A retirement bump for the dead secret policeman’s father?

From 1948 onward, Hungary’s ÁVH secret police were known as the communist party’s fist. The secret police terrorised young and old, men and women equally, making no distinction whatsoever. This quasi-military force imprisoned and tortured innocents all in order to solidify the communist regime’s hold on power. They also had an essential role in the 1956 Revolution, not just because they fired the first shots at the protesters before the radio building, but one of the most popular demands was to dismiss them, which goes toward explaining why they were so adamantly opposed to the revolution’s aims.

During the darkest moment of the revolution on October 30th, the communist party’s Budapest headquarters was attacked by a mob, and many of the secret police who had been defending it were killed (the exact numbers are unknown). This mob justice was the result not only of the previous eight years of terror, but also the Kossuth Square massacre that happened five days earlier. Some were summarily executed, others lynched. Among the secret police killed that day at Köztársaság Square was Colonel János Asztalos. His death would go on to have a unique afterlife in the years after the revolution.

As it so happened, János Asztalos’s father Sándor worked as a doorman at the Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI), which is the state-run news agency. After the elder Asztalos lost his son, he asked for an increase in his monthly pension from the Kádár regime that defeated the revolution. In this letter, the elder Asztalos wrote that he had entered the Hungarian Communist Party back in 1945, and asked for this supplement in 1957 at the age of 68 after having worked for 51 years. In response, the early Kádár era’s media guru István Szirmai wrote a letter to the government arguing that the old doorman’s pension should be raised to 1,300 forints per month. (At the time, teachers and doctors earned wages of 900 forints per month).

As another reason to raise his pension, Szirmai wrote that while the younger Asztalos lived, he supported his father financially, which considering how well the secret police were paid is entirely possible. It’s quite likely that the Kádár Regime did in fact raise the elder Asztalos’s pension, so that afterward he could live a relatively luxurious life as a retiree. Of course, the reason for bringing this up is because for the loved ones of the thousands of revolutionaries who lost their lives, there was no increase in their wages, pensions or state support. Far from it. Rather, they were stigmatized and greatly disadvantaged. Regardless of what the government said about the revolution, their loved ones had died hoping to achieve a free and democratic future.

Bence Csatári