Hungarian Revolution – Part IV

by Jack Lee

hungarystanding guardThey had damaged the Soviet column just enough to make them pause and consider what awaited them if they continued to advance.   In a few moments those would-be invaders were putting their tanks in reverse. But, the rest of the city did not fare as well. The main police headquarters, (now a rebel stronghold) in the city center was being heavily shelled. All around the city the fighting was becoming extremely intense.   Determined to hold the line, the people fought on and somehow they managed by another day of freedom, but  eventually and under a hail of bullets, they were forced to retreat to the better fortified neighborhoods for one the last stand…it was going to be a fight to death. 

The casualties on both sides were very heavy and with each passing hour the grotesque scenes the dead and dying in the streets, parks and doorways seemed everywhere. Where there was once a parade of kids on bicycles waving Hungarian flags, where women carrying long guns and men marched proudly to a cheering crowd, now there was dried blood on walls and stones in the street.  Bits of human body parts and  contorted corpses lay stinking in morning sunlight.  It was a hellish scene that would burn in the minds of survivors forever.  

Those days of fighting passed quickly and now a week into the siege found Joseph on patrol with a few of the neighborhood militiamen.  They had held up for a moment to assess their situation.  They stood quietly, looking, partially concealled between two shattered buildings.  They were awaiting orders on what to do next or for something to happen, but to their total surprise, one of their friends, a guy named Ferenc, arrived smiling with 3 other men towing a small cannon by hand. They couldn’t believe it.    What a sight!   The Hungarian police, the Russians, they had all done intensive searches looking for weapons and somehow old Ferenc had hidden a cannon in his house?  Since WWII?   And he even had a number of shells!   The moment was almost comical as they pulled the little cannon into a firing position. They correctly assumed this was an anti-tank weapon (see picture on lower left), so they moved it to a nearby dirt embankment that overlooked the road ahead.   This cannon could be very useful should they have another tank encounter.   As they were preparing to dig in, a propeller driven reconnaissance plane made a very slow pass overhead.  The pilot was obviously scouting the road for trouble.  

artillery305The plane was a very tempting target, but for an anti-tank gun?   Yes, thats exactly what Ferenc had in mind.  He barked orders to elevate the barrel skyward! Excited at the prospect of shooting at a plane, this seemed like a great idea to everyone, never mind the impossible odds of hitting it.  Ever optimistic, the men raised the long gun barrel skyward.  They had to move the wheels high on the embankment to get the right angle as Ferenc took wobbly aim on the unsuspecting pilot.   Ka-boom…the cannon lerched backwards almost tipping over and the first round passed well behind the aircraft and exploded on a building.    The Russian pilot must have sensed something because he quickly banked right and made a slow u-turn, dropping lower to investigate.   A big mistake, because miraculously, the second round fired actually hit the tail section with a big puff of black smoke.   This mortally wounded plane went into a flat spin as the pilot successfully bailed out.  He chute disappeared behind the nearby roof tops  just moments after the plane exploded near the road.   A cheer went up and it was all over.

hungarian-children-revolutionaries-in-1956Another week or so passed without any fighting in their area.  All around the city the resistance was beginning to wither down.   The Mongolian troops had by now overran most of the major Hungarian positions.   Heavy shells dropped indiscriminately in and around the city center.   The dead and dying lay among the ruins of the police headquarters and surrounding buildings.  

During the time of revolution Anna tried to stay close to home, it was a small apartment shared by five people in one room.  Fortunately the actual fighting never came too close to them.  But, it was often necessary to go out at night in search of food, sometimes this meant travelling on foot  for miles into the areas of heaviest fighting.  She still can not bring herself to describe exactly what she saw, but she did speak once, very softly in a reverent sort of way, about stepping over the bodies on the sidewalk… some of those bodies were very small children.

tanksbodies3030By November the 15th the shooting stopped.  The battle hardened Soviets liquidated that last resistance fighters and the revolution was over.   Joseph and his group were ordered to lay down their rifles.   Actually he hid his under a coal bin, just in case he needed again.   But, it was not to be, the battle for freedom had been completely crushed by an overwhelming military force.

