Monitors placed on the doors show documentaries about persecuted and imprisoned members of the clergy. Relics pertaining to the fate of the various persecuted are on display in the booths. The large, grey loudspeakers in the background recall the period's blaring propaganda; they emitted the veritably "ungodly" regime's "crusade" in public places.
While the Nazis declared war based on race, the Communists declared war based on the classes. Both, however, regarded religion as an enemy. On the basis of collective criteria, these totalitarian dictatorships persecuted and killed those who they ruled under their might. However, religion as such approached the question of sin and its forgiveness on the basis of personal responsibility. The Nazis and the Communists replaced God with their leaders and claimed that is was they who were omniscient and infallible. They pledged allegiance to their leader, chanted his name on the battlefield, and worshiped him like an idol. They announced that a new type of man was needed to create a new world and a paradise on Earth, thus, they had the right to destroy anything or anyone who stood in the way of their highest goal. These dictatorships persecuted religion, worshipers and churches, since the teaching of religious morals was in sharp opposition with the Nazi and Communist ideologies that were intended to reach the status of a new religion.
The leaders of the Hungarian Christian churches in 1938 and 1939 did not reject the disgraceful laws against Jews. However, following the Nazi occupation, when their Jewish compatriots ended up in life threatening situations, many church leaders hurried to assist and to save them. Churches, parsonages and monasteries provided shelter, and the priests, pastors, people from the church as well as many believers, if they could, saved their lives. Áron Márton, Vilmos Apor and Margit Slachta from the Catholic church, József Éliás from the Reformed church and Gábor Sztehló from the Lutheran church, all demonstrated heroic courage and provided faith in this fight.
The Communist dictatorship that was laid down in the footsteps of the Soviet invaders considered churches as enemies from the very beginning and a target for destruction due to their moral and spiritual respect in addition to financial power and internationally organized structure. The goal of the Communists was to invent charges against church leaders and their institutions, which were considered as reactionaries and hinderers of development. They humiliated the moral respect of the priests and qualified their zeal to protect their beliefs and freedom of religion as a political crime. By forcing the churches to be financially dependent and restricting their role in religious practice, the Communists tried to gradually cause them to wither away. The final goal was to eliminate the belief in God and religion, and replace God with the State.
As a first step, with the 1945 land reform, the Communists took over the land of the Roman Catholic church without issuing any reparations or compensation. Despite the fact that this measure put the Catholic Church´s institutions in total financial disarray, the Catholic episcopacy declared on 24 May 1945 in a pastoral letter: ˝Let´s pray that the success of the new proprietors may console the church for its losses˝.
The Communist regime fixed salaries below the poverty level for priests, pastors and rabbis. They prohibited and dismantled religious, charity and devotional associations. Apart from a few exceptions, they closed down all church-owned educational institutions. In 1949, they halted compulsory catechism and instituted optional religious teaching. The parents of those who followed religious instruction were continually harassed and intimidated. The students who attended religious schools were regularly discriminated against at college and university acceptance exams.
In an effort to totally subjugate the churches, the Communists removed those church leaders who were not ready to collaborate or who stood against the Party. By the means of internal putsch, forced departure from the country, invented trials, prison sentences and other formes of intimidation, the Communists ensured that only leaders who were ready to cooperate with the dictatorship rose to the leadership position in the churches.
Despite the Communist constitution and the declared principles, the Communists set up the State Office for Religious Affairs in 1951, which monitored all religious denominations on a daily basis. They destroyed the churches´ moral respect with the ˝peace priests˝ (Miklós Beresztóczy, István Balogh, Richárd Horváth) and the lay leaders (Ernő Mihályfi, János Páter, Iván Reök, József Darvas, László Dezséry, Lajos Vető) who were party secretaries or Communist functionaries before becoming bishops or church officials. The new leaders represented the interests of the state Party within their denominations and called for peace and the creation of the kolkhoz in their ˝agitation sermons˝. They took part in ˝peace work˝ and represented themselves in the so-called Patriotic People´s Front as well as in the Parliament.
