The Hungarian Revolution, 1956

I saw freedom rise from the ashes of Communism in Hungary: a freedom that flickered and then blazed before it was beaten down -but not extinguished- by masses of Russian tanks and troops.

I saw young students, who had known nothing but a life under Communist and Russian control, die for a freedom about which they had only heard from others or from their own hearts.

I saw workers, who had been pushed to the limit of endurance by their hopeless existence under Communism, lay down their tools and take up arms in a desperate bid to win back freedom for our country.

I saw a girl of fourteen blow up a Russian tank, and grandmothers walk up to Russian cannons.

I watched a whole nation, -old and young, men and women, artists and engineers and doctors, clerks and peasants and factory workers- become heroes overnight as they rose up in history's first successful revolt against Communism.

With my own eyes and my camera's eye, I saw Hungary's Freedom Revolution.. [9/15]

As representative of the Hungarian news agency (M.T.I.) I have been on the streets since morning with my camera. In the early afternoon I join the student crowds at Petofi Square and Museum Boulevard, on the Pest side of the city -the right bank of the Danube.

As we march the few blocks to the Petofi Monument, our group grows in size every minute. More and more students join us and then some of the bystanders on the sidewalks, who have been waving and cheering, also begin to get in line.

At 3 P.M. there are 25,000 of us at the Petofi Monument. We weep as Imre Sinkovits, a young actor, declaims the Nemzeti Dal ("National Song"), Sandor Petofi's ode to Hungary and our 1848 "freedom revolution." With tears in our eyes, we repeat the refrain with Sinkovits:

"Eskuszunk, eskuszunk, hogy rabok tovabb nem leszunk."

("We swear, we swear, we will no longer remain slaves.")

The student voices are tense with feeling. No policeman or Communist official is in sight. The young people are keeping order on their own.

The moving and peaceful demonstration at the Petofi Monument ends, but we have not had enough of the unaccustomed taste of free expression. Six abreast, we march across the Chain Bridge over the Danube to the Buda (western) side of the city. We head for the statue of Joseph Bem, the Polish general who in 1848 led the Hungarian patriot army against the Hapsburg rulers, and then against the [15/18] Russian troops who finally crushed that earlier revolt.

By the time we arrive at the Bem statue we have swelled to some 60,000. Someone grabs a Hungarian flag and cuts out the hated hammer and sickle that the Communists had placed at its center.

One after another of the purified Hungarian flags appear. Suddenly someone remembers to put the old Kossuth(2) coat-of-arms on the flag, in place of the Communist emblem.

We have created a new flag of freedom!

Meantime we all sing the Szozat, Appeal to the Nation, and the Hungarian National Anthem that begins "God Bless the Magyar"- both of which had been banned under the Communist rule.

We cannot get enough. The actor Ferenc Bessenyei recites the National Song again, and follows once more with Appeal to the Nation. Peter Veres, the head of the Hungarian Writers' Federation, leaps to the top of a car equipped with a loudspeaker. He reads the Hungarian writers' demands for more freedom-many of them the same as those in the fourteen points of the students.

The day is ending. We begin to march toward the Parliament Building. The crowds are peaceful, marching in orderly lines. We carry the new Hungarian flag.

As we march we are joined by workers leaving their jobs. By the time we arrive in Kossuth Lajos Square there are at least 150,000 of us, in front of the Parliament Building. On the square, all traffic stops. [18/21]

Although still orderly, the crowd begins demanding the appearance of Imre Nagy

-the only prominent Communist for whom the people still have some personal feeling.

Suddenly, in the twilight, the Red Star on top of the Parliament Building -the symbol of Moscow's control over our country- is lighted. The crowd begins to roar, "Put out the Red Star!" And as suddenly as it came on, the light is turned off.

We hear a weak voice from the balcony in front of the building: "Give us twenty minutes. Comrade Nagy is on his way, and the loudspeaker is being set up.

It gets darker. Various cars with loudspeakers are among the crowd, but we are not sure whether they are manned by friends or by Communists, so we don't let them talk.

The twenty minutes are up, and there takes place a typical Communist trick. Instead of the promised appearance of Nagy -which might have quieted everything down- the street lights in Kossuth Square are abruptly turned out. One hundred and fifty thousand people stand together in the dark.

Suddenly everyone makes torches of newspapers, and lights them. It is a marvelous spectacle -ten thousand torches burning in the Square before the Parliament Building.

Nagy still has not shown up, and we begin to get impatient. "Let's go to Stalin Square," someone shouts, "and not to recite poems. Let's pull down Stalin's statue.

