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MORE ON THE 1956 Polish CRISIS
9 October 1995
ment of Soviet forces based in Poland in his “...a number of comrades who are support
meeting with Marshals Konevand ers of a Polish-Soviet union...” (p. 40). To the Editor:
Rokossowski in the Soviet embassy on Octo
ber 19, also referred to in his memoirs (p. 41). Sincerely yours, I read the essay “Poland, 1956: The troop movements, which the Soviets Khrushchev, Gomulka and the Polish Octo- then claimed were a long-planned army “ex- Milton Leitenberg ber,” by L.W. Gluchowski, and the accom- ercise” (p. 44), were certainly very much Senior Fellow panying documents in CWIHP Bulletin 5 larger than the “one military battalion” (p. Center for International and Security Stud(Spring 1995), pp. 1, 38-49, with enormous 40) that Rokossowski admitted to putting ies at Maryland (CISSM) interest, the reason for which will be evident “on alert” (p. 44). Gomulka's phrase is “the University of Maryland (College Park) in a moment.
Soviet Army stationed in Poland” (p. 44). Upon completion of the reading, how- In 1980 or thereabouts, I was given a ever, I was thoroughly puzzled by what I description of the same climactic meeting L.W. Gluchowski responds: saw as a major omission from the author's between the Soviet and Polish leaderships by introductory essay. Though the material a former Polish party and government offi- I would like to thank Mr. Leitenberg for appears in the documents and in footnotes to cial who had before 1956 been close to the his thoughtful comments on my documenthem, there is no mention at all in the body Polish First Secretary, Central Committee tary essay, “Poland 1956: Khrushchev, of the essay concerning one of the most Chairman and Prime Minister, Boleslaw Gomulka, and the Polish October,”” in the crucial aspects that determined the ultimate Bierut. That rendition adds information be- Spring 1995 issue of the CWIHP Bulletin. outcome of the confrontation between the yond that which appears in Gomulka's de- With regard to Mr. Leitenberg's comment Soviet and Polish communist party leaders scription to the Chinese party in Document 4. that he was "thoroughly puzzled” by “a in Warsaw. It concerns the movement of I recorded the comments at the time. The major omission from” my “introductory esSoviet military forces toward Warsaw, the note which a Polish official handed to say” concerning “one of the most crucial circumstances in which the Polish party Gomulka during the meeting with the Sovi- aspects that determined the ultimate outleadership learned of the movements, and ets and which informed him of the Soviet come of the confrontation,” notably “the the threatened response of Polish military troop movements resulted from information movement of Soviet military forces towards units. It appears as a single line in Docu- reported to Warsaw by Polish military offic- Warsaw... [and] the circumstances in which ment 3 (p. 43), is amplified in Gomulka's ers ("colonels”). In addition, Polish Air the Polish party leadership learned of the rendition of the events to the Chinese in Force General Frey-Bielecki requested per- movements," I shall be brief. Any discusDocument 4 (p. 44), and in footnote 61, mission to bomb the Soviet columns as they sion about the military aspects of the Sovietquoting Mikoyan's notes. The threatened converged on Warsaw. Some Polish Air Polish confrontation of October 1956 is response of Polish military units is not men- Force units apparently threatened such ac- bound to be controversial at this early stage tioned in the documents at all, or by the tion whether they received authority to do so of archival research in Poland. In any case, author.
