Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rajk, László (1909–1949)

Hungarian Communist Party politician, minister of the interior (1946–1948), and foreign minister (1948–1949). Born on 8 March 1909 in Székelyudvarhely, László Rajk studied language at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Budapest but was expelled in 1931 for his political activities after he joined the then illegal Hungarian Communist Party. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), he served as party secretary to the Hungarian battalion of the International Brigades. He returned to Hungary in 1941 and became secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee in September 1944. In December 1944, Hungarian Nazi authorities arrested him.

Rajk was released in the spring of 1945 and quickly became involved in politics, acquiring leading positions in the Communist Party. In November 1945 he became deputy general secretary. During March 1946–August 1948 he served as minister of the interior in a coalition government, and in August 1948 he was appointed foreign secretary in the communist government.

Unlike many other Hungarian Communist Party leaders, Rajk was not Moscow-trained and had no special connections there. Politically ambitious and a masterful communicator, he was also an intellectual and was generally popular with the Hungarian people. These attributes were ample cause for Mátyás Rákosi, general secretary of the Communist Party, to view Rajk as his principal rival. On 30 May 1949 the Communist Party leadership ordered Rajk's arrest. With the full support of Moscow, which regarded Rajk as too much the Hungarian nationalist and too independent of the Kremlin's control, he was charged with treason by the People's Tribunal, given an elaborate show trial, and found guilty. Rajk was sentenced to death on 24 September 1949 and was executed on 15 October in Budapest. In 1955 he was rehabilitated, and his remains were solemnly reburied with state honors on 6 October 1956.

Anna Boros-McGee


Further Reading
Szász, Béla. Volunteers for the Gallows: Anatomy of a Show-Trial. New York: Norton, 1972.
 

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