of Dr. John Stenczel and his associates, who were charged with being counter-revolutionists, acting in touching agreement with Otto Korvin, László conferred the dignity of judge on Joseph Cserny, directing him to sentence all the accused but one to death. As President of the Tribunal, after ten minutes’ hearing of the case, which was a mere parody of the administration of justice, Cserny pronounced sentence of death on eight men and then, by way of motive for the sentence, whistled between his fingers; of the men condemned in this manner, three were shot, while the others were graciously reprieved and sentenced to imprisonment for life. (One member of this tribunal was Francis Gombos, a worker in the cartridge factory, who was known to be ever ready to agree to a sentence of death; he ‘despised human life,’–though, it would appear only in the case of others, for, when at a later date the Court of Law sentenced him to death, he broke into sobs and implored mercy.)
This same Eugéne László, who, during the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, had no fewer than four flats in Budapest, was far less severe in respect of the standard of morality applied to his own actions, for–as appears from the evidence of his own officials–he stole from the Budapest mansion of Baron Ulmann clothes, silver cigarette-cases and other portable articles, which he then sold at a high price, Joseph Cserny having bought from him, among other things, caps for 100 crowns. These individuals also made a practice of arresting as hostages rich merchants, whom they then released from prison–as a proof of their magnanimity–in return for money and rice!
A quite different type–one might almost say a true type of Apache–was ‘Comrade’ Joseph Cserny,* the broad-shouldered and big-limbed sailor whom Béla Kún himself entrusted with the organisation of the ‘terror troops.’ He was of a very powerful physique and possessed remarkable muscular strength; and he was possessed with the conviction that in the general upheaval he was called upon to play a pre-eminent part and must
* See also pp. 185-186.
[p. 229] to that end be a ruthless murderer. Not even Béla Kún himself was suffered to contradict him on this point; and when, under the pressure of the Entente Missions and of the workers, it was proposed to disband his troops, he forthwith conceived the idea of offering his services to the counter-revolutionists. From among the volunteers who applied to him for ‘a job’–these persons were the very scum of society–he selected men of the lowest repute, dare-devils ‘with a past’ ready to perpetrate any crime, the criminals known as ‘Lenin Boys,’ more than 400 in number, whose special vocation was to stifle any counterrevolutionary movement. What they really had to do, however, was not to take part in any open fighting or in regular military operations, but to inspire terror in districts where any counter-revolutionary movement had already been suppressed by the Red Army,–by murder, torture and pillaging. We know now, from the sentences of the courts of law, that this ‘institution’ was ‘a gang organized for common wholesale murder’ and robbery, re-assured in advance by Ernest Seidler, People’s Commissioner for Police, who said: ‘You may put out of the way as many “bourgeois” as you like; I will see that everything is hushed up!’
The ‘Lenin Boys’ took possession of Count Batthyanyi’s mansion in the Theresa Boulevard, which was transformed into a veritable fortress; in the cellars were amassed enormous quantities of ammunition, while the ‘garrison’ had at their disposal field guns, minenwerfers, and twenty-four machine guns. The pavement in front of the house was barricaded, while before the gate heavy motor-lorries armed with machine-guns were kept constantly in readiness. Each ‘Lenin Boy’ was armed to the teeth with revolvers, a bowie knife and hand grenades. The whole town knew the ‘Lenin Boys’ by their leather coats and flat caps with bag-like flaps at the back. (Cserny himself carried a long, sharp hunting knife stuck in one of his yellow top-boots.) To their fortress-mansion the ‘Boys’ conveyed by motor-lorries enormous quantities of ‘commandeered’ clothes, food, wine, jewellery and ladies, who, after being forced to take part in their wild orgies, were boxed on the ears and ‘chucked out.’
These bandits had a peculiar slang of their own to express their methods of assassination,–viz., ‘to send to Gades,’ ‘to refrigerate,’ ‘to send floating,’ ‘to send home’; their torture and flogging might be ‘under-done’ or ‘well-done’ (slang phrases adopted from the kitchen jargon). When- [p. 230] ever Korvin or Gabriel Schán (the political commissary attached to the District Commander of the Red Guard) telephoned to Cserny, saying–‘I am sending you a man; send him to Gades,’ the person in question was dead by the following morning, and his corpse ‘sent floating’ on the Danube.
