October 23, 2005

The Hungarian Uprising, October 23, 1956

Tuesday, October 23rd, 1956. Stuttgart, Germany. Morning, a school day for me, like any other day; up and at 'em. Breakfast, grab the lunch bag, kiss mom and dad, off to catch the bus for school. But it wasn't an ordinary day, slightly over 600 miles due East from where I played in the forest, from where on the weekends I wandered about in the little town of Vaihengen near 7th Army Headquarters, war was breaking out.

It was not much of a war as wars go, but it was a war fraught with danger for the world and for the next several weeks, a war of ideas, of freedom as much as a war of bullets, tanks and death. Imre Nagy had been ousted as Prime Minister of Hungry for being insufficiently Communist and too liberal and the people of Hungry in general and Budapest in particular were upset, angry and willing to say so. Demonstrations began in Budapest, soon numbering thousands and tens of thousands. They marched, chanted, and demanded the restoration of Nagy.

The demonstration began as a march of solidarity with Wladyslaw Gomulka the Polish leader ousted for being "too liberal" and ended as a call for freedom and removal of the Soviet's from Hungry. As the crowds grew, Erno Gerö, First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, and someone known for his hard line stances, went on the radio to say that demands for separation from the Soviet Union were lies and rumors. But the people of Hungry said otherwise. As the crowds grew, the demands became louder and louder, and they marched on the radio station to force a retraction. A heavy truck was used to try to batter a way into the station. Police opened fire and skirmishes between the demonstrators and armed police took place throughout the city. According to the BBC:

A running battle began to clear the crowd away from the building, while clashes between demonstrators and armed police broke out elsewhere in the city.

When the crowds refused to disperse despite police opening fire on them, Mr. Gerö ordered Soviet tanks onto the streets.

The demonstrators, however, are showing no signs of giving up their protest, which is continuing into the night."

That night, the Communist Party of Hungry met in emergency session and reinstated Nagy as Prime Minister. But the fuse had been lit, and the count down to revolution had begun.

In less than 48 hours, the people continued their demands, and Gerö’s tanks stayed on the streets. As the confrontation increased, the tanks opened fire pointblank into the crowds.

With hundreds dead and dying, with many more hundreds wounded the Communists fired Gerö and installed Janos Kadar. The Soviets began pulling out of Budapest on October 30th but Krushchev, fearing a spread of the "will of the people" sent them back in on November 4th with orders to re-take the city and firmly establish Soviet control over Hungry. The people of Budapest reacted with Molotov Cocktails and bravery unseen in resistance to the Soviet's for some time. But they were no match for the Soviets and slowly but surely the Russians re-established control over the city and countryside.

Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy but the Russians kidnapped him and put him in prison. Nagy was tried for treason in a secret trial and executed in 1958.

I remember seeing the photographs of the slaughter, I remember having our "bags" packed in case we went to war with the Soviet Union and had to be evacuated. I remember Eisenhower calling for calm and a de-escalation of tensions. But the shadow of fear remained for sometime afterwards.

hungarian revolution.jpgScenes such as the one to the left would be repeated over the years as peoples sought freedom from tyrany; in Prague in 1968, in Warsaw, in East Berlin in 1999, in Lebanon in 2005. In Beireut in 1983, American and French troops, trying to keep the peace in Lebanon were senselessly murdered by those that think freedom can be stifled. The bottom line is that the search for freedom and self determination can be stifled and smothered for a while, but it can't be killed. Freedom always wins in the end.

Linked at Cao's Blog, Random Numbers and Wizbang

UPDATE: The march to freedom continues ~ Michael J. Totten and at Michael Yon's article in the Weekly Standard

Posted by GM Roper at October 23, 2005 08:24 AM | TrackBack

GM, Superior historical column. How soon we forget....or are never taught. It was a big event in my life as well and we (my young peers) knew about it. We paid attention to the news in those days. I've been to Hungary just after it proclaimed total freedom from the former Soviet Union. All the streets had been renamed for Hungarian poets, scientists, writers, musicians, etc. vice Russian leaders. Interestingly, the Hungarians purposefully left the old street signs in place, but had a very neat red diagonal stripe through them. Also, all the brightly lit Red Stars that were on the Parliament and other major public buildings had been removed. I rather think that freedom is what people really want. Again, terrific article. Hope some teacher types pass it along to their students.

Posted by tad at October 23, 2005 11:06 AM

Many people have never heard this information. I'm one of the lucky and informed ones.

My longtime family doctor, who has since passed on, was a resister to the Communist Uprising in Hungary; I didn't know the extent of his involvement until I read his obituary. No wonder he was such a firm disbeliever in and outspoken critic of socialism, even while a member of the AMA. Now his son is my PCP, and like his father, he is an outspoken critic of liberal policies. In fact, when I developed carpal tunnel as a result of all my blogging, he gave me a few tips for home care and said, "Blog on! We need conservative voices."

Another of my friends used to be a corworker of my husband's. Nick was a mechanic. He was a fighter against the Hungarian Communists--a literal fighter. He was captured, tortured, and placed in a prison camp to await his execution. Somehow, he escaped and walked all the way out and across the national border to safety. The Red Cross brought Nick to NY, where he remained in the hospital for almost a year. He never saw his family again. In fact, there was a permanent bounty for Nick's head in Hungary. Even his family was tortured as the Communist regime attempted to lure Nick back so as to execute him publicly. I saw the scars on his chest--scars from bullets from a machine gun, scars which Nick was proud of because of what they represented. Talk about a Commie hater! Talk about a man who loves freedom! Talk about a man who loves America!

Thanks for posting this story, GM. Yes, freedom does indeed win in the end.

Posted by Always On Watch at October 23, 2005 12:43 PM

Thank you GM for this reminder. Indeed, next year will be the 50th anniversary.

We have a lady in our church who escaped as a teen with her family after the uprising failed and would tell some stories about it.

1956 was a black year for the cause of freedom when the democracies lost heart. While failing to intervene in Hungary, the U.S. also turned against Israel, Britain and France in the Suez Crisis.

The harm is almost unmeasurable. The Soviet Union stayed alive for 30 more years, causing much trouble for the West. In the Middle East, favorable conditions for settling the Israel/Arab conflict, which was less than 10 years old at the time, were neutered, and we still don't know how much damage that betrayal will cause us. For one, OBL certainly wouldn't be around today.

We did get a second chance with Solidarity and Poland. I don't know if we'll get a second chance in the Middle East, but if we do, it will (and has been) at the cost of much expense and many brave lives.

Posted by civil truth at October 24, 2005 03:45 PM

I dont know how to begin, so i just begin, and can just hope, that someone will read this comment.
Im a Hungarian student, and its really good to see, that foreigners are also interested in Hungarian history, or at least a part of it. This year (2006) will be the 50th anniversary of 1956 october 23. Its kinda "funny" or maybe weird, that some things are getting to look like, as they were in 1956. The elections will be in April, and the current PM is selling a lots of stuff, and a complete idiot. (For example he sold the Budapest Airport) He also has a few interesting thing, that i wont list, because it would be nearly endless (illegal company for example). A few days ago the members of parlament, wanted to ask him about his things, but he didnt show up on that meeting. We can just hope, that his part (MSZP , hungarian socialist part) will not win the elections, otherwise, we can expect another uprising. We did it once, and we will do it again, if we need to.

Greetings from Hungary


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