By November 28th, 1956, huge files containing the dissident’s names and addresses were being collected and arrests were being carried out with ruthless precision. The lucky ones never made it to jail. Joseph was certain he was marked for death and Anna, well, she had supported her husband and she was also from the Bourgeoisie. That meant she was as likely to die as was Joseph, if they were caught.  It became rather obvious that they were sure to be captured if they remained in the city any longer. That night, the 28th of the November, Joseph and Anna left their home… forever.

They didn’t have much of an escape plan and they just started with walking away from Budapest and towards the Austrian boarder.  They were going to walk, if they had too, all the way to Austria!   Anna’s shoes were already worn and in bad shape, but she felt that as long as they held up she would hold up.  In the first hours they dodged several Russian check points.  Then, many miles beyond the city they were finally stopped by a Russian patrol.  Fortunately they were able to convince the soldiers they were on their way to work at a nearby factory. The Szepyolgyi’s were shaking inside, but outwardly they acted a little angry, almost indignant that they had been stopped and detained.   They were after all good Communist, and they were in a hurry to work for the people.  They must not be late for work (or so they said)!   Their confident attitude saved their lives.   The soldiers were not from Hungary and they accepted the couple’s story on it’s face value and simply released them.

boxcarThey kept walking west, following the roads and hiding from the passing Russian convoys.  After nearly a full day of walking they spotted a slow moving train and decided, “Why walk when we can ride?”  Anna was exhausted and needed to rest.   The train was headed west toward Magyanovian, a town near the Hungarian/Austrian boarder. This was perfect!   Anna and Joseph ran along side an open box car and prepared to jump in. To their surprise a strong hand reached out and a middle aged man offered to help aboard.  The only open car on the long train contained refugees like themselves and they had somehow found each other.  Five other people, two men and three women were huddled into a dark corner of the box car.  Anna and Joseph sat close to them and caught up on the latest news. The older man, Vali, said he heard a rumor that Russian troops would be waiting for them ahead at the next rail yard.   The rumors were a number of Hungarians were  trying to escape via this route and they had been either shot or captured and jailed, so they would have to exit the car a safe distance from the train yard.

They decided to jump from the now fast moving train a few miles ahead of the train depot to avoid detection. This little band of seven refugees plunged from the train one by one. Tumbling and rolling, finally each one got up, dusted off and regrouped. Not one injury!  God, it seemed, was with them again. 

They decided it would be best to travel together and make their way across open country and fields to the first unsecured spot in the  boarder. It was not long before they were within a few minutes walk their objective. Moving slowly and carefully to escape detection they advance ever closer toward the border and freedom. 

They moved behind the cover of a small grove of trees and bushes. Peering thru the foliage they were praying to see a clear board crossing area. What they saw was large field full of Russian tanks and troops!  Some shooting broke out to south of them, most likely Russian guards were firing on other Hungarians trying to slip
past their sentries.

The group withdrew and moved back into the field they just crossed. Then they made their way parallel to the Russian soldiers going north away from the shooting. By now Anna’s feet and legs had begun to swell, partly due to the stress of walking day and night, but mostly from the cold.  She did not complain and made the best it, trying valiantly to conceal her misery.

The kept moving and the hours passed, walking and walking. Always  looking around them, trying to get beyond the Russians. Finally they stopped to rest, Anna was nearly exhausted. Joseph and Vali took this time to look around for another place to try a crossing. They made their way to the top of a knoll and looked down towards the border about a half mile away. 

There was no sign of Russian troops there, only a stone monument…it was a border marker!   The clearing before the monument was a about 100 feet wide and totally void of any vegetation.    Joseph knew instantly what this was…it was a mine field!minefield

In 1950 the Hungarian military had drafted him into the Air Force, but upon learning of his reactionary political views, he was given the worst job in the army… a mine layer! For the second time in less than 14 hours, God in his infinite mercy had again smiled on this weary little group of patriots.    Joseph borrowed the only tool in the group, a small screw driver.   However, it was all that he needed.   Joseph began probing until he found the first mine, then a second, now he was fairly sure he knew the pattern where the other mines could be found.  He looked for a safe stepping area and as Joseph moved forward, stepping and probing, the group followed him.  They walked in each others foot prints until finally they were all across. It was only a 100 feet across, but this seemed like the longest part of the entire journey!

