Monday, October 24, 2016

(178) A Son of Immigrants Remembers the 1956 Hungarian Revolution


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.

It is said that the crown of St. Stephen was given as a gift by Pope Sylvester II (945-1003) in appreciation for Christianizing Hungary.  While the Soviets occupied Hungary at the end of World War II, the Hungarian Crown Guard gave it the U.S. Army for safekeeping from the Soviet Union.  It was kept in Ft. Knox until January 6, 1978 when Cold War tension was reduced and President Carter returned it to Hungary under a set of strict conditions.  At the time Hungarian Americans strongly opposed the decision.  My family saw it at the National Museum when we visited Hungary in 1999.  I was thrilled.  The crown is currently displayed in the central Domed Hall of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

     We learned about the Magyar tribes, St. Stephen establishing the Kingdom of Hungary in the year 1000 and bringing in Christianity during his reign.  Pope Sylvester in appreciation donated a crown to Hungary’s first king.  My father told us about the conquest of Hungary by Islamic Turkey for almost 150 years, from 1526 after the bitter defeat of the Battle of Mohács)  until 1699 when Austria drove out the Turks and then occupied Hungary.

The crown of St. Stephen became part of the coat of arms of Hungary which is often at the center of the Hungarian flag.
    Austria-Hungary. There was a struggle against Austria for Hungarian independence under Lajos Kossuth in 1848.  The Hungarians had the upper hand against Franz Josef, the Emperor of Austria.   Enlisting the help of the Russian Czar and his army, the revolution was crushed as it later was in 1956 by the Russian Soviets.   Kossuth toured the United States in a futile effort to obtain help. Interesting are two patriotic songs from that struggle at and   

The United States and other countries issued a postage stamp to honor the great Hungarian patriot, Lajos Kossuth.

In 1867 a compromise was reached with the establishment of a dual monarchy where Franz Josef held the title of Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, which had its own parliament. 

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.  For more detail see

       The 1919 Communist Takeover.  My father was a university student caught in the chaos of a Communist takeover for six months under Bela Kuhn, which they called the “Hungarian Soviet Republic”.  My uncle Geza Foley was beat up by the so called "Lenin Boys" (see  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.  No wonder he was vehemently anti-communist.  Admiral Miklós Horthy took leadership and was able to overcome the Communist regime (see  

Later Horthy was made regent.  Interesting is a song admiring him, although it seems to be propaganda:   

World War II.  Horthy was labeled a Fascist.  Then Hungary had to suffer the ravages of World War II.  Caught between two tyrannical totalitarian regimes…….Germany to the west and the Soviet Union to the east, Hungary chose as an ally perceived to be the lesser of the two evils……Germany.  In addition Hitler promised to restore the lost territories and thus sided with Germany in the war.

Before long Germany occupied Hungary.  In their defense against the Soviet Union 300,000 Hungarian soldiers were killed and 600,000 civilians including 400,000 Jews who lost their lives in the gas chambers.  Budapest was bombed at least 37 times by American, British, and Soviet air forces.  

A former Hungarian soldier, Laszlo Fugedy, a friend of the family whom we called Laci, told us how the Soviets would send one wave after another of soldiers to be mowed down by machine gun fire as the bodies piled up.  The Soviets finally occupied Hungary.  Rather than be taken by the Russians as prisoners of war, 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.  My father, a research chemist and chemical engineer helped him to get into West Virginia University.  Laci became a Civil Engineer who worked for the National Park Service in Philadelphia.

Hungary Under Communism.  In 1948 the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, taking advantage of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements which designated the Soviet Union to occupy Hungary, set up a puppet regime in Hungary as well as Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc., annexed the Ukraine, and imposed Communism upon the people while the West did nothing to prevent it.   It was a de facto conquest.

Churches were closed; apostolic and charitable work of the Church was forbidden.  Priests were tortured and jailed, including the primate of Hungary, József Cardinal Mindszenty (1892-1975).  Fiercely resisting Communism, he was arrested and forced to confess to treason under great duress in a show trial.  

