by Ildikó Szerényi, APE Country Manager for Hungary
The National Archives of Hungary published a secret service database which provides insight into the activities of political organisations before the Second World War. The Hungarian spy network stretched far and wide, reaching faraway places like Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Brazil, the U.S., and Canada.
The history of the original files is adventurous: they had been created by the Hungarian police and gendarmerie between 1920 and 1944; after the siege of Budapest, in 1945, they were taken to the Soviet Union by the Soviet army, as booty of war. The 40 archival boxes of paper documents are still preserved at the Military Archives of the Russian Federation (RGVA), having been previously held by the Soviet Secret Service (KGB). The National Archives of Hungary purchased a digital copy in 2011, and as a result of social collaboration, an online database is available for research today, at this link;
In terms of content, these archival documents contain information of persons associated with left-wing movements between the two world wars, and as such considered dangerous to the state. This police background material, mostly in Hungarian, contains the registration forms and data of about 60,000 people. The personal files also include some 9,000 additional documents. The forms, filled in by hand or typewriter, contain details of the person under surveillance and often describe the action taken in their cases. The richness of the data on each person is outstanding: name, father's and mother's names, date of birth or age, place of birth and residence, religion, occupation, description of physical appearance, distinguishing marks, detailed description of the reason for registration and surveillance. A small number of fingerprints or photographs of the person observed may also be found in this archival material.
The name searchable database can be used to search for any 20th-century person. Surprising results might also be found, as you may come across someone, who you had not previously assumed to have left-wing sentiments, or being politically active in general. The data show that anyone could have attracted the attention of the authorities: individuals who criticised the existing authoritarian conservative Hungarian political system or its politicians, cheered left-wing politicians, or anyone who sang the Internationale in public, could all be registered by the police. The geographical coverage of the database is broad, users can come across data of numerous people who were born or have been living in cities like Vienna (Bécs), Cluj Napoca (Kolozsvár), Novi Sad (Újvidék), Subotica (Szabadka), Oradea (Nagyvárad), Paris (Párizs), Kosice (Kassa), Bratislava (Pozsony), Berlin, Sao Paulo - and the list goes on.
The collection is also a useful source for social history research, as it is also possible to filter the database by religion and occupation, and from the occupation you can also deduce the educational level and social status of the person concerned. The people in the records are typically male, with a majority of factory workers and agricultural workers, but there are also a good number of intellectuals and women, often with the typical occupation of the period: housewife.
The collection of data on left-wing movements and individuals occured at an international level, which allowed Hungarian authorities to keep an eye on foreign individuals who may not even have been in Hungary. Famous writers or journalists who protested against the arrest of Hungarian communists, published articles in communist newspapers, signed communist manifestos, or made left-wing speeches all have these fles in the collections: names such as Louis Aragon (in the database Aragon Lajos), Berthold Brecht, Martin Andersen Nexö, Egon Erwin Kisch, Klaus Mann, Heinrich Mann (in the database Mann Henrik), Romain Rolland, John dos Passos, and the list goes on. 163 documents are also available in Russian translation, while some documents are in Portuguese and come from Brazilian authorities.
We would like to deeply thank the volunteers of the Hungarian Society for Family History Research (www.macse.hu) for their help in creating the dataset! Further reading is available in Hungarian: https://mnl.gov.hu/mnl/ol/hirek/csendorok_es_kommunistak_titkosszolgalati_dokumentumok
A few examples of the documents (Reference code: HU-MNL-OL-K 150-VII-9/b)