“October 23rd is a day that will live forever in the annals of free men and nations. It was a day of courage, conscience and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the eternal unquench ability of man’s desire to be free, whatever the odds against success, whatever the sacrifice required” (Colley.R 2016)
John F. Kennedy
The streets were littered with paper, glare reflected off the white of the paper from the early morning fall sun. Blinded by the glare, Karoly walked the pavement, rugged up to provide warmth against the crisp autumn air. Every tree, pole and car plastered with words that rang loud in the streets which read: “Students of Budapest! The following resolution was born on the 22nd of October 1956, at the dawn of a new period in Hungarian history, in the hall of the Industry Technological University, a result of the spontaneous movement of several thousand of the Hungarian youth who love their fatherland” (Modern History Sourcebook).
Budapest, Hungary, 22nd of October 1956, my father, Karoly, among thousands of other students gathered in a hall at the university. There was much discussion within these walls of idealistic young folk. It was here, within these walls they came up with a sixteen-point manifesto. Sixteen points that demanded freedom… Freedom of speech and freedom of expression, basic human rights that most people take for granted. Not only did they call for freedom of speech and expression, but they also wanted an open, multi-party election and they wanted the removal of Soviet troops from their Hungarian soil. My father listened to the fierce words that were coming from the speaker. Even though their education was free under communism, Karoly like all the other students in that room longed for freedom which they had been denied for the past ten years.
“Why did Lenin wear normal sized shoes while Stalin wore boots? In Lenin’s time Russia was still only ankle high in shit” (Colley.R 2014)
Stalin’s communism considered the education of young people of great importance. Their plan was to educate and train a new communist intelligence who were experts in science and technology. The communist’s regime was hoping by training them they would replace the old with the youth of today, but their plan failed, the youth they were teaching were the ones that came together to take up arms against the regime. My father at the time was studying astrophysics, receiving top marks. The students who received A’s in their respected field and A’s in the Russian language were gifted with going to camp at the end of the school year which my father was always thrilled about because in camp there was food. There were promises made that the citizens of Hungary held onto, promises about living in a type of Utopia. Sure, Hungarian wages went up fifteen percent and a resplendent store was erected within the city but what the Russians forgot to say, what they failed to mention, food prices went up eighty percent. The possibility of being able to afford anything was slim, not only because of the inflation but even if there was money to buy food there was no food to buy in the store. You are probably wondering how is that even possible? Hungary was broke, thanks to the selling of exports to the Russians at a low price and then importing products at the highest rate possible (Colley.R 2016).
As a child growing up Karoly and my uncle Andre would constantly find themselves in quite a bit of mischief. A pastime a lot of young people in Budapest would participate in was the disarming of the Soviet’s weapons they had locked up in storage. Breaking into the storage unit, the two boys screwed with the weapons. Usually, it was an in and out job with no complications, but the last time Karoly and Andre decided to tamper with weapons, a noise was heard above them. Loud and winy, the air was stirred up, the autumn leaves floated around them. Up above their tiny bodies, a helicopter hovered, an aircraft that held Russians, angry Russians at that. Making their escape, from my father’s point of view, Andre made a mistake and ran the wrong way resulting in my father receiving three bullets in his leg as gun shots fired down. The only thing my father could think of, jump in the lake and hide until the danger left. Andre and Karoly trudged home in the cold, my father drenched from the lake in the not so pleasant dip in the water. But Karoly’s misfortune was not over, no he got to experience his father Josef and iodine. The other shenanigans that filled the two brother’s days included breaking into farms. I know what you are thinking and yes, they broke into a lot of stuff but this, this was survival. Because of inflation plus the way imports and exports were handled, like for most Hungarian citizens, there was no food. Trespassing onto farms was a way for the two brothers to pick fruit and bring them home to their families. But life does not always go smoothly, very rarely things work out according to how we have planned them and there were those moments when they would be running for their life from an aggravated farmer with a shotgun.
