1956 Hungarian Uprising
The 1956 Hungarian Uprising, often referred to as the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, is considered by many as the nation's greatest tragedy. The Uprising was an almost spontaneous revolt by the Hungarian people against the ruling Communist Party of the time and the Soviet policies which were crippling post-war Hungary. It comprised of several major events, beginning with a student protest on 23rd October in Budapest and ending with a proclamation by Soviet-backed Janos Kadar on 11th November that he had crushed the Uprising. Around 2,500 Hungarians died in the course of the Revolution. 200,000 fled to the West in the aftermath of the struggle.
Post War Hungary... Sowing The Seeds of Dissent
After World War II, Russian troops still occupied Hungary and they had no plans of going anywhere as Stalin sought to extend his sphere of influence as far and wide as possible. In 1949 the Hungarians were coerced into signing a mutual assistance treaty with the Soviet Union, granting them rights to a continued military presence and thereby assuring ultimate political control. Gradually power was transferred from the freely elected Hungarian government Independent Small Holders Party to the Soviet-backed Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party led by the sinister Matyas Rakosi.
A man of Stalin's ilk, Rakosi began an authoritarian regime over Hungary and set about communising the country and purging the nation of dissidents, arresting or executing his political opponents. Meanwhile his mishandling of the economy led to drastic falls in the quality of life for virtually every Hungarian.
Things got better in 1953 with the death of Stalin, when the far more liberal Imre Nagy took over as prime minister. Unfortunately Rakosi was able to hold onto a decent slice of political power as General Secretary of the Hungarian Workers Party. As Nagy set about releasing anti-Communists from jail and removing state control of the media, Rakosi campaigned against him, eventually managing to discredit him and have him voted down from his post. Rakosi once more became the nation's leading politician only to be forced from power when Nikita Khrushchev (who had succeeded Stalin in the Kremlin in Moscow) made a speech denouncing Stalin and his followers. Before he stepped down however Rakosi secured the appointment of his close friend Erno Gero as the new General Secretary. The scene was still ripe for unrest.
It turned out that events in Poland were the trigger for the Hungarian Revolution. After workers in Poznan had staged mass protests earlier in June 1956 (which although they were violently put down by government forces, worried the Soviets in Moscow), Wladyslaw Gomulka has managed to negotiate wider autonomy and liberalization for Poland. [The year before Austria had managed to declare itself neutral and avoid joining the Warsaw Pact]. There was hope by many Hungarians that something similar could be achieved for Hungary, and when students of the Technical University (who had become a strong political voice) heard that the Hungarian Writers Union planned to lay a wreath at the statue of Polish-born General Bem to express solidarity with pro-reform movements in Poland, they decided to join them.
Protests Meet Violence
So it was that in the afternoon of 23rd October 1956 fifty thousand people gathered at the statue of General Bem. It was to those assembled that Peter Veres of the Hungarian Writers Union read out a proclamation of independence, to which the Techies added a sixteen point resolution demanding everything from the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country to the right to sell their uranium deposits on the free market. National songs and mantras were sung, and the communist coat of arms was torn from the Hungarian flag.
After this the crowd marched across the Danube to demonstrate outside the Hungarian Parliament. By 6pm, 200,000 people had gathered and the mood was spirited but peaceful. However, at 8pm Erno Gero broadcast a speech dismissing the demands of the Writers' Union and the students and labelling the crowds a 'reactionary mob'. This uncompromising stance prompted the Hungarian people to take things into their own hands and so they carried out one of their demands of the sixteen point resolution, tearing down the statue of Stalin which had been erected in 1951.
Afterwards a large portion of the crowd marched upon the Radio Budapest building in order to broadcast their demands on air to the nation. However, the AVH (Hungarian Secret Police) were guarding the radio station, and they barricaded the building. As the situation escalated the crowds grew more unruly and attempted to take the station by storm, which is when the first casualties of the Hungarian Revolution fell... The AVH opened fire on the crowd.
