Telling the story –
with adult knowing
October 23rd, 20021 marked the 65th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. It lasted only twelve days. Yet, it has remained in world history, as a moment in time when the desire for freedom from oppression so outweighed all threat of suppressive power that a nation of intellectuals, factory workers, farmers and even police officers and occupying soldiers united together to overthrow the existing tyranny. What were the causes of the Hungarian Revolution? What was its outcome?
The history of Hungary, as that of other countries in Eastern Europe is a complicated one. Early disenchantment can be traced back to World War I and the Treaty of Trianon, but more recently to World War II. As a country pulled and shuffled between the aggressive German forces to the west and the ever-extending arm of the Soviet Union to the east, Hungary experienced an uncomfortable geographic location. I leave it up to political scientists and historians to work out the vast extenuating details. Most simplistically, as part of the Allies in World War II, the Soviet Union “liberated” the Hungarian people from Nazi Germany. With Soviet support, the Moscow-trained Rákosi Mátyás began to establish a Communist dictatorship. Soviet tanks officially rolled into Hungary in 1948, the year in which I was born.
It was now 1956. In February, Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin. The intellectuals formed a group in Hungary, called “The Petöfi Circle”. They organized meetings to discuss issues and draw up declarations concerning poverty, Russian control, and all unlawful imprisonment including that of the Roman Catholic Church leader, Cardinal Minszenti. They held one famous all-night meeting which brought out thousands of people. During that summer, the discussions continued, becoming widespread in the colleges and in the factories. The Petöfi Circle drew up a series of political demands. The secret police were on the alert. Fearing revolution, Moscow replaced Rákosi with his deputy, Gerö Ernö, in order to contain the growing ideological and political unrest.
On October 23rd the students of Budapest called for a protest march. Tens of thousands came. The secret police fired on the crowd in panic. When the local police arrived to restore order, they were soon won over by the demonstrators, giving up their guns to the crowd.
Demonstrations continued to be held during the following days, across Hungary. My mother and I had been part of the march that had been organized in the city of Pécs. Drapes were drawn on the windows of the apartment buildings where the Russian soldiers lived with their families. Occasionally, you could see one or two faces peering out from behind the curtains. On the way home from school the next day, I walked through my neighbourhood park. A man had been hung dangling from a tree and left there − no doubt as a warning. That week, I saw an ambulance speeding up the hill, on the street across from our home. It halted suddenly and the back door sprung open. Guns fell onto the street. In the distant mountain, resistant gunshots were heard echoing throughout the night.
“Nagy Imre announces Soviet attack on Budapest. Russian forces take over most of the country: airfields, highway junctions, bridges, railway yards. Heavy fighting reported in Csepel and Kobánya. Soviet paratroops in action near Györ. Fighting at Pécs as Hungarian troops resist Soviet efforts to take uranium mines and airfields. Heavy fighting in Budapest. Györ and Sopron fall to the Russians. Fighting continues in all parts of the country and the situation remains confused. New government changes announced from Szolnok. Kádár János becomes Premier….
Repeated free radio broadcasts call for Western help. The Hungarian Writers’ Union appeals for Western aid: ‘To every writer in the world, to all scientists, to all writers’ federations, to all science academies and associations, to the intelligentsia of the world! . . . HELP HUNGARY!’” (From: “Those Heroic Days . . .” Facts about Hungary, Ed. Imre Kovacs New York, Hungarian Committee, 1958, p 88)
A new period of restoration began in Hungary, by taking drastic measures that would restore dictatorial socialism. Reprisals included persecution, removal from public office, disciplinary proceedings, imprisonment, and exile. It is estimated that nearly 4,000 men, women and children died during the Hungarian Revolution. Over 250,000 Hungarians escaped Hungary, as did my parents and I on Christmas Eve, 1956. After four months shelter in various refugee camps in Austria, we arrived at last by ship to Saint John, New Brunswick on Easter Monday, April 22, 1957.
From my 3rd book Echoes of Footsteps