The AVO (Allamvedelmi Osztaly) was Hungary’s State Security Agency a much hated and much feared secret police. The work of the AVO was one of the main causes of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. During this uprising, men known to be in the AVO were publicly lynched in Budapest in front of large crowds and money stuffed into their mouths. The work of the AVO created a constant climate of fear and by November 1956 this, along with the economic climate that existed in Hungary, spilled over into outright rebellion.
The headquarters of the AVO was at 60, Andrassy Place in Budapest. This address is now a museum and known as ‘Terror House’. The choice of this building could not have been a coincidence – it had been the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross movement during the Nazi occupation of Hungary in World War Two. It already had torture chambers within it when the AVO moved in after Stalin imposed a communist government on the people of Hungary. The role of the AVO was very simple – to hunt out anyone who was even vaguely against the rule of Moscow over Hungary. When it is considered that in the 1945 election, the Hungarian Communist Party received just 17% of votes cast and the popular Smallholders Party 57%, it is safe to assume that there were many in Hungary who opposed to the imposed communist rule. The AVO originally had Soviet masters but is first leader was a Hungarian called Gábor Péter. He had been trained by the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB) and he set about accusing the leaders of the Smallholders Party of collaboration with the Nazis – and then set about finding the ‘evidence’. Péter used torture to get what he wanted. However, even this did not help the Hungarian Communists who only gained 24% of the vote in the 1947 election. Ironically, this electoral failure almost certainly spurred on Péter to commit further acts of barbarity to ensure communist supremacy in Hungary.
The methods Péter was prepared to used are best seen in the case of László Rajk, Hungary’s Minister of the Interior and therefore Péter’s boss. Rajk was charged with plotting with the West and Marshall Tito in planning to overthrow the Hungarian Communist government, which had been imposed on Hungary in January 1948. He was arrested by the AVO on May 30th 1948 and brutally tortured in an effort to get a confession to ‘prove’ the charge against him. Péter even told Rajk that he would involve his family threatening them with punishment if he did not confess. There was nothing new about this as the Gestapo had used the same tactics during the wartime occupation. However, this had been Nazi occupier against occupied Hungarians. Now, Péter was using the same tactic as a Hungarian against a fellow Hungarian. Rajk held out until June 11th – twelve days after being arrested – when he confessed in an attempt to save his family. At the conclusion of his ‘trial’, Rajk was sentenced to death and his entire extended family was also killed. There is now little doubt that the Soviet MGB (Ministerstvo Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti) was involved – the Soviet State Security Service and it was they who provided the most damning 'evidence' against Rajk.
The fear of the AVO was such that in 1952, the new Minister of the Interior, Sándor Zöld, killed his entire family and then himself when he found out that he was about to be purged by the Hungarian Communist Party.
Not even Péter was safe. He was accused of plotting to kill Stalin and leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party. He was arrested and after either torture or the threat of torture, he confessed that he was “an agent of the British and Zionist Intelligence agencies”. Péter was not executed but sent to prison and released in 1959 when he was given a low government position.
In 1956, there was a belief that the Cold War was changing. Nikita Khrushchev denounced the rule of Stalin and for some the thaw began. The AVO changed its name to the AVH (Allamvedelmi Hatosag). However, a change of title could not distract the Hungarians and to them the hated organisation was still the AVO. In the lead up to the 1956 Uprising, the hatred against this organisation spilled over and on October 29th there was a general outpouring of anger and hatred in Budapest where known members of the AVO were arrested and publicly hanged from lampposts with money stuffed into their mouths. On the same day Imre Nagy announced that the AVO/AVH had been disbanded.
The Hungarian Uprising was soon put down by the Russians and with much bloodshed. However, even the political masters in Moscow realised that the AVO had been a major source of anger and while it continued in the immediate aftermath of the uprising hunting out rebels, a decision was taken in Moscow that the AVO would never resurface. Even as the Cold War continued, Hungary as a nation never had another secret police force.
In 1989, a lieutenant colonel in the AVO/AVH, Vladimir Farkas, described the work that he did with others in the AVO. Farkas admitted that the AVO pulled out fingernails during torture in an effort to get a confession and that when the AVO failed in what it set out to achieve, the Soviet MGB (State Security Police) was called in to achieve what the AVO had failed to do. Farkas admitted that men died as a result of torture including Istvan Ries, a member of the Social Democrat Party in Hungary. Farkas claimed that the motto of the AVO was “whatever it takes to make them confess”. In his statement, Farkas claimed that this included immersing a suspect in a vat of hydrochloric acid.