Basic freedoms of religion, assembly, and the press were crushed.  Much of Hungary’s industrial and agricultural production was sent to Russia.  The country was also required to pay reparations. The Hungarian flag with the crown of St. Stephen was replaced by the hammer and cycle.   Hungary was named by the Communists as the “People’s Republic of Hungary” in 1949, supposing that Hungary was run by the people. 

Until the day he died in 1979, my father was bitter that Franklin Roosevelt allowed himself to be duped by Stalin and in his words, “handed over Hungary to the Soviets”.

This video describes Hungary before the 1956 uprising.

Without question the Hungarian Revolution was a popular uprising.  The people had enough of Soviet Communist repression.  They were willing to give their all for freedom.

The Hungarian Revolution.  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.  Imre Nagy, the then puppet president of Hungary sided with the Freedom Fighters and used the Hungarian Army to back the new regime.

The toppled statue of the notorious Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

As a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University I would go up to the library every day to read the latest news on the revolt before studying for my classes the next day.A captured tank and the euphoria of victory.  Notice that the freedom fighters are holding the traditional flag with the crown of St. Stephen.
Freedom Fighters destroyed Soviet tanks with home-made Molotov Cocktails (bottles filled with gasoline with a rag as a wick) and captured others. The demands included free elections, the formation of a multi-party government system, the dissolution of the Hungarian secret police, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary.  The flag of Hungary now consisted of a hole in the center formerly occupied by the hammer and sickle.  Cardinal Mindszenty was freed (my parents met him in the early 1970s).  These Freedom Fighters were winning and controlled the country.
Dr. Monica Gheorghiu and her husband Dr. Dorel Tanase.  Both were affected by the Hungarian Revolution 65 years ago as described below.  Today they are professors emeriti (retired).   

This revolution was a crisis not only in Hungary, but also to some extent in other communist countries.  Neighboring communist governments feared that their people could also revolt.   Monica Gheorghiu, an old friend I only knew by letter as a teen, related how she joined a meeting of fellow students at her university in Timișoara, Romania to show solidarity with the freedom fighters in neighboring Hungary. She left early and later learned that all the participants were arrested and the leaders were given long jail sentences.  The next day students marched in protest and demanded that their fellow students be released.  The Romanian Government in response sent in the army which brutally crushed the demonstrations.  "Yes, they were dangerous and sad times" she mused.

The Soviets had installed Imre Nagy as the puppet Prime Minister as part of their Destalinization campaign.  Seeing the spontaneity of the Hungarian uprising and their yearning to be free, he supported the Freedom Fighters at great personal risk.  Thousands of Hungarian soldiers went over to the side of the Freedom Fighters.  Neighboring Poland sent medical supplies through its Society of Friends of Hungarians and other such groups……valued at $2million at the time.  Mao Zedong, the dictator of China, put pressure on the Soviets to intervene.

Fearing the defeat of Communism, the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev sent in a large contingent of reinforcements to crush the rebellion on November 4.  Soviet tanks patrolled the streets, killing 2,500 people and destroying.  In an act of treachery the Soviets lured Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister to a meeting to discuss peace and immediately imprisoned him.

There was an amusing incident in the chaos and confusion of war.  The Freedom Fighters captured a Soviet tank and was firing upon the headquarters of the secret police.  A Soviet tank crew, which did not know Budapest, identified the tank firing on the headquarters as one of their own and also fired on the same target.

In desperation the free government of Hungary appealed to the West, particularly the United States for help, but key leaders were afraid to act.  Having listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, they had expected help from America.  Over 180,000 fled to Austria as refugees.  Several hundred were executed, including Imre Nagy for treason and 13,000 were imprisoned in the aftermath.  

One picture is worth a thousand words, according to the old saying.  Life Magazine published a collection of pictures that tell the story (……..the heroism of the Hungarian people in their yearning to be free, but falling into revenge with even atrocities 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 of 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, such intervention could have inspired other satellite countries to also revolt in a similar quest for freedom.  See 

A burning Soviet armored car

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.  I met several.  Their spirit of hard work and intelligence added to the economies of the countries they adopted. They found opportunity and did well as mechanics, engineers, entrepreneurs, priests, 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.