The former clergy leaders - the pastors and priests of the churches - sat in prison or were coerced to resign and withdraw. Many of the pastors, priests, monks and rabbis fled their homeland (Chief Rabbi Ferenc Hevesi). Zoltán Túróczy, Lutheran Bishop, had to go before the court on trumped-up charges. Lajos Ordass, Lutheran Bishop, was sentenced to two years in prison based on false charges. The Communists forced the resignation and removal of the Reformed church´s most respected bishop, László Ravasz.
Using political and administrative coersion, along with other forms of intimidation the newly appointed leaders were forced to sign agreements between the State and the Reformed and Unitarian Churches (7 October 1948). The same agreement was signed with the Lutheran Church and the Jewish community two months later. At the begining of Communist rule, there were four Reformed Church high schools, but by 1951 only one remained. Despite agreements not to harass the Churches, the Communists continued to wipe out the presence and the outreach of the religious communities. The Communists deported and arrested Lutheran pastors György Kendeh and András Keken as well as the Reformed Church´s Péter Fekete and Tibor Kovács who were assistant ministers in the Trans-Tisza region.
The prisons were filled with Catholic priests, monks and nuns. During the so-called soft dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, young people accused of setting up Catholic or Reformed movements were put into prison. For those who were disobedient to the party state, the State Office for Religious Affairs applied the ˝relocate by service interest˝ principle to the last minute.
The forced agreements of the Catholic Church were in effect for forty years, between August 1950 and 1990.
The Jewish Community
After the pogroms, massacres, deportations, and emigration, fewer than 150,000 people declared their Jewish identity in the 1949 census (1.4%). The Jewish denomination faced different challenges than Christians after World War II. The traditional double identity of the Hungarian Jewish community, which considered itself both Hungarian and Jewish alike, suffered racial discrimination and appalling persecution, and thus both of these roots became loose. At the same time there was a promise for the creation of a Jewish state, thus the Zionist movement was powerfully attractive to this community. (At the dissolution of the Hungarian Alliance for Zionism in 1949, it had approximately 43,000 members).
The Zionist movement had at its disposal a defined program and a vision of the future, and hence did not conform with the state Party´s goal of exercising and commanding total influence and control. The purging of Jewish public life began with Zionism, the elements of society and all of those who stood in the way of the realization of unrestricted influence of the state Party. Within the religious community, the Communist party´s organization was set up under the direction of the chief doctor from the Jewish hospital, László Benedek. Until 1950, the Hungarian
Jewish community was assembled into a single unified organization. This community became more and more isolated from international Jewish organizations, especially from the American organization Joint, which had provided significant help to revive the Hungarian Jewish community. From one day to the next, it was considered an imperialistic spy organization and the leaders were taken into custody, deported and harassed. The Chief Rabbi of Szigetvár, Béla Berend, was held in a show trial and accused of collaborating with the Arrowcross Party and several Zionist leaders were thrown in prison (1949). The Communists compelled Géza Szűcs, who had been the director of Joint Hungary, and his twin brother, who was the legal advisor to the community, to commit suicide, since they refused to give out the lists of those assisted by the organization (11 August 1951). The reason the ÁVO demanded the list was because Szűcs and his organization supported many deported Jews and non-Jews as well, who had saved Jewish people in 1944. Then in 1953, on the order of the Soviets, and based on the Soviet recipe, the ÁVH began to prepare for a major Zionist trial. In the Soviet systems, open antisemitism manifested itself as anti-Zionism. This is why Party leaders tried to channel the population´s legitimate exasperation and emotion towards despised terror organizations, for their own protection against the Jewish community. Among those arrested were the most prominent leaders in the Jewish community and public life, including head of the ÁVH Gábor Péter, party leaders of Jewish origin, doctors and engineers - some of whom were even accused of murdering Raoul Wallenberg.
