In Hungary, the national movement led by Kossuth might have been crushed and the Austrian hegemony re-established, but partisans carry on with violence. In order to root out the guerilla, the army rounds up suspects and jails them in an isolated fort. The authorities cannot identify the guerilla leaders, who are supposed to be among those held captive. However, they know well enough how to indimidate and coerce effectively.
The story-line of The Round-Up refers to the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution and the Habsburgs’ brutal efforts to crush rebellion in the following years. Hungarian history students know only too well the Austrian General Haynau, infamous for his viciousness, who, amongst others, had 13 generals executed at Arad after the revolution.
As soon as the revolution was obliterated, prison-camps were set up. Rebels were rounded-up and then placed in the camps. This is where the film takes place, hence and its title The Round-Up, which was intented for the film’s English distribution, (a more accurate translation of Szegénylegények would be “the hopeless ones”, or, literally “the unfortunate lads”). Yet, it is not the Austrians themselves who run the camp and organize the interrogations, punishments and executions. It is the Hungarian lackeys who do.
This is a crucial point made by the film, especially when taking into consideration the historical context in which it was made. Prison guards seek the last remaining rebel, Sándor Rózsa and his gang. They are convinced he, or members of his gang, are in the prison-camp. The murder of a prisoner, who was revealed as an informant, by fellow inmates, allows the guards to find out who the members of Rózsa’s gang are. The gang’s members face death by the firing squad, just like the martyrs of Arad. This time, though, it is their fellow Hungarians imposing the death penalty.