        The following video gives a good explanation and understanding.

Very graphic is

Walter Conkrite narrates the following video:

The Hungarian Revolution apparently failed, but in the long run there were positive results.  Although the initial repression was brutal, the Soviets, fearing unrest among its satellites, eventually allowed some freedom.  Later they were more careful to minimize grievances.  The brutal suppression of the revolt exposed the true colors and the lies of Communism to the world.  It was not a worker’s paradise with economic justice as they preached, but more oppressive than any system that preceded it. 

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 he was awarded for his first in the class ranking in high school. He read part of it to us in English.  Some of Petőfi’s poems were recited by a flash mob of Hungarian immigrants celebrating the 1848 Revolution in London with some great music and folk dancing.  See  

 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 devoid of much of its former territory.  See

In the 1970s and 1980s the Communist regime mellowed somewhat, but the people were still not free and the Cold War continued.

Restoration of Democracy.   Finally in 1989 Communism in Europe collapsed because socialism over the long run is untenable.  Central planning and government ownership of the means of production were very inefficient.  Shortages of basic commodities were common.  There was little or no incentive to innovate and increase productivity.  The economy was stagnant and inflationary.  The people needed and yearned for basic freedoms.  

The system collapsed in all of the communist countries of Eastern Europe along the Iron Curtain and democracy was restored……so sudden that it bordered on the miraculous, reminiscent of the sudden collapse of the walls of Jericho.  Interesting is that St. Pope John Paul II in union with the bishops of the world consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary five years before on March 25, 1984 as Mary requested at Fatima.  Communism in Europe was dumped onto the ash heap of history.


In jubilation the new Hungarian government staged the above 1989 Ceremonial Reburial of Imre Nagy and four other executed government officials of the Hungarian Revolution in Heroes Square Budapest when Hungary became a free democracy again.  A sixth coffin represented the 2,500 Freedom Fighters who died in the conflict.  A young Viktor Orbans, the prime minister today, was one of the speakers. A quarter of a million people attended.  See


Some 65 years later the freedom fighters of the Hungarian Revolution are remembered and honored over the world.  This monument in Naples, Florida is an example, centrally located at the Collier County Florida Government Center.   Another son of immigrants (my brother),  Deacon John V. Sebastian stands in front of the monument with his wife Kathleen.  They belong to the SW Florida Hungarian-American Club, which hosted a program on the 65th anniversary. "We had eyewitness testimony about the bravery of the Hungarians and the brutal invasion by the Soviets. Those immigrants to America are profoundly thankful to be here and are fiercely patriotic."  Hungarian monks (refugees of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution) built monuments that honor the Freedom Fighters in Youngstown, Ohio and Dallas, Texas .  

Business in Hungary now has the freedom to prosper, benefiting both capital and labor.  The Church now has freedom to evangelize and serve the people with diverse charities.  People now have the freedom to elect leaders of their choice from a slate of candidates of multiple parties.  No longer does the Hungarian flag have the hammer and sickle in the center.


from the October 23, 2006 edition




FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY: Two actors wearing former Red Army uniforms posed during pre-anniversary festivities Sunday.

Fifty years ago Monday, the 1956 Hungarian uprising put a crack in the Iron

 Curtain.  But freedom came decades later.

By Michael Logan | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

BUDAPEST, HUNGARYOctober 1956 was much too eventful a time for Gen. Bela Kiraly

to spend in a hospital bed - even if he was recovering from a harrowing five-year jail

 sentence for alleged treason.

In the streets of Budapest, secret police were mowing down ordinary Hungarians who on Oct.

 23 attempted to have their demands for Soviet withdrawal read out on the state-controlled

 radio. But the protesters - armed only with Molotov cocktails and rifles - prevailed, driving out

 the Red Army tanks after only five days. Overwhelmed with joy at the apparent victory, a still-

weak General Kiraly sneaked past his doctors on Oct. 29 to become commander of the

 Hungarian National Guard.

