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"You already died, stay dead!"

Trials relating to subversive statements made on the occasion of Stalin's death

Hungarian cases
Documents from the Archives of the Historical Office in Budapest (Archives of the files of the former communist political police)

Investigation file No. V-112190: The Case of Károly Zirigh, Veszprém

Károly Zirigh, electrician at the 7 November Power Plant was arrested on 2 April, 1953. The inquiry reports stated that on March 6, 1953 he "publicly uttered heavily hostile, anti-regime and anti-democratic announcements and made cynically slanderous statements about the leaders of the country".
"In the morning of March 6, 1953 the accused told his colleagues that he had "an interesting dream last night. On the top of a hill he saw a dead corpse which he recognized as Comrade Stalin's. Two figures, a smaller and a taller one, were embalming the body, and when they touched its face, it unexpectedly sat up. But the embalmers took a heavy object in their hands and hit the body on the head, saying: "You already died, stay dead!" By this, "the accused expressed his hatred and contempt, and his joy at the decease of one of the greatest figures of humankind, in a way which was capable of arousing similar thoughts and feelings within the audience and inciting hatred against the democratic state order".
Zirigh was sentenced to 2 years 3 months in prison.

Investigation file No. V-105913, The case of József Matyuska, Várpalota

According to the prosecution the accused entered a local grocery to buy a soap-boiler on March 6, 1953 at 11 am. There were 15-20 people in the shop when the accused noticed that the shopkeeper still had not hung out the black flag to commemorate Comrade Stalin's death. Matyuska asked mockingly: "Aren't you mourning, when your Father is dead? One of the women in the shop said fearfully: "Do not speak of him, he may return from the dead", to which the accused replied: "It would be the worse if he returned."
Matyuska got 14 months for his "statement capable of incitement".

State Security Authority. Telegram, Koszeg, March 8 and March 9, 1953. From file No. V-108069

The first telegram reports that Erno Szekér told a joke in public on the occasion of Stalin's death on March 7, 1953. "Stalin and the Pope die and go up to heaven. The pope notices that far more angels are serving Stalin than him. He indignantly asks St. Peter for an explanation. St Peter replies: When you spoke, only believers prayed. But when Stalin spoke, the whole world prayed."
The second telegram reports on the arrest of Erno Szekér, a 25-year-old textile technician, for making slanderous and disgraceful statements about Comrade Stalin and Comrade Lenin. Szekér received a one- year sentence for his joke.
István Szárnyas said the following: "Usually only masters are embalmed. Is Stalin a master? When he told us "armies of slaves, arise!" we still did not know what it was really like to be a slave. Now, we know."

Investigation file No. V-112613. The case of József Pichner. Veszprém, March 9, 1953.

The report says that on March 6, 1953 József Pichner said at his workplace, that "this death should have happened 75 years ago." Eventually, József Pichner was sentenced to two years in prison.

Investigation file No. V-148421. Verdict in the case of Mrs. Ilona Benke. Kecskemét, May, 1953.

On March 7, 1953 the accused convened a small meeting at her workplace, where she made slanderous and disgraceful statements on the occasion of Comrade Stalin's death. These statements were capable of arousing hatred and disaffection against the democratic order of the state. Mrs. Benke was sentenced to three years in prison.

Investigation file No. V-112197. Verdict in the case of Mr. Imre Kiss. Budapest, April 22, 1953.

The charge against him was that he had made disgraceful and hostile anti-regime statements on the occasion of Comrade Stalin's death. Quotation from the court-ruling: "His deed violated Pass. VII./ Par. 2. of the Criminal Code "Incitement against the democratic order of the state" since Comrade Stalin's personality has become identified with the people's democratic order. The birth and existence of the people's democratic regime are the result of policies directed by Comrade Stalin."

State Prosecution, Department of Special Cases, 1953.
Criminal procedures for inciting statements related to Comrade Stalin's death In: Chapters from the History of Hungarian Jurisdiction, Vol. IV. Ed. Tibor Zinner. pp. 680-681.

According to the memoranda published in the book, the Hungarian prosecution initiated criminal proceedings in over 100 cases that were related to inciting statements about Stalin's death. The page we have selected represent only a small sample of these cases. The reports sorted the cases regionally, by counties and major cities in Hungary. Some experts from the texts (sentence in brackets):

1. Kecskemét. Imre Barabás, 28-year-old worker in a state agricultural cooperative. On March 6, in front of a grocery shop he said: "They are handing out bread today because Stalin perished." (8 months)

5. Pécs. János Balogh, miner. On March 6 he was drunk and said to the passengers of a bus: "If I died, nobody would mourn for me." (8 months)

14. Szeged. Imre Ambrus, butcher: "If they entrusted the leadership of the Soviet Union to me, I would even fillet him. They have only 75 more days left. Then, the local party secretary will be the first one I hang." (3 years 6 months)