This cold-blooded killing provoked a full scale riot, in which Hungarian soldiers sided with the people against the AVH. Police cars were set on fire, weapons were seized and Communist symbols were torn down and vandalised. That night Erno Gero called on military intervention from the Soviet Union to suppress the uprising.
Soviet Tanks in Budapest
Around 2am on the 24th October the first Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and took up positions outside the parliament building. Meanwhile Soviet troops took up key positions in the city. They met pockets of armed resistance as revolutionaries erected barricades and sporadic violence ensued. Imre Nagy was re-appointed as prime minister in the hope that the populace would be appeased, and Nagy called an end to the violence with promises to push ahead with reforms. However, when a Soviet tank fired upon unarmed protesters in Parliament Square on the 25th October the fighting escalated. Erno Gero was forced to resign as First Secretary, with Janos Kadar replacing him.
The Soviet troops and their AVH cohorts continued to fight against the revolutionaries until the 28th October, when the Soviets retreated from the city. Nagy offered an amnesty to all involved in the violence, promised to abolish the AVH, released political prisoners and made clear his intention that Hungary had cut free from the Warsaw Pact. The mood was defiantly optimistic. For a short while it seemed that Nagy was going to be able to achieve the Hungarian people's wishes for a neutral, multi-party nation.
Hungary's Fate is Decided in Moscow
The Soviet Union's new leader Khrushchev was no Joseph Stalin, and the matter of Hungary's independence was much debated in Moscow, with much consideration given to negotiating the withdrawal of troops from the country. However, with the Cold War in full freeze there were other factors to consider: "If we depart from Hungary, it will give a great boost to the Americans, English, and French ? the imperialists." The Soviet Union couldn't afford to lose ground in the power struggle of ideologies. The order was given to invade.
The (Soviet) Empire Strikes Back
The second Soviet intervention left no one guessing their intentions. In the early hours of the morning of the 24th an estimated 1,000 tanks rolled into Budapest, destroying the fierce but uncoordinated resistance of the Hungarian Army to occupy the key positions in the city. Imre Nagy made his final broadcast to the world at 0515 in the morning, appealing for international help (however Western powers were far more concerned at the time with the Suez Crisis). Less than an hour later and Janos Kadar, in league with Moscow, proclaimed himself head of a new "Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government". He declared that he was calling on Soviet help to put down a counter-revolution that was financed by the Imperialistic western powers, and to restore order.
This 'restoration of order' was backed up by heavy artillery and air strikes as Budapest became embroiled in a bloody battle. Civilians bore the brunt of the casualties as Soviet troops were often unable to distinguish between citizen and freedom fighter, often firing indiscriminately at people and buildings.
It was only a matter of time before the far better organised and better equipped Soviet forces crushed the revolution. By November 10th the fighting had all but ended and on the 11th Kadar declared that the uprising had been crushed. 2,500 Hungarians had died, with another 13,000 injured. Over seven hundred Soviet soldiers also gave up their lives, some being executed for refusing to fight.
Hungary's suffering didn't end with the crushing of the uprising. Recriminations followed with tens of thousands of Hungarians arrested, imprisoned and deported to the Soviet Union, often without evidence. An estimated 350 were executed, including Imre Nagy after his eventual arrest in 1958. Meanwhile 200,000 people fled Hungary, either fearing for their lives or simply to escape from the Communist regime - many of them were Hungary's best educated people.
However, despite seeming to sell out to the Soviets, Kadar proved to be a better leader for Hungary than many expected. After the excessive crackdowns of the post-revolution period, he successively eased much of the oppression felt by the people, famously declaring "who is not against us is with us". He also engineered a unique brand of Communism which incorporated elements of free market economics which was later dubbed "Goulash Communism". Indeed, Hungary was considered one of the "Happiest Barracks" of the Soviet camp right through to 1989 when the Iron Curtain finally cracked - this time irreparably.
