Publications in English

Big brother’s...Edited by György Gyarmati and Mária Palasik

Big brother’s miserable little grocery store. Studies on the history of the Hungarian secret services after World War II.

In the second half of the twentieth century – the years of the Cold War – Hungary was just another small state, limited in its sovereignty. This circumstance may explain why her State Security Organs were also limited in their scope and operations. The direct intervention of the secret service of the “Big Brother” – the Soviet Union – had a profound impact on its daily activities. Since Hungary had but a modest strategic importance in comparison to other Soviet satellite countries the noose around Hungarian society held by the network of agents was also looser than it was, say, in Romania or East Germany. The Hungarian professionals could even allow themselves the liberty, on occasion and in private moments (“we are among ourselves, comrades”) not to overestimate their own importance, to assess it the way colleagues from the outside might assess it: as a rather miserable little grocery store.

Yet in comparison to the victims of professionals in other lands, the contemporaries exposed to the activities of the Hungarian “secret servants” felt just as exposed as others. Tens of thousands of the victims of persecution did not have the luxury of assessing their own persecution in “historical perspective”. They had no reason to view their fate according to the site, on the basis of whether it unfolded in Recsk in the Mátra Mountains, in the delta of the Danube within Romania, or in some camp of the actual GULAG in the Soviet Union. In historical retrospect we can compare the reign of terror under Mátyás Rákosi when the ÁVH was the “fist of the party” to when, in the aftermath of 1956, the repression was administered by János Kádár’s Secret Police, held increasingly on a short leash, merely as the “eyes and ears” of the regime. Again it is because of our increasing awareness of the past that the lesson we learn is that, regardless of the minor or major changes within the regime, the missteps of the Secret Police were usually endured by ordinary persons who had aroused suspicion, for one thing or another.

The Secret Pictures...Rolf Müller

The secret pictures of the Eighties


We all have memories of time that is already behind us. Sometimes these memories are recalled by photographs from our own albums, and sometimes by pictures taken by someone else. In this book we put on display photos once made by the Hungarian state security. The keeper of the communist regime’s political police’s files is the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security, having thousands of photographs in its possession. From these pictures the ones showing the retaliatiom following the 1956 revolution and war of independence are known to the public; yet the visual copies of the events from the same source closer to us in time are much less part of our collective memory. That is why it is so important to show the pictures of the Eighties, the most defining decade on our personal and national history; photos, which are – by Susan Sontag’s definition – “have the power to prove and accuse”. These are the visual documentations of investigations and secret surveillance, and with them this work goes beyond the narrow borders of the Hungarian capital – by presenting several events from various towns and villages from the country; and also it focuses not only on the now historical gatherings of the political opposition, but also on smaller groups’ or individuals’ actions. As these pictures show up their real values hand in hand with their own special ‘state security history’, this book tells not only the story recorded on the photos, but also the story of their making.

PHOTOGRAPHS 1956György Sümegi, Rolf Müller



The Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security commemorates the 1956 revolution and war of independence with a series of conferences, exhibitions and publications. In line with our other books, for the 50th anniversary of one of the most crucial events of our present history, we have put together a booklet comprising photos of the days of October and November. With this booklet we wish to call attention to the specific and not so widely studied group of historical sources of our recent history.

When putting together this publication, we have used the photos of the Historical Archives exclusively. This is the reason for including in our selection photos confiscated during investigations after the revolution – some of these photos belonged to private individuals (see e.g. the photos of the reference number A-1265) or represented the works of riporters of the Hungarian News Agency (see photo no. 95). You can also find reproductions of scenes taken from documentaries of the time, but we have tried to avoid using the photos of foreign papers – which the secret police showed a preference for, and so can be found in great numbers in our archives. We have done this partly with the aim to present photos that were unknown or not widely known.

The majority of the photos published here are taken from collections received or bought from private persons – in some cases, the authors. (see the photos of the reference number 4.3). It is true that some of these collections (the photos of Viktor Herendi) have already been published in part (see: the Introduction of György Sümegi), however, we believe that processed, completed with further details, and supplemented with other photos they are worthy of further attention.

In the editing process it was our aim to determine the places and dates as punctually as possible. The fact that the secret police only rarely dated the confiscated photos and either did not mark the places or marked them inaccurately, made our work more difficult. (They put more emphasis on identifying the people in the photos). In relation to the photos of private collections we should also add that in most of the cases exact identification is almost impossible, only in a few cases can we rely on parallel sources (other photos of the same subject, newspaper articles and studies of the time), chronological order revealed from film-negatives or the remembrances of the authors.

In spite of these difficulties we have tried to arrange this selection in chronological order with only a few exceptions – in cases where the message or the atmosphere of the photo justified this.

The description of the photos is followed by the author’s name – if known - and the archival number.

Our selection does not – cannot – cover the whole of the vibrating and manifold history of the 1956 revolution and war of independence, however, it recalls some of its important moments, its heroism and its tragedy. We can see a slideshow of 119 photos starting with the images of the university students of Szeged who played a significant role in starting the revolution and ending with a cloud of smoke rising from Csepel and spreading above the city like a funeral pall: the dramatic view of the defeated city.

Rolf Müller