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Államvédelmi Hatóság or ÁVH (State Protection Authority) was the secret police force of Hungary from some time in 1944 or 1945 until 1956. It was conceived of as an external appendage of the Soviet Union's secret police forces, but attained an indigenous reputation for utter brutality during a series of purges beginning in 1948, intensifying in 1949 and ending in 1953. In 1953 Joseph Stalin died, and Imre Nagy (a moderate reformer) was appointed Prime Minister. Under Nagy's first government from 1953 to 1955 the ÁVH was gradually reined in.

This is a summary of the organisations acting as political police between 1945 and 1956. The chronology includes:

  • 1945, Budapest Police Main Command Political Dept., (Budapesti Főkapitányság Politikai Rendészeti Osztálya)
  • 1946, Hungarian State Police State Protection Dept., (Magyar Államrendőrség Államvédelmi Osztálya, ÁVO)
  • 1950, State Protection Authority, (Államvédelmi Hatóság, ÁVH)
  • 1956, the agency was abolished by the revolutionary government of Imre Nagy.

The subsequent government of János Kádár failed to resurrect the ÁVH after 1956. This should be considered in the light of the use of Soviet security apparatus directly in Hungary after the 1956 revolution, and in preparation for the trial of Nagy and "his accomplices". Between 1956 and 1963 Kádár, a natural opportunist, fought an inner party battle against hardline Stalinists. Kádár's victory was signalled in 1963 by a general amnesty for the 1956 revolutionaries, an indication of the absence of a political police. Hungary would go on to be the only Warsaw Pact country without an intelligence service.

While the security apparatus were operating, they supported the Communist Party directly, with little reference made to Government norms. This support was primarily through the secret gathering of intelligence, primarily through a vast network of "snitches" (Similar to the Stasis .

The investigation network was supplemented with a mechanism of secret arrests, followed by extensive periods of torture (lasting between 3 and 18 months). When the apparatus had extracted "confessions" of varying quality from a prisoner, the Government's apparatus of public prosecutors and courts would be called in, in order to create a legal sentence procedure. This was the norm of operation for the ÁVH, and was only diverged from in matters of utmost state security, for example, the illegal arrest and indefinate solitary detention of the Communist Party of Great Britain operative Edith Bone. Despite the forced nature of confessions, retractions at trial were not considered a danger to the process, due to the obvious threat of continued torture during a recess of the trial.

Following sentence, political prisoners were imprisoned in ÁVH run concentration camps. These camps were mixed and varied. Early camps tended to be cruder and crueler. In particular, the status of ex-Communist Party members varied. In camps prior to 1953 they were more harshly treated than other prisoners. After 1953 ex-Communist Party members were a virtual aristocracy within prisons. Additionally, prior to 1953 certain camps had as their goal the eventual death of inmates due to overwork and maltreatment. In a number of cases torture was an essential part of camp life and discipline.

Imre Nagy's first government from 1953 to 1955 vastly improved conditions in the camps, and halted the efforts to exterminate political prisoners.

The ÁVH also assisted the Soviet sphere security apparatus by staging show trials. In two cases, the ÁVH was given the privledge of leading an attack on undesired elements throughout the Soviet sphere. In 1948 the catholic bishop József Mindszenty was tried and imprisoned. In 1949 the ÁVH tried and executed Communist Party member László Rajk for nationalism and Titoism in a show trial that signified to the international communist movement that Yugoslavia was now a threat.


The ÁVH in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

When Hungarians rose up against their government in 1956, one of the last things they did was hunt down and kill known and suspected ÁVH officers and informants. When the Revolution began, a mob thousands strong attacked the police headquarters in Budapest, chanting "tear down the star!" and "free the prisoners!", a reference to the enormous red star that stood on the building's roof and the many prisoners kept inside. Fearing for the lives of both himself and his officers, the chief of police let the mob into the building, allowing them to take any political prisoners they wanted.

Attacks on the ÁVH only became a significant activity as informal truces developed between the Student controlled combat organisations and Soviet troops in Budapest. Freed from the necessity of immediate combat, the Jozsef Dudas militia group planned a series of attrocities against ÁVH officers, informants, and on a few occasions against ordinary Communist Party members caught up in the revolution.

On October 29, in the second week of the revolution, the Dudas group attacked the Secret police headquarters in Budapest, massacring the ÁVH inside. This event was well documented by Western and Eastern journalists and photographers, and constitutes the primary evidence against Imre Nagy and other members of his cabinet in the White Books.

A Western eyewitness said:

"The secret police lie twisted in the gutter [...] the Hungarians will not touch the corpse of an ÁVH man, not even to close the eyes or straighten the neck."

After Dudas' militia assaulted the building, the surrounding crowd lynched a number of ÁVH officers. Highly visible in photographs of this attack are the Party paybooks displayed on to the corpses, demonstrating that ÁVH soldiers received at least 10 times the wages of a manual worker.

When the Student and Workers councils discovered what the Dudas group was doing, they instituted armed partrols to arrest and detain ÁVH members for their own safety, and for future planned trials. As a result of Dudas' massacres, and the Students' policy of arrest, many ÁVH voluntarily turned themselves in to Student or Workers councils to seek protective custody. This was a reflection of the shared Student-Worker policy of keeping the revolution pure and bloodless. Dudas was sought for arrest by the Students and Workers councils.

Almost unsurprisingly, when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to support the government, ÁVH officers carried out brutal reprisals against those who had killed their comrades. The ÁVH generally targetted all revolutionaries, and received significant assistance from the Soviet Union's security apparatus who arrested the Nagy government, General Pal Maleter, and deported thousands of students and workers to the Soviet Union.

House of Terror

Shortly after the Hungarian Hitlerist party (Nyilaskeresztes Párt) left it, the building under the address 60 Andrássy Road became the ÁVH Headquarters. The building is now a museum called The House of Terror, it commemorates the victims of both inhuman political systems.

An old joke

This joke tells you all about the ÁVH, from the 50s.

Mr. Kohn is dying, lying in his bed, alone.
It is night, big thunderstorm outside, the cold winds shake the windows.
Someone is knocking the front door and Mr. Kohn asks in a fearful, faint voice:
- "Who is it?"
- "I am Death!", answers a terrible, low voice from the graves.
Mr. Kohn lies back, makes a relieved sigh and says:
- Oh, okay, I thought it was the ÁVH.

External links

  • The history of AVH ( (in Hungarian), from the website of the Public Historical Files of the Hungarian Secret Services [1] (

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