Helen from United Kingdom Reply
Hi, my dad came to Britain in 1956, his name is Istvan David. my dad refused to discuss any events about how and why he had to escape Hungary , he would not teach us the language and never mentioned anything about his family . He once let slip that he had a sister called Maria and often called out to someone called Anna? I have picked up snippets of information along the way but cannot piece anything together, unfortunately my dad died in 1997 and his secrets died with him. I am sure he said that he looked down upon the city of Hungary and that his village began with the letter s, He said he was Greek Orthadox but was not a practising one. The only thing I have of his is his green home office card and that gives me no information apart from his description. I do not know where to start looking to find out more information about him! Does someone recognise the name or is it quite common in Hungary? He was born 14 February 1939.
Rebecca Carr from United Kingdom
You can go through the consulate who can direct you to family records. They have english speaking staff and many documents can be found there although some records were destroyed but most can be found.
Monika from Canada Reply
Does anyone recognize the names gyula kreiter and or Maria Schnee
A from Canada Reply
My dad (Laszlo) was 17 years old when the revolution hit in Budapest. He was forced into the Hungarian army and the Uranium mine. His mother fled with him as a baby into Hungary to escape Hilter, and is a Hungarian Citizen. He escaped Hungary after the revolution, but before the Russians returned in November 1956, with his Hungarian military uniform on.. He was aware if he stayed he would be subject to the firing squad as he had declined orders to fire into the crowd once the revolution began. He and a few other military men, all 17 years old, made it to the river, and across from the river was Austria. On arrival they met a group of Russian Army men. They were robbed and told to get into the river, and swim. They got into the river and swam for Austria. He waited to hear gun shots, as he assumed once in the water, he would be shot, because he was deserting. They reached the Austrian side of the river, and looked back across at the Russian Army, and waved, they waved back, they let him go. He went into a red cross camp in Austria, and eventually was moved to Paris, France where he worked and lived for a couple of years, before being accepted into Canada in 1960. The Regime looked for him for quite some time, paying visits to my Grandmother, robbing her, and beating her up, while they asked where he was. I can tell you this, growing up with someone who has been through that trauma has not been easy. I had never known someone to be so afraid of "authority" (police, government, military, etc) I'm talking anxiety attacks. I always felt bad for him. Apparently the result of trauma, indoctrination, watching live executions, etc. He has never returned to Hungary, and never will. He never saw his family again. I never met my Grandmother, Aunts or family members. Laszlo = Hero Many men fight for what's right.. It takes courage and strength of Character to stand up Freedom is a battle, peace is the goal Children of war........I hear your cry
Hattie from United Kingdom Reply
Please help, my grandfather was a student in Budapest and fled when his father was arrested. He won't talk about it anymore and so I can't find out much infomation. How important is it that the students got involved? Why did they start it and how did they contribute? Please get back to me, I can't find anything to help me anywhere.
Guest from Hungary Reply
I fled November 10th to Austria. later I lived in Hamburg/Germany and later immigrated to the USA. I still remember the fighting in Budapest where I was working. Dead people on the street and the smell that I will never forget. The west was promising help but failed to deliver. Suez was a great opportunity to the Russians to act with utmost brutality.
Antal bencze from Hungary Reply
How many people did they deported to the Sovjet Union?
Margaret Jennings from Australia
Dear Antal I am looking for any family of an Eva Benzce born Hungary Feb 29th 1936 who we understand was brought up by her maternal grandmother in Budapest from 1945 when her father and siblings were killed by the Russians while she hid in the laundry of their guesthouse on Lake Balaton. Could you be any relation? She arrived in Australia in 1957 but maybe not married although she used the name Yvonne Petofy and had a daughter Roszi in 1964. Sadly Yvonne passed away in 2009 and did not tell us much. With thanks from Margaret Jennings
Ilona from United Kingdom Reply
Does anyone know the name vilma nyilas[maiden name before marriage was may]This was my mother. My fathers name was lorinc antal reibling.They are both deceased my mother who was 98 just died august 5th 2013.If anyone knew either one of them please let me know Thank you
Nathan Hodgson from New Zealand Reply
Could everyone email me as much as possible on this topic, it would mean a great deal. email@example.com
Rachel Richardson from United States Reply
I learned a whole lot about the 1956 revolution by visiting your website. I wasn't alive in 1956, but was born on 4 November, so the events of that day stood the strongest to me. I hope that the 1956 revolution does not get lost in the annals of history as it's a very important event that all should remember.