From among these ruffians were selected the Soviet House Guards, as well as the Számuelly Detachment, which was quartered in the leaders’ special train, and was always kept in readiness to travel away.*
Cserny’s spy, a boy of fourteen years from Nagyvarad, of the name of Nicholas Gelbert, was able to obtain an entrance everywhere–as an unsuspected child, and indeed carried on his trade with astonishing zeal; on one occasion he himself shot a captain, for which act he is said to have received from Béla Kún a reward of 10,000 crowns.
When the ‘terrorists’ were temporarily disbanded, forty of the ‘most trustworthy’ were transferred to the detective section operating in the Parliament building; later on, however, the gang was again organized and took up its quarters in Buda, in the Mozdony-utca school.
These brigands ‘despatched’ a host of persons without the formality of a trial, either by the orders of their superiors or on their own initiative, in the latter case either to humour their cynical lust of blood or with intent to rob. One day an ensign of hussars, Nicholas Dobsa, having lost his certificate of identity, went to the Soviet House to procure a new one; in consequence he was brought before Gabriel Schán, the Political Commissary, twenty-three years old, who had formerly been a law student and had become one of the most blackguardly desperadoes of the Red regime. The ensign smiled when speaking to his inquisitor; this was reason enough for Gabriel Schán to have him despatched as a ‘saucy youth’ to Cserny in the Batthyanyi mansion. Two ‘terrorists’ (Géza Groo and John Nyakas) seized the unfortunate young man, dragged him to the cellar, and beat him unmercifully, fracturing his lower jaw and one of his arms; then they dug a grave for him and shot him. Merely because he had smiled when speaking to Gabriel Schán!
Dr. Nicholas Berend, a University professor, on the day of the counter-revolution in June waved a white hand-
* There were similar detachments outside of Budapest, the same being delegated to hold the provincial towns in mortal terror, e.g., the ‘Fabik Detachment’ in Székesfehérvár, the ‘Gombos Terror Gang’ in Györ, etc.
[p. 231] kerchief at the gunboats which bombarded the Soviet House; he was shot and his body robbed by terrorists, who took his money, watch, clothes and shoes (in a word, everything), and then threw his corpse into the Danube. This was how this notorious ‘political institution’ showed its respect for the medical profession. In the evening of the same day, a medical student named Béla Madarasz, who, preparing for an examination, remained absorbed in his books in his garret room, and kept a light burning beyond the prescribed hour, was dragged by the terrorists into the street, where one of them gave him a blow on the head, while another stabbed him in the abdomen; after his gold watch had been taken from him, he was thrown into a dust-cart and ‘sent floating’ in the Danube.
Gustavus Szigeti, a merchant who had been arrested in Veszprém on suspicion of having harboured Count Festetich in his house, was, at the instance of the Political Commissary for Veszprém, who offered a reward of 5,000 crowns, taken bound by the terrorist Gabriel Csomor to a sandbank in Lake Balaton and there stabbed to death by that ruffian, who fastened a piece of a broken grave-stone to the corpse, cut off the tip of the left ear, and sank the body in the lake, afterwards sending the ear-tip to the Commissary as authentic proof that he had killed the victim.
The Soviet rulers indulged a special hatred towards the rigorous chiefs of the former gendarmerie too. A few days prior to the fall of the Soviet Government, Edward Chlepko, Commander-in-Chief of the Red Guard, on the basis of a pre-arranged anonymous denunciation, had Lieutenant-General Oscar Ferry arrested, together with two lieutenant-colonels of the gendarmerie. The political detectives Bonyhati (formerly a lieutenant in the reserve) and Radvanyi–two men whom even Cserny dubbed ‘bloodhounds’–conveyed the unfortunate officers to the Terrorists’ barracks in Mozdony utca, where, after three days’ fruitless inquisition, all three were hanged by the ‘Lenin Boys’ on a water-pipe in the cellar. These victims, too, were buried in the Danube.