17. Gyula. Jeno Radóczi, 30-year-old market stall keeper, speculator, hooligan element: On March 6, while he was standing drunk in front of the lavatory of a hotel, he said to four young girls: "Stalin is dead. Now you can use his picture to wipe your ass." (3 years 10 months)

Soviet cases
from the State Arhcives of the Russian Federation (GARF)

Anti-Soviet agitation, the case of A. N. Kotliarskii

"Kotliarskii held a speech during the mourning meeting on March 6, 1953, where he spoke about the enemies of the Soviet power, and how he (Stalin) fought against them. Then he added, alluding to Stalin: "We have lost our dear and beloved enemy"." GARF

Anti-Soviet agitation, the case of A. F. Kichkina

"On March 9, 1953 after the mourning ceremony newspapers with Stalin's protrait were distributed. Kichkina tried to get one, but she did not want to queue. When she was not allowed to get forward, she pushed a girl and told her: "I wish you perished, too, with the leader's name on your mouth." Then, after a small tumult arised, she repeated it to the people around: "He perished! You perish, too, with his name on your mouth!" GARF

Information Items
from Open Society Archives on the popular, unofficial reactions to Stalin's death


The so called "field offices" of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty tried to gather information via interviews with refugees came from the Soviet bloc. The summaries of these interviews were arranged into the series of "information items". The reports we selected here reflect the public attitude and the spontaneous reactions to the dictator's death from various cities and regions of the Soviet block.

Item No. 04470/53
Polican, Albania, April 25, 1953

This is a report on how villagers in Polican received the news of Stalin's death. On March 9 the church bell rang to call the people together to hear the district party secretary's funeral oration.

Item No. 6209/53
Czechoslovakia, June 1953

Czechoslovak reactions to Stalin's and Gottwald's death

(...) While the funeral ceremony was going on in Moscow, a local military ceremony was also held on the market place of Hermanuv Mestec. In the middle of the small square there was a wooden construction covered in black, next to it a bust of Stalin on a table and a pot full of alcohol which had been set alight. Zapotocky's and Nehedly's speeches from Prague were broadcast through loudspeakers set up in the four corners of the square. In the bright weather, the commemoration lasted for two hours. In the end a few soldiers - to imitate the salvos in Moscow - set off a "frog" firework behind the crowd. Eventually, the Czechoslovak and Soviet anthems and the Worker's Funeral March resounded.

Item No. 5550/53
Czechoslovakia, May 29, 1953

The informant, a young soldier, recalls the reaction of a corporal: "They must have given him the right poison, if he died just one week after he got sick. Now that everything's upside down, the Americans should come at once, damn it".
The military unit was immediately put on the alert. The officers and the communists kept running around with pinched faces and uneasy feelings.
On the day of the funeral those who were not on duty were ordered to listen to the radio broadcast from Red Square. The whole division was lined up and stood facing East for ten minutes, and they had to present arms, paying the last tribute to Stalin. "Even the commies found it ridiculous: this stand-facing-East was dumbly theatrical. They instantly started to make jokes about it: "We had to do this so that the West couldn't see whether we were really crying or not." Or: "If they'd had the chance to look at the faces of the mourners, they would not start a war at once." The ceremony was followed by the usual speeches by the commanders. We had to stay on full alert for another two days, after which everything went back to normal. Then Gottwald died and the whole comedy started again".

Item 3905/1953
Czechoslovakia, April 10, 1953

Pigs, manure and Stalin's death

Despite the directive of the Ministry of Agriculture, some local newspapers reported Stalin's death together with other, unsuitable news - on pig-breeding, new technologies in manuring, etc. - on the front page. Those editors, who disgraced Stalin's "holy memory" in this way, were immediately fired. The report lists the titles of the respective newspapers.

Item No. 03884/1953
Hungary, Budapest, April 10, 1953.

Two arrests for jokes on Stalin's death

The well-known pop music composer, Kálmán Szabó was arrested in "Café Volga" in Marx Square for making jokes about Stalin's death. Allegedly he asked a friend who was sitting nearby whether he was coming to a "pig-killing feast". "What kind of feast?", his friend asked back. "Well, the pig has perished."

The State Security Authority arrested the proofreader of the official daily of the Hungarian Trade Unions, Népszava because of a misprint. In one of the propaganda-bulletins instead of "in our deeply shocked sorrow" they printed: "in our deeply ordered sorrow".
(The difference between the two words in Hungarian is only one letter: megrendül-megrendel. The report was incorrect: the misprint was published not in a bulletin but in the daily itself on the front page on 6 March, 1953.)

Item No. 03807/1953
Hungary, April 9, 1953

New jokes

Here is the opinion of a Hungarian peasant on Stalin's death: "Stalin was indeed a wise man. He knew exactly how many chickens, pigs and cows, how many tons of wheat, and how many kilos of fat and bacon I had."

Stalin's successors called together the holy men of various religions to decide who should bury Stalin. Finally they entrusted job of performing the funeral ceremony to the Jewish rabbi, for in the Jewish religion there is no resurrection.