Janos (John) from Hungary Reply
I am one of the many fighters in 1956. En jartam a epuletgepeszeti teknikumba, a varba. Looking for some of my classmates. One is Joska Wagner. a nevem Fedak Janos.
Wendy from United Kingdom Reply
Does anyone know of Gondor Rezso who fled to London after the Budapest uprising. I recently met his great nephew in Transylvania, Romania who would dearly love to trace this branch of his family.
0 from Hungary Reply
You can try a geneecological sevrvice or just contact each county seat (capital) for info about their birth certificates if nothings found it means that they were born in 1 of the occupied territories good luck.If you got the time and money ust look in the phone book for names and like the old yellow pages commerical let your fingers do the walking
anon from United States Reply
My dad ect has been back in 73 no problem .He can even regain citizenship with the new laws as do many Hun-Canadians ect.
Christina from Canada Reply
I have a question that I am hoping someone here would know....my dad escaped from Hungary about 1958 (roughly) and arrived in Canada in 1959 and pretty much been a Canadian Citizen ever since but has never been back home. Since he escaped could there be ANY issue with him travelling back to Hungary for a vacation? I am sure there would not be but obviously if he went for a vacation but them had troubles leaving the country to cme home it would be a diaster :(
Viktor from Ireland
Hi Christina, I'm Hungarian myself and even though I live in Ireland I go to Hungary to visit my relatives regularyly. I'ts absolutely safe to go, its an EU country, NATO member and obviously a democracy - finally! :)
Fedak janos (John) from Canada
Christina - I was one of the team taking down the Stalin statue in 1956. I have been back several times, no problems.
Ilona from United Kingdom
I live in the usa.MY mother and father left hungary in around 1956.Both my parents have travelled back to hungary since then.There are no problems now.My mother who was 98 years old just passed away, august 5th 2013.I knew alot of hungarians ,i was born in england , my mum knew a lot of hungarians they lived in manchester england then moved to canada.My mum taught me how to speak hungarian, unfortunately now she is deceased i have no one to talk to in hungarian.
M.Vigh from United Kingdom Reply
Hello Everyone Our family went to budapest last week for the first time to meet family we have never meet before it was wonderful Just wished we could find our fathers brother now He fled to Toronto in the 1956 uprising His name is LASZLO VIGH He was born in 1935 in Nagyszentjános Hungary he fled to Toronto in 1956 revolution Does anyone know anyone or any organization that could help us Thank you for taking the time to read this Please feel free to inbox me thank you firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Matyasi from Canada Reply
Can anyone tell me where my family lived in Hungary before the 1956 Revolution. My grandmother, aunt and father fled from the country then. I don't know if Matyasi was the spelling back in Hungary. My grandmother's name was Zsuzsanna, my aunt's is the same spelling and my father's Hungarian name is Ference. I would really like some information on them.
Pongratz from United States Reply
I am related to Gergely Pongratz, the one who was considered the leader of the beginning of the protest. My gandpa, Andrew Pongratz, was his baby brother! together, with the help of their other 9 brothers and sisters, they knocked over the Stalin statue. After that and another incident, they all fled to America. only 3 of the siblings are left. thank you for giving this information out to the public! You can check out my great-uncle Gergely's book for his opinion to learn more!
Miklos from United Kingdom Reply
I left Budapesty with my father in 1956, it was very interesting time of my life I saw great battles from my window, a russian ran into our building chasing a freedom fighter, he sprayed bullets, me and my father was on the stairs we had to crouch down. to doge the bullets. who are these idiots with their stupid coments on here why don't you delete them.