But finally, Imre Nagy appears on the balcony. "Comrades!" he begins, but the crowd interrupts him with a roar: [21/23] "There are no more comrades! We are all Hungarians!"

The crowd is now cold toward Nagy, whom we have formerly trusted. First, he is two hours late. Then he addresses us by the hated Communist term, "Comrade." Someone says, "Let's have some light on Imre Nagy," and three flashlights shine on his face as he speaks.

While Nagy is calming us and saying that the students' and workers' demands are justified, another voice is speaking over Radio Budapest -the voice of a man hated by the entire Hungarian nation: Erno Gero, Secretary and boss of the Hungarian Communist Party. Gero says that any rumor that Hungary wants to loosen its "close and friendly ties" with "the glorious Soviet Union" is "a barefaced lie, hostile slander without a grain of truth." He calls the demonstration a "fascist putsch" and the students a "fascist mob and gang of bandits."

Word of Gero's radio speech runs through the crowd. We are enraged. At the very moment that Nagy is speaking to us, Hungary's Communist overlord contradicts what Nagy is saying.

The crowd grows still bigger, and we head for the Stalin statue. Now the demonstration has spread so large that it is going on simultaneously in three places: at the Parliament Building; in Stalin Square, where the crowd is trying to pull down the huge Stalin statue with tractors and ropes; and at the building of Radio Budapest, where part of the crowd has gone to demand the right of patriots to be heard over the air.

I go with the group that heads for Stalin Square. Some of [23/25] the workers have got hold of acetylene torches. They and the students are trying to cut down the dictator's twenty-five-foot metal figure. At the edge of the crowd the first Russian tanks appear, but at the moment they are only onlookers. The crowd pulls hard at the cables that have been attached to the Stalin statue. It leans forward, but is still held by its boots -a symbol, we feel. The cables are now being pulled by tractors, and the men with the torches work feverishly. The statue, though still in one piece, begins to bend at the knees. The crowds burst into cheers.

In the midst of the cheering we hear the ominous report: there has been shooting at Radio Budapest. We start by truck for the Radio building. Looking back from Dozsa Gyorgy Street, we watch the Stalin statue, cut off at the knees, fall to the ground with a thunderous crash.

When we get to the Communist-controlled Radio building in Alexander Brody Street, we find out what has happened. A youth delegation tried to get in the door, in order to have their "14 demands" broadcast over the radio. Without warning, the security police guarding the building opened up on them with tear-gas bombs.

Suddenly shooting breaks out from all sides. The security police -the A.V.H.- are firing into the crowds. In minutes, the streets are strewn with the dying and wounded. News of the A.V.H. attack spreads. All over Budapest the workers and students are battling the hated A.V.H.

The peaceful demonstrations of the youth and the workers have been turned by Communist guns into a revolution for national freedom. . . . [25/30]

During the night scores of Russian tanks have reached the city proper, and linked up with those that we saw yesterday in Stalin Square. But when we gather in the streets this morning -firing had quieted down at the moment- we see that our Freedom Fighters have already captured some of them. They are planting the new Hungarian flags on them, and then heading them toward Kossuth Lajos Square and the Parliament Building.

I rush ahead to the square, which I reach at noon. A sickening sight meets my eyes. The open square is filled with the bodies of wounded and dying. Shocked and terrified survivors tell us what has happened. [30/33]

A few minutes before, thousands of un armed workers and students had gathered peacefully in the square, before the Parliament Building, to present a petition to the government. A few Russian tanks were drawn up carelessly around the edges. Suddenly the A.V.H., stationed on the roof of the Ministry of Agriculture building at the opposite side of the square, fired into the backs of the crowd. The Russians, apparently not sure where the firing was coming from, started shooting into the square from their tanks. An estimated six hundred persons were lying dead or wounded on the pavement. My sixteen-year-old assistant, Peter Gardos, who was there to take photographs, is among those who are dead.

Now the enraged workers, as well as the students, begin to get arms. Some of the weapons are distributed by the Hungarian soldiers at the Kilian and Bem barracks; some are brought by workers from the Matyas Rakosi steel plant on Csepel Island in the Danube, and from the Danuvia munitions factory. Others come from what the Communists used to tell us was a lamp factory -but which we knew turned out munitions for the Communist armies.

By afternoon the quickly organized units of patriot Freedom Fighters are facing the Red Army troops, tanks and armored cars and the A.V.H. all over the city. The official radio cheers us by denouncing "battling groups armed with automatic pistols, machine guns, hand grenades and other weapons."

