Who was Imre Nagy?
Imre Nagy was an eminent and Hungarian politician, who served as the 44th Prime Minister of Hungary and the 3rd Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic. Nagy was a dedicated communist worker since the Russian Revolution and served as an informer for the Soviet NKVD secret police. He held several important political positions, including serving as ‘Minister of Agriculture of Hungary,’ ‘Interior Minister of Hungary,’ ‘Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary,’ and ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary.’ After the Second World War, as the Minister of Interior, Nagy played pivotal role in the expulsion of Hungarian Germans. He emerged as the leader of the Hungarian Uprising against the Soviet-backed government of the ‘Hungarian People's Republic and was made Prime Minister of Hungary on demand of the revolutionaries and common people. He was, however, deposed by the Soviet Union in a huge military invasion of Hungary. He was later arrested, tried, and executed, and his remains were buried in an unmarked grave. Decades later Nagy’s remains were reburied with full respect.
Childhood & Early Life
Imre Nagy was born on June 7, 1896, in Kaposvár, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary, to Lutheran father, József Nagy, and mother, Rozália Szabó. His father had once served as a carriage driver for the lieutenant-general of Somogy county, while his mother worked as a maid for the wife of lieutenant-general.
Nagy attended a Kaposvár gymnasium 1907 to 1912, but did not perform well. The gymnasium cancelled his tuition as a result of his poor performance and lack of funding. He worked in several jobs before attending a commercial high school in Kaposvár, where his academic performance was good. Along with attending the school, he also worked at a lawyer’s office.
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After the World War I began in July 1914, Nagy was inducted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in December. In May 1915, he was assigned to the 17th Royal Hungarian Honvéd Infantry Regiment before he completed his graduation. He was sent to the Italian Front in August where he fought during the ‘Third Battle of the Isonzo.’
He was elevated as corporal and in the summer of 1916 he went to the ‘Eastern Front’ where he was caught by the ‘Imperial Russian Army’ on July 29, 1916, during the ‘Brusilov Offensive’ in Galicia. He was eventually sent to Siberia.
He became part of a sub-group of the Russian Communist Party called the ‘Communist (Social Democratic) Party of the Foreign Workers of Siberia,’ in 1918. During the ‘Russian Civil War’ he fought from February to September 1918 in the ranks of the ‘Red Army.’ In early September that year, Nagy was imprisoned by the Czechoslovak Legion, but he managed to flee.
On May 10, 1920, he became a full-time member of the ‘Russian Communist Party.’ He served the Soviet secret-police organization ‘Cheka’ for rest of 1920. As the ‘Communist Party’ was banned in Hungary, in April 1921, Nagy was sent by the ‘Hungarian Communist Party’ (KMP) to Hungary with some Hungarian communists on a secret mission of developing an underground conspiratorial network.
After reaching Kaposvár in late May 1921, he became a member of the ‘Social Democratic Party of Hungary’ (MSZDP) and was made secretary of the party’s local branch in 1924. He helped in developing socialist movement in Kaposvár and was eventually ousted from ‘MSZDP’ for promoting revolt and was kept under close observation by the police.
He joined hands with István Sinkovics and formed an office of ‘Socialist Workers’ Party of Hungary’ (MSZMP) in Kaposvár, in January 1926. The party was banned in Kaposvár and Nagy was arrested on February 27, 1927. He spent two months in prison.
He went to Vienna on KMP’s call in March 1928 and was made the head of the party’s agrarian division. In September 1928, KMP sent him back to Hungary with a fake identity; he was assigned with a covert mission of developing underground communist networks.
He went to Moscow in February 1930 and participated in the second congress of the KMP. He re-joined the Communist Party and got Soviet citizenship. He worked with the ‘International Agrarian Institute’ for 6 years and remained involved with the Hungarian chapter of the ‘Communist International.’ On January 8, 1936, he was ousted from the party.
Meanwhile from 1933 to 1941, he served as an informer of NKVD secret police using code name ‘Volodia’ and remained instrumental in arrests of more than 200 comrades, many of whom were from the Agrarian Institute.
Ministerial Positions Held in Hungary
He became the Minister of Agriculture of Hungary on December 22, 1944, and held the position till November 15, 1945, when he became the Interior Minister of Hungary. Nagy served the latter position till March 20, 1946, and played an important role in expelling the ethnic Germans from Hungary. From September 16, 1947, to June 8, 1949, he served as the Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary.
He became Prime Minister of Hungary and the 3rd Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic on July 4, 1953, and fostered his "New Course" in Socialism. He made efforts to ease some harsh policies of his predecessor’s Stalinist regime but as a result of continuing influence of Mátyás Rákosi, Nagy kept losing the support of the Soviet Politburo and was finally sacked from the position on April 18, 1955. He was stripped of his responsibilities associated with the Hungarian Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Party. Even though he was ousted from his position, his reformist attitude as against the strict policies of the Soviet-backed regime raised his persona in the eyes of intellectuals, writers, and the general populace.
The outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution on October 23, 1956, set people against the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. Giving in to demand of the revolutionists and the general public, Nagy was renamed as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic on October 24, 1956. The revolution was, however, crushed following a massive military invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union (Operation Whirlwind) on November 4, 1956, which overthrew Nagy and his government.
Nagy managed to escape to the Embassy of Yugoslavia in Budapest. He later fell prey to the false promises and was arrested on November 22, 1956, and deported to Romania. He was later sent back to Hungary and a secret trial was conducted on June 16, 1958. He was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on the same day. His body was buried in an unmarked grave.
On June 16, 1988, during the Soviet-backed regime of Hungary, when it was not allowed to commemorate Nagy’s death or visit his resting place, a cenotaph was erected in his honour in Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery. His remains, along with that of other revolutionaries of the 1956 Revolution, were finally rehabilitated and reburied with full respect in June 1989. It marked an important event in the eventual collapse of the reign of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party and brought an end to the communist administration.
Family & Personal Life
On November 28, 1925, Nagy married Mária Égető. Their only child, a daughter, Erzsébet Nagy, born on April 13, 1927, went on to become a writer and translator.
The 2003-04 Hungarian-Slovakian-Polish drama film ‘A temetetlen halott’ (The Unburied Body) was based on the life of Nagy. The 2006 film ‘Children of Glory’ also featured his character.