or not. (As I recall, Frey-Bielecki agreed to I decided to let this set of documents speak Gluchowski also quotes two of the com- make the request when some of his officers for themselves, and no less than six endnotes ments in Khrushchev's memoirs; the first, informed him of those threats, telling him include extensive discussions of military “...the people of Warsaw had been prepared what they intended to do. With that, he matters during the crisis. Even Mr. to defend themselves and resist Soviet troops decided to approach the political leadership.) Leitenberg acknowledges that “the material entering the city...”—without asking what The Polish internal security forces were also appears in the documents and in the foot“Soviet troops,” from where; and the sec- preparing some sort of resistance. Gomulka notes to them.” Furthermore, in the body of ond—“...our own armed strength far ex- was the source of Khrushchev's assessment my essay, I noted: “Three days in October ceeded that of Poland, but we didn't want to that “the people of Warsaw had been pre- [18 to 20] 1956 resolved four outstanding resort to the use of our own troops"— with pared to defend themselves.” Gomulka ap- and interrelated conflicts of the deout pointing out that it is belied by parently told him, in effect, “Leave us alone Stalinization period in Poland.” The second Khrushchev's outburst at the October 19 and everything will be OK; if not, there will conflict I outlined reads as follows: "the meeting (quoted on page 40): “That number be a popular uprising.” And the Russians Soviet threat to intervene militarily in the won't pass here. We are ready for active thought that the Poles would fight; in the affairs of the Polish Party ended with a intervention....I would like the comrades to words of the Polish official, “All the Czech compromise agreement on the part of the voice their views on this matter: interven- traditions are different.”
CPSU leadership and the PUWP leadertion or..."
One might add one more point. ship.” It is clear that I agree with Mr. It seems very likely, even obvious, that Gluchowski never comments on the propos- Leitenberg: “one of the most crucial asKhrushchev gave the order for the move- als for union, although Khrushchev refers to pects” of the confrontation in Warsaw had to
do with the threat of Soviet military intervention.
My first departure with Mr. Leitenberg comes when he elevates “the circumstances in which the Polish party leadership learned of the movements” to some kind of special moment in the negotiations. We still don't have enough Soviet evidence to draw Mr. Leitenberg's conclusions. This is particularly true when we consider his comment: “It seems very likely, even obvious, that Khrushchev gave the order for the movement of Soviet forces based in Poland in his meeting with Marshals Konev and Rokossowski in the Soviet embassy on October 19, also referred to in his memoirs." In this case, an omission on my part may have resulted in the confusion, and I am grateful to Mr. Leitenberg for bringing it to my attention.
In my attempt to edit out a number of long historiographical comments about the documents from the essay I submitted to the Bulletin, I deleted a remark about the reliability of Khrushchev's memoirs on the Polish crisis, which was originally included with Molotov's characterization of Rokossowski in the Felix Chuev interview (contained in One Hundred and Forty Conversations with Molotov) cited in endnote 28. I should have left in place the following observation:
put the 8th Plenum on hold, to fur- the readers of the Bulletin decide for them-
In my first essay I wanted to focus on the ing meetings of the only legal bod- political aspects of the crisis, particularly the ies that could force him from the bottom line positions staked out by the two leadership. Khrushchev probably key personalities in this struggle: Khrushchev decided to let the Poles begin the 8th and Gomulka. Reflecting the tendency at Plenum for a number of reasons, these high level meetings to focus on personincluding the necessity of providing alities, both sides argued over the symbolic Gomulka with the legal status he significance of Marshal Rokossowski's conneeded to negotiate on behalf of the tinued presence in People's Poland. Almost Polish side at the Belvedere talks. all other outstanding issues that divided the More important, Rokossowski was Soviets and the Poles were left for further a full member of the PUWP Polit- negotiations. I am currently preparing a list buro and Central Committee. of the documents that cover this vast subject. Gomulka had to treat Rokossowski The documents I selected for translation or as part of the Polish negotiation team, cited in the footnotes of my first Bulletin at least officially, and no one on
up the most up to date collection either side would have suggested, at on the Polish version of what happened at least in public, otherwise.
the Belvedere Palace on 19-20 October 1956.