Item No. 5045/53
Sopron, Hungary, 11 May, 1953.

Workers do not believe that Stalin died for natural cause, bit hope the situation will ameliorate.

The Hungarian radio reported Stalin's death only twelve hours later. After the announcement the government ordered 5 minutes' silence throughout the country. The factory sirens wailed during the break. The people suspected that Stalin had not died a natural death, but had been given an injection. Everybody, without exception, said, "If only he had died ten years earlier!" (...)
A couple of days later the people learned about the death of Gottwald. The brick-factory workers started gossiping again: "surely he got an injection too."

Item No. 06202/53
Hungary, June 17, 1953.

"Well informed" people agreed that Stalin had died much earlier, but that the Kremlin, afraid of the potential consequences of the event, had kept it secret. Some less educated people said that "Stalin died earlier and his body was preserved in alcohol". Others believed that his death had to be made public due to the upcoming peace negotiation, for if Stalin had not attended to the negotiations, the other parties would have thought he was an opponent of world peace.

Item No. 02982/53
Hungary, 21 March, 1953

The mourning ceremony in Budapest ended in chaos and confusion.

The mourning ceremony in Budapest on the day of Stalin's funeral ended in unprecedented chaos and confusion. Almost 200,000 people were forced to come to Stalin Square from all the factories, schools and offices in Budapest. The crowd lost their patience when, after a long ceremony and endless adulatory speeches, the laying of wreaths on the Stalin statue started at 5.30 p.m. The crowd tried to leave the square spontaneously, but the whole area was closed off by police cordons in all directions except for one narrow gate towards Hero's Square. An unprecedented rush and scramble started within a few minutes as the crowd tried the leave the place. People trampled on each other, the screaming and shouting of men, women and children rose above the voice of the loudspeakers. In the meantime the Soviet anthem resounded but the yelling crowd paid attention. They stopped rioting when the loudspeakers started to play the Hungarian anthem, but after that their impatience burst out even more violently.

Item No. 02981/53
Hungary, 21 March, 1953

Reactions in Budapest to Stalin's death.

The people of Budapest rejoiced when Stalin's medical collapse and death were made public. Never before had so many joyous, smiling faces been seen in the streets of Budapest. The general gaiety was shadowed only by the news that the communists were taking strict measures against "disgraceful" people. Three workers were arrested in the Budapest Screw Factory for joking about Stalin's death. The most popular joke in those days went as follows: "Stalin is just like a dead man. How is that possible? Because everybody likes the fact that he died."
The loyal condolences of some British and American radio stations, however, caused a certain amount of indignation and disaffection among the public, and gave the impression that despite Stalin's misdeeds the West treated him as a great statesman of our age. Hungarians were outraged when they learned that flags had been flown at half mast on French governmental buildings and that the Italian Parliament had held a mourning break to commemorate Stalin.

Item No. 30024/53
Hungary, March 23, 1953.

The authorities ordered work to be suspended in all factories and offices in Budapest for the time of the funeral ceremony. Now, in some of the factories the laborers were asked to make offers of voluntary labor to catch up on the lost time.

Item No 4988/53
Romania, May 8, 1953

Constanta: reactions to Stalin's death. Based on the account of Romanian sailor

The rumor spread that the Western allies would drop atomic bombs on Moscow on the day of the funeral in order to destroy the vipers' nest. Thus, the whole world waited impatiently for the funeral to see the Kremlin's masters vanish.
It seems that the government was expecting such a public reaction: units of the army, militia and the Securitate patrolled the streets, entered restaurants and shops, and systematically checked people's IDs.
Next day political cartoons and graffiti appeared on the walls of the houses and the toilets of the factories: "the soil swallows him up"; or: "we got rid of Satan". One of the drawings showed a face with a drooping moustache and fishy eyes, with the following inscription underneath: "Now, you really look nice". Many caricatures were accompanied by vulgar phrases. The uniformity of the drawings and texts indicates that this was an organised action by some subversive organisation.

Item No. 06614/53
Romania, 1953. június 26

How Bucharest learned of Salin's fatal stroke.
An account of an orthodox Arab priest from Beirut.

When the news spread that Stalin had a fatal brain-stroke, the city had become almost vacant. The patrols of Securitate checked almost everybody in the streets. Nezt morning anti-Stalin leaflets appeared. The proclamation predicted that the dictator would die soon, and praised the beginning of the end of Communism. The last sentence of the leaflet: Live Free Roumania!

Item No. 04671/53
Soviet Union, former Polish regions, April 30, 1953.

Anti-Soviet Unrests

According to some information anti-Soviet protests took place in Lvov in Marc 11, 1953. The crowd started to sing Ukrainian and Polish patriotic songs. The police attempted to dissolve the crowd but the people did not wish to leave the streets. Late in the evening military patrols and tanks appeared . Since the unrest continued for another few days, the guards of the public buildings were reinforced by special units until March 18.

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