On the radio Gero and his spokesmen defend the use of Russian troops and says that Hungarians must "welcome [33/34] our friends and allies with love." A curfew is announced, and a state of emergency together with martial law throughout Hungary. A decree has set up special courts that can pass death sentences against persons found guilty of "rebellion, or possession of arms."

It is rumored that Soviet Deputy Premier Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov, the Kremlin's expert on the captive nations, have arrived to try to regain control. In a late broadcast, the Communist radio attempts another deception: "More and more factories are starting to work. . . . Restoration of streetcar service. . . . Further bloodshed is senseless. . . . The Government is master of the situation. Let peaceful, constructive work start in as many places as possible, in factories, enterprises and shops."

On my way home I see the National Museum burning, set ablaze by Russian tank fire. At the corner of St. Stephen Road I almost step on the bodies of three unarmed demonstrators murdered by the Russians. On Ulloi Road their tanks and armored cars have blasted a children's hospital.

Thursday, October 25

The government is confused. One hour it declares a curfew and warns everyone to stay off the streets and inside their homes behind locked doors. The next it appeals to everyone to get back to their jobs.

In fact, what has become a general strike has spread and continues uninterrupted. The factories and nearly every office are empty. Schools are closed. Streetcars are at a standstill. [34/36] There has been much damage to the power and light equipment.

The radio continues to broadcast government threats of the death penalty on those who continue fighting or who even keep arms. But the authority of the government is vanishing. Today I have seen many Hungarian soldiers tear the Communist badges off their caps and join the

demonstrations that are becoming a revolution. We hear that thousands of the soldiers of the Hungarian Army are joining the units of Freedom Fighters, and turning weapons and ammunition over to them.

As I pass the Kilian Zalka Mate barracks, soldiers are passing guns and ammunition through the windows to civilians outside. All over Budapest Freedom Fighters are tearing Red Stars down from the buildings and burning Red flags. They have taken over the building of Szabad Nep, the official Communist Party newspaper, and pried the huge Red Star from its top. [36/44]

There is no automobile traffic on the streets today because the Freedom Fighters, helped by unarmed patriots, have built barricades on nearly every street. They have ripped up streetcar tracks to make tank barriers, and overturned streetcars and buses at strategic points. Many streetcars stand motionless, with shattered windows, where their motormen have abandoned them to join the Freedom Revolution.

Food is getting scarce. There are long lines of people waiting at the stores for hours to buy potatoes, milk or a loaf of bread. But there is a bright spot in the food supply.

From the villages around Budapest the peasants have begun to send in carts and trucks with food for the patriots in the city. Much of it has been hidden away from the Communist authorities and the system of compulsory deliveries. Now they are distributing the food free at street corners; the peasants permit the Freedom Fighters as much as they need. The housewives and small children are becoming a supply service for the new patriot army that is rising out of the Freedom Revolution.

Moving around the city today, I have seen many of these free food deliveries. At one corner a bearded peasant and his wife toss out potatoes like balls in a game. In another street, a truck pulls in loaded with fish that were still alive. They throw them out, and many of them slip through fingers to the sidewalk, where they jump around as if just caught.

The curfew is now officially in force from 10 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, but no one pays attention. The [44/47] Freedom Fighters are out at all hours. Others go out to get food, or on other errands, or just to see what is happening.

Some of them are shot. I see a Russian armored car fire without any reason at three women and four men passing by -all unarmed. Their bodies still lie in the street as I get away.

In Buda our forces now occupy a number of positions. Workers from the Ganz factory hold Szena Square and Szell Kalman Square. By mid-afternoon, however, the Russians have seized the most important communications points: Margit bridge, the western railroad station, Rakoczi Road, Kossuth Lajos Street.

But we hear today that an entire Hungarian armored regiment, with its tanks, has come over in a body to our side. In fact, almost the entire Hungarian army is swinging behind the nation. Mimeographed leaflets appear on the streets, urging the people to join together "for the liberation of our country from the Russian yoke." Shop windows are plastered with slogans: RUSSIANS GO HOME! A FREE ELECTION WITH U.N. SUPERVISION!

Our youngsters are teaching us the meaning of courage. They build tank barricades out of paving stones. I watched boys and girls of fourteen or fifteen crawl up to Russian tanks and put paving stones in their drive chains. The tank starts, the stone forces the caterpillar tread off the wheels, and the machine is stopped.

The young people have learned about the tanks' blind spots, and how to get close with Molotov cocktails-bottles filled with gasoline and with a fuse of gasoline-soaked rags. [47/52] They are destroying tanks by the dozens. The gasoline flames force out the Russians, and they are shot from the windows of the surrounding buildings.