The Czech document recording a 24 OctoMilitary aspects of the 1956 crisis, with ber 1956 meeting at the Kremlin, which which I have been grappling since 1986, outlines the Soviet version of events—a have been among the most difficult issues to document introduced and translated by Mark date to discuss with any degree of confi- Kramer and published in the same issue of dence. Documentary evidence, until re- the Bulletin (pp.1, 50-56)—helps to comcently, has been limited, while humanist plete the documentary part of the whole sociology, brushed with rumors, hearsay, puzzle, but more Soviet documents are still and unsubstantiated gossip, grows with ev- required to draw less tentative conclusions. ery memoir. With some exceptions, the My thesis, not in dispute insofar as Mr. latter part of the little story from the long Leitenberg's letter is concerned, is that the Belvedere meeting recited to Mr. Leitenberg Polish crisis of October 1956 ended in a by his Polish source has a ring of truth. I can political settlement. Khrushchev made the imagine, during the most heated moments, final compromise which ended the standoff: Khrushchev and Gomulka exchanging veiled Rokossowski's future was left to the PUWP threats, using language that spawned images CC; and they later voted to oust him from the of heroic Polish resistance and Soviet mili- Politburo. Both sides compromised and tary glory. Khrushchev and Gomulka were claimed victory, although Gomulka came not the quiet diplomatic types. But it would out of the stormy negotiations especially in be a leap to suggest that “one of the most a strong position. Khrushchev, on the other crucial aspects” determining the “ultimate hand, managed, as I argue, “to put the Polish
I outcome of the confrontation” was the “cir- question to rest for almost 25 years.” The cumstances in which the Polish party leader- Soviet compromise should not go unnoship learned of the [Soviet military] move- ticed. ments,” at least with the limited selection of Indeed, all this was accomplished at a documents I included in my essay.
time of great international tension, ideologiHowever, I will let Mr. Leitenberg and cal confusion, social unrest in the country
This is another example of how Khrushchev's memoirs are accurate in so far as the general atmosphere of the discussions are concerned, and at the same time confusing because he again tends to take what were obviously a series of discussions and compress them into one important conversation. Surely, as Document 1 clearly shows, Rokossowski could not have gone with Khrushchev to the Soviet embassy on 19 October (1956), although Khrushchev's emphasis on Rokossowski as a main source of information for what was happening in Poland at the time tells us a lot about what everyone in Poland took for public knowledge: Rokossowski was Moscow's man in Warsaw. The Polish Minister of Defense was at the Politburo meeting, held immediately after First Secretary Ochab
...at two in the morning I was invited to meet with the CPCh [Communist Party of China] leadership. Talks with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun lasted for three hours ... [The Chinese leaders stated:] “Between 19-23 October a CPCh delegation ... in Moscow convinced Khrushchev about the rightness of the political changes in Poland ... Matters of independent Polish activities cannot be questioned despite the reservations of the CPSU Politburo, which has become accustomed to methods and forms of behavior that must be eliminated from relations within the socialist camp.” Mao used, in this context, the phrase "great power chauvinism.” [See Archive of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Collection of telegrams from Beijing in 1956, Telegram no. 17599, 27 October 1956]
where the negotiations were taking place, official who had before 1956 been close to
of comrades who are supporters of a PolishWith regard to the second assertion by Soviet alliance (not union—sojuszu polskoMr. Leitenberg; namely my refusal to dis- radzieckiego];
) namely, comrades cuss “the threatened response of Polish mili- Rokossowski, [Zenon] Nowak, Mazur, tary units” to the Soviet troop movements, Jozwiak.” The next two sentences should which is not mentioned in the documents at read: “I explained to them that we don't have all, or by the author,” I will add this for the such tendencies. We do not want to break the moment. The Soviet control of the Polish friendly relations (not alliance—zrywac Army, acknowledged in the body of my przyjazni ze Zwiazkiem Radzieckim) with the essay, extensively discussed in my foot- Soviet Union.” notes, and covered by Document 5 Incidentally, Khrushchev's comment to (Khrushchev's letter to Gomulka on 22 Oc- Gomulka about Poland's leading supporters tober 1956), as well as the Soviet threat to of a Soviet-Polish alliance is closely related intervene militarily in the affairs of the to Khrushchev’s previous comment, cited by Polish party, cannot be separated. If any Gomulka in Russian: “The treacherous accommunist in Poland at the time can make tivity of Comrade Ochab has become evia claim to have threatened to go to battle dent, this number won't pass here.” It was against Soviet tanks and troops, who also not obvious to me when I prepared the first marched with some Polish military units essay, although I now hope to make my case towards Warsaw, it was the commanders of shortly elsewhere, but it appears that the security troops under the command of Khrushchev's anger, directed as it was tothe Polish interior ministry, and perhaps wards Ochab, probably stemmed from some individual Polish Army officers who Ochab's September 1956 meeting with the turned to them. But all these matters need Chinese, as mentioned in Document 5, and further clarification. Edward Nalepa and I subsequent negotiations between Warsaw will try to sort through the myth and draw and Beijing. Soviet-Chinese talks over Posome more appropriate conclusions in the land appear to have led Beijing to demand essay we will present in a future Bulletin. from Moscow a more collective approach to
We will also try to put into context Mr. the way the Kremlin dealt with the Warsaw Leitenberg's presentation of the observa- Treaty Organization states. In a telegram to tions shared to him during a talk in 1980 Gomulka from the Polish ambassador to with “a former Polish party and government China, dated 27 October 1956, Stanislaw
It appears the Chinese may also need to be given some credit for the success of the “Polish October.”