During the reign of horror in Budapest, Számuelly’s ‘death-train’ rushed from one end of the country to the other, landing its hellish passengers at the scene of every counter-revolutionary movement. So far as we have hitherto been able to ascertain, the official assassin of the Dictatorship executed thirty persons in Szolnok, twenty in Kalocsa, sixty-one in the small village of Duna-pataj, in addition killing a host of other innocent people in twenty- [p. 232] five different towns and parishes. The most ’eminent’ of the hangmen of this Hungarian Jefferys were Louis Kovacs, Arpad Kerekes (Kohn), and Charles Sturcz, who, at a mere sign of the hand from Számuelly, hanged or shot seventeen, forty-six, and forty-nine persons respectively.
The usual custom of these human brutes was to place the victim on a chair beneath the tree selected for the purpose, then to throw a rope round his neck and order him to kick away the chair; whenever the victim was unable, owing to his terror of death, to do so, he was beaten with rifle butts and prodded with knives, until the instinct of escape from this sanguinary torture compelled the writhing victim to comply with the command. These beasts beat grey-haired old men to death; in some cases they gouged out the victims’ eyes before killing them with all the refinement of Bolshevik cruelty. In one case, after hanging a parish notary, they forced his wife, who was approaching confinement, to watch her husband’s death agony. They even slapped the faces of the dead and kicked them, using obscene language in their abusive mockery of their victims.
‘I could not continue to watch these scenes’ an army surgeon confessed; ‘I broke into a convulsive fit of sobbing,–a thing that never once happened to me during four years of service at the front.’
In comparison with these monsters, the jackal is a mere lamb, the rattlesnake an innocent gold-fish. They walked in human guise; but the bestial instinct for plunder and butchery latent within them was not restrained by any human feeling or kept within bounds (was, indeed, rather enhanced) by human intelligence.
Yet, undoubtedly, the awful responsibility involved must be borne by those who either directly enjoined or at least watched, tolerated and approved the perpetration of the crimes committed by them.
Each of the responsible leaders knew that by ‘Commune’ the criminal means liberty to steal, and by ‘terror’ blind butchery.
These leaders were the conscious promoters of a fearful material and moral devastation, and must have known that the very existence of a whole generation of working men was at stake. ‘Thus crimes are born, and curses–but not new worlds!’
With their souls full of hatred, they made boastful promises of earthly bliss to those whom they swept to perdition.
‘No greater catastrophe than Bolshevism could have [p. 233] befallen the working classes,’ says–in one of its manifestoes–the council of the newly-revived Social Democrat Party.
Is it worth our while to inquire whether, amid all this horror and terror, there is to be found anywhere even a spark of that ‘holy madness’ which makes the apostle ready to die the death of a martyr for his creed?
Rigault, the Chief of Police in the French Commune, and one of its blackest figures, waited in Paris for the coming of the troops from Versailles; when the soldiers thronging into his suburban hotel mistook the proprietor for him and were about to seize him, Rigault hastened towards them with the words–‘I am Rigault! I am neither a brute nor a coward!’ Ten minutes later, Rigault was dead.
And the Budapest People’s Commissioners,–the men who had so often emphasized ‘the unparalleled cowardice of the bourgeoisie’ and abused our heroes and our martyrs,–when the assassin’s dagger slipped from their grasp, packed in feverish haste the foreign currency which they had ‘sequestered’ for their own private use from the Austro-Hungarian Bank, and, boarding their special train, fled in a panic to a milder climate,–away from this plundered, devastated and unhappy country.*
* Béla Kún and a large number of his fellow-Commissioners escaped to Vienna. Our efforts to obtain their extradition by Austria were fruitless; under the pressure of the Socialists the Austrian Government refused, and subsequently handed them over to the Russian Soviet authorities.
After the re-establishment of law and order, of the revolutionary criminals arrested ninety-six were condemned to death, the rest being sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Of the persons condemned to death fourteen were reprieved, eighteen (together with 400 other condemned persons) handed over–in exchange for Hungarian prisoners of war–to the Russian Soviet, while sixty-four were hanged, the latter number including Korvin, László, Schán, and Cserny.
Cécile Tormay, Vol. 2 (The Commune), 1923.