The young boys and girls are also fighting with rifles and automatic guns. The weapons, whether from Hungarian army stores or captured in the fighting, are Russian -the Russians are being shot by their own bullets. Today one group of students with a bazooka smashed several Red tanks. And the women are joining, some with weapons, others carrying flags and food and taking care of the wounded.

Russian atrocities continue. I see a combined squad of Russian soldiers and A.V.H. Hungarian traitors firing at plainly marked Red Cross workers, and at trucks, painted with a big Red Cross, which patriot drivers, many of them girls, were using to take the wounded to hospitals. The hospitals in Budapest are filled by now, and many of the wounded must be taken to the villages surrounding our capital.

I also watch Red Army tanks fire at random at houses, on the off chance that a Freedom Fighter might be inside. The fronts of many houses are being smashed open by the cannon fire, so that one can look right into the rooms.

The Red Army throws itself into a bold destruction of property. The Red tanks use church steeples for target practice. Without any reason they knock over light and telephone poles and smash streetcar safety islands.

One of our free radio stations in the provinces reports that at Magyarovar, near the Austrian frontier, Hungarian [52/57] boys were shot down by Russian soldiers when they climbed on top of a barracks to remove the Red Star... [57/62]

Saturday, October 27

There is still heavy fighting in Budapest today. Food is growing scarce, and the general strike continues. There are rumors that Russian tanks are coming from Czechoslovakia to help put down our revolution.

But a curious thing is happening. Hungarians are losing the sense of fear. If a child can blow up a tank, why should anyone be afraid of a tank? As a tank clanks by on the way to a spot where fighting is going on, housewives stroll by arm in arm, and look it over curiously, as if it were on exhibit at a circus. Two minutes after a battle, the sidewalks will be crowded with people inspecting a tank that has been put out of action.

But it is just the opposite with the Russians. They are getting frightened. And they are hungry. They can't get food from the Hungarian peasants, and their own supply systems seem to have been broken down. The narrow streets of the old parts of town are not healthy for a tank at night, and the soldiers would be shot if they got out of their machines. So most of the tanks withdraw at night from the center of town into the suburbs... [62/82]

Fierce fighting rages in a number of districts, and there are bloody hand-to-hand street battles. Our Freedom Fighters, most of them without any military training, show astonishing skill. In their improvised units, under commanders of their own choice, they keep strict discipline. There are no cowards, and a thousand heroes. Our girls brave the Russian machine gun fire to carry ammunition and food.

Our beloved city is being turned into ruins. The damage in many districts is worse than at the end of the Second World War. Whole blocks look as if they had been through a bombing raid.

We know from the free radios that much of the rest of the country is under our control, with the fighting stopped in most places. But there are alarming rumors that the Russians are sending in more tanks from Rumania, and that Mikoyan is back again in Budapest.

Red Army tanks are again attacking the Freedom Fighters entrenched in Kilian barracks, Zalka Mate barracks, and the barracks on Bem Square. But we hear that Budapest airport is in our hands. Today the people began rounding up an enemy who is hated even more bitterly than the Red Army -the agents of the A.V.H., the traitorous "security police" controlled by the Russian M.V.D. For ten years the A.V.H., more ferocious even than Hitler's Gestapo, has filled our lives with [82/84] terror and brutality, seized our fathers and brothers in the middle of the night, sent our sons in freight cars to Siberia, tortured us in dark cellars, forced us to confess to fantastic crimes, fenced us in slave camps, shot and hanged Hungarians for the crime of loving their country and the truth.

Some of the most notorious A.V.H. agents are caught and shot at once. The others are arrested and put into prison to await trial -much fairer treatment than we ever received at their hands.

I met a friend of mine who tells me that he saw a crowd of patriots capture a well-known A.V.H. officer. They were ready to kill him -and he deserved killing -until someone said: "Let him go. He is a Jew, and if we kill him they will twist the story, and say we did it because of anti-Semitism." So the crowd let him off; he was trembling with cowardice, and ran off as fast as his legs could manage. In Hungary's past there have been occasional examples of anti-Semitism. Only three years ago, at the time of the so-called "doctors' plot" in Moscow, the Hungarian Communists cooked up a local doctors' plot that was just an anti-Semitic action in disguise. But I have heard of no anti-Semitic acts in our Freedom Revolution. In fact, there are hardly any reports of robbery, rape, looting or other major personal crimes. [84]

1. Andor Heller, from No More Comrades (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1957), passim, pp. 9-84. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

2. Louis (Lajos) Kossuth was the great Hungarian hero of the 1848 Revolution.