Centre for Russian and East European
MORE ON THE 1956 HUNGARIAN CRISIS
23 October 1995
To the Editor:
The Spring 1995 issue of the Bulletin, as rich and as informative as ever, contains two stimulating articles by Professor Johanna Granville. Permit me to make a few comments on both.
In the first article—“Imre Nagy, Hesitant Revolutionary”—Professor Granville correctly argues that Prime Minister Nagy, a lifelong Communist, hesitated to side with the revolutionaries during the early days of the 1956 Hungarian uprising (October 2327); that he created a new, reform-minded party leadership that was more congenial to his way of thinking only on October 28th; and that, finally, he embraced the revolution's main demands of neutrality and political pluralism on November 1st, after he realized that Moscow had deceived him.
Alas, this is not a new interpretation, nor do the documents that follow Professor Granville's article provide important new evidence to confirm it. Hence your claim, not hers, made in the Table of Contents Box on p. 1—“Imre Nagy Reassessed”—is misleading. Ten years ago, and thus long before the archives opened, this is what I wrote in Hungary and the Soviet Bloc, 1986, pp. 12829 (all emphases in the original):
curred—that the time for reform had passed, and his all but impossible historic mission was to reconcile Soviet power-political interests with those of a new—somewhat independent and somewhat pluralistic—Hungarian political order. He consulted with Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail A. Suslov, the two Politburo members who were in Budapest, and with Yuri V. Andropov, the Soviet ambassador to Hungary, to gain their approval for the transfer of the functions of the hapless Central Committee to a new, six-member party Presidium. So anxious was Nagy not to circumvent Moscow that he called the Kremlin from Andropov's office that morning to obtain confirmation of the authorization he had just received from the Soviet representatives in Budapest....
Only his second turning point, which came on November 1, signified a parting of the ways between Nagy and Moscow. Soviet troops having reentered Hungary the night before, Nagy realized that morning that the Kremlin was no longer interested in finding a political solution to the crisis under his leadership. He felt betrayed. In vain had he consulted with the Kremlin; in vain had he gained Soviet approval for every major measure he had adopted between October 23 and 31. The party was over. From the loyal Muscovite he had been all his life, this is when Nagy became a Hungarian revolutionary. On November 1, acting for the first time without Soviet concurrence, his government declared Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the country's neutrality. On November 4, when its troops reached the Hungarian capital, the Soviet Union overthrew the Nagy government and crushed the revolution.
ten years ago, Professor Granville's article must be regarded as a “restatement” of that interpretation, albeit a useful one. I am not aware of a single scholarly book or article published anywhere in recent years that has claimed that Nagy was anything but “hesitant.”
In her second article and in the documents from the archives of the KGB that are attached to it—“Imre Nagy, aka ‘Volodya’ — A Dent in the Martyr's Halo?”—Professor Granville does offer a reassessment of Nagy's life in Moscow in the 1930s. While the documents make wild claims, Professor Granville prudently and correctly indicates some of the circumstances under which they were released in mid-1989. She puts it well: “The story of how these materials came to light is a story that has more to do with Soviet, Hungarian, and communist party politics amidst the revolutionary upheaval of the late 1980s and early 1990s than with historical or scholarly investigation” (p. 34). My purpose here is to add a few comments,
a including some new information on the role of a key player, about how and why the KGB released parts of its file on “Volodya.”
