Monday, October 24, 2016

(178) A Son of Immigrants Remembers the Hungarian Revolution 60 Years Ago


The flag always had in its center the crown presented by Pope Sylvester to St. Stephen, who Christianized Hungary over 1000 years ago.  However, the Communists in 1949 replaced the crown with the symbol of Communism, the hammer and sickle.  The freedom fighters cut out the hammer and sickle from the flag, which became the symbol of the Hungarian Revolution.

        Over and over again my father told us kids stories about our Hungarian heritage and made us proud of it.  We only picked up a few words of Hungarian because Mom and Dad spoke to us and each other in English……..Hungarian only when they did not want us to understand.  Among friends and relatives, it was all Hungarian.  I wish now that they had talked to us in Hungarian.  We would have picked up English in school and on the street.  We loved our Hungarian dishes and pastries as well as the Christmas and Easter customs.
        We learned about the Magyar tribes, St. Stephen establishing Christianity in the 10th Century, the conquest by Islamic Turkey in the 16th Century, the struggle against Austria for Hungarian independence under Kossuth, the crushing of that Revolution by the Russian Czar in 1848, the compromise establishment of the dual monarchy where Franz Josef held the title of Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary in 1867.  This was the Austria-Hungary empire that fought with Germany in World War I.  Under the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary was left with a fraction of its former 1000 year old territories.  My father, as other Hungarians at home and abroad, was bitter about it. 

        In 1919 my father was a university student caught in the chaos of a Communist takeover for six months under Bela Kuhn.  My uncle Geza Foley was beat up by the so called Lenin Boys.  My father almost was caught, but flushed counterrevolutionary pamphlets down the toilet before they could accuse him.  He described it as a reign of terror.  Thus he was vehemently anti-communist.  Admiral Horthy took leadership and was able to overcome the Communist regime.
World War II. Horthy was labeled a Fascist.  Hungary was caught in the middle between the two evils, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.  Since Hitler promised to restore the lost territories, Hungary sided with Germany in the war.  A Hungarian soldier, Laci Fugedy, a friend of the family, told us how the Russians would send one wave after another of soldiers to be mowed down by machine gun fire as the bodies piled up.  Rather than be conquered by the Russians, he and many others went over to the Americans.  Laci ended up as a driver for the U.S. Army.  Once the war ended he immigrated to the United States as a displaced person (DP).  My father, a research chemist and chemical engineer and adjunct professor at West Virginia University helped him to get into the university.  Laci became a Civil Engineer who worked for the National Park Service in Philadelphia.

According to the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, Russia was designated to occupy Hungary.  Russia then established a puppet Communist government in Hungary, a de facto conquest for Communism with Stalinist suppression of basic human rights and persecution of the Church.  Cardinal Josef Mindzenty, the primate of Hungary resisted Communism and was put in jail after a mock trial in 1949. Until the day he died in 1979, my father was bitter at Franklin Roosevelt for being duped by Stalin and handing over Hungary to the Soviets.

With this backdrop I was electrified upon reading the news of the Hungarian revolt against the Communist regime that began on October 23, 1956.  Everyone who loves freedom, especially those of Hungarian descent, were excited.  The people were so desperate that they would risk everything for freedom.

      As a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University I would go up to the library every day to to read the latest news on the revolt before preparing for my classes the next day. 

One picture is worth a thousand words, according to the old saying.  The following link to Life Magazine gives a collection of pictures that tell the story……..the heroism of the Hungarian people in their yearning to be free, but falling into revenge for eight years of tyranny under the yoke of Communism and Soviet occupation.  The few days of exhilarating freedom were wiped out by the brutal invasion by reinforcements from Soviet Russia and the revolution was crushed.  The Hungarians desperately appealed to the United States and NATO for help, but they were preoccupied with the 1956 war between Israel and Egypt and feared Soviet retaliation.  My father thought that refusal was cowardice. Although very risky, freedom for the other satellite countries could have followed.  See 

The following link shows the spirit of the Hungarian people.  When all hope of American help was lost, 200,000 people, most of them young, traveled on another avenue of freedom across the border into free Austria.  From there the refugees were resettled in the United States and all over the world.  There spirit of hard work and intelligence added to the economies of wherever they went. They found opportunity and did well as mechanics, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc.  I dated one of the girls who fought as a freedom fighter and then escaped.  She was sponsored by one of the families of a church. 
A Hungarian Stamp issued to commemorate the 60th Anniversary

      The first link below gives a fascinating BBC timeline beginning with the liberation by the Soviets from Nazi occupation in 1944 until June 16, 1991 when Soviet troops finally left and Hungary was free.  Today Hungary is a democracy with similar fights as we have in America between the left and the right.  The second link gives more detail.

Artist Mihály Zichy's painting of the famous Hungarian poet, Sándor Petőfi
reciting the National Poem for freedom to a crowd on March 15, 1848.   
My father showed us his book and translated part of it.

                Actually, history repeated itself in 1956.  In 1848 the Hungarians had revolted and temporarily obtained their independence from the Austrian Empire under the leadership of Lajos Kossuth.  However, Emperor Franz Josef obtained the help of Czarist Russia to crush the revolution since the Czar feared a similar uprising in his country.  Kossuth, an admirer of democracy, toured the United States in the 1850s and appealed for American support for Hungarian independence to no avail.  When Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I, the Allies broke up the empire and made Hungary an independent country.  See
I will continue writing this article with photos over the next few weeks. 

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