After Stalin´s death on 5 March 1953, most of those in jail were released. The affair of Gábor Péter and the other arrested Jewish ÁVH officers continued however. Among the Communist party leaders and the party´s terrorist organizations (PRO, ÁVO, ÁVH, KATPOL, GRO) were in fact a considerable number of communists of Jewish origin who not chose to deny their God, religion, and homeland to become servants of the Communist state and ideology. The stigmatization and the persecution of the Zionist movement and the Zionists themselves, following the Soviet model, lasted until the change of the regime.
The Lutheran Church
During the growing Communist control, one of the first steps of the Nyíregyháza police was the arrest of Zoltán Túróczi, the Bishop of the Tisza church district, and his sentencing in front of the People´s Court. Without any basis, the court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and the loss of his job on war crimes charges. Thanks to the joint efforts of leaders of the historical churches, he was released 10 months later, however it was another 2 years before Túróczi managed to gain back his bishop´s cloak.
In August 1948, the ÁVO arrested Bishop Lajos Ordass for the ˝illegal operation and use of foreign aid˝ as well as Albert Radvánszky, universal superintendent of church and schools and Sándor Vargha universal general secretary. They accused Bishop Ordass with false charges and sentenced him for 2 years imprisonment. The Bishop of Trans-Danubia, Béla Kapi, resigned ˝voluntarily˝ with three of his superintendents.
The Communists managed to get their reliable people elected as bishops; Lajos Veto in Nyíregyháza and László Dezséry in Budapest. Two months after the Reformed Church, on 8 December 1948, the Lutheran church, which was under external and internal pressure, accepted an agreement with the state, and one week later, on December 14th, signed it together with the Jewish community.
The loss of its schools was a serious blow to the Lutheran church. The Lutheran Theology Academy was established in 1951, but never received an autonomous, permanent building. The constant moves as well as the stress on the teaching staff almost made its operation impossible.
From 1951, the Lutheran church, just like the other churches, was put under the complete control and direction of the State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs (AEH). Because of the reorganization only two church districts were left, and Bishops Veto and Dezséry, both confidants of state´s AEH, took part as activists of the peace priest movement in the World Council of Peace, the Patriotic People´s Front and the party state´s parliamentary work. The lay leaders, Chief Doctor Ivan Reok and the writer József Darvas, were the Communists´ companions. Those who were opposed to them were fired or deported like the Pastor of Kelenföld, György Kendeh and his family just as well as András Keken, pastor at the Deák Square community.
In 1956, the two seriously compromised bishops resigned, but after the Soviet invasion they withdrew their resignation.
Bishop Zoltán Káldy led the Lutheran Church with an iron fist for 30 years from 1958. In harmony with the ideology of the atheist state, he wanted to transform the Lutheran church into a ˝servant church.˝ Everyone was marginalized (suspended or relocated) who disapproved of his approach. Through his excellent personal contacts to the party, he participated in the work of international church organizations. In 1984, he became the President of the Lutheran World Federation and its 52 million members.
Due to historical reasons, the Reformed Church does not fade into any international church bodies and that is why it is considered as ˝a nation-based, Hungarian˝ church. So, when the Communists took action against the Reformed church, there was no concern for international condemnation.
The two most venerated bishops of the Reformed church, László Ravasz and Imre Révész, raised their voice already in 1945 against the atrocities of the installing Soviet dictatorship. The advancing Soviet troops and the new regime following in its footsteps treated the village pastors and priests as enemies from the first moment. In the Trans-Tisza church district until July 1945, 30 arrested pastors were registered and action was taken against them by the police or the People´s Court. ˝Right wing fascism was replaced by left wing fascism,˝ noted Bishop Ravasz. While the congregations were reconstructing their buildings with enormous sacrifices, they were hit with the wildest propaganda.