On the basic issue at hand: Having read the four KGB documents published by Professor Granville (pp. 36-37), and having read fragments of others in 1991-92, I share Professor Granville's suspicion that Imre Nagy was almost certainly an informer for the NKVD, the KGB's predecessor, in the 1930s. Like most other Communist exiles, Nagy was also a Soviet citizen and a member of the Soviet Communist Party. He was attached to the Soviet-dominated Communist International.
However, the claims about the consequences of Nagy's reporting made by KGB Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov in his letter of transmittal to the Soviet Central Committe on 16 June 1989 (p. 36) are almost certainly not true. His suggestion that Nagy alone was responsible for the arrest, exile, or execution of dozens of high-ranking Communist exiles defies common sense. Nagy, after all, was hardly an important figure at that time; he did not even belong to the inner circle of Hungarian activists. He was a lonely man, writing on Hungarian agriculture in an obscure émigré journal no one read and com
[I]t is one of the paradoxes of political life in Eastern Europe that, until the last days of this shortlived revolution, Nagy was the man Moscow counted on, and could count on, to save its cause in Hungary. Indeed, from the time of the first demonstration on October 23 to October 31, Nagy could only envisage a Hungarian future based on Soviet tutelage. With Soviet consent, he sought to make order by promising ‘reforms,' assuming that the promise of such reforms would end the uprising.
Nagy's first turning point came on October 28 when he reached the conclusion that the party had to be changed, too. He had come to understand—and the Kremlin con
To the extent this was a “reassessment”
menting on the Hungarian-language broad- János Kádár earlier that year and of the By the time Rajnai “authenticated” casts of Radio Moscow no one heard, let character, composition, and objectives of the Nagy's handwriting in July or early August alone listened to. As one of his Muscovite democratic opposition. His visit confirmed of 1989, Nagy had received—on 16 June colleagues would observe many years later, what he must have known: that the critics 1989—a ceremonial reburial at Budapest's even the leading émigrés “had nothing of both inside and outside the party were gain- Heroes Square in front of hundreds of thouconsequence to do but they behaved as if ing new adherents by using Imre Nagy's
ing new adherents by using Imre Nagy's sands of people while millions watched the they had. They practiced assiduously some- execution in 1958 to discredit not only Kádár event live on Hungarian TV all day. Still, thing they referred to as politics, plotted one and his associates but to undermine the whole Rajnai clung to the hope that he could save another's downfall, and generally pranced post-1956 Hungarian political order. As in the regime in which he believed and his own and cantered and whinnied like superannu- 1955-56, Nagy—a man Kryuchkov knew skin, too, by publicizing damaging informaated parade horses at the knacker's gates.” while he was the Soviet Embassy's press tion about Nagy-by portraying him as a (Julius Hay, Born 1900: Memoirs [La Salle, attaché in Budapest—had once again be- false pretender, a deceiver who sold out his Ill.: Library Press, 1975), pp. 218-19.) Given come the flag for the gathering storm. friends and comrades, a Stalinist stooge. the atmosphere of suspicion prevailing in I do not know if it was Kryuchkov who Only in this way could Rajnai help the Moscow at the time, the Russian commis- then initiated the KGB's search for informa- hardliners in the HSWP, notably Károly sars did not trust information conveyed by tion on Nagy's past. Nor does it much Grósz, to defeat such critics as Imre Pozsgay foreign Communists.
matter. Both he and Grósz were anxious to who used Nagy's name to gain political Could Nagy, a nonentity among the discredit Nagy in order to deprive the Hun- ground. Not incidentally, only in this way nonentities, have been a petty mole, then? garian people—and the anti-Kádár, anti- could Rajnai justify his own past and clarify Yes. Could his reporting have contributed to Grósz reformers in the HSWP—of a symbol the meaning of his life. He told me as much the bloody purge of foreign, especially Hun- of courage and sacrifice, of a reformer who during the course of some 40 hours of congarian, Communists in the 1930s? Yes. broke ranks with Moscow. An astute versation over several months in 1991 and Could he have been directly responsible for Kremlinologist may also interpret their ef- '92. the arrest of 25 Hungarian Communist fort as an attempt to disparage Nagy in order As it happened, Rajnai forwarded the émigrés, of whom 12 were executed and the to undermine Mikhail S. Gorbachev's repu- “Volodya File” to Grósz; it was translated rest sent to prison or exile? No. One: The tation.
