I am going to share a bit with you about a story the World actually, in my humble opinion knows very little about, The Hungarian revolution that took place in October of 1956, a time for many of us before we were even born. Recently & thankfully this topic has been getting some more press around the World. Director Quentin Tarantino recently helped make a film about the revolution called “Freedom’s Fury”. It mainly focused on the incredible water polo match at the Melbourne Olympics’ of 1956 which took place shortly after the massacre of their fellow citizens by Russian soldiers & tanks in Budapest. In this match, the Hungarian team became the World’s daring after what just happened to their Nation & when a Russian player punched a star Hungarian player in the water above the eye, he bled all in the water & escalated the game to near frenzy in the water! The crowds & the World were now cheering on a “fight for freedom” in the water of the Olympic pool! In the end, the Hungarian, who were a perennial power in water polo prevailed to win the Gold medal, but many of their players choose to defect & not to return to the satellite Eastern European Communist nation once again controlled by a Russian “Puppet” Dictator. Another film, which won many awards including "best foreign film" is "Children Of Glory", a brillant film about the heroics of the many who took to the streets in October of 1956. There is an excellent book, now in its 4th printing on this topic entitled “The Bridge at Andua” by James Michener, which from what I know is about as complete a history of what actually took place those 4 days of “Freedom” & what lead to the uprising. Similar uprisings took place 3 years earlier when the workers of East Berlin rose up in 1953 & Polish workers in 1956 also in the same fashion dared to take to the streets in a Society that forbid such actions & many believe that both of these uprisings, especially the Polish one were a good part of the reason for what happened in 1956 in Hungary. One must also understand the long & hard determination of these Hungarian people & what they been through, the former Austria-Hungary Empire & the Emperor, then tragically aligning themselves with the Nazi’s & embracing their anti-Semitic laws & now rode in their new “Savior”, Joseph Stalin who “freed” them from the Fascists. So when one looks back at their history, it is not a pleasant one & so maybe you can see where these people perhaps had enough of being told what to do. So now to the story of what happened, it is, at least for me, one of the most courageous acts of defiance against an oppressor I have ever heard of as these people, young & old took to the streets to defend the Country they love so dear, Hungarian Patriots never to be forgotten! As I stated earlier, the small semi-revolutions that took place in East Berlin in 1953 & Poland earlier in 56, they where a sort of “springboard” for what was to come. Anyone familiar with the Communist system knows that they like to make incredible claims of “Utopia”, something I’ll discuss later when I start a topic on “what ever happened to East Germany”? They use propaganda everywhere, slogans, banners, getting at the minds of their youth from day one. Such was the case in Hungary & so it was very stunning & shocking to the Russian leadership to see the VERY people they trained & “feed” this propaganda to, to take to the streets in open defiance demanding their immediate withdrawal from their beloved Country.
In short, Communism promises a “worker’s paradise” for all who will submit to it’s cumbersome tenets. So now you have the backdrop, promises made, but un kept, working days made longer, food shortages & lines to buy products everywhere, meager pay & so forth. The hated Hungarian “AVO” or secret Police were everywhere looking for informers & anyone who dared to speak critical of their regime. Each Communist state had one form or another, a model of the Russian feared KGB & Hungary was no exception! Fast forward to 1953, Stalin is dead & “some” reforms are implemented, but not enough to bring much relief.
In 1955, Imre Nagy, a much more open & liberal minded Russian trained Dictator is made Prime Minister, only to be ousted by Rakosi, the hard line Soviet Dictator whom Nagy was chosen over the year before, hence the fight for control of the direction of Hungary was on! In 1956 Khruschev gives a speech that denounces Stalin & so more flames are added to the “fires of freedom” burning in the hearts of many in Eastern Europe. PETOFI CIRCLE were groups of Hungarian writers, and journalists who participated in forums and debates. They became more critical and active in politics, especially criticizing the Rakosi system. At the same time, in Poznan, Poland, there was a 50,000 anti-Communist workers' revolt; Stalinists squelched it with the help of the Polish Army. 50 died; hundreds were wounded. In Hungary, it was the University students who really must get the credit for the birth I think of the revolution, they formed an illegal “union” of sorts in early Oct. of 56 which carried a specific “list of demands”, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from Hungarian soil! They also wanted Imre Nagy to be returned to the head of the Government, as he was sympathetic to their demands. Here’s a few other of their demands:
- formation of multi-party system - free elections - dissolution of the AVO Secret Police - Soviet troops to leave Hungary, - Hungary's withdrawal from Warsaw Pact
When news reached that the Poles stood up to the Russians, although they stopped short of leaving the Warsaw Pact, which avoided serious bloodshed, the Hungarian students knew the time had come for them to take “center stage”.
Thus on October 23rd, 1956 the students took to the streets to march in support of the Polish revolt & again sought an answer to their demands. After marching to various statue’s, they eventually came to the one of Stalin & began to tear it down, from there they went to Radio Budapest & sought opportunity to air their demands over the radio, thus the revolution was on! The AVO police began shooting Hungarians in the streets, young & old, blood was shed & so the government called upon the Russians for help to restore order & although at first nothing happened, soon Russian tanks began to pour into the city center. It should ne noted that when the AVO men atop a building open fired on the population below, that one of the first Russian tanks, which had a soldier at the helm who had developed a love for this strong & gritty people, actually turned his turret toward the AVO men & open fire at them atop the building which in turn buoyed the crowd & set the revolution in motion full force! Imre Nagy took control of the Gov’t. & asked for people to be clam, but the Demonstrators recited these verses from Petolfi’s 1848 Hungarian national Poem.