Even though everyone was completely exhausted, they were now filled with joy and hope.   Anna’s feet were terribly swollen, her shoes were almost falling completely apart, but they held and so did she.  Anna was now suffering from frost bite.    As the group moved into their new host country they were quickly spotted by an Austrian Patrol.   Joseph was amazed the Austrian boarder guards were not even armed!   A good sign, he thought.   After embracing their much sought captors, they were taken away by truck to a nearby farm house where Anna’s shoes were literally cut away from her swollen feet and she was given new shoes and a warm blanket.  Her legs were elevated while they waited.  More help was on the way and they would soon be resettled in a refugee camp near Salzburg.

It was now day three in the Austrian camp.  This was a former U.S. Army base just outside Salzburg that had been converted into a refugee camp right after WWII. 

As Joseph and Anna would later note, “It was an astonishing thing… some Hungarians and other refuges living in the camp had been there since it opened in 1946!” This was unacceptable to Joseph and Anna and they would have no part of it, not that the accommodations were not far better than their own home had been.

They made plans to meet the U.S. Representative for immigration the next day, however, he did not show up.  Not wanting to wait another moment, the couple left camp and went straight to the U.S. Embassy in Salzburg. The were greeted by a familiar sight, a long line of Hungarians. They too were seeking asylum and the line stretched for blocks.  They waited all day long, but the embassy closed before they even got close to the gates. (History has it that some 200,000
Hungarians fled country after the Russians invaded, many, like Joseph and Anna made it to America.)

This time they the would be early, they arrived at the embassy at 4 a.m. The line was not so long then and their extra effort would soon pay off. Much later that day they got their interview and best of all, they got their visa to enter America under a quota program.  Not all applicants were as lucky as the Szepvolgyi’s, but then not
all of them made the extra effort. One of the subtle differences the couple credited to their success.

The Sevolgyi’s, with the grace of God made their way to America, but they are concerned that the lessons learned in our own revolution of 1776 are being forgotten. They want new Americans to know if you want to live here, then be an American first, don’t come here looking to establish your culture on American soil. Anna says she was a bookkeeper in Hungary, but when she came here language was a barrier, so she did laundry for a time and she quickly learned to speak English!

Paraphrasing the words of Szepvolgyi’s, “When all things are equal, nobody can take better care of you than yourself.   Government jobs and “free” entitlements always cost too much.  The cost could be your freedom.   It’s not good to depend on the government to provide those things you are capable of doing for yourself.   Beware of government that offers you too many free things and the people in it who think rich people are bad because they are successful.”

So ends this story, however you should remember that it was written in 1996 and much has happened to our State and our Country since the Szepvolgyi’s warned us about a government takeover, some of those warnings look almost prophetic.   So, in that sense, their story has never meant more than it does today.   

In honor of the Szepvogyi’s and in honor of all people who desire freedom, this has been their real life story.  We hope it will inspire you to do good things that will protect and preserve the idealism founded in this great nation.

Hungarian Revolution, popular uprising in Hungary in 1956, following a speech by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in which he attacked the period of Joseph Stalin‘s rule. Encouraged by the new freedom of debate and criticism, a rising tide of unrest and discontent in Hungary broke out into active fighting in October 1956. Rebels won the first phase of the revolution, and Imre Nagy became premier, agreeing to establish a multiparty system. On Nov. 1, 1956, he declared Hungarian neutrality and appealed to the United Nations for support, but Western powers were reluctant to risk a global confrontation. On Nov. 4, 1956, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the revolution, and Nagy was executed for treason in 1958. Nevertheless, Stalinist-type domination and exploitation did not return, and Hungary thereafter experienced a slow evolution toward some internal autonomy.

Imre Nagy (7 June 1896 – 16 June 1958) was a Hungarian communist politician who was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Hungary on two occasions. Nagy’s second term ended when his non-Soviet-backed government was brought down by Soviet invasion in the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, resulting in Nagy’s execution on charges of treason two years later.   Nagy became Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Hungary again, this time by popular demand, during the anti-Soviet revolution in 1956. Soon he moved toward a multiparty political system.

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