from Russian into Hungarian by Mrs. Soviet authorities were always both suspi- I do know, however, who went over to Thürmer. Grósz presented a verbal sumcious of and contemptuous toward all for- the headquarters of the KGB to authenticate mary, similar to Kryuchkov's, to the HSWP eign Communists; the NKVD surely did not Nagy's handwriting and pick up the newly Central Committee on 1 September 1989. In rely on one such informant's reports. Two: found “Volodya File.” Accompanied by his speech Grósz told the Central Committee As Kryuchkov put it, the 1989 release of the Gyula Thürmer—Grósz's special assistant
Gyula Thürmer—Grósz's special assistant of Nagy's direct responsibility for the arrest “Volodya File” to Károly Grósz, General for Soviet affairs who, married to a Russian and sentencing of 25 leading Hungarian Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Work- woman, spoke excellent Russian—and pos- cadres in Moscow and the execution of 12 of ers Party (HSWP), was meant to be “expe- sibly by a “Third Man,” also from Budapest, them. But then Grósz declined to open the dient” and Grósz was to be advised “about the Hungarian in charge of the transaction floor for discussion or answer any questions. their possible use” (p. 36). Three: Given the was Sándor Rajnai, the Hungarian Ambassa- The Central Committee resolved to send the KGB's aptitude for falsifying documents, dor to Moscow. Unlike the young Thürmer“Volodya File” to the archives where it was the authenticity of anything emerging from and the “Third Man,” Rajnai had long known shelved. Oddly enough, even Grósz seemed its archives must be carefully scrutinized. Nagy and his handwriting very well indeed. doubtful of Volodya's political value at this
A few hitherto unknown details will For, in 1957-58, Lieutenant-Colonel Rajnai late date. “It is my conviction,” he declared, amplify the skepticism implicit in these of the Hungarian political police was respon- “that what you have just heard will not be reservations and supplement Professor sible for Nagy's arrest in and forced return decisive when it comes to making the ultiGranville's able account of the political from his involuntary exile in Romania; for mate judgment about Imre Nagy's whole circumstances of 1989.
Nagy's year-long interrogation in a Budapest life.” (The text of Grósz's speech was pubIn 1988, KGB Chief Vladimir jail where even his presence was top secret; lished on 15 June 1990—ten long months Kryuchkov flew to Budapest on a secret and for the preparation of Nagy's equally later—in the hardline Szabadság, a smallfact-finding mission. Long familiar with, secret trial whose scenario Rajnai had drafted. circulation Communist weekly edited by and reportedly very fond of, Hungary, he (Loyal, competent, sophisticated, and ad- Gyula Thürmer.) stayed for several days. He met a few party mired by his superiors and subordinates alike, In the end, Rajnai's hope of saving the leaders, the head of the political police, and this creative author of the last bloody Com- one-party Communist regime by publicizat least one mole the police had planted in munist purge was subsequently richly re- ing the “Volodya File” was dashed, and his the country's increasingly vocal democratic warded for a job well done. After a long fear of being held accountable for the phony opposition movement. Judging by the ques- tenure as head of Hungarian foreign intelli- charges he had concocted against Nagy in tions he asked and the people he met, he gence, he served as Ambassador to Romania 1957-58 turned out to be unwarranted. For, wanted to gain a first-hand impression of and then—the top prize—to the Soviet Union. while the Hungarian Supreme Court in 1989 the bitter struggle that engulfed the HSWP In the 1980s he became a member of the declared the trial of Imre Nagy and his leadership after the forced resignation of HSWP Central Committee as well.)
associates null and void, it declined to charge