They overthrew Stalinism during twenty-four hours

Mateusz Wyrwich

‘Today in the early morning hours the Soviet armies started an attack on our capital, wanting to overthrow the legal and democratic government of Hungary. Our armies undertook a fight. Help! Help! Help!’ - the Prime Minister of Hungary Imre Nagy was calling dramatically on radio. It was 4 November 1956. Two years later the Prime Minister was executed by hanging to the order of the Soviet collaborator Janos Kadara.

The Hungarian Revolution, as it is said about the year 1956 in Hungary, started on 23 October from a public meeting supporting the Polish ‘October transformations’; the free elections as well. During a public meeting organized by students of the Budapest Institute of Technology, 16 postulates were proclaimed, among which were: withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Hungary, the right to the multi-party system and to free parliamentary elections, the necessity of economic reforms, abolition of censorship. The public meeting which had gathered several thousands of people before the midday, it already numbered nearly 200 thousands of manifesting people in the afternoon. The Hungarians, seeing ‘democratic changes’ in Poland, were intending to overthrow the Stalinist terror, counteract stealing welfare by the Hungarian Soviets and de-organisation of the native economy by the so-called Socialistic planned economy. Moreover, the economic collapse in Hungary was very deep. Although 11 years have passed since the war, bread was rationed. And there was no bread in shops either anyway. There were not any basic food products either. The Hungarians also had their flag changed, whereas the political terror was significantly bigger than in Poland. Throughout years, in prisons there were nearly 500 people which were a dozen percentage of adult population. People were murdered under any pretext. Also many communists, like the Minister of the Interior Laszlo Rajk, fell the victims of the Stalinist purge and they were murdered for alleged spying for the sake of Yugoslavia. Christians were brutally persecuted, churches were closed and priests were arrested, including the Primate József Mindszenty.

Something unusual was felt

Akos Engelmayer, living in our country for over half a century, the ambassador of Hungary in Poland in the years 1990 – 95, was one of the participants of the Hungarian Revolution. At that time he was 18 and had a deep aversion towards the communist system. He noticed the first signs of tearing away from the Stalinist chain a few weeks earlier. During the inauguration of the school year in a secondary school which he attended, it was the first time when the national anthem had been sung. Because the Hungarian anthem could be sung only in churches till that time, after the end of the Holy Mass.
- I felt that something unusual was happening – the ambassador mentions. On 23 November a party newspaper ‘Szabad Nep’ published a report of Władysław Gomułka speaking about the anarchy during the Stalinist times. People went out onto streets. On the same day, during a long break, students appeared and announced that there would be a demonstration of solidarity with Poland. We marched as our whole class to the meeting at the monument of Bem. At that time 16 points were read. People were shouting: ‘The army with us!’ There was also a department of students of a school of officers present at the monument, who were wearing uniforms similar to the Soviet ones. So we were calling so that they would take off the Russian epaulets. The atmosphere was extremely joyful. Then we marched to the parliament. There were the first shots when manifesting people were intending to enter a radio and read postulates. Functionaries of AVH (the equivalent of the Polish Security Service) the so-called ‘awosze’ were shooting. A dozen of people were killed. Since that moment regular fights in streets started. A part of militia went onto the side of revolutionists. Insurgents took away weapon from nearby military units, not coming any opposition. Also weapon from military factories was taken away. A several thousands of people overthrew a nearly 30 meter monument of Stalin, the symbol of the Soviet imperialism. In the morning the building of the radio was occupied. However, it was very soon when Soviet tanks appeared in the streets of Budapest, called by Hungarians communists. On the following day Imre Nagy was elected the Prime Minister, who was trying to soothe the atmosphere and finish the fight. However, without any success.
- I remember two Hungarian tanks with the Hungarian flag gained from the Soviets going towards the parliament. Maybe 10 thousands people were walking after them. We stood in front of the parliament which was surrounded by the Soviet tanks. Whereas in the parliament Imre Nagy was sitting who was hemmed in by the Soviet army. When the Soviets noticed how big the crowd was, they gave an order to use the weapon. There were shots of machine-weapon from the building of the Ministry of Agriculture situated opposite. It was not the Russians but the functionaries ‘awosze’ who were shooting – Akos Engelmayer mentions – I was there when it came to a terrible massacre. Over 200 people were killed. Since that event regular fights started. I was fighting like other several hundreds young people. Without any training we managed to overcome the Russians. After a few days the revolution from Budapest spread to the whole country. Revolutionary committees were created and they took over the authority, like in Budapest. The countryside joined the fight, providing Budapest and other fighting towns with food. However, it came to pay a lot to Hungarian peasants for their generosity.