Though Kiraly and his new recruits were suppressed by Soviet troops less than a week later, their brave actions - known today as the Hungarian Uprising - are still seen as the first crack

in the Iron Curtain, and are credited with starting the process that led to freedom for Hungary

in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"The Soviets committed the most despicable cheating," says Kiraly, who at 94 is the last

surviving member of the uprising leaders. "It taught the world that their system was the

enemy of human freedom. 1956 was the beginning of the end of Bolshevism."

As Hungary Monday marks the uprising's 50th anniversary, the commemorations are in

danger of becoming overshadowed by politicians using the legacy of communism to divide

the young democracy. After a month of demonstrations following the prime minister's

admission that he lied to get reelected, the main opposition party is boycotting official events

in favor of its own ceremony.

With such a long time needed to bring Hungarian democracy to this uneasy stage, many say

the lesson of patience is an important one that should be applied to other nations in

transition, such as Iraq.

"The lesson of Hungary is clear: Liberty can be delayed but it cannot be denied," President

Bush said during a June visit to Budapest. "Defeating these enemies [in Iraq] will require

... the kind of patience Hungary displayed after 1956."

But others contend that that lesson of patience must also be applied to nations such as the

US looking to foster democracy around the world.

"The war in Iraq shows us, in retrospect, that the US was right not to intervene in the

Hungarian upheaval of 1956," wrote Olivier Roy, a longtime consultant to the French Foreign

Ministry, in a Washington Post blog after Bush's visit. "It would have unleashed a bloody and

protracted war in Europe, even if it ended in victory. Thirty-five years after the failed revolt in

Hungary, the whole Soviet block collapsed from inside without any bloodshed. The lesson to

be learned is that democratization cannot be forced on a country, it must be the result of a

domestic political process, even a lengthy one."

Kiraly knows well the lengths to which his people went to achieve self-determination.

"The losses Hungary suffered show the tremendous force for freedom that exists in the world

today," says the general, who suffered considerably himself.

His initial happiness at the apparent victory of the students quickly soured when - contrary to

Hungarian expectations of American aid - the Soviets returned unopposed on Nov. 4 and

crushed the uprising with overwhelming force.

Thousands died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands fled. Kiraly escaped hanging by

 joining the exodus and spent 33 years in exile fighting for the ideals of the uprising. When

the Soviet Union was pressing the UN to drop Hungary from the agenda in the 1960s, Kiraly

ignored death threats to campaign against such an action.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, researchers have gained access to Moscow's archives,

and learned that Soviet Leader Nikita Krushchev briefly considered letting Hungary off the

leash. This has increased historians' claims that the US could have done more, but even

with such hindsight, Kiraly believes the uprising was doomed as soon as the first shots rang


"After the atrocities, people wanted more than communist reform; they wanted democracy,"

 he says. "Once we announced a multiparty system, invasion was certain. Nothing could

 have been done to help Hungary."

Though the US still takes flak for inflaming Hungarian protests through the CIA-funded Radio

Free Europe (RFE) but remaining passive once fighting began, many agree that the US had

 few viable options short of provoking war with the Soviet Union.

The Suez crisis, which blew up at the same time, effectively removed the diplomatic options.

.The UN was far too busy dealing with the fallout from Britain, France, and Israel's attempts

 to regain control of Egypt's waterway to worry about Hungary.

"The only way to have liberated Hungary in 1956 would have been military action," says Prof

 Michael Fox, director of the Cold War Studies Center at the London School of Economics.

 "The US didn't want to start World War III."

Even Kiraly, who desperately wanted his country to be free, knew that military intervention

would lead to disaster.

"On November 1, 1956, a New York Times reporter told me if I were to dictate a declaration

asking for help, he would print it," says Kiraly. "I told him I believed military intervention

would end in nuclear war and Hungary would be the first to be evaporated."

But the conclusion for Hungary and for Kiraly turned out better. When the general returned to


 his country in 1989, he was treated to a hero's welcome by VIPs. But it was an unknown face that floored him.

"At the end of the line, an elegant man introduced himself as my son," Kiraly says. "He was six when I left. I was out of my mind with happiness."

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