Pál Maléter – Anti-fascist World War II partisan and hero of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

This year we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight. Pál Maléter was one of the most important actors in the events. He was unusual, complex and his intentions were often misunderstood by the revolutionaries. Some might even say that Maléter became the “accidental martyr” who is rarely written about in English.

Pál Maléter

Pál Maléter

About 600 Hungarian partisans fought against the Nazis during World War II. They attacked Horthy’s pro-Hitler army and Szálasi’s Arrow-Cross thugs and they also fought in the Slovak National Uprising with Soviet and American operatives. The U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, dropped Americans by parachute in Slovakia around Banská Bystrica (in Hungarian Besztercebánya). The Americans operated behind enemy lines collaborating with Soviet, Slovak and Hungarian partisans. One of these Hungarian units was led by 27-year-old Pál Maléter.

Maléter was born into an influential Protestant (Evangelical Lutheran) family in Eperjes, today Presov, Slovakia. His father was a Socialist. Maléter started to study medicine at Prague’s Charles University. He opposed Hitler’s fascism and had to leave after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939.

In Budapest Maléter volunteered for military service to obtain citizenship, and in the autumn of 1940 he was admitted to the Ludovika Military Academy. After graduating the young army officer was posted to the Eastern Front where he was taken prisoner of war by the Soviets.

In the Soviet Union Maléter joined the fight against fascism and attended Soviet partisan school. His unit was deployed in the autumn of 1944. With luck he survived while many of his American and Soviet comrades were captured and brutally executed.

After World War II Maléter reached the rank of colonel in the Hungarian People’s Army and he played a pivotal role in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. As a senior army officer he refused to fight the revolutionaries; many of them supported and respected him. Maleter wanted to avoid the bloodshed by pushing for a negotiated solution. Fluent in Russian, he negotiated with the Soviets and as Minister of Defense he met with Russian commanders in the Parliament building on November 3, 1956. Later, as part of the negotiating team, he went to the Tököl military base just outside Budapest where he was cowardly arrested by the Soviet KGB.

Maléter was sentenced to death on June 15, 1958 by the Hungarian People’s Court for initiating and leading a conspiracy, rebellion and treason, with no room for appeal. He was executed on the following day. He was only 40 years old and a true hero of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Maléter statue, Tököl, Hungary

Maléter statue, Tököl, Hungary

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Mr. Paul Maleter, son of Pál Maléter from his first marriage, lives in the United States. He was born in Szeged in 1946, and left Hungary at the age of 10. Recently Ms. Réka Pigniczky, the Hungarian-American documentary filmmaker made a fascinating English language interview with him as part of the Memory Project. Click here to see the video.

György Lázár

2 Comments

  1. András B. Göllner says:

    Poor fellows – the father, as well as the child. Both were reluctantly caught up by events they could not control, nor understand.

    Those who view this video should know, that the interviewer, Andrea Lauer-Rice, of the American-Hungarian Coalition, is one of the Orbán regime’s most vocal apologist in the USA. Not once has she bothered to raise her voice against the rule of law violations committed by this regime, or against the obscenity committed by Hungary’s current President, when he granted the Order of Merit, on St Stephen’s Day 2016, to Hungary’s leading anti-Semitic writer, Zsolt Bayer. She should do an interview series with the more than 100 Hungarian men and women, who returned their state awards in protest of this obscenity. I think that by doing such a video, Andrea Lauer Rice may compensate for all the damage and pain she and members of her conservative circle have caused to those Hungarians, who wanted to live in a democracy after the collapse of Communism, only to find themselves living in Europe’s most corrupt autocracy.

  2. Child of survivors says:

    A fine person- integrity and hard work -wishing him only the very best!

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