The Communist´s Interior Minister Rajk issued a regulation that dissolved almost 1500 social associations, which also seriously affected the Reformed church. In 1947, many members of this church were linked to the notorious ˝Hungarian Community˝ case accused of ˝plotting against the republic.˝ The Communist dictatorship began in spring 1948 to ˝arrange˝ the relationship between the state and church, the so-called ˝separation of the state and church˝. This expression according to the rules of the ˝new language˝ meant exactly the opposite. Never did the state, which oppressed as well as endangered its existence, ever interfere into the business of the church, so the state cynically forced on the church a leadership ready to serve.
The declaration of the universal convent of the Reformed church against the dismantling of judges´ independence at the beginning of 1948 stimulated heavily the party state to attack the church. In March 1948, they forced the Chief Administrator of the Danube area, Andor Lázár, to resign and to give importance to his case, he was arrested on April 1st and was taken to Andrássy Boulevard 60. A few weeks later, Bishop László Ravasz, the president of the universal convent and synod, had to resign. The new leadership of the Reformed church signed ˝an agreement˝ with the state on 7 October 1948, according to which only four high schools were left, and for 20 years, the church would receive every five years 25 percent less in state aid.
In September 1949, Imre Révész, Bishop of the Trans-Tisza region resigned. His successor was János Péter, the one who left his bishop´s seat for the Foreign Minister´s position in the Kádár regime. By 1950, ˝the change of guard˝ in the Reformed church was finished. After that, for four decades, the leaders of the Reformed church represented the interests of the state within the church and also preached the official propaganda. The disintegration and dissolution of the church was performed with internal help.
The most extensive manifestation of this was the fact that the leaders of the church supported the organization of the agricultural co-operatives, (TSZCS). Most of the pastors from whom the church community was waiting for guidance and consolation refused to preach the agitation sermons imposed from above and stood beside their followers. A lot of them had to face church disciplinary actions, state security retaliation and imprisonment.
The first law of 1951 introduced the setting up of the State Office of Religious Affairs (AEH). A short time after that, the president of the state office and both bishops of the Reformed church came to an agreement. According to this agreement the Reformed church ˝recognized˝ that ˝the interest of the church˝ is to close its deaconess institutions, to offer voluntarily its remaining land to the state and to merge its theology academies and diocese. They sacrificed the theological academies of Sárospatak and Papa; the high schools in Budapest, Sárospatak and Pápa; as well as the diocese between the Danube and the Tisza. All that was explained by the reasons of their tight financial situation and with rationalization. They imprisoned Béla Pap who had opposed the liquidation, made dean Imre Szabó renounce and leave into exile.
A group of young pastors from the Reformed church at the Budapest Academy of Theology laid down a declaration of confession in 1955. One year later, László Ravasz joined them and summarized his opinion concerning the situation of the Reformed church in a ˝memorandum.˝ In summer 1956, with the signature of 160 pastors, they turned in a negotiation proposal to the Presidency of the Universal Convent concerning the renewal of church life. The Presidency set the debate for the proposal for October 27th, which never took place because of the October Revolution. On 31 October, the Reformed Church Movement for Renewal summoned the compromised church leaders to step down and asked László Ravasz to return in his former capacity. Since the freedom fight sank into bloodshed this never happened. Two theology students lost their lives in the fight: István Magócsi and Lajos Herczeg.
In 1957, the once-again solidifying dictatorship requested authorization from the State Office of Religious Affairs for the organization of church gatherings, the issuing of circulars and their reproduction. The former leaders were reinstated and in their position, they started brutal retaliation against the members of the Movement for Renewal. In 1957, 17 pastors and assistant ministers in addition to theology students were arrested. During this time, seven leaders of the Reformed church received and accepted high-state awards from the Kádár government. While Reformed church Bishop Albert Bereczky said thanks on behalf of all denominations to János Kádár, the death sentence of Pastor Lajos Gulyás was carried out by hanging in Gyor.
Under the leadership of Tibor Bartha, the bishop of Debrecen, the development of the political conception of the church started from 1958, which served the existing social system, the Soviet politics and supported the ideas of socialism without criticism, spreading them by propaganda among the western chuches. This ˝serving church theology˝ remained the official theology of the church until the change of the regime.