With banners and sign post in their hand, seven thousand brave but scared teenagers marched through the streets with anti-Soviet slogans on their banners, shouting for freedom. As they neared parliament square, Soviet flags were being torn down from buildings, yelling out to any Russian that could hear, “Russian’s go home!”. The Hungarian flag waving in the wind proudly with a hole in the middle where the Russian emblem used to reside. There were two hundred thousand protesters by the time that Karoly made his way to parliament square, with shop and factory workers joining in the hype of demanding freedom from the Soviets. That night on the radio, there was a demand for the protesting to stop, they announced that everyone needed to stop criticizing communism, the words that rang clear throughout Hungary just aggravated the protesters even more, not wanting to be oppressed and living under Soviet rule. Protestors took over the radio station, kicking two Russian men out, students demanding that the radio should belong to the people. As Karoly stood among the chaos that surrounded him, watching two divisions of Soviet tank units with a hammer and a sickle painted on the side arrive, his mind drifted back a couple of years earlier, in the safe confines of his living room with his younger brother Andre. The year was 1954, the date, the 27th of June, with the Soviets in charge of Hungary, radio was banned, not wanting the citizens of Hungary getting any ideas or information from Western society, like the United States of America. Even something as basic as enjoying the sounds of western music could lead to a person’s arrest. The 27th of June was special though, it was the day that Karoly and Andre were allowed to listen to the radio legally, it was the FIFA World Cup, Hungary was going against Brazil. This match, unlike any other match was memorable not only because this football game was able to be enjoyed by the citizens of Hungary but because it was a match that was given the title ‘The Battle of Berne’. As the two brothers excitedly sat around the radio, neither one of them at that moment knew what they were experiencing, they were living history, a moment that was going to go down in time, a football match that could only be described as a war zone. My father listened to the blood bath of a game in which Hungary took the victory, 4-2. My father Karoly and uncle Andre hugged and danced around the small, dilapidated living area they called their home. Hungary won, their pride sored as they listened to the referee, Arthur Ellis who commented on the match that ended up in a brawl on the field when Hungary was announced the winner, “I thought it was going to be the greatest game I’d ever see. I was on top of the world, whether politics or religion had something to do with it I don’t know, but they behaved like animals. It was a disgrace. It was a horrible match. In today’s climate so many players would have been sent off the game. Would have been banded. My only thought was that I was determined to finish it.” (Kafkadesk 2021 )
The sense of freedom my father felt in that moment lit a spark, which in two years’ time would result in taking over a radio station with two hundred thousand other Hungarians that in turn resulted in a revolution. It has been said by historians it was this very moment that led to those seven thousand students to rebel. Protests were had after that brutal game, the first one post 1945.
Karoly stood among his fellow Hungarians, watching as the tanks arrived closer to them, it was at this moment Karoly’s flight response kicked in. If he did not leave now, at this moment, he was not going to live to see the morning. The thing about the Russian authority, they are more of a shoot first and ask questions later type of people. As my father fled the scene, leaving his banners behind, he heard the unmistakable sound of gunshot, vibrating throughout his body and the ear-piercing sound of cries burned into his soul which would haunt him forever. As the Hungarian National Anthem proudly played on, a thousand bodies laid dead in a pile, which is now known as one of the worse massacres in the twentieth century. That night around 7:30pm, thousands of Hungarians, still going strong with their protests, their love for their country keeping them going found my father and others in Felvonulasi Square where a bronze statue of Stalin was proudly displayed. Karoly looked on with anticipation, not exactly amongst those who delved destruction but an excited observer. With wire and a truck, he stood for hours watching the attempts to take Stalin down. But the Russians made their former leader sturdy with bronze, nothing could rock this. That is when the idea of blow torches came to mind and with a crazy amount of heat to the knee, at 9:21pm Stalin came crashing down, his head rolling along the square, landing amongst the protestor’s feet (Colley, R 2016). This was it, there was hope in the air that things were changing, that life would be able to go back to normal and the Russians would be gone. This wave of power and confidence was short lived, just a drop in the ocean.
On the 3rd of November 1956, the day before the revolution came to an end with the Soviets crossing the Hungarian border, taking over the country. Karoly, Andre and Josef fled the country, with illegal documentation they sought refuge in London travelling by train. Excitement ran through Karoly and Andre’s bodies as clothes were given to them and food, food that they had never tried before, chocolate. Listening to the radio and enjoying the hours of bliss on that train. The train that gave new freedom, freedom to think, freedom to work, freedom to listen to the radio without any repercussions. London gave them what was not possible back in their mother land, the ability to buy their own home, new furniture, a car, to always have food in the house and clothes, the basic items we take for granted. Standing by your beliefs, dreams, no matter how impossible it seems is something that Karoly and seven thousand other students did. There was a problem they knew that needed fixing, despite knowing the possibility of the consequences of those actions, they stood up for their rights, so that maybe if not them, the next generations could bask in their courage.
Colley.R.P. G 2014, ‘Anastasia’ eBook edition, viewed on 25th September 2022.
Colley.R 2016, ‘The Hungarian Revolution’ eBook edition, viewed on 25th September 2022.
‘Hungary 1956’, 2021, Modern History Sourcebook, Viewed 20th September 2022, http://www.sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1956hungary.asp
‘On this day, 1954: Hungary’s Golden Generation won the ‘Battle of Berne’ against Brazil, 2021, Kaftkadesk, Viewed 1st August 2022, http://www.kafkadesk.org