Jimmy Fernandes from India Reply
I heard about it when I was in London at the same time. Now good to read again, since I hope to visit in August 2011, next month. All I know is Goulash, which I have been preparing
Shelley from Canada Reply
Thank you. My friend & loved one, here with me in Canada, was only 14 years old, when he fought in revolution, & later imprisoned. Lost contact with family. Magyar name :Budai, Imre. He is a unspoken hero.
Mattthewcostall from Greece Reply
jeff from United States Reply
Patricia: your father was a real hero for making the choice to disobey orders. Imagine how many lives were saved by his action?
Patricia Ramirez from Canada Reply
My father was in the Hungarian Army, he was one of the deserters...he told me he was ordered to kill his country men if they tried to cross. He abandoned his post without firing a single shot and went underground and surfaced in Canada. His last name was Fekete.
from United States Reply
Where is all the information I need to know about the author? and when was this published?
littleone from Canada Reply
My great grandparents escaped with my grandparents in '56 as there name was on lists... There were five of them and they had one suitcase. This page has been very helpful for me to not only understand what they went through before they escaped.. It has also been a great help as I am doing a project on the '56 rev. right now for social studies because I am missing a month of school to be in Hungary right now.. I am very proud to say that I am Hungarian and I hope that never changes.
Gen Foerster from United States Reply
My great grand father was a pharmacist in Budapest. when the revoltion started he knew alot of his patients would die if they didnt get their meds, so he crawled threw the tunnels (which many ppl made to communicate without getting caught) to give innulin and stuff like that. a person snitched on him, but the AVH didnt take him. instead, when his daughter tried to go to college they used that against her so she was unable to go. my grandfather on the other hand was a writer for a so called "under ground" newspapar. so close to getting caught. but thank the lord he didnt:)
andras minarcsik from Australia Reply
my father was one of the few to leave his family and get out after swimming a freezing Danube and shot to pieces he escaped a mere boy at 14 years old.and has never found his family since.tough times i think
rudolph nikholas horvath from United Kingdom Reply
my family fled hungry early 1957. i remember my mother telling me stories on how hard it was tring to get us out. hiding in the woods with 5 children tring to get past the road blocks. i could go on but dont want to bore you it was a long time ago
Billy from United States Reply
why don't you just tell us about why Khrushchev crushed it?!?!?
Eloise from United States Reply
great, thanks. so much easier to understand :)
Tina from Australia Reply
Omg this is so much easier to understand than all of the other websites i have looked at thanks alot
Lauren Taylor Palmer from United Kingdom Reply
i just wanted to noe da awnser to dis question: why was the hungarian uprising crushed by the soviet union?
John Fedak from Canada
The reason why the Russians crushed the 1956 revolt? One very disturbing reason the UK, USA allowed Krushev to take the country, days after waiting for a negative response from both these countries while the USA declared "we are not looking for new alleys in eastern Europe." In other words, go ahead communist and kill the people whom wanted freedom. Eastern Europe was sold to the Russian at the island of Yalta.
Person from United Kingdom Reply
I loved the page it really helped me but i think it should be mentioned that 30,000 hungarians died and 200,000 attempted to flee to Austria yes i checked the figures.
The number of people killed is put around 3000 but it would be hard to verify it. The regime manipulated the research and it is hard to know the exact numbers.
Jamie from United States Reply
What were the key features of the uprising
Sandor Vaci from United Kingdom Reply
Your comment: However, when a Soviet tank fired upon unarmed protesters in Parliament Square on the 25th October the fighting escalated. Erno Gero was forced to resign as First Secretary, with Janos Kadar replacing him. This is totally erroneous. The crowd was sprayed from rooftops by hard line communists or secret service agents and the Soviet tanks tried to protect the demonstrators. This is such a bad mistake that it should be corrected pronto.
artfruit from Poland Reply
great article! it was a pleasure to read.