They were ‘bombarding’ with bottles of petrol

Attacked by armed and quickly trained insurgents, the Soviets quickly started being defeated and soviet tanks started retreating under fire and ‘bombarding’ with bottles of petrol.
It turned out that the Hungarian youth and workers, fighting by weapon and bottles of petrol, overthrew the communist system in Stalin’s version during 24 hours. The Hungarians wanted freedom and independence of their country. In 1956 it was not important where you had come from but whether you were fighting against the Soviets. Many members of the party were with the nation says Janos Tischler, a historian and director of the Institute of Hungarian Culture in Poland. This hated system was overthrown by those who allegedly wanted this political system. It stopped existing during 24 hours. The Hungarians, by opposing the Russians, overthrew the myth about the invincible Soviet army. They showed the world that the victory over that big army can be gained; at least for a while. They also showed that the Soviet army is not a liberating army, as communist parties in the West thought, but it is an aggressor. Unfortunately, the revolution was repressed while people were enjoying their freedom. The world was not interested in the military help for the fighting Hungarians. The American president gave an informal permission for this crime in Hungary. For the world was more interested in the conflict connected with the Suez Canal than ‘breaking the order in the world’ by Hungary. While the leaders of political parties in France and Italy - Maurice Thorez and Palmiro Togliatti - remained faithful to the Soviets. They both condemned the Hungary revolution considering it as counter-revolution and invading of the Soviet armies on 4 November 1956 as completely justified; similarly as a crime done against workers from Poznan earlier. In the communist press of the both countries it was assured that the ‘counter-revolution in Poland and Hungary was organized by fascists’. However, a significant part of members of these two biggest western communist parties reacted differently to this Hungarian revolution. Within the protest against the intervention in Hungary from the French Communist Labour Parties, nearly 100 thousand people went away. A similar number of people left the French communist party. The members of Communist Party in Italy reacted even more strongly against repressing the revolution in Hungary. On the turn of 1956 and 1957 over 400 thousands of members went away from the party. So, in reality, the revolutions in Hungary and Poland, and also the intervention of the native and soviet communists in the both countries, have influenced the further communist expansion to the West in an inhibitory way. Barbarism revealed in an extreme way, definitely diminished its attractiveness among western leftist formations. It was another time when it turned out again that the victims of the Western Europe had suppressed the expansion of the Soviet imperialism. Poland was the most engaged in helping the Hungarian revolutionists. The Polish society has organized material and financial gifts, blood and medical dressings for many months. A dozen of Poles were fighting with weapon in their hands against the Soviet aggressors. In a dozen of Polish towns there were manifestations supporting the aims of the Hungarians, among the others, in Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw and Olsztyn. Even Polish communists appealed for solving this ‘Hungarian problem’ without any conflict, while the Political Bureau KC PZPR criticised the appeal of the leader of Hungarian communists – Erno Gero - for ‘help of Russian troops’. At the beginning it also criticised the Soviet attack. Finally, it supported the Soviet intervention.

Another aggression

In the end of October Chruszczow started withdrawing his soldiers from Budapest. He also assured about stopping the intervention. However, as it is known from documents today, on 1 November when he made a declaration ‘about the friendship with the Hungarian nation’, at the same time he was regrouping his military units. It was in order to attack the Hungarians again three days later – by the force of 250 thousands of Soviet soldiers who were stationing at the Hungarian border and who were armed with the armour weapon and supported by airplanes. The Hungarian revolution was repressed in the mid of November. Nearly 3 thousands of people were killed during the fights. About 20 thousands of people were injured. Over 200 thousands of people emigrated. Hungarian military leaders were arrested, enticed under the pretext of peace talks. Janos Kadar, the first secretary of Hungarian communists and considered till now as a traitor, received a full authority from the occupant. Mass processes began, which resulted in executing nearly 300 insurgents by hanging – in 1958 – Imre Nagy. A dozen thousands of people were imprisoned or placed in camps from which many of them were freed not earlier than in the 70s. Several hundreds of them died there in not explained circumstances till now.

‘Tapes from Koblencja’

On the 55th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution the Polish Radio with cooperation of the Institute of the National Remembrance, the Embassy of Hungary and the Hungarian Institute, organized a conference participated by prominent Polish and Hungarian historians, and also the former and present directors of the Radio of Free Europe. The reason was the willingness of commemorating the revolution by initiating a website devoted to this issue, as well as presenting unique radio tapes, the so-called ‘tapes from Koblencja’ including reports about events of several weeks of fights for freedom. The name derives from the place where they were found. These exceptional ‘tape paper recordings’ were found in the mid of the 90s in the previous century. They were saved and recorded on digital files and contain nearly 7 thousands hours of a radio program transmitted on RWE radio waves. They are live reports of those dramatic days of the Hungarian revolution. Today it is simply a priceless source of information for amateurs and lovers of history, not only the Polish one but also a strong reminder of what totalitarism and its supporters are able to do.


"Niedziela" 47/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • Translation: Aneta Amrozik • E-mail: