Dr. Aurel Abranyi, born in 1914, was a graduate of Budapest University, a lawyer, and an editor/writer for two Budapest newspapers prior to World War II. He spent time in a Soviet prison camp in from March to June 1945. He renewed his journalist profession and became a co-owner of a French automobile dealership. He wanted to go to Paris in 1948 as a newspaper correspondent but Hungarian authorities would not approve his departure.
He reportedly tried to escape Hungary in November 1948 but was caught by Soviet troops at the border and was returned to Budapest, where he might have agreed to cooperate with Hungarian authorities in order to leave the country. Aurel Abranyi "escaped" from Hungary in April 1949 to Austria. He settled in Vienna, stated practicing as a lawyer, and became an Austrian citizen in 1953.
He maintained continual contacts with friends, relatives, and other persons, for information about Hungary and passed some on to Radio Free Europe. For about three years he as a source of reliable information about events in Hungary to the RFE Vienna office, identified there only as "Marc." He was never an employee of Radio Free Europe.
He also reportedly made contact in 1950 with the French intelligence service SDECE and the American intelligence service (CIC) while acting as an agent for Hungarian Intelligence service with the code name “Relly”—which he was also known by in Vienna. Over time, his reports decreased and finally stopped in 1951. They were presumably submitted to Budapest with knowledge of both the SDECE and CIC. The Hungarian intelligence service reportedly tried to meet him in Vienna, but he refused. A Hungarian intelligence report concluded that Abranyi was “an enemy agent.”
During a political trial in Budapest in the summer 1956, Abranyi was falsely identified by Hungarian media as the “Foreign Director” of RFE's so-called “espionage ring” in Hungary. This created some excitement within RFE in Munich, especially the Security Office, as RFE headquarters had no knowledge of Abranyi and his relationship with RFE. One of Abranyi's known contacts previously had been identified as "a known intelligence swindler and fabricator."
During the chaotic early days of the 1956 Revolution, Kalman Konkoly and other Radio Free Europe employees crossed into Hungary. Konkoly went into a Hungarian intelligence monitoring station and took documents and reels of taped telephone conversations.
After the failed Hungarian Revolution in October/November 1956, RFE reviewed all connections to Hungary, including RFE’s relationship with Dr. Abranyi. His services were terminated and Abranyi unsuccessfully sued RFE on a breach of contract.
In 1957, Abranyi and Konkoly published a German-language book in Munich based, in part, on some of the documents, which Konkoly had removed from Hungary -- Ein Land in Flammen. Der Opfergang Ungarns (A Country in Flames: The Sacrifice of Hungary).
Konkoly reportedly was fired in Munich for his unauthorized trip into Hungary and for making Radio Free Europe materials available to outsiders.
The Persian Rug Game
On October 12, 1961, at about 4 PM, Dr. Abranyi left his law office to visit, Laszlo Geroe, a Hungarian-born businessman, who had telephoned inviting him over to his apartment at Kaulbachstrasse 1. The next day, Abranyi's wife, called the Viennese police to report that he had not returned home. The police forced open the door of Geroe's apartment and found evidence of a violent struggle, including spent hypodermic needles and bloodstains.
Both Abranyi and Geroe were missing. The police investigation later determined that Geroe left his apartment on October 12, 1961, at 8 PM and drove across the Czechoslovak border at Berg, Austria, at about 9 PM. A few days later, after further police investigation, an arrest warrant was issued for Geroe on suspicion of kidnapping and murder.
Journalist Nino Lo Bello wrote in his April 1968 newspaper article “Spy Game: Vienna Waltzes to Secret Tunes”:
Political kidnappings in Vienna are not at all unknown. Several years ago the Russians introduced a technique called the “Persian rug game.” Burly Soviets drive up in a panel truck of a nonexistent rug cleaning company. Snug inside the rolled carpet carried out and placed in the trunk ... is the abducted victim.
One such victim, known personally by this reporter, left Vienna rolled up inside a Persian rug and spent several years in Russia’s notorious Lubianka prison.
In November 1987, a Hungarian newspaper printed an article entitled "Untangling an Enigmatic Crime" that contained information about the kidnapping of Abranyi. Reportedly when Geroe, and presumably others, with Abranyi wrapped in a rug in the auto’s trunk, approached the border from Czechoslovakia into Hungary, a gate in the iron curtain opened. Hungarian military officers and other officials were obviously waiting for them. The article said that Abranyi, still unconscious, remained in a rug and was dragged across the border into Hungary. The gate closed and all traces were cleaned up. Geroe then drove alone through the official border crossing to Budapest.
In December 1961, Geroe wrote a letter from Budapest to Austrian authorities denying any involvement with Abranyi's disappearance. About two years later, a lawyer representing Geroe appeared in Vienna and suggested that his client would return to Austria to face the charges. He didn’t. He was later identified as a captain of the Hungarian Intelligence Service under cover name D-144.
Abranyi was reportedly imprisoned, harshly questioned for months and was forced to sign a confession. In 1963, a Hungarian Military Court found him guilty of treason, disloyalty, and spying. In 1963, a visitor to RFE in Vienna reported that he had seen Abranyi in a Hungarian prison and Abranyi was being kept in reserve for possible use in an upcoming propaganda campaign. This did not happen. In March 1964, major newspapers in the United States, using a Vienna newspaper as the source, carried reports that Abranyi was alive and in prison in Budapest. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, on March 3, 1964, began an article with this, "Aurel Abranyi, a former Hungarian political refugee, is in a Budapest prison after mysteriously disappearing from Vienna in October 1961."
Abranyi was apparently released from prison on October 15, 1974, at 9 AM, after “13 years imprisonment for systematic espionage as a member of a spy organization.” A “strictly secret” memorandum from a police Colonel Jozsef Deak to a Colonel Istvan Kukk of the Interior Ministry advised Kukk of the release date and time and he was to “undertake the necessary measures.” What those were are not known, but, as the story goes, Abranyi was placed in a car with two interior ministry officers and then disappeared forever. One report has him dying in Czechoslovakia in 1974, after having been struck down by a truck.
In the post-1989 years, Abranyi’s sister and other relatives failed to convince the Hungarian government to release details of his kidnapping and death. I received an e-mail message from Abranyi’s niece in December 2007 in which she writes: “Last year I visited Budapest and found an office in Eotvos utca dealing in missing persons etc. but they would not help me as I was not an immediate relative of Aurel's.”
For ten years his wife failed to get information about his whereabouts. She tried to get the Austrian courts to declare him dead. The courts refused to do so as his “death was not proved.”
Laszlo Geroe died in 1998, long having denied any involvement in the kidnapping of Dr. Aurel Abranyi, who has become another footnote in the history of the Crimes of Communism; he deserves better.