Hungary, 1956


László M. Mogyoróssy


Very few people can claim in their lifetime to have witnessed an extraordinary event that came close to altering the course of history. The 1956 Hungarian uprising for freedom was just such an event. Therefore, on the eve of every anniversary, the survivors of those glorious days feel obligated to recall that event and pay homage to the fallen friends and comrades whose supreme sacrifice made it possible for Hungary to free herself from Russian oppression thirty-four years later.

When the Soviet dictator, Stalin died in 1953, it was obvious to all of Russia that whoever came to take control of the vast Soviet empire would not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and would not allow the Soviet Union to relinquish its leadership in the Eastern block. At the same time it was also obvious that changes had to be made within the Soviet Union as well as within the Eastern Block. Because of the tarnished image of the Communist Party, its leadership was compelled to publicly confess its wrongdoing. They vowed to change course and work for a better future. The stage was set and the events began to unfold rapidly.


Exhibit 40: Hungarian freedom fighters


On October 23rd, 1956, students organized a huge rally and demonstrated in front of the statue of General Bem (the hero of 1848) at the Polish Embassy, demanding reforms and democracy. They marched to the state radio building and demanded to be heard over the Budapest radio. After the police tried to disperse the crowd by force, the peaceful demonstration turned into a riot and martial law was declared. Soviet troops were called in. In the meantime, the Communist Party's central committee announced minor personnel changes in the Party's hierarchy: Imre Nagy replaced András Hegedüs as Premier, but Ernő Gerő remained First Secretary of the Party. Fighting soon broke out between the Soviet troops and the Hungarian people and spread to other cities such as Debrecen, Szolnok and Szeged. The Party's central committee was helpless and totally disorganized. As a result, Ernő Gerő was relieved of his position and replaced by János Kádár. More changes were promised: reorganization of the government and negotiation for withdrawal of Soviet troops - still the fighting went on. So, more and more changes were promised: martial law was declared unconstitutional and complete amnesty was promised to all participants if they laid down their arms. Nothing seemed to work. As a result, the formation of a new government was announced. Non-communist Zoltán Tildy and Béla Kovács were appointed by Imre Nagy. Negotiations with Soviet troop commanders continued, now on the local level as well.

On October 28th, the government announced a cease-fire. An emergency committee was formed to assume temporary leadership of the Party. More promises were made. The most important of these included: withdrawal of Soviet troops, political and economic equality of relations between the Soviet Union and Hungary, revision of the economy, democratization, changes in government organization and personnel, dissolution of the secret police (ÁVO), protection of those taking part in the revolution, withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, Hungarian neutrality, and a call for free press, free election, speech, assembly, and worship. On October 29th, some of the Soviet troops began their withdrawal from Budapest to their bases outside of the city. At the same time, Premier Nagy announced abolition of the one-party system, a return to the political conditions prevailing after 1945, and negotiations for immediate withdrawal of all Soviet forces from Hungary. Cardinal Mindszenty was freed from house arrest. The Hungarian Air Force threatened to bomb Soviet tanks unless they left Budapest. Two days later the Independent Smallholders Party announced the formation of a new executive committee and resumed control of its former newspaper, Kis Újság. The Hungarian Social Democratic Party reorganized in Budapest, with Anna Kéthly as its president. The high command of the Hungarian Army also reorganized, with István Nagy becoming the new Chief of Staff. On October 31st, Premier Nagy announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, proclaiming Hungarian neutrality and asking the United Nations to place the Hungarian question on its agenda. Kádár openly criticized past leaders and policies of the Hungarian Communist Party, announcing the reorganization of the Party under the name of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. The next day the Hungarian government officially entered a protest to the Soviet Embassy regarding the re-entry of the Soviet troops onto Hungarian soil. In a second official note within two days, the United Nations was then notified of Soviet activities and was requested to appeal to the great powers of the world to recognize Hungarian neutrality.*

All was in vain as Soviet reinforcements and the movement of troops continued at an accelerated pace. Russian tanks surrounded uranium mines at Pécs. On November 4th, Premier Nagy announced a Soviet attack on Budapest, while heavy fighting erupted in Budapest, Győr, Sopron, Pécs, Csepel and Kőbánya. Russian forces took over most of the country: airfields, highway junctions, bridges, and railways. Repeated Free Radio broadcasts calling for Western help went unanswered. The heroic effort failed and Hungary was again an "unwilling satellite".

We, the survivors of that historic event, profess to the immortal words of John F. Kennedy that "October 23, 1956, is a day that will forever live in the annals of free men and free nations. It was a day of courage, conscience, and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly man's unquenchable and eternal desire to be free, whatever the odds against success, whatever the sacrifice required".


                                   Exhibit 41: In memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice


* (One of the most famed Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956, Gergely Pongrátz, in his book titled Corvin köz 1956, quotes from the Congressional Record (Volume106, Part 14, Eighty-sixth Congress, Second Session. 31 August, 1960. 18783-18790.) by Congressman Michael A. Feighan, regarding a telegram sent by the US State Department to Yugoslav dictator Tito on the 2nd of November, 1956, which states:

            "The Government of the United States does not look with favor upon governments unfriendly to the Soviet Union on the border of the Soviet Union.")