“Stand up, Hungarians, your country calls. The time for now or never falls. Are we to live as slaves or free? Choose one. This is our destiny! By the God of all the Magyars, we swear. We swear never again the chains to bear”.
Within the next 2 days, people, both young & old took up arms from the barracks depot & police & rigged up thousands of “Molotov Cocktails”. Russians Go Home, could be read everywhere! It was estimated that these people, barely armed ended up disabling anywhere from 250-400 Russian tanks, can you believe that? By October 27th, everyone was thrilled as the streets were eerily quiet, all symbols of Communism were taken down or destroyed, the Hungarian flag was restored to it’s previous crest which has been taken over by the communist symbols, it was utter euphoria! On October 30th, CARDINAL MINDSZENTY, the Catholic prelate, who had been imprisoned by the Rakosi regime, was rescued by the Freedom Fighters and gave a very supportive speech praising the bravery of those fighting for the liberation of the nation. Nagy then abolished the AVO & one party system, but would it last & what would be the response of the West? I have often asked myself this question…. How much guilt does America hold in this revolt, in that for years we were broadcasting through the Voice Of America, the benefits of Democracy & freedom? Were we not partly responsible for encouraging such a revolt by leading the Hungarian people to believe we would be there waiting to help? I can assure you that many Hungarians who are alive today, remember WORD for WORD the things we were saying when the signals wasn’t jammed at certain times, this is why perhaps in conversations I have with the children of those who lived through the events of 1956, there is a sort of “hidden bitterness” toward the West for it’s inaction when the Russian returned en masse which they did on the 4th of November. Now many would argue the following as the reason for the lack of our intervention & to be honest, I don’t know if we should have or could have? I do know President Eisenhower did not want to start WW3 over Hungary or any Nation for that matter & I fully get that, plus, here’s what else was happening at the VERY same time, sadly for Hungary. In the meantime . . .WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST! Unfortunately for Hungary, the SUEZ CRISIS diverted the world's attention away from Hungary. Egypt had nationalized the Suez Canal, and the British, French, and Israelis were determined to keep their "oil lifeline," so Israel invaded Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Britain and France bombed Egypt by air. They sent in their land forces. In the United Nations, the U.S. found itself in a real dilemma. It opposed and condemned this aggression by its friends -- Israel, France, and Britain. The U.N. only sent peacekeeping troops into Egypt even though Hungary, too had asked for help. NAGY was Prime Minister, and he made it clear that Hungary wanted to be neutral and was withdrawing from the Warsaw Treaty. He went on the radio and pleaded for help. "This is Prime Minister Imre Nagy speaking. At dawn, Soviet troops attacked our country in order to overthrow the legitimate Hungarian democratic government."
Even though America and the world heard Hungary's call for help, only Red Cross help was given and Hungary was on its own! PAL MALETER [pall mall lay tair] was in charge of the Hungarian Army, and at that time, he and some of the Hungarian Army units were fighting against the Russians . Nagy made him his Defense Minister, and he headed a Hungarian delegation to talk with the Soviet Army generals about withdrawing their troops. But it was a trick, and they arrested him. Two years later, in 1958, he was executed. The Soviets wanted a Hungarian government acceptable to itself, so they chose JANOS KADAR [yon-oh-sh kod- ar] to form a counter-government. He had been tortured and imprisoned during the Rakosi years and Nagy brought him in as part of his government. After the Revolution failed, he became the leader of Hungary. Thus when the Russian tanks & soldiers returned on the 4th of November, although the freedom Fighters fought valiantly for another week, including the “Men of Cespol”, which was considered the “heart” of the Communist Worker’s Movement, who all fought against the Russians, they were beaten back badly & paid a severe price. There were thousands who died. 26,000 were put on trial, and of those 13,000 were imprisoned [general amnesty given in l963], and about 300 were executed. Imre Nagy was deceived into thinking once he left the Yugoslav Embassy he’d be given free passage abroad, was taken by the KGB & never seen again, no doubt executed with a “mock” trial, much like Maleter. Some 200,000 refugees escaped into Austria or Yugoslavia and eventually started new lives in other parts of the world such as England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States. Many came through in dramatic fashion over the little barely walk able “Bridge At Andua” into freedom in Austria. It should also be noted here that despite the many tensions that existed between Hungary & Austria over the years, NONE were more gracious & hospitable to the Hungarian refugee’s than the citizens of Austria, who shoed incredible love & concern for their neighbors next door! In the end, thousands of Hungarians sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom, they fought tyranny & left over 700 Russian soldiers in their wake! Burned & disabled anywhere from 250-400 tanks! All with homemade “Molotov Cocktails”, gas hoses rigged so that the pump would shoot out fire when lit at the Russians & many who gave their lives were children! Yes, children who would run up underneath the tanks & throw the “cocktail” just at the exact location to destroy the treads. Friends, I am not sure if the World will ever know the bravery these men, women & children exhibited did during that incredible 10 day period in October of 1956 in Hungary. What I do know for sure is that this story needs to be told to EVERY generation to honor those who stood against the forces of totalitarianism. Perhaps one day we will see the likes of Hungary in Communist China, I don’t know, but what I do know is that you have a better chance of “catching” the wind, then suppressing the human spirit forever!
Stay tuned, respectfully,